Tag Archives: offbeat comedies

TIFF18: Can You Ever Forgive Me?

If you’re asking for forgiveness, Melissa, you’ve got it. Not that I really believe you have anything to be sorry for. The Happytime Murders was a misfire, but hardly your fault, and I admire any attempt to do something different.

With this movie, both Melissa McCarthy and the character she plays are trying something different. McCarthy is trying on a more dramatic role, and though Lee Israel has a teriffic wit, she’s got no slapstick about her at all. canyoueverforgiveme_0HEROMcCarthy only has her own skin to live in, face naked save for an inept smear of lipstick on only the most special of occasions (ie, when asking for money), hair constantly overdue for its next dye job, frumpy clothes in various shades of poop. But it’s Israel’s personality that poses the real problem. She’s abrasive and reclusive and just doesn’t really know how to exist among people, so she’s basically stopped trying. It’s just her and her cat – a daunting thought when it’s just her and a blank page. A once-celebrated writer of biographies, her agent nowadays can’t get so much as a $10 advance for a book on Fanny Brice that nobody wants.

Living in semi-squalor, Lee finds there’s good money selling literary mementos from great authors. Is it her fault that better content fetches higher prices? Isn’t it just good business sense to exploit her natural gift for writing and put it to use making money again?

Crime pays, for a while. And then the FBI gets curious about all the fraud and forgery and whatnot.

I love this script. McCarthy’s very first line earns a laugh out loud, and the script continues to reflect Lee’s caustic humour throughout. And McCarthy is just brilliant in the role, aggressively unpersonable, but also sympathetic. There’s a whole framework of supporting cast to admire too, particularly Jane Curtin, Anna Deavere Smith, and Marc Evan Jackson.

This isn’t just a film about forging letters, it’s about loneliness, and friendship, and purpose. It’s hard to say which Lee needs more – human connection or the sense that she is creatively fulfilled. Of course, when you’re crediting your best work to someone else, it’s plagiary of the heart and perhaps this is what hurts her most in the end. Lee Israel is not anyone’s idea of a hero, but her flaws are all-too-human, and it’s fascinating to slide down the rabbit hole with her.

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TJFF: Future ’38

How do I explain this? . Future ’38 was filmed last year but is pretending to have been filmed in 1938. It is set in 2018 but, remember, this is the 2018 as imagined by fictional filmmakers from the 1930s. Or present day filmmakers imaging what 1930s filmmakers would think 2018 would look like.

Film historians or whoever’s job it is to uncover lost screwball comedies about time travel from 1938 have recently uncovered a lost screwball comedy about time travel from 1938. After a brief introduction by a real life scientist who praises the scientific accuracy of all the time travel bits, the film begins in black and white in the height of World War II. Essex (Nick Westrate) is the most dependable GI this side of the Atlantic. His mission: Leap 80 years into the future in search of the powerful isotope Formica which, according to Dr. Elcourt from the Laboratory of Science, will be strong enough by 2018 to win the war for the Allies.

Essex wakes up (in Technicolor) in 2018. A version of 2018 you just have to see for yourself. On the one hand, it’s a startlingly accurate picture of 21st century life. On the other, it’s filtered through the limited imagination of a fictional 1930s science fiction writer. They have a 24 hour news cycle, for example. it’s just a guy on a unicycle though yelling “Extry Extry”.

In 2018, Essex almost immediately meets Banky (Betty Gilpin), a streetwise hotel manager who thinks he’s just “a little queer” because he’s from Pasadena. Once she agrees to show Essex around (“I could use a little fun and you’re Coney Island without the smell”), Future ’38 quickly finds its rhythm. The way they get the 21st century both right and wrong at the same time is funny enough. But Future ’38 is at its absolute funniest as a straight 30s style screwball comedy that mimics the fast-paced dialogue, slapstick, and romance more than it mocks it.

There’s a joke or two here that are maybe just a bit much. Most do land though even once the novelty of the outrageous style and concept has worn off and Gilpin and Westrate play off each other like true stars of the 30s. This could have easily been unwatchable had the writing, casting, and attention to detail not been so spot on. I think you’ll like it.

Teiichi: Battle of the Supreme High

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Don’t ask me how this happened but in 2006 I found myself reading an interview with Chris Klein. You all remember Chris Klein, right? He was Oz in the American Pie movies and, according to IMDB, Brad on a 2015 episode of Motive. Well, he was also in one of my favourite films of the 90s and this is the one I found him reminiscing about in this 2006 interview. Klein good-naturedly admitted that he was too young while filming 1999’s Election to really understand what was funny about it.

If you haven’t seen Election, it’s a subtle but hard-hitting satire about an ambitious overachiever’s quest to win her high school election. And the best way that I can describe Teiichi is it’s the Japanese version of Election that the 19 year-old Chris Klein would have loved.

teiichiTeiichi has only one ambition: to become Prime Minister and to build his own empire. Luckily, he’s come to the right place. The prestigious Kaitei College is the place to be for future world leaders and all Tiichi needs to do is be voted in as chairman of the student council and he’ll be well on his way to power and glory. Trouble is, his longtime rival Kikuma wants it just as bad as he does. So the battle for Kaitei College gets pretty intense where everything, including wiretapping, sabotage, nipple pinching, and merciless tickling is fair game.

Teiichi, based on the manga “Teiichi no Kuni”, goes for bigger laughs than Election did and isn’t afraid to go pretty lowbrow to get them. Almost every situation is taken to the wackiest possible extreme and the performers overact in the best way possible. What impressed me most was the impeccable comic timing of the physical comedy, which went a long way in helping me forgive all the exaggeration. teiichi drum

Somehow I still couldn’t help feeling sad for Teiichi, his inner circle, and his rivals. There seems to be way too much on the line for such young boys. For Teiichi, losing the student council election would almost literally mean that his life is over. Everything in his young life has been leading up to this one moment and he seems to have no idea what he would do if he were to lose.

 

In general, I will always prefer the subtlety and bite of Election to the slapstick comedy and mostly heavy-handed satire of Teiichi: Battle of the Supreme High. But somebody needs to be making movies for 19 year-old Chris Klein and Teiichi is extremely entertaining and even a little thought-provoking once you get used to its zany sense of humour.

 

Oh, Hello on Broadway

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Remember when they used to make movies based on Saturday Night Live sketches?  Isn’t it weird how that used to be a thing?  And that one of the best of the bunch was the movie about these two guys:

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Even though I grew up during the peak of the SNL movie craze, I was still blown away to see Oh, Hello on Broadway pop up on Netflix, in a “How is this even possible?” kind of way.  But I’m so glad it did and it’s better than I could have hoped.

For the uninitiated, Oh, Hello is one of a boatload of great skits from the Kroll Show, featuring two old men who, in a way, are not that different than the Butabi Brothers.  As the unimaginative name of the Netflix special implies, Oh, Hello then became a Broadway play, because why not?  And now, Oh, Hello on Broadway is a Netflix special that is basically a full-length movie about these two guys.  A flat-out hilarious hour and 42 minutes in the company of these wacky geezers.

tuna.jpgLike Night at the Roxbury, Oh, Hello on Broadway takes a one-note premise and uses it as a gateway to a fully-fledged story that looks behind the premise to the characters themselves.  Absurd as they are, Gil Faison (Nick Kroll) and George St. Geegland (John Mulaney) are surprisingly relatable and human, as we are shown through an insane play-within-a-play structure that works far better than it should.  The background story also is far better than it needed to be, because I would have been satisfied with a few, ‘Oh, Hello’s, and ‘Too Much Tuna’s.   Which of course I got.  Kroll and Mulaney knew why I was watching, but they also showed me how much they love these characters by giving them a proper home.

Because the special is so different from the skit, I don’t think any knowledge of the skits is needed.  Feel free to jump right in, but still, you should watch the skits at some point because they’re funny as hell.

I’m so glad to see stuff like this on Netflix and I hope we get more.  Jay and I had hoped to see this on Broadway but the scheduling didn’t work out, and while seeing it on Netflix is not the same as seeing it live, it’s better than not seeing it at all.  You should definitely add this one to your list.

 

Mindhorn

mindhorn_finalCanadians are consistently the funniest people in the world as far as I’m concerned, which is hard to reconcile with the stereotype that we’re boring and forgettable.  So I don’t try, I just think of us as funny and the stereotype as another example of how Americans are just not as good as we are.  Above all else, Canadians specialize in satire.  I have to think that is inherited from our former colonizers, as the British may love satire more than we do.

But just as Canada is not Britain (because in 1867 we asked politely if we could be our own country from then on, and the Brits were like, didn’t you already leave when the Americans did?), British satire is a whole other thing from ours.  I have always been fascinated by how there really is no middle ground in North America – either you devour British satire or you think it’s unbearable.  Personally, I find Steve Coogan a good test for one’s tolerance for British satire.   If he cracks you up then you are going to enjoy Mindhorn, whereas if you’re thinking, “Who the hell is Steve Coogan?” then you should probably give Mindhorn a pass.

I think Coogan is hilarious so of course Mindhorn made me laugh.  As a bonus, Coogan is not just a random reference I decided to use.  He’s also a bit player in Mindhorn along with a ton of familiar Brits (including a great cameo by a guy nicknamed “Kenny B.”).   But Mindhorn is co-writer Julian Barratt’s vehicle, and he is terrific as Richard Thorncroft/Mindhorn, a washed-up actor/TV detective.  Mindhorn’s gimmick is his bionic eye that is a lie detector, allowing him to literally see the truth.  Mindhorn made Thorncroft a huge star in the 70s and early 80s but he hasn’t exactly been tearing it up since then.  In fact, he’s just lost his last endorsement contract (for orthopedic socks).  So when a call comes in from the police department requesting Thorncroft’s help (as Mindhorn) in solving a murder case, he jumps right in, seeing it as a great way to kickstart his career.

In the finest British tradition, we quickly learn that Thorncroft is a grade-A idiot (maybe even grade-AAA if you use the meat grading system).  Still, as tends to happen, Thorncroft manages to bumble his way to (moderate) success despite not having a clue at any time.  And while Mindhorn’s way forward isn’t particularly innovative or clever, Barratt is clearly having great fun bringing Mindhorn to life and that fun is infectious.  The satire is spot on, as Mindhorn takes every opportunity to poke fun at the real TV shows from Mindhorn’s day, like Knight Rider and the Six Million Dollar Man, and there are some good shots at the cheesiness of those shows as well as the spin off products from them (such as Mindhorn’s best-selling rock album).

You’ve seen this all before but it’s good fun and I don’t think satirizing David Hasselhoff will ever get old.  So if you have 90 minutes to spare and think Coogan is a funny guy then you should check out Mindhorn on Netflix.

Don’t Think Twice

Don’t Think Twice is a comedy about an improv troupe, written and directed by a very talented stand-up comic named Mike Birbiglia. His previous film, Sleepwalk With Me, was ripped right from a popular stand-up routine of his, but Don’t Think Twice is really its own story, and while Birbiglia plays a role, he also shares screen time with a talented cast.

The improv troupe, who call themselves The Commune, consists of Matt (Birbiglia), Sam (Gillian Jacobs), Allison (Kate Micucci), Lindsay (Tami Sagher), Bill (Chris Gethard) , and DON'T THINK TWICE, back, from left: Tami Sagher, Mike Birbiglia, Chris Gethard, Kate Micucci, 2016.Jack (Keegan-Michael Key). They’re a really solid group who perform really well together, but their NYC theatre is struggling to stay open, and everyone’s chasing their own dream of performing on Weekend Live (an exact replica of SNL).

The movie is quite smartly written. Sam and Jack, a couple, are chosen by Weekend Live’s people to come in for an audition. Their friends, filled with achy jealousy, do their best to support and congratulate their luck. But how long can that tenuous brave face hold, especially if one of them is actually cast, and realizes the one thing that every one of them has been yearning for?  Don’t Think Twice is bittersweet. It’s about pursuing your dreams, but also about the cost of actually having them come true.

The cast really sells this stuff. They trained in improv together (Gillian Jacobs was a complete noob) for weeks in order to then be filmed in front of audiences. The result is spontaneous and often quite funny. But the movie itself is not full of “jokes” but finds it laughs in the webbing of the characters.

Chris Gethard is an improv junkie, a member of the Upright Citizens Brigade since 2000, and as an offshoot of that, the host of his own show, aptly named The Chris Gethard Show, which is wildly chaotic and fun. He was a guest writer on SNL for one episode.

After performing with legendary improv troupe Second City (Chicago), Keegan-Michael Key appeared on MADtv, cast against Jordan Peele with the intention that FOX would choose between them and only have one (token) black cast member. Both were riotous and proved their worth, and so they both stayed on, creating a lasting partnership. They produced Key & Peele sketches for Comedy  Central for 5 seasons, and wrote a movie together this year, called Keanu.

Tami Sagher was also a member of Chicago’s Second City. She’s been nominated for 4 dont-think-twice-99ddb592-9a20-4056-aa36-ced9ae9ea4dfWriters Guild of America Awards; 3 for MADtv, and 1 for 30 Rock. She’s also written for Psych, How I Met Your Mother, and Inside Amy Schumer, and produced for Bored to Death, Girls, and The Michael J. Fox Show.

Kate Micucci you  may recognize as one half of the musical-comedy duo Garfunkel and Oates (she’s Oates, if that’s not obvious). They perform everywhere, including regularly on your television (and on Netflix!), and the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre in L.A. (beginning to see a theme here?). She’s been on Scrubs and The Big Bang Theory.

Gillian Jacobs is along for the ride. You may have a softer spot for her if you watched her on Community, but I know her from the Netflix original series Love, where she played the world’s most obnoxious character (or possibly the second most – the guy she plays opposite is just as bad and I could never decide who was worse), and I continue to hate her for it to this day.

Together though, they coalesce into a strong unit that makes this movie feel real. Birbiglia is showing aptitude in his direction, and the writing backs up a talented cast. There’s an intimacy here that can’t be faked, and a truth that elevates this film from just laugh-out-loud funny to heartfelt honesty at times, and biting satire at others. Don’t Think Twice currently enjoys a 99% approval rating from Rotten Tomatoes, which makes this movie higher rated than La La Land (93%), Fences (95%),  Manchester by the Sea (97%), or Moonlight (98%). Is it actually better than those movies? No. But it’s well done, funnier than most big-release comedies this year, and it’s made with a clear love of a uniquely American art form.

Familyhood

Go Ju-yeon (extremely well-played by Kim Hye-soo) is pushing 40 and running out of ways to feel young. Despite plastic surgery, affairs with younger men, and a faithful and well-meaning entourage that protect her from unflattering headlines, Ju-yeon has finally reached the point where she has to admit that the public just doesn’t adore her anymore.

It’s a tough pill for any actress to swallow but it’s even worse for someone so needy and self-absorbed. Not ready to be forgotten just yet, Ji-yeon makes one last desperate attempt at being loved. She’s going to have a baby. Or, more accurately, buy a random middle-schooler’s baby and try and pass it off as her own.

It’s actually quite terrible and, as her stylist reminds her more than once, illegal. Dan-ji (Kim Hyeon-soo) has nowhere to go except live with her neglectful big sister and sure could use some money for art school, a fact that Ju-yeon is quick to take advantage of. Dar-ji is quickly hidden away in a stranger’s house during the most confusing nine months of her life.

This movie really didn’t work for me. The comedy comes, as you’d expect, mostly from Ju-yeon’s lack of self-awareness and the outrageous misunderstandings that her charade inevitably brings. It just isn’t very funny. I found it very broad and, worse, obvious. Director Kim Tae-gon excuses the implausiibilities and all the selfish behavior as “satire” of celebrity, “the cult of youth and beauty”, and the hypocrisy and double standards surround teen pregnancy. When it comes to Familyhood’s satire of celebrity and youth, its target is too easy and its tone not nearly subtle enough for it to be effective as satire. Tae-gon does, however, have some interesting and worthwhile things to say about the shaming of pregnant teen girls. It was a nice surprise but seems to show up out of nowhere towards the end of a film that seems to have realized that it wasn’t really about anything and just blurted out “teen pregnancy” in a panic.

I just didn’t like it. I’m not sure why. The crowd at the International Premiere at this year’s Fantasia Festival responded with delight to every tired joke. So maybe I was just having an off day and you’d enjoy it as much as they did. But I can’t help thinking that Familyhood seriously missed its mark.