I was literally up to my elbows in cookie dough, had been for at least 6 hours, and we’d already listened to all my Christmas records. I was craving something funny, but more importantly, something easy to watch – something that wouldn’t suffer from my inattention or oven checks or frosting mishaps. Solution: 2010’s Dinner for Schmucks, a movie I’d seen and enjoyed when first released but not since.
And honestly: why the heck not? It’s actually FUNNY. I mean funny. But also wacky, an offbeat kind of film where Paul Rudd plays chronic good guy Tim who’s up for a big promotion at work but will lose it unless he plays along with a weird office tradition wherein the high ups try to impress their boss by bringing the biggest idiot the can find to a dinner party where the idiots will be secretly judged and one of them awarded the top prize (which, if you’ve been paying attention, is not compliment).
Tim is not normally the kind of guy to condone such disrespectful shit but he’s real desperate for the promotion. And the universe basically drops an idiot right into his lap. Barry (Steve Carell) is a weirdo who misinterprets almost all that life has to offer and he spends all of his free time searching for dead mice to taxidermy and pose in intricate dioramas inspired by his fantasy life. It would be hard to out-schmuck this guy. Tim’s got it in the bag.
His girlfriend, meanwhile, is losing all respect for him. But while his relationship circles the toilet, we the audience are beyond entertained by their antics – heightened by memorable turns from Zach Galifianakis and Jemaine Clement. There’s layers of insanity in every single corner of this movie, and that’s before we even get to the dinner, which is peopled by extravagantly bizarre characters by the likes of Chris O’Dowd and Oscar winner Octavia Spencer.
This was a delight to revisit. A sheer, full-figured delight.
Mindy Kaling is an actress, a director, a producer, an Emmy-nominated writer. She’s written best-sellers and acted alongside Oprah and created television series. You may not know that her foot in the door was portraying Ben Affleck in an off-Broadway play she co-wrote with her best friend called Matt & Ben, about how the pair came to write Good Will Hunting. I wish to god I had seen it.
She was hired to write for The Office when she was just 24 years old – the only woman in a room full of men. She was technically a diversity hire, part of NBC’s diversity writing programme, but don’t mistake that for a lack of qualification. “For a long time I was really embarrassed about that. No one [on The Office] said anything to me about it, but they all knew and I was acutely aware of that. It took me a while to realize that I was just getting the access other people had because of who they knew.” Mindy’s parents, an architect and an OB-GYN, immigrated to the U.S. from India (via Nigeria) only months before she was born, and gave her the most American of names, ripped from their favourite sitcom, Mork & Mindy.
In Late Night, Kaling plays Molly Patel, also a diversity hire, straight from a chemical plant (don’t call it a factory!). She’s hired to be the first and badly needed female writer on Katherine Newbury’s show as its steady ratings decline threatens its existence. Kaling wrote the role of Newbury specifically for Emma Thompson and it is indeed a perfect fit. Newbury is exacting and imperious, but has grown out of touch with her core audience. Molly is exactly the injection of colour and culture that this writer’s room needs even though it longs to stay beige. Of course, Kaling had to invent a fictional world in which a woman is actually allowed to host a late night show, but once she does (and we get over that depressing fact), she invents a very good one, one in which her very successful host is over 50 and undeniably at the top of her game, but hasn’t had to sacrifice her life to gain such a position. Newbury has both a love life (John Lithgow) and a sex life, and she still gets to be the boss. Kaling is so devoted to this character, she took a page from her parents’ baby naming book and called her own daughter Katherine.
Late Night is a lot of laughs, and it benefits from the excellent chemistry between Kaling and Thompson. I suppose it takes a woman to write two such meaty yet tender roles for women. Roles that don’t apologize for emotions and characters who don’t get disempowered for expressing them. And a female director to give these ladies their space to create complexity. Late Night tackles a lot of themes as you might imagine, but it never loses its sharp and incisive comedy. Thompson proves more than able, with impeccable timing and buckets of condescension. She’s formidable. Meanwhile, Kaling orbits around her, not just absorbing her light but casting her own glow as well. They don’t diminish each other, they brighten the whole damn screen. It’s a party where ambitious women, perhaps for the first time this century, are truly celebrated. Yes there were applause-worthy moments, though the theatre I was in was unfortunately a packed but non-clapping one (well, okay, save for me, who couldn’t resist). And there’s a lesson plan for how to apologize correctly and take responsibility like a big kid. But mostly there’s just a lot of zing, and a surprising amount of relatability [My work recently turned one of two women’s washrooms in the building into a “gender neutral” washroom which is nice in theory but in practice has become the washroom where men go to poop. Because men, who still had 2 bathrooms to themselves, think it’s more important to stink up a third than to create safe spaces. They’re literally shitting their privilege all over the place.]
Kaling wrote this movie while she was pregnant, and on the set of A Wrinkle In Time. She shot it while literally breastfeeding her daughter. Motherhood is not slowing her down, it’s just another bullshit hurdle she’s going to plough straight through while we lay down our dollars like a red carpet made out of green because she is the Queen and we her loyal subjects.
Groundhog Day has recently been resurrected as a Broadway musical, and Bill Murray went to see it on Tuesday. And Bill Murray went to see it on Wednesday. Is Bill Murray fucking with us?
By all accounts he enjoyed the show, laughing and pumping his fist during musical numbers. Not all of us are destined for NYC this summer, but the good news is, you can catch Groundhog Day pretty much any old time, and here are but a few reasons why you should revisit this classic over and over again.
Director Harold Ramis originally wanted Tom Hanks for the role but realized Hanks was “too nice” and went knocking elsewhere. Michael Keaton turned it down. Steve Martin, Chevy Chase, Alec Baldwin, Howie Mandel, Billy Crystal, Robin Williams, Kevin Kline, Harrison Ford, Mel Gibson, Kevin Costner and John Travolta were also considered before Bill Murray was cast.
Harold Ramis has a cameo in the film as Phil’s neurologist. Also appearing, if you watch dedicatedly enough: Michael Shannon in his big screen debut – he’s Fred, one of half of the young couple who’s supposed to get married that day.
Although a family of groundhogs was raised specifically for this movie, when Bill Murray was severely bitten not once, but twice, he had to receive rabies treatment, which are rather painful injections.
Although set in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, the film was actually filmed in Woodstock, Illinois, just 50 miles from Murray’s hometown, Wilmette. Tourism in Punxsutawney spiked after the film’s release, but it’s in Wilmette where you’ll find a small plaque that reads “Bill Murray stepped here” on the curb where Phil continually steps in a puddle, and another marked “Ned’s Corner” where Phil perpetually meets Ned the insurance salesman (Stephen Tobolowsky).
There are 38 days depicted partially or in full in the movie. Ramis said originally he wanted about 10 000 years worth of days and ended up with what he considers to be a decade’s worth which is still a really, really, sad, lonely long time to be reliving the same day.
Bill Murray was offered a “spit bucket” for the scene in which he gorges on pastries. That was a terrifically bad idea on his part…guess who got a tummy ache?
In one scene, Phil throws the alarm clock, destroying it. In real life, Murray’s throw did little to damage the thing so the crew took baseball bats to it to smash it up. And yes, it really did keep playing that stupid song, just like in the movie.
Murray was going through a divorce at the time and compensated by becoming obsessed with the movie, calling up Ramis with all kinds of questions. Ramis tired of it and sent the writer (Danny Rubin) to sit down with him and iron out all the wrinkles. This caused a rift in their friendship – Murray didn’t speak to Ramis for many years.
When Phil is at the piano teacher’s house, it’s actually Bill Murray playing. He can’t read music but plays by ear, and learned that passage by heart to play it in the movie. [It’s Sergei Rachmaninoff’s Rhapsody on a Theme by Paginini, fyi]
Harold Ramis, Bill Murray, and Stephen Tobolowsky have all served as honourary Grand Marshals in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania.
In Swedish, the movie’s title is translated as “Monday Every Day” – although in 1993, when the movie came out, Groundhog Day was on a Tuesday. The specific day of the week is not mentioned in the film.
In once scene, Phil throws himself from a bell tower. The building is actually the opera house in Woodstock, Illinois, where local legend has it that the ghost of a young girl haunts the building ever since she fell off a balcony section and died.
The famous line “Don’t drive angry!” was improvised by Murray when the groundhog in his lap was aggressively trying to escape by climbing over the steering wheel. [Yes, this was one of the times when Bill got bit]
In the final shot, we see Phil carry Rita over the gate before climbing over it himself. This may seem romantic but was unscripted: in real life, the gate was simply frozen shut.
Heartbroken over a breakup with his TV star girlfriend, Peter takes his tears on vacation to Hawaii only to find that his ex is there too – with her new boyfriend!
You’ll find a theme here over the next 2 weeks: Hawaii. And that’s because Sean and I are Hawaiing it up ourselves. I made up that word, but I couldn’t have made up the great state of Hawaii because it’s just too beautiful and magical for normal people to process. That’s why they put it way out in the middle of nowhere, so that you’d have to really want it, you’d have to earn it in the getting there. The travel is so arduous that by the time you debark, you’re in deep need of a vacation, and as luck would have it, you’re in paradise.
Forgetting Sarah Marshall was filmed on Oahu, which is the island we happen to be flying into today, and from which we will embark on our cruise in a few days (near the beach where the plane’s fuselage from Lost was filmed, which I like to believe is not an omen).
It’s a romantic comedy for guys. Peter (Jason Segel) is messed up and bewildered, but why not be bewildered with an orchid in your hair, right? Segel wrote the movie based on many of his real-life breakups, like from his own TV-star (ex)girlfriend, Linda Cardellini (they starred in Freaks and Geeks together). He wrote the part of Aldous Snow with his Undeclared costar, Charlie Hunnam, in mind but it was Russell Brand who brought Aldous to life and then kept the character alive in Get Him To the Greek.
I wonder if the movie theatre on our ship will be playing Hawaiian selections. I also wonder if, on one of our multi-island destinations, we’ll find out whether or not the rumour Sarah Marshall shares is true: is one of them really filled with lepers? Stay tuned to find out!
Christopher Guest has long since held an esteemed spot in my heart and my DVD shelf for his improv-heavy mockumentaries. He wrote and starred in the grandfather of them all, Spinal Tap, but came on as director as well for his classics Waiting For Guffman, Best In Show, and A Mighty Wind. He’s poked fun at small town theatre, dog shows, and folk music, and after an agonizing decade-long hiatus, he’s back with Mascots.
As you might guess, Mascots does indeed take on the little-explored world of mascotery: you know, the guys at football games dressed up in the big fuzzy suits, trying to get the spectators to cheer and do the wave. The fun is more sincere than scathing, but no less amusing for its kindness. Christopher Guest’s body of work is so aligned with what I find funny that Mascots was my number 1 pick for TIFF, ahead of La La Land or Nocturnal Animals or Loving. I was delighted to be able to attend the world premiere, but somewhere in a secret place down near my toes I was worried that perhaps his latest just wouldn’t measure up. With a ten year break, would the chemistry still be there?
I needn’t have worried. Biiiiiiiig sigh of relief. It’s funny! So funny I’m in immediate need of a re-watch. The laughs from one joke often drowned out the next – and what a pleasant problem to have! Mascots is vintage Guest, and he’s got a lot of the old troupe assembled for more.
Jane Lynch, Ed Begley Jr, and Don Lake play judges at this year’s Golden Fluffy awards. They’re former mascots themselves and are pleased to judge this year’s finalists in a cut-throat competition. Chris O’Dowd is “The Fist,” hockey’s bad-boy mascot. Parker Posey is a dancing armadillo. Tom Bennett is a football club badger. Christopher Moynihan is a plush Plumber. It sounds absurd and it absolutely is, but that’s what has always worked so well in Guest’s movies: he takes a hobby that exists on the fringes and is practiced with total obsessiveness, and he shows us the incredible underbelly. It’s fascinating. Like a car wreck or a wonky boob job, you can’t help but stare.
In the case of Mascots, Guest seems to take a particular interest in the proceedings, giving ample screen time to the “performances.” This is way more earnest than we’re used to seeing from him, but it works, largely because the actors commit with such deadpan abandon. It takes a lot of guts to make a movie the way Guest does – he doesn’t know what he’ll end up with until the camera stops rolling and he starts cutting in the editing room. He relies on a deep pool of talent – too deep, as most only get to shine for a line or two. I want more Balaban, more Willard. And definitely more Corky St. Clair, a role Guest reprises from Waiting for Guffman. If we can’t have it all, though, Guest and company still give us a pretty fair shake. I left the theatre with rosy cheeks and a bounce in my bottom.
The good news is that just two films into my Toronto International Film Festival experience, I’d already found a film to love. The even better news: you’ll love it too, and soon – it’ll be out on Netflix October 13th.
I am having trouble sorting out my feelings for this movie: on the one hand, it’s plump with clichés like an overcooked wiener in a bun of unsubtlety. But that’s no ordinary mustard on this hot dog; it’s the fancy hand-pumped kind I got “on tap” from Maille in Paris, a beautiful mustard with Chablis and black truffles.
Okay, I took that metaphor too far. My point is (and I do have one): this movie hits a LOT of “road trip” clichés coupled with a lot of “my disabled buddy” clichés. And it has Selena Gomez. But it’s still offbeat and oddly charming and yes, this wiener won me over.
Ben (Paul Rudd) is a downtrodden man completing his training in caregiving, where the motto is, “Care, but not too much.” And that’s his plan. This is just a job. But he winds up working for an 18 year old young man named Trevor (Craig Roberts) with Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy. A progressive loss of muscle function means that Trevor’s in a wheel chair with limited use of his arms. The disease has NOT touched Trevor’s razor wit, his mean sense of humour, or his nasty predilection for pranks. This isn’t going to be an easy babysitting job after all – especially when the two hit the open road with a specially-equipped van full of drugs and life-sustaining equipment. Oh the fun they’ll have literally risking Trevor’s life to see some lousy American road side attractions.
Paul Rudd is the fancy mustard. I adore him. 60% of the time, I love him every time. I mean, let’s be serious for a moment. Is there a single person on the planet who doesn’t love him? He might just be the most universally beloved actor that America has ever or will ever produce. He’s adorable. He’s still playing adorable and he’s middle aged!
Writer-director Rob Burnett manages to find a few new nuggets among the usual disability tropes. He’s not afraid of dark humour, but this movie still manages to be fairly lightweight. And I have to give him mad props for finding a way to use a Leonard Cohen song. I could hardly believe my little ears; they turned pink in utter delight.
This is the perfect little movie to accompany a glass of sangria at the end of a summer night – easy watching for easy sipping. Hot dogs are never easy eating for me but I rate this movie 4 gourmet all-beef wieners out of 5. It’s on Netflix right now.
Director Sophie Goodhart has a sister with MS and a willingness to tell the ugly truth: that as uncouth as it may be, sometimes we’re jealous of people with disabilities. They’re lauded for their bravery and showered with attention, and every one of their accomplishments is framed all the more positively in light of their disability.
In 2001, Goodhart channeled these feelings into a script for a short film called My Blind Brother, starring Tony Hale, and it’s taken all this time to hustle that short into her first feature length, but here it is, in all its unflinching, unpolitically correct glory.
Directing from her own script, Goodhart introduces us to two siblings, Bill and Robbie. Robbie (Adam Scott) is the blind brother, an athlete who raises money for visually-impaired children with various athletic feats. His brother Bill (Nick Kroll) is his virtual guide dog, running every race right beside him, keeping him out of harm’s way, while receiving absolutely none of the glory. Our expectations are reversed when the disabled saint actually turns out to be a bit of a prick, and his do-gooder brother is secretly seething with resentment and guilt. These are ingredients to a pretty awkward stew, but when you throw in a fucked up girl (Jenny Slate, drunkenly hooking up with Bill on the eve of her boyfriend’s funeral) trying to redeem herself by unwittingly volunteering with her one-night-stand’s blind brother, you get a pretty juicy jambalaya.
The casting also thwarts expectations, with Adam Scott dangerously good as a smug, vain, puffed-up pompous ass who just happens to be blind and Nick Kroll playing the relatively straight though unambitious brother. Slate, meanwhile, walks a thin line between charming and neurotic, and gets it mostly right. So they’re a fun trio to eavesdrop on, even though they’re encouraging you to do the one thing your mother would rap your knuckles for: laughing at the disabled.
But Goodhart makes sure that we’re never laughing at blindness per se (except for a few sight gags, ironically) but at all the constructs that make us tiptoe around a disability. Which maybe makes the movie sound a little more “issue movie” than it is. It’s a comedy, and a pretty easy breezy one at that. But you will laugh. I certainly did – and not just the guy at our screening who obliviously asked “Has the blind community seen this yet?”