Love, Simon

March 16, 2018 by  
Filed under Kiko, Reviews

Starring: Nick Robinson, Katherine Langford, Alexandra Shipp
Directed by: Greg Berlanti (“Life as We Know It”)
Written by: Elizabeth Berger (TV’s “This Is Us”) and Isaac Aptaker (TV’s “This Is Us”)

Unless you’ve been perusing the catalog of gay teen arthouse cinema and stumbled across recent gems like “Beach Rats” or “Princess Cyd,” it’s safe to say the genre isn’t one that Hollywood has been in a rush to make in recent years. Even with critically acclaimed LGBTQ films like “Call Me by Your Name” and “Moonlight” getting the attention they deserve, a major studio has only now stepped up to tell a more mainstream coming-of-age story led by a gay teenage character – someone who isn’t relegated to the role of “gay best friend.”

Imagine that Damien (“I want my pink shirt back!”) from 2004’s “Mean Girls” was given his own romantic comedy, or Patrick (Ezra Miller) from 2012’s “The Perks of Being a Wallflower” or that kid from “Easy A” who convinces Emma Stone to say they “lemon squeezed” so he could keep his sexual orientation under wraps. Where would we be with gay films if more of these characters were given the opportunity to do what their straight counterparts have been doing for decades — acting awkwardly around their crushes, flirting to their heart’s content and sharing with audiences what it’s like falling in love?

With “Love, Simon,” 20th Century Fox has released the most accessible movie ever about the gay teen experience. The outcome is so charming, authentic and emboldening, LGBTQ advocates should strike while the iron is hot and demand Marvel add a superhero movie headlined a gay main character to its franchise (unless, of course, you really think Deadpool’s sexual fluidity is going to be revealed in the upcoming sequel).

In “Love, Simon,” which is adapted from the 2015 young-adult novel “Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda” by Becky Albertalli, actor Nick Robinson (“Jurassic World”) plays the title character, a closeted gay high school student who wants to tell someone about his “big-ass secret.” But he’s afraid of how his friends and family (Jennifer Garner and Josh Duhamel play his cool, progressive parents) will take the news.

When fellow student “Blue” comes out anonymously online, Simon reaches out to him (also anonymously) in hopes of finding someone he can confide in. After months of intimate emails, both young men realize they have fallen in love with one another, but question whether or not they should reveal their identities. But Martin (Logan Miller), an annoying theater classmate, takes that choice away when he discovers Simon’s private messages and threatens to out him if Simon doesn’t agree to help him land a date with new girl Abby (Alexandra Shipp). The move will also affect the lives of Simon’s best friends Leah (Katherine Langford) and Nick (Jorge Lendeborg Jr.).

While things get a bit “Dawson’s Creek”-y at times, director Greg Berlanti never allows the narrative’s melodrama to overtake the more significant themes that make a film like “Love, Simon” a milestone for mainstream gay movies. Screenwriters Elizabeth Berger and Isaac Aptaker, both scribes on TV’s “This Is Us,” capture the confusion, self-consciousness and internal chaos taking place inside Simon’s own little world – with admiration for his character and for the situations he finds himself taking on alone.

They also use humor effectively and cathartically, which expands Simon’s personality in such a way that audiences can see he’s clever (but not too clever) and likable, and still somewhat flawed. In one scene, he questions why gays are the only people who find it necessary to come out, and imagines what it would be like if his heterosexual friends had to sit their parents down and tell them they were straight. It’s a subtle but funny sequence that fits in perfectly with the film’s other heartfelt moments and its message about acceptance and tolerance. This will speak volumes to real teens in the same complicated position.

Those same teenagers, however, should take note that “Love, Simon” — as easily accessible as it is — isn’t the only LGBTQ-friendly movie about teens that’s out there. You simply have to do a little research to find the indie versions of these stories on the fringes of cinema, just waiting for someone to give them a chance. Still, “Love, Simon” is a nicely wrapped gift that’s been placed on your lap, so take advantage.

Safe Haven

February 14, 2013 by  
Filed under Cody, Reviews

Starring: Josh Duhamel, Julianne Hough, Cobie Smulders
Directed by: Lasse Hallstrom (“Salmon Fishing in the Yemen”)
Written by: Leslie Bohem (“The Alamo”) and Dana Stevens (“City of Angels”)

It’s the week of Valentine’s Day and many men everywhere are preparing to give their wives, girlfriends and dates the best gift they can: trying to sit through a Nicholas Sparks book adaptation. The latest challenge comes in the form of “Safe Haven,” Sparks’ most recent book about a girl fleeing an abusive boyfriend.

In “Safe Haven,” a woman named Katie (Julianne Hough) arrives in a small North Carolina town where she hopes to start a new life. There, she meets Alex (Josh Duhamel), a widowed father of two who works at the local general store. Apprehensive and scared at first, Katie tries to move on all while looking over her shoulder for her ex, who is searching for her.

The first hour of “Safe Haven” is actually not all that bad. Sure, there is some jarring editing that randomly bounces back and forth between Katie’s new life and her boyfriend who is on the prowl for her. And let’s not forget the average acting from the chronically paranoid Hough and flimsy, useless characters like her friend Jo (Cobie Smulders). Let’s not forget the predictable romantic storyline that weaves its way through the first half of the film. But there’s also things that are okay, namely the charming and grounded performance from Duhamel who plays a devoted father and romantic lead quite well. There’s also a really nice performance from the adorable Mimi Kirkland who plays his daughter Lexi. The word good is perhaps too strong, but even though the romance is predictable and schmaltzy and the script is at times sickeningly saccharine, the first half of the film is relatively watchable.

The back half of the film is a different story. As things intensify and truths reveal themselves, Katie’s world becomes endangered and the film begins to crumble. The style of jumping back and forth between her life in North Carolina and her boyfriend trying to hunt her down wears out its welcome as the transitions become even more distracting when they start to include what really happened in her past. Events happen in the climax of the film that should have massive consequences but are for whatever reason completely ignored.

Then there’s the ending. The first wrinkle of the film’s ending is telegraphed and hokey and bad enough as it is. What follows can only be described as manipulative, nonsensical, god-awful garbage, and that is putting it lightly. It is a “twist” that turns out to form one of the dumbest endings to a film in recent memory. The bulk of the blame should belong to Sparks himself, since the book apparently shares the same ending. Audiences should be insulted that Sparks treats them like his own personal emotional marionettes, tugging at their strings and forcing them to react or cry by any means necessary.

While the film skirts the edge of watchability for a decent period of time, it is ultimately formulaic, factory-made, melodramatic dreck that is even further submarined by an ending so lame that even a sigh would roll its eyes at.

Life as We Know It

October 8, 2010 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Katherine Heigl, Josh Duhamel, Josh Lucas
Directed by: Greg Berlanti (“The Broken Hearts Club”)
Written by: Ian Deitchman (debut) and Kristin Rusk Robinson (debut)

The cuteness factor might be at an all-time high, but with parenthood reduced to montages of changing poopie Pampers and dodging projectile peas, even a pair of the most squeezable baby cheeks can only get “Life as We Know It” so far.

In “Life,” first-time screenwriters Ian Deitchman and Kristin Rusk Robinson try to give the film some emotional substance, but end up padding the narrative with so much predictable nonsense you’ll long for the days when Steve Guttenberg and Tom Selleck were on diaper duty.

After impressing audiences in Judd Apatow’s 2007 comedy “Knocked Up,” Katherine Heigl has since made a handful of regrettably dreadful choices by starring in “27 Dresses,” “The Ugly Truth,” and “Killers.” She looks to find her footing in “Life” playing Holly Berenson, a bakery owner whose life is thrown into a tailspin when her best friends Peter and Alison die in a car accident and leave Holly to raise their only child, Sophie.

If that wasn’t difficult enough, Holly has been named as a co-guardian for Sophie along with Peter and Alison’s other friend Eric Messer (Josh Duhamel), a TV sports director whom she’s only tolerated over the years because they shared Peter and Alison as mutual friends. A bad date the two had years prior was just enough for Holly to recognize their incompatibility.

Now faced with the responsibility of raising a child, the two must learn to get along while living under the same roof and providing a stable home for Sophie (played here by triplets Alexis, Brynn, and Brooke Clagett) all while anticipating surprise visits by a no-nonsense social worker who is watching their every move.

“Life as We Know It,” could have worked if it has simply stayed honest about the situation at hand. Instead of capturing a genuine look at just how difficult raising a child would actually be under these circumstances, director Greg Berlanti (“The Broken Hearts Club”) lets Heigl and Duhamel stir up the schlocky sentiment. “Life” ends up pandering in the most formulaic ways possible and hits all the standard romantic comedy plot points even the average filmgoer could see coming from a mile away.

When in Rome

January 29, 2010 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Kristen Bell, Josh Duhamel, Dax Shepard
Directed by: Mark Steven Johnson (“Ghost Rider”)
Written by: David Diamond (“Old Dogs”) and David Weissman (“Old Dogs”)

Take the screenwriters of one of the unfunniest comedies of 2009 (“Old Dogs”) and team them up with the director of two of the worst superhero movies of the last decade (“Daredevil” and “Ghost Rider”) and there’s no telling what kind of mutant cinematic love-child can be spawned.

Whatever label you’d like to put on the new romantic comedy “When in Rome,” it’s unfortunate that Kristen Bell (“Forgetting Sarah Marshall”) – an actress that makes looking adorable an art form – has her name attached. It’s the type of pointless rom com that is easy to dismiss if you’ve clawed your way through enough of them.

In this latest entry of chick-flick torture, Bell plays Beth, a Manhattan museum curator who is too busy with her career to search for Mr. Right. Her interest in love is at an all-time low since her last boyfriend dumped her at Applebee’s and announced his engagement to another woman soon after.

While a wedding would be the last place Beth would want to go, especially with her boss Celeste (Anjelica Huston) breathing down her neck about an upcoming art show, Beth travels to Rome to see her little sister get married to an guy she’s only known for two weeks.

In Rome she meets Nick (Josh Duhamel), a sportswriter and charming best man who could have made perfect boyfriend material if Beth wasn’t so skeptical about relationships. Her cynicism (in addition to a little too much wine) drives Beth to take coins from a fountain in the city’s square where people make wishes to fall in love. In turn, the men whose coins Beth snatches from the magical fountain immediately direct their attention to Beth and follow her back to New York to try to win her heart.

Leading the pack of stalkers are actors Dax Shepard as an arrogant male model, Will Arnett as a crazy Italian artist, Jon Heder as a untalented street magician, and Danny DeVito as a friendly sausage capitalist. Other than DeVito’s short stature and the fact that he’s the only character of the bunch not written like a bumbling fool, there’s nothing remotely funny about Beth’s ridiculous suitors.

As the story continues to unravel as predictably as possible and with scarce humor, screenwriters David Diamond and David Weissman decide that it might be neat to emphasize their unoriginality by writing in a “Napoleon Dynamite” reference into the script where Heder (the star of the 2004 indie hit) reunites with actor Efren Ramirez, who played Napoleon’s best friend Pedro. Really? The cameo works about as well as the rest of the thoughtless jokes that plague the script.

In the end, “When in Rome” is one uncreative sight gag after another. From Beth and Nick’s date to a restaurant where food is served in the dark to the weird “Wizard of Oz” curveball it throws at the end, director Mark Steven Johnson seems to have told the entire cast to just run with it and have some mindless fun. If only we were so lucky.