The Other Woman

April 25, 2014 by  
Filed under Cody, Reviews

Starring: Leslie Mann, Cameron Diaz, Kate Upton
Directed by: Nick Cassavetes (“The Notebook”)
Written by: Melissa Stack (debut)

For anyone in a committed relationship, the worst possible scenario has to be finding out that your spouse has been cheating on you. But what if you found out that your spouse was cheating on you with not one, but two women? Your first instinct would naturally be to befriend your wife’s mistress, right? No?

This is the situation in which we find Kate (Leslie Mann) in in “The Other Woman.” When a lawyer named Carly (Cameron Diaz) shows up to surprise her boyfriend Mark (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, TV’s “Game of Thrones”) at his house, the door is answered by Kate, much to both of their surprise. As Kate digs deeper, she discovers her husband is cheating on her with Carly and the two form an unlikely friendship. When they follow him to a vacation to try and see what he is into, they find yet another woman he is seeing (Kate Upton). After being informed of the situation, the three team up to try and take him down and get their revenge.

Those who have seen Judd Apatow’s films know that a little bit of Leslie Mann goes a long way. While she can be incredibly funny, she also has the tendency to play the same character over and over again and a tendency to overdo her performances. You cannot fault her effort here as she is virtually unhinged and commits completely to the role. Her loud, rambling and hysteric characteristics, however, are more obnoxious than entertaining. Of particular surprise is just how bland of a performance and character Diaz portrays. Sure, a lot of it has to do with the lame script, but Diaz displays very little in the way of personality in her role.

Once the trio of jilted lovers bands together, the film becomes a retelling of tired, typical, sabotage tropes and juvenile potty humor. I mean honestly, how many times must we watch someone’s drink get messed with only to find them gripping the side of a toilet seat, sweating and grunting complete with sound effects. (Sorry for the spoiler). The story never really moves far beyond seeing how much damage the women can inflict on the three-timing husband, despite the films unsuccessful attempts at building a number of relationships.

The obvious goal of “The Other Woman” is to serve as a women’s empowerment film to anyone who has ever been played by a man, which is perfectly fine. Unfortunately, the gags are stale and the script is vapid, among many other problems. When it comes down to it, “The Other Woman” is an entirely unfunny affair.

This is 40

December 21, 2012 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Paul Rudd, Leslie Mann, Albert Brooks
Directed by: Judd Apatow (“Knocked Up,” ‘Funny People”)
Written by: Judd Apatow (“Knocked Up,” “Funny People”)

Were you aware that director Judd Apatow’s last film, “Funny People,” has a runtime of 2 hours and 26 minutes? Yes, the crude-yet-thoughtful comedy clocks in at just 20 minutes shorter than the epic fantasy adventure “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey,” and that disparity drops to 13 minutes if you count the extended edition available on DVD. It’s the most glaring weakness built into the DNA of nearly every project Apatow’s name is attached to: an intelligent script and top-notch comedic performances stretched too thin by pacing that sometimes devolves from storytelling to simply hanging out with the characters. While Apatow has arguably earned such indulgences after re-shaping modern cinematic comedy as a hit-making producer and director, it’s tough to keep the laughs going for that long without testing the patience of the audience.

Though not as egregious an offender, “This is 40” still manages to stick around at least half an hour too long. As a quasi-sequel to 2007’s “Knocked Up,” the film features Paul Rudd and Leslie Mann reprising their roles as Pete and Debbie, first introduced as the extended family of Seth Rogen’s and Katherine Heigl’s lead characters. The lived-in feel of their relationship fleshed out the edges of that film in ways that often overshadowed the chief plot line. Five years later, Pete and Debbie are front and center and on the cusp of their 40th birthdays. Well Pete is, anyway. Debbie has been weaving an elaborate web of lies about her age culminating in her claim to be turning 38 instead. Pete and Debbie are also dealing with the trials that plague similar couples across the nation: financial problems, unpredictable children, and the boring familiarity that inevitably rears its head in long-term relationships.

“This is 40” has little to speak of in they way of plot, with the only real threads that stretch from beginning to end being the very loose planning and execution of the birthday party and the dire financial struggles of Pete’s boomer-skewing record label. Newly-minted Apatow players Lena Dunham and Chris O’Dowd turn up to deliver laughs as Pete’s co-workers, with O’Dowd rewarded later in the film by sharing an extended (though highly unnecessary) exchange with Apatow all-star Jason Segel. A couple of comedic heavyweights check in along the way: Albert Brooks drops in as Pete’s dad, an old man with a new young family, and Melissa McCarthy stops the show as a mother defending her son with an hilariously insane rant (curiously absent, though, are Rogen and Heigl). Despite all the talent on hand, though, the film belongs to Rudd and Mann. The honesty of their relationship is never in doubt, and the familiarity each have with Apatow’s voice help turn already funny lines into quotable and hilarious one-liners.

Yeah, the film overstays its welcome, but so what? Like the rest of Apatow’s characters, these people are fun to hang around with.

Leslie Mann – This is 40

December 21, 2012 by  
Filed under Interviews

In “This is 40,” Leslie Mann reprises her role as Debbie from 2007’s “Knocked Up.” In the film, Debbie’s marriage to Paul Rudd’s Pete is tested by financial troubles, moody teenage children, and the resentful rut all long-term relationships seem to fall into. I spoke with Leslie about her marriage to the film’s director Judd Apatow, how improvisation is handled on the set, and how she’s coping with her daughters’ budding acting careers.

Your husband, Judd Apatow, wrote and directed the film. How much of what is onscreen is drawn from your actual marriage?

Well, I think that it’s emotionally truthful. I feel like it’s emotionally truthful to a lot of people, struggling with marriage and raising kids and just how hectic life is. Those are pretty universal feelings and ideas. But it’s not really, you know, it is fictional. It’s not plucked right out of our lives.

Everyone seems to assume that Judd’s films are filled with improvisation. Is that the case, or do you stick pretty close to the script?

We do stick close to the script. You know, Judd is a really generous director and very supportive. He started as a stand-up comic. So sometimes when we’re shooting we’ll roll and he doesn’t cut. He lets it roll until it rolls out so we’ll shoot for sometimes – like 10 minutes straight. And sometimes he will yell out lines as we’re rolling, so he’ll kind of rewrite while we’re shooting the scene. And then the actors will shoot a bunch of takes like that. We’ll have like a “free take” where we kind of do whatever we want. But it usually winds up being what’s on the page. Pretty close to it.

Your daughters, Maude and Iris, play your daughters for the third time [after “Knocked Up” and “Funny People”] onscreen.

Yeah.

Do they have any aspirations to maybe play someone else’s daughters someday?

(Laughs) Well…I keep saying that I want them to stay in school and just, you know, have a normal childhood because there’s plenty of time for them to be working when they grow up. But then I talked to Tom Cruise last night—Judd was doing Jimmy Fallon, and Tom Cruise was there. And Tom Cruise kind of disagreed with me and thought that I should let them become actors if they want to. If they’re good and they’re interested in it [he said] I should let them do that. And my daughter Maude was there, who does want to act, and she’s like, “See Mom? I don’t need to stay in school! Tom Cruise said that I should go out and become an actress!” So now I’m not sure what I’m gonna to do.

The Change-Up

August 5, 2011 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Jason Bateman, Ryan Reynolds, Leslie Mann
Directed by: David Dobkin (“Wedding Crashers”)
Written by:  Jon Lucas (“The Hangover”) and Scott Moore (“The Hangover”)

Body-switching comedies like “The Change-Up” are tough to wrap your head around. Typically they involve ordinary people living ordinary lives in an ordinary world suddenly and inexplicably visited upon by some sort of magic. In the real world, such a thing would probably destroy the psyches of the people involved. Questions of their place in the universe would arise, and likely they would be driven mad because really, who would believe you were the victim of a magic spell instead of just a simple mental illness? Instead, in these movies, the switched parties are initially shocked but then end up accepting the enchantment, playing pretend, and admiring their new private parts in the mirror.

The victims of this free-floating sorcery in “The Change-Up” are workaholic lawyer Dave Lockwood (Jason Bateman) and sporadically-employed actor Mitch Planko (Ryan Reynolds).  Dave is married with three kids, stuck in a rut of late-night diaper changes and “dialogue nights” meant to save his marriage. Mitch is single, prowling around an adolescent bachelor pad with a samurai sword and a steady stream of sexual conquests streaming through the door. The lifelong friends reconnect after a night of drinking and baseball, each envious of the other‘s life. An impromptu bathroom break in a downtown fountain, coupled with a power outage and a simultaneous wish, conjures up the body-switching magic.

What follows is Body Switching Comedy 101: wouldn’t you know it, today is the most important day in Dave’s career. He has to close The Big Deal in order to make partner, but his consciousness is stuck in Mitch’s body. And of course Mitch has a big “acting” gig lined up today, but, as you remember, they’ve switched bodies. Still, they might as well get used to it because they can’t just go pee in the fountain again because it’s been moved, you see, and the government bureaucracy involved in finding it will mean lots of waiting and living each other’s lives. Yes, this random magic is beholden to paperwork.

The cast is likable. It’s refreshing to see Bateman play a callous jerk instead of just the flustered straight man, and it’s nice to see Reynolds in something that isn’t “The Green Lantern.” And Leslie Mann and Olivia Wilde are on board for the requisite R-rated nudity. While “The Change-Up” does have laughs, far too many of the attempts come from things like CGI-enhanced babies and their high-velocity poop.

Shorts

August 21, 2009 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Jimmy Bennett, Jake Short, Trevor Gagnon
Directed by: Robert Rodriguez (“Spy Kids”)
Written by: Robert Rodriguez (“Spy Kids”)

There’s no denying filmmaker Robert Rodriguez is a kid at heart. Whether he’s firebombing dusty Mexican villages or journeying into virtual worlds with pint-sized superheroes, Rodriguez is a very likeable director. He’s like that popular little boy in elementary school everyone wanted to be friends with because of his impressive toy collection.

The problem with Rodriguez is that he still hasn’t found a way to make his toys for tikes as much fun as the ones for the big boys. While there was minimal success with the original “Spy Kids” in 2001, its two sequels and the ridiculous “The Adventures of Sharkboy and Lavagirl 3-D” that followed failed to show the same unique voice Rodriguez had at the start of his career. (YouTube “Bedhead,” his first family-friendly short he made back in 1991).

Almost 20 years later, Rodriguez continues to run into the same familiar dilemma with his newest age-appropriate adventure. In “Shorts,” the auteur from Austin, Texas has kicked over his toy chest to reveal all the playthings he has collected over the years. The overabundance of imagination and silliness, however, is just too much for one tiny movie to handle.

Putting his head together with one of his real-life sons (he did the same with “Sharkboy”), Rodriguez siphons as much childhood fantasy as he possibly can before writing an overly-ambitious story about a small, tight-knit suburb that goes topsy-turvy when a rainbow-colored, wish-granting rock falls from the sky and lands in the community.

Jimmy Bennett (“Orphan”) is Toby Thompson, a bullied kid who gets his hands on the rock right before Rodriguez starts to play his cinematic version of hot potato and tosses the main computer-generated prop around to everyone. This includes brothers Loogie (Trevor Gagnon), Lug (Rebel Rodriguez), and Laser (Leo Howard), who can’t seem to get a grasp on their wishing technique.

Leslie Mann (“Funny People”), Jon Cryer (TV’s “Two and a Half Men”), and Kat Dennings (“The House Bunny”) round out the rest of the Thompson family – Mom, Dad, and sister Stacey – who don’t have much luck with the rock either. When Stacey tells her immature older boyfriend that she wishes he’d “grow up,” he literally becomes 40 feet tall. When Toby tells his parents he wishes they “were closer,” their bodies mesh into a two-headed-mom-dad hybrid.

In addition to the main cast and all the CGI already crowding the screen, Rodriguez has more characters up his sleeve, including germaphobic scientist Dr. Noseworthy (William H. Macy) and his son Nose (Jake Short), who unleashes a booger monster with the help of his father’s laboratory experiments. The slimy green gunk isn’t the only villain running amok. Mr. Black (James Spader) and his two gothic kids Helvetica (Jolie Vanier) and Cole (Devon Gearhart) instill fear into the rest of the community while pursuing the rock for its endless power.

Even with Rodriguez breaking “Shorts” into more controllable vignettes, he decides to make the process even more chaotic than it has to be by editing the entire film out of sequence and trusting kids under the age of 12 haven’t seen “Pulp Fiction.” It’s a risky attempt that unfortunately doesn’t work as well as he would have hoped.

While a handful of the child actors are cast well, Rodriguez focuses more on special effects and overuses slapstick to reach the film’s demographic. There are only so many times someone can bump their head before the joke just isn’t funny anymore. In “Shorts,” Rodriguez never knows when to say when.

Funny People

July 31, 2009 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Adam Sandler, Seth Rogen, Leslie Mann
Directed by: Judd Apatow (“Knocked Up”)
Written by: Judd Apatow (“Knocked Up”)

It’s been satisfying to watch the evolution of Adam Sandler over the last 15 years. While he started off as a mostly juvenile comedian whose popular five-year stint on “Saturday Night Live” propelled him into films like “Billy Madison,” “Happy Gilmore,” and “The Waterboy,” Sandler has grown into this oddly mature actor who is slowly learning that there is a lot more he can offer moviegoers than the jibber-jabber most mainstream fans flock to the theaters to see.

In “Funny People,” Sandler take a step forward in his career by taking a step back to recognize the fresh comedy that director Judd Apatow (“Knocked Up”) has brought to Hollywood in the last few years. While Sandler’s best years are still ahead of him, it’s a testament to him as an actor to be receptive to the younger generation of talented showmen who are hungry for the same things he was at twenty-something years old.

Sandler continues working on his dramatic acting chops (although he’s already done a noteworthy job so far with films like “Reign Over Me,” “Spanglish,” and especially “Punch-Drunk Love”) by returning to where it all started for him as a performer back in the 80’s: stand-up comedy.

In “Funny People,” Sandler plays George Simmons, a famous comedic actor who has taken full advantage of his wealth and celebrity, but is still searching for that special something (or someone) to make him truly happy. George has to come to terms with the idea that this will never happen when he is diagnosed with a rare terminal disease and given an eight percent chance to live if he begins to take experimental drugs.

Along with fighting his illness, George starts focusing more on his stand-up routine. He immerses himself in the improv club lifestyle where up-and-comers are hoping to be discovered. When he hears a set by aspiring comedian Ira Wright (Seth Rogen), who shares an apartment with a pair of much more successful roommates (Jonah Hill and Jason Schwartzman), he hires him to write a few jokes for an upcoming corporate gig.

They’re business relationship soon turns more personal when George confides in Ira about his sickness and the regrets he has in life, the most specific being his breakup 11 years ago with Laura (Leslie Mann), the only woman who ever truly loved him.

Just as soon as George begins to accept the fact that his life will soon end, he is hit with an emotional blitz. The experimental drugs have cured him of his disease. “What the fuck do we do now?” George tells Ira as he tries to wrap his head around the miracle he is experiencing.

“Funny People” is a giant leap into something different for Apatow who knows how to combine vulgarities and compassion and have the outcome make sense. Here, he skirts the boundaries of inappropriateness with jokes about male genitalia (Apatow is probably one of the very few writers who can say 100 of these and make them all sound different) but never loses focus of the mature narrative he has crafted.

While the third act doesn’t really match the first part of the film thematically, Apatow attempts to make up for the lack of funny moments and muddled characterizations in the homestretch with an ambitious message about family, which doesn’t come across as totally realistic. Still, the imperfections in parts of the story are shadowed by the wittiness Apatow is known for. “Funny People” may not be his best film of the bunch, but it proves there’s plenty of reason to anticipate his next assertive move in the industry.

17 Again

April 8, 2009 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Zach Efron, Leslie Mann, Thomas Lennon
Directed by: Burr Steers (“Igby Goes Down”)
Written by: Jason Filardi (“Bringing Down the House”)

Even when out-of-body fantasies were a groundbreaking movie genre back in the 80s, there wasn’t much creative storytelling behind any of the projects with the exception of “Big” starring Tom Hanks. (Even then, “Big” wasn’t necessarily that type of movie since there wasn’t any switching of bodies between characters).

From “Vice Versa” to “Like Father Like Son” to “18 Again!,” the films told the same coming-of-age tale either about an adult wanting less responsibility or a kid wanting to experience freedom as an adult. While director Penny Marshall was able to capture all the sweet-natured and awkward moments of a boy wanting to become a man before his time in “Big,” (the role gave Tom Hanks his first Oscar nomination of his career) the others simply fell by the wayside as conventional comedies.

The same can be said about Zach Efron’s new film “17 Again.” Despite the similar title, this is not a prequel of the George Burns 1998 movie where he switches bodies with his comatose grandson. Instead, the Efron vehicle is set up like the opposite version of “Big” or more recently “13 Going on 30.” It begins with Mike O’Donnell (Matthew Perry), a down-on-his-luck, underappreciated sales manager in the middle of a divorce, who wishes he could turn back the hands of time and become a teenager again so he can revisit some of the questionable choices he made when he was young and dumb.

After meeting his “spirit guide,” who is working as a janitor in the hallways of his old high school, Mike is given the chance to live his teenage years over again when he is magically swept into a watery wormhole. Once out, he discovers he has transformed back into a 17-year-old. While it really isn’t necessary to explain how exactly this happens in these types of films (remember Voltron in “Big,” the oriental skull in “Vice Versa,” and the Najavo elixir in “Like Father Like Son?”), “17 Again” stands extraordinarily idle by making this portion of the script so open ended.

As a high school senior again, Mike (now played by Efron), returns to his old stomping grounds to play a personal game of “what if” all while keeping an eye on his teenage kids (Sterling Knight and Michelle Trachtenberg) and trying to find out why his wife Scarlett (Leslie Mann) has filed for divorce. Actor Thomas Lennon is an annoying thorn in the screenplay as Mike’s rich, grown-up best friend Ned, who pretends to be his father so he can enroll him back into high school.

Now back in school, we return to Mike’s glory days as he rejoins his old basketball team and attempts to find out where his life went wrong. It starts off wrong for screenwriter Jason Filardi when he puts too much emphasis on paying homage to films of the past like “It’s a Wonderful Life” and “Back to the Future.” While most Efron fans probably haven’t seen any of the aforementioned movies, there’s still a familiar aftertaste once “17 Again” is all said and done. Sure, it might be made for an entirely different generation, but even Efron can’t squeeze out enough charisma and charm to get past the lazy script, tween dialogue and references, and unoriginality of it all.