Friends with Kids

March 13, 2012 by  
Filed under Cody, Reviews

Starring: Adam Scott, Jennifer Wesfeldt, Jon Hamm
Directed by: Jennifer Wesfeldt (“Kissing Jessica Stein”)
Written by: Jennifer Wesfeldt (“Kissing Jessica Stein”)

These days there are so many ways to have a family that hardly anything could really be classified as “unconventional.” But when long-time best friends Jason (Adam Scott) and Julie (Jennifer Wesfeldt) devise a plan to have a child without subjecting themselves to the pitfalls of marriage, their friends cannot believe they could follow through with such a crazy scheme.  This experiment of essentially going halfsies with the responsibilities of a child sets the stage for “Friends with Kids,” a dramedy that starts off uniquely funny but ultimately loses steam in its familiar dénouement.

Scott remains one of Hollywood’s best-kept secrets. Although not as dynamic as his stunning role in 2009’s “The Vicious Kind,” he shows he is perfectly capable of anchoring a movie in a lead role. He has a very natural and understated comic delivery and he is no doubt at his best when he is being a little abrasive. The rest of the cast is somewhat of a reunion from the film “Bridesmaids,” as four principal cast members from that film are in “Friends with Kids.” While Jon Hamm has a couple of great scenes to work with, the rest of the “Bridesmaids” alum doesn’t contribute much. For example, Chris O’Dowd sports a very strange accent that is hard to distinguish and Maya Rudolph’s character exists only to nag. It’s hard to believe director/writer Wesfeldt couldn’t even give the versatile Kristen Wiig something more to do other than drink wine and give piercing stares.

The set up in “Friends with Kids” is respectable, with a unique spin on the romantic comedy with two platonic friends agreeing to have a kid. It continues to be unique when just about everything goes perfectly smooth and there aren’t any problems. Of course, nobody would want to watch a movie about a situation working flawlessly and things inevitably begin to crumble. And as with the events on screen, so goes the structure of the film as it begins to feel formulaic and familiar.

“Friends with Kids” is certainly not a “laugh-out-loud” type of comedy. The humor is predominantly subtle and largely thanks to Scott’s knack for biting sarcasm. The film is certainly at its best when it hits its dramatic beats. One especially fantastic scene in particular is when Scott and Hamm’s characters have a war of words at a dinner table. In this scene, we get to see Scott’s acting chops on full display. When the film displays the chaos and strain having children can create in a relationship is when things get authentic.

The film ends with Wesfeldt uttering a strand of six utterly unromantic words that is almost certain to rub a good portion of the audience the wrong way. With the triple duty of acting, writing and directing, Wesfeldt probably should have focused her attention on making just one of those elements stand out instead of providing three so-so efforts spread around. It isn’t a terrible movie, but one can’t help feel like “Friends with Kids” could have been so much more.

The Zookeeper

July 15, 2011 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Kevin James, Rosario Dawson, Leslie Bibb
Directed by: Frank Coraci (“Click”)
Written by: Nick Bakay (“Paul Blart: Mall Cop”), Kevin James (“Paul Blart: Mall Cop”), Jay Scherick (“Norbit”), David Ronn (“Norbit”), Rock Rueben (debut)

Deep inside the ferocious land of Hollywood, grazing around the talent pool like a fat warthog at a watering hole, a stumpy beast hunkers down waiting to pounce on the first screenplay too weak to defend itself. His eyes dart back and forth as other more agile predators pick off the meatier prey one by one. Suddenly, the creature gets his chance. A scrawny script has been separated from its herd and is helpless. Within seconds, the brute leaps from his squatting position and takes aim. His broad calves push him forward for the kill, but it isn’t meant to be. His feet are caught in the brush and he lands on the ground with his face in the mud.
 
This is what the narration might sound like if the Discovery Channel featured a Kevin James Week.
 
Unfortunately for audiences, James, best known for the TV series “The King of Queens,” which ran for nine seasons before ending in 2007, gets his paws wrapped around more flimsy screenplays than anyone who likes to laugh would hope.
 
Despite his terrible movie choices over the last four years (“I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry,” “Paul Blart: Mall Cop,” “Grown Ups”), James is as harmless as a collection of chubby cherubs, which is one reason he continues to get second-rate roles in comedies like “The Zookeeper,” another dismal product from Adam Sandler’s Happy Madison Production Company (AKA Rob Schneider’s meal ticket).
 
Directed by Frank Coraci, who delivered one of Sandler’s best movies with “The Wedding Singer,” “Zookeeper” takes a page from another James flick, 2005’s “Hitch.” Instead of taking dating advice from Will Smith, however, James, who plays insecure lead zookeeper Griffin Keyes, is schooled in the subject of love by a zoo-full of chatty wildlife. Voice work includes Sylvester Stallone as a discerning lion, Nick Nolte as a depressed gorilla, and what sounds like a constipated Sandler as a capuchin monkey.
 
Although it might sound like another wannabe “Charlotte’s Web,” the talking animals don’t make up much of the story, which centers on Griffin trying to win his materialistic ex-girlfriend back. In one unfunny scene, a wolf explains that a male mammal must mark his territory to get the female species’ attention. Acting like even more of a numskull and for no particular reason, Griffin relieves himself in a potted plant at a dinner reception as if the advice was actually useful.
 
Let’s just hope James stops pissing on things long enough to realize his film career is already sufficiently soaked.

Bridesmaids

May 13, 2011 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Kristen Wiig, Rose Byrne, Maya Rudolph
Directed by: Paul Feig (TV’s “The Office”)
Written by: Kristen Wiig (debut) and Annie Mumolo (debut)

No one can take a tennis ball to the tit quite like comedienne Kristen Wiig. Her threshold for pain is only one of many admirable traits she possesses in “Bridesmaids,” a bold and bawdy comedy that proves having balls isn’t just for boys anymore.

While the movie’s generic title might scream Kate Hudson rom-com horror, those looking for more than the usual cliché girls-night-out fare will find plenty of genuinely side-splitting scenes in this raunchy Judd Apatow-produced chick flick, as they did in the Apatow-directed “Knocked Up.” Personal favor: When recommending it to your friends, please don’t refer to Bridesmaids as the female version of “The Hangover.” It deserves better.

In “Bridesmaids,” director Paul Feig (TV’s “The Office”) puts Wiig in charge of her own sinking ship as the whip-smart albeit insecure (and very single) heroine Annie, a failed thirty-something entrepreneur stuck in a rut. Despite the occasional roll in the sack with sleazy tool Ted (Jon Hamm), Annie doesn’t have any real relationship prospects nor does she care much about her depressing job (peddling jewelry to happy couples) and equally depressing home life (her roommates are ungrateful sibling albinos).

Annie is forced to suck it up when her lifelong BFF Lillian (Maya Rudolph) asks her to be her maid of honor, a role in movie world aching to basically be dragged through the mud while everyone else enjoys the pre-wedding festivities. She’s pitted against Lillian’s newest gal pal Helen (Rose Byrne), a character so perfectly annoying she rivals Cameron Diaz’s bubbly Kimberly Wallace in “My Best Friend’s Wedding.”

The claws come out with hilarious result as Annie and Lillian – along with the three other bridesmaids Becca, Rita, and Megan (underwritten Ellie Kemper and Wendi McLendon-Covey and scene-stealing Melissa McCarthy) – try and get through the coming weeks without gouging anyone’s pretty little eyes out.

Sharply written by Wiig and Annie Mumolo, “Bridesmaids” veers into overly traveled territory at times but never replaces wit with kitschy humor (aside from a well-executed diarrhea gag that feels misplaced in the grand scheme of things). She may just be a glorified bridesmaid, but this is Wiig’s big day. The “Saturday Night Live” alumna has written a lead role for herself with some great awkward moments usually regulated for fools of the male variety. It’s nice to see women can be just as boneheaded when the situation calls for it.

Away We Go

June 26, 2009 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: John Krasinski, Maya Rudolph, Allison Janney
Directed by: Sam Mendes (“American Beauty”)
Written by: Dave Eggers (debut) and Vendela Vida (debut)

It’s definitely a different type of relationship dynamic from Academy Award-winning director Sam Mendes whose last film was the underappreciated “Revolutionary Road” of last year. In “Away We Go,” Mendes rediscovers his dark comedy pedigree that made him so successful with 1999’s Best Picture winner “American Beauty,” to tell the story of a young, directionless couple trying to find their place in the world.

When the grandparents of their first child decide to move to Belgium, unmarried parents-to-be Burt and Verona (John Krasinski and Maya Rudolph) realize there’s nothing holding them back from packing up and relocating anywhere they’d like to go. Although they “don’t have the basic stuff figured out” in their lives, Burt and Verona see the spontaneous adventure as a way to start on a clean slate.

Making stops in a few cities where they know people (somehow they can afford a cross-country tour by plane but sulk over a cardboard window in their house), Burt and Verona are interested in seeing how well they might fit in places like Phoenix, Arizona, Madison, Wisconsin, and Montreal, Canada. They meet up with a former co-worker (Allison Janney plays a vulgar mother who accuses her pre-teen daughter of being lesbian) and a long-time hippy friend (Maggie Gyllenhaal) who is offended by strollers (“Why would I want to push my baby away from me?”) and believes it is normal to have sex in front of their children.

Needless to say, Burt and Verona have a difficult time connecting to anyone on their trip, especially since first-time screenwriters and real-life couple Dave Eggers and Vendela Vida write the duo like a pair of self-important hipsters who know they’re more intelligent and witty that everyone else on the face of the planet. It’s an interesting characterization because the two are the sanest of the bunch, but there’s always an underlying feeling that if you were to meet the couple socially they’re mellow oddness would wear thin.

That’s what happens in “Away We Go,” but not before a few tender moments and subtle quirkiness. It’s when the eccentricities of the characters become excessively heavy for the screen when Eggers, Vida, and Mendes lose control. The film doesn’t have a lot of unnatural dialogue like “Juno,” which was generally a very likeable movie, but thematically it’s burdened with an overall artificial ambiance that comes off far too cartoonish despite the occasional charm.