Can You Ever Forgive Me?

November 30, 2018 by  
Filed under Kiko, Reviews

Starring: Melissa McCarthy, Richard E. Grant, Jane Curtain
Directed by: Marielle Heller (“The Diary of a Teenage Girl”)
Written by: Nicole Holofcener (“Enough Said”) and Jeff Whitty (debut)

When she’s not trying to act like the female version of Kevin James by using physical comedy as a crutch, actress Melissa McCarthy has made some satisfying inroads as a comedian in flicks like 2015’s “Spy” and her Academy Award-nominated turn in 2011’s “Bridesmaids.” This year, unfortunately, she struck out big with “The Happytime Murders” and “Life of the Party,” so it’s a welcomed career move to see McCarthy change things up a bit in the film “Can You Ever Forgive Me?,” her most dramatic role to date — and her most remarkable.

The character is well-matched to McCarthy’s self-deprecating wit and ability to make the flaws and vulnerabilities she brings to the role seem sympathetic, spirited and funny. In “Forgive Me?,” McCarthy plays late New York Times-bestselling author Lee Israel, known early in her career in the 1960s and ’70s as a magazine writer and celebrity biographer. Years later, Lee finds herself on the skids — living a lonely, drunken life with her cat, struggling to pay bills and getting the cold shoulder from her literary agent Marjorie (Jane Curtin), who thinks she’s past her prime.

Lee’s opportunity to resolve her problems, however, comes to her unintentionally when she discovers her talent for forgery. Utilizing her writing ability, she begins to pen fake, personal letters by deceased writers and actors (including their counterfeit signatures) and sells the correspondences to collectors and book stores around the New York City area. Later, she recruits a drinking buddy, Jack Hock (Richard E. Grant), to help her operate the small, illegal enterprise inside her apartment.

Directed by Marielle Heller (“The Diary of a Teenage Girl”) and adapted from Lee’s own 2008 memoir by screenwriters Nicole Holofcener (“Enough Said”) and playwright Jeff Whitty, “Forgive Me?” uses a cynical and clever combination of dark comedy and drama that builds on the narrative’s stranger-than-fiction premise with a pitch-perfect tone.

As misanthropic partners in crime, Lee and Jack are incredible together as they create a peculiar platonic relationship with one another (both are gay) on a foundation of cheap Scotch, criminal activity and a sarcastic sense of humor. If there is a cinematic god, both McCarthy and Grant should earn Oscar nominations for their memorable performances, as should Holofcener and Whitty for their smart script.

Whether that occurs, “Forgive Me?” — as entertaining as she was in “Bridesmaids” or playing former White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer on “Saturday Night Live” — is the type of work McCarthy will hopefully search out as she expands her range. In “Forgive Me?,” she proves that it’s easy to shed the goofball brand if you have the talent — and the desire.

Ghostbusters

July 15, 2016 by  
Filed under Brian, Reviews

Starring: Kristen Wiig, Melissa McCarthy, Kate McKinnon, Leslie Jones
Directed by: Paul Feig (“Bridesmaids”)
Written by: Katie Dippold (“The Heat”) and Paul Feig (“Bridesmaids”)

“’Ain’t no bitches gonna bust no ghosts,” intones bewildered and hurt paranormal-hobbyist-turned-physicist-turned-“Ghostbuster”-2.0 Erin Gilbert (Kristen Wiig), reading aloud a reaction to a YouTube video of her team’s extra-normal exploits. It’s a line that elicits a knowing, involuntary bark of a laugh, not least because it’s an example of art not so much imitating life, but rather faithfully — if painfully — reporting it.

Following an historically inauspicious trailer reception (it’s the “most disliked” movie trailer in YouTube’s decade-plus of existence), and the widespread denunciation of that reception as virulently sexist, and the repudiation of that denunciation by commenters claiming defense of a treasured classic, and so on — all months before the first press or preview screening — Paul Feig’s female-fronted “Ghostbusters” reboot could be forgiven for rolling into theaters this week with a sizable spectral chip on its wearied shoulder.

To wit: If the aforementioned “bust no ghosts” scene is the most pointed of the film’s fourth-wall-chipping glances at its own pre-detractors, it may not be the only one. Subtle (or not-so-) moments in which a male villain taunts our heroes (or heroines?) for “shooting like girls” or opines that they’re late to a showdown because (1) women “always” are and (2) they probably couldn’t pick out the right coveralls to wear, or Cecily Strong’s purposeful emphasis, as a tight-smiling mayoral assistant, in complaining about “these women” are all about as jarring and uncomfortable as they sound, but skate by(?) as paper-thin, self-aware, psuedo-Swiftian satire.

Which assessment brings us more directly to the rightful point: the film. Is it good? Is it funny? How does it fare, pushing distractions and comparisons aside?

Well, that depends.

Structurally (and in many other ways, as it turns out), we’re in strikingly familiar territory — on paper, at least. Wiig’s Gilbert is an about-to-be-tenured professor at Columbia University whose enthusiastic/eccentric/scientific-genius former colleague Abby Yates (McCarthy, introduced sporting decidedly Stanz-ian headgear) is on the verge of a breakthrough in super-spooky studies, assisted by the even-more-enthusiastic/eccentric/scientific-genius-y Jillian Holtzmann (Kate McKinnon). When Gilbert’s association with Yates leads to a chain of events that outs her as a supernatural-believer to her no-nonsense dean (the wonderful Charles Dance, in what sadly amounts to a cameo) and leaves all three women out of a job, she joins forces with Yates, Holtzmann, and Patty Tolan (Jones), a subway worker with an encyclopedic knowledge of New York City architecture and history, to catch and study incorporeal entities — and, ultimately, save the city from a neon ghostly apocalypse.

The talent here assembled is considerable: Wiig and McCarthy are proven and reliable comedic tentpoles; “Freaks and Geeks” creator Feig has delivered with female-led hits “Bridesmaids,” “The Heat,” and the uproarious and tremendously fun “Spy;” McKinnon, Jones, and Strong are breakout “SNL” stars (McKinnon and Strong, in particular, are capable of unleashing a dizzying array of simultaneously realistic and gut-busting characters; expect big things from them). Hemsworth is undeniably winning (if perplexingly written) as a brick-stupid receptionist, and even Andy Garcia shows up to fill out a small role as an unapologetic rat-sleazehole of a mayor. The ingredients are present, then, for these Ghostbusters to stride confidently in a new direction all their own, exorcising the hulking and formidable spectre of their phantom-fighting forebears.

One significant problem, it turns out, lies precisely in the film’s own reluctance to do just that, instead allowing said spectre to loom unavoidably overhead like a monstrous, anthropomorphic, sailor-suited partial S’more. That is to say, “Ghostbusters” (2016) invests so very much time and energy nodding to and hammer-winking at “Ghostbusters” (1984) in so very many multifarious ways (plot points, art design/visual references, locations, audio cues, déjà-vu-ish characters, a glut of cameos, lines lines lines lines lines) that it does itself a number of great disservices. Not only does this significant a volume of repeated hat-tips (literally, repeated: Annie Potts’s beloved “Ghostbusters, whaddaya want?” squawk is quoted not once, but twice) constantly pull its audience out of the story to remind us that we’re watching a movie (and a contentious remake, at that), not only does it refuse to allow us to to forget the original (and, in fact, all-but-force us to compare the two), but, arguably most damaging of all, it causes the film itself to seem strangely insecure — almost as if, for all the filmmakers’ railing against and dismissal of cage-rattling trolls and hatescream fanboys, they don’t ultimately feel worthy of the mantle without concerted pandering or appeasement. It’s like Cary Elwes’s pitiable-but-understandable attempt at Jim Carrey’s “The Claw” in “Liar, Liar” — no one wants that, man. Just be yourself.

That may seem uncharitable. I apologize, if so. The truth is, I’m frustrated, because the thing could have worked. If this were the film’s only pervasive misstep, Feig and co. might’ve pulled it off — and what a success it would have been.

Let’s pause, though. Because here’s where the “that depends” part comes in.

The (other) truth is: If you’re a child aged 9-14, or if you haven’t seen or aren’t especially fond of or aren’t looking for a tonal successor to the seminal 1984 hit, chances are good you’ll like this “Ghostbusters” very much. You might, in fact, love it. That isn’t a dig. It’s a sincere distinction. This film, with its bright colors, lighter tone, and somewhat scaled-back scares, feels a bit more like a kids’ movie than the original — or even like “The Real Ghostbusters” cartoon I very much enjoyed as a kid (I dug Filmation’s, too). No demon dogs, no monster-hands bursting from the recliner, no eidolic Ackroyd-fellating. Some of the inconsistencies in the universe (particularly those presented by the panoply of cameos — a nod to one character suggests we’re in the original Ghostbusterverse, while other actors are clearly new characters and one seems to have a foot in both) or departures in tone (’84 was quirky-but-subtle, and, though ghosts feature prominently, set in an otherwise “real” world; ’16 presents us with a parade of sketch-comedy characters [and there’s no telling what dimension spawned Hemsworth’s absurdly airheaded Kevin]) or issues with pacing or writing or chemistry or character or performance (a heavier premium on “funny” or “wacky” than “convincing” or “deep”) may not bother a younger viewer, and some of these may not bother an older viewer not beholden to cockle-warming memories of Peter/Ray/Egon/Winston. It is, in some ways, a “fresh” take. Kind of. When it isn’t trying desperately not to be.

And that, finally, is the death-knell. Or is it? On the one hand, you’ve got an exciting team of comedic performers seemingly hamstrung by a script that seems more interested in dutifully bowing to its elders every five pages than in making its own mark, and a film whose first cut was reportedly four hours and 15 minutes (which is palpable, in retrospect). On the other hand, you’ve got that magical viral photo of Kristen Wiig, clasping hands with a positively beaming young girl in a Ghostbusters outfit while another, identically attired down to the unutterably joyous expression, looks on. And that’s when you can’t help but think: “Huh — maybe my opinion isn’t the one that really matters here.”

Spy

June 5, 2015 by  
Filed under Cody, Reviews

Starring: Melissa McCarthy, Jason Statham, Rose Byrne
Directed by: Paul Feig (“Bridesmaids”)
Written by: 
Paul Feig (“I Am David”)

After turning in directorial efforts with the smash hit “Bridesmaids” and the lesser hit “The Heat” and being put in the helm for the all-female casted “Ghostbusters,” TV director whiz turned film director Paul Feig has somehow been branded as the guy who directs female-centric films. Whether it’s an intentional career move or not, Feig has shown, through years of experience, a certain adeptness at directing comedy, regardless of gender. His latest film, “Spy,” allows him to flex some other muscles as he takes on the spy movie genre with apparent muse Melissa McCarthy.

After an unfortunate experience involving her field agent partner, CIA desk analyst Susan Cooper (McCarthy) offers to go out undercover into the field to try to uncover a nuclear threat. Following a series events that gets Susan up close and personal with a very dangerous woman named Raina Boynov (Rose Byrne), she finds herself over her head and in the thick of a major national security breach.

Since stealing every scene and even earning an Oscar nomination for her role in “Bridesmaids,” McCarthy has struggled in leading roles since. After receiving a lukewarm reception in Feig’s “The Heat” and straight up tanking in films like “Tammy” and “Identity Thief,” McCarthy is finally able to even out and deliver a strong comedic performance. Whereas “Tammy” and “Identity Thief” had McCarthy at level 10 and obnoxious, “Spy” provides her with a much more vulnerable and sympathetic character that results in far more likeability.

Of course, part of the reason “Spy” is the most successful of the McCarthy-led films post-“Bridesmaids” is the strength of its well designed ensemble cast. As a foil, Rose Byrne is particularly entertaining as she chews scenery as a villain, yet it is Jason Statham who is clearly having the most fun. Perhaps poking fun at his “Crank” character Chev Chelios, Statham plays a hardass that exaggerates every situation he’s ever been in. The joke might be a bit one-note, but it’s one that is staggeringly hilarious every single time and Statham crushes every single scene he’s in.

Unfortunately for “Spy,” it’s a little top heavy. By the middle of the film, it begins to lose a lot of steam. Through some clever non-sequiturs and entertaining action sequences, it never fully loses its luster, yet it definitely begins to feel a little generic towards the middle of the film. It is usually saved with a laugh or funny moment, but it can’t help but feel a little too long in a few places.

Less goofy than an “Austin Powers” movie and far funnier than a James Bond film, “Spy” balances the action and comedy to varying degrees. Though it works far better as a comedy than as an action, spy film, it is clear that Feig put in some hard work in the tone and is able to mine some decent comedy out of the familiar tropes. There is also a lot of comedy from unexpected violence and vulgarity that keeps the audience on its toes and provides some really great moments. It’s a nice comeback for McCarthy and Feig, and particularly inspiring considering their biggest challenge of following up “Ghostbusters” is right on the horizon.

Identity Thief

February 10, 2013 by  
Filed under Cody, Reviews

Starring: Jason Bateman, Melissa McCarthy, Jon Favreau
Directed by: Seth Gordon (“Horrible Bosses”)
Written by: Craig Mazin (“The Hangover Part II”)

Though Kirsten Wiig might have been the star and creative force behind the smash hit “Bridesmaids,” perhaps nobody benefited more from the films success than actress Melissa McCarthy. Not only did she have the entire country talking about how funny she was, but she rode that level of acclaim and popularity to heights like hosting “Saturday Night Live,” winning an Emmy for her work on “Mike and Molly,” and even being nominated for an Oscar for her performance in “Bridesmaids.” Like many before her, McCarthy’s status now gives her the chance to jump from scene-stealer to leading lady. She starts that venture off in the new comedy “Identity Thief.”

When Sandy Patterson (Jason Bateman) notices that his identity has been stolen, he must travel to another state to catch the person who is using bank accounts. His trip leads him to Diana (McCarthy), a long-time criminal who uses illegal schemes to excessively spend other people’s money. When Sandy and Diana’s safety is threatened by a crime boss Diana scams, they must travel cross country together before trouble finds them both.

With the television show “Arrested Development,” Bateman proved himself to be one of the best straight-man comedic actors around. His seemingly normal character surrounded by complete chaos served as a perfect springboard for others to play off of him. What made Bateman so great, however, was his ability to find laughs himself through reactions and subtle humor. Unfortunately, Bateman’s post “Arrested” career has him stuck in a similar role to the Michael Bluth character he played on the show. Like his characters in “Horrible Bosses,” “The Switch,” and “Extract,” Bateman once again plays an uptight, seemingly normal man who can’t catch a break. In “Identity Thief,” most of Bateman’s purpose is to stand back and let McCarthy do her thing. Because of this, he does not get to showcase the comedic talent he possesses. It’s unfortunate to see a talented actor fall the victim to typecasting, but Bateman can’t seem to shake this particular persona.

In her first post-“Bridesmaids” leading role, McCarthy whiffs in the humor department, though it isn’t entirely her fault. Flat out, the biggest issue is that director Seth Gordon banks on the most of the humor in the film coming from the audience finding McCarthy unconditionally funny. Time and time again throughout “Identity Thief,” the audience is expected to laugh at the barrage of unfunny scenes and situations simply because it is McCarthy doing it. Simply put, it is putting faith that audiences find her inherently funny. It’s the same thing that happens with Will Ferrell. Someone pitches “Will Ferrell as a figure skater” or “Will Ferrell as a 70’s basketball player.” They skimp on quality, bank on people to find laughs because they find everything that Will Ferrell does funny, and end up with massive duds like “Blades of Glory” or “Semi-Pro.” There are more than a few scenes in “Identity Thief” that dig for cheap, lazy laughs rooted in a woman of McCarthy’s size doing physical acts or acting over the top.

Of course, the main reason why the comedy in “Identity Thief” fails is because of screenwriter Craig Mazin, who penned “The Hangover Part II” and the last two movies of the “Scary Movie” franchise. It’s hard to tell what the goal of the film is, but whatever pieces that are attempted fall short. The film doesn’t evoke the mismatched chemistry and build the complex and humorous relationships that road-trip comedies typically have. This also includes the few scenes of raunchy, gross-out comedy. The films few amusing moments come from clear improvisation from its two leads. There is a tonal shift towards the end of the film that features some attempts at dramatic moments that don’t fit. Even though the scenes don’t work in the context of the film, McCarthy is able to show her emotional range as an actress and proves that if perhaps given better material, she can really shine in a role that calls for humor and dramatic chops.

One of the more interesting storylines to follow with “Identity Thief” will be if McCarthy can prove herself to be a big box-office draw as a lead actress. Perhaps there are enough people who do find her funny in any situation and will devotedly show up at the box office for her latest films. While her time as a burgeoning lead comedy star is off to an inauspicious start, one wonders what she can do if she’s not forced to be the female version of Kevin James.

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.