the mini REVIEW: Friends With Benefits, the ChangeUp, the Beaver.

Friends with Benefits

…apparently I had the book. I didn’t read it. I gave it to a friend, forgot about it, watched the film, liked it and told her about it.

Her: “What’s it called?”

Me:”Friends with Benefits”

Her:”I hate that book. You gave it to me remember…”

It later conspired that I had actually given her How to Lose your Friends and Alienate People by Toby Young

Romantic Comedies, they’re a funny thing. At least they should be but to be honest in the last 5 years or so there hasn’t really been one RomCom that’s risen above tepid or the mediocre. The last good (not great because that all happened in the 90s *excl Bridget Jones Diary in 2001*) romantic comedy  I saw, where it centred on boy meets girl didn’t star Kate Hudson, Katherine Heigl or Gerard Butler. No, none of them, but it did have Owen Wilson and Vince Vaughn in it (Wedding Crashers…is that even a RomCom…really?). I did want to say The Break-Up but what constitutes as romantic is taken with a pinch of salt in this more anti-RomCom film. I don’t know, I’m confusing myself and the lines between R-Rated Comedy, RomComs meets Chick Flick (hate it) and Buddy Movies (hate it) is blurred. The point is – its been a long time coming since a good old-fashioned Pretty Woman style romcom hit our screens. In no way is Friends With Benefits that second coming.

Out of personal distaste for Ashton Kutcher I decided to skip  NO STRINGS ATTACHED  (whose working title was actually Friends With Benefits) a movie with a similar premise starring Natalie Portman (irony to Mila Kunis in the latter) and Ashton (I shout therefore I can act) Kutcher (he’s not even funny man) No Strings Attached

Story  (***SPOILER***):

Justin Timberlake plays a hotshot LA Web page editor headhunted by the quick-witted bush baby eyed Kunis to come work as an editor for GQ. With that airport scene straight out of  WILL AND GRACE its all very cute a meet and the two very quickly become friends. Only Kunis’ character has issues with getting guys to commit and Timberlake is just randy and it’s not long before the pair decide to have sex with (sorry) no strings attached.

As one critic pointed out – Didn’t these two see NO STRINGS ATTACHED? –

The numerous sex scenes that follow are kind of unsexy – don’t be fooled the writers and director were clearly  attempting to make light of what will predictably be a bad situation, but it wasn’t funny and it wasnt sexy (Timberlake is sexier when he sings), it was boring. When presented with a possible distraction in Bryan Greenberg halfway through the film, his possible story changing presence is drafted in to a pointless sub-sub of a subplot. Literally a waste of what could have taken this film one step from being flat. I wont lie, Kunis and Timberlake appear comfortable on screen together, but I didn’t buy their sexual chemistry nor the realisation of their emotional ties the last act of the film. I think How to Lose your Guy In 10 days did it best when one character is introduced to the love interests/frenemie’s family (even though nothing made sense about Mcconaughey’s southern roots family living in Rhode Island).  Instead this film uproots the pair to Timberlake’s homely (pah) LA home where we are faced with another shallow story about involving his sick father. Unlike that other boring romcom last year Love and Other Drugs,  where Hathaway and Gyllenhaal competed to out-doe-eye each other with emotion on camera, and to slight success, I didn’t even blink when FWB presented what should have endeared me more to Timberlake’s character.

So there was no romance that I picked up on other than what I was told to feel by the end. The sex was par boiled. Seriously the first scene in BRIDESMAIDS with Wiig and Hamm was sexier and funnier than all the sex scenes in this movie. However I did laugh at the comedy only side. Aside from the Will and Grace scene, which doesn’t count because I already laughed at that back in 2003, I will give props to Kunis and Timberlake’s ability to be believable friends on camera. Duh that’s the name of the film, yes I know, but it lacked everything else that we are led to believe should constitute this as romantic. A scene where the two characters share a moment on the Hollywood sign ends with an aeroplane airlifting  a vertigo Timberlake to safety raises a chuckle, and Kunis (that 70s Show, Family Guy’s Meg) is expectantly funny and doesn’t disappoint in this case, and to be fair to her, like I was to Portman after NSA and You’re Highness, Kunis clearly deserved some light relief after Black Swan. Timberlake, despite the glitch of  BAD TEACHER, is a  good actor and perhaps future oscar frontman himself.

Bypassing the tiresome formula where every ‘romantic comedy’ has to include a gay BFF, this film surprises by having man’s man Woody Harreslon fill the spot is as much fun as he clearly seems to be having in the role. Jenna Elfman (EdTV) pops up as the genuinely endearing and completely not believable  sister of Timberlake and  Richard Jenkins (like Lithgowe in Rise of the Apes) plays a brief but heart warming father dealing with Alzheimer’s. Unfortunately, Jenkins is character is slap dash and serves only as a vehicle to get us to see the ‘other side’ to the apparent commitment phobe (none of which is really communicated) Timberlake. Patricia Clarkson is a good actress, but is basically doing what she did in Easy  A as the liberal friend come mother to Kunis daughter.


The Change Up

Oh look its Jason Bateman again…and oh look it’s another ‘R-rated’ comedy …with Jason Bateman. Yay.  Ryan Reynolds despite the stinker of the comic book adaptation to come out this year, has returned to his frat comedy roots and you know what, it didn’t suck that bad.

Yes it’s another tiresome body swap movie (damn you Jodie Foster)  where the protagonists each see the greener side of life in the other and subsequently learn to be grateful for whatever eggs lie in their basket –unless you’re Nick Cage and your face has been hacked off –  A sub-plot twist (pah) which is actually  just another poor and lazy excuse for the studios to push another under-written comedy with otherwise good actors and SNL cast members? judging by the trailer yes, however David Dobkin’s  (Wedding Crashers …Fred Claus) new film (penned by the scribes behind The Hangover) manages to be a pleasant surprise through all the cliches.

Story **spoilers**: Take the story, the set up is familiar but the  journey to the conclusion not so much.  Bateman plays  successful lawyer Dave Lockwood, a married father who has his life in perfect straining order .  Amazing Lawyer, doting father – the one thing he is not good at is impressing his wife Jamie (brilliant Leslie Mann).  Mitch Planko (Ryan Reynolds) is the single, lady’s man /out of work actor who also happens to be Dave’s best ??? friend. A life many would deem the bachelors dream, he’s actually quiet pathetic and unfortunate in life. The two friends, on a drunken night out, end up…urinating  in what turns out to be a magical fountain, and expectedly (though the where and the how is different) reveal an envy for the other’s life and subsequently wish to trade places.  Queue lightning and thunder, it’s the morning after the ill-fated night before and …well you know.

As tiresome as the Freaky Friday set up is, it’s still one that gives characters a vehicle to be placed in wild and complex scenarios outside of their conventional comfort zones. This film does it well and to humorous results. Bateman and Reynolds oddly enough work well playing each other, in fact this was the best thing both have done this year. The true scene stealer’s though comes from the women proving that once again they can do funny and romance in a better range beyond the Heigl’s of the world.  Leslie Mann (always brilliant even if it’s just to listen to the woman speak in RIO) is fantastic as Bateman’scomeReynolds wife and Olivia Wilde actually impressed me (why do people love her so much?) in this movie playing ReynoldscomeBateman’s love interest. There are plenty of R-rated stripes earned (unlike Friends With Benefits) in The Change-Up.  Forget the shitting in a sink and penis in a pizza box you may have caught this summer, this film is all about the sex, profanities,  nakedness and thumbs getting stuck in inappropriate places. 

Not much to say on this movie, not going to lie, but I went in with no expectations after seeing the myriad of lucid r-rated comedies this year. The Change Up does a good job of taking something we’ve all seen before but still manages to revive if not add to the formula. There are no real shocker’s in the story but  it made me laugh out loud which is always a good thing, and it manages to balance the story alongside each character long enough to warrant satisfactory conclusions for both men.

Beaver

Wow. Mel Gibson. This could very well be you’re saving grace. Jodie Foster that is. This may very well remind the world how good an actor he used to be and enlighten many to how great he could have been if all the anti-Semitic, DUI and domestic abuse drama had been side-stepped. Or maybe it’s a film and story that has elements that play so close to the actors real life that he’s not even acting. Whatever I’m not that deep, but what I can say is, as someone who has  witnessed a family member in the grasps of mental illness, this is a realistic portrayal of its debilitating effects on a once ‘normal’  and functioning individual.

The Story:

Gibson plays Walter, a man who has been suffering from a dark depression that has affected his relationship with his wife and sons.  His wife finally asks him to leave since his attempts to get better haven’t worked and their family is falling apart.  On the verge of killing himself in a hotel room, Walter finds a discarded Beaver hand puppet that helps him express himself and relate to others again.  He uses “The Beaver” to communicate to his family and co-workers in a way that no one quite understands, but are willing to go with as part of his recovery. Eventually, his family has enough of his “beaver” games and wants the real Walter back, but can he cope without a beaver puppet stuck to his hand?

The Beaver epitomises various mental problems that plague Walter throughout the movie.  None of them discussed or directly pin pointed the movie makes a point of drawing up parallels to perhaps societies approach to mental illnesses as a whole, starting with the victim’s inability to conceal it and the subsequent effect it has on those around him who do everything in their power to try to conceal if not avoid the issues. Anton Yelchin (Alpha Dog, Star Trek,  he just gets better as he gets older) plays Porter, Walters son. Fearing that he may end up like his father he in turn becomes neurotic writing down any similar traits, that he believes may attribute to his father’s illness, on a Post-It. Unfortunately for the well acted and well written character, this sub-plot remains unresolved come the end of the film, we never really conclude on anything when it comes to Porter’s fears beyond this.

Mel Gibson gives a harrowing performance as Walter, playing the character close to his chest and pulling off  two entirely different characters extremely well that places him back in the ranks as one the worlds best actors this century. Foster plays Meredith, un-common to previous parts she has played (and written for herself) she is the queen of understated  brilliance.  The second time the two have shared the screen (first being in  1994’s Maverick) Foster and Gibson are brilliant onscreen together. Though she never steals it from Gibson her presence compliments his. Foster’s done well to cast Mel Gibson in this film, its like she wrote it for him, and to be honest the man needed it. Just like Stephen Dorff needed Somewhere, Bill Murray need Lost In Translation and Mickey O’rourke needed The Wrestler.

The Beaver plot-line is, at first, laughable and uncomfortably absurd, but as Walter (or the Beaver) explains, on written cue cards, its presence becomes bearable and plausible as we delve deeper in to protagonists fragile mental state.

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