Review: ‘The Other Zoey,’ starring Josephine Langford, Drew Starkey, Archie Renaux, Mallori Johnson, Patrick Fabian, Heather Graham and Andie MacDowell

January 9, 2024

by Carla Hay

Josephine Langford and Drew Starkey in “The Other Zoey” (Photo courtesy of Brainstorm Media)

“The Other Zoey”

Directed by Sara Zandieh

Culture Representation: Taking place in Charlotte, North Carolina, and briefly in the Bahamas, the comedy film “The Other Zoey” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with a few African Americans and Asians) representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: A college student who is cynical about love finds herself impersonating the new girlfriend of a schoolmate who has amnesia, because the cynic feels guilty about being resonsible for the accident that caused his amnesia.

Culture Audience: “The Other Zoey” will appeal primarily to fans of predictable romantic comedies that are elevated by cast members with good comedic talent.

Josephine Langford and Archie Renaux in “The Other Zoey” (Photo courtesy of Brainstorm Media)

When it comes to romantic comedies about identity deception, there are many that are a lot worse than “The Other Zoey.” Josephine Langford’s charming performance is the main reason to watch when the movie starts veering into eye-rolling ridiculousness. It’s a mixed bag of a movie where some of the writing is sharp and witty, while some of it is dull and hokey.

Directed Sara Zandieh and written by Matthew Tabak, “The Other Zoey” takes place mostly in Charlotte, North Carolina, where the movie was filmed on location. At the fictional Queens University of Charlotte, student Zoey Miller (played by Langford) prides herself on being an independent intellectual. Zoey is very jaded about love. She’s not against falling in love, but she thinks people should be more practical about choosing the correct love partner.

The movie’s opening scene takes place in a classroom at the university. A student named Becca (played by Amalia Yoo) is giving a presentation about St. Valentine to the class. And sure enough, outspoken Zoey interrupts Becca’s presentation and announces to the class: “The whole concept of falling in love and even romantic love is a product of capitalism.”

Zoey says she believes in romantic love “if it’s based on compatibility. That’s really hard, which is why I actually created my own app. It matches people on a data-driven compatibility report.” As students leave at the end of the classroom session, Zoey continues to shamelessly promote her “compatibility app” and says she’s looking for investors. The other students just don’t care.

For someone who dismissively thinks that “romantic love is a product of capitalism,” Zoey fails to see the irony that her app is part of the capitalism that she claims to dislike. It’s the first clue that Zoey says one thing but might be feeling another way in her heart. It’s a predictable stereotype of a romantic comedy heroine who thinks she doesn’t need anyone to fall in love with, until she unexpectedly finds “the one” and changes her mind about love.

And here comes another rom-com cliché: the heroine’s best friend, who usually has an opposite personality and is usually the one who plays a big role in whether or not the heroine will end up with the intended love interest. In “The Other Zoey,” Zoey’s best friend and roommate is named Elle (played by Mallori Johnson), who is an artsy romantic, in contrast to Zoey being a tech-oriented cynic.

Outside in a lawn area on campus, Becca is annoyed with Zoey for trying to embarrass Becca during the presentation. Becca and a friend approach Zoey and Elle in a hostile manner by scolding Zoey about her sales presentation in the classroom. Becca sneers at Zoey by saying that Zoey should put the word “cynic” next to the words “tech geek” on her résumé. Someone needs to tell Becca that in order for insults between adults to work, they can’t sound like they come from the mind of a 7-year-old child.

Faster than you can say “meet-cute moment,” Zoey gets hit on the head by a soccer ball that was accidentally kicked in her direction by the star player of the school’s soccer team, which has some members casually playing a game nearby. The soccer star’s name is Zach McLaren (played by Drew Starkey), and he runs over to Zoey to say he’s sorry about the mishap. Zoey is not amused and is abrupt with Zach during his apology.

As Zoey and Elle walk away, Elle gushes over how Zach is one of the school’s biggest heartthrobs. Zoey isn’t impressed and asks what Zach’s grade point average is. Rom-com cheesy line of dialogue alert: Elle exclaims, “Hella fine point 9!”

Soon afterward, Zoey goes to another lecture, where the topic is about romantic love. And what a coincidence: A good-looking guy who’s slightly older than Zoey stands up in the room and says that romantic love is a product of capitalism. He also quotes author/philosopher Alain de Botton as someone he admires. Guess who’s also a fan of Alain de Botton?

Zoey is intrigued by this stranger, who has the same views on love that she does. Will she see him again? Of course she will, in a very “rom-com coincidence.” She finds out later that his name is Miles McLaren (played by Archie Renaux), and he’s Zach’s cousin.

As part of a work/study program, Zoey has a job at a bookstore, where one day Zach walks into the store because he’s looking for a book on a video game called “Battle Toads.” Zoey has a snooty attitude toward video games and isn’t afraid to say so to Zach. They exchange some sarcastic banter. Zach pays for the book and leaves.

However, Zach accidentally left his credit card behind at the store. Zoey runs out of the store to see if she can find Zach so that she can return his credit card to him. She sees him riding his bike, runs after him, and yells that she has his credit card. Zach hears her and gets distracted, which is right when he gets hit by a car.

Zach has a hard tumble on the ground, which causes a head injury. Zoey is horrified that she unintentionally caused this accident. Zach is conscious but he’s dazed and confused. When he sees Zoey, he kisses her on the cheek, as if he knows Zoey very well. Zoey is embarrassed but thinks that Zach is disoriented and has her mistaken for someone else.

Zach is rushed to hospital, where Zach and his parents Connie MacLaren (played by Andie MacDowell) and Matt McLaren (played by Patrick Fabian) find out that Zach has amnesia. Zoey has gone to the hospital to see how Zach is recovering. She introduces herself to Zach’s parents and is shocked to find out that they think that Zoey is Zach’s new girlfriend Zoey Wallace (played by Maggie Thurmon), whom the parents haven’t met yet. Apparently, Zach never took photos of Zoey Wallace because he fully believes that the Zoey at the hospital is Zoey Wallace.

Through conversations, Zoey Miller discovers that Zoey Wallace and Zach have been dating each other for only two weeks, but things have gotten hot and heavy with them. Zoey Wallace is currently in the Bahamas, on vacation with her parents (played by Christie Lynn Smith and William Pierce Lackey, also known as Pierce Lackey), who don’t have first names in the movie. Zoey Wallace hasn’t heard from Zach and doesn’t know about the accident and his amnesia. Zoey Wallace thinks Zach is ignoring her, and she’s paranoid that it’s because he has another love interest.

The scenes with Zoey Wallace (who is whiny and annoying) and her parents are some of the worst scenes in the movie. Thankfully, these Wallace family scenes are brief. When Zoey Wallace starts to have a tearful meltdown about not hearing from Zach, her mother says: “Wallaces don’t wallow. And crying causes wrinkles. Just know that.”

Meanwhile, Zoey Miller feels guilty about the role she had in the accident that caused Zach’s amnesia. She doesn’t want to upset him, so she pretends that she’s Zoey Wallace for most of her time with Zach. Elle thinks it’s cute and advises Zoey to keep up the charade. It’s bad advice, of course, but there would be no “The Other Zoey” movie if Zoey Miller didn’t take this advice.

After Zach is discharged from the hospital, his parents invite Zoey Miller (whom they think is Zoey Wallace) on a family skiing trip. Also on this trip is Zach’s bratty and meddling sister Avery (played by Olive Abercrombie), who’s about 10 or 11 years old. And surprise! There’s another family member on the trip: Zach’s cousin Miles, who is a grad student at MIT and is visiting for the weekend.

When Zoey Miller sees Miles again, there’s chemistry between them that they can’t deny. But what’s a rom-com heroine to do when she’s pretending to be someone else’s girlfriend but she really wants to date his cousin? Zoey Miller thinks Zach is beneath her intellect and she has much more in common with Miles, who would pass her “compatibility test” if she had this “compatibility app” that she keeps talking about inventing.

If you’ve seen enough romantic comedies, then you know exactly how the rest of this story will go. There’s a breezy tone to “The Other Zoey” that makes it easier to tolerate some of the movie’s cringeworthy dialogue. On the positive side, Langford and Johnson make a very watchable comedic duo when they have scenes together. The other cast members give adequate performances.

“The Other Zoey” goes off on a few unnecessary tangents, such as showing that when Zoey Miller is away, Elle meets a food delivery guy named Diego (played by Jorge Lopez) and hooks up with him. It might be the movie’s way of trying to prove that Elle isn’t just an underdeveloped sidekick and has as a life outside of her friendship with Zoey. But it still looks like a forced and awkward subplot, because Elle is still an underdeveloped sidekick.

Heather Graham has a small role in the movie as Zoey Miller’s divorcée mother Paula, who has a close relationship with Zoey and is the voice of reason when Zoey (who is an only child) confides in Paula about her personal problems. Paula isn’t given much to do in the movie. She seems to be there to make viewers aware that Zoey is probably neurotic about love because Zoey’s parents got divorced.

“The Other Zoey” is not the type of movie that wants viewers to wonder too much about the main characters’ backstories. The movie is very lightweight entertainment and doesn’t try to be anything else. It’s the type of romantic comedy that’s not intended for people who are as pessimistic about love as Zoey Miller is at the start of the movie. And that’s why the intended viewers are most likely to keep watching “The Other Zoey,” until the very end and will be satisfied by the expected results.

Brainstorm Media released “The Other Zoey” in select U.S. cinemas on October 20, 2023. The movie was released on digital and VOD on November 10, 2023.

Review: ‘My Happy Ending,’ starring Andie MacDowell, Miriam Margolyes, Sally Phillips, Rakhee Thakrar, Tom Cullen, Michelle Greenidge and Tamsin Greig

March 11, 2023

by Carla Hay

Tamsin Greig and Andie MacDowell in “My Happy Ending” (Photo courtesy of Roadside Attractions)

“My Happy Ending”

Directed by Tal Granit and Sharon Maymon

Culture Representation: Taking place mainly in London, the comedy/drama film “My Happy Ending” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with a few black people and people of South Asian heritage) representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: While in London to work in a West End play that flops, a famous American actress reluctantly gets treatment for Stage 4 colon cancer in a public hospital, where she makes unexpected friends with three other female cancer patients. 

Culture Audience: “My Happy Ending” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of Andie MacDowell and movies that have simple-minded depictions of cancer treatment.

Sally Phillips, Andie MacDowell, Miriam Margolyes and Rakhee Thakrar in “My Happy Ending” (Photo courtesy of Roadside Attractions)

“My Happy Ending” is anything but joyful. The only happy ending that viewers might get from watching this poorly made and fake-looking cancer comedy/drama is when this boring train wreck is finally over. Tamsin Greig gives the movie’s only adequate performance. Everyone else’s acting falls flat.

Directed by Tal Granit and Sharon Maymon, “My Happy Ending” is based on the play “Sof Tov,” written by Anat Gov. Rona Tamir wrote the shoddy adapted screenplay for “My Happy Ending.” Most of the movie takes place in the section of a London hospital where cancer patients are being treated. Anyone who endures the entirety of this dreadful film will have to sit through tiresome scenes that either show people complaining about something, gossiping about other people, or having fantasies about being in an exotic place.

Almost nothing about this movie looks authentic, including the fact that the story’s protagonist has Stage 4 colon cancer, but she never looks like she’s sick or in pain. Cancer just seems to be used as a cheap gimmick to get laughs from listless and unfunny dialogue posing as “jokes.” Cancer is a tricky subject to cover for entertainment. “My Happy Ending” fails miserably on every single level.

The improbably healthy-looking Stage 4 cancer patient who’s at the center of “My Happy Ending” is a famous American actress named Julia Roth (played by Andie MacDowell), who spends much of the movie whining that she doesn’t want to be at this hospital that isn’t private enough for her. Considering all the hospitals that exist in England, viewers will constantly be thinking this solution to Julia’s hospital problem: “Why don’t you just leave?” It’s the same question that viewers might be thinking if they’re stuck watching this movie somewhere and are debating whether or not to keep watching this mopey garbage.

The movie has this flimsy excuse for why Julia doesn’t leave the hospital that she’s constantly griping about: Her main physician Dr. Fletcher (who is never seen or heard in the movie), who is in the United States, recommended her to Dr. Ben Hanson (played by Tom Cullen), who only works at this particular hospital. Someone should have told Julia: “Haven’t you heard of getting another doctor’s opinion?”

Julia also reveals about halfway through the movie that she only recently found out that she has cancer, and she doesn’t know what Stage 4 cancer means. It means she needs to get a better doctor. And it means this movie needed a better screenplay.

These are just a few of many reasons why “My Happy Ending” falls off the rails over and over again in pathetic attempts to be a “female empowerment” film. Most of the scenes with the female cancer patients together show that the women are too gossipy and too catty to become real friends. Julia is uncomfortable because she’s put in an infusion therapy room with three other female patients, who immediately recognize her. Julia throws a little bit of a diva tantrum, because she was promised her own private room for the infusion treatments, but she’s told by a no-nonsense nurse named Emilia (played by Michelle Greenidge) that Julia has no choice but to be in this shared room with other patients.

What is Julia doing in London? She recently starred in a West End play that flopped. (The play opened and closed during the same week.) Even though Julia is famous, her career peaked years ago. She blames her “has-been” status on sexism and ageism against women who are over the age of 50. It’s probably the only complaint that Julia makes that sounds believable and grounded in reality.

Julia has only told a few people she has cancer. Members of her immediate family do not know yet. Julia is also very paranoid that the media will find out about her cancer. Julia tries to hide in a section of the room that has a thin fabric partition, similar to a shower curtain, but it’s a futile attempt to get some privacy, because three nosy women in the room can still hear Julia talking on the phone and talking to hospital employees.

The three other cancer patients in the room are star-struck that celebrity Julia is in their midst while also envious that Julia still has a full head of hair. Middle-aged Mikey (played by Sally Phillips) is an intrusive busybody and a single mother who regrets being a neglectful parent when she was younger. Elderly cynic Miriam (played by Miriam Margolyes) is a Holocaust survivor who says she was born in the Auschwitz concentration camp. Young married mother Imaan (played by Rakhee Thakrar) is the quietest and most mild-mannered of these three women. It turns out that Mikey is a big fan of Julia and is kind of obsessed with her, which makes Mikey look creepy and weird.

Julia has a very hyper and snobby manager named Nancy (played by Greig), who is openly a lesbian and just so happens to be the sister of Julia’s ex-husband. (The ex-husband is never seen or heard in the movie.) Even though that marriage failed, the friendship of Nancy and Julia survived the divorce. Nancy is Julia’s closest friend, which is a sign that Julia is a lonely person if her closest friend is also her manager. Nancy, who is an ambitious schemer, is the only person in Julia’s inner circle who knows about Julia’s cancer.

Julia has a daughter in her 20s named Cassidy (played by Lily Travers), who is getting married in an upcoming wedding. Julia frets about what Julia will look like when she’s at the wedding. “My Happy Ending” has a scene where Julia reacts in horror when she imagines being at Cassidy’s wedding in a wheelchair and with no hair. Instead of worrying about how glamorous she wants to look at her daughter’s wedding, Julia should be more worried about living long enough to be at the wedding.

The first third of the movie is about Julia not being able to make up her mind if she wants to be friends with “common folks” like Mikey, Miriam and Imaan. They aren’t exactly welcoming to Julia either at first. Julia has to listen to these three (especially loudmouth Mikey) constantly make reaction comments as they eavesdrop on conversations that Julia has with Nancy or hospital employees. It’s just a “mean girls” scenario that is neither amusing nor interesting.

Julia asks Nancy to find her another hospital, but there are vague and weak excuses made that the nearest hospital that could treat Julia is just too far away. Meanwhile, the movie has a lot of time-wasting scenes of Julia clashing with Dr. Hanson, as if he’s the only person who could possibly be her doctor. The movie also drags on and on in stretching out the subplot of Julia deciding whether or not she will get chemotherapy.

Eventually (as shown in the “My Happy Ending” trailer), Julia decides that these three other cancer patients in the infusion room are worth getting to know. The movie then goes off on a very corny tangent where Mikey confides in Julia that they all have group fantasies together to take their minds off of their cancer issues. Mikey invites Julia to join in on their group fantasies, which range from frolicking in a forest to eating sumptuous banquets in open fields to having rave parties on exotic beaches.

There is so much that looks awkward and phony in “My Happy Ending,” including MacDowell’s very stiff acting. It’s a disappointment, because MacDowell is capable of doing much better, but there’s only so much she can do with a terrible screenplay and misguided direction. When she grits her teeth in the movie, it’s probably not because her Julia character is uncomfortable. It’s probably because MacDowell knows that she signed up to be in a bad movie.

British comedian David Walliams has a cameo as a hair stylist named Joey, who stops by the infusion room to bring Mikey some wigs to choose from, since Mikey is bald because of chemotherapy. And what a coincidence: Joey worked with Julia years ago on a movie adaptation of a Jane Austen novel. He’s surprised to see Julia in this hospital room for cancer patients, so Julia lies and tells Joey that she’s doing “research” for a movie role. Walliams’ cameo is so inconsequential, it just reeks of the “My Happy Ending” filmmakers thinking, “Oh, look, we’ve got David Walliams in our movie. Let’s not bother to have a good role for him. Stunt casting is enough.”

That’s not the only thing that reeks in “My Happy Ending.” This entire movie reeks of glib insincerity. Even though Julia wallows in a lot of self-pity about having Stage 4 cancer, the movie never actually shows her going through any real physical suffering that a Stage 4 cancer patient would experience. It’s such a fraudulent way of making a cancer film, it will surely offend people who’ve had cancer experiences in real life. “My Happy Ending” actually has a horrible ending that’s proof the filmmakers made the tacky decision to use cancer in an exploitative way, in order to get people interested in this awful movie.

Roadside Attractions released “My Happy Ending” in select U.S. cinemas on February 24, 2023.

Review: ‘Good Girl Jane,’ starring Rain Spencer, Andie MacDowell and Patrick Gibson

July 17, 2022

by Carla Hay

Rain Spencer in “Good Girl Jane” (Photo by Jake Saner)

“Good Girl Jane”

Directed by Sarah Elizabeth Mintz 

Culture Representation: Taking place in the Los Angeles area, from 2005 to 2006, the dramatic film “Good Girl Jane” has a predominantly white cast of characters (with some African Americans, Latinos and Asians) representing the working-class, middle-class and criminal underground.

Culture Clash: A quiet teenage misfit falls in with a druggie crowd at her high school, begins dating her drug dealer, and descends deeper into drug addiction, while she tries to hide her addiction from her family.

Culture Audience: “Good Girl Jane” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in watching well-acted cautionary tales about how easily drug addiction can take over someone’s life.

Rain Spencer and Andie MacDowell in “Good Girl Jane” (Photo by Jake Saner)

The dramatic film “Good Girl Jane” could have been yet another “good girl gone bad” story about a teenage drug addict. Rain Spencer’s emotionally stirring performance is the main reason to watch when the plot becomes predictable. This is not a movie that is groundbreaking, but some of it is heartbreaking, even if it’s told from the privileged perspective of a protagonist who is more likely to go to rehab than go to prison for drug crimes. “Good Girl Jane” had its world premiere at the 2022 Tribeca Film Festival in New York City, where it won two grand jury prizes: Best U.S. Narrative Feature and Best Performance in a U.S. Narrative Feature, a prize awarded to Spencer.

Written and directed by Sarah Elizabeth Mintz, “Good Girl Jane” hits a lot of familiar beats and tones of movies that have covered the same subject matter of middle-class American teenagers who become drug addicts. If it’s a teenage girl, she usually has a “good girl” reputation with no previous history of drug use. And then, she meets someone or a group of people who are heavy drug users. And in order to be “accepted” into this social circle, she starts doing drugs and becomes addicted. It’s a cliché because it happens all too often in real life.

If you know this is the plot of “Good Girl Jane,” then you know what’s coming even before the movie starts. Fortunately, “Good Girl Jane” is not preachy, nor does it try to put most of the blame on the druggie clique that influences the protagonist to start doing drugs. The mistakes and self-destructiveness are the full responsibility of the person who made these lifestyle choices.

In “Good Girl Jane” (which takes place in the Los Angeles area, from 2005 to 2006), the title character is Jane Rosen (played by Spencer, in her feature-film debut), who goes from being a shy loner to a “wild child” drug addict in a matter of months. The movie begins in the autumn of 2005, when 17-year-old Jane has transferred from an elite private school to a public school, where she hasn’t yet made any friends. The reason for the transfer is revealed in bits and pieces throughout the story.

Jane lives with her sister Izzie Rosen (played by Eloisa Huggins), who’s about 15 or 16 years old, and their divorced mother Ruth Rosen (played by Andie MacDowell), who is a therapist. It’s never specified how long Ruth and her ex-husband Elliott Rosen (played by Gale Harold) have been divorced. However, Elliott doesn’t live too far away, and he has visitation rights.

Elliott is a busy executive who works at an unnamed music company. Part of his job is to go to concerts and nightclubs. Elliott is only in a few scenes in the movie, but it’s easy to see why he and Ruth got divorced: He’s a very inattentive and flaky parent.

For example, Jane and Izzie are scheduled to spend a weekend of visitation time with Elliott. It was already pre-arranged that Jane and Izzie would be staying at Elliott’s place for the weekend. Instead, he takes them to dinner at a restaurant, and then rushes them through the meal because he says that after this dinner, he has to go to a nightclub for work-related reasons. Jane and Izzie are too young to go to the nightclub with him.

At the restaurant, Elliott also tells Jane and Izzie that they can’t stay for the weekend at his place after all because he’s too busy with work. Elliott then drops off Jane and Izzie back at their mother’s house with half-hearted apologies for backing out of this father-daughter visitation. Ruth is furious, but she tries not to have a loud argument with Elliott in front of their children.

Ruth wants to emotionally connect with Jane, but Ruth’s attempts to uplift moody and withdrawn Jane just come across as criticism that Jane doesn’t want to hear. For example, when Jane is at home, she’s usually on her laptop computer (where she frequents Internet chat rooms) while listening to hardcore heavy metal music. Ruth doesn’t like Jane’s choice of music and tells Jane that the music can have a negative effect on Jane’s attitude. Ruth might have noticed that Jane is unhappy. But instead of Ruth asking Jane what’s wrong and asking how she can help as a parent, Ruth chooses to complain about Jane’s taste in music.

Jane secretly smokes cigarettes at school. When Ruth picks up some of Jane’s clothes to do laundry, Ruth smells cigarette smoke on the clothes and says in a condescending voice, “Please don’t smoke,” and starts to lecture Jane about how smoking is unattractive and bad for her health. Jane denies that she smokes cigarettes and says the cigarette odor is from being around people who smoke cigarettes at school.

Ruth is not a deliberately alienating parent. However, Ruth gives the impression that she knows more about what’s going on in her clients’ lives than she knows what’s going on in Jane’s life because Ruth spends more time asking the right questions of her clients. On the other hand, Jane doesn’t give Ruth much leeway to have a close emotional bond with her, because Jane is the type of sulky and secretive teen who would most likely say everything is fine if a parent asked her what’s bothering her.

Jane likes to wear baggy clothes and hooded sweatshirts. She often walks with a slight slouch, as if she wants to be invisible yet noticed as being “aloofly cool” at the same time. At school, when she tries to sit at a table with some other students, they tell her that the seat she wants is saved for someone else. It’s a predictable “social outcast” scene in movies about teenage misfits.

Even though Izzie and Jane go to the same school, they rarely speak to each other when they’re at school. Viewers find out later that Izzie, who has an upbeat and outgoing personality, is having an easier time adjusting to this transfer and is making more of an effort than Jane to befriend other students. There are also hints that Jane feels like their mother loves Izzie more than she loves Jane.

There’s a reason why Jane seems to be anti-social: She was cruelly bullied at her previous school, which is the main reason why Jane and Izzie have transferred to their current school. The details of the bullying are eventually revealed in the movie. But there are indications that some of the bullies are still harassing Jane online, based on the messages she gets when she’s on her computer.

One day, after classes have ended for the day, some of the school’s stoners are taking a SUV ride near Jane while she’s walking somewhere, and they invite her to party with them. A rebellious brat named Bailey Avett (played by Odessa A’zion) is the driver. The other pals in the SUV are tall and blue-haired Benji (played by Diego Chiat), easygoing Kaya (played by Jules Lorenzo) and androgynous Abel (played by Olan Prenatt). Jane already knows about this clique’s druggie reputation.

At first, Jane is hesitant to go with them, because she says she has to be at home by a certain time. But she changes her mind when they say that where they’re going won’t take long. Inside the car, the partiers are smoking weed, and Benji snorts some cocaine. They all go to the rooftop of a house, where more marijuana is smoked, cocaine is snorted, and apparent tabs of LSD are consumed, but Jane declines to partake in any of these drugs.

Instead, Jane takes a drink of alcohol offered by Kaya. During this rooftop party, these new acquaintances somewhat taunt Jane for being a “good girl” for not doing drugs with them. And you know what that means: In order to fit in with them and prove them wrong, Jane is going to start doing the same drugs.

That moment comes one night when Jane goes to a house party that she was invited to by this group of stoners. It’s where Jane does cocaine for the first time. And it’s also the first time that Jane feels like she has found a group of people at her school who could be her friends.

Also at the party is the group’s main drug dealer. He’s a 21-year-old Irish immigrant named James “Jamie” McKenna (played by Patrick Gibson), who projects an image of laid-back confidence. Although Jane and Benji had a mild flirtation with each other when they first met, Jane ends up being more interested in Jamie. After eyeing each other with some interest, Jamie and Jane sense their mutual attraction, they start talking, and then have a dip together in the house’s swimming pool.

It’s the beginning of a very co-dependent and toxic relationship. The more experienced Jamie pursues Jane, who plays hard to get, but eventually she gives in to Jamie’s persistent and amorous attention. He showers her with compliments and says many other things that Jane wants to hear. Not much is known about Jane’s dating history, but there are plenty of hints that Jamie is the first adult whom Jane has ever dated.

It isn’t long before Jane has lost her virginity to Jamie in the back seat of his car. It’s not as romantic as Jane expected because it’s on the same night that Jane finds out that Jamie is a meth addict who has occasional seizures because of his addiction. Jane quickly gets addicted to cocaine, which she usually snorts. But she also joins Jamie in his meth-smoking binges because she wants to know what it feels like. Jamie also injects meth if he wants a quicker and more intense high.

You know where all of this is going, of course. The only questions are how low will Jane go in her drug addiction and if anything will happen to set her on a path to possible recovery. Jane gets so caught up in her relationship with Jamie that she starts skipping school to hang out with him. And that includes accompanying Jamie to some of his drug deals. Jane witnesses some things that are shocking to her but won’t be that shocking to people who’ve seen enough of these kinds of “drug addict downward spiral” movies.

Spencer’s performance as Jane is particularly effective in showing how quickly someone’s boundaries and tolerance for being in demeaning and dangerous situations can change when drug addiction is involved. It would be easy to blame Jamie for being a “bad influence” on Jane. But the truth is that Jane already had low self-esteem going into this relationship, and she made the wrong choices in where to get emotional validation. Her drug use was a direct result of her own free will.

“Good Girl Jane” is also authentic in showing how denial is a huge part of the disease of drug addiction. People try to tell Jane some unsavory things about Jamie, but Jane brushes off those concerns as just unsubstantiated gossip. Some of the things she hears about Jamie are that he sleeps around with a lot of the teenage girls who are his drug-buying customers and that he’s legally married to someone whom Jane has never met.

A cliché that “Good Girl Jane” thankfully avoids is showing a scenario where divorced parents put aside their differences to come to the rescue of a drug-addicted child. That doesn’t happen in “Good Girl Jane,” which takes a more realistic approach that emotionally distant parents don’t automatically change their ways when a child is crying out for help. The movie also shows that even when someeone is a therapist, that person still might have a hard time accepting and dealing with painful truths about having a drug addict in the family.

One of the best things about “Good Girl Jane” is showing how Izzie reacts to finding out that Jane is a drug addict. Spencer and Huggins have some emotionally powerful scenes together that are among the movie’s standout moments. And there’s a particularly impactful scene that Spencer and MacDowell have toward the end of the movie. This mother-daughter scene is a like a tidal wave of the pent-up despair that Jane has been feeling before and after Jane’s drug addiction.

There’s nothing particularly extraordinary about this tale of a teenager who becomes a drug addict. Sadly, what happens to Jane happens to people from all walks of life. However, one of the movie’s faults is that it seems to willfully take for granted that Jane is a lot better off than many drug addicts because she has the privilege and resources to get professional rehabilitation for her drug addiction.

And it goes without saying that if Jane were a person of color or if she were poor, she would most liklely be treated very differently by law enforcement if her illegal drug activity resulted in her getting entangled in the criminal justice system. It’s a reality that’s implied, based on things that are shown in the movie. “Good Girl Jane” doesn’t really explore these social inequality issues in-depth, because even with Jane’s privilege, what she goes through is enough to show that drug addiction can be a nightmare for anyone.

Review: ‘No Man’s Land’ (2021), starring Jake Allyn, Frank Grillo, Jorge A. Jimenez, Alex MacNicoll, Andie MacDowell and George Lopez

February 27, 2021

by Carla Hay

Jake Allyn in “No Man’s Land” (Photo courtesy of IFC Films)

“No Man’s Land” (2021)

Directed by Conor Allyn

Some language in Spanish with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in Texas and Mexico, the dramatic film “No Man’s Land” features a cast of white and Latino people representing the working-class, middle-class and criminal underground.

Culture Clash: A white teenage son of a Texas rancher shoots and kills a Mexican immigrant boy and flees to Mexico as a fugitive, while a Texas Ranger who’s a Mexican American goes in hot pursuit to capture him.

Culture Audience: “No Man’s Land” will appeal primarily to people who don’t mind watching idiotic “chase movies” that have an offensive tone of white supremacy.

George Lopez in “No Man’s Land” (Photo courtesy of IFC Films)

There’s a cliché that says, “The road to hell is paved with good intentions.” That saying could apply to the atrocious dramatic film “No Man’s Land.” The filmmakers of “No Man’s Land” say the movie is their way of trying to heal racial rifts among white Americans and Mexican Latinos, in a political climate where the Mexican/U.S. border wall has been used as a controversial symbol of people’s views on immigration in the United States.

If the “No Man’s Land” filmmakers had intentions of healing the harm done by racism, it didn’t work with this movie. In fact, “No Man’s Land” is tone-deaf schlock that actually has more than a whiff of white supremacy and racist beliefs. The film’s Mexican characters are written as expendable, not very smart, and pawns for whatever the white characters want, while the white characters are elevated as having more valuable lives, being more intelligent, and more deserving of redemption.

“No Man’s Land” was directed by Conor Allyn and written by his younger brother Jake Allyn (one of the stars of the movie) and David Barraza. As explained in the movie’s prologue, the movie’s title is named after the No Man’s Land area that’s the gap between the Texas border fences and the Mexican land that’s north of the Rio Grande. The movie takes place in Mexico and the U.S. state of Texas.

Conor Allyn made a very pretentious director’s statement in the “No Man’s Land” production notes. The statement reads in part: “In a time of great fear, we wanted to make a film about hope. The world is growing apart. Xenophobia and prejudice are abundant, millions clamor for walls to divide, yet there is still time to unite. But first we must recognize the borders within ourselves. And cross it.”

Conor Allyn continues in the statement: “But change does not come without pain. Our characters have to experience, and inflict, enormous pain in order to make a transformation. And in doing so, they are able to cross that border within themselves. And we hope that the audience does the same.”

The characters might inflict some pain on each other, but viewers of “No Man’s Land” will have some pain inflicted on them if they have to sit through this horrible onslaught of bad moviemaking. Be prepared to possibly have some brain cells damaged by the stupidity of it all. It’s not just that the filmmakers ineptly mishandled racism issues in this movie, but it’s also a terrible chase movie with insipid and unrealistic scenes.

In “No Man’s Land,” Jake Allyn portrays Jackson Greer, who lives with his family on a Texas ranch in an unnamed city that’s near the Mexican border. Jackson is in his late teens and is about to enroll in an unnamed New York City college on a baseball scholarship. Jackson’s rancher father Bill Greer (played by Frank Grillo) is more excited than Jackson is about Jackson getting a college education and possibly becoming a baseball star.

Jackson would rather skip college and continue to work on the ranch. In a conversation between Jackson and Bill in Bill’s truck, the father comments to the son about this opportunity to go to college: “You go give it a shot. If it don’t work out, it don’t work out.” Bill’s incorrect grammar is meant to show that he’s a working-class guy who doesn’t care about speaking proper English.

The other members of the Greer family who live on the ranch are Bill’s wife Monica Greer (played by Andie MacDowell) and their younger son Lucas Greer (played by Alex MacNicoll), who’s close to the same age as Jackson. In their spare time, Bill and his sons patrol the borders of their ranch to try and chase off immigrants and drug smugglers who illegally cross the border. These illegal treks usually happen at night.

Meanwhile, members of a family in Mexico are preparing to make this illegal crossing into the United States. Gustavo Almeida (played by Jorge A. Jimenez) is a widower who has a green card (resident alien documentation) to legally work in the United States. However, Gustavo’s son Fernando (played by Alessio Valentini), who’s about 13 or 14 years old, was denied immigration permission to live in the U.S. with Gustavo.

Gustavo has temporarily returned to Mexico to illegally bring Fernando into the United Sates. About two or three local men they know from Mexico are also on this trek to cross the border with Gustavo and Fernando. Gustavo’s religious mother Lupe (played by Ofelia Medina) is staying behind in Mexico, but she wishes them luck, and she gives Fernando some cash to take with him.

Gustavo, Fernando and the other men cross the border and end up on the Greer family’s property. Bill, Jackson and Lucas are out patrolling that night with their rifles. And, of course, things go horribly wrong.

Bill orders the men to stop because they’re trespassing. Because most of the Mexican men don’t speak English and the Greer men don’t speak Spanish, there’s a language barrier. But there’s no mistaking what the guns are for and Bill’s tone of voice. Gustavo, who speaks some English, raises his hands and tells the Greers that the immigrants don’t want any trouble.

Some of the immigrant men try to ignore Bill and keep going. But with Bill leading the way, he and his sons confront the men. One the immigrants pulls out a switchblade knife. A scuffle ensues where one of the immigrant men gets in a struggle with Bill over his rifle. A shot is fired, and Lucas accidentally gets hit. Meanwhile, a panicked Jackson rushes to his family’s defense and shoots his rifle. The bullet hits Fernando in the back, and he is killed instantly.

During this chaos, Bill has rushed to Lucas’ side, while Gustavo has rushed to Fernando’s side. In a rage, Bill threatens to shoot all of the immigrants if they don’t leave his property. Gustavo begs to stay with Fernando, but he can also tell that Bill is so angry that the Mexican immigrants will be blamed for everything and will probably get arrested. And so, a heartbroken Gustavo leaves with the other men and they go back to Mexico. Lucas is still alive, and he’s taken to a hospital for surgery.

The Texas Ranger who’s in charge of the investigation is named Ramirez (played by George Lopez), and the “No Man’s Land” filmmakers didn’t bother to give this character a first name or a realistic storyline. Ranger Ramirez doesn’t have any law enforcement partners with him during most of the time when he investigates this serious crime. Throughout the entire movie, Ranger Ramirez is the only Texas Ranger in Mexico who’s pursuing this case that could lead to charges of second-degree murder or manslaughter.

Ranger Ramirez is immediately suspicious of Bill’s story that Bill was the one who accidentally shot Fernando in self-defense during the scuffle. Bill is the registered owner of all the guns in this incident, but the facts don’t match up with Bill’s story. Bill claims that he was fighting with one of the immigrants over the gun that ended up shooting Bill’s son Lucas, while Fernando was shot seconds later by another gun. Someone else had to have been holding that other gun that shot Fernando. And Ranger Ramirez instinctively knows the shooter couldn’t have been Bill.

Bill wants to cover up for Jackson because he doesn’t want this crime to ruin Jackson’s promising future. However, Jackson has a guilty conscience. (He’s shown wailing by himself somewhere in the Texas Rangers station while his father is being questioned.) And, as guilty people often do, Jackson (on horseback) goes back to the crime scene.

At the crime scene in the remote desert field, Jackson finds Fernando’s wallet. And just who happens to show up right then and there? Ranger Ramirez, of course, who was presumably following Jackson. Jackson can’t take the guilt anymore and he confesses to Ranger Ramirez that he was the one who shot Fernando.

Instead of allowing himself to be arrested, Jackson panics and flees on his horse, with Ranger Ramirez in pursuit in his squad car. Jackson is able to lose Ranger Ramirez when they reach a creek that Ranger Ramirez can’t cross on foot or by car, but Jackson can cross by horseback. Jackson eventually crosses the border to Mexico. All he has are his cell phone, the clothes he’s wearing, his wallet, his horse and Fernando’s wallet. And he doesn’t know how to speak Spanish.

It’s either lazy screenwriting or the filmmakers’ way of showing that Ranger Ramirez doesn’t have much clout, because he’s the only Texas Ranger shown chasing Jackson, a fugitive who’s wanted for suspected murder or manslaughter. Jackson could be armed and dangerous, but the filmmakers want to make it look like the Texas Rangers are willing to give Jackson a lot of leeway for this felony, because they’ve only sent one Ranger to be in pursuit of him. And the pursuer happens to be Latino. There are some scenes where Ranger Ramirez has to do some running on foot when he’s clearly out of shape, which only highlight how the filmmakers want to make this Latino cop character look like a buffoon without any backup.

The “No Man’s Land” filmmakers try to make it look like they’re not playing into racial stereotypes of Mexican Americans, in an interrogation scene where Bill incorrectly assumes that Ranger Ramirez can speak Spanish. Ranger Ramirez defensively declares that he’s an American too and he doesn’t know how to speak Spanish. Therefore, the filmmakers have made Ranger Ramirez look even more inept, as someone who can’t speak Spanish when he goes to Mexico as the lone pursuer of Jackson.

There’s more racial privilege/condescension on display, when Ranger Ramirez tries to find out from Bill and Monica where Jackson could have gone after Jackson has fled from being arrested. And these self-righteous parents end up getting angry at Ranger Ramirez for letting Jackson escape into “dangerous” Mexico. These parents, who come across as racists, seem more worried about Jackson getting hurt by Mexicans while he’s evading arrest than they are about the fact that their son Jackson is the one who’s committed a fatal crime, and he’s breaking the law even more by becoming a fugitive.

Needless to say, this dimwitted movie doesn’t even address that Bill should be in trouble for lying to law enforcement. Bill’s false confession also impeded the investigation, which is another crime. But those crimes are ignored, because in “No Man’s Land,” the white characters are the ones the filmmakers want the audience to root for to be forgiven the most.

Jackson’s parents understandably want the man who accidentally shot Lucas to be arrested, but they (and this movie) expect Jackson, who committed a worse crime of killing someone else, to be shown more mercy. Lucas was shot, but he wasn’t killed. And Jackson’s parents don’t seem to care that a family lost an innocent child because the child’s life was taken by Jackson, who’s alive and well.

The filmmakers give a lot of attention to the Greer family and tell very little about the Almeida family. Viewers never find out what Fernando’s hopes and dreams were or anything substantial about Gustavo and his experiences as a legal Mexican immigrant in the United Sates. There are expected scenes of Gustavo grieving over Fernando’s death, but no further insight into their lives.

By contrast, there’s a lot of concern in the movie over how Jackson’s crime of killing Fernando will negatively affect Jackson’s future and the Greer family’s reputation. The entire “chase” part of the movie puts an emphasis on Jackson feeling out of his comfort zone because he’s hiding out in a country where he doesn’t know the language, even though he’s an outlaw of his own free will. The filmmakers make Jackson’s thoughts and needs more important than any of the Mexicans’ thoughts and needs. It’s a racist imbalance that makes the Mexican characters look like hollow plot devices that serve the main story of how Jackson is going to get out of his self-made predicament.

When Ranger Ramirez gets to Mexico, the movie makes some vague references to Ranger Ramirez enlisting the help of Mexican federales to try to find Jackson, as well as the man who shot Lucas. But these federales are barely seen in the movie and certainly aren’t written as important characters. It’s an example of how the filmmakers marginalize Mexican law enforcement throughout the entire movie. Ranger Ramirez is the only Latino person in the movie who has a significant role as law enforcement, and he’s set up to be a character to go after a white guy who’s supposed to be sympathetic.

And the filmmakers literally have Jackson go on what turns out to be a sympathy tour in Mexico. Everywhere that Jackson goes while he’s hiding from the law, he has Mexicans bending over backwards to help him because they feel sorry for him, even though he’s a stranger who has all the signs of someone who’s left somewhere abruptly and is trying to hide from something: He’s new to the area and homeless; he has no possessions except his horse and a few personal items; and he doesn’t talk about his background.

Jackson doesn’t even know what city he’s in for most of the time he’s in Mexico. He doesn’t bother to use a map, but he has all these friendly Mexicans willing to help him when he wants to hide out somewhere and get advice on where to go next. It’s the movie’s way of saying that a good-looking American white guy who’s a fugitive hiding in Mexico and who doesn’t know Spanish should have it this easy, just because he’s a good-looking American white guy.

That’s what happens when Jackson, who’s on horseback on a nearly deserted road, encounters a truck with a small family of ranchers who are heading back to their home. Even though they know nothing about him, Jackson quickly convinces them on the spot to hire him to work on their ranch and give him and his horse a place to stay. The family happens to have a truck that is already equipped to transport a horse in the back of the truck. Before they drive back to the family’s ranch, Jackson (showing his privileged attitude) acts a little surprised and embarrassed when they tell him that he has to stay in the back of the truck with the horse because there’s no room for Jackson in the front.

The family has two children in their late teens or early 20s: Miguel (played by Iván Aragón) and Victoria (played by Esmeralda Pimentel), who were in the truck when Jackson first met them. It should come as no surprise that Victoria is immediately attracted to Jackson, who acts attracted to her too. But it’s hard to tell how much of Jackson’s flirtation with Victoria is real and how much is fake, since he’s using this family while he hides from the law. Victoria suspects that Jackson has something major to hide, but she goes out of her way to help Jackson, even going as far as giving him cash.

Jackson also has some other “too good to be true” encounters with Mexicans who automatically trust him without knowing anything about him. There’s an elderly couple named Juan (played by Carlos Remolina) and Rosa (played by Julieta Ortiz), who immediately let him stay in their home. They don’t ask Jackson any questions (very unrealistic), and he would’ve stayed longer with them but his time with this gullible couple is interrupted.

And when Jackson is on a bus, he strikes up a conversation with a mother sitting nearby who’s reading “Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” to her son, who’s about 7 or 8 years old. The boy thinks the book is boring, until Jackson lectures him about how “Huckleberry Finn” is a classic adventure and asks the boy if he’s gotten to the best parts of the book that talk about the royal characters. The boy says no.

And the next thing you know, the kid is sitting next to Jackson with his head leaning on Jackson’s arm, as Jackson reads the book to him like a friendly neighborhood schoolteacher. The cloying parts of this movie are just beyond laughable. If the filmmakers had more time in this scene, they might have made Jackson charm his way into letting the boy’s mother give Jackson a place to stay too.

Since this movie wants to make Mexicans look inferior to Jackson, there’s a silly subplot about a small-time Mexican criminal named Luis (played by Andrés Delgado), who’s also chasing after Jackson for revenge. Luis, who has a peroxide-blonde faux hawk hairstyle, looks more like a scrawny skater than a supposedly fearsome leader of a gang of hoodlums.

Luis and his sleazy friends live in a run-down trailer area somewhere in the Mexican desert. Apparently, one of the ways they make money is by ripping off unsuspecting tourists by operating a small convenience stand that sells overpriced food and drinks. When Jackson first crosses the border into Mexico, he tries to buy some water from the stand, but then refuses when he sees that he’s being overcharged.

Luis and his gang then try to steal Jackson’s horse, but Jackson is able to fight them off and flee with the horse. Somehow, Luis finds out Jackson is the same guy who’s responsible for killing the son of a local man named Gustavo. Yes, it’s the same Gustavo, the father of the dead Fernando. Luis goes to a grieving Gustavo and offers his services to kill Jackson. Gustavo and Luis then team up to hunt down Jackson and get revenge.

The movie gets even dumber from then on, as Jackson has not only law enforcement chasing after him, but also Gustavo and Luis. There are a few instances where Ranger Ramirez is close to capturing Jackson, but Jackson outsmarts Ranger Ramirez, because the filmmakers are intent on making Ranger Ramirez look like an incompetent fool. Just like Ranger Ramirez, Luis could easily get the help of his cronies to outnumber Jackson, but he doesn’t do that, because the filmmakers don’t want the Mexicans to be smarter than the white Americans in this movie.

The movie’s big climactic showdown is extremely annoying and an insult to viewers’ intelligence. And when viewers find out how much prison time that Jackson would be facing if he’s caught, it’s further proof of racial inequalities in the U.S. criminal justice system. The filmmakers of “No Man’s Land” are trying to pretend that this movie can help heal these racial divides, but this reprehensible movie just fans the flames of bigotry even more by glorifying “white American privilege” and exploiting systemic racism for a cash grab.

IFC Films released “No Man’s Land” in select U.S. cinemas, on digital and VOD on January 22, 2021.

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