Culture Representation: Taking place in an unnamed U.S. city, the comedic film “Bottoms” features an predominantly white cast of characters (with some African Americans and a few Asians and Latin people) representing the working-class and middle-class.
Culture Clash: Two lesbian best friends start an all-female fight club in their homophobic high school as a way to lose their virginities to cheerleaders.
Culture Audience: “Bottoms” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of the movie’s headliners and comedic movies where queer people are the central characters.
“Bottoms” is a bawdy and occasionally bloody comedy that gets gleefully absurd in this story about two lesbian best friends who start an all-female fight club in their high school. The originality outshines some of the film’s clichés. Even people who might not like “Bottoms” can admit that there are many things in this movie that have never been said and done before in a teen-oriented comedy.
Directed by Emma Seligman (who co-wrote the “Bottoms” screenplay with “Bottoms” co-stars Rachel Sennott), “Bottoms” had its world premiere at the 2023 SXSW Film & TV Festival. A distracting part of this movie is that the cast members portraying high schoolers look too old (early-to-mid 20s) to be in high school. It’s why all the movie’s raunchy dialogue isn’t as edgy as the “Bottoms” filmmakers probably thought it should be. However, because of the talented cast members, the delivery of this dialogue is entertaining, even if many parts of the movie require a huge suspension of disbelief, including the fact that all the cast members playing high schoolers are not really teenagers.
“Bottoms” takes place in an unnamed U.S. city but was actually filmed in Louisiana. The begins with lesbian best friends PJ (played by Sennott) and Josie (played by Ayo Edebiri) talking about sex. At this pont in time, PJ and Josie, who are both virgins, are students in their last year at Rockridge Falls High School. Their fantasies are to lose their virginities to the cheerleaders at the schools who are their biggest crushes.
PJ is hot for Brittany (played by Kaia Gerber), a tall beauty with a sarcastic attitude. (Gerber, who got her start as a model in real life, is the daughter of former supermodel Cindy Crawford.) Josie is infatuated with attractive Isabel (played by Havana Rose Liu), who is dating the school’s start football quarterback Jeff (played by ), a conceited, dimwitted pretty boy who is a chronic liar and cheater. Isabel and Brittany are best friends.
PJ is bossy and obnoxious, but she’s also hilarious and a generally loyal friend. Josie is more sensitive and thoughtful, but she’s also very insecure and plagued with self-doubt. In their conversations about losing their virginities, PJ is confident that it will happen to her before she graduates from high school. Josie thinks that if she has any chance of getting together with Isabel, it’ll probably be if they see each other at their 20-year high school reunion.
At school, PJ and Josie are outcasts because they’re lesbian and because people have heard that PJ and Josie both spent time in juvenile detention for violent crimes. Josie and PJ are often the targets of bigoted hate. Homophobic slurs are often spraypainted on their school lockers. Even the school’s sleazy leader Principal Meyers (played by Wayne Pére) doesn’t hide his homophobia.
There’s an incident where Jeff insults Josie, and she deliberately injures his leg while driving her car with Josie and Isabel as passengers. Principal Meyers calls Josie and PJ into his office and scolds them for injuring the school’s star football player. Rockridge Falls High School’s Vikings football team has been in a fierce rivalry for about 50 years with the Huntington High School Golden Ferrets. And there’s a big football game coming up between the Vikings and the Golden Ferrets
A story has been going around the school that a Rockridge Falls female student was attacked by a Hungtington male student. And so, when Principal Meyers tells PJ and Josie that they need to find a way to channel their “negative energy,” PJ comes up with the idea to start an all-female self-defense club at the school. (It’s really a fight club.) Principal Meyers says the club will be approved if PJ and Josie can find a teacher to be the sponsor/supervisor. PJ and Josie recruit their history teacher Mr. G (played by Marshawn Lynch), who has a hip-hop persona and is going through a divorce.
Josie is reluctant to go through with this fight club idea, but PJ convinces her by telling Josie that the fight club will be a way that they can find potential sex partners. Josie and PJ are thrilled when Isabel and Brittany end up joining the “self-defense club.” Other students are join the club, to varying results.
One of club members is Hazel Callahan (played by Ruby Cruz), who’s androgynous-looking and openly queer, is an even bigger misfit at the school than PJ and Josie, who try not to associate too closely with socially awkward Hazel. Also joining the club is Annie (played by Zamani Wilder), who is proud to be an African American member of the Republican Party. Other memorable supporting characters in “Bottoms” is Hazel’s frisky divorced mother Mrs. Callahan (played by Dagmara Dominczyk) and Vikings football player Tim (played by Miles Fowler), who is Jeff’s smirky sidekick.
The plot for “Bottoms” is fairly simple and a little bit on the formulaic side. However, the movie’s snappy dialogue and great comedic chemistry between the cast members (especially between Sennott and Edibiri) are definitely not formulaic and make this movie shine. Sennott also starred in Seligman’s feature-film directorial debut “Shiva Baby” (written by Seligman), a comedy/drama that was released in 2021 and re-released in 2023. There’s a final showdown in “Bottoms” that gets very over-the-top in its slapstick comedy. Ultimately, “Bottoms” won’t be a massive breakout for any of its stars, but it’s the type of movie that will get a very devoted following who won’t get tired of watching it.
MGM’s Orion Pictures will release “Bottoms” in select U.S. cinemas on August 25, 2023, with an expansion to more U.S. cinemas on September 1, 2023.
Culture Representation: Taking place in Passaic County, New York, the comedy musical film “Theater Camp” features a predominantly cast of characters (with some Asians, Latinos and African Americans) representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.
Culture Clash: A financially struggling summer camp, which is for tweens and teens, rehearses and performs an original musical while the camp faces a hostile takeover from an investment company that owns a rival camp.
Culture Audience: “Theater Camp” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of the movie’s headliners and comedies that are satires of summer camps and youthful musical theater.
“Theater Camp’s” mockumentary style of comedy is at times a little too self-aware and smug. However, this movie about a musical theater group at a summer camp makes great use of eccentric and memorable characters who range from charming to annoying. It’s not a classic on the level of 1996’s “Waiting for Guffman,” but “Theater Camp” is the type of movie that is bound to have a very devoted group of fans. “Theater Camp” has its world premiere at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival, where the movie won the U.S. Dramatic Special Jury Award for Ensemble Cast.
Directed by Molly Gordon and Nick Lieberman (who co-wrote the “Theater Camp” screenplay with Noah Galvin, “Theater Camp” is based on the 2020 short film of the same name, which was directed by Lieberman and had the same writers as the feature-length “Theater Camp.” Both movies have some of the same cast members, including Gordon, Galvin, Ben Platt and Patti Harrison. However, the characters in each are different.
In the feature-length “Theater Camp” (which takes place in Passaic County, New York, and was filmed in Warwick, New York), a longtime summer camp called the Adirond Acts (a play on words of the Adironacks Mountains in New York state) is on the verge of shutting down, due to financial problems. The children who attend this camp range in ages from 10 to 17. Amos Klobuchar (played by Platt) is the camp’s head of drama. Rebecca-Diane (played by Gordon) is the camp’s head of music.
Amos and Rebecca-Diane are best friends and have been teaching at the camp for the past 10 years. Every year, Amos and Rebecca-Diane write, compose and direct a new stage musical for the camp. Their past musicals include “Blackmail and Botox,” “The Briefcase, the Door and the Salad” and “A Hanukkah Divorce.” This year, they have to write and produce an original stage musical for the camp in only three weeks. It’s called Joan, Still.” And it’s all being filmed for a documentary.
The opening scene of “Theater Camp” takes place at Greenwood Middle School in the late spring. Adirond Acts camp founder Joan Rabinsky (played by Amy Sedaris) is attending a performance of the school’s production of the musical “Bye Bye Birdie.” Joan is the subject of this documentary that is the basis for the “Theater Camp” mockumentary. Joan has told only a few people that Adirond Acts is close to shutting down.
At the school’s performance area, Adirond Acts camp manager Rita Cohen (played by Caroline Aaron): “We have to give Taylor the lead in ‘Les Miz.'” Joan asks, “Why Taylor? He’s awful.” Rita replies, “I know, but his parents are so rich.” Joan says, “Come on. You know we don’t do things that way. It’s always got to be about the talent. How rich?” Rita responds, “So rich!”
Things don’t go well for Joan during this “Bye Bye Birdie” performance. The lighting during the performance gives Joan a seizure. After just one day of filming the documentary, Joan has to walk with a cane and is recovering from her seizure. The decision is made to keep filming, but Joan has put her obnoxious stoner son Troy Rubinsky (played by Jimmy Tatro) temporarily in charge of Adirond Acts.
Troy is a business vlogger who calls himself a “financial guru and a worldwide business mentor.” The only things he seems to be good at are showing how unintelligent he is and getting in the way of people trying to do their work at the camp. As irritating as Troy is, there’s no denying that he has some of the funniest lines in “Theater Camp.” Tatro is a scene stealer in this role.
In order to cut costs, Troy laid off a number of out-of-the-area teachers at the camp. Troy wants to hire locally, so he places an ad to find local teachers. Only one person answers the ad and she has no experience in teaching. Her name is Janet Walch (played by Ayo Edebiri), who is willing to learn on the job. Janet is predictably incompetent in many ways in this job that is new to her.
The other adult employees at the camp are experienced, but they are stressed-out when they hear that the camp’s original musical hasn’t been written yet and it’s supposed to do its first performance in three weeks. Stage manager/technical director Glenn Winthrop (played by Galvin) is nerdy and earnest. Costume designer Gigi Carbonier (played by Owen Thiele) is stereotypically flamboyant. Head of dance Clive Dewitt (played by Nathan Lee Graham) is drolly sarcastic.
Watching all of these proceedings closely is schemer Caroline Krauss (played by Harrison) from Camp Lakeside, where most of the kids come from rich families. Caroline is a junior project manager at Barnesnell Capital, an investment group. Caroline knows that the bank has filed a notice of default for Adirond Acts. Caroline tells Troy, that Barnesnell Capital “would love to get in bed with Adirond Acts.” Glenn warns Troy not to do business with Barnesnell Capital.
“Theater Camp” is more like a series of sketches threaded together instead of a deeply layered story. There’s a frenetic tone to the movie that’s supposed to match the tension of doing a hastily made stage musical. The kids in the musical are not given as much importance in “Theater Camp” as the adults who are scrambling to finish the musical on time while pretending to the kids that they have everything under control.
Most of “Theater Camp” will offer mild chuckles instead of non-stop, laugh-out-loud moments. Its not a movie with much subtlety, because it goes down a predictable path of “Look at all these neurotic people” and “Hey, kids, let’s put on a show!” The “Theater Camp” cast members have very good comedic timing though, with Platt and Gordon giving believable performances as longtime friends who are musical theater fanatics.
As directors, Gordon and Lieberman bring a brisk pace to the movie, although some moments tend to get repetitive. The movie’s running joke is that “Joan, Still” has some sections that are not appropriate for children. Toward the end of “Theater Camp,” there’s a hilarious surprise, which is one of the more original ideas in the film. As a mockumentary, “Theater Camp” mostly succeeds as a parody of real summer camps and youthful music theater, but people who dislike musical theater will probably find this movie very hard to enjoy.
Searchlight Pictures released “Theater Camp” in select U.S. cinemas on July 21, 2023.
Directed by Jeff Rowe; co-directed by Kyler Spears
Culture Representation: Taking place in New York City, the animated film “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem” features a cast of characters portraying mutant animals and a racially diverse mix of humans representing the middle-class and working-class.
Culture Clash: Four crime-fighting hero brothers, who happen to be teenage mutant ninja turtles, team up with a teenage aspiring journalist, to stop a mutant insect named Superfly from his plans to enslave and torture humans worldwide.
Culture Audience: Besides appealing to the obvious target audience of “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” franchise fans, “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in watching comical adventure animation that various generations of people can enjoy.
“Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem” is a vibrant example of how good storytelling, talented cast members, and appealing visuals can make animation the ideal format for the “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” franchise. “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” started out as a comic book series in 1984. It has since spawned several animated series and films (live-action and animated), as well as albums, live tours and a seemingly never-ending supply of merchandise. “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem” is among the best of what the franchise has to offer.
Directed by Jeff Rowe and co-directed by Kyler Spears, “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem” doesn’t do anything radically different with the basic concept of the franchise. The story still takes place in New York City, where four teenage mutant ninja turtle brothers grew up in the city’s sewers and now fight crime. Seth Rogen, Evan Goldberg, Jeff Rowe, Dan Hernandez and Benji Samit wrote the “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem” screenplay.
What’s different about “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem” is that the movie is much more centered around the teenage characters than the live-action “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” movies, which tended to give human adults about the same amount of screen time. The chief villain in “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem” is not human, but a giant mutant insect named Superfly.
The four mutant turtles brothers have distinct personalities, signature colors and preferred weapons that identify each brother.
Michelangelo, also known as Mikey (voiced by Shamon Brown Jr.), is the level-headed leader of the group. His signature color is blue. His preferred weapons are katanas.
Raphael, also known as Raph (voiced by Brady Noon), is the hot-tempered and physically strongest brother, who often clashes with Mike over decisions. Raph’s signature color is red. His preferred weapons are sai.
Donatello, also known as Donnie (voiced by Micah Abbey), is the mild-mannered tech expert of the group and the brother who’s most likely to be a peacemaker in fights between Mikey and Raph. Donnie’s signature color is purple. His preferred weapon is an oak Bō.
Leonardo, also known as Leo (voiced by Nicolas Cantu), is the goofy and impulsive brother who is the one most likely to want to party. His signature color is orange. His preferred weapons are nunchucks.
Do viewers have to know the above information about the brothers before seeing “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem”? No, but it helps viewers tell these characters apart quicker than viewers who are unfamiliar with these characters. The brothers’ origin story is explained early in the movie, which generally does a good job of setting up the story for people who might be seeing these characters for the first time.
In the beginning of “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem,” it’s shown how these mutant characters came to be. An eccentric scientist names Baxter Stockman (voiced by Giancarlo Esposito) went rogue and created mutants from animals that he kept in his lab. His lab was eventually raided by the government. Stockman died during this raid, but he left behind a toxic ooze that can turn any being into a mutant.
Four baby turtles managed to escape from the raid and were found and raised by a mutant rat Splinter (voiced by Jackie Chan), a jaded but very overprotective adoptive father who kept the four brothers hidden in the sewers with. When the brothers became old enough to be curious about the outside world where humans live, Splinter reluctantly gave in to the brothers’ pestering to take them outside.
The experience did not go well at all. Upon emerging in the middle of Times Square, this mutant family was attacked and taunted by humans, out of fear and hatred. Splinter vowed never to take the brothers above ground again. But now that the brothers are teenagers, they want to defy a parent’s rules, as teenagers tend to do. These brother turtles have been sneaking out at night and fighting crimes, but they have to do so in disguise (they wear masks) and as mysterious and elusive heroes.
“Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem” has many themes about “fitting in” to society, trying to find self-acceptance, and experiencing prejudice based on outward appearances. The turtle brothers long to be part of the human world but can only watch from a certain distance. While many human teenagers in high school think school is to confining, the turtle brothers feel confined in their own environment and are fascinated with wanting to go to high school, which represents freedom to the turtle brothers.
One night, the turtle brothers help a human teenager named April O’Neil (voiced by Ayo Edebiri), who’s about 16 or 17 years old, after her scooter is stolen. (The character of April is usually an adult in other “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle” stories.) April (who is an aspiring investigative journalist) is smart and witty, but she has her own “misfit” issues because she’s bullied at school and is somewhat of a social outcast with her student peers. She’s been given the unflattering nickname Puke Girl by some of the school bullies because of an incident when she vomited out of nervousness during the school’s live closed-circuit TV newscast. Meanwhile, Mikey develops a crush on April and gets a little bit of teasing about it from Raph.
The word is out that there’s a criminal mastermind who’s plotting to destroy the world. His named is Superfly (voiced by Ice Cube), a swaggering mutant insect, who has a hatred of humans because of the way he was treated by humans. Superfly has a gang of mutant accomplices, of course. These sidekicks include Leatherhead (voiced by Rose Byrne), Mondo Gecko (voiced by Paul Rudd), Ray Fillet (voiced by Post Malone), Genghis Frog (voiced by Hannibal Buress) and Wingnut (voiced by Natasia Demetriou).
The turtle brothers team up with April to try to stop Superfly, with the hope that if they succeed, then human society will finally accept the turtle brothers. In addition to battling Superfly, the turtle brothers also have to contend with a nemesis named Cynthia Utrom (voiced by Maya Rudolph), a government official who was responsible for the raid that led to Dr. Stockman’s demise. Cynthia is menacing in a bureaucratic way, unlike Superfly’s street-tough methods. Other supporting characters are two dimwitted mutants: warthog Bebop (played by Rogen, one of the producers of the movie) and rhinoceros Rocksteady (voiced by John Cena), who both bring some comic relief with their buffonery.
All of the principal cast members do admirable jobs of making their characters memorable and with identifable personalities, while the animation is a combination of gritty and gorgeous. Superfly is a ruthless “gangster” villain (Ice Cube plays this role to the hilt), but the movie also shows Superfly as an example of someone who was bullied who ends up becoming a worse bully than his tormentors. Another standout is Edebiri in her voice role as April, who has a lot of heart and relatable humanity, thanks to Edebiri’s engaging performance.
Fortunately for viewers, “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem” doesn’t over-complicate its “good versus evil” plot. The action sequences are entertaining to watch, while the dialogue is often laugh-out-loud funny. “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem” doesn’t get preachy about it, but amid all the cartoonish fun is a cautionary message about the repercussions of mistreating others. The movie ends on a cliffhanger, but there’s so much to like about “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem,” many viewers will still want a sequel, even if there had been no cliffhanger.
Paramount Pictures will release “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem” in U.S. cinemas on August 2, 2023.
Culture Representation: Taking place in Los Angeles, the comedy film “How It Ends” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with a few African Americans and Asians) representing the middle-class.
Culture Clash: Hours before an impending apocalypse, a woman in her 30s sees a physical manifestation of her 15-year-old self, and together they visit people they know to say their goodbyes in case they don’t survive the apocalypse.
Culture Audience: “How It Ends” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in “mumblecore” comedies that are self-consciously quirky in a way that will annoy some viewers.
The smugly oddball “How It Ends” looks and sounds like it could have been a pilot episode for a mumblecore sitcom rather than a compelling cinematic experience. In this time-wasting apocalyptic comedy, the end of the world is depicted as Los Angeles hipsters and weirdos acting as annoying as possible and thinking that they’re hilarious. You can see that on Hollywood Boulevard for free. You don’t need to pay money to see that in a movie as dull as this one.
Husband-and-wife duo Zoe Lister-Jones and Daryl Wein wrote and directed “How It Ends,” and it looks exactly like what it is: A movie that was rushed into production during the pre-vaccine COVID-19 pandemic, just so the filmmakers could brag about how they braved the pandemic to make this movie. Unfortunately, not enough time seems to have been spent on developing an interesting story for this repetitive and mostly empty-headed film.
“How It Ends” takes place in Los Angeles, just hours before an apocalypse is supposed to destroy the world. It’s never explained how people know the exact hour that this apocalypse is going to hit. But the characters in this movie are just way too calm about it, and they go about their lives as if it’s just another sunny day in California.
At least half of this movie just shows the two main characters walking from house to house, as they say goodbye to friends and assorted loved ones before the end of the world happens. Expect to see repetitive shots of people sauntering down a street as if they’re just out for a pleasant stroll before the apocalypse. And everyone they talk to just happens to be “quirky.”
The two main characters in the story are supposed to be the same person at different stages in her life. The movie opens with protagonist Liza (played by Lister-Jones), who’s in her 30s and with an unknown occupation, in her home on the morning before the apocalypse. There’s a teenage girl (played by Cailee Spaeny) jumping up and down on Liza’s bed.
Liza checks her voice messages and finds out that her friend Mandy (played by Whitney Cummings) has invited Liza to an end-of-the-world party happening that night. Liza tells the teenage girl, “Tonight, I want to get really fucking high and eat ’til I puke.” The girl in Liza’s house replies, “I can list so many problems with that idea. The first is: You’re out of weed.”
Who is this girl? Liza finds out this other person in her home is her 15-year-old self. Liza might want to roll on Ecstasy to get high, but the only thing rolling during this movie will be viewers’ eyes at the self-consciously twee absurdity of it all. Guess who’s hanging out with Liza for the whole movie? Young Liza, who’s somehow wiser and more emotionally intuitive than the older Liza.
It’s explained in the movie that Young Liza can only be seen on the last day before the apocalypse happens. And based on the advice that Young Liza gives her older self, Young Liza is supposed to embody hindsight. Young Liza also doesn’t have the emotional baggage that older Liza has, so she’s able to see things more clearly when it comes to unresolved issues in older Liza’s life.
Before Liza and her younger self go to the party, they decide to visit a series of people to say their final goodbyes. A lot of these half-baked scenes (many of them look improvised) are just filler. There are long stretches of the movie where it’s nothing but Liza and her younger self walking from place to place and encountering goofy, strange and usually very irritating people.
Wait, doesn’t everyone drive in Los Angeles if they can afford it? The movie comes up with a reason for why Liza and her teenage mini-me end up walking everywhere for more than half the movie: Liza’s car has been stolen. It’s the end of the world, so there’s no point in reporting the theft to the police. Will Liza get her car back though? That question is answered in the movie.
Most of the people whom Liza and her young self visit are the type of characters you would expect in a low-budget indie flick where the filmmakers think that it’s automatically supposed to be funny to see adults acting like immature kooks. There are the wacky neighbors in different homes, such as Derek (played by Bobby Lee), who’s a babbling stoner; Manny (played by Fred Armisen), a forgetful eccentric; and anxious Dave (played by Paul Scheer), who gets yelled at by another neighbor for not washing his recycling container.
And then there are a few people randomly performing in the middle of the street or on a sidewalk in this residential area, including a nameless stand-up comedian (played by Ayo Edebiri), who’s actually one of the few highlights of the film. Real-life singer Sharon Van Etten shows up toward the end of the film as a folksy singer named Jet, who plays acoustic guitar in the street to an enthralled audience of two: Liza and her younger self.
“How It Ends” desperately wants to be a uniquely modern film, but it uses the oldest and most cliché trope in a comedy starring a woman: She’s pining over a man because she wants him to be her romantic partner. In Liza’s case, “the one who got away” is Nate (played by Logan Marshall-Green), a former hookup whom she has deeper feelings for than she was willing to admit when he was in her life and when she emotionally pushed him away. Liza regrets shutting Nate out of her life, and she wants to see Nate again so she can tell him that she loves him before the end of the world happens.
Liza also has some unfinished business with her divorced parents Kenny (played by Bradley Whitford) and Lucinda (played by Helen Hunt), as well as her ex-boyfriend Larry (played by Lamorne Morris), who cheated on her when they were together. Liza visits all of them during this movie to tell them how she really feels. Viewers find out that she has major abandonment issues and has had a problem communicating her true feelings to the people who are closest to her.
But the best and funniest encounter that Liza has is with an estranged friend named Alay (played by Olivia Wilde), who’s just as neurotic as Liza is. Liza and Alay have a rapid-fire conversation where they talk over each other about what went wrong in their friendship (they fell out because Alay didn’t approve of Larry), and they call a truce—because of, you know, the apocalypse.
Alay eats a very decadent-looking cake during this conversation and says she’s a psychic. What does she see in Liza’s afterlife future? Alay says, “Timothée Chalamet and lots of dairy with no consequences.” Sounds like heaven for a lot of people.
If only “How It Ends” had more of this type of laugh-out-loud comedic scene with Wilde and Lister-Jones, because they have such natural and appealing chemistry with each other. Maybe they can co-star in another movie someday. Hopefully, it would have a better screenplay and more exciting direction than what’s in “How It Ends.”
But for every scene like the rip-roaring one with Wilde, there are five or six more scenes in “How It Ends” that are just so tedious and downright cringeworthy. For example, when Liza goes to her ex-boyfriend Larry’s home, it’s a retro ripoff with derivative ideas: She holds up a boombox (just like John Cusack famously did in the 1989 movie “Say Anything”), and then she quotes the chorus of Alanis Morissette’s 1995 hit “You Oughta Know.”
And there’s some self-pitying drivel, such as when Liza and her younger self have an argument with each other. Liza wants to ditch her younger self and continue on her own, because she thinks Young Liza doesn’t count as her real self. Young Liza shouts, “I do count! All your life, you’ve been licking your fucking wounds, when I’m the biggest wound of all!” Oh, boo hoo. Did anyone bring any tissues?
Lister-Jones and Spaeny previously worked together in the disappointing 2020 horror film “The Craft: Legacy,” which was written and directed by Lister-Jones and starred Spaeny as a teenage witch who joins a coven of other teen witches. The chemistry between Lister-Jones and Spaeny in “How It Ends” is more like older sister/younger sister as two different people, rather than entirely convincing as two versions of the same person. One of the takeaways from the movie is that Liza looks physically older than her younger self, but she hasn’t emotionally matured very much since she was a teenager.
Spaeny makes some attempt to mimic certain mannerisms that older Liza would have had in her teen years. And there are times that Liza and her younger self do things in snyc when they’re walking down the street. However, the movie looks like it was filmed so quickly that Spaeny and Lister-Jones didn’t have enough time to do work on body language and speech patterns that are more subtle and nuanced.
“How It Ends” is not so off-putting that it won’t find its share of people who will love this movie. There’s a very specific type of viewer who automatically thinks any movie that reeks of being self-congratulatory “quirky” is something that’s worth admiring. But for people who prefer their comedies to actually be funny and have a significant plot, you’ll have to look elsewhere, because “How It Ends” comes up very short in these elements and is mostly just a series of poorly conceived vignettes.
MGM’s American International Pictures released “How It Ends” in select U.S. cinemas, on digital and VOD on July 20, 2021.
Culture Representation: Taking place over two days in June 2020, mainly in New York City, as as well as in Florida, Los Angeles, and the United Kingdom, the comedy/drama film “As of Yet” (or “as of yet,” as the movie’s title is sometimes styled) features a predominantly African American cast of characters (with two white people and one Asian), representing the middle-class.
Culture Clash: During her COVID-19 pandemic quarantine, a woman in her 20s has dilemmas about two people in her life: her overly possessive roommate (who’s been her best friend since college) and a potential new love interest, who would be the first in-person date she’s had since the quarantine began.
Culture Audience: “As of Yet” will appeal mainly to people who are interested in watching a realistic and minimalist quarantine comedy/drama that explores issues related to dating, friendships and family.
There have been several scripted movies that take place during the COVID-19 pandemic that have attempted to depict authentic quarantine experiences. The comedy/drama “As of Yet” is one of the few that gets it right. It’s a witty, warm and relatable film that doesn’t try to scare people into thinking that someone is going to die at any moment in the movie. Instead, the only fear that’s portrayed in the movie is the fear of letting go of a co-dependent but toxic best friend, as well as how dating a potential new love interest might affect the friendship. It’s a movie that’s filled with various conversations held over Zoom and FaceTime, but the story will connect on a deeper level with audiences who understand that’s it’s really about reflecting on life priorities.
Taylor Garron is the star, writer, co-director and one of the producers of “As of Yet,” which is the feature-film directorial debut of Garron, who co-directed with Chanel James. “As of Yet” is an impressive directorial debut, even if it didn’t have a COVID-19 pandemic setting. Garron’s writing is emotionally intelligent and appealing to anyone who wants to see people in scripted movies act and talk like how college-educated people in the real world talk. The fact that most of the cast members are black is a bonus for the film. “As of Yet” had its world premiere at the 2021 Tribeca Film Festival in New York City. Garron and James won the 2021 Tribeca Film Festival’s Nora Ephron Award, a prize given to emerging female filmmakers.
“As of Yet” admirably and skillfully shows a very real and vibrant part of black culture that rarely gets showcased in movies and doesn’t fall into the same, over-used negative sterotypes that movies have of black people. Nowhere in this movie is anyone portrayed as a criminal, poor or a struggling single parent. Portraying black people as second-class citizens is too often the narrative for a movie where the central character is black and living in a big city, even though most black people in America are not criminals, poor or struggling single parents. A movie starring a black woman usually centers the story on either pain or anger, but Garron refuses to go down that road that often leads to exploitation.
Instead, Garron’s Naomi Parson character (the movie’s protagonist, who’s in her mid-20s) is a relatively happy person who’s got a pretty great life, all things considered. She’s an actress who has loving and supportive family members and friends. She’s healthy. She’s college-educated. And she lives in a comfortable apartment in a quiet, tree-lined street in New York City’s Brooklyn borough. She’s staying safe in the middle of a deadly pandemic, but don’t expect this movie to kill her off or for her to get bad medical news—two other over-used negative tropes for black people with prominent roles in movies.
“As of Yet,” which takes place over two days and two nights, begins on Day 83 of Naomi’s quarantine. There are two types of videos in the movie: Naomi’s private video diaries and the video conversations that she has on Zoom and FaceTime. Naomi is an actress on an unnamed TV series that is currently on hiatus due to the pandemic. She’s been receiving unemployment benefits in the meantime. And she’s proud to have a reached a milestone in her finances: She now has about $10,000 in personal savings.
The movie doesn’t mention what college Naomi went to, but it’s mentioned that it was a four-year university in Amherst, Massachusetts. It’s where she met her white best friend/roommate Sara (played by Eva Victor), who is currently and temporarily staying with Sara’s parents in Florida. The movie never mentions what Sara does for a living, but she’s very spoiled, and she talks in that snotty tone of voice that sounds like she watches too much of “Keeping Up With the Kardashians” and “The Real Housewives.” In fact, after watching Sara and her manipulations in this movie, Sara seems like someone who would fit right in on a reality show about self-centered, catty women.
The first 10 minutes of “As of Yet” could be a little bit of turnoff to viewers who might think this is a movie that looks like any of the millions of social media video conversations made by young people who babble on about potential love interests or what their party plans are. But the movie gets much better as it goes along. It becomes a riveting character study of a woman finding her way through her post-college identity.
The COVID-19 pandemic is a big conversation topic in “As of Yet,” but it’s not the movie’s only focus. Many of the issues brought forth are issues that were going on in Naomi’s life before the pandemic. The pandemic is often used as a reason for certain people’s words and actions. But the pandemic can also force people to evaluate certain things in their lives.
Naomi faces that type of personal reckoning when it to comes to her friendship with Sara. The main dilemma that Naomi has is deciding if her friendship with Sara is worth keeping. It’s a very co-dependent, lopsided relationship where Naomi does a lot of the giving, and Sara does a lot of the taking.
As Naomi says in her video diary near the beginning of the movie: “I really miss Sara.” Sara’s quarantine with her parents is the longest that Naomi and Sara have been apart. This period of time apart has given Naomi some room to relax and some room to worry about what her life would be like without her best friend.
During a video chat, where Sara drones on mostly about herself, she comes up with the idea of hosting a “welcome back” dinner party for herself and Naomi when Sara comes back to New York. Sara describes the party as a way to “celebrate our friendship, but it’s also about me a little bit.” Sara mentions that she can steal some of her mother’s inferior wine and bring it to the party. She also laughs when she pictures her mother finding the wine missing and how it will be fun to think about how annoyed her mother would be if her mother knew what happened to the wine.
One of the ways that the movie shows how Sara and Naomi are very different from each other and incompatible is when they talk about the Black Lives Matter protests over the deaths of George Floyd and other black people who were victims of police brutality. Naomi has been participating in these protests on the streets of New York City. She mentions that she always wears masks when she’s out in public.
Sara has a slightly disgusted and annoyed expression on her face when the Black Lives Matter protests are brought up in the conversation. She asks Naomi if it’s scary to be part of the protests. Naomi says it’s not scary. But later, in another conversation with two of her black female friends who are protesters in Los Angeles, they candidly discuss witnessing police brutality at the protests.
Naomi and Sara talk about the difference between peaceful protesting and rioting. Sara is inclined to think that rioters are part of the protest movement, while Naomi says that most rioters are not part of Black Lives Matter and other activist movements. Naomi does concede that when it comes to activism, she thinks, “You have to be a little violent to get things done.” The awkward silence and expression on Sara’s face say a lot after Naomi makes that comment.
During Naomi and Sara’s conversation, they also talk about a man in hs 20s named Reed, whom Naomi has been talking to online for the past four months. Because of the quarantine, Naomi and Reed haven’t been able to meet in person for a date yet, but they hope to do so in the near future. It would be Naomi’s first in-person date since the pandemic lockdown began. Instead of being happy for Naomi and telling her to be safe, Sara acts as if Naomi is going to put Sara’s life in serious jeopardy by being in contact with someone who doesn’t live in their household.
Sara puts up such a fuss about it that it unnerves Naomi. The rest of the movie shows Naomi debating with herself and other people if she should meet Reed for a date in person and if she should tell Sara about it. It’s not a problem that’s as superficial as it sounds. Viewers will see that how Naomi handles this date dilemma is a manifestation of how she’s been handling a lot of the control issues going in her friendship with Sara and how Naomi feels about herself.
“As of Yet” has a very small number of people in its cast, which will make this movie very easy to follow. Besides Sara, the other people Naomi talk to about Sara and Reed are:
Reed (played by Amir Khan), a geeky, long-haired “nice guy” who works in some kind of computer tech job. Since the quarantine, he’s been working from home and rewatching “Survivor” reruns.
Sadie (played by Paula Akpan), Naomi’s British cousin who’s openly queer, very outspoken and someone who definitely doesn’t approve of Sara.
Naomi’s parents, who are unnamed in the movie but are played by Taylor Garron’s real-life parents Colleen Pina Garron and Christopher Garron. Naomi talks to her mother longer in their conversation (her dad briefly pops into the conversation), and Sara’s close and loving relationship with her parents is very evident.
Lyssa (played by Quinta Brunson) and Khadijah (played by Ayo Edebiri), two of Naomi’s friends in Los Angeles. They both don’t like Sara because they think she makes Naomi feel insecure and anxious. Khadijah is more blunt and forthcoming than Lyssa in giving advice to Naomi on what to do about Sara.
An unnamed neighbor (played by Anthony Allman), who Naomi talks to randomly when he pokes her head out of her apartment window and sees him walking down the street.
During these conversations, viewers find out more things about Naomi. Her family has origins in Cape Verde. Her parents are passionate about social causes, and Naomi got her interest in being a civil rights activist from her parents. She’s a very loyal, funny and caring person. Her willingness to put the needs of others before her own needs is a virtue, but it can also be a fault because people like Sara have taken advantage of it. Naomi hints at past romances and heartbreaks because she made the mistake of trusting the wrong people.
Naomi loves to talk and has a very quick-witted, self-deprecating sense of humor. Reed is quieter and more laid-back. Reed and Naomi both like watching TV and they appreciate each other’s offbeat geekiness over TV shows. Naomi has an interesting quirk of having only watched one movie in her life: the 1995 comedy “Heavyweights,” starring Ben Stiller and Kenan Thompson, about a group of overweight teens sent to a weight-loss camp that’s run by a psycho fitness instructor.
Naomi and Reed’s conversations in the movie show that they have a comfortable rapport with each other, and they can make each other laugh. However, viewers will wonder how well Naomi really knows Reed. Have they had meaningful conversations that go deeper than joking around and talking about what TV shows they like to watch? Are they compatible, in terms of lifestyles and life goals? This movie offers no real answers to those questions, because it’s just a glimpse into Naomi’s life over a two-day period.
One of the most outstanding things about “As of Yet” is how all the conversations look authentic, almost like a documentary. It’s one thing for the screenplay to be well-written (and it is), but the cast members should also get credit for delivering the lines in a very naturalistic and convincing way. There isn’t one moment in this movie that looks overly staged and overly rehearsed.
And there are many details that add to the authenticity. Naomi isn’t afraid to be shown from some unflattering camera angles. At one point in the movie, her armpit hair is showing (but not during her conversations with Reed), and her mother reminds Naomi to shave her armpits before she meets Reed in person.
The movie also doesn’t shy away from the topic of race. When Naomi tells her family members and black friends about Reed, one of the first questions they ask is if Reed is black. Naomi talks about the Black Lives Matter protests in a different and more unguarded way with her black friends than she does with Sara. Naomi’s mother also tells her a great anecdote about her childhood experiences with the Black Panthers.
The movie’s one detail about race that might raise questions with viewers is why Naomi hasn’t asked Reed yet what race he is. (He’s American and his family’s ethnicity appears to be South Asian or possibly from the Middle East.) If you’ve been chatting with someone for several months and plan to go on a date with each other, it’s not unreasonable to ask that person what their racial/ethnic heritage is, as part of the “getting to know you” process.
Naomi says she hasn’t asked Reed because she thinks it would be rude to ask. But it kind of contradicts how Naomi keeps bragging to her loved ones about how she knows Reed well enough that she thinks he’s a good guy who would be safe to date. The fact that she’s afraid to ask Reed what race he is will make people wonder what other basic and reasonable questions Naomi hasn’t asked him.
It’s another layer to the story in “As of Yet,” which shows how in the early months of the pandemic, single people were trying to adjust to how dating was affected by the pandemic quarantine. Naomi has to grapple with these questions: What’s the proper etiquette of a first date, when it comes to mask wearing and social distancing? Is it really a good idea to date somene new during a lockdown quarantine?
How do you know who’s really safe and not infected, when COVID-19 test results are only valid for a very limited time? (And keep in mind, this movie takes place before any COVID-19 vaccines were available.) It’s a question that Naomi can’t really answer about Reed, but she makes several comments in her conversations that she’s sure that Reed is “safe,” just because he told her so.
Actually, she doesn’t know for sure if Reed has COVID-19 or not. Taking people’s word for it without proof is one of the main reasons why a lot of people got infected with COVID-19. And lot of people who infected others didn’t know they had COVID-19 because they didn’t show any symptoms at the time.
Naomi’s blind trust in Reed’s COVID-19 status is an example of her trusting nature, just like Sara’s overreaction to Naomi possibly dating someone new during the quarantine is an example of her jealous and controlling nature. Viewers will find out how much of a loathsome hypocrite Sara is when it comes to COVID-19 safety. (It’s slight spoiler information that won’t be revealed in this review.)
Because “As of Yet” is a movie that takes place mostly on computer screens in people’s middle-class homes, there’s no flashy cinematography, elaborate set designs or fancy costumes. “As of Yet,” which is more suspenseful than people might think it would be, excels mainly because of the screenwriting and how well the cast members bring their characters to life. The movie might not satisfy people who want a predictable conclusion, but “As of Yet” will keep viewers entertained with some lively conversations along the way.