Review: ‘DC League of Super-Pets,’ starring the voices of Dwayne Johnson and Kevin Hart

July 26, 2022

by Carla Hay

Merton (voiced by Natasha Lyonne), PB (voiced by Vanessa Bayer), Krypto (voiced by Dwayne Johnson), Chip (voiced by Diego Luna) and Ace (voiced by Kevin Hart) in “DC League of Super-Pets” (Image courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures)

“DC League of Super-Pets”

Directed by Jared Stern; co-directed by Sam Levine

Culture Representation: Taking place primarily in the fictional city of Metropolis, the animated film “DC League of Super-Pets” features a racially diverse cast (white, black, Asian and Latino) portraying talking animals, superheroes and citizens of Metropolis.

Culture Clash: Inspired by DC Comics characters, “DC League of Super-Pets” features a group of domesticated pets, including Superman’s dog Krypto, fighting crime and trying to save the world from an evil guinea pig that is loyal to supervillain Lex Luthor.

Culture Audience: “DC League of Super-Pets” will appeal primarily to fans of DC Comics, the movie’s cast members and adventure-filled animated movies centered on talking animals.

Lulu (voiced by Kate McKinnon) in “DC League of Super-Pets” (Image courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures)

Even though “DC League of Super-Pets” sometimes gets cluttered with subplots and characters, this animated film is a treat that has a winning combination of pets and superheroes. There’s plenty to like for people of many ages. In addition to the appeal of having familiar characters from DC Comics, “DC League of Super-Pets” is a well-cast film for its voice actors, because the cast members bring their own unique flairs to the characters. It’s helpful but not necessary to have knowledge of DC Comics characters before watching this movie.

Directed by Jared Stern and co-directed by Sam Levine, “DC League of Super-Pets” makes good use of mixing zany comedy, engaging action and some heartwarming and touching moments. Stern makes his feature-film directorial debut with “DC League of Super-Pets,” which he co-wrote with John Whittington. Stern and Whittington also co-wrote 2017’s “The Lego Batman Movie.” Where “DC League of Super-Pets” falters is when it tries to cram in certain plot developments to the point where “DC League of Super-Pets” comes dangerously close to biting off more than it can chew. (No pun intended.)

If you have no interest in watching an animated movie about pets and would-be pets of superheroes, then “DC League of Super-Pets” probably is not for you. The world already has more than enough animated films about talking animals. However, “DC League of Super-Pets” mostly succeeds at being entertaining when putting comic book characters in a predictable but dependable story of a group of misfits that become friends while trying to save the world.

“DC League of Super-Pets” begins by showing how Superman (whose birth name is Kal-El) ended up with his loyal Labrador Retriever dog Krypto. Kal-El was born on the planet Krypton. When he was a baby, Krypton went under attack, so his parents put Kal-El on a spaceship alone and sent him to Earth for his safety. Kal-El’s parents Jor-El (voiced by Alfred Molina) and Lara (voiced by Lena Headey) say their emotional goodbye to Kal-El.

Jor-El says, “Krypton is about to die.” Lara adds, “But you, dear son, will live on.” Suddenly, the family’s Labrador Retriever puppy jumps on the spaceship with Kal-El. At first, Jor-El wants to try to get the dog back, but the space ship has already been set in motion. Lara tells Jor-El: “Our boy will need a friend.” Jor-El says to the dog: “Watch over our son.”

Years later, Kal-El is now an adult living in the big city of Metropolis under the name Clark Kent. He’s a bachelor who works as a reporter at the Daily Planet newspaper, but Clark Kent is an alter ego to his secret identity: a superhero named Superman (voiced by John Krasinski), who has super-strength, X-ray vision and the ability to fly. The dog, named Krypto (voiced by Dwayne Johnson), is still his loyal companion and knows about the secret life of Superman, because Krypto often fights crime alongside Superman.

Krypto has superpowers that are the same as Superman’s superpowers. And they both have the same weakness: an energy force called kryptonite that can drain their superpowers. Krypto and Superman are a lot alike, when it comes to how they view crime and justice. However, Superman and Krypto are very different when it comes to adapting to life on Earth: Superman/Clark Kent is social with humans, while Kypto is very aloof with other pets on Earth.

An early scene in the movie shows Krypto trying to get Superman to wake up because Krypto wants to go for a walk. But “walking the dog” for Superman really means “flying through the air with the dog.” Krypto often leads the way on the leash. The Metropolis in “DC League of Super-Pets” is designed to look like a modern, well-kept city with many tall buildings, just like in the comic books.

In this version of Metropolis, Superman is such a familiar sight, no one really thinks it’s unusual to see Superman in a park with his dog Krypto. It’s during one of these park outings that Krypto sees that things at home will soon change for Superman and Krypto. Superman/Clark Kent and his Daily Planet journalist co-worker Lois Lane (voiced by Olivia Wilde) are very much in love, and they meet at the park for a date. They show lovey-dovey public displays of affection, much to Krypto’s dismay.

The relationship between Superman/Clark Kent and Lois has gotten serious enough where it looks like this couple could be headed toward marriage. Krypto is jealous and fearful that Superman/Clark Kent will no longer have the time and attention for Krypto if Lois moves in with them. Krypto doesn’t dislike Lois. Krypto just sees her as a threat to the comfortable existence he has always known with Superman/Clark Kent.

As Krypto worries about how his home life will change if Lois moves in, some other pets in Metropolis are worried if they’ll ever have a permanent home. At an animal shelter called Tailhuggers, several pets are up for adoption, but so far, they have no takers. The shelter is run by a bachelorette named Patty (voiced by Yvette Nicole Brown), who is very kind to the pets and keeps them under vigilant protection.

Brash and sarcastic hound dog Ace (voiced by Kevin Hart) is the leader of the shelter pets. Other animals at the shelter are elderly turtle Merton (voiced by Natasha Lyonne), cheerful pig PB (voiced by Vanessa Bayer) and nervous squirrel Chip (voiced by Diego Luna), who are Ace’s closest friends at the shelter. Also at the shelter is a cat name Whiskers (voiced by Winona Bradshaw), whose loyalty to the shelter pets is later tested.

Ace is anxious to run away from the shelter and is constantly plotting his escape. He tells his animal shelter friends that he knows of a paradise-like farm upstate where they can all go to live freely. One day, Ace actually manages to run away from the shelter, but he doesn’t go far. He’s literally stopped in his tracks by “law and order” Krypto, who uses his superpowers to freeze Ace’s legs to the sidewalk when he sees that Ace is a runaway shelter dog. Needless to say, Ace and Krypto clash with each other the first time that they meet.

Meanwhile, Superman has a crime-fighting incident where he summons the help of his Justice League superhero colleagues: Batman (voiced by Keanu Reeves), Wonder Woman (voiced by Jamila Jamil), Aquaman (voiced by Jemaine Clement), Green Lantern (voiced by Dascha Polanco), The Flash (voiced by John Early) and Cyborg (voiced by Daveed Diggs). Through a series of incidents, all of these superheroes are captured by billionaire supervillain (and longtime Superman nemesis) Lex Luthor (voiced by Marc Maron), who is keeping his captives hidden in a secret lair. Lex also has a cynical assistant named Mercy Graves (voiced by Maya Erksine), who isn’t in the movie as much as she could have been. Mercy’s screen time is less than five minutes.

All of that would be enough of a plot for this movie, but “DC League of Super-Pets” also has a plot about a devious guinea pig named Lulu (voiced by Kate McKinnon), who manages to escape from a Lex Luthor-owned scientific lab that was experimenting on guinea pigs. Somehow, Lulu gets ahold of orange kryptonite (she’s immune to kryptonite), she develops telekinesis powers, and goes on a mission to prove her loyalty to Lex by trying to destroy the Justice League.

Lulu has an army of former lab guinea pigs to do her bidding. Two of Lulu’s most loyal of these accomplices are mutant guinea pigs that also have newfound superpowers: Mark (voiced by Ben Schwartz) is fiery red and can shoot flames, while Keith (voiced by Thomas Middleditch) is ice-blue and has the ability to freeze things. Lulu also has a plot to (cliché alert) take over the world.

It should come as no surprise that Krypto ends up joining forces with Ace, Merton, PB and Chip to try to save the Justice League and save the world. During the course of the story, certain superpowers are gained, lost and possibly gained again for certain characters. Viewers of “DC League of Super-Pets” should not expect the Justice League superheroes and Lex Luthor to get a lot of screen time, because the movie is more about the pets.

Lulu’s revenge plot gets a little convoluted, but not so confusing that very young children won’t be able to understand. The movie has the expected high-energy antics, with animation and visual effects that aren’t groundbreaking but are aesthetically pleasing on almost every level. Once viewers get used to all the characters that are quickly introduced in the movie, it makes “DC League of Super-Pets” more enjoyable.

The movie has some recurring jokes, such as self-referencing all the movies and licensing deals that come from comic-book superheroes. “DC League of Super-Pets” also has a running gag of guinea pig Lulu being insulted when she’s often misidentified as a hamster. After one such misidentification, Lulu snarls, “A hamster is just a dollar-store gerbil!”

Lulu has some of the funniest lines in the movie. When she sees the DC League of Super-Pets together, she makes this snarky comment: “What is this? PAW Patrol?” And even though Batman isn’t in the movie for a lot of time, he also has some memorable one-liners, which he delivers in a deadpan manner.

It soon becomes obvious that these Super-Pets have another purpose besides saving the world: Each pet will be paired with a Justice League superhero. PB is a big fan of Wonder Woman. This star-struck pig thinks that Wonder Woman has the confidence and independent spirit that PB thinks is lacking in PB’s own personality.

Turtles are known for walking slow, so it should come as no surprise that Merton admires The Flash, whose known for his superpower of lightning-fast speed. Ace sees himself as an “alpha male” who strikes out on his own when he has to do so, which makes Batman a kindred spirit. Chip is attracted to the fearlessness of Green Lantern. As for Aquaman and Cyborg, it’s shown at the end of the movie which pets will be paired with them.

Amid the action and comedy, “DC League of Super-Pets” also has some meaningful messages about finding a family of friends. Ace has a poignant backstory about how he ended up at an animal shelter. Ace’s background explains why he puts up a tough exterior to hide his vulnerability about being abandoned.

Johnson (who is one of the producers of “DC League of Super-Pets”) and Hart have co-starred in several movies together. Their comedic rapport as lead characters Krypto and Ace remains intact and one of the main reasons why “DC League of Super-Pets” has voice cast members who are perfectly suited to each other. Hart is a lot less grating in “DC League of Super-Pets” than he is in some of his other movies, where he often plays an over-the-top-buffoon.

Even though Ace is an animated dog, he has more heart than some of the human characters that Hart has played in several of his mediocre-to-bad movies, Law-abiding Krypto and rebellious Ace have opposite personalities, but they learn a lot from each other in ways that they did not expect. All of the other heroic characters have personal growth in some way too.

“DC League of Super-Pets” is a recommended watch for anyone who wants some escapist animation with entertainment personalities. The movie’s mid-credits scene and end-credits scene indicate that “DC League of Super-Pets” is the beginning of a movie series. It’s very easy to imagine audiences wanting more of these characters in movies if the storytelling is good.

Warner Bros. Pictures will release “DC League of Super-Pets” in U.S. cinemas on July 29, 2022.

Review: ‘Sonic the Hedgehog 2,’ starring James Marsden, Jim Carrey and the voices of Ben Schwartz and Idris Elba

April 9, 2022

by Carla Hay

James Marsden, Tika Sumpter and Sonic (voiced by Ben Schwartz) in “Sonic the Hedgehog 2” (Photo courtesy of Paramount Pictures and Sega of America)

“Sonic the Hedgehog 2”

Directed by Jeff Fowler

Culture Representation: Taking place in Green Hills, Montana; Oahu, Hawaii; Seattle and various parts of the universe, the live-action/animated adventure film “Sonic the Hedgehog 2” features a nearly predominantly white cast of characters (with some African Americans and Asians) and representing the working-class and middle-class, along with some outer-space creatures.

Culture Clash: Sonic the Hedgehog battles again against the evil Dr. Robotnik, who wants to take over the world and gets help from Knuckles the Echidna, who is searching for the all-powerful Master Emerald.

Culture Audience: “Sonic the Hedgehog 2” will appeal primarily to fans of the video-game franchise and people who like high-energy, comedic adventures that combine live action and animation.

Jim Carrey and Knuckles (voiced by Idris Elba) in “Sonic the Hedgehog 2” (Photo courtesy of Paramount Pictures and Sega of America)

“Sonic the Hedgehog 2” does almost everything a sequel is supposed to do in being an improvement from its predecessor. While 2020’s “Sonic the Hedgehog” movie looked like a middling TV special, 2022’s “Sonic the Hedgehog 2” has a much more engaging story and more impressive visuals that are worthy of a movie theater experience. “Sonic the Hedgehog” panders mostly to children, while “Sonic the Hedgehog 2” is an adventure story with wider appeal to many generations. To enjoy “Sonic the Hedgehog 2,” you don’t have to be a video game player, and you don’t have to be familiar with Sega Genesis’ “Sonic the Hedgehog” video games on which these movies are based.

Several of the chief filmmakers from the “Sonic the Hedgehog” movie (including director Jeff Fowler) have returned for “Sonic the Hedgehog 2.” Pat Casey and Josh Miller, who wrote the “Sonic the Hedgehog” screenplay, are joined by John Whittington for the “Sonic the Hedgehog 2” screenplay. “Sonic the Hedgehog 2” has an obvious bigger budget than its predecessor, since the visual effects are far superior to what was in the first “Sonic the Hedgehog” movie. What hasn’t changed is that Sonic (voiced skillfully by Ben Schwartz)—a talking blue hedgehog who can run at supersonic speeds—is still a brash and wisecracking character with an unwavering purpose of doing good in the world.

Thankfully, “Sonic the Hedgehog 2” avoids the pitfall that a lot of sequels make when they assume that everyone watching a movie sequel has already seen any preceding movie in the series. It’s easy to understand “Sonic the Hedgehog 2” without seeing the first “Sonic the Hedgehog” movie. “Sonic the Hedgehog 2” also picks up where “Sonic the Hedgehog” left off: The evil Dr. Robotnik (played by Jim Carrey), Sonic’s chief nemesis, has been banished to the Mushroom Planet, where he has been isolation for the past 243 days.

The first “Sonic the Hedgehog” movie showed how Sonic was raised in another dimension by a female guardian owl called Longclaw (voiced by Donna Jay Fulks), a benevolent and wise character. When an apocalyptic disaster struck happened, Longclaw saved Sonic by opening up a portal to Earth and telling him that Earth would be Sonic’s permanent home. Longclaw also gave Sonic a bag of magical gold rings which could open portals and do other magic.

In the first “Sonic the Hedgehog” movie, Sonic settled in with happily married couple Tom Wachowski (played by James Marsden) and Maddie Wachowski (played by Tika Sumpter) in the fictional city of Green Hills, Montana. Tom is the sheriff of Green Hills, while Maddie is a veterinarian. Tom and Maddie also have a (non-talking) Golden Retriever named Ozzy, who is a friend to Sonic.

In the beginning of “Sonic the Hedgehog 2,” Sonic (who acts and talks like a human teenager) has been “adopted” by Tom and Maddie. Sonic sees himself as a hero who is on a mission to fight crime, just like Tom. However, Sonic’s efforts often lead to a lot of unintended wreckage.

The movie’s opening scene shows Sonic in Seattle, as he interferes in an armored car robbery taking place at night. When Sonic shows up, the car driver, who’s been taken hostage in the back, asks Sonic: “Why don’t you let the police handle it?” Sonic replies confidently, “Because that’s not what heroes do!”

It leads to a high-speed chase and car crashes, but thankfully no fatalities. The robbers are apprehended, but the Seattle Police Department is annoyed that Sonic’s excessive eagerness to stop the robbery and catch the criminals resulted in thousands of dollars in damages. All of this wreckage makes the news, so Tom inevitably finds that Sonic snuck out that night and went all the way to Seattle to be involved in these crime-stopping shenanigans.

Tom takes Sonic on a fishing trip on a small boat, where he lectures Sonic about being too reckless in Sonic’s attempts to be a big hero. Sonic gets defensive and says, “You’re supposed to be my friend, not my dad.” Tom looks a little hurt and miffed, but he and Sonic agree to a compromise that Sonic should be more careful if he ever gets involved in any more crime busting.

Sonic won’t have long to wait before he gets involved in something bigger than stopping an armored car robbery. Back on the Mushroom Planet, Dr. Robotnik has been biding his time by experimenting with mushroom juice. He says out loud to himself, “I’ve been striving to make funghi a functional drink of choice, with limited success.”

Dr. Robotnik has kept one of Sonic’s quills, which he finds out has magical energy, so Dr. Robotnik uses the quill as a conduit that summons up a portal that goes to another dimension. Just as Dr. Robotnik declares that he’s about to leave this “shiitake planet” (pun intended by the filmmakers), Echidna soldiers fly through the portal to the Mushroom Planet. The soldiers are soon followed by their red-colored leader: Knuckles the Echinda, who has superstrength in his fists. Knuckles (voiced by Idris Elba) is the guardian of the Master Emerald, a gemstone that controls the Chaos Emeralds, but Knuckles has lost the Master Emerald and is searching for it.

When Knuckles tells Dr. Robotnik about his quest, the evil doctor seizes the opportunity to get Knuckles’ help in going back to Earth to get revenge on Sonic and take over Earth. When Knuckles sees that Dr. Robotnik has Sonic’s glowing quill, Knuckles asks Dr. Robotnik where he got the quill. Dr. Robotnik says that he got it from Earth. “I’d be happy to show you the way,” Dr. Robotnik sneers before he and Knuckles enter the portal to go to Earth.

Eventually, Dr. Robotnik and Knuckles decide to team up so that they can both get what they want: Knuckles wants the Master Emerald to restore power to his tribe, while Dr. Robotnik wants revenge on Sonic and to take over Earth. Of course, a double crosser such as Dr. Robotnik can’t completely be trusted, but Knuckles needs Dr. Robotnik’s vast knowledge of Earth, which is a completely unknown and foreign planet to Knuckles.

Meanwhile, Tom and Maddie are leaving Sonic at home to take a trip to Oahu, Hawaii, for the wedding of Maddie’s older sister Rachel (played by Natasha Rothwell), a single mother who clashed with Tom in the first “Sonic the Hedgehog” movie. Rachel is marrying a man named Randall (played by Shemar Moore), who is completely devoted to her. Rachel’s daughter Jojo (played by Melody Nosipho Niemann), who’s about 11 or 12 years old, is the wedding’s ring bearer. Maddie is Rachel’s maid of honor.

Because of this trip, Sonic and his human family are not together as often as they were in the first “Sonic the Hedgehog” movie. It’s a refreshing departure that frees up Sonic to have some adventures on his own. While Maddie and Tom are in Oahu, Sonic is at home in Green Hills with the family dog Ozzy when Dr. Robotnik shows up at the door.

In “Sonic the Hedgehog 2,” Sonic also meets a new ally coming from another universe: Miles “Tails” Prower (voiced by Colleen O’Shaughnessey), an adolescent, two-tailed yellow fox who hero worships Sonic. Tails becomes a major asset in the battle against Knuckles and Dr. Robotnik.

Two supporting characters from the first “Sonic the Hedgehog” movie return in this sequel and continue their roles as being some of the comic relief: Stone (played by Lee Majdoub), a former government agent, is an obsessively loyal assistant to Dr. Robotnik. Wade Whipple (played by Adam Pally) is the deputy sheriff of Green Hills. Both are essentially buffoon characters. Stone is seen working as a barista at a place called the Mean Bean Coffee Co. when he ecstatically finds out that Dr. Robotnik has returned to Earth.

The “race against time quest” in this movie takes Sonic to various places, ranging from a dive bar filled with Russian-speaking, rough-and-tumble characters; a ski slope for an adrenaline-packed chase on snowboards; and Oahu for the wedding. Because “Sonic the Hedgehog” has a lot of comedy, you can bet that there will be mishaps that this wedding, where Rachel hilariously turns into a “bridezilla” when things go wrong.

“Sonic the Hedgehog 2” seems to be more mindful than the first “Sonic” movie that much of this movie franchises’ target audience consists of adults who remember when the “Sonic the Hedgehog” video games first became popular in the early 1990s. Therefore, this sequel has more pop-culture jokes that adults are more likely than children to understand. The wedding scenes are almost a spoof of wedding scenes in romantic comedies, while Rachel turning into a “bridezilla” will look familiar to anyone who knows about the reality series “Bridezillas.”

At one point in the movie, it’s mentioned that owls and echidnas have been fighting each other for centuries. Sonic then quips, “Like Vin Diesel and the Rock.” In another scene, Dr. Robotnik tells Knuckles of their shaky alliance: “You’re as useful to me now like a backstage pass to Limp Bizkit.” People who know about rock band Limp Bizkit’s peak popularity in the late 1990s/early 2000s are most likely to understand that joke. Carrey’s gleefully over-the-top performance as Dr. Robotnik is reminiscent of his rubber-faced, mugging-for-the-camera roles that made him a star in the 1990s.

Sometimes, sequels can be hindered by introducing too many new characters in the story. However, Knuckles is a welcome addition, since his character is one of the best things about “Sonic the Hedgehog 2,” with Elba diving into the role with gusto. Knuckles is a pompous know-it-all who feels out of his element because he doesn’t know much about Earth. Much of the comedy about Knuckles is when his ignorance about Earth is showing, and he tries to hide his embarrassment with more ego posturing.

The character of Tails also brings some more personality to this movie franchise. Tails is the perfect complement to Sonic, who likes feeling as if he can mentor someone. Depending on your perspective, O’Shaughnessey’s voice makes Tails sound androgynous or like a boy whose voice hasn’t reach puberty yet. The movie has a mid-credits scene that shows another well-known character from the “Sonic the Hedgehog” video games will be introduced in the third “Sonic the Hedgehog” movie.

The pace of “Sonic the Hedgehog 2” is very energetic without rushing the plot too much. “Sonic the Hedgehog 2” is a two-hour movie that could have edited out about 15 minutes, but the two-hour runtime will fly by pretty quickly because the movie doesn’t get too boring. This is not a movie with any big plot twists or major surprises, but it fulfills its purpose of being family-friendly entertainment that might pleasantly surprise viewers who normally don’t care about movies based on video games.

Paramount Pictures released “Sonic the Hedgehog 2” in U.S. cinemas on April 8, 2022. The movie will be released on digital, VOD and Paramount+ on May 24, 2022. “Sonic the Hedgehog 2” is set for release on 4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray and DVD on August 9, 2022.

2019 Tribeca Film Festival movie review: ‘Standing Up, Falling Down’

April 30, 2019

by Carla Hay

Ben Schwartz and Billy Crystal in “Standing Up, Falling Down” (Photo by Noah M. Rosenthal)

“Standing Up, Falling Down”

Directed by Matt Ratner

World premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York City on April 25, 2019.

The dramedy “Standing Up, Falling Down” is an emotionally touching movie about people with regrets who are trying to fix broken relationships and past mistakes. The story’s two central characters are a struggling stand-up comedian named Scott Rollins (played by Ben Schwartz) and a hard-drinking dermatologist named Marty (played by Billy Crystal), who meet by chance in a bar on Long Island, New York, and strike up an unlikely friendship.

Scott, who is 34 and single, has recently moved back to his Long Island hometown after failing to have his career take off in Los Angeles. In a further blow to his confidence, he’s so financially strapped that he’s had to move back in with his parents, where his slacker younger sister Megan (played by Grace Gummer) also lives. Megan is less ambitious than Scott (she works at a low-paying retail job), so living with her parents doesn’t bother her as much as it does Scott.

When he meets Marty at a local bar, Scott is feeling down on his luck and sorry for himself. Marty, who is at or near retirement age, loves to do karaoke at bars and seems to have an infectious zest for life, and he gets Scott’s attention with his sarcastic sense of humor. Scott and Marty end up talking and drinking together, and it isn’t long before Marty offers to become Scott’s dermatologist. Despite their age difference, the two men become close friends, and they bond over telling wisecracking jokes. As they get to know each other, they realize that underneath the humor, they are actually two very lonely people who are disappointed with how their lives are going.

Marty is a widower who lives alone and is still grieving over the loss of his second wife. Scott is still pining for his ex-girlfriend Becky (played by Eloise Mumford), whom he had abruptly dumped when he decided to move to Los Angeles. Becky is now married to one of their mutual friends, an entertainment attorney named Owen (played by John Behlmann), who is very nice but also very dull.

When Scott and Becky run into each other by chance, and she finds out that he’s moved back to the area, Scott feels that there might still be some romantic sparks between them. He senses that Becky is not happy in her marriage, so he contemplates trying to win her back. Scott tells Marty his opinion on correcting past mistakes: “I personally think you can un-fuck something [up].”

Meanwhile, Scott’s parents Jeanie (played by Debra Monk) and Gary (played by Kevin Dunn) have different reactions to Scott moving back in with them. Jeanie is happy to dote on him like he’s still a child (something that Scott starts to resent), while Gary is a lot less patient about Scott’s career choice, and isn’t afraid to tell Scott that he should get a “real” job. As Gary tells Scott, “Why don’t you tell jokes in the office? Be that guy—the funny mailman.”

Later in the movie, when Scott randomly sees a mailman on the street, he asks the guy if he’s happy in his job. The answer might surprise people. It’s an example of “Standing Up, Falling Down” screenwriter Peter Hoare’s knack for authentic dialogue with just enough flecks of humor that the movie doesn’t veer too much into broad comedy. The only slightly false note in the movie is a sitcom-ish scene involving how Scott and Owen deal with the love-triangle issue. But it’s only a small part of the movie, which is largely about Scott and Marty’s relationship.

As the movie goes on, it’s revealed that Marty’s happy-go-lucky drunk persona masks much more serious issues. He’s a longtime, hardcore alcoholic who’s prone to dark moods and dangerous blackouts. He’s also harboring a lot of guilt over being estranged from his two adult children from his first marriage: Adam (played by Nate Corddry) and Vanessa (played by Caitlin McGee). What happened to his first marriage is revealed in the movie, and it explains why Marty doesn’t have any close family members in his support system.  On a deeper psychological level, Marty and Scott feeling inadequate and uneasy about certain aspects of their lives explains why they have become fast friends: Marty has a rocky relationship with his son, and Scott’s relationship with his father is also tense, so Marty and Scott have essentially formed a surrogate father-and-son relationship.

“Standing Up Falling Down” is director Matt Ratner’s first feature film. He makes great use of locations to show Scott’s frustration at moving back to his hometown and feeling like a failure. Everywhere Scott goes—whether it’s a local shopping mall or a comedy club where he first got his start—reminds him of a more idealistic time when he thought he was going to make it big as a comedian. The pacing of the movie also works well—just don’t expect this film’s main characters to careen from one minor catastrophe to another, such as in the type of comedies that Will Ferrell or Kevin Hart does. This story is very much told from a more realistic adult perspective.

Make no mistake—“Standing Up, Falling Down” is not a groundbreaking film or an Oscar-caliber movie. The parts in the film that are meant to be tear-jerking moments have the subtlety of a hammer, but the well-cast ensemble’s performances (not surprisingly, Crystal is the standout) make the movie appealing to watch overall.

UPDATE: Shout! Studios will release “Standing Up, Falling Down” in select U.S. theaters on February 21, 2020.

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