Review: ‘The Garfield Movie,’ starring the voices of Chris Pratt and Samuel L. Jackson

May 19, 2024

by Carla Hay

Garfield (voiced by by Chris Pratt) in “The Garfield Movie” (Image courtesy of DNEG Animation/Columbia Pictures)

“The Garfield Movie”

Directed by Mark Dindal

Culture Representation: Taking place in an unnamed U.S. city, the animated film “The Garfield Movie” (based on the “Garfield” comic strip) features a cast of talking animals and some humans.

Culture Clash: Mischievous cat Garfield and his dog sidekick Odie team up with Garfield’s long-lost father Vic for to steal a large quantity of milk from a tourist farm. 

Culture Audience: “The Garfield Movie” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of the “Garfield” franchise, fairly entertaining animated films where the main characters are talking animals.

“The Garfield Movie” isn’t outstanding, but it’s amusing enough for viewers who want a lightweight film about mischievous talking animals in an uncomplicated adventure story. The movie avoids being overstuffed and has some endearing sentimentality. Some viewers might be disappointed that the movie doesn’t have more interactions between humans and animals, but in the context of this particular plot for this animals, it’s better that most of the animal interactions don’t involve human interference.

Directed by Mark Dindal, “The Garfield Movie” was written by Paul A. Kaplan, Mark Torgove and David Reynolds. The “Garfield” franchise is based on the “Garfield” comic strip created by Jim Davis and launched in 1978. Garfield is a fun-loving and talkative orange tabby cat who can be mischievous. In this movie, he finds he reluctantly goes on a heist to help his long-lost father and finds out certain things that affect his life in a profound way. People do not need to be familiar with anything in the “Garfield” franchise before seeing this movie.

“The Garfield Movie” (which takes place in an unnamed U.S. city) begins by showing Garfield (voiced by Chris Pratt) at home and using a phone app to ordering food for delivery (including pizza and lasagna) from Mama Leoni’s, his favorite Italian restaurant. Garfield’s best friend/sidekick is a goofy beagle named Odie (voiced by Harvey Guillén), who does not talk but makes various noises. Garfield and Odie live with their human owner Jon Arbuckle (voiced by Nicholas Hoult), an amiable bachelor who adopted Garfield when Garfield was a kitten.

Garfield explains his backstory that is shown in a flashback. When Garfield was a kitten, his single father Vic (voiced by Samuel L. Jackson) took care of Garfield. Garfield’s mother is not seen or mentioned in the movie. One rainy night, Vic told Garfield to wait for him in an alley, where Garfield was put in an open wooden enclosure to shield him from the rainy weather.

Vic promised that he would come back, but Garfield waited for an unnamed period of time, and didn’t see Vic come back. Feeling lost and hungry, Garfield wandered over to Mama Leoni’s, where he looked through a window and saw Jon at a table by himself. The next thing Jon knew, he saw a cute and hungry kitten at his table, with the kitten wanting to eat the pizza that Jon had ordered. Jon hid the kitten at the table and eventually smuggled the kitten outside.

At first, Jon wasn’t going to take Garfield home because at the time, Jon lived in an apartment that didn’t allow pets. But he was so charmed by Garfield, he took Garfield with him. Garfield says in a voiceover that he was the one who convinced Jon to move from the apartment to the house where they currently live. Eventually, Odie became part of the family.

In the present day, Garfield and Odie get kidnapped and find out that their captor is a fluffy white cat named Jinx (voiced by Hannah Waddingham), a diva-like feline who has two dogs as her main cronies: a Whippet named Nolan (voiced by Bowen Yang) and a Shar-Pei named Roland (voiced by Brett Goldstein), who do whatever Jinx tells them to do.

Jinx tells her story Garfield and Odie her story and why she kidnapped them. Several years ago, Jinx immigrated from “a small town outside of London” to America to become a famous entertainer. She failed in that dream. A brief flashback shows that she bombed as a tuba player in a contest called Amerca’s Top Feline.

Feeling discouraged, Jinx befriended a bunch of other outcast and misfit cats, including Vic. One day, Jinx got trapped by animal control officers and spent four years, two months and seven days at an animal shelter, which she calls a “prison.” Jinx is bitter that her other stray cat friends, including Vic, were not captured and didn’t help her when she was captured and sent to the shelter.

For revenge, Jinx kidnapped Garfield and Odie, knowing that Vic would track them down. (It’s explained later in the movie how Vic would know where Garfield is.) When Vic comes to the rescue, Jinx tells them that something terrible will happen unless Vic can steal quart of milk from a place called Lactose Farms, for every day that she was in “prison.” She gives a deadline of 72 hours to commit this heist.

Vic convinces a reluctant Garfield to help him with this heist. Odie is along for the ride too. When they get to Lactose Farms, it isn’t the small “mom and pop” business that Vic remembers. It’s now a corporate-owned popular tourist attraction with a petting zoo and a complex layout to get to the milk supply.

While at Lactose Farms, these three would-be thieves meet a bull named Otto (voiced by Ving Rhames), who was put out to pasture when Lactose Farms was sold to the corporation. This new ownership also resulted in Otto being separated from his longtime love: a cow named Edith (voiced by Alicia Grace Turrell), who is currently part of the petting zoo. Otto agrees to help Vic, Garfield and Odie with this heist (since he’s very knowledgeable of the layout of Lactose Farms) on the condition that they free Edith so that Otto can run away with her.

Otto leads much of the planning for this heist, which will be an undercover operation. He gives code names for the three would-be thieves. Vic is Majestic Bullfrog. Odie is Clever and Curious Chipmunk. Garfield is Roadkill. Naturally, Garfield dislikes his code name.

There’s more to the movie’s story that just the hijinks that ensue for this heist. Garfield has a lot of complicated emotions about the sudden appearance of his absent father Vic. It leads to parts of the movie that cover topics such as childhood trauma over abandonment in a mostly sensitive and touching way.

Meanwhile, Jon frantically searches for Garfield and Odie in amusing segments that poke fun at how call centers frequently put people on hold and give impersonal service that isn’t helpful. A few supporting characters have slightly amusing roles, such as Lactose Farms security chief Marge Malone (voiced by Cecily Strong), who is shrill and aggressive. Making cameo appearances are two stray cats named Maurice (voiced by Snoop Dogg) and Olivia (voiced by Janelle James), who encounter Garfield and Odie.

“The Garfield Movie” has some moments where the pacing drags, but the film mostly has a brisk pace and competently engaging animation. The charismatic voice cast performances go a long way in maintaining viewer interest, since the personalities of the main characters are the driving force of this simple story. This is a very male-centric movie, where the female characters with the most screen time are either antagonists (Jinx and Marge) or need to be rescued (Edith).

The movie’s end credits have social media clips of cat videos, which are cute but look out-of-place in this animated film, even though there’s a running gag that Garfield likes to watch cat videos on the fictional streaming service Catflix. “The Garfield Movie” is not the type of movie that people should expect to win any major awards, but it’s not a complete waste of time either. It’s a middle-of-the-road film that will get mixed reactions but should satisfy viewers who aren’t expecting a masterpiece or a terrible movie.

Columbia Pictures will release “The Garfield Movie” in U.S. cinemas on May 24, 2024. A sneak preview of the movie was shown in U.S. cinemas on May 19, 2024.

Review: ‘Dicks: The Musical,’ starring Aaron Jackson, Josh Sharp, Megan Mullally, Nathan Lane, Megan Thee Stallion and Bowen Yang

October 21, 2023

by Carla Hay

Pictured clockwise, from upper left: Nathan Lane, Josh Sharp, Aaron Jackson and Megan Mullally in “Dicks: The Musical” (Photo by Justin Lubin/A24)

“Dicks: The Musical”

Directed by Larry Charles

Culture Representation: Taking place in New York City, the musical comedy film “Dicks: The Musical” (based on the stage show “Fucking Identical Twins”) features a predominantly white cast of characters (with a few black people, Latin people and Asians) portraying the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: Two sexist and egotistical salesmen, who are rivals at the same company, find out that they’re identical twins, and they go on a quest to reunite their divorced parents, one of whom is living life as a gay person.

Culture Audience: “Dicks: The Musical” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of the stage production on which this movie is based; the movie’s headlining stars; and comedy musicals that don’t have much to offer but gimmicky raunchiness.

Megan Thee Stallion, Josh Sharp, Aaron Jackson in “Dicks: The Musical” (Photo by Justin Lubin/A24)

“Dicks: The Musical” isn’t as clever and funny as it thinks it is. A better movie would have been about Megan Thee Stallion’s scene-stealing Gloria Masters character. The film makes a terrible pivot into glorifying the crime of incest. Incest is never okay. Worst of all, this abrupt change into an incest story is unnecessary and reeks of a desperate way to create shock value as a gimmick, not because it makes sense to the story.

Directed by Larry Charles, “Dicks: The Musical” is based on the stage show “Fucking Identical Twins,” which was the original title of the movie before it was changed to a title that’s more marketable and less offensive. Josh Sharp and Aaron Jackson (two alumni of the comedy troupe Upright Citizens Brigade) are the writers and title characters of “Fucking Identical Twins,” which started out as an Upright Citizens Brigade sketch. Sharp and Jackson are also the writers and stars of “Dicks: The Musical.”

You can tell that “Dicks: The Musical” is based on a comedy sketch, because the very flimsy and simplistic plot gets repetitive and dull in too many sections, in order to fill up the time for a feature-length movie. There are only a few standout musical moments. Most of the songs are trite and forgettable. Jackson, Sharp and Karl Saint Lucy co-wrote the songs, with Marius de Vries (the producer of the movie’s soundtrack) also sharing co-songwriting credit on some of the tunes. “Dicks: The Musical” had its world premiere at the 2023 Toronto International Film Festival.

The identical twins at the center of the story are Craig Tittle (played by Sharp) and Trevor Brock (played by Jackson), two hard-driving, very competitive and extremely rude salesmen. In the very beginning of the movie, bachelors Craig and Trevor have known each other for a while but have no idea that they are brothers. The “joke” is that Craig and Trevor don’t look identical at all.

Craig (the uptight brother) and Trevor (the flamboyant brother) work for the same vacuum company and are fierce rivals at their job, which rewards the employee with the highest sales revenue. Craig and Trevor also happen to live next door to each other in New York City. The story is narrated by God (played by Bowen Yang), who is portrayed as a sarcastic gossipper who sees and knows everything.

Trevor and Craig both consider themselves to be politically conservative “alpha males” who are the best at everything they do. They are also homophobic and sexist, because they think heterosexual, cisgender men are superior to everyone else. How awful are Craig and Trevor? They’re nasty to pregnant women and don’t hesitate to do things like push a pregnant woman out of the way if she’s hailing the same taxi.

Craig was raised by a single father. Trevor was raised by a single mother. Through a series of events, Craig and Trevor find out that they are long-lost identical twins whose parents divorced when Craig and Trevor were too young to remember their parents being married. Craig and Trevor’s parents cut each other out of their lives completely after the divorce and did not make themselves known to whichever twin son wasn’t in their custody. Craig and Trevor were raised to be believe that whichever parent raised them was widowed.

Trevor and Craig think there’s a social stigma if their parents are divorced. Craig and Trevor agree to temporarily put aside their brotherly feuding, in order to reunite their parents, with the hope that their parents will remarry. (The filmmakers of “Dicks: The Musical” openly acknowledge that “The Parent Trap” is an inspiration for this part of the story.) Craig and Trevor decide to disguise themselves as each other when they visit whichever parent didn’t raise them.

When Craig (disguised as Trevor) meets his mother Evelyn (played by Megan Mullally) for the first time, he finds out that she’s a lisping eccentric who lives alone and doesn’t have a vagina, because the vagina has separated from her body and can fly like a bird. (Evelyn’s flying vagina is used as a sight gag multiple times in the movie.) When Trevor (disguised as Craig) meets his father Harris (played by Nathan Lane) for the first time, he finds out that Harris has been living alone as a gay man.

Harris has two pet creatures in a cage called the Sewer Boys, who are about the size of squirrels and are described in the movie’s production notes as coming from “the bowels of New York’s septic system” and looking like “rat demons.” The Sewer Boys (who can stand up and have human-like hands) don’t speak human languages but mostly grunt, mumble and hiss. One is named Backpack (voiced by Tom Kenny), and the other is named Whisper (voiced by Frank Todaro), but their personalities are indistinguishable from each other.

Just like a bird parent, Harris feeds the Sewer Boys with food that he chews in his mouth and spits into their mouths. (Harris usually misses the mouth target.) It’s a sight gag that’s over-used and yet another example of how this movie runs ideas into the ground with too much repetition. The rest of “Dicks: The Musical” is an occasionally hyper but mostly empty tottering of weak nonsense, where each scene tries to outdo the previous scene by becoming increasingly bizarre. The problem is that not much of it is very amusing.

Gloria is the vulgar-talking, crude-thinking, ultra-feminist supervisor of Craig and Trevor. She likes to pit employees aganst each other and only cares about two things in her job: bossing people around (sometimes with physical violence) and making as much money as possible for the company with her sales team. One of the few highlights of “Dicks: The Musical” is Gloria’s solo musical number “Out Alpha the Alpha,” which is hilarious in its filthy adult language as much as it is well-choreographed.

Gloria and God are two of the most interesting characters in the movie, but they get less than 15 minutes of screen time each in this 86-minute movie. Evelyn and Harris are also much more entertaining than their sons Craig and Trevor. Mullally and Lane portray these parental characters with a lot of gusto, but the dialogue and songs written for them become irritating after a while. (Mullally’s husband Nick Offerman has a cameo in the movie as a politically conservative activist named Steve Chaney.) Viewers are mostly stuck watching the witless and boring antics of one-dimensional Craig and Trevor, as they occasionally warble mediocre musical songs.

“Dicks: The Musical” is clearly a case of two guys who created hollow characters for themselves and then surrounded these characters with silly distractions that they want to pass off as a “movie plot” and fool people into thinking that it’s “edgy” comedy. Foul language or provocative topics can be part of comedy that pushes boundaries. But when a movie tries to push the idea (such as in the horrendous closing song “All Love Is Love”) that something is wrong with you if you don’t celebrate incest and bestiality, then it has crossed the point of no return into being pretentious garbage.

A24 released “Dicks: The Musical” in select U.S. cinemas on October 6, 2023, with an expansion to more U.S. cinemas on October 20, 2023. A sing-along version of “Dicks: The Musical” will have a one-week release in U.S. cinemas on October 27, 2023. The movie will be released on digital and VOD on November 10, 2023.

Review: ‘Bros’ (2022), starring Billy Eichner and Luke Macfarlane

September 30, 2022

by Carla Hay

Billy Eichner and Luke Macfarlane in “Bros” (Photo by Nicole Rivelli/Universal Pictures)

“Bros” (2022)

Directed by Nicholas Stoller

Culture Representation: Taking place in New York and briefly in Provincetown, Massachusetts, the comedy film “Bros” features a cast of predominantly white characters (with some African Americans, Asians and Latinos) representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: An openly gay podcaster/writer, who is very cynical about finding love, begins a new job as executive director of a museum for LGBTQ+ history and culture, around the same time that he finds himself falling in love with a man whom he thinks isn’t his “type.” 

Culture Audience: “Bros” will appeal primarily to people interested in well-written, adult-oriented romantic comedies from a gay, cisgender male perspective.

Pictured clockwise, from left: Ts Madison, Billy Eichner, Miss Lawrence, Eve Lindley, Jim Rash and Dot-Marie Jones in “Bros” (Photo by Nicole Rivelli/Universal Pictures)

Blending real talk about relationships, some hilarious sex scenes, and a sweet-natured romance at the heart of the story, “Bros” is a romantic comedy that has Billy Eichner’s boldly sarcastic style written all over it. It’s made for open-minded adults. It also helps if people know a lot of about pop culture and LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer) history to understand many of the jokes in the movie. “Bros” had its world premiere at the 2022 Toronto International Film Festival.

Directed by Nicholas Stoller (who co-wrote the “Bros” screenplay with Eichner), “Bros” is a history-making film because it’s the first major studio movie in wide release with a majority LGBTQ+ cast and co-written by an openly gay man. Considering that it took this long for this cinematic milestone to happen, “Bros” is a triumph and an instant classic LGBTQ movie. Just because the movie centers on a gay man and his love life, that doesn’t mean this movie is only for LGBTQ people. However, “Bros” definitely earns its Motion Pictures of America Association rating recommendation for people ages 17 and up, because of the movie’s sexual content, adult language and drug use. As the saying goes, “Viewer discretion is advised.”

In “Bros,” Eichner portrays 40-year-old Bobby Leiber, an openly gay podcaster/writer who is famous enough to be on the cover of The Advocate magazine. Bobby has an unapologetically activist attitude when it comes to advocating for LGBTQ rights and speaking out against homophobia. Eichner has said in interviews that some of Bobby’s personality and life are inspired by Eichner’s own real-life experiences, but “Bros” is not an autobiographical film.

Bobby is also very aware that as a cisgender white man, he gets more privileges than LGBTQ people who aren’t cisgender white men. The movie opens with Bobby making an episode of his podcast “The 11th Brick at Stonewall.” It’s in reference to the 1969 Stonewall uprising in New York City that is considered a turning point in the LGBTQ civil rights movement. The uprising happened as a way for LGBTQ people to show that they were fed up with homophobic arrests and harassment from police, and they fought back in groups against the police. Throwing bricks was part of this Stonewall uprising.

It’s an example of why “Bros” viewers need to know about this brick throwing and Stonewall to understand why Bobby makes this comment about why he named his podcast “The 11th Brick at Stonewall,” and why Bobby knows how LGBTQ history, just like heterosexual-oriented history, tends to erase the contributions of people who aren’t white men: “Because we all know a butch lesbian or a trans woman of color probably threw the first brick at Stonewall, but it was a cis white gay man who threw the 11th brick,” Bobby says. Later in the movie, Bobby points out how transgender female activists Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera were the real heroes of the Stonewall uprising but often don’t get the credit for it because Johnson and Rivera were transgender women of color.

Bobby is a bachelor who says he’s never been in love and has never dated anyone for more than three months. He’s very cynical about the possibility of ending up with a soul mate, and he doesn’t really believe that monogamy works for him. Other than feeling unlucky when it comes to romantic love, Bobby is happy with his life because he’s healthy, and his friends and his work keep him fulfilled.

Bobby, who has no siblings, was born and raised in New York City. He was raised Jewish, but he is not particularly religious or spiritual. His mother died when Bobby was in college, and his father died when Bobby was 10 years old. In “Bros,” no other biological family members of Bobby are shown. Like many gay people, Bobby has a “chosen family” that is a tight-knit circle of friends, most of whom are also LGBTQ.

The first 15 minutes of “Bros” show that Bobby has been trying to branch out in his career besides doing his podcast. During his podcast, when a caller asks Bobby, if he’s going to write any more books, Bobby talks about his failed career as a children’s book author. His children’s book “Are You There, God? It’s Martina Navratilova” was a flop. Bobby sarcastically says, “Hey, parents, thanks for teaching kids about Santa Claus—a straight man who doesn’t exist—and not about Martina Navratilova, a lesbian who does.”

Bobby also tells his audience that on his social media, he uploaded an outtake from his failed “Queer Eye” audition, where he was trying out to be one of the co-hosts of this Emmy-winning Netflix series about gay men who give life makeovers to people whose lives are stuck in a rut. “Bros” shows this “outtake” clip of Bobby looking unimpressed, while the “Queer Eye” hosts (actors portraying the real hosts) are nearby crying over the makeover they’ve just completed for a man with a sob story. Bobby deadpans, “I’m sorry, this isn’t sad. You gave him a haircut and a pair of pants.”

Bobby has also tried to become a movie screenwriter, with mixed results. “Bros” shows a brief flashback of Bobby in a meeting with an unnamed Hollywood executive (played by Doug Trapp), who wants Bobby to write a gay romantic comedy movie. The executive says, “We just want to make a movie that shows the world that gay relationships are the same [as straight relationships]. Love is love is love.”

An offended Bobby then goes on a rant and says that “Love is love is love” was a “lie” invented by LGBTQ people just to get more acceptance from heterosexual people. Bobby then lectures the executive by saying that dating for LGBTQ people is very different from dating for heterosexual people. And before Bobby ends the meeting by storming out, Bobby says that not all gay people are smart or nice.

To his podcast audience, Bobby opens up about how lonely his love life can be and how he usually has meaningless sexual encounters with men he meets on dating apps such as Grindr. Although Bobby says it doesn’t really bother him that he’s perpetually single and often alone, you can tell it really does bother him. He sighs with an air of resignation, “I’m not the right person to write a rom-com anyway.”

Things are looking up for Bobby in his career though. At the LGBTQ+ Pride Awards (where Bobby is a presenter, and which features actress/LGBTQ ally Kristin Chenoweth as herself in a cameo), Bobby announces that he’s been named executive director of the National Museum of LGBTQ+ History and Culture. Bobby will be the first executive director of this non-profit museum, which will open in New York City sometime in less than a year, after the museum’s grand opening was postponed multiple times already. His job includes fundraising and making decisions about the museum’s exhibits. Bobby will continue to be a podcaster, but the museum is now his main job.

Not long after sharing this big news, Bobby attends a launch party for a gay dating app called Zellweger, which is for men who want to sexually hook up with each other and talk about famous actresses. Bobby’s friend Henry (played by Guy Branum) works for Zellweger and has invited Bobby to this party, which is at a nightclub filled with shirtless and good-looking men dancing with each other. It’s at this party that Bobby meets Aaron Shepard (played by Luke Macfarlane), who is one of the shirtless, good-looking men.

Bobby and Aaron (who is in his early 40s) strike up a casual and mildly flirtatious conversation. Within the first few minutes, it’s obvious that Aaron is not the type of guy whom Bobby is usually attracted to on an intellectual or emotional level. For starters, Bobby is disappointed that Aaron doesn’t recognize a Mariah Carey remix song that’s playing at the party. Aaron says he prefers country music, and his favorite artist is Garth Brooks. Bobby is not a fan of country music.

Aaron also works in probate law as an estate planner. In other words, he helps people write their wills. Bobby thinks it’s a stuffy and boring corporate job. Bobby prefers to date men whom he thinks has more exciting lives than the type of life that Aaron seems to have. Bobby is a motormouth, while Aaron is a lot less talkative. Still, Bobby and Aaron seem to share the same sarcastic sense of humor, and they make each other laugh.

Bobby also finds out that Aaron isn’t quite as dull and uptight as Bobby thought he was on first impression. Aaron points out two shirtless men (played by Keith Milkie and Alex Ringler) on the dance floor. Aaron tells Bobby that the two men are a couple, and Aaron has a date to have sex with both of them after the party.

In “Bros,” hookup culture (which includes a lot of group sex) is explicitly depicted as a fact of life for many single (and sometimes married) gay/queer men. It’s the type of reality that Bobby says should be discussed more openly and honestly when people talk about the LGBTQ community to heterosexual people. “Bros” also has a scene of poppers (a drug that’s inhaled) being used during sexual activity. If you don’t know how common it is for gay men to use poppers, then “Bros” aims to enlighten viewers.

As much as Bobby doesn’t think he’s attracted to Aaron, Bobby gets annoyed when Aaron seems to give him the brushoff at the party. Bobby and Aaron tell each other that they’re not looking for a serious relationship, but Bobby is less willing than Aaron to play it cool. Bobby also sends mixed messages to Aaron. During their first meeting, Bobby insults Aaron by telling him that he heard that Aaron is “boring,” but Bobby still expects Aaron to be charmed enough by Bobby to pursue a romantic relationship with Bobby.

Of course, Bobby and Aaron end up dating each other, but they both struggle with trying to define their relationship and how “committed” they should be to each other. Describing each other as a “boyfriend” would be a big step for them. Throughout their relationship, Bobby is insecure that Aaron won’t find Bobby physically attractive enough, while Aaron is insecure that Bobby won’t find Aaron exciting enough.

“Bros” hits a lot of familiar beats that are often in heterosexual romantic comedies, where two single people start dating each other and try to figure out if the relationship is meant to last. There are jealousy issues, commitment issues and family acceptance issues. And there’s at least one big argument that leads to a turning point where the couple has to decide to break up or stay together. Thankfully, “Bros” does not have the treacly and over-used cliché of someone racing to an airport to confess true feelings, in order for the couple to be together.

“Bros” has a snappy and often-breezy tone that points out the nuances and diversity in the LGBTQ community. Bobby oversees a staff that exemplifies this diversity and how different agendas in the LGBTQ community often compete for priorities and have other conflicts. Staff meetings often turn into arguments where the staffers fight for museum exhibits that represent their particular sexual or gender identity.

The museum staffers include gender-fluid/gender-nonconforming Tamara (played by Miss Lawrence), butch lesbian Cherry (played by Dot-Marie Jones), bisexual man Robert (played by Jim Rash) and trangsender women Angela (played by Ts Madison) and Tamara (played by Eve Lindley). One of the staff arguments is about how to present a museum exhibit of 16th U.S. president Abraham Lincoln and his close companion Captain David Derickson, who wrote love letters to each other and slept in the same bed when first lady Mary Lincoln was away. Bobby feels strongly that the museum should describe Abraham Lincoln as a closeted gay man, while Robert insists that Abraham Lincoln was bisexual.

In addition to the drama about the museum exhibits, Bobby also has to contend with raising enough money to open the museum, which needs about $5 million in order to launch. These fundraising efforts lead to laugh-out-loud scenes with actress Debra Messing (playing a version of herself) and Bowen Yang (playing a gay and wealthy TV producer named Lawrence “Larry” Grape) as potentially major donors to the museum. Messing has a cameo in “Bros,” but it’s a truth-telling appearance where she lashes out about gay men thinking she’s the same as the Grace Adler character (a straight woman with a gay male best friend) that she portrayed in the sitcom “Will & Grace.”

Somehow, all of the scenes of Bobby and his job challenges aren’t a distraction from the main plot about Bobby and Aaron’s relationship. The movie is written in a way to show that what Bobby learns from his mistakes on the job and in his love life are intertwined and affect each other. Bobby is far from perfect: He can be stubborn, selfish and mean-spirited. But he’s also kind, generous and open to improving himself.

Aaron learns from Bobby about what it’s like to take bold risks in life, since Aaron tends to make decisions where he doesn’t have to go outside of his comfort zone. Aaron confides in Bobby that Aaron hates his job and has had a secret childhood dream to have another job, which is detailed in the movie. It’s at this point in the movie where you know what’s going to happen to Aaron’s childhood dream. Bobby also has a childhood dream that “Bros” handles in a heartwarming and sentimental way.

Aaron comes from a completely different world and upbringing than what Bobby has experienced. Aaron grew up in upstate New York with his married parents, including his schoolteacher mother Anne (played by Amanda Bearse), and older brother Jason (played by Jai Rodriguez), who know he is gay but don’t really like to discuss it openly. Bobby has been openly gay since he was an underage kid. Aaron came out as gay later in life, when Aaron was an adult. Aaron also grew up in a suburban area that is a lot more politically conservative than New York City.

But wait, there’s more: “Bros” has a love triangle subplot that doesn’t get too messy, even though this subplot wasn’t that necessary to put in the movie. The love triangle happens when Bobby and Aaron are on a date at a movie theater, and they happen to have a conversation with a former high school classmate of Aaron’s named Josh Evans (played by Ryan Faucett), who was on the school’s hockey team with Aaron. When they were students, Aaron was still in the closet about his sexuality, and he used to have a secret crush on Josh.

As the movie’s central couple, Eichner and Macfarlane have believable chemistry as two people in an “opposites attract” romance. Eichner gives a better and more natural-looking performance, in large part because he created the role for himself. Macfarlane has a few moments where his acting is stilted and seems forced, but overall his performance has a lot of affable charm. Macfarlane has previously starred in Hallmark Channel romantic movies. “Bros” pokes fun at a TV network called Hallheart (which is an obvious spoof of the real-life Hallmark Channel), which is depicted as being culturally late in having movies centered on LGBTQ people and trying to make up for it by having more LGBTQ-themed movies than ever before.

“Bros” has numerous supporting characters without overstuffing the movie and confusing viewers. Many of these supporting characters are in Bobby’s circle of friends, such as elderly Louis (played by Harvey Fierstein), who lives in Provincetown, Massachusetts (a popular vacation city for gay men). Louis lets Bobby and Aaron stay at his place when Bobby and Aaron are in Provincetown for Pride festivities. Bobby is also close with a gay couple named Peter (played by Peter Kim) and Paul (played by Justin Covington), who are dating a man named Marty (played by Symone), in a “throuple” relationship.

Other friends of Bobby’s are straight married couple Tina (played by Monica Raymund) and Edgar (played by Guillermo Diaz), who are progressive liberals. Tina and Edgar have two children named Hannah (played by Dahlia Rodriguez), who’s about 5 years old, and Brian (played by Derrick Delgado), who’s abut 8 years old. Tina and Edgar think that Brian might be gay, and they have no problem with it, but Tina and Edgar occasionally ask Bobby for thoughts on what he thinks a gay child needs from supportive parents. Bobby often confides in Tina about his love life.

With all of these characters and subplots, “Bros” has a total running time (115 minutes) that’s longer than a typical romantic comedy. The movie isn’t perfect, because it tends to ramble and get a little repetitive about how commitment-phobic Bobby and Aaron are. Still, the nearly two-hour runtime of “Bros” is worth it if people want to see a highly entertaining and witty romantic comedy, where the adult relationships aren’t toned down to present an unrealistic and sappy story.

Universal Pictures released “Bros” in U.S. cinemas on September 30, 2022.

Review: ‘Fire Island’ (2022), starring Joel Kim Booster, Bowen Yang, Conrad Ricamora and Margaret Cho

May 31, 2022

by Carla Hay

Pictured clockwise, from left to right: Bowen Yang, Tomás Matos, Matt Rogers, Torian Miller, Margaret Cho and Joel Kim Booster in “Fire Island” (Photo by Jeong Park/Searchlight Pictures/Hulu)

“Fire Island” (2022)

Directed by Andrew Ahn

Culture Representation: Taking place primarily on New York state’s Fire Island, the comedy film “Fire Island” features a racially diverse cast of LGBTQ characters (Asian, white, Latino and African American) representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: A group of gay male friends, with some help from their older lesbian friend, navigate issues related to social class and race in the dating scene of Fire Island, a longtime vacation destination for LGBTQ people. 

Culture Audience: “Fire Island” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in LGBTQ romantic comedies that mix classic story themes with modern and adult-oriented sensibilities.

James Scully, Nick Adams and Conrad Ricamora in “Fire Island” (Photo by Jeong Park/Searchlight Pictures/Hulu)

The smart and sassy comedy “Fire Island” doesn’t hold back in portraying dating issues from the perspectives of gay men who are often racially underrepresented in mainstream American movies. “Fire Island” is loosely inspired by Jane Austen’s 1813 novel “Pride and Prejudice,” but the movie is bound to become its own kind of classic for how it vibrantly depicts the real Fire Island’s hookup culture and the families by choice who flock to the island for fun and pleasure-seeking. The movie’s talented and appealing cast—along with assured direction from Andrew Ahn and an engaging screenplay from “Fire Island” co-star Joel Kim Booster—will make instant fans of this hilarious adult-oriented comedy that serves up uncomfortable truths with some sentimentality about love and friendship.

People with even the most basic knowledge of “Pride and Prejudice” know that its protagonist character (Elizabeth Bennet) prides herself on being strong-willed and independent-minded. She isn’t looking for love, but she finds it with Mr. Darcy, whom she intensely dislikes when she first meets him, because she thinks Mr. Darcy is standoffish and rude. Meanwhile, wealth and social class affect how Elizabeth, Mr. Darcy and other people in their world go about looking for love or arranged relationships.

In “Fire Island,” the protagonist/narrator is Noah (played by Kim Booster), a strong-willed and independent-minded nurse who has a close-knit found family that he vacations with at New York state’s Fire Island, a well-known gathering place for LGBTQ people. Noah is single and not really looking for love, but he’s open to finding love. He’s also open about not believing in monogamy.

Noah and all of his closest friends are openly queer, and they go to Fire Island as an annual tradition. Noah’s Fire Island pals are in the same 30s age group as he is, except for Erin (played by Margaret Cho), an outspoken “lesbian queen” in her 50s, whom Noah and his gay male friends think of as “the closest thing we have to a mother.” Erin owns the house where they stay on Fire Island. All of the people in Noah’s Fire Island clique are also single and available.

The other men in the group include introverted Howie (played by Bowen Yang), who is a graphic designer at a tech startup company in San Francisco; fun-loving Luke (played by Matt Rogers); flamboyant Keegan (played by Tomás Matos); and easygoing Max (played by Torian Miller). Noah is closest to Howie, whom he’s known longer than anyone else in the group. Howie used to live in New York before moving to San Francisco for his current job. Noah mentions that he and Howie were once both kicked out of the same theater group. A flashback also shows that Howie and Noah also used to be servers at the same restaurant.

Howie is the only one in the group who doesn’t live in New York state, so Noah and Howie try to make the most of the times that they are able to see each other in person. Noah and Howie both talk openly about their experiences of being Asian in environments where there are mostly white people. As Noah says in a voiceover near the beginning of the movie, “race, money and abs” are what separate the classes of gay men—and he says that’s especially true for Fire Island.

Howie, who is 30 years old when this story takes place, is shy and inexperienced when it comes to dating. Howie (who rarely dates) often laments that he’s never had a serious boyfriend, and he often feels that he isn’t physically attractive enough to get any of the men he wants. By contrast, Noah considers himself to be a gay dating expert who’s confident about his dating skills and personality. During this vacation, Noah tells anyone who’ll listen that he will find a way to make sure that Howie “gets laid” during this Fire Island vacation. Noah advises Howie, “You don’t need a boyfriend. You just need to learn to protect yourself.”

Fire Island is home to many affluent people who throw big parties. When Noah and his friends travel by ferry to Fire Island, Noah mentions in a voiceover what the social constructs are at Fire Island and how he and his friends are perceived by certain people. Noah is well-aware that he and his group of friends would be considered “poor” by the standards of many Fire Island people, because Noah says that he and his friends have very little chance of owning property, based on their salaries.

And the race issue comes up many times in subtle and not-so-subtle ways when Noah and his friends go to parties where most of the people are white. The movie makes a point of showing how some white people at these parties stare at Noah and his friends as if they’re party crashers who don’t belong there. Some of the snobs snootily ask, “Can I help you?,” which Noah says is code for people really not wanting to help but wanting to know why you’re there.

And on the other end of the spectrum, there are “race queens,” which is a term for gay men who have a fetish for a certain race and chase after men of that race for these fetish reasons. An occasional joke in the movie is how a white guy, who’s fixated on Asian culture, keeps trying to pick up Howie, but Noah warns Howie to stay away from this “race queen.” Noah and Howie also talk about how being Asian affects who might be interested in them as partners.

Noah makes sarcastic jokes to himself and to other people about the racism at these social events, but it’s pretty obvious that many of these incidents are hurtful to him. He masks this emotional pain by appearing to be over-confident and ready to berate people whom he thinks are being snobbish to him and his friends. Noah is proud of who he is and doesn’t like to be judged on his race and social class, but his stubborn tendency to think that he’s always correct often leads to him misjudging other people.

Not long after Noah and his friends arrive at Erin’s house, she tells them some bad news. It will be the last Fire Island get-together they’ll have at the house. Erin is losing the house because she can no longer afford the mortgage due to being an “early investor in Quibi.” It’s an inside joke among the “Fire Island” filmmakers, because Kim Booster was originally going to make “Fire Island” for the Quibi streaming service, which went out of business in less than a year in 2020, after a high-profile launch. Kim Booster was also a co-host of Quibi’s reboot of the dating contest “Singled Out.”

One of the Fire Island rituals is a Tea Dance party, where Noah and his friends meet a doctor named Charlie (played by James Scully), who seems to be attracted to Howie, based on how Charlie is looking at Howie. Charlie’s closest friends during this Fire Island trip are a brand manager named Cooper (played by Nick Adams) and a lawyer named Will (played by Conrad Ricamora), who lives in Los Angeles. Cooper makes it clear to anyone he meets that he’s very status-conscious and elitist. Will is quiet, and his personality is very hard to read.

Noah notices almost immediately that Charlie is checking out Howie, who can’t believe that someone like Charlie would be interested in him. And just like in a teen rom com, some awkward introductions ensue. Noah is thrilled that Howie might find a Fire Island hookup, but arrogant and vain Cooper isn’t shy about expressing that he thinks Noah and Noah’s friends are “lower-class” and not fit to mingle with Charlie’s group. Because Will doesn’t say much when all of this snobbery is taking place, an offended Noah assumes that Will feels the same way as Cooper.

At one point, Noah tells Howie about Charlie and his clique: “These are not our people.” But it’s too late, because Howie becomes infatuated with Charlie. Howie doesn’t want a casual fling with Charlie though. Howie wants real romance that starts off chaste. And what does Charlie want? Noah begins to doubt that Charlie has good intentions for Howie. That suspicion causes more conflicts between these two groups of friends.

When Howie tells Noah about the platonic dates that Howie and Charlie have together, Noah can’t believe that Howie and Charlie haven’t even kissed each other on these dates. Noah lectures Howie by telling him that Howie needs to be more sexually forward, but Howie starts to resent Noah for these lectures. Viewers can easily predict that at some point, Noah and Howie will have a big argument about their different approaches to dating.

Meanwhile, Will (who is obviously Noah’s Mr. Darcy) continues to intrigue and frustrate Noah. A turning point comes when Noah and Will both find out that they both love to read literature, and they’re fans of author Alice Munro. However, other things happen in the story that cause misunderstandings, jealousies and rivalries among Noah’s clique and Charlie’s clique. One of them is the arrival of an ex-boyfriend of Charlie’s named Dex (played by Zane Phillips), who quickly shows that he’s sexually interested in Noah. Will intensely dislikes Dex for a reason that is eventually revealed in the movie.

“Fire Island” has a contrivance early on in the movie, when Noah’s cell phone (which isn’t waterproof) falls in Erin’s swimming pool when Max accidentally bumps into Noah. And so, for most of the movie, Noah doesn’t have use of his cell phone. It leads to a letter-writing part of the story that will be familiar to “Pride and Prejudice” fans.

Although much of “Fire Island” is about the pursuit of love and sex, the friendship between Noah and Howie is the soul of the story. As a result, the performances of Kim Booster and Yang are the standouts in a movie where all of stars in the cast give good performances. If there are any glaring flaws in “Fire Island,” it’s that Max is a little sidelined as an underwritten character, while Luke and Keegan come very close to being shallow caricatures of partiers.

One of the best things about “Fire Island” is how the movie doesn’t gloss over or water down its bittersweet subject matter. The movie covers a lot of issues that are not only universal to any singles dating scene but also specific to LGBTQ culture. Kim Booster’s talented screenwriting strikes the right balance of being lighthearted and serious with a great deal of authenticity. Ahn’s direction also skillfully calibrates the tones and moods in each scene, which is not an easy task when this comedy takes a few dark turns.

The intended viewers of “Fire Island” are adults who like snappy conversations and often-amusing scenarios with characters who have very identifiable personalities. As such, the movie doesn’t treat subjects such as sex and social prejudices as topics that need to be discussed in coy or cutesy language. There’s a lot of raw and raucous dialogue and scenes in “Fire Island” that are a reflection of why people go to Fire Island: to let it all hang out, unapologetically. If you’re up for this type of ride, “Fire Island” is a very memorable and entertaining experience with a lot of heart and emotional intelligence that open-minded adults can enjoy and want to watch again.

Hulu will premiere “Fire Island” on June 3, 2022.

Review: ‘The Lost City’ (2022), starring Sandra Bullock and Channing Tatum

March 23, 2022

by Carla Hay

Sandra Bullock and Channing Tatum in “The Lost City” (Photo courtesy of Paramount Pictures)

“The Lost City” (2022)

Directed by Aaron Nee and Adam Nee

Culture Representation: Taking place in unnamed parts of the world, the comedy film “The Lost City” features a cast of predominantly white characters (with some Latinos, African Americans and Asians) representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: A famous, jaded and reclusive romance novelist is kidnapped by a wealthy treasure hunter, and the male model for her book covers goes on a mission to rescue her. 

Culture Audience: “The Lost City” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of stars Sandra Bullock and Channing Tatum’s comedy skills, but they are the biggest assets to this formulaic movie.

Daniel Radcliffe and Héctor Aníbal in “The Lost City” (Photo courtesy of Paramount Pictures)

Completely predictable on every level, “The Lost City” is saved by the considerable comedic talents of its starring cast members. It’s breezy and lightweight entertainment that doesn’t try to be anything else. It’s the first slapstick comedy film in years for many of “The Lost City” stars. And while the movie is not a complete triumph, it’s not a total embarrassment either. “The Lost City” had its world premiere at the 2022 South by Southwest (SXSW) Film Festival.

Directed by brothers Aaron Nee and Adam Nee, “The Lost City” checks all the boxes we’ve come to expect in predictable romantic comedies. The female protagonist and the male protagonist have personality clashes and try not to pretend there’s sexual tension between them. (Or they have a platonic friendship where they pretend that they’re not going to get romantically involved.) There’s usually at least one sidekick who’s a best friend or close colleague. And then, there’s some reason why the bickering, would-be couple have a reason to keep running into each other and/or they get thrown together for a common goal.

In “The Lost City” (written by the Nee brothers, Dana Fox and Orien Uziel), the basic concept is that prickly and reclusive author Loretta Sage (played by Sandra Bullock), a widow whose specialty is romantic adventure novels, reluctantly goes on a book tour to promote her latest book called “The Lost City.” Loretta is not pleased at all to find out that the guy who is the hunky model for her book covers will be on this book tour too. Loretta thinks that he’s shallow, vain and no match for her intellect.

The name he uses as a model is Dash (played by Channing Tatum), but his real name is Alan McMahon. And he wears a long-haired blonde wig for his modeling assignments as Dash. Dash/Alan is as freewheeling as Loretta (whose real name is Angela) is uptight. Loretta’s support team includes her loyal and outspoken book publisher Beth Hatten (played by Da’Vine Joy Randolph) and Loretta’s eager-to-please social media manager Allison (played by Patti Harrison), who has the Nervous Nellie role in the movie.

At a meet-and-greet appearance with Loretta’s mostly female fans, Dash gets a lot more attention than Loretta, just as she feared and predicted. (Bowen Yang has a cameo as a Q&A moderator named Ray.) Loretta doesn’t have long to gripe about Dash’s popularity though, because she’s kidnapped from the hotel by a wealthy superfan named Abigail Fairfax (played by Daniel Radcliffe), who takes himself, some of his goons and Loretta by private plane to a tropical island, where he expects her to find the treasure that she wrote about in “The Lost City.” Alan feels bad about his conflicts with Loretta, so he decides to come to her rescue.

Dash/Alan recruits a rescue expert named Jack Trainer (played by Brad Pitt), who is ridiculously over-the-top with his action hero stunts. Jack isn’t in the movie for long, for every reason that you think that an A-list star like Pitt wouldn’t add his usual eight-figure actor’s salary to this movie’s production budget, if he had more screen time. More shenanigans ensue in a jungle, and the movie ends exactly how most people will think it ends.

One of the main reasons why “The Lost City” is tolerable despite its utter triteness is because of the comedic timing and chemistry of Bullock and Tatum, who thankfully do not take themselves seriously at all. Their characters’ back-and-forth banter isn’t very witty, but they do land some memorable zingers here and there. During one of their many arguments, Loretta tells Alan in a prickly manner why she can’t give sexist condescension: “I’m a woman. I can’t mansplain anything.” Alan snaps back: “I’m a feminist, and I think a woman can do anything a man can do.”

Radcliffe also has some amusing moments, as does Randolph, although Randolph does have the type of “You go, girl!” dialogue that’s kind of a cringeworthy stereotype of an African American female sidekick. Oscar Nuñez as has an inconsequential role as a man named Oscar, who becomes infatuated with Beth. “The Lost City” is exactly what it needs to be for a movie that wisely kept its total running time to a little under two hours. (Stick around for a surprise during the mid-credits scene.) Unless someone is in an extremely bad mood when watching “The Lost City,” there are some laughs to be had with this entertaining but insubstantial comedy film.

Paramount Pictures will release “The Lost City” in U.S. cinemas on March 25, 2022, with sneak previews in select cinemas on March 23, 2022.

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