Review: ‘5 Years Apart,’ starring Chloe Bennet, Michael Vlamis, Ally Maki, Scott Michael Foster and Craig Low

August 23, 2020

by Carla Hay

Chloe Bennet, Craig Low, Michael Vlamis, Scott Michael Foster and Ally Maki in “5 Years Apart” (Photo courtesy of Gravitas Ventures)

“5 Years Apart”

Directed by Joe Angelo Menconi

Culture Representation: Taking place in an unnamed city in Arizona, the romantic comedy “5 Years Apart” features a predominantly white cast (with some Asians and African Americans) representing the middle-class.

Culture Clash: Two estranged brothers, who are five years apart in age but share the same birthday, have an awkward and tension-filled reunion on a weekend of their birthday.

Culture Audience: “5 Years Apart” will appeal primarily to people who like realistically written adult comedies with low-key humor.

Craig Low and Chloe Bennet in “5 Years Apart” (Photo courtesy of Gravitas Ventures)

The title of the romantic comedy “5 Years Apart” has a double meaning: The two feuding brothers who are the center of the story were born five years apart, and they’ve been estranged for the past five years. How estranged are they? They haven’t seen or spoken to each other in that five-year period. But that’s all about to change when they unexpectedly see each other again and find out that their love lives have become entangled in an unusual way.

“5 Years Apart,” directed by Joe Angelo Menconi (who wrote the screenplay with Zac Krause), is written in such a way that the characters are realistic and relatable because many adults know people who are just like the ones in this story. The two estranged brothers whose relationship is the catalyst for much of the story’s tension have almost completely opposite personalities and lifestyles. The movie takes places in Arizona during a weekend when the brothers end up in the same place for a birthday celebration. The brothers share the same birthday month and date, but they were born five years apart.

Older brother Andrew (played by Scott Michael Foster) is the responsible one who’s the type of person who likes to meticulously plan out his life. Younger brother Sammy (played by Michael Vlamis) is the irresponsible one who’s the type of person who likes to be impulsive and “go with the flow.” Andrew and Sammy live in Chicago, but (unbeknownst to the other) they’re both in Arizona, to stay at their parents’ house to celebrate their birthday on the weekend that Andrew turns 30 and Sammy turns 25. Their parents (who are not seen or heard in the movie) are on vacation for a month in Italy, so the brothers know that the house will be empty.

Andrew is married to Olivia (played by Ally Maki), who shares Andrew’s penchant for scheduling their lives. The beginning of the movie shows Andrew and Olivia planning for and worrying about when they’ll start a family. They have a slight disagreement because Andrew says he’s willing to take a second job if Olivia wants to take as much time as she can for a maternity leave. Olivia doesn’t want him to take a second job because she thinks he’ll be overworked.

Sammy is carefree and single. As Andrew and Olivia are seen settling into the house, Sammy is flirting with a woman he’s just met outside a bar. Her name is Emma (played by Chloe Bennet), and he immediately charms her by joking that the bar is his “house,” so she needs to take her shoes off before she goes inside. Over drinks, the flirtation continues between Sammy and Emma, who are obviously attracted to each other.

Emma and Sammy find out that they both live in Chicago, but Sammy says that he spends a lot of time in Arizona because he went to college at Arizona State University. (The movie doesn’t name the Arizona city were this story take place, but it’s safe to assume they’re in or near Tempe, which is where ASU is located.) Sammy works for a bounce house company called Sir Bounce-A-Lot. Emma works for a 3-D printing company. It’s a job she doesn’t particularly like, but she says it would be somewhat complicated for her to leave the job because her sister is her boss.

Because they both live in Chicago, Sammy asks Emma if she prefers the Cubs or the White Sox. When she says she’s a Cubs fan, he pretends to be offended because he’s a die-hard White Sox fan, and he jokingly moves to the other side of the bar counter. The banter between Sammy and Emma in this scene (as well as their chemistry together) is entirely believable. They both like to poke fun at each other in a way where you know that it’s a rapport they’ll keep having if they end up as a couple.

It’s not much of a surprise that Sammy and Emma go to his parents’ house for a sexual hookup. Andrew and Olivia are upstairs having their own (scheduled) sex, when they hear noises downstairs and go to investigate. Andrew and Olivia catch Sammy and Emma having sex on the living room couch. And that’s how Andrew and Sammy find out that they both want to stay at their parents’ house that weekend.

It’s also how Sammy meets Olivia in person for the first time and finds out that Emma is Olivia’s younger half-sister. (Sammy never went to Andrew and Olivia’s wedding, but he saw photos of Olivia before they met in person.) Olivia is also Emma’s boss, so Andrew already knows Emma. Stranger things have happened in real life. It’s made clear in the movie that Andrew cut Sammy out of his life, which is why Andrew probably never talked about Sammy to Emma and why she probably never saw any photos of him during the time that she’s known Andrew.

Sammy thinks it’s hilarious that the two brothers are romantically involved with the two sisters, but Andrew is not amused. There’s some back-and-forth tension between the two brothers, as they argue over who will get to stay in the house that weekend. In the end, they both agree to share the house, as long as they “do their own thing.”

Andrew is more determined to keep his activities separate from Sammy, but Sammy wants to be included in Andrew’s upcoming golf game. Andrew and Olivia are both golfing enthusiasts, but Sammy could care less about golf. He just wants to tag along because he knows it will annoy Andrew and because Emma will be there.

Why are Andrew and Sammy estranged? It’s revealed later in the story what caused the fight that led to their estrangement. The last time they saw each other before this trip, it was during a family get-together at Christmas when Andrew and Sammy argued about something, and Andrew punched Sammy in the face. There’s been bad blood between Sammy and Andrew ever since.

The sibling tension isn’t just between Andrew and Sammy. Olivia and Emma  (who have the same mother) also have opposite personalities and have their share of squabbles. Olivia, who has a tendency to be a judgmental control freak, is estranged from her mother, who has a long history of being promiscuous and irresponsible. Emma is more forgiving of their mother, probably because Emma (just like Sammy) hasn’t quite figured out what to do with her life.

Emma and Olivia’s mother has been evicted from her apartment, and Emma has let their mother move in with Emma. When Olivia finds out, she’s furious with Emma, whom she calls an “enabler.” However, Emma sees things differently. She thinks that Olivia has lost her compassion and should be more understanding over why Emma wants to help their mother.

At the golf game, Sammy meets a guy who will be a rival for Emma’s affections. His name is Mark (played by Craig Low), a socially awkward Australian, who sees himself as a macho “jack of all trades,” but he’s actually more of a jackass. Andrew and Olivia know Mark through their job, and they’ve been playing matchmaker because they think Mark would be an ideal boyfriend for Emma. Mark is attracted to Emma, but the feeling isn’t mutual.

And when Mark sees Sammy on the golf course with Emma, the two men instinctively seem to know that they both want to end up with Emma. Therefore, Mark immediately insults Sammy by deriding the shirt he’s wearing and calling Sammy the childish name “Cookie Monster,” after the messy “Sesame Street” character. Mark’s insufferable attitude and constant jabs at Sammy get even worse as the story unfolds, and it culminates in one of the best scenes in the movie.

Meanwhile, it should come as no surprise that Sammy has invited some friends that he knows from his ASU days over to the house for some loud partying. Andrew and Olivia, who were expecting a quiet night at the house, are unhappy about this turn of events. They try to check into nearby hotels and find out that they’re all booked up because of an event happening in the area that weekend. And so, Andrew and Olivia have no choice but to stay in the house during Sammy’s party.

It’s pretty clear that Andrew and Olivia are the uptight “boring” couple, while Sammy and Emma are the open-minded “fun” couple. However, director/co-writer Menconi never veers into caricature territory with any of the characters, thanks to a lot of the movie’s snappy and authentic-sounding dialogue. A lot of credit also goes to the actors, since they all handle the material in a way that looks natural and effortless.

Bennet and Vlamis portray the more interesting couple, and they do such a good job of making Sammy and Emma believable together that people watching “5 Years Apart” might want Sammy and Emma to get their own movie. And although Sammy’s diverse group of friends aren’t in “5 Years Apart” for very long (they’re only in the party scene), they are also written as realistic people. (Malcolm Hatchett as Sammy’s friend Percy is kind of a scene-stealer, with his hilarious facial expressions and the way he delivers his lines.)

“5 Years Apart” isn’t the type of comedy where there are laughs every few minutes because of slapstick moments or raunchy jokes. Most of the humor is subtle and derived from situations that can realistically occur when stubborn and opposite personalities clash. The movie also has some emotionally touching moments that make this comedy worth watching if you want to see a “slice of life” story with people who come across as authentic human beings instead of joke machines or parodies.

Gravitas Ventures released “5 Years Apart” on digital and VOD on August 21, 2020.

Review: ‘Valley Girl’ (2020), starring Jessica Rothe, Josh Whitehouse, Logan Paul, Mae Whitman, Jessie Ennis, Chloe Bennet and Alicia Silverstone

May 8, 2020

by Carla Hay

Jessica Rothe and Josh Whitehouse in “Valley Girl” (Photo courtesy of Orion Classics)

“Valley Girl” (2020)

Directed by Rachel Lee Goldenberg

Culture Representation: Taking place in the Los Angeles area, this musical remake of the 1983 romantic comedy “Valley Girl” has a predominantly white cast of characters (with some African Americans, Latinos and Asians) representing the middle-class.

Culture Clash: A sheltered San Fernando Valley “good girl,” who’s about to graduate from high school, has a romance with a “bad boy” musician from Hollywood, much to her friends’ disapproval.

Culture Audience: “Valley Girl” will appeal mostly to fans of the original “Valley Girl” movie or fans of 1980s pop music, but they will probably be disappointed in this musical remake, which is too slick for its own good.

Camila Morrone and Alicia Silverstone in “Valley Girl” (Photo courtesy of Orion Classics)

The 1983 romantic comedy “Valley Girl” (starring Nicolas Cage and Deborah Foreman) is the kind of movie that doesn’t need to be remade/re-imagined/rebooted for a modern audience, because it’s a movie about a particular youth subculture that’s meant to stay in the past and shouldn’t be resurrected. Although the 2020 musical remake of “Valley Girl” (directed by Rachel Lee Goldenberg) wisely chose to make the movie primarily as a flashback memory to the ’80s, almost everything about this musical smacks of an inauthentic, forced recreation of the effortless 1980s charm that made the original “Valley Girl” movie a cult classic.

In the beginning of the “Valley Girl” musical remake, a pouty, young woman named Ruby (played by Camila Morrone), who’s in her early 20s, stumbles out of a nightclub and asks her mother (whom she still lives with) to come pick her up from the club. Ruby is apparently too tipsy to drive and apparently doesn’t want to call a taxi or ride-sharing service. When they get home, Ruby tells her mother Julie (played by Alicia Silverstone) that she’s in a bad mood because she just broke up with her boyfriend.

The mother is supposed to be the Julie Richman character who was the teenage titular protagonist in the original “Valley Girl” movie. Julie is now a middle-aged fashion designer, who has fond and rosy memories of her teenage years in California’s San Fernando Valley, where she still lives.

As a San Fernando Valley teenager in the ’80s, Julie’s life was like a carefree bubble that revolved around school, going to shopping malls (like the famous Sherman Oaks Galleria), dating, hanging out at the beach, and going to parties with other teens, usually at someone’s house. (Frank Zappa’s 1982 song “Valley Girl,” featuring vocals by his then-teenage daughter Moon Unit Zappa, inspired the idea for the 1983 “Valley Girl” movie. The Zappas were not involved in the movie, and Frank Zappa lost a lawsuit that he filed to prevent the film from being made.)

When she was a senior in high school, Julie fell in love for the first time with a slightly older Hollywood rocker named Randy, who was played by Cage in the original “Valley Girl” movie. As for who Ruby’s father is, he’s mentioned but not seen in the “Valley Girl” remake, which reveals at the end of the film whether or not Randy and Julie ended up living happily ever after.

Julie is very sympathetic about her daughter’s boyfriend breakup, but Julie also starts to tell Ruby about the “good old days,” when her name was Julie Richman and she was a very sheltered teenager in the early-to-mid-80s. (Although the original “Valley Girl” was released in 1983, the ’80s music in the “Valley Girl” musical remake was released in or before 1984. Only true music trivia buffs would notice this change in the movie’s soundtrack.)

Julie’s daughter tries to pretend she doesn’t care about her mother’s nostalgic memories, by groaning to her about her boyfriend problems: “You wouldn’t understand!” And that’s when Julie launches into her “let me tell you about when I was young” story. The rest of the movie occasionally cuts back to the middle-aged Julie and her daughter for exposition purposes, but the majority of the film consists of the flashback memories of Julie, with the characters from the ’80s often singing their dialogues, since this is a musical.

Here we go. Get ready for the cheesiness. Although Jessica Rothe as the teenage Julie does a fairly good job as a singer, she is not convincing at all as a naïve, straight-laced high schooler, which is what Julie is supposed to be. Rothe looks like she’s graduated from high school years ago, instead of someone who’s supposed to still be in high school. Putting her in cutesy and frilly ’80s outfits doesn’t make her look like a teenager.

Deborah Foreman, who played the teenage Julie in the original “Valley Girl” had a mix of innocence and sexiness that made her irresistible to a lot of guys in her orbit. Rothe (who was in her early 30s when she made this “Valley Girl” remake) looks like she’s playing dress-up as a teenager. Because she looks way past the age of a student in high school, it looks ridiculous for her to play such a sheltered goody-two shoes teen. It’s not quite as bad of an age miscast as Olivia Newton-John in the movie “Grease,” but it’s pretty close. At least “Grease” was a great musical. This version of “Valley Girl” is most definitely not.

As for “bad boy” rocker Randy, the original “Valley Girl” had Cage playing him as a kind of a misfit weirdo who didn’t care about the social taboos of a sheltered high school girl from the San Fernando Valley dating a “freak” from Hollywood. In this musical version of “Valley Girl,” there’s nothing quirky, dangerous or even edgy about Randy, who’s played by Josh Whitehouse, in a very bland performance and with very limited singing talent.

In this remake, Randy looks more like he wants to be a heartthrob teen idol (like John Stamos was back in the early ’80s), instead of being a slightly scuzzy, down-on-his-luck rocker, which is what the Randy character is supposed to be. Even the tattoos that the Randy character has in this “Valley Girl” remake look fake, because they probably are. Randy in both “Valley Girl” movies is supposed to be slightly older than Julie, which is one of the reasons why their relationship is slightly taboo. While in the original movie, Cage looked the part, Whitehouse actually looks younger than Rothe, which he is in real life.

The nightclub scenes in this remake also don’t look real at all. You can tell it’s a movie set, compared to the original “Valley Girl” which filmed on location at a real nightclub. The nightclub where the original “Valley Girl” was filmed was called The Central back then, but it became more famous in the 1990s when it was renamed the Viper Room. In the original “Valley Girl,” there was a scene with The Plimsouls performing their song “A Million Miles Away” at the club. In the remake, the female rock duo Deap Vally performs the song.

In fact, almost everything about the “Valley Girl” remake  (written by Amy Talkington) feels overly sanitized. It scrubs out all the adult content from the original movie (in other words, some of the funniest scenes) and turns this film into a too-cutesy musical. The only nudity in the remake is when some male students briefly moon someone at the high school. There’s no drug use in the remake, and sex is hinted at but not shown.

The costumes in the “Valley Girl” remake also look very much like costumes (and some of it is intentional, since many of the movie’s scenes take place at a costume party), while the movie’s hair, makeup and production design for the San Fernando Valley scenes are overly exaggerated in pastels and neon. Perhaps this “movie set” look to the film serves a purpose, since it’s supposed to represent the glossy memories of someone nostalgic about their teenage years in the ’80s. But people who’ve seen the original “Valley Girl” (which was directed by Martha Coolidge) will be turned off by this remake’s glibness.

Although the remake removed the gritty and realistic aspects of the original “Valley Girl,” the plot of the original “Valley Girl” is mostly the same in this musical remake, with some notable differences. In both “Valley Girl” movies, Julie (who’s a popular girl at her school) breaks up with a guy that most people expect someone like her to date: a preppy jock who’s also popular at school. But he also happens to be very self-centered, cocky and possessive, which is why Julie breaks up with him. He swears that she’ll regret it, and he arrogantly predicts that she’ll beg him to take her back.

In both movies, Julie meets Randy shortly after the breakup. And it’s the kind of scene where they look at each other in a way that’s obvious that they’re attracted to each other and will eventually get together. In the original “Valley Girl,” Randy and Julie meet at a house party, where he’s shown up uninvited. In the remake, Randy and Julie meet briefly on the beach, and then have their first major flirtation later at a house party.

In the original “Valley Girl,” Julie’s obnoxious ex-boyfriend was named Tommy (played by Michael Bowen). In the “Valley Girl” remake, the ex-boyfriend is named Mickey Bowen (get it?), and he’s played by YouTube star Logan Paul, who’s famous for also being obnoxious in real life, so there doesn’t have to be a lot of acting from him. It’s unknown if the character was named Mickey before or after the filmmakers decided to put Toni Basil’s hit “Mickey” as a big musical number in the film. Yes, it’s as cringeworthy as it sounds.

The choreography by Mandy Moore (of “La La Land” and “So You Think You Can Dance” fame) is actually one of the better aspects of the “Valley Girl” remake. It’s just too bad that the watered-down story and corny dialogue make this movie much more inferior to the original. The remake is essentially a “jukebox musical” with a lot of ’80s hits stuffed into the plot.

There are a few modern updates to the “Valley Girl” remake. The cast is a little more diverse than the first “Valley Girl” film. In the original, all the girls in Julie’s close circle of friends are thin and white. In the remake, Julie’s clique includes an African American named Loryn (played by Ashleigh Murray), whose dream is to be a dancer in music videos, especially for her idol Janet Jackson; plus-sized Stacey (played by Jessie Ennis), who’s unfortunately the butt of jokes and not treated very well by some of her so-called “friends”; and petty-minded Karen (played by Chloe Bennet), who ends up dating Mickey after Julie breaks up with him.

In the original “Valley Girl,”  Julie’s friend Loryn (played  Elizabeth “E.G.” Dailey) is the one who fools around with Julie’s ex-boyfriend at a party, and they keep their short fling a secret. In the remake, Mickey and Karen openly date each other after Julie has dumped him. His rebound relationship with Karen essentially ends Karen’s friendship with Julie.

But in both movies, all of the San Fernando Valley girls in Julie’s clique still have the same stuck-up attitude about Hollywood, which they think is a place for freaks and weirdos. This social snobbery is why Julie’s friends pressure her to break up with Randy and get back together with her ex-boyfriend. If you know the formula of romantic comedies, you can guess how Julie handles this conflict and how it gets resolved in the end.

Both movies also have teen parties that are chaperoned by adults. Fun fact: Original “Valley Girls” co-stars Foreman and Dailey have cameos in the “Valley Girl” remake. Foreman plays someone who compliments Julie in a store that sells prom dresses (how very meta), while Dailey plays a drunk parent at one of the teen parties. However, the remake doesn’t have the original “Valley Girl” subplot of a “Mrs. Robinson”-type character trying to seduce the teenage guy whom her daughter wants for herself.

Julie’s parents are very different in each movie. In the original “Valley Girl,” Julie’s former hippie parents are much more lenient (her father also smokes marijuana in the movie) than Julie’s parents in the “Valley Girl” remake. For example, in the original “Valley Girl,” Julie’s parents Steve and Sarah (played by Frederic Forrest and Colleen Camp), who run a health-food restaurant, were okay with her staying out all night and dating Randy. In the remake, Julie’s parents Steve and Diana (played by Rob Huebel and Judy Greer) are much more conservative (Steve is a corporate business type), much more protective of Julie, and they don’t approve of her dating Randy.

Another big difference is that in the original “Valley Girl,” Randy’s family is not seen or mentioned at all. But the “Valley Girl” remake goes more into the backstory of Randy’s family, when he reveals that his father abandoned him, and his mother kicked Randy out of their home. And the original “Valley Girl” never showed the bachelor pad where Randy lived (which made him kind of mysterious), whereas the remake shows that Randy (who’s a wannabe rock star) lives in a dumpy apartment in Hollywood with his two band mates: a lesbian bass player named Jack (played by Mae Whitman) and a kooky drummer named Sticky (played by Mario Revolori). Jack is Randy’s best friend/sidekick, which was the role of Fred Bailey (played by Cameron Dye) in the original “Valley Girl” movie.

The “Valley Girl” remake also gives Julie career ambitions, which she did not have in the original movie. In the musical remake, Julie is an aspiring fashion designer who dreams of going to the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City, but she’s pressured to conform and go to California State University at Northridge, a school that many of her peers from high school also plan to attend.

The other girls in Julie’s Valley Girl clique only have ambitions to go to college so that they can find a husband. As Loryn says to her friends while they’re sunning themselves at the beach, “If I’m not married by the time I’m 23, I’ll kill myself!” If that sounds like an outdated mindset, even for 1980s California, consider that a lot of teenage girls and young women still think this way in very conservative communities.

The “Valley Girl” remake’s hokey dialogue and mediocre acting might be forgivable, but the movie does something that’s pretty unforgivable for fans of the original “Valley Girl” movie. It changed the plot so that Modern English’s “I Melt With You” (the signature song from the original “Valley Girl” soundtrack) is supposed to be written by Randy for Julie. In other words, that means Randy and his band play “I Melt With You” in a serenading scene that’s as dumb as you think it is. Pure garbage.

Since the “Valley Girl” remake ruined “I Melt With You,” here’s a list of ’80s songs that the movie’s cast members remade for the musical scenes, in a less offensive but still fairly cheesy way: Cyndi Lauper’s “Girls Just Want to Have Fun”; Joan Jett’s “Bad Reputation”; a-ha’s “Take on Me”; The Cars’ “You Might Think”; A Flock of Seagulls’ “Space Age Love Song”; The Cure’s “Boys Don’t Cry”; Queen and David Bowie’s “Under Pressure”; and a medley of Depeche Mode’s “Just Can’t Get Enough,” Madonna’s “Material Girl,” Hall & Oates’ “I Can’t Go for That (No Can Do),” and Soft Cell’s cover version of “Tainted Love.”

There are also some songs in the movie that are the original artists’ studio recordings, such The Cars’ “Magic,” Duran Duran’s “Rio,” Men at Work’s “Be Good Johnny,” Run-DMC’s “It’s Like That” and Men Without Hats’ “Safety Dance.” It’s obvious that the filmmakers spent a great deal of the movie’s budget on licensing these hit songs, because there doesn’t appear to have been much of the budget invested in creating a quality film.

Orion Classics released “Valley Girl” in select U.S. drive-in theaters, on digital and on VOD on May 8, 2020.