Review: ‘Falling for Figaro,’ starring Danielle Macdonald, Hugh Skinner and Joanna Lumley

October 13, 2021

by Carla Hay

Hugh Skinner and Danielle Macdonald in “Falling for Figaro” (Photo courtesy of IFC Films)

“Falling for Figaro” 

Directed by Ben Lewin

Culture Representation: Taking place primarily in Scotland and briefly in England, the romantic comedy/drama “Falling for Figaro” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with two people of Indian heritage and one black person) representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: A successful fund manager, who is bored with her job and with her life, goes on a leave of absence to train as an opera singer, but she has conflicts with her singing instructor and the instructor’s longtime protégé.

Culture Audience: “Falling for Figaro” will appeal primarily to fans of co-star Joanna Lumley and to people who like lightweight but appealing romantic dramedies.

Joanna Lumley and Danielle Macdonald in “Falling for Figaro” (Photo courtesy of IFC Films)

“Falling for Figaro” hits all the predictable beats of a romantic comedy/drama about a woman who goes outside her comfort zone and ends up finding true love. Thanks to a charming performance from Danielle Macdonald, the movie is slightly better than the usual schmaltz. “Absolutely Fabulous” co-star Joanne Lumley, who has been typecast as portraying cranky battle-axes with an acerbic wit, does more of the same type of performance in “Falling for Figaro.” However, Lumley’s fans should enjoy how she embodies the role with such comedic commitment that viewers will wonder what foul and mean-spirited things will come out next from this character’s mouth.

Ben Lewin directed “Falling for Figaro” and co-wrote the movie’s screenplay with Allen Palmer. The movie has the added benefit of being set in the world of opera competitions, which is a unique context for a romantic comedy/drama. But make no mistake: “Falling for Figaro” is utterly formulaic in its story arc and structure. A talented cast makes this movie mostly enjoyable to watch, because most viewers will know how this movie is going to end.

In “Falling for Figaro,” Macdonald portrays Millie Cantwell, an American living in an unnamed big city in England. She works at a corporate job as a fund manager. (Macdonald is actually Australian in real life, but her American accent is flawless.) Millie is a rising star at the company. And it’s not just because her boss happens to be her live-in boyfriend.

His name is Charlie (played by Shazad Latif), and he’s proud of Millie’s success as a fund manager and wants to promote her to a higher position. Millie (who’s in her early 30s) and Charlie (who’s in his mid-to-late 30s)—met when he interviewed her to work at the company. There are no flashbacks in this movie. The story begins when Millie and Charlie have already been living together for an unspecified period of time.

It’s kind of a tricky situation in this #MeToo era for a boss to be dating an employee. But somehow, Millie and Charlie have worked it out and are open about their personal relationship while keeping things professional at work. Early on in the movie, she jokingly says to him in private: “I’m going to make more money than you. You’re going to rue the day that you hired me.”

Even though Millie is on the fast track to a big promotion at her job, she’s actually bored and frustrated with her career choice. The first scene in the movie shows Millie and Charlie on a date together at an opera performance. Millie is enthralled and has a fantasy that she’s the one who’s up on stage as the star of the show. Meanwhile, Charlie could care less about opera. He falls asleep during the performance. You know where this is going, of course.

It doesn’t take long for Millie to confess to Charlie that she’s going to take a big risk in her life to pursue a longtime dream of hers: She wants to become a professional opera singer. And in order to do that, Millie is going to take a year off from her job to go through opera training. When she tells Charlie this surprising news that she wants to be an opera singer, his incredulous response is, “Like, in the shower?”

Once the shock wears off, Charlie sees that Millie is entirely serious and determined to achieve this goal. Millie gets some advice from an older co-worker named Patricia Hartley, who tells her that the fastest way to be discovered as an aspiring opera singer is to go on the TV talent contest called “Singer of Renown.”

Millie says to Patricia, “I’m not going to spend the rest of my life as a fund manager … Why shouldn’t I follow my heart?” Patricia doesn’t want to discourage Millie, but she expresses some skepticism about Millie trying to become an opera singer when many people start training in their childhood or teen years. Millie says defiantly in response to this skepticism, “Patricia, I’m not that old, and it is not too late. I’m willing to do this, with or without your help.”

Patricia recommends that Millie get her training from an opera instructor whom Patricia knows named Meghan Geoffrey-Bishop (played by Lumley), who is based in the Scottish Highlands small town of Drumbuie. Meghan is at an age when most people are retired, but she refuses to think of herself as too old to work. Patricia warns Millie about Meghan: “She’s a little unorthodox.” A more accurate description of Meghan is, “She’s a little crazy and very rude.”

Charlie thinks that Millie is making a mistake to pursue a career as an opera singer. However, Millie has already made up her mind. And so, off Millie goes to Scotland with big dreams, a lot of hope and the expected amount of fear that she might end up failing.

Drumbuie is the type of small town where the local pub/restaurant (The Filthy Pig) is the center of the townspeople’s social lives. The Filthy Pig’s bartender Ramsay Macfadyen (played by Gary Lewis), who’s about the same age as Meghan, is the type of friendly person who knows regular customers by their names. He’s attuned to what’s going on in most of the customers’ personal lives. (In other words, he’s nosy.) And in a case of “opposites attract,” it turns out that Ramsay and Meghan have a little bit of a romance going on, but they’re trying to keep it low-key.

One of the waiters at the Filthy Pig is named Max (played by Hugh Skinner), an occasionally sullen introvert in his mid-30. Max works at the Filthy Pig to supplement his income as he trains to become a professional opera singer. Up until Millie comes along, Max was the only student of Meghan, who is very choosy about which people she wants to train. Meghan is also like a mother figure to Max, whose background isn’t really explained except for a mention that his parents are no longer alive and he has no other family members.

Meghan acts like such a domineering mother to Max that viewers might think that at some point there might be a reveal in the story that she really is Max’s mother, but that doesn’t happen. Max is a live-in handyman on Meghan’s property, so she often treats him like a lowly servant too. It seems like the main reason why Max puts up with Meghan’s shoddy treatment is because he respects her as a vocal instructor and he has an emotional attachment to her because she’s the closest thing he’s got to having a family.

Millie’s audition for Meghan is an outright disaster. For her audition piece, Millie sings “Voi Che Sapete” from “The Marriage of Figaro.” She’s nervous and stumbles in her her vocal delivery because during the audition, Max has been working on some plumbing nearby, and the loud noise is very distracting. Not surprisingly, Meghan rips into Millie not just for her performance but also to personally insult Millie.

Meghan goes on a rant that includes saying haughtily to Millie, “I haven’t finished telling you how worthless you are!” Meghan warns Millie that if Millie becomes Meghan’s student, Meghan will make Millie’s life miserable. Millie is undeterred. And because Millie has no other immediate options, she practically begs Meghan to be her vocal instructor. Meghan is secretly impressed by Millie’s determination and reluctantly agrees to train Millie.

Meanwhile, Max is feeling a little jealous that Meghan has accepted a new student, when he was used to having Meghan all to himself. Max tries to make Millie feel inferior by telling her that he’s been training with Meghan for so long, he can help Millie with some vocal techniques. Millie declines his offer and seems a little insulted because she thinks Max is being condescending to her.

The way that Max takes the rejection indicates that he might be interested in Millie for more than professional reasons. He doesn’t seem too pleased when he finds out that Millie has a boyfriend back home. Millie describes Charlie as her “significant other.” Max’s response: “It doesn’t exactly sound like a love match.” Meanwhile, Meghan sees that there’s some friction between Max and Millie. And what does Meghan do? She suggests that Max and Millie work on a duet together.

Viewers can easily predict how the rest of the story is going to go from there. Max and Millie have their share of disagreements, but they also learn to respect each other’s talent. Charlie arrives for the inevitable surprise visit, as Max and Millie’s attraction to each other grows. Max and Millie end up competing against each other in the “Singer of Renown” contest. Thankfully, the outcome of that contest isn’t as predictable as most people might think it is.

There’s a “Singer of Renown” contestant named Rosa Patullo (played by Rebecca Benson), who might be the most talented singer, but she has confidence issues. Kind-hearted Millie befriends Rosa and helps her deal with these insecurities. Millie isn’t a complete angel in this story, because there are some infidelity issues that she gets herself into during the inevitable love triangle between herself, Charlie and Max.

The opera singing in the movie should delight opera fans and even people who aren’t opera fans but appreciate musical artistry. What isn’t so creative is how many of the supporting characters end up being unremarkable clichés. There’s a gaggle of Filthy Pig regulars who are entirely forgettable. And the movie skimps on a backstory for Millie. Viewers will learn nothing about how and why she ended up living in the United Kingdom and what kind of family background she has.

Max as a love interest is a little bit on the bland side, while Meghan can be a little too over-the-top with her cruel comments. Skinner and Lumley play those roles accordingly. And that’s why the main appeal of “Falling for Figaro” is with Millie’s character, thanks to Macdonald’s relatable and grounded performance in a movie that largely follows a fairytale formula. The direction of this movie is breezy and light, which is an interesting contrast to the heavy bombast of opera. “Falling for Figaro” is far from a groundbreaking romantic movie, but it’s a pleasant-enough diversion for people who want the cinematic equivalent of comfort food.

IFC Films released “Falling for Figaro” in select U.S. cinemas, on digital and VOD on October 1, 2021.

Review: ‘Ghostbusters: Afterlife,’ starring Mckenna Grace, Finn Wolfhard, Carrie Coon, Paul Rudd, Logan Kim and Celeste O’Connor

October 9, 2021

by Carla Hay

Celeste O’Connor, Finn Wolfhard, Logan Kim and McKenna Grace in “Ghostbusters: Afterlife” (Photo by Kimberley French/Columbia Pictures)

“Ghostbusters: Afterlife”

Directed by Jason Reitman

Culture Representation: Taking place in the fictional U.S. city of Summerville, Oklahoma, and briefly in Chicago and New York City, the comedic horror film “Ghostbusters: Afterlife” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with a few African Americans, Asians and Latinos) representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: The daughter and grandchildren of the late Dr. Egon Spengler (an original Ghostbuster) move to the isolated home in Summerville that they inherited from him, and they immediately have supernatural encounters with deadly entitities. 

Culture Audience: Besides appealing to the obvious target audience of “Ghostbusters” fans, “Ghostbusters: Afterlife” will appeal primarily to fans of people who like well-paced adventurous films that combine horror with comedy that’s suitable for most children over the age of 6.

Paul Rudd and Carrie Coon in “Ghostbusters: Afterlife” (Photo by Kimberley French/Columbia Pictures)

“Ghostbusters: Afterlife” is a “Ghostbusters” fan’s dream come true. The movie delivers almost everything that diehard fans of the franchise might want to see in a sequel. It also respects all the things that fans loved about the original “Ghostbusters” movie while introducing an exciting new storyline and appealing new characters. It’s the type of movie that is sure to win over legions of new fans to the franchise, which experienced some controversy and mixed-to-negative reviews from fans for the divisive, female-starring 2016 “Ghosbusters” reboot that was directed and co-written by Paul Feig.

Ivan Reitman, who directed 1984’s “Ghostbusters” and 1989’s “Ghostbusters II,” has been a producer of all “Ghostbusters” movies so far. For “Ghostbusters: Afterlife,” he handed over the directorial duties to his son Jason Reitman, who co-wrote the “Ghostbusters: Afterlife” screenplay with Gil Kenan, a filmmaker who’s a self-professed “Ghostbusters” superfan. The result is what happens when you put true fans in charge of making a sequel to a beloved classic about ghost hunters who call themselves Ghostbusters: You give the fans what they really want. And that’s probably why “Ghostbusters: Afterlife” had its first public screening at the 2021 edition of New York Comic Con at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center in New York City. After a “Ghostbusters: Afterlife” discussion panel that featured Jason Reitman, Ivan Reitman, Kenan and members of the movie’s cast, people who were in attendance got a surprise treat when the entire film was shown after the panel ended.

In “Ghostbusters: Afterlife,” the daughter and two grandchildren of Dr. Egon Spengler (an original Ghostbuster) are at the center of the story when they find themselves involved in the same work that Egon did as a Ghostbuster in New York City. Egon was portrayed by Harold Ramis (who died of autoimmune inflammatory vasculitis in 2014, at the age of 69), whose presence is definitely felt in “Ghostbusters: Afterlife.” Ramis was also a co-writer on the 1984 “Ghostbusters” and “Ghostbusters II.” When watching “Ghostbusters: Afterlife,” fans will notice all the homages paid to these first two “Ghostbusters” movies.

Egon’s divorced daughter Callie (played by Carrie Coon), who was estranged from Egon for most of her life due to his workaholic ways, is having financial problems. It’s reached a point where Callie and her two kids, who all live in a Chicago apartment, have gotten an eviction notice from their landlord. Callie’s ex-husband, who is not seen in the movie, is not involved in raising the children. Later in the movie, Callie describes her ex-husband as a “dirtbag,” in order to leave no doubt that she doesn’t want him in her life anymore.

Instead of waiting to be evicted, Callie decides to take herself and her two kids—brainy 12-year-old Phoebe (played by Mckenna Grace) and socially awkward 15-year-old Trevor (played by Finn Wolfhard)—to the fictional small town of Summerville, Oklahoma, where Egon lived as a recluse until he died about a week before this story takes place. Even though Callie had not seen or spoken to her father in years, she inherited his run-down home. She decides to go there in person with her kids to see what to make of the place and to try to escape from her financial woes.

Egon’s home is a cluttered and dirty farmhouse located in an isolated area filled with corn fields and tall grass. Trevor quips when he looks at the dumpy condition of the house: “This is so much worse than I thought it would be.” Callie tells her children that they only plan to stay for a week while she gets some of Egon’s estate affairs in order. But there would be no “Ghostbusters: Afterlife” movie if that turned out to be true.

Before Callie, Phoebe and Trevor even arrived in Summerville, the movie shows that strange and spirits and creatures were inhabiting the area. And these sinister beings don’t plan on leaving anytime soon. There’s also an abandoned mine that was owned by the Shemdor Mining Company that plays a large role in explaining the mystery behind this story.

The mine used to be a big source of the town’s economy, but the mine was shut down years ago by the U.S. Air Force, because miners began leaping to their death in the mine shafts. Why did the U.S. Air Force get involved? It’s all explained in the movie, but viewers can figure it out as soon they hear that the U.S. Air Force and other military and federal law enforcement have had an interest in Summerville.

After Callie, Trevor and Phoebe arrive in Summerville, they find out that Egon wasn’t very well-liked by the locals, who gave him the unflattering nickname Dirt Farmer. Egon kept mostly to himself, and when he did interact with people, he was often gruff or aloof. Trevor and Phoebe never knew their grandfather Egon, but Phoebe seems more fascinated by Egon than Trevor is. During the course of the movie, viewers will see that Phoebe also inherited a lot of Egon’s analytical and personality traits. While Phoebe is very scientific-minded, Trevor is the more artistic sibling, because he is interested in filmmaking.

Callie already knows that Egon’s house is worthless. But to her dismay, she finds out that her estranged father left behind a lot of debts that she’s now responsible for paying, since she is his only heir. She tries to hide these problems from the children, but they are intuitive and are smart enough to figure out that things aren’t going so well for their family and they will be in Summerville for a while, since they have nowhere else to live rent-free.

Summerville is a quaint small town that has some characteristics of a bygone era. For example, Summerville has a drive-in diner called Spinners Roller Hop that has roller-skating servers. One of these servers is a teenager named Lucky (played by Celeste O’Connor), who immediately catches Trevor’s eye when he and his family eat at the diner one day. It’s attraction at first sight for Trevor.

Trevor is so infatuated with Lucky that he gets a job as a dishwasher at Spinners Roller Hop, in order to get to know her better. Trevor lies about his age (he says he’s 17) so that he can get the job. Callie takes a while to warm up to Trevor, and their possible romance is hinted at and teased throughout the movie. Later in the movie, Trevor does a lot of driving of a certain vehicle that “Ghostbusters” fans know and love, even though he’s not old enough to have a driver’s license.

Trevor and Callie also meet a precocious kid who’s about 12 or 13 years old. He calls himself Podcast (played by Logan Kim), because he has his own podcast where he likes to think of himself as an investigative journalist and historian for Summerville. Podcast is naturally inquisitive, and he quickly befriends Trevor and Callie. Podcast constantly carries around audio equipment with him, so he can be ready to record anything newsworthy. He’s also an aspiring paranormal investigator. How convenient.

Summerville is the type of town that doesn’t have many cops, but there are enough police officers who eventually notice some of the shenanigans that Trevor, Phoebe and Podcast get up to around town. Summerville’s Sheriff Domingo (played by Bokeem Woodbine) just happens to be Lucky’s father. Lucky ends up joining Trevor, Phoebe and Podcast in their ghostbusting activities when things get really dangerous.

Trevor isn’t the only family member to meet a potential love interest in Summerville. Carrie begins dating a seismologist named Gary Grooberson (played by Paul Rudd), who teaches at the local high school. Gary, who is a middle-aged bachelor with no children, is a little bit of a goofball nerd who would rather be a full-time scientist than be a teacher to help pay his bills. He’s so bored with teaching that one of the movie’s first scenes of Gary has him using a VCR and TV monitor in his classroom, to show old horror movies such as “Cujo (on VHS tape) to his students, as a way of babysitting them while he does other things that interest him.

“Ghostbusters: Afterlife” is a feast of references to the first “Ghostbusters” without copying any previous “Ghostbusters” plot. Is there anyone from the previous “Ghostbusters” movies who is in “Ghostbusters: Afterlife”? That information won’t be revealed in this review, although that information has already been leaked on the Internet Movie Database (IMDb) and other places where people can find out the details if they really want to know. Any “Ghostbusters: Afterlife” cameos from original “Ghostbusters” cast members also have updates on what their “Ghostbusters” characters have been up to since the 1990s.

It’s not just people from the first “Ghostbusters” movie that might or might not make a re-appearance. Don’t be surprised to see any ghosts, demons and monsters that look familiar. “Ghostbusters: Afterlife” also has done something hilarious and clever with the Stay Puft marshmallow presence in the movie. The visual effects for “Ghostbusters: Afterlife” are well-done and bring chills and laughs in all the right ways.

The filmmakers of “Ghostbusters: Afterlife” understand that all the visual effects and scary creatures in the world wouldn’t make this movie succeed. People have to root for the main characters. And the movie delivers on featuring characters that are relatable yet find themselves in extraordinary situations. It’s a well-cast movie where all of these talented actors inhabit their character roles with a great deal of believability, even when extraordinary things are happening to their characters on screen.

In “Ghostbusters: Afterlife,” Phoebe is portrayed as the smartest and most fearless hero of the movie, which is undoubtedly a star-making turn for Grace. Phoebe is serious about science, but she also likes to tell jokes that she knows are corny. For example, one of the jokes is: “What do a cigarette and a hamster have in common? They’re both completely harmless until you stick one in your mouth and light it on fire.”

Wolfhard also does a very credible job as Trevor, who can be adventurous or nervous, depending on the situation. Kim’s portrayal of Podcast is of someone who is endlessly curious, but he’s not a brat, which is what this character could have been but thankfully is not. Coon’s portrayal of Callie is of a concerned mother who’s trying to hold her family life together, even when things are starting to fall apart. Gary is smitten with Callie, so this infatuation is used for some lighthearted jokes in the movie.

Because “Ghostbusters: Afterlife” focuses most of the story on the adolescent characters, some people might say that the movie is trying to be like the Netflix series “Stranger Things,” which also co-stars Wolfhard. But make no mistake: This is a “Ghostbusters” movie in every way. It has comedy, scary thrills and plenty of adventure and mystery that all harken back to the original “Ghostbusters,” but told from young people’s perspectives. That doesn’t mean the adult characters are sidelined in the movie, but they really are supporting characters who don’t get involved in the action until it’s absolutely necessary.

“Ghostbusters: Afterlife” is escapist entertainment, but the movie also has some tearjerking, poignant moments, especially in the final scenes. Stick around for the mid-credits and end-credits scenes too, which will further delight fans of the original “Ghostbusters” movie. Even if people don’t see these credits scenes, it should come as no surprise that “Ghostbusters: Afterlife” already telegraphs that this film is not the end of the “Ghostbusters” movie series.

Columbia Pictures will release “Ghostbusters: Afterlife” in U.S. cinemas on November 19, 2021.

Review: ‘I’m Your Man’ (2021), starring Dan Stevens and Maren Eggert

October 4, 2021

by Carla Hay

Maren Eggert and Dan Stevens in “I’m Your Man” (Photo courtesy of Bleecker Street)

“I’m Your Man” (2021)

Directed by Maria Schrader

German with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in Berlin, the romantic comedy/drama “I’m Your Man” features an almost all-white cast of characters (with one mixed-race person and one person of Indian heritage) representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: A museum scientist/researcher reluctantly agrees to do a three-week experiment to live with a humanoid robot that is designed to be her perfect man. 

Culture Audience: “I’m Your Man” will appeal primarily to viewers who are interested in well-acted movies that combine romance with depictions of how technology affects humanity.

Dan Stevens and Sandra Hüller in “I’m Your Man” (Photo courtesy of Bleecker Street)

“I’m Your Man” asks the question “Can a robot be programmed to be a perfect love partner?” It’s a question faced by Dr. Alma Felser (played by Maren Eggers), an analytical scientist who works as a researcher at the Pergamon Museum in Berlin. She’s been chosen to participate in an experiment to test if a robot can be programmed to be her perfect man.

Because humans created these robots, it’s an experiment that assumes that humans are the ones in control and have superior knowledge over the robots. However, the appeal of this charming, well-acted movie is when “know it all” Alma finds out that she might learn some things about herself from this robot. The question then becomes, “How emotionally attached should Alma become to Tom, when he can cater to her needs, but he still has no soul?”

Directed by Maria Schrader (who won an Emmy Award for directing the 2020 Netflix limited series “Unorthodox”), “I’m Your Man” is based on Emma Braslavsky’s short story “Ich bin dein Mensch.” Schrader and Jan Schomburg adapted the story into the “I’m Your Man” screenplay. “I’m Your Man” is Germany’s official entry to be considered for a Best International Feature nomination for the 2022 Academy Awards ceremony.

Alma is a never-married bachelorette in her mid-to-late 40s. Her life revolves around her work. In the movie’s opening scene, Alma arrives at a work-related party, where she soon meets Tom (played by Dan Stevens), a good-looking man in his late 30s. Tom immediately kisses her hand, flirts with her, and tries to impress her with his knowledge. He mentions that he likes Austrian poet Rainer Maria Rilke’s “Autumn Day” poem, which is a favorite poem of Alma’s too. Tom shows Alma that he can do large mathematical calculations in his head.

But then, his speech starts to repeat, like a broken record or a glitch in playback. An unnamed Pergamon Museum employee (played by Sandra Hüller), who is supervising this robot experiment, has Tom taken away from the party. And that’s when she tells Alma that Tom is really a robot and that Alma has been chosen to be the ideal person to test if this robot can be the perfect man for whomever is paired with the robot.

Alma’s female colleague says matter-of-factly about the temporary glitch in Tom: “You have no idea how hard it is to program flirting … Holograms can be done cheaper and longer.” The robot that is being tested isn’t just programmed with ways to talk to people. The robot can also anticipate the needs of the companion human, though a series of algorithms. And through detection of brain waves, facial expressions and body language, the robot can deduce a person’s true inner feelings.

Later, when she’s at her job, Alma hears more details about this “perfect man” robot. She finds out that she was chosen for this experiment because she currently doesn’t have a love partner. The experiment would require Alma to live with Tom for three weeks. Alma is completely against the idea that robots can become legitimate companions for human beings, so she refuses to be a part of the experiment.

However, after getting much pleading and coaxing from her colleagues, Alma agrees to participate in the experiment. Alma’s female colleague tells Alma this selling point as a way to convince Alma: “When happiness knocks on the door, you should open it.”

At first, Alma is very uncomfortable with Tom living with her. He is very doting (he cooks and cleans for her without her having to ask) and tries to be affectionate with her. But she is cold and dismissive, treating him more like a pesky housemate, rather than a potentially intimate companion.

Alma considers herself to be an independent woman, so part of her resentment (which she doesn’t say out loud) is that she doesn’t like that her colleagues chose her to live with this robot because they think she’s a lonely, aging spinster. She also hates that Tom has been programmed to say sappy lines to her such as, “Your eyes are like two mountain lakes that I can sink into.”

Stevens, who is British in real life, portrays Tom’s as speaking German with a British accent. It’s explained in the movie that because Alma has shown a pattern of being attracted to non-German men, Tom was programmed to sound like he’s not from Germany. This deep mining of personal information might be troubling to people who value their privacy. But in this day and age, with millions of people posting so much of their personal lives on the Internet, it’s not that far-fetched for people’s preferences in romantic partners to be easily found and used as data.

Alma has also been chosen to recommend to an ethics committee that is overseeing this experiment if having a robot like Tom is psychologically and emotionally healthy for human beings. She is required to submit her recommendation (acceptance or rejection of the project) to Dean Roger (played by Falilou Seck), who is in charge of the ethics committee. Although he’s not supposed to show his bias, he essentially tells Alma that she hopes her decision is an acceptance recommendation.

“I’m Your Man” takes place in a world where robots and holograms are already accepted in the culture as chosen companions for humans. For example, there’s a scene where Alma goes back to a bar where she sees humans on dates with holograms, and it’s considered normal. The question she has to answer for herself and the ethics committee is if it’s ethical for robots to be sold and marketed to humans as live-in partners or spouses.

One of the ways that “I’m Your Man” isn’t a typical “robot fantasy” movie is that Tom isn’t always cheerful and willing to let Alma constantly disrespect him. He talks back to her and calls her out on some of her rude and selfish actions. Because he is supposed to be attuned to her emotions, he tells Alma what he observes about her.

Alma has other things going on in her life that complicate her experiment with Tom. She’s under a lot of stress because her father (played by Wolfgang Hübsch), who doesn’t have a first name in the movie, is showing signs of early dementia. Alma has a sister named Cora (played by Annika Meier), and they both are in various forms of distress and denial over what to do with their father if or when his condition worsens.

As for her love life, Alma has an ex-boyfriend named Julian (played by Hans Löw), who also happens to be one of her co-workers. They remained friends after the breakup, but viewers will get the impression that things aren’t completely resolved between Julian and Alma. He might have lingering feelings toward her.

For example, there’s a scene where Julian asks Alma out to lunch, but she declines, and he seems disappointed. Later, Julian tells Alma that he’s moving in with his girlfriend Steffi (played by Henriette Richter-Röhl) for “mostly financial reasons.” Julian’s heart might not be completely in his relationship with Steffi, but Steffi seems completely in love with Julian. One of the funnier scenes in the movie is when Anna brings Tom as her date to Julia and Steffi’s housewarming party. It’s enough to say that things get awkward.

Stevens’ earnest portrayal of a robot doesn’t fall into a parody, but there is a slight wink and a nod to his performance. He gives enough robotic eye movements and too-perfect smiles to remind viewers that there is no soul underneath this human-looking being, even though Tom knows how to look and act human. It’s a tricky performance that Stevens handles in a very talented way.

Eggert also does an admirable performance as Alma, who is obviously the more complicated one in this would-be couple. Alma doesn’t express her thoughts as easily as Tom does. And it unnerves Alma that Tom can do an accurate psychoanalysis of her, which he does on a regular basis. She’s also conflicted because her scientific brain tells her that robots are incapable of feeling and giving love, but her lonely heart is telling her that maybe she should take unconditional emotional support and companionship wherever she can get it.

Rather than it being a one-sided relationship where Alma bosses Tom around, Tom ends up challenging Alma to look at herself and figure out what she wants out of love and what she’s willing to do to seek out or shut out certain relationships. There are several comedic moments along the way, as well as some emotionally touching dramatic moments. The overall message of “I’m Your Man” is that wishing for an ideal love mate can come at a “be careful what you wish for” price, but it might be worth it if you know who you really are in the first place.

Bleecker Street released “I’m Your Man” in select U.S. cinemas on September 24, 2021. The movie’s digital/VOD release date is October 12, 2021.

Review: ‘The Nowhere Inn,’ starring St. Vincent and Carrie Brownstein

October 3, 2021

by Carla Hay

St. Vincent and Carrie Brownstein in “The Nowhere Inn” (Photo courtesy of IFC Films)

“The Nowhere Inn”

Directed by Bill Benz

Culture Representation: Taking place in various U.S. cities, the comedy/drama mockumentary “The Nowhere Inn” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with a few African Americans, Asians and Latinos) representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: Experimental pop singer St. Vincent has conflicts with her best friend Carrie Brownstein, who has been hired to direct a documentary about St. Vincent. 

Culture Audience: “The Nowhere Inn” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of stars St. Vincent and Brownstein, as well as to people who enjoy unusual mockumentaries.

St. Vincent in “The Nowhere Inn” (Photo courtesy of IFC Films)

“The Nowhere Inn” rambles, falters, and sometimes gets too meta for its own good. But it’s got enough quirky satire of celebrity documentaries to bring some laughs. You don’t have to be a fan of stars St. Vincent or Carrie Brownstein to enjoy “The Nowhere Inn,” but it might help during the parts of the movie where the pace tends to drag. Mostly, “The Nowhere Inn” is commendable for its attempt to be an original mockumentary, even if some of the comedy doesn’t serve the story very well.

In “The Nowhere Inn,” experimental pop singer St. Vincent (whose real name is Annie Clark) and Brownstein (a former star of the 2011-2018 comedy series “Portlandia”) portray versions of themselves and co-wrote the movie’s screenplay. Many parts of the movie look semi-improvised. “The Nowhere Inn” is the feature-film directorial debut of Bill Benz, a former editor, director and co-producer of “Portlandia.” People who are familiar with “Portlandia” should expect a similar tone to “The Nowhere Inn,” which brings an absurdist and deadpan spin to realistic situations.

“The Nowhere Inn” is a mockumentary within a mockumentary. On one level, it’s about the character of Carrie being convinced by her best friend St. Vincent to direct a tour documentary about St. Vincent. Footage from the documentary takes up most of the movie. But on another level, parts of the movie includes hindsight commentary from Carrie and St. Vincent about the documentary, whose production went through a lot of turmoil when the two pals became at odds with each other.

Interspersed with the off-stage footage is a lot of concert footage of St. Vincent. And so, the vast majority of the music in the movie is St. Vincent’s music. St. Vincent songs that are featured in “The Nowhere Inn” are “Year of the Tiger,” “Smoking Section,” “Pills,” “New York,” “Savior,” “Palm Desert,” “Los Ageless” and “Hang on Me.”

Because the experimental/alternative musical style of St. Vincent is so intertwined with the movie, “The Nowhere Inn” is not going to appeal to large masses of people, especially people who prefer more conventional films. However, people who know about the stereotypes of authorized celebrity tour documentaries will find parts of the movie amusing in how “The Nowhere Inn” makes a mockery of these clichés.

The movie opens with St. Vincent as a passenger in the back of limo, where an unnamed middle-aged driver (played by Ezra Buzzington) tells her that he knows that she’s famous for something, but he isn’t shy about telling her that he’s not sure what her claim to fame is: “I drive a lot of famous people,” he says. “I’ve never heard you before.”

While he’s driving, the limo driver calls his son, who’s an aspiring musician in a band, and talks to his son on speaker phone. He asks his son if he’s heard of St. Vincent. The son says no, but he mentions that he’s in a band and wonders out loud if St. Vincent could possibly help him in his music career. During this awkward conversation, she is gracious and humble and doesn’t expect to be treated like a star.

The limo driver then asks St. Vincent to sing one of her songs, to see if his son will recognize the song. St. Vincent sings “New York,” and when she gets to the part of the song where the line is “you’re the only motherfucker in the city,” the driver’s son sounds offended and asks, “Whoa! Did she just say ‘MF’?” The driver then abruptly ends the call and tells St. Vincent, “Don’t worry. We’ll find out who you are.”

The driver doesn’t really get a chance though because the limo stops shortly afterward. When St. Vincent gets out of the limo to see what’s going on, she finds that the driver’s door is open and he’s nowhere in sight. What happened to the driver and where did he go? Don’t expect any answers because it’s an example of some of the random weirdness in the movie.

St. Vincent is then seen on screen talking about the unfinished documentary that she made with Carrie as the director. St. Vincent comments, “All I can say is that things went terribly wrong.” The majority of “The Nowhere Inn” shows flashbacks to the making of the untitled documentary. Viewers are supposed to get a sense that what they are seeing is previously unreleased footage.

At first, filming of the documentary goes very well, as Carrie is given almost complete creative control. Carrie’s only request for St. Vincent is “Just be yourself” because the documentary is supposed to be a “fly on the wall experience.” St. Vincent’s shows are well-attended and she has plenty of adoring fans.

In the “hindsight” footage, St. Vincent says, “It was supposed to be a music documentary … I guess I wanted people to know who I am. I don’t want it to be a random fantasy. I wanted it to be intimate and revealing.”

But how intimate and how revealing? And more importantly to Carrie: How truthful? Over time, St. Vincent’s ego takes over, and she wants to turn the documentary into a series of staged scenes that fabricate aspects of her life. How much of a dictator does St. Vincent become during the making of the documentary? At one point in the movie, she tells Carrie: “From now on, I need more say in how other people are going to act.”

When did St. Vincent go from being a down-to-earth singer to a bossy diva? The turning point comes when a print journalist named Holly (played by Rya Kihlstedt) interviews St. Vincent while the documentary cameras are rolling. During the interview, Holly becomes distracted because her live-in girlfriend has broken up with Holly by text during the interview.

Holly is so distraught that she drags St. Vincent into this breakup mess by asking St. Vincent to call her now-ex-girlfriend and leave a voice mail to try convince the ex that Holly is not only a good person but the best thing that ever happened to the ex. It puts St. Vincent in a very awkward position, but she obliges, in order to be polite.

After manipulating St. Vincent to get involved in her personal life, Holly then cuts the interview short, as if she’s done using St. Vincent for the day. Before this annoying journalist leaves, Holly complains to St. Vincent that Holly wasn’t given a “plus one” (to get an extra ticket) when Holly was put on the guest list for the St. Vincent concert happening later that evening.

Holly says that her cousin Sarah is a fan of St. Vincent and tells St. Vincent that she’d like Sarah to be her “plus one.” St. Vincent tries not to act offended by the disrespectful way that Holly has been acting, but this entire uncomfortable interaction was caught on the documentary’s cameras. Later, when St. Vincent sees Holly and Sarah (played by Cass Buggé) at a concert after-party, the shift in St. Vincent’s attitude becomes very clear.

St. Vincent suddenly wants to do a documentary that will make her look more interesting. In one of the funnier scenes in the movie, St. Vincent introduces Carrie to her lover Dakota Johnson (playing a version of herself), while St. Vincent and Dakota are clad in lingerie and lounging on a bed together. (St. Vincent is openly queer in real life.) And the next thing you know, St. Vincent wants Carrie to film a sex video of Dakota and St. Vincent, right then and there.

An embarrassed Carrie tries to stall and suggests that they get an intimacy coordinator before filming the scene. However, St. Vincent says it’s not necessary because she and Dakota won’t be faking it. There’s no actual sex or nudity in “The Nowhere Inn,” because the movie wants what isn’t shown in this sex scene to be more amusing than what could be shown.

Another hilarious scene in the movie is when Carrie decides to go over to some St. Vincent fans who are standing in line outside the concert venue and randomly invites a young adult fan to go back with her to St. Vincent’s dressing room. The fan, whose name is Kim (played by Gabriela Flores), is overwhelmed by this surprise and bursts into tears when she sees St. Vincent in person. Kim predictably fawns over St. Vincent and tells St. Vincent that her music saved Kim’s life.

Kim tells St. Vincent that Kim’s boyfriend from high school gave St. Vincent’s 2011 album “Strange Mercy” to Kim as a birthday present. The boyfriend tragically died in a car accident two nights before their graduation. Kim says that St. Vincent’s music has helped Kim through tough times when she was feeling depressed and didn’t want to live anymore.

This sad story makes St. Vincent cry too. And she cries so much about how much the story affected her that Kim ends up comforting St. Vincent in the dressing room. It’s an amusing parody of how narcissistic celebrities can somehow make a fan’s personal tragedy all about the celebrity.

During the course of the documentary, St. Vincent becomes obsessed with wanting to appear humble and relatable in front of the cameras. But behind the scenes, she becomes a egomaniacal tyrant and almost starts acting like the documentary’s director. St. Vincent goes as far as fabricating a backstory for herself. She pretends that she grew up on a Texas ranch with a big family, and she hires actors to play these roles.

As Carrie says early on in the movie, St. Vincent is really an only child whose father is in prison. This is a plot hole in “The Nowhere Inn,” because in this Internet age, it would be hard for a celebrity such as St. Vincent to hide her family background and get away with hiring a cast of actors to portray her family in what’s supposed to be documentary. That’s why “The Nowhere Inn” takes a misstep toward the end of the movie when St. Vincent goes through an entire charade of trying to look like a Texas cowgirl from a large family.

Not surprisingly, Carrie is increasingly put off by St. Vincent trying to make a phony documentary. Carrie finds herself sidelined as a director and not being consulted on important decisions. Carrie quits the documentary at least once, which isn’t spoiler information, since St. Vincent says in the beginning of the movie that the documentary hasn’t been completed.

During all of this friendship turmoil, Carrie is also dealing with the fact that her unnamed father (played by Michael Bofshever) is dying of cancer. He’s very proud that she’s directing this documentary, and she feels obligated to finish the film so that he won’t be disappointed in her. Meanwhile, St. Vincent seems oblivious and insensitive to Carrie’s stress over her father’s health condition.

“The Nowhere Inn” includes some footage of the people in St. Vincent’s entourage, including her band members: eccentric Japanese bass player Toko (played by Toko Yasuda); “nice guy” Australian guitarist Neil (played by Chris Aquilino); and party-loving American drummer Robert (played by Drew Connick). St. Vincent’s easygoing tour manager Brian (played by Kash Abdulmalik) also gets some screen time.

However, these supporting characters don’t add much the story. “The Nowhere Inn” is really about how Carrie and St. Vincent’s once-solid friendship becomes turbulent because of disagreements over the documentary. In the production notes for “The Nowhere Inn,” it’s mentioned that Brownstein and Clark were both influenced by two movies about jaded pop stars: directors Nicolas Roeg’s and Donald Cammell’s 1970 drama “Performance” (starring Mick Jagger) and director Peter Watkins’ 1967 mockumentary “Privilege,” starring Paul Jones.

Taking cues from both of those movies, “The Nowhere Inn” has some psychedelic-looking surrealistic sequences that aren’t quite hallucinations, but they’re nevertheless part of the line blurring of reality and fiction that this mockumentary intends to spoof. “The Nowhere Inn” is at its most potent in its satire when it pokes fun at the image-obsessed trap that many celebrities fall into when they achieve a certain level of fame.

What’s less effective are the aforementioned fake Texas family scenes and the movie’s tendency to over-rely on making Carrie look like a forlorn doormat who’s shocked by what goes on during St. Vincent’s concert tour. By making Carrie so naïve in this movie, it just leads viewers to wonder how well Carrie really knows her “best friend” St. Vincent. And the subplot about Carrie’s father having cancer is a clumsy fit for this story.

Brownstein has her own real-life experiences as a music artist (she’s a singer/guitarist in the rock band Sleater-Kinney), but that background is completely erased in the movie. It would’ve been more interesting if the Carrie character had been written as someone who has experience being in a semi-famous band and is therefore better-equipped to handle St. Vincent’s egotistical shenanigans during the tour. Their arguments would’ve been more entertaining to watch.

“The Nowhere Inn” is a flawed but unique film that is going to interest some people and turn off other people. People who know what showbiz is like behind the scenes will find at least something to laugh at in “The Nowhere Inn,” even if those laughs might be occasional for some viewers. The movie is not meant to have a joke in every scene. “The Nowhere Inn” won’t be considered a classic mockumentary, but it’s worth a watch if viewers are willing to go on a sometimes bizarre but very original ride in an alternate reality created by Brownstein and St. Vincent.

IFC Films released “The Nowhere Inn” in select U.S. cinemas, digital and VOD on September 17, 2021.

Review: ‘Small Engine Repair’ (2021), starring John Pollono, Jon Bernthal, Shea Whigham, Jordana Spiro, Ciara Bravo and Spencer House

September 26, 2021

by Carla Hay

Jon Bernthal, Shea Whigham, Jordana Spiro and John Pollono in “Small Engine Repair” (Photo courtesy of Vertical Entertainment)

“Small Engine Repair” (2021)

Directed by John Pollono

Culture Representation: Taking place in Manchester, New Hampshire, the comedy/drama film “Small Engine Repair” features a nearly all-white cast of characters (with one African American and one Asian) representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: A middle-aged mechanic, who has recently been released from prison, reunites with two of his longtime friends after they’ve had a falling out, but their reunion becomes a test of loyalty and morality. 

Culture Audience: “Small Engine Repair” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in unpredictable movies that put a dark comedic spin on serious issues.

Ciara Bravo in “Small Engine Repair” (Photo courtesy of Vertical Entertainment)

Three middle-aged men who’ve been friends since childhood reunite after spending several months apart. They hang out, party, and reminisce about the good old days. It sounds a lot like other movies, but “Small Engine Repair” is like no other film.

That’s because what seems at first to be a straightforward and predictable comedy/drama takes a very sharp, dark and unexpected turn in the last third of the film. What saves “Small Engine Repair” from being an unremarkable depiction of machismo is a sinister plot twist that walks a fine line between absurd and realistic.

“Small Engine Repair” is the vision of John Pollono, who is the writer, director and star/protagonist of the movie, which is based on Pollono’s stage play of the same name. For the first two-thirds of the movie, it’s about the up-and-down friendship between recently released prison felon Frank “Frankie” Romanowski (played by Pollono) and two pals he’s had since childhood: Terrance Swaino (played by Jon Bernthal) and Packie Hanrahan (played by Shea Whigham). Frank, Terrance and Packie have lived in Manchester, New Hampshire, since they were children.

Frank is a single father to a foul-mouthed, tough-talking teenager named Crystal Romanoski (played by Ciara Bravo), who is in her last year of high school. Despite her brash and often-crude personality, Crystal is quite intelligent and doesn’t like to show her sensitive side to very many people. She loves her father but she hates how his problems have negatively affected her life.

Terrance is happily married, and he is the most likely one out of the three friends to show common sense and think logically. He has a quick temper like Frank does, but Terrance is less likely than Frank to get violent. Because Terrance is a husband who has settled into a content life for himself, he’s also less likely to want to get into trouble, compared to how he was in his rebellious youth.

Packie is a bachelor who is somewhat simple-minded, irresponsible and emotionally immature. Packie is more likely than Terrance to want to get Frank’s approval. Packie and Frank are sometimes at odds with Terrance, who doesn’t like to think of himself as a “third wheel” but as someone who is smarter and more deserving than Packie to be Frank’s closest confidant.

Frank, Terrance and Packie come from generations of working-class people who think that getting a university degree is either a waste of time or an unaffordable dream. And where they live in Manchester has been ravaged by the opioid epidemic and devastated by a steep decline in the types of factory jobs that used to keep the community thriving. During the course of the story, the three buddies will push each other’s buttons and decide how loyalty and morality play roles in their friendship with each other.

In the beginning of the movie, Frank has been released from prison for a crime or crimes that aren’t mentioned in the film. However, it’s later shown many times in the movie that Frank is a hothead, so it’s likely he spent time in prison for a violent crime. It also isn’t mentioned how long he was in prison, but it was definitely more than a few months. Now that he’s out of prison, Frank resumes his work as a mechanic. He owns his own shop called Frank’s Small Engine Repair.

Where and who is Crystal’s mother? Her name is Karen Delgado (played by Jordana Spiro), a drug addict who lives in the Los Angeles area. Frank and Karen were never married, and their breakup was very bitter. Based on what people say about Karen, she’s even more irresponsible than Frank, which is why he has custody of Crystal and has been the parent who has primarily raised her.

While Frank was in prison, Terrance and Packie looked after Crystal. As guardians, they’re permissive, since they’re the ones who sometimes supply Crystal with the marijuana that she smokes. Crystal has a rebellious streak, but she’s a good student who has done well enough academically that she can attend a major university.

One of the first conversations that Frank has with Crystal when he gets home from prison is about where she wants to go to college. Her first choice is the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA), but Frank wants her to go to a university that’s closer to Manchester. He doesn’t deny it when Crystal accuses Frank of discouraging her to go to UCLA because it’s in the same area where her mother Karen lives.

At first, Frank says he wouldn’t be able to afford UCLA’s tuition. Crystal says she’ll take out student loans to solve that problem. However, Frank is still down on the idea of her going to UCLA. Crystal explodes in anger and shouts that if she goes to the University of New Hampshire at Manchester, she’ll end up as “a 49-yearold supermarket checkout girl with carpal fucking tunnel!”

Finally, Frank relents and agrees to support Crystal if she’s accepted for admission into UCLA. He tells her he’ll figure out a way to help pay for the tuition. A happy and relieved Crystal promises Frank that getting a UCLA degree will be worth it. “I’ll make a lot of money,” she says.

Not long after Frank comes home from prison, he finds out from Terrance and Packie that Karen will be back in Manchester for a visit. Terrance and Packie use a lot of derogatory words to describe Karen. Frank doesn’t like Karen either, but he objects to Terrance and Packie saying degrading things about Karen, because she’s the mother of Crystal.

When Karen shows up at Frank’s house, Terrance and Packie are there too. She’s rude and very rough around the edges, with indications that she hasn’t given up her hard-partying ways. In her tense and hostile conversation with the three buddies, she makes it clear that she is only interested in spending time with Crystal, not in resolving any hard feelings that she has toward this trio of pals whom she’s known since childhood. Karen quips sarcastically, “Hey, remember when when we were all friends, before I had tits?”

Frank reluctantly lets Crystal spend some time with Karen on a girls’ night out. With Crystal out of the house, the three pals decide to let off some steam by going to a local bar. Because Frank is on parole, he has to be careful about what he says and does in public. For example, he doesn’t want to get drunk in public because that could be considered a parole violation.

Outside the bar, in the parking lot, Frank flirts with a woman named Dottie (played by Jennifer Pollono), whom he later finds out is a 35-year-old divorced mother to a 4-year-old son. Just as Frank and Dottie are about to exchange numbers and continue with their flirtation, Karen and Crystal show up. Crystal sheepishly asks Frank for some cash because Karen doesn’t have any money and Kaen says her credit cards are all maxed out. Frank expresses his disapproval but gives some cash to Crystal, who gives him a big hug and compliment to thank him.

Frank thinks that Karen is under the influence of drugs at that moment, and Crystal doesn’t deny it. However, Crystal assures Frank that Crystal, not Karen, is driving the car that they’re using. Frank doesn’t want to be an overbearing parent, so he doesn’t interfere in the plans for Crystal and Karen to spend time together.

Even though Karen and Frank haven’t been a couple in several years, Karen still acts a little jealous and possessive when she senses that Frank and Dottie have sexual chemistry together. Karen asks Dottie in a hostile tone of voice, “Who the fuck are you?” Dottie doesn’t want to get in the middle of any family drama with a man she just met, so she makes a hasty exit.

This unexpected visit from Karen has unnerved Frank, who’s also annoyed that Karen ruined his potential hookup with Dottie. When he goes back in the bar, several people are drunk, including Packie and Terrance. And not surprisingly, a bar fight breaks out, with Packie, Terrance and Frank getting involved.

Frank’s violent temper erupts and he viciously and repeatedly punches one of the instigators of the fight. It’s the type of beating where people can tell that Frank has lost total control of his anger. When he realizes that he just violated his parole with this assault, Frank yells at Terrance and Packie: “I knew this would happen! You stay away from my family! I don’t want to see you again!”

The movie then picks up six months later. Frank, Terrance and Packie have a tentative reunion. Frank has invited them to his mechanic’s shop to watch a boxing match, drink alcohol and have some steaks that he’s cooking. It’s mentioned that during their six months apart, Terrance and Packie were also estranged from each other because Terrance slapped Packie during an argument that’s not shown in the movie.

“Small Engine Repair” has occasional flashbacks showing Frank, Terrance and Packie together at various points in their lives. These flashbacks usually happen when the three pals are together and reminiscing on their past. There’s a flashback to when Crystal was 6 years old (played by Nina Peterson), when she was with the three pals and someone took a smiling photo of Crystal holding a wrench. That photo would later be used on signs and other promotional materials for Frank’s Small Engine Repair.

A harrowing flashback of when the three pals were about 11 or 12 years old shows that their childhoods included violence and other domestic abuse inflicted by their fathers. (Zachary Hernandez plays a young Frank, and Hunter Jones plays a young Terrance.) This childhood abuse serves as context for why Frank, Terrance and Packie think it’s normal to have a “rough and tumble” lifestyle where they get involved in violent fights.

Frank tells his buddies during this reunion that he wants more than alcohol and marijuana for their partying. Frank says that he recently met a university student named Chad Walker (played by Spencer House) who sells Ecstacy. Chad is coming over with some Ecstacy that Frank wants to buy. The other guys are eager and willing to do Ecstacy at this small party.

What happens after that is what makes “Small Engine Repair” so memorable and not your typical buddy movie. However, this sudden change in the movie’s plot comes fairly late in the film. Some viewers might get bored with the meandering way that the story unfolds in the first two-thirds of this 103-minute movie, which can get a tad repetitive in showing how volatile this three-way friendship can be. Other viewers might be turned off by all cursing in “Small Engine Repair.” However, if viewers stick with the movie and watch it from beginning to end, then they will see why the last third of the film is the best part.

It’s not easy to bring a comedic touch to disturbing scenarios, but “Small Engine Repair” manages to accomplish this balancing act, which could easily go wrong and become very offensive with the wrong dialogue, horrible acting or a tone-deaf perspective. All of the actors do well in their roles. However, the real star of this movie is the somewhat shocking twist, which tests the boundaries about what people might think is an acceptable way to solve problems.

Vertical Entertainment released “Small Engine Repair” in select U.S. cinemas, on digital and VOD on September 10, 2021.

Review: ‘Dating & New York,’ starring Francesca Reale, Jaboukie Young-White, Catherine Cohen and Brian Muller

September 24, 2021

by Carla Hay

Jaboukie Young-White and Francesca Reale in “Dating & New York” (Photo courtesy of IFC Films)

“Dating & New York”

Directed by Jonah Feingold

Culture Representation: Taking place in New York City, the romantic comedy “Dating & New York” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with a few African Americans, Asians and Latinos) representing the middle-class.

Culture Clash: After meeting through a dating app, a man and a woman in their mid-20s decide to become “friends with benefits” until one of them falls in love with the other person and wants more of a romantic commitment. 

Culture Audience: “Dating & New York” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in overly talkative romantic comedies that are extremely formulaic and not very funny.

Jaboukie Young-White and Francesca Reale in “Dating & New York” (Photo courtesy of IFC Films)

“Dating & New York” is proof that the only thing worse than a dull and unoriginal romantic comedy is a dull and unoriginal romantic comedy that thinks it’s exciting and creative. This annoying movie reeks of smugness, when it’s really just a worse version of the mediocre 2011 romantic comedies “No Strings Attached” (starring Ashton Kutcher and Natalie Portman) and “Friends With Benefits” (starring Justin Timberlake and Mila Kunis). Each of the three movies is about two good-looking young people who have a sexual relationship while trying not to fall in love with each other. However, “Dating & New York” (written and directed by Jonah Feingold) takes it to irritating levels by trying to be too cute for its own good.

How cutesy does “Dating & New York” want to be? In the very beginning of the film there’s a voiceover narrator (a role played by Jerry Ferrara) and animation (as if this a Disney fairytale), with the narrator saying this monologue: “Once upon a time, in a magical kingdom known as New York City, in a city that doesn’t sleep, but sleeps around a lot, a land of dollar pizza and crowded subways, there lived two millennials cursed with the paradox of choice.”

Side note: A pizza slice that only costs a dollar in New York City? What year was this screenplay written? Anyone who’s spent time recently in New York City can spot the phoniness of the “dollar pizza” line because it’s been several years since a slice of pizza in New York City cost only one dollar.

Viewers soon find out that the story’s two central characters, who are both in their mid-20s, aren’t very cursed at all and are actually quite spoiled and privileged. These two don’t have much “paradox of choice” struggles going on, unless you consider it a “paradox of choice” when they have to decide what kind of attitude they want to have in any given hour: self-pitying whiner or self-absorbed hipster. You get the feeling that Feingold wrote the characters this way because he knows a lot of people who think of themselves as adorable and funny, but they actually lack self-awareness in how insufferable they are with their entitled and out-of-touch attitudes about what life’s real problems are.

Milo Marks (played by Jaboukie Young-White), who was born and raised in New York City, lives rent-free in the spacious and modern Upper West Side apartment of his mother and her boyfriend, who aren’t home very much because they travel a lot for their jobs. Milo doesn’t seem to have a job. However, the movie shows that he’s an aspiring stand-up comedian with no talent who can only get occasional gigs performing in small places with hardly anyone there to see him. Here’s a sample line from his stand-up comedy act when he talks about romantic relationships: “Rollover feelings are like rollover minutes.”

Wendy Brinkley (played by Francesa Reale), who becomes Milo’s “best friend with benefits,” isn’t shown working at all. She’s got loads of snappy one-liners and comments that are supposed to show that she has a “firecracker” personality, but it’s all so superficial. The movie doesn’t even bother mentioning what Wendy does for a living or what she wants to do with her life. That’s how hollow her character is, although Reale is one of the better actors in this cast.

Milo and Wendy have met on a dating app called Meet Cute. Viewers first see Milo and Wendy together on their first date at an East Village bar called Lilo’s. Here’s a sample of their conversation: Wendy asks, “What is your baggage?” Milo answers in a sarcastic manner, “I have no baggage. Basically, I tell people I’m just like you, but perfect.”

Milo then says in all seriousness why he has problems keeping a steady relationship: “I create this fantasy version of a person … And a lot of the time, I don’t like the real person as much as the fantasy person.” Milo essentially tells Wendy on this first date that he usually ends his relationships when he becomes disappointed or bored with the person who stops meeting his fantasy expectations.

Most people with some modicum of self-respect wouldn’t want to get involved with someone who’s obviously very emotionally immature. However, Wendy is attracted enough to Milo that she sleeps with him on their first date. Milo is the type of person who says, “Only in New York can you make out with someone in front of a bunch of garbage and it’s still romantic.”

After Milo and Wendy spend the night together, they don’t keep in touch with each other for several weeks. Milo is a little surprised, but his feelings aren’t that hurt since he and Wendy don’t know each other well enough to feel like it’s a total snub. The voiceover narrator explains that Milo and Wendy both moved on and casually dated other people. Viewers find out later that the narrator is a doorman named Cole Navatorre, who works in Milo’s apartment building and ends up giving Milo some advice on Milo’s love life.

And because this is a romantic comedy that’s a cesspool of clichés, it should come as no surprise that Milo and Wendy both have best friends who end up dating each other. Milo’s best friend is an ambitious J.P. Morgan financial analyst named Hank Kadner (played by Brian Muller), while Wendy’s best friend is a fast-talking neurotic named Jessie Katz (played by Catherine Cohen), who has been Wendy’s closest confidante since they were students at Wesleyan University. Whatever Jessie does for a living remains a mystery. This movie seems to have a problem showing women with careers.

Hank and Jessie have their “meet cute” moment when Hank and Milo are at a trendy bar, and Jessie comes over to talk to them. Milo hasn’t seen Wendy in several weeks at this point. Milo spots a model-esque woman named Olivia (played by real-life model Taylor Hill), who’s sitting alone at the bar counter. Even though he hasn’t met Olivia yet, Milo says to Hank and Jessie out loud (with a lot of wishful thinking) that she’s his future wife. Jessie encourages Milo to start talking to this mystery beauty.

Milo gets the courage to approach Olivia. They introduce themselves to each other. The conversation starts off friendly and a little flirtatious, until Olivia mentions that she has a boyfriend. As soon as Milo hears that Olivia is already romantically involved with someone else, he walks away from her while she’s talking. How rude. It’s an example of how Milo thinks he’s a better catch than he really is.

After Milo abruptly cut off his conversation with Olivia, she comes over to where Milo is to scold him for being so disrespectful. It doesn’t phase him too much. What does catch him off guard is finding out that Jessie is Wendy’s best friend. And what do you know, here comes Wendy to walk into Milo’s life again. Wendy is also still single and available, the sparks are still there between Milo and Wendy, and so they pick up where they left off.

Milo soon finds out that Wendy wants a “best friends with benefits” relationship. She even makes a “Best Friends With Benefits” contract that Milo reluctantly signs. Wendy constantly lectures Milo that they’re better off not falling in love with each other because it would ruin their relationship, while Milo wants to leave open the possibility that they can fall in love. In other words, the movie shows very early on which person in this relationship is going to “catch feelings” and fall in love with the other person first.

Hank and Jessie, who have more traditional views of romantic relationships, both think the “Best Friends With Benefits” contract is a bad idea. Hank and Jessie’s romance has a typical trajectory, while Milo and Wendy’s relationship has stops, starts and some arguments in between. Hank and Jessie argue too, but not as often as Milo and Wendy have conflicts. Jessie and Hank are also the type of couple who will make up easily and end their arguments with passionate kissing. Wendy doesn’t believe in showing public displays of affection in a “best friends with benefits” relationship.

“Dating & New York” puts Milo and Hank in scenarios that try to make them look “progressive hipsters,” but it all just looks like contrived crap. For example, there’s a scene where Milo and Hank talk about their love lives while they’re at a spa, getting facials while wearing pink bathrobes and having towels wrapped around their heads. Is that supposed to make them look like feminists? It’s all so phony, because not once are Milo and Hank seen in the movie actually having a conversation with the women in their love lives about the women’s hopes, dreams and life goals, and how they can support each other in those goals.

And since this a romantic comedy with no original ideas, it uses the old cliché of ex-lovers coming into the picture so the new couple at the center of the story will be “tested” by jealousy issues. Milo’s ex-girlfriend is someone whom he calls Katie 7F (played by Sohina Sidhu), because she grew up in Apartment 7F of Milo’s building. Katie has unresolved feelings for Milo.

Wendy’s ex-boyfriend is a weirdo named Bradley (played by Arturo Castro), whom Milo and Wendy see at a plant shop. Bradley is there with his current girlfriend Erica (played by Hallie Samuels), who’s got a ditsy personality. The four of them have an awkward conversation.

And the boring scenarios drag on and on until the movie comes to the most derivative conclusion that anyone can expect. None of the actors in the cast does anything special. Reale has the best comedic timing out of all the cast members, while Young-White is sometimes stiff in his delivery. It doesn’t help that Milo is an obnoxious character who thinks he’s got a better personality than he really does. The supporting characters in the movie are very two-dimensional and trite.

“Dating & New York” has so little originality and is filled with so much annoying dialogue, you can fall alseep or fast forward through the middle of the movie, start watching the last 20 minutes, and still know how everything is going to end. If you can’t get enough of these types of predictable romantic comedies with a concept of “friends with benefits who try to pretend they won’t fall in love with each other,” then you’re better off watching a classic such as “When Harry Met Sally.”

IFC Films released “Dating & New York” in select U.S. cinemas, digital and VOD on September 10, 2021.

Review: ‘It Takes Three’ (2021), starring Jared Gilman, Aurora Perrineau, Mikey Madison and David Gridley

September 20, 2021

by Carla Hay

Jared Gilman and Mikey Madison in “It Takes Three” (Photo courtesy of Gunpowder & Sky)

“It Takes Three” (2021)

Directed by Scott Coffey

Culture Representation: Taking place in an unnamed U.S. city, the romantic comedy “It Takes Three” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with a few African Americans) representing the middle-class.

Culture Clash: At a high school, a nerd and a conceited jock schoolmate both have crushes on the same girl at school, but the nerd keeps his crush a secret and is recruited by the jock to fabricate a romantic online persona that the jock passes off as his own to woo the girl he wants to date.

Culture Audience: “It Takes Three” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in watching formulaic and not-very-funny teen romantic comedies.

Aurora Perrineau and David Gridley in “It Takes Three” (Photo courtesy of Gunpowder & Sky)

Predictable, boring and plagued by amateurish acting, “It Takes Three” is a forgettable mashup of a John Hughes movie and “Cyrano de Bergerac.” There’s an overabundance of teen romantic comedies that have the storyline of a nerdy underdog who has a secret crush on someone who’s seemingly unattainable. The challenge for filmmakers who turn this over-used trope into a movie is to do something uniquely creative with the plot and the characters. Unfortunately, “It Takes Three” comes up short on every single level.

Directed by Scott Coffey and written by Logan Burdick and Blair Mastbaum, “It Takes Three” doesn’t have a single thing about it that hasn’t been done in other teen romantic comedies. Not even the title is original, since there’s at least one other feature film titled “It Takes Three.” In director Coffey’s “It Takes Three,” the movie is so banal and lacking in originality, viewers could watch the first 20 minutes and easily predict what’s going to happen for the rest of the movie.

In the production notes for “It Takes Three,” Coffey makes this statement: “Directing ‘It Takes Three’ grew out of my personal history with teen movies. I was an actor in the John Hughes films ‘Some Kind of Wonderful’ and ‘Ferris Bueller’s Day Off,’ and also had leading roles in ‘Shag’ and ‘Satisfaction.’ These movies were a huge part of my own coming of age as an actor and I wanted ‘It Takes Three’ to harken back to these transformative 1980s teen movies. I wanted to homage these classics and add to their lineage, but at the same time, I wanted to make something fresh and new.”

Actually, there’s nothing fresh and new about “It Takes Three.” The only things that the filmmakers did to try to make this movie look more “modern” than a Hughes movie were to have a lot more explicit discussions of sex and to include today’s technology as a big part of the storyline. But again, other teen romantic comedies have already done those exact same things. The best Hughes movies are considered classics because of the snappy dialogue and because the roles were played by talented cast members. By contrast, “It Takes Three” has witless dialogue and some cast members who need to take more acting lessons because they’re just not believable in their roles.

In “It Takes Three,” protagonist Cy Berger (played by Jared Gilman) is a shy nerd whose only friend is Kat Walker (played by Mikey Madison), who’s a stereotypical wisecracking “sidekick” character in movies of this type. Kat and Cy are students at the same high school in an unnamed U.S. city, where Cy is a social outcast. And yet somehow (it’s never explained in the movie), Cy has gotten a date with a pretty and popular student named Cora (played by Katie Baker), who is as vain about her physical appearance as Cy is insecure about how he looks.

“It Takes Three” opens with a nervous Cy driving to Cora’s house to pick her up for their first date together. Cy predictably drives the type of old, clunky and dirty car that a shallow person like Cora wouldn’t even want to be near. But since this movie is so poorly written, it never tells what led up to this hard-to-believe scenario that Cora wants to go on a date with Cy. Is it a pity date? Did Cy help Cora with her homework and is this her way of thanking him? Did she lose a bet? Don’t expect any answers.

Cy awkwardly compliments Cora by telling her that she looks electrifying. She thinks it’s an odd description of her, so she asks Cy if he’s rolling on molly. (Translation for people who don’t know drug slang: She wants to know if he’s high on Ecstasy.) And if so, Cora tells Cy that she wants some of this drug. Cy tells her that he’s sober and that he’s on a natural high, just by being with her. How did these two obviously mismatched people end up on a date? Right from the start, this movie looks too fake for its own good.

The whole purpose of this phony-looking and very contrived date is so the filmmakers could set up a humiliating experience for Cy. This humiliation serves as the catalyst for the rest of the story. Kat is helping Cy on this date, which takes place at a beach, by arranging to be part of a small marching band (how very un-romantic) perform on the beach during the date. Cy also wants the date to be an opportunity to ask Cora to the school’s upcoming prom.

When Cy asks Cora his big prom date question, she casually tells him no because she wants to have sex on prom night, and Cy just isn’t who she has in mind as a sex partner for her. Cora tells Cy: “I just can’t imagine you going down on me. It’s an important part of my prom fantasy.” Unfortunately for Cy, Cora gave him this rejection right when he was having an erection.

And it’s get worse for Cy: A fellow classmate, who saw Cy and Cora on the beach together, was close enough to use a phone to zoom in and film Cy with this erection during Cora’s rejection. The video was posted online. Of course, the video went viral. And so, the next time that Cy is at school, he is mercilessly teased by many students about it.

What do Cy’s parents have to say about this bullying? They don’t do much about it except to tell Cy that they love him just the way he is. Cy’s parents are two lesbians named Sara (played by Lori Alan) and Jessica (played by Jessica Lorez), who appear briefly in the movie in an early scene where they seem more concerned about talking about their sex life in front of Cy than getting help for their obviously depressed child.

Cy is so insecure about his looks that he wants to have plastic surgery, but his mothers discourage him from this idea. That doesn’t stop Cy from visiting a plastic surgeon’s office by himself for a consultation. In a voiceover, Cy has this to say about why he wants to change his physical appearance: “It doesn’t matter how stupid, lazy and uncultured you are, if you have a pretty face, people just love you.”

One of these “pretty people” whom Cy has resentment toward is the school bully who’s been the cruelest to Cy. His name is Chris Newton (played by David Gridley), a self-centered star athlete who has an obsession with filming himself doing karate and other martial arts, and putting the videos on his social media. Chris is described as one of the most popular classmates at the school. But you can tell this movie was written by adults who are clueless about what today’s young people think is “cool,” because in real life, Chris would be considered a stupid dork in an athlete’s body.

It doesn’t help that Gridley’s acting is among the worst in this subpar movie that has Chris as a one-dimensional dimwit. Gridley’s acting style is way too hammy in this role. Guys who are considered “cool” and “popular” in high school don’t act this ridiculous. Cy is also written in very broad strokes (every conceivable nerd stereotype) and portrayed by an actor whose talent isn’t on the same level as the talent of some of the other cast members.

Cy is still recovering from the embarrassment of his viral video when he meets a new student named Roxy (played by Aurora Perrineau), who establishes a friendly rapport with him. Roxy is a free-thinking feminist who is sort of an outsider herself, since she’s a new student and isn’t as superficial as the popular students in school. It doesn’t take long for Cy to forget all about Cora and instead fixate on Roxy as his ideal dream girl.

But what do you know, Chris ends up being attracted to Roxy too. Cy thinks he won’t have a chance of competing against Chris for Roxy’s affections. And through a series of contrived events, Cy ends up making a deal with Chris to get Chris to stop bullying him: Cy agrees to create an online persona to pretend to be Chris and woo Roxy.

It works too much for Cy’s comfort, because Roxy believes that the romantic and articulate person she’s talking to online is Chris. She has no idea that the person she’s really talking to online is Cy, even though she’s getting to know Cy as a friend. Roxy thinks that maybe Chris isn’t a dumb, conceited jock after all. And she agrees to date him. Cue the scenes where Cy comes up with the words that Chris says on these dates.

The more that Roxy starts to fall for Chris, the more miserable Cy gets, until he begins to wonder what would happen if he told Roxy the truth. “It Takes Three” has cliché after cliché of teen comedies, including a showdown at a prom and a race against time to confess true feelings to a love interest. The filmmakers didn’t even try to do anything different with these stereotypes.

Perrineau’s depiction of Roxy is adequate, but Roxy looks and acts more like Cy’s chaperone than a potential girlfriend because Roxy is so much more emotionally mature than Cy. One of the main problems with “It Takes Three” is that some of the cast members, such as Perrineau and Gridley, do not look believable as high schoolers, because these actors look and act much older than high school students. It’s distracting and an example of bad judgment in this movie’s filmmaking.

And where is Cy’s best friend Kat during all of Cy’s angst? She’s sidelined for most of the movie, but she makes it clear that she disapproves of Cy’s deception in the online persona scam that Cy has with Chris. Kat also thinks that Cy can do better than all the “unattainable” girls he constantly falls for and who end up breaking his heart.

Walker’s portrayal of Kat is one of the few highlights of the film, because she displays comedic timing that’s much better than her castmates. It’s too bad that the Kat character is so underdeveloped. Her biggest scenes are in the beginning and end of the movie.

Other romantic comedies have already done this spin on the “Cyrano de Bergerac” play—most notably 1987’s “Roxanne,” starring Steve Martin and Daryl Hannah. You won’t find anything surprising in “It Takes Three.” Usually, the “nerdy underdog” in the story is supposed to be witty and charming, but the Cy character is dull and whiny. For a better-made teen romantic comedy that uses the “Cyrano de Bergerac” template, watch director Alice Wu’s award-winning 2020 movie “The Half of It.”

Gunpowder & Sky released “It Takes Three” on digital and VOD on September 3, 2021.

Review: ‘Tango Shalom,’ starring Jos Laniado, Lainie Kazan, Renée Taylor, Joseph Bologna, Karina Smirnoff, Judi Beecher and Claudio Laniado

September 15, 2021

by Carla Hay

Jos Laniado and Karina Smirnoff in “Tango Shalom” (Photo courtesy of Vision Films)

“Tango Shalom”

Directed by Gabriel Bologna

Culture Representation: Taking place in New York City, the comedy/drama “Tango Shalom” features a predominantly white Jewish cast of characters (with some African Americans, Indian Americans and Arab Americans) representing the middle-class and working-class.

Culture Clash: A married Hasidic Jewish rabbi, who is experiencing financial problems, enters a televised tango contest with the hope of winning the grand prize, even though it is against his religious beliefs to touch a woman who is not his wife.

Culture Audience: “Tango Shalom” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in predictable movies with subpar acting and two-dimensional stereotypes of religions and ethnic cultures.

Judi Beecher and Jos Laniado in “Tango Shalom” (Photo courtesy of Vision Films)

With not enough dancing and too many bad jokes, “Tango Shalom” is filled with cringeworthy acting and shallow clichés about religions and ethnicities. This movie about a tango contest ultimately devalues the dance rehearsals. Viewers with low standards for family comedies might find something to like about this subpar film. But for people with more sophisticated tastes and for fans of dance-oriented films, “Tango Shalom” disappoints on many levels.

Directed by Gabriel Bologna, “Tango Shalom” has a screenplay co-written by three of the stars of “Tango Shalom”: the late Joseph Bologna (Gabriel’s father), Claudio Laniado and Jos Laniado. Claudio Laniado and Jos Laniado, who are brothers in real life, also portray brothers in the movie. Joseph Bologna died at the age of 82 in 2017, which tells you how long it took for this movie to get released. The Bolognas and the Laniados are also among the producers of “Tango Shalom.”

With all these family members involved in the screenwriting, producing and directing of “Tango Shalom,” it might have hindered any objectivity in seeing how embarrassing this movie makes several of the cast members look. Everything about “Tango Shalom” gives the impression that the film was made in an insular way, with no one having the courage to step up and demand improvements or to hire collaborators who could suggest better ways that this movie could have been made. Even though there are several well-known actors in the “Tango Shalom” cast, it’s easy to see why “Tango Shalom” had problems finding a company to distribute the film.

For starters, the acting is very uneven. The less-experienced actors in the cast say their lines as if they’re in a high school production, not in a movie with professional actors. Better casting decisions should have been made—and that’s ultimately the director’s responsibility. The screenplay has a lot of structural problems. “Tango Shalom” is being marketed as a dance contest movie, but there’s a lot less dancing in the movie than there should be. The scenes for the contest rehearsals are rushed in during the last third of the film.

Instead, for the first two-thirds of this dreadfully repetitive and cornball movie, the protagonist—a married Hasidic Jewish rabbi named Moshe Yehuda (played by Jos Laniado) spends a lot of time worrying about entering the contest in the first place. That’s because it’s against his religious beliefs to touch another woman who’s not his wife. Viewers are expected to believe that this dance contest, which would violate Moshe’s religious beliefs if he touched a female dance partner, is his only option to possibly get some cash quickly.

Moshe lives with his wife and five children in a crowded middle-class home in the Crown Heights neighborhood of New York City’s Brooklyn borough. He wants to enter the tango contest because he’s having financial difficulties: The Hasidic school that he owns and operates is close to being evicted for non-payment of rent. Moshe has been using his personal savings to keep the school afloat, but he might have to declare personal bankruptcy if he doesn’t come up with the cash to pay off his debts. He has already maxed out his credit lines and can’t get any bank loans.

Moshe’s homemaker wife Raquel Yehuda (played by Judi Beecher) is the only person in the family who knows about these money problems. Moshe and Raquel have a good marriage overall—the movie makes a point of showing more than once that the couple’s sex life is still active—but the financial stress has caused some strain in Moshe and Raquel’s relationship. There was some trust broken because Moshe hid some of these financial problems from Raquel until he could no longer keep these problems a secret from her.

As is typical for a movie about a big family, there’s plenty of bickering among the family members. Expect to see arguments around the dining table. Moshe and Raquel’s kids are computer nerd Shlomi Yehuda (played by Nicholas Foti), who’s about 16 years old and who constantly spouts statistics and financal numbers; tomboy Shira (played by Justine Laniado), who’s about 14 years old and a huge baseball fan; Esther Yehuda (played by Samantha Rodino), who’s about 10 years old; Rifka Yehuda (played by Emma Argenziano), who’s about 7 years old; and Yeheskel Yehuda (played by Luigi Ferrara), who’s about 6 years old.

And (cliché alert) there’s always at least one high-strung, “no filter” grandparent (usually a grandmother) who ends up causing drama. In “Tango Shalom,” it’s Yoshe’s widowed mother Deborah Yehuda (played by Renée Taylor), who is prone to having crying tantrums when things don’t go her way. This movie has a lot of melodramatic acting that’s just plain awful.

Moshe has a somewhat flaky younger brother named Rahamim Yehuda (played by Claudio Laniado), who’s the type of person who always seems to be looking for his next big “get rich quick” scheme. Near the beginning of the movie, Rahamim is whining to Moshe about losing so much money in a recent financial investment that Rahamim can’t afford to pay for his upcoming wedding to his fiancée Marina Zlotkin (played by Marci Fine), who is very high-maintenance and wants a dream wedding. Marina has has a meddling mother named Leah Zlotkin (played by Lainie Kazan), who is a seamstress and very judgmental of other people.

Rahamim asks Moshe to borrow money for Rahamim and Marina’s wedding, but Moshe stalls on giving his brother an answer because Moshe is too proud to admit that he’s broke. There’s a contrived sequence of Moshe trying to look for another job to make some money. Because of his orthodox religious beliefs and his lack of work experience in anything not related to his religion, he finds out that he’s not suited for a lot of secular jobs.

However, he manages to get a low-paying job where he would have to do some physical labor, so the employer requires that Moshe take a physical exam. And what do you know, the doctor who’s doing the exam is a woman. Moshe is so horrified, he hides in the closet of the doctor’s office and eventually runs away from the office, without even telling the job that he won’t be working there after all.

Moshe (who has some limited experience in Hora dancing) then finds out about a TV contest called “Tango America” and that the grand prize would solve his financial problems. By chance, he observes a popular local instructor named Viviana Nieves (played by Karina Smirnoff) giving tango instructions. She has the type of open dance studio where people can look in the windows to see Viviana giving dance lessons to her students.

It doesn’t take long for Moshe to decide that Viviana will be his tango instructor. But what does take long is for Moshe and Viviana to get around to actually rehearsing together. He tells her up front that his religious beliefs forbid him from touching her. She’s skeptical of taking him on as a student, but she wants to enter the “Tango America” contest for personal reasons.

One of the reasons is for revenge: Two of the “Tango America” contestants are her ex-boyfriend Jose Hernandez (played by Jordi Caballero) and her former best friend Ana Parda (played by Mayte Vicens), who both betrayed Viviana. Jose recently dumped Viviana because he was cheating on Viviana with Ana. The other reason why Viviana wants to enter the contest is because she’s a widowed mother to an underage daughter who has multiple sclerosis, and Viviana needs money for experimental medical treatments that her health insurance won’t cover.

Moshe’s wife Raquel disapproves of this idea of Moshe entering a tango contest. She thinks he’s having a “spiritual crisis.” And so, Moshe consults with clergy from various religions to get their advice on whether or not he would be doing the right thing to enter the contest. It’s a very long stretch of the movie that’s dragged out to annoying levels, as if the filmmakers almost forgot that “Tango Shalom” is supposed to be a dance movie.

Moshe walks through Brooklyn and Manhattan in search of clergy who will advise him. He meets with his Grand Rabbi Menahem (played by Bern Cohen), who doesn’t encourage Moshe to enter the contest but says that Moshe should study the Torah for the answers. Moshe also consults with a Catholic priest named Father Anthony (played by Joseph Bologna); a Muslim clergyman named Imam Ahmed (played by Yasir Sitara); and a Hindu mystic named Ravi Prajna (played by Hamza Zaman).

All of the clergymen are polite and respectful, even if their dialogue is trite. Ravi Prajna says, “Big problems can be such big fun!” Moshe asks, “Why?” Ravi Prajna answers, “Because they lead to solutions.” Ravi Prajna is actually the one to come up with the solution idea that Moshe uses to become Viviana’s tango partner.

During one of these treks through the city, Moshe walks past a group of young African Americans standing on a street corner and listening to hip-hop. In a very racially condescending scene, Moshe looks intimidated just being in close proximity to African Americans, which makes him look like he forgot that he lives in Brooklyn, where a lot of African Americans live. But since “Tango Shalom” is such a corny and unrealistic movie, take a wild guess if this rabbi is going to learn some hip-hop moves from this group of black people he’s never met before.

There’s also a silly subplot of Moshe being spied on by certain rabbis and other members of of his synagogue, who are sure that Moshe will be “tempted” to commit some type of infidelity with Viviana. In real life, Smirnoff is famous for her long stint as a professional dancer on “Dancing With the Stars,” but her dancing talents are under-used in this film, which has an irritating tendency of having too much quick-cut editing in the dance scenes.

There are so many unnecessary and exasperating edits in Smirnoff’s dancing scenes, viewers will get the impression that a dancer double was used, even though Smirnoff is more than capable of doing her own dancing. In the rehearsal scenes, the movie offers very little to viewers in showing the art of tango dancing because of the gimmick solution that Moshe uses to avoid touching his tango partner. The slapstick comedy in the film is awkward and very phony-looking.

Imagine watching an episode of a dance contest on TV, and more than two-thirds of the episode was time-wasting filler of the contestants fretting about whether or not they should be in the contest. Throw in some argumentative family members, a hodgepodge of clergy and clumsily handled religious stereotypes used as punchlines—and you have an idea of what watching “Tango Shalom” is like. The scenes showing actual dancing are treated almost like an afterthought because “Tango Shalom” is too caught up in serving up stale comedy that’s as fake as the rabbi disguise that Viviana wears in the movie.

Vision Films released “Tango Shalom” in select U.S. cinemas on September 3, 2021.

Review: ‘Queenpins,’ starring Kristen Bell and Kirby Howell-Baptiste, Paul Walter Hauser, Bebe Rexha and Vince Vaughn

September 8, 2021

by Carla Hay

Kirby Howell-Baptiste and Kristen Bell in “Queenpins” (Photo courtesy of STX)

“Queenpins”

Directed by Aron Gaudet and Gita Pullapilly

Culture Representation: Taking place in the Southwest region of the United States and in Chihuahua, Mexico, the comedy film “Queenpins” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with some black people and Latinos) representing the working-class and middle-class

Culture Clash: A neglected housewife and her best friend team up for a coupon-stealing scam that could make them millions of dollars.

Culture Audience: “Queenpins” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of star Kristen Bell and anyone who likes cliché-filled comedies.

Paul Walter Hauser and Vince Vaughn in “Queenpins” (Photo courtesy STX)

“Queenpins” could have been a hilarious satire of coupon culture, but this boring and unimaginative comedy fizzles at the halfway mark and never recovers. Kristen Bell is usually the best thing about any of the bad movies she’s in, but in “Queenpins,” she just seems to be going through the motions. This movie has several talented stars but they’re stuck portraying two-dimensional characters and are forced to say a lot of cringeworthy dialogue that isn’t very funny.

Written and directed by husband-and-wife duo Aron Gaudet and Gita Pullapilly, “Queenpins” hits all the cliché beats of comedies about ordinary people who decide to rob the rich in order to fight back at an unfair system. The movie is inspired by true events. In “Queenpins,” the thieves are unhappily married homemaker Connie Kaminski (played by Bell) and unemployed YouTube personality Joanna “JoJo” Johnson (played by Kirby Howell-Baptiste), who are best friends and next-door neighbors in Phoenix. Connie and JoJo are in debt and are tired of being broke.

Within six months, Connie and JoJo end up making $5 million in a scam of stealing coupons from a coupon redemption company called Advanced Solutions and then reselling the coupons. Because they’re committing fraud against major corporations, Connie and JoJo think of themselves as modern-day Robin Hoods—except they don’t really give any of their misbegotten fortune to poor people. They end up keeping the $5 million for themselves. And then, they panic because they think they should launder the money. And so, Connie and JoJo get mixed up in illegal gun deals and other shenanigans.

This scam was all Connie’s idea. She’s become a coupon addict, ever since she had a miscarriage of a baby girl. Connie is using her coupon addiction to cope with her grief. Connie’s aloof husband Rick Kaminski (played by Joel McHale) is a senior audit specialist for the Internal Revenue Service. The couple had been trying to start a family through in vitro fertilization treatments, which have left Connie and Rick more than $71,000 in debt.

Connie and Rick’s arguments with each other are mostly about money. Because of Connie’s coupon-using obsession, she has overstocked their home with products that they don’t need. After the miscarriage, Rick decided to take on more traveling responsibilities in his job, so he’s away from home for about three weeks out of any given month.

JoJo lives with her cranky mother Josephine Johnson (played by Greta Oglesby), also known as Mama Josie, who’s gotten tired of supporting her jobless daughter. JoJo has been trying and failing to become a beauty-product guru on YouTube. And she’s heavily in debt because she was the victim of identity theft, which ruined her credit. At first, JoJo is very reluctant to get involved in Connie’s plans to commit coupon fraud, but Connie convinces JoJo that they probably won’t get caught.

During their coupon-theft scheme, Connie and JoJo predictably come across a series of “wacky characters” and the inevitable people who try to bust these coupon scammers. The first authority figure who gets suspicious of this fraud is uptight but dimwitted Ken Miller (played by Paul Walter Hauser), a loss protection manager for the Southwest region of a supermarket chain called A&G. He’s eventually joined by gruff-mannered Simon Kilmurry (played by Vince Vaughn), a U.S. Postal Service inspector. Ken and Simon both have huge egos and inevitably clash over who should be in charge of the investigation.

“Queenpins” has a talented cast, but the problem is in the dull screenplay and hackneyed direction. Connie and JoJo have believable chemistry together as friends, but the supporting characters just come in and out of the story like disconnected pieces of a puzzle. Bebe Rexha plays a bustier-wearing, cynical ex-friend of Connie’s named Tempe Tina, who is a con artist/computer hacker extraordinaire who dresses in all-black clothing. Connie and JoJo go to Tina for advice on how to be successful criminals.

“Queenpins” attempts to make jokes about race relations that end up falling flat. JoJo’s mother constantly has to point out what she sees as differences between white people and black people. Mama Josie has a fear of JoJo losing her “blackness” by hanging out too much with white people like Connie and having the same interests that Connie has. Mama Josie’s mindset is racist, but it’s somehow supposed to be excused and thought of as humorous in this movie. This attitude becomes annoying after a while.

And when Connie and JoJo go to Chihuahua, Mexico, they recruit a married Mexican couple named Alejandro (played by Francisco J. Rodriguez) and Rosa (played by Ilia Isorelýs Paulinoa), who work at Advanced Solutions’ biggest factory. Alejandro and Rosa are enlisted to steal the boxes of coupons that end up making about $5 million for Connie and JoJo. When Connie and JoJo first meet Alejandro and Rosa, they follow the couple by car when they see Alejandro and Rosa outside of the factory.

Alejandro and Rosa mistakenly think that Connie and JoJo want to rob them, so the couple almost physically assaults the two pals, until Connie and JoJo explain that they want to hire Alejandro and Rosa for this theft. Rosa explains why she and her husband were so quick to attack: “You never follow people in Mexico,” thereby stereotyping Mexico as a dangerous place all the time.

The movie makes a very weak attempt at social commentary about labor exploitation and how American companies outsource jobs to other countries for cheaper labor. But those ideas are left by the wayside, as the movie follows a very over-used formula of amateur criminals (Connie and JoJo) who make things worse for themselves. As an example of how “Queenpins” brings up and then abandons labor exploitation issues, Connie and JoJo are shocked that Alejandro and Rosa each make a factory salary of only $2 an hour, but then Connie and JoJo continue with their selfish and greedy plans.

Viewers won’t have much sympathy for Connie and JoJo because they make so many dumb mistakes. As a way to sell their stolen coupons, Connie and JoJo create a website, which is not on the Dark Web, called Savvy Super Saver. JoJo also peddles the coupons on her YouTube channel, thereby making it very easy to identify her as one of the culprits.

“Queenpins” is told mainly from Connie’s perspective, because she is the one who does the movie’s voiceover narration. Connie has an unusual history as a three-time Olympic gold medalist in race walking, but that background is barely explored in the movie. Instead, Connie says a lot of uninteresting things in her bland dialogue.

Of her Olympic experiences, she comments: “You know what that’s worth in the real world? Nothing!” She has this personal motto on saving money in her coupon fixation: “Watch the pennies, and the dollars will take care of themselves.” And when Connie decides to become a criminal, she explains her justification to JoJo this way: “You know who gets rewarded? People who don’t follow the rules. It’s time we start bending them a little!”

Among the other irritating aspects of “Queenpins” are the overly intrusive sitcom-ish musical score and soundtrack choices. When Connie struts into a business meeting with the fake persona of being a powerhouse entrepreneur, she wears a snug-fitting blue dress and blue blazer, while the movie’s soundtrack blares Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels’ 1967 hit “Devil With a Blue Dress On.” It’s just too “on the nose” and corny, just like the majority of this movie. There’s a gross (but not too explicit) defecation scene involving Ken, after he talks about his food habits and defecation routine, which seems like a lazy and cheap shot at someone who’s plus-sized.

Some of the other supporting characters in “Queenpins” include postal carrier Earl (played by Dayo Okeniyi), who has a crush on JoJo and becomes her obvious love interest; Greg Garcia (played by Eduardo Franco), a jaded cashier at the A&G store where Connie does her grocery shopping; a coupon buyer named Crystal (played by Annie Mumolo), who reports her suspicions about JoJo; and Agent Park (played by Jack McBrayer), one of the law enforcement agents involved in a sting to capture Connie and JoJo.

“Queenpins” has all the characteristics of a substandard TV comedy, which means it’s certainly not worth the price of a movie ticket. People who are very bored, have low standards, or are die-hard fans of any of the “Queenpins” headliners might get some enjoyment out of this film. At one point in the movie, Bell’s Connie character says, “You may be asking yourself, ‘Who won and who lost in all of this?’ I guess that’s really for you to decide.” If you don’t want to lose or waste any time on silly comedies that don’t do anything original, then you can decide to skip “Queenpins.”

STX will release “Queenpins” in select U.S. cinemas (exclusively in Cinemark theaters) on September 10, 2021. Paramount+ will premiere “Queenpins” on September 30, 2021.

Review: ‘Rare Beasts,’ starring Billie Piper, Lily James and David Thewlis

September 4, 2021

by Carla Hay

Jolyon Coy, Leo Bill and Billie Piper in “Rare Beasts” (Photo courtesy of Brainstorm Media)

“Rare Beasts”

Directed by Billie Piper

Culture Representation: Taking place in London and in the Spanish city of Girona, the dark comedy film “Rare Beasts” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with a few black people) representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: A single mother in London navigates her way through the dating scene and family relationships with cynicism and hope. 

Culture Audience: “Rare Beasts” will appeal primarily to people who can tolerate foul-mouthed and offbeat comedy about love and romance.

Toby Woolf and Billie Piper in “Rare Beasts” (Photo courtesy of Brainstorm Media)

“Rare Beasts” tries a little too hard to be the opposite of a typical romantic comedy, but its brazen and often-vulgar attempts at being original end up working well for the story, more often than not. The movie is a memorable showcase for Billie Piper, who is the writer, director and star of “Rare Beasts,” which offers a deeply jaded and brash take on love, dating and family relationships. The tone and language of the movie can be very off-putting to people who want safer and more conventional romantic comedies. But for viewers who are a little more adventurous and who don’t mind watching very unhappy people trying to find love any way that they can (even if the love is all wrong for them), then “Rare Beasts” is a deliberately squirm-inducing ride.

In “Rare Beasts” (which is Piper’s feature-film directorial debut), Piper obliterates the notion that comedic heroines who are looking for love have to be perky and plucky people-pleasers. Piper’s Mandy character, who lives in London, is depressive and often rude. Mandy vacillates between wanting to be independent and wanting to admit she’s looking for a man help her feel more fulfilled. She doesn’t think that “feminism” is a dirty word, but she also thinks that feminism shouldn’t mean that men and women don’t need each other.

Mandy is a single mother to a son named Larch (played by Toby Woolf), who’s about 6 or 7 years old. He’s an eccentric loner child with some emotional issues because he’s prone to randomly throw temper tantrums. The movie infers that Larch is somewhere on the autistic spectrum. Mandy adores Larch, but because she’s not a typical rom-com single mother, she sometimes acts as if she’s embarrassed or burdened by being a single mother because her parental responsibilities can get in the way of her love life. Larch’s father (who is shown briefly later in the movie) is an ex-lover who is not involved in raising Larch because Mandy never told this man that Larch is his son.

The opening scene of “Rare Beasts” sets the tone of what type of movie it is, because almost all the adult main characters in the movie are so forthright with their crassness. Some might call it “brutal honesty,” while others might call it “diarrhea of the mouth.” In this opening scene, Mandy is on a first date with a bespectacled misogynist named Pete (played by Leo Bill), who reveals a lot of his insecurities while Pete and Mandy (who are both in their late 30s) have dinner at a restaurant.

Pete begins his rant by saying, “I find women, in the main, intolerable. But I realize that I can’t live without them. My parents—it’s hard to find a love like that.” Viewers later find out that Pete’s parents have been married for about 45 years. Pete and his family have very conservative and traditional views of love and marriage, including believing that the man should always be the dominant partner in heterosexual relationships.

Right from the start, viewers know that Pete and Mandy will be a mismatch for each other. Pete mentions that he’s very religious, while Mandy says that she’s an atheist. Mandy also tells him on this first date: “In the spirit of honesty, Pete, you should know I give really bad blowjobs.” Then they talk about the use of teeth and gums during oral sex. Mandy says sarcastically, “Do you want teeth by day, gums by night?”

Pete then complains about modern, assertive women by saying, “You’ve got more testosterone running in your veins than blood!” Mandy is alarmed (or is amused?) by Pete’s blantant sexism and replies, “You’re going to rape me, aren’t you? Those are classic rapist remarks.”

The date ends shortly after this thorny conversation. While waiting for a taxi outside the restaurant, Mandy vomits on the street. Even though this date is a disaster, Pete says to Mandy: “You’ll marry me in a year.”

And just as you might expect in a comedy that aims to upend people’s assumptions, Mandy and Pete begin dating each other. And how’s this for potentially messy? Pete and Mandy work together. They’re both screenwriters for an unnamed TV series.

Viewers might be asking themselves, “What are these two people thinking by going into a train-wreck relationship? Are Mandy and Pete that lonely and desperate?” As the unlikely romance between Mandy and Pete continues, the answer is: “Yes, people can make bad relationship choices when they’re lonely and desperate.” You don’t need a movie to show it, because there are many examples of it in real life.

Essentially, Pete is up front from the start that he’s on the hunt for a dutiful wife. Mandy has gotten tired of being a single parent and wonders if her son would be better off if he had a father figure to help Mandy in raising Larch. Mandy and Pete both came along in each other’s lives when they felt they didn’t have any better options for a love partner. And now they’re in a relationship that could lead to marriage. Pete and Mandy predictably argue, because their core values are so fundamentally different from each other.

There are other big reasons why Mandy is in this relationship with Pete, but she doesn’t say it out loud. However, it’s all on display in the movie. First, her mother Marion (played by Kerry Fox), who’s a bitter, chain-smoking divorcée, lives with Mandy and Larch in a very cramped house. It’s obvious from Mandy and Marion’s interactions with each other that they have a love/hate relationship. Mandy is probably thinking that getting married would be the perfect reason to force her mother to live elsewhere, without Mandy being the “villain” to kick her mother out of the house.

Secondly, Mandy is unhappy in her job, which is a male-dominated company called Woo Productions. The details of the TV show she writes for are never really made clear in this movie. But based on conversations, it’s a TV show about women, and it has a mostly female audience. However, the people who run the show are men.

It’s implied that Pete makes a lot more money than Mandy in this job, although they both seem to have the same or similar job titles and duties. It’s probably gone through Mandy’s head more than a few times how she can afford to leave this job that she hates when she is the only breadwinner for her household. (Mandy’s mother Marion is retired. )The fact of the matter is that many people consider a partner’s income as one of many important reasons to get married to that person. Pretending that people don’t think this way is like living in a fantasy world.

Mandy’s boss is a sexist American named Leonardo (played by Trevor White), who gives this type of critique about how she writes screenplays: “Nobody wants to read about miserable women, because they don’t exist.” He also scolds and warns Mandy by saying that she could be close to getting fired: “No more late arrivals, no more sad women, no more miserable conduct.” Meanwhile, it’s shown that Pete can be late for a staff meeting, and he doesn’t get reprimanded by the boss.

In staff meetings, Mandy and her few female co-workers are frequently talked over and treated dismissively by their male co-workers, who think they know better than the women about how women think, feel and act. The disagreements sometimes spill over into arguments between the men and women, but since they all have a sexist male boss at this company, it’s easy to know whose side he takes in these arguments. In real life, Piper has been a star and an executive producer for the female-oriented TV series “The Secret Diary of a Call Girl” (which was on the air from 2007 to 2011) and “I Hate Suzie” (which debuted in 2020), so she knows more than a few things about the gender dynamics of TV creatives behind the scenes.

Underneath the crude conversations that many of the characters have in the movie is some snarky social commentary about women’s self-esteem and how—like it or not—many people in society place a woman’s worth on her marital status or who she’s dating. Mandy’s mother Marion is the type of outspoken, “no filter” person to blurt out to Mandy when they talk about their sex lives: “I’ve never used a condom!” Mandy’s sarcastic reply: “You should probably get tested.” And yet, Marion is still treated like a selfish homewrecker by her ex-husband Vic (played by David Thewlis) because Marion wanted to end their miserable marriage. Vic is an alcoholic who cheated on Marion when they were married.

During parts of the movie, Vic (who lives alone) tries to convince Marion to move back in with him, even though their marriage has been over for six years. Vic alternately tries to put Marion on a guilt trip and gives her phony flattery, by saying that living with him again is the least she can to do help him live longer because she’s better at certain domestic duties (such as cooking and cleaning) than he is. He even goes as far to suggest to Marion that it’s not a good look to be a woman of a certain age who isn’t living with a man. It’s pathetic emotional manipulation that doesn’t work. Marion and Mandy might not always have the best relationship, but they both agree that Vic is too toxic to really trust.

During the course of the movie, there are some “Greek chorus” type scenes of female passersby on the street who chant self-affirming mantras out loud, as if Mandy (and the viewers by extension) can hear their thoughts. It’s the movie’s way of saying that everyday people are wracked with insecurities, but women have to work harder to overcome self-doubt because men are more likely than women to be rewarded for being confident. Later in the movie, during a pivotal scene, Mandy has a soul-baring monologue on the street, and several female strangers congregate and react to what Mandy says.

“Rare Beasts” pokes fun at two rom-com clichés involving a couple who’s dating: the “meet the parents/family” scenario and the “guests at a wedding” scenario. Mandy meets Pete’s family (his parents and three sisters) over a predictably awkward dinner at the parents’ house. During this dinner, one of Pete’s secrets is revealed, and he shows a very nasty side to himself when he lashes out in anger. This scene also re-affirms that Mandy would not fit in well with this very religious and conservative family.

The wedding scene, which takes place in Spain, is more amusing. Pete’s family is a friend of the bride. The bride Cressida (played by Lily James) and the groom Woody (played by Jolyon Coy) are a blissfully happy but shallow couple. (James shares top billing in “Rare Beasts,” but she’s only in the movie for less than 10 minutes.) When Woody is introduced to Pete, Woody says to Mandy, “I hope his penis is as big as his heart!” Meanwhile, Cressida is preoccupied with how the wedding photos will look, and she describes her relationship with Woody as “our brand.”

In contrast to Cressida and Woody’s happiness, Mandy and Pete end up arguing when Pete finds out that Larch’s father Matthew (played by Ben Dilloway) is at the wedding too. It’s a sheer coincidence that Matthew is there. (It’s a big wedding and stranger coincidences have happened in real life.) And even though Matthew is not in Mandy’s and Larch’s lives, Pete (who likes to be the “alpha male”) still feels threatened when he sees that Matthew is better-looking and more self-assured than Pete is.

As unlikable as Pete can be, Mandy is no angel either. She likes to do cocaine at parties. She sometimes acts like she wishes she didn’t have the responsibility of parenthood. (But she’s never cruel to Larch.) And she can be a bit of a whiner who feels very jealous of others when she thinks their lives are going better than hers.

Piper’s directing style for “Rare Beasts” is to present a world where politeness isn’t really considered a virtue. People just regurgitate whatever is on their minds without thinking too much about hurting other people’s feelings or embarrassing themselves. (A perfect example is the scene where Mandy and Pete have sex with each other for the first time.) The tone is snappy, and some of the jokes don’t land very well, but viewers will get the sense that this movie was made by people who are fed up with boring rom-com tropes.

None of the adult characters in this movie has a “cute personality,” even though having a “cute personality” is an expected cliché in a romantic comedy. Piper and the movie’s other principal actors commit to all the unpleasant personality traits of their “Rare Beasts” characters. It’s a consistency that should be admired under Piper’s direction, when too often filmmakers might cave in to pressure to create more “likable” characters in order to make a romantic comedy appealing to the masses.

However, “Rare Beasts” is not a heartless film. Even in this crude and tactless world of “Rare Beasts,” people still want to be loved and respected. Some of them, such as Mandy and Pete, have terrible ways of going about it. The people who will dislike “Rare Beasts” the most will probably be those who expect British romantic comedies to be a certain way that isn’t delivered in this movie. This a very British film, to be sure, but it’s the equivalent of a cup of tea served with a lot of pepper and vinegar.

Brainstorm Media released “Rare Beasts” in select U.S. cinemas, on digital and VOD on August 20, 2021. The movie was released in the United Kingdom on May 21, 2021.