Review: ‘RK/RKAY,’ starring Rajat Kapoor, Mallika Sherawat, Kubbra Sait, Ranvir Shorey, Manu Rishi Chadha and Chandrachoor Rai

July 26, 2021

by Carla Hay

Rajat Kapoor in “RK/RKAY” (Photo courtesy of Outsider Pictures)

“RK/RKAY”

Directed by Rajat Kapoor

Hindi and English with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place primarily in an unnamed city in India, the comedy film “RK/RKAY” features an all-Indian cast of characters representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: After killing off the hero character in his most recent film, an independent filmmaker is frustrated and alarmed when the hero character takes on human form and infiltrates the filmmaker’s life to protest his on-screen death.

Culture Audience: “RK/RKAY” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of Indian cinema that takes a satirical look at the art of filmmaking.

Mallika Sherawat in “RK/RKAY” (Photo courtesy of Outsider Pictures)

Although it can get a little too repetitive, the comedy film “RK/RKAY” offers a mostly breezy film-within-a-film story that parodies the cliché of “bringing a character to life.” This low-budget, independent Indian film can be considered a viable alternative to people who want to see something other than a typical Bollywood formula. Underneath the comedic antics is an effective portrait of someone going through a mid-life crisis who is afraid of becoming so irrelevant to everyone around him that he will eventually be “erased.”

Rajat Kapoor, a longtime independent filmmaker, is the writer, director and star of “RK/RKAY,” which was financed mainly through crowdfunding, after Kapoor got tired of getting rejections from potential investors to make this movie. In “RK/RKAY,” Kapoor plays two roles: (1) an independent filmmaker named RK, who has just starred in his recently completed movie (whose name is never revealed in “RK/RKAY”) that he wrote and directed and (2) Mahboob Alam, the hero character of RK’s movie.

The Mahboob character is a protagonist in a “Pink Panther”-type of comedic thriller movie that is set in the 1960s. Mahboob, who is 45 years old, has a moustache that’s very much like the type that Peter Sellers’ bumbling Inspector Clouseau character had in the “Pink Panther” films. By contrast, RK is clean-shaven and wears glasses.

RK thinks of himself as a suave intellectual, while Mahboob was created to be somewhat of a goofy character. RK writes and directs all of his films, so he’s very adamant about protecting his “artistic integrity.” RK gives the impression that he won’t take other people’s advice if they think something should be changed about his movies before the movies are completed.

To fully appreciate “RK/RKAY,” you should have a tolerance for very “meta” films. Anyone who gets easily confused by movie-within-a-movie films that are a wink and a nod to the filmmakers’ real-life experiences probably won’t enjoy “RK/RKAY” very much. The movie is a madcap whirlwind that taps into a nightmarish fear that some screenwriters might have but rarely dare to put into their work: What if a character created by the screenwriter became more popular than the writer?

In “RK/RKAY,” that fear becomes a reality for RK, whose has recently finished filming a movie where the hero Mahboob dies at the end because Mahboob was killed by the villain. RK is proud of the fact that he completed the film ahead of schedule (it was done in 36 days on a 40-day production schedule) and under budget. Toward the end of the film shoot, RK and the crew celebrated his birthday.

The film’s producer Goel Sahab (played by Manu Rishi Chadha) is fairly new to the movie industry. Goel’s main way to make money has been in the construction business. Goel expresses concerns to RK that the hero dies at the end of the movie. Goel asks RK later, “If the hero can’t stay in the film, why would the audience stay?”

Goel is also worried about the movie being in two languages (Hindi and English), because Goel thinks it will be too confusing to the “common man.” RK listen to Goel’s fears and assures this new film producer that he knows what he’s doing because he’s been making movies for years. But the issue about Mahboob getting killed will soon be a problem that no one involved in this movie can ignore.

As RK begins the stressful process of overseeing the film’s editing, in order to make the movie’s October 15 release, his workaholic ways seem to have taken a toll on his personal life. RK’s wife Seema (played by Kubbra Sait) and their son Vivan (played by Abishek Sharrma), who’s about 7 years old, were on the film set to visit RK on his birthday and were also at the on-set birthday party that the film crew had for RK.

The family members seemed to have a good time at the party. But on the ride back home that night, Seema and Vivan are emotionally distant from RK. Vivan tells RK that he doesn’t want to ever want to come back to the film set. RK accepts that decision. And later, when RK and Seema are getting ready to bed, she makes it clear that RK won’t be getting an intimate love for his birthday.

“Be nice,” RKAY says, “It’s my birthday.” Seema coldly replies, since it’s after midnight, “Your birthday’s over now. Why do you want to make this film?” RK responds, “I don’t know.” Seema than says with not much emotion, “Happy birthday.”

The iciness between RK and Seema seems to thaw somewhat when they have lunch together at a cafe, but RK has to cut the lunch short when he gets an emergency call from production assistant Namit (played Chandrachoor Rai), who is in a panic. All of the filmed footage with Mahboob is now missing. RK rushes to the editing room to find out what happened.

When he gets to the editing room, the film editor (played by Anhjeeet Deshpande) and producer Goel both confirm that the footage is missing. And members of the film crew also report something bizarre: Mahboob was seen as a real person leaving the film set. The movie shows that Mahboob hailed a taxi to go to a train station.

When Mahboob got to the train station, he couldn’t board it because the ticket he has is fake, because it was a ticket invented by RK. A dejected Mahboob stays at the train station until Namit tracks him down. It’s here that Mahboob reveals why he came to life and wanted to run away: Mahboob objects to being killed off in the movie, and he won’t come back to the film set until RK agrees to reshoot the film so that Mahboob can live.

The rest of the movie shows how Mahboob infiltrates RK’s life as a way to protest being killed off in the movie. Mahboob shows up at RK’s home and quickly endears himself to Mahboob’s wife Seema, son Vivan and daughter Rabia (played by Grace Girdhar), who’s about 9 years old. Mahboob cooks meals for the family, and predictably, RK starts to feel like an outsider.

Meanwhile, Mahboob charms producer Goel and other members of the film crew. It doesn’t take long for Mahboob to convince people to be on his side. And so, people involved in making the film try to persuade RK not to kill off the Mahboob character. Mahboob becomes more popular than RK with RK’s family and co-workers. And naturally, this doesn’t sit too well with RK, who feels very disrespected.

One day, when Mahboob is at RK’s house, RK tries to exert some of the power that he feels slipping away. RK shouts at Mahboob: “I gave birth to you!” Mahboob replies in a bid for sympathy: “I;m your child!” Soon after, RK mutters to Seema about himself: “What a failure you must be if even the characters you write don’t listen to you.”

Further complicating matters, in RK’s movie, Mahboob owed money to a crime lord named KN Singh (played by Ranvir Shorey), who is the movie’s chief villain. Shorey also has the role of the actor named Ranvir, who plays KN Singh in RK’s thriller movie. Because Mahboob has gone “missing” from the movie, KN Singh comes to life and goes on a manhunt to find Mahboob in the real world. “RK/RKAY” gets a little messy at this point, but RK has a devious motive for wanting Mahboob killed in the real world: RK doesn’t want to change the ending of his movie.

Will Mahboob die or survive? Will RK get the ending he wants? That question is answered in the movie, where the last 10 seconds of the film will reveal what really happened to conclude this story. It’s a plot twist that’s an example of how viewers need to see an entire movie in order to make a fully informed judgment about it.

Because “RK/RKAY” revolves around the RK and Mahboob characters played by Kapoor, much of the movie’s appeal has to do with his knack for making these two look-alike characters very distinct from each other. The other cast members are perfectly adequate in their roles, but Shorey’s performance as the villain KN Singh is a little too hammy and might annoy some viewers.

“RK/RKAY” is not a perfect movie. One of its biggest flaws is how underdevloped the female characters are There are only two women with significant speaking roles (both supporting roles), and they’re both sidelined as love interests who show only three types of emotions: angry, worried or loving. The aforementioned Sait, who portrays RK’s wife Seema, is one of the supporting female characters.

Mallika Sherawat has two roles: She plays Mahboob’s love interest Gulabo and the temperamental actress Neha, who plays Gulabo in RK’s movie. Gulabo is meek and passive and is mostly seen pining over Mahboob while she’s alone in her bedroom. It’s a very uninteresting, stereotypical role.

Neha has an opposite personality: She’s bossy and ill-tempered, but also presented in a shallow way. When Neha is on the set, and production assistant Namit reads her lines, she yells at him: “What’s wrong with you, asshole? You can’t even read from the script?”

Later, after the film shoot ends for the day, and Neha is ready to leave, she sees Namit and some other film crew members outside and says she’s sorry for the rude way that she talked earlier. Before she gets into her chauffeur-driven car, she tells the crew members that she’ll star their movie if they ever get the chance to make their own film. After Neha leaves, Namit jokes that the movie would be called “Death of a Witch.”

The scene with Neha acting like a diva from hell takes place near the beginning of “RK/RKAY.” But then, the character of Neha is never really given any significant screen time as herself again. (Her screen time playing lovesick Gulabo doesn’t count.) It will just make viewers wonder if other scenes with Neha were cut out of the film, because a character arc seems to have been introduced for Neha, but then is inexplicably left hanging.

“RK/RKAY” is definitely a movie where the men get the best dialogue and the most character development. As a comedy, it’s got some pacing and editing problems, with some parts of the film very manic, while others parts of the film repeating Mahboob’s presence in RK’s home until it becomes a bit monotonous. “RK/RKAY” is very much like being on a merry-go-round of meta filmmaking. Some people will want to get off of the ride, while others will want to stay and get as much enjoyment out of it as possible.

Outsider Pictures released “RK/RKAY” in select U.S. cinemas on May 14, 2021.

Review: ‘Mama Weed,’ starring Isabelle Huppert

July 25, 2021

by Carla Hay

Kamel Guenfoud, Isabelle Huppert and Youssef Sahraoui in “Mama Weed” (Photo courtesy of Brainstorm Media and Music Box Films)

“Mama Weed”

Directed by Jean-Paul Salomé

French and Arabic with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place primarily in Paris, the comedy/drama “Mama Weed” features a cast of white, Middle Eastern and Chinese characters representing the working-class, middle-class and criminal underground.

Culture Clash: A middle-aged widow, who’s a language translator for a police department’s narcotics unit, steals a large supply of hashish from drug dealers and creates a persona as a savvy drug lord to sell the drug stash back to the unsuspecting drug dealers.

Culture Audience: “Mama Weed” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of star Isabelle Huppert and who are interested in dark comedies about drug trafficking, even if the story has some deliberately far-fetched elements.

Isabelle Huppert in “Mama Weed” (Photo courtesy of Brainstorm Media and Music Box Films)

There have been several movies about narcotics law enforcement agents who profit from selling drugs that they steal from drug dealers, but there’s none quite like “Mama Weed.” It’s a movie that has playful fun with the concept that a middle-aged widow who works as a translator for a Paris police department’s narcotics unit can “go rogue” and come up with a scheme to commit this crime. The movie’s dark comedic spin and Isabelle Huppert’s captivating performance make the hard-to-believe and absurdist elements of the plot easier to enjoy.

Directed by Jean-Paul Salomé, “Mama Weed” is based on Hannelore Cayre’s 2019 novel “The Godmother.” Salomé and Cayre co-wrote the “Mama Weed” screenplay. It’s a story that requires a certain suspension of disbelief that the protagonist gets away with as much as she does when she doesn’t do much to disguise her face and there are surveillance cameras in public areas where she does her deals. However, because she works in the same police narcotics unit that could potentially bust her for her misdeeds, she has access to information and resources that help her hide her criminal activities from her colleagues.

In “Mama Weed,” Huppert portrays Patience Portefeux, a translator for the Paris Police Department’s narcotics unit. She speaks Arabic, which is the first language of many the drug dealers who are arrested by the department. Patience is not a typical employee of a police department’s narcotics unit, because she has a Ph. D. in Arabic studies. What is she doing in a low-paying job at a police department? It’s never really explained, but it’s implied that because Patience is near the age range when most people retire, she hasn’t been able to find work anywhere else where she can use the type of education that she has.

Patience (who likes to wear black leather jackets and black jeans when she’s on the job) is not a frumpy, uptight woman who can’t handle the rough and dangerous work that she has to do as part of her job. Her work includes accompanying narcotics cops on their drug raids. She’s a fairly even-tempered police employee who doesn’t get easily rattled.

In the film’s opening scene, Patience is with her cop colleagues on a drug bust that involves Arabic-speaking drug dealers from a crime family whose last name is Abelaziz. The drug dealers have been arrested for possession of seven kilograms of hashish. Back at police headquarters, two of the suspects are being interrogated, with Patience acting as the translator.

One of the suspects won’t reveal any information and shouts at the interrogating cop, “Fuck you! I want a lawyer!” Another cop in the room starts to get rough with the suspect, by kicking him and hitting him. The suspect then spits on Patience, while the interrogating cop freezes in shock. Patience is horrified, but she takes this spitting assault in stride and doesn’t get emotional. Meanwhile, the violent cop angrily hauls off the suspect for what will probably be more police brutality.

After this tension-filled interrogation, Patience walks into her supervisor’s office to tell him what happened in the interrogation room and that the suspects probably won’t say anything incriminating while in custody. Patience’s boss Philippe (played by Hippolyte Girardot), who’s about the same age as she is, has recently been promoted to police chief. An upcoming drug bust will be the first under his command as chief of the department.

Philippe is concerned but not surprised that the suspect spit on Patience. He can’t get too disturbed by it though because it’s part of law enforcement’s job to expect suspects to attack anyone who works in law enforcement. Philippe also isn’t too concerned that the suspect isn’t giving up information while in custody, because the police department already has enough incriminating evidence in the form of secret audio recordings that they made of these drug dealers.

A lot of what Patience does in the office is translate this type of surveillance, which she sometmes has to do live, as these conversations are being recorded. It’s this part of the job that causes a turning point in her life and serves as the catalyst for what happens when Patience ends up “going rogue.” And there’s an extra complication that makes Patience’s criminal activities even riskier: Patience and Philippe (who’s an available bachelor) have been secretly sleeping with each other.

The word “romance” isn’t really the best description for this relationship, because although Patience is very fond of Philippe, she’s not in love with him. However, Philippe seems to be in love with Patience and drops hints that he wants them to live together. It’s a suggestion that she tactfully brushes off, because she seems to like her independence and wants to keep living alone in her condo apartment.

Patience has been a widow since 1994, when her husband Martin suddenly died of a stroke when he was 34 years old. Patience and her late husband have two adult daughters—Hortense (played by Iris Bry) and Gabrielle (played by Rebecca Marder)—who are both in their 20s. Based on conversations that Patience has with her daughters, Patience hasn’t had much of a dating life since her husband died. Getting intimately involved with Philippe seems like something that happened because she spends so much time at work and they’re both available.

Patience’s husband Martin died while they were on vacation in Oman. It was an annual trip that the family used to take and always looked forward to every year. But after Martin died, Patience didn’t want to go back to Oman because it brought back painful memories of his death. She still talks about Oman with a lot of affection though, as if she still has good memories of where she and her family used to go in Oman.

There are some other more immediate problems in Patience’s life because she’s been struggling financially. For years, she’s been paying off debts that her late husband owed. In addition, her ailing mother (played by Liliane Rovère), who doesn’t have a first name in the movie, is in an assisted living facility. Patience is a few months’ behind on paying the facility fees.

It’s later revealed in the movie that Patience’s mother is a Holocaust survivor. Patience’s father was an Algerian immigrant who met Patience’s mother in 1962. Patience’s Algerian heritage on her father’s side provides context for why she loves speaking Arabic and why she got her university education in Arabic studies.

At the assisted living facility, a kind, middle-aged Moroccan woman named Kadidja (played by Farida Ouchani) is the main caretaker for Patience’s mother. Patience and Kadidja have a friendly rapport with each other where they trust and respect each other. Kadidja knows what Patience does for a living. Kadidja is also very good at handling Patience’s mother, who can be cranky and stubborn. Patience and her mother seem to have a fairly good relationship that has been occasionally marred by typical mother-daughter squabbles.

One day on her job, Patience is listening in on live surveillance by narcotics cops, who have been tracking a suspected drug courier in his early 20s. This suspect is driving a truck carrying a large shipment of hashish, and the truck is headed for Paris. (The cops have a GPS tracking device on the truck.) Patience overhears someone mention the suspect’s name, and she’s immediately alarmed. His name is Afid (played by Yasin Houicha), and based on his description and where the cops have been tracking him, he sounds exactly Kadidja’s son.

Patience uses her personal cell phone to breach protocol by secretly calling Kadidja to warn her that Afid is under surveillance by police and is about to be busted for this hash haul. Patience frantically advises Kadidja to call Afid and tell him about this impending drug arrest and to make an unplanned detour so he can find a way to hide or get rid of the drug stash before the cops can catch up to him. Patience also tells Kadidja to be careful of how she talks to Afid on his phone because the conversation will be recorded by the cops.

Afid does what his mother tells him to do, so that by the time the narcotics police catch up to him, Afid is arrested but there are no drugs in the truck. The cops think they have enough evidence on Afid to keep him in custody anyway, because of previous surveillance recordings where he incriminated himself as working with ths drug cartel. However, the narcs are frustrated because Afid won’t tell anyone where he hid the large supply of hash. They hope that Afid can give up information on his drug connections so they can bust the dealers who are higher-ranked in this drug cartel, but Afid isn’t likely to snitch.

The drug dealers who were expecting this large shipment are predictably furious. They are from the Cherkaouis crime family, led by two menacing brothers (played by Kamel Guenfoud and Youssef Sahraoui), who don’t have first names in the movie. These two brothers are hauled in for questioning by police, since the brothers were heard on audio surveillance. However, there’s not not enough evidence to put the brothers in jail, so they are let go.

In a private conversation between Philippe and Patience at the police station, he admits that he’s very embarrassed that this drug bust was bungled under his supervision. Patience tries to comfort him. The subject comes up about the narcotics unit using canines to detect drugs. Philippe mentions that after the dogs are retired from police work, they get sent to a local shelter. If the dogs don’t get adopted by a certain period of time, then they’re euthanized.

Philippe goes to an animal shelter website on his phone to show Patience some of the former polce dogs who are up for adoption there. Patience semi-jokes that he should help her adopt a dog. She sees a male German Shepherd on the wesbite that immediately catches her eye. And it plants an idea in her head: What if she got a former police dog to find that large supply of missing hash?

The next thing you know, Patience now owns the German Shepherd that she saw on the shelter website. She’s given the dog the name DNA. Patience tests his drug-sniffing skills when she lets him loose on some local drug dealers she sees on the streets. When she sees that the dog’s drug-sniffing skills are still very strong, she gets to work to find that drug stash.

Patience drives around with her dog DNA in places where she thinks someone would be able to hide the drug supply that went missing from the truck that Afid was driving. One of these places is a remote-looking field that has a locked shed. The dog goes crazy when she drives by and immediately runs up the shed, which is locked.

Patience breaks into the shed and—voilà—she finds the missing supply of hash. It’s not spoiler information to say that Patience found this drug stash, because people seeing this movie should already know that the main part of the story is that she’s selling stolen drugs by pretending to be a drug lord. The spoiler information is whether or not she gets caught.

The hash supply is so large that Patience has to rent a truck and go back to the shed more than once to retrieve it all. She hides all the hash (which is wrapped tightly in plastic brick-sized packages) in her apartment building’s storage room that she knows isn’t being used. And she thinks of small but important details, such as putting hanging air refresheners in the storage space to try to mininize the smell of hashish.

Patience plans to sell all the hash to the same drug dealers who were going to buy the stash before Afid got arrested. To entice the these drug dealers, she offers them a “discount.” She wants to use the money to pay off all her bills, give some money to Kadidja to help with Afid’s legal problems, and use the rest of the money to live off of comfortably in retirement.

It’s a very risky plan that yields some comical results. One of the problems that Patience encounters is her nosy neighbor Colette Fo (played by Nadja Nguyen), a Chinese immigrant who’s suspicious of Patience’s sudden interest in the building’s unused storage space. Patience has bought a lock for the storage space so only Patience can access the space for the time being. (The movie conveniently never shows a superintendent in the building.)

Patience then creates a false persona as an out-of-town drug lord named Mrs. Ben Barka. Because she speaks fluent Arabic, she disguises her ethnic identity by pretending to be Middle Eastern. Some people might be offended that all of the movie’s drug dealers are of Middle Eastern heritage, because in reality there are plenty of white drug dealers who exist in France.

The Cherkaouis brothers have never heard of Mrs. Ben Barka, so they send two bumbling henchmen named Scotch (played by Rachid Guellaz) and Chocapic (played by Mourad Boudaoud) to check out Mrs. Barka to see if she’s legitimate and not an undercover cop. She’s able to easly fool them because she’s picked up enough drug-dealing lingo from her job to sound convincing. Patience finds out later that the drug dealers have privately given Mrs. Barka the nickname Mama Weed.

But here’s the part of the movie where viewers have to suspend disbelief: While Patience is interacting with these dealers as Mrs. Barka/Mama Weed, she is able to avoid being identified by her cop colleagues who have the Cherkaouis drug cartel under audio and video surveillance. Some of it can be explained away, because at the police station, she has access to evidence that she could steal, delete or destroy if necessary.

Patience only wears a hijab and sunglasses for her disguise. That doesn’t sound like it would be enough to disguise her identity if she’s caught on surveillance video, but she’s careful to try to stay out of camera range as much as possible. Even more inexplicably, she often doesn’t bother to wear sunglasses in places where there’s sure to be video surveillance that’s not controlled by the police. Luckily for her, the quality of this surviellance video is so low that her image shows up as quite blurry.

As for possibly being recorded by the police’s audio surveillance, viewers of this movie will have to assume that the officers won’t recognize Patience’s voice on the recordings when she speaks Arabic, or that Patience got to the audio surveillance evidence first and was able to get rid of it. There are several scenes in the movie that imply that the French-speaking cops in the narcotics unit completely trust Patience in her job when she’s given access to surveillance recordings where people speak Arabic. They leave her to do the translating and transcribing with little to no supervision or independent verification.

There is one person in the police department who notices that Patience bears a striking resemblance to the Mrs. Barka/Mama Weed who’s suddenly being seen with members of the drug cartel that the police want to arrest. (It’s very easy to predict who’s the first to notice.) However, Patience laughs it off when it’s mentioned to her. The person who sees the physical resemblance doesn’t want to believe that Patience is capable of being the experienced drug lord that Mrs. Barka/Mama Weed appears to be, so it doesn’t take much for this person to dismiss these suspicions.

As far-fetched as Patience’s plan might seem to be, it’s actually fairly shrewd because she would be one of the last people ever suspected of concocting this plan. Hiding in plain sight, indeed. This movie’s concept wouldn’t work if Patience weren’t an insider in the police department’s narcotics unit, with access to evidence and information about how the narcotics investigations were being handled.

What would motivate someone like Patience to commit these very hazardous crimes? The movie points out in subtle and nuanced ways that Patience has a history of being closer to criminals than she would like to publicly admit. Near the beginning of the film, Hortense bitterly mentions that her late father Martin was a “crook” who left behind “20 years of debt” that Patience was stuck with having to pay. Patience chastises Hortense and tells her not to talk about her dead father in that way.

Throughout the movie, Patience sometimes makes offhand remarks to her cop colleagues that she has some sympathy for the drug dealers because she seems to think that drug-related punishments don’t fit the crimes. Her comments get mildly surprised reactions but not enough to arouse suspicion. However, it explains why she was eager to help Kadidja, even though Kadidja is not a close friend.

And there’s probably some unspoken anger and bitterness behind Patience wanting to steal the drug stash and sell it. Patience most likely thinks that at her age and with her education, she should be doing better in her life. Instead, she’s stuck in a low-paying job and barely able to pay her bills and debts. It’s easy to see how someone like Patience might think that she got a raw deal in life and wants to take it out on the justice system—or at least take it out on the police department that’s underpaying her.

As for the drug dealers being so gullible, there are many real-life true crime cases where criminals do the dumbest things and make the most illogical decisions out of pure greed. It’s not implausible to think that these drug dealers wouldn’t really care about where Mama Weed got her drug supply, as long as they know they’re getting a huge discount. In their minds, they might think Mama Weed is the stupid one for selling the hash for below the market value.

And that’s one of the messages of this movie: Don’t be surprised by what people will do because of greed. Patience is one of the people who’s not immune to greed becoming a blind spot that clouds her judgment. One of the best things about “Mama Weed” is that it doesn’t make Patience a criminal mastermind. She makes some mistakes that cause some very close calls for her.

However treacherous things might get for Patience and other people, the movie keeps a sly comedic tone, with plenty of wisecracking (especially between Patience and Colette), to remind viewers not to take it all too seriously. A slapstick shootout scene toward the end of the movie is filmed a little awkwardly and almost brings “Mama Weed” into cartoonish territory. But because of Huppert’s immense talent in balancing comedy and drama, her performance is worth watching in this unconventional crime caper.

Brainstorm Media and Music Box Films released “Mama Weed” in select U.S. cinemas on July 16, 2021, and on digital and VOD on July 23, 2021. The movie was previously released in various countries (including France and Canada) in 2020.

Review: ‘How It Ends’ (2021), starring Zoe Lister-Jones and Cailee Spaeny

July 21, 2021

by Carla Hay

Zoe Lister-Jones and Cailee Spaeny in “How It Ends” (Photo courtesy of MGM/American International Pictures)

“How It Ends” (2021)

Directed by Zoe Lister-Jones and Daryl Wein

Culture Representation: Taking place in Los Angeles, the comedy film “How It Ends” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with a few African Americans and Asians) representing the middle-class.

Culture Clash: Hours before an impending apocalypse, a woman in her 30s sees a physical manifestation of her 15-year-old self, and together they visit people they know to say their goodbyes in case they don’t survive the apocalypse. 

Culture Audience: “How It Ends” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in “mumblecore” comedies that are self-consciously quirky in a way that will annoy some viewers.

Zoe Lister-Jones and Cailee Spaeny in “How It Ends” (Photo courtesy of MGM/American International Pictures)

The smugly oddball “How It Ends” looks and sounds like it could have been a pilot episode for a mumblecore sitcom rather than a compelling cinematic experience. In this time-wasting apocalyptic comedy, the end of the world is depicted as Los Angeles hipsters and weirdos acting as annoying as possible and thinking that they’re hilarious. You can see that on Hollywood Boulevard for free. You don’t need to pay money to see that in a movie as dull as this one.

Husband-and-wife duo Zoe Lister-Jones and Daryl Wein wrote and directed “How It Ends,” and it looks exactly like what it is: A movie that was rushed into production during the pre-vaccine COVID-19 pandemic, just so the filmmakers could brag about how they braved the pandemic to make this movie. Unfortunately, not enough time seems to have been spent on developing an interesting story for this repetitive and mostly empty-headed film.

“How It Ends” takes place in Los Angeles, just hours before an apocalypse is supposed to destroy the world. It’s never explained how people know the exact hour that this apocalypse is going to hit. But the characters in this movie are just way too calm about it, and they go about their lives as if it’s just another sunny day in California.

At least half of this movie just shows the two main characters walking from house to house, as they say goodbye to friends and assorted loved ones before the end of the world happens. Expect to see repetitive shots of people sauntering down a street as if they’re just out for a pleasant stroll before the apocalypse. And everyone they talk to just happens to be “quirky.”

The two main characters in the story are supposed to be the same person at different stages in her life. The movie opens with protagonist Liza (played by Lister-Jones), who’s in her 30s and with an unknown occupation, in her home on the morning before the apocalypse. There’s a teenage girl (played by Cailee Spaeny) jumping up and down on Liza’s bed.

Liza checks her voice messages and finds out that her friend Mandy (played by Whitney Cummings) has invited Liza to an end-of-the-world party happening that night. Liza tells the teenage girl, “Tonight, I want to get really fucking high and eat ’til I puke.” The girl in Liza’s house replies, “I can list so many problems with that idea. The first is: You’re out of weed.”

Who is this girl? Liza finds out this other person in her home is her 15-year-old self. Liza might want to roll on Ecstasy to get high, but the only thing rolling during this movie will be viewers’ eyes at the self-consciously twee absurdity of it all. Guess who’s hanging out with Liza for the whole movie? Young Liza, who’s somehow wiser and more emotionally intuitive than the older Liza.

It’s explained in the movie that Young Liza can only be seen on the last day before the apocalypse happens. And based on the advice that Young Liza gives her older self, Young Liza is supposed to embody hindsight. Young Liza also doesn’t have the emotional baggage that older Liza has, so she’s able to see things more clearly when it comes to unresolved issues in older Liza’s life.

Before Liza and her younger self go to the party, they decide to visit a series of people to say their final goodbyes. A lot of these half-baked scenes (many of them look improvised) are just filler. There are long stretches of the movie where it’s nothing but Liza and her younger self walking from place to place and encountering goofy, strange and usually very irritating people.

Wait, doesn’t everyone drive in Los Angeles if they can afford it? The movie comes up with a reason for why Liza and her teenage mini-me end up walking everywhere for more than half the movie: Liza’s car has been stolen. It’s the end of the world, so there’s no point in reporting the theft to the police. Will Liza get her car back though? That question is answered in the movie.

Most of the people whom Liza and her young self visit are the type of characters you would expect in a low-budget indie flick where the filmmakers think that it’s automatically supposed to be funny to see adults acting like immature kooks. There are the wacky neighbors in different homes, such as Derek (played by Bobby Lee), who’s a babbling stoner; Manny (played by Fred Armisen), a forgetful eccentric; and anxious Dave (played by Paul Scheer), who gets yelled at by another neighbor for not washing his recycling container.

And then there are a few people randomly performing in the middle of the street or on a sidewalk in this residential area, including a nameless stand-up comedian (played by Ayo Edebiri), who’s actually one of the few highlights of the film. Real-life singer Sharon Van Etten shows up toward the end of the film as a folksy singer named Jet, who plays acoustic guitar in the street to an enthralled audience of two: Liza and her younger self.

“How It Ends” desperately wants to be a uniquely modern film, but it uses the oldest and most cliché trope in a comedy starring a woman: She’s pining over a man because she wants him to be her romantic partner. In Liza’s case, “the one who got away” is Nate (played by Logan Marshall-Green), a former hookup whom she has deeper feelings for than she was willing to admit when he was in her life and when she emotionally pushed him away. Liza regrets shutting Nate out of her life, and she wants to see Nate again so she can tell him that she loves him before the end of the world happens.

Liza also has some unfinished business with her divorced parents Kenny (played by Bradley Whitford) and Lucinda (played by Helen Hunt), as well as her ex-boyfriend Larry (played by Lamorne Morris), who cheated on her when they were together. Liza visits all of them during this movie to tell them how she really feels. Viewers find out that she has major abandonment issues and has had a problem communicating her true feelings to the people who are closest to her.

But the best and funniest encounter that Liza has is with an estranged friend named Alay (played by Olivia Wilde), who’s just as neurotic as Liza is. Liza and Alay have a rapid-fire conversation where they talk over each other about what went wrong in their friendship (they fell out because Alay didn’t approve of Larry), and they call a truce—because of, you know, the apocalypse.

Alay eats a very decadent-looking cake during this conversation and says she’s a psychic. What does she see in Liza’s afterlife future? Alay says, “Timothée Chalamet and lots of dairy with no consequences.” Sounds like heaven for a lot of people.

If only “How It Ends” had more of this type of laugh-out-loud comedic scene with Wilde and Lister-Jones, because they have such natural and appealing chemistry with each other. Maybe they can co-star in another movie someday. Hopefully, it would have a better screenplay and more exciting direction than what’s in “How It Ends.”

But for every scene like the rip-roaring one with Wilde, there are five or six more scenes in “How It Ends” that are just so tedious and downright cringeworthy. For example, when Liza goes to her ex-boyfriend Larry’s home, it’s a retro ripoff with derivative ideas: She holds up a boombox (just like John Cusack famously did in the 1989 movie “Say Anything”), and then she quotes the chorus of Alanis Morissette’s 1995 hit “You Oughta Know.”

And there’s some self-pitying drivel, such as when Liza and her younger self have an argument with each other. Liza wants to ditch her younger self and continue on her own, because she thinks Young Liza doesn’t count as her real self. Young Liza shouts, “I do count! All your life, you’ve been licking your fucking wounds, when I’m the biggest wound of all!” Oh, boo hoo. Did anyone bring any tissues?

Lister-Jones and Spaeny previously worked together in the disappointing 2020 horror film “The Craft: Legacy,” which was written and directed by Lister-Jones and starred Spaeny as a teenage witch who joins a coven of other teen witches. The chemistry between Lister-Jones and Spaeny in “How It Ends” is more like older sister/younger sister as two different people, rather than entirely convincing as two versions of the same person. One of the takeaways from the movie is that Liza looks physically older than her younger self, but she hasn’t emotionally matured very much since she was a teenager.

Spaeny makes some attempt to mimic certain mannerisms that older Liza would have had in her teen years. And there are times that Liza and her younger self do things in snyc when they’re walking down the street. However, the movie looks like it was filmed so quickly that Spaeny and Lister-Jones didn’t have enough time to do work on body language and speech patterns that are more subtle and nuanced.

“How It Ends” is not so off-putting that it won’t find its share of people who will love this movie. There’s a very specific type of viewer who automatically thinks any movie that reeks of being self-congratulatory “quirky” is something that’s worth admiring. But for people who prefer their comedies to actually be funny and have a significant plot, you’ll have to look elsewhere, because “How It Ends” comes up very short in these elements and is mostly just a series of poorly conceived vignettes.

MGM’s American International Pictures released “How It Ends” in select U.S. cinemas, on digital and VOD on July 20, 2021.

Review: ‘El Cuartito,’ starring Mario de la Rosa, Claribel Medina, Isel Rodriguez, Ianis Guerrero and Fausto Mata

July 21, 2021

by Carla Hay

Cast members of “El Cuartito,” pictured clockwise from upper left: Claribel Medina, Ianis Guerrero, Mario de la Rosa, Isel Rodriguez and Fausto Mata (Photo courtesy of Wiesner Distribution)

“El Cuartito”

Directed by Marcos Carnevale

Spanish with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place primarily in San Juan, Puerto Rico, during the Donald Trump administration, the comedy/drama film “El Cuartito” features a predominantly Hispanic cast of characters (with a few Asians) representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: Five strangers find themselves stuck together in a detainee room at the San Juan Airport for different reasons, and they have various conflicts while a possible hurricane is looming,  

Culture Audience: “El Cuartito” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in far-fetched, broad comedies that try to be politically edgy but end up being very sappy.

Fausto Mata, Isel Rodriguez, Ianis Guerrero, Claribel Medina and Mario de la Rosa in “El Cuartito” (Photo courtesy of Wiesner Distribiution)

“El Cuartito” mistakenly gives the impression that it’s a satirical comedy about how people in Puerto Rico were affected by immigration policies of the Donald Trump administration. The movie is really just a silly hodgepodge of ludicrous scenarios that have no real edge. And at least two of the movie’s five main characters will annoy even the most patient viewers.

Directed by Marcos Carnevale (who co-wrote the movie’s screenplay with Javier De Nevares), “El Cuartito” (which translates to “The Little Room” in English) takes place almost entirely at San Juan Airport in Puerto Rico. The movie’s scenes that don’t take place in Puerto Rico are mostly when the five main characters in the story have flashbacks of what happened to each of them before they arrived at the airport on this fateful day. Each of these backstories explains why each of these five characters has had the inconvenience of being detained at the airport.

“El Cuartito” takes place sometime during the period of time when Donald Trump was president of the United States, after he notoriously made this September 2017 statement about Puerto Rico, in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria devastating Puerto Rico: “This is an island, surrounded by water. Big water.” A recording of Trump saying these words at a news conference is repeated at the beginning and at the end of “El Cuartito.” And several of the characters talk about Trump in the movie.

But if viewers are expecting to see or hear anything politically or socially witty in “El Cuartito,” disappointment will quickly set in because the movie consists mostly of people being illogical, argumentative and/or or mentally unhinged for long stretches of the film. And the ways that certain problems are resolved in the story are downright cringeworthy and insulting to viewers’ intelligence.

For most of “El Cuartito,” five strangers are stuck together in a detainee room in the San Juan Airport, whose formal name is Luis Muñoz Marín International Airport. During the course of the story, these detained airline customers argue with each other, worry about what immigration officials will do to them, and eventually plot to escape when they see an air vent in the room that could possibly be a way out of the building.

These five strangers are:

  • Juan Miguel “Toti” Cuervo (played by Mario de la Rosa), a has-been, egotistical pop/rock star from Madrid, Spain, is desperate to make a comeback because he’s bankrupt. Toti is in San Juan to perform a lucrative Thanksgiving dinner concert for a rich private client. However, Toti has been detained at the airport because his fidgety manager Juan David León (played by Hector Escudero Lobe) failed to get a work visa for Toti and got him a tourist visa instead.
  • Lina Fernández de Montepieller (played by Claribel Medina), who lives in Paris, is a high-maintenance and wealthy snob who is on multiple types of medication. Lina is in San Juan to meet her sister, so that they can take a Prince of the Ocean cruise together. Lina has been detained because while she was waiting in line to go through X-ray clearance, she accidentally dropped several of her pills from their bottles, which raised airport suspicions about what types of pills she’s carrying. Airport security has to do toxicology tests on the pills to make sure they’re not illegal.
  • Mariel (played by Isel Rodriguez), a heartbroken woman, is orginally from Puerto Rico, but she has been living in Buenos Aires, Argentina, for the past 15 years. Mariel has been estranged from her mother, for reasons that are revealed in the movie, and wants to possibly reconnect with the family she left behind in Puerto Rico. Mariel has been detained because her passport has expired.
  • Jesus Reyes (played by Ianis Guerrero), a native of Mexico, has a secret reason for wanting to be in Puerto Rico. He was detained because airport officials caught him with a fake passport. Early on in the movie, before he was detained at the airport, Luis is shown furtively talking to someone on the phone and asking if “the merchandise is okay.” It’s obvious that Jesus is talking in code.
  • Santos Domingo (played by Fausto Mata) is a flamboyant preacher from the Dominican Republic capital of Santo Domingo. Santos aspires to be someone like Joel Osteen (a megachurch preacher with his own TV show), and he claims that he has psychic powers that he’s received directly from God. Santos has been detained because he’s tried to illegally enter Puerto Rico before, and this is the third time he’s been busted for it.

When Jesus is brought into the room, Lina (who is by far the loudest and most obnoxious character in the story) immediately accuses him of being a terrorist. Why? She thinks he looks like a terrorist. Jesus is insulted. He tells Lina that he’s Mexican and that Mexicans aren’t radical Muslim terrorists.

Lina says that Mexicans can be drug lords, which Jesus doesn’t disagree with, but he says drug lords aren’t the same as terrorists. “Mexicans don’t bomb people!” Jesus angrily shouts at Lina. However, Lina keeps thinking that he must be some kind of criminal, even though she doesn’t know anything about him.

There’s some repetitive back-and-forth arguing between Lina and Jesus, as Lina exposes herself as being very racist and xenophobic. And she’s not very smart, because she keeps confusing Puerto Rico with Costa Rica. It’s supposed to be a running joke in the movie. Lina also goes into loud hysterics and throws tantrums, which she thinks will help her get out of the detainee room early. Her unruly diva antics don’t work.

In the detainee room, which looks very much like the set of a movie or a stage play, there are three items hanging on the wall: A photo portrait of Trump, in between the U.S. flag and the Puerto Rican flag. At various times in the movie, the detainees occasionally go up to the photo of Trump and say things to and about him—mostly innocuous and forgettable comments about the Trump administration’s immigration policy changes. Lina seems to be a Trump supporter, while Jesus is most definitely not.

Meanwhile, Mariel happens to be a fan of Toti’s music, so she acts very star-struck with him. He’s very flattered and he expresses an attraction to her too, but he’s not sure what Mariel’s story is (she’s not wearing a wedding ring), and he isn’t sure how far to go with their flirtation. Toti is still famous enough that people who know who he is would know that he’s an available bachelor. Mariel’s relationship status is eventually revealed in the movie.

Mariel and Toti’s would-be romance is actually quite boring and more than a little corny, since Mariel acts like a gushing teenage girl around Toti. For example, Mariel sings lines from Toti’s hit songs to him while they’re locked up together. And at one point, he sings to her too. Try not to retch.

Santos isn’t brought into the detainee room until the movie is already half over. He’s predictably over-the-top with his preaching. He’s also very good at figuring out personal information about his fellow detainees, based on how they look and the way that they act. Santos and Lina are both very status-conscious, which somewhat explains a subplot that happens between them toward the end of the movie. But this subplot is rushed into the film, and seems to come out of nowhere.

During all the arguing, fretting and ego posturing in this room, there’s some potential drama waiting for these detainees outside the airport. When they arrived at the airport, it was all over the news that a hurricane was probably headed toward Puerto Rico. This potential disaster is also handled in a disappointing way in the movie.

“El Cuartito” has moments that can bring chuckles, so it succeeds in minor ways as a comedy. However, the movie fails to consistently bring genuinely clever, laugh-out-loud scenes because the jokes often fall flat. If you’re doing a movie where most of it is about people who are stuck in a room, then the characters need to seem real, relatable and developed. Unfortunately, the main characters in “El Cuartito” are nothing but stereotypes acting in predictable ways. And the secrets that are revealed about their personal lives are not surprising at all. The actors don’t add any depth to these clichés.

The last third of the movie really goes off of the rails with a dumb escape plan where these detainees don’t think that they’ll just make more trouble for themselves if they escape. “El Cuartito” has some slapstick moments that look like something out of a bad telenovela. There’s some mocking of Trump (including a scene where his framed portrait falls off of the wall and the glass cracks), but the anti-Trump jokes look dated, considering he’s no longer president of the United States.

And that’s not all that’s outdated about the movie. It’s like “El Cuartito” is trying to be an adult, Puerto Rican version of filmmaker John Hughes’ 1985 comedy “The Breakfast Club,” which was about teenagers stuck in a classroom on a weekend morning because they’re in high school detention. “El Cuartito” copies “The Breakfast Club” formula of each character eventually revealing a personal sob story, so that everyone in the group can feel more empathetic to each other. The big difference is that “The Breakfast Club” is a genuinely funny classic, while “El Cuartito” is a lightweight, clumsily written comedy that most viewers will forget about soon after seeing it.

Wiesner Distribution released “El Cuartito” in select U.S. cinemas on July 16, 2021. The movie was released in Puerto Rico on March 25, 2021.

Review: ‘Love Type D,’ starring Maeve Dermody and Oliver Farnworth

July 19, 2021

by Carla Hay

Oliver Farnworth and Maeve Dermody in “Love Type D” (Photo courtesy of Vertical Entertainment)

“Love Type D”

Directed by Sasha Collington

Culture Representation: Taking place in London, the romantic comedy “Love Type D” features a predominantly white cast (with a few black people and people of Indian heritage) representing the middle-class.

Culture Clash: A woman in her 20s gets dumped by her boyfriend, finds out that it’s in her DNA to get dumped, and she tries to reverse this DNA gene by getting all of her ex-boyfriends to fall for her again, so that she can dump them. 

Culture Audience: “Love Type D” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in watching silly and convoluted romantic comedies.

Maeve Dermody, Rory Stroud and Samuel Jones in “Love Type D” (Photo courtesy of Vertical Entertainment)

Someone should’ve told the filmmakers of “Love Type D” that it’s neither funny nor cute to do a romantic comedy about a woman who spends most of the movie stalking an ex-boyfriend who dumped her. It’s pathetic. Why is she stalking him? Because she wants to make him fall back in love with her, just so she can break up with him.

Why does she want to do go to all this trouble? Because she wants to reverse a DNA gene that makes her pre-disposed to get rejected in life. Does this make any sense or sound like it’s any fun to watch? No. It’s meant to be a high absurdist concept for the movie, but it’s filmed in a very lowbrow and clumsy way.

“Love Type D” is the feature-film debut of writer/director Sasha Collington. Everything about this movie screams “first-time director.” Although viewers can certainly appreciate the efforts of the movie’s cast members to be as charming as possible, the actors are stuck in an appalling mess of a movie where the concept is flimsy, the “desperate bachelorette” trope is outdated, and the comedic timing is awkward.

If you want to waste your time watching this treacly drivel, here’s a summary of what to expect: Frankie (played by Maeve Dermody) works at a very boring office job at an instruction manual company in London. Her birth year is 1993, which means that she’s in her late 20s when this story takes place. Remember that she’s in this age bracket when Frankie acts like a petulant, delusional and immature teenager for most of the movie.

In the beginning of the story, Frankie thinks that her life is going very well. She’s madly in love (the operative word here is “madly”) with her good-looking boyfriend Thomas (played by Oliver Farnworth), who’s about the same age as Frankie, maybe a few years older, and definitely more emotionally mature than Frankie. Thomas’ occupation isn’t stated in the movie.

In the movie’s opening scene, Frankie says in a voiceover, and it’s shown in a flashback, that she met Thomas a year ago on the Piccadilly subway line while she was getting dumped by someone else. Thomas was kind and sympathetic when he witnessed this breakup. Thomas and Frankie started talking to each other, one thing led to another, and they’ve been dating each other ever since. As far as Frankie is concerned, Thomas is “the one.”

While Frankie is reminiscing about her “meet cute” moment with Thomas and how “sweet” he is, she’s waiting for him at a restaurant for what she’s sure will be a romantic lunch date with Thomas. Instead, a bespectacled 11-year-old boy in a school uniform approaches Frankie because he has a message from Thomas to deliver to her. The boy introduces himself as Thomas’ brother Wilbur (played by Rory Stroud), and the message from Thomas is that Thomas is breaking up with Frankie, effective immediately.

Frankie is in shock and can’t believe that Thomas didn’t have the courtesy to break up with her himself in person. She’s in such denial that she tries to find Thomas to see if this breakup is some kind of joke. When she goes to Thomas’ apartment and places where he’s known to hang out, she can’t find him. More likely, he’s doing a very good job of hiding from her.

On the same day she got dumped, Frankie randomly sees Wilbur buying a bouquet of flowers on the street and chases after him like a crazy person. She essentially grabs this innocent boy and demands Wilbur to tell her where Thomas is. Wilbur says that he doesn’t know. In the ruckus, Wilbur has dropped a small greeting card (presumably to go with the flower bouquet) that has a message in Thomas’ handwriting. Frankie immediately picks up the card and reads it.

The greeting card is addressed to someone named Cecilia, and the message says that Thomas can’t wait to see Cecilia that night at a nightclub called Opal 8. Frankie forces Wilbur to tell her who Cecilia is, and Wilbur says that Cecilia is Thomas’ new girlfriend, whom Thomas met four days ago. (That was fast.) Cecilia (played by Alexandra Evans) is also an astronaut, just to make it clear to viewers that Cecilia is much smarter and more accomplished than Frankie will ever be. Guess who’s going to Opal 8 to spy on Thomas?

At the nightclub, Frankie sees Thomas and Cecilia together and acting like a very amorous couple. Frankie confronts Thomas and asks why he dumped her and berates him for sending Wilbur to do Thomas’ dirty work. Thomas’ response is to give her the old “it’s not you, it’s me” breakup excuse. He also tells Frankie that it was nice knowing her, but that she needs to stop stalking him. It soon becomes very obvious why he no longer wants anything to do with her: Frankie is scary-level obsessive.

Frankie spends most of the movie pining over Thomas and stalking him over the phone, on social media and in person. Thomas gets increasingly irritated with her intrusiveness. Thomas eventually gets a restraining order against Frankie, but it doesn’t stop her. There’s no one in Frankie’s life to tell her, “Yes, Frankie, you really have been dumped in an embarrassing way. Scrape together whatever dignity you have left and leave him alone.”

So why does she want him back after being treated so disrespectfully by Thomas, and he’s moved on to someone new? It’s one of the fundamental failures of this movie. A romantic comedy is supposed to have a protagonist whom audiences should be rooting for, not a protagonist who is such an insufferable obsessive that most viewers can’t relate to this person.

The fateful day when Wilbur told Frankie the news that Thomas was breaking up with her, Wilbur commented to Frankie that there are two kinds of people in this world: dumpers and dumpees. Considering that all of Frankie’s ex-boyfriends broke up with her, she knows she’s in the “dumpee” category. The next day at her job, while she’s wallowing in self-pity, Frankie takes an informal survey of her office co-workers to find out which ones are “dumpers” and “dumpees.”

She gets reactions that range from “dumpers” bragging that they’ve never been dumped to “dumpees” who are embarrassed or confused over why she’s asking them such personal information. Eventually, she identifies five other unlucky-in-love co-workers who are “dumpees”: Andy (played by Philip Duguid-McQuillan), Debra (played by Elin Phillips), Deepak (played by Asif Khan), Jenny (played by Ruth Bratt) and Kevin (played by Emeka Sesay).

None of these co-workers is in the movie long enough for viewers to get a sense of who they really are. Debra seems to be Frankie’s closest thing to having a friend at work. Debra takes a liking to the newly hired office intern John (played by William Joseph Firth), and they hook up with each other. But since Debra is a “dumpee,” things will not end well for her. Frankie is sympathetic to Debra because Frankie has plenty of experience being dumped.

Not long after Thomas broke up with her, Frankie has another encounter with Wilbur, who is with a classmate named Barnaby (played by Samuel Jones), another school-uniform-wearing boy who is essentially Wilbur’s sidekick for the rest of the movie. This time, Frankie sees Wilbur and Barnaby at a convenience store. Wilbur tells her about a company called Epigenica that is conducting a scientific study to prove that people have a DNA gene that determines if they will be a “dumper” or “dumpee.”

Frankie doesn’t believe it at first, until Barnaby shows her the study results in a Scientist Today magazine that he happens to have with him. By reading the article, Frankie finds out that the Epigenica scientist in charge of the study is named Dr. Elsa Blomgren (played by Tovah Feldshuh), who has developed a test (which looks lot like a home pregnancy test) where people find out if they are a “dumper” or “dumpee.” People who test positive for the Type D gene are “dumpees.”

And you know that that means: Frankie wants to take that test to find out for sure if she’s got the Type D gene. More time is wasted in the movie as Frankie schemes for a way to get the test, which is not available for sale to the public yet. She finds out that people who attend a seminar retreat led by Dr. Blomgren can get tested for the Type D gene. But Frankie doesn’t get far with this plan, because her credit card is declined when she’s at the retreat, so she’s asked to leave.

Frankie’s next scheme is to pretend to be a Scientist Today journalist doing an article on Dr. Blomgren’s study. She calls up Dr. Blomgren’s office and asks for a free sample of the test. Eventually, Frankie gets enough free samples so that her other “dumpee” co-workers can take the test too. Not surprisingly, they all test positive for the Type D gene.

Frankie feels relieved that being a “dumpee” is genetic. In other words, she uses it as an excuse to not take responsibility for anything she might have done to get dumped. But now, she wants a way to “reverse” this gene. Wilbur has a theory that the gene is triggered by the first romance someone has. If someone’s first romance ended with that person being dumped, then that person will be a “dumpee” for life.

And so, Frankie decides she’s going to go further down this rabbit hole of ridiculousness by thinking that the Type D gene can be reversed if she follows this plan: Find all of her ex-boyfriends, starting with her first ex-boyfriend, get them to fall in love with her, and then dump them, so she can become a “dumper.” Mind you, it’s only supposed to work if she does this in the chronological order of each ex-boyfriend that she had.

Meanwhile, because this movie thinks this crazy plan isn’t enough to tangle up the plot, Frankie has encouraged all of her “dumpee” co-workers to do the same things for their exes, so that they too can get their Type D genes reversed. And there’s some nonsense about luring all of these exes into one big room on the same night to get it all over with in one fell swoop.

How do they lure all these people into the same room on the same night? By giving them a fake notice that they’ve won sweepstakes prize money. Not surprisingly, Thomas is the most difficult of Frankie’s ex-boyfriends to lure into her trap. And so, more time-wasting shenanigans occur.

Frankie shames Wilbur for agreeing to be Thomas’ messenger for the breakup, thereby making Wilbur feel so guilty, that he’s pressured into helping Frankie with her schemes. How much of a loser do you have to be to force an 11-year-old child to help fix your love life? The movie has gone so far off the deep end at this point, that it’s sunk into an unending abyss of berserk stupidity, which is about the same way that anyone can describe Frankie’s mind.

There are plenty of cringeworthy moments in the movie, including Frankie’s attempts to make Thomas jealous. Wilbur sets her up on a blind date with a nerdy scientist bachelor named Roland (played Dan Starkey), but Frankie is irritated because Roland is not the hunk that she thought he would be. Considering that Frankie is the worst type of desperate bachelorette, and she’s gotten dumped by every boyfriend she’s ever had, she’s got some nerve being so picky. And because every bad romantic comedy seems to have a karaoke scene, “Love Type D” has that cliché too. The karaoke scene is abysmal.

As terrible as “Love Type D” is, it’s not a complete train wreck. The character of Wilbur is adorable and quite patient to put up with a disaster like Frankie. Some of Frankie’s “dumpee” co-workers seem like nice, decent people. And there are moments when Farnworth can bring much empathy to his Thomas character, even though Thomas is supposed to be the “villain” of the story.

The problem is that a detestable character like Frankie is front and center for almost the entire movie, which has a sitcom-ish musical score that is almost as irritating as this clueless main character. Dermody’s acting doesn’t help, because she plays the Frankie role like a 16-year-old, not as a grown woman. There’s an attempt to have a “female empowerment” message at the end of the film. But it’s a very phony message, considering that viewers have already seen Frankie’s true nature. No amount of reverse-DNA experiments can reverse her annoying personality.

Vertical Entertainment released “Love Type D” on digital and VOD on July 9, 2021.

Review: ‘Too Late’ (2021), starring Alyssa Limperis, Ron Lynch, Will Weldon, Mary Lynn Rajskub and Fred Armisen

July 17, 2021

by Carla Hay

Ron Lynch and Alyssa Limperis in “Too Late” (Photo courtesy of Gravitas Ventures)

“Too Late” (2021)

Directed by D.W. Thomas

Culture Representation: Taking place in Los Angeles, the horror comedy film “Too Late” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with a few African Americans) representing the middle-class and working-class.

Culture Clash: A stand-up comedy booker has a cannibal monster for a boss, and her secret job is to find comedians for him to eat. 

Culture Audience: “Too Late” will appeal primarily to people who don’t mind watching boring, low-quality comedies that aren’t funny.

Alyssa Limperis and Will Weldon in “Too Late” (Photo courtesy of Gravitas Ventures)

The only thing scary about the horror comedy “Too Late” is that people thought this painfully unfunny dud was good enough to make into a movie. The plot is ridiculous, even by lowbrow standards, and not even the presence of some fairly well-known cast members can save this awkward mess of a film. “Too Late” is the first feature film from director D.W. Thomas and writer Tom Becker, who both have extensive backgrounds as film editors. This movie is proof that having experience in one area of filmmaking doesn’t automatically make people skilled in other areas.

“Too Late” (an 80-minute movie that feel like longer because of the sluggish pacing) has a group of actors who seem to be trying their best to salvage this horrendous movie, but there’s only so much they can do when they’ve been given such cringeworthy dialogue to say. The movie is set in the Los Angeles stand-up comedy scene, but there isn’t one single comedian in this movie who is genuinely funny. There’s also a tiresome runnng gag in the film where the chief villain keeps saying that comedians aren’t real people.

Unfortunately, there’s too much interruption of the main story with several cutaways to very amateurish and mediocre-to-bad stand-up comedy routines on stage, from people making cameos that have nothing to do with the main story. It’s appalling, low-quality work from “Too Late” director Thomas, who also edited this movie. As someone with a film editing background, she should know better than to have these choppy and distracting edits in the first feature film that she’s directed.

However, it’s not as if the main story of “Too Late” is all that compelling. It’s downright dumb. The gist of the main plot is that an overworked and underappreciated stand-up comedy booker/assistant named Violet Fields (played by Alyssa Limperis) has a tyrant boss named Bob Devore (played by Ron Lynch), and they both have a secret: Bob is really a cannibal monster, and Violet’s real job with him is to book stand-up comedians so that Bob can kill and eat them. He eats them whole, so their bodies aren’t found.

Violet is afraid to quit because Bob has told her that he’ll kill her if she quits. At one point in the movie, Bob ominously says to Violet, “Violet would never leave me, would you Violet? … In fact, you would probably die without me.” Bob also keeps telling Violet, as if he’s some kind of cannibal self-help guru: “Life’s too short.”

The plot of “Too Late” immediately raises questions that the movie never bothers answering. Wouldn’t it be obvious for the police to figure out that the missing stand-up comedians all worked for Bob, thereby making him a person of interest? Even though several people are murdered in the movie, there are no police investigations. And why should viewers root for Violet, who’s an accomplice to murder?

According to what’s said in the movie, she’s been working with Bob for several years, which makes Violet even more despicable for participating in and covering up these murders over such a long period of time. Violet has a housemate friend named Belinda (played by Jenny Zigrino), who keeps telling Violet that Violet should quit working for Bob, but Violet ignores this advice. Violet’s work as Bob’s assistant requires her to be at his constant beck and call. It’s taken a toll on Violet’s love life, which Belinda calls “a drought.”

Belinda comments to Violet about Bob: “He’s never going to let you go!” Violet responds, “I feel like I’m on an island. I feel like there’s a million bridges off of it, but every single one burns the second I try to leave.” You know it’s a bad comedy when the lines that are supposed to be funny aren’t funny, and the lines that are supposed to be serious might unintentionally make people laugh because they’re so cheesy.

Bob is the promoter of a stand-up comedy series called Too Late, which is held at a small theater called The Hayworth. It’s supposed to be one of the hottest comedy promotions in Los Angeles. Well, apparently not, because comedians can get murdered by Bob shortly after they’re booked to perform at Too Late. And no one in this silly movie figures it out, so people keep getting murdered.

Meanwhile, Violet books her own stand-up comedy series at a tiny coffee shop. It’s here that she meets an obnoxious aspiring stand-up comedian named Dax Hanlan (played by Billy Breed), who says he’s originally from Boston. Dax sidles up to Violet as she’s watching a comedian on stage and tries to flirt with her. Once he finds out that she’s the booker for Too Late, he tries to weasel his way into getting her to book him.

Violet is cold and dismissive when she repeatedly tells Dax that he can apply on the Too Late website. He won’t take the hint and still desperately tries to get Violet to pay attention to him. Finally, Violet tells Dax that it’s not a good idea to alienate the person who’ll decide whether or not he’ll be booked at Too Late. As she walks away, Dax mutters underneath his breath, “Stuck-up bitch.” Violet doesn’t hear him say this derogatory comment, but it’s at this point in the movie that you know that Dax is going to be an upcoming meal for Bob.

The comedians whom Violet books and sometimes hangs out with are very untalented and have shallow personalities. The worst is David Zeller (played by Jack De Sena), who’s the type of loser who throws a costume party with a mass suicide theme, so people come dressed to the party as cult members. Yes, this heinous movie tries to make mass suicides a comedic plot gimmick.

David hasn’t gotten on Violet’s bad side, so she’s decided she’s not going to feed him to Bob. Is that supposed to make her look classy? During the course of the story, Violet makes promises to some other comedians to book them for Too Late: Andy Jocelyn (played by Paul Danke), Chase Morrow (played by Brooks Wheelan) and Jimmy Rhodes (played by Will Weldon). These unskilled hacks might or not become murder victims of cannibal Bob and his cowardly assistant Violet.

Jimmy actually becomes Violet’s love interest, but their romance is so boring, it might put viewers to sleep. It isn’t until Violet starts developing feelings for Jimmy that she tries to deter him from wanting to be booked for Too Late. Violet and Jimmy have a not-so-meet-cute moment when Violet finds herself hiding in David’s bedroom closet during David’s “mass suicide” party, because David has unexpectedly gone into the room to have a sexual tryst with a female party guest. Violet doesn’t want David to know she was in his room to have some time alone, so that’s why she thinks it’s better to hide in the closet like a creep, rather than politely excuse herself and walk out of the room with some dignity.

While hiding in this closet, Violet meets Jimmy, who tells her that he’s renting the closet from David as a place to live. (As far-fetched as these living conditions might be to some people, there are many real-life examples of people who pay rent to live in a closet because it’s all they can afford, usually in big cities where the cost of living is much higher than in other places.) And what do you know, Jimmy is an aspiring stand-up comedian too. Based on the way this terrible screenplay is written, the only men Violet can meet in Los Angeles are aspiring stand-up comedians. It’s pathetic.

If anyone is wondering if Violet books any female comedians, the answer is yes, but she’s never actually shown booking any female comedians or talking to any female comedians about booking them. There’s a fairly even mix of male and female comedians shown on stage in the annoying and unfunny performance clips that are inserted throughout the movie. But apparently, Violet only chooses male comedians to be cannibal victims for Bob.

Wait, isn’t that gender discrimination in this fake feminist movie? You know it’s a fake feminist movie because the filmmakers try to make it look like when a woman wants men to be killed, it’s supposed to be “female empowerment.” Real feminism is about gender equality, not hating on men and wanting them to be murdered. This movie is so despicable.

Mary Lynn Rajskub plays experienced and jaded comic Gina Obispo, one of the Too Late comedians who does a terrible stand-up comedy routine that this movie wants viewers to think is funny. It’s a small and useless role, because all Gina does when she meets Violet for the first time is try to get Violet to admit to two things: (1) that Bob is horrible and (2) that Violet wants to become a stand-up comedian.

Throughout the movie, people keep asking Violet if she’s a stand-up comedian, even though there’s absolutely nothing that indicates that dull-as-dirt Violet has a sense of humor. Violet keeps denying that she has an interest in being a stand-up comedian. It’s all just an obvious set-up for what comes later in the movie, in some very phony pandering to feminism.

And in a disservice to this movie’s so-called “feminist” message, Violet only cares about hanging out with and mentoring male comedians, not female comedians. The only female comedian whom Violet interacts with in this movie is Gina, and it’s for less than five minutes. Gina seems like she’s been doing stand-up comedy longer than Violet has been alive. In other words, Gina doesn’t need Violet to mentor her.

Another pointless role in “Too Late” is the one played by Fred Armisen. His character in the movie is dorky Fredo Muñoz, a sound/lighting engineer at The Hayworth. The Fredo character adds nothing to the story, unless you think it’s important to watch scenes where Bob berates Fredo for not having the type of blue tint that Bob wants for the stage lighting. Someone must’ve called in a big favor to have a well-known actor like former “Saturday Night Live” star Armisen be in this cesspool movie, which is a big step down from the work that he’s capable of doing.

As for “boss from hell” Bob, the movie doesn’t bother to describe his origins on how and why he’s a cannibal. He looks human, but he can, of his own free will, transform into a monster with long nails, fangs and decrepit-looking flesh. He sleeps in a coffin, but he’s not a vampire. He keeps yapping to Violet about the “dark of the moon,” but he’s not a werewolf. The visual effects are as tacky and unconvincing as you would expect them to be in this garbage film.

The filmmakers try very hard to make Violet look like she’s some kind of heroine, but she’s not. It’s as if viewers are supposed to forget that Violet has actively participated in serial murders. The entire concept of this movie is simply awful, just like the screenwriting and direction. “Too Late” should’ve been titled “Too Little, Too Late,” because that’s an accurate description of the quality of this movie.

Gravitas Ventures released “Too Late” in select U.S. cinemas, on digital and VOD on June 25, 2021.

Review: ‘First Date’ (2021), starring Tyson Brown, Shelby Duclos, Nicole Berry, Samuel Ademola, Scott E. Noble, Leah Finity and Jesse Janzen

July 12, 2021

by Carla Hay

Shelby Duclos and Tyson Brown in “First Date” (Photo courtesy of Magnet Releasing)

“First Date” (2021)

Directed by Manuel Crosby and Darren Knapp

Culture Representation: Taking place in an unnamed California city, the comedy film “First Date” features a predominantly white group of people (with some African Americans) representing the working-class, middle-class and criminal underground.

Culture Clash: On the night that a socially awkward teenager has his first date with his dream girl, things go terribly wrong when he crosses paths with some crazy drug dealers, erratic cops and other assorted weirdos.

Culture Audience: “First Date” will appeal primarily to people who like watching movies with despicable characters getting violent with each other.

Samantha Laurenti, Jake Howard, Ryan Quinn Adams, Angela Barber and Jesse Janzen in “First Date” (Photo courtesy of Magnet Releasing)

“First Date” is the type of time-wasting movie where characters seem to be competing over who can be the most obnoxious. It’s a comedy that’s not very funny. The violence in the last third of the film is repetitive and monotonous. It seems like the filmmakers were trying too hard to emulate Quentin Tarantino films, by combining dark comedy with graphic violence. But the problem with trying to copy a unique and influential artist’s style is that it can come across as inauthentic, forced and ultimately unappealing. This overly derivative filmmaking and clumsy attempts at comedy are why “First Date” is a lackluster dud.

Manuel Crosby and Darren Knapp make their feature-film debut as screenwriters and directors with “First Date.” It’s not a completely horrible film, but it misses the mark in too many ways for it to be considered impressive. In the production notes for “First Date,” Crosby and Knapp say that they consider Tarantino to be one of their major influences. But a lot of wannabe Tarantino filmmakers can’t quite achieve what Tarantino has: genuine talent at screenwriting. (And he’s got the Oscars to prove it.)

A lot of filmmakers who tend to do “look at these wacky criminals” type of movies seem to get so caught up in staging violent scenes that any attempt at great screenwriting seems to be forgotten or sidelined in the process. Even though “First Date” does not have the type of movie protagonist (a hardened cynic) that Tarantino usually has in his movies, the hapless teenager at the center of “First Date” is cloned from the same formula used by countless other teen movies where a nerdy guy wants to have a romance with his “long shot” girl crush and has to go through a series of humiliations and challenges to win her heart.

In “First Date,” which takes place in an unnamed California city, the shy and insecure teen pining over his dream girl is Mike (played by Tyson Brown), a student in high school. Mike is about 17 years old, and he’s infatuated with Kelsey (played by Shelby Duclos), who attends the same school and is about the same age as Mike. In her spare time, Kelsey likes to practice boxing in her garage. And she doesn’t hesitate to sarcastically reject her neighbor/schoolmate Chet (played by Brandon Kraus), an arrogant and dimwitted hotshot, in his attempts to ask Kelsey out on a date.

However, Kelsey’s not so tough when it comes to her domineering parents (played by Darrell P. Miller and Desalene Jones), who don’t have names in the movie and who like to yell at her for no good reason. Kelsey pouts and sulks when her parent are gruff with her, but she ultimately does what they tell her to do. By contrast, Mike’s unnamed parents (played by NJ Brown and Keldamuzik) are very lenient to the point where they don’t really keep track of what’s going on in his life.

“First Date” is a series of contrived scenarios to make Mike embarrassed and uncomfortable. It starts with the first time he’s seen on screen, when he and his know-it-all best friend Brett (played by Josh Fesler) are riding their bicycles down their neighborhood street. The garage door at Kelsey’s house is open, so anyone passing by can see that Kelsey is boxing in the garage.

As Mike ogles her, Chet barrels down the street in his black Porsche and accidentally hits Mike, who takes a tumble on the street in front of Kelsey. Mike doesn’t have any injuries from this fall, but his confidence is bruised because Kelsey has seen everything. Chet makes sure that Mike isn’t physically hurt before admonishing Mike to be more alert when he’s in the middle of the street. Mike feels a little better when he sees Kelsey turn down Chet’s request for a date.

Back at Mike’s house, Mike and Brett are in Mike’s room, as Mike worries about how he can talk to Kelsey. Brett reveals that he has Kelsey’s phone number, which leads to Mike having a nervous and awkward conversation with Kelsey over the phone. And to Mike’s surprise, Kelsey is the one who makes the first move, by asking him if he wants to hang out with her later that evening. Mike immediately agrees to this date.

Mike’s elation soon turns to panic, when his parents tell him that they’re both driving to Las Vegas that day for a short getaway trip. Mike is unhappy about this trip because the car that his parents are driving to Las Vegas is the only car that the family has, so Mike is desperate to find another car to use for his first date with Kelsey. Brett has convinced Mike that Mike will look like a loser if Mike doesn’t have a car for Mike and Kelsey’s first date.

Apparently, no one ever told Mike that anyone who would lose interest in a first date, just because someone on the date temporarily doesn’t have use of a car, is someone who’s too shallow to be a good love partner anyway. But there would be no “First Date” movie if Mike had any common sense. In fact, Mike is less than smart in a lot of decisions he makes throughout this story.

Brett pressures Mike to buy a car that Brett has found online. The car is being sold by a private seller, and the asking price is $3,000. To make this purchase, Mike uses all of his savings, plus cash that he borrows without permission (in other words, steals) from his parents while the parents are away in Las Vegas. Mike leaves a note to his parents to tell them that he’ll pay them back for the money that he took from them.

When Mike shows up at the car seller’s home, he finds out that the seller—a sleazy middle-aged guy named Dennis (played by Scott E. Noble)—has already sold the advertised car to someone else. However, Dennis steers a very gullible Mike into the garage and convinces Mike to buy a beat-up and dirty blue 1965 Chrysler New Yorker instead. Like a fool, Mike pays the full $3,000 in cash for this ramshackle car. This clunker automobile is supposed to be the source of a lot of comedy and anxiety in the movie, but the jokes and gags centered on the car are just so predictable.

It turns out that doing car sales scams isn’t Dennis’ only shady activity, because he gets kidnapped for the most obvious reason why people involved in illegal activities get kidnapped. David’s trigger-happy wife Darla (played by Leah Finity), who’s an eccentric cat lady, also gets involved in the violent shenanigans. In a very cringeworthy scene with racial undertones, Mike goes back to David’s house to return some jewelry that he found in the car’s glove compartment, and Darla immediately begins shooting at Mike. She keeps shooting, even after knowing Mike is unarmed, he tells her why he’s there, and he begs her to stop shooting.

And it should come as no surprise that Mike’s car isn’t the complete trash heap it appears to be, because too many people end up wanting to find this car. The movie’s opening scene shows a guy named Tony (played by Todd Goble) getting shot to death through his locked door when he suddenly tries to leave town. It’s eventually revealed what Tony did that set in motion the sequence of events that caused Mike to get caught in the crossfire of danger, just because he’s now the owner of the car.

Most of the movie involves Mike running into various kooky people who get in the way of him trying to make it on time to his first date with Kelsey. There are two aggressively intrusive cops named Sergeant Davis (played by Nicole Berry) and Deputy Duchovny (played by Samuel Ademola), who keep pulling Mike over and questioning him. Mike gets very nervous, which makes the cops even more suspicious of him.

There’s a horny elderly couple named Roger (played by Graham Green) and Thelma (played by Shari Schweigler), who convince Mike to let them drive the car while he’s in the back seat, because they used to own the car. It’s very easy to predict what will happen when these spouses get amorous while Mike tries not to look. It’s one of the few scenes in “First Date” that can be considered laugh-out-loud funny, but the gag eventually fizzles.

And then there’s the motley crew of criminals who are looking for something that was stolen from the gang. These aggravating, two-dimensional losers are a leader nicknamed The Captain (played by Jesse Janzen); hothead Vince (played by Ryan Quinn Adams); loose cannon Ricky (played by Angela Barber); and sex-crazed couple Donnie (played by Jake Howard) and Mikaylah (played by Samantha Laurenti). All of them spend their screen time yelling and arguing with each other in very irritating ways. A shootout scene toward the end of the film is unimaginative and goes on for too long.

“First Date” has several cast members who made their feature-film debut in the movie, including lead actor Brown. He shows enough talent that suggests that he’s capable of making a mark in the movie industry if he’s given better material and better direction. Unfortunately, his Mike character in “First Date” is written as stuck in a “shocked/embarrassed” mode for most of this tedious movie.

The characters in “First Date” have personalities that are too annoying or too bland. Characters don’t have to be likable all the time, but viewers should still have some respect for the protagonist, in order for the movie to work on some level. Mike makes so many dumb decisions, even for a sheltered teenager, that it’ll be hard for a lot of viewers to respect him. The best thing about “First Date” is that there’s very little chance that there will be a “Second Date” sequel.

Magnet Releasing released “First Date” in select U.S. cinemas, on digital and VOD on July 2, 2021.

Review: ‘Zola,’ starring Taylour Paige and Riley Keough

June 28, 2021

by Carla Hay

Riley Keough and Taylour Paige in “Zola” (Photo courtesy of A24)

“Zola”

Directed by Janicza Bravo

Culture Representation: Taking place in Florida and briefly in Detroit, the comedy/drama “Zola” features a racially diverse cast of characters (African American, white and Latino) representing the working-class, middle-class and criminal underground.

Culture Clash: A stripper-turned-waitress in Detroit meets and quickly befriends a scheming stripper, who entices to the waitress to travel to Florida to make easy money stripping for a weekend that ends up wilder than they both expect.

Culture Audience: “Zola” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in dramedies about the perils of being a sex worker that are raunchy and violent with a quirky and sometimes off-kilter vibe.

Nicholas Braun, Riley Keough, Taylour Paige and Colman Domingo in “Zola” (Photo courtesy of A24)

The dramedy film “Zola” (directed by Janicza Bravo) has been getting a lot of comparisons to director Harmony Korine’s 2013 violent and hedonistic romp “Spring Breakers” and director Lorene Scafaria’s 2019 stripper crime drama “Hustlers.” It’s probably because all three movies, which blend carefree partying with an ongoing sense of danger, are about women unapologetically using their bodies and sex appeal to get what they want, as they have various levels of involvement with sleazy characters. “Zola” is not as hilariously bonkers as “Spring Breakers,” and it’s not as well-paced as “Hustlers,” but there are enough offbeat comedic moments and memorable performances for people curious enough to take this bumpy ride with two very different strippers.

The “Zola” screenplay, written by director Bravo and Jeremy O. Harris, is based on a series of real-life tweets made in 2015 by A’Ziah “Zola” King, who went on an epic 148-tweet rant about her misadventures during a stripper road trip with a fast friend who eventually became her enemy. (The movie’s prologue has a statement that reads, “What follows is mostly true.”) In real life, this friend-tuned-foe is named Jessica Rae Swiatkowski. In the movie, her name is Stefani Jezowski.

And in the beginning of the movie, Zola (played by Taylour Paige) gets right to the point when she says in a voiceover: “You want to know how me and this bitch here fell out? It’s kind of long but full of suspense.” Much of the comedy in the movie comes from the racial and cultural dynamics when Zola and Stefani (played by Riley Keough) end up clashing and getting on each other’s nerves.

Zola, who is African American, can best be described as a free spirit with boundaries. She has no problem with being a stripper, but she refuses to be a prostitute. She’s fun-loving but level-headed, trusting but cautiously jaded. Stefani, who is white, can best be described as someone with insecurities over her identity. Stefani desperately wants to sound like she’s a tough black person who’s “from the streets,” but she switches to an “innocent white girl” persona when it suits her. Stefani has no qualms about being a prostitute, and she’s very impulsive and manipulative.

Stefani (who is 21) and Zola (who is 19) meet one day when Stefani is a customer at the Detroit diner where Zola works as a waitress. (In real life, Zola worked at Hooters.) Stefani’s way of complimenting Zola is by telling her, “Damn, bitch. You’ve got perfect titties. I wish I had titties like that. They look just like little apples.”

Stefani’s date with her at the restaurant is a man named Johnathan (played by Nasir Rahim), who’s about 15 to 20 years older than Stefani. In reaction to Stefani complimenting Zola about Zola’s breasts, Johnathan says, “Oh, so you’re just going to pull that dyke shit in front of me and not include me.” Stefani replies like a gum-chewing teenager, “You’re so dumb!”

Stefani is so intrigued with Zola that she follows her into a back room for the diner’s employees only. Stefani tells Zola that she’s sure they’ve met somewhere before, so Stefani asks if Zola is a dancer. Zola says she used to dance, and Stefani’s eyes light up. She tells Zola that they should dance together sometime. Stefani also mentions that she’s a single parent to a daughter, whom she calls her baby, and shows Zola a picture of the girl.

In the beginning of the movie, there are hints that Zola and Stefani might be sexually attracted to each other. When they have their first conversation, the movie shows heart graphics on screen, as if there’s instant infatuation. Although it would be very predictable for Zola and Stefani to be openly bisexual and act on it with each other—a very common trope in stripper movies that are usually directed by men—Bravo doesn’t use that formula.

Instead, Zola’s attraction to Stefani is how easily Stefani can make someone feel like an instant best friend. Zola also seems fascinated by this woman who clearly wants to be accepted by the African Americans. And so, when Stefani calls Zola the next day to invite her to go on a road trip to Florida to make some easy stripping money, Zola is intrigued but doesn’t immediately say yes. Zola wants to know who else is going on the trip before she agrees to go on the trip.

One of the people on the trip is Stefani’s dimwitted boyfriend Derreck (played by Nicholas Braun), who is very passive and has anxiety issues. The other person on this road trip is in the driver’s seat, literally and metaphorically: a Nigerian immigrant who doesn’t have a name in the movie but who is listed in the film credits as X (played by Colman Domingo), who switches back and forth between his Nigerian and American accents. A recurring joke in the film is that people keep bungling X’s real name when they say it, so it’s unclear what his name really is. In real life, the alleged pimp’s name was Akporode “Rudy” Uwedjojevwe.

Zola has a live-in boyfriend named Sean (played by Ari’el Stachel), who isn’t thrilled that Zola will be going back to stripping, even if it’s only for a weekend. Zola has sex with Sean to ease some of his disapproval. She also convinces him that the trip will be good for them because they need the extra money. And so, when Zola gets into the black Mercedes SUV with Stefani, X and Derrek, she’s feeling pretty good about this trip to Tampa, Florida. That feeling won’t last long.

Within 24 hours, Zola finds out that X is Stefani’s domineering pimp. And he wants Stefani and Zola to turn tricks for him. He’s the type of gun-carrying pimp who will take all or most of his prostitutes’ money, and say it’s for their “expenses.” And when Zola tries to leave, X threatens her and tells her that he knows where she lives.

One of the biggest flaws in the movie is how supposedly street-smart Zola couldn’t figure out a way to leave this bad situation, since she’s not being held captive physically (she’s never tied up or locked in a room), and X isn’t with Zola and Stefani all of the time. Zola has her purse with her at all times. Couldn’t she use a credit card or other bank card to pay for a way back home? And if she was afraid to call the cops, why didn’t she at least call her boyfriend Sean to tell him what was happening so that he could help her get out of there?

The movie isn’t concerned about letting Zola find a way to escape because it’s implied throughout the movie that a big part of Zola likes to seek out danger as a way to bring excitement to her life. Zola’s biggest regret seems to be that she misjudged Stefani, who at first seemed like someone Zola could trust as a friend, but ends up being someone who becomes extremely annoying and mistrustful to Zola.

The best parts of “Zola” have to do with some of the “ratchet” banter between Zola and Stefani. There are also some characters they encounter who bring some laughs. In a strip club dressing room, there’s a hilarious scene of a stripper prayer huddle, led by a “large and in charge” husky-voiced dancer named Hollywood (played by Ts Madison), where the strippers pray for men with “good credit,” “culture” and “big dicks.” The stripper named Hollywood acts like a melodramatic church preacher who’s praying for a miracle.

There’s also a recurring catch phrase that Zola says in a deadpan voice when she’s stuck in a room where Stefani is having sex with someone: “They started fucking. It was gross.” And during a scene where Zola is on a strip club stage and getting a bill tucked into her bikini bottom by a middle-aged white customer, he says to her with some excitement, “You look a lot like Whoopi Goldberg!” It’s the movie’s way at poking fun at white people who think that all black people look alike.

The movie also parodies the racial differences between Zola and Stefani, in a segment where Stefani gives her “rebuttal” version of what happened, based on a series of Reddit messages that are re-enacted in the movie. In Stefani’s version, she’s an innocent Christian girl who was led astray by a “trashy” black woman. In this re-enactment of Stefani’s version of the story, Stefani is wearing a conservative-looking pink skirt and blazer and Zola is literally wearing garbage bags when they get in the car on the road trip. It’s an obvious commentary on how the race card can be played in trying to manipulate people’s perceptions of who’s “guilty” and who’s “innocent,” based on someone’s physical appearance.

Just like in “Hustlers,” the lingering camera angles on the stripper activities and dancer bodies are meant to be more sensual than exploitative. Pole dancing is presented as an athletic art form that requires talent in balance and precision. And although Stefani and Zola both have sex scenes and stripper scenes, neither has full-frontal nudity in the movie. It’s a very “female gaze” film because only men have full-frontal nudity in “Zola,” during a montage where Stefani entertains a series of customers in a hotel bedroom.

Zola, Stefani, X and Derrek are an unusual quartet that will keep viewers interested in seeing what’s going to happen to them. And without the talents of the actors depicting these characters, “Zola” wouldn’t be nearly as engaging. Ari Wegner’s cinematography is vibrant and eye-catching. It was influenced by Hieronymus Bosch’s “The Garden of Earthly Delights,” according to the “Zola” production notes. But how a movie looks won’t matter much if the movie’s characters don’t hold people’s attention.

Some of the movie’s editing gives “Zola” almost a hypnotic quality, particularly in scenes where Zola and Stefani stand in front of a mirror and seem mesmerized by their own images. As if to demonstrate how in sync they are before their friendship turns sour, there’s a scene where Zola and Stefani do their hair and makeup together with almost identical movements. However, as visually striking as many of the scenes are in “Zola,” the movie’s pacing tends to drag in the middle of the film.

There’s also a shady character named Dion (played by Jason Mitchell), whose intentions are telegraphed so blatantly, it leaves no room for suspense or mystery for why Dion is in the movie. He’s a stranger who chats up Derrek at the hotel where they’re staying at, and when Dion shows up again later in the movie, viewers won’t be surprised why. People can easily predict what can happen in any movie where a pimp with a gun carries around a lot of cash and makes it obvious that he’s traveling with prostitutes and no backup security people. The last third of “Zola” crams in an action scene that’s a little clumsily handled and fizzles out some of the naughty comedy that enlivens the movie.

“Zola” can also get a little too repetitive with the back-and-forth interactions of Stefani doing something to irritate Zola, and Zola reacting by calling her a “bitch” or some other insult. Derrek’s relationship with Stefani is exactly what you think it is: He’s madly in love with her and easily forgives her transgressions when she makes cutesy romantic talk to him. There’s no backstory of how Derrek and Stefani met and how long they’ve been together, but it’s clear that she’s not really in love with him and she’s just using him.

Very few movies can successfully balance violence and raunchiness with satire and emotional gravitas. “Zola” makes an attempt and often succeeds, but it’s a movie that might disappoint people who are expecting a more unique, madcap adventure. The movie also somewhat glosses over the real horrors of sex trafficking, just to get some cheap and tawdry laughs. Zola might be skilled at making sassy and salty remarks, but she’s got a lot to learn about being a truly powerful and independent woman.

A24 will release “Zola” in U.S. cinemas on June 30, 2021.

Review: ‘As of Yet,’ starring Taylor Garron

June 23, 2021

by Carla Hay

Taylor Garron in “As of Yet” (Photo by Jamal Solomon)

“As of Yet”

Directed by Taylor Garron and Chanel James

Culture Representation: Taking place over two days in June 2020, mainly in New York City, as as well as in Florida, Los Angeles, and the United Kingdom, the comedy/drama film “As of Yet” (or “as of yet,” as the movie’s title is sometimes styled) features a predominantly African American cast of characters (with two white people and one Asian), representing the middle-class.

Culture Clash: During her COVID-19 pandemic quarantine, a woman in her 20s has dilemmas about two people in her life: her overly possessive roommate (who’s been her best friend since college) and a potential new love interest, who would be the first in-person date she’s had since the quarantine began.

Culture Audience: “As of Yet” will appeal mainly to people who are interested in watching a realistic and minimalist quarantine comedy/drama that explores issues related to dating, friendships and family.

There have been several scripted movies that take place during the COVID-19 pandemic that have attempted to depict authentic quarantine experiences. The comedy/drama “As of Yet” is one of the few that gets it right. It’s a witty, warm and relatable film that doesn’t try to scare people into thinking that someone is going to die at any moment in the movie. Instead, the only fear that’s portrayed in the movie is the fear of letting go of a co-dependent but toxic best friend, as well as how dating a potential new love interest might affect the friendship. It’s a movie that’s filled with various conversations held over Zoom and FaceTime, but the story will connect on a deeper level with audiences who understand that’s it’s really about reflecting on life priorities.

Taylor Garron is the star, writer, co-director and one of the producers of “As of Yet,” which is the feature-film directorial debut of Garron, who co-directed with Chanel James. “As of Yet” is an impressive directorial debut, even if it didn’t have a COVID-19 pandemic setting. Garron’s writing is emotionally intelligent and appealing to anyone who wants to see people in scripted movies act and talk like how college-educated people in the real world talk. The fact that most of the cast members are black is a bonus for the film. “As of Yet” had its world premiere at the 2021 Tribeca Film Festival in New York City. Garron and James won the 2021 Tribeca Film Festival’s Nora Ephron Award, a prize given to emerging female filmmakers.

“As of Yet” admirably and skillfully shows a very real and vibrant part of black culture that rarely gets showcased in movies and doesn’t fall into the same, over-used negative sterotypes that movies have of black people. Nowhere in this movie is anyone portrayed as a criminal, poor or a struggling single parent. Portraying black people as second-class citizens is too often the narrative for a movie where the central character is black and living in a big city, even though most black people in America are not criminals, poor or struggling single parents. A movie starring a black woman usually centers the story on either pain or anger, but Garron refuses to go down that road that often leads to exploitation.

Instead, Garron’s Naomi Parson character (the movie’s protagonist, who’s in her mid-20s), is a relatively happy person who’s got a pretty great life, all things considered. She’s an actress who has loving and supportive family members and friends. She’s healthy. She’s college-educated. And she lives in a comfortable apartment in a quiet, tree-lined street in New York City’s Brooklyn borough. She’s staying safe in the middle of a deadly pandemic, but don’t expect this movie to kill her off or for her to get bad medical news—two other over-used negative tropes for black people with prominent roles in movies.

“As of Yet,” which takes place over two days and two nights, begins on Day 83 of Naomi’s quarantine. There are two types of videos in the movie: Naomi’s private video diaries and the video conversations that she has on Zoom and FaceTime. Naomi is an actress on an unnamed TV series that is currently on hiatus due to the pandemic. She’s been receiving unemployment benefits in the meantime. And she’s proud to have a reached a milestone in her finances: She now has about $10,000 in personal savings.

The movie doesn’t mention what college Naomi went to, but it’s mentioned that it was a four-year university in Amherst, Massachusetts. It’s where she met her white best friend/roommate Sara (played by Eva Victor), who is currently and temporarily staying with Sara’s parents in Florida. The movie never mentions what Sara does for a living, but she’s very spoiled, and she talks in that snotty tone of voice that sounds like she watches too much of “Keeping Up With the Kardashians” and “The Real Housewives.” In fact, after watching Sara and her manipulations in this movie, Sara seems like someone who would fit right in on a reality show about self-centered, catty women.

The first 10 minutes of “As of Yet” could be a little bit of turnoff to viewers who might think this is a movie that looks like any of the millions of social media video conversations made by young people who babble on about potential love interests or what their party plans are. But the movie gets much better as it goes along. It becomes a riveting character study of a woman finding her way through her post-college identity.

The COVID-19 pandemic is a big conversation topic in “As of Yet,” but it’s not the movie’s only focus. Many of the issues brought forth are issues that were going on in Naomi’s life before the pandemic. The pandemic is often used as a reason for certain people’s words and actions. But the pandemic can also force people to evaluate certain things in their lives.

Naomi faces that type of personal reckoning when it to comes to her friendship with Sara. The main dilemma that Naomi has is deciding if her friendship with Sara is worth keeping. It’s a very co-dependent, lopsided relationship where Naomi does a lot of the giving, and Sara does a lot of the taking.

As Naomi says in her video diary near the beginning of the movie: “I really miss Sara.” Sara’s quarantine with her parents is the longest that Naomi and Sara have been apart. This period of time apart has given Naomi some room to relax and some room to worry about what her life would be like without her best friend.

During a video chat, where Sara drones on mostly about herself, she comes up with the idea of hosting a “welcome back” dinner party for herself and Naomi when Sara comes back to New York. Sara describes the party as a way to “celebrate our friendship, but it’s also about me a little bit.” Sara mentions that she can steal some of her mother’s inferior wine and bring it to the party. She also laughs when she pictures her mother finding the wine missing and how it will be fun to think about how annoyed her mother would be if her mother knew what happened to the wine.

One of the ways that the movie shows how different (and incompatible) Sara and Naomi are is when they talk about the Black Lives Matter protests over the deaths of George Floyd and other black people who were victims of police brutality. Naomi has been participating in these protests on the streets of New York City. She mentions that she always wears masks when she’s out in public.

Sara has a slightly disgusted and annoyed expression on her face when the Black Lives Matter protests are brought up in the conversation. She asks Naomi if it’s scary to be part of the protests. Naomi says it’s not scary. But later, in another conversation with two of her black female friends who are protesters in Los Angeles, they candidly discuss witnessing police brutality at the protests.

Naomi and Sara talk about the difference between peaceful protesting and rioting. Sara is inclined to think that rioters are part of the protest movement, while Naomi says that most rioters are not part of Black Lives Matter and other activist movements. Naomi does concede that when it comes to activism, she thinks, “You have to be a little violent to get things done.” The awkward silence and expression on Sara’s face say a lot after Naomi makes that comment.

During Naomi and Sara’s conversation, they also talk about a man in hs 20s named Reed, whom Naomi has been talking to online for the past four months. Because of the quarantine, Naomi and Reed haven’t been able to meet in person for a date yet, but they hope to do so in the near future. It would be Naomi’s first in-person date since the pandemic lockdown began. Instead of being happy for Naomi and telling her to be safe, Sara acts as if Naomi is going to put Sara’s life in serious jeopardy by being in contact with someone who doesn’t live in their household.

Sara puts up such a fuss about it that it unnerves Naomi. The rest of the movie shows Naomi debating with herself and other people if she should meet Reed for a date in person and if she should tell Sara about it. It’s not a problem that’s as superficial as it sounds. Viewers will see that how Naomi handles this date dilemma is a manifestation of how she’s been handling a lot of the control issues going in her friendship with Sara and how Naomi feels about herself.

“As of Yet” has a very small number of people in its cast, which will make this movie very easy to follow. Besides Sara, the other people Naomi talk to about Sara and Reed are:

  • Reed (played by Amir Khan), a geeky, long-haired “nice guy” who works in some kind of computer tech job. Since the quarantine, he’s been working from home and rewatching “Survivor” reruns.
  • Sadie (played by Paula Akpan), Naomi’s British cousin who’s openly queer, very outspoken and someone who definitely doesn’t approve of Sara.
  • Naomi’s parents, who are unnamed in the movie but are played by Taylor Garron’s real-life parents Colleen Pina Garron and Christopher Garron. Naomi talks to her mother longer in their conversation (her dad briefly pops into the conversation), and Sara’s close and loving relationship with her parents is very evident.
  • Lyssa (played by Quinta Brunson) and Khadijah (played by Ayo Edebiri), two of Naomi’s friends in Los Angeles. They both don’t like Sara because they think she makes Naomi feel insecure and anxious. Khadijah is more blunt and forthcoming than Lyssa in giving advice to Naomi on what to do about Sara.
  • An unnamed neighbor (played by Anthony Allman), who Naomi talks to randomly when he pokes her head out of her apartment window and sees him walking down the street.

During these conversations, viewers find out more things about Naomi. Her family has origins in Cape Verde. Her parents are passionate about social causes, and Naomi got her interest in being a civil rights activist from her parents. She’s a very loyal, funny and caring person. Her willingness to put the needs of others before her own needs is a virtue, but it can also be a fault because people like Sara have taken advantage of it. Naomi hints at past romances and heartbreaks because she made the mistake of trusting the wrong people.

Naomi loves to talk and has a very quick-witted, self-deprecating sense of humor. Reed is quieter and more laid-back. Reed and Naomi both like watching TV and they appreciate each other’s off-beat geekiness over TV shows. Naomi has an interesting quirk of having only watched one movie in her life: the 1995 comedy “Heavyweights,” starring Ben Stiller and Kenan Thompson, about a group of overweight teens sent to a weight-loss camp that’s run by a psycho fitness instructor.

Naomi and Reed’s conversations in the movie show that they have a comfortable rapport with each other, and they can make each other laugh. However, viewers will wonder how well Naomi really knows Reed. Have they had meaningful conversations that go deeper than joking around and talking about what TV shows they like to watch? Are they compatible, in terms of lifestyles and life goals? This movie offers no real answers to those questions, because it’s just a glimpse into Naomi’s life over a two-day period.

One of the most outstanding things about “As of Yet” is how all the conversations look authentic, almost like a documentary. It’s one thing for the screenplay to be well-written (and it is), but the cast members should also get credit for delivering the lines in a very naturalistic and convincing way. There isn’t one moment in this movie that looks overly staged and overly rehearsed.

And there are many details that add to the authenticity. Naomi isn’t afraid to be shown from some unflattering camera angles. At one point in the movie, her armpit hair is showing (but not during her conversations with Reed), and her mother reminds Naomi to shave her armpits before she meets Reed in person.

The movie also doesn’t shy away from the topic of race. When Naomi tells her family members and black friends about Reed, one of the first questions they ask is if Reed is black. Naomi talks about the Black Lives Matter protests in a different and more unguarded way with her black friends than she does with Sara. Naomi’s mother also tells her a great anecdote about her childhood experiences with the Black Panthers.

The movie’s one detail about race that might raise questions with viewers is why Naomi hasn’t asked Reed yet what race he is. (He’s American and his family’s ethnicity appears to be South Asian or possibly from the Middle East.) If you’ve been chatting with someone for several months and plan to go on a date with each other, it’s not unreasonable to ask that person what their racial/ethnic heritage is, as part of the “getting to know you” process.

Naomi says she hasn’t asked Reed because she thinks it would be rude to ask. But it kind of contradicts how Naomi keeps bragging to her loved ones about how she knows Reed well enough that she thinks he’s a good guy who would be safe to date. The fact that she’s afraid to ask Reed what race he is will make people wonder what other basic and reasonable questions Naomi hasn’t asked him.

It’s another layer to the story in “As of Yet,” which shows how in the early months of the pandemic, single people were trying to adjust to how dating was affected by the pandemic quarantine. Naomi has to grapple with these questions: What’s the proper etiquette of a first date, when it comes to mask wearing and social distancing? Is it really a good idea to date somene new during a lockdown quarantine?

How do you know who’s really safe and not infected, when COVID-19 test results are only valid for a very limited time? (And keep in mind, this movie takes place before any COVID-19 vaccines were available.) It’s a question that Naomi can’t really answer about Reed, but she makes several comments in her conversations that she’s sure that Reed is “safe,” just because he told her so.

Actually, she doesn’t know for sure if Reed has COVID-19 or not. Taking people’s word for it without proof is one of the main reasons why a lot of people got infected with COVID-19. And lot of people who infected others didn’t know they had COVID-19 because they didn’t show any symptoms at the time.

Naomi’s blind trust in Reed’s COVID-19 status is an example of her trusting nature, just like Sara’s over-reaction to Naomi possibly dating someone new during the quarantine is an example of her jealous and controlling nature. Viewers will find out how much of a loathsome hypocrite Sara is when it comes to COVID-19 safety. (It’s slight spoiler information that won’t be revealed in this review.)

Because “As of Yet” is a movie that takes place mostly on computer screens in people’s middle-class homes, there’s no flashy cinematography, elaborate set designs or fancy costumes. The movie, which is more suspenseful than people might think it would be, excels mainly because of the screenwriting and how well the cast members bring their characters to life. The movie might not satisfy people who want a predictable conclusion, but “As of Yet” will keep viewers entertained with some lively conversations along the way.

Review: ‘Mark, Mary & Some Other People,’ starring Hayley Law and Ben Rosenfield

June 22, 2021

by Carla Hay

Hayley Law and Ben Rosenfield in “Mark, Mary + Some Other People” (Photo by Casey Stolberg)

“Mark, Mary & Some Other People”

Directed by Hannah Marks

Culture Representation: Taking place mainly in the Los Angeles area, the sex comedy “Mark, Mary & Some Other People” features a predominantly white cast (with a few African Americans, Latinos and Asians) representing the middle-class.

Culture Clash: A newlywed interracial couple decide to have an open marriage and have to deal with the jealousy and complications that ensue.

Culture Audience: “Mark, Mary & Some Other People” will appeal mainly to people who like watching self-conscious hipster comedies with characters who are foul-mouthed, shallow, and have an annoying tendency to act as if their lifestyles are better than anyone else’s.

Ben Rosenfield and Hayley Law in “Mark, Mary & Some Other People” (Photo by Casey Stolberg)

“Mark, Mary & Some Other People” is an occasionally funny but very flawed swinger sex comedy made by and for people who want a movie where interracial spouses don’t talk about race, and Hispanics in Los Angeles are underrepresented and don’t speak. The movie is a clumsy mismatch of being very woke and very tone-deaf. The cast members who portray the swinger married couple in the film’s title are talented in their performances, and the movie does have some genuine charm here and there. (The final scene is a highlight.) But ultimately, it’s a movie that comes across as a little too smug for its own good. When it comes right down to it, this is a story about immature people who are so obsessed with appearing to be “open-minded” that they don’t see how self-absorbed they really are.

The word “woke” is often used as an insulting way for conservatives to describe people they think are too politically correct. But in “Mark, Mary & Some Other People” (which is set mainly in the Los Angeles area and takes place over a two-year period), even the “woke” characters call themselves “woke,” and they love to announce how politically progressive they are, every chance they get. But it’s the type of “wokeness” where people, who identify as progressive liberals and live in a racially diverse city, can’t be bothered to have any close friends who are black or Hispanic. To fill their “diverse friendship” quota, they might have one or two Asians in their social circle. That’s exactly what’s going on in “Mark, Mary & Some Other People,” which was written and directed by Hannah Marks. The movie had its world premiere at the 2021 Tribeca Film Festival in New York City.

In this movie, no one is guiltier of this self-congratulatory virtue signaling than Mary Lewis (played by Hayley Law), a motormouth in her mid-20s, who has to spew something politically correct every five minutes to prove how “enlightened” she is. She’s more about platitude posturing than being a well-rounded person. Mary also happens to be African American/bi-racial. One of her parents is white, and one is black, although the movie never reveals which parent is which race. Mary’s mother is dead, and her father is not mentioned at all.

Mary plays bass guitar in an all-female rock trio that keeps changing its name to things that Mary thinks will make the band sound like edgy feminists. It’s a running joke in the movie. One of the band’s names is Butter Cunt, which tells you right there what this movie thinks is funny. Because the band has no talent and can’t get any paying gigs, Mary works at various part-time menial jobs during the course of the movie. She does some speaking-voice work for places that need recordings for outgoing phone messages and PA system announcements. She also works as a housecleaner and a food server.

Mary’s husband is Mark Kenneth Sampson (played by Ben Rosenfield), also in his mid-20s, who is a “beta male” man-child that has become the stereotypical male lead character in mumblecore movies where everyone tries to outdo each other in looking like trendy, progressive hipsters. Mark is the type of person who identifies as a male feminist, which is basically a mumblecore movie way of depicting a man who is whiny, insecure, and so afraid of appearing sexist that he lets his domineering female partner treat him like crap. Mark works with his father in a vague “plastics manufacturing” job, but Mark’s father is never shown in the movie. Mark is never actually shown working at his “plastics manufacturing” job, but he is shown doing his other job as a dog walker. The movie doesn’t give any mention of Mark’s mother.

Mark is white, but the movie unrealistically shuts out any conversations that interracial couples would have about being in an interracial relationship. It’s one of the many flaws about “Mark, Mary & Some Other People,” which goes out of its way to be frank and detailed (often to the point of monotonous vulgarity) about many other aspects of sexual attraction, dating and marriage, except for race. It’s almost as if writer/director Marks and the other filmmakers thought that having an interracial couple as the main characters would be enough to fulfill their racial diversity checklist, and they want to pretend that racism and discussions about race simply don’t exist in a world that they decided to center on an interracial couple.

Mary will lecture people all day long about sexuality and gender politics, but her refusal to talk about race actually makes her look very phony and willfully ignorant. What kind of progressive liberal who’s supposed to care about social justice doesn’t want to talk about race? A hypocrite like Mary, who wants to live in a delusional bubble where she floats through life and doesn’t want to deal with a messy topic such as racism, even though she’s someone who has inevitably experienced racism. It should come as no surprise that Mary doesn’t have any black friends. (Sex partners who are treated like disposable sex toys don’t count as real friends.)

Women of color who are written this way in movies and TV shows are usually written by people who have no idea what it’s like to be a woman of color. And so, in this movie where one of the two main characters is black, “black culture” is avoided, ignored or sidelined. That’s probably why “Mark, Mary & Some Other People” is the type of movie where the only African American people who have speaking roles in the movie (two women) are light-skinned, bi-racial people. There are less than a handful of Hispanic/Latino and dark-complexioned African Americans who get listed actor credits in the movie, and they’re really just extras: They don’t speak, they’re nameless characters in the movie’s many hookup scenes, and they’re on screen for less than 30 seconds each.

And it’s why this movie that tries so hard to look progressive and “woke”—as these swingers accumulate sexual conquests throughout Los Angeles County—is shamefully out-of-touch and backwards when it comes to representing what the population of Los Angeles County actually looks like. This movie is set in Los Angeles County, where 48.6% of the population identify as Hispanic/Latino, according the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2010 statistics. That number is expected to be higher when the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2020 statistics are announced.

But the filmmakers of “Mark, Mary & Some Other People”—who probably want the world to think they’re open-minded and progressive, based on how the movie’s characters talk—couldn’t be bothered to give any Hispanic/Latino actors any speaking lines in this movie that takes place in a county where nearly half the population is Hispanic/Latino. When people say that Hispanics/Latinos are underrepresented in American-made movies, “Mark, Mary & Some Other People” is an example of this problem. Filmmakers who act like they’re progressive liberals need to do better in practicing what they preach.

It isn’t nitpicking to bring up the races/ethnicities of this movie’s cast members, because this entire movie is relentlessly “in your face” about the characters (especially the main characters) being progressive liberals. Therefore, it would be foolish and (quite frankly) irresponsible not to point out this movie’s hypocrisy, flaws and blind spots when it comes to the very same issues. People who live in certain “bubbles” probably won’t notice these flaws, because they’ll be too enamored with the self-approving hipster dialogue and titillation of seeing a swinger lifestyle depicted in a movie.

But “Mark, Mary & Some Other People” has a lot of flaws, such as showing how obvious it is that Mark and Mary are very mismatched from the start. For a movie like this to succeed in resonating with adults (this movie’s intended audience), audiences should be rooting for the couple to be happy and supportive of each other—not spending most of the movie cringing and hoping that the couple will break up, so the couple won’t keep wallowing in the misery of jealousy, power struggles and incompatibility that are all over this relationship.

Every movie about a couple with an “open relationship” ends up being about how they handle jealousy over other sex partners. The trick is in keeping people guessing on whether or not the couple will stay together. Unfortunately, “Mark, Mary & Some Other People” telegraphs very early on how immature and messy Mark and Mary are in relationships, because Mark and Mary don’t even seem to like themselves very much. People with enough life experience will notice this low self-esteem right away, while people with less life experience might have more of a fairy-tale perspective of love and sex.

“Mark, Mary & Some Other People” doesn’t waste time with Mark and Mary’s “meet cute” moment because it’s the very first scene in the movie. Actually, it’s more like a “re-meet cute” moment, because it’s not the first time that they’ve met, although only one of them immediately remembers where they previously met. Mark and Mary, who both live in the city of Los Angeles, see each other at a convenience store. Mark shows an instant interest in her, while it takes Mary a little longer to show she’s attracted to him.

Mark and Mary met before when they attended the same college (which is unnamed in the movie), but Mary doesn’t remember Mark at first because he was a lot heavier in college than he is now. The movie doesn’t have flashbacks. Anything that happened before this story takes place is described in conversations.

At the convenience store, Mark notices that Mary is buying a pregnancy test, but she hastily tells him that the pregnancy test isn’t for her. (It’s an obvious lie.) After Mark checks out Mary’s rear end, he immediately asks her to go to a smoothie place with him on a date.

She says yes, and during their conversation at the smoothie place, Mary admits that the pregnancy test is for her. Mark expresses disappointment that Mary might already be in a committed relationship, but she assures him that she’s very single and available. She also tells him up front that she’s sexually interested in men and women, because she mentions a woman whom she describes as a former lover of hers.

“Mark, Mary & Some Other People” then takes an “only in a movie” turn when Mark tells Mary that it just so happens that he’s working with his father on an invention where pregnancy test results can come from saliva, not urine. It’s a very far-fetched part of the movie that will have viewers rolling their eyes in disbelief if they know anything about human biology. The movie wants us to believe that human salivary glands are somehow connected to the urethra, but it’s just an example of how dumb the filmmakers expect this movie’s audience to be.

Unfortunately, this salivary pregnancy test isn’t a random joke. It’s depicted as very real in this movie, and it becomes a big part of one of the movie’s pivotal scenes. A salivary pregnancy test is actually an unnecessary medical invention for this story, and it’s a bizarre twist to Mark’s “plastics manufacturing” job. Maybe the filmmakers were inspired by Elizabeth Holmes and Theranos, because there’s a concerted and almost laughable effort to make this salivary pregnancy test look convincing.

Mark is very nerdy and eager to impress. Mary is very manipulative and notices these personality traits in Mark, so immediately she figures she can have the upper hand in the relationship. When Mark asks her if he can have her phone number, she plays hard to get. Then, she tests Marks boundaries by telling him that he can have her phone number if he goes in the smoothie place’s public restroom with her while she takes the pregnancy test. He hesitates at first, but then obliges. Yes, that it’s that kind of movie.

It should be noted that there’s no nudity in “Mark, Mary & Some Other People,” which might be director Marks’ way of avoiding criticism of being exploitative in a movie filled with sex. However, no filmmaker should get extra praise for not having nudity in a sex-oriented movie. The movie should be judged on other things, such as the quality of directing, writing and acting.

When Mark and Mary go into the public restroom, he shows that he’s a gentleman by not looking at her while she urinates. It should come as no surprise to the audience when Mary finds out that she’s not pregnant, because having a pregnancy would get in the way of the swinger antics that this movie is using as a hook to get an audience. And it’s also not surprising that Mary—who manipulates a guy on a first date to go in a public restroom with her while she urinates for a pregnancy test, just so he can get her phone number—is someone who’s kind of nasty and very insecure.

It sets the tone for the relationship though: Mary is the one who comes up with the ideas that make Mark uncomfortable, and she makes him think he’s too uptight if doesn’t say yes to the ideas. She’s not bossy about it, but she’s very skilled at knowing people’s weaknesses and pushing those buttons. And she’s one of these people who gives off a conceited attitude of “I’m better than you because I’m so woke and trendy.”

It will ultimately turn a lot of viewers off from Mary, who is not a genuine free spirit who will let people be who they are. She won’t back off when Mark expresses discomfort with what she wants to do. She acts like she really won’t approve of someone and that person will make her unhappy unless they conform to what she wants at all times. And for someone like Mark, who’s obviously less experienced at dating than Mary is and desperate for someone to love him, he’s an easy target.

Case in point: When the movie fast-forwards about a year after Mark and Mary’s first date, Mark and Mary are getting married, and Mary has to be the “woke police,” even during their elopement wedding. Mark and Mary are at a cheap-looking wedding chapel in an unnamed city, where they are getting married. In another example of how this movie stumbles on realistic details, the only people at this wedding ceremony are Mark, Mary and the guy who’s marrying them. There are no other witnesses, even though witnesses other than the married couple and wedding officiator would be required to make the ceremony legal.

After Mark and Mary say their wedding vows, the wedding officiator says, “You may now kiss the bride.” Mary starts complaining and asks why that statement is male-centric because it gives the man the power to initiate the kiss. Mary begins ranting that no one ever says, “You many now kiss the groom” at wedding ceremonies where a man and woman get married. The wedding officiator says he doesn’t know the answers, but “You may now kiss the bride” is in his wedding script, and he’s just doing his job. But that answer doesn’t make Mary happy. (Almost nothing seems to make her happy, which is why Mary is so insufferable.)

Mary nags at the wedding officiator to change the wording to “You may now kiss the groom,” or else she won’t kiss Mark. Just to get this miserable shrew off of his back, the wedding officiator obliges, and probably feels relieved when these newlyweds leave so he doesn’t have to deal with her again. Mary and Mark spend their honeymoon at the Madonna Inn (a famously kitschy lodging in San Luis Obispo, California), where they take psychedelic mushrooms, with a typical mumblecore movie montage of them having drug-induced hallucinations during their honeymoon bliss.

If it was the filmmakers’ intention to make feminism look cool, the end result is just the opposite in this movie. Mary is supposed to embody modern feminism in this movie, but she’s just a pretentious brat who makes real feminists (and women in general) look bad. The only genuinely feminist thing about this movie is that it shows how women can be just as sexually active as men and shouldn’t have to make any apologies for it.

Mark isn’t going to win any Personality of the Year awards either. And he comes across as less-than-smart. After knowing that Mary is the type of person who thinks it’s unrealistic to be monogamous, and he married her anyway, he’s shocked and angry when she brings up the idea that they should have an open marriage. Did he honestly think she would suddenly want to be monogamous, just because they got married? A lot of people make this mistake of thinking a spouse will change fundamental things about their character, just because of a marriage certificate.

Mary pretentiously describes having an open relationship, or swinging, as “ethical non-monogamy.” Perhaps Mark and Mary can contact Chris Martin and Gwyneth Paltrow (who famously called their divorce a “conscious uncoupling”) to come up with some more self-important and pompous-sounding names for relationship situations that can turn messy. And it does get messy, as it always does when couples bring other lovers into their lives.

This is the type of conversation that Mary and Mark have when Mark gets angry at Mary for suggesting that they try an open marriage. As Mark sulks, Mary says, “You’re being immature.” Mark replies, “Well, you’re being a whore.” 

Mary wonders out loud if it was the wrong time to bring up the subject of open marriage. Mark tells Mary why he’s so offended that Mary wants to have sex with other people during their marriage: “It’s not about you bringing it up. It’s that you’re thinking about it at all.” Apparently, Mark was under the delusion that Mary would change her “monogamy doesn’t work for me” mindset after they got married.

Mary has, in fact, chosen the wrong time to ask Mark to be swingers, because it’s shortly before they go to a costume party, where a furious Mark decides to show Mary that he’s going to immediately find a new lover. He gets drunk, picks up a pretty blonde named Bunny (played by Kelly Berglund), and goes back to her place. The sexual encounter is awkward because Mark starts crying out of guilt and has some “performance issues.”

At the same party, a jealous Mary sees that Mark is trying to seduce Bunny, so she picks up a willing man, and spends the night with him. That encounter is never seen in the movie, but Mary is shown waking up the next morning in a messy van and getting dressed by herself. She’s crying, with a look of regret and misery on her face.

When Mark and Mary see each other again, they burst into tears and tell each other how sorry they are for what happened. (There will be more tears later in the story.) And they decide to set the rules of this new arrangement in their marriage.

After some hemming and hawing during rules negotiations, Mark and Mary agree on some fundamental rules: (1) No sex with an ex-lover; (2) No oral sex with anyone outside the marriage; (3) Always practice safe sex; and (4) If anyone in the marriage wants to stop having an open marriage, they will stop.

Mark tells Mary that this last rule is the most important one to him. He says of this “open marriage” arrangement: “This is a trial run. This is not forever thing. This is a ‘see if we like it’ thing. And if one of us doesn’t like it, we can go back to being us.”

Easier said than done. There are a few other rule negotiations that aren’t as firmly resolved. Mark and Mary make a tentative agreement to limit their sexual ecounters with other people to four sexual encounters per person, although Mary seems to want to leave it up to negotiation in the future to increase it to five.

Mark and Mary don’t agree on how much they should tell each other about their sexual encounters outside the marriage. Mark doesn’t want to hear details (such as the names of the lovers and what kind of sex they had), while Mary says she wouldn’t mind hearing details. They agree to disagree on that subject.

When the subject of threesomes comes up, Mary refuses to consider having a threesome with Mark, unless there’s gender equality with the third partner. Mary insists that if she and Mark have a threesome with another woman, then at another time, Mark and Mary need to have a threesome with another man. Mark is very reluctant to agree to a threesome involving another man, because he says he’s not comfortable with having any type of sex with a man.

However, Mary shames Mark into thinking that he’s homophobic if he doesn’t agree to these terms. He gives in to her demands and promises her that if they have a threesome, it will be with a man and a woman on separate occasions. In this particular negotiation, Mary isn’t thinking about what will make her and Mark happy. She’s only thinking about herself and getting her way.

This type of sexual manipulation is an example of how annoying and aggressive Mary can be with her “wokeness.” She doesn’t understand that just because someone doesn’t feel like ever having sexual relations with someone of the same gender, it doesn’t automatically make that person homophobic. Mary’s view on this matter is very narrow-minded and ignorant.

It’s simple courtesy and respect among sex partners: Don’t pressure people into doing something they don’t feel comfortable doing. Mary doesn’t have a grasp of that concept when she tries to make her husband feel “old-fashioned” and “uptight” if he doesn’t agree to what she wants.

Viewers won’t feel too sorry for Mary when her plan to show “old-fashioned” and “uptight” Mark how an open relationship works ends up backfiring on her when he starts to like polyamory a little too much for her comfort level. There are some very predictable things that happen regarding pregnancy and STD concerns. And there’s the inevitable jealousy and partner mistrust that a lot of swingers think they’ll be immune to, but it’s a lifestyle hazard of being a swinger that some people are more honest about than others.

One of the ways that the movie shows that Mark and Mary aren’t entirely comfortable with this open marriage arrangement is that they almost always get drunk and/or high to have sexual encounters with other people. Mary brought up the idea of open marriage to Mark only after her band’s lead singer/guitarist Lana (played by Odessa A’zion), who is by far the most obnoxious character in the movie, called Mary a “crusty married person.” Lana made this comment during a conversation where Mary confessed to a fear of being perceived as old and boring, now that she’s married.

The implication is that Mary is so caught up in projecting an image of being a progressive hipster that she lets a stupid comment like being called “a crusty married person” affect her self-esteem. Observant viewers will see that Mary doesn’t genuinely know if she’s ready for a swinger lifestyle. And this is where the movie does have some authenticity: A lot of people don’t have their lives figured out yet in their mid-20s, and this movie isn’t trying to pass judgment. Most of the characters in this movie are in their early-to-mid-20s, which goes a long way in explaining why many of them are so emotionally immature. 

The open marriage arrangement has its ups and downs in Mark and Mary’s relationship. As time goes on, it’s pretty clear that this couple’s biggest problem is how ineffectively they communicate. They argue about things that they obviously didn’t talk about before getting married. It’s one of many examples that this couple is a train wreck.

And in one of the screenplay’s big flaws, it never gives any indication that Mary was ever interested in meeting Mark’s father or anyone else in his family, even though Mark works with his father, who presumably lives nearby. Viewers will have to assume that Mary is just too self-absorbed to bother with meeting any of Mark’s loved ones. And based on her actions throughout this entire story, that assessment is accurate.

By contrast, Mark has met the two relatives of Mary who are shown in the movie: Mary’s younger sister Tori (played by Sofia Bryant), who is the drummer in Mary’s band, and Mary’s aunt Carol (played by Lea Thompson, in a cameo), who is depicted as a cynical, eccentric, queer woman with years of experiences as a swinger. Unlike Mary, Tori is down-to-earth and isn’t caught up in trying to look like she’s the queen of the progessive hipsters. Mark admits that Carol intimidates him, but he gets along with Tori just fine.

Tori and Mary briefly discuss their mother in one scene that gives no insight into how long their mother has been dead or her cause of death. It’s hinted that their mother was also a progressive liberal, but Tori and Mary believe that their mother probably would have hated Mark and his unflattering moustache. Maybe this conversation is this movie’s way of saying that even Mary and Tori’s dead mother would know what a mistake it was for Mark and Mary to get married.

Tori and Mary are such a part of each other’s small social circle that Tori ends up dating one of Mark’s two best friends who are shown in the movie. Tori’s boyfriend is AJ (played by Matt Shively), who’s kind of a stereotypical meathead. AJ identifies as straight. Mark’s other best friend is Kyle (played by Nik Dodani), who’s kind of a stereotypical sassy queer guy. Kyle identifies as bisexual. And apparently, Mary’s social circle consists of her husband, her band and her husband’s two best friends.

And that’s why Mark and Mary use a dating app called Crush’d to meet potential new sex partners. They even take photos of each other for their online profile pics, in a photo session montage that’s supposed to make Mark and Mary look adorable. It comes across as trying too hard.

Mark suggests this photo session after he’s alarmed to see the original profile pic that Mary wanted for herself: Mary licking a large knife that appears to have blood on it. Mary thinks she looks hot and unique in that pose. Lindsay Lohan did that whole “look at me, I’m licking a large knife” gimmick back in 2007. Get over yourself.

For a comedy film about a married couple navigating a swinger lifestyle, it’s somewhat ironic that the funniest scenes in the movie aren’t even about Mark and Mary as a couple. Some of the best comedic scenes in the movie are with AJ and Kyle, as they have bickering banter when they’re by themselves. Sometimes AJ and Kyle act more like a married couple than Mark and Mary do.

Fair warning to anyone who hates hearing the derogatory slur that’s used the most against gay/queer men: There’s a scene where Kyle says that “f” word several times, and he says he’s allowed because he’s part of the LGBTQ community. It’s not the best scene between AJ and Kyle. And frankly, hearing that word used so gratiutously is not funny. There are other scenes with AJ and Kyle that are much better-written and should get big laughs. 

Someone who’s a lot less endearing is Lana, who identifies as queer and has the maturity of a 12-year-old. There’s a scene that’s a comedic dud where Lana gets into an argument with a next-door neighbor named Chris (played by Joe Lo Truglio), who’s upset because the band is rehearsing too loudly. It’s a valid complaint, especially since this band is terrible. Instead of being reasonable about it, Lana just shouts, “Fuck you!” It turns into a shouting match where Chris and Lana yell “Fuck you” back and forth for way too long. It’s tedious and lazy screenwriting.

The movie is divided into chapters introduced by cutesy and colorful graphics that look like something from a 1990s mumblecore movie that was influenced by the 1970s. It’s all so self-consciously twee. But it’s overly staged when so much of this movie is just gutter-mouthed and raunchy. There’s nothing inherently wrong with wanting to be romantic and vulgar, but not many films can successfully achieve a balance of being both.

Gillian Jacobs has a cameo, as Mary’s gynecologist Dr. Jacobs, that’s also amusing, but a little one-note in the gag. Mark and Mary’s sex partners/dates aren’t given enough screen time to show any real personalities, except for the movie’s final scene that involves two people named Alexandra (played by Haley Ramm) and Aaron (played by Pete Williams). Most of the movie is about the neurotic reactions of Mark and Mary when they find out that having a swinger lifestyle creates more chaos in their marriage than they thought it would.

The movie also falls into the same predictable tropes of swinger sex comedies about a man and a woman who decide to have an open relationship: Any queerness almost always has to be from the woman, so the man can get his girl-on-girl sexual needs fulfilled. But when it comes to the man possibly being queer or willing to have a sexual experience with a man, there’s a lot of cringing and hesitation from the man about having sexual relations with another man.

“Mark, Mary & Some Other People” follows this trope too, although one mid-credits scene is a half-hearted and very tame attempt to distance the movie from that trope. Let’s put it this way: The movie spends a lot more screen time making it clear that Mary has sex with other women, while making it very ambiguous if Mark actually goes through with his promise to have sex with a man during a threesome.

People who’ve watched enough of these types of movies can see that the filmmakers seem afraid of alienating the privileged, cisgender, heterosexual male audience that they want to attract to give this movie “indie cred” praise. And that’s why there’s no actual sex between men that’s depicted in the movie. However, the movie’s “woke” characters, such as Mary, sure love to vilify cisgender, heterosexual men as society’s biggest “oppressors.”

Rosenfield and Law show some very good comedic timing in their roles as Mark and Mary. It’s too bad that their characters are such a horrendous mismatch of personalities, it’s kind of repugnant to watch Mark and Mary’s imcompatibility. It also gets tedious to watch two people in a marriage when their relationship becomes a competition to see who can outdo each other in being the more sexually adventurous partner. 

Except for sexual attraction, there’s not much that Mark and Mary see in each other, because they sure don’t talk about anything substantial that shows they’re in this marriage for the long haul. Mary is hard to take with her politically correct preaching over the most trivial of things. Mark is just a hypocritical whiner who lacks common sense. Anyone who thinks that Mark and Mary are a great couple probably has a distorted view of what a healthy relationship is.

Here’s an example of how Mark and Mary are terrible at communicating: There’s a scene where, after Mark and Mary have agreed to have an open marriage, Mark notices that the bedsheet on their bed has been stained with sexual activity from Mary and an unknown lover. He rips the sheet off in disgust, as if he’s shocked that Mary could possibly have sex with someone else in their bed. 

It turns out that in their first time doing “ethical non-monogamy” rule negotiations, Mark and Mary never discussed where they would be allowed to have sex with other people. And this is after Mark said he didn’t want to know the details of Mary’s sexual encounters outside the marriage. If he had any common sense, it should have led to him to say that they couldn’t bring any lovers to their home, because of the very real likelihood that he’d see things he doesn’t want to see.

Mark finding the stained bedsheet was really just a means to create another cutesy titled chapter about Part 2 of Mark and Mary’s rules negotiations. Yes, Mark and Mary are young, but they’re not children. However, watching “Mark, Mary & Some Other People” feels like you’re watching people who are stuck in a selfish teenage mentality and who are pretending to be emotionally mature adults. No thank you.

Vertical Entertainment will release “Mark, Mary & Some Other People” on a date to be announced.