Review: ‘The Dark Divide,’ starring David Cross and Debra Messing

September 28, 2020

by Carla Hay

David Cross in “The Dark Divide” (Photo courtesy of Strike Back Studios and REI Co-op Studios)

“The Dark Divide”

Directed by Tom Putnam

Culture Representation: Taking place in 1995, primarily in Gifford Pinchot National Forest in Washington state, the drama “The Dark Divide” has a predominantly white cast (with a few Native Americans) representing the middle-class.

Culture Clash: A lepidopterist (a person who studies butterflies and moths) defies the expectations of skeptics by going on a scientific exploration that involves camping outdoors for several weeks by himself in a remote forest area.  

Culture Audience: “The Dark Divide” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in movies about camping, hiking and dealing with the death of a loved one.

David Cross and Debra Messing in “The Dark Divide” (Photo courtesy of Strike Back Studios and REI Co-op Studios)

The first scene of the entertaining and occasionally emotionally moving drama “The Dark Divide” is of lepidopterist Dr. Robert “Bob” Pyle (played by David Cross) running in fear somewhere in Gifford Pinchot National Forest in Washington state. Is he running for his life? Is he being chased by Bigfoot, the creature that’s alluded to throughout the movie? The answer comes in the last third of the film.

But before then, “The Dark Divide” (written and directed by Tom Putnam) takes a compelling and sometimes meandering journey with a character who goes on this getaway trip to look for butterflies and moths, but he’s really looking for a way to process his grief over the death of his wife, who was a naturalist and artist. “The Dark Divide” is inspired by the real-life experiences of Bob Pyle, whose wife Thea died of cancer in 2013. Pyle authored the 1995 book “Where Bigfoot Walks: Crossing the Dark Divide.”

In the movie, which takes place in 1995, Bob’s wife Thea (played by Debra Messing) dies about halfway through the film (this is not spoiler information, since her death is the catalyst for Bob taking this fateful trip), after she had a long battle with cancer. The movie isn’t in chronological order, but it’s easy to figure out the order in which things happened. The first third of the movie shows Bob and Thea’s home life. They don’t know it yet but it will be the last year of Thea’s life.

Thea (who has been going through chemotherapy) and Bob try to have as normal as an existence as possible. They attend a cocktail party that has several of Bob’s scientist colleagues who are also in attendance. As a lepidopterist, Bob is interested in trying to save the endangered species of butterflies and moths that he studies. At the party, Bob tells two of his male colleagues—Professor Trimble (played by Shelly Lipkin) and Professor Keasey (played by Tony Doupe)—that he’s thinking about going to Gifford Pinchot National Forest to find any of these endangered species.

“Unless we catalogue all the species there, how do we know if the numbers are dwindling?” Bob asks the colleagues. The colleagues agree, but they react with skepticism that Bob is qualified to do this kind of field work by himself. They ask him what his experience is with camping, and he admit it’s minimal and that he hasn’t really gone camping since he was a child. And he’s never done any training on how to survive in a remote, outdoor area.

Meanwhile, back at home, Thea and Bob have moments of despair about her cancer. Bob can only comfort Thea when he does heartbreaking things like help her in the bathroom when she vomits or when he accompanies her to doctor appointments for her cancer treatment. Thea is generally more accepting of her cancer diagnosis than Bob seems to be. She makes it clear to Bob and anyone else that she doesn’t want their pity.

One day, Bob is working on his front-door porch with his typewriter, and all he can type is the word “cancer.” Thea notices Bob is in a mopey mood and she says to him, “Bob, why don’t you dial back on being miserable?” He replies, “I’m sorry but my wife is …” He can’t finish saying the words he wants to say, so Thea finishes the sentence with what she wants to say: “Alive.”

Thea tells Bob to “go with your girlfriend Marcia to look for specimens, scribble down that poetry you keep threatening to write, and just get away from me for a while.” (Marcia is the nickname for Bob’s butterfly net.) Bob takes her advice, but while out camping, he soon finds out that his colleagues were right: He doesn’t know much about survival in the outdoors.

When some Girl Scouts walk past his campsite, one of the girls tells Bob how he stored his food in the wrong way. He needed to use branches to hang the food so that bears couldn’t get to it. You know you’re ill-equipped to be go camping in the woods when a Girl Scout knows more than you do. Later, Bob nearly falls down a cliff while trying to catch a butterfly in his net.

Bob and Thea have a loving relationship, and Thea tries to lift his spirits during the cancer ordeal with her dry sense of humor. In one scene, when they are home alone together, Thea says to Bob: “Knock, knock.” Bob replies, “Who’s there?” Thea answers, “Death.”

Bob says, “That’s not funny.” Thea responds, “I’m sorry. It was a little funny.” Bob reluctantly admits that the joke was “a little funny,” and they both have a laugh over it. This tender moment is referenced later in the movie to great emotional effect when Bob has a life-or-death situation and he doesn’t know if he’s going to make it out alive.

After Thea dies, Bob gets a letter in the mail informing him that he’s gotten a Guggenheim grant for $11,000 to study the endangered species at Gifford Pinchot National Forest. The grant is his motivation to go back to the forest. The trip is also his way of honor Thea after she died, since Bob and Thea’s relationship was strengthened by their common passion for nature and animals. (Cross and Messing are very good in their roles as Bob and Thea. The couple’s marriage is the soul of this movie.)

Before he heads into the very remote area of the woods, Bob stops off at a convenience store to buy food and supplies. He sees a newspaper tabloid in the store with a front page story titled “I Was Bigfoot’s Love Slave.” The store clerk named Monty (played by Cameron Esposito) notices Bob glancing at the tabloid story and says, “Tourists go nuts for that crap.”

Bob has a map and asks the clerk for directions on where he needs to go. Monty looks at Bob and tells him that the trail where he wants to go is “no joke” and that Bob doesn’t look very well-equipped to handle the treacherous terrain. The warning doesn’t really scare Bob, who is determined to achieve his goals to look for the specimens that he wants to find.

The rest of the movie shows Bob experiencing a series of mishaps and some strangers during his mostly lonely trip. Some of the strangers are friendlier than others. Some of them (such as a group of construction workers in the forest) are hostile to environmentalists, so Bob is careful about who he tells that he’s very much a pro-conservation person who believes in protecting endangered species as much as possible.

Bigfoot is a possible looming presence in the area. Many of the people who are in the forest believe that Bigfoot exists, while Bob doesn’t believe in Bigfoot or any creature that can’t be scientifically explained or proven. One of the most memorable encounters that Bob has is with a family of hikers, who almost shoot him because they think he might be Bigfoot.

Bob ends up briefly hanging out over a campfire at night with this family, which consists of a middle-aged married couple named Teresa (played by Kimberly Guerrero) and Shayne (played by David Koechner); Teresa’s young-adult son Billy (played by Dyami Thomas) from a previous relationship; and Teresa’s mother Marie (played by Harvest Moon), who was the one who was convinced that Bob could’ve been Bigfoot when the family first saw him in the woods.

Billy and Marie are the two people in the family who are the most convinced that the legend of Bigfoot is true. (Everyone in the family is Native American except for Shayne, who is white.) Over the campfire, Billy says, “When white man gets too greedy, Bigfoot smashes his truck as revenge.”

Not long after Bob amicably parts ways with this family, he sees that a construction work site in the woods has been vandalized. Bob gets falsely accused by some of the workers of causing the damage, but he convinces them he didn’t do it. And in another scene, Bob sees an ape-like footprint that’s twice the size of a man’s footprint. Coincidence?

“The Dark Divide” isn’t really a story about Bigfoot conspiracy theories or legends. Instead, the movie (which has stunning cinematography by Sean Bagley, especially the sweeping aerial views of nature) is often a meditative piece that shows Bob communing with nature and being alone with his thoughts. Because he encounters his own precarious situations on this trip, it gives him a new appreciation of life. People should not expect a fast-paced wilderness adventure story with this quietly effective movie because it’s about facing grief and inner demons instead of any dangerous creatures in the woods.

Strike Back Studios and REI Co-op Studios released “The Dark Divide” in select U.S. cinemas on September 18, 2020. The movie’s VOD release is on November 10, 2020.

Review: ‘Irresistible’ (2020), starring Steve Carell, Chris Cooper, Mackenzie Davis and Rose Byrne

June 26, 2020

by Carla Hay

Chris Cooper, Brent Sexton and Steve Carell in “Irresistible” (Photo by Daniel McFadden/ Focus Features)

“Irresistible” 

Directed by Jon Stewart

Culture Representation: Taking place mostly in the fictional working-class town of Deerlaken, Wisconsin, the political comedy “Irresistible” features a predominantly white cast (with a few African Americans and Latinos) representing the middle-class.

Culture Clash: A high-profile and experienced Democrat National Committee strategist arrives in Deerlaken because he thinks he can groom a future Democratic presidential candidate by getting him elected a Democrat mayor of Deerlaken, but this mayoral campaign faces stiff competition from the campaign of the Republican incumbent.

Culture Audience: “Irresistible” will appeal mostly to fans of Steve Carell and political comedies, but the movie is nothing more than a series of lazy stereotypes.

Rose Byrne and Steve Carell in “Irresistible” (Photo by Daniel McFadden/Focus Features)

Contrary to what it looks like in the trailer for the political comedy “Irresistible,” this smug and annoying movie is not centered on a possible romance between Democrat National Committee strategist Gary Zimmer (played by Steve Carell) and Republican National Committee strategist Faith Brewster (played by Rose Byrne), as they’re pitted against each other in a mayoral campaign battle in the fictional working-class town of Deerlaken, Wisconsin. Byrne’s Faith Brewster character isn’t in the movie every much, even though photos and images of Byrne in the movie’s marketing materials make it appear is if she’s a co-lead actor in the movie. She’s not. She has a small supporting role.

Instead, “Irresistible” (written and directed by Jon Stewart) is very much enamored with making the condescending, posturing “liberal” Gary Zimmer the center of the story. It’s at least commendable that “Irresistible” did not try to completely copy the “love/hate/we know they’re going to get together” relationship of political opposites that was on display in director Ron Underwood’s critically panned 1994 comedy flop “Speechless.” Geena Davis and Michael Keaton starred in “Speechless” as political speechwriters working on rival campaigns—a story inspired by the real-life romance of James Carville and Mary Matalin, except that in “Speechless,” the woman was the Democrat and the man was the Republican.

In “Irresistible,” Gary is the worst kind of liberal: He thinks he’s open-minded and progressive, but he has the same old-fashioned stereotypical beliefs about women and people of color as the conservatives he says he despises. It’s unclear if writer/director Stewart (who is an outspoken liberal in real life) intentionally set out to do a satire of this type of self-congratulatory liberal, but the end result is a comedy film that takes itself way too seriously.

And, quite frankly, the screenwriting for “Irresistible” isn’t very good at all. Just because Stewart wrote a lot of jokes and won several Emmys when he hosted “The Daily Show” from 1999 to 2015, that doesn’t mean he’s a talented screenwriter for movies. “Irresistible” (not to be confused with the 2006 “Irresistible” love-triangle drama, starring Susan Sarandon, Sam Neill and Emily Blunt) is also an odd name for a political satire/comedy, since many people find politics to be the opposite of irresistible and actually quite repellent—much like how the competing political strategists in this movie are repulsive characters.

“Irresistible” starts off with a montage of photos of U.S. presidential campaigns from various Republican and Democrat nominees, from 1968 to 2016. The movie then shows Gary and Faith experiencing Election Day for the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign. Faith is reveling in the victory of Donald Trump, while Gary is crushed by Hillary Clinton’s loss.

The rest of the story then pivots to Gary’s point of view, as Faith only pops up here and there for the rest of the movie. Gary comes across a viral video of a former Marine-turned-farmer in Deerlaken (pronounced “Deer-locken”), giving a passionate pro-immigration speech at a town council meeting about undocumented workers. That farmer is Jack Hastings (played by Chris Cooper, in one of his long list of “folksy, salt-of-the-earth” roles), a widower who tells an anti-immigration city official in front of the assembled crowd: “I’m not saying you’re a bad person. I think you’re scared.”

Gary tells his assembled team at his headquarters in Washington, D.C., that this farmer could be a promising candidate to win a future U.S. presidential election because Jack is a hero ex-Marine who looks conservative but talks progressive. As far as Gary can tell, Jack is not affiliated with any political party and has no political aspirations, but Gary thinks he’s come up with a brilliant idea to groom Jack into a Democrat: Gary wants to go to Deerlaken to help Jack run for mayor.

“He’s a Democrat but just doesn’t know it,” Gary says arrogantly about Jack. Gary also crudely describes Jack to his team as “a man who makes Joe the Plumber look like [1988 Democratic presidential nominee Michael] Dukakis in mom jeans and a fucking Easter bonnet.” This “joke” only works with people who know about U.S. presidential campaigns from the late 1980s and early 1990s.

When Gary tells his team that he wants to get Jack elected, it’s a problematic scene that reduces the few people of color in the scene (three Latino men and one black woman) as tokens who only speak up when Gary talks about needing representation from their racial groups. He condescendingly tells them that Hillary Clinton lost the election because not enough black people and Latinos showed up to vote for her. (Gary conveniently forgets to mention all the white citizens who voted for Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012, but didn’t vote for Clinton in 2016, even though Obama campaigned for her.)

Debra Messing has a brief, uncredited cameo in the scene as another “liberal” DNC staffer who thinks she knows best, by saying the best strategy for Democrats to win the next presidential election is to get more black and Latino citizens to vote. The Latino men in the meeting agree, and join hands with the Debra Messing character, while shutting out the black woman sitting in between them. The men utter something in Spanish in solidarity.

The only black DNC staffer (played by Denise Moyé) in the meeting speaks up, by saying that she agrees with Gary’s idea of expanding the Democrats’ base and not taking votes for granted. The Debra Messing character (who also doesn’t have a name in the movie) sheepishly agrees.

It’s a cringeworthy, pandering and poorly written/depicted scene. The one thing that’s fairly accurate is how Gary, like a lot of people in power, think they can speak for all racial groups on their team, without actually checking to see how the team members from different racial groups actually feel about those topics.

At any rate, by the time Gary and his nearly all-white team head to the nearly all-white Deerlaken, his massive ego thinks that he can roll into town and tell these people what to do because he’s a big-city intellectual liberal who’s a big-shot strategist from the DNC. Of course, the movie’s biggest credibility plot hole is that in real life, a political strategist with this amount of clout would not waste all this time to get a small-town mayor elected. Why? There’s not enough money in it for the strategist.

Gary convinces Jack to run for mayor as a Democrat by saying things like: “I know you don’t think of yourself as a Democrat, but after hearing your speech, I can assure you, you are. And I would like to offer you my company services to do so … Democrats are getting our asses kicked because guys like me don’t know how to talk to guys like you.”

Faith finds out that Gary is in this small town for this campaign, so she shows up in Deerlaken to be the strategist for the Republican incumbent Mayor Braun (played by Brent Sexton), because apparently she has nothing better to do with her time either. Faith and Mayor Braun don’t get nearly as much screen time in the movie as Gary and Jack do, but these sparsely written Republican characters are also written as stereotypes. Faith could easily pass for a Fox News anchor, while Mayor Braun uses Republican tropes in his campaign, such as the love of God, guns and country folks.

Multiple times in the movie, “Irresistible” makes a heavy-handed point about campaign finances and how money can corrupt politicians. Gary is obviously in politics for the money and power. Therefore, it doesn’t ring true that someone like him would get so caught up in a small-time mayoral campaign. It seems like this common sense was thrown out the window when Stewart was writing the screenplay, whose only purpose seems to be portraying people in the political process as broad clichés.

When Gary arrives in Deerlaken, all the predictable stereotypes are on display.  (Although Deerlaken is supposed to be in Wisconsin, the movie’s Deerlaken scenes were actually filmed in Rockmart, Georgia.) The only thing that Stewart didn’t do to add to the condescending stereotypes of Midwestern rural people is have anyone chew on hayseed.

The volunteers for Jack’s campaign aren’t very smart, which is the movie’s way of saying that people in this area are very uneducated. When the volunteers start calling people on their phone lists, they find out they’re accidentally calling each other at campaign headquarters instead of voters, because the volunteers mistook the office phone list for the voters phone list. And it takes Gary to point out this mistake to them. That’s how “dumb” these locals are.

Gary is staying a motel where the motel bar is also the “front desk.” It’s a bar where men wear flannel shirts and have names like Big Mike (played by Will Sasso) and Little Mike (played by Will McLaughlin) and don’t seem to have an education past high school. The motel and the town are so “behind the times” that they don’t even have Wi-Fi or broadband service throughout most of the town. They mostly access the Internet through dial-up service. The annoying screech of a dial-up modem connection is a running “joke” in the film.

And there’s a badly written scene of Gary and some of the men on his team parked in a car outside the town’s high school, one of the few places with Wi-Fi access. Gary and his team are asked to leave, but they refuse, so they get kicked out of the parking lot because the school’s security people think it’s a car full of possible sexual predators.

Even when Gary gives a lustful stare when he first sees Jack’s 28-year-old daughter Diana (played by Mackenzie Davis) at Jack’s farm, that lust turns to some disgust when he sees that she’s got her hand up the rear end of a cow. For most of the movie, Gary and his team underestimate Diana’s intelligence because they think she’s as an ignorant farmer’s daughter who doesn’t know much about politics. It still doesn’t stop Gary from flirting with Diana, but he’s mostly focused on winning the campaign for Jack.

Some of the people on Gary’s team include nerdy pollster Kurt (played by Topher Grace) and abrasive digital analytics strategist Tina (played by Natasha Lyonne), who clash with each over about how they think their respective voter analysis is better. Tina huffs when she dismisses Kurt’s polling numbers by saying that people’s computer usage is a more accurate picture of who voters are: “A digital footprint is your true self.”

When Kurt and Tina get into a little verbal tiff during a campaign meeting, Diana speaks up and says to Tina, “Surely, people are more complete than their online transactions.” Tina snaps back, “Says the woman with three cats and intense [Internet] search history of the herpes virus.” This is what’s supposed to pass as humor in this movie.

In fact, there’s very little humor to be found in “Irresistible,” which is a waste of this talented cast. Faith and Gary have some obvious sexual tension with each other, but it’s written in such an off-putting way that it’s just not as funny as Stewart probably thought it was when he wrote the script.

For example, there’s one scene where Faith calls Gary “fat,” and then she gives him a long lick on his face like it’s an ice cream cone. In another scene, Gary and Faith have an argument and then say that whichever of them loses the election will have to perform oral sex on the other for an hour. This oral sex “dare” is described in much cruder terms in the movie.

By the end of “Irresistible,” there’s kind of a dumb plot twist that reiterates some of the preachy messages of the film. But this plot twist doesn’t matter too much, because the entire plot of a strategist like Gary being in a small town like Deerlaken was an ill-conceived idea in the first place. And “Irresistible” also has an unnecessary gimmick of showing three different epilogues (the last epilogue in the film is supposed to be the “real” one), even going as far as having the end credits start to roll during each epilogue, just to trick/confuse viewers over which epilogue is “real.”

With so many U.S. citizens in real life who are already cynical or apathetic about politics, “Irresistible” isn’t going to make people feel good about participating in the political process. And although “Irresistible” is obviously influenced by “The Candidate” and “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington,” it definitely won’t be considered a classic like those films.

Focus Features released “Irresistible” in select U.S. cinemas, digital and VOD.

Golden Globes 75th Anniversary Special: premiere date and hosts announced

November 20, 2017

Eric McCormack and Debra Messing
Eric McCormack and Debra Messing  (Photo by: Heidi Gutman/NBCUniversal)

The following is a press release from NBC:

NBC, the Hollywood Foreign Press Association (HFPA) and dick clark productions (dcp) are teaming up for the “Golden Globes 75th Anniversary Special,” set to air Wednesday, Dec. 13 at 9 p.m. ET/PT.

The two-hour special will be hosted by Eric McCormack and Debra Messing, who have a combined 13 Golden Globe nominations between them and star in NBC’s critically acclaimed revival of “Will & Grace,” which currently ranks as NBC’s most-watched primetime comedy in the last 12 years.

The program will showcase the best moments spanning 75 years of the Golden Globes, featuring the biggest film and TV stars, red carpet highlights and fashion throughout the years. The special will also feature new and exclusive interviews with Amy Adams, Jake Gyllenhaal, Christine Lahti, Nicole Kidman, Julia Roberts, Jacob Tremblay, Kate Winslet, Brad Goreski and more. Celebrating the nonstop glamour, humor, heartfelt speeches and classic moments from Hollywood’s party of the year, the “Golden Globes 75th Anniversary Special” will also include comedic highlights from past hosts and presenters and a countdown of the best Golden Globe Award-winning movies of all time, as selected by members of the HFPA.

The “Golden Globes 75th Anniversary Special” is produced by dcp in association with the HFPA.

The HFPA and dcp will present the 75th Annual Golden Globe Awards on Sunday, Jan. 7, 2018. The ceremony will air on NBC live coast-to-coast at 8 p.m. ET. Nominations will be announced Monday, Dec. 11.

About the Hollywood Foreign Press Association

Founded in the 1940s during World War II, the HFPA was originally comprised of a handful of L.A.-based overseas journalists who sought to bridge the international community with Hollywood, and to provide distraction from the hardships of war through film. More than seventy years later, members of the HFPA represent 56 countries with a combined readership of 250 million in some of the world’s most respected publications. Each year, the organization holds the third most watched awards show on television, the Golden Globe® Awards, which has enabled the organization to donate more than $25 million to entertainment-related charities and scholarship programs. For more information, please visit www.GoldenGlobes.com and follow us on Twitter (@GoldenGlobes) and Facebook (www.facebook.com/GoldenGlobes).

About dick clark productions

dick clark productions (dcp) is the world’s largest producer and proprietor of televised live event entertainment programming with the “Academy of Country Music Awards,” “American Music Awards,” “Billboard Music Awards,” “Golden Globe Awards,” “Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve with Ryan Seacrest,” “Hollywood Film Awards” and the “Streamy Awards.” Weekly television programming includes “So You Think You Can Dance” from 19 Entertainment and dcp. dcp also owns one of the world’s most unique and extensive entertainment archive libraries with over 60 years of award-winning shows, historic programs, specials, performances and legendary programming. For additional information, visit www.dickclark.com.