Review: ‘The Good Half,’ starring Nick Jonas, Brittany Snow, David Arquette, Alexandra Shipp, Matt Walsh and Elisabeth Shue

June 11, 2023

by Carla Hay

Nick Jonas, Matt Walsh, Brittany Snow and Elisabeth Shue in “The Good Half” (Photo courtesy of The Ranch Productions)

“The Good Half”

Directed by Robert Schwartzman

Culture Representation: Taking place in Cleveland, Ohio, the comedy/drama film “The Good Half” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with a few African Americans and Latinos) representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: A 28-year-old aspiring comedy screenwriter returns to his hometown of Cleveland, as he struggles with grief over his mother’s death, as well as tensions with his sister and his stepfather. 

Culture Audience: “The Good Half” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of the movie’s headliners and comedy/dramas about complicated family relationships and the effects that a terminal illness has on a family.

Nick Jonas and Alexandra Shipp in “The Good Half” (Photo courtesy of The Ranch Productions)

In the comedy/drama film “The Good Half,” the movie’s “good half” is the latter half, which shows the most emotional depth. Led by Nick Jonas’ admirable performance, it’s a capably acted story about grief, hope and family tensions. “The Good Half” had its world premiere at the 2023 Tribeca Festival.

Directed by Robert Schwartzman and written by Brett Ryland, “The Good Half” jumps back and forth in the story’s timeline to show life in a family before and after the death of the clan’s matriarch. The movie (which takes place in Cleveland, Ohio) is told from the perspective of her son, who had a close relationship with his mother as a child, but as an adult, he drifted apart from the family after he moved to Los Angeles to pursue a career as a comedy screenwriter. In some ways, “The Good Half” resembles a sitcom with a serious side, but the movie improves when it starts to dig deeper into some realistic family dynamics.

“The Good Half” opens with a flashback scene that takes place when protagonist Renn Wheeland (played by Mason Cufari) is 9 years old and with his neurotic mother Lily Wheeland (played by Elisabeth Shue) near a shopping area. Renn is upset because Lily accidentally left him in a store and didn’t return until about two hours later. A remorseful Lily promises Renn that she will never leave him in a store again. This childhood memory is brought up again later in one of the movie’s most emotionally intense scenes.

Renn (played by Jonas) is now 28 years old and somewhat estranged from his family. He has returned home to Cleveland because Lily has died of a terminal illness. (“The Good Half” was actually filmed in New Jersey and Los Angeles.) On the plane to Cleveland, Renn has a “meet cute” moment with a psychotherapist named Zoey (played by Alexandra Shipp), who tells Renn that she’s visiting Cleveland for a psychotherapist convention. Renn tells a partial lie of omission by saying to Zoey that he’s going to Cleveland for a family reunion. He leaves out the detail that the reunion is under the sad circumstances that it’s for his mother’s funeral.

There’s another airplane passenger sitting in between Renn and Zoey, who have a friendly and flirtatious conversation, while the man in the middle looks slightly uncomfortable. Zoey says that she’s afraid of flying. She jokes that she wishes their flight would turn into the 1997 airplane hijack movie “Con Air.” Zoey adds that all the action movies of the 1990s are great films.

Zoey is very talkative and curious. She asks a lot of questions and finds out from Renn that he is an available bachelor. Renn is a little more guarded and won’t disclose much about himself, except basic information, such as Cleveland is where he was born and raised. After the airplane lands, Zoey and Renn exchange phone numbers, because it’s obvious that they feel an attraction to each other.

When Renn takes a rideshare from the airport, he tells the driver to take the longest way to the destination. It’s an obvious sign that Renn is dreading seeing his family again. Renn has a cordial but emotionally distant relationship with his father Darren Wheeland (played by Matt Walsh), who is mild-mannered and easygoing. Darren and Lily got divorced years ago. Darren has not remarried, and he lives by himself.

Renn’s relationship with his married older sister Leigh (played by Brittany Snow) is much more volatile. Leigh is an uptight control freak who has deep resentment toward Renn for a number of reasons. One of the things she’s angry about is that Renn avoided her numerous attempts to contact him when she needed Renn to help make decisions about their mother’s funeral and other after-death arrangements. It also irritates her that Renn doesn’t seem to care about keeping in touch with anyone in his family.

For now, things will be awkward between Renn and Leigh because he’s staying at the house of Leigh and her husband (who doesn’t say much and barely in the movie) while Renn is visiting Cleveland. On the evening that Renn was supposed to arrive in Cleveland, Leigh had a get-together of Lily’s friends and colleagues. However, Renn showed up too late, and everyone has already left.

“We had a lot of people over here paying their respects,” says a grim-faced Leigh, who can barely hide her disgust that Renn was late. “I’m sorry you missed them.” Renn replies sullenly, “I’m not.” There will be more tension-filled scenes like this between this brother and sister, until the inevitable emotional confrontation where long-held resentments erupt to the surface. Renn and Leigh’s big reckoning with each other has more sorrow than anger.

Renn and Leigh don’t agree on a lot, but there’s one thing that Renn, Leigh and their father all agree on: Lily’s second husband Rick Barona (played by David Arquette) is an annoying jerk. Rick is legally considered Lily’s next of kin, so he’s made a lot of decisions about the funeral that Renn is sure that Lily would not have wanted. Lily wanted to be cremated, but Rick has arranged for her to buried. Lily was Jewish, but Rick has arranged for a Catholic priest to officiate at the funeral.

“The Good Half” has a very effective subplot about the eulogy part of the funeral service. The eulogy is symbolic of the power struggles and disagreements in the family over how Lily wanted to be remembered at her funeral. Needless to say, Rick has very different ideas from what Renn thinks should be said in the family’s eulogies.

Rick wants to hire his eccentric spiritual guru Father Dan (played by Stephen Park), who never met Lily, to officiate the funeral and help family members craft their eulogies. (Father Dan, who teaches piano lessons to children out of his cluttered and messy house, doesn’t appear to be a real ordained priest.) Leigh and Darren try not to get into confrontations with Rick, but Renn has no such qualms. Rick wasn’t exactly a devoted husband during the last months of Lily’s life. And you can bet that the question over who really cared about Lily the most will come up in any arguments between Rick and Renn.

There’s a lot of family drama in “The Good Half,” but the movie seamlessly includes the subplot about Renn and Zoey’s possible romance, which is where some (but not all) of the movie’s comic relief occurs. Renn and Zoey see each other again when he calls her and invites her to meet up with him in a bar. Zoey eventually reveals that she has her own personal issues: She’s going through a divorce.

Zoey says that one of the reasons why she broke up with her soon-to-be ex-husband is because he cheated on her. The Zoey/Renn relationship starts off looking very formulaic. But to the credit of “The Good Half” filmmakers, not everything about this possible romance is predictable.

Anchoring the emotional center of the film is Jonas’ memorable performance as Renn, who is more devastated by Lily’s death than he cares to admit. Shue’s performance as Lily in the flashback scenes is heartfelt and compelling. Lily had her share of quirks (including a habit of stealing table utensils every time she went to a restaurant), but there’s no doubt that she truly loved her children, and they loved her.

In one of the flashback scenes, Renn is spending time with Lily, and he knows that she’s in an unhappy marriage with Rick. Renn advises Lily to end the marriage, and he offers to move back to Cleveland to help her with the divorce. It’s an offer that Lily firmly declines because she says that Renn shouldn’t interrupt his life because of her own personal problems.

And then, Lily blurts out the real reason why she doesn’t want to divorce Rick: “I’ll be a 56-year-old, twice-divorced woman living in Cleveland.” It’s a simple sentence, but it speaks volumes about how some women of a certain age feel when society often treats them like their age is an expiration date for desirability.

“The Good Half” has expected tearjerking moments in scenes showing Lily’s medical treatment and the effects that her illness have on Lily and her loved ones. Despite this depressing part of the movie, “The Good Half” still brings moments of comedic whimsy—some of it is better-placed than others. A subplot about breaking into a home looks very much like it belongs in a sitcom; it turns out to be a set-up to end the scene in a sentimental way.

The movie fares much better with its drama, which is the basis for the best scenes in “The Good Half.” A heart-wrenching monologue by Renn has a line in it that explains why the movie has this title. Does “The Good Half” get a little too sappy in the drama and a little too cutesy in the comedy? Sure, it does. But these are minor flaws that don’t get in the way of this mostly authentic-looking story of how a family can be ripped apart or can come together because of grief.

Review: ‘Greyhound,’ starring Tom Hanks

July 10, 2020

by Carla Hay

Tom Hanks in “Greyhound” (Photo courtesy of Apple TV+)


Directed by Aaron Schneider

Culture Representation: Taking place primarily in the northern Atlantic Ocean in 1942, the World War II drama “Greyhound” has a predominantly white cast (with a few African Americans and Latinos in very small speaking roles) portraying military men fighting at sea.

Culture Clash: A U.S. Navy veteran must command a ship called Greyhound that is protecting 37 other ships carrying much-needed supplies through a treacherous area of the Atlantic Ocean called the Black Pit, where Nazi German U-boats are known to attack.

Culture Audience: “Greyhound” will appeal primarily to World War II enthusiasts, while everyone else might be easily bored by the generic way that this story is told.

Tom Hanks in “Greyhound” (Photo courtesy of Apple TV+)

There have been so many movies made about World War II, that any new movie about this subject matter needs to bring something interesting and compelling in order for the story to have a memorable impact. Unfortunately for “Greyhound,” a World War II drama written by and starring Tom Hanks, this movie ends up being a formulaic and predictable vanity project for Hanks.

Sony Pictures was originally going to release “Greyhound” in cinemas. But due to the coronavirus pandemic, Sony shifted the movie’s release exclusively to Apple TV+, perhaps because Sony executives came to the correct conclusion that “Greyhound” (directed by Aaron Schneider) really looks like a TV-movie instead of a full cinematic experience.

In “Greyhound,” Hanks portrays the fictional Captain Ernie Krause of the U.S. Navy in such a generically stoic manner that by the end of the film, people wouldn’t be able to tell you much about his personality at all. That’s not a good sign when Captain Krause is supposed to be at the center of the story.

The way that Captain Krause is written, he’s the American hero who’s able to save everyone else because of his quick thinking and fortitude. All the other characters in the movie are written as backdrops to Captain Krause. These supporting characters are so forgettable and written in such a vague way that people watching “Greyhound” wouldn’t be able to remember the names of five characters who aren’t Captain Krause in this movie. The names of the ships in this movie are more memorable than the names of the people.

“Greyhound,” whose main action take place over five days in February 1942, is about the newly appointed Captain Krause leading his first team of ships during the war. Captain Krause’s three ships that he’s commanding are escorting a convoy of 37 Allied ships carrying soldier supplies across the Atlantic Ocean to Liverpool, England. To get there, the ships have to pass through a dangerous area called the Black Pit, where Nazi German U-boats have been known to lurk. The Black Pit is also in an area of the Atlantic Ocean that’s beyond the range of protection from aircraft that usually escorts these ships.

Krause’s ship is named Greyhound. Some of the other ships that are part of the story include two British destroyer ships named Harry and Eagle; a Canadian corvette named Dicky; a U.S. rescue ship named Cadena; and a Greek merchant ship called Despotiko. This is a very U.S.-oriented story, since the non-American characters are not actually seen on camera. Only their voices are heard, such as when Captain Krause communicates with them by the ship’s radio transmitters.

Before the Greyhound ship embarks on its journey, the movie shows a little of bit of Captain Krause’s “tough but merciful” leadership style. Two subordinates named Flusser (played by Matthew Zuk) and Shannon (played by Jeff Burkes), who’ve obviously been in a fist fight with each other, are brought to Captain Krause to be disciplined.

“I will tolerate no more fisticuffs on my ship,” Captain Krause tells them in a stern manner, like a father lecturing his sons. Captain Krause tells the two men to resolve their differences. Flusser and Shannon say that they regret the incident. And then Captain Krause utters this pretentious line as a warning to the two men: “Repetition will bring hell from down high.”

During the mission, there a lot of shouting and repeating of Captain Krause’s commands. Captain Krause’s subordinates don’t get enough screen time to make a lasting impression during the mission, except for Charlie Cole (played by Stephen Graham) and Lieutenant Nystrom (played by Matt Helm), who don’t really do much but wait for Captain Krause to give them orders.

Charlie is the one whom Krause trusts and confides in the most, but his character is written as a shell of a man who just kind of stands around as an echo chamber for Krause. These supporting characters on the Greyhound ship were not written to have distinctive personalities from each other.

And since Hanks wrote the screenplay (which is adapted from C.S. Forester’s 1955 novel “The Good Shepherd”), it seems as if Hanks didn’t want to write any other characters in a way that they could possibly stand out and steal scenes from him. That’s why “Greyhound” looks like such a vanity project.

And when the inevitable happens—attacks from Nazi German U-boats—the movie’s suspense gets a lot better. But the action scenes overall are very formulaic and hold no surprises. We all know how this movie is going to end anyway.

The visual effects in “Greyhound” won’t win any awards. Some of the visuals are believable, while some are not. For example, there’s a scene where a ship gets blown up in the water. And although blood is shown in the water after the explosion, there’s no ship debris that’s shown in the bloodied water right after the explosion—as if the exploded ship just vanished into thin air. It’s an example of some of the unrealistic visuals that cheapen this movie.

Elisabeth Shue and Rob Morgan are listed as co-stars of “Greyhound,” but they really have cameos in the film that last less than 10 minutes each. Shue (the only woman with a speaking role in “Greyhound”) plays Captain Krause’s girlfriend Evelyn, nicknamed Evie. She has a brief flashback scene early in the film when Captain Krause and Evie exchange Christmas gifts in December 1941 when they meet up in a San Francisco hotel lobby.

Krause has even bought Evie a ticket to be with him in the Caribbean, where he’ll be training for his next mission. Krause tells Evie, “Come with me, so I can ask you to marry me on a tropical beach.” Evie politely declines, knowing that Krause is going into war combat, and tells him: “Let’s wait until we can be together.”

Morgan also has a thankless background role as a character name Cleveland, one of the African American subordinates on Greyhound who dress in formal waiter uniforms and serve food to Captain Krause. The only purpose these waiter characters have in the story is to fret about how Captain Krause hasn’t been eating the food that they serve him. It’s also mentioned multiple times in the film that Krause is such a brave and diligent captain during this mission that not only has he been too preoccupied to eat, he also hasn’t been sleeping either.

“Greyhound” is not a bad movie. But compared to gritty and classic World War II films such as “Saving Private Ryan” and “Dunkirk,” it’s just a very disappointing and trite film, where the action and character development are far inferior to other World War II movies. “Greyhound” wastes the talent of actors such as Shue and Morgan, and it elevates Hanks’ Captain Krause character to such a lofty and squeaky-clean level that it scrubs all of the personality out of him.

Apple TV+ premiered “Greyhound” on July 10, 2020.

2019 Tribeca Film Festival pilot episode review: ‘The Boys’

May 1, 2019

by Carla Hay

Jack Quaid and Karl Urban in "The Boys"
Jack Quaid and Karl Urban in “The Boys” (Photo by Jan Thijs)

“The Boys”

Pilot episode/Season 1, Episode 1

World premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival on April 29, 2019.

Prime Video’s “The Boys” series couldn’t have come at a better time, when superhero movies have been dominating the box office, and the lead characters in the movies have legions of devoted fans around the world. “The Boys,” based on the graphic-novel series of the same name, explores what it would be like to live in a world where over-worshipped superheroes abuse their fame and power. Based on the pilot episode of “The Boys” that had its world premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival, Prime Video could have its first big superhero-themed hit.

The main protagonists of “The Boys” aren’t even superheroes. They’re mere mortals who want to expose the corrupt superheroes because of personal vendettas they have against them. Hughie Campbell (played by Jack Quaid) is a mild-mannered employee of an independent electronics store in New York City. It’s the type of store that’s rapidly disappearing in a retail economy that’s killed Radio Shack. Hughie seems to have a safe and predictable life. He and his girlfriend Robin (played by Jess Salgueiro) are very much in love, and although Hughie’s job doesn’t pay too well, it’s enough for him to get by comfortably, even if he still has to live with his single father (played by Simon Pegg).

Hughie’s world turns into a nightmare when his girlfriend is killed right in front of him in a freak accident. It’s because a lightning-speed superhero named A-Train (played by Jessie T. Usher) literally runs right through her while chasing a robber, and that leads to Robin’s gruesome death. A-Train runs so fast (just like DC Comics’ The Flash) that he didn’t even notice that he killed someone until he sees the bloody aftermath, and he makes a quick excuse that he has to leave in order to keep chasing after the robber.

A devastated Hughie tries to get justice from Vought International, the mega-corporation that manages and secretly covers up for the world’s top superheroes, including an elite group called The Seven. (The Seven is written as an obvious satire of DC Comics’ supergroup Justice League.) Vought is run by Madelyn Stillwell (played by Elizabeth Shue), a ruthless executive who puts on a façade of doing what’s best for the world, while hiding superheroes’ dirty secrets. Vought offers Hughie a $45,000 settlement to not sue over Robin’s death, but he refuses. A-Train gives a half-hearted public apology, but Hughie is not convinced the apology is sincere. Hughie isn’t so mild-mannered anymore. He’s heartbroken, bitter, and out for revenge. He just doesn’t know what to do about it yet.

Meanwhile, in Des Moines, Iowa, a naïve young woman named Annie January (played by Erin Moriarty) is training to become a superhero, much like a girl would train for an event that’s a combination of an athletic competition and a beauty pageant. She’s hoping she’ll be the chosen one to replace Lamplighter, one of the superheroes who is retiring from The Seven. What happens to this young superhero will set in motion much of the action for the rest of the series. She joins The Seven under the new identity Starlight, a character clearly inspired by Supergirl.

Not long after Starlight joins The Seven, Hughie unexpectedly meets Billy Butcher (played by Karl Urban), a no-nonsense badass who crashes into Hughie’s store. Billy says that he’s part of a secret vigilante group called The Boys, whose goal is to hold law-breaking superheroes accountable for their misdeeds. Hughie wants in on the action, but Billy wants Hughie to prove himself first.

Billy tells Hughie that all of the superheroes are corrupt except Homelander (played by Antony Starr), the leader of The Seven, an alpha-male, patriotic type who has the superhero ability to fly, just like Superman. But is Homelander really a good guy or has Billy been fooled into thinking he is?

Other characters from The Seven that are introduced in this pilot episode include The Deep (played by Chace Crawford), an Aquaman-type heartthrob who’s secretly a creep abusing his power through sexual harassment; Black Noir (played by Nathan Mitchell), a mysterious silent type; Translucent (played by Alex Hassell), who can make himself invisible, similar to the DC Comics character Negative Man, and uses this ability to be a perverted Peeping Tom; and Queen Maeve (played by Dominique McElligott), a tough-but-tender alpha female, similar to Wonder Woman, who shows signs that she’s not as committed to The Seven’s corrupt ways as the rest of the group.

Translucent is not in “The Boys” comic books, so his storyline in the TV series is the least-easiest to predict. Advance teaser footage of “The Boys” shows Translucent imprisoned in a cage. The Prime Video series also has some other differences from “The Boys” comic books (which were created by writer Garth Ennis and illustrator Darick Robertson), but that spoiler information won’t be included here.

Seth Rogen, Evan Goldberg, James Weaver, Ori Marmur, Ken F. Levin and Jason Netter are among the executive producers of “The Boys.” They previously adapted a popular graphic-novel series to television with AMC’s “Preacher.” Other executive producers of “The Boys” are Eric Kripke (“Supernatural”), Neal H. Moritz (“The Fast and the Furious” franchise) and Pavun Shetty (CBS’s “S.W.A.T.”).

Based on the pilot episode of “The Boys,” this series is going full-throttle with sex, drugs, adult language and violence. Now that Prime Video has canceled the superhero comedy series “The Tick” (which didn’t really click with audiences, after two seasons), “The Boys” can step in and fill that superhero series void with a rip-roaring abandon that’s a satirical kick in the face to superheroes who are too popular for their own good.

Prime Video will premiere the first season of “The Boys” on July 26, 2019.

Copyright 2017-2023 Culture Mix