Review: ‘Mr. Malcolm’s List,’ starring Freida Pinto, Ṣọpẹ Dìrísù, Oliver Jackson-Cohen, Ashley Park, Zawe Ashton and Theo James

July 3, 2022

by Carla Hay

Ṣọpẹ Dìrísù and Freida Pinto in “Mr. Malcolm’s List” (Photo by Ross Ferguson/Bleecker Street)

“Mr. Malcolm’s List”

Directed by Emma Holly Jones

Culture Representation: Taking place primarily in 1818 (with a brief flashback to 1802), in England, the comedy/drama film “Mr. Malcolm’s List” features a racially diverse cast of characters (black people, white people and Asians) representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: London’s most eligible bachelor, who has a list of requirements for his future wife, becomes the target of a romantic scheme concocted by a socialite who was rejected by this wealthy bachelor and who enlists her working-class childhood best friend to seduce the bachelor. 

Culture Audience: “Mr. Malcolm’s List” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of Jane Austen-inspired stories about people in 1800s England who are preoccupied with social class and marriage.

Theo James and Zawe Ashton in “Mr. Malcolm’s List” (Photo by Ross Ferguson/Bleecker Street)

Obviously influenced by Jane Austen novels, “Mr. Malcolm’s List” is an entirely predictable comedy/drama romp that’s enjoyable to watch because of the entertaining performances by the movie’s talented cast. The movie hits all the expected beats of a story about class-conscious people in 1800s England who have schemes and misunderstandings when it comes to love and marriage. Most viewers will already know how the movie is going to end, but it’s a delightful ride along the way, filled with costume design, production design and cinematography that are gorgeous.

“Mr. Malcolm’s List” is the feature-film directorial debut of Emma Holly Jones, who also directed the 2019 short film “Mr. Malcolm’s List.” Both movies are based on Suzanne Allain’s 2009 novel of the same name. Allain wrote the screenplay for both movies. Jones is also a producer of the “Mr. Malcolm’s List” movies. These flmmakers clearly have a love of the source material, since the feature film “Mr. Malcolm’s List” does justice to the novel, with the added cinematic choice of making the cast racially diverse.

No one ever mentions people’s racial identities in the movie, but social class is at the forefront of the expectations, perceptions and disagreements that the “Mr. Malcolm’s List” characters have when it comes love and marriage. The movie (which takes place in England) opens in 1802, when two girls, who are about 13 or 14 years old, are roommates at a boarding school called Mrs. Finch’s Ladies Academy.

The scene is very short, but it says a lot about the personalities of these two girls. Julia Thistlewaite (played by Aisling Doyle) is bossy and extroverted. Selina Dalton (played by Tia Ann Jain) is easygoing and introverted. In their bedroom, Julia sees Selina reading a book and says to Selina: “Keeping your head in books all day will not create the marriagable mind.” Selina replies, “I have nothing materially to offer to a husband anyway.” Julia then says, “I have no loving father to offer me a match. A right pair we make.”

It’s later explained in the movie that not only do Julia and Selina have different personalities, but Julia and Selina also come from contrasting backgrounds. Julia is an only child from a wealthy family led by Julia’s widowed mother. Selina is one of several siblings whose married parents are still alive. Selina’s father is a low-income vicar who had a benefactor generously offer to pay for Selina to attend this elite academy.

During this conversation, it’s toward the end of the academic year, so the girls will soon be going their separate ways. Selina and Julia promise that they will always look out for each other. Julia goes a step further and says that after she moves to London and finds a man to marry her, she will find a husband for Selina. Years later, Julia and Selina end up reuniting, but not in the way that Julia thought it would happen during this childhood conversation.

The movie then fast-forwards to 1818. A wealthy heir named Jeremy Malcolm (played by Ṣọpẹ Dìrísù) is widely known as London’s most eligible bachelor. It’s explained that he inherited a vast estate from an aunt. And even though Mr. Malcolm is the younger son of an earl (who is now deceased), Mr. Malcolm has no royal title of his own. Even without a title, his wealth, charisma and good looks have made women eager to get his attention.

Julia (played by Zawe Ashton) is one of these women. And she’s managed to get a date with Mr. Malcolm, who takes Julia to see an opera performance. They have balcony seating all to themselves. Mr. Malcolm and Julia have very little chemistry together on the date. Julia tries too hard to impress him. She doesn’t have the intelligence that he wants in a woman, so it’s a turnoff for Mr. Malcolm.

A dealbreaker for him is how Julia reacts when he asks her what she thinks about the Corn Laws, which at that time were England’s tariffs and other trade restrictions on imported corn and other imported food. Julia’s response shows she has no idea what he’s talking about: “I believe that restraint in one’s diet is bound to have a healthy effect” she says with a forced smile. Needless to say, Julia doesn’t get another date with Mr. Malcolm.

Throughout the movie, there are two gossipy women named Lady Margaret (played by Danielle Ryan) and Lucy (played by Emma Lou Willis, also known as Emma Willis), who lurk around because they’re nosy about Mr. Malcolm’s love life. They’re first seen observing Mr. Malcolm and Julia on their opera date, because these two gossips are seated in a nearby balcony. Lady Margaret and Lucy make catty comments out loud to each other about the women whom Mr. Malcolm takes on dates. It’s comic relief that’s intermittent and fortunately not too much of a distraction.

Two other characters who are mostly in the background but make occasional comedic comments are a maid named Molly (played by played by Sianad Gregory) and a footman named John (played by Divian Ladwa), who are characters that are not in the “Mr. Malcolm’s List” book. John and Molly are dutiful to their wealthy employers. But when these employers aren’t looking, Molly and John show some exasperation at how these employers tend to live in a privileged “bubble” and are out of touch with the rest of society. For example, when Mr. Malcolm and his social circle have a pretentious discussion about how to fix social problems of the working-class, John snidely says to himself, “They could pay us more.”

Meanwhile, Selina (played by Freida Pinto) has been living in Sussex and has recently lost her job as a caretaker for an elderly woman because the woman has died. And just as Selina was in her adolescence, Selina is not as preoccupied as Julia is with finding a husband. Selina is seen politely rejecting the marriage proposal of an affluent man named Mr. Woodbury (played by Gerry O’Brien), who’s old enough to be her father.

Mr. Woodbury barely knows Selina, but he knows that she doesn’t have much money, and he can offer her a financially comfortable life. He’s stung by Selina’s rejection. Mr. Woodbury warns Selina about her refusal to marry him: “If you refuse, your prospects will be grim indeed.” Selina firmly stands by her decision. In other words, it’s the movie’s way of showing that Selina only wants to marry for love, not for money.

Someone else who’s not taking rejection very well is Julia. When she finds out that Mr. Malcolm doesn’t want to court her anymore, she’s determined to find out why. Julia’s agitation goes into overdrive when she sees a satiric illustration of Mr. Malcolm on a date with her, and the illustration has this caption: “Next!” Adding to Julia’s humiliation, this caricature has been published and distributed, so many people in London’s society have seen it.

Julia’s sarcastic cousin Lord Cassidy (played by Oliver Jackson-Cohen), who is a friend of Mr. Malcolm’s, tells Julia about a secretive list that Mr. Malcolm has compiled. This list has all the requirements that Mr. Malcolm wants in a wife because he doesn’t want to marry a gold digger or anyone who is shallow, selfish and less-than-smart. And apparently, Julia didn’t meet the requirement of the ability to converse in a sensible fashion.

A furious and offended Julia then comes up with a revenge plan to get Mr. Malcolm to fall in love with another woman, who will then reject Mr. Malcolm by surprising Mr. Malcolm with a list of requirements that Mr. Malcolm does not meet. Julia decides that her former schoolmate Selina, whom she hasn’t seen in years, would be the ideal person to recruit to be the seductress. Even though Selina is a kind, intelligent and physically attractive woman, snobby Julia thinks that Selina being “poor” makes it unlikely that Selina could marry someone of Mr. Malcolm’s status.

Julia makes a trip to Sussex to reunite with Selina and tell her about this plan. Julia makes it sound like Mr. Malcolm is a jerk who deserves to have this revenge. Selina is very reluctant to participate in this scheme, but she agrees out of loyalty to Julia and out of curiosity to go to London to meet Mr. Malcolm. To Selina’s surprise, Selina finds Mr. Malcolm to be pleasantly charming and attractive. And the feeling is mutual.

You know where this is going, of course. The more time that Mr. Malcolm and Selina spend together, the more he finds out that Selina checks all the requirements on his list. He has no idea that Selina was recruited by Julia to seduce him. Selina finds out that she doesn’t need to pretend to be interested in Mr. Malcolm, and she becomes less inclined to betray Mr. Malcolm. Meanwhile, Julia pressures a reluctant Lord Cassidy to continue to give Julia important information about Mr. Malcolm, so that Julia’s revenge plot can go exactly as she plans.

During the courtship of Mr. Malcolm and Selina, another confident and eligible bachelor arrives on the scene: Captain Henry Ossory (played by Theo James), the nephew of the deceased elderly woman who was Selina’s most recent employer. Captain Ossory meets Selina and Mr. Malcolm for the first time during a social get-together. Captain Ossory is effusive in his compliments to Selina, because he had heard good things about her from his aunt.

Captain Ossory finds Selina attractive too, and he asks her out on a date in front of Mr. Malcolm. Selina says yes. And now, Mr. Malcolm thinks he’s got some competition for Selina’s affections. More courting and scheming go on during lavish ballroom parties, banquets and romantic dates.

In addition, some family members have an effect on all these social encounters. Julia’s domineering and meddling mother Mrs. Thistlewaite (played by Naoko Mori) is desperate for Julia to marry a man who’s wealthier than the Thistlewaite family. Selina’s loving and laid-back parents (played by Paul Tylak and Dawn Bradfield) eventually meet Mr. Malcolm’s widowed mother Lady Kilbourne (played by Doña Croll), who is astute and perceptive about the people who come into her son’s life. These parents don’t have first names in the movie, by the way.

And in the last third of the movie, a ditsy and tactless woman named Gertie Covington (played by Ashley Park) arrives on the scene to give unwitting insults and cause a little bit of social chaos. Who Gertie is and how she knows certain people in the story aren’t handled very well, but the reveal of her identity further fuels some of the melodrama that happens around Julia’s vendetta. Gertie’s role in the story speaks to how people deal with the concept of how a potential spouse’s family members can affect a relationship or potential marriage.

“Mr. Malcolm’s List” delivers everything audiences can expect from lush period movies that take place in high society England in the 1800s. It’s the cinematic version of a romance novel that plays into fantasies of people living in a world where their biggest problems are about finding the ideal spouse or life partner. Even the “poor” people in “Mr. Malcolm’s List” look well put-together. Amelia Warner’s romantic musical score is perfectly suited for the movie.

All of the cast members give skilled performances that deliver the witty banter and emotional entanglements with believable charm. A character such as Julia could have been extremely irritating for the entire movie (and she does have plenty of annoying moments), but Ashton’s performance gives the Julia character a lot of realistic and occasionally amusing humanity. All of the other cast members portray their characters exactly how people expect them to act.

“Mr. Malcolm’s List” has some over-used romantic movie clichés, including a scene showing a race against time to confess true love. But those stereotypes can easily be forgiven when “Mr. Malcolm’s List” does such a good job of keeping people’s interest in these characters and how they handle their romance predicaments. “Mr. Malcolm’s List” takes place in the 1800s, but the movie shows in clever ways that the enormous pressures that many people put on themselves to find a spouse or life partner aren’t exclusive to a bygone era and still happen today.

Bleecker Street released “Mr. Malcolm’s List” in U.S. cinemas on July 1, 2022. The movie is set for release on digital and VOD on July 21, 2022.

Review: ‘Intrusion’ (2021), starring Freida Pinto and Logan Marshall-Green

February 13, 2022

by Carla Hay

Logan Marshall-Green and Freida Pinto in “Intrusion” (Photo by Ursula Coyote/Netflix)

“Intrusion” (2021)

Directed by Adam Salky

Culture Representation: Taking place in the fictional U.S. town of Corallis, the dramatic film “Intrusion” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with one person of Indian heritage and a few African Americans) representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: After a married couple experiences a terrifying and deadly home invasion, the wife begins her own investigation into why this break-in happened.

Culture Audience: “Intrusion” will appeal mainly to people who are interested in mystery thrillers that follow a predictable formula and have too many moments of ridiculousness to be considered high-quality entertainment.

Logan Marshall-Green and Freida Pinto in “Intrusion” (Photo by Ursula Coyote/Netflix)

“Intrusion” is a mystery crime drama that’s so lazy and mediocre, it’s too easy to figure out who’s the chief villain, long before the movie is over. The only memorable things about “Intrusion” are some of the ludicrous and unbelievable scenes that some viewers might consider unintentionally funny. The film’s climactic showdown scene permanently sinks “Intrusion” into the cesspool where vapid and generic thrillers are quickly forgotten.

Directed by Adam Salky, “Intrusion” has very little flair, wit or charisma. And that includes the non-existent chemistry between Freida Pinto and Logan Marshall-Green, who play the married couple at the center of the story: Meera Parsons and Henry Parsons. Meera (who’s a therapist) and Henry (who’s an architect) have been married to each other for 12 years. They have recently moved into their dream home that Henry built for Meera.

The house is in a fictional American small town called Corallis, which has a mix of working-class and middle-class people. Moving to a small town is quite an adjustment for this couple. Meera, who is originally from India, met Henry when they used to live in Boston. Meera and Henry have also had a big challenge in their marriage: Meera is recovering from breast cancer, which is currently in remission.

One evening, shortly after moving into their new house, Meera and Henry have dinner together at a nearby restaurant. When they come home, they immediately see that their living room and study have been ransacked. When an investigating cop named Detective Steven Morse (played by Robert John Burke) shows up to take the crime report, Henry tells him that two cell phones and a laptop computer were stolen from the home. Detective Morse remarks that if Henry designed the house himself, then Henry should’ve also installed a security system.

Not long after the break-in, Meera has an appointment with her oncologist Dr. Burke (played by Denielle Fisher Johnson), who has some good news for Meera: The test results came back for a lump that Meera felt on one of her breasts, and the lump was scar tissue, not cancer that returned. Dr. Burke can see how Meera’s cancer recovery has been taking a toll on Meera’s emotional well-being, so she recommends that Meera see a therapist, but Meera dismisses this advice. She tells the doctor that her husband Henry provides all the emotional support that she needs.

Dr. Burke also mentions that she heard about the break-in, and she’s concerned this invasive crime might cause extra stress for Meera, who is very surprised that Dr. Burke knows about the break-in. “It’s a small town,” Dr. Burke explains. Meera will soon find out that there’s a lot she has to learn about Corallis.

Trust and uncovering secrets are recurring themes in “Intrusion.” Meera had made her appointment with Dr. Burke without telling Henry. And when Henry finds out about it, he gets annoyed, and he lectures Meera about how they shouldn’t keep secrets from each other. They have a little tiff over this issue, but it’s not an argument that causes a big rift in their relationship.

Meera’s and Henry’s lives change forever one night, when three intruders break into their home—and not everyone makes it out alive. The first sign that something is wrong is when there’s an electrical power outage in the home. Henry checks the power generator outside, and he sees that it has been deliberately damaged. When he goes back in the house, he’s shocked to find that Meera has been tied up by intruders, who are not in the room.

Henry quickly unties Meera. He gets a gun and fights off the intruders, who are three other men, and they have an attack dog with them. Meanwhile, Meera jumps from a second-floor balcony to go outside to her car to try to escape. She hears gunshots coming from inside the house. And the next thing you know, one of the men appears in front of her with the dog, but he’s shot and immediately killed by Henry.

It’s later revealed that Henry also shot the two other intruders inside the house. Two of the intruders are now dead, while the other has survived and is in the local hospital’s intensive care unit. Who were these three intruders? They all come from the same family: Paul Cobb (played by Antonio Valles) and his younger brother Colby Cobb (played by Brandon Fierro), both in their 20s, are the ones who were shot dead. Their father Dylan Cobb (played by Mark Sivertsen) is the one who is severely injured in the hospital.

Because Corallis is a small town with a small police department, Detective Morse is on this home invasion case too. He tells Meera and Henry that the Cobbs are related to Christine Cobb, a freshman at a community college, who has been missing for several weeks. Christine is Dylan’s daughter and the sister of Paul and Colby. After the police investigate the crime scene and take statements from Meera and Henry, it’s determined that Henry acted in self-defense, so he’s not charged with any crimes.

As upsetting and traumatic as this home invasion was, Henry still wants to go ahead with the housewarming party that he and Meera had planned for the following evening. Meera is reluctant to have the party, but Henry insists that the best way to deal with the trauma is to not let it disrupt their lives. Even though Meera is grateful that Henry saved their lives, she’s upset that Henry secretly had a gun that she didn’t know about until this home invasion happened.

The police are investigating why Henry and Meera were targeted for these two break-ins, but the police investigation is not enough for Meera. She begins looking for clues on her own, starting with what she can find around the house when Henry isn’t home. Meera suddenly acts like a private detective when certain clues lead her to some of the seedier areas in town. It isn’t long before Meera does some trespassing and break-ins herself, in her growing obsession to find out the truth.

There’s a scene at a trailer park where Meera is confronted by a local lowlife named Clint Oxbow (played Clint Obenchain), who catches her snooping around. It’s an example of one of many scenes in “Intrusion” that will have viewers giggling or groaning at the absurdity of it all. The clues in this mystery lead to a very predictable answer. By the time the big reveal happens in a very clumsily written and poorly executed scene, a lot of viewers who already had the mystery figured out will probably be very unimpressed. The cast members give very average or subpar performances.

Between the too-obvious clues and the short list of possible suspects, “Intrusion” offers very little suspense. The movie might have risen above its mediocrity if the main characters were more engaging. Unfortunately, Meera and Henry are so boring and emotionally awkward as a couple, viewers will have a hard time believing that Meera and Henry are supposed to be each other’s best friend. “Intrusion” gives everything the “blah” treatment, including the marital relationship and the mystery that are supposed to be at the heart of the story.

Netflix premiered “Intrusion” on November 22, 2021.

Review: ‘Needle in a Timestack,’ starring Leslie Odom Jr., Cynthia Erivo, Orlando Bloom and Freida Pinto

January 4, 2022

by Carla Hay

Cynthia Erivo and Leslie Odom Jr. in “Needle in a Timestack” (Photo courtesy of Lionsgate)

“Needle in a Timestack”

Directed by John Ridley

Culture Representation: Taking place in unnamed U.S. cities, the sci-fi drama “Needle in a Timestack” features a racially diverse cast of characters (black, white and Asian) representing the middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: In this time-bending story, two men and two women experience their lives differently when the men and women pair off as couples at different points in their lives. 

Culture Audience: “Needle in a Timstack” will appeal primarily to people who don’t mind watching a convoluted, poorly written and extremely dull movie.

Orlando Bloom and Freida Pinto in “Needle in a Timestack” (Photo courtesy of Lionsgate)

Looking for a needle in a haystack is more fun than watching “Needle in a Timestack.” This excruciatingly dull movie tries to have a “musical chairs” approach to romance, but it’s ultimately a time-wasting bore with nothing to say. Unfortunately, this misguided movie doesn’t do much with its talented cast except give them snooze-inducing dialogue and scenarios that are just too ill-conceived to take.

“Needle in a Timestack” is based on Robert Silverberg’s 1966 collection of sci-fi short stories the same name. It’s easy to see how “Needle in a Timestack” screenwriter/director John Ridley thought that the intriguing concept of time-traveling changing the course of people’s romances that should be made into a movie. But this concept just turns into a haphazard mishmash of tedious scenes where the actors look almost as confused as viewers will be if they try to wade through this cinematic muck.

“Needle in a Timestack” is about two men and two women who have intertwined romances, but the main couple that audiences are supposed to be rooting for are spouses Nick Mikkelsen (played by Leslie Odom Jr.) and Janine Mikkelsen (played by Cynthia Erivo), who are the couple who gets the most screen time. Nick works in real-estate development for an architectural firm called Randall Corp. Janine is a photographer. Nick and Janine have been married for five years. (“Needle in a Timestack” takes place in the U.S., but the movie was actually filmed in British Columbia.)

The other two people in this quasi-love quadrangle are business mogul Tommy Hambleton (played by Orlando Bloom) and Alex Leslie (played by Freida Pinto), who are presented as possible threats to Nick and Janine’s love for each other. At various points in the movie, these couplings are shown: Nick and Janine; Tommy and Janine; Nick and Alex; and Tommy and Alex. The movie then plays a lot of tricks over which scene might be a flashback, an altered reality, or possibly a figment of someone’s imagination.

At first, Nick and Janine seem like a blissful married couple in love. When they’re at a house party together, Nick looks adoringly at Janine and says to her, “Sometimes, when you’re not looking, I watch you from across the room. And I ask myself, ‘If I didn’t know you, would I still fall in love with you?'”

The beginning of the movie shows that Janine has made a sad video of herself where tears are rolling down her cheeks. Janine says wistfully as she looks into the camera: “Love is drawn in the form of a circle. No one knows where it begins, and it never really ends. You and I, we are forever and always and all ways.”

Why is Janine so upset? And why is she talking like a cheesy Valentine’s Day card? The movie comes back to this video as a placemark to show viewers that Janine might know something that some of the other characters might not know. That’s because in this movie, memories and versions of reality can be erased by people who have the money to time travel and alter the fates of themselves and loved ones. Messing with fate in this way results in a “time shift,” which can usually be detected when people get nosebleeds.

Nick experiences a series of unsettling time shifts that are so alarming to him that he tells Janine that he suspects someone is trying to “erase” their marriage and possibly their memories of each other. Nick eventually figures out that Janine’s wealthy and jealous ex-husband Tommy is causing these time traveling manipulations because Janine broke up with Tommy, and Tommy is still bitter about it. When Nick confronts Tommy (who’s in charge of a company called Hambleton Solutions) about his suspicions, Tommy smugly replies by saying, “No one can really change the past. Just clean up the present a little.”

Nick is so sure that Tommy is going to erase Nick’s memories, Nick gets help from a company that sells Past Protect, which is described as a cloud service for storage of memories. People upload their photos and files on Past Protect to preserve memories. There’s some very manufactured and predictable drama about the Past Protect part of the story.

The rest of “Needle in a Timestack” sluggishly goes back and forth in different “realities” that show the four different couplings that happen between Nick, Janine, Tommy and Alex. None of these pairings is the least bit interesting or sexy, although the movie tries its hardest to make it look like Nick and Janine are the most “passionate” of the four pairings. The personalities of all these characters are so bland, it’ll be hard for viewers to remember much about the movie’s characters.

Odom and Erivo seem to be doing their best to play a convincing married couple, but their acting just seems a bit too forced in their love scenes. Bloom and Pinto look like they’re just going through the motions and reciting their lines. It doesn’t help that almost all of the dialogue in the film is awkward and stilted. (Trivia note: Odom and Pinto also portrayed a couple in the 2020 post-apocalyptic drama “Only,” which isn’t a very good movie but at least it’s much more interesting than “Needle in a Timestack.”)

“Needle in a Timestack” also has a time-wasting subplot about Nick’s neurotic younger sister Zoe Mikkelsen (played by Jadyn Wong), who’s a self-admitted commitment-phobe when it comes to romance. There are several tiresome scenes in the movie showing Nick and Zoe having phone conversations where Zoe constantly talks about her best friend Sibila (played by Laysla De Oliveira), who’s originally from Portugal.

Zoe invites Nick to go rock climbing with her and Sibila, but Nick declines the offer because he thinks rock climbing is too dangerous. And in a movie where people try to change something in the past that they didn’t want to happen, it’s very easy to guess what happens during this rock climbing trip and what someone wants to do to change it. However, this subplot didn’t need to be in the story and just seems like the filmmakers’ way of stretching the already thin plot even more.

It’s not as if Ridley is new to making movies from adapted screenplays. He won an adapted screenplay Oscar for writing the 2013 drama “12 Years a Slave,” a movie where he was also an executive producer. “Needle in a Timestack” tries to look like a movie that’s a mind-bending puzzle, but it’s really a series of scenes that are patched together like different people’s hazy memories. Much of the story becomes unfocused to the point where viewers might be wondering why this movie was even made. “Needle in a Timestack” can easily put viewers to sleep, so at least the movie is good for the purpose of curing insomnia.

Lionsgate released “Needle in a Timestack” in select U.S. cinemas, on digital and VOD on October 15, 2021. The movie was released on Blu-ray and DVD on October 19, 2021.

Review: ‘Love Wedding Repeat,’ starring Sam Claflin, Olivia Munn, Eleanor Tomlinson, Joel Fry, Freida Pinto, Jack Farthing and Aisling Bea

April 10, 2020

by Carla Hay

Allan Mustafa, Freida Pinto, Joel Fry, Olivia Munn, Sam Claflin, Tim Key, Jack Farthing, Aisling Bea and Eleanor Tomlinson in “Love Wedding Repeat” (Photo courtesy of Netflix)

“Love Wedding Repeat”

Directed by Dean Craig

Culture Representation: Taking place in Italy, the romantic comedy “Love Wedding Repeat” has a predominantly white British cast of characters (with some representation of Asians and one black/biracial person) representing the middle-class.

Culture Clash: At his sister’s wedding, a man tries to reconnect with a potential love interest and prevent a highly intoxicated uninvited guest from spoiling the wedding.

Culture Audience: “Love Wedding Repeat” will appeal mostly to people who have little or no expectations for a romantic comedy to be very romantic or very funny.

Sam Claflin and Olivia Munn in “Love Wedding Repeat” (Photo by Riccardo Ghilardi)

Imagine being at a wedding reception and being stuck at a table with mostly annoying people who say and do ridiculous things. That might give you an idea of what it’s like to watch “Love Wedding Repeat,” a very misguided attempt at being a romantic comedy. The movie (written and directed by Dean Craig) is based on the 2012 French film “Plan de Table,” which translates to “Table Plan” in English. “Plan de Table” was a flop with audiences and critics when it was released in France, so it’s kind of mind-boggling that the “Love Wedding Repeat” filmmakers wanted to do a remake of a flop. However, changing the setting to Italy, making it an English-language film with a mostly British cast, and altering some of the plot elements did not make “Love Wedding Repeat” an improvement on the original film.

“Love Wedding Repeat” is also split into two different storylines, with the same characters but with alternate endings. This split personality of the film ultimately falls flat, because it makes the first half of the film look like an even more of a time waster than the second half. The latter half is the one that’s supposed to have the “real” ending. The way that the movie transitions between the two storylines is clumsy at best. Penny Ryder, a Judi Dench sound-alike, does some brief voiceover narration playing the “oracle” of the movie, where she spouts some mystical-sounding mumbo jumbo about fate, destiny, and how one little action can have a big chain reaction on people’s lives.

In every movie with the word “wedding” in the title, there are two people in the story whom the audience is supposed to want to end up together. In “Love Wedding Repeat,” those two people are Jack (played by Sam Claflin) and Dina (played by Olivia Munn). At the beginning of the movie, it isn’t clear what Jack does for a living (he later tells Dina that he’s recently qualified to be a structural engineer), while Dina is an American journalist whose specialty is covering wars. They’re visiting Italy for some unknown reason and now have to go their separate ways back to their regular lives.

The movie begins with Jack and Dina having a starry-eyed romantic stroll in Italy in their last night together on their trip. Jack tells Dina, “This has been a pretty special weekend.” Dina replies, “You’re not as irritating as I thought you would be.” Dina is a friend of Jack’s younger sister Hayley, who apparently set them up on this blind date.

As he leans in to give a goodbye kiss to Dina, they’re suddenly interrupted by Jack’s former college classmate Greg (played by Alexander Forsyth), who literally comes out of nowhere to barge in between them and is completely oblivious that he’s ruined a romantic moment. The movie is filled with these types of unrealistic barge-ins where people randomly show up to cause uncomfortable situations.

Greg than proceeds to embarrass Jack by telling Dina that Jack used to have the nickname Mr. Wank in college because Jack was known for “wanking” (British slang for masturbating) a lot back then. Jack denies that he was the person with the nickname Mr. Wank, but based on how the scene is played, viewers are supposed to believe that Jack probably did have that nickname.

Meanwhile, Greg can’t take a hint that Jack and Dina want to be alone together (this movie is filled with socially clueless people), so he prattles on while Jack (who’s too spineless to end the conversation with Greg and get him to move along) watches with a frustrated expression on his face. Since Jack doesn’t have what it takes to get rid of Greg, Jack then makes the decision to say goodbye to Dina by giving her an uncomfortable handshake instead of a kiss. The disappointed look on Dina’s face shows that Jack had a chance to possibly continue their romantic connection, but he blew it.

The movie then fast forwards three years later. Jack is in Italy again, this time for the wedding of his sister Hayley (played by Eleanor Tomlinson), who is apparently marrying into a well-to-do Italian family, since the wedding is taking place at a large and beautiful estate. (The production design and cinematography are the best things about “Love Wedding Repeat.”)

Jack and Hayley’s parents are dead, so Jack will be the one to give away the bride. And wouldn’t you know that at this big wedding where there are hundreds of guests and numerous tables at the wedding reception, Jack will be seated at the same table as Dina, Jack’s ex-girlfriend Amanda (played by Freida Pinto) and Amanda’s current boyfriend Chaz (played by Allan Mustafa). It’s mentioned at some point in the movie that Jack and Amanda dated each other for two years after he and Dina first met each other in Italy, but the relationship between Jack and Amanda ended horribly because she was a difficult shrew. Jack describes Amanda as a “nightmare of a girlfriend.”

And apparently, Amanda hasn’t changed since she dated Jack. Amanda and Chaz are a bickering couple who are obviously mismatched. She’s cold-hearted, bossy, and shows a lot of contempt for Chaz, who is annoyed with her because he proposed to Amanda six months ago and she still hasn’t given him an answer. Chaz is so insecure that he’s fixated on comparing his penis size and sexual skills to Jack’s and other men’s, and Chaz constantly brags that he’s the best of them all. That’s essentially what his character is about for the entire movie. Meanwhile, it becomes apparent during the course of the film that Amanda still has some unresolved feelings for Jack.

Also seated at the same table are Jack’s close friend Bryan (played by Joel Fry), a high-strung, self-absorbed aspiring actor who wants to meet a famous Italian movie director who’s at the wedding; Rebecca (played by Aisling Bea), a tactless motormouth who has a crush on Bryan; and Sidney (played by Tim Key), a socially awkward car-insurance agent who’s desperate to give the impression that he’s not boring. There’s also a “surprise” uninvited guest who’s seated at the table: Marc (played by Jack Farthing), a former childhood classmate of Hayley’s who’s obsessively in love with her and very upset that she’s getting married to someone else.

Jack and Dina are very happy to see each other at the wedding. They’re both available—Dina recently broke up with a work colleague who cheated on her with several other women—but, of course, this wouldn’t be a romantic comedy without obstacles to keep this would-be couple apart. “Love Wedding Repeat” uses very flimsy plot devices to prevent Jack and Dina from spending a lot of time together at the wedding reception, even though they’re seated at the same table.

The main “obstacle” is that a very intoxicated Marc—who’s unexpectedly shown up at the wedding while high on cocaine, which he continues to snort throughout most of the movie—is determined to ruin the wedding by revealing a secret in order to humiliate Hayley and get her new husband to possibly break up with her. (It’s very easy to guess what the secret is.) Hayley panics when she sees Marc and demands that he leave, but he refuses.

Hayley’s new husband Roberto (played by Tiziano Caputo), another clueless person in the movie who can’t read body language and nonverbal signals, sees Hayley and Marc having a tense conversation together. Roberto is oblivious to the tension and instead goes over and assumes that Hayley is talking to an old friend.

Hayley tells Roberto that Marc was just about to leave because he showed up uninvited and there isn’t room for him at the wedding reception. But instead, Roberto insists that Marc stay because they can find room for him at a table. Of course, it happens to be the same table where Jack, Dina, Amanda, Chaz, Bryan, Rebecca and Sidney are seated.

But instead of getting security personnel or some other people to remove Marc from the premises, Hayley makes the dumb decision (as one does in stupid movies like this) to enlist Jack’s help by begging Jack to put a strong liquid sedative that she happens to have in her purse and secretly put the drug in Marc’s water glass at the table where they’ll be sitting. Before the guests arrive in the ballroom where the wedding reception takes place, Jack sneaks in and puts some of the sedative in the glass next to Marc’s name card.

After Jack puts the sedative in the water glass and makes a hasty exit from the nearly empty room, a group of young kids who look to be about 5 to 7 years old then suddenly appear and head right to the same table, where they immediately rearrange all the name cards on the table and then immediately leave. It’s the only table in a roomful of tables where these kids pull this prank. Even for an already unrealistic romantic comedy, this pivotal scene has absolutely no credibility whatsoever. “Plan de Table”  had at least a more plausible way for the table name cards to be rearranged, since it was the ex-boyfriend who did it.

Of course, the rearrangement of the name cards means that Marc will not be the one who gets drugged with the sedative. In the first half of the movie, Bryan is the one who accidentally gets drugged. In the second half of the movie with the alternate storyline, Jack is the one who accidentally gets drugged.

The ending presented in the first half of the movie is actually pretty morbid, so when the movie’s “oracle” announces that viewers can see how one action can make things turn out in many different ways, you pretty much know by then how the movie will really end. Between the first and second storylines, there’s an unnecessary quick montage showing each scenario that would’ve happened if each person at Jack’s table had ingested the sedative in the drink, before getting to the scenario that Jack is the one who accidentally gets drugged.

Throughout the course of the film, there are plenty of wedding movie clichés, such as an intoxicated person making an embarrassing speech, a mishap with the wedding cake, a big fight, and a wedding guest getting unwanted attention from someone who wants to hook up with that person. And, of course, since the sedative is the catalyst for the “problems” in the movie, the person who ingested the drug becomes incoherent or falls asleep at the wrong times.

The movie also has several illogical aspects in order to set up a slapstick scenario. For example, Bryan is an actor who is Hayley’s “maid/man of honor,” and yet he’s shocked to find out on the day of the wedding that he’s expected to give a wedding speech, so he doesn’t have a speech prepared at all. And even though they are seated at the same table, Jack and Dina are mostly kept apart at the wedding in both storylines, because Jack is too busy running around trying to keeping Marc from ruining the wedding. Jack knows the secret that Marc wants to announce at the wedding, so Jack is frantic about not letting that happen.

In the movie’s first storyline, Dina also gets unwanted attention from Sidney, who’s worn a Scottish kilt and keeps complaining about how much the kilt “chafes” at his genitals. (You can bet this is used for at least one slapstick moment in the movie.) And in the alternate storyline in the second half of the film, it’s the famous Italian movie director Vitelli (played by Paolo Mazzarelli) who zooms in on Dina, which is an obstacle for a heavily drugged Jack to have some quality one-on-one time with Dina.

The biggest problem with this movie is that even in the often-unrealistic genre of romantic comedies, “Love Wedding Repeat” is filled with so many conversations and scenarios that are too phony to take. The people who end up coupling aren’t very believable together. And there are parts of the movie that are very dull. Bryan and Jack aren’t the only ones who fall asleep in this story. You might fall asleep too while watching this movie.

If you’re the kind of person who expects romantic comedies to have a big scene where a person frantically runs to catch up to someone and reveal true feelings before it’s too late, then you’ll be happy to know that “Love Wedding Repeats” delivers on that predictable trope too. It’s unfortunate that the movie’s cast, who are otherwise talented, are saddled with roles and dialogues that are obnoxious or incredibly boring and unoriginal. “Love Wedding Repeat” is a disappointing movie that certainly doesn’t need to be repeated through a remake or a sequel.

Netflix premiered “Love Wedding Repeat” on April 10, 2020.

2019 Tribeca Film Festival movie review: ‘Only’

April 27, 2019

by Carla Hay

Freida Pinto and Leslie Odom Jr. in “Only” (Photo by Sean Stiegemeier)


Directed by Takashi Doscher

World premiere at Tribeca Film Festival in New York City on April 27, 2019.

Does the world need another bleak post-apocalyptic movie? Not if it’s as disappointing as this one. The above-average performances of Leslie Odom Jr. (“Hamilton”) and Freida Pinto (“Slumdog Millionaire”) are the main reasons to see “Only,” a depressing drama with unrelenting emotional claustrophobia that can’t quite mask some of the film’s most glaring and annoying plot holes. Odom and Pinto play Will and Eva, two lovers who have quarantined themselves in an apartment in an unnamed U.S. city during a mysterious plague. From the opening scene, there’s a sense that Eva is somehow in danger: She frantically hides in a secret crawlspace in the apartment when men wearing hazmat suits suddenly enter the home to search it and interrogate Will, who lies to them by telling them that he lives alone.

In the film’s numerous flashbacks that might confuse some viewers, it’s revealed that the plague started when ash began to fall all over the world like a steady snowstorm, and females who are exposed to the ash develop a strange illness that makes them bleed near their ears, go into convulsions, then die within a matter of hours. Eva has managed to avoid this contagious disease by being in the apartment when the ash started to fall.

But in a major plot disconnect, a flashback scene shows her to be completely exposed in a hospital’s emergency ward, where Will and Eva have taken Eva’s roommate Carolyn (played by Tia Hendricks), who was caught outside when the ash started to fall. While at the hospital, which is filled with patients and their loved ones covered in the mysterious ash, Will figures out that only females are getting sick from the ash. In a “too good to be true” coincidence, he sees an “Authorized Personnel Only” door, which happens to contain two hazmat suits that he and Eva can wear when they flee the hospital to go back home and quarantine themselves. Never mind that Will and Eva have already been exposed to the deadly ash when they went outside to travel to the hospital while the ash is in the air, and they were in a hospital filled with people and things covered with the ash.

It’s not a spoiler to reveal this ludicrous part of the storyline because the entire movie relies on the premise that Eva has avoided exposure to the ash for at least 400 days, which contradicts the fact that she was exposed early on during the plague at the hospital. The entire hospital scene and the Carolyn character are completely unnecessary, since Will and Eva could have found out the cause of the plague and who was at risk by staying home and watching the news. It’s one of the movie’s several plot holes that will leave viewers shaking their heads in dismay at how “Only” writer/director Takashi Doscher sabotaged his own script.

Later in the movie, it’s revealed that because the plague has almost wiped out the world’s population of women and girls, and many of the surviving women who can get pregnant end up having miscarriages, the U.S. government has put up a $2 million bounty for anyone who can find a woman who can give birth to a child. However, since the government is doing scientific experiments on surviving women who are found, there’s little incentive for any of the remaining women like Eva to give themselves up.

The movie’s flashback scenes show that Will and Eva had a happy relationship before the plague. But after the plague, their relationship has become strained because Will has become so paranoid about Eva being discovered and getting infected, that he’s kept her a virtual prisoner in their home, and she has developed a simmering resentment over it. It’s a plot concept that could have been mined for some deep and emotional insight into male/female relationships and power struggles in society (something that “The Handmaid’s Tale” does so well), but “Only” jumps back and forth too much in the story’s timeline, which takes away from what could have been a more cohesive movie.

After Will and Eva have decided to quarantine themselves, the movie goes to great lengths to show us how Will dictates much of what Eva can and can’t do because he’s so afraid of Eva being discovered and getting infected. For example, he gets upset when she uses a cell phone or computer because he doesn’t want her technology activities to be traced. But then another part of the story reveals that Will allows Eva to communicate with the outside world in an Internet chat room with other female survivors, who also send email to the couple. Even though Eva is using an alias, we’re supposed to believe that paranoid Will doesn’t know that this type of Internet activity can still be traced. It’s a contradiction that’s almost laughable if this weren’t such a downbeat movie.

By the time viewers see that Eva (who’s disguised as a man) and Will have made a trip outside to get food, the story veers into a random fugitive thriller with Will and Eva trying to hide from a father and son (played by Jayson Warner Smith and Chandler Riggs), who are would-be bounty hunters. The problem is that the movie tries hard to convince viewers how Eva has been hidden for over a year, but Eva and Will make some decisions both in and outside their home that make it hard to believe that their secret hadn’t been discovered sooner. Their home is meticulously protected in a way that shows their long-term quarantine gave them plenty of time to think about ways to safeguard their home, yet Eva’s “disguise” as a man is so poorly thought-out that it’s a glaring contradiction. (It’s revealed in the last 15 minutes of the film why Eva is outside wearing unprotected clothes when she and Will leave their home to get food.)

Pinto and Odom have a few scenes where they adeptly show the emotional toll that the quarantine has taken on their relationship, but not even the best actors in the world can save this problematic and ultimately unsatisfying script.

UPDATE: Vertical Entertainment will release “Only” in select U.S. cinemas and on VOD on March 6, 2020.

Copyright 2017-2024 Culture Mix