2022 American Music Awards: Taylor Swift is the top winner

November 20, 2022

The following is a press release from ABC:

Taylor Swift at the 2022 American Music Awards at the the Microsoft Theater in Los Angeles on Nvoember 20, 2022 (Photo courtesy of ABC)

Taylor Swift broke her own record of the most wins of any artist in the history of the American Music Awards Sunday night by clinching the top spot in the winner’s circle with six wins at the “2022 American Music Awards” (AMAs), to bring her total count to 40 wins. The year’s hottest night in music represents top achievements in music determined by the fans, for the fans. Hosted by Wayne Brady, the thrilling evening filled with world premiere performances and pop-culture moments aired live on ABC from the Microsoft Theater at L.A. LIVE in Los Angeles.

Show highlights included the following:

  •  Eight-time AMA nominee P!NK skated in from the streets of Los Angeles for an epic start to the AMAs, opening the show with a powerful world premiere performance of her brand-new single “Never Gonna Not Dance Again.” She later graced the stage for a moving and powerful performance of “Hopelessly Devoted To You” dedicated to the inspirational life and career of 10-time AMA winner Olivia Newton-John.
  • This year’s AMA host Wayne Brady bantered with the audience, singing about how he prepared to host the AMAs in his opening monologue. Brady also tapped into his “Dancing With The Stars” skills to perform a number alongside his current DWTS partner, Witney Carson. Later in the show, Brady tapped into members of his audience including Niecy Nash-Betts for a random selection of words, which he used to improvise a rap on stage.
  • Two-time nominee Bebe Rexha made her U.S. television performance debut of her global smash hit “I’m Good (Blue)” in an out of this world futuristic performance.
  • Global superstar and Favorite Female Latin Artist winner Anitta made her AMAs stage debut with her smash hit “Envolver” and was joined by two-time AMA winner Missy Elliott who surprised fans hitting the stage to join Anitta for “Lobby.” The two danced through a hotel lobby celebrating the first-ever performance of their smash hit.
  • Country superstar, 17-time AMA winner and all-time Favorite Country Album record-holder Carrie Underwood flew through the theater on a neon orb to the stage to perform her hittrack “Crazy Angels.”
  • First-time nominee GloRilla made her AMAs stage debut with a surprise performance alongside last year’s AMA host Cardi B for their hit “Tomorrow 2.”
  • Imagine Dragons hit the stage for a fiery performance, singing a medley of their hits including “Bones.” The band was later joined by Atlanta rapper J.I.D. for a striking performance of their duo hit “Enemy.”
  • Multiplatinum rapper Lil Baby performed a medley of his smash hits “California Breeze” and “In a Minute” in a suave performance on the AMAs stage.
  • Artist, songwriter and actor Yola took the stage to perform her powerful original song “Break the Bough,” named the American Music Awards SONG OF SOUL, a spotlight moment that highlights an artist that uses music to invoke social change. Yola’s colorful performance showcased her vocal abilities and star power.
  • New Artist of the Year winner Dove Cameron made her AMAs stage debut in a theatrical performance of her hit single “Boyfriend.”
  • Presented by longtime friend Smokey Robinson, Lionel Richie received his 18th AMA award with the prestigious Icon Award. Later in the evening, stars joined together to honor Richie with tribute performances, including two-time AMA winner Stevie Wonder and two-time AMA nominee Charlie Puth,who performed a medley of Richie’s hit songs complete with dueling pianos and scat singing.
  • Superstars Jimmie Allen, Ari Lennox, Yola, Muni Long, Melissa Ethridge, Dustin Lynch, and Smokey Robinson joined Wonder and Puth on the stage for an epic surprise recreation of the 1986 AMAs performance of “We Are The World,” a nostalgic highlight of the evening with Lionel joining the group on stage.
  • Adding the musical connectivity to a night filled with superstar performances, tributes and pop culture moments, iconic DJ, producer/rapper and philanthropist D-Nice was the resident 2022 AMAs House DJ.
  • In tribute to the life and career of Loretta Lynn, country star Jimmie Allen took the stage for a quick rendition of one of her greatest hits.
  • Host Wayne Brady led a moment of tribute to the late rapper Takeoff, speaking to his life, career and success in the music industry.

Winner Highlights of the “2022 American Music Awards”:

  • Taylor Swift broke her own record with six AMA wins, making the 40-time winner the most decorated artist in AMAs history. Her album “Red (Taylor’s Version)” earned the awards for Favorite Country Album, Favorite Pop Album and Favorite Music Video, while Swift also won Favorite Female Pop Artist, Favorite Female Country Artist and Artist of the Year. In 2013, Swift won the AMA for Favorite Country Album for the first version of her album “Red.”
  • Last year’s Artist of the Year winners BTS took home two AMAs this year, including the first-ever AMA for Favorite K-Pop Artist.
  • Six-time nominee this year Beyoncé won two awards tonight for Favorite Female R&B Artist and Favorite R&B Album for her latest album, “Renaissance.”
  • Ghost took home the first-ever AMA for Favorite Rock Album for their latest album “Impera.”
  • This year’s most-nominated artist, Bad Bunny, took home two AMAs for Favorite Male Latin Artist, Favorite Latin Album for “Un Verano Sin Ti.”
  • Elton John won his first AMA since 1998 for Collaboration of the Year for his hit “Cold Heart – PNAU Remix” with Dua Lipa.
    First-time AMA nominee Dove Cameron took home this year’s New Artist of the Year award.
  • Anitta, a first-time nominee this year, won the AMA for Favorite Female Latin Artist.

Presenters throughout the night included Dan + Shay, Dustin Lynch, Ellie Goulding, Jessie James Decker, Jimmie Allen, Karrueche Tran, Kelly Rowland, Kim Petras, Liza Koshy, Latto, Meghan Trainor, Melissa Etheridge, Niecy Nash-Betts, Roselyn Sanchez, Sabrina Carpenter, Sheryl Lee Ralph and Smokey Robinson.


2022 AMERICAN MUSIC AWARDS WINNERS
Artist of the Year: Taylor Swift
New Artist of the Year: Dove Cameron
Collaboration of the Year: Elton John & Dua Lipa “Cold Heart – PNAU Remix”
Favorite Touring Artist: Coldplay
Favorite Music Video: Taylor Swift “All Too Well: The Short Film”
Favorite Male Pop Artist: Harry Styles
Favorite Female Pop Artist: Taylor Swift
Favorite Pop Duo or Group: BTS
Favorite Pop Album: Taylor Swift “Red (Taylor’s Version)”
Favorite Pop Song: Harry Styles “As It Was”
Favorite Male Country Artist: Morgan Wallen
Favorite Female Country Artist: Taylor Swift
Favorite Country Duo or Group: Dan + Shay
Favorite Country Album: Taylor Swift “Red (Taylor’s Version)”
Favorite Country Song: Morgan Wallen “Wasted on You”
Favorite Male Hip-Hop Artist: Kendrick Lamar
Favorite Female Hip-Hop Artist: Nicki Minaj
Favorite Hip-Hop Album: Kendrick Lamar “Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers”
Favorite Hip-Hop Song: Future ft. Drake & Tems “WAIT FOR U”
Favorite Male R&B Artist: Chris Brown
Favorite Female R&B Artist: Beyoncé
Favorite R&B Album: Beyoncé “Renaissance”
Favorite R&B Song: Wizkid ft. Tems “Essence”
Favorite Male Latin Artist: Bad Bunny
Favorite Female Latin Artist: Anitta
Favorite Latin Duo or Group: Yahritza Y Su Esencia
Favorite Latin Album: Bad Bunny “Un Verano Sin Ti”
Favorite Latin Song: Sebastián Yatra “Dos Oruguitas”
Favorite Rock Artist: Machine Gun Kelly
Favorite Rock Song (NEW): Måneskin “Beggin’”
Favorite Rock Album (NEW): Ghost “Impera”
Favorite Inspirational Artist: for KING & COUNTRY
Favorite Gospel Artist: Tamela Mann
Favorite Dance/Electronic Artist: Marshmello
Favorite Soundtrack: “ELVIS”
Favorite Afrobeats Artist (NEW): Wizkid
Favorite K-Pop Artist (NEW): BTS

2022 AMERICAN MUSIC AWARD WINNERS BY ARTIST
Taylor Swift (6): Artist of the Year, Favorite Music Video, Favorite Female Pop Artist, Favorite Pop Album,  Favorite Female Country Artist, Favorite Country Album
Bad Bunny (2): Favorite Male Latin Artist, Favorite Latin Album
Beyonce (2): Favorite Female R&B Artist, Favorite R&B Album
BTS (2): Favorite Pop Duo or Group, Favorite K-Pop Artist
Harry Styles (2): Favorite Male Pop Artist, Favorite Pop Song
Kendrick Lamar (2): Favorite Male Hip-Hop Artist, Favorite Hip-Hop Album
Morgan Wallen (2): Favorite Male Country Artist, Favorite Country Song
Tems (2): Favorite Hip-Hop Song, Favorite R&B Song
Wizkid (2): Favorite R&B Song, Favorite Afrobeats Artist (NEW)
Anitta (1): Favorite Female Latin Artist
Chris Brown (1): Favorite Male R&B Artist
Coldplay (1): Favorite Touring Artist
Dan + Shay (1): Favorite Country Duo or Group
Dove Cameron (1): New Artist of the Year
Drake (1): Favorite Hip-Hop Song
Dua Lipa (1): Collaboration of the Year
Elton John (1): Collaboration of the Year
“ELVIS” (1): Favorite Soundtrack
for KING & COUNTRY (1):Favorite Inspirational Artist
Future (1): Favorite Hip-Hop Song
Ghost (1): Favorite Rock Album (NEW)
Machine Gun Kelly (1):Favorite Rock Artist
Måneskin (1): Favorite Rock Song (NEW)
Marshmello (1): Favorite Dance/Electronic Artist
Nicki Minaj (1): Favorite Female Hip-Hop Artist
Sebastián Yatra  (1): Favorite Latin Song
Tamela Mann (1): Favorite Gospel Artist
Yahritza Y Su Esencia (1): Favorite Latin Duo or Group

About the “2022 American Music Awards”:

  • The AMAs represents the year’s top achievements in music determined by the fans, for the fans. Last year’s show stands as the most social telecast of 2021 with 46.5 million interactions, underscoring the role fans play in the annual event. A vibrant night of non-stop music, the AMAs features a powerful lineup featuring first-time collaborations and exclusive world premiere performances from music’s biggest names – from Pop to Rap, R&B to Country, Latin to K-Pop – and more, as well as memorable moments that live on in pop culture.
  • As the world’s largest fan-voted awards show, the AMAs air globally across a footprint of linear and digital platforms in more than 120 countries and territories.
  • The “2022 American Music Awards” winners are voted entirely by fans.Nominees are based on key fan interactions – as reflected on the Billboard charts – including streaming, album and song sales, radio airplay, and tour grosses. These measurements are tracked by Billboard and its data partner Luminate, and cover the eligibility period of Sept. 24, 2021, through Sept. 22, 2022.
  • Airing live on ABC, the “2022 American Music Awards” are produced by dick clark productions and Jesse Collins Entertainment. Jesse Collins is showrunner and executive producer. Dionne Harmon, Jeannae Rouzan-Clay, and Larry Klein are also executive producers. For the latest AMA news, exclusive content and more, follow the AMAs on social (FacebookTwitterInstagramTikTokSnapchat and YouTube), online at theamas.com and ABC.com, and join the conversation by using the official hashtag for the show, #AMAs.

ABOUT DICK CLARK PRODUCTIONS
dick clark productions 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,” “So You Think You Can Dance,” and the “Streamy Awards.” dick clark productions owns one of the world’s most extensive and unique entertainment archive libraries with more than 60 years of award-winning shows, historic programs, specials, performances and legendary programming. For more information please visit www.dickclark.com.

ABOUT ABC ENTERTAINMENT
ABC Entertainment’s compelling programming includes “Grey’s Anatomy,” the longest-running medical drama in primetime television; ratings juggernaut “The Bachelor” franchise; riveting dramas “Big Sky,” “The Good Doctor,” “A Million Little Things,” “The Rookie” and “Station 19”; trailblazing comedies “Abbott Elementary,” “The Conners,” “The Goldbergs,” “Home Economics” and “The Wonder Years”; popular game shows, including “The $100,000 Pyramid,” “Celebrity Family Feud,” “The Chase,” “Press Your Luck” and “To Tell the Truth”; star-making sensation “American Idol”; “Judge Steve Harvey,” the network’s strongest unscripted series debut in a year; reality phenomenon “Shark Tank”; family favorites “America’s Funniest Home Videos” and “Holey Moley”; “General Hospital,” which heads into its milestone 60th season on the network; and late-night talk show “Jimmy Kimmel Live!”; as well as the critically acclaimed, Emmy®Award-winning “Live in Front of a Studio Audience” specials. The network also boasts some of television’s most prestigious awards shows, including “The Oscars®,” “The CMA Awards” and the “American Music Awards.”

ABC programming can also be viewed on Hulu.

ABOUT JESSE COLLINS ENTERTAINMENT
Founded in 2012, Jesse Collins Entertainment (JCE) is a full-service television and film production company that has played an integral role in producing many of television’s most memorable moments in music entertainment. The Emmy® winning company has a multi-year overall agreement with ViacomCBS Cable Networks. On the film side, the company also has a first look on JCE’s film development projects which could include Viacom’s film entities such as Paramount Players.  JCE’s award-winning and critically acclaimed television includes programming from its three divisions.  From the scripted division: scripted series—Real Husbands of Hollywood, American Soul and miniseries—The New Edition Story and The Bobby Brown Story.  From the unscripted division: unscripted series – Cardi Tries, My Killer Body with K. Michelle, DJ Cassidy’s Pass the Mic and Forward: The Future of Black Music, competition/game shows—Becoming A Popstar, Rhythm + Flow, Sunday Best, Hip Hop Squares and Nashville Squares, talk show – Face to Face with Becky G and children’s series—Bookmarks: Celebrating Black Voices (Emmy® Award winner).  From the specials division: award shows—The American Music Awards, BET Awards, Soul Train Awards, BET Hip Hop Awards, Black Girls Rock!, BET Honors, UNCF’s An Evening of Stars and ABFF Honors, specials—The Super Bowl Halftime Show, CNN’s Juneteenth: A Global Celebration of Freedom, Martin: The Reunion, John Lewis: Celebrating A Hero, Love & Happiness: An Obama Celebration, Change Together: From The March On Washington To Today, A GRAMMY Salute to the Sounds of Change, Stand Up for Heroes, Dear Mama, Amanda Seales: I Be Knowin’, Def Comedy Jam 25, Leslie Jones: Time Machine, The All-Star Nickmas Spectacular and Rip the Runway.  Emmy® winner Jesse Collins, Founder and CEO, is the executive producer of all programming.  He is also an executive producer for the Grammy Awards.  He produced the 2021 Oscars.

Review: ‘Good Luck to You, Leo Grande,’ starring Emma Thompson and Daryl McCormack

June 12, 2022

by Carla Hay

Daryl McCormack and Emma Thompson in “Good Luck to You, Leo Grande” (Photo by Nick Wall/Searchlight Pictures/Hulu)

“Good Luck to You, Leo Grande”

Directed by Sophie Hyde

Culture Representation: Taking place in an unnamed city in England, the comedy/drama film “Good Luck to You, Leo Grande” features a small number of cast of characters (a few white people, one biracial person and one Asian person) representing the working-class and the middle-class.

Culture Clash: A repressed, middle-aged widow hires a gigolo to help her get in touch with her sexuality, and they have debates and other discussions about sexual confidence, relationships and his escort work. 

Culture Audience: “Good Luck to You, Leo Grande” will appeal primarily to people interested in well-acted movies that explore issues about how middle-aged women are often viewed by society and by themselves when it comes to sexuality and being “lovable.”

Emma Thompson and Daryl McCormack in “Good Luck to You, Leo Grande” (Photo by Nick Wall/Searchlight Pictures/Hulu)

The title of “Good Luck to You, Leo Grande” has the name of the gigolo in this comedy/drama, but the movie’s more fascinating story arc is with Nancy Stokes, the woman who hires Leo. Emma Thompson, who plays Nancy in the movie, gives a stellar performance in this conversation-driven film that has authentic, poignant and sometimes hilarious depictions of sexuality, sex work and the need for human beings to connect with each other in a meaningful way. “Good Luck to You, Leo Grande” had its world premiere at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival.

Directed by Sophie Hyde and written by Katy Brand, “Good Luck to You, Leo Grande” has a very small number of people in its cast, with two characters (Nancy and Leo) getting the vast majority of screen time. That’s because almost all of the scenes in the movie take place at in a room at the Duffield Hotel, where Nancy and Leo meet for their trysts. “Good Luck to You, Leo Grande” takes place in an unnamed city in England, but the movie was actually filmed in Norwich, England. It would be easy to assume from the way that the movie is structured that it was adapted from a stage production, but Brand’s “Good Luck to You, Leo Grande” is an original screenplay.

“Good Luck to You, Leo Grande” doesn’t waste any time in getting directly to the reason why Nancy and Leo have met. The first scene shows Nancy meeting Leo (played by Daryl McCormack) in the hotel room that she has rented for their first sexual encounter. Nancy is a 55-year-old widow and retired schoolteacher who used to work at a religious school for teenage girls. It will be the first time she has been with a sex worker and the first time she’s had sex with someone other than her husband.

Nancy has hired Leo because, as she tells him, Nancy and her late husband, whom she was married to for 31 years, had a boring sex life. Nancy also tells Leo that sex with her husband was so dull and predictable, he always wanted to have sex quickly and in one position. Nancy confesses to Leo that she’s never had an orgasm and has never had oral sex (because her husband refused to give or receive oral sex), so she wants to know what she’s been missing out on for all these years.

Leo is about 25 to 30 years younger than Nancy, who found Leo on a website where he advertises his services as a sex worker. In their first meeting together, Nancy is very nervous, while Leo is very confident. Leo asks Nancy if he can kiss her on the cheek, and she hesitantly obliges. He compliments her by telling her that the Chanel perfume that she’s wearing is sexy. She adds sarcastically, “For my age.” Leo clarifies, “At any age.”

Much of the movie is about insecure Nancy questioning how sexually attractive she is because of her age, her physical appearance, or lack of experience in having orgasms and trying new things sexually. She often makes self-deprecating remarks in a comedically sarcastic way, but always with an underlying sense of emotional pain. When Nancy and Leo first see each other, one of the first things she says to him is: “Am I a disappointment, so to speak?” Leo’s response is to gently kiss her.

Nancy is not digging for compliments. Nancy has been sexually repressed for years, so it’s affected her self-esteem. She knows it, and she’s ashamed of it. She tells Leo, “I made a decision after my husband died not to fake another orgasm again.” In an example of one of her self-deprecating comments, Nancy later jokes to Leo: “There are nuns with more sexual experience than me. It’s embarrassing.”

Leo deliberately doesn’t reveal much about himself to Nancy, which he says is a policy that he has for all of his clients. During the first meeting between Leo and Nancy, he says he’s originally from Ireland (which is obvious because he has an Irish accent) and that he’s been an escort for a while, without going into detail about exactly how many years he’s been in this line of work. At various times, Nancy tries to get Leo to talk more about himself, but Leo artfully dodges her questions or outright refuses to answer.

However, Leo is quick to tell Nancy that he’s not a desperate or unhappy sex worker. He says he’s willingly doing this work, and it makes him happy to give pleasure to the people who hire him. Leo also says that he has men and women for clients. Nancy doesn’t seem to mind what Leo’s sexual identity is, or the fact that he’s biracial. (Leo appears to be half-black and half-white.) This open-mindedness is an early indication that Nancy isn’t as uptight as she might first appear to be.

Nancy tells Leo in their first meeting, “I’ve never bought anyone before.” Leo gently corrects her: “You didn’t buy me. You bought my services. I’m not being exploited.” Nancy has told Leo up front that she will only meet him for secret encounters in this hotel. She doesn’t want to be seen in public on a “date” with him. Nancy doesn’t want to take the chance that anyone she knows might see her and Leo together, because Nancy doesn’t want to have to lie about or explain to anyone how she knows Leo.

Nancy is still very jittery during this first meeting, so she and Leo have some wine to help her relax. When she tries to get him to talk about himself, so that she can get to know him better, Leo skillfully steers the conversation back to talking about Nancy. A typical response that he gives to avoid answering a personal question is: “I’m whatever you want me to be, here in this moment.”

At times, Nancy seems eager to have sex, by saying, “Let’s get the sex over with.” But when Leo guides her to the hotel bed, Nancy stalls and says, “It feels controversial.” Even when she changes into lingerie, Nancy is still visibly uncomfortable. Nancy wants to talk some more before anything sexual happens between her and Leo.

During this conversation, Nancy demands to know the age of the oldest client Leo has ever had. He tells her 82. She seems relieved to know she’s not the oldest one. Nancy also wants Leo to tell her what he thinks is physically attractive about her. He tells her, “I like your mouth,” which he touches seductively.

Nancy still has a hard time relaxing, so she talks a little bit more about her personal life. She reveals to Leo that she has two adult, unmarried children: a son named Matthew and a daughter named Pamela. Nancy says that she has a better relationship with Matthew than she does with Pamela.

Nancy describes Matthew as “boring.” He has girlfriend who’s studying to be a primary schoolteacher, which Nancy also describes as “boring.” A psychiatrist might have a field day speculating over why Matthew has a girlfriend and a mother who’ve gone into the profession of being schoolteachers, and why Nancy doesn’t seem to approve of this girlfriend’s career choice.

Pamela is described as living a bohemian life in Barcelona, Spain. According to Nancy, she and Pamela don’t have a very good relationship with each other because Pamela thinks Nancy is “cold.” It’s obvious from the way that Nancy talks about her children, she rarely sees them and isn’t very close to them emotionally.

Slowly but surely, Leo reveals a little bit more about his personal life. He mentions that his single mother doesn’t know that he’s a sex worker. Leo has lied to his mother by telling her that he works at an oil rig. It’s still not enough information for Nancy, who keeps wanting to know more about Leo, especially after they meet for more than one tryst.

Nancy and Leo end up having sex during their first meeting, which is not spoiler information because the entire movie is about what Nancy hired Leo to do and how it affects both of them. (The sex scenes in movie, which has full-frontal nudity, are not pornographic, but they’re very explicit.) Over time, Nancy becomes emotionally attached to Leo. And at times, she gets a little jealous or possessive about him. Nancy wonders how much Leo might have feelings for his other clients.

Leo can see that Nancy is starting to develop romantic feelings for him, so he resists in a way that won’t offend her. “Good Luck to You, Leo Grande” realistically shows the balancing act that sex workers have to do when they know that a client might fall in love, but the sex worker has to keep a professional distance while trying not to alienate someone who could be a loyal customer.

Nancy reminds Leo that she’s not a rich woman, and she’s spending a lot of her retirement money on him. It’s a somewhat manipulative way to try to get Leo to open up to her, but he doesn’t really take the bait. And why should he? No one is forcing Nancy to hire a sex worker. No one is telling her how she should spend her money.

Nancy also tries to endear herself to Leo by telling him that she can recommend him to female friends of hers who are also single and looking for sexual satisfaction. It’s another manipulation, because observant viewers can see that Nancy doesn’t really like knowing that Leo has other clients. Nancy knows that what she and Leo have isn’t love, but it seems like she has somewhat of a fantasy that she could be Leo’s favorite client because of the way that she has opened up emotionally to him.

One of the best things about “Good Luck to You, Leo Grande” is how it candidly depicts the complications that can happen between a sex worker and a client when emotions get involved. The movie presents these complications in a way that’s very mature and completely believable. “Good Luck to You, Leo Grande” also shows how confusion and resentment can arise when a client starts to wonder how genuine a sex worker’s compliments are when the sex worker is essentially being paid to give compliments to the client.

Thompson has the more intricate role to play in the movie, which she handles with great skill and nuance. However, McCormack holds his own very well as the deliberately mysterious Leo, who seems to know how to say all the right things to a client, but Leo gets uncomfortable when it comes to saying things about himself. Fortunately, the last third of the movie gives more depth to Leo than being a sex worker who avoids answering personal questions.

Because “Good Luck to You, Leo Grande” takes place mainly in a hotel room, the movie might disappoint some viewers who are expecting more action outside of this hotel room. However, the last third of the movie does have a few scenes outside the hotel that offer a glimpse into what Nancy is like in another environment. These scenes also demonstrate how she might have changed because of her relationship with Leo.

There’s a very illuminating scene where Nancy has an unexpected encounter in a restaurant with a woman in her 20s named Becky (played by Isabella Laughland), who is a former student of Nancy’s and who now works as a server at the restauarant. Becky’s encounter with Nancy gives viewers a perspective of how Nancy was as a teacher. This scene is a way of showing how Nancy’s sexual repression affected other areas of Nancy’s life.

There have been many scripted movies about sex workers and their clients, but if they’re told from the clients’ perspectives, these clients are usually men. “Good Luck to You, Leo Grande” is a rare movie that honestly depicts what it’s like for a middle-aged woman to reclaim and explore her sexuality by hiring a sex worker. It’s not trying to sell a gigolo fantasy, because the movie shows the pitfalls of ignoring the realities of sex work. “Good Luck to You, Leo Grande” is ultimately an impressive story about a woman who hired a sex worker for one thing, and she ended up getting more than she expected.

Hulu will premiere “Good Luck to You, Leo Grande” on June 17, 2022.

Review: ‘Fire Island’ (2022), starring Joel Kim Booster, Bowen Yang, Conrad Ricamora and Margaret Cho

May 31, 2022

by Carla Hay

Pictured clockwise, from left to right: Bowen Yang, Tomás Matos, Matt Rogers, Torian Miller, Margaret Cho and Joel Kim Booster in “Fire Island” (Photo by Jeong Park/Searchlight Pictures/Hulu)

“Fire Island” (2022)

Directed by Andrew Ahn

Culture Representation: Taking place primarily on New York state’s Fire Island, the comedy film “Fire Island” features a racially diverse cast of LGBTQ characters (Asian, white, Latino and African American) representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: A group of gay male friends, with some help from their older lesbian friend, navigate issues related to social class and race in the dating scene of Fire Island, a longtime vacation destination for LGBTQ people. 

Culture Audience: “Fire Island” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in LGBTQ romantic comedies that mix classic story themes with modern and adult-oriented sensibilities.

James Scully, Nick Adams and Conrad Ricamora in “Fire Island” (Photo by Jeong Park/Searchlight Pictures/Hulu)

The smart and sassy comedy “Fire Island” doesn’t hold back in portraying dating issues from the perspectives of gay men who are often racially underrepresented in mainstream American movies. “Fire Island” is loosely inspired by Jane Austen’s 1813 novel “Pride and Prejudice,” but the movie is bound to become its own kind of classic for how it vibrantly depicts the real Fire Island’s hookup culture and the families by choice who flock to the island for fun and pleasure-seeking. The movie’s talented and appealing cast—along with assured direction from Andrew Ahn and an engaging screenplay from “Fire Island” co-star Joel Kim Booster—will make instant fans of this hilarious adult-oriented comedy that serves up uncomfortable truths with some sentimentality about love and friendship.

People with even the most basic knowledge of “Pride and Prejudice” know that its protagonist character (Elizabeth Bennet) prides herself on being strong-willed and independent-minded. She isn’t looking for love, but she finds it with Mr. Darcy, whom she intensely dislikes when she first meets him, because she thinks Mr. Darcy is standoffish and rude. Meanwhile, wealth and social class affect how Elizabeth, Mr. Darcy and other people in their world go about looking for love or arranged relationships.

In “Fire Island,” the protagonist/narrator is Noah (played by Kim Booster), a strong-willed and independent-minded nurse who has a close-knit found family that he vacations with at New York state’s Fire Island, a well-known gathering place for LGBTQ people. Noah is single and not really looking for love, but he’s open to finding love. He’s also open about not believing in monogamy.

Noah and all of his closest friends are openly queer, and they go to Fire Island as an annual tradition. Noah’s Fire Island pals are in the same 30s age group as he is, except for Erin (played by Margaret Cho), an outspoken “lesbian queen” in her 50s, whom Noah and his gay male friends think of as “the closest thing we have to a mother.” Erin owns the house where they stay on Fire Island. All of the people in Noah’s Fire Island clique are also single and available.

The other men in the group include introverted Howie (played by Bowen Yang), who is a graphic designer at a tech startup company in San Francisco; fun-loving Luke (played by Matt Rogers); flamboyant Keegan (played by Tomás Matos); and easygoing Max (played by Torian Miller). Noah is closest to Howie, whom he’s known longer than anyone else in the group. Howie used to live in New York before moving to San Francisco for his current job. Noah mentions that he and Howie were once both kicked out of the same theater group. A flashback also shows that Howie and Noah also used to be servers at the same restaurant.

Howie is the only one in the group who doesn’t live in New York state, so Noah and Howie try to make the most of the times that they are able to see each other in person. Noah and Howie both talk openly about their experiences of being Asian in environments where there are mostly white people. As Noah says in a voiceover near the beginning of the movie, “race, money and abs” are what separate the classes of gay men—and he says that’s especially true for Fire Island.

Howie, who is 30 years old when this story takes place, is shy and inexperienced when it comes to dating. Howie (who rarely dates) often laments that he’s never had a serious boyfriend, and he often feels that he isn’t physically attractive enough to get any of the men he wants. By contrast, Noah considers himself to be a gay dating expert who’s confident about his dating skills and personality. During this vacation, Noah tells anyone who’ll listen that he will find a way to make sure that Howie “gets laid” during this Fire Island vacation. Noah advises Howie, “You don’t need a boyfriend. You just need to learn to protect yourself.”

Fire Island is home to many affluent people who throw big parties. When Noah and his friends travel by ferry to Fire Island, Noah mentions in a voiceover what the social constructs are at Fire Island and how he and his friends are perceived by certain people. Noah is well-aware that he and his group of friends would be considered “poor” by the standards of many Fire Island people, because Noah says that he and his friends have very little chance of owning property, based on their salaries.

And the race issue comes up many times in subtle and not-so-subtle ways when Noah and his friends go to parties where most of the people are white. The movie makes a point of showing how some white people at these parties stare at Noah and his friends as if they’re party crashers who don’t belong there. Some of the snobs snootily ask, “Can I help you?,” which Noah says is code for people really not wanting to help but wanting to know why you’re there.

And on the other end of the spectrum, there are “race queens,” which is a term for gay men who have a fetish for a certain race and chase after men of that race for these fetish reasons. An occasional joke in the movie is how a white guy, who’s fixated on Asian culture, keeps trying to pick up Howie, but Noah warns Howie to stay away from this “race queen.” Noah and Howie also talk about how being Asian affects who might be interested in them as partners.

Noah makes sarcastic jokes to himself and to other people about the racism at these social events, but it’s pretty obvious that many of these incidents are hurtful to him. He masks this emotional pain by appearing to be over-confident and ready to berate people whom he thinks are being snobbish to him and his friends. Noah is proud of who he is and doesn’t like to be judged on his race and social class, but his stubborn tendency to think that he’s always correct often leads to him misjudging other people.

Not long after Noah and his friends arrive at Erin’s house, she tells them some bad news. It will be the last Fire Island get-together they’ll have at the house. Erin is losing the house because she can no longer afford the mortgage due to being an “early investor in Quibi.” It’s an inside joke among the “Fire Island” filmmakers, because Kim Booster was originally going to make “Fire Island” for the Quibi streaming service, which went out of business in less than a year in 2020, after a high-profile launch. Kim Booster was also a co-host of Quibi’s reboot of the dating contest “Singled Out.”

One of the Fire Island rituals is a Tea Dance party, where Noah and his friends meet a doctor named Charlie (played by James Scully), who seems to be attracted to Howie, based on how Charlie is looking at Howie. Charlie’s closest friends during this Fire Island trip are a brand manager named Cooper (played by Nick Adams) and a lawyer named Will (played by Conrad Ricamora), who lives in Los Angeles. Cooper makes it clear to anyone he meets that he’s very status-conscious and elitist. Will is quiet, and his personality is very hard to read.

Noah notices almost immediately that Charlie is checking out Howie, who can’t believe that someone like Charlie would be interested in him. And just like in a teen rom com, some awkward introductions ensue. Noah is thrilled that Howie might find a Fire Island hookup, but arrogant and vain Cooper isn’t shy about expressing that he thinks Noah and Noah’s friends are “lower-class” and not fit to mingle with Charlie’s group. Because Will doesn’t say much when all of this snobbery is taking place, an offended Noah assumes that Will feels the same way as Cooper.

At one point, Noah tells Howie about Charlie and his clique: “These are not our people.” But it’s too late, because Howie becomes infatuated with Charlie. Howie doesn’t want a casual fling with Charlie though. Howie wants real romance that starts off chaste. And what does Charlie want? Noah begins to doubt that Charlie has good intentions for Howie. That suspicion causes more conflicts between these two groups of friends.

When Howie tells Noah about the platonic dates that Howie and Charlie have together, Noah can’t believe that Howie and Charlie haven’t even kissed each other on these dates. Noah lectures Howie by telling him that Howie needs to be more sexually forward, but Howie starts to resent Noah for these lectures. Viewers can easily predict that at some point, Noah and Howie will have a big argument about their different approaches to dating.

Meanwhile, Will (who is obviously Noah’s Mr. Darcy) continues to intrigue and frustrate Noah. A turning point comes when Noah and Will both find out that they both love to read literature, and they’re fans of author Alice Munro. However, other things happen in the story that cause misunderstandings, jealousies and rivalries among Noah’s clique and Charlie’s clique. One of them is the arrival of an ex-boyfriend of Charlie’s named Dex (played by Zane Phillips), who quickly shows that he’s sexually interested in Noah. Will intensely dislikes Dex for a reason that is eventually revealed in the movie.

“Fire Island” has a contrivance early on in the movie, when Noah’s cell phone (which isn’t waterproof) falls in Erin’s swimming pool when Max accidentally bumps into Noah. And so, for most of the movie, Noah doesn’t have use of his cell phone. It leads to a letter-writing part of the story that will be familiar to “Pride and Prejudice” fans.

Although much of “Fire Island” is about the pursuit of love and sex, the friendship between Noah and Howie is the soul of the story. As a result, the performances of Kim Booster and Yang are the standouts in a movie where all of stars in the cast give good performances. If there are any glaring flaws in “Fire Island,” it’s that Max is a little sidelined as an underwritten character, while Luke and Keegan come very close to being shallow caricatures of partiers.

One of the best things about “Fire Island” is how the movie doesn’t gloss over or water down its bittersweet subject matter. The movie covers a lot of issues that are not only universal to any singles dating scene but also specific to LGBTQ culture. Kim Booster’s talented screenwriting strikes the right balance of being lighthearted and serious with a great deal of authenticity. Ahn’s direction also skillfully calibrates the tones and moods in each scene, which is not an easy task when this comedy takes a few dark turns.

The intended viewers of “Fire Island” are adults who like snappy conversations and often-amusing scenarios with characters who have very identifiable personalities. As such, the movie doesn’t treat subjects such as sex and social prejudices as topics that need to be discussed in coy or cutesy language. There’s a lot of raw and raucous dialogue and scenes in “Fire Island” that are a reflection of why people go to Fire Island: to let it all hang out, unapologetically. If you’re up for this type of ride, “Fire Island” is a very memorable and entertaining experience with a lot of heart and emotional intelligence that open-minded adults can enjoy and want to watch again.

Hulu will premiere “Fire Island” on June 3, 2022.

‘Victoria’s Secret: Angels and Demons’: photos and videos

April 21, 2022

Victoria’s Secret models in “Victoria’s Secret: Angels and Demons” (Courtesy of Hulu)

The following is a press release from Hulu:

Hulu’s Original docu-series “Victoria’s Secret: Angels and Demons” premieres on Thursday, July 14, 2022.

Investigated with journalistic rigor by director Matt Tyrnauer, this documentary tells the searing and provocative story of the Victoria’s Secret brand and its longtime CEO, the larger-than-life, enigmatic billionaire Les Wexner. The underworld of fashion, the billionaire class, and Jeffrey Epstein are all revealed to be inextricably intertwined with the fall of this legendary brand in Victoria’s Secret: Angels and Demons.

Directed by Matt Tyrnauer. He also executive produces with his Altimeter Films partner Corey Reeser; Film 45’s Peter Berg, Matt Goldberg and Brandon Carroll; Elizabeth Rogers and Jenny Ewig.

A Victoria’s Secret model in “Victoria’s Secret: Angels and Demons” (Photo courtesy of Hulu)
Former Victoria’s Secret CEO Les Wexner in “Victoria’s Secret: Angels and Demons” (Photo courtesy of Hulu)
Former Victoria’s Secret CEO Les Wexner in “Victoria’s Secret: Angels and Demons” (Photo courtesy of Hulu)
Former Victoria’s Secret CEO Les Wexner in “Victoria’s Secret: Angels and Demons” (Photo courtesy of Hulu) 

 

Review: ‘Deep Water’ (2022), starring Ben Affleck and Ana de Armas

March 17, 2022

by Carla Hay

Ana de Armas and Ben Affleck in “Deep Water” (Photo by Claire Folger/20th Century Studios/Hulu)

“Deep Water” (2022)

Directed by Adrian Lyne

Culture Representation: Taking place in New Orleans, the dramatic film “Deep Water” features a cast of predominantly white characters (with a few Latinos and African Americans) representing the middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: A wealthy husband, who has an open marriage, becomes the main focus of suspicion when some of his wife’s lovers end up dead. 

Culture Audience: “Deep Water” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of stars Ben Affleck and Ana de Armas, who are the main attractions in this frequently dull and formulaic crime thriller.

Jade Fernandez, Tracy Letts and Kristen Connolly in “Deep Water” (Photo by Claire Folger/20th Century Studios/Hulu)

“Deep Water” is proof that it’s not enough to have good-looking people in a stylish-looking film. It has a basic mystery that’s not very suspenseful, in addition to monotonous mind games played by the central married couple. Perhaps most disappointing of all is that “Deep Water” does nothing new or clever in the seemingly endless stream of movies about marital infidelity that causes chaos in people’s lives.

“Deep Water” director Adrian Lyne has made a career out of these types of movies, with a filmography that includes 1987’s “Fatal Attraction,” 1993’s “Indecent Proposal” and 2002’s “Unfaithful,” his previous film before “Deep Water.” Zach Helm and Sam Levinson adapted the “Deep Water” screenplay from Patricia Highsmith’s 1957 novel of the same name. Unfortunately, the movie has a drastically different ending from the book. The movie’s conclusion is intended to be shocking, but it just falls flat.

Executives at 20th Century Studios obviously thought “Deep Water” was an embarrassing dud, because the movie’s theatrical release was cancelled. “Deep Water” was then sent straight to Hulu and other Disney-owned streaming services where Hulu is not available. It’s also not a good sign that the stars of “Deep Water” have distanced themselves from “Deep Water” by not doing any full-scale publicity and promotion for the movie.

Up until the ending, the “Deep Water” movie (which takes place in the early 2020s) adheres very closely to the book’s original story, with some modern updates and a change of location. Wealthy married couple Vic Van Allen (played by Ben Affleck) and Melinda Van Allen (played by Ana de Armas) live in New Orleans with their precocious 6-year-old daughter Trixie (played by Grace Jenkins), who has an interest in science and is somewhat fixated on the children’s song “Old McDonald.” (In the “Deep Water” book, the story takes place in a small, fictional U.S. town called Little Wesley.) The Van Allens seem to have a perfect life of privilege and leisure. Vic is a retired millionaire because he invented a computer chip that’s used in war drones. Melinda is a homemaker/socialite.

It’s common knowledge among Vic and Melinda’s close circle of friends that Vic and Melinda have an open marriage, although Vic and Melinda have never really come right out and told their friends the details of this arrangement. Melinda flaunts her extramarital affairs by inviting her lovers to the same parties where she and Vic will be. At these parties (the movie has several of these party scenes), Melinda openly flirts with her lovers and sometimes has sexual trysts with them at the parties. Vic ends up meeting these lovers and is mostly polite but distant with them.

Vic and Melinda’s close friends include musician bachelor Grant (played by Lil Rel Howery); married couple Mary Washington (played by Devyn A. Tyler) and Kevin Washington (played by Michael Scialabba); and married couple Jonas Fernandez (played by Dash Mihok) and Jen Fernandez (played by Jade Fernandez). Whenever these friends try to tactfully talk to Vic about Melinda indiscreetly showing off her lovers, Vic brushes off their concerns. Vic gives the impression that he doesn’t want to be a possessive and jealous husband, and that he and Melinda have a “don’t ask, don’t tell” agreement when it comes to any of her extramarital affairs.

During the course of the story, three of Melinda’s past and present lovers are shown in the movie: musician Joel Dash (played by Brendan Miller), who ends up moving away to New Mexico; lounge pianist Charlie De Lisle (played by Jacob Elordi), who has been giving piano lessons to Melinda; and real-estate developer Tony Cameron (played by Finn Wittrock), who is visiting the area to scout for some property. All three men are good-looking and younger than Vic, but Vic has a lot more money than they do. And at some point or another, all three of these lovers are separately invited into the Van Allen home for a social visit.

Melinda has apparently made it a habit to invite each of her extramarital lovers to parties and other social gatherings, but never so that all of the lovers are in the same place at the same time. At these events, Melinda introduces a lover as her “friend,” even though it’s obvious that he’s more than a friend. When Melinda and Vic are at these parties, Melinda spends more time and is more affectionate with her lovers than she is with her husband. Vic often just stands by and doesn’t confront her about it.

There are several scenes that show Melinda drunk at these parties, or coming home drunk, implying that she abuses alcohol. Some of the couple’s friends seem to feel sorry for Vic, because they think he doesn’t deserve to be a cuckold. More than once, Vic is told that he’s a “good guy” who’s well-respected in the community. Not much is told about Melinda’s background (she’s an immigrant who can speak English and Spanish), but several scenes in the movie show that Melinda thinks that she’s quite the seductress.

In the beginning of the movie, it’s mentioned that a man named Martin McCrae, who was one of Melinda’s lovers, has been missing for the past several weeks. Friends and acquaintances of the Van Allen spouses are gossiping that Vic could have had something to do with the disappearance. At a friend’s house party, where Melinda has invited Joel, the gossip goes into overdrive after Vic and Joel have a private conversation in the kitchen, and Vic tells Joel that he killed Martin. Joel can’t tell if Vic is joking or not, but he takes Vic’s comments as a threat, and he quickly leaves the party. Word soon spreads that Vic made this “confession,” and more people in the community begin to wonder if Vic could have murdered Martin.

Before Joel moves to New Mexico because of a job offer, he’s invited to dinner at the house of Vic and Melinda. Vic seems to delight in making Joel uncomfortable with snide remarks. Vic also makes backhanded insults at Melinda. When Vic and Joel are alone together, Vic once again tells Joel that he killed Martin by hitting Martin on the head with a hammer. However, Vic tries to make light of uneasy comments that he makes, by trying to pass them off as misguided sarcasm. Vic’s passive-aggressiveness is an obvious sign that Melinda’s extramarital affairs bother him.

Someone who doesn’t take Vic’s wisecracks lightly is fiction author/screenwriter Don Wilson (played by Tracy Letts), who has recently moved to the area. Don has had middling success by selling a few screenplays that haven’t been made into movies yet. One of these screenplays is about a man (whom Don based on his own personality/background) who uncovers a murder conspiracy in his town.

Vic and Melinda meet Don and Don’s much-younger wife Kelly Wilson (played by Kristen Connolly) at an outdoor party attended by many of the Van Allen couple’s friends. Don likes noir mysteries, so he fancies himself to be an amateur detective. Throughout the movie, Don lets it be known to anyone who’ll listen, including Vic, that he suspects that Vic has something to do with what happened to Martin, whose murdered body is later found shot to death.

Vic’s reputation appears to be saved when another man (who’s never seen in the movie) is arrested for Martin’s murder. However, Martin isn’t the only lover of Melinda’s who ends up dead. It’s enough to say that who’s responsible for the crimes is revealed about halfway through the movie. But even if that information didn’t happen until the end of the film, there are too many obvious clues. The only mystery in the story is if the guilty party will be caught.

One of the biggest failings of “Deep Water” is how it reveals almost nothing about how and why Vic and Melinda fell in love with each other, or even how long they’ve been married. Without this context, it might be difficult for a lot of viewers to care about this couple. Vic and Melinda’s marriage is presented as just a blank void, dressed up with a superficial parade of parties, squabbling and occasional sex. (Affleck and de Armas were a couple in real life when this movie was made, but they’ve since had a breakup that reportedly wasn’t very amicable.)

Vic and Melinda tell each other “I love you” several times, but viewers don’t see any credible passion or respect between these two spouses. The only thing that viewers will find out about what retired Vic likes to do in his free time at home is that he hangs out with his pet snails that he keeps in an aquarium room. The snails are supposed to be symbolic of how Vic acts in his marriage to Melinda.

It could be a marriage of convenience. It could be that Vic and Melinda don’t want the hassle of getting a divorce. They are also devoted parents to Trixie—Vic is more patient with Trixie than Melinda is—and these spouses might not want their child to grow up with divorced parents.

Regardless of the reasons why Vic and Melinda have decided to stay married to each other, “Deep Water” is more concerned with staging repetitive scenes where Melinda tries to make Vic jealous with her lovers, and then she tries to take his mind off of her affairs by getting Vic to have sex with her. Melinda also makes rude comments to Vic such as: “Joel might be dumb, but he makes me enjoy who I am,” and “If you were married to anyone else, you’d be so fucking bored. You’d kill yourself.”

In one of the movie’s party scenes, Vic makes an attempt to show Melinda that he’s attractive to other women when he does something he almost never does at a party: He dances. And he asks Don’s wife Kelly to be his dance partner, as they twirl together and snuggle flirtatiously on the dance floor. Other people, including Melinda, notice the chemistry between Vic and Kelly. Predictably, Melinda gets jealous and tries to re-assert her status as the most desirable and sexiest woman in Vic’s life.

In addition to the superficiality of Vic and Melinda’s marriage, another aspect of “Deep Water” that makes it look phony is that the movie repeatedly tells viewers that Vic is supposed to be very rich, but Vic and Melinda apparently have no house servants, since no servants are ever seen working for this family. Melinda does the family’s cooking, which is not entirely unrealistic for someone of her marital wealth. However, Melinda being the family cook doesn’t ring true when Melinda comes across as a pampered trophy wife who can stay out all night and party with her lovers whenever she feels like it. It wouldn’t have that been hard to cast a few people as background extras to portray servants, since it’s hard to believe that Melinda and/or Vic do their own housecleaning and upkeep of their large home.

An underdeveloped characteristic of “Deep Water” that should have been explored in a more meaningful way is how some people tend to think that those who are wealthy are automatically better than people who aren’t wealthy. In the scene where Don meets Vic for the first time, Don impolitely tells Vic that Vic is probably the person most likely to have done something harmful to Martin. Grant, who is Vic’s most loyal friend, tries to diffuse the tension by smiling and saying: “The moral of the story is Vic is a genius. And he’s rich as fuck.”

Grant’s comment is a reflection of how some people think that being smart and wealthy is the equivalent of being a “good person,” without taking into account that being a “good person” has nothing to do with how much intelligence or money someone has. This false equivalence is a huge dismissal of core values that define people’s true characters and personalities. “Deep Water” seems to make a half-hearted attempt to show how some people are more likely to excuse or overlook bad conduct from someone who is intelligent and rich, but the movie ultimately takes the lazy route by just going for cheap thrills that have been in similar movies.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with the cast members’ performances, but there’s nothing that will make viewers feel any real emotional connection to any of these characters. Affleck and de Armas, regardless of their real-life romantic relationship while filming this movie, don’t have much that’s compelling about how they portray Vic and Melinda. After all, Affleck has played many privileged jerks on screen, while de Armas often has the role of a character who uses sex or sex appeal to get what she wants.

A chase scene toward the end of “Deep Water” is extremely hokey and not very believable. “Deep Water” was already paddling around in a sea of mediocrity for most of the movie. But by the time the movie reaches its terrible ending, it ruins any chances that “Deep Water” could have been a “guilty pleasure” thriller.

Hulu will premiere “Deep Water” on March 18, 2022.

Review: ‘Fresh’ (2022), starring Daisy Edgar-Jones and Sebastian Stan

March 1, 2022

by Carla Hay

Sebastian Stan and Daisy Edgar-Jones in “Fresh” (Photo courtesy of Searchlight Pictures/Hulu)

“Fresh” (2022)

Directed by Mimi Cave

Culture Representation: Taking place in an unnamed U.S. city, the horror film “Fresh” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with a few African Americans and Asians) representing the middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: A woman in her 20s thinks that she’s dating her dream guy, but when he kidnaps her and holds her captive in an isolated house in the woods, she finds out that he has terrible secrets. 

Culture Audience: “Fresh” will appeal primarily to people interested in suspenseful “women in peril” movies with unusually ghastly surprises.

Jojo T. Gibbs in “Fresh” (Photo courtesy of Searchlight Pictures/Hulu)

The horror film “Fresh” is effectively terrifying and nauseating when the movie’s gruesome surprise is revealed. What will disturb many viewers the most is that it’s not just a contrived plot twist for a movie but something that could happen in real life. Because so much of what happens in “Fresh” is considered “spoiler information,” it’s best if viewers don’t know about this shocking plot development before seeing the movie. It’s enough to say that “Fresh” is definitely one of the more memorable horror movies that people can see in any given year.

“Fresh” had its world premiere at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival, so what happens in the movie was already leaked online by people who saw “Fresh” almost two months before the movie was set to premiere on Hulu in the United States. (Outside the U.S., “Fresh” is available on other Disney-owned streaming platforms.) Directed by Mimi Cave and written by Lauryn Kahn, “Fresh” has all the elements of what could have been a formulaic film about a young woman held captive by someone she thought was a “nice guy.” However, thanks to above-average performances from the cast members and a taut thriller of a story that’s well-directed, “Fresh” is anything but an ordinary horror film.

The movie’s protagonist is Noa (played by Daisy Edgar-Jones), who’s in her early-to-mid-20s, single, and looking for love, although she’s the first person to admit that she hates dating. Noa lives in an unnamed U.S. city that’s not on the East Coast, because on her first date with the man who will become her sadistic captor, Noa says that she’s originally from the East Coast. Noa is an only child. Her father is dead, and she’s estranged from her mother, whose whereabouts are unknown to Noa. This is information that she also tells on the first date with the man who will be her kidnapper.

Not much else is revealed in the movie about Noa’s life, except that she lives alone. Her sassy best friend (and apparently only friend) is named Mollie (played by Jojo T. Gibbs), who is openly queer or bisexual. Noa and Mollie met about seven years ago, when Noa moved to the area where they live now. Noa and Mollie also used to be co-workers, but it’s never revealed what Noa does for a living. Mollie currently works in an unspecified office job, where she’s seen using her computer to do some Internet sleuthing after Noa goes missing.

“Fresh” opens with a scene showing Noa on a bad date at a low-priced restaurant. It’s a casual date, so she’s wearing a sweater and jeans. Her date is a boorish egomaniac named Chad (played by Brett Dier), who gives Noa a sexist lecture about what she’s wearing on the date.

Chad tells Noa: “The women in our parents’ generation, they just cared more about how they dressed and how they looked. They were more into femininity. Nowadays, I feel like girls wear oversized everything, like it’s a blanket. I think you would look good in a dress—not that you don’t look good in a sweater.”

And to top off this date, Chad asks Noa for the leftovers on her plate, so that he can take this unfinished meal home with him. Needless to say, there’s no second date between Noa and Chad. When she tells him at the end of the date that she doesn’t think that they’re compatible, he calls her a “stuck-up bitch” before he walks away.

On a day after this bad date, Noa and Mollie are doing boxing exercises in a gym while Noa tells Mollie about this unpleasant dating experience. Mollie and Noa talk about a dating app called Puzzle Piece, but Noa has become cynical about online dating. Noa is also a homebody type, so going to bars or nightclubs to meet people isn’t really her thing. Mollie thinks that Noa is being too fearful and that Noa should take more risks when it comes to dating.

Noa is in a lovelorn state of mind when she goes shopping at a grocery store and she unexpectedly meets a handsome man named Steve (played by Sebastian Stan), who strikes up a conversation with her about grapes. Steve, who’s about 10 to 15 years older than Noa, has a somewhat awkward flirtation with her. She’s charmed by his apparent down-to-earth and self-deprecating nature, so when Steve asks for Noa’s phone number, she gives it to him without hesitation.

Steve doesn’t waste time in contacting Noa for a date. Their first date is at a mid-scale restaurant/bar. A bartender who works there is named Paul (played by Dayo Okeniyi), and he happens to be an ex-boyfriend of Mollie’s. During Noa’s first date with Steve, she tells Steve a little bit about her background, which is how he finds out that Noa lives alone and doesn’t have her parents in her life. Steve says that he’s a doctor who’s originally from Texas. “I work in reconstructive surgery,” he adds. Steve also mentions that his father is still alive, but his mother is dead.

When Steve mentions that he’s not on any social media, Noa says flirtatiously, “How am I supposed to stalk you now?” Steve quips, “You’ll just have to do it in person, the old-fashioned way.” At one point in the conversation, Noa blurts out to Steve: “I hate dating! People who believe in true love are fucking idiots!” With that comment, Noa reveals that she actually feels hurt and vulnerable when it comes to love. Steve is charming and attentive to Noa. He says all the right things and makes her feel attractive.

Although it’s not unusual for people to talk about their backgrounds on a first date, in hindsight, Noa could certainly be considered an ideal target for a kidnapper because of what she revealed to Steve on their first date: She lives alone, she’s an only child whose parents are not in her life, she doesn’t have a lot of close friends, and she doesn’t appear to have a job that requires her to work in-person with other people. It’s exactly the type of “profile” of someone who might not have a lot of people searching for that person if that person is kidnapped.

It isn’t long before Noa and Steve become lovers. Their relationship happens so quickly, Noa doesn’t have time to introduce Steve to Mollie, but she does tell Mollie about him. Soon after Noa and Steve have begun dating each other, he invites her to a weekend getaway at a place that Steve says will be a romantic surprise.

At this point, Noa and Steve have only known each other for about two weeks or less. It would be easy to judge and say that it’s too soon to go away for getaway trip with a lover you’ve known for less than two weeks. But there are plenty of real-life examples of couples who’ve moved in together after knowing each other for a very short period of time. “Fresh” realistically shows how easy it is for people to get caught up in quickie romances if the people in the relationship feel trust and have a mutual “connection” with each other.

Noa knows that things are moving very fast with Steve. Mollie expresses some concern too, but Noa sees no reason not to trust Steve, so she accepts his invitation to go on the trip, which they will take in Steve’s car. Steve tells her that they should spend the night at his place before they leave for their getaway destination in the morning. When Steve picks Noa up in his car to take her on this trip, she has no idea of what’s in store for her.

“Fresh” is yet another horror movie where the terror takes place in a remote wooded area. Steve’s getaway house is at a place called Cottage Grove. And because this is a horror movie, Noa soon finds out that she can’t get cell phone service in this isolated area. Not long after arriving at Cottage Grove, Steve hands Noa a drink. And the next thing that Noa knows, she has woken up alone in a room, with her right hand handcuffed to a bed.

Noa eventually finds out why Steve kidnapped her. The rest of the movie shows what Noa does to try to escape and if other people are involved in Steve’s sordid secret life. As this depraved kidnapper, Stan gives a chilling performance of someone with a “Jekyll and Hyde” personality. Edgar-Jones is equally riveting as the trapped heroine who has to use her wits to try to escape from this horrible situation.

“Fresh” also has another heroine: Noa’s best friend Mollie, who actively does everything she can to find Noa when Noa goes missing. Mollie doesn’t have a lot of information about Steve, so her search for Noa is very difficult during the period of time when adults can’t be declared missing with law enforcement until 48 hours after the missing people were last seen. “Fresh” shows a lot of cruelty, but the friendship between Noa and Mollie is really at the heart of the film.

And as gory and unsettling as “Fresh” can be, the movie has some dark satire that brings some twisted comedy to this otherwise very grim horror story. The movie uses 1980s pop hits, such as Animotion’s “Obsession” and Peter Cetera’s “Restless Heart,” in scenes to juxtapose this nostalgic pop music with the current torture that is being inflicted in those scenes. There’s also a memorable scene where Noa dances with Steve, in an effort to let his guard down and make him completely trust her. “Fresh” is Cave’s feature-film directorial debut. And even though there are some predictable elements to “Fresh,” it’s an impressive first feature film and an indication that Cave is a talented filmmaker to watch.

Hulu will premiere “Fresh” on March 4, 2022.

Review: ‘No Exit,’ starring Havana Rose Liu, Dennis Haysbert, Dale Dickey, Danny Ramirez, David Rysdahl and Mila Harris

February 25, 2022

by Carla Hay

Havana Rose Liu in “No Exit” (Photo by Kirsty Griffin/20th Century Studios/Hulu)

“No Exit” (2022)

Directed by Damien Power

Culture Representation: Taking place in California, the dramatic film “No Exit” features a racially diverse group of characters (white, Asian, African American and Latino) representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: During a blizzard that has caused road blockages and closures, a young woman finds herself trapped in a visitor center shelter with four strangers, when she finds out that a van owned by one of the strangers has a kidnapped girl inside.

Culture Audience: “No Exit” will appeal mainly to people who like any suspense thriller, no matter how idiotic the plot gets.

Havana Rose Liu in “No Exit” (Photo by Kirsty Griffin/20th Century Studios/Hulu)

“No Exit” is an apt description for how this mystery thriller gets trapped in its own stupidity. It starts off suspenseful and then it takes a steep nosedive into illogical nonsense. There’s a long stretch of the film, which takes place during a snow blizzard, where the criminal element in the movie frantically struggles to get access to a car to make an escape. Meanwhile, the filmmakers are expecting viewers to forget that the entire point of the movie is that all the movie’s characters who are trapped in the blizzard know that the blizzard has caused the roads to blocked, with police guarding the roadblocks, and an escape isn’t really possible.

It’s not spoiler information to reveal that “No Exit” is about a serious crime that’s been committed, and whoever has committed this crime is in a small group of people at a visitor center shelter during this blizzard. The movie’s protagonist decides she’s going to be a one-woman police force to solve the mystery and get justice for this crime. Directed by Damien Power, “No Exit” was written by Andrew Barrer and Gabriel Ferrari. The movie’s screenplay is based on Taylor Adams’ 2017 novel of the same name. Even though some of the cast members give good performances, the entire movie has a flawed premise that’s poorly executed in the last half of the film.

“No Exit” begins with protagonist Darby (played by Havana Rose Liu) looking bored and emotionally disconnected in a drug rehab center somewhere in California. (“No Exit” was actually filmed in New Zealand.) Darby is in her early 20s, and she’s in court-ordered rehab for a crime that is not mentioned in the movie. Through conversations in the movie, it’s revealed that Darby has been in rehab or tried to get clean and sober seven times already in her life.

During a rehab group meeting, Darby is told that she has an emergency phone call. When she takes the call, she finds out from her uncle Joe (voiced by David Chen) that her widowed mother has had a brain aneurysm and is in a hospital in Utah. Darby’s mother is scheduled to get a brain operation, but it’s a risky procedure. The medical diagnosis is that Darby’s mother might not have much longer to live.

Darby is estranged from the two family members who know her the best: her mother and Darby’s older sister Devon. And despite Darby’s pleas to make a phone call for this emergency, she’s denied this request by her rehab group leader Dr. Bill Fletcher (played by James Gaylyn) because it’s the rehab center’s rule that patients can’t make outgoing phone calls. Any incoming phone call for a patient has to be an emergency, and the call is monitored by the rehab center staff.

But this obstacle isn’t enough to stop Darby. She borrows a cell phone that was snuck in by another rehab patient, whose name is Jade (played by Nomi Cohen). Jade and Darby don’t like each other, but Jade reluctantly agrees to let Darby use her phone because Darby threatens to tell the rehab officials that Jade broke the rules by sneaking in a cell phone.

Darby uses the phone to call Devon (played by Lisa Zhang), who tells Darby in no uncertain terms that she’s doesn’t want Darby to contact her or visit their mother. Darby says she’s going to find a way to visit. Devon abruptly and angrily tells Darby, “I don’t have time for your bullshit. Don’t call me back!”

This rejection still doesn’t stop Darby. In broad daylight, she sneaks out of the rehab center to steal the car of an orderly named Mike (played by Nick Davies), nicknamed Mikey, who seemed to take pleasure in denying Darby any phone privileges. Darby has also stolen Jade’s phone. Darby’s plan is to take the stolen car and drive to Utah to see her mother. But this trip comes at a very bad time because she isn’t on the road for long when a blizzard hits while she’s in California’s Sierra Nevada Mountains.

One of the first things that Darby found in Mike’s car was a small packet of cocaine hidden in the driver’s window shade. The movie plays guessing games with viewers over whether or not Darby will relapse by using this cocaine. Darby describes her drug addiction as being willing to do any drug that comes her way.

During this blizzard, Darby gets text messages from Devon that say, “Mom doesn’t want you here.” “You’ll only make it worse.” “Don’t come.” Darby is still undeterred. She pulls over on a road to get some sleep, and she has a nightmare that people outside the car are trying to get her. She wakes up to a state trooper named Ron Hill (played by Benedict Wall), who finds out why she’s traveling during a blizzard.

He tells Darby that the only road leading to Utah is closed, and she has one of two choices: She can either reverse and go back to where she came from, or she can stay at a visitor’s center a few hundred yards away. The center is being used as a temporary shelter during the storm. The trooper also mentions that some other travelers are already at the shelter.

Darby decides to go to the shelter. Inside, there are four other strangers. Ed (played by Dennis Haysbert) is a former U.S. Marine who served in Operation Desert Storm. Ed’s wife is Sandi (played by Dale Dickey), a former nurse who met Ed when she was working at a Veterans Administration hospital. This middle-aged couple is traveling to Reno, Nevada, to do some gambling. Rose and Ed are immediately friendly and welcoming to Darby.

The other two people in the shelter are men in their 20s: Lars (played by David Rysdahl) is introverted and eccentric. He’s the type of person who talks to himself out loud when other people are around. Ash (played by Danny Ramirez) is talkative and a little flirtatious with Darby. He can also be crude and insensitive. Darby and the other four people in the shelter make small talk as they get to know each other.

No one in the shelter can get any cell phone service or WiFi service because of the blizzard and because of where they are in this remote mountain area. Still, Darby occasionally goes outside the shelter near the parking lot to see if her phone can pick up a signal. It’s during one of her trips outdoors when Darby is alarmed to see a hand and noises coming from a van parked outside.

She goes inside the van and finds a kidnapped girl, who’s about 9 or 10 years old. The girl is bound and gagged and desperate to escape. However, Darby knows that she can’t use her phone to get help, so she tells the girl that she will help her, but she has to be patient. Darby later finds out that the girl’s name is Jay (played by Mila Harris), as well as more things about who Jay is and why she was kidnapped.

Feeling trapped and helpless, Darby goes back into the shelter and acts like nothing is wrong, in order to figure out who’s the driver of the van. Before she went back into the shelter, Darby noticed that the van has Nevada license plates. The rest of the movie is a ridiculous cat-and-mouse game where Darby tries to solve the mystery and get help for the kidnapped girl without getting caught by whoever is responsible for the abduction. It’s this second half of the movie that unveils some twists and turns, with each becoming more ludicrous as times goes on.

“No Exit” has so many bad decisions, not just with the characters, but also with how the filmmakers staged everything to look so phony in the latter half of the movie. As the flawed hero Darby, Liu does her best to try to make everything in this moronic film believable, but the movie completely buries any credibility with some of the stupid plot twists, just like the blizzard in this movie buries things in the snow. The rest of the cast members are fairly solid in their roles, except for Ramirez, whose performance becomes campier as the story devolves into an irredeemable mess. You know a movie is bad when it’s called “No Exit,” but everything that happens in the last half of the movie is as if the reason for this movie’s title doesn’t exist.

Hulu premiered “No Exit” on February 25, 2022.

Review: ‘Run’ (2020), starring Sarah Paulson and Kiera Allen

January 2, 2021

by Carla Hay

Kiera Allen and Sarah Paulson in “Run” (Photo by Allen Fraser/Hulu)

“Run” (2020)

Directed by Aneesh Chaganty 

Culture Representation: Taking place primarily in Pasco, Washington, the dramatic thriller “Run” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with a few African Americans) representing the middle-class.

Culture Clash: A wheelchair-bound teenager finds out that her overprotective mother might not have her best interests at heart.

Culture Audience: “Run” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in stories about mother-daughter relationships that have serious conflicts.

Sarah Paulson and Kiera Allen in “Run” (Photo by Allen Fraser/Hulu)

The well-acted and taut thriller “Run” explores a very well-worn concept—a mother and a teenage daughter have a power struggle and become increasingly alienated from each other—and still manages to make it a captivating and enthralling story. Some of the movie’s plot twists and reveals are more predictable than others. However, the filmmakers seem very aware of the specific target audience for this type of movie and deliver the suspenseful moments that this audience expects.

“Run” is the second feature film directed by Aneesh Changaty, who made his feature-film directorial debut with the critically acclaimed 2018 thriller “Searching,” another intriguing movie about a relationship between a single parent and the parent’s only child, who is a teenage daughter. In “Searching,” a widowed father is on a desperate hunt to find his missing teenage daughter. In “Run,” the source of the tension is because the parent of the teenage daughter is clinging too much to her child.

The beginning of “Run” (which was written by Changaty and Sev Ohanian) shows a distraught mother in a hospital. She has just given birth to a premature baby, who is unhealthy enough that doctors are seen trying to resuscitate the child on an operating table. The mother is taken by wheelchair to see her newborn daughter in an incubator, where the baby is breathing through an oxygen tube.

A list of ailments is then listed on screen: arrhythmia (a heart problem); hemochromatosis (a bloodstream problem); asthma (a breathing problem); and paralysis (a muscle problem). And then, the story fast-forwards 17 years later to Pasco, Washington (a city about 226 miles east of Seattle), where single mother Diane Sherman (played by Sarah Paulson) and her 17-year-old daughter Chloe (played by Kiera Allen) live. Diane is the mother who was shown fretting over her sick baby in the movie’s opening scene.

Diane now belongs to a support group for parents of special-needs children. During a group meeting, she expresses some trepidation but also excitement about Chloe going to college and doing things that Diane hasn’t been able to do since Diane became a mother—partying and having fun. Diane mentions that Chloe (who is home-schooled) has applied to several colleges, and they’re waiting to find out which schools have accepted her.

At home in Diane and Chloe’s two-story house, it’s revealed that Chloe’s is a paraplegic in a wheelchair who is on numerous medications for her health problems. Chloe also has a very claustrophobic existence, because her mother controls every aspect of Chloe’s life. Chloe has no friends, and the only person she’s in contact with on a regular basis is her mother, who won’t allow Chloe to have a phone.

There’s no television or radio in the Sherman household. When Diane isn’t home, Chloe is locked inside the house. When Chloe goes outside, her mother always accompanies her. Diane never talks about Chloe’s father.

Diane doesn’t have a job other than taking care of Chloe, and so viewers can presume that Diane lives off of government assistance that’s provided for parents of kids with special needs. One day, Chloe discovers something very strange when she looks in a bag of groceries that her mother left in the kitchen. In the bag is a prescription bottle of pills that Chloe has been taking, but the bottle actually has Diane’s name on the bottle label.

When Chloe mentions this discrepancy to her mother, Diane gives the excuse that what Chloe saw was a receipt with Diane’s name, and the receipt was taped to the bottle. Observant viewers will immediately know that Diane is lying because what Chloe saw was clearly a label on the prescription bottle, not a taped receipt. The green and white pills in the bottle are supposed to be Trigoxin. It’s a fictional drug fabricated for this movie, but Trigoxin and its effects are very similar to the real-life drug Digoxin, which is heart medicine.

About 70% of “Run” has spoiler information that won’t be revealed in this review. But it’s enough to say that when Chloe tries to go on the Internet to get more details on Trigoxin, she finds out that the house computer has no Internet service. This sets off a chain of events where Chloe begins to suspect Diane of having secrets and ulterior motives. Meanwhile, Diane becomes increasingly controlling of Chloe.

People who are fans of Paulson’s work in the anthology TV series “American Horror Story” already know how well she can portray characters who seem harmless on the outside but might have very dark and disturbing secrets on the inside. It’s pretty obvious from the trailer for “Run” that Diane is going to end up being the villain of the story. The big mystery is: “What is Diane hiding and what’s going to happen to Chloe?”

Allen makes an impressive feature-film debut as the innocent and sheltered Chloe, who is book smart but definitely naïve compared to other typical 17-year-olds. However, Chloe has to grow up fast when reality starts to sink in that she might not be safe in her own home with her mother. The role of Chloe is physically and emotionally challenging, but Allen is able to convey acting range in all the right places to make a very believable and sympathetic heroine.

“Run” has plenty of mystery and suspense, but there are a few minor inconsistencies in the movie’s plot and characterizations. Chloe is obviously a smart and inquisitive child, so it seems a little strange that it took her so long to find out some of the secrets that she finds out in the movie. Chloe might be someone who spent almost all of her life passively following her mother’s orders, but it’s a little hard to believe that Chloe never thought about snooping around the house while her mother was away, until Chloe began to have suspicions about Diane because of the prescription discrepancy.

For example, even though the movie doesn’t reveal what Diane told Chloe about Chloe’s father, it’s hard to imagine that Chloe wouldn’t be curious enough to find out details about her father that Diane wouldn’t tell her. This curiosity would lead to Chloe looking for information around the house a lot sooner than she does in this story. There’s also another scene in a hospital that’s a tad far-fetched in how hospitals operate, in terms of hospital security.

These flaws don’t take away from the overall plot of “Run.” It’s definitely a movie for fans of “women in peril” stories. However, “Run” doesn’t come across as a generic TV-movie of the week, because the film has some artsy cinematography (by Hillary Spera) and better-than-average performances by the stars of the movie. (Lionsgate was going to release “Run” in cinemas, but then sold the movie to Hulu.) “Run” isn’t a masterpiece, and the movie has some ideas that are recycled from other films, but it’s a satisfying thriller for anyone intrigued by stories about one family member pitted against another.

Hulu premiered “Run” on November 20, 2020.

Review: ‘Happiest Season,’ starring Kristen Stewart, Mackenzie Davis, Alison Brie, Aubrey Plaza, Daniel Levy, Victor Garber and Mary Steenburgen

December 22, 2020

by Carla Hay

Kristen Stewart and Mackenzie Davis in “Happiest Season” (Photo by Jojo Whilden/Hulu)

“Happiest Season”

Directed by Clea DuVall

Culture Representation: Taking place in the Pittsburg area, the romantic comedy “Happiest Season” features a predominantly white cast (with some African Americans and Asians) representing the middle-class and upper-middle-class.

Culture Clash: A closeted lesbian invites her live-in girlfriend to a family Christmas gathering, and the girlfriends agree to keep their romance a secret from the family during this visit.

Culture Audience: “Happiest Season” will appeal primarily to people interested in seeing a Christmas-themed comedy about families where the central couple happens to be members of the LGBTQ community.

Pictured from left to right (in front) Asiyih N’Dobe and Anis N’Dobe and (in back) Burl Moseley, Alison Brie, Kristen Stewart, Mackenzie Davis, Mary Holland, Victor Garber and Mary Steenburgen in “Happiest Season” (Photo courtesy of Hulu)

There’s a certain formula that romantic comedy films have when they take place during the Christmas holidays and much of the plot revolves around a family get-together: Siblings have rivalries, couples have relationship problems, and at least one person in the family has a big secret that they’re desperately trying to hide. “Happiest Season” (directed by Clea DuVall) follows a lot of the same formula, except that it’s a rare Christmas-themed movie that has lesbians as the central couple in the story. Sony Pictures Entertainment’s TriStar Pictures was going to release “Happiest Season” in theaters until the company sold the movie to Hulu.

In “Happiest Season,” which takes place in the Pittsburgh area, the big secret is that one of the women in the lesbian couple still hasn’t told her family that she’s a lesbian and in a live-in relationship with a woman whom her family thinks is a platonic, heterosexual roommate. Harper Caldwell (played by Mackenzie Davis) is a journalist at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, and she’s been living with her girlfriend Abigail “Abby” Holland (played by Kristen Stewart), who is working on getting her Ph. D. in art history at Carnegie-Mellon University. Abby and Harper have been dating each other for a little more than a year and have been living together for the past six months.

Harper and Abby are both in their late 20s, smart and very friendly, but Abby is a little more introverted than Harper is. They have a very loving and respectful relationship, but they come from different family backgrounds. Abby is an only child. Her parents, who died when she was 19, were completely accepting of her sexuality when Abby told them that she’s gay. Harper is the youngest of three sisters, and her parents are very traditional and image-conscious. Harper has been afraid to tell her family that she’s a lesbian because she thinks that her parents will disapprove and reject her.

Harper’s parents Ted Caldwell (played by Victor Garber) and Tipper Caldwell (played by Mary Steenburgen), who live in a suburb of Pittsburgh, raised their children to be over-achievers. And now, Ted (a city councilman) is running for mayor, so Harper becomes even more conscious of the scrutiny that her family will receive because of this political campaign. It’s one of the reasons why Harper wants to delay telling her family about being a lesbian and the true nature of her relationship with Abby.

One evening, Abby and Harper take a romantic stroll during a guided Christmas tour of the neighborhood. Harper impulsively steers Abby on a detour to hop up on a stranger’s rooftop so they can get a romantic view of the city and make out with each other. But the occupants of the house hear people on the roof and almost catch Abby and Harper.

Abby barely escapes when she slips on the rooftop and finds herself hanging from the eaves of the roof. Harper tries to rescue Abby, but Abby falls into an inflatable Santa Claus in the front yard. The two women are able to run off just as the occupants of the house go outside and see the two intruders. This slapstick moment is a foreshadowing of some of the wacky-but-predictable physical comedy that happens in other scenes in the movie.

After this rooftop misadventure, Harper invites Abby to meet Harper’s family for the first time during the Christmas holidays. They plan to stay at Ted and Tipper’s family home for five days. Even though Abby says that she’s “not much of a Christmas person,” she agrees to the visit because she wants to meet Harper’s family.

Abby had committed to pet sitting for some friends during this period of time, so she has to find someone who can substitute for her on short notice. She enlists the help of her openly gay best friend John (played by Dan Levy), who is a literary agent. He agrees to take on the responsibility of pet sitting while Abby goes on this family visit that will be a turning point in her relationship with Harper.

John is somewhat stereotypical of a sassy and flamboyant gay man who usually has the role of a “tell it like it is” sidekick. However, John is also a confidant who has a lot of compassion and knows the true meaning of loyalty in a friend. Abby is going to need it, considering what she goes through in this story.

Abby tells John a secret: She plans to propose to Harper during this family holiday visit. John is skeptical of marriage, which he calls an “archaic institution,” but he’s happy for Abby and he wants the best for her. Abby explains to John why she wants to marry Harper: “It’s not about owning [her]. It’s about building a life with her.”

During Harper and Abby’s car trip to Ted and Tipper Caldwell’s home, Harper finally confesses to Abby that she’s been lying to her about what Harper’s family knows about Harper’s sexuality. Harper tells a shocked Abby that not only is her family unaware that Harper is a lesbian who’s been dating Abby, the family also doesn’t know that Abby is a lesbian too. As far as Harper’s family knows, Harper and Abby are two heterosexual women who are platonic roommates.

At first, Abby wants to back out of the trip, but Harper convinces her not to because she promises Abby that she will tell her family the whole truth after the holiday season and after the mayoral election. Harper says that she couldn’t live with the guilt if she thought her father would lose the election simply because some people wouldn’t vote for a mayor who has a child from the LGBTQ community. It’s fairly obvious that the city where Ted wants to become mayor has a lot of politically conservative voters.

At the Caldwell family home, Abby meets Ted and Tipper (who is obsessed with getting perfect photos for her Instagram account), who are somewhat condescending to Abby. They repeatedly call her “the orphan” and show gushing sympathy to her, as if she’s a little lost child. And because Tipper doesn’t know that Abby and Harper are sleeping together, Tipper tells Abby that she will be staying in a separate bedroom, which predictably leads to a few scenes of Abby and Harper sneaking into each other’s bedroom and trying not to get caught.

Ted is consumed with his mayoral campaign. One of his goals is to get the endorsement of a high-powered and influential donor named Harry Levin (played by Ana Gasteyer), who gives the impression of being a rich snob. One of the people who works with Ted in his campaign is Carolyn McCoy (played by Sarayu Blue), who is described as super-efficient and someone who is very concerned about the image projected by Ted and his family.

Because Ted and Tipper have had high expectations for their children, it’s created a fierce rivalry between Harper and her oldest sister Sloane (played by Alison Brie), who has inherited her parents’ fixation on presenting an image of having a perfect life. Sloane and her husband Eric (played by Burl Moseley) have twins who are about 7 or 8 years old: son Magnus (played by Anis N’Dobe) and daughter Matilda (played by Asiyih N’Dobe), who live such a regimented life, they come across almost like little robots.

Sloane and Eric used to be high-powered attorneys, but they gave up their jobs in the legal profession to make gift baskets for a living. However, pretentious Sloane refuses to call them gift baskets. Instead she uses this description when talking about her and Eric’s job to Abby: “We create curated gift experiences inside handmade, reclaimed wood vessels.” She also brags that Gwyneth Paltrow’s lifestyle website Goop “picked us up and sales have been through the roof ever since.”

Harper’s other sister is Jane (played by Mary Holland, who co-wrote the “Happiest Season” screenplay with director DuVall), who has a bubbly personality but is somewhat nerdy and socially awkward. Jane, who is single with no children, has been working on a sci-fi fantasy novel for the past 10 years. Although it’s not said out loud, Ted and Tipper think of Jane as the “disappointing” child because she’s not as accomplished as her two sisters are and she has a tendency to be clumsy. Her parents think that Jane is handy when it comes to figuring out computer problems and Internet access in the house, but that’s about it.

Of course, a romantic comedy about a couple with honesty issues usually has additional complications, such the presence of ex-lovers who might or might not want to rekindle a past romance. In “Happiest Season,” Harper has not one but two people from her dating past who cause discomfort in different ways for her. The appearances of these two exes will have an effect on Abby too.

First is Harper’s ex-boyfriend Connor (played by Jake McDorman), whom Harper dated when she was in college. Connor doesn’t know that Harper broke up with him because she’s a lesbian, and he still has lingering feelings for her. Harper’s other ex who comes into the picture is a doctor named Riley (played by Aubrey Plaza), who was Harper’s first girlfriend when they were in high school together. Harper and Riley’s breakup, which is described in the movie, was very painful and it set the pattern of Harper being dishonest about her true sexuality to most of the people in her life.

And what do you know, both of these exes just happen to be at the same restaurant at the same time when the Caldwells and Abby are there for a family dinner. Connor was secretly invited by Tipper, who wishes that Harper and Connor would get back together. Riley is at the restaurant by sheer coincidence. Riley and Connor end up in other social situations with Harper and Abby, together and separately. And, as expected, Abby is jealous of Connor, while Harper gets uncomfortable when she sees Abby and Riley becoming friendly with each other.

Except for the lesbian aspects of the movie, “Happiest Season” doesn’t do much that’s different from a lot of predictable romantic comedies. There’s some over-the-top slapstick in the movie that might or might nor be amusing to viewers. This type of cheesy physical comedy somewhat lowers the quality of the movie, but it’s nothing that’s too detrimental to the story.

The romance between Harper and Abby is convincing, with Davis and Stewart handling their roles with great aplomb. Abby’s character is written with more realism and grace than Harper’s character, who is very selfish and immature during some pivotal moments in the story. Some of the best scenes in the film are those between Abby and John, as well as Abby and Riley.

“Happiest Season” works best when it touches on issues about the true meaning of family and the cost of living a lie. The movie doesn’t have any heavy-handed preaching though, and there are plenty of comical scenarios to balance out the more emotionally dramatic moments. “Happiest Season” isn’t an exceptionally well-made romantic comedy, but it has enough charm and entertaining performances to please viewers who like sentimentality with some slapstick.

Hulu premiered “Happiest Season” on November 25, 2020.

Hulu announces premiere of ‘Eater’s Guide to the World,’ narrated by Maya Rudolph

October 20, 2020

Hulu has released the trailer and photos from the documentary series “Eater’s Guide to the World.” All seven episodes of the first season will premiere on November 11, 2020.

Here is Hulu’s synopsis of the show:

Discover the most surprising culinary destinations in “Eater’s Guide to the World.” Join narrator Maya Rudolph on a quest to find the most unexpected places to score an epic meal, while drinking and dining with the locals along the way.

Season 1, Episode 101: “Dining Alone in the Pacific Northwest

The best part of dining solo? You can focus on what deserves your attention most — the food. Time to eat your way through the Pacific Northwest, savoring the juicy pork steak, soba noodles, and piping hot fried chicken.

Season 1, Episode 102: “Cultural Crossroads in Casablanca”

No cool friend would let you skip Casablanca while on a trip to Morocco. This can’t-miss port city boasts snails, traditional pastilla, and unreal tagine — you’ve gotta taste it all.

Season 1, Episode 103: “The Ass Crack of Dawn in New York City”

It’s last call and you’re freakin’ hungry. What the f*** do you do? Luckily, you’re in New York City, where your crew can choose from mouth-watering options like Korean BBQ, empanadas, and birria — all before the sun hits the horizon.

Season 1, Episode 104: “Jungle to Table in Costa Rica”

The Costa Rican jungle is basically nature’s candy store, and we’d like to invite you in. Bursting with delicious guanabana, cainito, cas, pejibaye, and of course cacao — known to some as the fruit of the gods! Of the GODS, y’all!

Season 1, Episode 105: “Eating on the Hood of Your Car in LA”

Buckle tf up! When you’re in LA, your car’s your sanctuary. Treat it with the respect it deserves, and dig in to life-changing hot chicken, fresh bread drops, and museum-worthy bento boxes in its presence.

Season 1, Episode 106: “Planting Roots in Tijuana Mexico”

Local, regular, newcomer — whoever you are, Tijuana has something delicious for you to eat. Grab a seat and try the craft beer, pork belly tacos, Caesar salad (trust us) and yeah, you’ll want to stay awhile.

Season 1, Episode 107: “Taking Off in America”

You eat at an airport because you have to, not because you want to. But just beyond the departure terminals you’ll find smoky BBQ, sweet n’ fluffy pancakes and a bowl of warm borbor—all worth going the extra mile.

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