2019 Tribeca Film Festival movie review: ‘Plus One’

May 5, 2019

by Carla Hay

Maya Erskine and Jack Quaid in "Plus One"
Maya Erskine and Jack Quaid in “Plus One” (Photo by Guy Godfree)

“Plus One”

Directed by Jeff Chan and Andrew Rhymer

World premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York City on April 28, 2019.

Traditional romantic comedies whose two central characters are a man and a woman typically follow this formula: “Boy meets girl. Boy and girl hook up/fall in love. Boy loses girl because of an argument, misunderstanding and/or fear of commitment—take your pick. Boy and girl make up and reunite in the end.” The couple in the story either can’t stand each other when they first meet, or they’re longtime friends who discover they have romantic feelings for one another.

Taking all of these clichés into account, “Plus One” is as predictable as they come for romantic-comedy plots. However, the entertaining dialogue and winning performances of the movie’s cast make the film an enjoyable and breezy ride. It’s also rare to see an American rom-com with an interracial storyline between a white man and an Asian woman. Their racial differences are mentioned for a few jokes in the movie, but it’s not a source of tension in the story, since all the main characters in this movie are accepting of people from different cultures.

In “Plus One”—the first feature film from writers/directors Jeff Chan and Andrew Rhymer—Jack Quaid is Ben King and Maya Erskine is Alice Mori, two friends who have known each other since their college days. Ben and Alice are in an age range (late 20s to early 30s), when many of their peers are getting married, but Ben and Alice are still struggling with finding their life partner. Ben is fairly choosy about what he wants, and most of his relationships end because his partner has a flaw that he can no longer tolerate. Alice is less judgmental about the people she dates, but she might be a borderline alcoholic, and her raunchy, no-filter personality screams “hot mess,” thereby driving away a lot of potential partners. She’s also still hurting from a recent breakup from ex-boyfriend Nate (played by Tim Chiou), who dumped her.

So what are two lovelorn singles to do when they’re invited to several weddings in one summer? They agree to be each other’s date (or “plus one”) to all of the weddings. One of the weddings happens to be that of Ben’s twice-divorced father Chuck (played by Ed Begley Jr.), who’s marrying a woman young enough to be his daughter, much to Ben’s disapproval. To make things even more awkward for Ben, his father asks Ben to be his best man.

The weddings take place in different parts of the world, so it’s unclear how Ben and Alice (who are working professionals) have been able to take all that time off from work to globetrot to all of these weddings. But those are the kind of details that romantic comedies such as “Plus One” aren’t really concerned about explaining. The main concern that these kinds of movies have is to get audiences to root for what we all know is going to happen.

The movie opens with Ben rehearsing his speech as a groom’s best man, so that Alice can critique the speech. Awkward wedding speeches are used as comedic devices throughout the entire film. At this particular wedding, Alice does what she does at pretty much all of the weddings in this movie: She gets drunk.

Since Alice has decided she’s going to be Ben’s “wing woman,” she tries to play matchmaker for him at the wedding receptions. However, Alice’s idea of introducing Ben to a woman is to shove him hard enough to fall down near the woman.

Ben is literally the straight man to wacky Alice, who’s a foul-mouthed, crude partier with immaturity issues. But there are hints that she’s attracted to him. When they have to share a hotel bed, due to a series of events that force them to take the only hotel room available to them, she wants to cuddle with Ben and tickle-scratch him, but he refuses.

Perhaps stung by the rejection, sharp-tongued Alice tries to convince others (and maybe herself) that Ben isn’t a suitable love partner. Some of the zingers that she puts out there include, “Ben doesn’t date people. He dates ideas.” Later, she tells Ben, “Someone as grotesquely tall and skinny as you doesn’t have the right to be picky.” Even with the sarcastic put-downs, Alice shows a vulnerable side to Ben, when she confesses that her long-married parents are miserable together, thus revealing her own issues with commitment.

When Ben finally meets Alice parents, we see a familiar pattern: Alice’s mother Angela (played by Rosalind Chao) is the tactless motormouth who pries into other people’s love lives (just like Alice), while Alice’s father Mitch (played by Tom Yi) is the calmer, more polite partner (just like Ben). People who know the rom-com formula can figure out what happens with Ben and Alice. Are Ben and Alice the type of people you would want to be friends with in real life? Alice’s drunken antics and rants would be embarrassing to any sane adult, but spending less than two hours with her and Ben on screen is amusing enough for some laughs and some sighs of relief that most wedding guests never act like Alice.

RLJE Films will release “Plus One” in select U.S. theaters on June 14, 2019.

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

May 1, 2019

by Carla Hay

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

“The Boys”

Pilot episode/Season 1, Episode 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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