Review: ‘Belfast’ (2021), starring Caitríona Balfe, Judi Dench, Jamie Dornan, Ciarán Hinds and Jude Hill

November 11, 2021

by Carla Hay

Pictured in front row: Caitríona Balfe, Jamie Dornan, Judi Dench, Jude Hill and Lewis McAskie in “Belfast” (Photo by Rob Youngson/Focus Features)

“Belfast” (2021)

Directed by Kenneth Branagh

Culture Representation: Taking place in 1969, in Belfast, Northern Ireland, the dramatic film “Belfast” features an almost all-white cast of characters (with a few black people and South Asians) representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: A tight-knight family in Belfast has conflicting feelings about moving out of this Northern Ireland capital city, as Northern Ireland has become increasingly affected by violent conflicts between the Irish Republican Army movement and the United Kingdom government.

Culture Audience: “Belfast” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in watching bittersweet and nostalgic movies about families trying to survive in an area plagued by violent civil unrest.

Judi Dench, Jude Hill and Ciarán Hinds in “Belfast” (Photo by Rob Youngson/Focus Features)

“Belfast” is more than a love letter to filmmaker Kenneth Branagh’s Northern Ireland hometown. It’s also a love letter to childhood memories that tend to put a rosy glow on some very grim realities. Branagh wrote and directed this semi-autobiographical dramatic film, which he says in the “Belfast” production notes is “the most personal film I have ever made. About a place and a people, I love.” Branagh is also one of the producers of the “Belfast,” which won the top prize (the People’s Choice Award) at the 2021 Toronto International Film Festival, after the movie had its world premiere at the 2021 Telluride Film Festival.

Taking place during the last half of 1969, “Belfast” (which was filmed entirely in black and white) is told from the perspective of a 9-year-old boy named Buddy (played by Jude Hill, in an impressive feature-film debut), who lives in Belfast and is a lot like many 9-year-old boys: He loves to play and has an active imagination. He’s very fond of adventure stories and watching sci-fi shows and Westerns on TV.

Buddy is a bright and curious child who is particularly fascinated with stories about heroes and villains. He often roleplays as a hero with a miniature sword and shield. And in one scene in the movie, Buddy is shown reading a “Thor” superhero comic book, which is an obvious nod to “Thor” fan Branagh ending up as the director of the 2011 movie “Thor” in real life.

Buddy has a loving, working-class family, which includes his teenage brother Will (played by Lewis McAskie); homemaker mother Ma (played by Caitríona Balfe); joiner father Pa (played by Jamie Dornan); and Pa’s parents Granny (played by Judi Dench) and Pop (played by Ciarán Hinds). The real names of Buddy’s parents and grandparents are not mentioned in the movie. Buddy also has assorted aunts, uncles and cousins who live in the area. The family members are Protestant and live in a mostly Protestant part of Belfast.

Buddy’s mother is the glue who holds the family together. She has a strong sense of morality that she tries to instill in her children. She’s the more serious parent, while Buddy’s father is the more “fun-loving” parent who has an irresponsible side to him. Will is a kind and protective brother to Buddy, but the two siblings naturally have their share of minor squabbles. Buddy’s grandfather has a playful and mischievous side, while Buddy’s grandmother has a no-nonsense nature.

In 1969, Belfast had neighborhoods that were segregated according to religion: Catholics lived in mostly Catholic neighborhoods, while Protestants and other non-Catholics lived in mostly Protestant neighborhoods. This type of religious segregation in Belfast and Northern Ireland still largely exists today. This segregation is directly related to the conflict between those who believe that Northern Ireland should be given back to the mostly Catholic nation of Ireland and those who believe that Northern Ireland should remain under the rule of the mostly Protestant nation of the United Kingdom.

It’s this conflict that was the basis of the Troubles, a historic period that took place mostly in Northern Ireland from the late 1960s to 1998. The Troubles consisted of protests, riots and bombings in the disagreements over which government should be in control of Northern Ireland. It’s in this backdrop, when the Troubles began, that Buddy’s family must decide if they are going to remain in Northern Ireland or not.

Before the start of the Troubles, Buddy was leading a fairly idyllic life, where his biggest problem was trying to get the affections of his classmate Catherine (played by Olive Tennant), who is his not-so-secret crush. Buddy and Catherine are both outstanding students who are at the top of their class, so there’s a friendly rivalry that the two of them have with each other. Buddy would like to think that his intellect will impress Catherine, so it motivates him to do well in school. In his free time, Buddy likes to play outside, read, watch TV, and go to the cinema with his family.

This happy life bubble gets burst one day (August 15, 1969), when Buddy sees firsthand the violence erupting in the streets because of the political conflicts over Northern Ireland. While he’s playing outside, Buddy gets caught in the street where rioters are committing violence, including throwing Molotov cocktails. Buddy’s mother runs outside to rescue him and tells him to hide underneath the kitchen table.

It’s the end of Buddy and his family feeling completely safe in Belfast. Although they try to continue to lead their lives as normally as possible, the threat of violence and being harmed is always near and has become increasingly probable. Adding to the family’s stresses, Buddy’s father is heavily in debt, including owing back taxes, and the only work he can find is in England. And so, for about two weeks out of every month, Buddy’s father has to be away from home because of his job.

Buddy’s father is as attentive as he can be to his children, but he has another problem that is causing a huge strain on his marriage: He has a gambling habit, which obviously makes it harder for him to pay off his debts. Buddy’s parents try to hide these problems from the children, but the movie shows from a kid’s perspective how children eventually find out what causes their parents to argue.

Meanwhile, some local Belfast men, who are part of a group of violent protesters against the U.K. government, try to intimidate other people in the area to join their cause. Buddy’s father is one of the people who’s targeted for this recruitment. The gang’s leader is a menacing lout named Billy Clanton (played by Colin Morgan), who comes from a large family. Billy’s brother Fancy Clanton (played by Scott Gutteridge) and their friend McLaury (played by Conor MacNeil) are two Billy’s sidekicks who go with Billy to threaten people in the area.

When they approach Buddy’s father about becoming part of their group, they tell him that he has the choice of “cash or commitment”: In other words, if he doesn’t join, they expect to get extortion money from him. Buddy’s father tries to stall them for as long as possible about what decison he’ll make. But the thugs become impatient, and Buddy’s father knows that his time is running out. These threats, as well as his worries about his family’s safety (especially when he’s not in Belfast to protect them), make Buddy’s father more inclined to want to move out of the area as soon as possible.

“Belfast” isn’t all gloom and doom. There are moments of joy, such as when the family spends time together doing things that they like. For example, there’s a nice scene where the family watches the 1968 musical film “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang” in a cinema. There’s also a cute moment when Buddy’s grandparents give him advice on how to charm Catherine. And the movie has some other levity, such as a recurring comedic scenario about the family’s minister (played by Turlough Convery), who seems more concerned about collecting money from the parishioners than in giving sincere sermons.

The mutual prejudices between Catholics and Protestants fueled the Troubles, but the movie pokes some fun at this religious bigotry. Buddy’s father comments in a scene: “I’ve got nothing against Catholics, but it’s a religion of fear.” The scene then cuts to the family’s minister giving a fear-based “fire and brimstone” type of sermon in church.

“Belfast” realistically shows how ambivalent a family can be in deciding whether or not to risk staying in a hometown that has become increasingly violent or leave behind family members, friends and other loved ones to start over in a new place where they might not know very many people. England is the most obvious place where Buddy’s father wants the family to move. However, at one point, Buddy’s father considers relocating the family to a U.K. commonwealth, such as Canada or Australia.

Buddy is not at all happy about the idea of moving out of Belfast. From his child’s point of view, moving away will ruin his life. Things become even more complicated when one of the grandparents ends up having a serious medical problem that requires an extended stay in a Belfast hospital. Meanwhile, Buddy’s parents become increasingly at odds with each other about if or when they should move out of Belfast.

What isn’t so realistic about “Belfast” is a pivotal scene in the movie that involves a showdown in the streets with Buddy’s father and Billy Clanton. There’s an action sequence during a riot that looks like a very “only in a movie” moment, including a slow-motion stunt shot. This scene can be excused if viewers take into account that it’s supposed to be from the memory of child who’s fascinated with hero/villain stories. However, it’s a scene that might have some viewers rolling their eyes in disbelief, even though this scene is supposed to be the most suspenseful part of the movie.

Some viewers might also have a hard time completely believing Balfe and Dornan in their roles as working-class, stressed-out parents. Balfe’s and Dornan’s performances are very good, but they look like very polished actors in roles that require them to look like life is getting rough for them. These parents are not supposed to look movie-star glamorous, which they do in a few too many scenes.

Nowhere is this “movie star glamour” more evident than in a scene where Buddy’s parents are out on a date in an attempt to rekindle some of the romance in their marriage. They’re at a dancehall, where Robert Knight’s 1967 hit song “Everlasting Love” begins playing. And suddenly, Buddy’s father gets in front of everyone and starts singing in perfect tune with perfect surround-sound audio (even though he has no microphone), like he’s the star of a concert. (Dornan does his own singing in obviously pre-recorded vocals.) And then, Buddy’s parents begin dancing and twirling as if they’re the 1969 Belfast equivalent of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers.

It’s a musical number that’s a feel-good moment, but might be too corny for some viewers. This song-and-dance scene certainly doesn’t fit with the more realistic family scenes in the film. Perhaps this is Branagh’s way of showing how a child’s memories can be embellished to remember things as a heightened version of reality.

Because of this childlike point of view, “Belfast” doesn’t get too bogged down in politics. There are hints that the adults in Northern Ireland either identify more with being Irish or being British. The movie doesn’t take sides on any political issues because Buddy’s family is not a political family. However, the “Belfast” soundtrack consists mostly of songs from Northern Irish artists, particularly Van Morrison. Morrison’s songs on the “Belfast” soundtrack are “Down to Joy,” “Caledonia Swing,” “And the Healing Has Begun” “Carrickfergus,” “Jackie Wilson Said,” “Stranded,” “Warm Love” and “Days Like This.”

Despite some of the flaws in the “Belfast” screenplay, none of the actors gives a bad performance in this film. Dench and Hinds are excellent as usual, but they’ve played these types of characters many times before in other movies. Balfe has more emotionally charged scenes than Dornan does, but Dornan and Balfe both capably handle their roles as parents trying to hold their family together, even though their strained marriage threatens to break them apart.

As the character of Buddy, Hill is an absolute delight to watch. He gives a completely charming performance, with intelligence that isn’t too smart-alecky, and with authenticity that doesn’t try too hard to look convincing. It will be interesting to see what kind of career that Hill will have as an actor, because some precocious child actors burn out and leave showbiz, while others end up thriving and go on to bigger and better accomplishments as actors.

“Belfast” is neither too dark nor too light in its tone. And the movie’s black-and-white cinematography gives a classic-looking sheen to the film. Except for a few unrealistic moments, “Belfast” is an emotionally moving journey into the difficult decisions that a family can make in the name of love.

Focus Features will release “Belfast” in U.S. cinemas on November 12, 2021. The movie’s release date in the U.K. and Ireland is January 21, 2022.

Review: ‘Barb & Star Go to Vista Del Mar,’ starring Kristen Wiig and Annie Mumolo

February 11, 2021

by Carla Hay

Kristen Wiig and Annie Mumolo in “Barb & Star Go to Vista Del Mar” (Photo by Cate Cameron/Lionsgate)

“Barb & Star Go to Vista Del Mar”

Directed by Josh Greenbaum

Culture Representation: Taking place mostly in the fictional U.S. cities of Taylorsville and Vista Del Mar, the comedy film “Barb & Star Go to Vista Del Mar” features a predominantly white cast (with some African Americans and a few Asians and Latinos) representing the middle-class and working-class.

Culture Clash: Two middle-aged female best friends unwittingly get ensnared in a villain’s scheme to get deadly revenge on the residents of Vista Del Mar, Florida.

Culture Audience: “Barb & Star Go to Vista Del Mar” will appeal primarily to fans of stars Kristen Wiig and Annie Mumolo (who co-wrote 2011’s Oscar-nominated “Bridesmaids”), but “Barb & Star Go to Vista Del Mar” is a disappointing, uneven dud.

Jamie Dornan in “Barb & Star Go to Vista Del Mar” (Photo by Cate Cameron/Lionsgate)

When close friends Kristen Wiig and Annie Mumolo first wrote a movie screenplay together, it was for 2011’s hilarious “Bridesmaids,” which garnered an Academy Award nomination for the duo, as well as a best supporting actress Oscar nod for “Bridesmaids” co-star Melissa McCarthy. Unfortunately, Wiig and Mumolo’s next screenplay collaboration is the messy and frequently unfunny “Barb & Star Go to Vista Del Mar,” an awkward mishmash of repetitive jokes about being middle-aged women, with some sci-fi and musical theater elements that mostly fall flat. The movie definitely won’t be nominated for any awards, not even a Razzie, because “Barb & Star Go to Vista Del Mar” is ultimately forgettable.

Directed by Josh Greenbaum, “Barb & Star Go to Vista Del Mar” is a frequently unfocused movie that loses steam in the last third of the film. Greenbaum has a background in directing sitcoms, such as “Fresh Off the Boat” and “New Girl.” And that TV comedy background shows up in the most annoying ways in this movie. The music score sounds like it was made for a sitcom, and the music volume is turned up to irritating levels because it interrupts the flow of the movie.

Unlike “Bridesmaids,” which was made for adults, “Barb & Star Go to Vista Del Mar” tries to be more family-friendly and therefore loses a lot of potential to have raunchy humor that’s genuinely funny. However, there are moments where the filmmakers tried to throw in some adult-themed content, such as drug-fueled partying that ends up with some of the main characters having a sexual threesome. But this very adult scenario doesn’t really work in this film, because the movie is too cutesy with its sexual innuendo, thereby making the tone of the movie look confused and ultimately ineffective. Imagine if 2009’s “The Hangover” or 2017’s “Girls Trip” held back on a lot of the things that happened in the stories because the filmmakers wanted to make these movies suitable for underage kids to watch.

In “Barb & Star Go to Vista Del Mar,” Mumolo portrays widow Barb Quicksilver and Wiig portrays divorcée Star Testigivlio, two middle-aged best friends/housemates who talk in a Midwestern twang and embody every stereotype of being a very bland, sheltered and uptight middle-aged American woman. (The movie has a running joke about Barb and Star’s penchant for wearing culotte pants.) The movie doesn’t say which U.S. state Barb and Star live in, but their hometown is called Taylorsville, and it’s far enough away from Florida that they have to travel by plane to get to the Florida city of Vista Del Mar.

Barb and Star are motormouths who frequently talk over each other but don’t have much to say that’s meaningful. They obsess over trivial things, such as why they don’t want anyone to buy their favorite sofa at the Jennifer Convertibles furniture store where they work as sales clerks. They’re so attached to the sofa that they come up with excuses for customers not to buy it. In the end, it doesn’t matter, because one day their boss (played by Ian Gomez) calls Barb and Star into his office and tells them that they’re all losing their jobs because the company has gone out of business.

As Barb and Star leave the store in shock, a friend of theirs named Mickey Revelet (played by Wendi McLendon-Covey) sees them walking down the street and runs over to talk to them. Mickey raves to Barb and Star about just coming back in town from the vacation that she and her man Miguel took in Vista Del Mar, Florida. (It’s a fictional city in Florida. The movie was actually filmed in Mexico City and Cancun, Mexico.)

Mickey brags that not only did she have a lot of fun and get a splendid tan, but she also says that going to Vista Del Mar had this effect on her: “I feel like I got a soul douche.” That’s the type of dialogue in the movie that’s supposed to be funny. Before Mickey leaves, she hands Barb and Star a travel brochure for Vista Del Mar. McLendon-Covey was a scene-stealing character in “Bridesmaids,” but “Bridesmaids” fans will be disappointed that her role in “Barb & Star Go to Vista Del Mar” is really just a quick cameo, since she’s only in the movie for about five minutes.

Barb and Star’s idea of fun is getting together not with a book club but with a talk club, which consists of other boring women who are around the same age. The members of the talk club gather to discuss a single topic per meeting. Shortly after Barb and Star lose their jobs, they’re at a talk club meeting, which is led by a bossy snob named Debbie (played by Vanessa Bayer) at Debbie’s home. Three other women are also in attendance: Pinky (played by Fortune Feimster), Delores (played by Phyllis Smith) and Bev (played by Rose Abdoo), who all do whatever Debbie expects them to do.

The talk club has certain rules that Debbie is fanatical about enforcing. When one of the club members is one minute late, Debbie locks the door and won’t let her inside. And the three cardinal rules of the club are (1) No wearing of sneakers; (2) No swearing, except for the “f” word; and (3) No lying. When Debbie announces that this meeting topic will be jobs, Barb and Star look at each other with dread because they’re embarrassed to talk about how they’ve become recently unemployed.

As the members of the club go around the room to talk about their jobs, (pharmacist Debbie is ecstatic when she describes how much she loves shaking pills in bottles while listening to music), Barb and Star continue to act as if they still work at the furniture store. However, the guilt of lying gets to Star, who blurts out that she and Barb lied and they actually got laid off recently. A furious Debbie kicks Barb and Star out of the club.

With their social life in shambles, Barb and Star decide to follow Mickey’s advice and take a vacation in Vista Del Mar. On the plane, there’s a sequence that goes on for far too long where Barb and Star ramble on about what kind of lady would be an ideal friend to lots of other women. They call her Trish and imagine all sorts of scenarios and personality traits that this ideal woman would have. And as soon as this becomes the entire plane conversation in the movie, you just know that there will be a character named Trish that shows up at some point.

Now for the weird and clunky sci-fi part of the story. It’s shown in the beginning of the movie that underneath the quiet streets of suburban Taylorsville is a high-tech underground bunker where a villain lives named Sharon Gordon Fisherman (also played by Wiig), who wants to kill the people of Vista Del Mar for a revenge reason that’s revealed in the movie. (It’s the most obvious reason possible.) The only way to get to the bunker is through a secret entrance in a tree trunk. Yes, it’s that kind of movie.

Sharon has a skin condition that makes her look unusually pale and sensitive to being in sunlight. She always wears white clothing. And she wears her hair in a jet-black bob, which kind of makes her look like a cross between Gloria Vanderbilt and Tilda Swinton, if they wanted to look like a Goth who only wears white. Sharon has a bitter demeanor and she seems to have problems emotionally connecting to people.

Sharon has three people working for her: an unnamed elderly scientist (played by Patrick Bristow), a handsome henchman named Edgar Pagét (played by Jamie Dornan), and a precocious boy named Yoyo (played by Reyn Doi), who’s about 9 or 10 years old. In the movie’s opening scene, Yoyo is shown riding his bike while delivering newspapers and singing Barbra Streisand and Barry Gibb’s 1980 hit “Guilty.” However, Yoyo is no mild-mannered paperboy.

The scientist tells Sharon that he’s found a way to genetically modify mosquitos so that one mosquito sting can kill a large animal in minutes. When the scientist finds out that Sharon wants to use these mosquitos to kill humans, he objects to this plan and then is on the receiving end of Sharon’s deadly wrath. Shortly after that, Sharon orders Yoyo to activate a remote control in an earring that he’s wearing. The remote control sets off a bomb that was in a newspaper that Yoyo delivered to someone’s front porch.

Sharon then dispatches Edgar to go to Vista Del Mar to let loose the lethal mosquitos on the city’s population. Edgar is infatuated with Sharon and there’s a not-very-believable subplot that Edgar wants to be her boyfriend, but she’s been resistant to the idea. Sharon has a dead personality, so it’s very far-fetched that someone like Edgar (who could have his pick of women) would be pining after someone who lacks charisma and is very self-absorbed. But maybe Edgar likes women who play very hard-to-get.

And so, when Edgar goes to Vista Del Mar and inevitably meets Barb and Star, it’s at a hotel bar. He’s pining over Sharon and distracted in thinking about her, while Barb and Star try to strike up a conversation with him. There are some shenanigans that happen between Barb, Star and Edgar that leads to a very cliché plot development in a movie about two female best friends: They end up competing with each other over a man. Take a wild guess who it is.

In addition to the sci-fi elements of the movie that are very poorly conceived (with tacky visual effects), “Barb & Star Go to Vista Del Mar” has some musical song-and-dance interludes that come out of nowhere. The first is when Barb and Star arrive at the Palm Vista Hotel, and all the people in the lobby break into a musical number to greet Barb and Star. Edgar also has an extensive musical number on the beach that involves an obvious stunt double.

There are also some other bizarre things in the movie that don’t work well either. For example, Star has a conversation with a talking crab named Morgan Freemond (voiced by Josh Robert Thompson), and the “joke” is that the crab sounds like Morgan Freeman and gives advice to the lovelorn Star. Damon Wayans Jr. has a useless role in the movie as a spy named Darlie Bunkle, who makes contact with Edgar. The running gag with Darlie is that he’s supposed to be undercover and always lectures Edgar to keep their communication “private,” but Darlie always bungles and reveals his own identity so that it’s out in the open and not “private” at all.

If the movie wasn’t trying so hard to appeal to underage audiences, it could’ve had more fun showing adults acting and talking like adults. Instead, by playing it too coy and too safe, the movie’s humor fails to be edgy or genuine. There’s a recurring character in the movie named Richard Cheese (played by Mark Jonathan Davis), who’s a singer/pianist in the hotel lounge. The joke is that Richard keeps singing about how much he loves women’s breasts, and he comes up with all sorts of ways to say the word “breasts.” It’s a mildly funny gag, but the humor is very juvenile, like 10-year-old boys giggling about saying slang words for this part of the female anatomy.

“Barb & Star Go to Vista Del Mar” is a story about two middle-aged single women who go on what’s supposed to be a fun-filled vacation together, but the movie is so watered down, that Barb and Star might as well have been teenagers. Barb and Star are sheltered women, but it would’ve been funnier to have them experience culture shock in a raunchier environment. “Barb & Star Go to Vista Del Mar” is one of those movies where the trailer makes the film look a lot funnier than it actually is.

Wiig and Mumolo (who are also two of the movie’s producers) are capable of doing much better work. Barb and Star are fairly one-note. And except for a brief mention of why they are single (Barb’s husband Ron died in an accident, while Star’s husband Carmine left her for another woman), there’s no backstory for these two central characters. It seems as if the filmmakers were trying to do a middle-aged version of 1997’s “Romy & Michele’s High School Reunion” (another movie about two sheltered best friends who travel somewhere to party), but “Barb & Star Go to Vista Del Mar” lacks a lot of the charm that made “Romy & Michele’s High School Reunion” a hit.

“Barb & Star Go to Vista Del Mar” isn’t a completely terrible movie, because viewers can find some laughs here and there. (People who are under the influence of alcohol or other substances while watching are more likely to find this movie funny.) Wiig has better comedic timing than Mumolo, while Dornan has some deliberately campy moments that can’t save this embarrassing film. Andy Garcia and Reba McEntire have unremarkable cameos in the movie. Considering the level of talent involved in this movie, it’s a misfire in so many ways, and it will just make people appreciate “Bridesmaids” even more.

Lionsgate will release “Barb & Star Go to Vista Del Mar” on VOD on February 12, 2021.

Review: ‘Wild Mountain Thyme,’ starring Emily Blunt, Jamie Dornan, Jon Hamm and Christopher Walken

December 11, 2020

by Carla Hay

Jamie Dornan and Emily Blunt in “Wild Mountain Thyme” (Photo by Kerry Brown/Bleecker Street)

“Wild Mountain Thyme”

Directed by John Patrick Shanley 

Culture Representation: Taking place in Ireland and in New York City, the romantic drama “Wild Mountain Thyme” has an all-white cast of characters representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: Two oddball Irish farmers—one female and one male—have very different views of love and marriage, while the male famer’s rich American businessman cousin might be part of a love triangle for this would-be couple.

Culture Audience: “Wild Mountain Thyme” will appeal primarily to people who don’t mind watching romantic movies that are pretentious and ridiculous.

Jon Hamm, Jamie Dornan and Christopher Walken in “Wild Mountain Thyme” (Photo by Kerry Brown/Bleecker Street)

The production notes for “Wild Mountain Thyme” describe the movie as a “comedic, moving and wildly romantic tale.” Comedic? The reality is that “Wild Mountain Thyme” is a drama with a lot of unintentionally so-bad-it’s-funny moments. Moving? This painfully dull movie doesn’t pour on the sentimental sap until the last 15 minutes of the film—and it does so in the corniest way possible. Wildly romantic? The characters in “Wild Mountain Thyme” are so dysfunctional and/or emotionally repressed that there’s almost no passionate romance in the film, and the characters spend most of the movie bickering about land ownership and who’s a legitimate farmer.

“Wild Mountain Thyme,” which takes place mostly in Ireland and partially in New York City, was written and directed by John Patrick Shanley, who adapted the movie from his 2014 Broadway play “Outside Mullingar.” Even though Shanley has won an Oscar (for writing 1987’s “Moonstruck”) and a Tony and a Pulitzer (for the play “Doubt: A Parable”), those prestigious awards don’t mean that someone is incapable of making an embarrassing stinker. “Wild Mountain Thyme” is an overly verbose story that ultimately doesn’t have much to say and should have remained on the stage, where pretentiously worded dialogue is expected and therefore much more palatable than it is for a movie audience.

“Wild Mountain Thyme” (which was filmed primarily in Mayo County, Ireland) gets its name because there are scenes in the movie where people sing “Wild Mountain Thyme” in a pub. The cinematic version of the story also greatly benefits from showcasing the lush and gorgeous landscape of rural Ireland. There’s no denying that the film’s cinematography by Stephen Goldblatt is one of the movie’s few high points.

But right from the start, the tone of “Wild Mountain Thyme” is off-kilter, by having a dead character as the movie’s intermittent guide/storyteller. There’s voiceover narration from Irish farmer Tony Reilly (played by Christopher Walken, doing his usual eccentric schtick) explaining how the would-be couple at the center of the story first came to know each other. Tony announces at the beginning of the narration that he’s dead, so people will know that they’re supposed to be hearing the voice of a ghost. Very morbid.

Tony says, “They say if an Irish man dies while telling a story, you can rest assured, he’ll be back.” This movie is so unimaginative that, sure enough, toward the end of the film, Tony’s voice comes back into the narration to repeat the same line. The narration is really unnecessary because Tony doesn’t provide any insight that isn’t already presented in the movie characters’ actions.

“Wild Mountain Thyme” producer Martina Nilan is quoted in the movie’s production notes as saying that “Wild Mountain Thyme” is “a timeless fable with a heightened fairy-tale tone.” However, the movie isn’t timeless and actually is very outdated with its old-fashioned views of strict gender roles for men and women when it comes to love and romance. Based on what the “Wild Mountain Thyme” characters say and how they act, they believe that women’s ultimate goal in life should be to get married and have children, and women have to wait until men make the first move in a courtship.

The movie also has the sexist notion that women who’ve never been married by a certain age have to be desperate to get married. “Wild Mountain Thyme” also pushes a narrative that a woman isn’t considered a “real woman” unless she wants to become a mother or is a mother. Meanwhile, men who’ve never been married and have no kids by a certain age might be considered “strange,” but they don’t have to be desperate to find a spouse.

It’s this moldy concept that stinks up the “will they or won’t they” relationship of Rosemary Muldoon (played by Emily Blunt) and Anthony Reilly (played by Jamie Dornan), two Irish farmers who embody the old-fashioned stereotypes of what usually happens in romantic dramas: The woman wants to be romanced by the man and be in a committed relationship with him that leads to marriage, while the man spends almost the entire story resisting. In other words, the man always has the “upper hand,” because he’s the one who decides if there will be a romantic relationship or not.

The movie sticks to this formula like patriarchal glue. There’s nothing inherently wrong with a story about falling in love and wanting to get married and have kids. But the way this story is told in “Wild Mountain Thyme” is extremely off-putting because the filmmakers want to pretend that it’s a feminist movie, when it’s just the opposite. For almost the entire movie, Rosemary mopes around and sulks because she’s waiting for Anthony to show a sign that he wants more than a platonic relationship.

As Anthony’s dead father Tony explains in the narration, Rosemary has been in love with Anthony since they were both 10 years old. (In flashbacks, Abigail Coburn plays a young Rosemary, while Darragh O’Kane plays a young Anthony.) The Reilly family and Muldoon family are farmers who live right next door to each other in rural Ireland, so the kids grew up knowing nothing but life on a farm.

The adult Rosemary and Anthony in this story are now in their late 30s. Because of Tony’s ghostly narration, this entire story is a flashback. Tony’s death and funeral are eventually shown in the movie.

The Muldoon family owns a strip of land that overlaps into the entrance of the Reilly family’s home. Tony tries in vain to get the Muldoon family to sell that strip of land to him. The questions over who owns this strip of land and who will inherit the entire Reilly family property are sources of contention throughout the story.

Anthony’s widower father Tony wants Anthony to inherit the farm. However, Tony is having doubts about his son’s ability to handle the responsibility because Anthony is an emotionally immature loner who doesn’t seem very smart about the business side of running the farm. Tony also disapproves of Anthony not showing any interest in getting married and having kids, while Anthony is extremely unwilling to become a husband and father. In fact, Anthony shows no interest in having a committed relationship with anyone.

What’s odd is that later in the story, Tony mentions Anthony’s two other siblings: Trish and Audrey, who are never seen or heard in the film. It’s implied that these two sisters are still alive somewhere. But because the movie has a sexist tone to it, these female characters are easily dismissed and never mentioned again, as if Anthony is the only rightful heir in the family.

Tony’s wife Mary (played by Clare Barrett), who died when the children were young, is also sidelined. She’s only seen briefly in flashbacks, where she’s cheerfully singing or cooking in the kitchen by herself, with no lines of dialogue. Considering this film’s sexist attitude about women only existing to be wives and mothers, it’s no wonder that Mary is only seen in the kitchen.

At one point in the movie, Tony admits to Anthony that he married Mary out of loneliness, not out of love, but that Tony eventually came to appreciate his wife, who was the one who pushed for them to get married in the first place. It’s an obvious parallel to what’s going on with Rosemary and Anthony. The only time that Anthony mentions his mother is when he tells Rosemary: “When my mother died, I couldn’t see colors anymore.” Cue the violins.

Rosemary is an only child who lives with her widowed and very opinionated mother Aoife (played by Dearbhla Molloy), who also wants Rosemary to get married and start her own family. But Rosemary is pining over an emotionally stunted Anthony, because she thinks he’s “the one.” Aoife (who affectionally calls Rosemary “mad,” as in crazy) also thinks that Anthony is a good match for Rosemary, but you get the impression that Aofie mainly wants to see Rosemary become a wife and mother to any suitable man who might come along.

Rosemary won’t come right out and tell Anthony that she has romantic feelings for him because she expects him to do the “manly” thing and make the first move and ask her out on a date. When Anthony tells her that he’ll never get married, she says that she doesn’t believe him. Rosemary even tells Anthony that she will have her eggs frozen if necessary, until he comes around to the idea of being her husband and the father of her children. But Anthony just acts confused and slightly repulsed (apparently he’s ignorant about modern fertility treatments) and tries to ignore Rosemary’s desperation.

In a flashback to Rosemary’s childhood as a 10-year-old, she’s doing what she usually does in this movie: pouting and obsessing over Anthony. Her father Chris (played by Don Wycherley) notices Rosemary sulking at the kitchen table. She tells her father in a depressed voice: “I’m just a girl. The world is full of girls.”

Her father responds by saying, “You’re not just a girl … You’re a queen … You are the white swan … It means no one can top you. The world is yours. You can do anything.”

Because of this little pep talk, Rosemary becomes fascinated with the ballet “Swan Lake.” There are several references to “Swan Lake” throughout the movie. And these “Swan Lake” references are as cloying and sappy as you might think they are.

In the beginning of the movie, which jumps around in flashbacks throughout the film, Chris has died, so viewers don’t really get to see the relationship that Rosemary had with Chris when she was an adult. However, Rosemary is very close to her mother, who can often get on Rosemary’s nerves with nagging about Rosemary being a spinster. However, no one puts more pressure on Rosemary to become a wife and mother than Rosemary herself.

There’s also a hint that Tony has been attracted to Aofie for quite some time, but he didn’t act on that attraction because she was married. Not long after Chris’ funeral, Tony doesn’t waste time in flirting with Aofie and making it clear that he’d like to get to know her better if she’s interested. Thankfully, that potentially awkward storyline goes nowhere.

After Chris’ death, Rosemary has fully taken over the Muldoon farm’s operations. Of course, the movie doesn’t actually show her doing much dirty work on the farm, since the filmmakers want to confine Rosemary in the stereotypical role of woman who’s mainly concerned with getting an uninterested man to be her husband. There are some scenes with some adorable animals though, with the predictable cute “reaction” shots of an expressive pet dog who seems to know what the humans are saying and has the head tilt and emotional eyes to prove it.

In the ghostly narration, Tony describes Rosemary as being “besotted with love,” which will make viewers wonder if Rosemary’s obsession with Anthony is true love or if she’s just in love with the idea of being married and having her own family. The filmmakers try to make Rosemary look like a moody, tobacco-smoking feminist (she smokes cigarettes and pipes), but she’s really just a run-of-the-mill “damsel in distress” who’s waiting around for a sour and grumpy Anthony to rescue her from her loneliness.

In addition to the cliché of a desperate woman longing for an emotionally unavailable man, “Wild Mountain Thyme” has another over-used cliché in movies about romance: the possibility of a love triangle. It starts from Rosemary and Anthony’s childhood, when there are a few brief scenes of a character named Fiona (played by Anna Weekes), whom Rosemary sees as a threat for Anthony’s affections. It’s mentioned that in her childhood, Rosemary even got into a physical fight with Fiona, by pushing her down. The adults didn’t do much about it but give Rosemary a mild scolding.

However, just like all the female characters with supporting roles in the movie, Fiona only seems to be there for filler and not to further the story in any way. When Anthony and Rosemary are adults, there is a brief reference to Fiona when Anthony mentions to Rosemary that he saw Fiona by chance somewhere and he had brief conversation with her. (Anthony and Fiona’s conversation is never shown in the movie.) Rosemary gets visibly jealous when she hears that Anthony and Fiona were in contact with each other.

There’s a brief scene that shows Anthony is interested in dating women when he has a drunken encounter with a pretty but scruffy blonde named Eleanor (played by Lydia McGuinness), who’s got spiky and messy hair styled like the ’80s female pop trio Bananarama. Anthony and Eleanor meet in a pub, get drunk together, and hang out on a ledge, where she confesses some sordid sexual secrets to him. She’s so tipsy that she loses her balance and falls off of the ledge. Eleanor is never seen again in the movie.

The main love triangle in the story is between Anthony, Rosemary and Adam (played by Jon Hamm), who is the American son of Tony’s brother. Adam is a single, successful money manager in New York City, because apparently the “Wild Mountain Thyme” filmmakers want to shut out any possibility that there are plenty of eligible bachelors in Ireland who could catch Rosemary’s fancy. Adam, who is very brash and confident, loves to flaunt his wealth. And by his own admission, Adam relishes being the center of attention.

Because Tony has doubts about Anthony’s ability to take care of the farm, he tells Anthony that he’s contemplating having Adam inherit the farm, even though Adam has no experience in farming. However, Tony is impressed with Adam’s business skills and he thinks the farm has a better chance of thriving if Adam took over the operations.

And so, Adam is invited to Ireland to look over the farm. Adam thinks of himself as someone who can easily be a farmer, because it’s something that he’s been fantasizing about for a while. However, it’s clear as soon as Adam comes to visit, he’s really a city dweller at heart. He wants to own the farm, not be an actual farmer.

Because he’s a showoff, Adam drives up to the farm one day in a silver Rolls Royce, which greatly impresses Tony. Meanwhile, Anthony is naturally feeling overshadowed and unappreciated when Adam is around. Anthony makes a point of telling Adam that he’s not a real farmer. The business-minded Adam is appalled that Anthony and Rosemary don’t know how many acres of farm land that they have.

It isn’t long before Adam shows that he’s attracted to Rosemary. The feeling isn’t really mutual, but Rosemary likes the attention, which is something that she doesn’t get from Anthony. Whereas Anthony can’t even be bothered to go over to the Muldoon house to visit Rosemary (even though she lives next door), Adam eagerly invites Rosemary to visit New York City, within a few hours of meeting her. Rosemary tells Adam that she’d love to go to the theater in New York. And this is the point in the movie where viewers can predict that if Rosemary does ever go to visit Adam in New York, you know exactly which stage production she’ll want to see.

Meanwhile, whenever Anthony gets irritated with Rosemary (which is often), he tells her that she should think about selling the farm and that she should leave Ireland. She usually replies in a huff that maybe she will leave. But she’s not fooling anyone. Rosemary is too obsessed with Anthony to leave.

Anthony occasionally mentions that he’s thinking about leaving farm life behind too. At one point, he makes a very un-patriotic comment about Ireland: “It’s a terrible place for a decent person.” Anthony, who keeps telling people that he thinks he’s “mad” (as in mentally ill), is also somewhat of a social outcast in the community.

Anthony’s oddball reputation is further fueled after an incident when a neighbor named Cleary (played by Barry McGovern) sees Anthony practicing a marriage proposal in a field. Anthony is rehearsing this proposal because he’s starting to wonder if maybe he should marry someone someday. Anthony thinks the only witness to his “marriage proposal rehearsals” is a donkey in the field.

But the nosy neighbor sees Anthony and wrongly assumes that Anthony is proposing marriage to the donkey. He tells other local people about what he saw, and soon Anthony becomes part of a community joke that Anthony might be into bestiality. Although this notion about Anthony is far-fetched, it at least accurately demonstrates how quickly gossip can spread in a small town.

When Rosemary asks Anthony why he won’t leave the farm, he replies: “These green fields and the animals living off them. And then there’s us living off of the animals. And over that, that what tends to us, lives off us maybe. Whatever that is, it holds me here.” This is the type of eye-rolling dialogue that’s littered throughout the movie.

“Wild Mountain Thyme” has scene after scene that’s supposed to be “deep philosophy from Irish farmers who look like movie stars,” but it all just sounds like nonsensical crap. For example, Rosemary asks Anthony: “How many days do we have until the sun shines?” Anthony replies, “It’s not shining.” Rosemary then says, “I believe that it is.” Obviously, this is a not-so-subtle reference to Rosemary’s optimism about love and Anthony’s pessimism. And only in a badly written entertainment project do farmers really talk like that.

One of the worst things about “Wild Mountain Thyme” is that it pushes a narrative that a romantic person who’s desperate to be in love, just by sheer force of will and being persistent, can “change” a person who resists the romantic person’s amorous intentions and the romantic can “make” that person fall in love with them. But “Wild Mountain Thyme” can’t even push this narrative in a clever way. It’s an unhealthy approach to relationships because true love is accepting people for who they are, not trying to change them to fit someone else’s fantasies.

One of the most cringeworthy scenes in the movie is when Rosemary and Anthony have an argument after she tells him about an encounter that she had with Adam where Adam made it very clear that Adam is interested in dating Rosemary. Rosemary declares to Anthony during this argument: “I want a man! Adam smells like soap! He smells like the lilies of the field!”

Anthony replies, “Why would you want to smell the cows on me, when you can smell the lilies on him?” Rosemary shouts, “I’m the one who should smell good! A man should stink—like you!”

And then, Rosemary says to Anthony: “It’s good that you’re tall. Men are beasts. They need that height to balance the truth and goodness of women.” We shudder to think what Rosemary might think about men who are short or average-sized. What’s also strange about this dialogue is that Anthony isn’t really that tall.

Anthony replies to Rosemary by saying something that viewers are thinking at this point: “There’s no answer to blather like that.” Rosemary continues undaunted, with a pseudo-feminist rant: “Hope is a force. And women are the salvation of the world! I believe that, and mean to make you believe it!”

The actors should be commended for not doing this scene without breaking out into laughter at the ridiculousness of it all. That’s no guarantee that people watching the movie won’t laugh (or groan or cringe) at this scene, which is intended to be a serious emotional moment in the film, but comes across as something that might be in a rejected soap opera script. And again: What kind of farmers talk like they’re competing in a Bad Prose of the Year contest?

Blunt gives it her best shot to make Rosemary as feisty and “lovable” as possible. But it’s all just a façade, because Rosemary’s actions and intentions show how she’s not the strong-minded, independent woman she would like think she is. Almost everything she does in the story is to try to impress Anthony or get a reaction out of him. Her self-esteem is wrapped up in him, not in herself.

And the chemistry between Blunt and Dornan isn’t very believable, not the least of which because Anthony is supposed to be this sulking, brooding type who does everything he can to avoid having a serious romance with anyone. At one point in the story, Rosemary asks Anthony if he’s gay. He emphatically says “no,” and acts very offended by the question. And when Rosemary asks him if he’s a virgin, he scoffs at the idea.

You can’t really blame Rosemary for asking, because there’s no indication that Anthony has ever had a serious girlfriend. One of the biggest flaws of “Wild Mountain Thyme” is that even though the main characters in this movie talk a lot, they don’t really show much personality. Anthony comes across as cold and very hard to read. Rosemary’s only real passion is trying to get Anthony to fall in love with her.

However, fans of Blunt (who starred in the Disney movie musicals “Into the Woods” and “Mary Poppins Returns”) will at least be happy to know that she does sing quite well in “Wild Mountain Thyme,” since she has a solo performance when Rosemary gets up on stage at a pub to sing “Wild Mountain Thyme.” Dornan also breaks out into song in the movie. And the music in “Wild Mountain Thyme” is a family affair, since Dornan’s wife Amelia Warner is the film’s composer.

The biggest unintentional laughs in the movie are toward the end, when Anthony confesses a secret to Rosemary, after she begs him to tell her why he’s so against the idea of falling in love and getting married. It’s when the movie goes from bad to beyond redemption, and takes an abrupt turn into the depths of phony schmaltziness. “Wild Mountain Thyme” tries to throw in this sweet sentimentality to try to pander to a certain formula, but the movie really just stinks like the garbage that it is.

Bleecker Street released “Wild Mountain Thyme” in U.S. cinemas and on digital and VOD on December 11, 2020.

Review: ‘Synchronic,’ starring Anthony Mackie and Jamie Dornan

October 24, 2020

by Carla Hay

Jamie Dornan and Anthony Mackie in “Synchronic” (Photo courtesy of Well Go USA)

“Synchronic”

Directed by Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead

Culture Representation: Taking place in New Orleans, the sci-fi/horror film “Synchronic” has a predominantly white cast (with a some African Americans) representing the middle-class.

Culture Clash: Two paramedics who are best friends try to find out if a synthetic party drug has something to do with the disappearance of the teenage daughter of one of the men.

Culture Audience: “Synchronic” will appeal primarily to people who like horror movies that blend a mystery with compelling visuals representing other world dimensions.

Jamie Dornan and Anthony Mackie in “Synchronic” (Photo courtesy of Well Go USA)

“Synchronic” is a noteworthy thriller that’s has a tone that strikes an interesting balance between gritty noir and trippy psychedelic. That’s because the mystery in the movie revolves around a new hallucinogenic party drug called Synchronic that has infiltrated New Orleans and seems to be causing mysterious and gruesome deaths of people who take Synchronic. The movie has a very predictable ending, but the story is immersive, the acting is very good, and it’s worth checking out if people are interested in a well-paced and intriguing sci-fi/horror flick.

Directed by Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead, “Synchronic” (which was written by Benson) has a friendship between two paramedics at the heart of the story. Steve Denube (played by Anthony Mackie) and Dennis Dannelly (played by Jamie Dornan) are two longtime best friends who work together as employees of New Orleans Emergency Medical Services. And something strange has recently been going on in New Orleans when Steve and Dennis get called to the scenes of suspected drug overdoses.

In addition to the usual OD patients at these emergency scenes, they find people viciously murdered. Also found nearby are packets, which resemble condom packets, that have a Synchronic logo. At one druggie house, a woman has overdosed on heroin in the back room, while man has been stabbed to death by what appears to have been a 3-foot long sword. The two drugged-out witnesses in the house aren’t much help to the cops.

At an apartment building, a couple named Leah (played by Betsy Holt) and Travis (played by Shane Brady), who took Synchronic (which is a pill) both had different hallucinogenic experiences, which are shown at the beginning of the movie. Leah was on a bed and saw a snake come out from under the sheets and toward her. Travis went into an elevator and saw himself transported into a swamp area.

By the time the paramedics arrive, Leah is in a catatonic state with a snake bite, while Travis is dead in the elevator shaft with an eerie smile on his face. A fellow paramedic named Bob (played by Martin Bats Bradford) speculates that Leah was bitten by an eastern diamondback rattlesnake, which hasn’t been seen in New Orleans for decades.

Another bizarre Synchronic incident happens when a man’s body that seems to have been completely burned by spontaneous human combustion is found at an amusement park, with empty packets of Synchronic near his body. Another man (played by Jean-Pierre Vertus), who’s dressed as a voodoo skeleton, is found babbly incoherently with a cackling laugh after he’s taken Synchronic. Steve and Dennis aren’t detectives, but they’re wondering what’s going on with this drug and why it’s linked to these unusual freak-outs, injuries and deaths.

During this mystery related to their job, Steve (who’s in his mid-40s) and Dennis (who’s in his late 30s) are each dealing with personal issues. Steve, who is a womanizing bachelor, has recently found out that he has a brain tumor, but he doesn’t tell Dennis about it right away. Dennis is stuck in a rut in his marriage to his wife Tara (played by Katie Aselton), who is dealing with the stress of working full-time and taking care of their 1-year-old daughter. Dennis and Tara also have a rebellious 18-year-old daughter named Brianna (Ally Ioannides), who is resisting Dennis’ pressure on her to go to college.

Steve is like a “cool uncle” to Brianna. At an outdoor picnic with several of Tara and Dennis’ friends, Steve sneaks a beer for Brianna to drink. She can open up and talk to Steve more than she can with her father. And when Brianna goes missing from a party where she’s taken Synchronic, Steve takes it upon himself to experiment with the drug to try to get to the bottom of the mystery.

“Synchronic” is the type of movie where almost everything looks gloomy, even during the daytime. Moorhead, who is also the movie’s cinematographer, infuses the movie with a lot of sepia and gray tones, to give a sense of doom throughout the entire story. Synchronic is not a “shiny, happy” drug, but one that induces terrifying scenarios that might be more than visions.

These visions almost always include someone or something attacking the person who’s taken the drug. And if the person who’s taken the drug gets out of this drug-induced trance, there is evidence from wounds or other injuries that the attack really happened. How exactly can Steve find Brianna by taking Synchronic? It’s explained in the movie.

Mackie and Dornan have a believable rapport as best friends Steve and Dennis, who have a the type of age-difference male friendship that isn’t seen to often in movies. There are some scenes in the movie that also realistically show the devastating impact that a missing child can have on a crumbling marriage. The stress of Brianna’s disappearance takes a major toll on Dennis and Tara.

The movie’s visual effects are convincing, but they’re not going to nominated for any major awards. What really drives the story in the last third of the film is how much involved Steve gets in investigating Brianna’s disappearance. And if you consider that Steve has a terminal illness, it’s easy to understand the motivations for a lot of what he does in the story. It’s that extra layer of a life in crisis that gives “Synchronic” an emotional urgency that’s portrayed in the story in a captivating way.

Well Go USA released “Synchronic” in select U.S. cinemas on October 23, 2020.

Review: ‘Trolls World Tour,’ featuring the voices of Anna Kendrick, Justin Timberlake, Rachel Bloom, Sam Rockwell, Anderson .Paak, James Corden and Kelly Clarkson

April 12, 2020

by Carla Hay

Poppy (voiced by Anna Kendrick) and Branch (voiced by Justin Timberlake) in “Trolls World Tour” (Image courtesy of DreamWorks Animation)

“Trolls World Tour”

Directed by Walt Dohrn and David P.  Smith

Culture Representation: This animated film sequel to 2016’s “Trolls” has a racially diverse cast (white, African American, Latino and Asian) voicing characters based on troll dolls.

Culture Clash: The trolls live in different territories based on the music of their lifestyles, and the queen of the rock territory wants to take over everything.

Culture Audience: “Trolls World Tour” is a family-friendly film that will appeal mostly to kids, adults who young at heart and people who like a variety of hit songs.

Barb (voiced by Rachel Bloom) in “Trolls World Tour” (Image courtesy of DreamWorks Animation)

On Broadway, there are jukebox musicals that string together a plot in between the performance of hit songs. And now, the jukebox musical trend has reached animated films with “Trolls World Tour,” which is a showcase for some original songs but mostly retro hits from various genres of music. This sequel to 2016’s “Trolls” packs in even more stars in the voice cast than its predecessor movie. The result is an energetic and vibrant ride that is utterly predictable but should be a crowd-pleaser for its intended audience.

Even though the plot of “Trolls World Tour” is pretty simple, there are five people who are credited with writing the screenplay: Jonathan Aibel, Glenn Berger, Maya Forbes, Wallace Wolodarsky and Elizabeth Tippet. The large writing team for this movie is also a reflection of the huge increase in the size of the “Trolls World” voice cast, compared to the first “Trolls” movie. Walt Dohrn, who co-directed “Trolls” with Mike Mitchell, returns as a director on “Trolls World Tour,” but this time with David P. Smith as co-director. Dohrn voices several of the supporting characters in both movies.

Viewers of “Trolls World Tour” don’t need to see the first “Trolls” movie to understand what’s going on in this sequel, but it helps if more of a backstory is needed for the two central characters in both films: Princess Poppy (voiced by Anna Kendrick) and her best friend/love interest Bark (voiced by Justin Timberlake). In “Trolls,” Bark (who tends to be overly pessimistic) became a reluctant ally and then eventual best friend to Poppy (who tends to be overly optimistic) in the Trolls’ quest to defeat the sad and angry creatures known as Bergens, whose goal was to make everyone in the world as miserable as they are.

In “Trolls World Tour,” the chief villain is Princess Barb (voiced by Rachel Bloom) a rocker girl who leads the Trolls whose music of choice is hard rock/heavy metal. Ozzy Osbourne is perfectly cast for the voice of King Thrash, Barb’s father. Barb’s goal is to have rock music take over all six territories in the Troll Kingdom. Each territory represents the music that embodies the Trolls’ lifestyle in each territory.

The other five territories represent the music genres of pop, techno, country, funk and classical. In the beginning of the movie, Barb and her minions arrive in a fleet of sharks to take over the techno territory. She takes a valuable guitar string from the Techno trolls and then she and her army of rock Trolls then move on to conquer the next territory.

When news of the invasion hits the pop territory, Poppy thinks that Barb has good intentions to unite all of the Trolls. But her father King Peppy (voiced by Dohrn) reveals a secret from the Trolls’ historical past: The Trolls almost had a civil war over their different tastes in music, so the music territories were created so Trolls who liked the same genre of music could live together in harmony. Each territory was bestowed with a magical guitar string that has the power to control that territory.

Barb is on a mission to collect all six of the magical strings to put them on a guitar. Once the guitar has the six strings on it, she’ll play an “ultimate power chord” that will give her and rock music complete control over all the Troll territories. Since “Trolls World Tour” is an animated jukebox musical, Barb belts out several rock songs along the way, including Scorpions’ “Rock You Like a Hurricane,” Osbourne’s “Crazy Train” and Heart’s “Barracuda.”

“Trolls World Tour” has several jokes about clichés and criticisms that go with certain music genres. The movie pokes fun at pop for being simple, repetitive “earworm” music. Rock is parodied for attracting low-life burnouts who wear mullets or mohawks and do “devil horn” signs. Country music has a stereotype of being full of sad songs and fans who act like rednecks or country bumpkins.

Classical music is labeled as “boring.” Techno gets criticism for its artists not playing “real” instruments. And funk (whose territory is populated with African American voice actors) calls out rap and pop for over-using funk samples. The original song “It’s All Love (History of Funk)” is a clap back to all the music that lifted funk riffs to make hit songs and funk artists not being paid properly for these samples.

Not for nothing, George Clinton (co-founder of Parliament-Funkadelic, one of the most-sampled groups of all time) is cast as new Trolls character King Quincy, who rules the funk territory Vibe City with Queen Essence (voiced by Mary J. Blige). The funk royals have a son named Prince D, voiced by hip-hop star Anderson .Paak, who performs the original song “Don’t Slack” with Timberlake in the film.  And returning Trolls character Cooper (voiced by Ron Funches) from the pop territory finds out that he has a connection to the funk territory.

“Trolls World Tour” once again has Poppy convincing a reluctant and wary Branch to go with her to help stop the chief villain before it’s too late. “Trolls” characters that are also in “Trolls World Tour” are loyal Biggie (voiced by James Corden) and wisecracking Guy Diamond (voiced by Kunal Nayyar), who provide some of the comic relief in the film

But there are so many new characters in “Trolls World Tour” that the movie could feel overstuffed for people who have short attention spans and might have trouble keeping track of them all. Guy now has a son named Tiny Diamond (voiced by Kenan Thompson). Delta Dawn (voiced by Kelly Clarkson) is a sassy, big-haired redhead who is a singer and leader of the country music territory.

Also in the country music territory is Hickory (voiced by Sam Rockwell), a multitalented and brave cowboy who befriends Poppy, much to Branch’s chagrin. Branch has been trying to tell Poppy that he loves her but is afraid to do it, so he gets jealous when it looks like Hickory is winning Poppy’s admiration. Hickory is the biggest standout new character in “Trolls World Tour” since he and his “yee-haw” can-do personality get a lot of screen time.

Some other supporting characters in the movie are the bounty hunters that Barb hires to help her track down the elusive pop guitar string that Poppy has in her possession. The bounty hunters are smooth jazz musician Chaz (voiced by Jamie Dornan), a clarinet-playing Kenny G type who plays hypnotic music that gets on people’s nerves. The other bounty hunters are musical groups representing reggaeton, K-Pop and yodelers. J Balvin has a cameo as the reggaeton leader, and his song “Mi Gente” is in the movie.

There are several familiar hits that get the medley treatment in “Trolls World Tour,” including Spice Girls’ “Wannabe,” Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch’s “Good Vibrations,” Psy’s “Gangnam Style,” Baha Men’s “Who Let the Dogs Out” and LMFAO’s “Party Rock Anthem.” Cyndi Lauper’s “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” has the lyrics reworked with the word “trolls” replacing the word “girls.” Dierks Bentley’s song “Leaving Lonesome Flats” (written for “Trolls World Tour”) is featured in a country music segment. And an electronic-dance music concert in the movie’s opening scene has the DJ playing Daft Punk’s “One More Time.”

“Trolls World Tour” music directors are Timberlake and Ludwig Goransson, the musician who won an Oscar and a Grammy for the “Black Panther” score, as well as Grammys for co-writing and producing Childish Gambino’s “This Is America.” Timberlake and Goransson co-wrote and produced the majority of the original songs in “Trolls World Tour,” such as the ballad “Perfect for Me,” “Don’t Slack” and “Just Sing (Trolls World Tour),” which is the movie’s obvious signature anthem. The music is very catchy, but won’t be as huge as Timberlake’s “Can’t Stop The Feeling!,” the Oscar-nominated song from the first “Trolls” movie.

In its plot about Barb the villain trying to make all the Trolls conform to the way she wants them to be, “Trolls World Tour” has a message that people can live peacefully while respecting each other’s differences. It’s a message that comes wrapped in a lot of musical numbers and action sequences, but it’s something that audiences can take to heart. And along the way, some people might learn more about music genres that they might have previously dismissed because of certain prejudices.

Universal Pictures/DreamWorks Animation released “Trolls World Tour” for rental only on digital and VOD on April 10, 2020.