Review: ‘Stress Positions,’ starring John Early, Theda Hammel, Qaher Harhash, Amy Zimmer, Faheem Ali, Rebecca F. Wright, Davidson Obennebo and John Roberts

April 26, 2024

by Carla Hay

Theda Hammel in “Stress Positions” (Photo courtesy of Neon)

“Stress Positions”

Directed by Theda Hammel

Culture Representation: Taking place in New York City in the summer of 2020, the comedy film “Stress Positions” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with a few black people, Middle Eastern people and Latin people) representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: A gay man, who’s in the midst of a bitter divorce, is visited by his young adult nephew, who temporarily stays with him, as the nephew’s presence becomes a source of gossip and intrigue with the man’s best friend and other people in his social circle. 

Culture Audience: “Stress Positions” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in movies about the middle-class queer community in 2020s New York City, but this movie has a lot of unrealistic and silly dialogue.

Qaher Harhash in “Stress Positions” (Photo courtesy of Neon)

“Stress Positions” is the type of aimless and smug indie comedy that exists so the movie’s characters can aggravate each other and annoy viewers. The movie’s diverse LGBTQ representation deserves better than this incoherent story. It isn’t until the last 15 minutes that “Stress Positions” finally gets around to a part of the story that should have happened earlier. But by then, it’s too late to save this pretentious mess.

Written and directed by Theda Hammel, “Stress Positions” is Hammel’s feature-film directorial debut. She is also a co-star in the movie, where she portrays a gossipy and demanding transgender woman, who starts off as a supporting character and then turns into a co-lead character. (Hammel is a transgender woman in real life.) “Stress Positions” had its world premiere at the 2024 Sundance Film Festival.

The movie is unfocused and confused about which character’s perspective has the story’s main point of view. One person narrates the first half of the movie, while another person narrates the second half of the movie. It gives the impression that Hammel’s screenplay writing was such a jumbled process, she didn’t bother to make the screenplay more cohesive because she also directed the movie. Maybe another writer/director could have salvaged this story into something that was more entertaining to watch, because the movie’s concept had potential to be made into a much better film than “Stress Positions.”

“Stress Positions” takes place in New York City’s Brooklyn borough in the summer of 2020, the period of time when COVID-19 infection rates were among the city’s highest of that year. The narrrator for the first half of the film is a transgender woman named Karla (played by Hammel), who says in the beginning of the movie that Terry Goon (played by John Early), who also lives in Brooklyn, is her best friend from college. Karla explains that Terry is a homemaker who’s in the middle of a bitter divorce from his husband Leo, who used to be Terry’s boss when Terry was an intern. (Leo’s occupation is not mentioned.)

Leo left Terry for another man and has been encouraging Terry to also find a new love. In the meantime, because Terry can’t afford his own place, he’s been staying in the former spouses’ apartment until the divorce is final. Karla also mentions in the voiceover that Terry has very limited work experience, because he quit his internship to become a homemaker in the longtime relationship that Terry had with Leo.

Terry is very high-strung, but the COVID-19 pandemic and the divorce have made him even more stressed-out and jumpy. Terry is so paranoid about getting infected with COVID-19, he sometimes wears a gas mask inside his house if he’s around people he doesn’t know are infected or not. Terry also makes an unexpected house guest wear a gas mask sometimes.

Terry’s unexpected house guest is his nephew Bahlul (played by Qaher Harhash), who has an American mother (Terry’s sister) and a Moroccan father. Bahlul was born in the United States but was raised in Morocco. Bahlul has done work as a model. He has arrived at Terry’s place with a broken left leg that was injured in a scooter accident. Therefore, Bahlul is mostly seen recovering in a bed, on a sofa or in a wheelchair.

Bahlul says his mother sent Bahlul to Terry’s place for a very good reason. As soon as Bahlul says this, you know exactly where this movie is going to go, since almost everyone in Terry’s socal circle is a member of the LGBTQ community. The only neighbors shown in this somewhat shabby walk-up apartment building are also queer. When Karla first meets Bahlul, he doesn’t say what his sexuality is, but she asks him if he’s ever dressed as a woman because he would make an attractive-looking woman.

Karla identifies as a transgender female lesbian. Her live-in girlfriend is a sarcastic and jaded author named Vanessa Ravel (played by Amy Zimmer), who is a politically active progressive feminist. Vanessa is somewhat self-conscious about originally being from suburban Larchmont, New York, because this suburb doesn’t fit her current image of being an urban hipster. Vanessa is also frustrated because she hasn’t been able to finish her second book. Vanessa’s first book is a novel called “Paulette,” whose title character was mainly inspired by Karla.

Karla has mixed feelings about the book. One the one hand, Karla brags to people that Vanessa wrote a book about her, and Karla sometimes autographs copies of “Paulette.” On the other hand, Karla feels resentment that Vanessa used her as the basis of the book, which apparently depicts Paulette as an unlikable character. Maybe the truth is a little to close for Karla’s comfort because Karla really is unlikable.

Karla is overly intrusive, rude, racist and xenophobic. Before Karla meets Bahlul and finds out that he is Terry’s nephew, she describes Bahlul as a “little brown kid” to Leo and wrongfully assumes that Bahlul is Terry’s lover. Whenever Karla meets people who aren’t white, Karla asks where they are from, because she expects them to give an answer that describes what their ethnicity is. If the person says that they are from somewhere in the United States, she asks the person where their family is from, to find out the family’s ethnicity or country of origin.

Karla does this type of interrogation when she meets a Grubhub delivery guy named Ronald (played by Faheem Ali), who delivers some Greek food to Karla one evening. Karla and Ronald strike up a flirtation. And it soon becomes clear that maybe Karla isn’t quite the “lesbian” that she says she is. Ronald’s bicycle becomes a pointless subplot in the movie.

The big “event” in “Stress Positions” is a Fourth of July barbecue party hosted by Terry in the apartment building’s tiny back courtyard. The movie doesn’t really explain how Terry goes from being so fearful of getting infected with COVID-19 that he wears a gas masks to Terry hosting an intimate gathering when COVID-19 infection rates are high, there’s no COVID-19 vaccine available at this point in time, and people won’t be wearing masks at this party. Two of the party guests are Terry’s obnoxious, cocaine-snorting, soon-to-be-ex-husband Leo (played by John Roberts) and Leo’s fiancé Hamadou (played by Davidson Obennebo), who politely asks Terry to sign the divorce papers so that they can all get on with their lives.

Terry (who has some slapstick scenes where he falls down more than once in the kitchen) is a stereotypical neurotic New Yorker. However, Terry’s story arc fades into the background as Karla and Bahlul (who is the narrator in the second half of the movie) have storylines that take over and dominate the movie. As Terry, Early clearly has the best comedic skills in the “Stress Positions” cast, so it’s a mistake that his talents are somewhat sidelined in the movie.

Bahlul talks mostly about his childhood in his tedious voiceovers, in which he comments on his mother almost as much as he talks about himself. (Bahlul is obviously a “mama’s boy.”) Even with all this talk, very little is revealed about who Bahlul is as a person, except when he tells Karla he’d like to write a book. Karla advises Bahlul to have more life experiences that he could put in a book.

“Stress Positions” has an irritating attitude that seems to say, “Showing a bunch of eccentric New York characters will be enough to make a good movie.” One of these eccentrics is Coco (played by Rebecca F. Wright), a mute upstairs neighbor who lives alone and appears to be a drag queen. Terry tells Ronald at one point in the story: “Coco’s not trans. She’s mentally ill.” Coco has only one pivotal scene in the film. Otherwise, she’s just in the movie to so a catty snob like Terry can make snide remarks about her.

“Stress Positions” will probably find a certain number of fans who automatically want to gush over anything that can be described as “quirky indie filmmaking,” while ignoring huge flaws in the filmmaking. (A lot of the movie has amateurish dialogue and unimpressive technical production.) The truth is that if you take away the underrepresented “diversity” in “Stress Positions,” it’s just another poorly made beginner film that is often dull. The identities of the characters are not reasons enough to care when their personalities and the story are so hollow.

Neon released “Stress Positions” in New York City on April 19, 2024, with an expansion to more U.S. cinemas on April 26, 2024.

Review: ‘DC League of Super-Pets,’ starring the voices of Dwayne Johnson and Kevin Hart

July 26, 2022

by Carla Hay

Merton (voiced by Natasha Lyonne), PB (voiced by Vanessa Bayer), Krypto (voiced by Dwayne Johnson), Chip (voiced by Diego Luna) and Ace (voiced by Kevin Hart) in “DC League of Super-Pets” (Image courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures)

“DC League of Super-Pets”

Directed by Jared Stern; co-directed by Sam Levine

Culture Representation: Taking place primarily in the fictional city of Metropolis, the animated film “DC League of Super-Pets” features a racially diverse cast (white, black, Asian and Latino) portraying talking animals, superheroes and citizens of Metropolis.

Culture Clash: Inspired by DC Comics characters, “DC League of Super-Pets” features a group of domesticated pets, including Superman’s dog Krypto, fighting crime and trying to save the world from an evil guinea pig that is loyal to supervillain Lex Luthor.

Culture Audience: “DC League of Super-Pets” will appeal primarily to fans of DC Comics, the movie’s cast members and adventure-filled animated movies centered on talking animals.

Lulu (voiced by Kate McKinnon) in “DC League of Super-Pets” (Image courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures)

Even though “DC League of Super-Pets” sometimes gets cluttered with subplots and characters, this animated film is a treat that has a winning combination of pets and superheroes. There’s plenty to like for people of many ages. In addition to the appeal of having familiar characters from DC Comics, “DC League of Super-Pets” is a well-cast film for its voice actors, because the cast members bring their own unique flairs to the characters. It’s helpful but not necessary to have knowledge of DC Comics characters before watching this movie.

Directed by Jared Stern and co-directed by Sam Levine, “DC League of Super-Pets” makes good use of mixing zany comedy, engaging action and some heartwarming and touching moments. Stern makes his feature-film directorial debut with “DC League of Super-Pets,” which he co-wrote with John Whittington. Stern and Whittington also co-wrote 2017’s “The Lego Batman Movie.” Where “DC League of Super-Pets” falters is when it tries to cram in certain plot developments to the point where “DC League of Super-Pets” comes dangerously close to biting off more than it can chew. (No pun intended.)

If you have no interest in watching an animated movie about pets and would-be pets of superheroes, then “DC League of Super-Pets” probably is not for you. The world already has more than enough animated films about talking animals. However, “DC League of Super-Pets” mostly succeeds at being entertaining when putting comic book characters in a predictable but dependable story of a group of misfits that become friends while trying to save the world.

“DC League of Super-Pets” begins by showing how Superman (whose birth name is Kal-El) ended up with his loyal Labrador Retriever dog Krypto. Kal-El was born on the planet Krypton. When he was a baby, Krypton went under attack, so his parents put Kal-El on a spaceship alone and sent him to Earth for his safety. Kal-El’s parents Jor-El (voiced by Alfred Molina) and Lara (voiced by Lena Headey) say their emotional goodbye to Kal-El.

Jor-El says, “Krypton is about to die.” Lara adds, “But you, dear son, will live on.” Suddenly, the family’s Labrador Retriever puppy jumps on the spaceship with Kal-El. At first, Jor-El wants to try to get the dog back, but the space ship has already been set in motion. Lara tells Jor-El: “Our boy will need a friend.” Jor-El says to the dog: “Watch over our son.”

Years later, Kal-El is now an adult living in the big city of Metropolis under the name Clark Kent. He’s a bachelor who works as a reporter at the Daily Planet newspaper, but Clark Kent is an alter ego to his secret identity: a superhero named Superman (voiced by John Krasinski), who has super-strength, X-ray vision and the ability to fly. The dog, named Krypto (voiced by Dwayne Johnson), is still his loyal companion and knows about the secret life of Superman, because Krypto often fights crime alongside Superman.

Krypto has superpowers that are the same as Superman’s superpowers. And they both have the same weakness: an energy force called kryptonite that can drain their superpowers. Krypto and Superman are a lot alike, when it comes to how they view crime and justice. However, Superman and Krypto are very different when it comes to adapting to life on Earth: Superman/Clark Kent is social with humans, while Kypto is very aloof with other pets on Earth.

An early scene in the movie shows Krypto trying to get Superman to wake up because Krypto wants to go for a walk. But “walking the dog” for Superman really means “flying through the air with the dog.” Krypto often leads the way on the leash. The Metropolis in “DC League of Super-Pets” is designed to look like a modern, well-kept city with many tall buildings, just like in the comic books.

In this version of Metropolis, Superman is such a familiar sight, no one really thinks it’s unusual to see Superman in a park with his dog Krypto. It’s during one of these park outings that Krypto sees that things at home will soon change for Superman and Krypto. Superman/Clark Kent and his Daily Planet journalist co-worker Lois Lane (voiced by Olivia Wilde) are very much in love, and they meet at the park for a date. They show lovey-dovey public displays of affection, much to Krypto’s dismay.

The relationship between Superman/Clark Kent and Lois has gotten serious enough where it looks like this couple could be headed toward marriage. Krypto is jealous and fearful that Superman/Clark Kent will no longer have the time and attention for Krypto if Lois moves in with them. Krypto doesn’t dislike Lois. Krypto just sees her as a threat to the comfortable existence he has always known with Superman/Clark Kent.

As Krypto worries about how his home life will change if Lois moves in, some other pets in Metropolis are worried if they’ll ever have a permanent home. At an animal shelter called Tailhuggers, several pets are up for adoption, but so far, they have no takers. The shelter is run by a bachelorette named Patty (voiced by Yvette Nicole Brown), who is very kind to the pets and keeps them under vigilant protection.

Brash and sarcastic hound dog Ace (voiced by Kevin Hart) is the leader of the shelter pets. Other animals at the shelter are elderly turtle Merton (voiced by Natasha Lyonne), cheerful pig PB (voiced by Vanessa Bayer) and nervous squirrel Chip (voiced by Diego Luna), who are Ace’s closest friends at the shelter. Also at the shelter is a cat name Whiskers (voiced by Winona Bradshaw), whose loyalty to the shelter pets is later tested.

Ace is anxious to run away from the shelter and is constantly plotting his escape. He tells his animal shelter friends that he knows of a paradise-like farm upstate where they can all go to live freely. One day, Ace actually manages to run away from the shelter, but he doesn’t go far. He’s literally stopped in his tracks by “law and order” Krypto, who uses his superpowers to freeze Ace’s legs to the sidewalk when he sees that Ace is a runaway shelter dog. Needless to say, Ace and Krypto clash with each other the first time that they meet.

Meanwhile, Superman has a crime-fighting incident where he summons the help of his Justice League superhero colleagues: Batman (voiced by Keanu Reeves), Wonder Woman (voiced by Jamila Jamil), Aquaman (voiced by Jemaine Clement), Green Lantern (voiced by Dascha Polanco), The Flash (voiced by John Early) and Cyborg (voiced by Daveed Diggs). Through a series of incidents, all of these superheroes are captured by billionaire supervillain (and longtime Superman nemesis) Lex Luthor (voiced by Marc Maron), who is keeping his captives hidden in a secret lair. Lex also has a cynical assistant named Mercy Graves (voiced by Maya Erksine), who isn’t in the movie as much as she could have been. Mercy’s screen time is less than five minutes.

All of that would be enough of a plot for this movie, but “DC League of Super-Pets” also has a plot about a devious guinea pig named Lulu (voiced by Kate McKinnon), who manages to escape from a Lex Luthor-owned scientific lab that was experimenting on guinea pigs. Somehow, Lulu gets ahold of orange kryptonite (she’s immune to kryptonite), she develops telekinesis powers, and goes on a mission to prove her loyalty to Lex by trying to destroy the Justice League.

Lulu has an army of former lab guinea pigs to do her bidding. Two of Lulu’s most loyal of these accomplices are mutant guinea pigs that also have newfound superpowers: Mark (voiced by Ben Schwartz) is fiery red and can shoot flames, while Keith (voiced by Thomas Middleditch) is ice-blue and has the ability to freeze things. Lulu also has a plot to (cliché alert) take over the world.

It should come as no surprise that Krypto ends up joining forces with Ace, Merton, PB and Chip to try to save the Justice League and save the world. During the course of the story, certain superpowers are gained, lost and possibly gained again for certain characters. Viewers of “DC League of Super-Pets” should not expect the Justice League superheroes and Lex Luthor to get a lot of screen time, because the movie is more about the pets.

Lulu’s revenge plot gets a little convoluted, but not so confusing that very young children won’t be able to understand. The movie has the expected high-energy antics, with animation and visual effects that aren’t groundbreaking but are aesthetically pleasing on almost every level. Once viewers get used to all the characters that are quickly introduced in the movie, it makes “DC League of Super-Pets” more enjoyable.

The movie has some recurring jokes, such as self-referencing all the movies and licensing deals that come from comic-book superheroes. “DC League of Super-Pets” also has a running gag of guinea pig Lulu being insulted when she’s often misidentified as a hamster. After one such misidentification, Lulu snarls, “A hamster is just a dollar-store gerbil!”

Lulu has some of the funniest lines in the movie. When she sees the DC League of Super-Pets together, she makes this snarky comment: “What is this? PAW Patrol?” And even though Batman isn’t in the movie for a lot of time, he also has some memorable one-liners, which he delivers in a deadpan manner.

It soon becomes obvious that these Super-Pets have another purpose besides saving the world: Each pet will be paired with a Justice League superhero. PB is a big fan of Wonder Woman. This star-struck pig thinks that Wonder Woman has the confidence and independent spirit that PB thinks is lacking in PB’s own personality.

Turtles are known for walking slow, so it should come as no surprise that Merton admires The Flash, whose known for his superpower of lightning-fast speed. Ace sees himself as an “alpha male” who strikes out on his own when he has to do so, which makes Batman a kindred spirit. Chip is attracted to the fearlessness of Green Lantern. As for Aquaman and Cyborg, it’s shown at the end of the movie which pets will be paired with them.

Amid the action and comedy, “DC League of Super-Pets” also has some meaningful messages about finding a family of friends. Ace has a poignant backstory about how he ended up at an animal shelter. Ace’s background explains why he puts up a tough exterior to hide his vulnerability about being abandoned.

Johnson (who is one of the producers of “DC League of Super-Pets”) and Hart have co-starred in several movies together. Their comedic rapport as lead characters Krypto and Ace remains intact and one of the main reasons why “DC League of Super-Pets” has voice cast members who are perfectly suited to each other. Hart is a lot less grating in “DC League of Super-Pets” than he is in some of his other movies, where he often plays an over-the-top-buffoon.

Even though Ace is an animated dog, he has more heart than some of the human characters that Hart has played in several of his mediocre-to-bad movies, Law-abiding Krypto and rebellious Ace have opposite personalities, but they learn a lot from each other in ways that they did not expect. All of the other heroic characters have personal growth in some way too.

“DC League of Super-Pets” is a recommended watch for anyone who wants some escapist animation with entertainment personalities. The movie’s mid-credits scene and end-credits scene indicate that “DC League of Super-Pets” is the beginning of a movie series. It’s very easy to imagine audiences wanting more of these characters in movies if the storytelling is good.

Warner Bros. Pictures will release “DC League of Super-Pets” in U.S. cinemas on July 29, 2022.

Review: ‘Save Yourselves!,’ starring Sunita Mani and John Reynolds

October 2, 2020

by Carla Hay

Sunita Mani and John Reynolds in “Save Yourselves!” (Photo courtesy of Bleecker Street)

“Save Yourselves!”

Directed by Alex Huston Fischer and Eleanor Wilson

Culture Representation: Taking place primarily in New York City and Crawford, New York’s Pine Bush area, the sci-fi horror comedy “Save Yourselves!” features a predominantly white cast (with a few people of Indian heritage and one African American) representing the middle-class.

Culture Clash: During a getaway trip in a remote area, a hipster couple in their 30s find out that the world is being invaded by strange, fuzzy alien creatures. 

Culture Audience: “Save Yourselves!” will appeal primarily who like quirky comedies that poke fun at “hipster culture” and people’s addictions to technology.

Sunita Mani and John Reynolds in “Save Yourselves!” (Photo courtesy of Bleecker Street)

What’s scarier: Going a week without plugging into any technology or having strange, fuzzy creatures suddenly invade the world? The live-in couple at the center of the sci-f-/horror comedy “Save Yourselves!” find out when they go on a getaway trip to a remote cabin to “unplug” from technology, only to discover that the world is being invaded by creatures from outer space. The offbeat humor works for most of the movie, even though the story might end too abruptly for many people’s tastes.

Written and directed by real-life couple Alex Huston Fischer and Eleanor Wilson, “Save Yourselves!” shines best when it realistically portrays the everyday ebbs and flows of a relatively happy couple’s relationship, even when they’re in the midst of some absurd chaos. Su (played by Sunita Mani) and Jack (played by John Reynolds) live together in New York City’s Brooklyn borough, and they’ve reached a crossroads in their relationship.

Su, who is 30, is thinking about starting a family with Jack. Jack, who is 34, tells Su that he’s not ready to become a parent yet because he often still feels like a kid himself. They both work in technology-related jobs and look and act like “hipsters”—young people who want to be socially conscious and trendy at the same time. They are also very connected to technology, since they’re constantly on their phones and they use tech devices like Alexa and Siri.

It’s not made clear in the movie how long Su and Jack have been dating each other, but Su wants to take their relationship to the next level by becoming parents. During an argument over this issue, Su yells at Jack, “My mom had three kids by the time she was my age! You’re 34. What are you doing?” It’s the kind of cutting remark that she seems to regret almost immediately as she says it.

Su is the person in the relationship who wants more order, stability and a planned-out way of doing things. Jack is more of a “go with the flow” type of person who is doesn’t get as upset as Su does if things don’t go according to plan. In the movie’s opening scene, Su and Jack have a minor squabble because Jack and used her laptop and erased all the tabs that she had set on the laptop.

After some back-and-forth bickering, he admits that he deleted the tabs, but not intentionally. He tells Su, “In this world, there are so many things that are more important.” He then apologizes: “I’m sorry for all the things you want me apologize for.”

But that isn’t good enough for Su, who demands that Jack verbally list all of the things he need to apologize for until Su is satisfied with what he says. It’s pretty clear from this scene that Su has the more dominant personality in the relationship. She’s not mean-spirited. She would just rather have things done her way.

Later that evening, Su and Jack attend a bachelor party for their gay friend Blake (played by John Early), who is seen briefly in the movie. At the party, Jack talks with the bartender named Raph, pronounced “raff” (played by Ben Sinclair), who tells Jack that he used to be an investment banker, but he gave it all up to travel around the world and work in a less-stressful job.

Raph also gives John a rock crystal that Raph says he got from Patagonia. According to Raph, the rock will help ease anger and stress. Raph also mentions that he has a cabin in upstate New York (in the city of Crawford’s Pine Bush area) that he uses as a getaway. Raph invites Jack to use the cabin whenever he feels like it.

This conversation with Raph idea sparks an idea in Jack to go on a getaway trip with Su and completely unplug from technology for a week. He thinks it would be an ideal way to connect with each other on a deeper emotional level as a couple, since they won’t be distracted by technology and their jobs. Su is willing to try the idea when Jack mentions that Raph’s cabin in the woods would be the perfect place to stay during their trip.

Shortly after Su and Jack call their respective workplaces to let them know that they will be gone for a week, Su’s job sends her a message to let her know that she’s been fired. Apparently, taking that amount of time off from work on short notice was not acceptable to the company. After Su gets over her initial shock, she comments to Jack about getting fired: “This is a good thing.”

Later, after it sinks in how her job loss will affect her financial security, Su starts to worry, but she still decides to go ahead with the getaway trip. Su is in constant contact with her demanding mother, who calls Su frequently and is never seen in the movie. (Zenobia Shroff is the voice of Su’s mother over the phone.) Su dreads telling her mother that she lost her job, so she decides she won’t tell her mother until after Su gets back from the trip.

Before they take their road trip to the cabin, Su and Jack both change their outgoing voice mail greetings to tell callers that Su and Jack will be gone for a week (from June 2 to June 9) and they will be completely disconnected from technology and won’t be checking or returning messages for the entire week. Jack and Su bring their phones with them, in case of an emergency, but they make a promise to each other not to look at their phones during the trip.

When they arrive at the large modern cabin, Su and Jack see a brown shaggy fuzz ball that’s the size of a bowling ball on the kitchen floor. They don’t touch the fuzz ball, but they assume it’s some kind of kitschy decoration, and they call the sphere object a “poof.” (Not the British slang term for a gay man but the term that people use for a poof ball.)

Because the main reason for the trip is to work on their relationship, Su and Jack do some self-help, couples-therapy emotional exercises, where they ask each other questions that are supposed to elicit deep or intimate answers. Jack is initially annoyed when Su admits that she got some of these self-help instructions from the Internet before they left for the trip, because he thinks that defeats the purpose of it being a trip that’s truly free of technology. But Su placates him by saying that she wrote down the self-help instructions by hand instead of printing them out.

Su has a big secret during this trip: She can’t resist checking messages on her phone. She finds out that her mother has called multiple times to talk about creatures that have been sighted all over New York City. Her mother says that some people initially thought the creatures were rats but the creatures are actually something else. Su doesn’t think anything of the messages and doesn’t say anything to Jack about what she heard from her mother.

Soon after their arrival, Su and Jack notice something strange: A bottle of vodka and a jar of alcohol in the kitchen that were full the night before are now empty, with a sticky substance on the outside of the containers. Su and Jack both know that they didn’t empty the containers. Who or what did empty those containers?

Su and Jack soon find out that the “poof” that they thought was harmless is one of several creatures from outer space that have invaded the world. The creatures consume ethanol, which explains the missing liquor. And these creatures attack by secreting a long, red umbilical cord-like appendage that can attach itself to objects and strangle or subdue people.

Jack and Su (who eventually tells Jack that she’s secretly checked messages on her phone) then try to find out what’s going on and attempt to escape from their environment when they find more “poofs” on the property. There are several mishaps (hint: gasoline contains ethanol) and some other desperate fleeing people whom Jack and Su encounter along the way.

“Save Yourselves!” takes some unexpected and wonderfully weird twists. It’s not a typical sci-fi movie because many of the scenarios are so original and because the movie blends so many other genres in the story, such as comedy, horror and even a little bit of drama. Viewers who dislike all things “hipster” should know that Su and Jack are not as annoying as you think they would be. Except for things such as they live in Brooklyn and they think a crystal rock is a cool gift, Su and Jack are very much like a lot of yuppie couples in romantic comedies.

Because the majority of the screen time shows Su and Jack alone together, Mani and Reynolds carry this movie with a lot of authentic charm. Their chemistry as a couple is very believable. Even in Jack and Su’s quiet moments together before the alien invasion (such as reading their phones on a sofa together or spending time in the kitchen together) look very naturalistic and ring very true. In this movie’s very small-numbered cast, Mani stands out with her wonderfully expressive face that conveys all the emotions that Su is feeling, while Reynolds shows a lot of talent in the scenes that involved slapstick comedy.

The madcap parts of the movie, when Su and Jack are trying to escape from the deadly aliens, are obviously meant to be funny. But “Save Yourselves!” also incorporates elements of tragicomedy very effectively. There’s a scene where Jack and Su check their messages and react with a mixture of dread and guilt when they find out that New York City has been evacuated and they were unaware how much their loved ones were in danger while Jack and Su had been relaxing at the cabin. (The voice of Jack’s mother is played by Amy Sedaris.)

“Save Yourselves!” starts out as a couple trying to survive their relationship and end up just trying to survive. A lot of strange and unexpected things happen along the way, but the story never gets so bizarre that most people can’t relate to it. Thanks to memorable performances by Mani and Reynolds, this movie is a ride worth taking as long as viewers don’t expect a conventional ending.

Bleecker Street released “Save Yourselves!” in select U.S. cinemas on October 2, 2020. The movie’s digital and VOD release date is October 6, 2020.

2019 Tribeca Film Festival movie review: ‘Good Posture’

April 28, 2019

by Carla Hay

"Good Posture"
Emily Mortimer and Grace Van Patten in “Good Posture” (Photo by Savannah Jankaosky)

“Good Posture” 

Directed by Dolly Wells

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

In this “odd couple” comedy about two opposite people who end up living together as housemates, writer/director Dolly Wells takes on a myriad of issues that drive the story and the jokes. There’s the clash between Generation X and millennials. There’s the clash between old-school literary snobs who write books and tech-obsessed texters who write in abbreviations. There’s the clash between those who like to plan ahead and those who just like to “wing it.” Somehow, Wells makes it all work in “Good Posture” (her first feature film as a director), thanks largely to the movie’s witty dialogue and an engaging, talented cast.

In “Good Posture,” recent film-school graduate Lillian (played by Grace Van Patten) is a New Yorker who suddenly finds herself looking for a place to live, after her boyfriend Nate (played by Gary Richardson) gets fed up with her immaturity and breaks up with her. In an argument that the former couple has in the beginning of the movie, Nate tells Lillian that one of the many quirks she has that gets on his last nerve is that she takes showers without having a towel nearby. Lillian’s self-absorbed, widowed father Neil (played by Norbert Leo Butz), who keeps delaying plans to spend time with her, can’t give her a place to stay because he has recently moved to Paris to be with his French girlfriend.

However, Neil calls in a favor and asks his friend Julia Price (played by Emily Mortimer), a successful novelist with a chilly demeanor, to let Lillian stay at Julia’s place until Lillian can afford a place of her own. In exchange for living in a spare room rent-free in Julia’s home, Lillian has to do the cooking and the cleaning.

Julia, her musician husband Don (played by Ebon Moss-Bachrach), their young son and dog all live in the kind of Brooklyn brownstone that screams “yuppie establishment,” and Julia is very particular about maintaining her tidy and predictable existence. Naturally, Lillian (the queen of messy spontaneity) feels uncomfortable from the get-go, and it isn’t long before Lillian and Julia start clashing with each other. Meanwhile, Don tries to stay neutral. He loves his wife, even though she’s become increasingly distant from him, and he establishes a friendly rapport with Lillian.

Julia’s main claim to fame is her book “Good Posture,” which Lillian hasn’t read yet because she prefers watching movies to reading books. (Julia is naturally appalled that Lillian doesn’t like to read.) Still, Lillian can’t help but be intrigued by Julia, and she decides to start making a documentary about Julia, and enlists some of Julia’s peers and business colleagues to do on-camera interviews. Lillian also recruits an insecure dandy named Sol (hilariously played by John Early) to be her assistant on the project.

As the tension grows between Julia and Lillian, they begin writing notes to each other, in a passive-aggressive way to argue without getting in each other’s faces. Meanwhile, Lillian finds a job as a barista at a local coffee shop, and she awkwardly attempts to get back into the dating pool, knowing that sleepovers could get tricky as long as she’s living at Julia’s place.

There are two potential love interests who come into the picture—Jon (played by Nat Wolff) and George (played by Timm Sharp), but Lillian’s real issue isn’t finding a new boyfriend. Her living arrangement with Julia has sparked a mother/daughter dynamic that makes both women feel uncomfortable because Lillian is still grieving over her dead mother, and Julia’s only child is a son.

As one of the two central characters, Mortimer (who is writer/director Wells’ best friend in real life) does a fine job playing the uptight Julia. As Lillian, Van Patten is a winning standout, because she takes what could be a very annoying character and makes her into someone relatable. It becomes apparent that underneath her biting sarcasm and selfish ways, Lillian is someone who’s very hurt over the loss of her mother and by having a father who isn’t there for her. Most people have known someone just like Lillian—someone who’s still trying to figure out how to handle adult responsibilities while masking some deep emotional pain.

Comedies about “odd couples” usually have similar tropes about how the two opposites learn from each other in ways that they didn’t expect. In that regard, “Good Posture” doesn’t break any new ground, but the performances in the movie are so watchable, that it’s an entertaining ride from beginning to end.

UPDATE: Sparky Pictures will release “Good Posture” in the United Kingdom on VOD on January 26, 2020. Umbrella Entertainment will release “Good Posture” in Australia on VOD on February 5, 2020 and on DVD on February 14, 2020.

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