Review: ‘Dear David’ (2023), starring Augustus Prew, Andrea Bang, René Escobar Jr., Cameron Nicoll and Justin Long

November 20, 2023

by Carla Hay

Augustus Prew and Cameron Nicoll in “Dear David” (Photo by Stephanie Montani/Lionsgate)

“Dear David” (2023)

Directed by John McPhail

Culture Representation: Taking place in New York City in 2017 (and briefly in 1996), the horror film “Dear David” (based on a real Internet story that went viral) features a predominantly white cast of characters (with a few African Americans, Latin people, and Asians) representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: A comic artist who works for BuzzFeed believes that he is being haunted by a ghost named David, and he chronicles his experiences in messages on Twitter. 

Culture Audience: “Dear David” will appeal primarily to people who don’t mind watching mindless and incoherent horror movies with annoying characters.

Jarrett Siddall in “Dear David” (Photo courtesy of Lionsgate)

“Dear David” is what happens when misguided filmmakers think a social media fad story can be made into a movie that a lot of people weren’t asking for in the first place. This pointless horror flick is boring, jumbled, and a complete waste of time. “Dear David” is based on true events from 2017, when a BuzzFeed comic artist named Adam Ellis went on Twitter to detail his supposed encounters with a murderous ghost named David. BuzzFeed Studios is one of the production companies behind this forgettable flop movie.

Directed by John McPhail and written by Mike Van Waes, “Dear David” is the first feature film for Van Waes. The “Dear David” screenplay is the weakest link in this terrible movie, but it’s certainly not the only reason why “Dear David” is a complete failure on every level. What viewers will see are monotonous and repetitive scenes of protagonist Adam Ellis (played by Augustus Prew) having nightmarish visions that he’s not sure are real or part of his imagination.

The beginning of this movie shows this introductory statement: “In 2017, Adam Ellis began documenting a series of strange encounters that were happening in his apartment, He posted them on Twitter, and these ‘Dear David’ posts became a viral sensation. The following is based on those true events.”

If you believe that “on Twitter” and “true events” are automatically synonymous, then perhaps you’d like to think that Twitter owner Elon Musk can buy the Brooklyn Bridge too. Hauntings that were fabricated to make people famous have been around much longer than social media existed. You only need to look at the proliferation of paranormal-themed TV shows and Web series to see that plenty of people are trying find fame and fortune from “investigating” hauntings.

And so, the motives of Adam Ellis are obviously suspect from the start. In real life, Ellis has been open about his mental health issues, which might or might not have played a role in his ghostly sightings. The fact that BuzzFeed cashed in on an employee’s admittedly shaky mental health by making this awful movie makes “Dear David” even more repulsive.

“Dear David” begins in New York City in 1996, a year when the Internet was fairly new to the world. A reclusive loner boy named David Johnson (played by Cameron Nicoll), who’s 10 years old, spends a lot of time using the Internet on a computer in the basement of his family home. David’s mother is worried about his Internet activities. David’s father has the opposite opinion: He thinks that the Internet is a sensation that will take over the world.

An early scene in the movie shows David getting cyberbullied in a chat room by an anonymous person, who sends David a message calling David a “loser.” David writes back, “Why are you so mean?” The harasser answers, “Why don’t you kill yourself?”

The movie then fast-forwards to 2017. At BuzzFeed headquarters in New York City, Adam is a comic artist who’s not doing very well on the job. He’s distracted by Internet harassers who insult his work. Adam’s annoying boss Bryce (played by Justin Long, in a quick cameo) hints that Adam could be fired if Adam doesn’t get a larger audience for Adam’s work. Bryce says that Adam has “relatable” content, but Adam’s audience reach is “kind of lame.”

Adam has two writer co-workers whose desks are right next to his. Evelyn (played by Andrea Bang) is Adam’s closest friend at work and one of the few people he trusts will be supportive of him when things in his life get weird. Norris (played by Tricia Black) is phony and very competitive. Norris is the type of person who tries too hard to impress the boss while making passive-aggressive digs at her co-workers.

“Dear David” spends quite a bit of time on Adam’s relationship with his boyfriend Kyle Sanchez (played by René Escobar Jr.), who is loving and loyal but getting impatient and feels somewhat hurt that Adam is not ready to introduce Kyle to Adam’s mother. (The movie never says what happened to Adam’s father.) There’s also some other drama about how Adam hasn’t come out as gay to everyone in his life.

Who is the ghost that’s causing the terror in the movie? Two unlucky teens named Kevin (played by Seth Murchison) and James (played by Ethan Hwang) find out when they use false identities to go on the Internet to play pranks on people. An example of the pranks is Kevin and James pretending to be attractive young women looking for dates with men, and when they get men to be interested, Kevin and James reveal that they are really underage boys and shame the men for being perverts.

One day, someone on the Internet named David falls for one of their pranks. David doesn’t think it’s funny and tells Kevin and James that they are both going to die. During their contentious online conversation, David warns Kevin and James that when people first talk to David online, they can only ask David two questions.

It should come as no surprise that one of the teens breaks this rule and asks more than two questions. One of the questions Kevin asks is: “How am I going to die?” David answers, “Alone, afraid, and wetting your bed.” You can easily guess what happens to Kevin in this dreadfully predictable movie.

Adam also encounters David online, but David torments Adam much longer than David’s usual victims. After doing some research, Adam is convinced that the David who’s been contacting him on the Internet and who’s attacking him in these haunting visions is the ghost of a boy named David, who had a tragic story. Take a wild guess which David that is. The ghost who is haunting Adam appears to be an adult version of David (played by Jarrett Siddall), who doesn’t look very menacing and looks more like psychiatric facility patient who needs to brush his teeth.

“Dear David” could’ve had so many interesting things to say about cyberbullying and ghost hauntings, but the movie doesn’t know what to do with these narratives and just makes everything a mess. The acting performances are subpar for the movie’s characters, who are hollow, irritating or both. The overall direction for “Dear David” is sloppy and unfocused. Because the foundation of “Dear David” is a weak and gimmicky Internet story that briefly went viral, that foundation sinks quickly into a cesspool of cinematic muck where stupid horror movies are quickly forgotten.

Lionsgate released “Dear David” in select U.S. cinemas, on digital and VOD on October 13, 2023.

Review: ‘Clerks III,’ starring Brian O’Halloran, Jeff Anderson, Trevor Fehrman, Austin Zajur, Jason Mewes, Rosario Dawson and Kevin Smith

September 16, 2022

by Carla Hay

Jeff Anderson, Brian O’Halloran, Kevin Smith, Austin Zajur and Trevor Fehrman in “Clerks III” (Photo courtesy of Lionsgate)

“Clerks III”

Directed by Kevin Smith

Culture Representation: Taking place in Leonardo, New Jersey, the comedy film “Clerks III” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with some African Americans, Asians and Latinos) representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: The misfits and eccentrics of the “Clerks” movies have returned—and this time, they’re making a biographical movie about the guy who’s the biggest screwup in the group.

Culture Audience: “Clerks III” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of the previous “Clerks” movies and filmmaker Kevin Smith, because those are the viewers who are most likely to understand a lot of the jokes in “Clerks III.”

Jason Mewes and Kevin Smith in “Clerks III” (Photo courtesy of Lionsgate)

“Clerks III” is best enjoyed by people who’ve seen or know about the first two “Clerks” movies. “Clerks III” relies heavily on jokes from previous “Clerks” movies. Therefore, some of the comedy is too repetitive. However, the movie’s zany attitude should please fans of a comedy film that can easily laugh at itself.

Kevin Smith wrote and directed 1994’s “Clerks” (still the best in the series), 2006’s “Clerks II” and 2022’s “Clerks III.” He plays on-again/off-again drug dealer Silent Bob in all three movies, which feature Silent Bob and his buffoonish partner in crime Jay (played by Jason Mewes, who is a longtime, close friend of Smith in real life). All three movies (which take place in Leonardo, New Jersey) revolve around eccentric and goofy clerks who work at small, quick-service stores in an outdoor shopping strip mall.

The two main clerks who are at the center of each movie are best friends Dante Hicks (played by Brian O’Halloran) and Randal Graves (played by Jeff Anderson), who are a stereotypical comedy “odd couple.” Dante is the more serious and “responsible” one of this duo. Randal is the one who’s more impulsive and more likely to make a mess of things. The biggest thing that Dante and Randal have in common is their passion for pop culture, especially anything that would attract a typical Comic-Con attendee.

In the first “Clerks” movie, Dante worked at the convenience store Quick Stop Groceries, which was next door to RST Video, where Randal worked. In “Clerks II,” Dante was the owner of Quick Stop, but Randal accidentally burned down the store after leaving a percolating pot of coffee unattended. The fire also destroyed RST Video, so Dante and Randal took jobs at a fast food restaurant called Mooby’s, where they worked with a teenager named Elias Grover (played by Trevor Fehrman) and Mooby’s manager Rebecca “Becky” Scott (played by Rosario Dawson).

In “Clerks III,” Dante and Randal are still bachelors working at low-paying jobs. Dante is once again the owner and operator of Quick Stop, which is right next door to RST Video, which now has a makeshift sign advertising that it now sells THC products. (In 2021, selling and using marijuana recreationally became legal in New Jersey.) Elias (with Fehrman reprising his role), who is a frequent customer of Quick Stop, has grown up to be a religious fanatic who can’t decide if he wants to be a devout Christian or a devout Satanist.

Becky died in 2006, at the age of 33. Dante, who was romantically involved with Becky in “Clerks II,” is still grieving over her death. Dante sees visions of Becky (with Dawson reprising her role) intermittently throughout “Clerks III,” where Becky imparts words of wisdom to Dante when he’s feeling down. Dante, who is now in his 50s, is battling with having a mid-life crisis, because he feels like he should have accomplished more with his life by now.

In addition to all of these returning characters, “Clerks III” introduces the new character Blockchain Coltrane (played by Austin Zajur), who is Elias’ mostly mute sidekick. Randal quips about Blockchain Coltrane: “It looks like Elias has got his own Silent Bob.” Elias is fixated on the idea of selling kites with the image of Jesus Christ on the kites. Elias thinks that that these kites will be a hit with the public. Dante is very skeptical and reluctant to sell any of these kites in the store.

There are some nods to the first “Clerks” movie in “Clerks III,” such as the opening scene where Dante arrives at Quick Stop to start work for the day, and he scrapes gum off of the front-door lock. (This “gum on a lock” plot device is a significant catalyst for the story in “Clerks.”) In “Clerks III,” there’s also an early scene where Dante, Randal and about six other men play hockey on the roof of Quick Stop, instead of working during the store’s opening hours, as confused and impatient customers line up to get into the store. It’s a reference to a similar scene in the first “Clerks” movie where Randal and Dante goofed off on the store roof instead of working.

The slacker characters of the first “Clerks” movie might be much older now, but it doesn’t mean that they’re much wiser. A lot of the comedy is about all the doltish things that the guys say and do. Any women in the movie mainly serve as foils for some of these shenanigans.

And you know what that means: Becky isn’t the only ex-girlfriend of Dante’s who shows up in “Clerks III.” Dante’s former fiancée Emma Bunting (played by Jennifer Schwalbach Smith), who was in “Clerks II,” makes an appearance. Veronica “Ronnie” Loughran (played by Marilyn Ghigliotti) from the first “Clerks” movie also has a small supporting role in “Clerks III.” Past grudges affect what happens between these characters. Viewers should really know the backstories of these characters in order to understand lot of the jokes.

The main story in “Clerks III” is that Randal has a heart attack, which leads him to rethink his life and what kind of legacy he wants to leave. He comes up with the idea of doing a movie about his life, which he will write and direct and star in, as himself. Randal thinks he’s qualfiied to direct his first movie because he’s watched a lot of movies. Silent Bob, who is hired to be the cinematographer of Randal’s movie, breaks his silence in a hilarious meta monologue referencing the first “Clerks” movie and why it was filmed in black and white.

Of course, Randal being Randal, all sorts of mishaps and mayhem occur during this movie shoot, which Randal wants to film mainly at Quick Stop. Dante starts to feel alienated by Randal acting like an egotistical director. Dante also feels like he’s being sidelined in the movie’s script. And all of the other characters get involved with their own agendas.

“Clerks III” has very much a vibe of, “The gang’s all back together, and let’s put a lot of famous people in this movie too.” There are numerous celebrity cameos in “Clerks III,” including Ben Affleck, Amy Sedaris, Justin Long, Danny Trejo, Fred Armisen, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Freddie Prinze Jr., Michelle Buteau and Anthony Michael Hall. No one does a terrible acting performance in the movie, but no one is particularly outstanding either.

One of the charms of the first “Clerks” movie is that it was obviously made by people who had no idea that the film would become a cult classic and launch the career of Smith. “Clerks III” has a little too much self-awareness for its own good. There’s a lot of fan servicing in “Clerks III” that won’t sit very well with people who have no knowledge of the first two “Clerks” movies. However, if people have enough knowledge of pop culture, they should gets some laughs out of “Clerks III,” which sometimes overloads on mentioning trendy things from the early 2020s that that will inevitably become very outdated.

What saves “Clerks III” from being an annoying rehash of the first two “Clerks” movies is the way the movie ends. Some people might be expecting this ending, because it’s an ending that Smith has talked about before in interviews. Other viewers might be caught off guard by the movie’s final scenes. This ending gives “Clerks III” an emotional substance that viewers will remember much more than the movie’s many trash-talking, throwaway jokes.

Lionsgate and Fathom Events are releasing “Clerks III” in select U.S. cinemas for a limited engagement from September 13 to September 18, 2022.

Review: ‘Barbarian’ (2022), starring Georgina Campbell, Bill Skarsgård and Justin Long

September 7, 2022

by Carla Hay

Georgina Campbell in “Barbarian” (Photo courtesy of 20th Century Studios)

“Barbarian” (2022)

Directed by Zach Cregger

Culture Representation: Taking place in Detroit and briefly in Los Angeles, the horror film “Barbarian” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with some black people) representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: Murder and mayhem ensue when a woman, who’s in Detroit for a job interview, finds out that her Airbnb-type rental house has been double-booked with a male guest, who is also staying at the house. 

Culture Audience: “Barbarian” will appeal primarily to people interested in watching suspenseful slasher films that mixes formulaic plot developments wth a few surprises.

Justin Long in “Barbarian” (Photo courtesy of 20th Century Studios)

“Barbarian” falters with uneven pacing and some gaps in logic, but this slasher flick delivers the type of suspenseful mystery, jump scares and interesting characters that a horror movie should. The acting performances are better than the screenplay. If not for the performances and some clever surprises, “Barbarian” would be a very run-of-the-mill horror movie.

Written and directed by Zach Cregger, “Barbarian” is somewhat of a departure for Cregger, who is also known as an actor who does a lot of work in comedy. (He was one of the original cast members of “The Whitest Kids U’ Know,” the comedy sketch series that was on the IFC network from 2007 to 2011, after launching for a short stint on the Fuse network.) Cregger’s feature-film debut as a writer/director was the forgettable 2009 sex comedy “Miss March,” in which he co-starred with Trevor Moore, one of the other cast members of “The Whitest Kids ‘U Know.”

“Barbarian” begins with the arrival of aspiring filmmaker Tess Marshall (played by Georgina Campbell), who has traveled to Detroit, because she has a job interview to be an assistant to a semi-famous documentary filmmaker. Tess is staying at a one-bedroom house (at the address 476 Barbary) that she rented through Airbnb. And because this is a horror movie, she arrives at night when it’s raining outside.

To her surprise, Tess finds out that there’s another guest who’s already at the house, and his rental time is for the same time that she’s been booked. His name is Keith Toshko (played by Bill Skarsgård), who has arrived from Brooklyn, New York. Keith tells Tess that he booked his reservation through Home Away, an online service that’s similar to Airbnb. Keith also says that he’s part of an artist collective called the Lion Tamers Collective, and he’s in Detroit to look for living space for the group.

After Tess and Keith see that they both have confirmations for the same booking, Tess offers to leave, since Keith arrived at the house first. Tess starts to call around to find a hotel room to book, but the first place she calls doesn’t have any vacancies. Keith says that there’s a big convention happening in Detroit, so she probably won’t have much luck finding a hotel room. The movie never says where Tess lives, but it’s far enough were she had to rent a car for this trip.

There are several moments in “Barbarian” when people make less-than-smart decisions—the types of decisions where viewers might say to themselves, “I would never do that.” The first of those moments in “Barbarian” happens when Tess takes Keith’s word for it that she won’t find a hotel room, and she gives up too easily in her search to find a hotel. This is the type of questionable decision that horror movies rely on, in order to put characters in danger.

Tess then offers to sleep in her car for the night, but Keith insists that she stay in the house because the neighborhood is too dangerous for her to be sleeping in her car at night. At this point, even though Keith is friendly and polite, viewers will be wondering if Keith really is a good guy, or if he has sinister intentions for Tess. This question is answered at a certain point in the movie, but “Barbarian” does a very good job of keeping viewers guessing about what’s going to happen.

Tess then makes the fateful decision to spend the night at the house. Keith tells Tess that she can have the bedroom, while he sleeps on the couch. Because Keith is a complete stranger to Tess, as a precaution, Tess uses her phone to secretly take a photo of Keith’s driver’s license when she see his wallet on a table in the bedroom.

There’s tension in the house, but not just because of fear. After a while, there’s sexual tension, because it becomes obvious that Keith is attracted to Tess. And when Tess begins to feel more comfortable around Keith, the attraction becomes mutual. Their first night together in the house has some scares for Tess when she wakes up in the middle of the night to find out that her bedroom door, which she had closed behind her, is open.

The terror in the house doesn’t happen right away. Tess begins to trust Keith enough that she accepts his offer to share the house with him for the rest of their stay in Detroit. When Tess goes outside the house for the first time when it’s daylight, she sees that the house is the only well-kept house on a residential street that looks like a bombed-out war zone. All of the other houses on the street look like condemned, unhabitable buildings.

The street is also eerily quiet, except for a harrowing incident when a homeless-looking man on the street—Tess later finds out his name is Andre (played by Jaymes Butler)—runs after her and yells at her not to stay in the house. Tess is so frightened by this stranger, she runs into the house and locks herself inside. When she calls 911 to report the incident, the operator says that there are no police units available to go to that street.

Tess gets another big red flag when she goes to her job interview with the documentary filmmaker Catherine James (played by Kate Nichols), who asks Tess where she’s staying while Tess is in Detroit. When Tess mentions the neighborhood and that she’s staying at an Airbnb house rental, Catherine’s immediate reaction is surprise that this neighborhood has a house that meets Airbnb rental standards. Catherine is also very concenred that Tess is staying in that neighborhood, which has a bad reputation for crime, so Catherine urges Tess to be careful.

And something horrible does happen in that house. Luckily for viewers, it’s not revealed in the “Barbarian” trailer or other marketing materials. The movie avoids the pitfall of not giving away its best moments or the movie’s chief villain in the trailer. However, it’s enough to say (as shown in the “Barbarian” trailer) that there’s a long and sinister tunnel underneath the house. And lurking in that tunnel is someone identified in the movie’s credits as The Mother (played by Matthew Patrick Davis), who will definitely make viewers squirm.

Meanwhile, about halfway through the movie, “Barbarian” introduces another character who has a connection to this house. He’s a famous actor named AJ Gilbride (played by Justin Long), who lives in Los Angles. AJ is successful enough to be a steadily working actor who gets starring roles, but he’s not mega-rich. He owns some rental properties, including the house in Detroit where Tess and Keith are staying.

AJ is first seen in the story as he gets bad news from his agents: An actress named Melisa (voiced by Kate Bosworth), whom he is co-starred with in a TV pilot called “Chip Off the Old Block,” is accusing him of rape. Melisa is suing AJ because of this alleged sexual assault. AJ might also face criminal charges. AJ, who vehemently proclaims his innocence, tells anyone who’ll listen that the sex he had with Melisa was consensual.

Because of the scandal, the TV network for “Chip Off the Old Block” has decided that if the network picks up “Chip Off the Old Block” as a series, AJ will no longer be a part of the show. AJ says that he plans to countersue Melisa for defamation. His attorney advises AJ not to contact Melisa or talk to the media while the case is pending.

AJ gets more bad news when he visits his business manager, who tells AJ that AJ doesn’t have enough money to cover the cost of AJ’s legal fees. The business manager advises AJ to sell some of AJ’s property. The business manager also tells AJ that he no longer wants to work with AJ.

A desperate and despondent AJ goes to Detroit to see what he can do about selling the house that he owns at 476 Barbary. AJ has neglected the property so much, he wasn’t even aware that the property’s management company had been renting out the house to visitors for temporary stays. He’s in for a shock when he finds out what’s been going on at that house.

“Barbarian” has a flashback to the 1980s, when this Detroit neighborhood was safe, clean and well-maintained. A middle-aged man named Frank (played by Richard Brake) is seen going to a home supply store and telling a helpful sales clerk that he needs plastic sheets for a “home birth.” Viewers see that Frank is actually a bachelor, but he lets the sales clerk assume that he has a pregnant wife who will soon give birth. Frank doesn’t talk much, and there’s something “off” about him, because he acts like someone who has dark secrets.

Frank is then seen arriving unannounced at a house where a woman is home alone. He’s wearing a repairman’s uniform, and he politely tells the lady of the house that he’s from the utility company, and he needs to do an inspection. The woman lets him inside the house without hesitation. Frank then goes in the bathroom alone and unlocks the bathroom window.

After just a few minutes in the house, Frank thanks the woman resident, and he leaves the house. It’s at this point you know that Frank is going to break into the house later through that unlocked bathroom window. Who is Frank and what kind of criminal is he? Those answers are eventually revealed in the movie. This flashback scene also foreshadows that the neighborhood will go downhill when a male neighbor tells Frank that his family is moving soon because the neighborhood is “going to hell.”

“Barbarian” makes a few references to “white flight” in Detroit (when white residents moved out of certain Detroit neighborhoods because more black people were moving in) and the #MeToo movement. But these social issues don’t overwhelm the story, which remains mostly focused on the horror. “Barbarian” is an overall commentary on decay and neglect in communities, particularly in urban areas.

The characters in “Barbarian” are believable as people, even if some of their actions are illogical. For example, after Tess sees some disturbing things in the house, she stays in the house much longer than most people would. It’s very hard to believe that she can’t figure out other options on where to stay besides this creepy house.

“Barbarian” also brings up some questions that are never answered. There’s a part of the movie that shows there have been some missing people with a connection to the street where the house is. Wouldn’t any loved ones and friends be looking for these missing people? And who’s been maintaining the upkeep of the house? There’s no mention of housekeepers for this place. It’s the only house on the street that’s very neat and orderly on the outside of the building, even though the house’s front lawn looks run-down and messy.

A showdown scene near the end of “Barbarian” also doesn’t make sense on a physics level. However, the mystery of the house is plausible, as long as viewers believe the movie’s depiction that the cops in Detroit avoid this neighborhood as much as possible. “Barbarian” is also a cautionary tale about the dangers of renting a vacation home from strangers, particularly for women traveling alone. Tess obviously didn’t do enough research about the neighborhood and house where she’d be staying.

“Barbarian” writer/director Cregger (who has a cameo in the movie as a Detroit friend of AJ’s) could have paced the movie a little better, since the suspense-filled tension stops in areas where the tension should have been better-maintained. However, the movie has a talented cast, and the film delivers plenty of terrifying and ominous moments that should satisfy most horror fans. “Barbarian” is the type of horror movie where viewers shouldn’t overthink some of the details and should enjoy the terror ride for what it is.

20th Century Studios will release “Barbarian” in U.S. cinemas on September 9, 2022.

2019 Tribeca Film Festival movie review: ‘Safe Spaces’ (now titled ‘After Class’)

May 4, 2019

by Carla Hay

Justin Long, Emily Schechter and Kate Berlant in “Safe Spaces” (Photo by Gregory Wilson)

“Safe Spaces”

Directed by Daniel Schechter

World premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York City on April 29, 2019.

UPDATE: “Safe Spaces” was retitled “After Class” after the movie was screened at multiple film festivals.

The dramedy “Safe Spaces” almost feels like it could have been two movies because so much is going on with the lead character, Josh Cohn, a 38-year-old adjunct professor in New York City who’s going through turmoil in his professional and personal lives. Justin Long is Josh in the movie, one of several films in which Long plays a single guy who’s unlucky in love. On the professional front, Josh’s job might be in jeopardy because of inappropriate sexual comments that he made in one of his classes. On the personal front, Josh’s beloved maternal grandmother (played by Lynn Cohen) is dying in a hospital, and he has to take shifts with bickering family members who are keeping vigil over her in her final days.

“Safe Spaces” (written and directed by Daniel Schechter) starts out showing the professional problem first. Josh teaches a creative writing class, and during a session with his students, he encourages a female student to share a personal story that might help her become a better writer. “Embarrass yourselves,” he tells the class. “Write what hurts.”  When she confesses that an embarrassing sexual situation recently happened to her, Josh eggs her on to tell him and the class in detail what happened. She is very reluctant, but Josh insists that she tell, so she eventually reveals that when she was recently on a date with a guy, he asked if he could ejaculate on her rear end. (It’s described in much cruder terms in the movie.)

Instead of being mortified that he pressured someone to share this very explicit sexual information in a public setting, Josh is elated that she opened up in a candid way. That’s a red flag right there that Josh, especially in this #MeToo era, is socially clueless and has some serious issues with professional boundaries. Not surprisingly, a complaint is filed against him by one of the female students in his class—not the student who told the story, but another student who felt that Josh was being sexually intimidating and that he created a hostile environment in the class.

It turns out the student with the complaint was sexually assaulted in her past. She felt triggered by Josh’s behavior, and she no longer feels safe in his class because she thinks that he might pressure her and other female students to reveal sexual secrets too. Meanwhile, Josh is indignant because he feels that he didn’t do anything wrong. He thinks that because everyone in the class is an adult, they should have been able to handle that raw talk. His bosses recommend that he make an apology anyway, but he refuses. Several of his students then boycott his class to show solidarity to the student who complained. Josh’s job as an adjunct professor barely pays enough to cover his bills, so he’s feeling the financial pressure of possibly losing his job.

Meanwhile, Josh’s dysfunctional family is also giving him a lot of stress. His younger sister Jackie (played by Kate Berlant) is a flaky, pill-popping podcaster who unexpectedly shows up and crashes at his place because she needs a place to live. His married older brother David (played by Michael Godere) is still angry with Josh because Josh had a fling with the nanny (played by Megan Pickarski) hired to take care of David’s daughters (played by Kaitlyn and Emily Schechter), and the nanny left the job because the fling ended. David is the only person in the family to call out Josh for his pattern of irresponsible and selfish behavior. Meanwhile, Josh has begun dating a much-younger Eastern-European woman named Caterina (played by Sylvia Morigi), who likes to use dominatrix-type sexual techniques and who’s reluctant to fully commit to Josh.

Josh’s mother Diane (played by Fran Drescher) is still bitter over her divorce from Josh’s father Jeff (played by Richard Schiff), who left her for a younger woman named Sherry, who is now his current wife. Jeff has started a new life with Sherry (played by Dana Eskelson) and their bratty underage son Ben (played by Tyler Wladis), both of whom can’t stand Josh and his siblings. When Jeff was married to Diane, he was close to his mother-in-law, but since his current wife despises his first family, he’s torn about whether or not to visit his former mother-in-law before she dies. Josh and Jeff already have a lot of tension in their relationship, so the financially strapped Josh feels embarrassed when he has to ask Jeff for money to help pay his rent.

The “family problems” part of the movie is supposed to make Josh look more sympathetic, but it’s hard to feel much sympathy for a 38-year-old professor (in other words, he should know better) who uses his position of power to browbeat a student into revealing a sexual secret to the entire class. It’s inappropriate and aggressive, regardless of the gender of the student. What makes it worse is that Josh thinks the person who complained doesn’t deserve an apology. Even if he doesn’t think what he did was wrong, someone was seriously offended by his behavior, so it’s very problematic that he refuses to acknowledge that his actions hurt someone emotionally. It’s also a symptom of an arrogant sense of entitlement that comes from people who abuse their privileges.

The #MeToo movement has created a lot of resentment from people (mostly men) who used to get away with a lot of this type of behavior, and they’re quick to call people “uptight” or “too politically correct” if anyone objects to inappropriate sexual comments. This resentment is exemplified by two young male students who offer to mount a campaign on campus to defend Josh, who declines their help because he thinks it will make the situation worse.

In another conversation between Josh and another young male student, there’s an underlying “we hate politically correct culture” tone when the student complains that a story he wrote about a Jewish summer camp probably has to be changed because all of the people are white in his current draft of the story. Josh agrees, and then half-heartedly gives suggestions on who in the story could be of a different race. The dialogue in this part of the movie is written in such a cynical manner, they just might as well have come right out said, “This is what we have to go through now as white males. We have to force diversity in our work, or else we might be accused of being racist or sexist.”

What’s kind of dumb about this scene is that Josh doesn’t actually read the student’s story to see if the writing is any good. He just instantly reacts to the student’s paranoia that so-called politically correct vultures are out to get him. It’s obviously a reflection of how Josh feels about the complaint made against him in his job.

As if to further drive the point home that Josh is a symbol for “white men under siege in the #MeToo era,” the two supervisors overseeing Josh’s misconduct case are a white woman (played by Becky Ann Baker) and a man of Indian heritage (played by Samrat Chakrabarti). The white supervisor is more sympathetic to Josh than the non-white supervisor. These are not-so-subtle buttons that writer/director Schechter is pushing about how white men often see themselves when they’re accused of misconduct and how they’re judged if they offend women or people or color.

There’s an uncomfortable scene when Josh and his sister Jackie are out at a diner with their nieces, and they see the student who made the complaint, sitting at a nearby table. Jackie forces a confrontation, which makes things worse for Josh. The student naturally makes another complaint to the school, and Josh comes even closer to losing his job. He has another chance to make things right with the student. Will he do it?

Tensions in the family also come to a head when they are told that Josh’s grandmother has only a few days to live. Josh and his siblings put their squabbles aside to band together, go to their father Jeff’s home, and try to convince him to go with them to the hospital to say goodbye to their grandmother. Jeff’s wife Sherry, who’s portrayed as cold-hearted and jealous, gives Jeff an extreme ultimatum: If you go to the hospital with your children, our marriage is over. Will he do it?

“Safe Spaces” isn’t a bad movie (the best scenes are the ones with Josh’s grandmother), and the lead character Josh isn’t a bad person. He just isn’t interesting enough to care about for most of this film. If you like the type of Woody Allen-inspired movies that are filled with neurotic, privileged New Yorkers who create their own problems and seem to be addicted to personal chaos, then “Safe Spaces” is the movie for you.

UPDATE: Gravitas Ventures, which changed the name of this movie from “Safe Spaces” to “After Class,” will release the movie in select U.S. theaters and on home video on December 6, 2019.

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