Review: ‘Rare Beasts,’ starring Billie Piper, Lily James and David Thewlis

September 4, 2021

by Carla Hay

Jolyon Coy, Leo Bill and Billie Piper in “Rare Beasts” (Photo courtesy of Brainstorm Media)

“Rare Beasts”

Directed by Billie Piper

Culture Representation: Taking place in London and in the Spanish city of Girona, the dark comedy film “Rare Beasts” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with a few black people) representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: A single mother in London navigates her way through the dating scene and family relationships with cynicism and hope. 

Culture Audience: “Rare Beasts” will appeal primarily to people who can tolerate foul-mouthed and offbeat comedy about love and romance.

Toby Woolf and Billie Piper in “Rare Beasts” (Photo courtesy of Brainstorm Media)

“Rare Beasts” tries a little too hard to be the opposite of a typical romantic comedy, but its brazen and often-vulgar attempts at being original end up working well for the story, more often than not. The movie is a memorable showcase for Billie Piper, who is the writer, director and star of “Rare Beasts,” which offers a deeply jaded and brash take on love, dating and family relationships. The tone and language of the movie can be very off-putting to people who want safer and more conventional romantic comedies. But for viewers who are a little more adventurous and who don’t mind watching very unhappy people trying to find love any way that they can (even if the love is all wrong for them), then “Rare Beasts” is a deliberately squirm-inducing ride.

In “Rare Beasts” (which is Piper’s feature-film directorial debut), Piper obliterates the notion that comedic heroines who are looking for love have to be perky and plucky people-pleasers. Piper’s Mandy character, who lives in London, is depressive and often rude. Mandy vacillates between wanting to be independent and wanting to admit she’s looking for a man help her feel more fulfilled. She doesn’t think that “feminism” is a dirty word, but she also thinks that feminism shouldn’t mean that men and women don’t need each other.

Mandy is a single mother to a son named Larch (played by Toby Woolf), who’s about 6 or 7 years old. He’s an eccentric loner child with some emotional issues because he’s prone to randomly throw temper tantrums. The movie infers that Larch is somewhere on the autistic spectrum. Mandy adores Larch, but because she’s not a typical rom-com single mother, she sometimes acts as if she’s embarrassed or burdened by being a single mother because her parental responsibilities can get in the way of her love life. Larch’s father (who is shown briefly later in the movie) is an ex-lover who is not involved in raising Larch because Mandy never told this man that Larch is his son.

The opening scene of “Rare Beasts” sets the tone of what type of movie it is, because almost all the adult main characters in the movie are so forthright with their crassness. Some might call it “brutal honesty,” while others might call it “diarrhea of the mouth.” In this opening scene, Mandy is on a first date with a bespectacled misogynist named Pete (played by Leo Bill), who reveals a lot of his insecurities while Pete and Mandy (who are both in their late 30s) have dinner at a restaurant.

Pete begins his rant by saying, “I find women, in the main, intolerable. But I realize that I can’t live without them. My parents—it’s hard to find a love like that.” Viewers later find out that Pete’s parents have been married for about 45 years. Pete and his family have very conservative and traditional views of love and marriage, including believing that the man should always be the dominant partner in heterosexual relationships.

Right from the start, viewers know that Pete and Mandy will be a mismatch for each other. Pete mentions that he’s very religious, while Mandy says that she’s an atheist. Mandy also tells him on this first date: “In the spirit of honesty, Pete, you should know I give really bad blowjobs.” Then they talk about the use of teeth and gums during oral sex. Mandy says sarcastically, “Do you want teeth by day, gums by night?”

Pete then complains about modern, assertive women by saying, “You’ve got more testosterone running in your veins than blood!” Mandy is alarmed (or is amused?) by Pete’s blantant sexism and replies, “You’re going to rape me, aren’t you? Those are classic rapist remarks.”

The date ends shortly after this thorny conversation. While waiting for a taxi outside the restaurant, Mandy vomits on the street. Even though this date is a disaster, Pete says to Mandy: “You’ll marry me in a year.”

And just as you might expect in a comedy that aims to upend people’s assumptions, Mandy and Pete begin dating each other. And how’s this for potentially messy? Pete and Mandy work together. They’re both screenwriters for an unnamed TV series.

Viewers might be asking themselves, “What are these two people thinking by going into a train-wreck relationship? Are Mandy and Pete that lonely and desperate?” As the unlikely romance between Mandy and Pete continues, the answer is: “Yes, people can make bad relationship choices when they’re lonely and desperate.” You don’t need a movie to show it, because there are many examples of it in real life.

Essentially, Pete is up front from the start that he’s on the hunt for a dutiful wife. Mandy has gotten tired of being a single parent and wonders if her son would be better off if he had a father figure to help Mandy in raising Larch. Mandy and Pete both came along in each other’s lives when they felt they didn’t have any better options for a love partner. And now they’re in a relationship that could lead to marriage. Pete and Mandy predictably argue, because their core values are so fundamentally different from each other.

There are other big reasons why Mandy is in this relationship with Pete, but she doesn’t say it out loud. However, it’s all on display in the movie. First, her mother Marion (played by Kerry Fox), who’s a bitter, chain-smoking divorcée, lives with Mandy and Larch in a very cramped house. It’s obvious from Mandy and Marion’s interactions with each other that they have a love/hate relationship. Mandy is probably thinking that getting married would be the perfect reason to force her mother to live elsewhere, without Mandy being the “villain” to kick her mother out of the house.

Secondly, Mandy is unhappy in her job, which is a male-dominated company called Woo Productions. The details of the TV show she writes for are never really made clear in this movie. But based on conversations, it’s a TV show about women, and it has a mostly female audience. However, the people who run the show are men.

It’s implied that Pete makes a lot more money than Mandy in this job, although they both seem to have the same or similar job titles and duties. It’s probably gone through Mandy’s head more than a few times how she can afford to leave this job that she hates when she is the only breadwinner for her household. (Mandy’s mother Marion is retired. )The fact of the matter is that many people consider a partner’s income as one of many important reasons to get married to that person. Pretending that people don’t think this way is like living in a fantasy world.

Mandy’s boss is a sexist American named Leonardo (played by Trevor White), who gives this type of critique about how she writes screenplays: “Nobody wants to read about miserable women, because they don’t exist.” He also scolds and warns Mandy by saying that she could be close to getting fired: “No more late arrivals, no more sad women, no more miserable conduct.” Meanwhile, it’s shown that Pete can be late for a staff meeting, and he doesn’t get reprimanded by the boss.

In staff meetings, Mandy and her few female co-workers are frequently talked over and treated dismissively by their male co-workers, who think they know better than the women about how women think, feel and act. The disagreements sometimes spill over into arguments between the men and women, but since they all have a sexist male boss at this company, it’s easy to know whose side he takes in these arguments. In real life, Piper has been a star and an executive producer for the female-oriented TV series “The Secret Diary of a Call Girl” (which was on the air from 2007 to 2011) and “I Hate Suzie” (which debuted in 2020), so she knows more than a few things about the gender dynamics of TV creatives behind the scenes.

Underneath the crude conversations that many of the characters have in the movie is some snarky social commentary about women’s self-esteem and how—like it or not—many people in society place a woman’s worth on her marital status or who she’s dating. Mandy’s mother Marion is the type of outspoken, “no filter” person to blurt out to Mandy when they talk about their sex lives: “I’ve never used a condom!” Mandy’s sarcastic reply: “You should probably get tested.” And yet, Marion is still treated like a selfish homewrecker by her ex-husband Vic (played by David Thewlis) because Marion wanted to end their miserable marriage. Vic is an alcoholic who cheated on Marion when they were married.

During parts of the movie, Vic (who lives alone) tries to convince Marion to move back in with him, even though their marriage has been over for six years. Vic alternately tries to put Marion on a guilt trip and gives her phony flattery, by saying that living with him again is the least she can to do help him live longer because she’s better at certain domestic duties (such as cooking and cleaning) than he is. He even goes as far to suggest to Marion that it’s not a good look to be a woman of a certain age who isn’t living with a man. It’s pathetic emotional manipulation that doesn’t work. Marion and Mandy might not always have the best relationship, but they both agree that Vic is too toxic to really trust.

During the course of the movie, there are some “Greek chorus” type scenes of female passersby on the street who chant self-affirming mantras out loud, as if Mandy (and the viewers by extension) can hear their thoughts. It’s the movie’s way of saying that everyday people are wracked with insecurities, but women have to work harder to overcome self-doubt because men are more likely than women to be rewarded for being confident. Later in the movie, during a pivotal scene, Mandy has a soul-baring monologue on the street, and several female strangers congregate and react to what Mandy says.

“Rare Beasts” pokes fun at two rom-com clichés involving a couple who’s dating: the “meet the parents/family” scenario and the “guests at a wedding” scenario. Mandy meets Pete’s family (his parents and three sisters) over a predictably awkward dinner at the parents’ house. During this dinner, one of Pete’s secrets is revealed, and he shows a very nasty side to himself when he lashes out in anger. This scene also re-affirms that Mandy would not fit in well with this very religious and conservative family.

The wedding scene, which takes place in Spain, is more amusing. Pete’s family is a friend of the bride. The bride Cressida (played by Lily James) and the groom Woody (played by Jolyon Coy) are a blissfully happy but shallow couple. (James shares top billing in “Rare Beasts,” but she’s only in the movie for less than 10 minutes.) When Woody is introduced to Pete, Woody says to Mandy, “I hope his penis is as big as his heart!” Meanwhile, Cressida is preoccupied with how the wedding photos will look, and she describes her relationship with Woody as “our brand.”

In contrast to Cressida and Woody’s happiness, Mandy and Pete end up arguing when Pete finds out that Larch’s father Matthew (played by Ben Dilloway) is at the wedding too. It’s a sheer coincidence that Matthew is there. (It’s a big wedding and stranger coincidences have happened in real life.) And even though Matthew is not in Mandy’s and Larch’s lives, Pete (who likes to be the “alpha male”) still feels threatened when he sees that Matthew is better-looking and more self-assured than Pete is.

As unlikable as Pete can be, Mandy is no angel either. She likes to do cocaine at parties. She sometimes acts like she wishes she didn’t have the responsibility of parenthood. (But she’s never cruel to Larch.) And she can be a bit of a whiner who feels very jealous of others when she thinks their lives are going better than hers.

Piper’s directing style for “Rare Beasts” is to present a world where politeness isn’t really considered a virtue. People just regurgitate whatever is on their minds without thinking too much about hurting other people’s feelings or embarrassing themselves. (A perfect example is the scene where Mandy and Pete have sex with each other for the first time.) The tone is snappy, and some of the jokes don’t land very well, but viewers will get the sense that this movie was made by people who are fed up with boring rom-com tropes.

None of the adult characters in this movie has a “cute personality,” even though having a “cute personality” is an expected cliché in a romantic comedy. Piper and the movie’s other principal actors commit to all the unpleasant personality traits of their “Rare Beasts” characters. It’s a consistency that should be admired under Piper’s direction, when too often filmmakers might cave in to pressure to create more “likable” characters in order to make a romantic comedy appealing to the masses.

However, “Rare Beasts” is not a heartless film. Even in this crude and tactless world of “Rare Beasts,” people still want to be loved and respected. Some of them, such as Mandy and Pete, have terrible ways of going about it. The people who will dislike “Rare Beasts” the most will probably be those who expect British romantic comedies to be a certain way that isn’t delivered in this movie. This a very British film, to be sure, but it’s the equivalent of a cup of tea served with a lot of pepper and vinegar.

Brainstorm Media released “Rare Beasts” in select U.S. cinemas, on digital and VOD on August 20, 2021. The movie was released in the United Kingdom on May 21, 2021.

Review: ‘Cruella,’ starring Emma Stone

May 26, 2021

by Carla Hay

Emma Stone in “Cruella” (Photo by Laurie Sparham/Disney Enterprises Inc.)

“Cruella”

Directed by Craig Gillespie

Culture Representation: Taking place from 1952 to 1974 in England (primarily in London), the comedy/drama “Cruella” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with some Asians and black people) representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: In this “101 Dalmatians” origin story, an aspiring fashion designer has conflicts with her cruel boss and vows to get revenge. 

Culture Audience: “Cruella” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of stars Emma Stone and Emma Thompson, as well as anyone who doesn’t mind watching lengthy origin-story movies of classic Disney characters.

Emma Thompson in “Cruella” (Photo by Laurie Sparham/Disney Enterprises Inc.)

In this “battle of the villains” origin story, “Cruella” can be a little too overstuffed and filled with inconsistencies, but the dynamic duo of Emma Stone and Emma Thompson (as well as top-notch costume design) elevate this sometimes tedious movie. “Cruella” is a prequel to Disney’s 1996 live-action “101 Dalmations” movie, starring Glenn Close as villain Cruella de Vil. “Cruella” benefits from having a talented cast, including Stone as Cruella during her youth in England. At a total running time of 134 minutes, “Cruella” might test the patience of people with short attention spans, but the movie has enough dazzling moments and star charisma to hold people’s interests during the best parts of the film.

Directed by Craig Gillespie, “Cruella” at times seems a little too enamored with itself and could have benefited from a slyer sense of comedy. The jokes sometimes fall very flat, and the pacing drags during the middle section of the film. It’s a shame, really, because Stone and Thompson have immense comedic talent, but so much of it could have been put to better use if the “Cruella” screenplay (written by Dana Fox and Tony McNamara) had been wittier and more creative. The supporting characters are underwritten by not having enough depth to their personalities. (Dodie Smith’s 1956 children’s novel “The One Hundred and One Dalmations” is the basis of this movie franchise.)

“Cruella,” which occasionally features Stone’s voiceover narration as Cruella, begins by literally showing Cruella at birth (in 1952), and being raised by her mother Catherine (played by Emily Beecham), a mild-mannered and patient single parent. Cruella’s birth name is Estella, and the movie shows that she was born with her famous two-toned hair, which is black on one side and white on another. It’s later shown how she gave herself the nickname Cruella, to describe her evil and vindictive side.

Estella/Cruella says in a voiceover: “From an early age, I realized I saw the world differently from everyone else, including my mother. It wasn’t her I was challenging, it was the world. But, of course, my mother knew that. That’s what worried her.”

The first 15 minutes of “Cruella” show her childhood at 5 years old (played by Billie Gadsdon) and at 12 years old (played by Tipper Seifert-Cleveland), with Estella and Catherine (who has work experience as a maid) living in an unnamed suburban part of England. As a 12-year-old, Estella enrolled in a new school and was bullied by boys. Because she physically fought back, she often landed in the school headmaster’s office.

Because she was usually blamed for fights that she didn’t start, Estella learned early on not to trust authority figures. One bright spot to her miserable experiences at school was that she made a friendly acquaintance with a fellow classmate named Anita Darling (played by Florisa Kamara), but they didn’t hang out with each other enough to form a close friendship. Estella is an only child, and her closest companion is a stray, mixed-breed brown puppy she found in an outdoor garbage bin. She names the dog Buddy.

Estella gets in so much trouble at school that she’s eventually expelled by the headmaster or withdrawn from the school by her mother. The movie has what’s supposed to be a funny scene of Catherine debating with the headmaster (played by Leo Bill) over who made the decision first for Estella to leave the school. It’s another version of “You can’t fire me because I quit” schtick that doesn’t work very well in this scene.

At any rate, Catherine decides that she and Estella need a fresh start in the big city of London. But first, Catherine says they have to visit someone who can help them finance their relocation. Catherine seems reluctant to ask this person for help, but one evening, she drives herself and Estella to a grand estate called Hellman Hall, which is located on the top of a cliff.

A lavish costume ball is taking place at Hellman Hall. Before she gets out of the car, Catherine takes off a necklace with a red circular stone. This necklace, which Catherine describes as a “family heirloom,” is a big part of the story that’s linked to family secrets that are exposed later in the movie. Catherine tells Estella to stay and hide in the car.

But, of course, rebellious and curious Estella doesn’t stay in the car. Estella takes the necklace with her while she and Buddy crash the costume ball, Estella gets caught by a valet named John (played by Mark Strong), and the expected mayhem ensues. Three aggressive Dalmations give chase to Estella.

Estella gets cornered and hides near the cliff, where she sees Catherine talking to a woman (whose back is facing Estella) and asking the mystery woman to borrow some money. Suddenly, the Dalmations charge and jump on Catherine, who falls off of the cliff to her death. A horrified Estella runs away with Buddy and accidentally drops the necklace in the chaos.

An orphaned Estella is wracked with guilt because she blames herself for her mother’s death. With her dog Buddy in tow, Estella is now homeless and living on the streets of London. And it’s where she meets two other street urchins who are the same age as she is: somewhat dimwitted Horace (played by Joseph MacDonald) and intuitive Jasper (played by Ziggy Gardner), who both eventually take Estella under their wing. They make money as beggars, thieves and con artists.

The movie then fast-forwards 10 years later. It’s 1974, and Estella (played by Stone) is now living with Horace (played by Paul Walter Hauser) and Jasper (played by Joel Fry) in a large warehouse-styled loft. They are still being grifters for money, with some help from a white and brown terrier mix dog named Buddy and a Chihuahua named Wink. There’s a montage of this team of thieves working in tandem to do things like pickpocket wallets or steal jewelry from a jewelry store by posing as customers.

Estella (who wears a red wig to hide her distinctive black-and-white hair) designs a lot of the clothes that she, Horace and Jasper wear as disguises. Her ultimate goal is to become a famous and successful fashion designer. And her biggest idol is a designer named The Baroness (played by Thompson), who is considered to be one of the top haute couture designers in the fashion industry. The Baroness is also the boss from hell, who demeans and insults almost everyone she’s in contact with, and she takes credit for her employees’ work.

“Cruella” wastes some time setting up the convoluted circumstances that led to Estella working for The Baroness, whose first name is not mentioned in the movie. First, Jasper embellished Estella’s résumé/CV, and he found a way to get it into a stack on a hiring manager’s desk at a high-end clothing boutique called Liberty. Somehow, Estella was hired for an entry-level position at Liberty without even interviewing for the job. Jasper tells Estella this news one day. And she’s elated, because working at Liberty is a dream job for her. Naturally, Liberty carries fashion by The Baroness.

But the entry-level job at Liberty isn’t what Estella thought it would be. She’s the store housekeeper, which means that she mostly has cleaning duties. Meanwhile, her snooty boss Gerald (played by Jamie Demetriou) doesn’t care that Estella is an aspiring fashion designer and ignores her suggestions on how to style the store’s displays. Gerald just wants Estella to shut up and clean when she’s at work.

Horace thinks there could be some kind of thieving angle they can work in Estella’s Liberty job, but Estella and Jasper both insist that this job will be off-limits to their con games. Jasper seems to be in tune to Estella’s desire to break into the fashion industry honestly. Does that mean Estella, Jasper and Horace will straighten out their lives and leave their criminal ways behind? Of course not.

One day, Estella walks into a vintage clothing shop called Second Time Around and meets an androgynous sales clerk named Artie (played by John McCrea), who’s clearly influenced by David Bowie’s 1970s glam rock style. Predictably, Artie becomes Estella’s flamboyant sidekick, which seems expected when there’s a scripted movie that takes place in the fashion industry. Artie is very sassy, but unfortunately, viewers will find out almost nothing about Artie while watching “Cruella.” He seems like a fascinating character who deserves more of a storyline.

Estella grows increasingly frustrated by her dead-end job at Liberty. And so, one night, she gets drunk, goes to the store when it’s closed, and completely rearranges Liberty’s front-window display to make it look like an anarchist punk took over the space. She passes out and wakes up the next morning as the store is opening for the day.

And guess who happens to be visiting the store at that moment? The Baroness. Estella’s boss Gerald panics because there isn’t time to change the window display back to what it was. The Baroness wants to know who did the window display. Gerald points to Estella, but he says that she’s been fired.

However, viewers shouldn’t be surprised that The Baroness loves the display because it’s so edgy. She gives Estella her business card. And it isn’t long before Estella is working as a junior designer at The Baroness’ chic designer workshop.

Estella soon finds out that The Baroness is a tyrant boss. And this is where “Cruella” looks like Disney’s version of “The Devil Wears Prada,” except that Estella doesn’t battle with any co-worker peers and she doesn’t get involved in any romances. Through a series of circumstances, the rest of the movie is about Estella getting revenge on The Baroness, as they try to out-do each other as diva villains.

Most of Estella’s revenge plans are done under her alter ego Cruella. Viewers are supposed to believe that during much of the Cruella/Baroness feud, The Baroness doesn’t figure out that Cruella and Estella are the same person, just because Estella has red hair and wears glasses while on the job. It doesn’t make The Baroness look very smart, so it dilutes some of the comeuppance competition between The Baroness and Cruella/Estella.

And the tactics used by Cruella fall into catty stereotypes of women being cruel over who looks better, with Cruella doing some form of “The Baroness is an old has-been” type of humiliation. The Baroness has a formal Black and White Ball where the attendees are require to wear only black and/or white, but Cruella crashes the event by wearing a bright red dress. In another scene, Cruella upstages The Baroness at a high-profile gala, by literally wearing black makeup on her face that reads “The Future.”

And in another scene, with Jasper and Horace’s help, Cruella outshines The Baroness at another public event. The Baroness is prevented from getting out of her car when she arrives. Cruella stands on the car and unfurls a dress that has the words “The Past” pointing down at The Baroness.

Meanwhile, Anita Darling (played by Kirby Howell-Baptiste) is now working as a society columnist for a Daily Mail-type tabloid newspaper called Tattletale. She has been reporting on Cruella’s shenanigans in her column. And because Anita is someone with common sense, she immediately figures out that her former school acquaintance Estella is really Cruella.

In her coverage of the Cruella/Baroness rivalry, Anita seems to side with Cruella. And so, one day, The Baroness confronts Anita about it and demands that Anita help The Baroness find out Cruella’s true identity. “Don’t cry,” The Baroness tells Anita. When a calm Anita says that she’s not crying. The Baroness gives a slight pause and says ominously, “You will.” It’s an example of how comedically gifted Thompson is in this villain role.

It should come as no surprise that The Baroness owns Hellman Hall and the Dalmatians that Estella/Cruella saw that fateful night when Catherine died. Therefore, there’s a long part of the movie where Estella wants to get back the lost necklace from The Baroness. Various schemes are put in place. And at one point, the Dalmatians get kidnapped.

Because “Cruella” is supposed to be a family-friendly movie, nothing too disturbing happens in the story. However, much like director Gillespie’s 2017 dark comedy film “I, Tonya,” the title character is often upstaged by a bigger scene-stealing villain. Thompson’s The Baroness actually becomes more riveting to watch than Cruella in many scenes.

It’s not that Cruella isn’t potent in her own right, but she’s often conflicted about how evil she wants to become while getting revenge. There’s no ambiguity for The Baroness, and Thompson seems to be reveling in being an unabashed villain in a lot of the showdown scenes. As Cruella, Stone is perfectly cast and plays the role with the right combination of toughness and vulnerability, but there’s no denying that Thompson is a formidable presence too. Cruella gets a despair-driven monologue which is one of the film’s emotional standouts.

Aside from Stone and Thompson working so well together in “Cruella,” the movie’s other atrributes are its costume design by Jenny Beavan and production design by Fiona Crombie. (Tom Davies handled the eyewear design.) The makeup and hairstyling are also outstanding. There are set designs in the movie that look right out of a fairy tale, which is clearly the intention.

However, the “Cruella” screenplay needed a lot of improvements. There’s a big reveal in the movie about Catherine’s death that has a major inconsistency/plot hole that would require a certain person to almost be in two places at once to commit a certain act. The timeline just doesn’t add up.

And the movie’s visual effects are hit-and-miss. Some of the scenes with the Dalmations obviously used CGI dogs, not real dogs. And there’s a scene with a big fire that looks too fake, because more characters should’ve gotten fire burns in that scene, but they were able to unrealsitically walk away unscathed.

And most of the supporting characters are underdelevoped. Estella has been living with Jasper and Horace for several years, but viewers don’t learn anything interesting about these two Estella/Cruella confidants by the time the movie ends. And, if we’re being honest, the casting of this trio is age-inappropriate. Estella, Jasper and Horace are supposed to be in their early 20s, but the actors in these roles look at least 10 years older than that, because they are. That doesn’t take away their ability to act in the roles, but they just don’t look entirely convincing as people who are supposed to be in their early 20s.

There’s just so much untapped potential for the movie’s supporting characters, who are really just incomplete sketches with limited personalities. All the supporting characters—including Anita, John and The Baroness’ attorney Roger (played by Kayvan Novak)—just react to whatever Estella/Cruella or The Baroness does. The Baroness has a lackey assistant named Jeffrey (played by Andrew Leung), who is constantly by her side, but Jeffrey doesn’t say an entire word during the movie.

The way that the soundtrack songs are used in “Cruella” borders on jukebox placement instead of feeling organic. It’s a good selection of songs, but sometimes they blare in places that seem way too intrusive and distracting. At times, it just seems like shameless shilling to buy the “Cruella” soundtrack.

And there’s a bombastic outdoor concert scene where Cruella makes a big entrance to The Stooges’ “I Wanna Be Your Dog,” with Artie singing as an emcee, Jasper playing a guitar and Horace being a DJ. This is the part of the movie where viewers who love punk music might be rolling their eyes, because there are no DJs in real punk music. The movie would’ve worked better if Cruella and her mates had more 1970s London punk authenticity, not a watered-down Hollywood version of this subculture. The adult Estella/Cruella, Horace and Jasper have a polished actor sheen to them that isn’t entirely consistent with these characters who are supposedly to be scrappy con artists who grew up on the streets.

The scenes with the adult Cruella are supposed to take place in 1974. However, some of the soundtrack choices might annoy pop music aficionados who will notice that there a few songs in the movie that were released after 1974, such as Electric Light Orchestra’s “Livin’ Thing” (released in 1976) and Blondie’s “One Way or Another” (released in 1978). These are small details, and a movie director who really cares about musical accuracy wouldn’t make these mistakes. The “Cruella” soundtrack also has the obligatory new and original song that will undoubtedly be promoted for awards consideration: Florence + the Machines’ “Call Me Cruella,” which was co-written by Florence Welch and “Cruella” composer Nicholas Britell.

Despite some of the flaws with the screenplay, editing and song selections, “Cruella” can be enjoyable to watch if viewers brace themselves for the overly long run time. “Cruella” isn’t a superhero epic origin story, although at times it seems to want to use that template when it should have been a movie under 100 minutes. “Cruella” is a movie that’s supposed to be a fun and cheeky romp, but the jokes and slapstick comedy just aren’t very imaginative and edgy as a young Cruella is supposed to be. If not for the great comedic talents of Stone and Thompson, “Cruella” would be nothing but cast members playing elaborate dress-up in a bloated and mediocre Disney movie.

Walt Disney Pictures will release “Cruella” in U.S. cinemas and at a premium extra cost on Disney+ on May 28, 2021. The movie’s release date on digital, VOD, Blu-ray and DVD is on September 21, 2021.

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