Culture Representation: Taking place on the West Coast of the United States in 2020 (with some flashbacks to 2017), the comedy film “Wes Schlagenhauf Is Dying” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with a few Asians, Latinos and African Americans) representing the working-class and the middle-class.
Culture Clash: Two aspiring filmmakers, who are best friends and work partners, go on a road trip from Los Angeles to Boise, Idaho, to visit a quarantined friend who has been infected by COVID-19.
Culture Audience: “Wes Schlagenhauf Is Dying” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in comedies with a COVID-19 theme, no matter how silly and time-wasting those comedies are.
Dull and very manipulative, “Wes Schlagenhauf Is Dying” is the worst type of filmmaking with a COVID-19 theme. Viewers will have a hard time caring about the self-absorbed cretins at the center of this insipid comedy. It’s yet another movie about the COVID-19 pandemic that fails to have much purpose other than to try to cash in on this horrific pandemic that has killed millions of people.
Directed by Parker Seaman, “Wes Schlagenhauf Is Dying” also represents the type of self-referential filmmaking that has insecure filmmakers desperately trying to make themselves look cool by constantly telling everyone watching the movie how cool they are. In these types of movies, the filmmakers usually portray versions of themselves while they go on rants or excursions where they trade barbs that are supposed to be witty and hip but are actually very mindless and juvenile, with no self-awareness of how awful and boring the filmmaking is. “Wes Schlagenhauf Is Dying” had its world premiere at the 2022 Tribeca Film Festival in New York City.
Unfortunately, a large chunk of “Wes Schlagenhauf Is Dying” is a road trip, so viewers are stuck with the two obnoxious main characters who make fools out of themselves on this trip. Parker (played by Seaman) and Devin (played by Devin Das), also known as Dev, are best friends, work partners and aspiring feature film directors who live in Los Angeles. Parker and Dev, who are both in their 20s, pay their bills by working as co-directors of commercials and music videos, until they can get their first big break in the movie industry. Seaman and Das co-wrote the terrible screenplay for “Wes Schlagenhauf Is Dying.”
The movie opens in 2017, on the set of a commercial that Parker and Dev are directing. They’re having a hard time because their stoner/slacker friend Wes Schlagenhauf (playing a version of himself) has a job to dress up as a dancing bear for this commercial, but Wes is being difficult. Parker and Dev want Wes to look like he’s dancing naturally. Wes whines in response: “You’re telling me to dance naturally in a fucking bear costume!”
Parker and Dev remind Wes that even though he’s their friend, and they are the co-directors of this commercial, it wasn’t easy to get him cast for this acting gig. More arguing ensues, until Wes snaps and walks off of this non-union job. Wes yells before he heads out the door while still in the costume: “You poked a bear, you guys! Huge mistake!” After he leaves, Parker and Dev wonder how they’re going to get another bear costume in time to finish this commercial.
The movie then fast forwards to 2020, at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic lockdowns. Parker and Dev now work from home. Within the first 10 minutes of the movie, it’s obvious that Parker thinks he’s the bossy “alpha male” of this duo. Parker acts like he thinks he’s not only smarter than Dev but also smarter than almost everyone Parker meets. Parker’s arrogance isn’t backed up with any real intelligence, since he continues to make irrational and moronic decisions.
A conversation reveals that after Wes’ meltdown in the bear costume, Wes abruptly quit the entertainment business, and he decided to move back to his hometown of Boise, Idaho. Not much is known about Wes, except he’s described as someone who “loves baseball, cocaine and LSD.” Wes hasn’t really kept in regular touch with Parker and Dev, who both still have a little bit of resentment over how Wes wrecked the job opportunity they gave to him and how he suddenly decided to leave Los Angeles.
However, things aren’t so bad with Parker, Dev and Wes that they’ve stopped communicating with each other. During a video conference call, Wes tells Dev and Parker that he’s sick with COVID-19 and is quarantining at home, where Wes lives with his mother and stepfather. Contrary to what the movie’s title suggests, Wes never gives the impression in this phone call that he’s dying or that he needs to go to a hospital.
Parker immediately thinks that Dev and Parker should visit Wes by going on a road trip to Boise, and that they should make a documentary about it. Dev is reluctant at first, but Parker convinces Dev to go. During the road trip, Parker and Dev check in on Wes on a regular basis to see how he’s doing.
Actor/filmmaker Mark Duplass has a cameo as a version of himself in “Wes Schlagenhauf Is Dying.” Mark shows up on video because he’s on the roster for a service called Cameo, which has famous people sending personal video messages to people who pay a fee for these video messages. Parker and Dev have signed up to have Mark do a personal “get well soon” message for Wes.
The rest of the movie is an idiotic slog, as Parker and Dev have some not-very-funny misadventures during their road trip, where they predictably have agruments with each other. The first of many signs that “Wes Schlagenhauf Is Dying” is a bad movie is when Parker and Dev, who work with digital technology in their jobs and are supposed to be tech-savvy, get lost on their road trip. Viewers are supposed to believe that these two bozos suddenly don’t know how to use a smartphone to get directions. It’s just a lazy way to stretch out the already very thin plot.
Parker and Dev share the same agent, whose name is Chelsea (played by D’Arcy Carden), and they have a deal where Parker and Dev are always supposed to work together on jobs that they get. But there’s a tedious subplot about how one of these director pals betrays his friend by going behind the other’s back to take a lucrative commercial job for himself. As part of the deceit, he tells Chelsea that the other friend knows and approves of this decision to work solo, which is a dumb lie because Parker and Dev having the same agent means that the lie will inevitably be exposed. The movie also keeps repeating a very unfunny joke of Parker trying to persuade Dev to tell Parker the password for Dev’s Disney+ account.
It gets worse. By the time Dev and Parker arrive at the place where Wes lives, the movie takes some very ludicrous twists and turns until the very end. The story’s big “reveal” is truly an insult to viewers. Everything about “Wes Schlagenhauf Is Dying” looks like an amateurish skit that could have been a very short film but instead was elongated into a feature film that’s just a waste of everyone’s time.
Culture Representation: Taking place in Thermal, California, the romantic comedy film “7 Days” features a predominantly Indian and Indian American cast of characters (with a few white people who speak off camera) representing the middle-class.
Culture Clash: Two Indian Americans, whose parents are eager for them to find a spouse, meet on a blind date at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, and find out that instead of having many things in common, they are complete opposites.
Culture Audience: “7 Days” will appeal primarily to people who like quirky romantic comedies with an “opposites attract” or COVID-19 pandemic angle, but the movie is often sluggishly paced and relies too much on stereotypes seen in many other romantic comedies.
It’s a little tiresome when American-made movies and TV programs stereotype men of Indian heritage as socially awkward, sometimes emasculated nerds. This over-used ethnic cliché is shoved in viewers’ faces to annoying levels in the romantic comedy “7 Days,” co-starring Karan Soni as a lovelorn Indian American who’s desperately looking for a wife. Geraldine Viswanathan plays his would-be love interest in the movie, but the story is told from the man’s perspective. “7 Days” had its world premiere at the 2021 Tribeca Film Festival.
Directed by Roshan Sethi (who co-wrote the “7 Days” screenplay with Soni), “7 Days” is essentially a dull mumblecore movie with a COVID-19 gimmick. The movie is also Sethi’s feature-film directorial debut. And it just so happens that all of the people who appear on camera in the movie are of Indian heritage. This type of representation is rare for an American-made feature film, but it’s not enough to automatically guarantee that the movie will be great.
Unfortunately, “7 Days” has too many scenes that drag with dialogue that falls flat because of the clumsy comedic timing. Viswanathan seems to be more talented at believable facial expressions than Soni is, but there is no convincing romantic chemistry between these two actors at all. Whatever is going on between the characters that Soni and Viswanathan portray in the movie, viewers will get the impression that this isn’t a romance to root for but it’s going to be strictly a “friend zone” platonic relationship. The filmmakers want to make it look like a romance, but it’s all so phony and passionless.
The beginning of “7 Days” starts off with four real-life, middle-aged, happily married Indian couples talking about how they met, which was usually through arrangements by their families. (Soni’s parents are among the couples.) It’s an adorable introduction, but then the movie gets right to the fictional part of the story and the clichés. The next sequence is straight out of a Bollywood rom-com. Viewers find out that two unmarried young people have mothers who are scheming to find each of them a suitable spouse.
The bachelor and bachelorette are American children of Indian immigrants. The would-be couple are 31-year-old Ravi (played by Soni) and 28-year-old Rita (played by Viswanathan), who both live in California, but not in cities that are near each other. In voiceover narration, Ravi’s mother (played by Gita Reddy) and Rita’s mother (played by Zenobia Shroff) extol the attractive qualities of their respective children, as if they’re creating profiles for them on Indian matchmatching sites. (The mothers in this story do not have names.)
According to Ravi’s mother, Ravi is the youngest and her favorite of her three sons because he’s the most emotionally mature. Ravi works as a researcher at a local university. His mother describes him as kind and responsible. And he loves to cook vegetarian food.
According to Rita’s mother, Rita is a “free-spirit girl with strict moral values” whose hobbies include “caring for her future in-laws.” As for Rita’s food preferences, her mother says that Rita is a pescatarian, but she’s willing to be a vegetarian for the right family. Rita seems to be an only child, since there’s no mention of her having siblings.
In addition to having family members who play matchmaker, Ravi and Rita belong to several Indian-oriented dating sites. Ravi and Rita’s first date (a blind date) takes place in March 2020, during the first week of the COVID-19 pandemic shutdowns in the United States. Ravi has traveled to Thermal, California, where Rita lives. And their first uncomfortable date is a picnic in an empty reservoir. Rita and Ravi are both wearing face masks, while Ravi also has on latex gloves.
Ravi is the epitome of an insecure, neurotic dork who has lived a very sheltered life. He says things that he thinks people want to hear so that they will like and accept him. And he often over-apologizes to the point that it gets irritating. In other words, he’s a typical sensitive male protagonist in a mumblecore movie.
Rita is more self-assured than Ravi, but she also has her insecurity issues. One of them is that she lives a double life. She presents herself as a straight-laced person to her parents, who don’t live near her, but she’s very different in real life. Rita is an unemployed slob whose parents are paying for her living expenses.
The conversation during Ravi and Rita’s picnic date doesn’t go very well. Ravi is nervous and sweaty. He tells a dumb joke about how he’s sweating just like he would in India. Rita seems unimpressed by Ravi. He’s also very conscious of following social distancing guidelines of staying at least six feet apart. At one point, he says to Rita with a forced laugh: “You’re so funny. We have great banter. Can you move back a few inches?”
Ravi likes to eat healthy food, and he doesn’t drink alcohol. He’s under the impression that Rita is also a teetotaler. When he brings out some lemonade in aluminum cans, Ravi is mortified to see that it’s hard lemonade.
He thinks he might have offended Rita for bringing alcoholic beverages on this date. He makes a profuse apology by saying that when he got the lemonade from the store, he didn’t look closely at the cans to see what type of lemonade it was. Rita tells him not to worry about it, but Ravi is the type of person who will worry about it.
This picnic date at the reservoir isn’t fun at all, so Rita suggests that they go back to her place. She lives in a middle-class house that looks tidy on the outside, but it’s very cluttered and unkempt on the inside. Rita is the type of person who will leave food wrappers, empty beer bottles and other garbage on tables and on the floor. It’s the first clue that Ravi and viewers have that Rita’s life, just like her house, is messy.
When they arrive at the house, Rita and Ravi both call their respective mothers to give them a summary of how the date is going so far. Even though there are no romantic sparks between Ravi and Rita, they both tell their mothers that this date has potential. Ravi is more invested because he’s traveled a long distance to meet Rita. And he’s the one who wants to get married in the near future.
Ravi doesn’t waste time in telling Rita what his life goals are: He’s soon going to buy a house, he wants to get married that year, and he wants to start a family the following year. He also plans to have three kids. Because Rita and Ravi met as a result of their mothers’ matchmaking efforts, it’s not considered too forward for Ravi to already be talking marriage on the first date. In fact, by traditional Indian custom, it’s not unusual at all.
As can happen in a very unrealistically contrived movie like “7 Days,” Ravi finds out that his rental car won’t be available until the next morning, so he won’t be able to drive back home that night. Rita recommends a hotel nearby where he can stay for the night. Ravi calls the hotel and finds out it will be closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Ravi doesn’t do what most people would do: Make a reservation at another hotel.
In reality (not in this movie), during the pandemic lockdown period, most hotels were still open and desperate for business. Hotels had plenty of vacancies because they experienced an enormous number of reservation cancellations during the lockdown period. But that reality is not in “7 Days,” because the entire movie is based on the contrivance of Ravi staying at Rita’s place so that the story can go exactly where you know it’s going to go.
At first, Ravi says he’s only going to stay until his rental car is ready. But the title of the movie already telegraphs how many days he’s really going to stay at Rita’s place. And in a formulaic rom-com like this one, that means he’s supposed to go through several uncomfortable moments because he and Rita are opposites.
The unrealistic plot developments continue. Ravi finds out that his rental car won’t be ready for three days, which is really the movie’s way of extending the time that Ravi has to stay at Rita’s house. And because there’s a “shelter in place” quarantine mandate in California, Ravi and Rita don’t go outside for most of the movie.
The “uptight nerd having awkward moments with the uninhibited love interest” is an angle that’s been done in many other rom-coms, and it’s played up to repetitive and ultimately tedious levels in “7 Days.” After Rita agrees to let Ravi temporarily stay at her house, he goes in the bathroom and is horrified to see a dildo on the sink. “Oh, this can’t be happening,” Ravi says to himself, as if he’s just seen a real body part.
Soon after Ravi finds out that he’s going to be staying at Rita’s place, he starts to really regret it. It’s because he overhears Rita on the phone, having raunchy sex talk with someone she calls “Daddy.” At first, Ravi thinks that Rita is talking to her father in an incestuous way. Ravi is naturally shocked and disgusted, but he made a wrong assumption.
Rita is actually talking to her older married lover who’s separated from his wife, but this married lover is vague with Rita on when he’s going to divorce his wife. He seems to be leading Rita on with an excuse that things are complicated for him in his marriage. “Daddy” never appears on camera in the movie and his real name is never revealed. He’s voiced by Mark Duplass, one of the executive producers of “7 Days,” who’s an actor/filmmaker with a lot of mumblecore movies in his filmography.
Most of Ravi and Rita’s interactions consist of more painfully unfunny banter. It isn’t long before Ravi finds out that Rita is almost everything that he doesn’t want in a woman: Rita says she never wants to get married. She drinks a lot of alcohol. And she loves junk food. There’s a scene where Rita enthusiastically eats fried chicken, even though her online profile says that she’s a pescatarian.
Ravi’s and Rita’s lifestyle differences also extend to the type of movies that they like to watch. Ravi is a big fan of Bollywood movies, but Rita doesn’t care for this type of entertainment. She’s a lot more into American culture overall than Ravi is. And she seems to be faking to her parents that she’s interested in the Indian tradition of arranged marriages, because she doesn’t want to lose her parents’ financial support.
Issues of gender roles inevitably come up, as they tend to do in rom-coms. Ravi makes an offhand remark that Rita’s voice sounds like the instructional service app Siri. Rita immediately gets defensive and says, “You mean I sound subservient.” Ravi tells Rita that he identifies as a “male feminist.” Still, Ravi is slightly alarmed and surprised that Rita doesn’t like to cook. And he ends up cooking for both of them.
Rita has this to say to Ravi about why she doesn’t see marriage in her future: “It’s just someone else to fight and disappoint and hate. It’s exhausting.” And when fidgety Ravi gets restless in the house, Rita suggests that they just sit around and do nothing. “The less you do, the less you do,” she says.
This type of boring and witless dialogue goes on for much of the movie. Predictably, Rita spikes Ravi’s drink with alcohol to loosen him up. He gets angry that she spiked his drink, but then he gets drunk and does an atrocious standup comedy routine for Rita. While under the influence of alcohol, Ravi opens up about feeling vulnerable and self-conscious that his parents are divorced.
And then, someone in this mismatched duo starts having a persistent cough and develops a fever. And you know what that means in a rom-com with a COVID-19 gimmick. This plot development isn’t handled very well in the movie. “7 Days” essentially dismisses all the deaths and tragedies that people have experienced because of this pandemic and treats this harsh reality as something that would get in the way of a cutesy rom-com plot. If anyone dies of COVID-19 in this movie, it’s a tragedy that this movie brushes off as trivial.
Even in March 2020, during the early part of the pandemic when this movie takes place, people were aware of how quickly large numbers of people were dying from COVID-19. But in this movie, Ravi and Rita are depicted as being in a self-absorbed (and irresponsible) “bubble” where they don’t care to be informed about what’s happening in the news about the pandemic. They’re more concerned about doing things like a virtual exercise workout routine using Rita’s laptop computer.
Viswanathan and Soni are very talented and have had more appealing roles elsewhere. In “7 Days,” they both play characters that just aren’t credible as a romantic couple. Ravi’s neuroses are on full display, but Rita is an underwritten and underdeveloped character. She’s supposed to be the “wacky one” in the relationship, but her personality is ultimately hollow.
Viewers never find out why Rita wants to live an aimless, unemployed life. Her hopes and dreams are never mentioned. How she was raised by her parents, her work history and her social life (other than her affair with “Daddy”) remain a mystery. By the end of the movie, viewers still won’t know much about Rita.
And when you have a romantic comedy where one of the people in the would-be couple remains an enigma, the dialogue is wretchedly monotonous, and there’s no realistic chemistry between the two main actors who are supposed to be this couple, the end result is a disappointing and off-kilter rom-com that isn’t funny or romantic.
UPDATE: Cinedigm will release “7 Days” in select U.S. cinemas on March 25, 2022. The movie will be released on digital and VOD on April 26, 2022.
Culture Representation: Taking place in Colfax, Illinois, the mystery drama “When the Streetlights Go On” has a predominantly white cast of characters (with some African Americans, Latinos and Asians) representing the middle-class.
Culture Clash: An African American man tells the story of the year he was 15, when two sisters from his high school were murdered within six months of each other.
Culture Audience: “When the Streetlights Go On” will appeal to people who like “mature audience”-level stories about teenagers and don’t mind if the stories have a lot of formulaic clichés.
The streaming service Quibi (which launched on April 6, 2020) has set itself apart from its competitors by offering only original content, and each piece of content is 10 minutes or less. Therefore, content that Quibi has labeled a “movie” actually seems more like a limited series, since Quibi will only make the “movie” available in installments that look like episodes. One of the original movies that was part of Quibi’s launch is “When the Streetlights Go On,” a mystery drama about a man who tells the story about what happened in the year that he was 15 years old, when two sisters from a prominent family were murdered within six months of each other, beginning in the summer of 1995.
“When the Streetlights Go On” is narrated by a man named Charlie Chambers, but the entire story is told as a flashback to 1995, in the suburb of Colfax, Illinois, which was devastated by the murders of Chrissy Monroe (played by Kristine Froseth) and her younger sister Becky Monroe (played by Sophie Thatcher). Charlie is seen in “When the Streetlights Go On” only as his 15-year-old self (played by Chosen Jacobs), as the story unfolds from his perspective.
Chrissy was the sister who was murdered first, and her brutal slaying is shown in the first installment of “When the Streetlights Go On.” A popular high-school student, Chrissy also had a big secret: She was having an affair with her married teacher Steve Carpenter (played by Mark Duplass). Steve is so besotted with Chrissy that he tells her that he’s going to leave his wife for her. One night, while Chrissy and Steve meet in the woods for a tryst in his car, they are ambushed by a man armed with a gun and wearing a ski mask.
The masked man orders Steve to drive all three of them further into the woods, where he orders Steve and Chrissy to strip to their underwear before he shoots both of them in the head. The double homicide has stunned and terrified the community. And it’s at the forefront of the local high school’s gossip when school resumes in the fall, because the murderer hasn’t been caught yet. (“When the Streetlight Goes On” has some violence and language that don’t make it suitable for very young or very sensitive viewers.)
Heading the homicide investigation is Detective Darlene Grasso (played by Queen Latifah), who is a very by-the-numbers generic cop character that has been done many times before in TV shows and movies. Charlie, who’s a writer/reporter for the school’s newspaper, seems himself as an aspiring investigative journalist, so he asks to be assigned the story of investigating Chrissy’s murder.
Meanwhile, all eyes at the school are on Chrissy’s younger sister Becky, who is the opposite of Chrissy. Becky is quiet, withdrawn and one of those “quirky” creative types who doesn’t make friends easily. People feel sympathy for her but they also feel awkward around her because they don’t know what to say to her about her tragic loss. And a creepy thing happens when the murderer calls Chrissy’s phone number (which hadn’t been disconnected yet after she died), to apparently taunt the Monroe family and the authorities.
During the course of the story, two very different young men fall under suspicion for murdering Chrissy. One of the possible suspects is Brad Kirchoff (played by Ben Ahlers), who was Chrissy’s high-school boyfriend while she was also secretly having an affair with Steve Carpenter. There’s speculation that Brad (who’s a popular but very arrogant guy) might have found out about the affair, and murdered Chrissy and Steve out of jealousy and revenge. It doesn’t help Brad look innocent when he admits that he and Chrissy argued shortly before she was murdered.
The other young man who gets a lot of scrutiny is Casper Tatum (played by Sam Strike), a rebellious delinquent with an arrest record and a drug problem. Casper is a student who’s slightly older than high-school age because his failing grades have prevented him from graduating from high school with his original class. Because he’s over 18 and doesn’t seem to have any parental supervision, he has a lot more freedom than other students at the high school.
Because of Casper’s hoodlum reputation, more people in the community think that he’s the murderer than those who think Brad is the one who’s guilty. Casper has a massive crush on Becky, but he thinks he has no chance with her, because even if he weren’t under a cloud of suspicion for murdering her sister, Becky would still be considered out of Casper’s league. But Casper soon learns that Becky has a crush on him too, and they begin dating each other.
Casper and Becky’s relationship is a major scandal in the community. Becky ignores the orders of her parents (played by Cameron Bancroft and Eliza Norbury) to stop seeing Casper. One of the people who is the most offended by this romance is Brad, who thinks Becky is being disrespectful of Chrissy’s memory by dating someone whom a lot of people in the community think is the one who murdered Chrissy.
Needless to say, Brad isn’t shy about telling people that he thinks Casper is the murderer. Brad gets so angry at Becky that he curses her out and physically assaults her at school. Brad later apologizes to Becky, but when Casper hears about the assault, that leads Casper and Brad to have a major brawl at a house party attended by several of the students. It seems like every TV show or movie that’s centered on a high school has to show at least one big fight among students.
Meanwhile, Becky and Charlie become friends, as they bond over their mutual love of reading the same type of literature. You know where this is going: Charlie starts to fall for Becky too. And because Charlie is distracted by his feelings for Becky, it leads to him losing some interest in investigating Chrissy’s murder.
“When the Streetlights Go On” starts off promising, but it rapidly goes downhill when it starts to focus on Charlie falling in love with Becky. What happened to the murder mystery? It takes a back seat in the story after Charlie tries to get Becky to fall in love with him.
The acting in “When the Streetlights Go On” isn’t very remarkable, except for Thatcher, who gives a standout performance as the troubled and complicated Becky. And this story from screenwriters Chris Hutton and Eddie O’Keefe needed a lot of improvement. For example, it would’ve been better to not tell viewers up front that Becky would be murdered too.
When Becky’s death happens at the end, it’s not shocking because viewers know it’s coming. And when the murderer is finally revealed, how this reveal is handled is very rushed and almost like an afterthought. If you want to see yet another story about an angst-ridden teenage love triangle, then “When Streetlights Go On” might not disappoint you. But if you’re looking for a compelling drama about solving a murder mystery, then this isn’t that story.
Quibi premiered “When the Streetlights Go On” in 10 chapters, with the first three chapters debuting on April 6, 2020.