Review: ‘Don’t Worry Darling,’ starring Florence Pugh, Harry Styles, Olivia Wilde, Gemma Chan, KiKi Layne, Nick Kroll and Chris Pine

September 23, 2022

by Carla Hay

Pictured in center: Florence Pugh and Harry Styles in “Don’t Worry Darling” (Photo courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures)

“Don’t Worry Darling”

Directed by Olivia Wilde

Culture Representation: Taking place in a fictional California community named Victory, the sci-fi/drama film “Don’t Worry Darling” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with a few African Americans and Asians) representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: A homemaker wife with a seemingly perfect life finds her life unraveling when she witnesses things that are too disturbing to ignore, but other people try to convince her that she’s paranoid and mentally ill.

Culture Audience: “Don’t Worry Darling” will appeal mainly to people who are fans of stars Florence Pugh and Harry Styles, but this disappointing dud of a movie serves up an over-used concept that becomes tedious and repetitive with a bungled ending.

Pictured in front, from left to right: Olivia Wilde, Nick Kroll and Chris Pine in “Don’t Worry Darling” (Photo courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures)

Take a little bit of “The Stepford Wives,” add a lot of “The Twilight Zone,” and remove any real ingenuity. What’s left is a mishandled mush called “Don’t Worry Darling.” The central mystery of the story is too easy to solve, because a similar concept has been used in much better movies. Even without that problem and even with Florence Pugh’s talent, “Don’t Worry Darling” comes undone by a sloppily constructed conclusion.

Directed by Olivia Wilde and written by Katie Silberman, “Don’t Worry Darling” is one of those movies where the off-screen drama is more interesting than the movie itself. This review won’t rehash all the tabloid stories (including all the brouhaha at the movie’s world premiere at the 2022 Venice International Film Festival), but what most people will remember about “Don’t Worry Darling” is that it’s the movie that led to Wilde and co-star Harry Styles becoming romantically involved in real life. “Don’t Worry Darling” isn’t a complete train wreck, but it spins its wheels too many times to the point of monotony, and everything goes completely off the rails in the movie’s last 15 minutes.

We’ve seen this scenario many times before: A movie starts out with a picture-perfect couple who seems to have a picture-perfect life. They seem to be passionately in love. They live in a well-kept house with a perfectly manicured lawn, and the neighboring houses have an eerily similar aesthetic. And all the neighbors lead seemingly idyllic lives too. But, of course, it’s later revealed that the community is far from perfect and is actually quite hellish.

In “Don’t Worry Darling,” the central “perfect” couple are spouses Alice Chambers (played by Pugh) and Jack Chambers (played by Styles), who live in a planned California community named Victory, which is filled with palm trees and is near a desert. (“Don’t Worry Darling” was actually filmed in Palm Springs, California.) Based on the fashion, hairstyles and cars, Alice and Jack seem to be living in the 1950s. Alice is a homemaker, while Jack (and the other men in the community) all work for the Victory Project, a mysterious technological business venture led by a charismatically creepy CEO named Frank (played by Chris Pine). Jack’s job title is technical engineer.

Alice and Jack, who are both in their 20s, have no children. Jack and Alice tell people that they haven’t started a family yet because they want to enjoy life for a while in a child-free marriage. The movie’s opening scene shows Alice and Jack having a house party, where everyone is drunk or tipsy. Alice and some of the other people are playing a game to see who can balance a tray and drinking glass the longest on the top of their heads.

Two of the party guests are a married couple in their late 30s named Bunny (played by Wilde) and Dean (played by Nick Kroll), who like to think of themselves as the “alpha couple” of the Victory community because they’re older than everyone else. Dean is especially eager to be perceived as Frank’s favorite employee at Victory. Bunny (who is sassy and sarcastic) and Dean (who is high-strung and neurotic) have a son and a daughter who are about 5 to 7 years old. Bunny half-jokingly tells Alice that the kids like Alice more than they like Bunny.

Another couple in the Victory community are spouses Peg (played by Kate Berlant) and Peter (played by Asif Ali), who are little quirky but ultimately underwritten and underdeveloped. If Peg and Peter weren’t in the movie, it would have no real impact on the plot at all. Also underdeveloped is a scowling scientist character named Dr. Collins (played by Timothy Simons), who shows up later in the movie and is described as one of the founders of the Victory community.

Frank’s wife is an emotionally aloof diva named Shelley (played by Gemma Chan), who leads the Victory women in group ballet classes. All of the women seem to be a little bit afraid of Shelley. She gives the impression that she can be ruthless if anyone betrays her or the Victory Project.

One day, at one of the ballet classes, Shelley tells the assembled women that a new couple is moving into the neighborhood because the husband will be starting a new job at Victory. The spouses’ names are Bill Johnson (played by Douglas Smith) and Violet Johnson (played by Sydney Chandler), who are both anxious to fit in with this tight-knit Victory community. Bill is a little bit wimpy and socially awkward, while Violet is very demure and introverted.

To welcome Bill and Violet to the Victory community, Frank assembles the community members outdoors on the streets and gives a rousing speech. Bill and Violet look a little overwhelmed. Dean tries to assert himself by chastising Bill for not thinking of Frank with enough reverence. Later, Alice privately tells Bunny that Violet reminds Alice of a “beautiful, terrified baby deer.”

When talking to Bunny, Alice notices a neighbor named Margaret (played by KiKi Layne) standing outside on the front lawn of the house that Margaret shares with her husband Ted (played by Ari’el Stachel). Margaret, whose eyes are closed, seems to be in a daze as she clutches a red toy plane in her hand. It’s enough to say that Alice sees some other disturbing things pertaining to Margaret, including an apparent suicide attempt where Margaret is up on her house roof and looks like she’s ready to jump. (The trailer for “Don’t Worry Darling” already revealed this plot development.)

At the outdoor gathering, Margaret asks people, “Why are we here?” Ted doesn’t like the way that Margaret is asking is question, so he tells Margaret to keep quiet and whisks her away into their house. Margaret is rarely seen out of the house after that, while Alice sees indications that Ted is keeping tight control over Margaret and trying to prevent Margaret from interacting with other people.

Margaret has also been speaking out against Frank and questioning his intentions. It isn’t long before gossip spreads in the neighborhood that Margaret is a mentally ill troublemaker who must be shunned. If this Victory community sounds like a cult, a party scene at Frank’s mansion removes all doubt.

This party scene (like most of the movie’s plot) is already partially revealed in the “Don’t Worry Darling” trailer. At this party, Frank asks Dean in front of the assembled Victory people: “Dean, what’s the enemy of progress?” Dean dutifully replies, “Chaos.” Frank then says, “I see greatness in every single one of you. What are we here for?” The crowd chants, “We’re changing the world!”

Victory has a trolley that is the main form of public transportation in the community. One day, Alice is the only passenger in the trolley when she sees in the distance that a red plane has crashed into a cliff area near the desert. When Alice asks the trolley driver (played by Steve Berg) if he saw the plane crash, he says he didn’t see anything.

Alice begs the trolley driver to go to the plane crash site to get help, but the driver is too afraid and says that it’s a restricted area. Alice decides to walk to the area by herself. What happens after that sets her on a path where she and other people start to question her sanity.

Unfortunately, the trailer for “Don’t Worry Darling” already gives away the fact that this movie has men in red jumpsuits chasing after people, so it’s easy to figure out that these men are sent to oppress people who “disobey” the Victory rules. Guess who becomes one of those targets? It’s all so predictable.

Pugh does a skillful job of portraying Alice’s psychological torment, but ultimately, Alice (like all of the characters in this movie) are very hollow. Styles is adequate as Alice’s increasingly estranged husband Jack, who is torn between his loyalty to Alice and his loyalty to Victory. But after a while, the obvious and over-used plot development of “the woman who is not believed and labeled as mentally ill” gets run into the ground early and often in “Don’t Worry Darling,” At a certain point in the movie, you just know the men in the red jumpsuits will be part of a big chase scene, because it’s already revealed in the movie’s trailer.

“Don’t Worry Darling” tries to have some visual flair, with repetitive images of the people of Victory moving in sync with each other, as if they’re pre-programmed robots. This visual styling is shown in the scenes with the ballet classes, as well as the Victory community’s morning ritual of the wives going on their front lawns to wave goodbye to their husbands, who drive off to go to work in perfect sync in their flashy cars. The movie also repeats images (many of them psychedelic) of things in the shape of a circle, whether they are close-ups of eye pupils or women dancing like they’re in a Busby Berkeley musical.

All of this eye-catching cinematography comes off as shallow and a bit pretentious after a while, because the story falls so flat toward the end. “Don’t Worry Darling” hastily throws in some heavy-handed feminist messages but doesn’t have anything clever or new to say that 1975’s “The Stepford Wives” didn’t already cover decades ago. The half-baked ending of “Don’t Worry Darling” just brings up questions that are never answered.

Wilde and Silberman previously collaborated on the 2019 teen comedy “Booksmart,” which was Wilde’s feature-film directorial debut. And although the critically acclaimed “Booksmart” uses a lot of familiar teen comedy plot devices, “Booksmart” has dialogue, acting and character development that are appealing. The same can’t be said for “Don’t Worry Darling,” which has talented cast members, who look all dressed up but have nowhere artistically to go in this boring sci-fi tripe posing as an intriguing psychological thriller.

Warner Bros Pictures released “Don’t Worry Darling” in U.S. cinemas on September 23, 2022.

Review: ‘Sing 2,’ starring the voices of Matthew McConaughey, Reese Witherspoon, Scarlett Johansson, Tori Kelly, Taron Egerton, Bono and Halsey

November 28, 2021

by Carla Hay

Pictured in front row, from left to right: Klaus Kickenlober (voiced by Adam Buxton), Johnny (voiced by Taron Egerton), Meena (voiced by Tori Kelly), Porsha Crystal (voiced by Halsey), Clay Calloway (voiced by Bono), Rosita (voiced by Reese Witherspoon), Darius (voiced by Eric André), Ash (voiced by Scarlett Johansson) and Gunter (voiced by Nick Kroll) in “Sing 2” (Image courtesy of Illumination Entertainment/Universal Pictures)

“Sing 2”

Directed by Garth Jennings

Culture Representation: Taking place in the fictional U.S. city of Redstone City and briefly in the fictional U.S. city of Calatonia, the animated film “Sing 2” features a predominantly white cast of actors (with a few black people) voicing the characters of talking animals that are connected in some ways to showbiz.

Culture Clash: The owner and star performers of Calatonia’s New Moon Theater take their act to Redstone City, the nation’s entertainment capital, in the hopes of becoming bigger stars, but the ruthless mogul who can give them their big break expects the group’s act to include a reclusive rock star who hasn’t performed live in 15 years. 

Culture Audience: Besides appealing to the obvious target audience of “Sing” fans and fans of the movie’s voice cast members, “Sing 2” will appeal primarily to people who don’t mind watching a “jukebox musical” with a poorly constructed, flimsy plot.

Pictured from left to right, beginning second from left: Jimmy Crystal (voiced by Bobby Cannavale), Johnny (voiced by Taron Egerton), Gunter (voiced by Nick Kroll), Buster Moon (voiced by Matthew McConaughey), Meena (voiced by Tori Kelly), Rosita (voiced by Reese Witherspoon) and Ash (voiced by Scarlett Johansson) in “Sing 2” (Image courtesy of Illumination Entertainment/Universal Pictures)

Plagued by “sequel-itis,” the animated musical “Sing 2” sacrifices character development for a plot that sloppily rushes storylines and then turns into a commercial for Bono and U2’s music at the very end. The movie loses much of the charm of 2016’s “Sing” by having the main characters go off on different tangents and by introducing several new characters that are presented in a very superficial way. The “Sing” movie series (which is about talking animals, many of which can sing) also loses a lot of comedic appeal with “Sing 2,” by introducing a murderous villain that drags down the story with soulless acts of evil.

This decline in quality can’t be blamed on a change in filmmaker leadership. “Sing” and “Sing 2” were both written and directed by Garth Jennings and have the same producers (Janet Healy and Christopher Meledandri), as well as the same chiefs of certain departments, such as film editing, visual effects and music. The voice actors of most of the lead characters in “Sing” reprised the same roles for “Sing 2.”

Considering all of the talented people involved, it’s a disappointment that so much of “Sing 2” seems like a lazily conceived cash grab that does nothing innovative. The entire movie lacks suspense (there are absolutely no surprises) and over-relies on stringing together what are essentially separate animated music videos and trying to make it look like it’s all part of a cohesive plot. The visuals of “Sing 2” are perfectly fine, but there should be more to a movie than it just looking good.

Sequels are supposed to tell you more about the main characters, but “Sing 2” fails in this regard because you won’t learn almost anything new about the main characters from watching this sequel. “Sing 2” continues to have an overload of pop hits (original recordings and cover versions), but it’s less effective in this sequel, compared to the first “Sing” movie. That’s because “Sing 2” is essentially a mediocre “jukebox musical,” where song placement is more important than having a well-written storyline and memorable dialogue. Most of the new characters in “Sing 2” have hollow and stereotypical personalities.

“Sing 2” also follows a predictable plot formula for the second movie in an animated series: The main characters travel out of their home environment and get involved in new adventures somewhere else. And there’s nothing inherently wrong with that formula if it’s done with an engaging story. (It’s a formula that Pixar Animation has mastered with many of its sequels.) Unfortunately, “Sing 2” does not have a story that’s very interesting.

“Sing 2” is also one of those sequels that doesn’t do a very good job of introducing the main characters to viewers who didn’t see the first “Sing” movie. “Sing 2” assumes that people seeing this sequel are already familiar with the main characters. But that’s an assumption that just makes the screenwriting look even lazier than it needed to be.

Some of the characters in the first “Sing” movie struggled with different personal issues. For example, one character has a criminal parent who discouraged him from being a singer, and that parent ended up being incarcerated for a robbery. Another character suffered from stage fright. If any those issues are mentioned in “Sing 2,” they’re vague references when they should be a little more detailed, to give the characters more depth. In addition, “Sing 2” doesn’t really mention that all of the main characters that are singers met each other through a talent contest that was the focus of the first “Sing” movie.

If you must waste your time on the inferior “Sing 2,” it’s best to see the first “Sing” movie so you can understand the backstories of the main characters and see their real personalities. In “Sing 2,” almost all of the main characters’ personalities are reduced to soundbite-like dialogue in between singing songs. The good news is that all of the cast members who sing do a very fine job with their performances.

In “Sing” (which takes place in the fictional U.S. city of Calatonia), an ambitious koala named Buster Moon (voiced by Matthew McConaughey) owns an inherited theater that’s in danger of shutting down due to his financal problems. In order to get publicity for the theater and increase attendance, Buster holds a talent contest that attracts several Calatonia residents, and some of these characters end up being the stars of the contest. In “Sing 2,” Buster wants to take his productions out of regional theater and into the big leagues of a Vegas-styled musical show.

These singing stars from the “Sing” talent contest make their return in the “Sing 2” movie:

  • Rosita (voiced by Reese Witherspoon), a pig who’s a harried housewife and a mother of 25 piglets.
  • Ash (voiced by Scarlett Johansson), a porcupine who’s a rock singer/guitarist and a feminist.
  • Johnny (voiced by Taron Egerton), a gorilla who can play sing and piano a lot like Elton John.
  • Meena (voiced by Tori Kelly), an elephant who’s shy and insecure except when she’s singing.
  • Gunter (voiced by Nick Kroll), a pig who’s flamboyant and an occasional duet partner with Rosita.

Also returning for “Sing 2” is Buster’s eccentric administrative assistant Miss Crawly (voiced by writer/director Jennings), an iguana with a glass eye that often falls out and causes mishaps. Making cameos in “Sing 2” are two other characters from the first “Sing” movie: Johnny’s gorilla gangster father Big Daddy (voiced by Peter Serafinowicz) and elderly sheep Nana Noodleman (voiced by Jennifer Saunders), who is a wealthy benefactor and former theater diva.

In the beginning of “Sing 2,” New Moon Theater (the venue owned by Buster) is presenting a musical production of “Alice in Wonderland,” with Meena in the starring role of Alice. The show is a local hit that plays to sold-out audiences. During a performance, Buster is excited to see that an important talent scout named Suki Lane (voiced by Chelsea Peretti) is in the audience and taking notes.

Suki (who is a brown dog that can walk upright and has human-like arms and legs ) works for the mega-company Crystal Entertainment in Redshore City, the entertainment capital of the nation. Redshore City is designed to look a lot like Las Vegas. Miss Crawly tells Buster that Suki has been paying attention to the show and seems to be entertained.

After the performance, Buster rushes after Suki to talk to her before she can leave. He asks her what she thought of the show. Suki haughtily replies, “It’s a cute little show, but it’s not what we’re looking for. You’re not good enough. You’ve got a nice little local theater here, and it’s great for what it is, but trust me: You’d never make it in the big leagues.”

Buster is stung by this criticism, but he’s not ready to give up so easily. Even if his productions are considered regional theater, he knows that these shows have value because they frequently sell out. Suki gets in a chauffeured car to leave. Buster chases after the moving car on his bike, and he holds on to the car door to continue to talk to Suki.

Suki thinks that Buster is crazy and tells the driver to speed up, in order to get rid of Buster. Buster is essentially run off of the road, and he lands in a nearby canal. This debacle is witnessed by several residents who are near the canal. It’s a humiliating moment for Buster, but it’s played for laughs in the movie.

A discouraged Buster tells Nana about Suki’s rejection. He moans, “I’m a failure!” Nana scolds Buster for letting this setback make him think that he should give up. She tells him that if he doesn’t believe in himself and what he has to offer, then no one else will. Buster takes this advice and decides to round up Meena, Rosita, Ash, Johnny, Gunter and Miss Crawly to go on a road trip with him to Redstone City. The goal is to convince Crystal Entertainment to let them do a musical at the much-larger and more famous Crystal Tower Theater.

Ash already has a paying gig at a local rock club in Calatonia, but she’s being underpaid. When Buster meets up with Ash to ask her to go on the trip, he sees her backstage after a performance, right before she’s supposed to do an encore. The club owner/manager hands Ash a paycheck, and she’s annoyed because the amount is far less than what other artists at the club are getting paid.

Ash says to the club owner/manager: “I have a rule about not letting guys like you tell me what I’m worth. Unless I get paid like everyone else, I’m outta here!” And with that, she walks out of the building with Buster, without doing the encore.

The owner of Crystal Entertainment is Jimmy Crystal (played by Bobby Cannavale), who is literally and figuratively a wolf. He’s a hard-nosed, ruthless business mogul who insists that people call him Mr. Crystal. He is first seen judging auditioners at Crystal Tower Theater and giving red-buzzer rejections to every act, no matter how talented the act is.

Meanwhile, Buster and his group have arrived at Crystal Entertainment headquarters, but they don’t make it past the reception area because they don’t have an appointment. However, they go in a side employee entrance, find some sanitation worker uniforms, and disguise themselves as sanitation workers, in order to sneak into the auditions.

After a quick change back into their regular clothes, this enterprising group sneaks onto the audition stage. Buster makes an earnest pitch to offer his theater group for a musical show at Crystal Tower Theater. Mr. Crystal rejects them, of course. Buster tries to get Mr. Crystal to change his mind, but Mr. Crystal doesn’t want to hear it and is infuriated that these rejected auditioners don’t want to leave the stage.

Just as Mr. Crystal is about to have them thrown out, he overhears Gunter say that Gunter is a fan of Clay Calloway, a rock superstar lion who has been in seclusion for the past 15 years. Mr. Crystal asks if they know Clay. Buster lies and says yes. Mr. Crystal then changes his mind and says that he’ll agree to let Buster’s group do a show at the Crystal Tower Theater, on one condition: Clay Calloway has to be part of the act too.

Buster continues to lie and says it won’t be a problem because he and Clay are friends. When Mr. Crystal asks what the name of the show is, Gunter comes up with a title on the spot: “Out of This World.” It’s described as an outer-space musical. Mr. Crystal doesn’t care about the details because he just wants Clay Calloway to perform at the Crystal Tower Theater.

Mr. Crystal gives Buster and his group just three weeks to produce the show. He puts them up in the Crystal Tower Hotel and pays for all of their expenses. Buster is elated and decides he’ll figure out a way to convince Clay Calloway to be a part of the show. Ash is a big fan of Clay’s and she wants to go with Buster for this persuasive visit. Ash explains that Clay has become a grieving recluse ever since the death of his wife Ruby, who was his muse.

In the meantime, Buster works with Gunter on the concept for the “Out of This World” musical. They come up with the idea to have Rosita star as an astronaut looking for an outer-space explorer, with Gunter as a robot sidekick/aide. During this mission, she will have to visit four planets that have four different themes: war, love, despair and joy. This idea is as poorly conceived as it sounds.

Meanwhile, there’s more to Mr. Crystal than meets the eye. When an uninteresting movie like this is filled with hackneyed stereotypes, here’s one more: Mr. Crystal is really a gangster. A Vegas-styled hotel/casino owner who’s involved with illegal activities? Where did the filmmakers get this idea?

“Sing 2” starts to go off the rails in how it presents the preparations for this horrendous “Out of This World” musical production, by having the stars of the show go off in different directions with silly subplots. Rosita decides to invite her husband Norman (voiced by Nick Offerman) and their 25 kids to Redstone City. (After all, Mr. Crystal is paying for everything.) And so, there’s a scene of the kids being brats as they invade a food buffet area in the hotel and cause all types of chaos.

Rosita is playing an astronaut who has to do some high-flying stunts on stage. And therefore, it’s not a good time for Rosita to find out that she’s afraid of heights. Around the same time, Mr. Crystal insists that his daughter Porsha Crystal (voiced by Halsey) will be the star of the show. Buster is put in the awkward position of telling Rosita that she’s being replaced in the starring role. Porsha is a spoiled airhead who sounds like she’s spent too much time watching “Jersey Shore.”

Johnny is supposed to play a dancing gladiator-type of warrior in “Out of This World,” but Johnny doesn’t know how to dance. And so, the show’s uptight and mean-spirited monkey choreographer Klaus Kickenklober (voiced by Adam Buxton) makes Johnny’s life a living hell. But what do you know: One day, Johnny sees a sassy lynx street dancer named Nooshy (voiced by Letitia Wright), who attracts an enthusiastic crowd. Johnny is impressed with Nooshy’s talent, so he hires her to give him private dance lessons.

Meena, who is very inexperienced when it comes to dating, is paired with a conceited yak actor named Darius (voiced by Eric André), so she’s dreading the love scenes that they have to do in the musical. “Sing 2” has such slipshod screenwriting, Meena’s and Darius’ character roles in “Out of This World” are never clearly defined, except to show that they’re supposed to play each other’s love interest in “Out of This World.” Darius could have been breakout “Sing 2” character as a hilarious buffoon, but he’s mainly brought out for some underwhelming scenes where the jokes fall flat.

Meanwhile, Meena catches the eye of a mild-mannered elephant named Alfonso (voiced by Pharrell), an ice cream truck vendor. It’s obvious that Alfonso wants to date Meena, but she’s bashful about how to handle it. Alfonso compliments Meena on her singing talent, but she’s afraid to have conversations with him. None of these new supporting characters in “Sing 2” has a backstory or fully developed personality.

Meanwhile, there’s a time-wasting scene where Miss Crawly drives to reclusive rock star Clay’s estate (while System of a Down’s “Chop Suey!” is playing), to find out if she can get access to him. Some more problems ensue involving her glass eye, because the filmmakers seem to want to make Miss Crawly’s glass eye the main gimmick for the slapstick comedy about her. Needless to say, Miss Crawly is unsuccessful in getting to Clay. Buster and Ash decide to give it a try.

The second trailer for “Sing 2” already revealed that Clay (voiced by Bono, lead singer of U2) does come out of seclusion to perform on stage. But even if this major plot development hadn’t already been disclosed, it would be very easy to predict. The movie blandly and vaguely handles how Clay is convinced to come out of seclusion.

“Sing 2” is Bono’s animated feature-film debut as an actor. Bono’s speaking voice in this role is lowered one or two octaves from his real speaking voice. It seems like he’s trying to sound like a husky-voiced American rock star (somewhat like a combination of Bruce Springsteen and Tom Waits), but Bono’s natural Irish accent can still occasionally be heard in the dialogue.

As for the music of “Sing 2,” just like the first “Sing” movie, a lot of it comes in snippets of one minute or less per song. Songs that drop in for a longer than a minute (but still quickly) include Prince’s “Let’s Go Crazy,” Elton John’s “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road,” Mercury Rev’s “Holes,” Billie Eilish’s “Bad Guy,” DNCE’s “Cake by the Ocean,” Shawn Mendes’ “There’s Nothing Holdin’ Me Back,” Eve’s “Who’s That Girl” and Camila Cabello and Mendes’ “Señorita.”

The longer musical numbers are serviceable, although there are a few standout moments. Halsey shines in her biggest number, when she sings a rousing rendition of the Struts’ “Could Have Been Me.” Halsey’s version of Alicia Keys’ “Girl on Fire” is also impressive. Johansson does nicely with her cover version of U2’s “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For.”

However, the Tori Kelly/Pharrell Williams duet of Dionne Warwick’s “I Say a Little Prayer” has no heat. It’s also a very tame song selection for the characters of Meena and Alfonso, who are supposed to be in the early stages of a romance. Their first duet should’ve been more of a passionate love song or a more emotion-filled song about longing for love.

It seems like the “Sing 2” filmmakers bent over backwards to make Bono and his Clay character overshadow the movie’s last 15 minutes to steal the show. In the first “Sing” movie, main characters Rosita, Meena, Ash and Johnny all had their big individual singing moments in the spotlight. In “Sing 2,” everyone seems to have to clear a path for Bono/Clay.

In “Sing 2,” the Johnny character is woefully under-used as a singer. The movie seems more concerned about showing him awkwardly learning dance moves. It’s a shame, really, because Egerton is such a talented singer. His rendition of Elton John’s “I’m Still Standing” in the first “Sing” movie was one of the catalysts to Egerton being cast in John’s 2019 musical biopic “Rocketman.”

“Sing 2” is essentially a vehicle to promote U2’s music in the latter half of the movie. There are four U2 songs in “Sing 2”: the aforementioned “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For,” “Where the Streets Have No Name,” “Stuck in a Moment You Can’t Get Out Of” and “Your Song Saved My Life,” which was written for the “Sing 2” soundtrack. Obviously, “Your Song Saved My Life” is supposed to be Clay’s big moment. “Your Song Saved My Life” isn’t bad, but it’s not outstanding, and it won’t be considered a U2 classic.

If you want to know another reason “Sing 2” is such a disappointing mess, the filmmakers made Bono—one of the most charismatic rock stars on the planet—a dull and dreary character in this movie. The Clay character could’ve been played by almost anyone, but it seems like in order to get U2’s music for this movie, the filmmakers had to cast Bono in this role. It’s too bad that Bono and the rest of the talented voice actors are stuck in this hack karaoke project that has a major studio budget.

Universal Pictures will release “Sing 2” in U.S. cinemas on December 22, 2021.

Review: ‘The Addams Family 2,’ starring the voices of Oscar Issac, Charlize Theron, Chloë Grace Moretz, Javon ‘Wanna’ Walton, Nick Kroll, Bette Midler and Bill Hader

October 1, 2021

by Carla Hay

“The Addams Family 2”: Pictured in front row, from left to right: Gomez Addams (voiced by Oscar Isaac), Wednesday Addams (voiced by Chloë Grace Moretz), Morticia Addams (voiced by Charlize Theron), Pugsley Addams (voiced by Javon “Wanna” Walton) and It (voiced by Snoop Dogg). Pictured in back row, from left to right: Uncle Fester (voiced by Nick Kroll, Lurch (voiced by Conrad Vernon) and Grandma (voiced by Bette Midler). (Image courtesy of Metro Goldwyn Mayer Pictures)

“The Addams Family 2”

Directed by Conrad Vernon and Greg Tiernan

Culture Representation: Taking place in various parts of the U.S., the animated film “The Addams Family 2” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with a few African Americans and Latinos) representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: The ghoulish Addams Family goes on a cross-country road trip, in an effort to create more family bonding, as adolescent daughter Wednesday Addams goes through an identity crisis about her biological origins. 

Culture Audience: Besides appealing to the obvious target audience of “Addams Family” fans, “The Addams Family 2” will appeal primarily to people who don’t mind watching overly cluttered animated films that have a very weak plot.

Wednesday Addams (voiced by Chloë Grace Moretz) and Cyrus Strange (voiced by Bill Hader) in “The Addams Family 2” (Image courtesy of Metro Goldwyn Mayer Pictures)

In the animated film “The Addams Family 2,” the family goes on a road trip while being chased by a lawyer who wants Wednesday Addams’ DNA because he says he needs to prove she’s not biologically related to the Addams Family. That’s all you need to know about how bad this sequel is. You don’t even have to be a familiar with “The Addams Family” franchise to know that the members of this comedically ghoulish clan are supposed to be very tight-knit (despite the occasional inter-family squabbles) precisely because they’re misfits in the real world and have an “us against them” attitude about it. It’s the basis of the comedy of “The Addams Family” franchise, which has included movies and TV shows, both live-action and animated.

“The Addams Family 2” is directed by Conrad Vernon and Greg Tiernan, who both also helmed the 2019 animated film “The Addams Family.” Wednesday Addams (voiced by Chloë Grace Moretz) is the gloomy, sarcastic and intelligent daughter of cheerful Gomez Addams (voiced by Oscar Isaac) and somber Morticia Addams (voiced by Charlize Theron), who looks and acts like stereotypical witch. With their pale skin and long, straight black hair, Wednesday and Morticia clearly have a physical resemblance to each other and have similar personalities. And yet, “The Addams Family 2” has a very misguided idea to have Wednesday go through an identity crisis just because someone told her that she’s not a true biological member of the family.

Pugsley Addams, who is Wednesday’s goofy pre-teen younger brother, is more like his father Gomez. In “The Addams Family 2,” Pugsley is voiced by Javon “Wanna” Walton, who replaces Finn Wolfhard, who voiced Pugsley in “The Addams Family” 2019 animated movie. Wednesday is such a negative person that she likes to torture and taunt Pugsley with cruel pranks and insults.

Also in the Addams Family are Uncle Fester (voiced by Nick Kroll), who is Gomez’s oddball bachelor brother; Cousin It (voiced by Snoop Dogg), a hair-covered character who grunts and raps; and Grandma (voiced by Bette Midler), Gomez’s sassy and free-spirited mother. All of them except for Cousin It live together in the same foreboding mansion up on a hill in an unnamed U.S. city. Cousin It drops in occasionally to visit; he’s not a major character in this movie.

Also living in the household, but not biologically related to the Addams Family, are two servants: a disembodied hand called Thing and a butler named Lurch (voiced by Conrad Vernon), who resembles the Frankenstein monster and who doesn’t talk but makes other sounds to communicate. In the 2019 “The Addams Family” movie, Lurch came to live with the family after Morticia and Gomez got into a car accident with a car that was transporting Lurch to an institution for the criminally insane. Lurch was able to escape, and he was invited to live with the Addams Family as their butler. The Addams Family also has a pet lion named Kitty.

In the beginning of “The Addams Family 2,” the family is gathered to watch Wednesday participate in the Cyrus Strange Foundation Science Fair. She is demonstrating an invention that she created which is intended to have the ability to extract personalities and intelligence and implant them in other beings through DNA. Wednesday is so confident about her invention, she’s sure that she will be declared the science fair’s winner.

As a live experiment to demonstrate how the invention works, Wednesday shows how Uncle Fester can’t solve a Rubik’s cube puzzle, while a smart octopus can solve the puzzle. She then temporarily implants the octopus’ DNA into Uncle Fester, and he’s able to solve the puzzle. However, for the rest of the movie, Uncle Fester becomes a mutant with the physical characteristics of an octopus. It’s one of this movie’s many terrible ideas, in a failed attempt at making this story funny.

The audience is impressed with Wednesday’s experiment. However, Wednesday becomes furious when she finds out that this science fair isn’t going to name a winner, because everyone who participated will get a ribbon as a prize. Wednesday fumes, “How can you be a winner if no one is a loser? Is this the third grade? It does not count!”

Someone who has been watching this science fair from afar is founder Cyrus Strange (voiced by Bill Hader), who appears at the event as a hologram. Cyrus asks Wednesday if she would like to work with him to further develop her invention. Cyrus says he has the money and resources to help her, but she declines his offer.

At home, Wednesday has been showing typical signs of adolescent rebellion. She doesn’t want to join the family when they’re gathered for dinner. She’s been sulking more than usual. And she’s been expressing that she wants more independence from her family, because she thinks her parents are too supportive of her.

Gomez decides the best way to resolve this issue is for the entire family (with Lurch, Thing and Kitty in tow) to go on a road trip together. Grandma will stay behind to look after the house. In typical Addams Family fashion, the black automobile that they’re using for the road trip looks like a combination of a recreational vehicle and a hearse.

Just as the Addams Family is packing up to leave for the trip, an attorney named Mr. Mustela (voiced by Wallace Shawn) shows up to inform the Addams Family that he represents a family in Sausalito, California. Mr. Mustela says that his clients are convinced that their daughter was switched at birth with Wednesday, and Mr. Mustela has arrived to collect Wednesday’s DNA as proof. He wants Wednesday’s DNA, right then and there.

Morticia and Gomez scoff at the idea that Wednesday is not their biological child. They refuse Mr. Mustela’s request and tell him to leave. But is this the last they’ll see of Mr. Mustela? Of course not. With a mute, hulking goon named Pongo as his accomplice, Mr. Mustela follows the Addams Family as they go on their road trip, which takes them to Niagra Falls, Sleepy Hollow, Miami, San Antonio, the Grand Canyon, Death Valley and Sausalito.

Why in the world would Wednesday and anyone else in her family start to doubt her biological identity? It happens during the road trip, when Uncle Fester confesses that there was a time when he was all alone in the hospital nursery where Wednesday was placed, shortly after Wednesday was born. This story is shown in a flashback.

Even as a baby, Wednesday did not look like other kids. However, Uncle Fester says that he was goofing around in the nursery and he started juggling the babies. Looking back on it, he thinks it’s possible that he could have put some of the babies back in the wrong cribs. However, what’s dumb about this major plot hole of a story is that Wednesday looked so vastly different from the other babies that there’s no way that a seeing person could confuse her with any of the other babies in the room.

As her parents, Gomez and Morticia should know this too, but that doesn’t stop them from having doubts that maybe Wednesday isn’t their biological child. Uncle Fester’s story sends Wednesday into an even more angst-ridden emotional tailspin. For a girl who’s supposed to be scientifically smart, this awful movie suddenly dumbs her down, in service of a poorly conceived story.

“The Addams Family 2” does what a lot of animated sequels do: It takes the characters on a journey to different places, just so it’ll make the movie try to look more adventurous than its predecessor. Sometimes this idea works, and sometimes it doesn’t. In the case of “The Addams Family 2,” it doesn’t work because the entire basis of the “possibly switched at birth” plot is flawed and an insult to how the Addams Family characters are supposed to be.

“The Addams Family 2” also has a bizarre recurring joke of Uncle Fester trying to teach a pre-teen Pugsley how to charm and seduce women. It’s supposed to be funny because Uncle Fester is terrible at dating and has very little experience with romance. But he creepily pressures Pugsley to start looking for a girlfriend who’s close to Pugsley’s age, even though this kid is too young to be dating anyone.

Didn’t any of the filmmakers think how inappropriate and weird this subplot is, considering that Pugsley hasn’t even reached puberty yet? Dan Hernandez, Benji Samit, Ben Queen and Susanna Fogel are the four screenwriters for “The Addams Family 2,” so they’re largely to blame for coming up with the awful ideas that plague this movie. However, other chief decision makers (including directors Vernon and Tiernan) were involved in making this movie into a stinking mess, so there’s plenty of blame to go around.

The road trip is just an excuse for the Addams Family to go from location to location and get into various shenanigans along the way. Wednesday is crueler than ever to Pugsley in this movie. For example, in one scene at Niagra Falls, Wednesday has a cursed voodoo doll of Pugsley, which she callously throws into the waterfall, therby making Pugsley plunge into the deadly waterfall with the doll. The movie wants to make viewers laugh at all the physical abuse and attempted murder that’s inflicted on Pugsley, but it’s not slapstick comedy that’s genuinely funny. It’s just plain mean-spirited.

Meanwhile, Grandma is at the mansion, which she has turned into a nightclub-styled party house where she’s charging young people $500 per person for admission. It’s a half-baked idea that’s executed in a mediocre and predictable way. It just recycles a tired joke that an old person partying with young people is automatically supposed to be funny.

“The Addams Family 2” isn’t the worst animated movie you’ll ever see. But it’s offensively bad enough because it had so much potential to be a good movie, considering its generous budget and very talented voice cast. “The Addams Family” movie that preceded it wasn’t great either, but it didn’t wildly go off-track like “The Addams Family 2” does. “The Addams Family 2” is an example of what happens when filmmakers don’t respect a franchise’s characters, and come up with an ill-conceived story that doesn’t ring true to how fans know these characters.

Metro Goldwyn Mayer Pictures released “The Addams Family 2” in U.S. cinemas and on VOD on October 1, 2021.

Review: ‘Have a Good Trip: Adventures in Psychedelics’ starring Sting, Ben Stiller, Carrie Fisher, Anthony Bourdain, Deepak Chopra, A$AP Rocky and Sarah Silverman

May 18, 2020

by Carla Hay

Rob Corddry in “Have a Good Trip: Adventures in Psychedelics” (Photo courtesy of Netflix)

“Have a Good Trip: Adventures in Psychedelics”

Directed by Donick Cary

Culture Representation: This documentary interviews a predominantly white male group of entertainers who talk about their experiences taking psychedelic drugs, and the movie features a diverse group of actors doing comedy skits about psychedelic drug experiences.

Culture Clash: Despite these drugs being illegal, almost all of the people interviewed say that they don’t regret taking psychedelic drugs.

Culture Audience: “Have a Good Trip: Adventures in Psychedelics” will appeal to people who just want one-sided comedic stories about taking psychedelic drugs, because the movie’s agenda is to exclude any stories about the drugs’ long-term negative effects on health.

Nick Offerman in “Have a Good Trip: Adventures in Psychedelics” (Photo courtesy of Netflix)

In its overexuberance to portray psychedelic drug taking as something that’s harmless or something to laugh about later, the documentary “Have a Good Trip: Adventures in Psychedelics” sinks to new lows of exploitation by prominently featuring two celebrities whose tragic, self-destructive deaths are definitely not funny. The documentary’s filmmakers (including director Donick Cary) made the morbid and tacky decision to display the filmmakers’ interviews with Carrie Fisher and Anthony Bourdain in this parade of celebrities who mostly glamorize taking psychedelic drugs.

Fisher died in 2016 of drug-related causes. Bourdain committed suicide in 2018. They both struggled with mental-health issues and drug addiction and admitted to taking a lot of LSD and other psychedelics in their lifetimes. Needless to say, Fisher and Bourdain are definitely not examples of how psychedelic drugs can help people with mental-health problems and drug addictions. And yet, the documentary pushes the scientifically unproven agenda that psychedelic drugs are beneficial to people suffering from drug addiction and mental-health issues.

But hey, why let these tragic deaths get in the way of making a documentary where these now-dead people are shown joking about their acid trips, as if those drug experiences couldn’t possibly be harmful to them? They’re certainly not going to talk about the negative side effects of “bad trips,” such as suicidal thoughts, depression or psychosis. After all, this movie wants people to believe that psychedelics are “shiny, happy drugs,” without giving a thoroughly honest look at the down sides too, because the film is so focused on having people endorse these drugs.

And there’s a reason why the filmmakers only included entertainers in this documentary that glamorizes psychedelic drugs. Imagine a documentary that featured a bunch of health-care workers, emergency responders, schoolteachers or airplane pilots joking about their experiences doing psychedelic drugs, and many of the interviewees giving the impression that they still do psychedelics on a regular basis. It wouldn’t seem so “harmless” then, would it?

Therefore, it’s no surprise that the documentary focuses on people (some more famous than others) who are in showbiz, where illegal drug abuse is flaunted and often celebrated. The average person in a regular job would not be able to get away with bragging in a Netflix documentary about their drug experiences.

Nor does the average person have the kind of money that rock star Sting has, to fly to Mexico whenever he wants, just to take peyote in an elaborate shaman ritual, which he describes in vivid detail in the documentary. Almost all of the people in this film can easily afford to indulge in taking illegal drugs and do not have to worry about how they’re going to pay for any medical treatment or legal issues if things go wrong. It’s one of the reasons why the documentary glamorizes these drug experiences, because there are some negative consequences to illegal drug taking that the “average” person can’t casually dismiss as easily as a well-paid entertainer can.

In addition to Sting, there are several other entertainers in the documentary who talk about their psychedelic drug trips or say that they’ve used psychedelic drugs: Ben Stiller (who’s one of the documentary’s producers), Nick Kroll, Deepak Chopra, Will Forte, A$AP Rocky, Nick Offerman, Shepard Fairey, Lewis Black, Paul Scheer, Rob Corddry, Andy Richter, Judd Nelson, Sarah Silverman, Jim James, Diedrich Bader, Rob Huebel, Reggie Watts, Natasha Lyonne, Adam Horovitz, Mark Maron, Rosie Perez, Donovan, Grateful Dead drummer Bill Kreutzmann, Brett Gelman, Robert Ben Garant, Thomas Lennon and David Cross.

One of the problems of doing a documentary like this is that you never really know how much people could be exaggerating or lying about these drug experiences. Many of the people interviewed are comedians and actors—two professions that are notorious for people fabricating things about their lives in order to get attention. Therefore, this documentary should not be considered very “realistic” by any stretch of the drug-addled imagination.

The psychedelic stories are re-enacted in one of two ways: through animation or by having live actors do a scripted skit. The animated segments (from Sugarshack Animation) are among the best aspects of the documentary. The scripted skits are hit-and-miss.

One of those misfires is miscasting Adam Devine as Bourdain in a re-enactment of Bourdain’s description of a drug-fueled, Hunter S. Thompson-inspired road trip that he took when he was a young man in the 1970s. Devine is known for having a sweet and goofy persona, while Bourdain was the complete opposite, which makes the re-enactment wrong from the get-go.

Even worse, the story that Bourdain tells isn’t even that funny. The road trip included Bourdain and a male friend picking up two women and partying heavily with them in a hotel room, including ingesting several drugs, such as LSD, alcohol, marijuana and cocaine. One of the women overdosed, and the others thought she was dead. So they just left her unconscious on the floor while they tried to figure out what to do, according to Bourdain.

Bourdain, while high on LSD, says that he imagined that there would be police coming to arrest them, with helicopters, searchlights, and a S.W.A.T.-like team surrounding the room. And then the woman suddenly regained consciousness and started to dance as if nothing had happened. Someone could’ve died from ingesting drugs while you were partying with that person, you had a LSD-induced panic attack about being arrested, and that’s supposed to be funny?

A better re-enactment that accomplishes its intended humor is Natasha Leggero dressed in a “Star Wars” Princess Leia outfit, for Fisher’s tale of being high on LSD while in New York City’s Central Park. During that psychedelic experience, Fisher says she spent a great deal of time being upset at seeing an acorn “misbehave” on the grass. During another acid trip on a beach, Fisher vaguely remembers she might have been topless when a bus full of Japanese tourists stopped right in front of her and they recognized her.

And in a somewhat clever casting switcheroo, Corddry plays Scheer in the segment that re-enacts Scheer’s psychedelic story, while Scheer plays Corddy in Corddry’s re-enactment. Meanwhile, Kroll portrays himself in his re-enactment about how he and a group of male friends were high on LSD at a Malibu beach, and the friends covered him in kelp as a prank. He then imagined himself to be a kelp monster and chased them around the beach. (Things weren’t so funny the next morning when he woke up covered in bites from whatever small animals were in the kelp.)

Most of the psychedelic trips described in the documentary are about hallucinations, experiencing colors in a different way, or losing a sense of time or memory. And there are the typical stories of “revelations,” along the lines of “I saw inside my soul,” “I saw how connected the world is” and “I found out the meaning of life is to love everybody.” Some of the people interviewed also give advice by saying it’s better to take psychedelics with trusted friends and to avoid looking in mirrors while under the influence of psychedelics.

A$AP Rocky (one of the few people of color who’s interviewed in the film) tells one of the documentary’s funniest stories, about how he took LSD with a beautiful female companion. During the course of the time they had together, they started having sex. And he swears that he saw a rainbow shoot from his penis during this encounter. “I don’t even like rainbows,” he quips. (Needless to say, the re-enactment for this story is definitely in animation form.)

But for every entertaining story like that one, the documentary has a story that’s basic or boring. The Grateful Dead was considered the ultimate psychedelic rock band, so you’d think one of the Dead’s drummers would have some hilarious stories to tell. Wrong.

Kreutzmann’s anecdotes aren’t that interesting or revealing, unless you consider it’s fascinating that he tells a story of coming home to his parents’ house after staying out all night while he was on LSD, and hallucinating that his breakfast meal of eggs were moving on the plate. He also mentions that he once couldn’t finish performing at a Grateful Dead concert because he was hallucinating that his drums were melting. Yawn.

Being stoned on psychedelics at a Grateful Dead show is also predictably mentioned by some of the interviewees, such as Corddry and Maron. (The late Fred Willard has a cameo as a Deadhead hippie in the re-enactment of Maron’s psychedelic story.) Garant comedically describes how you can tell the difference between someone having a “good trip” and a “bad trip” at a Dead concert, because someone having a “good trip” will lean forward while walking, while someone having a “bad trip” will lean backward while walking, as if they’re afraid of where their head will go.

Sting, who says he’s had good and bad psychedelic trips, mentions that facing his own mortality was one of the most frightening things he ever experienced while under the influence of psychedelics. He also describes the first time he took peyote. It was at a farm in England, where he was unexpectedly asked to help a cow give birth while he was tripping out on the drug. He was told that the cow would die if he didn’t help, and when the calf was born, Sting says he finally understood the miracle of life.

“I think it’s a valuable experience,” says Sting of taking psychedelic drugs. “Whenever I’ve had a bad trip—and I’ve had many—I’ve realized it was what I needed. Sometimes, you need to have your ego taken down a notch or two. On the other hand, you can have immensely rewarding experiences. My feeling is that it balances out.”

Stiller is one of the few celebrities in the documentary who talks about disliking what he says was his one and only experience with LSD (when he was a young man in the ’80s), because it was a bad trip. He says that he was hoping that it would be an enlightening experience, but instead he spent the approximately six-hour acid trip feeling “fear and anxiety.”

“Immediately, I started to freak out and get really scared,” Stiller remembers. “I started staring at my hand, doing the cliché thing of of pondering what my hand was.” His paranoia during the acid trip was made worse, he says, when he and the friend he was with at the time began walking around New York City and saw the parade floats that were going to be in the upcoming Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. Stiller says that he hallucinated that the floats were chasing him, like the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man in the “Ghostbusters” movie.

Perez and Silverman each say that the first time they took LSD, it was by accident. Silverman said that it happened when she and some comedian friends were hanging out at a diner in New York City, when a hippie stranger walked in and handed her a tab of LSD that she took without even asking what it was. Her story isn’t as coherent as some of the others, since she recalls laughing and crying with a group of people in public and then ending up in someone’s car with the driver (who was also on LSD) forgetting how to drive.

Perez said she got “dosed” when she was out with her sister on New Year’s Eve in their hometown of New York City, sometime in the late ’80s. They went to a nightclub, where she was offered some fruit punch as a drink. Little did she know that the punch was spiked with LSD. Perez says that she  hallucinated that the dance floor had turned into waves, and she ended up rolling around with her breasts exposed.

Her trip intensified when she got home and imagined that her body had merged into her bed. Perez says she didn’t do drugs or drink alcohol at this time in her life, so when she was told that she was having an acid trip, her first thought was that she was going to hell. She says that the experience led her to seek therapy, which helped her get over her “Catholic guilt,” so she thinks getting rid of her religious hang-ups was one good thing that came out of the experience.

Speaking of guilt trips, the movie pokes fun at the ridiculous, over-the-top and usually badly acted public-service announcements (PSAs) aimed at preventing people, especially young people, from taking psychedelics. Offerman pops up occasionally throughout the film in a parody of a science professor who talks about the effects of psychedelics. NBCUniversal’s “The More You Know” PSA campaign is mocked with “The More You Trip,” whenever one of the interviewees gives advice on what to do or what not to do when taking psychedelics. (For example: “Don’t drive while on acid.”)

The “ABC Afterschool Special” is given the satire treatment with the documentary’s “LSD Afterschool Special,” a multi-part segment that has actor/comedian Adam Scott as the host of a 1980s-styled PSA film with a plot of nerdy high schoolers (played by Haley Joel Osment and Maya Erskine) going to a house party and being tempted into the “evils” of taking LSD. It’s a funny idea but it’s executed poorly.

On a more serious note, “Have a Good Trip” also attempts to promote the theory that using psychedelics is the best way to treat depression and other mental-health issues. Dr. Charles Grob, a psychiatry professor at the University of California at Los Angeles, is interviewed about his research in this area. Not surprisingly, he’s a proponent of using psychedelics to treat these issues (how else would he be able to continue to get research money), but the documentary fails to present other scientific points of view.

The only other non-entertainer interviewed in the film is Zach Leary, son of famed LSD guru Timothy Leary. And what he has to say is very predictable and reveals nothing new at all: “DMT is like the express ticket to primordial ooze. If you want to see what it is to be an organic being and absolutely watch your ego dissipate into nothingness, smoke some DMT, and you’ll get there right away.”

Although some people in the documentary, including Dr. Grob, caution that taking psychedelics isn’t for everyone and can have damaging effects for some people, any of those “bad effects” stories are shut out of the film. It’s like doing a documentary about bungee jumping and refusing to talk about the people who got seriously injured or killed from this risky stunt.

Celebrity spiritual guru Chopra, who says he experimented with psychedelics in the past, is one of the few people in the film who admits “you run the risk of psychosis” from doing psychedelics. Of course, the film only presents stories from people who say that they have “happy endings” from taking psychedelics. And two of those people are now dead because of self-destructive reasons, so viewers can judge for themselves how “beneficial” psychedelics really are in helping people with serious health issues such as depression and addiction.

One of the more irresponsible things about the documentary is that it leaves out any talk of acid flashbacks. Naïve people who see this film as a guide to taking psychedelic drugs might think that once an acid trip is “over,” the drug has left the body, the way that alcohol can leave the human body through urine after a 24-to-48-hour period if no more alcohol is consumed. But the scientific reality is that, depending on the dosage, psychedelic drugs can stay in the body for a variable period of time, and that can lead to unpredictable and random “flashback” trips.

How people feel about “Have a Good Trip” will depend largely on how much they worship celebrities and take their words as gospel. The psychedelic anecdotes in the film should be taken for what they are—stories from people who are in the business of creating fake personas and making things look more glamorous than they really are.

The people who were chosen to be interviewed for this documentary also have the privilege of being less likely to be arrested for illegal drugs. (With few exceptions, most of the people in this film have a certain level of fame.) And they are less likely to have their careers ruined by a lot of psychedelic drug use, compared to people who don’t live in such a privileged bubble. It’s something to think about whenever you hear a celebrity in a certain income bracket openly brag about using illegal drugs.

Netflix premiered “Have a Good Trip: Adventures in Psychedelics” on May 11, 2020.

Review: ‘Olympic Dreams,’ starring Nick Kroll and Alexi Pappas

February 15, 2020

by Carla Hay

Nick Kroll and Alexi Pappas in “Olympic Dreams” (Photo courtesy of IFC Films)

“Olympic Dreams”

Directed by Jeremy Teicher

Culture Representation: Taking place during the 2018 Winter Olympic Games in PyeongChang, South Korea, this romantic dramedy is about two white middle-class Americans—a 22-year-old Olympic cross-country skier and a 37-year-old Olympic volunteer dentist—who meet and have an undeniable attraction to each other.

Culture Clash: The potential romance has obstacles, such as the age difference, insecurities about the future, and the dentist being undecided over what to do about his suspended relationship with his fiancée.

Culture Audience: “Olympic Dreams” will appeal primarily to people who like independent movies that are more “slice of life” character studies than action-filled stories.

Alexi Pappas and Nick Kroll in “Olympic Dreams” (Photo courtesy of IFC Films)

Two socially awkward people meet and have a connection that could turn into a romance. This type of story can take place anywhere, but in the dramedy “Olympic Dreams,” the story takes place on location during the 2018 Winter Olympic Games in PyeongChang, South Korea, where the movie was actually filmed during the games. Most of the movie’s cast, except for star Nick Kroll, are real-life Olympic athletes. It adds to the realism of the film, which is shot almost like a documentary.

There is no melodrama in this quiet character study of a movie, and there are no scenes revolving around intense athletic competitions. Instead, “Olympic Dreams” takes a close look at the internal battles of insecurities that can prevent people from pursuing what they really want in life.

Directed by Jeremy Teicher, who co-wrote the screenplay with Nick Kroll and Alexi Pappas (a Greek American real-life Olympic long-distance runner), “Olympic Dreams” is the first narrative feature to be filmed inside the Olympic Village, where the athletes stay during the games. This access was made possible by the International Olympic Committee, which invited Pappas and three other Olympians who are also artists to participate in the Olympic Art Project. Pappas’ project was “Olympic Dreams,” and she is one of the producers of the film, along with Kroll, Teicher, Will Rowbotham and Nora May.

In the movie, Pappas plays Olympic cross-country skier Penelope, an American who’s there for her first Olympic games. She’s feeling anxious and isolated, since she doesn’t know anyone there. Meanwhile, Olympic volunteer dentist Ezra (played by Kroll), who’s also American, is feeling a different type of anxiety. He and his fiancée have recently decided to take a break from their relationship. He calls her and leaves an awkward message on her voice mail, by telling her that he doesn’t know if it’s appropriate to call her, but he wanted to tell her anyway that he’s settled in at the Olympic Village.

Ezra meets Penelope when he sees her sitting alone at the Olympic Village dining hall, and he asks if he could join her. She agrees, but Penelope (who’s quiet by nature) is feeling tense over her upcoming race that will happen that day. They make small talk by introducing themselves and saying why they’re at the Olympics, but Nick senses that Penelope is preoccupied and nervous, so he backs off, but not before giving her a dental-floss item as a friendly gesture.

Penelope has a disappointing placement that doesn’t qualify her for the next round. She calls her parents and pretends that she’s been making friends with other athletes who’ve been comforting her over her Olympic loss. In reality, Penelope is all alone. Although her Olympic roommate Maggie (played by real-life Olympic freestyle skier Morgan Schild) is friendly, Penelope hasn’t been able to make any friends in the short time that she’s been at the Olympics.

The next time Penelope and Ezra see each other, he invites her to get coffee with him. This time, he has another gift for her: a stuffed animal. And then they start to open up to each other more when he examines Penelope’s teeth during an appointment that she has with him. He tells her that it was always his dream to be at the Olympics. Back in America, he works at a clinic, but his goal is to one day have his own family practice.

Meanwhile, Penelope confesses that she’s uncertain about her future, now that her Olympic dreams have been dashed this year. She hasn’t decided yet if she wants to try out for the next Olympics in four years or if she wants to do something else with her life. At this point, it’s clear by the way that Penelope looks at Ezra that she’s starting to become romantically attracted to him, because she becomes more flirtatious and she asks him about his relationship status, sexual orientation, and if he has any children. (Ezra is straight and has no kids.)

Ezra also tells her about his fiancée and how the situation is complicated because even though they’re taking a break from each other, he doesn’t think he’s completely available either. Ezra and Penelope also tell each other their ages—he’s 37, and she’s 22—and Ezra looks a little concerned about the age difference, but he’s also feeling attracted to Penelope. They both encourage each other to pursue their dreams.

Although Ezra has a more extroverted personality than Penelope does, he has a nerdy, eager-to-please approach when he first tries to get to know people, so he’s found it difficult to make friends at the Olympic Village too. Penelope and Ezra sense that they’re both social misfits, and that’s part of their attraction to each other. Penelope invites Ezra to spend the day with her to do tourist sightseeing around town, since she now has a lot of free time on her hands, and Ezra readily accepts her offer.

Their first date is extended from a day trip to hanging out a night. Even though Ezra is much older than Penelope, he’s still a kid at heart because one of the places they go to during the nighttime part of the date is a center where people play video games. Ezra comments that watching people intensely play video games reminds him of his lonely youth when he would spend hours playing video games by himself. But Penelope has a different perspective: She says that people with that kind of passion and drive, even if it’s about winning video games, should be admired.

Is the relationship between Ezra and Penelope going to go anywhere? At the end of their first date, Penelope kisses him, but he pulls away. Then they get in an argument because Penelope criticizes him for not knowing what he’s going to do about his fiancée and for being not being more proactive about having his own family practice, while he criticizes her for being undecisive about her future. They end the date on this sour note.

Feeling a little down, Penelope’s confidence gets a boost when she meets a fellow Olympic athlete at the gym. He’s an American freestyle skier named Gus (played by real-life Olympic freestyle skier Gus Kenworthy), who introduces himself and invites Penelope to a party that’s being held in his building. Gus and Penelope start hanging out with each other, and when Penelope introduces Gus to Nick, it’s obvious that Nick is uncomfortable and jealous.

Much of the dialogue in “Olympic Dreams” looks improvised, since there are realistic awkward moments of silence or people talking over each other. Even though this movie takes place during the giant spectacle of the Olympics, it feels like a very intimate movie because the cast is so small and because there are no scenes of the massive crowds watching the games. There’s a scene that was filmed near an Olympic ski jump and a pivotal scene in an empty stadium that serve as reminders of the Olympic setting.

“Olympic Dreams” director Teicher used a hand-held camera and many close-ups in the scenes to covey the feeling of the movie being a portrait about these two people in a specific time in their lives. Although Ezra and Penelope are both American, it isn’t said in the movie exactly where they live in the United States.

And that leaves some lingering questions: If they get together, what happens if they live in cities that are very far away from each other? Will they have a long-distance relationship or will one of them move closer to the other? And do Ezra and Penelope think this relationship is worth pursuing in the first place? That last question is answered by the end of the movie, which makes it clear that the real Olympic dreams for Ezra and Penelope are the ones that can last longer than an athletic competition.

IFC Films released “Olympic Dreams” in select U.S. cinemas and on VOD on February 14, 2020.

Copyright 2017-2023 Culture Mix
CULTURE MIX