Review: ‘The Flash’ (2023), starring Ezra Miller, Michael Keaton, Sasha Calle, Michael Shannon, Ron Livingston, Maribel Verdú and Kiersey Clemons

June 6, 2023

by Carla Hay

Ezra Miller, Ezra Miller and Sasha Calle in “The Flash” (Photo courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures/DC Comics)

“The Flash” (2023)

Directed by Andy Muschietti

Some language in Spanish with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in the fictional Central City (in the United States), in Russia, and in a fictional multiverse, the superhero action film “The Flash” (based on DC Comics characters) features a predominantly white cast of characters (with some Latinos and African Americans) representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: Barry Allen, also known as the superhero The Flash, goes back in time to try to prevent the death of his mother, while the evil General Zod hunts for members of the exiled Krypton family that includes Superman and Supergirl. 

Culture Audience: Besides appealing to the obvious target audience of comic book movie fans, “The Flash” will appeal primarily to people who like watching imaginative multiverse movies that don’t get too confusing.

Ezra Miller, Michael Keaton and Ezra Miller in “The Flash” (Photo courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures/DC Comics)

Bold, creative, and with some appealing quirks, “The Flash” lives up to expectations and offers some jaw-dropping surprises. Viewers who are new to the DC Extended Universe (DCEU) won’t get too confused, while ardent fans will be constantly thrilled. Some movies with multiverses can get too convoluted with messy plots, or overstuffed with too many characters. However, “The Flash” (which is based on DC Comics characters) wisely sticks to less than six principal characters that get the most screen time. The movie’s plot (which has some fantastic twists) is easy to follow, although people who’ve seen previous DCEU movies will have a better understanding of everything. Viewers with extensive knowledge of pop culture will also appreciate some of the jokes in the movie.

Directed by Andy Muschietti and written by Christina Hodson, “The Flash” takes place mostly in the fictional Central City, a sprawling U.S. metropolis that is currently under attack by General Zod (played by Michael Shannon), a supervillain whose chief nemesis is Superman, the superhero who has the powers to stop Zod. Superman, who has an alter ego as journalist Clark Kent, has gone missing. Faora-Ul (played by Antje Traue) is a fearless warrior who is General Zod’s second-in-command.

As superhero fans already know, Superman (whose birth name is Kal-El) is a refugee of the planet Krypton, which was destroyed by Zod. Superman’s parents died in this massacre but sent him to Earth as a baby while the attack on Krypton was happening. Did other members of the family survive? All of this background information is useful for what happens later in “The Flash.”

The title character of “The Flash” is man in his 20s named Barry Allen (played by Ezra Miller), whose superhero alter ego is The Flash, who has phenomenal speed. The movie’s opening sequences shows The Flash saving babies from a hospital maternity ward when the building’s hospital was destroyed by Zod and his army. The movie foreshadows what type of comedy it will have by showing that during this crisis, The Flash took the time to eat and drink from a falling vending machine to boost his energy.

In other early sequence, a criminal with a briefcase is apprehended on a bridge by The Flash, Batman (played by Ben Affleck), also known as billionaire Bruce Wayne, and another member of the Justice League (whose identity won’t be revealed in this review) help The Flash. The briefcase contains a weapon that can “wipe out half of Gotham by lunchtime,” warns Bruce’s trusty butler Alfred Pennyworth (played by Jeremy Irons), who has a quick cameo appearance in “The Flash.”

When he’s not being The Flash, shy and insecure Barry is a forensics lab employee at the Central City Research Center, which does a lot of work for the Central City Police Department. Barry is preoccupied with proving the innocence of his father Henry Allen (played by Ron Livingston), who is in prison for the murder of his wife/Barry’s mother Nora Allen (played by Maribel Verdú), who was stabbed to death in their kitchen at home. (Livingston replaces Billy Crudup, who previously played the role of Henry Allen, but Crudup was unavailable to be in “The Flash” because of work commitments on Crudup’s Apple TV+ series “The Morning Show.”) Henry was wrongfully convicted of Nora’s murder and is appealing the conviction. In “The Flash,” Henry is awaiting a court hearing for this appeal.

A flashback shows that Barry at 11 years old (played by Ian Loh) was home and upstairs when the murder happened. Henry had been at a grocery store getting a can of tomatoes at Nora’s request, because she had forgotten to buy the tomatoes earlier. Henry came home to find his wife murdered. However, he doesn’t have a solid alibi. The grocery store’s video surveillance has images of Henry, but he’s wearing a baseball cap, and his face can’t fully be seen in the surveillance video. Henry was the one who discovered Nora’s body, and with no solid alibi, he became the chief suspect in the murder.

Through a series of events, Barry finds himself going back in time and interacting with his 18-year-old self (also played by Miller) in a multiverse that includes the Bruce Wayne/Batman (played by Michael Keaton) of the 1989’s “Batman” and 1992’s “Batman Returns.” When the two Barrys first meet this version of Bruce, he is a bearded and disheveled recluse who denies he was ever Batman, but then he admits it. This Batman grumpily and reluctantly comes out of retirement to help Barry.

The movie makes it easy for viewers to distinguish between the two Barrys: The younger Barry has longer hair, is goofy, and has blue light rays surrounding him when he becomes The Flash. The older Barry has short hair, is more serious, and has red light rays surrounding him when he becomes The Flash. The younger Barry has a homemade Flash superhero suit, while the older Barry’s Flash suit is the “official” Flash superhero suit.

Along the way, these three superheroes encounter Superman’s cousin Kara Zor-El, also known as Supergirl (played by Sasha Calle), who has been imprisoned somewhere in Russia. Because it’s already revealed in the movie’s trailers, Supergirl joins both iterations of The Flash and Keaton’s Batman to team up to fight Zod. Central City journalist Iris West (played by Kiersey Clemons) returns in a supporting role as Barry’s love interest. Iris just happens to be covering Henry’s court case.

Although “The Flash” has a lot of dazzling images throughout the film, the movie’s visual effects fall a little short in scenes where Barry goes to stop time and pick a multiverse to enter. These scenes show flashbacks to other versions of the DC Comics-based movies and TV shows, with the visual presentation looking a little too much like the computer-generated imagery that it is. It’s a little distracting, but it doesn’t ruin the movie.

Miller excels in their performance as the dual Barry Allen/The Flash. (Miller identifies as non-binary in real life and uses the pronouns they/them.) Calle’s performance is a little stiff, but her Supergirl comes out of coma in the movie, so her personality is aloof and more than a little shell-shocked. Keaton steps back into his Batman role perfectly. It’s a performance that will delight fans of the first two “Batman” movies.

“The Flash” has some clever comedy about alternative castings for movies, including a running joke about Eric Stoltz being the star of 1985’s “Back to the Future” in an alternate universe. In real life, Stoltz was fired from “Back to the Future” and replaced by Michael J. Fox. Only people who know this pop culture trivia will really get the jokes. There’s also some surprise and sometimes hilarious references to other actors who were cast or could have been cast as superhero characters in other DC Comics-based entertainment.

“The Flash” is a rollicking adventure that earns its total running time of 144 minutes. The movie has an end-credits scene that is there for pure comedy and has no deep meaning to any sequels. If “The Flash” is the first DC Comics-based movie that a viewer will see, it’s best to know what happened in 2013’s “Man of Steel” and 2021’s “Zack Snyder’s Justice League.” DC Comics-based movies have been hit and miss, in terms of quality, but “The Flash” leaves no question that it’s a “hit” on a storytelling level.

Warner Bros. Pictures will release “The Flash” in U.S. cinemas on June 16, 2023.

Review: ‘The Tender Bar,’ starring Ben Affleck, Tye Sheridan, Christopher Lloyd and Lily Rabe

December 21, 2021

by Carla Hay

Ben Affleck and Tye Sheridan in “The Tender Bar” (Photo by Claire Folger/Amazon Content Services)

“The Tender Bar”

Directed by George Clooney

Culture Representation: Taking place from 1972 to the mid-1980s, in Manhasset, New York; New Haven, Connecticut; and New York City, the dramatic film “The Tender Bar” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with a few African Americans and Asians) representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: Based on true events, a boy raised by his single mother in a working-class household is influenced by her brother to take risks in life, as the boy grows up and goes on to attend Yale University and work as a journalist for The New York Times.

Culture Audience: “The Tender Bar” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of star Ben Affleck, director George Clooney (who does not appear in the movie) and predictable coming-of-age stories.

Lily Rabe and Daniel Ranieri in “The Tender Bar” (Photo by Claire Folger/Amazon Content Services)

Even though Ben Affleck gets top billing in the dramatic film “The Tender Bar,” he’s not in the movie as much the “The Tender Bar” trailers and other marketing materials would leave audiences to believe. And the movie isn’t as compelling as it first seems. Although the acting in “The Tender Bar” is very good, ultimately the direction by George Clooney and screenwriting by William Monaghan are underwhelming, considering that Clooney and Monaghan are both Oscar-winning filmmakers. There’s a very “been there, done that” tone to this coming-of-age story that retreads a lot of familiar territory about young men who are aspiring writers.

“The Tender Bar” is based on J.R. Moehringer’s 2005 memoir of the same name. It’s yet another story about someone from suburban, working-class roots who dreams of moving to a big city to achieve fame and possibly fortune in a chosen profession. In a movie like this, the eager young person predictably has a mentor who is a tough taskmaster or a mentor who is a rule-breaking free spirit. The mentor in the “The Tender Bar” is the latter stereotype.

A major problem with the movie version of “The Tender Bar” is that there are big gaps in the life that is presented of the movie’s protagonist, whose name is J.R. McGuire. A running “joke” in the movie is that J.R. keeps having to answer this question: “What does ‘J.R.’ stand for?” It’s a question he can’t really answer because, as far as he knows, J.R. is his first name on his birth certificate. In the movie, J.R. is depicted as two very different personalities (as a child and as a young adult) that are such a contrast to each other, it throws the movie off-balance, and the movie never really recovers from it.

In the first third of the movie, it’s 1972, and J.R. is a 9-year-old boy (played by Daniel Ranieri), who has moved with his single mother (played by Lily Rabe) back into her parents’ cramped house in Manhasset, New York. J.R.’s mother is having financial problems and can’t afford to live anywhere else. J.R.’s mother is embarrassed that she’s had to move back in with her parents (played by Christopher Lloyd and Sondra James), who all do not have names in the movie.

J.R.’s father abandoned J.R.’s mother and J.R. when J.R. was too young to remember him. This deadbeat dad is a radio DJ named Johnny Michaels (played by Max Martini), who has the on-air nickname The Voice. Even though Johnny still lives in the area, he hasn’t been in J.R.’s life, and J.R.’s mother wants to keep it that way. However, J.R. still ardently listens to his father on the radio, which is J.R.’s way of trying to get to know his father. In the movie, J.R.’s childhood is depicted from when he was 9 to about 11 years old.

J.R. is a bubbly and inquisitive child who loves to read. From a child’s perspective, he doesn’t see the move to his grandparents’ home as depressing. Just the opposite: J.R. meets a lot of relatives (aunts, uncles and cousins), and he’s happy to feel like he’s part of this big family. An unseen, middle-aged adult J.R. (voiced by Ron Livingston) says in hindsight voiceover narration how he felt being around so many family members: “I loved it.”

J.R.’s mother, who obviously wanted to move away from her family, isn’t happy about this change in her living situation. She thinks of herself as a “failure” for having to move back in with her parents. J.R.’s mother tries to hide her sadness from J.R, but he’s too smart not to notice.

There are underlying reasons why she was so reluctant to move back in with her parents, but they are only alluded to in the movie. She hints at those reasons when she tells J.R. about her curmudgeonly father: “Grandpa resents taking care of the family.” As for J.R.’s father, she comments: “Your father has never taken care of anyone at all.”

There are a few tender family moments as J.R.’s mother and her father take some steps in mending their fractured relationship. J.R. and his grandfather also have some moments together where they strengthen their family bond. However, the movie wants to focus on another adult member of the family to be the main catalyst for what happens to J.R.

One of the family members J.R. meets during this stressful time in his mother’s life is her older brother Charlie (played by Affleck), a bachelor who owns a local pub called Dickens. Charlie is not very educated, but he knows a lot about hard knocks in life, and he ends up being J.R.’s mentor/confidant. As an adult J.R. says in a narration voiceover: “When you’re 11 years old, you want [someone like] an Uncle Charlie.”

Meanwhile, J.R.’s father Johnny tries to get to know J.R. by promising to take him to a baseball game. But those plans go awry when J.R.’s mother has Johnny arrested for non-payment of child support while Johnny is on the air at his radio job. After getting out on bail, Johnny flees the state and threatens to kill J.R.’s mother during a menacing phone call. It’s the first sign that Johnny has a very mean streak and a violent mentality.

During this turmoil, Charlie becomes closer to J.R. and becomes almost like a father figure to him. The name of the Dickens bar is inspired by author Charles Dickens, so the bar is decorated with books on shelves, just like a library. Even though he’s underage, J.R. is allowed inside the bar. He’s so fascinated with the books, J.R. asks Charlie if he can read them. Charlie says yes. And an adult J.R. says in a narrator voiceover, “In that moment, I wanted to be a writer.”

J.R.’s mother would prefer that J.R. become a lawyer. She also drills into him that she really wants J.R. to graduate from Yale University or Harvard University. The family can’t afford to pay for tuition to an elite university, so J.R. hopes to get an academic scholarship. “The Tender Bar” doesn’t bother to show J.R. doing a lot of studying because the point of the movie is that J.R. got his real childhood education about life from his uncle Charlie.

“The Tender Bar” has a meandering quality to it where nothing particularly interesting happens during Charlie’s “mentorship” of J.R. As a child, J.R. tags along with hard-drinking Charlie and some of his party pals, who have nicknames like Bobo (played by Michael Braun) and Chief (played by Max Casella), where the adults get up to mostly harmless drunken mischief. Charlie also teaches J.R. how to drive long before J.R. is legally able to do so.

Charlie, who’s also a bartender at Dickens, lets J.R. watch Charlie do his job, where J.R. observes how adults act in a bar. Charlie doesn’t treat J.R. like a silly kid who’s a nuisance but as a person who needs guidance on some of life’s realities. At one point, Johnny comes back into the picture, and he has a violent confrontation with Charlie.

The rest of the movie then abruptly switches to J.R.’s life when he was in his late teens and early 20s. It’s here where “The Tender Bar” really starts to drag. Gone is the cheerful tyke who radiated positive energy and openness. The young adult J.R. (played by Tye Sheridan) is mopey, angsty, and has lost a lot of his charming curiosity about life.

This big change in J.R.’s personality is never explained. It’s more than just the normal coming-of-age growing pains. A lot of it has to do with the casting of Sheridan as the young adult J.R., because Sheridan tends to play brooding characters. That’s not to say that J.R. should be an eternally upbeat character, but the zest for life that he had as a child seems to have dwindled by the time the movie gets to J.R.’s life in his late teens and early 20s.

J.R. is only sure about one thing in his life: He wants to be a writer. Apparently, he thinks the only way to be a good writer is to be moody and miserable. It’s not really spoiler information to reveal that J.R. gets into Yale University, because about one-third of the movie (in the middle of the film) is about his time at Yale, where he ends up graduating in 1986. During his freshman year at Yale, J.R. has two roommates—Wesley (played by Rhenzy Feliz) and Jimmy (played by Ivan Leung)—who are bland characters that don’t add much to the story.

J.R. becomes immediately smitten with another Yale student named Sydney Lawson (played by Briana Middleton), who plays mind games with him during their entire on-again/off-again relationship. J.R. falls in love with Sydney, who treats J.R. as a “side piece,” because she always has a more serious, committed relationship with another boyfriend the entire time that she and J.R. are seeing each other. The movie wastes a lot of time on J.R. and Sydney’s topsy-turvy relationship, which ends up exactly how you think it’s going to end up.

There’s an intentionally awkward sequence where Sydney invites J.R. to meet her well-to-do and highly educated parents at the Lawson family home. (Mark Boyett plays Sydney’s father, and Quincy Tyler Bernstine plays Sydney’s mother, who don’t have first names in the movie.) The only purpose of this section of the movie is to show that J.R. feels self-conscious about his working-class background and that Sydney used this meeting as a test to see if J.R. could really fit into her world. It’s a world where people have a tendency to look down on working-class people from single-parent households.

Where exactly is Charlie during all of this drama in J.R.’s love life? Charlie only comes back into the picture whenever J.R. goes back to Manhasset to visit. And because Charlie is not an intellectual type who can skillfully guide J.R. on his writing ambitions, Charlie’s mentorship seems to be less impactful on J.R. as an adult, compared to when J.R. was a child. During the entire story, Charlie seems incapable of having a loving and committed relationship that lasts, so he’s not exactly the best person to give advice to J.R. about J.R.’s love life.

As much as Sydney manipulates J.R. by toying with his heart, the one sincerely good influence that she has on J.R. is that Sydney is the one (not Charlie) who encourages J.R. to apply for a job at The New York Times. J.R. is a talented writer, but he’s often plagued by self-doubt over his abilities. The rest of the movie is a bit of a slog in showing J.R.’s experience as a junior-level writer at The New York Times, while he still struggles with his love for Sydney.

“The Tender Bar” had potential to be a lot more engaging if it didn’t take up so much time on J.R.’s repetitive and predictable love affair with Sydney, the person who preoccupies most of his thoughts during his young-adult life that’s shown in the movie. The relationship between J.R. and his uncle Charlie, which is being marketed as the heart of “The Tender Bar,” is too often sidelined by showing what happens when J.R. goes to Yale and gets caught up in a bad romance.

It’s also a shaky premise for this movie to even put Charlie up on a “role model” pedestal in the first place, because he certainly doesn’t emotionally mature much during the approximately 14 or 15 years that this movie takes place. When J.R. moves away to go to Yale, Charlie is a drunk who acts like he’s a party guy in his 20s. When J.R. goes back to visit, middle-aged Charlie still has essentially the same lifestyle and mindset. If Charlie has any talent at anything, the movie never reveals what it is.

And that leaves audiences wondering, “What’s so great about Charlie?” It’s nice that Charlie provided emotional support for J.R. when J.R. needed a father figure as a kid. But by the time the movie ends, it’s obvious that between Charlie and J.R., only one of them has become a “grown-up” by gaining true wisdom from life experiences and by turning a talent into a career.

Amazon Studios released “The Tender Bar” in select U.S. cinemas on December 17, 2021, with a wider release on December 22, 2021. Prime Video will premiere “The Tender Bar” on January 7, 2022.

Review: ‘Holly Slept Over,’ starring Nathalie Emmanuel, Josh Lawson, Britt Lower, Erinn Hayes and Ron Livingston

March 4, 2020

by Carla Hay

Nathalie Emmanuel in "Holly Slept Over" (Photo courtesy of Sony Pictures Home Entertainment)
Nathalie Emmanuel in “Holly Slept Over” (Photo courtesy of Sony Pictures Home Entertainment)

“Holly Slept Over”

Directed by Joshua Friedlander

Culture Representation: Taking place in an unnamed U.S. city, the sex comedy “Holly Slept Over” focuses on two middle-class white American married couples and the biracial British free-spirited woman who had an affair with one of the women when they were in college.

Culture Clash: The men are bored with their sex lives and think of ways to spice things up in their marriages, while complaining that their wives are too uptight to agree to their ideas.

Culture Audience: “Holly Slept Over” will appeal mostly to people who want to see a formulaic comedy about a threesome.

Britt Lower and Josh Lawson in “Holly Slept Over” (Photo courtesy of Sony Pictures Home Entertainment)

The concept of two women and a man in a sexual threesome has been done so many times in movies and TV shows that the comedy film “Holly Slept Over” brings nothing new or clever to this idea. In fact, for most of this approximately 90-minute movie (written and directed by Joshua Friedlander), a hoped-for threesome is pretty much what the men in the movie obsess over, as soon as one of guys finds out that his wife had a sexual relationship in college with a woman who wants to see the wife again. It’s a flimsy basis for a story when the characters are as two-dimensional as the ones in this movie.

“Holly Slept Over” is the very definition of a “sex comedy,” because sex is the primary focus of all the main characters. The film’s opening scene is of friends/neighbors Noel (played by Josh Lawson) and Pete (played by Ron Livingston) barbecuing in a backyard and complaining about their sex lives. Pete warns Noel, who’s been trying to start a family with his wife, that having kids will kill a couple’s sex life. Pete tells Noel that he knows this from experience, because he and his own wife rarely have sex, ever since they’ve been raising children.

Pete confesses to Noel that because he’s had no satisfying release for his sex drive, he’s resorted to ejaculating on his wife’s breasts when she’s asleep. Pete also says that he’s been able to clean off the “evidence” without her knowing what happened. “Maybe I’m a monster,” Pete says unapologetically. “I defiled my wife. It’s the best feeling I’ve had in months.” Meanwhile, Noel’s biggest complaint about sex with his own wife is that it’s too boring.

As this conversation is taking place, Noel’s wife Audra (played by Britt Lower) and Pete’s wife Marnie (played by Erinn Hayes) are in the kitchen having their own candid talk. Audra hasn’t been able to get pregnant with Noel, and she reveals that she’s worried that she might not be able to conceive a child, ever since she miscarried an unplanned pregnancy when she was a junior in high school.

Audra also tells Marnie that she’s gotten an unexpected message from her former college roommate Holly, who contacted her out of the blue after they stopped speaking to each other 12 years ago. Holly wants to see Audra again, but Audra tells Marnie that she’s not interested in seeing Holly again. Audra says that when she and Holly were in college, their friendship ended because Holly was “too wild and free-spirited for me,” because Holly drank too much, did too many drugs, and slept around.

It isn’t long before the truth comes out about the real reason why Audra is uncomfortable with reconnecting with Holly. Audra tells Noel that she and Holly used to be lovers, but Audra describes it as an experimental fling. She insists that she hasn’t been with another woman since Holly, and she asks Noel to keep this a secret between the two of them. Noel is surprised by Audra’s revelation, because he always thought that Audra was sexually conservative.

“Holly Slept Over” uses a predictable trope that’s often seen in stories about two couples. One couple is “nice” (usually boring) and the other couple is “no filter” (usually quarrelling). It’s obvious within the first 10 minutes of the film which type of couple is which. Noel and Audra are both lawyers: He’s a tax attorney, and she’s a criminal-defense attorney. It’s not mentioned what Pete and Marnie do for a living, probably because viewers won’t care.

Another thing that’s obvious in this movie is that both couples have no privacy boundaries, because they blab sexual secrets about their spouses to someone who’s part of the other couple. It should come as no surprise then that Noel tells Pete about Audra’s affair with Holly. Pete then tells Marnie, who then tells Audra that she knows about Holly too.

It’s very easy to see that this movie was written and directed by a man, because the conversations between the two women don’t ring true and sound like they’re from a perspective of someone projecting male fantasies. For example, when Marnie and Audra talk about the affair with Holly that is no longer a secret, Marnie tells Audra that she’s impressed that Audra knows how to “dig clam.”

It’s the kind of talk that sounds like what you’d hear at a frat party instead of an authentic conversation between two adult female friends. That’s not to say that women don’t describe sex in raunchy terms. But when women talk about sex, they aren’t very likely to compare their private parts to sea creatures.

Despite the fact that three of the five main characters are women, a great deal of the movie is focused on what the husbands want and need, and the women’s wants and needs are secondary to the men’s. We know this because most of the complaining in the movie comes from the men feeling deprived by their “uptight” wives who aren’t giving them the kind of sex that they want. It didn’t occur to the filmmakers to show much of the women’s perspectives, since the women’s purpose in the movie is to react to what the men want.

For example, the filmmakers seem to want viewers to assume it’s all Marnie’s fault for losing interest in having sex with her husband Pete. However, it’s obvious within the first 10 minutes of the movie that he’s a selfish jerk in other aspects of life—he’s resentful of parental responsibilities because they take time away from when he wants to have sex—which probably has a lot to do with why his wife is turned off by him. Anyone who somewhat brags about sexually violating his wife’s body without her knowledge when she’s asleep (in other words, she didn’t consent) has some seriously unhealthy sexual issues. It tells you what you need to know about what a lousy husband he is.

Because Pete says he has such an unfulfilling sex life, he tries to live vicariously through Noel, whose marriage is happy in comparison to Pete’s marriage. Pete is the one who plants the idea in Noel’s head that Noel should have a threesome with Holly and Audra. Pete essentially berates Noel into thinking that he’ll be a boring wimp if he doesn’t try to have this threesome. After checking out Holly on Instagram and seeing how attractive she is, Noel confesses that the threesome is all he can think about, but he’s doubtful that Audra will agree to it. The two men then start scheming up ways to try to convince Audra to have a threesome with Holly and Noel.

By the time that Holly shows up about 30 minutes into the movie, it’s very easy to see where this story is going to go. Instead of staying at a hotel, Holly has sort of invited herself over to Noel and Audra’s place when she said she wanted to visit. And they didn’t say no. Never mind that Audra has been “estranged” from Holly for years and there’s no guarantee that their reunion will go well. Audra and Noel have let Holly stay over at their place anyway.

And when Holly arrives at their house, with her suitcase in hand, it’s around 8 a.m.—hours before Audra and Noel were expecting her. (How rude.) Holly tells a surprised Noel when he answers the door that she was so eager to get there, that she drove all night. Then, Holly asks to take a shower and a nap at their place, since she’s already there. Audra, who’s nervously taking a bath when Holly arrives, is a little put off by Holly showing up so early. But Audra and Noel clearly want Holly to be in their home, which sets the tone for the rest of her time there.

Holly’s “nap” turns into her sleeping for 11 hours. (An obvious sign that she’s hasn’t given up her partying ways.) Based on Audra’s annoyed reaction at not being able to hang out with Holly, because Holly’s been in a deep sleep, there’s more to Audra’s feelings for Holly than she’s willing to immediately reveal. When Holly wakes up, she and Audra make somewhat awkward apologies to each other for how their college relationship ended.

Audra and Holly ask each other questions about how their lives have been since college. To no one’s surprise, Holly is still single, sexually fluid, and she’s started her own marijuana edibles business called Holly’s Good & Baked. And guess what? She’s brought a gift basket of samples for all three of them to share.

At some point, Noel blurts out that he knows about Audra and Holly’s past sexual relationship. Audra seems to be horrified and embarrassed that Noel has even mentioned it. Holly then says that she’s done with having flings and only wants to have sex in “meaningful relationships.” The disappointed look on Noel’s face is all that manipulative Holly needs to start turning on the charm and flattery, because she now knows that she and Noel both have the same ulterior motive. Any adult can see what’s going to happen next in the movie.

To its credit, “Holly Slept Over” does not clutter the story with a lot of unnecessary characters. (The cast and film set are so small that this story could easily be a play.) And the movie telegraphs its intentions from nearly the beginning, so at least it’s up front that the potential threesome is the hook for this film. The problem is that the sparseness of the movie is to the detriment of character development.

The movie gives no indication of what any of these characters’ personal interests are besides sex. Pete complains about how being a parent has ruined his sex life, but the movie doesn’t show how he and Marnie are as parents. About 80% of what Noel and Audra talk about are topics related to their own sex life and how Holly is affecting them sexually. Even the marijuana edibles in the movie are only in the story to loosen up inhibitions for what is obviously going to happen.

The actors do the best that they can with the mediocre script that they’ve been given. As nerdy and insecure Noel, Lawson is the only actor in the cast who brings a playful sense of humor to the awkwardness and jealousy that can arise from a couple bringing a third person into their sex life. Some of his facial expressions are sure to make some viewers laugh at loud.

Livingston’s Pete character is the token crude blowhard that seems to be a required character in every sex comedy. Hayes plays Marnie as someone who can be sassy or shrewish, depending on her mood. (And it’s certainly not easy to be married to someone like Pete.)

Emmanuel portrays Holly as a lot more likable than her actions. Holly tends to do a lot selfish and irresponsible things. She’s also good at quickly figuring out what people want and using that to her advantage.

However, Holly is still a stereotypical “unicorn” (swingers’ terminology for a woman who’s open to dating couples) in movies like this—she’s pretty, available, and mostly invited into the couple’s sex life to fulfill their fantasies, but not get in the way of the couple’s relationship. She’s not there for any deeper meaning. And quite frankly, she’s a lot more disposable than she thinks she is—which is kind of like how someone could describe this movie.

Sony Pictures Home Entertainment released “Holly Slept Over” on digital and Redbox on March 3, 2020.

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