Review: ‘The Boys in the Boat,’ starring Callum Turner, Joel Edgerton, Jack Mulhern, Hadley Robinson, James Wolk, Peter Guinness and Chris Diamantopoulos

December 15, 2023

by Carla Hay

Bruce Herbelin-Earle, Callum Turner and Jack Mulhern in “The Boys in the Boat” (Photo by Laurie Sparham/Amazon MGM Studios)

“The Boys in the Boat”

Directed by George Clooney

Culture Representation: Taking place in 1936, in the United States and in Germany, the dramatic film “The Boys in the Boat” (based on the non-fiction book of the same name) features an all-white cast of characters representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: Against the odds, the University of Washington junior varsity rowing team becomes a winning team in the United States, and competes in the 1936 Olympics against the Nazi German team that is expected to win the gold medal. 

Culture Audience: “The Boys in the Boat” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of filmmaker George Clooney and old-fashioned sports movies that are conventional to a fault.

Chris Diamantopoulos, James Wolk, Joel Edgerton and Dominic Tighe in “The Boys in the Boat” (Photo by Laurie Sparham/Amazon MGM Studios)

“The Boys in the Boat” is the cinematic equivalent of stale and lukewarm comfort food for people who like formulaic underdog sports movies with no surprises. The acting performances are competent, but the screenplay and direction have too many dull clichés. Even if you didn’t know the true story on which this movie is based, it’s very easy to know how the movie is going to end within the first 15 minutes of watching the film.

Directed by George Clooney and written by Mark L. Smith, “The Boys in the Boat” is based on Daniel James Brown’s 2013 non-fiction book of the same name. The movie waters down, oversimplifies, and omits many interesting facts from this true story. The end results are a plodding and monotonous catalogue-type film, where most of the characters are either stereotypes or utterly forgettable.

“The Boys in the Boat” movie takes place in 1936, when the United States was in the midst of the Great Depression. In the city of Seattle, a financially struggling, working-class student named Joe Rantz (played by Callum Turner) is on the verge of being removed from enrollment at the University of Washington because he hasn’t been able to pay his tuition. In the beginning of the movie, Joe is told by a university official that Joe has two weeks to pay the tuition that he owes, or else he can no longer be enrolled in the university.

As luck would have it in a movie like “The Boys in the Boat,” Joe finds out that he can make the money that he needs in a short period of time if he gets chosen for the university’s junior varsity rowing team: the Washington Huskies. Only eight students will be chosen from a group of about 100 students who have tried out for these coveted slots. The team’s head coach Al Ulbrickson (played by Joel Edgerton) is a typical no-nonsense sports leader who warns everyone that being on this rowing team is physical torture, and most of the people who want to be on the team don’t have what it takes to succeed in rowing.

It’s not spoiler information to say that Joe makes the team, because the movie’s trailer and other marketing materials already reveal who’s on the team. The other students who are chosen are Don Hume (played by Jack Mulhern), Shorty Hunt (played by Bruce Herbelin-Earle), Jim McMillin (played by Wil Coban), Chuck Day (played by Thomas Elms), Johnny White (played by Thomas Stephen Varey) and Gordy Adam (played by Joel Phillimore). Nathan Coy (played by Tom Claxton) is the team’s reserve member. Glenn Morry (played by Frankie Fox) is the team’s coxswain.

Joe’s love interest is Joyce Simdars (played by Hadley Robinson), who was his crush in the fourth grade, but she moved away with her family and hasn’t seen Joe in years. But lo and behold, there she is at the University of Washington as a student. And when Joyce and Joe see each other again, she immediately reminds a slightly embarrassed Joe about the love note that he gave to her when they were children. Joyce, who comes from an affluent family, says she mainly enrolled in the university to get away from her religious mother. The romance between Joe and Joyce goes exactly the way you think it’s going to go in this type of movie.

Joe’s family background is reduced to a soundbite, in a scene where he tells the team’s boat maker George Pocock (played by Peter Guinness) that he’s been on his own since he was 14 years old. The character of George is a sports movie stereotype of a wise elder who’s not the main coach but who gives mentor advice to troubled athletes. Joe’s mother died when Joe was about 4 years old. His father Harry Rantz left to find work when Joe was in high school, and he didn’t come back. Joe briefly mentions he has a stepmother who had two young sons in her care. “It worked out best for everybody,” Joe says of his fractured family.

Really? Because in real life, things were much more difficult for Joe than how it’s described in the movie. In real life, Joe had an older brother named Fred, who is completely erased from the story. And although it’s true that Joe’s father Harry left, what the movie doesn’t mention is that Harry took his wife and stepsons with him. According to “The Boys in the Boat” book, Joe’s stepmother disliked Joe and insisted to Harry that Joe had to be left behind to fend for himself.

This traumatic abandonment is barely explored in the movie, which failed to give a deeper understanding of Joe’s intense motivation to succeed on the rowing team, other than the need to get money for tuition. Instead, the movie turns this parental abandonment into a glib line that Joe says about things working out for the best. You can almost do a countdown to the scene when deadbeat dad Harry (played by Alec Newman) shows up again at a certain point in Joe’s life.

“The Boys in the Boat” makes the same mistake that mediocre and bad movies about sports teams tend to make: Instead of giving distinct and memorable personalities to several of the team members, only one or two team members get this type of showcase. But even in this area, “The Boys in the Boat” falls short with trite dialogue for the two team members who get the most screen time: Joe and Don. Joe is in the team’s seventh boat position to set the pace, while Don is in the eighth position as the stroke anchor.

Joe is a typical star of a team in a sports underdog movie: He’s talented but he had to overcome a lot of obstacles to get to where he is. Joe is a good guy who’s a little bit introverted. He’s very shy when it comes to dating, which is supposed to make him look endearing to the viewers of “The Boys in the Boat.”

In these types of generic sports movies, the protagonist can’t be completely confident or completely privileged, or else the protagonist won’t be “relatable.” But “The Boys in the Boat” filmmakers don’t want to make Joe have too many hardships, or else that won’t make him “relatable” either. Even when Joe experiences a “will he or won’t he stay on the team” moment, there’s no real gravitas, because this moment comes and goes so quickly in the movie.

Every star on the team has a rival on the same team, who could either become a close ally or a bitter enemy. In this case, Joe’s competition for being the team’s biggest standout is Don, who’s even more socially awkward than Joe when it comes to dating. At least Joe can initiate a conversation with a potential love interest. In a scene taking place at a school dance, Don is afraid to look at and talk to a woman who looks at him flirtatiously when she’s sitting about six feet away from him.

Don’s rowing teammates are at the same dance. They know that Don is a talented piano player. And so, when they see that Don is having a hard time connecting with any women at this dance, what do his teammates do? They get up on stage and tell a reluctant Don that he has to play piano for the crowd, with the ulterior motive being that this performance will impress any women who could be Don’s love interest.

Don starts off playing bashfully, but he quickly improves and wins over the people in the audience, who respond with loud cheering. It gives Don the confidence he needs when that woman who was looking at him earlier has an inevitable conversation with him at the dance. Yes, it’s that kind of movie.

The coaches in the movie are also fairly predictable. Coach Ulbrickson is typically gruff and tough in training and during rowing matches, but he shows a compassionate side when necessary. His two assistant coaches—Coach Tom Bolles (played by James Wolk) and Coach Brown (played by Dominic Tighe)—are mostly inconsequential characters. Coach Bolles is the more upbeat counterpart to frequently scowling Coach Ulbrickson, while Coach Brown is written with an almost completely blank personality.

Seattle Post-Intelligencer sports journalist Royal Brougham (played by Chris Diamantopoulos) shows up occasionally to give the coaches information on how rival teams are doing. The movie becomes a checklist of stepping stones for the team, until the Huskies reach their ultimate challenge: competing in the 1936 Olympics against the frontrunner rowing team from Nazi-controlled Germany. There is no suspense, because there would be no “Boys in the Boat” movie if the villain team won.

Along the way, viewers of “The Boys in the Boat” are constantly pounded over the head with corny dialogue saying that because the University of Washington’s junior varsity team members come from working-class backgrounds, they “deserve” to win more than any affluent and privileged students from opposing teams. This heavy-handed messaging is especially hammered into the Pacific Coast Regatta scenes, where the Washington Huskies face off against the better-funded and more experienced Cal Bears from the University of California at Berkeley. It’s reverse snobbery that’s kind of obnoxious and hypocritical, considering that “The Boys in the Boat” director/producer Clooney comes from the same type of affluent and privileged family background that is frequently insulted in this hokey movie.

And therein lies what is ultimately the undoing of “The Boys in the Boat.” By trying too hard to look “relatable” by appealing to “working-class/common-person” sensibilities, everything is “dumbed down” and ends up looking too phony in the movie. “The Boys in the Boat” needed to give audience members more credit in being able to handle the grittier and more complex nuances of these real rowing team members, instead of forcing these athletes into looking like “too good to be true” heroes with cardboard personalities.

Amazon MGM Studios will release “The Boys in the Boat” in U.S. cinemas on December 25, 2023.

Review: ‘The Sound of Violet,’ starring Cason Thomas, Cora Cleary, Jan D’Arcy, Kaelon Christopher and Michael E. Bell

May 28, 2022

by Carla Hay

Cora Cleary and Cason Thomas in “The Sound of Violet” (Photo courtesy of Atlas Distribution)

“The Sound of Violet”

Directed by Allen Wolf

Culture Representation: Taking place in Seattle, the dramatic film “The Sound of Violet” has a predominantly white cast of characters (with some African Americans and Latinos) representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: A young autistic man, who lives with his widowed grandmother, falls in love with a prostitute, much to the disapproval of his grandmother and his older brother.

Culture Audience: “The Sound of Violet” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in schmaltzy movies that preach the sexist belief that women sex workers need to be saved by religious men.

Michael E. Bell and Cora Cleary in “The Sound of Violet” (Photo courtesy of Atlas Distribution)

Sappy and preachy to a fault, the melodrama “The Sound of Violet” pushes the sexist message that a woman who’s a sex worker can’t be happy unless she’s rescued by a man with enough money to take care of her. It’s the type of fantasy that was peddled in the 1990 hit film “Pretty Woman,” but “The Sound of Violet” puts a religious spin on it with a cringeworthy story and embarrassing acting. In “Pretty Woman,” the male “rescuer” is a ruthless businessman who finds his sensitive and loving side when he gets involved with the prostitute who’s the movie’s title character. In “The Sound of Violet,” the male “rescuer” is a mild-mannered Christian nerd, who lives in a high-rise apartment building with his religious grandmother and is the direct heir to his grandmother’s upper-middle-class financial assets.

Written and directed by Allen Wolf, “The Sound of Violet” is Wolf’s feature-film directorial debut and is based on Wolf’s 2021 novel of the same name. The movie was originally titled “Hooked” and had this tagline: “He didn’t get women until he got Hooked.” Based on the plot of this woefully amateurish movie, “Hooked” is a play on words, essentially saying that a prostitute is going to come along and trap this socially awkward man into falling in love with her.

“The Sound of Violet” (which takes place in Seattle) states the intentions of the unlucky-in-love sap from the beginning: He wants to find a “nice girl” to marry. His name is Shawn (played by Cason Thomas), who is in his early-to-mid-20s. Shawn happens to be autistic, and he’s never had a serious girlfriend. His strict grandmother Ruth (played by Jan D’Arcy) has deliberately kept him sheltered. Shawn also has the type of autism where he dislikes it when people touch him.

Thomas (who makes his feature-film debut in “The Sound of Violet”) is not autistic in real life, but his main autism consultant for the movie was a “Sound of Violet” crew member who happens to be autistic, according to a statement on the movie’s official website. Thomas’ portrayal of autism is to act naïve for the majority of his screen time in “The Sound of Violet.” Expect to see a lot of scenes of a wide-eyed Shawn blinking nervously or looking shocked when he finds out some of life’s harsh realities.

Even though Shawn is very inexperienced when it comes to dating, he works as a computer programmer for a company that operates a dating app/website. The company has a lenient policy of letting its employees use the company’s dating service for their personal lives. Shawn has been using the app to find women to date. And the results have been that Shawn is getting a series of rejections.

“The Sound of Violet” opens with a scene showing one of these rejections. Shawn is on a date with a woman who’s about the same age. He unwittingly insults her by telling her that he’s disappointed that she looks different from her profile picture. “Your profile picture isn’t very up-to-date,” he adds. She doesn’t seem to mind this criticism, because she tries to hold his hand, but Shawn pulls away and says, “I’m sorry.” Shawn’s discomfort is enough to put her off, so that when Shawn is not looking, she literally runs away from him to end the date.

After this rejection, a self-pitying Shawn complains to his grandmother Ruth: “I’m never getting married.” Ruth quips, “Married? We just need you to get a second date.” Ruth sometimes has sassy lines of dialogue which bring some comic relief to this otherwise heavy-handed melodrama. And why is Shawn in such a rush to get married? He tells his grandmother: “I need to find someone before you die.”

It might not have been intentionally insensitive, but “The Sound of Violet” has a tacky way of making Shawn the butt of several jokes because of his autism. He often says and does things that are tactless or too trusting, which put him in humiliating situations, many of which are intended to make audiences laugh at Shawn. And at other times, the movie goes overboard to make viewers pity Shawn. Either way, “The Sound of Violet” has a questionable depiction of an autistic person.

Not long after experiencing his latest dating embarrassment, Shawn is at his job (where he works in a bland cubicle), when his conceited and arrogant boss Jake (played by Tyler Roy Roberts) announces that the company has changed its policy so that employees can no longer use the company’s app for dating in their personal lives. Jake makes a point of telling Shawn that one of the main reasons for this policy change is because the company has been getting some complaints from the women who went on dates with Shawn. Jake, who owns the company, doesn’t particularly like Shawn, and he doesn’t want Shawn at an upcoming company party that will be held at a nightclub.

Shawn is generally liked by his co-workers, who encourage him to go to the party anyway. One of the male co-workers attempts to help Shawn by giving him tips and advice on how to approach women whom Shawn might want to date. He tries to get Shawn to practice some pickup lines, but even this co-worker thinks Shawn could be a lost cause. He eventually tells Shawn, “All women might be out of your league.”

The theme of the party is “Pimps and Hos,” which says a lot about what kind of boss Jake is to have this derogatory name for a company event. Viewers later find out that Jake hired female sex workers to be at the party, but most of the company employees don’t know it. One of these sex workers is named Violet (played by Cora Cleary), who is about the same age as Shawn or maybe slightly older. She’s definitely got a lot more life experience than Shawn, who sees her at the party and is immediately attracted to her.

Shawn and Violet have an awkward first conversation, where he ends up asking her on a dinner date to take place in his home. Violet tells him, “You’re at a Pimps and Hos party. You’re talking to a ho.” Violet tells Shawn that she charges $300 an hour to do “everything.” Shawn thinks that Violet is joking about being a prostitute. Violet agrees to his request that she come over to his place for their date, which he says should last from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m.

When Violet arrives at the apartment, Shawn quickly introduces her to his grandmother Ruth. To Shawn, it’s an innocent introduction. To Violet, it looks like she might have been hired to have a kinky threesome. Violet immediately tells Shawn: “No touching until I say so.” Ruth says to Violet and Shawn: “I’ll be in my bedroom, so you two can get started.” Meanwhile, Violet has a look of dread on her face that seems to say, “What have I gotten myself into?”

The double entendre misunderstandings continue in what’s supposed to be a comedic scene. Violet asks Shawn, “Do you want the girlfriend experience?” Shawn smiles and replies, “Only if it will lead to more.” There are some muffins on the dining table. Violet licks one of the muffins in a sexually suggestive manner. Shawn tells her, “You really like those muffins.”

Here’s what so phony and dumb about this “first date” scene: You don’t have to be a sex worker to know that prostitutes expect payment up front before they continue with a “date.” The issue of payment doesn’t come up in Violet and Shawn’s “date” until much later than what would be realistic. Even when Violet mentions to Shawn how much she expects him to pay for the date, he’s still confused and doesn’t understand that she’s a sex worker.

But “The Sound of Violet” doesn’t care about a lot of realistic details. It’s mainly about preaching that Violet is a “sinner” who needs to be saved by a “saintly” man. Violet eventually figures out that Shawn doesn’t have the payment that she was expecting, and he still has no idea that she’s a sex worker, so she abruptly ends the date. However, Violet is mildly amused and entertained by Shawn’s obvious infatuation with her, so she lets him tag along with her for their next “date.”

On this next “date,” Violet lies to Shawn and says that she’s an actress who needs to go on some auditions that day. She has a car driver, who takes Violet and Shawn around town on these “auditions.” Violet tells Shawn to wait in the car while she goes on these “auditions,” which all take place in private homes. Shawn is a little curious about why these auditions are in homes, not offices, but Violet tells him that it’s not unusual to have acting auditions in people’s homes. Of course, viewers know the real reason why Violet is going to these homes.

During this ride-along “date,” Violet gets a call from her controlling and abusive pimp Anton (played by Michael E. Bell), who keeps track of her every move because he has a tracker app on Violet’s phone. Violet lies to Shawn and says that Anton is her “manager.” Much of “The Sound of Violet” is about Violet continuing to lie to Shawn about what she does to make money. Later in the movie, it should come as no surprise when it’s revealed that Violet isn’t her real name.

Many faith-based drama movies that are about women or girls involved in prostitution have a problematic and racist pattern of putting African American men in the roles of pimps. “The Sound of Violet” is one of those movies, which refuse to acknowledge that most of the pimps in America are actually white. Anton later does something heinous (he sets Violet up to be drugged and raped) that results in Anton getting sexually explicit photos of Violet. Anton threatens to send the photos to Violet’s family members, who have no idea that Violet is a sex worker. It’s essentially Anton blackmailing Violet to continue working for him.

Anton has two other female sex workers under his control named Aleesha (played by Embeba Hagos) and Nadia (played by Esha Moore), who are portrayed as loyal friends to Violet but also as money-hungry thieves. Nadia also has a drug habit. Aleesha and Nadia eventually meet Shawn and Ruth in a very fake-looking and clumsily staged scene. It’s the movie’s way of saying, “Why save just one hooker when you can save three?”

Violet and Shawn start seeing each other on a regular basis, but how much longer can Violet keep up her charade? Ruth doesn’t approve of the relationship because she thinks Violet isn’t good enough for Shawn. Shawn’s protective older brother Colin (played by Kaelon Christopher), who works as a waiter at a local diner, doesn’t trust Violet either. Ruth and Colin rightfully suspect that Violet isn’t being entirely truthful about who she is. Colin even has a private meeting with Violet to tell her to stop dating Shawn. She refuses.

Even though Violet and Shawn seem to be very different from each other, they both have something in common: dysfunctional family members who caused them trauma. Violet and Shawn tell each other about it as they get to know each other better. Shawn says that his parents split up when he was young, and his father was an alcoholic. Shawn’s mother, for unnamed reasons, was not able to take care of Shawn and Colin, so Ruth raised the two brothers. As for Violet’s childhood, Violet says that her father abandoned her, and she was sexually abused by her father’s brother.

But wait, there’s more: Shawn has synesthesia, a sensory condition, where he mixes up colors with sounds. And so, throughout the movie, there are cheesy visual and audio effects of Shawn experiencing sounds and seeing things glow when he looks at people who emotionally affect him, such as Violet. And now you know why this movie is called “The Sound of Violet.” Speaking of human senses, let’s not forget that Shawn doesn’t like to be touched, which is a challenge/frustration for Violet, who starts to grow fond of Shawn and wants to connect with him sexually.

“The Sound of Violet” gets into some more badly contrived drama about Shawn wanting to marry Violet, and a disgusted Ruth thinking that Violet is a gold digger who’s after Shawn’s inheritance. All might be forgiven if Violet gives up her “sinful” lifestyle and starts going to church with Shawn. Unfortunately, “The Sound of Violet” does almost nothing to adequately address the realities that sex workers need more than a few church services and a sweet-natured guy who’ll pay their expenses to heal from any trauma they experienced.

The movie also has a treacly and somewhat unnecessary subplot about Ruth finding love too. Her love interest is an elderly man named Douglas (played by Malcolm J. West), who works as a doorman in the building where Ruth and Shawn live. Douglas has apparently had a crush on Ruth for quite some time, but she’s still grieving over the death of her husband, and she doesn’t seem ready to start dating again. Ruth and Douglas attend the same church, so you know where this is going, of course.

The cast members’ overall acting in “The Sound of Violet” is not completely terrible, but it’s often wooden and not very convincing. This is a movie that irresponsibly pushes the story of an “against all odds” romance by oversimplifying complex issues such as autism and sex trafficking. The characters in the movie aren’t presented as well-rounded people but as stereotypes. And when it comes right down to it, “The Sound of Violet” is completely tone-deaf.

Atlas Distribution released “The Sound of Violet” in select U.S. cinemas on April 29, 2022.

Review: ‘Sweetheart Deal,’ a documentary about sex workers of Aurora Avenue in Seattle

May 8, 2022

by Carla Hay

Tammy in “Sweetheart Deal” (Photo courtesy of Aurora Stories LLC)

“Sweetheart Deal”

Directed by Elisa Levine and Gabriel Miller

Culture Representation: Taking place in Seattle from 2012 to 2016, the documentary film “Sweetheart Deal” features an almost all-white group of people (with one Native American person) representing the working-class and middle-class and who are connected in some way to sex workers of Seattle’s Aurora Avenue.

Culture Clash: The four sex workers who are featured in the documentary have struggles with exploitation and drug addiction. 

Culture Audience: “Sweetheart Deal” will appeal primarily to people interested in documentaries that reveal the brutal realities of drug-addicted sex workers.

Sara in “Sweetheart Deal” (Photo courtesy of Aurora Stories LLC)

“Sweetheart Deal” takes an unflinching look at four drug-addicted sex workers in Seattle, but what they experience can happen to anyone with the same struggles anywhere. This documentary is a cautionary tale that offers glimmers of hope. “Sweetheart Deal” doesn’t offer easy solutions to the destructive cycle of drug addiction, but the four women who shared their lives for his documentary are examples of how addicts get trapped in this cycle and need more than will power to stop their self-destruction. And sometimes, the damage is permanent.

Directed by Elisa Levine and Gabriel Miller, “Sweetheart Deal” had its world premiere at the 2022 Seattle International Film Festival. Based on events shown in the documentary, it appears to have been filmed mostly from 2012 to 2016. However, only observant viewers or those who know what happened in the movie’s real-life twists would be able to know the timeline of events and in what years they took place.

“Sweetheart Deal” was filmed and edited in a way that doesn’t make it obvious that this movie was filmed in the 2010s, although there are some subtle clues, such as the types of phones that people are using. You can also tell that this documentary was filmed before 2020 because there are no signs of people being affected by a coronavirus pandemic. “Sweetheart Deal” co-director/cinematographer Gabriel Miller died in 2019, at the age of 47.

“Sweetheart Deal” does not reveal the last names of the four women who get the spotlight in the documentary. It’s an example of society’s large stigma on people who are involved in sex work—especially for women sex workers, who usually get most of the punishment and shaming out of all the people (workers and customers) involved in the sex business. At the time this documentary was filmed, all of the women were needle-using heroin addicts selling sexual services on Seattle’s notorious Aurora Avenue, which is known as a place for rampant drug activity and prostitution.

These are the four women who get the spotlight in “Sweetheart Deal”:

  • Kristine, a welder by trade, says she got into prostitution after she couldn’t find other work.
  • Krista, using the alias Amy for her street name, was an overachieving student in high school and college until drug addiction took over her life.
  • Sara, a divorced mother of two sons and a daughter (who were teenagers at the time this documentary was filmed), lost custody of her kids because of her drug addiction.
  • Tammy, a drug addict since she was a teenager, financially supports her parents, who know she is a prostitute.

Kristine, who can be funny and sarcastic, talks about having felony convictions (which she does not detail in the documentary) that prevent her from getting a lot of jobs. At the age of 17, she says that was “on the streets” after getting out of a juvenile detention center. Despite her criminal record, Kristine is the only one in the group who is shown getting a job that’s not in the sex business. Kristine (who says she has to be high or drunk when doing sex work) does not mention anything about her family background in the documentary. However, Kristine shows that she places a high value on truth and honesty in a world full of deceit and betrayal.

Krista, who is an acquaintance of Kristine, goes through the most drastic physical transformations throughout the documentary. At her worst, she’s covered in scabs and goes through extremely painful drug-related sickness bouts, where she cries out in agony, vomits, and can barely get out of bed. Krista (who grew up in a middle-class home with her parents) is very close to her mother Stacy, who is briefly interviewed in the documentary. Stacy comes to Krista’s rescue on more than one occasion when Krista says that she wants to quit doing drugs. Multiple times throughout the documentary, Krista expresses guilt over how her drug addiction has caused her mother a lot of stress and agony.

Sara also comes from a middle-class, two-parent home. Her biggest emotional pain comes from not being able to be the type of mother that she wishes she could be. She is especially hurt over the love/hate relationship that her daughter has with her. It’s briefly mentioned that Sara’s kids are being raised by Sara’s parents and Sara’s ex-husband. Later in the movie, Sara has a medical crisis where she ends up having to be treated in a hospital. At another point in the movie, Sara moves in with her best friend Rae (who also has drug addiction problems), and she says that Rae is like a sister to her.

Tammy, who also grew up in a middle-class home, has a complicated relationship with her parents, whom she says were abusive to her when she was a child. As an example, she says that her mother would lock her out of the house, knowing that Tammy would be bullied by other kids. Tammy also says her parents kicked her out of the house when she was 12 because they didn’t want her living with them anymore. At this point in her childhood, Tammy says she got involved with a drug dealer, who set her on a path of drug addiction.

For most of the movie, Tammy is living with her parents, who know about her drug addiction, but she doesn’t do drugs in front of them. Tammy says that the seemingly nice parents that people will see in this movie are not the same parents who were cruel to her when she was a child. Tammy also says that she has forgiven her parents for mistreating her. However, there are signs that Tammy still has a lot of resentment and unresolved issues about her parents.

In a scene where Tammy is at home with her parents, her father (who calls himself a cowboy from Montana) gets emotional when he tells her how fearful he is that Tammy will get killed in her line of work. However, Tammy somewhat rolls her eyes and doesn’t seem very moved by his concerns. She later bitterly comments in a private interview that when her parents need cigarettes from her, “They know I’ll suck an extra dick, just to make sure that I have cigarettes.”

As expected, “Sweetheart Deal” shows all four women injecting heroin and trying to hustle up sex work. Their customers are not shown on camera. Some of the women are also enrolled in methadone programs in their various attempts to quit doing heroin. Tammy, who estimates that she spends $200 to $300 a day for her heroin addiction, is the one who expresses the most skepticism about her ability to quit doing drugs: “I don’t know if I’ll ever stop. I don’t see it happening.”

Near the beginning of the documentary, Kristine explains why it’s so difficult for drug addicts and other self-destructive people to quit drugs and turn their lives around for the better: “Even if you’re in the wrong life, what’s familiar is what’s comfortable … Something happens in life where somewhere along the way, they take a wrong turn, and they can’t find their way back.”

There have been many other documentaries that show how drug addicts often turn to prostitution to support their drug habits. “Sweetheart Deal” is unusual because in addition to the four sex workers featured in the movie, this documentary also prominently features a scruffy old man named Laughn Elliott Doescher, who spent a lot of time with these sex workers, by offering them a temporary place to stay and free meals in his Winnebago motorhome. Doescher became so well-known in Seattle for befriending sex workers that he was nicknamed the Mayor of Aurora.

“Sweetheart Deal” takes a very insular approach, by only interviewing the four sex workers, Doescher, his mother and Krista’s mother. Everyone else who’s seen in the documentary is not interviewed. It doesn’t feel exclusionary, because sometimes too many talking heads can ruin a documentary by making the documentary too jumbled or unfocused. It seems as if the filmmakers wanted to present the film from the perspectives of the sex workers and the man who made an impact on their lives.

Doescher (who is called by his middle name Elliott by his friends) is first seen in the documentary’s opening scene, as he gently holds some pigeons on the street. He ends up keeping one of the pigeons in his home as a pet. And he also has a pet cat. There are several scenes of Doescher treating animals with love and kindness. His motorhome is extremely cluttered and cramped, but he presents himself as someone who always has room in his home and his heart to help those who are less fortunate than he is.

One thing that the documentary never explains or shows is Doescher’s source of income, because he certainly isn’t shown working at any job. In the movie, he says he’s 63 (but he looks at least 10 years older than that), which would make him too young to qualify for Social Security benefits. His employment background is also never mentioned, so viewers can only speculate where he gets his money.

He’s later shown with his widowed mother in her home. (He obviously doesn’t come from a wealthy family.) Doescher’s mother, whose first name is not shown in the movie, says he was the middle child of her three children. She describes him as someone who was a good and responsible child, but sometimes eccentric, with a tendency to do “everything in extremes.” Doescher’s mother also mentions that her husband, a veteran of World War II, came home “emotionally damaged” from the war, and this trauma made Doescher become a pacifist.

The production notes for “Sweetheart Deal” mention that Doescher “had been trained as a medic for [the war in] Vietnam before opting out as a conscientious objector,” but it’s not mentioned in the documentary. This medical training explains why Doescher feels comfortable attending to the sex workers when they’re going through drug withdrawals. He gives them certain prescription medication to make the withdrawals easier for them, with no explanation for where he gets this medication.

Doescher is presented as one of the few people whom these women could trust in their lives as sex workers. In the beginning of the documentary, Sara comments about her close relationship with Doescher: “That’s one in a million. You don’t find that [all the time]. All these people out here, they’re fucking sharks.”

Although Sara expresses a lot of cynicism about being able to find a true friend, she has Rae as a best friend whom she can completely trust. Sara and Tammy are also close, but they have an on-again/off-again relationship. Later in the movie, Sara and Krista seem to become friends too. Sara is also friendly with Kristine. In a scene where Kristine and Sara shoot up heroin together, Sara gives some of her heroin stash to Kristine, who is feeling “dopesick.”

When the women visit Doescher, he’s ready to comfort them with free food (which he often cooks himself), compliments and a place where they can sleep for as long as they want. He’s also shown helping them when they go through drug-related withdrawals/sickness or recovering from violent customers. He’s their confidant and counselor who’s willing to listen to all of their problems.

Doescher also presents himself as being a protector who’s ready and willing to seek justice for his sex worker friends who’ve been violated. In the beginning of the documentary, Krista/Amy has survived a brutal rape and other assaults from a customer. She literally had to escape from the customer’s home and genuinely feared that he was going to kill her. Krista/Amy tells Doescher all the details, and they secretly drive back to the customer’s home to get his address and his car’s license plate number.

With Krista/Amy’s permission, Doescher is then seen making a phone call to report this information to law enforcement in Seattle. It turns out that this customer has been under suspicion of being a serial rapist of women sex workers in the area. Doescher says he wants to do whatever he can to help bring this alleged criminal to justice.

But some cracks begin to show in Doescher’s “hero” persona. It starts with a scene where Seattle Times reporter Christine Clarridge interviews Doescher in his home to talk to him about the case and how he knows the sex workers of Aurora Avenue. After warmly greeting her, Doescher looks at her flirtatiously and says, “I can see why you have a stalker. Oh my goodness. Now, you’re going to have two [stalkers].” It’s a very creepy thing to say to anyone as a compliment.

During the interview, when Clarridge asks Doescher if he’s sexually involved with the prostitutes who get food and shelter from him, he reveals: “I have relationships with most of these girls, but I help them a lot. And if they’re ever in trouble, they can come to me, and they can count on me. And if they ever need me, they can spend the night.”

As soon as Doescher admits that he has a “friends with benefits” situation with the sex workers, it should immediately make viewers sense that something isn’t right about Doescher, who keeps calling these sex workers “girls” instead of “women.” When he touches them or calls them terms of endearment, such as “sweetheart,” it’s with a weird tone that seems as if he wants to be like their father and their lover. And although he doesn’t judge them harshly for their lifestyles, he doesn’t seem to put a lot of effort into trying to help them get clean, sober and on the path to having a healthy life.

There are some other things that Doescher says that are inconsistent with how he looks and what he does. Doescher claims that even though he’s never done drugs in his life, and he vehemently states that he will never do drugs, he has empathy with people who have addiction problems. However, Doescher’s unhealthy physical appearance indicates that he has addiction issues too: He has a “drinker’s nose,” with all the signs of rhinophyma (such as damaged-looking blood vessels on a bulbous-looking nose) that are associated with alcoholism.

The movie has a very telling scene where Doescher spends time with Tammy on her birthday. In his home, he gives her a birthday card. Tammy says he’s the only person in her life who remembered her birthday by giving her a card that day. Doescher then takes Tammy to a restaurant to celebrate her birthday.

At the restaurant, Doescher kisses Tammy like they’re on a romantic date. Tammy is drinking alcohol, and he tells her that he wants her to get drunk so that she can spend the night at his place. Doescher also mentions that he has Klonopin pills to sell to Tammy, although later he seems slightly annoyed with himself and with Tammy that they talked about this drug deal on camera.

The documentary later reveals there’s somewhat of a “love triangle” between Doescher, Tammy and Sara. Tammy and Sara, who both say they’re openly bisexual, were apparently lovers at some point. Multiple people in the documentary say that Sara is Doescher’s “favorite.” It’s implied that out of all the sex workers he’s involved with, Sara is the one he “loves” in a way that goes beyond a “friends with benefits” relationship.

At one point in the movie, Sara says of Doescher: “I love him and I hate him at the same time. He’s a slimy old man, but I know what to expect from him. He doesn’t lie about it or try to hide it.” Tammy also mentions that Doescher has a sleazy side to him. Kristine and Krista seem to be a lot more trusting of Doescher.

Sara tries to quit drugs at Doescher’s place, but after two weeks of staying there, she abruptly leaves without telling him where she went. Doescher is upset that Sara has “disappeared,” but he seems fairly sure that he’ll see her again. It’s later revealed that Sara asked Tammy to help her leave, and Sara had to do it in secret because she knew that Doescher would be very jealous and upset if he knew Tammy was involved in helping her leave. Doescher starts to look less like a caring friend and more like a possessive manipulator.

There are some twists to the story that aren’t too surprising, considering all the signs foreshadowing certain things that end up happening. It doesn’t make the turn of events any less disturbing. And a lot of viewers will be shocked. “Sweetheart Deal” is not only an unforgettable chronicle of damaged lives, but it’s also a journey that leaves room for healing. The filmmakers have told this story of these women with compassion and without passing judgment, while truthfully showing that not everyone in life gets a happy ending.

Review: ‘Ted Bundy: American Boogeyman,’ starring Chad Michael Murray

August 16, 2021

by Carla Hay

Chad Michael Murray in “Ted Bundy: American Boogeyman” (Photo courtesy of Dark Star Pictures/Voltage Pictures)

“Ted Bundy: American Boogeyman”

Directed by Daniel Farrands

Culture Representation: Taking place in Washington state, Utah and Florida, from 1974 to 1989, the true crime/horror film “Ted Bundy: American Boogeyman” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with a few African Americans and Hispanics) representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: Real-life serial killer Ted Bundy goes on a murder spree targeting adolescent girls and young women, as law enforcement officials try to apprehend him. 

Culture Audience: “Ted Bundy: American Boogeyman” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in watching tacky and exploitative re-enactments of true crime cases.

Jake Hays and Holland Roden in “Ted Bundy: American Boogeyman” (Photo courtesy of Dark Star Pictures/Voltage Pictures)

“Ted Bundy: American Boogeyman” is the type of vile and idiotic movie that seems to delight in exploiting the murder sprees of serial killer Ted Bundy, who was imprisoned and electrocuted for his crimes. Too bad there’s no “filmmaker jail” for people who’ve made careers out of dumping this type of horrific garbage into the world. Everything about this movie is laughably amateurish, but it’s actually not funny to see how disrespectfully these filmmakers have treated a real-life horror story where people’s lives were destroyed. The movie has very little regard for these victims because the movie’s focus is on glorifying their murderer as if he’s some kind of legendary horror character.

“Ted Bundy: American Boogeyman” was written and directed by Daniel Farrands, whose early career included producing documentary content for fictional horror movies such as “A Nightmare on Elm Street” and “Friday the 13th.” But now, as a feature-film director, he’s made it his specialty to do extremely cheesy dramatic versions of true crimes, beginning with 2018’s “The Amityville Murders” and continuing with 2019’s controversial schlockfests “The Haunting of Sharon Tate” and “The Murder of Nicole Brown Simpson.”

Next on Farrands’ list of true crime stories to annihilate into irredeemable oblivion are “Ted Bundy: American Boogeyman” and “Aileen Wuornos: American Boogeywoman,” both set for release in 2021. Since there’s no shortage of notorious murders, we can assume that Farrands will keep shamelessly churning out this type of disgraceful dreck until he decides to stop. Farrands is also a producer of the trashy movies that he directs.

True crime stories and stories about real murderers will continue to be made into scripted films and TV projects. But a lot of what’s worth watching depends on the quality of these projects and how respectful these projects are to the victims. You don’t have to be a psychic to know that there’s a massive difference in the quality of 2003’s “Monster” (for which Charlize Theron won an Oscar for portraying Aileen Wuornos) and the tabloid-like excrement of “Aileen Wuornos: American Boogeywoman.”

Other actors have portrayed Bundy before—most notably, Mark Harmon in the 1986 NBC miniseries “The Deliberate Stranger,” Billy Campbell in the 2003 USA Network movie “The Stranger Beside Me” and Zac Efron in the 2019 Netflix film “Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile.” Luke Kirby portrays Bundy in the 2021 RLJE Films drama “No Man of God,” which is set for release on August 27, and got mostly positive reviews after the movie’s world premiere at the 2021 Tribeca Film Festival. Chad Michael Murray is woefully miscast as Bundy in “Ted Bundy: American Boogeyman” and is easily the worst portrayal of this notorious serial killer.

In addition to his subpar acting, Murray is in a cheap-looking wig and creepy moustache for the majority of the movie, even though the real Bundy was clean-shaven for most of his crime spree. It doesn’t help that Murray and the rest of the cast are given cringeworthy dialogue that wouldn’t even pass muster in an amateur film made by teenagers in someone’s backyard. “Ted Bundy: American Boogeyman” offers no real insight into Bundy’s psychology at all, unless you consider it illuminating that he keeps repeating in the movie things like “I’m invisible” and “I am no one” when he commits his crimes.

Bundy’s murder sprees took place in many U.S. states, including Washington, Colorado, Idaho, Utah, Oregon, California and Florida. He is believed to have murdered about 100 women and girls, but he confessed to 30 and was ultimately convicted of murdering three females, as well as attempted murder and kidnapping for some of his victims who escaped. Most of his victims were sexually assaulted, even after death. There are plenty of books, documentaries and news reports that have the disgusting details of his crimes.

Because “Ted Bundy: American Boogeyman” is a low-class, low-budget film, the movie only focuses on four law enforcement officials who worked on these cases of missing and murdered Bundy victims. Two of these law enforcement officials get the most screen time and all the credit in this movie for apprehending Bundy, who had escaped from jail in Colorado twice and was arrested for the last time in Florida after another killing spree. This movie is so highly inaccurate, the scene where Bundy is captured in Florida only has one cop going into the building to arrest him, and two other cops showing up later. In real life, Bundy’s fugitive status and notoriety would have warranted a large team of law enforcement to be there to take him down.

There’s a disclaimer before the movie’s opening credits that admits that parts of the movie were fabricated for dramatic purposes. Still, there’s so much that’s hard to take with how moronically everything is staged in the movie and how horrific the acting is. Holland Roden, who portrays real-life Seattle police detective Kathleen McChesney, could get a M.A. degree from this movie alone, if M.A. stood for “melodramatic acting.” Most of her performance looks like an unintentionally bad parody.

Kathleen is portrayed as the only woman on a small Seattle police task force that is investigating Bundy. She has to deal with two very sexist co-workers—a father-and-son lunkhead duo named Capt. Herb Swindley (played by Anthony DeLongis) and Shane Swindley (played by Sky Patterson), who assumes he’s eventually going to be promoted into his father’s job. The movie tries to make up for its rampant female exploitation by making Kathleen the biggest hero of the story.

Too bad they also make Kathleen say and do a lot of dumb things that no self-respecting cop would do, such as go without any backup into a building to arrest armed and dangerous Bundy. In an early scene, Kathleen is giving a lecture to other cops on the task force about the evidence gathered so far. Bundy had a type of victim whom he liked to target: adolescent girls and young women with long dark hair, usually parted in the middle.

Misogynistic cop Shane comments that some of the victims might have had other things in common: long legs and short skirts. He smirks that the victims were “the type that’s maybe out for a good time. Maybe they led this guy on. You know how the old saying goes: ‘If they’re advertising, they must be selling.'” Kathleen replies, “If stupidity were painful, Shane, you’d be in agony.” That’s what’s supposed to pass for “witty” dialogue in this brain-rotting film.

Meanwhile, FBI investigator/profiler Robert Ressler (played by Jake Hays) shows up at this Seattle police station, to inform the cops that the federal government is taking over the investigation. Capt. Swindley is angry about this change in command, because he thinks that the FBI is intruding on an investigation that he wants to lead. This toxic boss also makes a point of telling Robert that Kathleen was only hired as a token female, so that she could “soften up the witnesses” when needed.

Needless to say, any enemy of the Swindleys becomes a fast friend of Kathleen’s. The rest of the movie’s “investigation” essentially just shows Robert and Kathleen working on the case, even though in reality, there were dozens of law enforcement officials (federal, state and local) who were involved in investigating all of Bundy’s widespread crimes. Just because a movie has a low budget to hire a relatively small number of actors doesn’t mean that a movie has to lie about the truth.

In real life, Robert Ressler was credited with coming up with the term “serial killer.” However, this movie makes it look like it was Kathleen McChesney’s idea, and she generously let Ressler take all the credit for it. The scene is badly written as Kathleen comparing serial killers (originally called sequence killers) to serials on television, “because they leave people wanting more. It’s a never-ending cycle.”

Except that it’s law enforcement’s job to stop these serial killings, so that these murders shouldn’t be a “never-ending cycle” from the same person. In response to her asinine comment, Robert says to Kathleen, “You’re going to make one hell of an agent someday, McChesney!” In real life, McChesney eventually did join the FBI to great success, but it’s an insult to her that she’s portrayed as such an over-the-top drama queen in this movie. (By contrast, Hays’ portrayal of Robert Ressler is so bland, it makes barely an impression at all.)

The movie makes Kathleen look like she’s trying to be in Charlie’s Angels, because her long, flowing red hair is worn unrestrained and styled like an actress. In real life, cops who have very long hair usually have to wear their hair pinned up or pinned back while on the job, because long hair can get in the way of their vision if they have to run or fight. Long hair worn unrestrained also makes it easier for an assailant to attack by pulling the hair. It’s standard police procedure to wear long hair in a restrained way, but don’t expect this movie to care about a lot of realistic details.

Bundy’s kidnappings, assaults and murders are filmed just like a violent horror movie, but the filmmakers surprisingly had some restraint by not really showing a lot of the actual physical impact when Bundy bludgeons someone to death. The gruesome sound editing gives people enough of an idea of what’s going on during these blood-soaked scenes. The sexual assaults are not as explicit as some people might think they would be. However, there’s still plenty of disturbing violence that will nauseate people who get easily squeamish.

Even though there are horror movies that are much more graphic with blood and gore than this film, what’s offensive about “Ted Bundy: American Boogeyman” is that it treats the victims as just boxes to check off in Bundy’s “to do” list. The movie re-creates two of his most well-known methods to lure his victims into his Volkswagen Beetle: He either pretended to have an injured arm or injured leg and asked for help near his car, or he pretended to be an undercover cop who told the victim that he saw someone try to break into her car and she needed to come with him to the police station to file a report.

However, the movie makes some of these scenarios pathetically unrealistic. In the movie’s opening scene—which takes place on October 18, 1974, at a pizza place in Midway, Utah—two young female friends (who are in their late teens) become Bundy victims. Their names are Jill (played by Gianna Adams) and Melissa (played by Julianne Collins), and they both encounter Bundy separately, within minutes of each other. One of the pals avoids getting harmed, while the other one doesn’t.

Jill has gone outside to smoke a cigarette, when she sees Bundy (using crutches to fake a leg injury) in the pizza place’s back parking lot. He looks very suspicious, because he’s wearing a face covering from his nose down, like a burglar would. Bundy asks for Jill’s help in picking up his car keys, which are on the ground. And when she hands the keys to him, he drops the keys again—this time, underneath his car. And Jill still falls for this obvious ruse. Her friend Melissa comes out of the pizza place, just minutes later.

Here’s the thing: In real life, Bundy didn’t cover his face like that when approaching victims, because he wanted to catch the victims off guard by gaining their trust. He also told them his real first name. That’s how over-confident he was in not getting caught. It ended up being his undoing when one of his victims escaped and testified against him. And several women who didn’t fall for his scams also reported his suspicious activities to law enforcement.

Another more ridiculous scenario is staged in the movie in a nighttime scene that takes place on October 31, 1974, in American Fork, Utah. Bundy is driving in his Volkswagen Beetle on a secluded road that’s deserted except for a young woman named Laura (played by Gabrielle Haugh), whom he follows and asks, “Need a lift?”

She immediately yells at him, “Fuck off and die!” He gets angry, stops the car, and runs after her. And instead of running toward an area where people will be, Laura runs into a dark greenhouse, thereby making it easy for Bundy to find her in that enclosed space. It’s so predictably stupid.

The movie also depicts Bundy’s abduction of the real-life Carol DaRonch (played by Olivia DeLaurentis) on November 8, 1974, in Murray, Utah. This time, Bundy uses his undercover cop scam in this kidnapping. Carol mistakenly gets in his car, instead of following him in her own car. Carol manages to escape but not before Bundy hits her on the head with a crowbar. He lets out a howl of frustration that might make people laugh at how terrible Murray’s acting is in this scene.

It gets worse. Bundy’s real-life obsession with violent pornography is depicted in the movie in ways that you can’t un-see, such as Bundy masturbating to this type of porn, which he looks at in magazines. The movie doesn’t show anything extremely explicit—just quick images of scantily clad female body parts, but no actuall full-frontal nudity. If you waited your whole life to see Chad Michael Murray as a vicious serial murderer in a movie where he’s shown getting off on sleazy snuff porn, then “Ted Bundy: American Boogeyman” is the movie for you.

At one point, just like in real life, Bundy (using the alias Chris Hagen) is shown renting a room at a mostly female boarding house near the Florida State University campus, after the second time he escaped from jail in Colorado. The boarding house’s manager Dottie (played by Alice Prime) was an aspiring fashion designer and still keeps many nude female mannequins inside the house. You know what comes next: There are scenes where Bundy is alone with the mannequins, and he starts kissing the mannequins like the pervert that he is. It’s implied that he does other things to the mannequins besides kiss them.

And then it turns into a weird hallucinatory scene (complete with psychedelic red lighting) of Bundy imagining himself rolling around on a bed with three hooded women dressed in dominatrix gear, while one of the women hits him with a club. At the end of the scene, it’s shown that Bundy actually took some of the house’s mannequins and was role playing this sex scene with the mannequins, which are now dismembered.

Horror film “scream queen” Lin Shaye embarrasses herself in her unhinged performance as Louise Bundy, Ted’s biological mother who comes across as having disturbing psychological problems of her own, except that she’s not a murderer. A famous true story about Ted is that he found out a dark family secret when he was a young man: The woman he thought was his older sister was actually his mother, who gave birth to him out of wedlock, and his mother’s parents raised him as their own son.

In the movie, Louise hints that Ted was born from incest rape by Louise’s abusive father, although in real life there was never any concrete evidence presented to prove who Ted’s real biological father was. Louise says like a woman possessed, “Father used to say that Ted was conceived in hell. I suppose that would make him the devil!” Louise is in the movie for just two scenes—both with her being interviewed by Kathleen and Robert. The second scene is one of the worst in this bottom-of-the-barrel trash dump of a movie.

If you still have the stomach to watch this movie until the very end (which includes a ludicrous re-enactment of Ted Bundy’s 1989 death by electrocution at the age of 42), you will learn nothing new or interesting about this notorious criminal, his victims or the real story of how he was caught by law enforcement. The only thing you will learn is that this movie will surely hold the title of the worst movie ever made about Ted Bundy. This isn’t just like watching a train wreck. It’s like watching a nuclear bomb of extremely bad taste and putrid filmmaking.

Dark Star Pictures and Voltage Pictures released “Ted Bundy: An American Boogeyman” in select U.S. cinemas (through Fathom Events) for one night only on August 16, 2021. The movie’s release date on digital, VOD and DVD is on September 3, 2021.

Review: ‘The Right One,’ starring Nick Thune, Cleopatra Coleman and Iliza Shlesinger

February 13, 2021

by Carla Hay

Nick Thune and Cleopatra Coleman in “The Right One” (Photo courtesy of Lionsgate)

“The Right One”

Directed by Ken Mok

Culture Representation: Taking place in Seattle, the romantic comedy “The Right One” features a predominantly white cast (with some black people and Asians) representing the middle-class.

Culture Clash: A romance novelist is attracted to an elusive man who has multiple personality disorder.

Culture Audience: “The Right One” will appeal primarily to people who don’t mind watching flimsy romance stories with unappealing characters and offensive ways of depicting mental illness.

Iliza Shlesinger and Cleopatra Coleman in “The Right One” (Photo courtesy of Lionsgate)

Even without the ridiculous and offensive way that mental illness is handled in “The Right One,” the movie fails to meet the basic requirement of a romantic comedy: believable chemistry between the would-be couple. Written and directed by Ken Mok (who’s best known as an executive producer of “America’s Top Model”), “The Right One” is a tedious and not-very-funny slog of a story that badly mishandles this concept: A romance novelist falls for a guy who has multiple personality disorder. And she thinks he doesn’t need psychiatric help or any therapy, but that her love is enough to “cure” him. Try not to gag at this disgustingly irresponsible attitude toward mental illness.

In “The Right One,” the clueless romance novelist who ends up thinking that she’s qualified to cure someone’s multiple personality disorder is Sara (played by Cleopatra Coleman), a 31-year-old with the emotional maturity of a 17-year-old. The movie takes place in Seattle, but was actually filmed in British Columbia. For more than a year, Sara hasn’t been dating anyone and has been celibate, ever since her ex-boyfriend Simon (played by Nykeem Provo) dumped her because they didn’t agree on parenting issues and he wanted to be with another woman. Sara wants to eventually become a parent, while Simon told her he didn’t feel the same way.

When viewers first see Sara, she’s reluctantly at a trendy art gallery party with her obnoxious agent/best friend Kelly (played by Iliza Shlesinger), who insists that Sara has to start dating again. Kelly is loud, bossy and abrasive. And Kelly seems to care more about how much money Sara can make for Kelly than she cares about Sara as a human being. As seen later in the movie, Kelly is the type of horrible boss who yells insults at subordinates, throws things in the office, and makes her male administrative assistant paint her toenails.

Meanwhile, Sara is still pining over Simon and bitter about the breakup, but she doesn’t really want to admit it. At the party, Sara notices a man who’s about 10 years older than she is, and he looks like an uptight and pretentious art critic giving a lecture about some of the art on display. By the way that Sara looks at him, it’s easy to see that she’s immediately attracted to him.

Just minutes after that, Sara sees the same guy, dressed in different clothes and wearing a different hairstyle, in another room. This time, he’s acting like a hipster bohemian type, who jumps around with enthusiasm while talking to another group of people about the art on the wall. By the way, it’s a very quick-change transformation into these two different personas. Who does he think he is? Superman?

Is he an actor? Does he have an identical twin? Is he doing some kind of performance art? No. His name is Godfrey (played by Nick Thune), whose psychological problems are so serious that he’s been living his life as several different people. Sara doesn’t find out what Godfrey’s real name is until much later in the story. Until then, she meets his many personalities. And this movie wants people to believe that Godfrey’s mental illness will stop just because Sara is now in his life and she wants to “save” him. Retch.

The next time Sara sees Godfrey, he’s performing as a country singer busker on the street. He calls himself Cowboy Cody (and he says it a straight face) and speaks to her with a Southern twang when she inevitably approaches him and says, “I know you from somewhere.” When Sara figures out that he’s the same chameleon whom she saw at the art gallery party, he insists that she’s wrong and that his name is Cowboy Cody.

This back-and-forth goes on for a few minutes, but it seems like longer. Sara can’t get him to admit that he’s the same person she saw at the party. Sara makes it clear that she wants to see him again. But Cowboy Cody is about to hop on a bus, so he hands her a flyer showing when and where his next performance is going to be. And you know that Sara will be there.

After having this street encounter with Cowboy Cody, Sara excitedly tells Kelly that she no longer has writer’s block and has decided on the plot for her next romance novel “Chastity,” which Sara has to finish on a tight deadline (three months) because she’s been procrastinating. Sara tells Kelly that the novel’s female protagonist falls for a mysterious guy who has several different personalities, and this heroine will try to figure out which of his personalities is the real one. And guess how Sara going to research this book?

Kelly is very self-absorbed, but even Kelly knows that it’s a bad idea for Sara to get involved with someone who has mental health problems that Sara isn’t equipped to handle. Kelly advises Sara not to fall in love with this mystery man but only get to know him as research if it will help Sara finish the book on time. But Sara and this movie will not be stopped in their misguided quest to make it seem like all someone like Godfrey needs is the love of a good woman to cure him of his mental illness. It’s a concept that’s shoved in viewers’ faces in the most obnoxious ways.

There’s a minor subplot of Kelly setting up Sara on a blind date with a nice guy named Ben (played by Anthony Shim), who’s an artist. Sara and Ben’s first date together is somewhat awkward because Sara tells weird jokes that don’t land well at all. Still, Ben asks Sara out on a second date, and tells her they can go wherever she’d like. She suggests that they go to the nightclub where Cowboy Cody says he’ll be performing next.

But the person performing at this nightclub isn’t Cowboy Cody. It’s Godfrey in drag, wearing a blonde wig and a long dress. This time, he’s a spoken-word artist named Allie Cornbush, who does an act that’s part comedy, part avant-garde performance. Sara loves it and cheers enthusiastically, while Ben is not impressed and thinks the whole act is bizarre.

Sara is so infatuated with this chameleon, that after the performance, she follows him outside of the club, thereby ditching Ben without even a goodbye. How rude. At this point, Sara is acting like a pathetic groupie, because she begs Godfrey (who’s now dressed as a man, in jeans and a hoodie) to let her tag along with him wherever he’s going. Slow down. You just met him.

She then follows him into a dark alley, where he surprises her with two oversized, glowing helmets shaped liked cat heads—one for him, and one for her. They go to a nightclub, where yet another persona for Godfrey emerges. This time, he’s a DJ who calls himself Katamine (rhyming with ketamine), who’s an obvious ripoff of real-life DJs who wear oversized mask helmets as part of their act, such as Deadmau5 and Marshmello. DJ Katamine is very popular with the crowd, and Sara ends up on stage with him too. Yes, it’s that kind of movie.

But that’s not all. Godfrey has other personalities and other jobs, which makes you wonder why Sara thinks he would have time to date her when he has all these different lives that he’s leading. Godfrey also teaches a reading class for kindergarten-age students at what looks like a library. They call him Mr. G there.

And he also works as a high-ranking salesperson for an unnamed corporate company, where he’s nicknamed G-Money. He does most of his sales over the phone, where he has more personas that he fabricates with clients in order to close a deal. His office persona as G-Money is as an eccentric who shows up for work with spiked hair like a punk rocker, dressed like a surfer, and wearing no shoes. It’s the opening scene in the movie.

Godfrey is allowed to dress this way in a corporate environment (while his office colleagues have to wear suits) because he outperforms all the other sales staffers by 364%. That’s according to what a fellow employee tells the visiting head honcho Bob Glasser (played by David Koechner), who has arrived to evaluate the sales department and boost their productivity. In an early scene in the movie, Godfrey (aka G-Money) is able to charm Bob because they’re both fans of the jam-rock band Blues Traveler.

Meanwhile, Sara tries to keep seeing Godfrey as much as she can, even though she still doesn’t know what his real name is or anything substantial about him. She keeps a journal of all her encounters with him, as if she’s a love detective. And her attempts to get close to him hit a snag when a thuggish-looking guy in his 20s tells Sara that she needs to stay away from Godfrey.

It turns out that this guy’s name is Shad (played by M.J. Kokolis), and he’s Godfrey’s foster brother. Godfrey’s reason for his multiple personality disorder is eventually revealed in the movie. Needless to say, Sara ignores Shad’s demands to stop seeing Godfrey. She comments to Shad about Godfrey: “I know that I don’t know him, but I feel like inside, there’s this special, sweet person.”

Later in the movie, Godfrey has somewhat of a meltdown at one of his jobs, and he’s in danger of being fired. However, Shad and Sara go to talk to Godfrey’s boss, who thinks that Godfrey should get a psychiatric evaluation and professional help for his obvious mental-health problems. But then, in the worst scene in the movie, Sara has the idiotic nerve to lecture this boss and say: “Godfrey isn’t mentally unstable … He doesn’t need a psych evaluation. He needs support and time to process what he’s going through.”

Before Godfrey’s freak-out on the job, he and Sara had gone on a ballroom dancing date. During the date, his persona was Matteo, who claimed to be from Argentina but actually spoke in a weird mashup of a German/Spanish accent. As far as Sara and this awful movie is concerned, getting professional help for Godfrey’s mental health isn’t important because it would interrupt Sara’s girlish fantasies of being romanced by this very obviously messed-up person.

There’s almost nothing to root for with this would-be couple, when this movie can’t even grasp the concepts of true love and how mental illness should be handled by people who really care about the mentally ill person. Coleman and Thune have zero chemistry together. Thune looks ridiculous in about half of his personas in this movie. His uneven performance as the joyless Godfrey looks like Thune is somewhat embarrassed to be there.

Meanwhile, Coleman has terrible comedic timing in many of her scenes. She also has a way of over-emoting that’s very annoying. This cringeworthy style of acting is most apparent in a scene that takes place in a park, where Sara unexpectedly runs into her ex-boyfriend Simon and his wife Allegra (played by Leanne Lapp), who is pregnant. Allegra is the woman whom Simon got together with after he broke up with Sara.

Simon and Allegra seem very happy about this pregnancy. Meanwhile, jealous Sara is shocked to see that Simon has changed his mind about being a parent. Sara spitefully tells Allegra that Simon said he didn’t want to be a father when he and Sara were a couple. Sara also makes a body-shaming comment to Allegra, by telling Allegra that her pregnancy makes her look “big.”

It’s unknown if writer/director Mok consulted with enough women before he wrote the atrocious screenplay for this movie, which is clearly targeted to a mostly-female audience. If he had, he would’ve heard that women (and movie audiences in general) enjoy romantic comedies the best when the people in these movies don’t act delusional, air-headed and degrading to other people when it comes to finding true love. And it’s become a boring and unimaginative cliché when romantic comedies have a scenario of women being catty to each other because of a man.

The tacky and unrealistic way that relationship issues are handled in this movie is not only an insult to women but also anyone who’s suffering from mental illnesses. In addition to horrible casting choices and sloppy direction, “The Right One” disregards the severity of a mental illness such as multiple personality disorder. The way it’s portrayed in the movie, multiple personality disorder is just a phase that someone can “get over” if the right person comes along to give them love. Well, there’s one way to “get over” a bad romantic comedy like “The Right One”: Just don’t watch it.

Lionsgate released “The Right One” in select U.S. cinemas, on digital and VOD on February 5, 2021, and on Blu-ray and DVD on February 9, 2021.

CrimeCon launches spinoff events: CrimeCon on the Run, CrowdSolve

March 15, 2019

by Carla Hay

CrimeCon, the annual convention for fans of true-crime stories, is launching two spin-off events:

CrimeCon on the Run

WHEN: March 29, 2019

WHERE: Thalia Hall in Chicago

WHO & WHAT: This one-night event will feature three popular panels from CrimeCon:

  • “How to Catch a Liar,” moderated by Stephen David Lampley
  • “Crime Scene Reconstruction,” moderated by Karen Smith
  • “Tales from the Bronx Cold Case Squad,” moderated by Joe Giacalone

“Court Junkie” podcast host/producer Jillian Jalali is hosting the event. Admission prices range from $50 to $80 per person.


WHEN: October 18 to October 20, 2019

WHERE: The Westin, Seattle

WHO & WHAT: This three-day event with attendees getting a chance to play investigators/detectives in a real-life cases.  The case and leaders are to be announced. Admission prices range from $279 to $749 per person.

The main CrimeCon convention takes place this year from June 7 to June 9 at the Hilton Riverside in New Orleans. Red Seat Ventures produces all CrimeCon events.

W Hotels Worldwide debuts its first North American recording studio, W Sound Suite, in Seattle

April 18, 2017

W Sound Suite at W Seattle
W Sound Suite at W Seattle (Photo courtesy of W Hotels Worldwide)

The following is an excerpt from a W Hotels Worldwide press release:

W Hotels Worldwide, part of Marriott International , in partnership with Coca-Cola, today unveiled the first W Sound Suite to launch in North America at W Seattle. The private music studio, writer’s room and lounge offers a retreat for musicians and producers to write and record tracks while on the road.  Hotel guests are also able to get in on the fun by booking the studio to live out their rockstar dreams.

The W Sound Suite at W Seattle follows the opening of the world’s first W Sound Suite at W Bali – Seminyak last year, with additional W Sound Suites set to debut at W Hollywood and W Barcelona in the coming months.  W Sound Suites are in part the brainchild of the W brand’s North American Music Director, DJ White Shadow, the Chicago-based producer best known for his work with Lady Gaga. He worked with W Seattle to optimize the Sound Suite’s layout and select equipment for professional use and sound quality.

“Musicians are constantly on the road, where it’s difficult to find an accessible, professional-quality space to record,” said DJ White Shadow. “In Seattle, a city known worldwide for its music scene, W Hotels has brought recording space to the artist, allowing them to create whenever inspiration strikes.”

Under DJ White Shadow’s direction, the W Sound Suite at W Seattle has been outfitted to professional specifications in a stylish, comfortable and sound-proof space, offering the latest in studio technology. In anticipation of the launch, W Hotels and Coca-Cola partnered with industry leader, Native Instruments, to outfit the Sound Suite with the latest generation of the world’s leading production suite (Komplete 11), a state-of-the-art control keyboard (Komplete Kontrol S-Series), the cutting edge groove production system used by hip-hop producers around the globe (Maschine) and an all-in-one DJ system (Traktor Kontrol S8). W Hotels also worked with world-renowned audio company, Shure, to provide new SHR440 headphones, X2u microphones, KSM32/SL microphone condensers and BETA®181 microphone for the ultimate recording experience.

The W brand’s longstanding global partner, Coca-Cola, has been instrumental in bringing the Sound Suite concept to life. Elements of the studio’s aesthetic, envisioned by Josh Held Design, pay tribute to Coca-Cola including Coca-Cola red accents and a mural by Ames Brothers with subtle Coca-Cola references. Coca-Cola has used music to tell its brand story for over a century, bringing its campaigns into the pop culture lexicon.

In tandem with the debut of the latest W Sound Suite, W Seattle will offer an exclusive “Rider Menu” for Sound Suite guests, celebrating everyone’s inner rock star and indulgences. Inspired by the iconic ‘rider’ every musician provides before a performance, this menu includes:

  • Make It Rain // Seattle-style hot dog with cream cheese, selection of local IPAs, house-made bourbon ice cream
  • Queen Bey // Bottle of Dom Perignon, champagne truffles, oysters, eye mask, fresh white florals
  • American Bad A$$ // PBR, red Solo cups, moonshine, fried chicken sliders, fried pickles, French fries
  • Mo’ Money Mo’ Problems // Top-shelf bar with private bartender, boozie ice cream, taro chips and chef’s selection of house-made spreads (garlic humus, citrus baba ghanoush, caramelized onion jam)
  • All Nighter // Six pack of Coca-Cola, locally-sourced chocolate covered espresso beans, donut holes with dipping sauce & house-made salted caramels.
Copyright 2017-2024 Culture Mix