Review: ‘Marry Me’ (2022), starring Jennifer Lopez, Owen Wilson and Maluma

February 11, 2022

by Carla Hay

Owen Wilson, Jennifer Lopez and Chloe Coleman in “Marry Me” (Photo courtesy of Universal Pictures)

“Marry Me” (2022)

Directed by Kat Coiro

Some language in Spanish with no subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place primarily in New York City and briefly in Peoria, Illinois, the romantic comedy film “Marry Me” features a racially diverse cast of characters (white, Latino, African American and Asian) representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: Superstar music diva Kat Valdez impulsively marries a mathematics teacher—who is a socially awkward stranger she picked out from her concert audience and wed on the night they met—and they both try to make the marriage work.

Culture Audience: “Marry Me” will appeal mainly to people who are fans of star Jennifer Lopez and anyone who likes formulaic and unimaginative romantic comedies.

Jennifer Lopez. Michelle Buteau, Khalil Middleton (back row, third from left), Maluma, John Bradley and Owen Wilson in “Marry Me” (Photo courtesy of Universal Pictures)

“Marry Me” is just an extended music video for Jennifer Lopez to sing songs that she wants to sell in a hackneyed story with no surprises. She and a bland Owen Wilson have no believable chemistry together, even though they star in the movie as an unlikely couple who are supposed to fall in love with each other. The entire movie looks as fake as the myriad of wigs and hair extensions that a superstar diva would wear.

Directed by Kat Coiro, “Marry Me” starts out with a somewhat intriguing concept that asks these questions: What if two famous singers were supposed to get married on a concert stage with a televised audience of millions, but the bride-to-be-finds out minutes before the wedding that her groom-to-be cheated on her? And what if she impulsively decided to marry a “regular guy” stranger in the audience instead? And what if this diva and this “regular guy” actually tried to make their marriage work?

That’s the entire story in “Marry Me,” but the movie does absolutely nothing original with this idea, which might have worked well with a genuinely hilarious screenplay and the right people cast in the roles. Unfortunately, “Marry Me” (written by Harper Dill, John Rogers and Tami Sagher) takes the lazy and unimaginative route, by cramming in cliché after cliché seen in many other romantic comedies until the movie comes to a very underwhelming and formulaic end. The screenplay is based on author Bobby Crosby’s 2020 graphic novel “Marry Me.” The movie “Marry Me” tries too hard to be sweet and likable, but it all comes across as cloying and pandering, especially when this movie is actually designed to peddle Lopez’s music and anything else that got product-placement deals for this movie.

In “Marry Me,” Kat Valdez (played by Lopez) is the heartbroken diva who rebounds quicker than you can say “rom-com garbage.” On the night of her lavish wedding, which takes place at Hammerstein Ballroom in New York City, she finds out just a few minutes before the ceremony that her heartthrob singer fiancé Bastian (played Maluma) cheated on her with her assistant Tyra (played by Katrina Cunningham). A tabloid website has posted a video of Bastian and Tyra having a sexual tryst, and the video has instantly gone viral. Kat and Bastian have a duet called “Marry Me” that they were going to sing to each other during the wedding, which is expected to have a global audience of about 20 million people. As soon as Kat finds out about Bastian’s infidelity, she breaks up with him backstage.

Instead of canceling the wedding, Kat sees mathematics teacher Charlie Gilbert (played by Wilson) in the audience, while he’s holding a sign that says “Marry Me.” Charlie is a mild-mannered divorcé who’s in the audience with his 12-year-old daughter Lou (played by Chloe Coleman) and Charlie’s school counselor co-worker Parker Debbs (played by Sarah Silverman), who was the one who convinced Charlie to go to this event since she had two extra tickets. Lou and Parker are big fans of Kat’s, but Charlie doesn’t really know who Kat is. He’s only holding the “Marry Me” sign because “Marry Me” is the name of this wedding event, and Parker (who’s a lovelorn lesbian) made the sign.

The next thing you know, Charlie is called up on stage, and he and Kat get “married.” This on-stage wedding isn’t legal, because Charlie never signed any marriage documents before he exchanged vows with Kat. The wedding officiator didn’t even say Charlie’s name during the ceremony. He just said “some guy” instead of Charlie’s name.

However, Kat decides with her annoying manager Colin Calloway (played by John Bradley) that she might as well get some publicity out of this fiasco, so she comes up with the idea to make the marriage legal. And if the marriage doesn’t work out in a few months, so be it. With this cavalier attitude toward marriage, it should come as no surprise that Charlie is Kat’s fourth husband. Her three previous marriages ended in divorce. (It might have been a nod to Lopez’s real-life failed marriages, because when Lopez made this movie, she had already been divorced three times.)

Since Charlie doesn’t know anything about Kat when they first meet, she gives him a brief summary of two of her previous failed marriages. Kat mentions that she was married to her first husband for 48 hours. (Sounds a lot like Britney Spears.) Kat also says that her second husband was a music producer who sold a private sex video they did together. (It’s probably a reference to when Lopez in real life sued her first ex-husband, Ojani Noa, for $10 million in 2009, when he tried to sell private sex videos that they made during their honeymoon.)

Kat then says that she and Bastian were together for about a year-and-a-half, and they got together after the breakup from her second ex-husband. There’s no mention of the third ex-husband and where he fits into the timeline of Kat’s train-wreck love life. Kat self-servingly makes it sound like bad things happen to her in her romantic relationships, yet she takes no responsibility for anything that she might have done wrong too that caused the relationships to fail.

At first, Charlie is reluctant to have his marriage to Kat be legal. “I have a daughter. I don’t want to drag her into a circus,” he tells Colin. This shady manager then blatantly lies and says that Lou won’t be affected by the publicity of Charlie being married to Kat. Colin says that the spin on this hasty marriage is that it’s a “break from tradition.” Charlie’s co-worker Parker then convinces Charlie to make the marriage legal, so that Charlie can get Kat to donate some money to the school where Charlie and Parker work.

It’s all so crass and cringeworthy. And this marriage doesn’t make Charlie look like he’s thinking of what’s best for his daughter Lou, who already has a tense relationship with Charlie because she thinks he’s boring, out-of-touch and a more than a little embarrassing. Charlie and his ex-wife (who has remarried and is never seen in the movie) share custody of Lou, who stays with Charlie three days a week. Lou is also a student at the middle school where Charlie teaches. Charlie is Lou’s math teacher and the leader of the school’s math club, where Lou is a reluctant member.

After this spontaneous wedding, Charlie gets thrust into the public spotlight, as he and Kat try to make their marriage work. Cue the expected scenes of Charlie not fitting in well with Kat’s superstar lifestyle. He is shocked and irritated when he’s hounded by paparazzi. Kat is someone who has 250 million followers on Instagram, but Charlie is someone who hates social media. Charlie doesn’t even have a smartphone. He still uses an outdated flip phone.

Charlie also has problems adjusting to the fact that Kat constantly has a camera operator with her to film her life for her social media channels. His name is Kofi (played by Khalil Middleton), who doesn’t say much, but Charlie thinks it’s intrusive and unnecessary for Kat to document her life in this way. Did Charlie forget that he married a superstar?

And there’s more of Charlie’s ignorance on display: Charlie finds it surprising and distasteful that Kat has signed several endorsement deals. “Her whole life is sponsored,” Charlie gripes. How do you think she makes much of her fortune, Charlie?

It’s not through selling recorded music (in real life, music superstars make most of their money through other means, such as touring and sponsorship deals), although “Marry Me” has blatant shilling of Lopez’s forgettable tunes in scenes that are really music video clips. There’s also some very over-the-top product placement in the movie. These products and song titles won’t be mentioned in this review because “Marry Me” does more than enough over-selling of what it’s trying to sell.

One of the corniest things about “Marry Me” is when Kat spouts some of her platitudes to try to explain why she’s so flaky in love and marriage, even though she has no credibility in giving advice on how to have a healthy and loving marriage that doesn’t end in divorce. In one scene, she tells Charlie: “I believe in marriage. It’s like math. If you get a problem wrong, you keep trying until you get it right.”

And immediately after Kat singles out Charlie in the audience with the intent to get him to marry her, she gives this semi-rambling speech: “If you want something different, you do something different. So this time, for the first time, you make a different choice. You jump off a cliff so high, you don’t even see the fall, and you just say yes.”

Even worse: “Marry Me” has a misguided way of trying to make Kat’s bad romantic judgment look like she’s a modern feminist. In reality, she’s an emotionally immature person who has some very outdated views on being single: She’s so afraid of being without a man, she pressures a total stranger to marry her. Confident and independent women don’t use marriage as a way to prove their self-worth, but as a way to share a committed relationship with another person.

Kat admits in one part of the movie that her impulsive wedding to Charlie was so she could save face after being humiliated by Bastian. In other words, the marriage to Charlie was more of a reaction than an independent-minded action. And you can bet there’s a part of the movie where Kat tries to make Bastian jealous and makes it obvious that she has lingering feelings for him. These mind games make Charlie insecure, of course, and you know where this is going in the “boy loses girl” part of the rom-com formula.

During their first press conference as spouses, Kat uses feminist-speak to try to justify using Charlie to boost her ego: “The rules, as they exist, pretty much suck for women. I mean, why do we have to wait until men propose? Why is everything on his terms? I think it’s time to shake things up!”

Kat continues, “How about this? We pick the guy, we keep our name, and let him earn the right to stay.” It sounds like a rousing feminist speech, except that Kat forgot that when she was on stage and saw Charlie, she actually did things the “old-fashioned” way with the man proposing. She saw Charlie’s “Marry Me” sign, and declared to him in front of the crowd, “Yes, I’ll marry you!” The filmmakers of this mindless movie expect viewers to forget that part too.

At the press conference, Charlie sounds even less convincing than Kat when trying to say that their marriage is a good idea. He awkwardly mentions that marriage has a history of being transactional, because in the old days, women were basically treated as property to be bought and sold into marriage. (He doesn’t mention that arranged marriages are still prevalent in many cultures.)

Charlie reminds the assembled reporters that a woman’s marital worth used to be based on her dowry in the old days, and how it’s so great that women have made progress since then. And yet, Charlie forgets to mention that this progress includes being a wealthy divorcée who can choose to marry a man who wants her money for his own personal agenda, such as making a large donation to his workplace. Hey, Charlie, what did you just say about a dowry being outdated?

And just who did Kat marry as her fourth husband? Charlie is a loner whose closest companion is his bulldog Tank. Not much is said about Charlie’s love life before he met Kat, except that Charlie and his ex-wife split up when Lou was too young to even remember when they were together. Predictably, Lou thinks her stepfather Steve (who is never seen in the movie) is a lot cooler than Charlie is, so Charlie feels inadequate and jealous. Guess who’s going to be the cool stepmother who will bring Charlie and Lou closer together?

You can almost do a countdown to when Kat shows up as a “surprise guest” in Charlie’s classroom, where she teaches the students how to correlate learning how to solve complicated math problems with learning how to dance like Kat Valdez. Later in the movie, Charlie’s math club students go to a big math competition in Peoria, Illinois, so you know exactly what that means in this cornball movie. Kat is completely unbelievable as someone who would be an attentive stepmother to Lou, unless it involves a photo op or self-serving video that Kat can put on her social media.

Lopez, who is one of the producers of “Marry Me,” is basically playing a version of herself as Kat Valdez in “Marry Me,” so the role really isn’t much of an acting stretch for her. Wilson just goes through the motions as dreadfully drab Charlie, who married a superstar, and then spends too much time whining about how famous Kat is. One of the most grating things about Charlie is that he acts personally offended when Kat does things to maintain her fame and fortune and fulfill her celebrity obligations, as if she’s suddenly supposed to change her lifestyle in the way that he sees fit.

Coleman is playing another in her long list of kid characters who are precocious, bratty or both. Silverman does her usual sarcastic schtick with a character who mouths off to people. Maluma doesn’t have much to do in this movie except sing and play a smooth-talking sex symbol. Michelle Buteau has an empty and superficial role as Kat’s image-conscious and sycophantic personal assistant Melissa, who doesn’t think too highly of nerdy Charlie. Utkarsh Ambudkar hams it up in a brief appearance as Coach Manny, the mean-spirited leader of the math competition’s arrogant reigning championship team.

“Marry Me” is a continuous pile-on of silly schmaltz and stereotypes, including the over-used “race to the airport” rom-com scene, because someone has to make a grand gesture that shows a commitment to love “before it’s too late.” And the movie’s 112-minute run time is too long, considering a lot of it is music video filler and rehashing of the same story arcs that have already been in hundreds of other romantic comedies. The movie’s pace drags in too many places, and the last third of “Marry Me” gets more and more ridiculous. “Marry Me” is not only a movie divorced from reality, but it’s also a movie divorced from any real wit and creativity.

Universal Pictures released “Marry Me” in U.S. cinemas and on Peacock on February 11, 2022.

Review: ‘Free Guy,’ starring Ryan Reynolds, Jodie Comer, Lil Rel Howery, Utkarsh Ambudkar, Joe Keery and Taika Waititi

August 5, 2021

by Carla Hay

Jodie Comer and Ryan Reynolds in “Free Guy” (Photo by Alan Markfield/20th Century Studios)

“Free Guy”

Directed by Shawn Levy

Culture Representation: Taking place in an unnamed U.S. city, the action comedy film “Free Guy” features a predominantly male, mostly white cast of characters (with a few African Americans, Asians and one Māori/indigenous cast member) representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: A video game’s simulated city becomes the focus of conflict from the game’s characters and the gamers in the real world who want to manipulate actions in this simulated city.

Culture Audience: “Free Guy” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in comedic action movies that revolve around video game culture and put more emphasis on style over substance.

Taika Waititi, Utkarsh Ambudkar and Joe Keery in “Free Guy” (Photo by Alan Markfield/20th Century Studios)

“Free Guy” looks like an outdated idea for a video game movie that would’ve worked better when the SimCity video game was first released in 1989. It’s a dumb action comedy that tries to be clever with convoluted video game scenarios to dress up its very weak plot and cringeworthy jokes. The movie overloads on tech jargon and formulaic action scenes as gimmicks that can’t hide this movie’s lazy banality.

Directed by Shawn Levy and written by Matt Lieberman and Zak Penn, “Free Guy” was obviously made to appeal to video game enthusiasts as a target audience. However, because video games have progressed immensely since the early years of SimCity—especially when it comes to world building, visual effects and multilayered outcomes—much of the video game that’s at the center of “Free Guy” looks simplistic and boring. The only real nod to 21st century gaming that this movie has is that people worldwide have the ability to play the game simultaneously over the Internet.

The video game in “Free Guy” is called Free City, which is about a simulated city called Free City that’s supposed to be a mid-sized American city where chaos and destruction can happen at any moment. (“Free Guy” was actually filmed in Boston.) Players of Free City get more points and can advance to the next level (also known as “leveling up”), based on acts of unprovoked hostility and violence that they can put in the game.

Every day, an armed robbery takes place at Free City Bank. This financial institution is the place of employment for cheerful bank teller Guy (played by Ryan Reynolds) and his wisecracking best friend Buddy (played by Lil Rel Howery), who’s a security guard. It’s a scenario that plays out with such routine predictability that Guy has come to expect it.

Guy, who is the voiceover narrator and protagonist of the movie, explains that in Free City, laws are like “mild suggestions.” The “heroes” in Free City can be identified by wearing special eyeglasses. Later, Guy finds out what happens when someone in Free City puts on these special eyeglasses. But in the beginning of the movie, Guy is just a character that’s supposed to stick to the same routine every day.

Guy is stuck in a rut and doesn’t even know it at first. When he wakes up in the morning, he says and does the same things. When he goes to a local coffee shop before heading to work, he places the same order: coffee with cream and two spoons of sugar. Guy is the type of character who says, “Coffee: It’s like losing my virginity, but in my mouth.”

Almost everyone in Free City has a daily routine. The city is so basic that there are no tourist attractions, and anyone who doesn’t have the special eyeglasses is just supposed to fade into the background. In other words, whoever thought up this video game has terrible world building skills and gave the players very limited options what they could do. In this city, people are either aggressors or potential targets for that aggression.

However, one day, Guy’s life takes an unexpected turn. At the local coffee shop, he orders a cappuccino instead of his usual coffee with cream and sugar. The barista named Missy (played by Britne Oldford), who always serves the same order to Guy, freaks out because she doesn’t know what to do because Guy has ordered cappuccino.

On that same day, when the bank robbery occurs at Guy’s job, instead of handing over money to the robber, Guy gets into a fight with the thief, takes the thief’s gun, and shoots the thief. During the altercation, Guy takes the thief’s special eyeglasses. And that’s when Guy can see and experience Free City in a whole different way. He immediately notices that when he wears the glasses, he has superhuman strength and things appear in his sight that he wouldn’t be able to see without wearing the glasses.

While wearing the glasses, Guy sees a medical bag floating in front of him. And when he takes the bag, the wounds he sustained during the bank robbery fight (such as cuts, bruises and a broken nose) are automatically healed. When Guy goes to an ATM to get money from his bank account, he sees that the money he had in the account (less than $150) has turned into thousands of dollars, because the ATM now acts like a jackpot machine.

Meanwhile, Guy has “infatuation at first sight” when he sees a mysterious woman (played by Jodie Comer) on a motorcycle and armed with a gun on the street. She wears the special eyeglasses. She seems to be independent and fearless. And she’s wearing an outfit (white button-down shirt with black trousers, suspenders and thigh-high boots) that looks like a costume rejected by Charlize Theron’s badass assassin character in 2017’s “Atomic Blonde.”

Guy is convinced that this mystery female on a motorcycle is the woman of his dreams. Guy and this woman eventually meet. She calls herself Molotov Girl, but she’s really a British avatar for an American video game developer named Millie Rusk. Molotov Girl wears her black hair worn in a bob, while Millie has long blonde hair.

In the real world, Millie is embroiled in a messy lawsuit with Soonami Studios, the video game company that released Free City, a game that has become a big hit for Soonami. Millie is suing because she claims that Soonami stole intellectual property that is the basis of Free City. Back in 2015, Millie and her former business partner Walter “Keys” McKeys (played by Joe Keery) were considered hot up-and-coming video game developers of a game called Life Itself.

Soonami’s greedy and corrupt founder/CEO named Antwan (played by Taika Waititi) bought the rights to Life Itself (one of the most boring video game titles in history) for Soonami, and then promptly shelved Life Itself, only to release the game under the name Free City. Why isn’t Keys suing Soonami too? Because he now works for Soonami as a programmer, but he spends much of his work time actually being a customer support representative. Keys’ best friend at the company is a coder with a sarcastic personality named Mouser (played by Utkarsh Ambudkar), who worships Antwan and does pretty much anything Antwan tells Mouser to do.

Why is Millie spending so much time playing Free City using the avatar Molotov Girl? Because she secretly wants to find certain proof that the game has the intellectual property that was stolen from Millie and Keys. Meanwhile, Guy becomes emboldened by his newfound powers due to the special eyeglasses. He starts doing things (many of them heroic) of his own free will, and his character becomes a worldwide sensation. Free City game players around the world have given him the nickname Blue Shirt Guy because of the blue shirt that Guy wears to work every day.

Not everyone is a fan of Blue Shirt Guy, of course. Antwan is furious because he thinks Blue Shirt Guy is a major “bug” (or error) in the game. There’s a kind of a silly sequence of Keys and Mouser disguising themselves with avatars to go into the Free City game and to try find out why Guy, a non-player character (also known as an NPC), seems to be acting of his own free will. Keys is dressed as a cop, while Mouser is dressed up in a ridiculous-looking pink rabbit costume. Why is Mouser dressed like he’s at a kids’ costume party? Just because he felt like it.

In fact, much of “Free Guy” consists of half-baked ideas thrown in between the hackneyed action scenes. There’s a stretched-out subplot about getting to a certain person’s stash house. There’s another subplot about how Soonami is about to release a Free City sequel called Free City: Carnage (also known as Free City 2), so there’s a race against time involving the release date.

The budding romance between Guy and Molotov Girl looks kind of icky because he comes across more like her dorky, much-older brother rather than a potential boyfriend. Guy is in his 40s, while Molotov Girl/Millie is in her 20s. It’s yet another Hollywood movie where the male lead actor gets a female love interest who’s at least 15 to 20 years younger.

In an attempt to gloss over this big age difference, there’s monotonous repetition of how Guy and Millie have some superficial things in common. They both love Mariah Carey’s 1995 hit song “Fantasy,” bubblegum ice cream and playing on swings. How old are these people again? Twelve? “Fantasy” is played enough times in the movie that it will get stuck in your head after the movie is over. And that’s not a good thing if you don’t like the song.

“Free Guy” is yet another Hollywood action movie where the cast members who get top billing are several men and only one woman. Comer is the only woman with a significant speaking role in the movie, and her Moltov Girl/Millie character is severely underdeveloped. Moltovgirl/Millie doesn’t have a life outside of anything to do with how the male characters affect her.

The featured male characters in “Free Guy” have friends and/or co-workers, while Millie does not. And the movie tries to make Millie look like some kind of feminist gaming prodigy, but everything she’s shown accomplishing in this movie is because she got help from a man. People who are fans of Comer because of her stellar, Emmy-winning work in “Killing Eve” will be disappointed at how limited her character is in “Free Guy.” The character of Millie, just like Molotov Girl, is just a hollow avatar who was created to be a sidekick for a male character who gets most of the glory.

As for Keys, he is portrayed as a wimpy and shy “nice guy.” But looking at his actions, Keys really has dubious morals and shaky loyalty, because he will go along with anyone who will benefit him in some way. He betrayed Millie by working for their enemy, and he doesn’t support her in her lawsuit to get justice for all the hard work that they did. And to make matters worse, Keys wasn’t even given a lofty position at Soonami. He’s now essentially a low-paid customer service representative at Soonami, where he is treated like dirt by rude and condescending Antwan.

It’s supposed to make viewers feel sorry for Keys, because the company is wasting his talent. But it just makes Keys look like a fool who’s being taken advantage of because his own bad choices. There are other companies he could work for besides the one that screwed over Keys and Millie. But if he worked for another company, there wouldn’t be the predictable “inside man” plot development that you know is part of this movie. There’s a trite character arc for Keys that’s extremely phony and doesn’t feel deserved.

There are fundamental plot holes in “Free Guy,” because it’s obvious that the filmmakers don’t want anyone watching the movie to think too much. For example, if Free City is so popular worldwide, and the point of the game is for players to create as much violent chaos as possible in Free City, then there would be a lot more death and destruction in Free City than what’s presented in this movie. Free City looks too pristine and orderly, as if hardly anyone is playing this game, which contradicts the movie’s premise that Free City is supposed to be a worldwide hit.

Much of the plot is based on Millie’s lawsuit against Soonami, but “Free Guy” purposely keeps things vague. Don’t expect any mention of the fact that it’s very common for corporations to buy the rights to intellectual property from independent creators and then just shelve it. And buying the rights also means buying any patents associated with the intellectual property and the right to release the intellectual property under a new name. In all likelihood in the real world, Millie doesn’t have a legitimate case for her lawsuit.

“Free Guy” also muddles the logic of how Millie needs to be an avatar in a video game in order to find the coding proof that she needs. Any good computer programmer/video game developer would have kept that coding proof, even after the intellectual property had been sold. But this movie isn’t about being realistic or logical. And that’s excusable if the characters and story had been much better than the unimaginative stereotypes and uninspired dialogue in “Free Guy.”

Keery and Ambudkar play the typical video game nerds. Howery plays the typical loyal best friend. Waititi plays the typical over-the-top villain. Waititi, who is naturally funny, tries to do his best with terrible lines of dialogue, but even he can’t overcome how stilted and awkward everyone looks in what are supposed to be hilarious scenes.

Reynolds has done plenty of action films and comedies where his character starts out as an underdog and then becomes a celebrated hero. It’s all so mind-numbingly monotonous, because he doesn’t do anything new as an actor in “Free Guy,” which is far from his best movie. The stale jokes in “Free Guy” seem like they were programmed by a computer from the 1990s.

The movie’s action scenes and visual effects are so basic and forgettable. One of the “Free Guy” trailers revealed that Guy fights a giant He-Man-ripoff version of himself, so this trailer reveal ruins that surprise. There are a few “surprise” celebrity cameos in the movie that don’t have much of an impact. Channing Tatum pops up in a scene, but he wears out his welcome with his one-note character. Chris Evans has a cameo that lasts a few seconds and should get some quick laughs.

“Free Guy” (from 20th Century Studios) is such a soulless and corporate movie that it has shameless plugging of movies from other Disney-owned studios. There’s “Star Wars”-influenced light saber fighting, in a nod to Disney-owned Lucasfilm. And there’s a reference to Captain America, the superhero character that Evans portrayed in several movies from Disney-owned Marvel Studios. No references to Disney princesses though, because the filmmakers of “Free Guy” want men to dominate in this movie.

Movies like 1982’s “Tron” and 2018’s “Ready Player One” have shown how it’s possible to be creative in a movie about people who transport themselves into a video game and end up having real connections with characters in the game. “Free Guy” could have brought a clever comedic spin to this concept, but the movie is just a messy compilation of lousy jokes and garbled plot developments. There are lot of video games that are better than a junkpile movie like “Free Guy.”

20th Century Studios will release “Free Guy” in U.S. cinemas on August 13, 2021.

Review: ‘The Broken Hearts Gallery, starring Geraldine Viswanathan, Dacre Montgomery, Utkarsh Ambudkar, Molly Gordon, Phillipa Soo, Arturo Castro and Bernadette Peters

September 11, 2020

by Carla Hay

Geraldine Viswanathan and Dacre Montgomery in “The Broken Hearts Gallery” (Photo by Linda Kallerus/TriStar Pictures)

“The Broken Hearts Gallery”

Directed by Natalie Krinsky

Culture Representation: Taking place in New York City, the romantic comedy “The Broken Hearts Gallery” features a cast of Asians and white people (with a few African Americans and Latinos) representing the middle-class.

Culture Clash: A 26-year-old woman, who’s been dumped by an ex-boyfriend and fired from her art-gallery job, tries to get over her problems by helping an aspiring hotel owner decorate his boutique hotel, even though her personal style clashes with his.

Culture Audience: “The Broken Hearts Gallery” will appeal primarily to viewers who like formulaic romantic comedies that have people with mostly relatable personalities.

Molly Gordon, Geraldine Viswanathan and Phillipa Soo in “The Broken Hearts Gallery” (Photo by George Kraychyk/TriStar Pictures)

The romantic comedy “The Broken Hearts Gallery” is so unapologetically mushy and predictable that it would be absolutely a chore to sit through this movie if it didn’t have its share of charming moments. Much of the credit goes to star Geraldine Viswanathan, whose quick-witted comedic timing and her keen ability to bring a sense of fun to the story end up saving what could have been a mostly forgettable and cliché film.

“The Broken Hearts Gallery” is the feature-film debut of writer/director Natalie Krinsky, who previously worked as an occasional writer on “Gossip Girl,” the primetime soap opera about upper-class young people in New York City. “Broken Hearts Gallery” is also set in New York City, but the young people at the center of the story are definitely less privileged than the wealthy scions of “Gossip Girl.”

Lucy Gulliver (played by Viswanathan), the story’s 26-year-old protagonist, is an assistant at an upscale and trendy art gallery. She has dreams of owning her own art gallery someday. Lucy lives with her two best friends—sarcastic and bossy Amanda (played by Molly Gordon) and womanizing lesbian Nadine (played by Phillipa Soo)—and they have all been close pals for years.

Amanda is currently a law student, but a running joke in the movie is that she’s always giving unsolicited legal advice, as if she’s already a lawyer. Amanda is also in a relationship with a guy named Jeff (played by Nathan Dales), who is mostly silent and henpecked by Amanda. (When Jeff finally starts talking, it’s one of the funnier parts of the movie.) Meanwhile, Nadine has a thing for dating Russian models, but then she gets bored and usually ends the relationship to move on to her next conquest.

The beginning of the movie shows the trio of gal pals while they were seniors in high school in an unnamed suburb of New York, with Lucy already planning to live in the big city. Lucy has just gotten dumped by a boyfriend, and Amanda and Nadine are comforting her while Lucy is nursing her broken heart. It’s a scenario that gets repeated more than once in the movie.

One of Lucy’s quirks is that she likes to keep mementos and knickknacks, including those that remind of her of ex-boyfriends. She freely admits she’s a pack rat, while some people might describe her collecting habit as hoarding, because she keeps things such as toenail clippings. Her hoarding isn’t at a dangerous level, but it’s odd and more than a little creepy.

Eight years after graduating from high school, Lucy’s life seems to be going fairly well for her. She’s been dating a 35-year-old co-worker named Max Vora (played by Utkarsh Ambudkar), who is the gallery’s recently promoted director. Max and Lucy have been keeping their romance somewhat hidden from their colleagues because they don’t want it to be a distraction at work. Lucy gushes about Max to Nadine and Amanda, by describing him as such a perfect romantic boyfriend that he cooks dinner for her. Meanwhile, Nadine and Amanda secretly take bets on how long Lucy’s most recent romance will last.

Lucy idolizes her boss Eva Woolf (played by Bernadette Peters), the gallery owner who named the art gallery after herself. Eva doesn’t have much tolerance for people she thinks are flaky and dumb. You know where this is going, of course. Lucy will make a fool out of herself at work because of something to do with Max. This embarrassing incident happens during a big exhibit opening at the gallery, where Eva, all of the gallery’s employees and many important clients are in attendance.

Lucy has been asked to get up on stage in front of the assembled crowd and introduce Max as the gallery’s new director. As she’s about to give her introductory speech, Lucy sees Max canoodling in the audience with a woman whom she recognizes as Dr. Amelia Black (played by Tattiawna Jones), Max’s most recent ex-girlfriend. Lucy has already had too much to drink because she was nervous about making this speech. And so, when Lucy sees Max getting too close to this other woman, Lucy goes into a tailspin and has an epic, jealous meltdown in front of the entire audience. As if that weren’t enough, drunken Lucy ends up tripping and falling flat on her face.

As Lucy runs out of the gallery in a humiliated daze, Max follows her outside and explains that Amelia was living in Paris but has recently moved back to New York City. And now, Max tells Lucy that he wants to get back together with Amelia. And there’s more bad news for Lucy: Eva was so mortified by Lucy’s public meltdown that she’s also sent Max to tell Lucy that she’s been fired.

As she’s reeling from this extremely bad night, Lucy just wants to go home, so she gets into a car that she thinks is the rideshare that she had booked. As she starts to tell the driver about her “worst night ever,” the driver repeatedly tells her that he’s not her rideshare driver, but Lucy is so absorbed in her misery that she won’t listen. Finally, the driver, whose name is Nick (played by Dacre Montgomery), decides to placate Lucy and drives her home.

When she gets home, Lucy realizes the man who drove her home isn’t the rideshare driver she booked. She’s once again embarrassed, but she tries to turn it around and make Nick look bad by accusing him of being a creep. She also comments that for all she knows, he could be a serial killer, and now he knows where she lives. Will this be the last time that Lucy sees Nick? Of course not.

In several very contrived situations, Nick just happens to be nearby at the exact moment that a lovelorn Lucy sees Max and makes a pathetic attempt to get Max’s attention. One of those moments is the next time that Lucy and Nick see each other. Lucy has followed Max into a restaurant, where he’s having a dinner date with Amelia. The restaurant hostess tries to block Lucy from going over to the table because Lucy doesn’t have a reservation. And right at that moment, when Amelia is about to act like a psycho ex-girlfriend and charge toward Max, Nick shows up and prevents Lucy from approaching Max, who sees Lucy anyway.

As Nick steers Lucy away from this potentially embarrassing situation for her, she gets very irritated with him and asks Nick if he’s been stalking her. Oh, the irony. Lucy and Nick get to talking, and he tells her a little bit more about himself. He’s trying to fulfill his dream of opening a boutique hotel called the Chloe Hotel. However, what he doesn’t tell her right away and what very few people in his life know is that Nick is almost broke and headed for a possible financial disaster since he poured his life savings into the hotel, which is nowhere near being completed.

One person who knows about Nick’s money problems is his best friend/business partner Marcos (played by Arturo Castro), who hasn’t been paid for a while and has decided to take another job because his wife Randy (played by Megan Ferguson) is pregnant, and they need the money. Marcos has a wry sense of humor, which goes a long way in being a counterbalance to some of the sappier moments of the movie.

Nick shows Lucy the unfinished hotel, which used to be a YMCA building. Lucy has a garbage bag with her that contains several old mementos from her ex-boyfriends, including Max. Nick, who calls her a hoarder, tells Lucy that his style is the complete opposite of hers, because he’s a minimalist. Meanwhile, there’s a large empty picture frame in the hotel that Lucy spontaneously uses to hang up one of the items in the garbage bag: a necktie that used to belong to Max.

And because Lucy is a wannabe art gallery owner. she calls this room in the hotel the Broken Heart Gallery, because of this “art display.” She scrawls a note next to the frame that explains why this necktie is from an ex-love and why it’s being discarded. Not long after that day, Nick tells her that an anonymous person came into the hotel and must have seen this necktie display because the person hung up an item with a note that it’s also from an ex-love.

Lucy takes a photo of this burgeoning art exhibit and posts it on social media. It becomes a such a viral hit that she gets the fundraising idea that people can start stop by the unfinished hotel to drop off mementos from ex-lovers and leave messages that can be displayed in the Broken Heart Gallery. Visitors can also give donations as part of the gallery exhibit. The intention for this idea is that people who contribute to the gallery can get closure from painful breakups, because the gallery displays will be cathartic enough to help them move on.

And when Nick mentions to Lucy that Marcos got another job and the hotel’s interior designer quit, Lucy volunteers to be the hotel’s interior designer. Nick says no, but after much persistence from Lucy and much hemming and hawing from Nick, she ends up being the hotel’s interior designer. Nick and Lucy don’t really discuss payment for this job, but even if they did, it’s very easy to see how this movie is going to end.

Before that happens, there are the usual shenanigans in romantic comedies that have this type of would-be couple. “The Broken Hearts Gallery” uses the old “opposites attract” trope as much as possible to show how Lucy and Nick get on each other’s nerves, but they also can’t seem to stay away from each other. Lucy is high-strung and kooky, while Nick is laid-back and analytical. The character of Nick is somewhat generic, and his main purpose in the movie is to play the straight man to Lucy’s wackiness.

Nick and Lucy become platonic friends, but have conflicts with each other, while Lucy puts herself in more embarrassing situations in an effort to get back together with Max. Nick’s and Lucy’s friends (and viewers who’ve seen enough romantic comedies) know where this is all headed. But, of course, the two people who are supposed to end up together are the last people to admit it.

Underage teenage girls are the target audience for “The Broken Hearts Gallery,” so things don’t get too raunchy in the movie. Adults watching this film will probably wish that the movie had more mature humor, since too many of the so-called adults in this movie act like they’re still in high school. (To see Viswanathan in a rowdier comedy film, check out 2018’s “Blockers,” where she was a standout in the movie too.)

Lucy is proud of her eccentricities, but some of her irrationally jealous behavior panders to some awful stereotypes about how pathetic and catty women can be when it comes to fighting over an ex-love. Lucy handles love in an uncomfortable and awkward manner that’s sometimes realistic and sometimes too over-the-top. This movie is a romantic comedy, so it isn’t supposed to be about realism all the time.

However, some of the dialogue is absolutely cringeworthy. In a scene where Lucy and Nick have some alone time and open up to each other, Lucy says to him: “We’re good together, you and me. The monster and the human. Humans need monsters to stir things up. And monsters need humans to fix everything they break. It’s just simple science.”

One of the more charming qualities of Lucy is that she’s more optimistic than Nick is about life and how to deal with problems. When more problems start to pile on Nick, he wants to abandon his dream to build the hotel, but Lucy gives him a pep talk and encourages him not to give up so easily. Meanwhile, Nick slowly starts to show that he has a romantic side, which is refreshing to Lucy, who says she’s used to men not being supportive of her and her dreams.

“The Broken Hearts Club” also has a very good supporting cast that makes the material a lot more engaging than it should be. Gordon, Soo and Castro all have moments when they somewhat steal scenes. (Gordon’s comedic timing is the most natural-looking and funniest of the supporting characters.)

And there are a few other supporting characters who are in Nick and Lucy’s world, including an Eva Woolf Gallery co-worker who’s nicknamed Harvard (played by Ego Nwodim), because she’s a know-it-all who likes to brag that she went to Harvard University, and she constantly chastises Lucy about being clueless about life. Celebrity chef Roy Choi has a cameo as himself. Suki Waterhouse plays someone who has a past connection to someone in the movie.

“The Broken Hearts Gallery” has the obligatory karaoke scene, which seems to be a staple of every other predictable romantic comedy. There’s also the “big argument” scene, where the would-be couple has an estrangement. There’s absolutely no suspense over whether or not they’ll kiss and make up by the end of the story.

There are a few “surprise” twists to the movie that aren’t shocking because it all just adds up to more schmaltz. “The Broken Hearts Gallery” is not for hardcore cynics, but it’s a predictable and harmless movie that’s made enjoyable mainly because of the winning performance by Viswanathan.

TriStar Pictures released “The Broken Hearts Gallery” in U.S. cinemas on September 11, 2020.

Review: ‘We Are Freestyle Love Supreme,’ starring Lin-Manuel Miranda, Anthony Veneziale, Christopher Jackson, Thomas Kail, Utkarsh Ambudkar, Bill Sherman and Chris Sullivan

July 17, 2020

by Carla Hay

Lin-Manuel Miranda, Chris Sullivan, Anthony Veneziale, Utkarsh Ambudkar, Andrew Bancroft, Bill Sherman, Christopher Jackson and Arthur Lewis in “We Are Freestyle Love Supreme” (Photo courtesy of Hulu)

“We Are Freestyle Love Supreme”

Directed by Andrew Fried

Culture Representation: Taking place primarily in New York City and partially in the United Kingdom, the documentary “We Are Freestyle Love Supreme” tells the story of the multiracial musical improvisational group Freestyle Love Supreme, whose most famous member is Tony-winning star Lin-Manuel Miranda.

Culture Clash: The members of Freestyle Love Supreme struggled for years to make a living from their craft, and then the group’s loyalty and work schedules were tested after Miranda and musical director Thomas Kail went on to mega-success with the Tony-winning musicals “In the Heights” and “Hamilton.”

Culture Audience: “We Are Freestyle Love Supreme” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of Lin-Manuel Miranda and musical theater that includes hip-hop.

Lin-Manuel Miranda, Christopher Jackson and Anthony Veneziale in the mid-2000s in “We Are Freestyle Love Supreme” (Photo courtesy of Hulu)

The feel-good documentary “We Are Freestyle Love Supreme” shows what can happen when several tight-knit friends in a musical improvisational group manage to keep the group going for several years, despite the members’ individual careers and personal lives going on divergent paths. Directed by Andrew Fried, who began filming footage for the documentary in 2005, “We Are Freestyle Love Supreme” is a breezy ride through the group’s story, even if it it feels like a lot of inevitable behind-the-scenes turmoil was deliberately left out of the film. The documentary includes exclusive interviews (everyone in the group is interviewed separately), as well as archival on-stage and off-stage footage, spanning from the mid-2000s to the group’s stint on Broadway in 2019.

Freestyle Love Supreme’s most famous member is Lin-Manuel Miranda, the Tony-winning star/creator of the stage musicals “In the Heights” and “Hamilton.” Miranda (whose nickname in the group is Lin-Man) is an original member of Freestyle Love Supreme, which was formed in New York City in 2004. But the documentary shows that the origins of Freestyle Love Supreme really began in 1999, during a road trip taken by group co-founder Anthony Veneziale (also known as Two-Touch) and Thomas “Tommy” Kail, the group’s musical director who went on to direct the original Broadway productions of “In the Heights” and “Hamilton,” as well as most of Freestyle Love Supreme’s stage shows.

According to what Kail says in the documentary, he and Veneziale (who met when they were students at Wesleyan University) went on a road trip from New York City to Iowa, to help a friend make an independent film. During the trip, the only way they could stay awake was by listening to the B-side of the Daft Punk song “Around the World.”

“Anthony freestyled for four straight hours,” says Kail of that road trip. “That, in some way, was the seed for Freestyle Love Supreme.” Freestyle Love Supreme then became a collective of friends who would get together at the Drama Book Shop, which was their creative “lab,” according to Kail. Although Kail isn’t an on-stage performer for Freestyle Love Supreme, he is credited with being the behind-the-scenes architect of the group’s career.

Freestyle Love Supreme then honed their improvisational skills so that their on-stage act became randomly choosing words volunteered by the show’s audience, and then making up hip-hop-infused, often-comedic stories about those words right there on the spot. Veneziale (who also co-founded the improv FLS Academy) is the group’s emcee, who interviews audience members during the show and brings some audience members on stage. This highly interactive format makes every Freestyle Love Supreme show truly unique, which is in contrast to the traditional theater format of doing the same show for every performance.

The other original members of Freestyle Love Supreme are Christopher Jackson (also known as C-Jack); Bill Sherman (also known as King Sherman); Chris Sullivan (also known as Shockwave); and Arthur Lewis (also known as Arthur the Geniuses). Miranda and Kail went on to collaborate on “In the Heights” (which went to Broadway in 2008) and “Hamilton” (which made its Broadway debut in 2015), with both musicals including Jackson (who is Miranda’s best friend) as a co-star.

After the success of “In the Heights” and “Hamilton” made Miranda, Jackson and Kail too busy for Freestyle Love Supreme on a regular basis, Freestyle Love Supreme added new members to the group. The documentary does a very good job of putting a spotlight on each member, so that people can know what their unique contributions are to Freestyle Love Supreme. (Freestyle Love Supreme has also had numerous guest performers, including Daveed Diggs and Wayne Brady.)

Miranda, who is a self-described “theater geek,” is shown to be an energetic optimist but also a perfectionist who can be very hard on himself. Jackson, who is more laid-back than Miranda, is described as the “dad” of the group, since he’s the oldest member and the first member of Freestyle Love Supreme to get married and have children.

Sherman, who plays keyboards and has a goofy sense of humor, used to be Kail’s roommate and remains very close to Kail. Sullivan, who does most of Freestyle Love Supreme’s beatboxing, is the “actual musical heartbeat of the group,” says Kail. Lewis, who plays keyboards, is described as the group’s most intellectually gifted member and “the ethereal one” of Freestyle Love Supreme, according to Kail.

Freestyle Love Supreme’s newer members are also given a spotlight: Utkarsh Ambudkar (also known as UTK The INC) is described by Miranda as “the best nuts-to-bolts rapper in the group.” James Monroe Iglehart (also known as J-Soul) is praised by multiple people as being the best singer in the group. Andrew Bancroft (also known as Jelly Donut) seems to be in awe of his group mates and says he still can’t believe that he’s in Freestyle Love Supreme.

And by the time that Freestyle Love Supreme began headlining on Broadway, the group had added its first permanent female member: Aneesa Folds (also known as Young Nees), who expresses how star-struck and honored she is to be in Freestyle Love Supreme. Why did it take so long to add a woman to the group? Probably because after the #MeToo movement happened, Freestyle Love Supreme wanted deflect any criticism that this group deliberately excludes people who aren’t of the male gender.

It probably never crossed their minds to invite women into their group before, because it’s clear from the archival footage that Freestyle Love Supreme operated very much like a fraternity, but not in a mean-spirited way. However, because of heightened awareness of how gender discrimination against people who aren’t cisgender males has been an ongoing problem in the entertainment industry (and society in general), it no doubt prompted Freestyle Love Supreme to take a hard look at their own decision making in whom they were inviting to be a part of their exclusive club.

The documentary doesn’t call attention to why Freestyle Love Supreme was a male-only group for about 15 years, probably because the male members of the group don’t want to address this issue on camera. Instead, the movie puts an emphasis on all the camaraderie they have—perhaps a little too much emphasis, to the point where it looks sugarcoated. There’s a lot of screen time devoted to soundbites where the members of Freestyle Love Supreme praise themselves and each other.

Jackson comments on how Freestyle Love Supreme is a privilege of being able to work with his closest friends: “If more people had this experience, truly, the world would be a better place.” Ambudkar says that he felt an instant connection to the members of Freestyle Love Supreme: “Whatever Freestyle was doing, it fit me like a well-worn hoodie.”

Miranda says that in the group’s early days, there was a real struggle to build a fan base, but the audience grew when the show improved and because Freestyle Love Supreme didn’t give up: “We had to work hard [for an audience]. The show worked.”

Some of the documentary’s best archival footage is of a pivotal point in the early career of Freestyle Love Supreme, when the group was invited to perform at the 2005 Edinburgh Fringe Festival in Scotland. No one knew at the time that Miranda was three years away from finding Broadway fame and acclaim with “In the Heights.” But during this trip to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, the members of Freestyle Love Supreme considered it to be the highlight of their careers so far.

There’s a real infectious joy in this footage that shows their youthful optimism, as they roam the streets of Edinburgh and soak up Scottish culture. The documentary also includes footage of the group reading their first negative review together. And even that moment of the group getting some scathing criticism has a lot of humor and shows how closely bonded the group members are.

A present-day Miranda looks back on that time with a lot of fondness in the documentary. He says that even though all of the members of Freestyle Love Supreme were financially broke at the time, and their futures were uncertain, it was one of the happiest times of his life. “Everything was happening, but nothing was happening,” Miranda quips.

Some other great archival footage is of Miranda and Kail walking through New York City’s Times Square, not long before “In the Heights” was scheduled to begin previews on Broadway. Kail and Miranda look up in awe and excitement at the Richard Rodgers Theatre, which had the “In the Heights” billboard and marquee already prepared.

In this archival footage, Kail and Miranda joke about how people in Times Square might or might not recognize them. Kail, who resembles former “American Idol” finalist Justin Guarini, says that people probably think he’s “that guy from ‘American Idol.'” Kail also jokes that people will probably think that Miranda looks like a “Mexican Bud Bundy,” referring to Miranda’s slight resemblance to actor David Faustino, who had the role of bratty son Bud Bundy in the sitcom “Married With Children.” (Miranda’s heritage is actually Puerto Rican, not Mexican.)

All joking aside, a group of people working together this long can’t be immune to jealousies, rivalries and conflicts. Although the documentary acknowledges that Miranda is the most famous member of Freestyle Love Supreme (after his Broadway success, he became a star and a producer in movies and television), the other group members who talk about it for the documentary only express happiness for Miranda. If they have any envy that Miranda’s career has skyrocketed, compared to the careers of other group members, it’s not shown in this movie.

However, there is some acknowledgement that Freestyle Love Supreme did go through a less-than-smooth adjustment period when it became obvious that in order for the group to keep going, certain group members (namely Miranda, Jackson and Kail) would not be as available as they once were, due to their busy Broadway careers. Another big shift in the group’s dynamics occurred when Veneziale moved to San Francisco (because of his wife’s graduate studies) and started a family there.

As a result of that relocation to the other side of the United States, Veneziale and Kail, who used to be best friends, say they became estranged from each other, and their relationship hasn’t really been the same since. Veneziale describes Kail in the early days of Freestyle Love Supreme: “He was my co-conspirator in making things.” Kail says that Veneziale is the “guts and blood” and the “engine” of Freestyle Love Supreme. However, it’s obvious that there’s still tension between Kail and Veneziale, because they choose their words very carefully when talking about each other, while expressing regret that they aren’t close friends anymore.

The documentary doesn’t bring up personal problems in Freestyle Love Supreme until the last third of the movie. Ambudkar opens up about his alcoholism and how it affected him and his role in the group. Ambudkar says that the success of “Hamilton,” which made Miranda even less available to Freestyle Love Supreme than ever before, forced Ambudkar to take a hard look at where his life was headed, and it motivated Ambudkar to get clean and sober.

The clips of Freestyle Love Supreme performing on stage, especially on Broadway, are absolutely electric and elevate this documentary, which plays it very safe overall. “We Are Freestyle Love Supreme” gives the impression that it doesn’t want to divulge a lot of the realistic behind-the-scenes ego clashes in the group, for fear that it would mess up the “lovefest” vibe that the documentary is trying to convey. It’s why viewers of this movie get a lot of effusively upbeat soundbites that are a lot like this one from Ambudkar when he describes Freestyle Love Supreme: “It’s truly about embracing and celebrating the human experience.”

Hulu premiered “We Are Freestyle Love Supreme” on July 17, 2020.

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