October 24, 2016

The Diary of a Teenage Girl (2015)

Bel Powley, Kristen Wiig, Alexander Skarsgård

I work with teenagers. And most days, I love it. They are impulsive, they are overly emotional, and they make terrible decisions. Seriously terrible decisions. But they are also refreshingly honest, sweetly vulnerable, and mostly optimistic. This movie is the epitome of teenage angst. Portrayed in a completely disturbing way, of course.

Minnie is a 15-year-old in 1970's San Francisco who decides she is grown up enough to start an affair with her mother's 30-something boyfriend. Everything that happens after that is basically visual birth control for anyone on the fence about having kids. It is brutal; it is raw; it is beyond uncomfortable to watch. At first I thought it was set in the 70's to make the rampant drug use (by both Minnie and her mother), child neglect, and statutory rape more...acceptable, but it turns out this story is semi-autobiographical. Which makes it more impressive and more horrifying at the same time. It's like a far less glamorous Almost Famous, if the story starred Penny Lane instead.

My usual complaint about YA fiction is that it's not quite authentic enough. It often feels sanitized, as though adults wanted to only suggest adult themes but actually portray them because [pearl clutch] think of the children! The issue with that, of course, is that teenagers are not sanitized versions of adults. They say and do very adult things, whether the adults in their lives want to accept that or not. This movie cuts to the heart of that and shows it in a very real, non-judgmental way.

Is every teenager like this? No. But are a lot of them? Yep. Or at least, they embody parts of Minnie's psyche and parts of her life. And if you want a complex movie that acknowledges that teenagers are real people, this is the best I've seen. It's a shame it almost ruined Alexander Skarsgård for me by making him a pedo with a 'stache, but on the plus side, I now know Kristen Wiig can be a serious actor.

Final word: It should come with a trigger warning. 

P.S. There is an odd, artsy drawing thing that happens throughout the movie that makes a lot more sense if you know going in that the book it's based on is a kind of a graphic novel.

October 6, 2016

Sleeping With Other People (2015)

Jason Sudeikis, Alison Brie, Adam Scott, Amanda Peet

I've watched and reviewed so many rom-coms by now, I'm basically running out of ways to point out the cliches in them. But considering how surprised I was by this movie and how much I actually enjoyed it, I think it's worth the effort to break down a bit why it transcends most in its genre. So instead of a regular review, I'm going to list each potentially negative thing about the movie, then explain why it didn't dampen my enthusiasm in recommending it.

Con: Jason Sudeikis wouldn't be my first choice as a rom-com lead.
Pro: He's a much better alternative to other tall, nondescript white guys who supposedly get girls in movies, like Ed Helms or Jason Segel. Besides, he's certainly as plausible as Billy Crystal in When Harry Met Sally.

Con: Though both characters attend a sexaholics meeting, Jason Sudeikis' character supposedly bangs everything that moves while Alison Brie's character remains celibate. How, exactly, does that qualify them *both* as sexaholics?
Pro: Both characters at least seem equally messed up about sex, even if they display it in stereotypically gendered ways.

Con: The movie plays into some lame cliches, like the fact that Lainey is a kindergarten teacher because you know, that makes her seem more nurturing or whatever.
Pro: She's trying to become a doctor.

Con: Amanda Peet's bangs. They are terrible, and they are distracting.
Pro: Her scenes are short, and she's still cuter than Alison Brie.

Con: Pretty sure it fails the Bechdel test.
Pro: It's a rom-com, so only talking about the opposite sex is sort of acceptable.

Con: Everyone in the movie is white. Like, everyone. It's hard not to notice.
Pro: Jason Mantzoukas is Greek and olive-skinned and he sports a full beard in the movie, so it's almost like there's someone of color.
Rebuttal Con: Jason Mantzoukas is the person to blame for both Neighbors and Dirty Grandpa. We're just giving this guy more money.

Obviously some of those cons are more lefty than other (like Amanda Peet's bangs--why?!?), but I assure you any negatives are vastly overcome with the remaining pros.

The dialogue is fast and witty.
The supporting characters are strong. (Andrea Savage for the win!)
There are actual jokes. And they are funny.
The movie manages to be heartfelt without skewing into cheesy.
There are no long speeches where one person recites all the wonderful qualities of the other person.
Most importantly, both main characters are actually likable.

In all seriousness, I never gave Jason Sudeikis much thought before this. I sort of lumped him in with Jason Bateman and Will Farrell as someone who plays a good supporting character but not someone I would go out of my way to watch. But this movie, charming and unexpected as it was, has convinced me of his ability to headline a movie. Who knows, I might even watch Son of Zorn, knowing he voices Zorn.

Final word: It didn't get as much attention as I think it should have. It's certainly better than Trainwreck.