★★★ / ★★★★
While admiring cute puppies in front of a pet store, Linda (Kyra Sedgwick) meets Luiz (Camilo Gallardo), a university student from Spain whose visa is about to expire in a few days. Not one to have much luck when it comes to romance, Linda is reluctant at first but she is won over eventually because Luiz knows exactly what to say to her and how. After he supposedly leaves for Spain, however, Linda catches him in a bar with another woman. Linda is furious. She makes a personal promise: she will focus only on her career and not get in a relationship any time soon.
Written and directed by Cameron Crowe, “Singles” does a good job in setting the pace of three relationships on a precipice of change which is particularly a challenge because dispersed among the three plots are colorful commentaries from people who have recently gotten out of relationships and those looking to get in one. It might have come across gimmicky, trite, than a necessary moments of insight within and outside of the story being told.
While Janet (Bridget Fonda) and Cliff (Matt Dillon) do not have the most interesting romantic relationship, their storyline is arguably the most rewarding because Janet is allowed to change in a meaningful way. Initially, Janet is used as merely a source of comedy due to her unhealthy level of attachment to the grunge-rocker who does not care for her affections. I was annoyed by yet another portrayal of a dumb girl throwing herself onto a man who clearly does not want her. As the screenplay unfolds, I realized that the material wishes to offer a statement. Janet is like liquid: an available man is a container she feels she must fill order to satisfy him.
The messages are geared toward people in twenties. Although the lessons Janet learns about self-esteem and self-empowerment may seem obvious, a lot of young women (and men) will be able to relate to her on some level. For example, there is resonance during moments when she is so desperate to be liked, she actually considers altering her body to fit someone else’s fantasy, or worse, her idea of someone else’s fantasy. While film lampoons her in the beginning, the picture is willing to change gears and allow us to care what might happen to her. Unlike many of the characters in the film, she has real thoughts and insights about what it means to be single and alone versus single and free.
The couple in the centerpiece involves Linda and Steve (Campbell Scott). Their interactions are sweet and romantic but sometimes heartbreaking and forced. Although there are chunks of the film when I felt like I was watching a television series because of the type of conflicts they must deal with, Sedgwick and Scott have a nice chemistry which keeps their storyline afloat. I would have preferred to know more about what Cliff really thinks about Janet. It wouldn’t have hurt the material if it had offered the audience a twist involving the inner-workings of Cliff’s mind. It is difficult to believe that he is stoned all the time and all he seems to care about is his band.
And then there is Debbie (Sheila Kelley): so desperate to no longer be single, she actually advertises herself on television so that she can have a pool of options. It can be argued that the amusing scenes surrounding Debbie make a statement about her relationship with herself. Debbie is the antithesis of Janet because, unlike the latter, the former does not seem at all interested in looking in the mirror and asking difficult questions about what she really wants. And she wonders why nothing seems to work out for her.
Beware the Gonzo (2010)
★★ / ★★★★
It has always been Eddie’s (Ezra Miller) dream to attend Columbia University. In order for him to have a chance of even being considered, he needs an extracurricular activity on his transcript. It is the beginning of senior year and Gavin (Jesse McCartney), the editor of the school paper, is handing out assignments for the first issue. Eddie wants to write about something extreme like the unhappiness of the students in their prep school, but Gavin simply wants a nice “Welcome back!” message. Eddie insists that fire is what the newspaper needs. Due to his insubordination, Eddie is kicked out of the paper. Passionate about writing and telling his readers the truth, he decides to team up with fellow outcasts (Edward Gelbinovich, Griffin Newman, Stefanie Y. Hong) to create “The Gonzo Files,” an underground newspaper that functions as direct competition to Gavin’s “The Courier.”
Written and directed by Bryan Goluboff, “Beware the Gonzo” starts off as a sharp and witty satire about high school students, faculties, and the bureaucracies that shape the frustration and desperation within a social ecosystem. There is a sense of excitement as the characters clandestinely hold meetings in a local diner, discuss the newspaper’s purposes, and how it should look. With the help of Elvie (Zoë Kravitz), a girl with a reputation of being wanton, they are able to create a website as a supplement to the paper. Meanwhile, Eddie takes on the role of the leader.
As the success of their project spread around the school like wildfire, the picture reaches a creative zenith. The reactions of the students that are featured, directly through pictures or indirectly through text, are absolutely hilarious to watch. The videos posted on the website push the revelations that much further. We can almost feel the students’ insecurities leaking through their pores. With such polemical issues brought up by the paper, the majority compliment Eddie and his team for their boldness and honesty while some are, to say the least, threatened.
This is the point where the material should have gone for the jugular. Instead of going for the easy romance between Eddie and Evie, which, by the way, softens the satirical jab, why not explore Gavin’s reaction to his rival’s success? While Gavin is eventually given the chance to express how he really feels, it is pushed toward the back half of the movie. There is no good reason for this. It is most inopportune because not only is Gavin’s delayed reaction unrealistic, it obstructs the film’s brisk pacing.
The writer-director’s decision to sandwich the romance between the release of the paper and Gavin’s desperation to come out on top is to actively look away from serious issues like bullying, plagiarism, and apathy. Also, I would like to have seen more of Eddie’s parents (Campbell Scott, Amy Sedaris). The father seems to understand what his son is fighting for, while the mother focuses on her son getting into college. For the latter, if it means being a harpy while at the dinner table so that Eddie will understand her point of view, then so be it. I enjoyed their scenes because I know a lot of parents like Eddie’s mom, some exponentially scarier. Thankfully, my parents are more like Eddie’s dad: understanding but assertive.
“Beware the Gonzo” shows wit and intelligence when it focuses on the satire. However, when it turns its attention to the unnecessary romance, it feels forced and second rate.
Big Night (1996)
★★★★ / ★★★★
Primo (Tony Shalhoub) and Secondo (Stanley Tucci) were Italian brothers who ran a struggling Italian restaurant. On the verge of foreclosure, Secondo took Pascal’s (Ian Holm) offer, a fellow restaurant owner, of inviting a celebrity who he claimed to be his friend in order for the brothers’ place to gain a bit of popularity. The big night consisted of a wild party with a mix of great food, good friends and influential people. Directed by Campbell Scott and Stanley Tucci, the film was a delectable piece of work. It successfully captured passionate people who happened to lead a struggling business without having to result to the audiences having to feel sorry for them. Instead, the movie simply showed that Primo and Secondo had a great combination of talent and excellent palate, but the one thing they needed was a good word-of-mouth. Typical Americans just couldn’t appreciate the way they served their food. Primo wanted to make genuine Italian food but most Americans were doubtful of the strange. Early in the movie, there was highly amusing scene of a woman and her husband not understanding why the pasta didn’t have any meatballs. I had to laugh at their confused looks and frustrated voices because I recognized myself in them. There’s just something comforting about the familiar and having to step away from it most often causes friction. The film was also about the women in the brothers’ lives. Phyllis (the alluring Minnie Driver) loved Secondo but maybe he just wasn’t ready to be in long-term relationship. Money was near the top of his priorities but Phyllis didn’t consider it to be all that important. On the other hand, Primo was interested in Ann (Allison Janney), who worked at a flower shop, but he was too shy to invite her to attend the party. The best way Primo could communicate was through food. Luckily, Ann liked to eat. What I admired most about the film was its fearless ability to hold long takes. My favorite scene was when Primo returned to the kitchen after he and Secondo had an altercation. Secondo was initially by the stove as he prepared a dish for the feast. As a gesture of forgiveness, the younger one slowly inched away from the fire and allowed his older brother to be at the place where was most comfortable. Not a word was uttered. There was something assured and powerful about the way the camera was held and the manner in which it framed the two characters’ movements. A similar technique was implemented in the final scene when the space between the brothers grew smaller. There was no doubt in our minds that they would keep moving forward together. “Big Night” was beautiful film but not just because of the mouth-watering Italian food. It unabashedly explored the love between brothers without the clichéd epiphanies.
Saint Ralph (2004)
★★★ / ★★★★
Written and directed by Michael McGowan, “Saint Ralph” stars Adam Butcher, a boy who believes that if he can perform a miracle by winning the 1954 Boston Marathon, God will take his mother (Shauna MacDonald) out from her coma and everything will be okay again. What I loved about this movie was that it started off pretty funny. Ralph was not exactly the model student: he got into trouble by “accidentally” masturbating in the swimming pool (did I mention he attends a Catholic school?), his peers constantly made fun of him, made forgeries with his best friend (Michael Kanev), and lied about his dead grandparents. But as things started to get serious, the director slowly showed the audiences how Ralph forced himself to be more mature and eventually run the marathon. I liked that he had occassional slip-ups because it showed that he was still a fourteen-year-old and not someone who turned into a saint overnight. I usually don’t like movies that glorify religion because most of them are too preachy. However, although this film was set in a religious school and community, it was really more of an inspirational story about someone who desperately needed an outlet for his negative emotions and channel it into something good. I was touched by his relationship with Father Hibbert (Campbell Scott), the teacher who helped him to get better at running, and was infuriated with Father Fitzpatrick’s (Gordon Pinsent) attempt to put Ralph in an orphanage. I also thought that Jennifer Tilly as Nurse Alice was pretty good; she became more like a mother figure to Ralph and I thought it was a nice that she was playing a different sort of character compared to her other movies. I have to admit that the end of the picture made me tear up in so many ways because I wanted Butcher’s character to succeed so badly. There’s just something about characters in movies who work really hard because they want to achieve something that gets me every single time. I guess I can easily relate because I used to feel like I always had to prove myself to people that I’m good enough. (Which reached its climax in my high school years.) After the movie, I was just overwhelmed with many different emotions and I was really happy that I saw it.