Tag: miguel arteta

Yes Day


Yes Day (2021)
★★ / ★★★★

Notice that if you were to remove Jennifer Garner from this film, it would not be worth seeing. Her joyous performance is so infectious, so full of lightness, giddiness, and vitality, you cannot help to smile even though the picture’s roughest patches. Watch her closely during the busiest moments: despite a handful of people on screen, quirky or crazy things happening left and right, and even when the editing is choppy on top of a blaring soundtrack, her creative choices allow her to rise above it all. Her extensive experience shines through.

This can be observed so clearly when the Torres family, in the middle of their Yes Day, visits a Korean ice cream shop. Garner’s character, Allison, is dressed head to toe like a futuristic pop star on acid. (The youngest of the Torres clan gave her a “makeover” that morning.) Lesser performers would have relied on the character’s appearance to make us laugh. But not Garner.

Because she is so into her character as a mother who wish to prove to her three children (Jenna Ortega, Julian Lerner, Everly Carganilla), believing she is too strict and uptight, that she still has it in her to be in the moment with reckless abandon, Garner channels the younger version of her character who we met during the picture’s terrific opening montage. When she goes down on that enormous ice cream, look at the way she tilts her head. Those eyes sparkle. There is a snap in every movement. She need not say a word to tell us she’s youthful. She brings forth active but subtle comedy as opposed to something that is obvious or passive. Her performance reminded me of Kathleen Turner in Francis Ford Coppola’s time travel film “Peggy Sue Got Married.”

This may sound like effusive praises given that the work is supposed to be a breezy, harmless family film. But I say it isn’t. The best family films, after all, are those that offer something truly special, characteristics beyond just another poop or fart joke, yet another idiot character falling down the stairs or off a ladder while putting on—or taking off—Christmas lights. While I don’t think that Miguel Arteta’s “Yes Day” is special by any means, it is important that we acknowledge good work. In this case, Garner is the jewel that keeps this otherwise ordinary family flick shining.

Yes Day is a day when parents are not allowed to refuse what their children want to do—with a few exceptions such as criminal activities or asking for something in the future (like getting a pet). It is a silly premise, to be sure, but at the same time so much can be done with it. And because there are possibilities, the comedy can be malleable. Strong comedies are never one-note.

For a good while, the movie is riotously entertaining. Credit to the screenplay by Justin Malen, who adapted the project from a children’s book by Amy Korouse Rosenthal (author) and Tom Lichtenheld (illustrator), for having the insight to give the audience a roadmap, in the form of a list, of what the Torres kids wish to do that special day. Because we possess the knowledge that the kids have five events planned for Mom and Dad (Édgar Ramírez), we are given a rough idea about the level of insanity for each succeeding event. (The fifth item on the list is surrounded by stars. You just know something serious will go down.)

It is without question that the film is at its best when it goes all in with its comedy. It doesn’t matter how silly, or dumb, or mainstream a scenario comes across. It is a wish-fulfillment story in the first place. But when it injects superficial drama, like the eldest daughter craving independence from her mother, the pacing is derailed to the point where it becomes unrecoverable. The fun tone turns rather dour and for no realistic reason. This film should have been cotton candy from beginning to end. And I am convinced that a seasoned filmmaker like Arteta knows it, too. But compromises had to be made for the sake of marketability.

Beatriz at Dinner


Beatriz at Dinner (2017)
★★★ / ★★★★

Some will walk away from this picture wondering what it is all about. One might say it is about the rich versus the poor, the powerful against those without much power. Another might argue it is about how a person of color is treated in an environment where she is the minority. Yet a third person may claim it is about a selfless person suddenly finding herself face-to-face with the embodiment of greed. Like many films worth watching, “Beatriz at Dinner,” written by Mike White and directed by Miguel Arteta, is open to interpretation and yet it remains highly watchable because it is making a statement about the human condition. We relate to what’s unfolding on screen.

Salma Hayek plays the titular character, an alternative healer in just about every aspect of her life. It is easy or convenient to label Beatriz as weird or unconventional because she seems to function on a plane slightly higher than everyone else. Despite this, Hayek ensures that the character feels grounded, honest, and real. We almost wish to protect her. This is critical because the people she is invited by (Connie Britton, David Warshofsky) and those she meets at the dinner party (John Lithgow, Amy Landecker, Chloë Sevigny, Jay Duplass) are shallow, corrupt, and fake. It is a classic clashing of opposite beings, ideals.

I believe the picture is about microaggressions. Intense feelings are ignited inside the pit of the viewers’ stomachs as her fellow guests act as if she were less than. They don’t say that she doesn’t belong but they treat her exactly what they think of her. It is in the looks given, the words used to make a point, the manner by which the body language communicates disinterest when the brown person gets the spotlight as she explains what is on her mind. Even the caterer, also white, dares to interrupt Beatriz, fully aware that she is also one of the guests, when she is recalling a highly personal memory involving an animal she must kill.

Clocking in at about eighty minutes, the film is efficient in ensuring that we are on our toes when it comes to detecting micro-inequities. Notice that although the setting is quite palatial, when a group is on a circle, a wide angle shot is almost never utilized. It shows that although they occupy the same room, appearing to be talking about one thing, they are not on the same page. They fake being on the same page; they have become so accustomed to it that it is business as usual. Beatriz functions as our conduit. At times we almost feel her laughing to herself at the sheer ridiculousness of her company.

Although relatable on so many levels, especially if the viewer is a minority or a part of the working class, “Beatriz at Dinner” is not for everybody. Its sudden solemn turn toward the end might be considered to be hyperbolic if taken literally. But if taken from a satirical point of view, the statement it makes is smart and funny. It makes us wonder how much better our world would be if people capable of deep thoughts and feelings, coupled with the ability to take action or lead by example, were actually in charge.

Chuck & Buck


Chuck & Buck (2000)
★★★ / ★★★★

Charlie (Chris Weitz) receives a letter informing him that his childhood best friend’s mother has passed away. Even though Charlie has not seen Buck (Mike White) for over fifteen years, Charlie, along with his fiancée, Carlyn (Beth Colt), attends the funeral out of respect. However, things turns awkward very quickly when Buck, who seems fixated on acting like a child, gropes Chuck in the restroom sexually when the latter offers an embrace of comfort.

Written by Mike White, it is difficult what to make of “Chuck & Buck” because although humor runs through its veins, it is highly likely that the events that are happening are rooted in a childhood sexual trauma so intense, one of its participants does not know how to make sense of it and therefore unable to make a life for himself. It is easy and convenient to label Buck as weirdo, a walking request for a restraining order. After all, who withdraws all of his money, uproots his life, moves to Los Angeles, and lives in a motel just so he can spy on and stalk someone he believes to be his best friend?

White fits the role like a glove because his natural appearance of vulnerability balances nicely with his character’s occasional off-kilter behavior. And while there are times when I was scared for Chuck and Caryln’s safety, at the same time I could not help but care about Buck. I was concerned for him not because he acts like a child or he is deserving of pity but due to the fact that during a handful of scenes, we have a chance to understand that he means well.

Since his actions are almost always determined by patterns, the wrong person might stumble upon what he is up to, make a cursory judgment, and take action without the necessary background information. Partly, we wait for this character to be sent to jail or left for dead in a ditch.

Eventually, Buck decides to write and put on a play, in a theater directly in front of Chuck’s workplace, with hopes that the images will trigger Chuck’s memory and inspire him to want to be around Buck like when they were eleven years old. Buck hires Beverly (Lupe Ontiveros), the theater attendant, to cast and direct his play. Their relationship is arguably the heart of the picture. It is expertly executed because even though Beverly is initially motivated by good pay, a series of small but important scenes allow us to feel her passion for the work as well as the person who put the material on paper.

I appreciated that Buck and Beverly’s interactions are able to reach a fluidity and realism to them as would two strangers who want to get to know each other further for the positive things they can offer to one another. Conversely, the scenes that Buck and Carlyn share could have had more depth. While Caryln is likable, admirable even, because of her patience, there are times when I was bored by her. It seems like the script does not want her to come off as “mean.” But there is a difference between mean and practical. If someone keeps calling your phone every fifteen minutes and when you answer, he just hangs up, wouldn’t you feel compelled to alert the proper authorities?

“Chuck & Buck,” directed by Miguel Arteta, is ultimately about healing. It feels genuine because it is unafraid to shed light on the ugliness that one must to go through to take a step forward toward self-esteem and security. It is an uncomfortable experience at times but sometimes so is the struggle in moving on.

Cedar Rapids


Cedar Rapids (2011)
★★★ / ★★★★

Tim Lippe (Ed Helms) was an honest insurance salesman. He was comfortable living in a small town and changing people’s lives for the better. He was described as the guy who could have gone places but actually didn’t go anywhere. When one of his colleagues passed away due to autoerotic asphyxiation, he was asked by his boss (Stephen Root) to attend an insurance convention in Cedar Rapids, Iowa and win an award for their region. Tim was warned not to interact with Dean Ziegler (John C. Reilly) but, as luck would have it, they ended up sharing a hotel room. Written by Phil Johnston and directed by Miguel Arteta, “Cedar Rapids” was surprisingly human. I expected the film to rely solely on awkward situations and slapstick comedy to generate most of its laughs. Helms had a knack for the former, while Reilly built his career on the latter. The two actors fed off one another. When the camera was transfixed on them, my body automatically prepared itself to laugh because my brain knew that Helms and Reilly understood both the value of a punchline and, more importantly, precision of delivery. But the movie wasn’t just about the laughs. It was also about Tim venturing out into the world and realizing how fun, dangerous, and rewarding it could be to make friends who were entirely different from himself. There was one very amusing scene when Tim was shocked to find an African-American man, Ronald (Isiah Whitlock Jr.), in his room. Furthermore, I was particularly interested in Tim’s relationship with Joan (Anne Heche), a married woman with kids. She saw the convention as a means of escape from the routine and, although much of it was unsaid, I believed she saw something in Tim that she craved, perhaps a quality that her husband lacked, but could never have because she already had a life. The way Heche delivered certain looks inspired me to dig beyond what her character was willing to outwardly share. There was a certain sadness between the two scavenger hunt partners and the film’s final moments worked because I believed their relationship, not necessarily romantic, would continue. Back home, Tim was involved with his former grade school teacher (Sigourney Weaver). The writing could easily have been lazy, relying on jokes that involved the word “cougar,” but I loved that the material didn’t look down on Tim and Macy’s relationship. Sure, she was over fifteen years older than him but a handful of scenes suggested that they shared something meaningful. “Cedar Rapids” took ordinary people and allowed them to work, play, and form friendships in an honest, emotionally resonant manner. More mainstream comedies can only aspire to be as such.

Youth in Revolt


Youth in Revolt (2009)
★★ / ★★★★

Nick Twisp (Michael Cera) was obsessed with losing his virginity to the point where his id, appropriately named Francois Dillinger (also Cera), pitied Nick and decided to take matters into his own hands. Nick, his mom (Jean Smart), and her boyfriend (Zach Galifianakis) decided to temporarily move away in order to escape angry sailors who wanted their money back. Convinced that he would not have a good time during his mini-vacation, Nick was surprised when he met Sheeni (Portia Doubleday), a girl who had substance and had similar interests as him such as foreign films and music. “Youth in Revolt,” based on the novel by C.D. Payne and directed by Miguel Arteta, was one of those films I decided not to see after watching the trailer for the first time because it just did not make any sense. From the trailers, I somehow got the impression that Francois was some sort of an evil twin. I’m glad I decided to give this movie a chance because it actually entertaining and the characters, though not fully explored and some were more like caricatures, exhibited intelligence unlike most teen flicks about losing one’s virginity (Sean Anders’ “Sex Drive” immediately comes to mind). The strongest part of the picture for me was the first twenty minutes prior to the appearance of Francois. Though I did somewhat enjoy the conceit regarding the alter ego, there was something very refreshing about the unpretentiousness of two lonely souls meeting and sharing something special, which may or may not be love. Cera and Doubleday did have chemistry but the picture did not rely on that initial and lasting spark. The material bothered to show more tender moments between the couple and I felt like I connected with them even though it was instantaneous. The rest of the picture, on the other hand, was not as strong. It used Cera’s very awkward mannerisms as a crutch instead of using his acting skills as a base to present terrific material that was focused but unpredictable, funny yet sensitive in its core. Although the film did have its darkly comic moments, it was too obvious with its comedy such as Justin Long drugging everyone in his path and Jonathan B. Wright, as much as I love him, finding ways to make Nick’s life unbearable. It was too safe and safe, in this case, was boring. The only side character I thought had potential was Nick’s dad played by Steve Buscemi. I wanted to know more about him and I wished he and Nick had more scenes together because I saw the son’s qualities in his father. If “Youth in Revolt” had a lot more edge and darkness, it would have been a much more memorable film. Although a part of it was slightly different than Cera’s other roles, the majority of it was more of the same.