★★★ / ★★★★
Having been arrested for vandalism, Casey (Britt Robertson) soon makes bail and starts to collect her personal items. But she finds there is one thing extra in her belongings: a pin from 1964 which commemorates the New York World’s Fair. Other than being an antique, it has another special quality: When touched, Casey finds herself transported to another dimension—a futuristic place full of hope, scientific discoveries, and inspiration. She wishes to know who gave her this pin and why she had been selected to see this new world.
Based on the screenplay by Damon Lindelof and Brad Bird, “Tomorrowland” is a stilted film, quite enthralling for about two-thirds its running time, especially as it lays out the circumstances of our heroine and eventually finding out about the futuristic world, but the payoff is weak, inconsistent, typical end-of-the-world template with nothing new to show or say. Regardless, there is a sense of wonder here that will appeal to more mature children, probably starting around eight or nine years of age. A younger age group is likely to appreciate the visuals but may not necessarily be able to relate to the dialogue.
Credit to the casting directors for choosing young performers who command a light about them. Robertson plays a character who is smart but convincingly rough around the edges. I believed that Casey is the kind of girl who has a natural ability in figuring out how machines work. Looking at her, I was reminded of Jennifer Lawrence at times because they both have that spice of guile but not so overpowering that it comes across either trying too hard or intimidating. Pierce Gagnon, who plays Casey’s younger brother, also has his moments. Their chemistry as siblings is so entertaining that I wished Nate was also a part of Casey’s adventures.
The adults are less impressive. George Clooney plays a man named Frank Walker who, as a kid (Thomas Robinson—another standout), was chosen by a little girl named Athena (Raffey Cassidy—who I believe we will see more of in the future) to become a part of Tomorrowland. Although he is amusing during the character’s more sarcastic moments, I wished Frank were played by a less recognizable face. Because Clooney is such a superstar and the script does not transform him enough, it becomes a challenge to separate the actor from the character. His celebrity distracts from the story.
The film is criticized from the perspective of the material offering very preachy messages during the final third. Although there are moments that are too sugary for my liking, I did not consider such a thing to be too problematic. My disappointment largely stems from the final act revolving around the protagonists having to fight a villain, Nix (Hugh Laurie), to save the world. The fighting scenes are standard, not well-choreographed, and the sense of awe is pushed to the side for the sake of action.
I wished that the writers had taken more of a risk by minimizing or removing the action completely. Perhaps the picture might have been stronger if the screenplay had focused more on the differences among Casey the optimist, Frank the pessimist, and Nix the cynic. To take it a bit further, relate those differences to how the world can be changed, molded, or directed into a better society. That way, the film remains true to its premise: that ideas can, in fact, make a true impact in the world.
Directed by Brad Bird, “Tomorrowland” offers a generous amount of wonderful visuals and is meant to be enjoyed purely on an entertainment level. Maybe it might even inspire some children to want to become scientists or engineers. But evaluating the film solely or largely based on “the message” and how well that message is conveyed is to miss the point by a lightyear.
Switch, The (2010)
★★★ / ★★★★
Kassie (Jennifer Aniston) decided she was going to have a kid even though she had not yet found the man of her dreams. She told Wally (Jason Bateman), her best friend, her plans but he thought it was crazy idea. She went with it anyway and found a guy named Roland (Patrick Wilson) who was willing to donate his sperm for money. During Kassie’s artificial insemination party, drunk Wally accidentally spilled Roland’s sperm down the sink. His intoxicated mind thought he could get away with it by replacing the lost sample with his own. The next day, he didn’t remember a thing. “The Switch,” based on Jeffrey Eugenides’ short story called “Baster,” was a bit of a surprise because it had a surprising amount of humanity. It could easily have been about the gags–like sperm and the hardship of being pregnant and giving birth–but it made a smart decision to pay attention to the characters’ motivations. Even though some of the lines delivered felt disingenuous, especially when the characters felt like they needed to deliver a speech in order to get their point across, I enjoyed it because I extracted bits of meaning, accidental as they may be, in their attempt. Aniston and Bateman had an awkward chemistry that worked. I thought that specific type of chemistry was vital because their characters conceived a child named Sebastian (Thomas Robinson) who was adorable, equipped with sad eyes, pouty lips, and eccentricities like collecting picture frames and putting strangers’ photos in them. The movie did a good job highlighting the similarities between Wally and Sebastian, but I wish it had spent more time exploring the bond between the mother and son. I wanted to see their similarities, too. After all, it was Kassie’s idea to bring a child to the world. Her trepidation of her dwindling biological clock was not a good enough reason for me to like her. With her specific circumstance, what made her a good mother? She was good with her son when he had to go to bed, but the feminist message embedded in making the decision to raise a child without a man was somewhat lost. Nevertheless, the emotional payoff toward the end was effective because we knew that Sebastian had learned, without being too obvious, to depend on his father and vice-versa. I also wished Jeff Goldblum and Juliette Lewis, Wally and Kassie’s best friends, respectively, had more scenes. They delivered a different sense of humor, Goldblum with his dry and deadpan delivery and Lewis with her baffled expressions and snide remarks, which was a nice balance to more pedestrian comical situations. Directed by Josh Gordon and Will Speck, “The Switch” was a bona fide comedy that lacked complexity but it wasn’t one-dimensional. It was enjoyable because our expectations were met and sometimes that’s more than enough.