I FEEL PRETTY: 2 STARS
From Fred Flintstone to Gilligan to Tarzan, many television and movie characters have had their personalities changed by a bonk to the head. It’s a comedy trope as old as time, resurrected for the new lumpy headed Amy Schumer film “I Feel Pretty.”
Schumer is Renee, a young woman consumed with feelings of insecurity. “I’ve always wondered,” she says, “what it would feel like to be undeniably pretty.” She works in IT for a cosmetics company far across town from their glamorous fifth Avenue headquarters, office to Renée’s idol, her boss Avery LeClaire (Michelle Williams). Stung by a salesperson’s coded suggestion that she is too large to be shopping in a store—“You could probably find your size online.”—she spins away the blues at a SoulCycle class. “No matter how often we hear, ‘It’s what’s on the inside that matters,’” she says, “women know that it is what’s on the outside the whole world judges.”
While her spin instructor chants, “Change your mind, change your body,” Renee takes a tumble, smashing her head against a stationary bike and is transformed. “Oh my God! I look beautiful.” The bump on the head fills her with the kind of self-esteem she has been missing, setting her free to live the life she has always dreamed of. “I get it,” she says, “modelling is an option for me, but it is just not me.”
Change-your-life movies like “Big” work because there is not only transitional hocus pocus but heart and soul as well. “I Feel Pretty” has plenty of sentiment and tries like hell to wring a tear or two out of weary eyes in its uplifting finale but ultimately it’s a sitcom stretched to feature length. It’s a movie about a woman who briefly gets what she wants only to discover (THE MILDEST OF SPOILERS) she always had it.
Despite hot button messages about anti-bullying, body positivity and “What if we never lost our little girl confidence” sentiments, the film is one joke driven into the ground, topped by the inevitable platitude, “Renée, I’ve always seen you.” Despite the good intentions the movie’s central gag, that Renée can’t be happy with herself until she sees a thin version of herself staring back at her in the mirror, feels tone deaf. The movie touches on issues of body image and Renée does eventually come around to the idea that loving one’s self isn’t about how you look but the idea of a movie star, with all the frills of Western beauty standards, complaining about the way she looks is a tough premise to pull off.
“I Feel Pretty” may have worked better if it was funnier or if Renée didn’t have to suffer a head wound to feel good about herself or if post bonk Renée wasn’t completely clueless and oblivious. Schumer has made a name for herself essaying this kind of material in her stand-up but on stage her underlying self-confidence comes through as strength, not arrogance. In the film it comes off as crass.
On the upside Michele Williams, who almost never does comedy, shines as the kitten voiced CEO.
“I Feel Pretty” is well intentioned. The “embrace yourself” message is ultimately a good one. Too bad the film has such a strange way of expressing it.
SUPER TROOPERS 2: 1 ½ STARS
Almost two decades after the original “Super Troopers” updated the “Police Academy” shtick for a new generation, comedy troupe Broken Lizard return in a crowd-funded movie that picks up where the last film left off. Question is, after all that time will Broken Lizard re-enter theatres with sirens blaring or is “Super Troopers 2” a prank call?
Set months after the events of the first film, “Super Troopers 2” begins with Vermont state troopers Thorny (Jay Chandrasekhar who also directed), Foster (Paul Soter), Mac (Steve Lemme), Farva (Kevin Heffernan) and Rabbit (Erik Stolhanske) stripped of their badges after a disastrous celebrity ride along. Invited back to the Spurbury Police Department the fab five are given a special mission. Governor Jessman (Lynda Carter) gives them, along with their commander Capt. O’Hagen (Brian Cox), the duty of keeping the peace as the town of St. Georges Du Laurent, Quebec is transferred to the United States. Trouble is, the Rush and Barenaked Ladies loving townsfolk, including three Mounties (Will Sasso, Tyler Labine, and Hayes MacArthur), don’t want to become American. Cue the metric system jokes and outrageous French accents.
It is not an accident that “Super Troopers 2” is being released on 4/20. Like its predecessor the new adventures of Thorny and Company might be best enjoyed during cannabis culture day celebrations.
The story, such that it is, is essentially a series of scenes connected by Halifax Explosion gags and bad “aboot” accents. Proudly dumb and dirty it is wallpapered with jokes only about a third of which land. That means a load of Canadian jokes flail around—like a Canuck female sexual enhancement drug called Flova Scotia—looking for a laugh. Despite the eagerness of the cast, the entire thing feels like outtakes from the first film cobbled together to create something new.
“Super Troopers 2” put me in the mind of the infinite monkey theorem. To paraphrase, an infinite number of frat boys hitting keys at random on a typewriter keyboard for an infinite amount of time will almost surely type a script at least as funny as “Super Troopers 2.”
MOBILE HOMES: 2 STARS
A mother’s desperate attempts to provide for her child provided the backbone of last year’s “Florida Project,” a beautiful film whose look at poverty, while unvarnished, still managed to provide occasional moments of transcendent joy. “Mobile Homes,” a new film from French writer-director Vladimir de Fontenay breathes the same air minus the joy.
Imogen Poots is Ali, a young mom struggling to raise her eight-year-old son Bone (Frank Oulton). Roaming from town to town, they dine and dash their way across America. Scamming, selling drugs and cockfighting barely keep Bone, Ali and boyfriend Evan (Callum Turner) afloat as they scrimp to one day realize their dream of having a home of their own. After one disastrous night Ali and Bone flee, landing at a trailer park run by Robert (Callum Keith Rennie). Under the kindly park manager’s guidance mother and son gradually begin to change their lives, working toward something they’ve never had before, stability. “It’s a house,” Robert says of their new mobile home. “A home is what you build inside of it.” Ali’s dream of fabricating a life in a prefab home, however, is short lived.
“Mobile Homes” is all about a search for community and belonging. de Fontenay filters his story through an artfully gritty lens, but fails to provide the heart and soul necessary for the tale to take hold of our imaginations. Poots is charismatic while displaying such poor parenting skills it’s a wonder poor Bone made it past his first birthday. As the troublemaker Evan, Turner brings a sketchy energy but, despite the multitude of sex scenes with Ali, doesn’t have the chemistry with her to make us believe that she would buy into his cockamamie plans. “I love you,” he says after laying out a harebrained scheme, “it doesn’t have to make sense.” Well, yes it does if the audience is meant to care about what’s happening on screen.
Rennie is his usual solid self, playing a man with a heart-of-gold and an edge but the film’s best work comes from Oulton. Naturalistic and unaffected, he is the one character who feels in the moment in every moment of the film.
“Mobile Homes” boasts interesting cinematography from Benoit Soler, an elegiac score from Matthew Otto and features a rather spectacular visual metaphor for Ali’s crushed dream of ever having a home of her own. Unfortunately, despite the flashes of interest the film is more interested in misery than solid drama.
EYE ON JULIET: 2 STARS
There are long-distance relationships and then there is the bond between a drone operator from Detroit and a North African woman essayed in the new film “Eye on Juliet” from director Kim Nguyen.
When we first meet Gordon (Joe Cole) he’s distraught, breaking up with his girlfriend after accusing her of cheating on him. A hopeless romantic, after the split he sleepwalks through his job as a drone security officer. Based in Michigan he operates a bot with camera to make sure nobody “steals the chocolate sauce.” In other words, he’s an office drone who does remote drone security to protect an oil pipeline in North Africa. Late one night one his hexapod cameras picks up a young woman, Ayusha (Lina El Arabi), wandering in the desert.
He soon discovers Ayusha’s parents don’t approve of the man she sneaks around to visit by the pipeline. At first he spies on the couple from afar but as he becomes more and more involved he steps in, offering to help them raise the money they need to escape to Paris and get married. “I see you have true love and I just want to help you,” he says via translation software on his robot.
“Eye on Juliet” is a movie about connections, about true love, about star-crossed lovers in an age of technology. It strives to find profundity in all these themes but falls short on all accounts. Heartfelt performances from Cole and El Arabi provide the movie’s backbone but both feel underwritten and in Gordon’s case, with unclear motivations. It’s made clear he believes in love but by the time he is risking his job, breaking the law and draining his bank account to help someone who remains a shadowy figure on a computer screen credulity is stretched past the breaking point.
“Eye on Juliet” tries to put a new spin on an old story but the introduction of physical technology—i.e. a robot camera that resembles “Short Circuit’s” Johnny 5 bot crossed with some sort of metallic spider—adds an unintended levity to scenes that should pack an emotional punch.
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