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Review, Theatrical, This Week Leave a Comment

Amy Schumer fans rejoice, Snatched heralds her long-awaited second feature following 2015’s successful debut, Trainwreck. Teaming up with comedy icon Goldie Hawn, Snatched sees Schumer as Emily Middleton, a New Yorker who’s going through a bit of a tough time, the only good things in her life being her musician boyfriend and their impending Ecuadorian getaway. So, when the boyfriend ditches her right before their “non-refundable” trip, she decides to take her single, homebody mother Linda (Hawn) to South America in an attempt to get her to have fun like she used to when she was younger – of course, that all goes out the window when the two are kidnapped, leading to an impressive series of mishaps as they try to make their way home, reconnecting as mother and daughter along the way.

Hawn and Schumer’s chemistry sizzles as they traverse the South American jungle, with so many jokes flying between them that many are bound to land, even if only for a smile; the film in general hums with a great humorous energy. What makes these two comedic actors so individually funny is also why they work so well together: while most of the bigger antics revolve around Schumer’s awkward Emily, Hawn helps stick the smaller one-liners, enabling everyone around her to be just as funny as she is in the moment. Their dramatic chemistry as mother and daughter is also wonderful; Snatched deals with heartfelt ideas about being a parent and eventually having to let go, and while the script isn’t as adept at this as, say, last year’s Bad Moms, Schumer and Hawn manage to flesh out this great relationship and it really makes them feel like family.

Speaking of family, Snatched is filled out with a hilarious supporting cast that, at some points, even steal the show. Ruth (Wanda Sykes) and her “platonic friend” Barb (a mute Joan Cusack) contribute some of the best antics in the entire movie, and Ike Barinholtz’s agoraphobic Jeffrey and his back-and-forth with government worker Morgan Russell (Bashir Salahuddin) leads to some of the film’s stand-out moments. Whilst not the most complex of comedies, Snatched never stops having fun for its entire runtime, giving us some great Amy Schumer belly laughs and Goldie Hawn’s first film in the last fifteen years. If anything, that’s worth the ticket price alone.

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Cheer Up (For Film’s Sake Festival)

Festival, Review Leave a Comment

The word cheerleader brings to mind images of curvy, bronzed girls from the south of the United States, overly-perky and grinning huge, white smiles as they shout encouraging affirmations to some primary-coloured football team. But Christy Garland’s Finnish documentary, Cheer Up, is anything but: taking us into the lives of a losing teenage cheerleading team in the Arctic Circle, we follow cheerleaders Patricia and Aino, and their coach Miia, whose lives kind of suck at the moment. But how can you be a peppy cheerleader when you can’t cheer yourself up?

Cheer Up’s biggest twist is that it’s barely even about cheerleading: instead, it is a quiet, meditative documentary, offering a deeply personal, sometimes heartbreaking look into the lives of three women struggling with tragic pasts and uncertain futures. Patricia is struggling to find her place in her changing family dynamic; Aino is straining to keep up with her rock-band friends; Miia is taking chances to find love and maintain her professional life, and as these three women fight for some control over their lives, their cheerleading family is their only constant. Garland takes you on an emotional rollercoaster as Aino, Patricia, Miia, and their whole team fail and come out on top, but through it all she reminds us that the people around us are not only also fighting their own battles, but understand our pain and are here to help.

Full of stunning arctic visuals and silent pauses full of meaning, Garland is a master of less is more, taking a story which could’ve easily offered loud, dance-filled distractions, but only uses them sparingly, choosing instead to focus on the women and their lives. Even the cheerleading routines that we do see are gorgeously symbolic: close-ups on elated faces, triumphant flips have been painstakingly practiced, reminding us of the journey that these girls have taken to get to this moment. Cheer Up is a poignant reminder of the twists that life can take, and a quiet encouragement that you can always get back to the top of the pyramid.

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13 Reasons Why

Home, Review, Television Leave a Comment

Not all Netflix series are made equal. For every Daredevil, there is an Iron Fist; every Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt has its lesser, Fuller House counterpart. And in the wake of pulpy-teen murder mystery Riverdale, Netflix’s new teen mystery 13 Reasons Why is an emotionless, forgettable affair.

Based off the YA novel by Jay Asher and executive produced by Selena Gomez, 13 Reasons Why is the story of Hannah Baker (newcomer Katherine Langford), a high school girl who committed suicide a week before the first episode picks up. Without her present, we follow Clay Jensen (Dylan Minnette), the quiet teenage boy who was in love with her before she died, struggling with grief when a mysterious package arrives at his door one afternoon. It’s thirteen cassette tapes, each recorded sardonically by Hannah before her death, explaining the thirteen reasons why she killed herself.

Each episode chronicles Clay listening to a different tape, biking around town in an attempt to piece together Hannah’s story. From school jocks who took advantage of her and spread rumours to fickle friends who believed them, Hannah spills the beans on everyone who wronged her – and even when we finally reach Clay’s tape, the story is far from over. As Hannah’s plan to expose the horrible bullying and toxic masculinity of her high school comes to a head, the lines blur between victim and culprit.

13 Reasons Why is incredibly lifeless (sorry) and dull, moving like molasses as its “mystery” is slowly uncovered. Each of Hannah’s stories would be interesting and compelling if they weren’t stretched out over the course of full hour-long episodes; all thirteen episodes could be condensed into four, or even just a movie, with tighter storytelling and quicker reveals.

Instead, 13 Reasons Why pads out its gloomy world, introducing us to dozens of characters who receive such small, infrequent moments in the sun that it’s hard to distinguish one stereotypical jock from the next; Hannah’s selfish friends and disinterested teachers all blurring into one. This becomes a showcase for the show’s terrible soap-opera dialogue and the actors’ awkward chemistry. And as our emotional entry into this world, Clay should be so much more sympathetic than he is – after all, his is the epitome of unrequited love – but he lacks any kind of heart, or character at all, instead coming off as creepy and irrational, made worse by a dull performance by Minnette.

The only compelling character is Hannah: her tapes are full of sarcasm and attitude, but seeing her heartbroken eyes as we learn the tragic story shows us how much she truly has given up on living any longer, made more powerful by an impassioned performance from Langford. The show’s message about the toxic treatment of girls in high school is certainly fascinating and frustrating – from objectification and even sexual assault, this show is not afraid to go there – but its treatment of suicide is occasionally problematic, since, as one character laments, ‘leaving those tapes was a dick move’. Regardless, this serves to make Hannah just more complex and interesting, and her descent into depression is believable and melancholy, as each person turns their back on her until no one is left.

Despite its sympathetic main character, 13 Reasons Why fails to inject life (sorry, again) into a story that we’ve all experienced to a certain degree – coming of age stories should make us feel and remember, but this is just boring. Even for lovers of mystery, Thirteen Reasons Why fails to capture attention and create intrigue – but maybe that’s because this isn’t a whodunit, but a whydunit, and since the “why” isn’t a big surprise, it’s barely even that.

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Before I Fall

Review, Theatrical Leave a Comment

If any teenager is reading this, see something else. See The Edge of Seventeen, or re-watch Mean Girls. Go watch something that actually gets what it means to be a teenager, or even better, something that understands characterisation. Hell, just go see Logan. Or go take a walk instead. Just please don’t see Before I Fall.

Before I Fall sees 18-year-old Sam Kingston (Zoey Deutch) living a charmed life – until a mysterious road accident leaves her reliving her last day over and over again. Struggling to unravel the mystery of her death, Sam begins to piece together clues that could help end her curse, but in the end, will she have lived a life worth living?

The answer is no. Despite its sweet romantic subplot grounding the melodramatic story and a surprising twist that is well deserved, Before I Fall earns none of its heavy beats and sets up no emotional arcs, or even character arcs, handing us characters that barely grow or change. Sam and her predicament are so one-dimensional that you spend the movie guessing what she’s going to do next; we know nothing about her, so her motivations remain a mystery, and we stumble in the dark with this character we couldn’t care less about.

It’s hard to like characters when they’re badly written (by Maria Maggenti – who showed great promise with her indie breakout, The Incredibly True Adventures of Two Girls in Love) teenage stereotypes, and it’s even harder to like them when they’re terrible people, and Sam and her friends sit so perfectly in the middle of that Venn diagram that there is no room for sympathy in this self-important tale. Even Bill Murray managed to have fun in Groundhog Day sometimes! Before I Fall is so fixated on shoehorning life lessons into every scene, creating a message about living life for others and making your days count, that it doesn’t take time to show us the humanity in such an absurd circumstance.

Instead of an emotional rollercoaster of death and life and the choices that we make, Before I Fall is more like rolling down a hill out of control: just painful.