If Only ‘The Lovebirds’ Were More for the Birds

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CREDIT: Skip Bolen/Netflix

While appraising the Michael Showalter-directed, Kumail Nanjiani-and-Issa Rae-starring The Lovebirds, I feel a lot like Graham Chapman’s Colonel character from Monty Python, but like, in reverse. I want to pop in there and go, “I noticed a tendency for this movie to not get silly enough. Now let’s move it along and be more silly.” For something as outrageous as this bad-night-gone-wrong-then-worse rom-com, “not silly enough” might sound like a patently ridiculous accusation. Which is fine by me, as  I love being ridiculous and securing a patent for it. Furthermore, it’s possible to be over-the-top without being silly. The Lovebirds takes a grounded approach, wondering how a couple on the verge of a breakup would realistically react if someone jacked their car to murder someone in cold blood and then they proceeded to uncover a conspiracy connected to that fresh killing. The result is kind of funny and fairly heartfelt, which is enough to make me put a checkmark to my to-watch list and maybe add a smiley face.

As a veteran of The State, Stella, and Wet Hot American Summer, Michel Sho clearly has a transcendent amount of silliness in his funny bone. And Kumail certainly does, too, as he was so, so stupendously silly on Portlandia as a series of weirdly officious service employees. From what I know of Issa, she’s more awkward and goofy than silly, but I’m sure she could get into the silly groove with the right team. Now generally, I don’t like to review movies by taking them to task for what they could’ve been. Instead, I like to approach them on their own terms and ask if they did a good job at pulling off what they were attempting. But if The Lovebirds was attempting to show how people would really react to a bunch of life-threatening shenanigans, well, I believe there are some folks who would bulge out their eyes and cock their heads and maybe stare at the camera. Or maybe not. Perhaps this isn’t a proper review. Could it be that this is actually the introduction of my journey to become the Reverse-Colonel? … Bird is the word!

I give The Lovebirds 2.5 Bacon Strips out of Hot Bacon Grease.

Entertainment To-Do List: Week of 5/22/20

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CREDIT: Amazon Prime Video/YouTube Screenshot

Every week, I list all the upcoming (or recently released) movies, TV shows, albums, podcasts, etc. that I believe are worth checking out.

Movies
The Lovebirds (Streaming on Netflix) – Kumail Nanjiani and Issa Rae finally team up!
AKA Jane Roe (Premieres May 22 on FX) – A documentary portrait of the woman behind Roe v. Wade.

TV
Homecoming Season 2 (May 22 on Amazon) – Now starring Janelle Monáe!
Jeopardy! Teachers Tournament (May 25-June 5, check local listings)
Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Season 7 Premiere (May 27 on ABC) – The final season!

Music
-The 1975, Notes on a Conditional Form

Comedy
-Hannah Gadsby: Douglas (May 26 on Netflix)

‘The Photograph’ Captures Generations of Love Blossoming and Spreading Free

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CREDIT: Universal Pictures

Starring: Issa Rae, Lakeith Stanfield, Chanté Adams, Y’lan Noel, Rob Morgan, Lil Rel Howery, Teyonah Parris, Courtney B. Vance, Chelsea Peretti, Kelvin Harrison Jr., Jasmine Cephas Jones, Marsha Stephanie Blake

Director: Stella Meghie

Running Time: 106 Minutes

Rating: PG-13 for Some Sizzling Moments

Release Date: February 14, 2020

The ads for The Photograph have been giving off strong “Nicholas Sparks, but with black people” vibes. However, I had a hankering suspicion that it wouldn’t actually be as saccharine as that glossy presentation suggested. First and foremost, the two leads, Issa Rae and Lakeith Stanfield, are not exactly for taking on such gloopy material. Surely their presence would ensure that things would end up a little more left-field than this genre typically goes. Indeed that has turned out to be the case, but to be fair to the marketing team, this is not an easy movie to advertise. It has a slow-burn meditative spirit (driven along by Robert Glasper’s jazzy piano score) that does not immediately grab you in the way that trailers are meant to in a couple of minutes. But if you simmer in it for a couple hours, your heart might just grow a few sizes.

Michael (Stanfield) is a reporter working on a story that happens to involve recently deceased photographer Christina Eames (Chanté Adams). He then finds himself smitten by Christina’s daughter Mae (Rae), who is working her way through the truth bombs that her mom has left her in a pair of letters, one addressed to Mae and one to Mae’s father. Meanwhile, writer-director Stella Meghie frequently takes us back to Christina’s young adulthood in small-town Louisiana where she is unable to reconcile a possible future with the man that she loves (Y’lan Noel) and her dreams of making it big in New York City. She tends to always choose her professional goals over her loved ones, and in a case of family history rhyming, Mae and Michael find themselves worried that they are going to do the same. That struggle to find the nerve to say what you know is in your heart is deeply felt in The Photograph.

I have noticed a lot of excitement around this movie about the potential to see black love that is not also about trauma on the big screen. And if that is what you are looking for, I suspect that you will be satisfied. The blackness in The Photograph is not meant to represent all blackness, as Michael and Mae’s story is by no means a microcosm of all people of color. They are two people who happen to be black and happen to be falling in love. The details are their own, while also being part of a continuum of their lineage. It is an openhearted, generous story that I think a lot of people are going to be happy to witness.

The Photograph is Recommended If You Like: Beyond the Lights, Love & Basketball, A bottle of wine and a record player on a rainy night

Grade: 4 out of 5 Darkrooms

Movie Review: ‘Little’ Squanders Its ‘Big’-In-Reverse Premise on Too Much Broad Comedy

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CREDIT: Eli Joshua Adé/Universal Pictures

Starring: Marsai Martin, Regina Hall, Issa Rae, Justin Hartley, Tone Bell, Mikey Day, Luke James, Rachel Dratch

Director: Tina Gordon

Running Time: 109 Minutes

Rating: PG-13 for An Adult Woman Trapped in a Child’s Body Trying to Drink and Flirt Like an Adult Woman

Release Date: April 12, 2019

There is a creepy subtext to high-concept comedies about kids fantastically becoming the adult version of themselves. But the likes of Big and 13 Going on 30 avoid being actually creepy films by choosing to sidestep those implications. However, the fact remains that their main characters are children in adult bodies who find themselves in situations that could very well turn sexual. Physically, they may have magically become mature, but emotionally they remain the same, so ethically it’s all sorts of confusing. Little reverses the premise, turning the adult into her middle school self, and it also embraces the creepiness, which is confusing in an inside-out sort of way. Is a 13-year-old girl hitting on her teacher morally acceptable when she’s actually a grown woman under a magic spell? Little convinces me that it is, bizarrely enough. The rest of the movie, alas, raises all sort of unanswered conundrums.

Jordan Sanders (Regina Hall) has become the successful head of a tech company by adopting an I’ll-take-whatever-I-want attitude in response to the bullying she endured for being a nerdy science kid. She may have plenty of cash and a decent amount of respect in an often sexist and racist industry, but all of her employees are deathly terrified of her and she doesn’t have any close friends or family. So for a few days she turns into her younger self (in the form of black-ish‘s Marsai Martin, who came up with the idea and at 14 is the youngest person ever to receive an executive producer credit on a Hollywood production) to get back in touch with what originally fueled her passion in the first place. That’s all well and good, but the shenanigans that happen to get her to that realization are a little more suspect.

A movie like this is obviously not aiming for verisimilitude, but how the characters grapple with the break from typical reality shows how much thought and care did, or did not, go into the story. On that matter, Jordan’s sudden absence from work is too easily brushed off as illness, while the sudden appearance of a little girl is too often not explained at all. (Occasionally, the explanation is that Jordan has a daughter, but that’s only employed when the scene requires it.) Also, the whole school subplot is catalyzed by a wacky misunderstanding involving Child Protective Services and concluded in just as weightless a fashion. What will CPS do when they realize that Jordan has disappeared from school after attending it for only a couple of days and then they discover that the child version of her no longer exists? Little provides no answer, but I wish it would have, because it could have resulted in plenty of hilarity. Depending on your sense of humor, there may very well be plenty of opportunities for you to heartily guffaw during this movie, but instead of mostly being a natural outgrowth of the premise, they mostly feel like a random series of hijinks.

Little is Recommended If You Like: 13 Going on 30, Insecure, Thirsty Women Admiring Shirtless Men

Grade: 2.5 out of 5 Donut Trucks

This Is a Movie Review: ‘The Hate U Give’ Confronts Racism and Police Brutality via High School Cinema

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CREDIT: Erika Doss/Twentieth Century Fox

This review was originally posted on News Cult in October 2018.

Starring: Amandla Stenberg, Regina Hall, Russell Hornsby, KJ Apa, Algee Smith, Lamar Johnson, Issa Rae, Sabrina Carpenter, Common, Anthony Mackie

Director: George Tillman Jr.

Running Time: 132 Minutes

Rating: PG-13 for Uneasy Race Relations and the Dangers of Living in a Volatile Neighborhood

Release Date: October 5, 2018 (Limited)/Expands October 12, 2018/Expands Nationwide October 19, 2018

About two-thirds of the way through The Hate U Give, Starr Carter’s father Maverick (Russell Hornsby) lines his children up on their front yard and has them recite a creed he has instilled in them since birth: “Reasons to live give reasons to die.” If you have ever worried, or experienced, how living up to your ideals can put you or your loved ones in danger, this moment is essential viewing. If you can be upstanding and strong-willed enough to avoid being taken down by scandal or shame, then you do not have to worry about too many vulnerabilities. But you can still be devastated if you have a lot of love. Maverick defiantly insists that his children make peace with that for the sake of their family, and his example is a wonderful expression of what parents should demand of their children, or indeed what everybody should demand of their fellow human beings.

This is the inflection point that brings into focus the dilemma that Starr (Amandla Stenberg) is struggling with throughout The Hate U Give. She is the only witness to her childhood friend Khalil (Algee Smith), an unarmed black teenager, being fatally gunned down by a white police officer during a routine traffic stop. She is thus Khalil’s best potential advocate for justice, but she must weigh going public with her account against the potential consequences. She risks alienation from her classmates at the predominantly white high school she attends, as well as much worse from the local drug dealer (Anthony Mackie) who would seek retribution for the wrong secrets getting out. Not to mention the moral and emotional responsibility of possibly becoming a symbol for an entire movement.

The power of The Hate U Give is in the well-realized vision of its lived-in community. Starr and her siblings are growing up in a classically American code-switching existence: living in a low-income, predominantly black community while getting educated at an upper-class, majority white school. The Carters have the means to move out of their home, but their familial and cultural connections make that decision a little complicated. Theirs is a family that has close blood relations with both police officers and career criminals in a manner that makes perfect sense.

The portrait of Starr’s high school, though, does not quite have as much depth. While the casual racism that her classmates display is believable, the white characters are not always fully fleshed out, occasionally sounding like little more than stereotypes. One partial exception is Starr’s boyfriend Chris (KJ Apa), who may say some clueless or insensitive things, but when confronted with a real crisis, he asks Starr genuinely, “How can I help?” This is absolutely no white savior narrative, but it is a story that recognizes the importance of communion and reconciliation.

The film’s title is inspired by the lyrics of 2Pac, who philosophized that communities of color were oppressed by outside institutions influencing them towards fulfilling their worst stereotypes. Ultimately, Starr realizes however that communities must heal themselves, as they are kept down not just by the hate they receive but also the hate that they self-inflect. The truest explanation is that it is really a combination of both, and while The Hate U Give attempts to end on a somewhat overly simplistic note, it does otherwise present a scenario that sincerely conveys that complication. There is hate out there, whether or not you give it or only receive it, but ultimately it is up to every individual to choose to live for love.

The Hate U Give is Recommended If You Like: John Hughes Films, Social Justice

Grade: 4 out of 5 Reasons to Live