‘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

Super-Relatable for Runners of All Racing Stripes: ‘Brittany Runs a Marathon’ Review

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CREDIT: Amazon Studios

Starring: Jillian Bell, Utkarsh Ambudkar, Michaela Watkins, Micah Stock, Lil Rel Howery, Alice Lee

Director: Paul Downs Colaizzo

Running Time: 103 Minutes

Rating: R for Some Fun and Sexy Times in Between the Marathon Training

Release Date: August 23, 2019 (Limited)

Brittany Forgler (Jillian Bell) has never been much of a fan of exercise, but somehow she finds herself training for the New York City Marathon mere months after she first takes up running. I’ve been running since I was in sixth grade, and my current goal is to complete the 2020 New York City Marathon. Our origins are very different, and yet we are one and the same.

Brittany Runs a Marathon understands certain core tenets about running, particularly that no matter how in shape or out of shape of you, the next challenge is always daunting. And no matter how much running becomes a part of your routine, the next run still feel sublime. That’s important, as it makes up for the fact that much of the non-running moments of this movie are kind of soul-crushing. As we watch Brittany make her way through the gig economy and deal with roommate issues and learn how to be an adult who regularly visits the doctor, we mostly get a cinematic effort that’s about at the level of a dimly lit sitcom, or a dramedy of malaise, or what have you. But when Brittany conquers the huffing and the puffing and the indiscriminate sweat as she makes her way through the five boroughs, a bit of transcendence manages to sneak up on us.

Brittany Runs a Marathon is Recommended If You Like: Cheering on runners of all skill levels

Grade: 3 out of 5 Sweat Patches

Movie Review: ‘Good Boys’ Presents a Panic-Riddled, But Also Fundamentally Romantic View of Life for Today’s Youth

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CREDIT: Ed Araquel/Universal Pictures

Starring: Jacob Tremblay, Brady Noon, Keith L. Williams, Will Forte, Molly Gordon, Midori Francis, Josh Caras, Lil Rel Howery, Retta, Millie Davis

Director: Gene Stupnitsky

Running Time: 90 Minutes

Rating: R for All the Typical R-Rated “We’ve Got to Get the Party!” Shenanigans, But This Time Involving 6th Graders

Release Date: August 16, 2019

Are kids growing up faster than they used to? It’s a question that every generation ass once they become adults, and I am usually inclined to believe that that worry (or at least the generalized version of it) is a bunch of hooey. It all depends on everyone’s unique circumstances, which vary around the planet and within the same neighborhood. Some kids are forced to grow up fast while others have eternal childhoods. But if the example of Good Boys is a representative sample of where we are in 2019, then the youth do indeed have a lot more than ever to contend with. Drugs and raging hormones are as much a factor as they’ve ever been – throw drones into the mix, and look out!

I can confidently say that when I was in sixth grade, I never had a day that got as absurdly out of hand as the one that “Beanbag Boys” Max (Jacob Tremblay), Thor (Brady Noon), and Lucas (Keith L. Williams) endure. (Heck, I never had a day like that in my teens or twenties either.) They’ve been invited to a co-ed party that promises to include kissing, and in a desperate effort to do it right, they end up spying on their supposedly nymphomaniac (“someone who has sex on land AND sea,” according to Max’s understanding) neighbor and then lose the drone that belongs to Max’s dad (Will Forte, the sort of achingly sweet father who should really adopt everyone). This then leads to broken bones in a bicycle chase, selling a sex doll to Stephen Merchant, running across six lanes of highway traffic, trapping a cop played by Sam Richardson in a convenience store with a dildo stuck on the door, and shooting their way out of a fraternity with paint guns. These are the sorts of shenanigans we’ve seen young cinematic partygoers get up to for decades, but those troublemakers are usually at least a few years older. In this case, the situations are as uproarious as any, but it’s tempered by how out of control everything feels. These are sweet kids who let panic get the best of them, and I can’t help but feel vicarious parental pangs for them.

It’s thus hard to fully embrace Good Boys, as it is quite stressful to watch twelve-year-olds contend with crises they’re nowhere near fully equipped to handle. But there is one element I greatly appreciate, and that is the matter of consent. It is underlined over and over in this movie that if you want to lock lips with your crush, you must ask first if they’re also into it. And when those moments happen, far from killing the mood, they instead increase the romance to an almost unbearably cute degree. Kids today might be dealing with a lot of pressure, but if they’re also being taught the importance of consent from a young age, then I’m not completely worried about the future.

Good Boys is Recommended If You Like: Superbad, Blockers, and weirdly enough Rock of Ages

Grade: 3 out of 5 Beanbag Boys

This Is a Movie Review: ‘Uncle Drew’ Shows the Youngbloods How It’s Done

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CREDIT: Quantrell D. Colbert/Lionsgate.

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

Starring: Kyrie Irving, Lil Rel Howery, Erica Ash, Shaquille O’Neal, Chris Webber, Reggie Miller, Nate Robinson, Lisa Leslie, Nick Kroll, Tiffany Haddish, JB Smoove, Mike Epps

Director: Charles Stone III

Running Time: 103 Minutes

Rating: PG-13 for General Shenanigans and a 7-Foot-Tall Man’s Bare Behind

Release Date: June 29, 2018

One of the joys of growing up in the 1990s was savoring the plethora of sports movies and athletes moonlighting as movie stars. It was something of a golden age, or at least that’s how it appeared to my impressionable mind. There were the minor, but era-defining hits like Rookie of the Year, Shaq was basically allowed to do whatever he wanted, even Dennis Rodman teamed up with Jean-Claude van Damme before he became buddies with Kim Jong Un. And of course there was the landmark success of Space Jam. This is all to say, movies like Uncle Drew, which stars NBA star Kyrie Irving as a character he originated for Pepsi Max, don’t really get made anymore. And while it certainly does not reinvent the sports flick or old-people-drag genres, it is heartening to know that something like this can still exist.

The title character, a Harlem streetball legend spoken about in mythical terms, certainly plays into a desire to return to past glories, as he chastises and schools young ballers on the right way to play the game. He is also prone to decry the “rappity-hippity-hop” music of today’s “youngbloods,” instead preferring to listen to hours-long funk jams on the eight-track player in his vintage van. But the film manages to avoid unhealthy nostalgia, as Drew’s version of the past is too goofy and demented to tempt anyone away from dismissing reality. The humor of this team of old farts, while certainly broadly drawn, is based on actual characterization instead of shallow punch lines. Actual NBA and WNBA stars like Reggie Miller, Nate Robinson, and Lisa Leslie have plenty of natural charisma. And there is just something inherently satisfying about dressing Shaq up like Wolverine’s grandfather and continuing to rib Chris Webber for one of the biggest mental lapses in basketball history.

What will make Uncle Drew a great choice over the coming years to watch for the hundredth time with friends is its fundamental niceness. We come to meet Drew via Dax (Lil Rel Howery), a streetball manager dedicated to the game but who gave up playing it years ago after a mortifying middle school defeat. Recently homeless, he is desperate to win the $100,000 grand prize at a high-profile Harlem tournament, thus why he turns to Drew and his band of old coots despite their clashing personalities and body temperatures. When the team finds out about Dax’s financial troubles, they feel a little betrayed upon discovering his true motivations, but they mostly encourage him to get back in touch with his love of the game. That ethos of bonhomie is matched by Uncle Drew‘s fundamentally welcome silliness and lovingly shot footage of between-the-legs dribbling, lights-out three pointers, and slam dunks.

Uncle Drew is Recommended If You Like: Space Jam, Coming to America, ESPN 30 for 30 documentaries

Grade: 3 out of 5 Boom Boom Rooms

This Is a Movie Review: Get Out

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Get Out did not have me getting out of my seat from fright, which is unsurprising because I generally don’t get too scared at horror movies. But I imagine most people will not be frightened, as its techniques are less about jump scares (though it does have those) or general dread than about mindbending. Its signature concept (“the sunken place”) is a killer example.

This is basically cultural appropriation as body horror. Knowing that it is from Jordan Peele makes it easy – and sensible – to say that this concept could have started as a comedy sketch that evolved into a fright flick. And indeed, as the reveal plays out, it is clear that this actually has been done as comedy before.

I have a slight problem with a couple of moments that are endemic to the evil genius genre, in which small mistakes inexplicably give the hero a fighting chance. But I don’t want to quibble too much, because this is a clever extreme dramatization of a real societal fear, which is what the best horror movies do.

I give Get Out 18 Awkwardly Casually Racist Remarks out of 20 Days.