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.

This Is a Movie Review: ‘Thoroughbreds’ is a Psychopathic Murder Scheme with Primary Color Flourishes

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CREDIT: Claire Folger/Focus Features

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

Starring: Olivia Cooke, Anya Taylor-Joy, Anton Yelchin, Paul Sparks, Francie Swift

Director: Cory Finley

Running Time: 90 Minutes

Rating: R for a Psychopathic, Clinical Approach to Blood and a Little Bit of Language and Upper Middle Class Drug Use

Release Date: March 9, 2018 (Limited)

As as I became acquainted with the premise of Thoroughbreds – Lily (Anya Taylor-Joy) and Amanda (Olivia Cooke) team up to kill the former’s stepfather (Paul Sparks) – I of course had to ask: what is it that drives Lily all the way to murder? But alas, that is not really a question this film cares to answer. It is not exactly ignored, but you would expect a grave decision like this to be given more consideration than Lily gives it. If he were abusing her in some way, you could understand why she would go to such an extreme. But the conflict basically boils down to: he wants her to stop freeloading and she thinks he’s a jerk. It is totally understandable why they have such a chilly relationship, but it hardly justifies murder.

It should be noted, though, that that shallow decision-making and outsize retribution is kind of the point. This is a bloody satire in the vein of Heathers. But the whole affair is so underplayed that you never feel the over-the-top nature of the premise. There is a matter-of-fact presentation that makes it hard to peg what writer/director Cory Finley wants us to conclude about Lily and Amanda’s motives and machinations. Since one or both of them is in essentially every scene, we are immersed in their perspective to the point that what they are scheming seems like so much less of a big deal than it obviously is.

Thoroughbreds works best as a showcase for its two leads. Amanda is some sort of sociopathic or psychopathic, unable to intuit the meanings of facial expressions, but practiced at faking emotions. Cooke nails a combination of off-putting but somehow friendly. Lily is the apparently more “normal” of the two, but that description really only fits insofar as how she is more adept at displaying and interpreting typically genuine emotions. She is prone to moral slipperiness that reads as inherent to her nature. The title basically refers to how these two have been groomed by nature to be the perfect criminals. Anton Yelchin (in one of his last roles) shows up as a drug dealer to privileged kids who Lily and Amanda hire to help them carry out the deed. He puts his own spin on the “you’re all blind sheep” shtick, but mostly he just serves a plot convenience.

These off-kilter individuals get their very appropriate soundtrack in the form of Erik Friedlander’s weird percussive score. It is so lacking in melody or any aspect of musical structure that I wonder if what I’m recognizing is actually just part of the sound mixing. Either way, it is an appropriate fit. It is a cold and clinical soundscape that is fit for me to love, while that same approach with the narrative has more modest results.

Thoroughbreds is Recommended If You Like: Heathers, The Loved Ones, American Psycho, Avant-garde percussive scores

Grade: 3 out of 5 Practice Smiles