Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Brittany Runs a Marathon, or: This Blogger Sits at Home Eating Ice Cream

With Thanksgiving days away here in the States, you can count on many families donning sweatpants. Most will be adopting the traditional holiday attire to stuff themselves with as much turkey, pie, cranberries, and all manner of carbs. Others will be using the day off to run a 5K (or greater distance) in the cold. I’m not going to lie: I reserve a large amount of disdain for the latter. But as this week’s film reminds us, it’s no bad thing to pursue your dreams. If your dream involves layering up with running gear and scarves just so you can feel sweaty, cold, and tired all at once, never let me stand in your way.

The Film:

Brittany Runs a Marathon

The Premise:

After a stern word from her doctor, Brittany takes her new running goal to the extreme, from initially running a single block to the entirety of the New York City Marathon.

The Ramble:

Brittany is a goofy extrovert who is always keen to make people laugh. Ready for a night out whenever her roomie asks her to tag along, Brittany never fails to take things just a bit too far, whether it’s drinking, hooking up with less than savory characters, or spending money she doesn’t have on others.

A woman holds an alcoholic drink at a party, laughing with a man

Perhaps unsurprisingly, this lifestyle has really taken a toll on Brittany’s health and self-esteem. When she goes in to the doctor’s hoping to score meds as a quick fix for her inability to focus, Brittany comes away with unwanted warnings about her health and some potential risks in the future.

After realizing how much money a gym membership costs, Brittany decides she will give running a go. She sets a goal weight for herself and decides she will soon be able to run a mile. These goals prove to be even more difficult than Brittany first realizes as she immediately retreats back to her apartment upon seeing her reflection rather than running her first block.

Encouragement comes in the surprising from of neighbor Catherine, who seems to be living in just one of several properties she owns, and is constantly running and engaging in other annoyingly healthy habits. Brittany is less than thrilled to be pitied by such a seemingly well-adjusted woman, though of course there’s a learning opportunity here. Catherine was once addicted to heroin, and the two bond(ish) over the times they’ve slept on dead rats. When Catherine invites Brittany to her running group, it provides the structure and support needed to meet her goals.

Through the group, Brittany meets potential new bestie Seth, who consistently makes the same face I do when I think about running. After completing a 5K, Brittany, Seth, and Catherine ambitiously begin training for the New York City Marathon. Fun fact: only a few runners who are serious marathoners are guaranteed a spot, with everyone else left to take their chances in a lottery or find support by raising money for a charity.

Two women and a man stand on a block of concrete that protrudes into the river, the skyline of Manhattan behind them

The marathon training is not for the faint of heart–and it’s going to cost serious money. Brittany finds a second job as a pet sitter to help cover costs of the marathon. Things get complicated when evening pet sitter, Jern, moves in to the gorgeous house. Worried the owners will cancel the contract altogether if they learn the truth, Brittany decides to keep quiet. Honestly, not the worst call ever; after a fight with toxic roomie Gretchen, Brittany moves into the house too.

A woman sits in an armchair, working on a laptop. A man is looking at her, while a dog sits between them.

Things seem to be coming together for Brittany. She even sets up a dating profile and bonds with Jern over their experiences as children from broken homes. On top of all of this, Catherine uses her influence to fund Brittany’s marathon run. And, oh, how quickly things unravel.

Feeling her new friends just pity her, Brittany rejects Catherine’s offer. She makes it clear to Jern that, though they are now hooking up, she would never date him. And a stress fracture makes her goal of running the marathon in a few weeks impossible–as well as reaching her goal weight, a number Brittany now obsesses over. When the house’s owners return, Brittany decides to return home to her sister and brother-in-law in Philadelphia. Though wallowing in a puddle of self-pity, Brittany decidedly still has bridges left to burn–and she does.

Will Brittany ever run the marathon as promised in the title of our film–and, more importantly, will she learn to be a person she can love and respect?

The Rating:

4/5 Pink Panther Heads

Strictly speaking, this film probably deserves a 3.5 rather than a 4–it’s not especially profound and is, in fact, predictable to a fault. However, I really appreciated the nuances here capturing Brittany’s internal life as well as her external struggles to pursue and complete a challenging goal. The film does well in avoiding the magical weight loss narrative in which our protagonist’s life is transformed into one of perfect bliss. Rather, it’s the act of following through on her goals and genuinely caring for herself and well-being that is of most concern. The weight loss itself is secondary, and Brittany must recognize this in order to accept and respect herself.

I also find a lot of truth in Jillian Bell’s performance; Brittany is a deeply flawed character who frequently makes the viewer (or at least this viewer) throw things at the screen. It’s heartbreaking but very familiar that she doesn’t recognize how a friend should act as she’s become so used to toxic patterns and people. She unfairly judges herself and others, dismissing other character’s dreams as stupid while at the same time pursuing a goal that is almost beyond human endurance.

I appreciate the commitment of this film to capturing the feelings of being a woman struggling to accept her body and self, especially when so much of the world around her seems to confirm her worst thoughts about herself.

Would my blog wife volunteer as a running buddy for this one or trip it up and watch it fall? Read her review here to find out!

Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Dolemite Is My Name, or: Lady in Reed

Not going to lie, I intended to keep the sad vibes going this week with Jennifer Kent’s The Nightingale, but our pick for the week by no means feels like sloppy seconds. Rather than a serious drama of revenge in the Tasmanian wilderness, this week takes us on a decidedly more fun journey to 1970s Los Angeles.

The Film:

Dolemite Is My Name

The Premise:

This biopic follows comedian and musician Rudy Ray Moore as he struggles to make and release the 1970s Blaxploitation film Dolemite.

The Ramble:

As an aspiring musician and comedian in the 1970s, Rudy Ray Moore has seen better days. His music has gone out of fashion in favor of stars like James Brown, and his one-man-show act isn’t what any of the comedy clubs are looking for. Now working in a record store by day and as an MC by night, Rudy’s career seems truly at a dead end.

However, inspired by the ramblings of a homeless man at the store, Rudy develops a comedy character by the name of Dolemite. Borrowing money from his aunt, Rudy creates a raunchy comedy record deemed too filthy for radio. The record speaks for itself as Rudy makes his rounds across the comedy clubs in L.A. and the South.

an African-American man wearing a yellowish-green suit stands onstage with a band

While performing comedy, Rudy finds a partner for a double act in the form of Lady Reed, a woman preparing to fistfight with a man at the club. Though Lady Reed has never considered herself a comedian, she has the commanding presence and raunchy sense of humor to make her the perfect partner for Rudy.

a man in a 1970s-style suit holds a microphone, facing a woman with a microphone in a tight, shiny purple outfit

It can never be said that Rudy’s dreams are too small; as soon as he’s achieved success in clubs, Rudy is ready to take his character Dolemite to the big screen. With his enthusiasm and charm, Rudy easily recruits a playwright, director, crew, and cast. Never mind that the cinematographers are UCLA film students, many of the actors are strippers with no film experience, and the electricity for their improvised studio fades in and out.

An over-the-top Blaxploitation film, Dolemite promises to deliver an all-girl kung-fu army, a gritty look into the nightclub scene, and a dramatic exorcism, all while addressing themes of urban inequity and drug abuse. Too bad director D’Urville Martin (of Rosemary’s Baby fame) dreams of creating a serious, artistic film rather than the campy mess Rudy envisions. It becomes clear very quickly that Rudy will take nothing seriously, from the kung-fu moves to the silly sex scene.

a man faces two people at a booth in a nightclub:  a woman with a teased afro and a man in a retro corduroy hat and outfit

Eventually, Martin yields to the inevitable and accepts the film will never be as he envisioned it. With filming wrapped, the movie is all set for theatrical release, right? Wrong. After all of his work on the film, Rudy is having trouble drumming up any distributor interest whatsoever; he eventually gives up on the film ever seeing the light of day.

Will Dolemite ever complete its journey to the big screen? (Spoiler/historical fact: yes.)

The Rating:

4/5 Pink Panther Heads

The cast is killer and it’s worth watching the film for the performances alone: Tituss Burgess, Craig Robinson, Wesley Snipes, Da’Vine Joy Randolph, Keegan-Michael Key, and Eddie Murphy at the top of his game–still only a fraction of the cast making this film such a fun ride. The dynamic between Murphy and Snipes especially stands out, and I absolutely love Randolph here too.

It doesn’t hurt that the script offers an interesting peek into a little-known true story (or at least not known to me). Like Rudy, the film doesn’t take itself too seriously, but respects and pays tribute to its subject. Perhaps Dolemite was never going to win any Oscars, but it was a real passion project for Rudy and a reflection of a time and place in recent(ish) history. It’s still quite a feat today to find a film with a primarily black cast and creators.

Rounding out the experience are the spot-on ’70s vibes captured here. The attention to period detail (is it odd to you too that this is considered a period piece?) is incredible in terms of the appearance of characters and scenery, as well as the slang and soundtrack we hear. I truly enjoyed (and learned a lot from) this film!

Would my multi-talented blog wife give this one the green light or send it back to the 1970s, white tuxedo and all? Find out in her review here!

Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Tigers Are Not Afraid, or: Feelings Are Very Dead

Watch whatever you want in November, they said. It will be fun, and you will in no way regret the gloomy weather reflecting the dark tone of your films, they said. Well, guess what: this week’s pick for the Collab is incredibly heavy, but (spoiler?), well worth the watch.

The Film:

Tigers Are Not Afraid

The Premise:

A group of children flee the leaders of a violent drug cartel after stealing a phone that stores incriminating information.

The Ramble:

In a small town in Mexico, warring drug cartels have unleashed violence on their enemies and bystanders alike. With classes suspended due to the violence, young Estrella has little to distract her from her mother’s disappearance. Gifted 3 pieces of chalk that will give her 3 wishes, Estrella first requests her mother come back.

Unfortunately, this wish goes badly as Estrella’s mother has died but now haunts her. As she waits in her empty house, a looter breaks into the house to steal anything left of value. The looter is Shine, a child no older than Estrella, advises her to leave as the only people who will return are the members of the Huascas cartel.

four children stand behind the tall bars of a white fence

Acknowledging that she can’t make it on her own, Estrella tracks down Shine and his crew, a group of orphaned boys living in a makeshift home on the streets. The group is in added danger at the moment as Shine has stolen the gun and phone of one of the Huascas–and there seems to be something on the phone they are none too keen to share on Instagram. After the group is ambushed for the phone, the Huascas abduct the youngest and cutest of the kids.

a girl sits in an improvised shelter outside, a boy next to her

To prove her trustworthiness and to get their brother back, Shine charges Estrella with taking out Caco, the man who is after them. Though armed with a gun, Estrella is fully prepared to use a wish to kill Caco; as it turns out, neither murder weapon is needed as he has already been shot. Estrella decides there’s no need for the others to know this and fudges the truth just a bit. Either way, the gang is back together again, though with some additional traumatized children stolen by the Huascas.

After Estrella has a dream about a mansion with a swimming pool and soccer field, she insists the group relocate–not least so they can hide from the Huascas. When they break into an abandoned mansion, it seems Estrella was right, and the children can briefly act like children.

a girl stands in a room of an abandoned house, walls stripped bare and floor covered with a muddy puddle

However, it’s not long before reality catches up to our group of orphans, and Estrella realizes they will have to take drastic action to escape the Huascas. Calling a truce with leader of the Huascas, Chino, Estrella promises to return the phone as long as the Huascas get off their back.

Is this truce the miraculous answer to their problems the children have waited for?

The Rating:

4/5 Pink Panther Heads

Oh, my heart. The story itself is devastating, made even more impactful by its telling through the eyes of children. The members of the Huascas cartel are merciless, interpreting all around them, including children, as either obstacles or products to be used or sold. Through all of this, the children struggle to make sense of the world and find hope despite the relentless terror they live with.

The cartel’s victims as ghosts seeking revenge is effective, and shows the real horror of humanity to be much more disturbing than restless spirits. More chilling is witnessing the children seeing violence on a daily basis and becoming immune to it. They also discuss murder quite casually, both as they see it and commit acts of violence themselves that test their innocence and resilience.

The titular tigers appear throughout the film as a bit of a magic realism, asking the question of what it means to be fierce and what a fighter looks like.

Well worth a watch, but you may need some tissues, comfort chocolate, and/or a fuzzy animal to cuddle.

Would my warrior blog wife give this one a gentle cuddle or a swift slash at the throat? Read her review here to find out!

Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Paint It Black, or: Do What You Want, IDK

Sadly, Halloween/horror month is over. What do we do now? As our pick this week demands, we express our deep sadness by painting it all black.

The Film:

Paint It Black

The Premise:

After a young man dies by suicide, his mother and girlfriend spiral into a dysfunctional relationship fueled by guilt.

The Ramble:

Josie is a stressed-out young woman who hasn’t heard from her live-in boyfriend, Michael, for a week. In need of a distraction, Josie goes out for a night of partying with her bestie, complaining about her infuriating boyfriend’s lack of consideration. Oh, how she will regret those complaints.

The next morning, Josie learns from the police that Michael is dead, apparently by suicide. His mother Meredith makes a devastating situation even more painful by calling Josie and bluntly blaming her for Michael’s death. Meredith goes so far as to actually choke Josie at the funeral when she attempts to place a rose on his coffin.

two men hold back a woman on the floor who is dragging a long aisle rug towards her, with people seated in rows on either side

Interspersed throughout the film are tidbits from Josie and Michael’s relationship. The two met when Josie modeled nude for a drawing class Michael, ever the tortured artist, was taking. Michael’s family is R-I-C-H, living in a huge mansion with its own pool courtesy of his mother’s career as a renowned concert pianist.

standing at the top of a hill in a city neighborhood, a young man and woman embrace as they lean against a piano

With nothing to hang onto except her rage, Josie decides to pay Meredith a visit. As it turns out, both now spend the majority of their time drinking and crying. Though the two seem to bond, it seems Meredith isn’t quite through wreaking emotional havoc. Wrangling an invite to see the apartment Michael shared with Josie, she uses the opportunity to reclaim all of his personal effects.

As the relationship between the two women escalates, it seems impossible they will ever accomplish anything beyond hurting each other. When they reach a tentative truce, Meredith opens up and even cares for Josie when she falls ill. However, when Josie begins to recover, she recognizes she can’t stay with Meredith forever.

a middle-aged woman sleeps next to a younger woman, one arm around her waist

When Josie makes her next stop the motel where Michael killed himself, will she find the comfort and closure she seeks?

The Rating:

3/5 Pink Panther Heads

Mostly because of Alia Shawkat.

Our film tries to be artsy and full of meaning, but it merely scrapes the surface. There are some rather beautifully shot scenes here, but they add little beyond visual interest.

One of the themes driving the plot is the messiness and unpredictability of grief. Josie and Meredith could be natural allies as two women deeply mourning Michael’s death; however, their feelings do not, of course, unfold in any logical way. The oddness and ambiguity of their relationship drives the film, yet it also makes the story unsatisfying and unresolved. And while the grieving process here feels realistic, it doesn’t feel particularly authentic.

Did my blog wife mourn this film’s end or merely the loss of 97 minutes of her life? Find out in her review here!