Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Happiest Season, or: Harper’s a Lyre

Global pandemic, climate change, and political instability aside, we are truly living in a renaissance…for made-for-TV romantic Christmas romps. Though like most things streaming, we’re overwhelmed with options, this is also my favorite thing about the rise and rise of Christmas movies. This week’s pick is our 2nd LGBTQ pick of the month…which I don’t think would have even been possible 5 years ago.

The Film:

Happiest Season

The Premise:

A woman invites her girlfriend home for the holidays to meet her family…neglecting to tell anyone that her partner is anything more than a roommate.

The Ramble:

Since her parents died when she was just 19, Abby hasn’t been big on Christmas. She’s perfectly content staying at home to earn that sweet petsitting cash from all of the suckers who will be traveling for the holidays. However, when her girlfriend Harper impulsively invites Abby home to meet the family, she agrees, hoping to make better Christmas memories by proposing(!).

The character of Abby faces her girlfriend Harper as they hold hands at night, Christmas lights on the houses behind them. The two are arm-in-arm, smiling, and dressed warmly in coats and hats.

Though Abby has managed to convince her literary agent friend John to care for all of the pets while the couple is away, Harper suddenly reverses course the next day. She finally reveals on the drive to her parents’ home that the reason for her agitation is that she’s never come out to her family and is planning to introduce Abby as her roommate, not girlfriend. It will make things easier over the holidays with Harper’s high-strung family as they navigate her father’s mayoral campaign. Apparently.

The plan is complicated by Abby’s character flaw of being a terrible liar, though Harper’s family is so painfully heteronormative that the possibility of either woman being a lesbian never occurs to a single person. Harper’s parents even invite her ex and childhood friend Connor out for dinner with the family that Abby attends.

Harper and her family pose for a portrait that Abby is taking on a tablet. Harper, her parents, two sisters, brother-in-law, and young niece and nephew stand in formal wear in front of a Christmas tree.

In addition to contending with perfectionist parents who have made Harper the favorite, her sister Sloane is fiercely competitive. Seeming to have the perfect family that will look great for campaign photos, Sloane is proud and eager to prove she’s just as accomplished as Harper. Meanwhile, sister Jane plays the role of awkward weirdo, recapping the fantasy novel she’s writing to anyone who will listen, and not quite fitting in with the image-obsessed family.

While making her way around the small town and getting ditched by Harper at parties, Abby meets another of her girlfriend’s exes, Riley. Riley provides a calm & collected sounding board for Abby, who could use a break from Harper’s family…especially after a prank gone awry leads everyone of influence in town to believe Abby is a shoplifter.

Leaning against a living room bar, Abby holds a drink while standing next to the character of Riley, who looks at Abby with arms crossed.

Effectively ostracized from the family during their parties and campaign events, Abby begins to question how real her relationship with Harper can be, particularly since there seem to be two completely different sides to her girlfriend. At a certain point, the people-pleasing Harper will have to make a choice between her status as golden child and being true to herself…but will it be too late for her to find happiness?

The Rating:

3.5/5 Pink Panther Heads

I’m not saying anything that hasn’t been said before about this film, but Harper puts some unbelievably toxic behaviors on display, especially for a Christmas movie where we’re supposed to root for her relationship to work. I say this not only as a major fan of Aubrey Plaza, but as a proponent of functional relationships: Abby deserved better and probably should have ended up with Riley. The chemistry between Kristen Stewart and Aubrey feels more believable, and the character of Riley is way less awful than Harper.

Because the character of Harper dances right up to the edge of ruining this film, we should spend some time dissecting her as a person. Since the POV is mostly Abby’s, Harper comes across as an absolute disaster. We don’t get enough interiority to understand her awful behavior–not that there’s necessarily enough explanation in the world to justify how she acts. The way Harper’s family treats Abby is one thing (and is extremely poor, btw), but the way Harper interacts with her own girlfriend is truly terrible.

Even though I’ve done nothing but complain in this review, I do give the film credit because it is actually well-cast and well-acted for the most part, and the writing for the supporting characters is great. Dan Levy of course steals every scene he’s in, and Mary Holland’s misfit Jane is a character I relate to so much. The saving grace of this film is that it’s surprisingly easy to ignore Harper for the most part since she’s off ditching her girlfriend and sucking up to political influencers. Kristen Stewart and the supporting cast really shine in this one and make it worth the watch.

Would my blog wife propose to this one or go out drinking with drag queens instead? Read her review to find out!

Film Reviews

Checking out the Film: Halloween Edition

‘Tis the season to watch horror films for free from under a mountain of fleecy blankets. Is there any other way to watch a creepy movie? This is a special Halloween edition of Checking out the Film, short reviews of recent library check-outs.

""

Title

Demon

Director

Marcin Wrona

Format

Streaming (Hoopla)

Review

Nothing’s more fun than a wedding, right? Wrong–in so many, many ways. Especially so when you’ve recently uncovered a body (and rapidly buried it again) on the plot of land where you’re building a house for your bride-to-be. Worse still when this land belongs to her family, so you have very literally discovered the skeletons they were hiding.

For Piotr, his wedding in small town Poland goes from bad to worse when the spirit of the deceased possesses him in this tale of a dybbuk from Jewish mythology. The concept works chillingly well as the spirit is that of a Jewish woman who mysteriously vanished from the village long ago in the late 1930s. This is very much a slow burn that could have used a bit more intrigue early on, but quite an original concept for a horror film.

Who Should Watch

People who can’t imagine anything worse than the last wedding they attended. It can always be worse.

""

Title

Creature from the Black Lagoon

Director

Jack Arnold

Format

Streaming (Hoopla)

Review

It’s that time of the year for a holiday classic about a swimmer in a fish man costume. After scientists take a trip down the Amazon in search of wildlife there, they encroach on the natural habitat of a creature who hasn’t changed in thousands of years. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the creature is less than stoked when the humans hang around and chuck a few spears in its direction, though it’s quite ok with essential lady assistant Kay hanging around.

I’m going to be honest–to me, this doesn’t hold up as a horror classic. It’s not even campy or melodramatic enough to be entertaining. There are just endless shots of dudes swimming around underwater, which was probably quite advanced at the time, but isn’t visually thrilling in black and white. And for all of the classic posters of Kay being abducted by the creature, she’s in its clutches for less than a minute of this film’s run time. Is that an odd complaint about a film–not enough abduction? I do appreciate the aquatic take on Frankenstein here, and the early environmental messages.

Who Should Watch

Al Gore.

""

Title

Child’s Play (2019)

Director

Lars Kievberg

Format

DVD

Review

In this 21st century update of the horror franchise, Chucky is a smart doll who controls electronics and learns from the world around him. Surely nothing could go wrong when a refurbished model of the doll sits through The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 and listens to pre-teen Andy talk about his hatred for his mom’s boyfriend…right? Aubrey Plaza, kindred spirit and horror star of my dreams, plays Andy’s mom, who has terrible taste in men and struggles to make ends meet. Her life is about to get much more difficult when Chucky develops a mind of his own.

While quite fun, this film feels like an extended episode of Goosebumps, but with more swearing. The concept for the update is a good one, but Chucky is never going to be as gleefully gory as in the days when he was the spirit of a serial killer trapped in the body of a doll. I honestly think some of the recent films in the Child’s Play franchise of old have been more entertaining in their willingness to embrace B-movie absurdity. Not a bad use of time, but not especially memorable.

Who Should Watch

People who can stomach a significant amount of violence against cats.

""

Title

Hereditary

Director

Ari Aster

Format

Streaming (Kanopy)

Review

Following the death of her emotionally abusive mother, Annie’s life begins to unravel in unexpected ways. After a horrific accident, Annie’s worst nightmare comes true: she behaves more and more like her mother. Seeking to connect with the dead, Annie turns to a kindly member of her support group who claims to speak with her deceased grandson regularly. When she manages to communicate with spirits, it’s unclear whether Annie is experiencing an otherworldly power or the same delusions that tortured her mother.

As noted many times, Toni Collette gives a brilliant, genuinely chilling performance here; in fact, I don’t think you can fault any of the performances. The disturbing images and experiences of the characters match the film’s ambitious messages about the curse of genetics and family inheritance. Though I find the end to be a bit too clever in its attempt at a dramatic twist, the conclusion has a horrific sensation of inevitability. Truly one of the good ones.

Who Should Watch

People who have ever considered having children of their own. Rethink this IMMEDIATELY.

What horrors have you witnessed this month? Ideally on film, but feel free to share your truth.

Header photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash

Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Ingrid Goes West, or: Wham Bam Instagram

Fuck-ups, freaks, weirdos–they’re all welcome here on the Blog Collab this month. And during any month, TBH. This week’s pick is about a rather eccentric character, played by an actor who I like to believe is just as odd in real life.

The Film:

Ingrid Goes West

The Premise:

A grieving woman becomes obsessed with an Instagram celebrity, using her posts to find and befriend her IRL.

The Ramble:

Ingrid is a young woman who is a liiiiiiittle intense about her social media habit. After discovering through Instagram that her friend got married without sending an invite her way, Ingrid crashes the party with a special gift for the bride: a can of mace.

A woman with a tear-stained face speaks angrily to the bride at a wedding reception.

As it turns out, Ingrid’s mother has recently died, driving her erratic behavior. She is institutionalized and ultimately released to the empty house she shared with her mom.

Turning to social media for human connection, Ingrid finds Instagram influencer Taylor Sloane and immediately becomes obsessed, following her life religiously as Taylor’s feed replaces all of Ingrid’s relationships.

A young woman lies reclined on a home hospital bed, holding up her cell phone as she looks at it.

After Ingrid comes into money following her mother’s death, there seems to be only one course of action: use the cash to head west to LA and track down her idol Taylor. This is rather easy, honestly, considering the number of posts Taylor shares per day with her current activities and exact location.

When she strikes out upon their first meeting, Ingrid develops a backup plan to fall into Taylor’s good graces: steal her dog and then miraculously “find” him. The scheme works like a charm, and Ingrid becomes instant friends with Taylor and her husband. Ingrid manages to get more time with Taylor by offering to help her tow a trailer with her pick-up truck. The only obstacle? Ingrid doesn’t have a pick-up truck.

Luckily, Ingrid’s Batman-obsessed landlord Dan finds her charming and takes minimal convincing to let her borrow his truck. The only condition is for Ingrid to return the truck in time for a table reading for Dan’s script–during which she will fill in for Catwoman.

Two women stand next to each other, with desert landscape behind them. One holds a cell phone, while the other looks over her shoulder at the screen.

Of course, Ingrid’s only priority is spending time with Taylor. Complications abound when the car breaks down and Taylor wants to stay out late partying. Following a night fueled by coke and liquor, Ingrid scratches up the truck. Since Dan hasn’t heard from her all night, he calls the police–out of concern for her rather than his truck. Dan seems to genuinely care about Ingrid. Poor, poor man.

A man and woman sit next to each other in a booth in a dimly lit restaurant.

As Ingrid is folded into Taylor’s circle, she meets her new bestie’s troubled brother, Nick. During a relaxing weekend away, Nick steals Ingrid’s phone and learns the extent of her obsession. When he attempts to blackmail Ingrid, she comes up with an ill-fated scheme of her own that Taylor learns about. After the truth emerges, Taylor wants nothing to do with Ingrid.

There seems to be no hope of getting back in Taylor’s good graces…but surely it’s worth trying anyway?

The Rating:

4/5 Pink Panther Heads

Aubrey Plaza, who seems to be quite quirky herself, is perfectly cast as unhinged Ingrid. She manages to be quite entertaining to watch even as she does disturbing and problematic things. Her attempt at being a sexy Catwoman for Dan especially stands out.

The film’s humor is sharp and incredibly dark, but I find this to be a very tragic film. As expected in a film about social media, there are some very troubling implications for our own lives here; however, it goes beyond the doom and gloom “social media will kill us all” trap that other social commentary pieces can fall into. The film is very interested in the effects of social media on our psychology, behaviors, and relationships–and the extent to which it allows us to avoid these things when they become difficult.

Ingrid’s obsession with Taylor is really about the void in her life left by the death of her mother. When she is unable to find the love and support to overcome this in the real world, she turns to the internet for validation. As she later reveals, Ingrid is fully aware of what an inaccurate representation of life Taylor depicts on her account; however, she still wants to believe the fantasy. Even as she scorns the empty popularity game of Instagram, Ingrid craves attention and approval from her followers.

I appreciate Ingrid’s dilemma as I frequently have a love/hate relationship with social media. I keep up with so many people I probably would have lost touch with because of my social media accounts. But I do worry that I’m only representing myself superficially on these accounts (and, likewise, that others are doing the same). There are times when I use these accounts to avoid face-to-face human interaction; some days I don’t talk to anyone except by text. And I can’t count the number of times I’ve posted something brilliant and gotten annoyed when people haven’t shown their appreciation and liked it immediately.

On a side note, I will support any film that successfully incorporates the K-Ci and JoJo ballad “All My Life” into a scene.

Would my darling blog wife track this one down at all of its favorite spots or unfollow immediately? Read her review here to find out!