Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Seeking a Friend for the End of the World, or: I Was Promised Melanie Lynskey

This week’s pick is a stretch in terms of our Melanie Lynskey theme, but the only other films of hers coming to my mind were Heavenly Creatures and Ever After.  Since we’re all about broadening our horizons through this blog collab, we opted for this questionable doomsday comedy that, sadly, doesn’t give our star of the month (year, life, etc) a lot of screen time, but does feature more cameos than you can shake a stick at.

The Film:

Seeking a Friend for the End of the World

(Fun fact:  the acronym for this film is SAFFTEOTW)

Where to Watch:

Netflix (US)

The Uncondensed Version:

After the failure of one final space mission to divert the path of an incoming asteroid, it seems the existence of humanity is rapidly drawing to a close.  With the realization that human existence will end in 3 weeks, Dodge (Steve Carell) tries to carry on as usual, while his wife literally runs off as quickly as she can in the opposite direction.

Dodge visits his friends, who try to set him up with a date during one last party, conveniently creating the opportunity for an absurd number of cameos  This is where our girl Melanie Lynskey enters the fray as a somewhat out of character, over the top flirt wearing a tiara.  I really wish she’d been given more to do here, as she appears for maybe 5 minutes max, though that’s true for most of the cameos in this film.

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Our queen appropriately adorned.

Despite everyone at the party going nuts in the true spirit of carpe diem, Dodge remains aloof and unable to enjoy the atmosphere (and admittedly, some of the shit on these people’s bucket lists is pretty fucked up, including shooting up heroin and letting their young children get wasted).

When he returns to his apartment, Dodge is alarmed to find his upstairs neighbor Penny (Keira Knightley) crying on the balcony.  An eternal fuck-up, she has made the most regrettable mistake of her life and missed the last plane home to see her family in England.  When she asks about old pictures Dodge has been going through, he reveals his own regret—losing his first love, Olivia.  Penny also inadvertently reveals details about his wife’s affair, of which Dodge had been blissfully unaware up to this point.  However, she does have good news in the form of a letter mistakenly delivered to her apartment months ago from none other than Olivia.

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Appropriate reaction to the realization that ML’s role in this film is over.

When rioters threaten the apartment building, Dodge and Penny flee the city to find a route to Olivia and track down a plane–with the company a dog named Sorry that has been left in Dodge’s care.  TBH, the dog is probably the only one besides ML (and Gillian Jacobs, who appears later) who’s not phoning it in for this film.  Before they leave, Penny grabs a few favorite records because that’s her one defining personality trait in this film and should appeal to the trendy youths in the audience (none of whom watched this film with me, except maybe Bertha Mason, but she’d be more into destroying vinyl).

Since this is a journey film, our crew hits the road after catching a lift with a seemingly nice man driving along.  If you are like me, you will probably wait for him to be revealed as a secret cannibal or human taxidermist, but really the only thing memorable about his character is his readiness to die (which I think is pretty understandable considering the circumstances).  This sets up a long line of characters and scenarios that would be cleverly and occasionally obnoxiously quirky in any other road trip comedy, but fall flat here.  The overly friendly staff at a restaurant have a really boring secret, the police are needlessly nitpicky, and even the doomsday preppers are staggeringly normal.

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Vinyl…something about drinking port and listening to the Velvet Underground on vinyl…blah blah blah…extended hipster stereotypes, etc, etc.

Initially, there’s a balance between the apocalyptic and romance threads that weave throughout the film, but eventually the romance plot takes over with Penny revealing personal stories about her family and practically writing a love song to vinyl.  At a certain point it feels like the writers took turns drawing random lines of dialogue from a hat of full of romantic comedy clichés.

When the two do finally track down Olivia’s house in Delaware, it’s so, so, so anti-climactic and frustrating.  It’s obvious that Dodge and Olivia aren’t getting back together from the moment the film begins, but it’s really unsatisfying that Dodge seems to abruptly shut off his feelings for her in favor of bonding with Penny.  Narratively, it’s supposed to make viewers believe his feelings for Penny are the most genuine, but it only succeeds in making him looking fickle as fuck.

I think I should stop because I have so, so, so many problems with the ending and don’t even know where to begin.

Let’s just say this one goes out not with a bang, but with a whimper.  Though it would also be accurate to say it literally does go out with a bang.

The Rating:

3/5 PPHs

Eh, it probably deserves fewer PPHs, but I will grant some leniency for the premise (which had potential) and the brief but shining moment in which our girl ML appears.

First, let’s start out with the romance element because it gets so much goddamn screen time.  Keira Knightley and Steve Carell are really difficult for me to buy as a couple, and he seems to be more of a caring father figure than a love interest.  They are both so bland as characters, and Penny’s love for records felt tacked on to give her some semblance of personality.  I honestly felt Audrey Hepburn had more chemistry with William Holden in Sabrina, and that’s a pretty low bar.

The end also pisses me off because Dodge makes a decision for Penny rather than letting her decide, which is not the least bit romantic.  FFS, men.  STOP IT.

The tone is perhaps the biggest problem—for example, a scene where someone is making a piss joke and then gets shot a few seconds later feels out of place.  This film can never quite commit to being a comedy or a drama, failing to merge these elements together well.

I could see SAFFTEOTW more easily becoming a dark comedy or satire and couldn’t help comparing it to other works like Fido, arguably Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, or even You, Me and the Apocalypse (that short-lived and rather uneven apocalyptic TV show starring Rob Lowe as the least believable priest in existence.  It was never going to last 7 seasons, but it was funny at least).  All of these successfully gave an apocalyptic event a dark, funny twist, and even worked in a more or less believable romantic subplot.

To be clear, the dog in this film is adorable and should be praised, given treats, and in general be considered a good dog–and I’m not even a dog person.

Would Christa befriend this one or let it all burn?  Find out here!

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Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Beginners, AKA Experts at Fashion and Shredding My Heart into Little Pieces

Last film of Hellraiser vs. McGregor month tips the balance squarely onto the McGregor side of the scales.  Pretty wins over evil.  Plus a Julia-less Hellraiser is #notmyHellraiser.

This week my pick is Beginners, which I was planning to watch this weekend and weep into my keyboard either way.  As the blog collab proves, it’s better not to attempt that kind of thing alone.

Can I just preface this by saying I went to see this in 2010 in Dayton’s indie theater whilst under the impression that it was a comedy?  The film’s poster does nothing to discourage the notion that there will be a lot of smiling, laughter, and adorable interactions between our 3 leads.  From the trailer I remember Ewan McGregor, a dog, a romantic relationship, and Ewan McGregor’s discovery that his father (Christopher Plummer!) is gay.  All of the aforementioned are elements of this film, along with his father DYING OF CANCER.  It is very sweet and honest about how complex family is, but significantly more heartbreaking than I was led to believe.

The Film:

Beginners

Where to Watch:

Netflix (US)

The Premise:

An artist comes to terms with learning his father is gay, dating a much younger man, and has terminal cancer while pursuing a romantic relationship of his own.

The Uncondensed Version:

This film alternates between several past storylines during Oliver’s childhood, his father’s terminal illness, and the “present” (2003).

In the present, Oliver is clearing out his father’s house and helping his dog, Arthur, adjust to a new life.  I’m not even a dog person, but the dog is fucking adorable.  Oliver, still reeling from the loss of his father, holds conversations with Arthur and introduces him to Oliver’s place.

Oliver is also still trying to make sense of the last few years, when his mother died, his father (Hal) revealed that he was gay, started dating a younger man, and became heavily involved with the gay community.  Also in the present, Oliver meets a young woman at a costume party (Melanie Laurent!) and wants to pursue a relationship with her but fears becoming his parents.

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This looks way too boring to be a gay club.

So let’s move chronologically or this is going to get really fucking confusing.  Oliver remembers very little of his father during childhood, a consequence of his father both (a) working all the damn time and (b) actively concealing a major part of his identity.  As a result, Oliver mostly remembers his mother being alone and getting drunk at art galleries.  She always dodges questions about where Hal is and whether she is happy or not, but memorably tells him about the cathartic power of screaming.  When Oliver says he doesn’t feel like screaming, she tells him “You will.”

Bringing it forward to Hal’s big gay reveal, Oliver is really uncomfortable as it makes him question his parents’ relationship and his entire childhood.  Plus Hal’s boyfriend, Andy, is basically Oliver’s age, which has to be a bit strange for both of them.  Either way, Hal has many visitors, the most dedicated being Oliver and Andy.  When Hal gets the stage 4 cancer diagnosis, he hides the truth from Andy and, at a certain point, seems to forget he’s dying.  Hal buys a lot of nice clothes, books, and throws a lot of parties.  He really wants to see Oliver settle down, but offers the somewhat disheartening advice of “Don’t wait for the lion when you can settle for the giraffe.”

This part is way more heartbreaking than I’m making it sound.

And leads us to the present, in which Oliver is trying (and failing) to throw himself into his work as an artist so he won’t have to think about his father’s death.  Finally, upon the insistence of his friends, he attends a costume party (it seems like it should be a Halloween party, but it’s unclear if it actually is) as Freud, bringing along Arthur so he doesn’t get lonely.

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Also because Arthur is a great wingman.

It turns out to be a fateful night, as he meets Anna, who looks impeccable in a suit and is very perceptive despite laryngitis leaving her without a voice.  After the party, Oliver calls her and they have a sort of date, which mostly involves Anna pointing at places where Oliver should drive.

The two begin dating for real even though Anna is an actress and due to return to NYC for an audition shortly.  It gets personal when Oliver tells her about what he’s been dealing with during the past few years, and Anna tells him her dad calls her when he’s having suicidal thoughts.  She used to find her life freeing, but now hates being in hotels all the time now and how easy it is to leave people.  Oliver very wisely tells her you can stay in the same place and still find ways to leave people, which is a blow below the emotional belt.

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This is pretty much porn to me.

After bonding over graffiti-ing a billboard, Oliver asks Anna to move in, which doesn’t go as smoothly as anticipated.  It’s a big step for both parties, and Oliver says this isn’t what he’s supposed to feel like.  Taking the hint, Anna decides to move back to NYC.  To borrow a page from Christa’s book and leave you hanging with a question, is that it for Anna and Oliver?  Will they change their minds or go their separate ways for good?

The Rating:

4.5/5 Pink Panther Heads

I love this film and I would probably get into a fistfight about it.  The characters have very real reactions to their circumstances.  Oliver and Hal become closer during the last years of Hal’s life, but they never have a perfect relationship.  Throughout the film, Oliver carries around the burden of guilt and regret for the unhappiness and imperfection in his parents’ lives; however, he can acknowledge the past without becoming it.  Or can he???

You may be able to find out here in Christa’s review!  But maybe not.  She will probably leave you with a similar string of questions, won’t she???

On a side note, it’s only fair to warn you that Ewan has an American accent in this, which just isn’t as beautiful as his Scottish accent.  However, he does look really good in stripes, and that basically makes up for it.

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BOOM.