""
Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Spontaneous, or: Let’s Blow This Popsicle Stand

*Spoilers follow*

Another week, another group of teens facing nightmarish pseudo-apocalyptic scenarios. Mob rule? Trolls referred to only as goblins? This week, the worst horror anyone will encounter is the inner self. More specifically, the inner self very literally and suddenly becoming external.

The Film:

Spontaneous

The Ramble:

Drifting off during an especially dull class lecture, senior Mara Carlyle is in for a rude awakening when a classmate explodes before her very eyes. Not in the metaphorical sense; the girl sitting before her is human-shaped in one moment, a mere spatter of blood and guts the next.

Mara, a teen with wavy blonde hair, looks stunned as she sits in class. Behind her, students sit at desks looking horrified as they and the walls behind them are covered in blood.

After the incident, all of the students are rounded up for questioning and observation. Unbeknownst to Mara, her dry remark that the authorities are waiting for a similar accident to happen again is extremely prescient. Not only that, but her words act as a spark for her classmates to live life to the fullest as they face the dread of wondering who may be next.

Following the explosion, Mara navigates her feelings (badly) with bff Tess–making sarcastic cracks at various tributes to their classmate, lacing her coffee with a nausea-inducing amount of shrooms. While Mara decides seizing the day means making self-destructive decisions, classmate Dylan determines now could be the only opportunity to reveal his long-term crush on her. Holding back Mara’s hair while she throws up, their romance is off to a…dreamy(?) start.

In a diner booth, teenager Mara sits across from her friend Tess, a Black teen with natural hair. Both have coffee cups in front of them.

As Mara gets to know Dylan better, the unexpected explosions of their classmates seem to happen everywhere they go, from football games to parties. While school is cancelled, Dylan buys a vintage milk truck with his college savings and he officially becomes Mara’s boyfriend.

However, the explosions escalate, prompting the government to intervene by developing a new drug to cure the so-called Covington Curse. After weeks in a pop-up biomedical research facility, the cure seems to be available at last: a pill that all of the teens seem to be destined to take for the rest of their lives.

At the end of a driveway at night, Mara sits next to Dylan, a teen with shoulder-length hair. Dylan smiles at Mara, who is starting to smile.

It might be a nice conclusion for our main characters if things ended here, no? Sadly, the new pill isn’t quite as effective as promised, and it’s not long before another series of explosions rock the community.

How many more teens will blow up before they even make it to graduation?

The Rating:

3.5/5 Pink Panther Heads

I’ve kept things vague as there are a number of important plot twists/tonal shifts (which you could easily look up) that I’m reluctant to dish on here. I can’t say they’re entirely unexpected, but they may not be where you imagine the film to go when you first dive in.

I like the premise here a lot, and the approach the film takes to examining the impact of the explosions rather than trying to unpack a reason why lends it some realism. I appreciate that we don’t get a satisfactory explanation for the explosions, though they could stand in for any number of existential issues teens struggle with as they try to imagine a future that’s not utterly terrifying. It’s powerful as well that so many of the teens blame themselves for these events that are beyond their control.

Mara’s sarcastic eye-rolling is immediately relatable, and she is very darkly funny. Her observations about the choice of “Hey, That’s No Way to Say Goodbye” to memorialize a classmate, as well as the dramatic peeling away of part of a stick figure family member car decal stand out most to me. However, after a while, Mara seems to be written as a character who is not especially feminist; she’s meant to be a cool girl who’s so chill that she would never stoop to calling you out for a “your mom” joke. There are a number of attitudes/lines of dialogue that seem written for a teen boy, or at the very least someone who claims to be a humanist rather than a feminist.

Overall, the characterization isn’t a strength of this film. The supporting characters are completely flat; it drives me nuts that Tess isn’t given anything to do except be the best friend who is immediately sidelined for a romantic plot (and the romance is a major focus of the film). There are some additional layers to unpack there considering Tess is the only person of color who gets a significant amount of screen time. And Dylan is a total sweetheart, but it’s irritating that he’s written to be a character who has absolutely no flaws. I’m automatically suspicious of a dude who seems perfect from the beginning.

There are some issues with tone here too, as the story struggles to blend Mara’s cynical sarcasm, the romance of first love, and the existential horror of living through disaster. It’s surprisingly poignant as things wrap up, but it doesn’t quite bring the different elements together smoothly.

That being said, I did enjoy this one quite a lot…and I’m never going to be mad about watching a film that on multiple occasions tells our most recent former US president to fuck off.

Would my blog wife peel off a stick figure family decal in this one’s honor or vindictively hope she’s around so see it spontaneously explode? Find out in her review!

""
Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Hello Mary Lou: Prom Night II, or: You Should See Me in a (Possessed Demon) Crown

I really wasn’t sure if Horror in March (not quite the same ring as Christmas in July) would backfire terribly when we settled on the theme. Some of our themes have been very hit or miss lately, though more because of world events and less because of the films themselves (but some have been pretty forgettable). Would a focus on horror deliver as expected or merely repeat a disappointing cycle?

Not to spoil this review too much, but I do feel horror has played a major role in making this month somewhat manageable. Admittedly the significant progress in vaccine rollout has helped too. Ultimately, I think the moral of the story here is to always choose horror, even (and especially) when your reality is rather nightmarish. It’s the right thing to do.

The Film:

Hello Mary Lou: Prom Night II

The Premise:

Decades after her fiery death, a prom queen returns to seek vengeance against all those who cross her path.

The Ramble:

On a dark and stormy night, a veiled woman arrives at an empty church, seeking to make a confession. What else does one do on a dark and stormy night? Our mysterious young woman reveals that she has committed many sins with many boys and loved every minute of it Oh my.

Who is this figure but the spirit of the titular Mary Lou, 1957 high school it girl and prom queen? Except Mary Lou never got to wear her crown, a fact her restless spirit will never forget. Something of a 1950s rebel, Mary Lou is busted at prom making out with bad boy Buddy (totally the name of a ’50s teen living life on the edge). Humiliated boyfriend Billy opts for a petty revenge scheme, throwing a lit stink bomb towards Mary Lou just as she’s about to undergo the prom queen coronation. This goes horrendously wrong, and Mary Lou literally goes up in flames. Though Billy regrets this immediately and Buddy does try to help (sort of), Mary Lou burns to death–but not before sending a rather murderous glare towards her boyfriend.

Mary Lou, a young woman with dark hair, screams in agony as she burns in a fire.

Thirty years later, Billy is principal of the high school and a father to teen Craig. Good to know your life probably won’t be significantly derailed when–oopsy–you pull a prank that results in the actual murder of your girlfriend. (I know this is totally beside the point, but we NEVER have a single mention of Craig’s mother; it’s possible she died or divorced Billy, but I suspect he may have just sprung from nothing, Greek myth-style.) Goody two-shoes Vicky is dating Craig, who is considered a bad boy because he has a motorcycle, puts sugar in his coffee, gives his girlfriend a cross necklace. You know, all of the typical bad boy indicators.

Vicky, a teen with long blonde hair, cuddles up to her boyfriend in the booth of a diner.

Meanwhile, Buddy has chosen the life of a priest to atone for his sins, but mostly to set up some dramatically tense attempts at exorcism.

Vicky has been nominated for prom queen, so you know she’s a popular girl. However, she is also on friendly terms with that weird kid who tried to invent a potato radio and Jess, the troubled teen with an unwanted pregnancy…so she’s not that kind of popular girl. Helping to plan the prom, Vicky uncovers a chest full of 1950s fashions, including Mary Lou’s cursed prom queen crown. Shortly after, Jess stays late after school and ends up hanging from the ceiling lights, though we know her death isn’t the suicide it appears to be.

Worryingly, these aren’t the only sinister goings-on. Vicky has strange hallucinations about Mary Lou and eerie figures chanting her name. Her troubled state of mind bleeds into her life as Vicky tells off a rival for prom queen, talks back to her mother, and even slaps the shit out of a girl she mistakes for Mary Lou. Given all of Vicky’s strange behavior, her family and boyfriend Craig believe she needs help as soon as possible. Vicky’s mother concedes that an intervention is needed in the form of Jesus. When Father Buddy speaks with Vicky, he is sufficiently freaked out to warn Billy that Mary Lou may have the power to possess and kill her ex-boyfriend. Priests are completely immune to the influence of demons, of course, so no need to worry on that front, everyone. You can go ahead and scrub that idea from your mind because it’s not even in the realm of possibility for Mary Lou to bring about any harm to members of the clergy. Clearly.

Vicky, wearing nothing but a towel, looks sinisterly at her own reflection as she brushes her hair.

When Mary Lou does decide to completely take over Vicky’s life, she cranks up the dial waaaaaay beyond 10. Just in time for prom, Mary Lou is living(?) her best life, bossing people around when it comes to prom, using dated ’50s slang, and showing off nearly godlike murder powers. On a scale of 1 to witnessing one of your classmates burn to death onstage, just how fucked up is the big prom night going to be this time around?

The Rating:

4.5/5 Pink Panther Heads

I know, I know–a completely unrelated sequel to Prom Night that features none of the original cast and was released a full 7 years after the fact has no right being this good. But this is such a fun watch, and I don’t get why this isn’t at least considered a cult classic (as far as I know, anyway). The world wasn’t ready, I suppose.

First, I am always here for an ’80s lewk, and there are some strong statement fashions here. I appreciate when genres steal from other genres as well, and this film does things right on that front. It’s very much a horror film, especially as things escalate in the latter half, but we have some very John Hughes teen movie moments and characters, as well as some elements that feel right out of a soap opera. If horror isn’t going to be melodramatic AF, then what’s the point, honestly?

I do think some of the feminist themes in our film are incidental or applied retroactively. I choose to interpret this as a feminist masterpiece; however, all of Mary Lou’s behavior as a queen bitch isn’t necessarily set up as aspirational (in the way that, to me, it truly is). Most of the time, Mary Lou serves as an example of how one should not live life. Vicky seems to be the ideal prom queen: compassionate, monogamous, organized, high-achieving. As is so often the case, it’s much more fun to see Vicky exhibit supposedly bad behavior than live a wet blanket existence. She’s so repressed that it’s a relief to see her let loose as Mary Lou; I could see one interpretation of the film drawing a parallel between Vicky’s coming of age/sexual awakening and her embrace of Mary Lou’s identity, which so many people around her consider dirty and shameful.

No matter how you interpret things, Mary Lou provides plenty of entertainment and some delightfully creepy hallucinatory scenes.

Would my blog wife dial up Mary Lou’s number for a good time or snatch the crown from her undeserving skull? Read her review to find out!

Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

The Prom, or: The Theater, the Theater

Sequins and elaborate dance numbers have a special place in the Collab; partly as musicals feel written exclusively to lift our spirits (and ours alone), but largely because we are here for any and everything over-the-top. This week’s pick has plenty of sparkle and choreography for days–does it offer the degree of delight we anticipate from a Broadway adaptation?

The Film:

The Prom

The Premise:

After learning of an Indiana teen whose prom is cancelled after she asks another girl to the dance, several Broadway performers team up to save the day and demonstrate their selflessness as activists.

The Ramble:

In small-town Indiana, the local PTA stirs up controversy by cancelling the year’s prom–a move widely regarded as all high schooler Emma’s fault. You see, Emma is the only out lesbian at her school. When she decided she’d like to invite another young woman to the dance as her date, PTA crusader Mrs. Greene (Kerry Washington) lost her damn mind. Rather than refuse Emma’s request and allow a same-sex couple at the prom, the PTA responds by cancelling the dance altogether (largely to avoid being sued in a clear-cut case of discrimination).

A teen, Emma, stands smiling in a hotel lobby. The principal, Tom Hawkins, stands next to her in solidarity.

Meanwhile, Broadway stars Dee Dee and Barry are having an even more difficult time (apparently). As it turns out, their egos may be a teensy bit inflated and it’s possible they demonstrate more than one trait of a narcissistic personality disorder…which becomes painfully clear when yet another production (Eleanor: The Eleanor Roosevelt Musical, which, for the record, I would see) is cancelled on opening night because of its unlikeable stars.

As Dee Dee and Barry catch up with perpetual chorus girl Angie and bartender between gigs (and former sitcom star) Trent, they decide their best shot to make a comeback is through celebrity activism. Learning of Emma’s cause, they tag along with Trent’s non-union tour of Godspell, conveniently traveling right through the heart of Indiana. Or whichever region of Indiana it’s meant to be.

Along a brightly lit Broadway street at night, four performers link arms and sing. Three of them are wearing sequined outfits, and one is wearing a red bartender's jacket.

Before we move on, I feel it’s important to recognize that these characters are played by Meryl Streep (brilliant, obv), Andrew Rannells (exuding Broadway energy), Nicole Kidman (looking very much the part of dancer but in a role whose purpose I don’t fully understand), and…James Corden. (Keegan-Michael Key is in this too, but we haven’t gotten to him yet.) There are a lot of problems with this film that have nothing to do with James Corden. I can’t blame him for everything. However, I do believe it’s impossible to fully enjoy this film at all if you (a) think James Corden was horribly miscast and playing an uncomfortable stereotype, (b) find James Corden smug and irritating regardless of his role, or (c) all of the above. We will revisit this later (believe we will revisit this), but I think you really need to envision these actors to better appreciate the experience of watching this film. And the extent to which it attempts to ride on their coattails.

Returning to our regularly scheduled recap: our 4 Broadway performers make a grand entrance at a PTA meeting in an attempt to teach the small-minded folks of a backwards Indiana town the error of their ways. Perhaps unsurprisingly, this doesn’t have the intended effect. However, on the front of small personal victories, Principal Tom Hawkins (Keegan-Michael Key, no longer dressed as a dapper yet sinister nutcracker), lifelong Broadway fan, secretly thrills at meeting Dee Dee IRL.

The character of Trent, a man wearing a Juilliard t-shirt stands in a mall, holding out his hands in shock. Behind him, several back-up dancers look on with similarly horrified expressions.

While our team of 4 is determined to make Emma’s plight into a cause, Emma herself is less enthused about being in the spotlight. After the prom is back on, she is relieved that the fight is over. Meanwhile, Barry and the others are pleased to focus on important matters like Emma’s outfit for the dance. Though her date backs out, not yet ready to make their relationship public, Emma is nevertheless excited to celebrate with her newfound friends.

As Dee Dee learns more about Emma’s story, including being kicked out by her parents after coming out as a lesbian, she also learns about Tom’s reverence for the theater. Dee Dee is herself a small-town girl still recovering from a nasty divorce. Barry shares a difficult Midwestern past too, hailing from Ohio, where he was rejected by his parents after coming out as gay.

A teenager in a softly lit room sits on her bed, playing a guitar. Her head is haloed by a rainbow decoration on her wall.

Just when things seem to be wrapping up nicely (and early!), the PTA pulls a total dick move and holds two proms: one that is “inclusive” for Emma to attend, and a real one for everyone else. Apparently the entire town gaslights Emma and doesn’t tell her the location of the real prom, leaving her all alone at the dance. With more loose threads to tie than ever before, can Barry find peace, Dee Dee and Tom happiness, an entire small town acceptance, and Emma her own form of expression to speak her truth? Phew.

The Rating:

3/5 Pink Panther Heads

Ugh, I find James Corden so smug and irritating. And not in the period drama “I can’t stand him but secretly fantasize about him emerging from a pond in a white shirt” way. I just don’t like him, his sense of humor, or the attention-seeking vibes that ooze from him at all times (though I’ve gotten quite a lot of enjoyment from “Carpool Karaoke”). He’s gotten a lot of criticism for his role in The Prom, though I’ve got to question many of the parties involved who decided to cast him too. It’s disappointing to see a straight man play a total stereotype of a gay character in a movie about fairness for the LGBTQ community. I would have killed to see Titus Burgess in this role.

Beyond Corden, there are several other major problems I can’t overlook. First, there are really two different tones the film strives for, and they are essentially incompatible. The film wants to be a satirical take down of celebrity activists who are completely out of touch with reality. At the same time, it tries to teach (an incredibly heavy-handed) lesson about acceptance. These two conflicting goals constantly undercut each other by trying to poke fun at our characters while simultaneously humanizing them. I quite like the old “Hollywood winkingly underscores its own hypocrisy” theme, but it was insufferable here. Another person I would have liked to see involved with this project? Rachel Bloom. Some of Meryl Streep’s lines already felt right out of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend.

My other issue here is the number of characters, and it’s never really clear who is the star. I think(?) the star is supposed to be Emma, but she’s a less interesting character than any of the members of our Broadway troupe. But even among these characters, the focus is constantly shifting, attempting to give each a satisfying backstory that will bring them to life. The result is that most of them feel like sketches, and we don’t get to see any of the supposed growth they experience.

Finally, the film’s insistence on wrapping things up so tidily and sweetly grates on my nerves. I do support the film’s message, even if it’s approximately as subtle as gay fetus holiday classic A New York Christmas Wedding (RIP, Azrael Gabison). And I think it’s important to make films about LGBTQ characters that aren’t a total downer. But I can’t wholly enjoy an ending that sweeps everything under the rug so that all of the characters can have a fun musical number at the end. It’s all very cute, but it feels empty when seriously the only thing a bunch of homophobic teens needed to change their mind was a song about loving your neighbor. FFS, even Mrs. Greene is smiling at the end and throwing hugs around after she spent the entire film bullying, harassing, and discriminating against a teenager.

What I find most frustrating is seeing the potential of this film, but then watching as it ultimately falls flat.

However, I will give this film major points for my new favorite mantra, “picture a Xanax in your hand” (though it’s really a Broadway lyricist who deserves credit there). And the costumes and choreography are as stunning as you’d expect to see in a Broadway production. As an added bonus, perhaps this will be the first film that some people associate with Indiana, aka land of Mike Pence, from now on. It gives me perhaps a problematic level of enjoyment to think about how much that would pain him.

I could see how this could scratch the Broadway itch for people missing live theater at the moment; on the other hand, I could see how another type of theater fan would regret that they didn’t simply watch 42nd Street on Great Performances (again).

Would my blog wife attend the dance with this one or immediately shut it down? Read her review to find out!

Film Reviews

Checking out the Film: Two Dramas, One Comedy

When it comes to movie going, it’s impossible to ignore the degree to which I am a cheapskate (bottled water and M&Ms tucked into a jacket pocket for LIFE) and am easily annoyed by people. It doesn’t help that, inevitably, there’s at least one fuckhead in the theater who thinks they can subtly check their messages on a bright screen in an almost COMPLETELY dark room. And I love a children’s movie, but apparently it’s “rude” and “harsh” to shush children who won’t stay quiet or keep their feet to themselves.

As a result, much of my movie viewing tends to be at home on DVD rented from the public library (though I do love a matinee on a day off). I may be behind on the latest releases, but I do get to see them without too much of a wait, and with no cost (and don’t give me that shit about paying for your public library with taxes as about .000000000000005% of your taxes actually fund the library).

Here are a few library loans I’ve watched recently.

Movie poster for the film The Last Black Man in San Francisco

Title

The Last Black Man in San Francisco

Summary

A man struggles to preserve the Victorian-style home his grandfather built in a now gentrified part of San Francisco.

Review

Lifelong San Fran resident Jimmie has never given up on caring for the exterior of the Victorian-style home built by his grandfather–despite the fact that his family no longer owns the house. The owners of the property are a retired white couple, more or less the only people who can afford to live in the neighborhood now.

After the death of a relative, the couple abruptly leaves the house, and Jimmie moves into the home with bestie Mont. The two plan to officially reclaim the home through legal means, even as Jimmie learns family secrets that make him question so much he’s taken for granted.

This is an incredibly heartwrenching film, but it doesn’t feel like a downer (not all of the time, anyway). Gentrification, racism, and identity are major themes here, and Jimmie can never seem to catch a break in either the black or white communities. Meanwhile, the warm friendship between Jimmie and Mont really grounds the film in family and community support.

Who Should Watch

Everyone. Especially rich people.

Movie poster for the film Booksmart

Title

Booksmart

Summary

High school overachiever Molly and her bestie Amy realize while they’ve been out feeling superior about themselves and their future success, their classmates have all been living in the moment…while still earning spots at Ivy Leagues. To prove how much fun they can be, Molly and Amy decide to attend the last big party of the year–and of course things do not go as expected.

Review

I’m absolutely in love with Beanie Feldstein, and her character here is kind of insufferable but so real. As overachieving nerds, what do we have in high school if not the opportunity to feel smug about how great our lives will be in the future? Especially given that the present was pretty fucking depressing.

This is such a fun comedy, but it certainly sent me on a rollercoaster ride of emotions. It’s a sweet reflection that absolutely does not make you want to re-live high school, but makes you remember those close friendships that have lasted (or haven’t), and the joy and horror of being around your bestie constantly. The film avoids the mean girl trope, instead portraying its characters, all of whom are so young and have sooooooooooooo much to learn, with tenderness and compassion.

Who Should Watch

Everyone. Especially people who don’t “get” feminism.

Movie poster for the film The Public

Title

The Public

Summary

A librarian stands with a group of homeless patrons who refuse to leave the public library (in Cincinnati, Ohio!) on a bitterly cold night.

Review

I wanted to like this one so much more; not only does it celebrate librarianship as it exists today–dealing with drug overdoses, homelessness, and naked people in the building–but it was also filmed in the downtown branch of the Cincy public library. As a librarian who hails from southwestern Ohio, this should be the stuff of which my dreams are made.

However, I found myself getting annoyed with the dogmatic message, lengthy run time, and lack of women in a film ABOUT a profession predominately made up of women. I feel this would have been more compelling as a documentary (as in the Dayton-set American Factory), but admittedly even I haven’t watched the 3 1/2 hour documentary about the NYPL (yet–but ok, probably ever).

Who Should Watch

People who don’t understand why libraries exist. (It’s cool, librarians–you don’t have to take one for the team and sacrifice two hours of your life here.)

What are you watching? And if it’s your phone screen in a darkened theater during a non-emergency situation, please get OUT.

Header photo by Ajeet Mestry on Unsplash

Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Girls with Balls, or: Bump, Set, (Steel) Spike

One day you’re spiking balls and serving up aces, and the next day you’re dodging bullets and weird dudes who hide speakers in the woods. This week’s film reminds us of that simple time in our lives when we were innocent young teenagers; JK, high school is awful.

The Film:

Girls with Balls

The Premise:

The girls of a high school volleyball team lost in the woods must defend themselves against a group of dirtbag men out to kill them.

The Ramble:

According to our narrator and folksy French singing cowboy, the girls of the Falcons volleyball team are a tough bunch; unfortunately, they are also slated to die by the end of the film. Spoiler alert?

Two teen girls in matching uniforms stand face-to-face on a volleyball court.

Although the team is great at volleyball, the girls aren’t always as wonderful about caring for and supporting each other, as their coach laments. Good thing the trip back home will give the girls plenty of opportunity to bond as they drive along the countryside in a janky RV.

An RV with the Falcons' name and team colors painted on it parks outside of an ominous building surrounded by fog.

The girls run the full gamut of high school stereotypes: Hazuki, team captain; Morgane, the bitchy yet insecure queen bee; M.A., the timid and, er, fat(?) one; lesbian supercouple Dany and Tatiana; Jeanne, the modest overachiever, and her bff, Lise.

When it becomes clear that the team is no longer on the right track for home, the group stops at the world’s creepiest house, complete with many taxidermy animals ornamenting the walls and sinisterly silent bartender.

After he actually licks one of the girl’s faces, a fight erupts and the team leaves rather quickly. Opting to drive on and then stop to camp out for the night proves to be a fatal mistake (though it looks downright cozy): our head creep returns with a tiny dog and a mob of murderous henchmen. Forced to run, the girls split up as coach leaves them high and dry.

A man holding a small dog stands outside, a group of men holding rifles around him.

As the girls dodge murder, they have another danger to face: that of their past misdeeds and personal drama bubbling up. While the bodies pile up, so do the resentments. After many of the girls are captured or killed, it comes down to three remaining heroines to rescue them all. But will they even care about helping their teammates after all of the teenage drama they’ve suffered at their hands?

The Rating:

2/5 Pink Panther Heads

I give this film most credit for the final scene, honestly. Spoiler alert: I would so watch a sequel about the remaining volleyball team girls going around and beating up dirtbag dudes.

Most of the (admittedly short) runtime here just served to remind me how gross it is that so many films fetishize teenage girls. There’s a scene in which Morgane does a completely unnecessary table dance that made me so uncomfortable.

I did like some of the dynamics between the girls, but they spend so much of the film being incredibly awful to each other that it’s a bit difficult to stomach. A lot of the humor here just does not work; Lise does a striptease that isn’t intended to be sexy, though it is meant to be funny and is not at all. I wish the humor here had let us in on the joke instead of making me feel like this is the work of a misogynist making fun of (while also being turned on by) a bunch of high school girls.

Would my rugged blog wife save this one from a band of creeps or leave it to its horrible fate? Read her review here to find out!

Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Handsome Devil, or: Rugby, Bloody Rugby

I’m not going to lie: I watched season 2 of Derry Girls way too quickly and have so many regrets. Where will I get my fix of lovely Irish accents and teenage hijinks now??? Luckily, it’s free for all month on the Blog Collab, and this week’s film checks all of those boxes and then some. Including rugby…?

The Film:

Handsome Devil

The Premise:

As seemingly the only boy at his school not obsessed with rugby, Ned is a loner who definitely doesn’t care to befriend his new roommate, transfer student and team captain Connor.

The Ramble:

The new school year is beginning at an elite Irish boarding school, and loner Ned is less than thrilled. Openly gay and openly not a fan of rugby, Ned has very few fans and quite a few bullies. Though clever, Ned chooses a quiet life of underachieving rather than expending much effort in class. Instead of writing personal poems for class, he opts for using lyrics from ’70s and ’80s alternative rock songs his stuffy English teacher will never recognize.

A teenage boy sitting in a classroom holds a rugby ball disdainfully.

Things are looking up when Ned surprisingly gets his own room for the year; however, it’s not long before transfer student Connor becomes his roomie. Expelled from his previous school for fighting and immediately crowned rugby captain of the new school, it seems Connor and Ned will never get along, let alone become friends. Ned decides to preempt any rejection from Connor by putting up a wall dividing their two sides of the room.

When a new English teacher Mr. Sherry (played by Andrew Scott, Moriarty from Sherlock, Sexy Priest from Fleabag, and Irish dreamboat) arrives at the school, he brings some big changes. Taking no shit, Mr. Sherry makes it clear bullying and homophobia will not be tolerated–nor will Ned’s habit of using others’ voices instead of his own.

A teacher stands in front of a classroom, hands held open.

After Ned and Connor bond over their shared interest in music, Ned takes the wall down. The two finally become friends when Mr Sherry encourages them to enter a talent show. However, guitar practice begins to interfere with rugby practice, which does not please the team.

The distraction isn’t enough to set the team back, and the lads all go out for celebratory drinks after a win. Hoping to surprise Connor with his interest in the rugby team’s victory, Ned glimpses his roomie entering a gay bar. There, Connor runs into none other than Mr. Sherry cozying up with his partner. Mr. Sherry becomes something of a sounding board for Connor, and the relationship between the two is quite sweet.

A man and teenage boy in school uniform sit, facing straight ahead, on an empty train.

The school’s homophobic rugby coach is none too happy about all of this distracting Connor from his commitment to the team. As Connor is very much in the closet, coach (I can’t be bothered to look up his name) depends on his anxiety about being associated with his gay roomie in order to drive them apart. Connor leaves Ned hanging before their talent show performance, and thus shots are fired.

All of this changes during a pep rally in which Ned is targeted by the rugby team to cheer. Angry with Connor and the entire team, Ned outs his roommate to the whole school at this point.

After this incident, Ned is expelled and Connor goes missing. Is there any way for the friendship between these two roomies to bounce back after this?

The Rating:

3.5/5 Pink Panther Heads

This is quite a sweet addition to the LGBTQ high school genre. I really appreciate that the message is about friendship and acceptance rather than the only two gay kids in school magically being perfect soulmates. Ned and Connor are great friends, but there is never a sense that being gay and roommates means they’re meant to be romantically involved.

I also appreciate the way the film handles multiple identities and the ways we belong to different groups because of and in spite of them. Sometimes opting out because your group, team, community is imperfect robs you of the opportunity to enjoy and improve them. And the teachers in this film have things to learn from their students, without (all of them) coming across as completely incompetent.

The oddness of the film is that it’s told from Ned’s perspective even though the story is mostly about Connor. This has potential as Ned is a cute ginger and certainly grows as a character throughout the course of the film; however, Connor comes through all of this looking much better and acting like less of a jerk. I don’t feel that Ned’s outing of Connor is set up well enough in the film, so Ned ultimately looks very petty and vindictive. Not okay to out someone, and especially not out of malice.

I think it goes without saying that Andrew Scott is great in this, though our two young leads deserve a lot of credit. BTW, Roose Bolton is in this, being appropriately scummy as the rugby-obsessed headmaster determined to recapture his youth. Just in case that convinces you to watch (or not watch).

Would my dream roomie sing a duet with this one or tackle it immediately? Find out in her review here!

Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Emo the Musical, or: Feelings, Nothing More Than Feelings

It’s not quite July, but I’m ready to lean into our next theme so hard: freaks, fuck-ups, misfits, and general weirdos. Conveniently, this theme also encapsulates most of the films featured in the Blog Collab, and what better place to find rejects and outsiders than a good old Australian high school?

The Film:

Emo the Musical

The Premise:

New kid in school and proud emo, teenager Ethan struggles to impress his fellow emos while fighting an attraction to church girl Trinity.

The Ramble:

Ethan is the new kid in school, having been expelled from his previous school. As an emo, he is looking for someone to be unhappy with, and is pleasantly surprised to discover a small but thriving emo scene at the new school.

However, Ethan is majorly conflicted when he meets peppy church girl Trinity and shares a connection with her. In addition to being an atheist, Ethan wants to impress the school’s emo band, so falling in with the church crowd seems ill-advised.

A teenage boy dressed in dark clothing and plaid walks next to a smiling girl in a school hallway.

Luckily, it seems pretty easy to gain favor with the emos; all Ethan has to do is show that he doesn’t care about anything. When auditioning for the band, he writes and sings a song entirely about how little he cares about being part of the band–which, of course, works like a charm. It doesn’t hurt that Ethan has a tragic backstory behind his expulsion: he tried to hang himself at the school where he was expelled. The band’s current purpose is to make it to a competition they would usually describe as lame, if not for the involvement of Doug Skeleton, hardcore emo and indie rock icon.

Three teenagers sit and look in disbelief at a character who is off-screen.

Upon his acceptance into the band, fellow emo Roz informs Ethan that they are now dating. However, sparks continue to fly between Ethan and Trinity when they are assigned to write a love song together for homework. When band leader Bradley steals the church group’s booking of the music room, karma bites back as a religious band forms to challenge the emos in competition.

The feud between the emos and the church group escalates as Bradley learns the truth about Ethan and Trinity’s relationship. Ethan must prove his loyalty by burning Trinity’s bible and breaking up with her. This is easier for him when it seems she has revealed the truth about his suicide attempt: Ethan never came close to suicide, and tried to work himself up to an attempt on 6 occasions (which still seems rather troubling?).

A band of four teeangers dressed in black with noose patterns around their necks performs a song.

After the emos burn down the chapel, the school, now funded by a drug company that makes serotonin supplements, mandates all references to drugs, suicide, and general unhappiness must be replaced with more positive messages. Clearly, the emos struggle with this and try to even out the odds. Discovering that the Christian band’s guitarist is in the closet, Bradley arranges for the rest of the group to find out so the band will be missing a guitarist.

Caught between loyalty to the band and basic human decency, how will Ethan stay true to himself and to the gospel of emo?

The Rating:

2.5/5 Pink Panther Heads

I wanted to like this, but so much emphasis is on Ethan and Trinity’s relationship, which I care about not at all. I get that this is a Romeo & Juliet scenario, but I still find the instant attraction difficult to believe, and the idea that the Christian and emo factions are somehow mortal enemies. Not only that, but Ethan and Trinity spend the majority of their relationship sneaking around and being horrible to each other (and Ethan is also terrible to Roz). Not buying it.

Nothing about the film’s admittedly flimsy plot is helped by Ethan being a complete tool. It takes OUTING another student for him to realize maybe the emo band is full of douchebags??? I HATED Bradley and wanted there to be consequences for him, but he more or less gets away with being awful. Maybe I’m just overly vengeful, though, IDK.

The satirical elements have potential here, but they ultimately give way to silly teen drama. I love the concept of the drug company taking over the school and insisting everyone be happy all the time and wish the film had done more with this. The commentary on both the mainstream church group and the “cool” outsider emos is funny at times too, but not especially insightful. And I really feel everything surrounding Ethan’s suicide attempt was handled really badly.

Moral of the story is you should always just respect other people’s room reservations.

Would my blog wife confess all of her deep emo feelings to this one or insist it take several doses of serotonin supplements? Find out in her review here!

a teenage girl raises pom poms in the air while surrounded by her cheer squad in a parking lot
Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Don’t Talk to Irene, or: Failure in Drag

As much as I miss Horror Month on the blog, I love months when anything goes.  This explains how we shift gears completely from last week’s dark exploration of human nature to this week’s film about befriending maggots, cheerleading, and Geena Davis.

The Film:

Don’t Talk to Irene

The Premise:

In spite of her mother’s disapproval and bullying from her peers, teenager Irene dreams of being a cheerleader and gains an unexpected squad in the form of a group of retirement home residents.

The Ramble:

The ‘burbs of Toronto:  so close to the city yet so far.  Irene is a relentlessly positive teen living in the ‘burbs, determined to join the cheerleading squad.  So what if she wears plus size clothing, adopts maggots as pets, and holds conversations with the poster of Geena Davis above her bed?

a young woman standing in her room smiles, wearing a handsewn cheerleading costume

According to Irene’s mother, there’s a lot wrong with this picture.  Mom (who I don’t think is ever named?), a cheerleader until becoming a teen mom in high school, worries that Irene will be bullied or scorned by her peers.  Too late to worry on that front as Irene is well aware she’s considered a loser but seems to give zero fucks.

On the first day of school, Irene creates a DIY cheerleader outfit to try out for the team.  This doesn’t go unnoticed by new student Tesh, a fabulous dresser and the self-described Switzerland of gender.  They are completely on board with Irene challenging the status quo.

a young woman and a genderfluid person with a floppy hat stand in a record store

One person decidedly not on board with this is Sarah, a classmate who decides to humiliate Irene for the hell of it.  Convincing Irene and a few other naive girls that they must lick the shower of the boys’ locker room to make the squad, Sarah films the gross prank and posts it on social media.  Obviously when this goes public, the school principal is not amused and suspends Irene, Sarah, and her boyfriend.  During their time away from school, they will complete mandatory community service at the local retirement home.

Determined to make the best of things, Irene befriends several of the residents:  the sweet but forgetful Millie, curmudgeonly Charles, and suggestive Ruth.  When Irene hears about a reality show contest, she schemes to put together a cheer routine with a squad of her own making:  the residents and staff of the retirement home.  Initially Irene’s pet project, the residents quickly buy into the plan and look forward to learning their new moves.  And of course Sarah is there at every turn to sabotage Irene.

a teenage girl instructs a group of four dancers

As Irene faces setbacks, Geena Davis and her new friends teach her to be resilient.  Charles shows Irene how to respond to bullies and to throw a perfect punch.  Tesh, in on the plan too, utters perhaps my favorite line in cinema: “Success is just failure in drag.”

Closer to being part of the contest than ever, Sarah pulls out all the stops to prevent Irene from accomplishing her goals.  With the retirement home manager, Irene’s mother, and a flat tire to contend with, the squad has a lot to overcome.  Does this mark the end of Irene’s dream to defy the odds and become a cheerleader?

The Rating:

4/5 Pink Panther Heads

Let’s just say there are no shocking twists to this story–it’s a genuine, feel-good film that is precisely what I needed.  Irene is such a sweet character who doesn’t even seem to notice when others try to put her down.  I would really like to borrow some of Irene’s optimism and absolute indifference to horrible douchebags.

Some criticism:  Irene’s mom is a bit disappointing, and her inevitable change of heart feels a bit too little too late.  Though she claims everything she does is to protect Irene, she constantly fat shames her daughter and discourages her for most of the film.  Sarah’s antics get irritating as well; she’s often frustratingly one-dimensional.  I do admit I wish Irene had taken things a step further with some of her choices, but the entire point of her character is about staying positive and not holding onto insecurities.

However, so many of the other characters are so sweet I’d put them in my coffee (if coffee weren’t vile). For once all of the ’80s and ’90s nostalgia here seems authentic instead of hipster ironic.  I love that Geena Davis was part of this film.  And Milli Vanilli helps teach us a valuable lesson about being true to yourself.  What’s not to like?

Did my blog wife cheer this one on or consider it success in drag?  Find out by reading her review here!

Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Girl Asleep, or: Donuts > Growing Up

This week’s film gives our feelings a break for once as we are transported to an oddly surreal dream world that may or may not be real, aka high school in 1970s Australia.

The Film:

Girl Asleep

The Premise:

A girl’s 15th birthday party goes from awkwardly cringey to bizarrely surreal when a magical music box opens to another realm.

The Ramble:

Greta has recently started at a new school and, rather than trying to make friends, seems to be trying her best to keep a low profile.  Her plan fails when she is approached by two separate groups:  first, Elliot (who is adorable and relatably enthusiastic about donuts), and then the stereotypical “cool” girls.  Both groups want to fold her into their embrace, but Greta seems afraid to speak up about who she’d rather be friends with (though I’d usually encourage girls to stick together…always pick the friendship that begins with donuts).

Life at home seems fairly harmonious at first, but almost immediately the cracks begin to show.  Greta’s father is constantly making terrible dad jokes and trying to stop his youngest child from growing up.  Her mother throws her attention on her daughters as she doesn’t seem to like her husband’s sense of humor–or anything about him as a matter of fact.  Greta’s older sister Genevieve throws the delicate balance off completely by coming home late with a really smooth boyfriend who smokes and tries to give off a bit of a James Dean vibe.

a man in a 1970s collared shirt with a moustache and large glasses stands in the doorway of a house
Have I mentioned that I love the ’70s aesthetic in this film?

After school, Greta invites Elliott over and shows him her favorite thing, a music box passed on to her from her mother.  She likes to imagine it’s from a secret realm.  Hmmmmmmm…I wonder if perhaps this plot detail will be important in about 20 minutes.

Greta lives in fear of being the center of attention, so imagine her horror when her mother suggests throwing a big party for her birthday and inviting everyone at school.  The party causes a major fight between her parents, so Greta eventually agrees to have the party to keep the peace.

When the dreaded day of the party arrives, her mother gives her a dress that is very cute but so not her style, and she’s deeply uncomfortable when others tell her she looks so beautiful and grown up.

a teenage girl in a pink dress looks worriedly off camera
I deeply understand this pre-party face.

As the party guests arrive, things begin to get slightly surreal with a pretty nice disco sequence.  The party doesn’t seem to be the nightmare Greta imagined it would be.  However, the cool girls arrive—two of whom are creepy twins who never say anything.  Their gift for Greta is a cassette tape that plays a really mean song about her…which feels like a somewhat sociopathic move, honestly.

Humiliated, Greta retreats to her room.  Her only real friend, Elliott, comforts her and also says he’d like to be more than friends.  This is remarkably bad timing, which causes Greta to freak out and push him away, calling him a homo (not cool, Greta).  Elliot is deeply offended that she considers this an insult in a way that I really appreciate.

To comfort herself, Greta opens up the music box, which seems to gain a life of its own and shocks her.  When she wakes up, there’s a thing from the other realm there that has claimed the music box.  It runs away into the woods (of course), and Greta gives chase.

creatures peer out from behind trees in a dark forest
Come play with us…

Possibly not shockingly, things get really surreal from here on out.  A woman who lives in the forest helps Greta navigate the woods and steer clear of the scary dog thing that’s pursuing her.  It gets suuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuper Freudian when she encounters alternate versions of her mother and father, who are an ice queen and a sort of swamp guy, respectively.  There’s also a really unsettling bit with Genevieve’s boyfriend, who has some sort of French alter-ego and comes on strong to Greta.

What does this all mean, and will Greta ever make it back to the party? Does she even want to make it back?

The Rating:

3.5/5 Pink Panther Heads

This is a very gentle coming of age story.  Though it does tackle some heavier themes surrounding Greta’s home life and fear of attention, these receive only brief attention.  I might complain about this if I were in a different mood, but avoiding anything too deep was a breath of fresh air with some very sweet moments and surreal scenes (admittedly with somewhat mixed results).

Elliott is one of my favorite teen characters ever now, though he is perhaps way too nice to be believed.  I don’t care—I want to believe.  I want Elliott to be my best friend.

behind a parked car, a boy models a party dress for a girl in a gray suit
Case in point.

The lack of depth is a bit frustrating at times—Greta quickly changes the subject when anyone tries to talk too much about the past, and the surreal scenes don’t really give us any insight into her psyche.  At a certain point they do cross over into artsy film school BS.

It doesn’t help that the real and dream worlds are kept separate—it would have been nice to see them woven together better.  Genevieve briefly alludes to what happened on her own 15th birthday, and as the music box is a gift from her mother, the whole experience could have been a shared experience.  I would’ve LOVED it if there were more time for female relationships in this movie.

However, I enjoyed the aesthetic and this was just whimsical and sweet enough for me to enjoy.

Would Christa share a donut with this one or leave it to get lost in the woods?  Find out by reading her review here!

Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Drive Me Crazy, or: Teen Spirits

This week’s film is brought to you by bad decisions to revisit, ahem, “classics,” and by the sudden realization that you had terrible taste as a child/teen/human being.

I just wanted to remember Melissa Joan Hart before the “attack on Christianity” propaganda films.  Is that wrong?

The Film:

Drive Me Crazy

Where to Watch:

Netflix (US)

The Premise:

Melissa Joan Hart is a high school overachiever who grooms her vaguely grungy neighbor into her prom date rather than face the horror of attending prom solo.

The Uncondensed Version:

This is a teen rom-com, so obv it’s a given that 2 high school kids from different cliques couldn’t seriously go to prom together…could they???  I think you already know the answer to this question.

MJH is an overachiever, and I can’t remember her character’s name at all because she will never not be Melissa Joan Hart/Sabrina to me.  She’s very into the school’s upcoming centennial, ‘90s fashion, and star basketball player Brad.

A teenage girl in a crop top stands talking to a girl in a collared shirt, with video cameras behind them in a news studio
What?  It was the official uniform for the school’s news channel.

Though MJH and her neighbor, aka that dude from Entourage, used to be childhood friends, they haven’t spoken since middle school.  Entourage dude, who I remember is named Chase (mostly because that is the most ‘90s name) is something of a rebel/slacker/prankster without entirely committing to the grunge scene.  I’m not really sure what clique this would be considered, but the film wants us to take away from this that he doesn’t care about school spirit or “normal” high school teen stuff.

One of his schemes involves putting orange dye in the water sprinklers while everyone is at lunch on the lawn, apparently b/c of his contempt for mochaccinos and the music of Celine Dion.  Which I mean, yeah, I’m not into either of those things, but IDK if I would ruin anyone’s white clothing over that.

A teenage girl holding a binder stands under a shower of orange liquid
Only MJH would look this graceful while being dyed orange.

MJH and Chase both seem happy with their respective high school lots…that is, until Brad asks another girl to the centennial dance, and Chase’s rebel girlfriend breaks up with him for not being that into “real” activism.

After getting extremely drunk at a party, MJH decides she and Chase should pretend to be a couple so she’ll have a date for the dance, and Chase can make his ex super jealous.  First step = go to the mall and clean up Chase.  It’s actually one of the worst ways I can think of to begin a relationship, but I admittedly have a fear of malls bordering on paranoia.

Anyway…unsurprisingly, cliques of all types are resistant to this mixing of high school cultures.  MJH and Chase brush off insults pretty easily, and it doesn’t take long before taking the time to understand their differences means the two develop genuine feelings for each other.

A teenage girl stands next to a teenage boy wearing a beanie, both looking ahead expressionlessly
True love…obviously.

You know there will be complications, however, as there are still 45 minutes left.

What will happen when Brad breaks up with his cheerleader girlfriend, Chase’s ex wants him back, and MJH’s bff decides to be a bitch for no reason?

DRAMA.  DRA.  MA.

The Rating:

It’s really hard to be objective about this one because I LOVE Melissa Joan Hart and she’s so adorable as a 22-year-old teenager (which is probably one of the more reasonable age gaps for a teen movie, TBH).

But I have to confess I lost interest in the plot long before this movie was even halfway over and only powered through because of my commitment to this blog (you’re welcome, readers).  This is an example of a film better fondly remembered than disgracefully re-watched because this one was so much worse than I remember.

Additional thoughts, in no particular order:

  • That girl who is always the best friend in teen movies is in this and is a total bitch for seemingly no reason except maybe “that’s how girls compete.”
  • Every time there’s a misunderstanding…so. Much. Moping. Say what you will about Romeo & Juliet, Shakespeare was spot-on re:  the teenage impulse to jump to stupid conclusions and do really insane shit as a result.
  • So many butterfly clips had to die in the making of this film.
  • I thought the “loser” friend characters, Ray and Dave, were quite sweet, though perhaps thinly veiled versions of the filmmakers (esp. re: revenge sequence in video project form).
  • Usually I would object to a film not featuring the titular song, but “Drive Me Crazy” is featured for no reason at a random party that has very little relevance to the plot. Everyone knows the time for “Drive Me Crazy” in the ‘90s would be, uh, PROM.

2/5 Pink Panther Heads

This would very possibly be 1/5 without MJH.  Do yourself a favor and re-watch Sabrina, Down Under instead if you’re longing for a simpler time in MJH’s career.  Or cross your fingers really hard and hope a Sabrina, the Teenage Witch reboot happens.

Did this one drive Christa crazy in the good way or the bad way?  Find out in her review here!