Category Archives: Comedy

I’ll Take Diane

As my friends and family know, I am hard to beat in an Oscar poll.  The reason for this is after years and years of watching Oscar-nominated films, I’ve learned a thing or two.  Mostly that the films that get honored are big, splashy, historical dramas.  OK Lincoln didn’t win this year.  But it should have.  Mental illness is also popular.

Comedies get short shrift.  If you look at Oscar winners for Best Picture (here is the list:  http://www.oscars.org/awards/academyawards/legacy/best-pictures.html) you have to go back to 1977 to find a comedy that won.  There were films that had elements of comedy (Shakespeare in Love, Chicago, and The Artist) but straight comedy?  The last Best Picture Winner was Annie Hall.  Which, in a somewhat circuitous fashion, brings me to the topic of this post, Diane Keaton.

Comedy Don’t Get No Respect.  What gets respect is drama.  Meryl Streep is amazing, for sure, but which performance was better – Diane Keaton in Something’s Gotta Give, or Meryl in “It’s Complicated?”  I’ll take Diane.  Herewith, I’d like to pat Diane Keaton on the back for 30+ years of great comedic performances.

Diane Keaton is a gifted comic.  She is an adorable, vulnerable, loveable klutz.  She is beautiful, relateable, and (along with Meryl) one of the few older actresses that have eschewed plastic surgery and facial fillers.  I should note here that unlike Meryl who is deft in both comedy and drama, Diane’s dramatic performances are, to be kind, a mixed bag.  Here is an example of Diane’s terrible acting from Godfather 2: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_g9RI0GgRIQ

Diane Keaton started working in 1970 and has amassed 62 acting credits and counting.  She’s hilarious.  She’s prolific.  She’s a gem.  Below, my five favorite Diane Keaton movies:

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  1. Something’s Gotta Give:  Diane has had a long and fruitful relationship with Nancy Myers.  Something’s Gotta Give is a completely enjoyable, satisfying romantic comedy.  We have Diane, plus Jack Nicholson, plus a surprisingly hot Keanu Reeves.  There’s also house porn.  What’s not to love?                                                   Image
  2. The First Wives Club.  Goldie Hawn, Diane Keaton and Bette Midler are delightful in this comedy about spurned wives seeking revenge on their ex-husbands.  A movie that proved that an audience will pay to see Actresses of a Certain Age.  Although this has been demonstrated again and again, Hollywood studio executives always seem to forget this and greenlight big budget action movies instead.  Wait, that’s another blog post.  Image
  3. Baby Boom.  In Diane Keaton’s first pairing with Nancy Myers, she plays “Tiger Lady” JC Wiatt, a workaholic who, after inheriting a baby after a distant relative dies, buys an old farmhouse in Vermont and starts an organic babyfood company.  Sam Shepherd is adorable as her love interest, a vet.Image
  4. Annie Hall.  I saw this movie with my friend Donna several months ago in the magnificent Michigan Theater.  Little known fact – the movie was initially supposed to be about Alvy (the Woody Allen comic character) but the film editor encouraged Woody Allen to recut it and make the movie about Annie.  He did, and a classic was born.                                                                          Image
  5. Sleeper. Early Woody Allen.  Diane is a ditzy self-absorbed poet from the future who finds herself on the run with Woody Allen.  Slapstick, silly, ridiculous, laugh-out-loud funny.

So thank you Diane, for your contribution to film.  You are loved.

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Being Barbra

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The Guilt Trip

OK so it isn’t one of her best.  It’s still Barbra.  And even at 71 (!), Barbra has still got it.  I’m kind of surprised that Barbra agreed to star in The Guilt Trip given its so-so script, but she did, and I have to admit I enjoyed the movie.

Be warned:  It’s not a great film, or even a good one.  The Guilt Trip is about an overprotective widow and her oppressive relationship with her son (Seth Rogan, looking mildly put upon throughout the whole movie).  They drive across the country together.  The movie, like the road trip itself, starts out badly but improves. The Guilt Trip is watchable, several scenes are downright enjoyable, and the end is poignant.

One thing that often goes unacknowledged when it comes to Barbra Streisand is that she is a good actress.  The character she plays in this movie is not just the stereotypical Jewish mother – there’s some of that, sure, but Joyce is a little frail, sometimes scared, yet excited to try new things.  I think Barbra’s actually better when she isn’t directing herself.  In The Prince of Tides, for example, her character was always perfectly lit, dressed impeccably, perfectly manicured, etc. etc.  Lowenstein was a little much.  One of my favorite Barbra movies is What’s Up Doc (if you haven’t seen this movie, rent it immediately).  The dinner gets my vote for Funniest Movie Scene Of All Time.

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There’s apparently a great play out in New York about a fan’s love of Barbra, which I would love to see (Jonathan Tolins’s “Buyer and Cellar).  We are a strange bunch, Barbra fans.   When we think of Barbra, we usually think of That Voice.  A gift to be sure – but so are many of her films.

The Guilt Trip ** (out of ****)

What’s Up Doc **** (out of ****)

Mr. Mom

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The Importance of Good Casting

I’m sorry to say I missed Mr. Mom when it came out.  This despite the fact that 1) 80s comedies are my thing and 2) 80s comedies WRITTEN AND/OR DIRECTED BY JOHN HUGHES are particularly my thing.  (BTW, one of the great things about this blog is I learn a bit about film luminaries.  John Hughes is certainly one and he is from… Lansing!  No wonder all of his movies always had a Midwestern bent.)  In any event, despite its incredibly dated comedic premise, Mr. Mom holds up.

The incredibly dated comedic premise:  Dad stays home with kids, Mom goes to work.  Hilarious!  But it actually is.  Part of the reason the film still works is the casting.  Both Michael Keaton, as the Dad who loses his job in an auto downsizing, and Terri Garr, as the Mom who goes back to work, are great.  The jokes may be stereotypical but they are funny (Dad doesn’t know how to do laundry, gets hooked on soap operas, plays Bridge with the girls, while Mom goes to work in power suits with floppy bow ties).  Jeffrey Tambor has a bit part as an oily car guy, the kids are appealing, and … get this … the movie was actually filmed in Detroit!  (this film was made before favorable tax credits reduced the practice of shooting on location).   For a good time check out Mr. Mom.

Since I am now officially out of feedback about Mr. Mom, I wish to briefly ruminate on the topic of why some comedies remain funny over time while other movies that were hilarious when they came out seem impossibly dated 10 years later.  I’ve long thought that comedies that are set in a prior time/genre (Animal House, Blazing Saddles, Some Like It Hot) hold up.  But Mr. Mom is unabashedly dated.  There are lots and lots of families nowadays in which the Mom works and the Dad stays home.  This has ceased to be a sufficiently amusing premise to warrant an entire film.  So why is it still funny to watch a vacuum manhandle Michael Keaton?  I don’t know.  Such is the alchemy of the movies.

Rating:  *** (out of ****)

Frances Ha

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If A Reviewer Falls Asleep During a Movie…

So here’s the question given that I’m new to this blogging gig:  if I fall asleep during a movie, can I still write a review?  First, some backstory.  I went to Frances Ha when my 12 year old son was at an appointment, then the Y, and then jazz band – all in downtown Ann Arbor.  He could WALK between activities ON HIS OWN.  No driving was needed.  It is difficult to adequately explain how unusual this is.  A perfect 2 1/2 hour window miraculously appeared.

I saw the movie at the historic Michigan Theater (http://www.michtheater.org/), and enjoyed live organ music, popcorn with REAL BUTTER, and – get this – a beer!  Never have I had a beer during a movie – and inside the movie theater, no less.  The Michigan Theater recently acquired some strange license permitting this (you pay a one-time fee of $5 for a “Simple Access” Membership).

I enjoyed the beer, popcorn, and live organ music far more than the movie, which I suppose I should now discuss.  Frances Ha was directed by Noah Baumbach and written by Baumbach and Greta Gerwig, who stars.  Although I like some of Noah Baumbach’s work, particularly The Squid and the Whale, he specializes in films about privileged, nebbishy characters (Greenberg being the most noted example.)  In Frances Ha Gerwig plays Frances, a 27 year old college graduate who is foundering.  The movie follows Frances for about a year as she flails (she is an aspiring dancer) and fails.

I’m not sure what made the movie so sleep-inducing.  I always have a harder time describing why films don’t work then why they do. Frances is annoying.  Her friends, who like Frances are privileged 20-something New Yorkers, are annoying as well.  The plot, like Frances herself, meanders.   Given that I was asleep for a good part of the movie I obviously can’t speak to what I missed.

In the end, the movie didn’t matter.  Sitting in the gilded glory of the Michigan Theater with old-school organ music, popcorn, and beer, was bliss.  Sometimes, it’s all about the wait.

Rating: ** (out of ****)

Bernie

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Gallows Humor
     One day, I hope to write a blog post about my all-time favorite directors, the ones who Have Me At Hello to quote Jerry Maguire (its director, Cameron Crowe, is on the list).  Richard Linklater is as well. A little-known Richard Linklater gem which was released last year is Bernie.
     The movie is a strange hybrid – half documentary, half scripted.  A much-beloved effeminate undertaker (Jack Black) befriends a wealthy, nasty, older woman (Shirley MacLaine).  The film describes what ensues.   The movie cuts between real interviews with various members of the small Texas town who knew Bernie, and scenes with handful of actors.  Matthew McConaughey, finally free from Bad Romantic Comedy typecasting, delivers a strong performance.  After showing such tremendous promise in Dazed and Confused (again Richard Linklater) it’s great to see him shine.
     Like most comics, Jack Black is a significantly underrated actor.  He was nominated for a Golden Globe last year for this performance, and deservedly so.  He plays against type in this role, in a contained and subtle performance.  Maclaine is also fine.  And the interviews with the real townspeople interspersed throughout the film are hilarious.  If you like dark humor, you will love Bernie.  My teen-aged kids watched the entire movie and didn’t budge.  Bernie is now available on video.  Check it out.
 Rating: **** (out of ****)