WILDLIFE – movie review

WILDLIFE

IFC Films
Reviewed by: Harvey Karten
Director:  Paul Dano
Screenwriter:  Zoe Kazan, Paul Dano
Cast:  Carey Mulligan, Ed Oxenbould, Bill Camp, Jake Gyllenhaal
Screened at: Dolby24, NYC, 10/11/18
Opens: October 19, 2018
Wildlife Movie Poster
Should parents who are having arguments stick out their marriage for the sake of the kids, or would the children be better off if their parents split, thereby ending the confrontations?  This question comes to mind when you’re watching “Wildlife,” which looks at parental conflict through the eyes of a 14-year-old boy.  Based on a novel that first appeared in Atlantic magazine in 1990 by Richard Ford and set in the town of Great Falls, Montana, “Wildlife” finds Joe Brinson (Ed Oxenbould) staring with owlish eyes at events surrounding him that he cannot much alter.  He is caught between what actually appears to be flirtations from his own mother, Jeanette Brinson (Carey Mulligan), a woman who is only twenty years older than her son, and the affection he harbors for his dad, Jerry Brinson (Jake Gyllenhaal), who practices tossing the football around and encourages his son to play the game in high school.

Director Paul Dano, known to cinephiles for diverse acting roles such as in “Little Mary Sunshine” (family wants their young daughter to compete in the beauty finals) and in “Swiss Army Man” (guy stranded on a deserted island befriends a dead body), now comes through with his freshman directorial debut, and it’s looks like a movie from a director who has had considerable experience in the field.

As young Joe stares at the unfolding scene in school, on a job as a photographer’s assistant, and most of all at home, he keeps his emotions to himself until cutting loose toward the tale’s conclusion.  But this is Carey Mulligan’s picture.  The wonderful British actress, playing the role of a person of her own early-thirties age, runs the gamut of emotions.  At first she supports her husband, Jerry, who has just been fired from a job as an assistant to pros on a golf course, urging him to find another lest she would have to enter the employment market herself.  When Jerry refuses to return to that job (the boss said firing him was a mistake) and not open to a gig bagging groceries (“I won’t do a teenager’s job”), Jeanette begins to lose patience.  When Jerry compounds the problem by hiring himself out to fight forest fires as a dollar a day, not great pay even in 1960, she looks for opportunities, finding one as a swimming teacher.

At the pool, she teaches Warren Miller (Bill Camp), a wealthy businessman with his own plane, who begins to court her.  Despite his unattractive demeanor—he’s portly, balding, a drinker and cigar smoker—she responds to his invitations, all to the growing dismay of the boy.  Still, Miller has a glib way of expressing himself, introducing the kid to a scene which found him 4000 feet up, watching a gaggle of honking geese, so entranced that he turned off the motor thinking that this is what it must mean to be an angel.

What’s in the Brinson family for the future?  Will Jeanette and Jerry break up, leaving the 14-year-old to an uncertain fate?  In this case we really do care about these people.  We hope that she does not team up with the divorced Warren Miller despite the financial boon for mother and son, confirming “Wildlife” as a feminist film that may have us rooting for her to find her own steady job rather than depend on her need to find a man.  It looks as though all’s well that may end well, a coming-of-age tale just as it is a feminist film, well designed for a potential audience of moviegoers who do not need much melodrama and have contempt for formulaic soap operas.

Rated PG-13.  104 minutes.  © 2018 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

Story – B+
Acting – A-
Technical – B+
Overall – B+

WHAT THEY HAD – movie review

WHAT THEY HAD

Bleecker Street
Reviewed by: Harvey Karten
Director:  Elizabeth Chomko
Screenwriter:  Elizabeth Chomko
Cast:  Hilary Swank, Blythe Danner, Robert Forster, Taissa Farmiga, Josh Lucas, Marilyn Dodds Frank, William Smillie
Screened at: Dolby88, NYC, 10/10/18
Opens: October 19, 2018
What They Had Movie Poster
There’s a reason that 65% of registered voters in the U.S. will not go to the polls for this all-important mid-term election, or at least this is so if we go by history.  We’re too busy with family squabbles, maybe earning a paycheck which adjusted for inflation has not risen in decades, to care all that much about Iran, North Korea, and our present dysfunctional White House.  Elizabeth Chomko may be on to something in reflecting the lives of three generations in “What They Had” (whatever that means).  The director, who has a longer resume as an actress than a director (this is her freshman project) does show possibilities for further work in the director’s chair, but “What They Had,” a look at a dysfunctional family brought under one roof to argue what should be done with the ailing family matriarch, is a soap opera.  It’s a classy one, but still a soap.  It does have superb performances from an array of top actors going for it, but that’s enough to shake off potential audience ennui given its tiresome script.  It might also get young people in the audience—the few that would attend a movie with a concentration of older, more mature performers—to rethink whether they even want a family.

Though at first we might expect the story to focus on Ruth (Blythe Danner), taking a breath from her commercial for Prolia, which she says can strengthen bones and relieve arthritis. The Alzheimer focus becomes secondary to a free-for-all of family squabbles, none of which is either original or compelling.

Set in a large Chicago-area brownstone occupied by Burt (Robert Forster) and Ruth, “What They Had” brings in Bridget Ertz (Hilary Swank) one woman from flies from California ready to break into tears (as she eventually does) because of her stale marriage to Eddy (Josh Lucas).  She kvetches that she was pushed into wedlock by her dad who figured he was more than good enough for her.  For his part Nicky (Michael Shannon), who bought a bar and tends it, is not meeting his potential according to father Burt.  Young Emma Ertz (Taissa Farmiga) is super unhappy in her freshman year of college, her mother Bridget clueless about how her daughter feels. Mom is called upon, in effect, to allow her to drop out.

The principal conflict pits Nicky against his dad, Burt. Nicky wants to send her mentally ailing mom to a facility that could take care of her but Burt, a former Marine now suffering a heart condition, insists that she can do best by staying just where she is.  Never mind that they had to send out a posse to rescue her after she walked in the snow and took a commuter train out of town.

You can do better by renting “Away From Her,” Sarah Polley’s trenchant, yet humorous look at a woman hospitalized for Alzheimer’s, who transfers her affections from husband to a fellow resident at the center.  “What They Had” has a terrific ensemble of actors but they can’t overcome the weakness of the soapy script.

100 minutes.  © 2018 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

Story – C
Acting – B+
Technical – B
Overall – C+

THE WALDHEIM WALTZ – movie review

THE WALDHEIM WALTZ

Menemsha Films
Reviewed by: Harvey Karten
Director:  Ruth Beckermann
Screenwriter: Ruth Beckermann
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 9/24/18
Opens: October 19, 2018
Waldheims Walzer (2018)
Pete Seeger once sang a Tom Paxton song, a section going like this:

What did you learn in school today, dear little boy of mine,
What did you learn in school today, dear little boy of mine.
I learned our country must be strong, it’s always right and never wrong,
Our leaders are the finest men, and we elect them again and again,
And that’s what I learned in school today, that’s what I learned in school.

Don’t you think it’s true that in America all our leaders are the finest men?  Grade school optimism of this nature would not fare well in other countries, as their presidents and prime ministers are not as saintly as ours.  Take the bottom-feeder that came out of Austria.  No, not that one.  Think of Kurt Waldheim, Wouldn’t it have been great if that war criminal, that Viennese vulture, spent his life baking sachertortes instead of taking part in Nazi paramilitary activities?  Instead the one-time president of Austria repeatedly states throughout this documentary that he was just a soldier drafted by Germany to serve on the Russian front.  What he conceals while at the same time virtually shooting himself in the foot by his denials, that he knew nothing about the shooting of Serb civilians one hundred meters from his office in Yugoslavia nor did he have any knowledge of the deportation of 12,000 Jews from Salonika, Greece during the years of World War II particularly 1942-43.

Maybe he lied, maybe he didn’t. But there is enough doubt sowed here to have caused the Austrian voters to demur about casting ballots for him when he ran for president in 1986.  He won on the second ballot with 53.8% of the vote.

Filmmaker Ruth Beckermann, who has considerable experience with documentaries, is adept at dramas as well.  Before “The Waldheim Waltz” she traveled across Europe and the Mediterranean to unfold “The Dreamed Ones,” focused on chance encounters with the likes of Nigerian asylum seekers in Sicily, an Arab musician in Galilee, nationalists drunk on beer in Vienna, and veiled young women trying to cross a busy road in Alexandria.  She provides voiceover narration throughout “The Waldheim Waltz,” which concentrates on the 1986 presidential election, showing archival film from the forties and from Waldheim’s tenure as UN Secretary General.  One must wonder at the kind of world that existed in 1972 to allow this fellow, later banned from travel in the U.S. for lying about his service in the S.A., or Sturmabterlung, the Nazi paramilitary force.

The most dramatic incident occurs when, during a street confrontation between pro-Waldheim people on the street and those opposed, a member of the former group yells to Beckermann and to all around gathered to watch the action, “You belong in the ground, you Jewish swine.” Then to another in the crowd, “Are you a Jewboy?  A Jewboy?”  This antisemitism is nothing new for Austrians.  To this day, they consider themselves citizens who suffered just like the Jews under the Nazis since the Anschluss, or annexation of their country to Germany.  The reality is that crowds turned out to cheer wildly for Hitler and generally to show that the majority, perhaps, were quite comfortable attaching themselves to another German-speaking country.

We can’t fail to add that Waldheim’s “memory loss” or “amnesia” about his wartime activities brings to mind similar situations that have arisen here in the U.S. as politicians, grilled by journalists and congressional committees to ‘fess up about shady dealings in their past, have “no recollection.”  This is not to say that any office holder or candidate for high-level jobs is on the same base level as was a member of a Nazi paramilitary organization.  This is just the way that we, watching local politics about the Kavanaugh hearings in particular, can have an AHA! moment.  This is what dirty politics is all about.  It’s no wonder that so many of our citizens have given up on participating even once every two years in the simple act of casting ballots, given that neither Tweedledum nor Tweedledee will be able to solve or even to bother understanding the real problems that all but the richest one percent face.

94 minutes.  © 2018 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

Story – B
Acting – B
Technical – B
Overall – B

CAN YOU EVER FORGIVE ME? movie review

CAN YOU EVER FORGIVE ME?

Fox Searchlight Pictures
Reviewed by: Harvey Karten
Director:  Marielle Heller
Screenwriter:  Nicole Holofcener, Jeff Whitty, based on Lee Israel’s book “Can You Ever Forgive Me?”
Cast:  Melissa McCarthy, Richard E. Grant, Dolly Wells, Jane Curtin, Anna Deavere Smith, Stephen Spinella
Screened at: Fox, NYC, 10/4/18
Opens: October 19, 2018

Considering that the FBI could not find enough dirt on a person running for one of our country’s top jobs, it’s a miracle that the organization even bothered to follow a small-time forger like Lee Israel.  Maybe her arrest was all Ms. Israel needed to re-start her writing career, since she finally embraced what every other writer appreciates, which is “Write what you know.”  Though one of her earlier books made the New York Times Best Seller list, she was not obeying that command as she penned biographies of famous people that she may never have met such as Dorothy Kilgallen, Estée Lauder and Tallulah Bankhead. Why anyone wants to spend eight hours or so reading a book about a game show host is beyond me.  Then again, you may indeed want to pick up a copy of Israel’s magnum opus, “Can You Ever Forgive Me?  Memoirs of a Literary forger.”  By definition, Lee Israel was a criminal, but on the other hand, unlike the figure inhabiting the White House, she was a minor felon, and the people she ripped off were so rich that they could afford to buy letters written allegedly by Dorothy Parker, Marlene Dietrich, and Noel Coward.  And if they were never compensated, they could easily suck up the financial losses.

Is Lee Israel a charming person—which, you figure, she’d have to be in order to get away with selling forgeries?  Possibly, but in her role, Melissa McCarthy certainly makes her so.  The actress known for vulgar comedies like Paul Feig’s “Bridesmaids,” with her key scene sitting on a sink during a wedding party and using the facility as though it were a toilet.  Starting her career as a stand-up comic, McCarthy gained nationwide fame in the mostly unfunny sit-com “Mike & Molly,” and is now in her most serious role. This is not to say that “Can You Ever Forgive Me?” is a downer, notwithstanding her character’s regular friendship with the bottle, but mining Lee Israel’s depths, the comic as well as the melodramatic, McCarthy may be able to reserve a berth as Best Actress as awards season rolls around.

Marielle Heller in the director’s seat is known by cinephiles for “Diary of a Teenage Girl,” a teen who in 1970 started an affair with her mother’s boyfriend.  This puts her current work in her métier as a filmmaker who knows how to write women’s roles, and she is backed up by writers Nicole Holofcener and Jeff Whitty who adapt Lee Israel’s most important and lucrative best-seller.

Though originally a successful writer, Israel finds one bookstore that has marked down one of her writings by 75%, where it languishes in the remnants pile.  She’s broke, not able to afford even a 5th-floor walkup in New York’s Upper West Side with a cat that is old and sick, refused treatment by a vet because of an unpaid balance.  Made up with short hair, large glasses, looking somewhat like the Republican Party’s hire to question Judge Kavanaugh’s accuser, McCarthy has a gift for deadpan humor, which for me is the only kind. (My mother always reminded me that a good comedian never laughs at her own jokes.) Her best gay friend Jack Hock (Richard E. Grant) will ultimately act as her accomplice in crime, supplementing her role in selling forged letters to book sellers who deal with high-end collectors.  To ensure her success in selling off these brief documents by Dorothy Parker and others, she researches the kind of type they used to dash off mail to their friends, picking up ancient typewriters in antique stores and using her talent to emulate the way these personalities would sound on paper.  Able to conclude sales of 400 such documents, she made one mistake that brought the law down on her, but not before she befriended a lonely bookshop owner, Dolly Wells (Anna), who awakened Israel emotionally.

Some felons are awfully charming.  In the role of this woman with larceny in her heart, Melissa McCarthy plays Lee Israel with understated authenticity, unafraid, or course, to come out with the usual spicy language.  Her fans from TV will want to see her in a serious role, though it’s not too likely that aficionados of sit-coms will have heard of Dorothy Parker and Marlene Dietrich, much less have read a sentence of their writing or  have seen them on the big screen.

106 minutes.  © 2018 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

Story – B+
Acting – A-
Technical – B+
Overall – B+

THE OLD MAN AND THE GUN – movie review

THE OLD MAN AND THE GUN

Fox Searchlight Pictures
Reviewed by: Harvey Karten
Director: David Lowery
Screenwriter: David Lowery, based on David Grann’s New Yorker magazine article
Cast: Robert Redford, Casey Affleck, Danny Glover, Tika Sumpter, Isiah Whitlock Jr., John David Washington, Tom Waits, Sissy Spacek, Elisabeth Moss
Screened at: Fox, NYC, 9/27/18
Opens: September 28, 2018

The Old Man and the Gun Movie Poster

In the 1993 movie “Indecent Proposal,” a gentleman offers a million dollars to a married woman if she would have sex with him. This sounds like a no-brainer. One night of sex and the couple played by Demi Moore and Woody Harrelson would be set for life. Not even the hottest escort service could begin to match that indecent, albeit (to me) obvious grab. The guy with the money is played by Robert Redford, and the joke that went around is this:

Joyce: “Abby, would you have sex with Robert Redford for a million dollars?”
Abby: “Sure, but you’ll have to give me time to raise the money.”

Redford, one of the handsomest men ever to grace the movie screen, was then 57 years old looking like 40, so it’s no wonder such a dialogue could seem realistic. Now at 82, but in “The Old Man and the Gun” playing someone in his sixties (quite credibly), he sports face that had never tried the miracle of Botox though presumably the thick, avy, blond hair was once someone else’s. In any case he looks great, and as Forrest Tucker he is so smooth and civil, that I think he could still have women saving up to get the million dollars if he made such a proposal to them today.

Forrest Tucker is a true character. The full story which David Lowery adapted from David Grann’s New Yorker magazine can be found here: https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2003/01/27/the-old-man-and-the-gun

It’s a great story, one you might read and be warned: you will likely want to subscribe to the New Yorker, the best magazine in your local kiosk. The tale recount the many times he escaped from prison: 16. It’s a manual to prisoners throughout the land on how they can do the same, and will make the most hardened convict wish to subscribe to the magazine.

In his farewell appearance—Redford retired last month but maybe we can organize demonstrations to change his mind—he takes on the role of this bank robber who sticks up banks not because he desperately needs money but because he’d rather live than make a living. With two cronies, Teddy Green (Danny Glover) and Waller (Tom Waits), the partners serving as lookouts and getaway drivers, Tucker would enter a bank with the flimsiest of disguises—a thick mustache, a broad hat, nothing more except that he charms his victims who are almost happy to give him the bills—and by just showing a gun, he gets managers across five states to order tellers to fill Tucker’s brief case to the brim.

Not only do the bank people fall for him. So does Detective John Hunt (Casey Affleck), married to Maureen (Tika Sumpter) with two kids. His passion to track the man down and put him behind bars is secondary to any wish for a promotion: he is enamored with this outlier of a bandit who gets what he wants with his savoir faire and probably without even showing the gun. Chased by police cars, Tucker gets out of his car to help Jewel (Sissy Spacek), whom he meets cute while looking to repair her overheated car. (He uses the ploy to get the police cars to pass him by in a high-speed chase.) The movie’s center, in fact, is his chemistry with the woman in one of those rare films that have nothing to do with sex and everything to do with how the affection of two older people can be so intense that no hanky-panky is necessary. When Jewel finds out what her beau does for a living—no, make that what he does for a life—she disapproves, but she is not about to be judgmental.

This is the kind of policier that uses bank robbery almost as a MacGuffin. The real aim is to turn a bank robbery drama into the opposite of “Bonnie and Clyde” or the intense French thriller “Mesrine” and make it a story about a relationship between an older man and woman. It’s no wonder that it has been distributed by Fox Searchlight, the art studio under the Fox label, as many of us would probably pass this sort of drama by as just too sleepy. That’s too bad, because of all the movies you’ll see this year, the vast majority dealing with Millennials and folks around that age area, you’re not likely to find a couple with chemistry nearly as authentic and powerful as that between two first-class performers, Redford and Spacek.

93 minutes. © 2018 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

Story – B+
Acting – A-
Technical – B
Overall – B+

ONE WILD MOMENT – movie review

ONE WILD MOMENT (Un moment d’égarement)

Under the Milky Way
Reviewed by: Harvey Karten
Director:  Jean-François Richet
Screenwriter:  Claude Berri, Lisa Azuelos, Lisa Azuelos
Cast:  Vincent Cassel, François Cluzet, Lola Le Lann, Alice Isaaz, Louka Meliava, Noémie Merlant
Screened at: Critics’ link,  NYC, 9/7/18
Opens: September 25, 2018 on VOD
Vincent Cassel and Lola Le Lann in Un moment d'égarement (2015)
When you see a guy about 45 years old in a New York’s expensive Per Se restaurant seated opposite a woman about half his age, how do you react?  Chances are you’ll guess that she is an executive assistant playing up to her boss, wouldn’t you?  Or do you think that the gentleman instigated the liaison and is, perhaps, exploiting the assistant such as we’ve all heard in the #MeToo complaints?  Jean-François Richet, who directs “One Wild Moment,” could have taken the latter stand, a satiric look at an older man taking advantage of the cute young thing, but instead, Richet, who makes a complete about-face since his previous work.  Richet’s “Mesrine”  stands today as one of the great cops and robbers thriller ever, yet voilá: Richet is equally adept with romantic comedy as shown in his “Un moment d’égarement,” which depicts an underage girl who may love to dance with guys about her own age but who seeks a mature man who is all of forty-five years old.

Louna (Lola Le Lann), the seductive young woman about sixteen years of age has her eye on Laurent (Vincent Cassel) who is well over twice the girl’s age and who is drawn into a sexual connection with Louna, one which he tries to avoid, but as they say, “A stiff penis has no conscience.”  If you are a frequent moviegoer you’ll recall the plot from the 1984 American movie, Stanley Donen’s “Blame It on Rio” starring Michael Caine and Joseph Bologna, which in turn is copied from Claude Berri’s classic 1977 work, also called “One Wild Moment.”  And why not copy, have sequels, give it your best shot when you have such a great premise; one which does not find the older guy preying on a young innocent but instead puts the blame not on Rio this time but on the young woman?

When Maureen Daly wrote “Seventeenth Summer” in 1970 about a romance between one Jack and one Angie, she did not have this idea in mind.  Her couple, in puppy love, are about the same age.  The age difference here makes all the difference, propelling “One Wild Moment” into a hilarious comedy of two middle-aged best friends, Laurent and Antoine (François Cluzet) who take their vacation in an old house near the beach in Corsica—which, as portrayed here, looks as close to paradise as you can get.  And the movie is blessed with one of France’s great actors, nay one of the world’s best and most versatile performers, Vincent Cassel in the principal male role.  Cassel’s character Laurent has a platonic interest in Louna, which is fine, except that his mild feelings toward her are beefed up.  Though Laurent’s own daughter, Marie (Alice Isaaz) becomes increasingly suspicious that her dad is a “pervert,” Laurent’s best friend Antoine is clueless.  When Antoine hears that a much older man may have deflowered his precious teen, he storms about, shouting that he will kill the guy just as he shot a wild boar (and killed a neighbor’s dog by mistake).  The film gets much of its humor from dramatic irony; the idea originating in Greek tragedy when the audience knows more than the characters.

The actual seduction is explicit featuring full frontal and back nudity for Louna (the actress who plays her is 22 so that’s OK) and, as usual, no such exposure in the male.  It’s a clear night, the water is pleasantly warm, the seduction is easy, or at least it looks easy despite Laurent’s belief that he could stop it at any time.

Some viewers whose commentaries and reviews appear in the ‘net say that they felt uneasy by the reverse Lolita effects, but the age of consent in France is fifteen, so the only problem is that Laurent could not possibly feel safe, dreading the moment that his friend will know the truth. For her part, Louna, whose home life is troubled because his father is about to separate from his wife, appears to get some joy in watching her mature man unease, his feelings of guilt.

So, don’t be troubled.  There’s nothing perverse here, at least in French law.  As Professor Henry Higgins states in Lerner and Loewe’s musical “My Fair Lady,” “The French don’t care what they do; as long as they pronounce it properly.”  Louna doesn’t care in the slightest, enjoying her satisfaction in losing her virginity to Laurent.  In fact, the entire story, so well photographed in gorgeous Corsica, is a dream of a comedy.

105 minutes.  © 2018 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

Story – A-
Acting – A-
Technical – A
Overall – A-

ALL ABOUT NINA – movie review

ALL ABOUT NINA

The Orchard
Reviewed by: Harvey Karten
Director:  Eva Vives
Screenwriter:  Eva Vivas
Cast:  Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Common, Chace Crawford, Clea DuVll, Kate del Castillo, Beau Bridges
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 8/29/18
Opens: September 28, 2018
All About Nina - Poster Gallery
Life is easy.  Comedy is hard.  Does Mary Elizabeth Winstead in the title role prove the theory?  Yes and no.  Nina Geld (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) at first discovers the converse: that life is hard but comedy is easy.  She is having an affair with Joe, (Chace Crawford), a married cop, with whom she has sex multiple times but who slaps her around.  “He’s a cop. What did you think?” is more or less the way Nina describes the relationship.   She loves the sex.  She may even like the brutality.  We find out why later, near the conclusion of the film, but early on she has to get away from this guy. She moves to L.A. to escape and find a new life while continuing as a stand-up comic.

“All About Nina” is anchored by a powerhouse performance from Mary Elizabeth Winstead, who appears in virtually every frame, an actress well known to moviegoers for such pics as Dan Trachtenberg’s “10 Cloverfield Lane,” where her character is held in a shelter by two men who claim that the world is falling victim to a chemical attack.  For her part, director Eva Vives has dabbled in experimental themes such as her recent “Swiss Army Man,” about a guy stranded in a desert island who befriends a dead body, moving on his way to get home.  “All About Nina” is not so unconventional but then again Vives is able to evoke a nuanced performance from Winstead in a story that begins as a comedy featuring Nina delivering sex-based shtick in a comedy club, and concludes with her coming to terms with her demons by exposing them to an audience  at the risk of her career.

After Nina moves in with her agent’s Mexican-American friend Lake (Kate del Castillo), a meeting that provides fodder for some comic touches, she meets Rafe (rapper Common, who has some 60 film credits), whose shaved head, full beard, and gentle demeanor may just bring Nina out of her funk She is able to spend time with a guy rather than write off all her boyfriends as one-night stands.  Continuing on her path toward a more secure career, she auditions with Comedy Prime’s boss Larry Michaels (Beau Bridges), a man who could launch a career beyond just comedy corners, but must compete against women for the one female shot in the show.

(Some may find it surprising that comedy houses like New York’s Comedy Central consider men to be funnier than women, even while we note that Nina is able to out-raunch the best of them in a motor-mouthed, sometimes hilarious patter about bodily functions.)

If Winstead is at the top of her game, Common is no slouch as Rafe, his gentle way of talking (surprising for the contractor he alleges he is) is not feeding her a line—knowing that a cynical Nina is familiar with the best of them.  It’s difficult to believe that a woman whose deep-seated problems, not discussed even with women friends, could lose her fear of intimacy with any male, but both the days she spends with Rafe and her final shot when performing at L.A.’s most important comedy house are able to exorcise her demons.  What’s more they propel Mary Elizabeth Winstead into the elite circle that may well consider her performance by various film groups right up to the Oscars.

99 minutes.  © 2018 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

Story – B+
Acting – A-
Technical – B+
Overall – B+