Friday, September 30, 2022


Written at the time of the film's release...

"The Miss of Sisyphus"
"Wiiging Out"

First off, Kristen Wiig is scary. She's scary funny. And scary smart. It's an almost sure thing that she'll be the best thing in whatever she appears in (certainly that was true of MacGruber). She has no Dolby and no squelch in her comedy, the filters are off, and she's not afraid to look like a doofus. In fact, I don't think she's afraid of anything.

And because she co-wrote this and is primarily the focus for the vast majority of Bridesmaids, it is a pretty funny, raunchy comedy of the "incredible mess" variety. And who doesn't want to see a wedding fail (especially if its not yours)? That's the premise behind this film (for better and for worse), and I've been to and/or been involved in enough weddings to know that this could easily have been a documentary.* The various rituals and ceremonies that precede, pre-function and prevaricate the actual hitching of one individual to another, are enough to wreck any marriage before it begins, and I'll frequently pontificate that if you survive the wedding, the marriage just might make it.**
And I've been to one wedding where in the course of the pre-functions, the Maid of Honor was replaced in the Bride's affections by another friend, as happens here. It happens.
Said Maid of Honor, who by herself is an "Incredible Mess," is Annie (
Wiig), who has zero self-esteem, is dating a self-absorbed creep (naturally, as he's a man, played by an un-credited Jon Hamm—who, bless him, seems to be having fun)—except it's not really dating so much as an empty sexual convenience, she's lost her specialty bakery business, and is working at a jewelry store, where her tirades about the impermanence of all relationships has a tendency to drive the customers away. Her mother (Jill Clayburgh—her last role before she died of cancer) wants her to move in with her "before she hits rock-bottom," because her room-mates are British and creepy. At least she has her best friend Lillian (Maya Rudolph), who is always good for a meltdown de-briefing.

That is,
until Lillian announces her engagement and asks Annie to be the M of H.  Then, like a black hole, the downward spiral that is Annie's life starts to suck in the wedding arrangements, as well. She gets together the other bridesmaids: Rita (Wendi McLendon-Covey), a bitter wife with two problematic kids; Becca (Ellie Kemper) a chirpy newlywed; Megan (Melissa McCarthyhilarious and fearless), the groom's sister; and Helen (Rose Byrne), a trophy-wife, who is needy, tries too hard, and is aggressively perfect. This eclectic gaggle of women are tough to corral and all approach life and their duties to the bride-to-be differently, leaving the slightly scattered Annie dishonored and in their wake of agendas. In her desperate attempt to get them all on the same page (or even in the same dress-style), she only makes things worse, especially for herself.
The only non-crumbling structure in the whole disaster area that is her life is
a state patrol trooper (Chris O'Dowd—think the looks of Tim Allen, the charm of Judge Reinhold, and the accent of Craig Ferguson) but that gets doused as well. Pretty soon, rock-bottom seems like a pretty stable place to be, as she loses everything, even an invitation to the wedding.

This would be intolerably sad, if the cast and writers didn't make it so hellaciously funny, in a surprising, raunchy manner that rains humiliation down on everyone, the highlight (possibly) being
the visit to a posh, expensive bridal shop after a dysentery-inducing exotic pre-function. It's watching a train-wreck, where all the passengers were caught in the bathroom, but it is funny—humor, one must caution, being subjective.

I'd be heartily recommending this movie
*** if it didn't go all-"Oprah" in the last section, with a tone-scrambling heart-felt ending that one is just not prepared for, and it also coasts on my most hated of rom-com tropes—"all she needs is a good man. Really? I'd've said a good psychotherapist.

But, until that time, Bridesmaids is the most snortingly funny disaster movie I've seen in a long time.
* I just had a two-hour conversation with someone who participated in a recent June wedding, where everything went flawlessly, but the backstage story was an on-going apocalyptic disaster from start to finish.

** That's an incredibly sunny view, considering I've been married twice.  On the other hand, there was one wedding I went to where the bride and groom were already the altar.  The reception was dominated by placing wagers on how long it would last.

*** And have, to two gals who wanted a movie-night and were, understandably, less-than-thrilled with the current movie selection.  They couldn't be two more different people.  Both loved it.

Thursday, September 29, 2022


(Olivia Wilde, 2019) Two preppie straight razors, Amy and Molly (
Kaitlyn Dever and Beanie Feldstein), reach the end of their senior school-year with a shared world-shattering epiphany: for all their efforts to be nose-to-the-grindstone students and at the top of their class, many of their fellow graduates will be going to the same prestigious colleges, but with the bare-minimum amount of work.
This is bad. Superbad, in fact. But, better.
Their reputations as by-the-book wonks firmly embedded in the zeitgeist of the student body (who have no idea they have a zeitgeist), the two decide that on the party-filled night before graduation that they will prove that they are party animals and try to fit in a night of fun to make up for all the time they spent in the library—the college library, for which they have bogus 24 hour access cards (that's as "radical" as they get).
Their goal on their penultimate school-night is to attend a party being tossed by student council VEEP Nick' (
Mason Gooding)—Molly being president—who's aunt isn't coming home from her cruise because the ship's many heads have gone tail's-up. They plan to show all the popular kids that they can be just as wild and reckless as they can. Trouble is 1) they don't know where the party is and 2) they have no transportation. They tell Amy's parents (Will Forte, Lisa Kudrow) that they're going to the library. That's what they usually do, so no prob'!
They'll eventually hit three parties, become perpetually embarrassed in front of peers and mentors, ingest accidentally, trip badly, have their romantic hopes realized only to have them dashed irrevocably, get thrown in the slammer, and actually be late for something for the first time in their lives. And at the end of it, of course they graduate. They've earned it.
It sounds a lot like a lot of teen comedies from American Graffiti to Porky's to American Pie to all those terrible Cannon films nobody can find anymore to Superbad, but this is the teen Bridesmaids, where, instead of focusing on horny guys, it focuses on ambitious horny girls. You've come a long way, sista's, but one should make note of it, especially suffering through their male-centric predecessors for oh-so-many years. Sure, you can point to precedents, but one cannot deny that Booksmart is faster and more furious than any of those others, like one of those coming of age movies with an "Incredible Mess" storyline* at the pace of the original Deadpool, with performances that fall more in the Strangelove-Zero Mostel type of intensity. Credit must go to the screenplay writers, but also heavily to the cast (encouraged to ad-lib their lines at every opportunity) and the anything-for-a-joke direction of Olivia Wilde.
Wilde fills the frame to bursting at the same time that she's optimizing the "great-but-do-it-faster" style of directing. There's no hesitancy for laugh-pauses, no stuttering momentum. This is a pell-mell blitzkrieg of humor and if you miss a joke, then, well hell, that's why there's DVD's, slow-poke. And MVP awards should go to Deyer and Feldstein for their comedic pairing which has the same schlemiel/schlimazel drive of Gene Wilder and Zero Mostel in The Producers
Laugh? I thought I'd hemorrhage.
* Usually reserved for comedies—but they can be dramas, too—"Incredible Mess" movies are one where the protagonist or protagonists, for reasons of their own, get into a situation that makes their situation worse, which only becomes more intricately worse when they try to resolve it, leading to an escalating series of calamities that seem insurmountable. Good example? It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World. Dr. Strangelove. Risky Business. After Hours. Don't Look Up. Incredible Messes. But very good films.

Wednesday, September 28, 2022

Don't Worry Darling

Perfectly Frank (Without Benefit of Distraction)
Who's Afraid of Olivia Wilde?
"You have a lovely home," murmurs Frank (Chris Pine) as he's welcomed to a dinner at the Technicolor dream-house of Jack and Alice Chambers (Harry Styles, Florence Pugh). And of course it is. It's a vision of America right out of TV sit-come 50's-60's, where the wives wear make-up all day, make a multi-course meal and go skipping to the door with a drink in their hand to greet the man who's come home from work...of an unknown and not-talked about nature.
It's a man's world, even if the shows made a pretext that the woman was secretly in charge (Really, do you think that Elizabeth Montgomery's all-powerful witch Samantha would really put up with ad-exec husband Darren's boobish "Sam, I'm the man of the house and what I say goes" before turning him back into a chimpanzee?) And Jack and the rabbit-holed Alice live in a cul-de-sac community in a desertish sub-division surrounded by mountains. The husbands drive off in their dream-cars, while the women do their house-work, listening to lectures by Frank about achieving the dream-existence, the perfect life, outside of the chaos everybody else puts up with. The men are off working on Frank's "Victory Project" off in the mountains doing...something...but every so often their world is rocked by temblors, which are dismissed with an off-hand "Boys with their Toys" remark to go back to sunning themselves and sipping their scotch-and-sodas.
It's all as fake as the blue on Jack's business-suit, but nobody questions it. Nobody asks questions. Life is good. Don't rock the boat (even if the ground does rock from time to time). At the neighborhood ballet class, the mantra is "there is beauty in control, grace in symmetry, we are as one". But there are cracks showing up in the veneer of this world just like the cracks in the sun-baked asphalt of the community streets.
Little things, like the rumor about the neighbor who walked outside the Victory City limits with her son, and only she returned. I mean there were the "Warning! Employees Only Beyond This Point (Hazardous Materials)" signs, that are ubiquitous beyond the trolley route (the trolleys have signs that say "What you See Here/What You Do Here/What You Hear Here/Let's Let It Stay Here") and the bad dreams that Alice has of dilating eyes and chorus-girls in Busby Berkley-like dance routines—that turn nightmarish. Sometimes, the eggs that Alice cooks for her Instagram-perfect meals are empty. Walls start closing in during the daily cleaning, to the sound of Frank's "Shatnering" (Pine really gets into it a couple of times).
And then, there's the plane. Alice sees it—a vintage red prop-plane—that flies overhead one day, shimmers in the air, and starts to spiral down into the hills surrounding the enclave. Alice runs out into the desert, past the warning signs, up to the prominent hill where "the boys" go to work and bangs on the structure trying to get help for the crashed passengers, but, no one answers her call. Instead, a bunch of beefy security guys in red suits appear out of nowhere and haul her be corrected...before returning her back to the neighborhood.
Just what is going on in Don't Worry Darling, Olivia Wilde's sophomore directorial effort (after the hilarious and hyper Booksmart) is teased for the first 2/3 of the movie with the too-slick veneer of the film constantly being smudged by the encroaching feeling that something is "terribly, terribly wrong" (as they say in the "True Crime" docs)...but what? Is it the demands of satire, or some Shyamalanian twist that will sneak up on you at the end? Don't Worry Darling is full of incident that makes you wonder what's real, what's a dream, and what's a delusion while rarely giving you a focal point of where the truth lies.
We've seen this game-plan before. "Wandavision" did it recently. For those with more media savvy, there are doses of The Matrix and The Stepford Wives with doses of "The Twilight Zone"(s), "Black Mirror," and "The Prisoner" TV show (both versions, in fact) mixed in. It has the disadvantage of being feature length (half-hours are ideal) with the burden of wrapping things up at the end (which it does, probably not to everyone's satisfaction...but, as a "Prisoner" fan, I don't mind a little ambiguity), but doesn't take the cop-out of cliff-hangers, or taking the "X-Files" route of just ending without explanation. 
But, it also hints at elements in "the real world" (such as it is) like any "no, really, we're helping YOU" cult—along the lines of Synanon, EST, Scientology, Jonestown and Trump-land—that promises some sort of fulfillment, when the only thing that's being filled is the leader's bank account (we never know Frank's last could be "Ponzi"). One could see it as a comment on "crazy cures" and conspiracy theories and their influence on a gullible, privileged society—it certainly fits—especially in regards to people who spend endless hours watching the latest News from Wackyland (or long-winded movie reviews) on their computers. Don't Worry Darling is merely an extension of that.
But, with all those references to hold a broken mirror up to, there is one more comparison to a movie (based on the play) that I want to make—Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? Both films deal with the lengths—bordering on control games and shared illusions—that a troubled and failing couple might go to in order to maintain the relationship, whether for personal need or in order to just maintain a semblance of an easier status quo. There is desperation there and Don't Worry Darling maintains a constant feeling of desperation...and unease.
The third act also has some desperation problems, as well—trying to create an action-filled third act (which, unfortunately, undercuts some of the movie-logic needed to gird the film), but as long as one isn't a stickler for continuity's sake, one will find Don't Worry Darling a finely crafted tale of "disturbia" with impeccable direction and design—the music choices are inspired and John Powell's music, superb—all supported by a plucky "in-every-frame" performance by Florence Pugh that is brave, believable, and, at times, horrorific. The movie is worth seeing, just to see her.*

* Notice I haven't mentioned any of the garbage about the premiere publicity from the entertainment press and (worse) social media? The reason is it's worse than irrelevant, it's distracting. Which, in a wonderful irony, only makes the movie's point.

Sunday, September 25, 2022

Don't Make a Scene (Redux): All About Eve

Blonde starts streaming on Netflix this week. There will be a review. Here's merely some reflection.

The Story: It wasn't her first movie role. It wasn't even her first significant movie role. But it was one where you saw the spark of an actress with good instincts and a good comedic skill getting some smart dialogue that she could make the most a scene with Bette Davis and George Sanders, yet.

Marilyn Monroe, the name given to Norma Jean Mortenson by Ben Lyon when she signed her first movie contract in 1946, had been in the studio system for four years, when she graduated from walk-on's and extra parts in 1950 to appearing in both The Asphalt Jungle and All About Eve. In 1953, she would become a star (Niagara), and then at the age of 36, 10 films and 10 years later, she would be dead. That seems unfathomable, as Monroe is so iconic and her body of work so discussed, dissected and duplicated. There was never an analogy so apt as "Candle in the Wind."

And every woman who aspires to fame seems to genuflect (and cross themselves) at her altar.

But that's all in the future here. In this role, she is another reflection in the multi-mirror of the chorus line of actresses, the ladies-in-waiting in the court of Margo Channing.* She might be a victim in this role, but she's not prey. If anything she's a hunter...after an unhappy rabbit (one of my favorite lines in a screenplay peppered with them)...going into battle with a smile on her face.

Even the Spartans didn't do that.

You can't help but smile back.

Wish me luck. The same to you.

The Set-Up: A homecoming party for director Bill Sampson (Gary Merrill). His lover, Margo Channing (Bette Davis), theater diva, is throwing it for him, but it is not exactly a happy occassion. The relationship between Margo, and her assistant Eve Harrington (Anne Baxter), a theater fan that the actress took under her wing, has soured—problems with pecking order, it seems. She even suspects some hanky-panky between the girl and Bill, and the two pre-function by bickering over it. That's the match that sparks the roaring fire underneath the bacchanalia, and among the parasites warming themselves on it are Addison deWitt (George Sanders), acerbic theater critic ("I am essential to the theater -- as ants to a picnic, as the boll weevil to a cotton field") and his latest "protégé," Miss Caswell (Marilyn Monroe).** Moments after Margo has uttered the immortal line—"Fasten your seatbelts. It's going to be a bumpy night"—she sweeps up the stairs,
exchanges pleasantries with some of the guests and bon mots with Addison, the way Miss Manners would in high dudgeon.

Claws out! Action!

She arrives at the landing just as Addison comes up with Miss Caswell. Margo takes a drink from a passing tray.
MARGO(to Addison)I distinctly remember striking your name from the guest list. What are you doing here?
ADDISON Dear Margo. You were an unforgettable Peter Pan - you must play it again, soon. You remember Miss Caswell?
MARGO I do not. How do you do?
MISS CASWELL We never met. That's why.
ADDISON Miss Caswell is an actress. A graduate of the Copacabana School of Dramatic Arts.
ADDISON (his glance is attracted by Eve coming downstairs) Ah... Eve.
EVE(deferentially) Good evening, Mr. deWitt.
MARGO I had no idea you knew each other.
ADDISON This must be, at long last, our formal introduction. Until now we have met only in passing...
MISS CASWELL That's how you met me. In passing.
MARGO(smiles) Eve, this is an old friend of Mr. deWitt's mother - Miss Caswell, Miss Harrington...(the two girls say hello)
MARGO Addison, I've been wanting you to meet Eve for the longest time-
ADDISON (murmurs) It could only have been your natural timidity that kept you from mentioning it...
MARGO You've heard of her great interest in the Theater-
ADDISON We have that in common.
MARGO Then you two must have a long talk-
EVE I'm afraid Mr. deWitt would find me boring before too long.
MISS CASWELL You won't bore him, honey. You won't even get to talk.
ADDISON (icily) Claudia dear, come closer.
(She does, and he points)
ADDISON This is Max Fabian. He is a producer. Go do yourself some good.
MISS CASWELL (sighs) Why do they always look like unhappy rabbits?
ADDISON Because that is what they are. Go make him happy.
Miss Caswell drapes her coat over the rail, heads for Max. Addison puts Eve's arm in his.

All About Eve

Words by Joseph L. Mankiewicz

Pictures by Milton R. Krasner and Joseph L. Mankiewicz

All About Eve is available on DVD from Fox Home Video.

* All the actors give her a break, too. Look at Bette Davis in this scene. She punctuates Monroe's lines with an expressive blast of cigarette smoke, giving them just an extra beat of attention and time for a laugh. That's generosity.

** In one of those instances where one can point to the public assisted Internet Movie Database (
IMDb) and say "You just can't trust it!," the character is called "Miss Casswell," which is not the spelling in the script—there are lots of typo's in the official "All About Eve" script, but the Caswell name is spelled consistently. I'm sure someone thought it was a nice joke, but it shows the kind of smirking disrepect that dogged Monroe throughout her career—and long after.