Tag Archives: Romantic Comedy

Blended

BlendedCynical, lazy, sexist, racist, prolonged torture.  All of these descriptors and more apply to Blended.

by Callum Petch (Twitter: @CallumPetch)

You know, every point this year where I think that we have hit the bottom in regards to film releases, I keep getting proven wrong.  First, there was A New York Winter’s Tale back in February, still one of the worst films I have ever seen (incidentally) and a total failure in all basic aspects of moviemaking.  I was certain that we would not see anything close to its level for the rest of the year.  March quickly put pay to that line of thinking with 300: Rise of an Empire which gained points for at least passing basic filmmaking standards but immediately lost all of those points for being a hateful piece of misogynistic tripe.  The tail-end of April presented, for my consideration, Ava-Tarzan, quite possibly the worst feature-length animated film to see the light of day since 2006.  And now, as May gives way to June, we have Blended.

Folks, I do not like having to re-evaluate what the worst film of the year is every month.  Not, of course, so that I have a headline grabbing phrase to parade my review around with when the time comes (papa don’t play that way), but because I don’t like having to subject myself to films that keep striving for new levels of badness.  It’s like they’re in competition with one another.  “I’ll see your total failure at basic filmmaking conventions and raise you blacked-up actors and an attitude to women not unlike that of a psychopathic thirteen year-old!”  Only there are no winners in their contest, and we, the film-going audience, but mostly just me because I don’t have a choice in subjecting myself to these avant-garde attempts at flinging poo onto a film reel and releasing the result, suffer due to their petty game of one-ups-man-ship.

Blended is a comedy made by statisticians and accountants.  It is a comedy made by people who have not got the first clue of how to tell a joke but have seen far more talented people make a lot of money telling jokes, and so decided to make their own comedy purely to get at that money.  Of course, being statisticians and accountants, this comes with the built-in handicap of nobody involved knowing how to tell a joke.  But such an issue does not stop them from their dream of making loadsamoney as they have hatched a cunning plan.  Instead of coming up with jokes, with set-ups and punchlines and wit and insight and originality and all of those things that make up good jokes and which allow things that would otherwise cross lines of good taste pass by unscathed, they would instead simply present people with concepts that are supposedly inherently amusing and ask you to laugh at them.  Who cares if you only laughed at them in other films because they had actual craft in their construction?  Their graphs and pie charts and glances at two minute red-band trailers on YouTube show that you laughed at these topics in other films so, mathematics dictates, you will laugh here too and their film won’t offend anyone at all!

I’m just going to go straight for the jugular here, I think that Blended is racist.  Nowhere is this more apparent than with Terry Crews’ “character” (for the fully intended effect, I want you to imagine that those air quotes are as tall as a New York skyscraper) whose entire character can be summed up as “look at the funny black man with the weird voice and the crazy eyes sing the word blended over and over again!”  He comes with a back-up crew of about seven other people who look exactly like him and have the exact job description.  Crews wanders about the screen nearly always leaning forward, eyes looking like they’re ready to pop out of his skull, voice sounding like a drunk Oxford senior’s party impression of what he thinks ‘the blacks’ sound like, and the joke is the same every time.  “Laugh at this walking black stereotype!”  There’s no nuance, nothing profound, no grand subversion.  Just, “Laugh at this walking black stereotype!”  It’s like a minstrel show periodically gate-crashes the rest of the film; I was waiting for Joel McHale (who appears in two scenes playing the total douche role he did far better in Ted two years ago) to show up covered in black shoe-polish to seal the sorry mess.

AND IT’S A JOKE THEY KEEP COMING BACK TO!  Again and again and again with no change in pacing or tone or content, until the realisation set in that this racist stereotype is something that everyone involved in the film thinks is legitimately funny.  Not ironically funny, not a set-up for a takedown of such outdated and offensive stereotypes.  No, it’s something that is supposedly just hilarious because “Laugh at this walking black stereotype!”  The other black characters (I count three with names) aren’t anywhere near as pronounced in their racist caricatures but the joke is still nearly always “Look at the black man talking with the funny voice!”  Well, except for Shaquille O’Neal.  He turns up for two scenes, for some reason, and his joke is that a man of his size and physicality cries over-dramatically at something.  I’ll let you decide if that’s a real step up or not.

I’m sorry, I thought we were past this?  I thought that we’d all come to the realisation that this kind of shit does not fly anymore?  That it was outdated and offensive?  That we’d actually have to work to get laughs from our characters of colour now by writing actual characters and actual jokes?  Say what you want about Ride Along but that at least tried writing actual characters and actual jokes for those characters, instead of going, “Laugh at this walking black stereotype saying words that sound different coming from his funny voice!”  Yet, every time Terry Crews came on screen, the audience in my screening were giggling and guffawing as if his every sequence was a classic Malcolm Tucker tirade.  I don’t get it.  How can these people not tell the difference between a clever subversion of racist stereotypes with an effective payoff (which this is not) and an uncomfortable one-note stereotype that has no substance to the joke besides the fact that he’s a walking black stereotype (which this is)?

Sorry, sorry.  I’m allowing my own moral and social beliefs to infect my judgement of a film again.  My bad.  I should leave the racism point behind and move on to my next point which is that Blended is sexist.  Question: are you a girl who dresses in a decidedly unfeminine manner?  Congratulations!  Blended thinks you’re a man or a lesbian or someone who is willingly holding themselves back from love and happiness and acceptance by society, and it won’t stop letting you know that for the whole film by constantly making fun of people who look like you and using jokes based around literally those same points I just mentioned!  I dread to think of how more sensitive people who happen to choose to style and dress themselves in an unconventionally unfeminine way will react to the constant scorn and mockery the film throws their way.  The film hints towards revealing that Jim (Adam Sandler) is practically forcing his daughters into dressing this way and participating in such a masculine lifestyle because he’s living through them or something, but nope.  Lauren (Drew Barrymore) practically swoops on in and unlocks Hilary’s (Bella Thorne) femininity and voila!  She’s actually totally gorgeous and so much happier now that she’s an actual woman and oh my gods typing these words are making me realise just how truly horrible the whole thing is.

In fact, quick sidebar: this film’s usage and treatment of Bella Thorne worries me.  For one, there are the aforementioned “Oh, I’m sorry, I thought you looked like a guy” jabs which are constant, demeaning and never once deviate from exactly what I just typed.  For two, and much more problematic, I got the vibe that we, the entire audience, are supposed to find Bella Thorne super-hot.  She was 15 at the time of filming and her character in the film is 15, too.  Yet her second scene (no prizes for guessing what the first was) involves her in a bra in front of the mirror, sticking out her apparently non-existent chest for the camera and lamenting her apparent lack of breasts.  It feels creepy but maybe I could let it slide on the basis that the camera (to my recollection) does not focus totally on her chest and the fact that if this was a coming-of-age drama, or something, I’d probably not get that interpretation from the scene.

What I cannot excuse is later on, when she makes her grand womanly-charms-embracing re-entrance and the camera introduces her in the same way that other films introduce their much older female stars when they want to get across how good they look.  You know the way: camera pans up in slow-motion from their legs all the way up the body so that the last part revealed to you is their face because the face is always the least important part of a woman, apparently.  Back it with appropriately sexy music (which the scene does eventually, in a gag that I still do not understand), cross-cut to other characters’ stunned reactions and maybe blow a little gust from the wind machine in their direction and watch the number of people getting a visit from Chris Hanson shoot through the roof.  Now, you may sit there and claim that my mind chose to go there and that I’m the pervert and paedophile.  I would retort by noting that I got that interpretation from the scene because the scene employed the conventions that appear in such a sequence and if it didn’t want that interpretation, it should not have filmed it in such a way.

Also, this is a film that has a joke involving a teenage boy sexually harassing a girl who appears to be maybe three years older than him in the finale, and you’re supposed to not be offended and even find it charming because you’ve already spent 110 minutes in this creep’s presence so it’s acceptable, I guess.  Try telling me that I’m the one who is off-base about this film’s intentions.  Go on, I’m waiting.

Anyway, where was I?  Oh, yeah, Blended’s casual sexism.  So, Jim is an asshat.  A total, barely likeable asshat, much like all of Adam Sandler’s characters.  This is a character who named his child Espn after… you know what, I’m going to let you figure that one out.  He’s rude, boorish, demands fist bumps after every supposedly cool thing he ever does and, somehow, he is still a better person than Lauren is.  Lauren, you see, is often exactly like Jim (minus the fist bumps, thanks the Maker) but she always happens to cross the line whenever her and Jim are in a verbal sparring match.  She’s also shown to be a terrible mother, whose kids are a future sex offender/serial perverted murderer and a kid who may or may not have ADHD and who keeps getting his hand banged really hard on walls by Lauren because child violence is hi-larious?  Jim’s daughters, meanwhile, are a little one who just says the darndest things, the middle child who still talks to her mom (who died of cancer years ago, which the film likes to bring up for drama with Jim, and only Jim, whenever it gets the chance) and whose grief is used near-exclusively for “look at that weirdo” comedy, and the tomboy we’ve already discussed (also it’d be remiss of me not to mention an excruciatingly awful scene in which Hilary beats a boy in basketball and, when the boy is informed that she’s a girl, Terry Crews’ Minstrel Society jumps in out of nowhere to re-enforce traditional gender values with a song about how embarrassing it is to be beaten by a girl at a sport).

As for the other women in the film who are on screen for more than 10 seconds; we have a babysitter who is the target of sexual obsession by the older of Lauren’s two sons, Lauren’s alleged best friend who is shown to be a completely selfish, inconsiderate and repulsive human being at all times, an air-headed trophy wife the group stumble across on the Africa trip and whose entire character involves speaking like a bad Kristin Chenoweth impersonator and shaking her cleavage for the camera, and a group massage leader who has no character except for her poor British accent.  “Now, hold up, Callum!” you’re probably going.  “The film has dreadful male characters, as well!  It’s equal opportunities poor treatment!”  True, but I have two things I want to note to you.  The first is that, with the exception of two hecklers at a child’s baseball game and that Joel McHale cameo and I guess Lauren’s children, these are mainly black people.  Jim’s an asshat, but the film constantly tries to put him in a likeable light, more so than it does Lauren, anyway, so The White Guy is the least terrible person in the film.  The second is this fact: the worst physical humour that befalls Jim is that he is flung from an ostrich into a drinking trough.  The worst physical humour that befalls Lauren is that she is nearly speared in her vagina by a rhino that she avoids by spreading her legs like one does when they’re gearing up for sex.

Sorry, sorry.  I appear to have let my personal moral and social beliefs overtake this film review.  Again.  It’s the beginning of A4 page 4, now, and you want to know the reasons why I hate Blended that can’t be traced back to my own personal hang-ups.  OK, then.  Sandler and Barrymore have no chemistry, which is especially surprising since they’ve already done this twice before.  Every child actor or actress in this is appalling, pulling off that overly stagey “LOOK AT MY ACTING I AM ACTING SO HARD” thing that all terrible child actors and actresses do.  It is atrociously paced, withholding the ending long past the point it should appear in order to artificially pump up the run-time to two hours.  It looks extremely cheap, pretty much all of the animals are CG and not in the slightest bit convincing.  Its tone, particularly in that unnecessarily long final 20 – 30 minutes, is whiplash inducing whenever it brings up the whole “Jim’s first wife died of cancer” thing.  It practically stops at several points and becomes a tourist destination ad for South Africa.  It thinks that the height of comedy is having a shot of two CG rhinos doing each other like dogs.

Have you got enough yet or do you need me to go on?

Look, I wouldn’t make such a big stink out of this if there were jokes here.  I’m not infallible, I can acknowledge that something’s offensive but still find it funny.  If the joke’s good enough, I will laugh at it and that’s a guarantee.  But Blended has no jokes.  Again, this is a film that thinks that the concept of sexual harassment is a funny enough gag to put at the end of your film, that having a teenage boy try to claim that their mother can do better than somebody like Jim because “she’s hot” is such a funny and messed up thing that it should run that joke into the ground at every opportunity, that a grown man poorly phrasing his question about what tampon is best for his teenage daughter is just raucous material, and that foreign black people are automatically hilarious because stereotypes.  These are not jokes, these are carnival side-show attractions brought out for your amusement without any effort made in the department of them being worthy of your amusement.  It’s just “Black people: laugh!  Women who look like men: laugh!  Drew Barrymore may get impaled through her vagina by a rhino: laugh!”  So when this is all the film can be bothered to come up with, hell yeah, I’m going to fixate on the troublesome undertones it ends up peddling!  There’s nothing to distract me from them, because the jokes aren’t funny, so why wouldn’t I find them a legitimate problem?

I honestly didn’t think that Adam Sandler and his Happy Madison production company had any lower to go after they turned statutory rape into a light-hearted set-up for a bawdy comedy.  But, much like my continuing belief that 2014 can’t keep churning out even worse films, it turns out I was proven wrong.  Blended is lazy, cynical filmmaking; the kind of film that’s slapped together with no effort or talent and shunted out of the door on the belief that the audience will turn up to anything with a big star’s name on it.  And I think that’s why this trash angers me so.  That it’s not even trying to be offensive, it’s not trying to push any boundaries of taste for comedic effect or anything.  It wasn’t setting out to be racist and sexist or anything like that, it just turned out that way because it lazily tried to present things that it thought were inherently funny with no effort towards making them funny and no effort put into thinking of the implications of not adding jokes to these supposedly inherently funny concepts.  This is trash, trash of the lowest order.  I do, however, hesitate to say that 2014 can’t bottom out any further, because I don’t want to jinx anything.  I do not want to experience a film worse than Blended in a cinema in 2014.  Please.

I did not like it.

Callum Petch races towards an early grave.  Follow him on the Twitters (@CallumPetch)!

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The Other Woman

The Other WomanIts cast is game and clearly trying, but the laughs in The Other Woman are still too infrequent.

by Callum Petch (Twitter: @CallumPetch)

When you are making a comedy, you typically need two things in order to make it work.  One is a funny script stuffed to the brim with jokes, the other is a cast willing to go the extra mile to make that material work.  With a funny script but bored or non-committed actors, you have at best good material landing with much less of an impact than it could have and at worst material with bags of potential being wasted due to the atrocious delivery, timing and all that other good stuff by the actors.  With committed actors but a dross script, your talented cast can come off as trying-too-hard or your script just looking even worse than it would have if bored actors were sleepwalking their way through it.  That’s not all you need for a good comedy, of course, but if you have those two elements, the rest basically falls into place and it takes something special to screw up the results.

The Other Woman has one of those two components and, if the headline hasn’t already given it away, it’s the game cast.  Pretty much everyone who is involved with this film is trying desperately hard above all hope to make this film work and make funny from a script that has little funny; most of them are really good at that trying, too.  Unfortunately, despite their very best efforts, they still can’t generate enough laughs to fill the giant voids in the script where there should be more, and there are a lot of those giant voids.

Revolving around three women all being two-timed in some way, shape or form by the charmingly despicable asshat known as Mark (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau); Leslie Mann plays his unaware wife Kate, Cameron Diaz plays his unaware lawyer mistress Carly and Kate Upton plays his unaware youthful mistress Amber.  The three are thrown together when they each become aware that Mark is playing the lot of them and, because this is a comedy and not a melodrama, they plot to make his life a miserable sack of crap as revenge for how they treated him.  It takes a while to get there, though, I don’t think Amber even enters the film throughout the entire first hour, as the film’s true focus mostly seems to be on the burgeoning friendship between Kate and Carly with Kate freaking out over the collapse of her marriage and Carly finally earning some friends for once in her life.

That’s all fine, the film regularly lampshades how weird it is that the two of them do end up being friends (predominately by having people in the film call out how strange it is) and you know how I feel about strong character work.  It does come with the drawback, however, that the film ends up spending a lot of that pre-Amber time spinning its wheels, hitting the same points over and over again.  Kate will have a freak-out or attempt to contact Carly or both, Carly will show up and roll her eyes and be kinda bitchy as she tries to prove herself above the situation (Diaz is not so much the Straight Man as she is more the Unlikable Alpha Bitch for a lot of the run-time, the script making her come off too mean to be fully likable for at least 70 of this film’s 109 minutes), then the pair will bond regardless and it’s off to the next scene to do it all again.

This stuck-in-a-rut narrative structure wouldn’t be such an issue if the jokes in the script were anything approaching funny.  When Kate comes over to Carly’s apartment, she brings her untrained Dalmatian with her for some such gut-busters like… it sitting on Carly’s sofa when she’d told it not to, it licking Kate’s face after she and Carly had subjected themselves to a night of heavy drinking, and it taking a dump on the floor because animals pooing in front of the camera is… is just… oh, hold my aching sides, please.  There’s also a section where the duo are tailing Mark on his way to meeting, what turns out to be, Amber and the Mission: Impossible theme plays and you’re supposed to laugh because it’s the Mission: Impossible theme and that is a thing you recognise.  Nicki Minaj shows up, and drops out as the script demands, as Carly’s useless bitchy receptionist whose first response to finding out from Carly that Mark has a wife is to go “And you don’t think you can take her?” because it’s Nicki Minaj acting and isn’t that a novelty?

Things honestly don’t get much better script-wise when Amber enters the picture.  There’s an extended (and I mean extended) sequence where Mark is on the receiving end of industrial strength laxatives and fart noises you get from one of those royalty-free sound effect CDs that litter college AV rooms proceed to bombard the soundtrack, Mark is fed hormones meant for pre-op transsexuals and gets freakish looking nipples, and there’s a short situation whose entire punchline revolves around the preconception that transsexuals and cross-dressers are inherently gross and funny.  WACKA-WACKA-WACKA!!  There are few particularly funny lines thrown about, most of the big scenes run on for way too long and it’s all weirdly paced.  Nothing ever really seems to be properly building to anything, it all just kind of meanders, which is likely down to director Nick Cassavetes (previous of the rather good Alpha Dog, the rather not The Notebook and the really rather not My Sister’s Keeper) who, incidentally, is also utterly incompetent at filming and staging physical comedy.  I love physical comedy, I adore a good piece of physical comedy, but Cassavetes always picks the wrong camera angle, or paces it wrong, or stages things in such a way that a fall through garden-based scaffolding feels like a brick of cement was thrown through it instead of the character we’re supposed to be watching.  He just plain sucks at it.

Going back to the script, though, because the script is the main problem here, what on earth was going on with the final 15 or so minutes?  I’m pretty sure I broke my neck on the severity of the various mood whiplashes as we go from wacky comedy to dead serious drama and back again in seconds flat frequently throughout.  And you know when the drama is supposed to be going on because mournful piano/inspirational Top 40 hit is cued up on the soundtrack, soft focus is busted out and characters start exchanging long, mournful looks at stuff that probably means something to you if you’re the kind of person who watches these kinds of sequences and goes “THIS SPEAKS TO ME” but just comes off as jarring and out of nowhere.  The Other Woman spends most of its run-time mining Kate’s reaction to her marriage falling apart for laughs and then suddenly, for about 5 minutes, it wants to mine it for drama by pulling out the oldest and most clichéd trick in the book?  Nope, I’m not biting.

The film even manages to mess up its ending!  You know the scene where the women reveal themselves to the man and he breaks down in pure anger at how they managed to play him and ruin his life and it’s immensely satisfying to see this dickhead get his comeuppance?  Yeah, they screwed that up!  It’s literally the easiest thing in the world, if you’re halfway competent at your job, and they still screwed it up!  How?  Well, do you know why everything that happened to Dabney Coleman in 9 To 5 remained funny even though he was basically kidnapped and tortured for a much longer time than one can deem as redeemable?  Besides the fact that he remains a horrible misogynistic prick right up to the end?  Because no blood is ever spilt.  It lends proceedings a cartoony feel, an air of unrealness, that all of this behaviour is fine because no-one’s getting hurt so you can cheer on proceedings without ever having second thoughts, feeling guilty or expressing sympathy for the man.

Except that blood is suddenly spilt in the finale and it suddenly becomes harder to laugh at and cheer along with the breakdown.  It injects a shot of reality that makes proceedings unpleasant even though the guy having karma collapse on top of him is a huge twat who deserves bad things.  The physical comedy that causes the blood is still silly and over-the-top, to such an extent that if the blood wasn’t there it would probably still be OK.  But the blood is there and it adds a sudden shot of extreme meanness that, for me at least, pulled me out of that satisfied feeling the finale should have carried.  It’s jarring, primarily because blood never appeared anywhere else and it was too much of a shock for it to be in the finale.

In all fairness, there are some laughs here but they are mostly due to the cast of leads attempting to elevate poor material.  To some extent, they do succeed.  Although the actual scene of him on the toilet never ends up being funny, the whole bit is almost redeemed by a short scene at the end of it where Mark comes home and Nikolaj Coster-Waldau near-flawlessly delivers his explanation to Kate of why he’s turned up home in jeans that aren’t his, aren’t his size and why he’s about to “go see if the toilet can take a punch”.  Cameron Diaz is probably the weakest of the bunch, but it’s entirely down to the script that, again, paints her as Alpha Bitch for a lot of its run-time and then shoves her into a romance subplot with a guy who often looks like a douchier Wil Wheaton in order to pad out the runtime.  When the film lets her cut a bit loose, she does good work especially with her chemistry with…

…the film’s best asset, Leslie Mann.  If you do laugh at this film, I guarantee that 70% of the time it’ll be down to her.  She uses her natural charisma and peppy “I’m glad to be here and I will do everything to in my power to make whatever you hand me funny” attitude to great effect, saving over-long stretches or just plain willing material into being at the very least chucklesome.  A bit where she’s caught with Carly trying to break into an exclusive club really shouldn’t be funny at all, let alone the near minute and a half it runs for, but she manages to at least make the joke funny for some of that time by virtue of committing fully to the bit.  There’s a section where she and Carly are bitchily sniping at Amber from afar when they discover she’s another one of Mark’s mistresses in a scene that is so natural and free-flowing, and contains most of the film’s few legitimate funny lines, I can only assume it spun into improv.  And when the film finally allows Kate the chance to get her own back on Mark, Mann is there relishing every last second.  She is also a master at hysterical crying which is something her character has to do a lot and, credit is absolutely down to Mann here, it never gets old, producing most of the few legitimate laughs I had at the whole film.

I can’t wrap this review up, though, without mentioning Kate Upton and how surprisingly great she is here.  She may flub some line readings, but she’s got natural comic timing and is seemingly very excited to be here.  She plays her character as incredibly earnest where the script just wants to write her as Dumb Blonde and it’s the absolute best thing she could have done because it changes her character into somebody more entertaining than it would have been.  There’s a bit where the trio are brainstorming ways to hurt Mark and she suggests kicking him in the balls.  It’s not laugh out loud funny, but the pure non-cynical “girls, I suddenly have a great idea” nature of her delivery, and her puppy-dog facial expressions when Carly is gently shooting that idea down, at least gave me a good chuckle which is preferable to the total non-reaction I would have gotten otherwise.  It’s kind of a shame the film doesn’t use her more, because Upton is genuinely operating on a level not too far removed from the excellent Mann.  More roles like this for her, if she’s going to keep acting, please!

Lest you think I’m getting too soft or am about to do an about-face and let off The Other Woman, though, I should stress that my actual laughs were very, very few and far between.  Again, despite the cast’s absolute best efforts, this is garbage material at play and it can only be elevated so high.  I did smirk a fair bit, giggle a little bit often and, yes, openly laughed every now and again, but there were still too many stretches, too many unintentional stretches, where I was either rolling my eyes or sighing in disgust at yet another tired or unfunny gag or just plain not reacting at all, and those stretches are long.  Couple that with the weird tonal fluctuations and the botching of its ending and I cannot recommend The Other Woman overall.  It’s better than it could have been, looked and I thought it was going to be, but its capable cast only managed to take a dreadful looking comedy and turn it into a disappointingly bad one and that’s a damn shame.

Callum Petch is a little too young with not enough time.  Follow him on the Twitters (@CallumPetch)!

The Sessions

The Sessions Helen Hunt John HawkesAfter winning plaudits from critics and audience members alike at last year’s Sundance festival, The Sessions is exactly the kind of likeable crossover hit one would expect to find packing in the crowds in both multiplexes and arts centres across the country. A heart-warming exploration of love, faith, and living life to the full in spite of any obstacles placed in your way. The kind of film you could watch with your Gran. That is, if your Gran doesn’t mind seeing Helen Hunt in all her full-frontal glory.

John Hawkes (Martha Marcy May Marlene) is Mark O’Brien; a 38-year-old man who has lived most of his life in an iron lung after suffering severely with polio as a youngster. Based on a real-life article written by O’Brien entitled ‘Seeing a Sex Surrogate’, the film focusses on his sexual awakening as a middle-aged man, and his desire to lose his virginity. After consulting with his priest (William H. Macy), Mark employs a Cheryl, a sexual surrogate, to help him do the deed. Enter Helen Hunt. Literally.

As is expected in any romantic comedy-drama worth a damn, complications soon arise. Mark and Cheryl’s sessions are limited to six meetings, and she makes it clear that her job differs from prostitution in that she “ isn’t after your repeat business”. Mark inevitably starts to develop feelings for Cheryl, and dares to dream that Cheryl might feel a similar connection. Luckily the film avoids the Pretty Woman trap of glamourizing the commercialisation of sex, while at the same time eschewing a cynical exploration of Mark and Cheryl’s motives. It would be fair to describe The Sessions as an uplifting film, but it manages to avoid the clichéd pitfalls of lesser comedies.

Hawkes and Hunt are excellent in their roles; fully committed both emotionally and physically to their performances. Macy’s role as Mark’s confidant and counsellor is a little paint-by-numbers at times however, coming across more as self-help book disciple than a man of God. Director Ben Lewin (drawn to Mark’s story as a polio sufferer himself) utilises a wonderfully lit California as the backdrop for this film, and as the camera lingers on fleeting glimpses of natural beauty one cannot help buying into the key messages of the film. Life is precious, every day is a bonus, and Helen Hunt looks incredible for her age.

It’s difficult to see where this film fits commercially. It’s a rather sweet and, at times, very innocent look at what it means to love and be loved. A gently funny film that challenges audience perceptions of disability and independence. But it’s a 15-certificate with good reason, and the frank and non-apologetic sex scenes will put off many people who would otherwise enjoy this engaging film.

Failed Critics: Episode 11 – The Five-Year Engagement

Do you, dear listener, take this slightly shambolic weekly film podcast to be your lawfully-wedded background noise for your journey to work? Forsaking allother podcasts, as long as your generic MP3 player shall live?

You may now listen to FAILED CRITICS!

This week we review the new Jason Segel/Emily Blunt romantic comedy The Five-Year Engagement (including a remarkably in-depth debate on the conventions of the rom-com genre), as well as discussing our favourite documentaries in Triple Bill.

This week’s episode was recording over two nights due to crying babies and lost keys that weren’t lost. We welcomed back a fired-up Gerry to the pod, and Owen managed to get very drunk between the two recording sessions. It’s a corker!

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