Archive for the Comedy Category

The Last Five Years

Posted in Comedy, Drama, Music, Musical on February 25, 2015 by Mark Hobin

The Last 5 Years photo starrating-3stars.jpgThe Last Five Years begins on an elegiac note. Anna Kendrick’s beautifully sung “Still Hurting” is a mournful ballad about the breakup of her marriage. Yup, the couple breaks up….in 5 years according to the title.  You would call this production a romantic musical.  Although the tone for this genre is usually buoyant, you realize right from the start that this going to be anything but a happy tale.

Kendrick is Cathy Hiatt. Her story begins at the end and is told in reverse as we progress to her happy beginning. Actor Jeremy Jordan is Jamie Wellerstein. His account is told chronologically and reaches the same conclusion but in the opposite direction from her. Technically there are other people on screen, but the drama only involves these two characters. Back and forth their sagas are interwoven. When she’s singing, we’re going backwards. When he’s crooning, we’re going forward. In the middle they sing a duet. It chronicles the few ups but mostly downs in a five-year relationship between the rising novelist (him) and the struggling actor (her).

The Last Five Years is based on a 2002 Off Broadway production written by Jason Robert Brown, a 3-time Tony Award winner (Parade, The Bridges of Madison County). Forget the story because this one is absolutely rote. That doesn’t have to be a problem. Some of the greatest musicals of all time (Singin’ in the Rain for example) are nothing more than a fabrication designed to highlight a bunch of great songs. The tunes in this case are good, but not great. The best belong to Anna. Beside the aforementioned “Still Hurting”, there’s “I Can Do Better Than That” about her friend who ended up in Smalltown, USA.  There’s also a delightfully ubeat ditty “A Summer in Ohio”. It’s imaginatively staged as she’s talking from afar with her hubby via video internet chat. The creative number is performed with backup dancers practicing their routines at the theater .

The strength of any musical rests on its music. These melodies are odd. They’re not fabricated using a typical song structure made up of an intro/verses/chorus components. Instead they’re sung dialogue that propel a weak story. Sort of like The Umbrellas of Cherbourg but obviously not a film as sacred to aesthetes. What The Last Five Years has going for it is a nice showcase for Anna Kendrick to sing. She could sing the dictionary and it would sound delightful. She’s got a fantastic voice and she interprets the hell out of these songs. She employs just enough vocal interpretation to be interesting, but not so much that seems like she’s showing off. The play embraces its own artificial theatricality. The issue is that their “love” is never uplifting. There’s precious little chemistry between the two leads. This is partly due to the fact that they’re portraying a fighting couple through most of the picture. Their disenchantment with each other kind of rubs off on the viewer. However the sheer singing talent of Ana Kendrick compels me to give this a pass.

02-24-15

Kingsman: The Secret Service

Posted in Action, Adventure, Comedy on February 15, 2015 by Mark Hobin

Kingsman: The Secret Service photo starrating-3stars.jpgKingsman: The Secret Service is best when it focuses on the superlative training of applicants for an elite agency. At one point new recruits are tied to tracks while an oncoming train is speeding toward them down the path. They will be released only if they divulge the true nature of their organization. The image is particularly apropos when describing the ridiculous way in which Kingsman ends. It’s a great film for most of its run time.  I mean really wonderful. Then it goes completely “off the rails” in spectacular fashion.

Kingsman is a comic book update of a James Bond thriller but with the snotty attitude of director Matthew Vaughn’s own Kick-Ass. Colin Firth plays an impeccably dressed, well mannered spy heading a group that trains young men and women as deadly assassins. After a really marvelous action sequence, I was almost hoping Firth would remain the star. The well choreographed fight where he takes down a room full of combatants is sensational. The same goes for the gadgets, like when he uses his umbrella as a shield. He’s got the prim and proper manners of Mary Poppins with the physical prowess of Lennox Lewis. When a key member of his secret organization dies in the line of duty, he must seek a replacement. Among those being considered is Eggsy, the son of another murdered agent from the past. As portrayed by Taron Egerton he’s sort of a working class hooligan without any direction in life. Cue Harry Hart who’s there to help. They have great chemistry. It’s buoyant but the stakes are high. For three quarters of the film, the story concerns the organization and the development of talent. There is a series of tests designed to select adept individuals that surpass expectations.  When one of the team is given a faulty parachute after the group has already skydived out of a plane, it’s a real nail biter. You never know if an applicant is going to get killed in the selection process.

For about 80-90 minutes this movie is a blast. The picture is a well crafted adventure that delights the senses with eye popping action and colorful set design. Unfortunately the production doesn’t maintain that upbeat sensibility. A villain in the form of a lisping Internet billionaire hijacks the narrative. Richmond Valentine (Samuel L Jackson) believes humanity is a virus and global warming is the fever. So to stop this threat to the environment, he will exterminate people by distributing free SIM cards that will explode at his command. That could be fun, but then the lighthearted touch devolves into parody. There’s also an undercurrent of hate that invites us to cheer in the widespread genocide of human beings. I guess because the script has depicted these people as beneath contempt, it‘s supposed to be ok. They happily kill some stereotypical Arabs too with Dire Straits’ “Money for Nothing” blasting in the background. When it’s not being offensive it gets incredibly zany. It winds up being closer to Austin Powers than a James Bond flick at the conclusion. That wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing but the deviation in tone is so jarring with everything that came before.  Pity, because Matthew Vaughn sets up a really enjoyable thriller that engages the viewer….only to throw it in a dumpster during the final quarter.

02-15-15

The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water

Posted in Adventure, Animation, Comedy, Family on February 12, 2015 by Mark Hobin

The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water photo starrating-3andahalfstars.jpgSpongeBob still matters. Perhaps this movie’s lasting legacy will be that he was the one to finally take out American Sniper at the #1 position at the box office. Granted director Clint Eastwood’s production held the spot for 3 weeks but still you’ve got to hand it to the little sea dwelling invertebrate. The Nickelodeon TV series, currently in its 9th season, has been around since 1999 so the novelty factor is gone. A first feature, The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie, was released in theaters in 2004. Now 11 years later we get a sequel that thankfully doesn‘t rely on having seen the original feature. Regardless of what naysayers griped about the supposed decline of the TV show, it didn’t seem to affect reception to the film. A $55 million debut weekend is pretty impressive. Even the final installment of The Hobbit debuted to less.

The plot is totally ridiculous. It starts off in the real life world with a human pirate (Antonio Banderas) who obtains a magical book. As he starts to read we enter SpongeBob’s animated world and begin another story. Fans acquainted with the series will be greeted with familiar elements: the city of Bikini Bottom, fast food chain – the Krusty Krab, his friends: Patrick Star, Squidward, Mr. Krabs, Sandy Cheeks. Arch nemesis Plankton wants to steal Spongebob’s secret recipe for tasty Krabby Patties as per usual. They have a tug of war over the paper containing it and it magically vanishes because uh, because uh, it just does. If you’re asking how or why then you might have an issue with this nonsensical adventure.

All things considered, Sponge Out of Water is an entertaining flight of fancy. I couldn’t follow the story but then again I don’t watch the cartoon. I’m clearly not the target audience. It’s not that it’s complicated. It’s just that it’s a really slapdash, haphazard affair. This is one of those films where you must put your brain in neutral and delight in the pure zaniness up on the screen. For example, the absence of delicious Krabby Patties thrusts the town into a post apocalyptic state. The plot includes time travel and meeting a talking dolphin named Bubbles. Pharrell Williams contributes 3 songs to the soundtrack including “Squeeze Me” which plays in the background whenever they zip through time. The two worlds, one featuring Burger-Beard the pirate and the other, SpongeBob, ultimately intersect. It spoils nothing to reveal this because the title, the poster and trailer all promise this event. The extended sequence where SpongeBob and his pals take to dry land in the physical reality of real people is indeed enjoyable. I must admit that in the beginning, I was thinking too much for this story. However once I had bought into the craziness, then I was up for anything. That’s when I enjoyed it.

02-08-15

Paddington

Posted in Comedy, Family on January 22, 2015 by Mark Hobin

Paddington photo starrating-4stars.jpgA charismatic visitor comes to live with a British family in London and their presence has a positive effect on their world. That’s the story of Paddington Bear, but if you stop and reflect on it, that description could also apply to Mary Poppins. Add the fact that it’s based on a popular series of books and is a live action film incorporating a little animation and the similarities start to get a little uncanny. Ok so it’s not a musical. I suppose the parallels had to end somewhere, but the comparisons couldn’t be more apt because Paddington is a sprightly joy that ranks right up there with the beloved Disney classic of 1964.

Author Michael Bond’s 1958 creation is a sophisticated bear from darkest Peru who speaks perfectly modulated English, eats Marmalade sandwiches and wears a red floppy bush hat. Paddington is the latest from UK based Heyday Films, most notable for producing the Harry Potter series. I don’t know if they want to focus on that kid friendly niche but I’d encourage the idea. They’ve created a most heartwarming children’s adaptation. Paddington is no ordinary bear. He was taught human customs by an explorer named Montgomery Clyde when Clyde was visiting South America. After Paddington’s habitat is destroyed in an earthquake, the young bear is brought by his aunt to a ship bound for London to find a new place to call home. At Paddington station he meets the Brown family and their collaboration begins.

The picture is a charming delight. The art direction is really on point. The Browns live in a gorgeous dollhouse of a dwelling. Mom (Sally Hawkins) & Dad (Hugh Bonneville) with their kids Judy (Madeleine Harris) & Jonathan (Samuel Joslin) are an ordinary family in need of some adventure. The bright, cheery comedy remains innocent and doesn’t degenerate into pop culture schtick or cheap innuendo. The production didn’t always seem that way. Paddington Bear starts out with the Browns on kind of a slapstick note when he arrives at their residence and gets ready for bed.  Gags about ear-wax and sticking his head in the toilet after drinking mouthwash were used for the trailer. But they aren’t emblematic of the refined quality of the movie. Although the way the scene ends is funny for its exaggerated spectacle.

Paddington is unabashedly wholesome. That’s not to say the script is schmaltzy. Nicole Kidman pops up as the villain – a beguiling museum taxidermist sporting a blonde bob hairstyle. Her Millicent injects some sinister edge into a story that could’ve been a saccharine tale. An even more fundamental ingredient is our star, an Andean bear. Ben Whishaw is the voice of the CGI fellow replacing Colin Firth, whose voice was deemed too mature. The character, who is the personification of goodness, strikes just the right balance of sweetness and mischief. Paddington’s amusing mishaps often rely on his naiveté. His misadventure involving returning a lost wallet is a humorous case of mistaken identity. It’s too early to anoint this as the best children’s film of 2015, but if this is representative of family entertainment this year, then we’re off to a great start.

01-16-15

The Interview

Posted in Action, Comedy on January 6, 2015 by Mark Hobin

The Interview photo starrating-1star.jpgBy now we’ve heard the story. Sony Pictures Entertainment was hacked on November 24, 2014.   The hackers called themselves the “Guardians of Peace” A lot of sensitive data pertaining to studio employees and their families was released. But what got the most attention was the demanded cancellation of the release of this film The Interview, a political “comedy” regarding a plot to assassinate North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. Although North Korea has denied any responsibility, the FBI has claimed otherwise, Meanwhile independent cybersecurity experts have cast credible doubt on North Korea’s involvement. They contend rather that the hack was an inside job by disgruntled fired SONY employees.

Now I’m certainly not qualified to weigh in on who’s responsible. However I will submit as evidence the actual movie. It’s a sloppily directed, misguided mess. The picture has as much trenchant political satire as The Three Stooges but without the sophisticated urbane wit that characterizes one of their flicks. The scattershot script is just a succession of jokes pitched at the lowest form of toilet humor. In other words The Interview is more of an attack on the fabric of good taste than a threat to the North Korean regime.

Sample dialogue:

Dave Skylark: Do you pee and poo?
Kim Jong-un: You’ve heard the stories, huh? Yes, I pee and poo.
Dave Skylark: So you have a butt—-.
Kim Jong-un: I’ve got a butt—- and it’s working overtime.

The Interview is nothing more than a hodgepodge of random gags loosely strung together. The story concerns Dave Skylark (James Franco) a bumbling idiot that hosts a TV talk show. With the help of his producer Aaron Rapoport (Seth Rogen) he lands a meeting with the dictator of North Korea. It starts off promisingly enough. A rosy cheeked schoolgirl with a beatific face lovingly sings a little ditty. Her Korean is translated in subtitled lyrics that pleads “Die America, die! Oh please won’t you die? It would fill my tiny heart with joy!“ The lyrics express extremist attitudes, but the sweetly sung delivery from the face of innocence does induce laughter. After that, it’s all downhill with a tiresome preoccupation with potty-mouth humor. The script is staggeringly bad. Forget a send-up of the political situation. The writing is mainly dumbed-down raunch about body parts. Other lines are so stupid they barely register as jokes. Case in point: An argument between buddies Dave and Aaron has Dave repeating the phrase “They hate us ’cause they ain’t us” so many times I thought the projector was broken. It also doesn’t help that the actor playing Kim Jong-un looks absolutely nothing like him. He’s male and Asian, but that’s it. Actor Randall Park affects an accent so awful it borders on a racist stereotype. The character also bangs lots of women, drinks margaritas and listens to Katy Perry music.

I should think North Korea would champion this movie because it wallows in the offensiveness to which America’s critics accuse us. If The Interview is a threat to anything, it’s to the definition of cinema as an art form.

Into the Woods

Posted in Comedy, Family, Fantasy, Musical on December 27, 2014 by Mark Hobin

Into the Woods photo starrating-2andahalfstars.jpgA humble baker (James Corden) and his wife (Emily Blunt) have longed to have a child. Apparently their neighbor, an ugly old witch (Meryl Streep), placed a curse on his house when the baker’s father was caught stealing from the old hag. The witch is willing to reverse the spell. But only because she wants to be beautiful again. She cannot touch the objects she needs to accomplish this task and so she delegates securing the artifacts to the couple. The witch requires (1) a cow as white as milk, (2) a cape as red as blood, (3) hair as yellow as corn and (4) a slipper as pure as gold. Anyone familiar with fairy tales will recognize these items. Writer James Lapine has interpolated the stories of Jack (Daniel Huttlestone) & the Beanstalk, Little Red Riding Hood (Lilla Crawford), Rapunzel (MacKenzie Mauzy) and Cinderella (Anna Kendrick) in an altogether new take on traditional fables.

Playwright turned screenwriter James Lapine adapts his Tony Award–winning 1987 Broadway musical highlighting music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim. For roughly 75 minutes – 60% of the film – the formula works. The script celebrates classic fairy tales from the likes of The Brothers Grimm with a captivating presentation. The production design is lavish featuring costumes and sets that compare favorably with classic movie musicals. The songs are catchy too. Certainly chief among these is the duet between Chris Pine and Billy Magnussen as whiny princes. In “Agony” they lament they cannot be with the women they desire. Pine is typecast as Cinderella’s caddish suitor and he’s enjoyable. “I was raised to be charming, not sincere.” Who knew Pine could sing? His scene with Rapunzel’s Prince (Billy Magnussen) as they splash amongst the tiny waterfalls of a brook is the musical high point in an opus that has a few. I’ll also include Anna Kendrick’s “On the Steps of the Palace” and Meryl Streep’s “Stay With Me” as well.

Into the Woods is half of a good film. The need to subvert conventional fairy tales exists during the first portion but it does so from a place that uplifts the source material. The take is ironic at times and yet the script still keeps an air of sentimentality that is enticing. Unfortunately the mindset to trash “happily ever after” actually tanks the production in the second half. There is the first artificial ending. It’s optimistic and glorious in a winking way. But then the movie continues on for another 50 minutes and the results are disastrous. As the story carries forward, the wife of the fallen giant is now angry. She terrorizes the countryside looking for the boy (Jack) responsible for the death of her husband. Everything upbeat is subsequently destroyed with little regard for the likable personalities they had originally created. A sample “modern sensibility” is when Prince Charming makes a pass at the Baker’s wife. Ew. It ultimately lumps along to a complete bummer of a conclusion that essentially undoes everything wonderful in the first section. Rarely has a movie gone so quickly from a whimsical delight to a dispirited drag. My advice? Stop watching after the mock ending.  Up until then it’s a really entertaining film.

12-25-14

Inherent Vice

Posted in Comedy, Crime, Drama with tags on December 20, 2014 by Mark Hobin

Inherent Vice photo starrating-2stars.jpgOh Paul Thomas Anderson! It’s getting harder to believe that you were the auteur behind that masterpiece of yours, Boogie Nights. In 2007 you came close with the brilliant There Will Be Blood. At least you’ve always been interesting. Even The Master had that “processing” session that Lancaster Dodd administered on Freddie Quell. Now you’ve gone and released Inherent Vice, a happily incoherent, meandering head trip in the life of an LA private eye.

Doc Sportello (Joaquin Phoenix) is that laid back private investigator. Let’s just say he loses focus pretty easily. He’s visited by his ex-girlfriend Shasta Fay Hepworth (Katherine Waterston) who wants him to investigate a paranoid sounding plot against her current boyfriend, real-estate mogul Mickey Wolfmann (Eric Roberts). Apparently his wife is trying to have him committed to a mental institution. But that’s really only the beginning. Along the way Doc meets a overzealous LAPD detective (Josh Brolin) that injects a spark of life amongst all the sleepy “far out man” attitudes. As Doc’s strange case becomes stranger, the narrative grows foggy. The point becomes less and less clear. That, my dear reader, IS the point. The cast list balloons to include speaking parts for over 25 actors I think. Frankly I lost count. These people intersect, reconnect and, in one particularly indelible scene, have sex. Shasta seemingly leaves the story at one juncture, but her return is, shall we say, (ahem) memorable?

Inherent Vice is an aimless trudge through the fog of a marijuana haze. That’s to be expected with a movie adapted from a novel by Thomas Pynchon. Nobody has ever turned a Pynchon book into a movie before. I mean Gravity’s Rainbow is kind of famous for being un-adaptable, So I’ll give Anderson credit for trying. Some will champion its mystifying merits. Translation: Inherent Vice is an acquired taste.  One’s enjoyment will partially rest on how much you value a plot in a 2 ½ hour film. The atmosphere is so drugged out you could almost get high by association. I couldn’t find much to enjoy in these shenanigans. And that’s all this is. A bunch of half baked gags. Pun intended. Any story that weaves in characters named Puck Beaverton, Japonica Fenway and Bigfoot Bjornsen obviously isn’t meant to taken seriously. Add a cultural 1970s LA milieu which finds room for the Aryan Brotherhood, the Manson family murders, an Asian massage parlor and something called Golden Fang which could be a secretive Chinese syndicate or simply an alliance of wealthy dentists. That tongue in cheek attitude is good for a few scattered laughs I suppose.  Inherent Vice is an “experience” to be sure, but I’ll pass on taking a second hit.

12-18-14

Horrible Bosses 2

Posted in Comedy with tags on December 6, 2014 by Mark Hobin

Horrible Bosses 2 photo starrating-2stars.jpgLackluster sequel to the 2011 Summer hit reunites Nick, Kurt and Dale in an attempt to be their own boss. Christoph Waltz is a shady investor that tricks the boys into doing all the work so that he can step in and buy their product for a ridiculously low price. The product is an unnecessary invention (my opinion) called “The Shower Buddy”. To retaliate, the moronic trio decide to drug and kidnap his adult son so they can ransom him to regain control. Of course the plan doesn’t go as planned. Hilarity ensues. Actually scratch that last sentence.

Jennifer Aniston, Jamie Foxx and Kevin Spacey are back in superfluous characters that only remind us how much better the original film was. Their parts really drag the comedy down. Whenever one of them appears, it feels as if the story has been hijacked.  Jennifer Anniston’s shtick is of the potty mouth variety. If hearing someone say bad words makes you laugh, then you’ll love her part as written here. The main narrative takes a back seat while these actors from the original give us a bit of improv. The result makes the 108 minute running time, feel unnecessarily bloated

Horrible Bosses 2 isn’t completely worthless, but it isn’t very worthwhile either. The winning chemistry between Jason Bateman, Charlie Day and Jason Sudeikis is the best element of the picture. It’s their talent that extracts laughs from a middling script that wouldn’t have been as funny without them. Their camaraderie is what made the first movie such a joy. They still mesh like a modern day Three Stooges. It‘s just that the interaction isn‘t quite as finely tuned this time around. Their appearance on a Good Morning Los Angeles TV show to unveil their new invention is the funniest part in the whole movie. It’s all downhill from there. Their characters are less defined. Instead they shout a lot more. The plot is more perfunctory. Simply put, the comedy just isn’t very funny.

11-30-14

Big Hero 6

Posted in Action, Adventure, Animation, Comedy, Science Fiction with tags on November 12, 2014 by Mark Hobin

Big Hero 6 photo starrating-4stars.jpgMeet Baymax – a personal healthcare robot invented by gifted university student Tadashi Hamada. He looks a like an inflatable Michelin man without the definition. With a quick and easy full body scan, Baymax can determine your vital stats and subsequently treat any ailment. He’s a polite, nurturing fellow of pure innocence. Baymax is the heart and soul of Big Hero 6. He makes this film soar….literally. Indeed he can fly, thanks to some creative enhancements.

Big Hero 6 starts off on a very serious note. Professor Robert Callaghan and Tadashi Hamada are killed in a fire at the university. After falling into a depression, younger brother Hiro Hamada strengthens Baymax with armor and a microchip programmed with martial arts moves. The relationship between Hiro and Baymax is at core of this adventure. It’s an engaging friendship and they are an absolute delight together.  Although only 14 years old, Hiro has created a brilliant new invention – microbots – tiny robots that can link together by swarming into any arrangement imaginable.  Hiro is now on the hunt for a mysterious man wearing a kabuki mask who has stolen his invention. The baddie wishes to exact retribution on those who wronged him.

Hiro gets support from his older brother’s four friends at the university.  Their personalities mesh well, although the screenwriters have taken a few shortcuts. The characters falls into clichéd archetypes easily discernable for young viewers. Nevertheless they have nice camaraderie together. There’s Honey Lemon (Génesis Rodríguez), a chemistry whiz who uses a designer handbag like Batman uses a utility belt. Wasabi (Damon Wayans, Jr.) is a solidly built neat freak that screams like a little girl when he isn’t slicing people with lasers. Tough chick GoGo Tomago (Jamie Chung) skates on magnetic levitation discs like something out of Tron. And lastly there’s fan boy Fred (T. J. Miller) a laid back dude with an alter ego that breathes fire. The four of them team up with Hiro and Baymax to save the city.  They are a lively bunch.

Big Hero 6 isn’t particularly innovative in the narrative department. The Incredibles kept popping up in my mind. The story is pretty standard: get the bad guy out for revenge. Yet the beginning grabs the viewer’s attention with an enticing set-up. Too bad the ending does not live up to all the excitement that precedes it. Nevertheless the production is bright, colorful fun and the animation is a joy to watch. Big Hero 6 actually bests its influences in this area. Hiro Hamada (Ryan Potter) is a 14 year old engineering wonder. His affinity for Baymax is palpable and his upgrades to his brother’s creation inform the chronicle. Baymax is a great physical comedian. He conveys so much with so little. I mean his face is two dots connected by a line. He’s expressionless, but his sweet innocence comes through in every scene. His character is such a refreshing change of pace from the in-your-face, amped up, hyperactive personalities that often plague kiddie cartoons. His pacifist stance explores the futility of vengeance and power of forgiveness. Child Hiro emotionally matures as a human being as a result of knowing Baymax. I found their kinship genuinely touching.

11-09-14

Dear White People

Posted in Comedy, Drama with tags on November 2, 2014 by Mark Hobin

Dear White People photo starrating-3andahalfstars.jpgPerceptive satire focusing on race relations as seen through the eyes of 4 black students at a fictional Ivy league college.

African American students are a distinct minority at Winchester University but that doesn’t mean they don’t have a voice. Enter Sam White (Tessa Thompson) a deejay at the campus radio station and host of the popular program “Dear White People”. Her inflammatory rhetoric infused with humorous observations informs as it entertains with witty aphorisms like the following: “Dear White People, please stop touching my hair. Does this look like a petting zoo to you?“ She runs for head of house railing against a Housing Act that would force African American residence hall Armstrong/Parker to diversify. The incumbent is Troy Fairbanks (Brandon P Bell), her ex-boyfriend. He is the good looking wealthy son of the dean. Then there’s fellow undergraduate and video blogger Colandrea Conners (Teyonah Parris). She goes by Coco and leans more toward the white students. And lastly there’s Lionel Higgins (Tyler James Williams), an aspiring journalist who happens to be gay. His love of Robert Altman films and outdated style are at odds with the rigidly-defined cliques of both the blacks and whites. He doesn’t fit in with either. His socially awkward outcast is perhaps the most fascinating individual of them all.

As evidenced by that plot description, the archetypes are not easily defined. They have complicated attitudes with aspirations that change as the movie plays out. You think you have someone pegged, only to have those assumptions subverted. Occasionally the motivations behind a character’s thoughts isn’t entirely clear. While rabble-rousing against the white establishment, Samantha secretly sees white boyfriend Gabe (Justin Dobies) on the side. Colandrea calls herself Coco, wears blue contact lenses and a straight weave. She is embarrassed by her Southside Chicago roots. Yet she portrays the angry black woman on her YouTube channel to gain more followers. She actually makes some of the most trenchant observations in the film. But what drives Coco and how she truly feels is somewhat inconsistent with her behavior. Troy Fairbanks is handsome, athletic and dating the white daughter of the university president. His more conservative beliefs are at odds with Sam, his opponent for head of house. Are these various people behaving the way they do because they’re simply trying to fit in or is it because they do indeed hold those views? It’s a bit ambiguous. But then, in a movie where students are still trying to establish their own identity, perhaps inconsistency is the most consistent trait of all.

Director’ Justin Simien has a surprisingly confident voice for a feature debut from a new filmmaker. His multiple protagonist, many layered web of interconnecting stories is Altmanesque. In fact, Lionel Higgins’ love for the maverick director of the 70s makes his role seem autobiographical. Simien articulates a subject for a lot of interesting conversations. What makes Dear White People so affecting is the authenticity of the various personalities in the cast. The script is particularly intelligent as it develops a cast that is both enlightened & foolish, likable & rude, admirable & flawed. They are developed human beings that have nuance and depth. This holds true for the white and black characters alike. It all comes to a head at an ill advised themed party thrown by a white fraternity. Yes the story is ostensibly about racism but it delves deeper. This is a film about students that are conflicted. They’re trying to find themselves. Every so often there are discrepancies in what they may say and what they legitimately believe. When or if it is appropriate to assimilate? And when is it important not to compromise your own identity. It is in the handling of those questions that the movie’s excursion into these thoughtful subjects, truly shines.

10-26-14

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