Archive for the Comedy Category

The Croods: A New Age

Posted in Adventure, Animation, Comedy, Family with tags on November 23, 2020 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

I wasn’t especially fond of The Croods back in 2013 when I saw it. I railed against its modern attitude and the antagonistic relationship between father and daughter. I still gave it a passable review because it was mostly pleasant. Now I haven’t re-watched it since, so I’m not sure if I’ve changed or if The Croods: A New Age is indeed a better movie. Don’t get me wrong, this is not deep. It basically coasts on physical comedy. Nonetheless, it’s such a sunny upbeat delight that it was enough to charm me into believing this is an improvement.

It helps that the story is more elaborate than merely “daughter butts heads with an overprotective father.” Everyone in the Crood household is back including Guy (Ryan Reynolds) — the boyfriend of Eep (Emma Stone) — who now lives with the clan. This time the so-called “threat” is a seemingly innocent family who has advanced beyond the Croods in intelligence and evolution. They’re the Bettermans. Psst…..their name is allegorical. Get it? Actors Peter Dinklage and Leslie Mann really bring their A-game in voicing these fussy characters. There’s something acutely absurd in the contrast. Grug (Nicolas Cage) and Ugga (Catherine Keener) Crood are so thoroughly unrefined while Phil and Hope Betterman are upscale types that act like they’re ready to lead a yoga class. They welcome the Croods into their beautiful home and Grug brings the havoc. Grug can’t seem to understand the concept of a wall.

This is a very funny movie. There are plenty of laughs to be mined simply in that dichotomy. Then the narrative develops a little further. The adventure revolves around the Betterman’s daughter Dawn (Kelly Marie Tran) who is comparatively down to earth for a Betterman. She admires Eep and they forge a fast friendship. The fact that they aren’t depicted as rivals is a refreshing surprise. Also, the Bettermans already know Guy. That previous connection makes relationships a bit complicated. The New Age is still a slapstick affair at heart but the zaniness is intelligently introduced and then focused. There’s a glee here that recalls the work of animation legend Tex Avery for Warner Bros and MGM. For example, when Dawn’s hand is stung by a bee it swells to such a puffy cartoonish size it looks like an inflatable balloon. It’s not a profound film. I’ll probably forget the details in a week or two. However, I frequently laughed while watching this, and in 2020 that counts for a lot.

11-20-20

On the Rocks

Posted in Adventure, Comedy, Drama with tags on November 10, 2020 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

Has anyone noticed this? As the sheer drama of the everyday news gets more fantastical and bizarre, the storylines in movies seem more and more rooted in reality. On the Rocks reflects that trend to the point that it is merely a chronicle that details someone with a suspicious feeling. Hollywood has long relied on science fiction and fantasy for its big-budget tent-poles. The New Mutants and Tenet are recent examples. I get that Hollywood hasn’t released much over the past nine months but where are the low-cost science fiction and fantasy flicks? Vivarium, Sputnik, and Possessor immediately come to mind, but those are the exception in an industry where it used to be the rule. Ah, but I digress. On the Rocks came out in October to AppleTV. Written and directed by Sofia Coppola, it stars Bill Murray and Rashida Jones. Coppola famously worked with Murray in Lost in Translation back in 2003, so devotees of that film may appreciate this as a reunion of sorts.

A simple deliberation on humanity can be refreshing. The story concerns Laura (Rashida Jones), a wife who suspects that her husband Dean (Marlon Wayans) is cheating. Bill Murray portrays her father Felix who wants to trail the husband detective style with his daughter by his side and determine beyond any doubt whether Dean is in fact disloyal. Laura is a sweet and likable novelist who is struggling to finish her latest book. Felix is a successful art dealer and a bit of a lothario. Perhaps Laura’s husband is somewhat like her dad? The script gets a lot of humor from the exasperated reactions from his daughter. Murray and Jones have lovely chemistry together. They do indeed make a nice team. The New York locations add a cosmopolitan feel to the narrative and Philippe Le Sourd’s cinematography beautifully exploits that.

This is a slight account built around an extremely thin storyline. Not a lot happens. It essentially coasts on the considerable charm of its stars. I’m not saying it’s bad. However, the wistful but conventional tone wasn’t enough to captivate this particular viewer. It’s never a good sign when a 96-minute movie is so inconsequential that you have to watch it in two parts. I watched a full hour before checking out and returning the next day to finish it up. On the Rocks has gotten positive reviews. It’s unquestionably well-acted. Both Murray and Jones imbue their characters with genuine pathos, but the subject is surprisingly mundane for a Sofia Coppola screenplay. She directed the less old-fashioned Somewhere back in 2010. I suppose if you’re a fan of that film and its leisurely pace then I’d recommend this one to you as well.

11-05-20

Over the Moon

Posted in Adventure, Animation, Comedy with tags on November 5, 2020 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

Over the Moon is an early frontrunner for Best Animated Feature at the 2021 Oscars. The hype doesn’t help. Unrealistic hope can affect your enjoyment and this set mine unnecessarily high. Netflix has made it a habit of buying up animated movies and releasing them as originals. Recent titles include The Little Prince, I Lost My Body, Klaus, The Willoughbys, Fearless, A Whisker Away, Animal Crackers, and Pets United. They run the gamut in quality, so I usually temper my expectations.

The production has a pedigree too. It’s co-directed by Glen Keane, the legendary Disney luminary who worked on The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, and many others. He won the Best Animated Short Film Oscar for the fawning Dear Basketball co-written and narrated by Kobe Bryant. This release is actually put out by Shanghai-based Pearl Studio who brought us Abominable in 2019. Given the talent involved and the positive buzz, I expected a lot more.

The story sounds culturally adventurous and otherworldly. The tale is adapted from a fable about the Chinese goddess of the Moon. It concerns a 14-year-old girl in China named Fei Fei (Cathy Ang). She believes in the Moon goddess Chang’e (Phillipa Soo) because of stories her mother (Ruthie Ann Miles) told her. Unfortunately her mom is terminally ill. After Ma Ma passes on, Fei Fei yearns to travel to the heavens in a rocket ship and prove to everyone that Chang’e is not a myth and that she does truly exist.

Over the Moon is a mixed bag. On the plus side, this is a beautifully animated saga full of colorful designs and expressive creatures. The impressive spectacle is the production’s greatest asset. Fei Fei does indeed fly to the moon. There she meets a wacky world of alien critters. Yet their personalities would be more at home on an American sitcom. It heavily relies on successful works of the past too. There’s goofy sidekick Gobi (Ken Jeong) with the temperament of Olaf the snowman from Frozen. Meanwhile, the Moon goddess is revealed to be less of an ethereal being and more of a spoiled pop princess. Can you feel my disappointment?

The account begins as sensitive handling of death and remarriage, then presents an unrelated adventure that tidily resolves complicated emotional issues at the end. It’s not hard to see the DNA of other films. The aforementioned Frozen, but also Up, Alice in Wonderland, Mulan, the Pixar short Bao. Chinese culture has been superficially inserted as atmosphere to infuse a very bland and generic screenplay. I sound like a broken record because I made the same “Americanized” critique of Abominable. It’s worth noting the voice cast is Asian American. Representation in storytelling and casting is more important than ever. However, Mulan supported Asian actors (Ming-Na Wen, Lea Salonga, BD Wong, Pat Morita, James Hong, George Takei) way back in 1998 and still managed to promote unique and interesting characters as well. Mulan highlighted some very catchy songs to boot. I appreciate the effort it took to make this a musical. There is a smattering of tunes but nothing is memorable. This is a passable time-filler for adults and a 100-minute babysitter for young kids.

10-16-20

Borat Subsequent Moviefilm

Posted in Comedy with tags on October 29, 2020 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Unofficially this is Borat 2, but officially the unadulterated title of this effort is Borat Subsequent Moviefilm: Delivery of Prodigious Bribe to American Regime for Make Benefit Once Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan. The silly title is one of the funniest jokes. This is of course the sequel to Borat, a movie that came out in 2006.

It’s more of the same. If you’re familiar with his schtick, actor Sacha Baron Cohen interacts with the public as the Borat character to get them to say and do embarrassing things. The “story” here is that Borat journeys to America to offer his daughter Tutar as a gift to Vice President Mike Pence in order to redeem Kazakhstan in the eyes of America. Why not the president? Because apparently, he couldn’t get close enough to make him a part of this production. Although Cohen wears a Trump disguise in one segment. Mike Pence briefly appears unflappable from afar. Sasha Baron Cohen can no longer dupe individuals as Borat. He’s too recognizable. The script acknowledges this fact early on so he dons other disguises to portray individuals on the sidelines. As such, the real star is actress Maria Bakalova who plays Borat’s daughter. She is absolutely fearless in her pursuit of comedy. She displays some genuine acting chops in the process as well. Her admirable commitment to the role is a high point.

Comedy is extremely subjective. This is a slapdash effort where most of the antics revolve around cringe-inducing humor. Targets include a cosmetic surgeon, a pastry chef, QAnon conspiracy theorists, and a debutante coach. Some — like the baker for example — appear to be in on the joke. She decorates a chocolate cake at his behest with the phrase “the Jews will not replace us.” She looks amused. In other sketches, the victims practically go out of their way to put Sacha Baron Cohen at ease after he exhibits demeaning antics. It doesn’t speak well of your comedy when you actually feel sorry for the patsy. A particularly disgusting moment involves a father-daughter dance at a debutante ball. That’s all I’ll reveal about that gross-out scene but consider yourself warned.

There’s really no way to truly review a work like this for the masses. The barometer for me: Is it funny? The short answer is no. While there are a few amusing gags here and there, I didn’t laugh much. A lot has changed since the first film came out 14 years ago. Borat is no longer shocking. Before Cohen was satirizing America in the age of George W Bush. Now it’s Donald Trump where people openly say and do things on social media that are far more scandalous. Furthermore, we currently live in an America where people on both sides of the political spectrum are murdered for espousing their beliefs. There is nothing presented here that is as outrageous as what’s routinely on the nightly news. The complexity of our current political climate demands a more cogent satire. This movie is content to simply mock American cluelessness. Business as usual isn’t enough.

10-23-20

Beats

Posted in Comedy, Drama with tags on October 1, 2020 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Beats is the tale of an unlikely friendship circa 1994. Johnno (Cristian Ortega) is a timid, dark-haired middle-class teen. His relatively stable background includes a single mom (Laura Fraser) and her boyfriend (Brian Ferguson) who is a policeman. Spanner (Lorn Macdonald) is his fair-skinned unpredictable best mate that is far less privileged. He’s apparently without any parental supervision living in a spartan flat with his abusive older brother Fido (Neil Leiper). Scotland is currently undergoing radical socio-political change set against the backdrop of the 1990s UK rave scene. The establishment has deemed unlicensed parties as “anti-social.” These feelings had culminated with the chaos surrounding the Castlemorton Common Festival in 1992 which led to The Criminal Justice and Public Order Act in 1994. The restrictive law attempts to ban gatherings with music characterized by “repetitive beats”.

It’s the mid-90s and the boys are all but consumed by the rave culture that has captivated the local adolescents. A local radio DJ (Ross Mann) helps fuel the revolution with his pirate radio show. He rebels against oppressive laws by encouraging his listeners to congregate at an enormous outdoor party at a secret location. Johnno’s exasperated mother Alison means well but she doesn’t relate with her son on a personal level. Her relationship with Robert only makes matters worse. The man has essentially become a stepfather to the boy. Johnno’s family are searching for a better life. They will be moving away and taking Johnno from the old neighborhood in about a week. He’s not happy about it. The upcoming underground rave is more than just another party. This will be the last time he will ever get to hang out with his friend. The party is a simple destination but the journey to get there will prove to be a little more difficult than they think.

Beats is a touching saga of an enduring friendship. These two disparate characters both live in a small town in central Scotland. Other than location, it’s not initially clear why Johnno and Spanner are buds. It turns out they’re unified by their love of electronic dance music. They also share a tortured relationship with their respective families. These outcasts support each other in a way they do not receive at home. Their connection is deep and overflowing with heart. Coming of age tales are nothing new. Beats may appear to be another teenage rebellion film but this transcends the genre. The raw, unfiltered portrait of Scottish youth is beautifully captured with such authenticity. Scottish teens do indeed speak English. However, their dialect is filled with enough slang and colloquialisms that it occasionally sounds like a different language. I suggest you watch with captions. It isn’t required though. It’s a fundamentally simple story that creates a mighty feeling.

This is a compelling exploration of freedom, social class, the UK dance subculture, and an undying devotion between two close pals. Director Brian Welsh and co-writer Kieran Hurley (who adapted his own play) emphasizes this rapport which affords the movie a poignancy. This fact this 90s set bildungsroman is filmed in black and white gives it a feeling of nostalgia. It all culminates on the dance floor at the rave — an egalitarian event that is an uniter of souls. The soundtrack features Human Resource, LFO, Inner City, N-Joi, Leftfield, The Prodigy, and other artists. Curated by JD Twitch, it’s a retro setlist that will propel fans of Techno, House, and Trance back in time. Meanwhile, neophytes may discover a new style of music. The glorious monochromatic cinematography is punctuated by bursts of color as the evening progresses. Like Dorothy arriving in the land of Oz, the effect visually underscores an emotionally powerful transformation of the characters. I felt what they experienced and the trip was an absolute joy.

09-14-20

Babyteeth

Posted in Comedy, Drama with tags on September 3, 2020 by Mark Hobin
babyteeth

STARS3.5Australian coming of age saga concerns a teen dealing with painful issues. Ok well, that pretty much describes all of them right?! Yet this one is not your run of the mill standard young adult drama. Where a tale about illness could have been maudlin, this is pragmatic. Its unvarnished account is so rare for this genre and I appreciated its unromantic portrait. Milla Finlay (Eliza Scanlen) is a terminally ill girl attracted to a small-time drug dealer named Moses (Toby Wallace). Their unexpected relationship is the focus. They couldn’t be more different but hey….the heart wants what it wants. Naturally, mother Anna (Essie Davis) and father Henry (Ben Mendelsohn) are not happy. Still, they indulge their daughter’s whims. Their overwhelming desire to make Milla happy outweighs their moral misgivings. The more reckless Milla behaves, the more they are compelled to step in. This honest presentation of humanity details some complicated ethical dilemmas.

What is notable is how much the narrative doesn’t explain. It’s clear that Milla is ill and in time we come to realize she has some form of cancer, but it’s never explicitly stated for the viewer. The observation is voyeuristic in that it is as if we’re eavesdropping on these people’s lives and we have to kind fo fill in the blanks with what we’re seeing. I was frequently perplexed by the actions of these people. For example it’s unclear whether Moses sticks around because he loves Milla or because her family provides the access he needs to drugs. Dad is a psychiatrist and can prescribe medication. These individuals are flawed and the chronicle is knowingly aware of this. However, as things develop we’re able to sort of piece together what makes these various people tick. Even when their judgment is perplexing, it never seems unconvincing. The characters are unique. They challenge our principles but we slowly understand their choices as a result of circumstance.

Director Shannon Murphy has an obvious rapport with this ensemble of actors. Here she makes her feature debut with a script by Rita Kalnejais. Remarkable talents Davis and Mendelsohn make an unconventional mom and dad. We question their child-rearing decisions. The ambivalence of the screenplay does not. It merely presents them as frayed human beings in a problematic situation. Eliza Scanlen plays Milla, the 16-year-old at the center. She is the key. This is a girl whose very existence is limited and that sad fact underscores her behavior. She has nothing to lose. No parent would ever approve of Milla’s choice of a boyfriend in Moses. Nevertheless, we are sensitive to her plight. Scanlen is known for the HBO series Sharp Objects. She also played Beth, the youngest sister in Greta Gerwig’s Little Women in 2019. That was a supporting part. Here she is the star and she rises to the occasion beautifully.

08-14-20

Bill & Ted Face the Music

Posted in Adventure, Comedy, Music, Science Fiction with tags on August 30, 2020 by Mark Hobin

bill_and_ted_face_the_music_ver3STARS2.5So the last time we saw Bill & Ted, it was 29 years ago.  A lot has changed since the duo’s Excellent Adventure (1989) and Bogus Journey (1991).  I mean, let’s be real.  It’s been nearly three decades.  Neither installment was what I’d call great cinema but they both coast on the affable charm of the leads.  “Be excellent to each other!” and “Party on dudes!” they proclaimed.  I really wanted to like this sequel because (1) of nostalgia for the first film and (2) there are flashes of inspiration that kept me hoping it would get better.  Unfortunately, the production is a chaotic, loud special effects-laden fantasy that never quite gelled for me.

So the boys (well men — Bill & Ted are in their 50s now) are tasked with writing a song that will unite the world and save humanity.  If they don’t, then reality will collapse.  Being the slackers that they are, they decide to reutilize their old miraculous phone booth to time travel into the future where the tune already exists, steal it and bring it back to their current era.  But there’s so much more going on.  They are married and their wives (Erinn Hayes and Jayma Mays) are also time traveling to find an existence where each woman is happily married to their respective husband.  Bill & Ted are also pursued by a neurotic robot (Anthony Carrigan) that has been sent by The Great Leader (Holland Taylor) to kill the duo in order to restore balance to the universe. Whew!

Now on to the most righteous part.  Bill & Ted are aided by their daughters, Thea and Billie, who want to help their fathers write the song.  Samara Weaving and Brigette Lundy-Paine embody the offspring with charisma and appeal.  Their personalities reflect their fathers’ demeanor but with more wisdom.  They have an encyclopedic knowledge of music and they put it to good use as they recruit a supergroup of the greatest musicians from throughout history.  Mozart (Daniel Dorr), Louis Armstrong (Jeremiah Craft), and Jimi Hendrix (DazMann Still) are among the choices.  This is the story thread that harkens back to the sweet simplicity of the first movie.  The portion concerning the two girls is actually the most compelling.

The bloated saga is tedious though. Bill & Ted keep running into depressing or silly future versions of themselves.  In one they’re muscle-bound inmates in prison, in another timeline, hippies, in still another, old men.   None of these different iterations are very funny or clever.  Of course, most people tuning in won’t care.  They want to see “Bill” played by Alex Winter and “Ted” portrayed by Keanu Reeves.  The dudes are back and that’s very important because nostalgia is everything in this episode.  I think it’s safe to say if you haven’t seen the other two chapters or didn’t enjoy them,  then Face the Music is definitely not made with you in mind.   This is for the fans and it relies on jokes and asides that reward people who are.

8-28-20

The Personal History of David Copperfield

Posted in Comedy, Drama with tags on August 28, 2020 by Mark Hobin

personal_history_of_david_copperfield_ver9STARS3.5Frenzied, stylized version of David Copperfield is such a hyperactive exercise that you’d swear it was based on a comic book and not the Charles Dickens’ book published in 1850.  The production is nothing if not creative — a vibrant display of manic drama fashioned around a memorable performance by Dev Patel at the center of the narrative.

Dev Patel is a charismatic choice to play the naive and trusting protagonist.  The British-Indian actor is perhaps not the first actor one would select to play this historical character.  Yet he personifies Copperfield’s spirit with singular joyous energy.  His gawky frame and wide-eyed expressions engage the viewer.  We are captivated by this man as we enthusiastically follow him on his journey.  The ensemble is — in fact– populated by a few notable actors in roles that favor colorblind casting choices.  Where this felt like a stunt in 2018’s Mary Queen of Scots, here the actors mostly relish their parts with a comedic zeal that invigorates the proceedings.

Charles Dickens’ autobiographical tale of the titular character’s maturation to adulthood was supposedly his personal favorite.  The chronicle details Victorian England and the effects that wealth and class have on various individuals.  Director Armando Iannucci (The Death of Stalin) and co-screenwriter Simon Blackwell present a rather unconventional reworking.  The mood is frenetic and fast-paced.  That’s particularly good news for moviegoers with short attention spans.  However, it’s less encouraging for those period piece fans who prefer tradition and nuance.

The Personal History of David Copperfield is not your father’s stuffy adaptation.  The saga has a loose, disjointed feel.  The hardships and good fortunes jammed together like a herky-jerky roller coaster of ups and downs throughout.  The sprawling novel has been serialized for TV many times over the years.  There’s also George Cukor’s highly respected 1935 version for MGM. The episodic nature of the numerous events could easily be seen as chaotic and random.  Nevertheless it alls serves in the detail of the gradual ascent of a young man in society.  It’s fitfully charming as a whole.  Take my positive appraisal with a  grain of salt.  I confess I have never read the book, nor seen any production of the work.  I do not worship the source.  However, I know what’s entertaining and this breezy movie certainly is that.

08-26-20

An American Pickle

Posted in Comedy, Drama with tags on August 7, 2020 by Mark Hobin

american_pickleSTARS2.5So I did laugh during An American Pickle.  The saga concerns Herschel Greenbaum, A struggling Jewish laborer who emigrates from Schlupke, Poland to New York in 1920 with hopes of building a better life.  He gets a menial job at a factory and accidentally falls into a vat of pickles.  Apparently, no one realizes this has occurred.  A lid is placed on the cask and then the warehouse is condemned immediately after.  100 years later, he wakes up alive in present-day Brooklyn and hasn’t aged a day.  He was perfectly preserved in that salty brine.  You’ve heard of magical realism?  Well, this is that component taken to the tenth power.  Herschel’s existence is a wonder of science.  He is promptly placed on television where he is interviewed.  An expert is asked how such an unbelievable event could have happened.  His inaudible response makes complete sense to all who hear it, or so we’re told through voice-over narration.   THAT writer’s construct made me chuckle.  The rest of the film, unfortunately, did not.  When the story isn’t unfocused, it’s uninteresting.

After a clever setup, the fable coasts gently downward from there.  Herschel learns his only surviving relative is a great-grandson named Ben, also played by Seth Rogen.  Rogen’s ability to play dual roles is indeed convincing.  It’s easy to forget that each character is played by the same person.  However, that doesn’t mean that they are both are appealing.  I appreciated the plight of old-world Herschel who wakes up disoriented à la Rip Van Winkle in contemporary society.  However, I didn’t warm up to Ben.  He’s such a jealous sourpuss of a personality.  First, he calls the authorities to destroy his great-grandfather’s business, then purposefully gives him bad advice for navigating social media, and later asks him a difficult question in a public forum to trip him up.  Ben is a thoroughly reprehensible human being.  And yet relationships improve simply because Hershel finds a drawing Ben made as a child.  Huh?!

An American Pickle is neither a tale where people behave rationally nor one where things develop in a coherent manner.  The slapdash nature of the story is irksome.  Case in point: how many different ways can you make a joke about androgynous people?  I counted three but there may have been more.  However, that doesn’t mean there isn’t an audience for this.   The feature debut from cinematographer Brandon Trost was written by Simon Rich—based on his novella Sell Out.   If you’ve ever joined a minyan to say the Mourner’s Kaddish then you may appreciate how the chronicle honors certain traditions.  The screenplay has a reverence for Judaism as well as maintaining personal ties with our ancestors.  Although I did find it amusing that when Herschel first meets Ben.  1920s Herschel is the inquisitive one, eager to learn all about his great-grandson’s modern time.  Meanwhile self-absorbed Ben surprisingly has not one question to ask regarding Hershel’s experiences in the past.  Ben’s lack of interest in anything but himself, matched my lack of enthusiasm for this movie.

08-06-20

Yes, God, Yes

Posted in Comedy, Drama with tags on August 3, 2020 by Mark Hobin

Adobe Photoshop PDFSTARS3“Guys are like microwave ovens and ladies are like conventional ovens.  Guys just need a few seconds, like a microwave, to get switched on, while ladies typically need to preheat for a while.”  So says Father Murphy (Timothy Simons) as he addresses a class of high schoolers in their morality class.  I had 8 years of Catholic schooling and I can honestly say I never had any instructor, priest or layperson ever compare sexual arousal to the workings of a kitchen appliance.  As a matter of fact, my teachers rarely even addressed sexuality at all, and when they did it was from a biological context (secondary sex characteristics and stuff like that).  I get that this is a movie though.  Humor is more entertaining than reality so I’ll accept writerly dialogue that feels invented.

Alice (Natalia Dyer) is a 16-year-old Catholic from Iowa during the early 2000s.  Yes, God, Yes is a sensitive portrait about the teen who is currently experiencing a sexual awakening.  After an AOL chat turns racy, Alice grapples with the guilt by signing up for a four-day retreat.  While trying to suppress her natural burgeoning sexuality, she inadvertently becomes the victim of a scandalous rumor concerning her and fellow student Wade (Parker Wierling).  It’s completely untrue.  Although Alice’s attraction to camp counselor Chris (Wolfgang Novogratz) is indeed genuine.  The adults have no nuance or depth.  They are hypocrites all.  In particular, the Father presiding over the event hides an embarrassing secret.  The teens however are a bit more nuanced.  Some even express an earnest and uplifting devotion to God.  When fellow student Nina (Alisha Boe) testifies at the retreat, it’s a sincere moment

The “big reveal” of Karen Maine’s screenplay is that those who profess to be Christian actually succumb to temptations as well.  Surprise!  Priests and teachers and peer youth leaders are human.  No points for the stating the obvious but at least she speaks from experience.  Writer-director Karen Maine is an ex-Catholic.  As such she intends to expose what she deems as hypocrisy.  This is her gentle send-up of religion.  The satire is pretty lighthearted and reminded me of my own experiences once or twice.  There’s one scene where Father Murphy plays Peter Gabriel’s “In Your Eyes” and he instructs the kids to imagine the song is about Jesus.  That is amusing but it also rings true.  I can attest ministers have indeed quoted current songs of the day as ways to make their talks more relevant to kids.  I still recall a lector who ardently cited the lyrics of “Missionary Man” by the Eurythmics during a homily for a mass when I was in high school.

The account does present the subject honestly and amicably without being acerbic.  The overall message does not condemn religion but rather promotes individuals to respect yourself as well as others.  Who can’t get behind that?  It’s a heavy topic but the narrative ultimately feels pretty slight.  The secret weapon is actress Natalia Dyer.  Her performance is at once shy, heartfelt, and authentic.  She’s markedly different from the more confident character she portrays on TV’s Stranger Things.  Alice evokes our sympathy because of innocence.  She is sexually naive and yet she understandably has questions.  Catholic guilt is powerful.  Regardless of your upbringing, the audience can relate and appreciate her struggle to do the right thing.  Couple that with normal teen angst and you got a coming of age story that is like navigating a minefield.

07-30-20