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I, Tonya (2017)

DIRECTOR: Craig Gillespie

CAST: Margot Robbie, Sebastian Stan, Alison Janney, Paul Walter Hauser, Julianne Nicholson, Bobby Cannavale, McKenna Grace


I, Tonya is not a straightforward docudrama of the infamous 1994 assault on figure skater Nancy Kerrigan that implicated her rival Tonya Harding, Harding’s husband Jeff Gilooly, and other associates.  Rather, director Craig Gillespie and screenwriter Steven Rogers have tackled the material as a dark comedy which in the third act has tinges of something the Coen Brothers might have come up with (given the amount of criminal bumbling that takes place, that’s a not altogether inappropriate approach to take).  The movie takes its material from the sometimes completely contradictory interviews of Harding, Gilooly, and others, giving us multiple unreliable narrators, and also asks us to, if not necessarily condone or exonerate Harding, to come to at least some measure of understanding of what led up to the moment that, fairly or unfairly, would define her. Continue reading

About Time (2013)

DIRECTOR: Richard Curtis

CAST: Domhnall Gleeson, Rachel McAdams, Bill Nighy


Writer-director Richard Curtis might not stray out of his romantic comedy comfort zone (he was previously the screenwriter of Four Weddings and a Funeral, Notting Hill, and Bridget Jones’ Diary, and the writer-director of Love Actually), but for his latest installment, he’s souped it up with a time travel twist.  Actually, given how the premise hinges on it, how fast and loose Curtis plays with his own established time travel rules might annoy some sticklers for consistency too much to appreciate the film’s charms, but while riddled with topsy turvy internal logic, About Time is a pleasant, sentimental little romantic comedy-drama that offers an enjoyable diversion for those who appreciate this sort of thing. Continue reading

Don Jon (2013)

don-jon-fathers-day-clip-061613DIRECTOR: Joseph Gordon-Levitt

CAST: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Scarlett Johansson, Julianne Moore, Tony Danza, Glenne Headly, Brie Larson, Rob Brown, Jeremy Luc


For his feature film directorial debut (though he had earlier dabbled in making short films through his online production company Hit Record), Joseph Gordon-Levitt wears three hats here as writer, director, and star, and has chosen to tackle such potentially dark issues as sex and porn addiction.  But in sharp contrast to something as bleak as the Steve McQueen-Michael Fassbender drama Shame, Gordon-Levitt goes the comedy-drama route.  There’s a little synergy with Gordon-Levitt’s 2011 cancer comedy-drama 50/50—though he only starred in that one, and did not write or direct—both in its raunchiness, and in the way it uses irreverent humor to tackle a difficult subject.  The result is a flawed directorial debut, but also shows enough promise to make a case that Gordon-Levitt’s talents do not only lie in front of the camera. Continue reading

Silver Linings Playbook (2012)

DIRECTOR: David O. Russell

CAST: Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, Robert De Niro, Jacki Weaver, Chris Tucker, Julia Stiles, John Ortiz, Dash Mihok, Anupam Kher


Silver Linings Playbook technically falls into the romantic comedy genre, but it’s a less rosy, edgier, more adult version without completely abandoning the tropes fans come to see.  As unlikely as it might sound, director David O. Russell (not one to shy away from quirky material) uses mental illness as a catalyst for humor and romance.  To that end, Silver Linings Playbook is a quirky, frothy romantic comedy-drama bolstered by solid acting and a more in-depth treatment of mental illness than one might expect. Continue reading

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (2012)

DIRECTOR: John Madden

CAST: Judi Dench, Tom Wilkinson, Bill Nighy, Maggie Smith, Dev Patel, Penelope Wilton, Celia Imrie, Ronald Pickup, Tina Desai, Diana Hardcastle, Lillete Dubey


The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is one of those low-key, quiet and inoffensive little comedy-dramas (steeped in oh-so-British reserve) that serve as counter-programming to the big summer action movies.  To that end, it’s not anything unpredictable or edgy, and doesn’t really venture out of its safe zone, but it serves up enough sweetness with dashes of romance and just a drop of poignancy to make it an enjoyable experience that goes down easily, even if it doesn’t necessarily leave the biggest lasting impression.  Those who have a soft spot for lighthearted predictable drama (boosted by a distinguished ensemble cast of respected elder British thespians) might enjoy (one wonders if the movie might play better with those who have more in common, in age and perhaps nationality, with the main characters, than with younger viewers who might want a little more “pep”).   Continue reading

50/50 (2011)

50 50DIRECTOR: Jonathan Levine

CAST: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Seth Rogen, Anna Kendrick, Bryce Dallas Howard, Anjelica Huston, Philip Baker Hall, Matt Frewer


Movies about characters with cancer are a dime a dozen, but what gives 50/50 a little distinction is its approach.  At least for the majority of its running time, this is not a tearjerker; in fact, as unlikely as this might sound, it’s in full comedy-drama mode.  Inspired by the real-life experiences of screenwriter and producer Will Reiser, who wrote the script after his own battle with cancer, 50/50 manages—for the most part—to find an effective tricky balance in a middle ground between disrespectfully flippant and overly sappy.  The result is far from perfect, but Reiser’s sense of humor about his ordeal makes for a refreshingly irreverent take on a difficult subject that’s far more watchable—and still occasionally touching without being overbearing about it—than some Lifetime melodramatic weepfest. Continue reading

500 Days of Summer (2009)

500DIRECTOR: Marc Webb

CAST: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Zooey Deschanel, Chloe Grace Moretz, Geoffrey Arend, Matthew Gray Gubler, Clark Gregg, Minka Kelly


While it contains its share of romance, 500 Days of Summer is not a romantic comedy, at least not in the conventional sense.  As the narration informs us from the get-go, “this is not a love story”, and it acknowledges that every romance isn’t “happily ever after”.  Using a non-linear narrative structure, it’s a deconstruction of the beginning, middle, and end of a relationship that follows its protagonist, not always in chronological order, as he runs the gamut from exhilarated joy to crushing heartbreak, and all the little moments in between.  In a way, it’s not about the boy getting the girl, but the boy learning to get over the girl and living his life instead of desperately clinging to a relationship that may not have ever been as compatible as he thought it was.  That 500 Days of Summer manages to do all this without being a total downer is a tribute to the smart and witty screenplay by Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber, the sophisticated and visually inventive direction by first-time filmmaker Marc Webb, and the charm of star Joseph Gordon-Levitt.  Despite the inherent bittersweet poignancy of the premise, this is–for the most part–a breezy, entertaining, enjoyable comedy-drama that manages in the end to be optimistic and life-affirming rather than bitter or depressing.  Among “breakup movies”, this is as “feel good” an example as you’re likely to find. Continue reading

10 Things I Hate About You (1999)

DIRECTOR: Gil Junger

CAST: Julia Stiles, Heath Ledger, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Larisa Oleynik, David Krumholtz, Andrew Keegan, Gabrielle Union, Larry Miller, Allison Janney


That 10 Things I Hate About You possesses a little more wit and intelligence than your average high school romantic comedy might be less surprising when one realizes it’s a loose adaptation of William Shakespeare’s romantic comedy The Taming of the Shrew.  A “hip” script featuring some snappy one-liners and a likable and charismatic cast help enliven this into both one of the more enjoyable high school comedies, romantic comedies, and modernized Shakespeare adaptations floating around out there. Continue reading

Circle of Friends (1995)

DIRECTOR: Pat O’Connor

CAST: Minnie Driver, Chris O’Donnell, Saffron Burrows, Geraldine O’Rawe, Colin Firth, Alan Cumming, Aidan Gillen


An adaptation by Irish filmmaker Pat O’Connor of Maeve Binchy’s novel, Circle of Friends isn’t anything hugely ambitious or original, but it’s a charming, delightful romantic comedy/drama, heartwarming and a little nostalgic and poignant, anchored by an effervescent debut by lead actress Minnie Driver. Continue reading

Sneakers (1992)

DIRECTOR: Phil Alden Robinson

CAST: Robert Redford, Sidney Poitier, Dan Aykroyd, Mary McDonnell, David Strathairn, River Phoenix, Ben Kingsley, Timothy Busfield, Eddie Jones, Donal Logue, Stephen Tobolowsky


Sneakers, coming out at a time when the pervasive technology at the center of its plot was only beginning to take off toward its virtually limitless full potential, is a bit like a forerunner of heist movies like Ocean’s Eleven.  Coming out in 1992, Sneakers is fairly low-tech by today’s standards, but it has a bit in common with Ocean’s Eleven in its offbeat ensemble team and a generally cheerful tone that, even when some scenes turn more serious, permeates the movie with the feeling that, more than anything else, this was made to be fun by people who had fun making it.  Continue reading