Category Archives: Romantic Comedy

Review – The Judge (15) [2014]

The Judge - title banner

Star Rating: 3.5/5

Director:

  • David Dobkin – Wedding Crashers, Fred Claus, The Change-Up

Cast:

  • Robert Duvall – The Godfather I-II, Deep Impact, Jack Reacher, Racing Legacy
  • Robert Downey Jr – Chaplin, Zodiac, Iron Man I-III, The SoloistThe Avengers Assemble I & II, Captain America III
  • Vera Farmiga – Dust, Source Code, Safe House, The Conjuring I-II
  • Billy Bob Thornton – Armageddon, Monster’s Ball, Eagle Eye, London Fields
  • Leighton Meester – Gossip Girl, Date Night, The Roommate, By The Gym
  • Vincent D’Onofrio – Guy, Men In Black, Escape Plan, Jurassic World
  • Jeremy Strong – The Happening, Lincoln, Zero Dark Thirty, Selma
  • Ken Howard – Melrose Place, Michael Clayton, Rambo, The Wedding Ringer
  • Emma Tremblay – Elysium, The Giver, Santa’s Little Ferrets
  • Sarah Lancaster – Saved By The Bell: New Class, Everwood, Dr Vegas, The Good Doctor
  • David Krumholtz – Sausage Party

Music Composer:

All parent-child relationships are fraught with layers and complexities. Regardless of whether a parent and child have a good, bad or ambivalent relationship, the relationship is always coloured by past events and the personalities of the individuals involved. Despite The Judge being ostensibly about a judge in the docks, the film interestingly tells us more about a difficult father-son relationship than about being a judge.

Hank (Robert Downey Jr) reunites with his father, Judge Joseph (Robert Duvall), who virtually shuns him.

Hank (Robert Downey Jr) reunites with his father, Judge Joseph (Robert Duvall), who virtually shuns him.

The Judge begins with Hank Palmer (Robert Downey Jr), a defence barrister in Chicago, learning that his mother has died and that he must return to Calinville, a small town in Indiana, for the funeral. In Calinville, Hank reunites with his brothers, Glen (Vincent D’Onofrio) and Dale (Jeremy Strong), as well as his father, Judge Joseph Palmer (Rubert Duvall), whom Hank has a problematic relationship with, and vice-versa.

However, one night, Judge Joseph comes home with the side of his car damaged with blood stains on it. Soon, the police come round and question him about a dead body. Then, they charge Judge Joseph with murder. That is when Hank steps in to defend his father.

The Judge is a stimulating film with much going for it. The dialogue is well written and the acting is brilliant across the board; especially, Robert Downey Jr and Robert Duvall. Both are fantastic and the two men have a great, if challenging, rapport. Downey Jr may (inevitably) dominate the film with his trademark fast-talk and arrogance. But unlike his (pathetic) attempts at giving himself a weakness in Iron Man III, in The Judge he genuinely shows audiences vulnerability in his character; not least in his fractured relationship with his on-screen father. Reflexively, Duvall gives viewers an interesting take on the difference in being a good judge and a good father due to Judge Joseph’s relationship with Hank.

Hanks meets Samantha (Vera Farmiga) for the first time in two decades, to put some spark back into their long lost romance.

Hanks meets Samantha (Vera Farmiga) for the first time in two decades, to put some spark back into their long lost romance.

Downey Jr and Duvall aside, the rest of the cast all play their roles decently. However, there are too many extraneous characters that add little to the storyline, or rather the storylines because The Judge tries to be three films in one. That The Judge cannot determine what sort of film it wishes to be is the root of its problems.

Predominately, it is a family drama. This plot is the strongest of the plots and the one with the most detail. Arguably, if the movie had just stuck to being about the Palmer family (and its dynamics) it would have made for a fascinating (and succinct) hundred minutes. But instead, The Judge has elements of a legal thriller and a romantic comedy about it, which bloat the movie’s running time to 141 minutes.

The legal thriller storyline feels like a side issue throughout the film, which is odd considering the movie’s title. Relatively little time is given to this particular plot, but all the same it is an intriguing and worthwhile storyline; it gives one an insight into how difficult it must be for a judge to work out what is (and what is not) the truth of a case (which holds great significance currently in light of the conclusion of the Oscar Pistorius sentencing); and, moreover, some of the courtroom duels between Hank and Prosecutor Dwight Dickman (Billy Bob Thornton) are highly entertaining. Credit must also be given to Director David Dobkin for giving the central protagonist a worthy adversary and not a second-rate nitwit, like in other legal thrillers, such as The Lincoln Lawyer.

Judge Joseph, in the unfamiliar position of being on the receiving end of questions while in the dock.

Judge Joseph, in the unfamiliar position of being on the receiving end of questions while in the dock.

Nevertheless, if the legal thriller elements of the film feel like a sideshow, the romantic comedy sub-plots feel pointless and often inappropriately timed. Sarah Lancaster’s, Vera Farmiga’s and Leighton Meester’s characters add an (inane) contrivance that The Judge would have been better without, while some of the (otherwise brilliant) exchanges between Hank and Judge Joseph should have occurred at more suitable times and places. Inane contrivances and revelations at unsuitable times are clichés that romantic comedies regularly adopt to make their stories more interesting than they really are, and Dobkin knows this all too well from having directed 2011’s (the forgettable) The Change-Up. The Judge would have made for a far more realistic film, with a more consistent tone, if Dobkin had focussed the film on the family drama and added more to the legal thriller elements, and not felt the need to dabble again in the mire of a romantic comedy.

All-in-all, The Judge is a very good film. It has been well directed, written and acted; the handicap is that Dobkin could not make up his mind as to what genre of film he wanted to make. Otherwise, the movie would have been among the best of 2014. Despite that, The Judge gives audiences some terrific performances and scenes, as well as an appreciation for a complex and layered father-son relationship. Above-all, The Judge illustrates that one can be a don in their profession, but that does not necessarily make one a good mother/father, and that past experiences with one’s kids can have a great impact on one’s personal and professional career.

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Review – Her (15) [2014]

Her - header

Star Rating: 4/5

Director:

  • Spike Jonze – Being John Malkovich, Where The Wild Things Are, Pretty Sweet, Choose You

Cast:

Music Composer:

  • Owen Pallett – The Box, The Wait

Over the last two decades, technology has taken on a greater and more controlling part of everyday life for people. From transportation to computers to sophisticated mobile phones, it is almost impossible to imagine a time when mankind lived without technology virtually running our lives. But can technology go further? Can people develop feelings for technology as if it were a complex person? This is what Spike Jonze’s impressive, if strange, indie romantic comedy Her explores.

Theodore (Joaquin Phoenix), looking back in time, remembering when he broke up with his childhood sweetheart Catherine (Rooney Mara).

Theodore (Joaquin Phoenix), looking back in time, remembering when he broke up with his childhood sweetheart Catherine (Rooney Mara).

Her is set in 2025 and follows Theodore (Joaquin Phoenix), a lonely, sad man. By day, Theodore works for a business that transcribes heartfelt messages for people unwilling or unable to speak/write such messages to loved ones; and by night, he plays 3D video games in his room and has phone sex with random women.

Unhappy with the way his life is panning out, especially because he is in the process of divorcing his childhood sweetheart, Catherine (Rooney Mara), Theodore purchases an interactive operating system. Theodore chooses certain personality traits for his operating system and soon forms a relationship with his operating system, which calls itself/herself Samantha (voiced by Scarlett Johansson).

Her is an interesting film. The movie raises some thought-provoking questions as to what constitutes a relationship and whether a relationship needs to have physical elements for it to be emotionally satisfying. At times whilst watching Her, one forgets that Samantha/Scarlett Johansson is not physically there, such is the three-dimensional realness of her character.

Theodore out on a blind date with Amelia (Olivia Wilde).

Theodore out on a blind date with Amelia (Olivia Wilde).

Part of the reason why one subconsciously believes that Samantha/Scarlett Johansson is physically there is because of the depth of her character. Indeed, she has a three-dimensional realness that is both noteworthy and worrying at the same time. But another factor is the strength of the performances of the cast, which is aided by the excellence of the script Jonze has written, the artfulness of the film’s music, and the believability of the futuristic world that has been created.

As ever, Joaquin Phoenix plays magnificently as the odd, socially-inept, reclusive, and commitment-phobic Theodore, trying to find a way out of his own misery. Phoenix spends much of the time on screen by himself, talking to his operating system. Despite this, Phoenix carries the movie with his engagingly sensitive and highly-complicated display in a similar vein to Sandra Bullock in Gravity, and in a different way as James Franco did in 127 Hours.

Similarly, Amy Adams is splendid as Theodore’s odd, unconfident friend, with a failing marriage, and whose career has yet to take off; Scarlett Johansson provides humour, a get-up-and-go attitude, and an intelligence that makes her the envy of any genuine person; and Rooney Mara plays well enough (with the small time she is given) as Theodore’s soon-to-be ex-wife, trying to make sense of her husband’s choice to date an operating system without making the scene look laughable and ludicrous.

Theodore, unable to sleep, so he turns on his operating system to talk with Samanatha (voiced by Scarlett Johansson).

Theodore, lonely and unable to sleep, turns on his operating system to talk with Samanatha (voiced by Scarlett Johansson).

However, what let’s Her down is that it is way too long and (tragically) quite boring. Her’s premise is used up within thirty minutes of its running time. This means that the film’s remaining 96 minutes feels like it goes on and on. This is a real shame, as Her is something genuinely different to what one is so used to watching in romantic comedies.

All-in-all, Her is an original and, in so many ways, is a great film. The acting is brilliant, Jonze’s script is outstanding, the music is wonderfully atmospheric, and the world the movie is set in is realistic and apt. Yet, Her should have been 45 minutes long at the most, rendering the majority of the film tedious and wearisome. Moreover, it is a weird movie that is unlikely to sit well with most viewers. Most conspicuously, Her raises the issues of what constitutes a relationship, and how far one’s relationship with technology can go. Considering how much technology has come (and will continue) to rule people’s lives, this is a troubling thought and operating systems, like Samantha, might not be so hypothetical in the not-too-distant future.

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Review – Friends With Benefits (15) [2011]

Star Rating: 3/5

Six months ago, the light-hearted No Strings Attached came out. It starred Natalie Portman and Ashton Kutcher, and explored the idea of whether or not friends could have sexual relations devoid of emotion. Friends With Benefits deals again with this issue, just with better jokes and more sex.

Dylan and Jamie making their pact to have 'no emotions, just sex.'

Friends With Benefits centres round Jamie (Mila Kunis – Family Guy, Black Swan, Oz: The Great and Powerful) and Dylan (Justin Timberlake – Alpha Dog, The Social Network, In Time), both of whom are ‘emotionally damaged’ after being dumped by their respective boyfriend and girlfriend. Jamie is a head-hunter, who flies Dylan over from LA to New York to recruit him for the advertising firm, GQ. No sooner does Dylan get off the plane, the two of them strike up a friendship that soon goes beyond the borders of a platonic relationship. The question is: can they keep it up without falling for one another?

The storyline is enjoyable and far from intense. Friends With Benefits is filled with sex scenes, but lacks the volume of nudity seen in Love & Other Drugs. However, just like in No Strings Attached, Friends With Benefits becomes predictable and a little cliché by the end (as is to be expected from a romantic comedy). Even the key song of the film, the normally very pleasant Closing Time by Semisonic, feels a little overused and cheesy by the end.

Dylan's sister, Annie (Jenna Elfman). She cannot believe that her brother is not going out with Jamie.

Over-all, director-producer, Will Gluck (Easy A, Fired Up!), has put the film together nicely. There are some corny moments and conveniences in the plot, but it could have been so much worse, as The Back-Up Plan and Valentine’s Day illustrate. Likewise, the dialogue and the acting are not terrible either. There is some good banter between the appealing Jamie and Dylan, which will make the audience laugh. The humour in Friends With Benefits may lack the sophistication of that in One Day; nevertheless, it is not slapstick.

Out of the two main characters, Mila Kunis steals the show. Indeed, she is the star of the movie. Not only is Kunis strikingly attractive (even in the mornings after a steamy night), her character, Jamie, has a fun and lively personality that is the envy of single men (and possibly some married ones too). Additionally, when Jamie needs to be severe or upset, Kunis makes it look genuine. This is not the case with Justin Timberlake. Playing the young, up-coming, smooth-talking manager, he does just fine. Yet, when he attempts to be serious he looks like a petulant child not getting his way.

Dylan and Jamie going for a walk in the park.

The characters and the storyline in Friends With Benefits have their flaws. Both of the key players lack depth; as does the rest of the cast, with perhaps the exception of Dylan’s father (Richard Jenkins – Changing Lanes, Burn After Reading, The Cabin in the Woods). Moreover, the movie does not adequately explain why Dylan and Jamie are ‘emotionally screwed up’. (Then again, this is a romantic comedy. What was one expecting?)

For those who enjoyed No Strings Attached, there is little doubt that they will enjoy Friends With Benefits too. The latter film is fun and, in Jamie (Mila Kunis), has a girl that is the stuff of dreams. Furthermore, the movie has some amusing jokes, and enables the audience to switch off whilst watching two good-looking people making out with one another regularly. Whether one will come out believing that a friend with benefits is possible is another matter.

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Review – One Day (12a) [2011]

Star Rating: 3/5

Romantic comedies (better known as ‘chick flicks’), such as Ghosts of Girlfriends Past and He’s Just Not That Into You, tend to be sweet, sentimental (cringe-worthy) and predictable. One Day is nothing of the kind, and has a twist that few will see coming. (Don’t worry, no spoilers in this review.)

Dexter and Emma, with those geeky 1980s-glasses, out on a countryside walk on that fateful day in 1989, when their bewildering relationship started.

One Day is based on the book by David Nichols. Set in grim and rainy England, the storyline revolves round the self-obsessed Dexter (Jim Sturgess – The Other Boleyn Girl, The Way Back, Ashes) and the innocent, geeky-looking Emma (Anne Hathaway – Bride Wars, Rio, The Dark Knight Rises), two individuals who are hopelessly (and, to some extent, tragically) in love with one another, but decide to be ‘friends’ rather than lovers. Dexter and Emma get with one another on the 15th July 1989, the day of their graduation from university, and decide to keep in contact. They write and call one another quite regularly, and meet up for their ‘anniversary’ every year on the same day for years, sustaining a varying relationship, despite moving on with their lives.

The film’s plot may not be entirely faithful to the book. Nevertheless, the movie is absorbing and not difficult to follow, even if one occasionally forgets which year he/she is in. One Day is captivating primarily because it does not have the feel of a predictable romantic comedy. One never knows what direction the (dismaying) relationship between Dexter and Emma will take. In addition, Emma’s intelligent, wry humour is very amusing, and distinctively unlike the standard slap-stick comedy that is habitual in ‘chick flicks’.

Dexter getting touchy with Emma, as he rubs suncream into her back on their ‘anniversary’.

Playing Dexter and Emma, Jim Sturgess and Anne Hathaway, respectively, do themselves no harm. But Sturgess’s character, Dexter, is far from the most challenging of roles. The same can be said for Hathaway’s character, Emma. Additionally, Hathaway’s Yorkshire accent may fluctuate between a Leeds-based one, a Scottish one, and a posh-English one, but on the whole it is acceptable.

Yet, even though Sturgess and Hathaway perform decently enough throughout One Day, there is little character depth and almost no character development throughout the film. This means that Dexter and Emma hardly change or mature in twenty-odd years. (Then again, in reality nor do most people.) It is the same for the other members of the cast too, such as the goofy Ian (Rafe Spall – Kidulthood, Hot Fuzz, Anonymous) and the bimbo Tara (Amanda Fairbank-Hynes – An Education, Monte Carlo, Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy). This is a shame for the actors, as the script (despite already being laid out in a book) simply isn’t good enough and does not give them the adequate tools to make the movie unique.

As remarkable as it may seem that the characters remain virtually the same throughout One Day, the same can be said for Emma’s hairstyle and fashion sense. Both look like they’re locked in the era of Saved By The Bell. By the mid-2000s, she looks wholly anachronistic. The same can be said for Ian too. Surely the director, Lone Scherfig (Wilbur Wants to Kill Himself, An Education), noticed this whilst making the film? Evidently not.

Dexter and Emma, both looking glamorous, catching up with one another years later.

Other noticeable faults with One Day are that it feels rushed and, in places, poorly put together. The film may have to cover two decades in the space of 107 minutes, but that is not an excuse for scenes not being stitched well together. Furthermore, some of the music adopted appears badly chosen and does not fit with the scenes at all.

One Day is far from the norm for a romantic comedy. The film has its flaws and could have been much more, but Sturgess and Hathaway perform well enough with what they are given to make it worthwhile viewing. For One Day is witty, entertaining and unpredictable. Wait for the twist.

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