March is finally here! The weather is getting warmer, brighter days appear to be ahead regarding COVID-19, and there’s still a bevy of new releases hitting airwaves. To catch-up with some of the month’s overlooked titles, I am reviving this feature to discuss a few major streaming titles. Let’s get the ball rolling!
HAPPILY – Directed by BenDavid Grabinski
Synopsis: Tom and Janet’s friends are jealous of their lustful relationship. When a visit from a mysterious stranger leads to a dead body, they begin to question the loyalty of their so-called friends.
Diving into marital strife through a subversive lens, BenDavid Grabinski’s writing/directorial debut Happily certainly goes for broke from a conceptual perspective. While his first feature may be an exercise in style over substance, Grabinski’s creative verve discovers several intriguing avenues for audiences to delve into.
Grabinski deserves praise for his thoughtful blend of pitch-black comedy and high-concept storytelling. His trippy detours find adept ways to ruminate on commonplace bickering between couples, often analyzing how two supposed lovers become bitter rivals once frustrations ascend to the surface. Stars Joel McHale and Kerry Bishe strongly sell Tom and Janet’s glowing love, allowing the couple’s initial chemistry to evolve once unique problems arise.
It also helps to have a versatile supporting cast, with sharp comedic players like Paul Scheer, Natalie Morales, and Stephen Root bringing a lively crackle to each frame. Happily always finds avenues to entertain, but I do wish Grabinski instilled a finer thesis. The film’s dive into marital complications lands on surface-level conclusion, relying too-heavily on wordy exchanges and a spelled-out obviousness to tackle interesting ideas (the third act is disappointingly predictable considering what proceeds it).
While relatively simple from a thematic perspective, Happily finds enough purpose within its fusion of well-trudged ideas.
Happily released in theaters and Video On Demand on March 19th.
THE FATHER – Directed by Florian Zeller
Synopsis: Anthony (Anthony Hopkins) is 80, mischievous, living defiantly alone and rejecting the carers that his daughter, Anne (Olivia Coleman), encouragingly introduces. Yet help is also becoming a necessity for Anne; she can’t make daily visits anymore and Anthony’s grip on reality is unraveling.
Despite its superb awards acclaim, I was somewhat hesitant going into The Father. Plays are one of the toughest pieces of literature to adapt to the screen, with most landing with a staged aroma that doesn’t take advantage of the cinematic platform. Thankfully, writer/director Florian Zeller’s adaptation of his own play strikes a powerful chord with its depictions of dementia.
Zeller’s big-screen transformation keeps intact the play’s minimalistic allures while encompassing a few thoughtful visual touches. Whether it’s a sudden pierce from Ludovico Einaudi’s score or the intimate framing of Anthony’s breakdown, Zeller finds enough clever ways to manifest the character’s mental degradation onto the screen. At the end of the day, this is Anthony Hopkins’s film and he steals every minute of it. Hopkins performance swerves on a swivel, ranging from joyous reflections to intimidating demands on the drop of a dime. It would have been easy for the tortured persona to become a caricature, but Hopkin’s poise and emotional authenticity consistently rings true.
The Father certainly works for what it is, although I am admittedly less high on it than some of my peers. Similar to Still Alice, I do think the movie’s earnest intentions are somewhat limited. The screenplay gives the supporting players little agency outside of the obvious, while the use of clever techniques feels a bit too infrequent to fully re-invent the work’s stagey origins.
That being said, The Father strikes genuine sentiments where it counts, and it should serve as another welcomed reminder of Anthony Hopkins’s storied talents.
The Father released on VOD on March 26th
YES DAY – Directed by Miguel Arteta
Synopsis: Always feeling like they have to say NO to their kids and co-workers, Allison and Carlos decide to give their three kids a YES DAY — where for 24 hours the kids make the rules. Little did they know that they’d be going on a whirlwind adventure around Los Angeles, that would bring the family closer to each other than ever before.
Going into the cartoonishly earnest Yes Day, I was expecting to be lulled to sleep by a queasy mixture of family film contrivances and over-saturated tendencies (let’s face it, most offerings in the genre stick close to a familiar formula). Surprisingly enough, my begrudging pessimism transformed into genuine enjoyment during director Miguel Arteta’s film. Arteta’s brisk effort embraces the genre’s colorful allures while avoiding any mawkish sentimentality.
It helps that the talented cast radiate with charm. Jennifer Garner is tailor-made to portray the firm, yet fun-loving matriarch of the family, while Edgar Ramirez has a blast stepping out of his usually solemn comfort zone (Ramirez needs to do more comedies like this, he has such a bright presence onscreen). Their dynamite chemistry helps carry along the narrative even as it trudges through familiar ground. Arteta also deserves credit for his deft handling of the film’s sentimental frames, allowing messages about embracing fun and parental responsibilities to register without feeling overbaked.
Yes Day doesn’t do anything particularly revelatory. The plotting steps in a myriad of familiar cliches and the film explore its feel-good messages with seldom detail. For what the movie achieves though, Yes Day charms within its own spirited energy.
Yes Day released on Netflix on March 12th
COMING 2 AMERICA – Directed by Craig Brewer
Synopsis: Prince Akeem Joffer is set to become King of Zamunda when he discovers he has a son he never knew about in America – a street-savvy Queens native named Lavelle. Honoring his royal father’s dying wish to groom this son as the crown prince, Akeem and Semmi set off to America once again.
Eddie Murphy made a revelatory comeback in 2019 with Dolemite is My Name, a razor-sharp comedy that affectionately conveyed Murphy’s lightning rod talents. Now re-teaming with Dolemite helmer Craig Brewer for Coming 2 America, I was excited to see how the duo revived one of Murphy’s iconic comedic roles. Instead of continuing his winning streak, Murphy sadly transports audiences back to his mid-2000s decline, an era where dreadful efforts like Norbit and The Adventure of Pluto Nash completely wasted the star’s distinct talents.
Coming 2 America may be better than both of those films, but its positives don’t outstretch either title by much. Brewer’s haphazard film switches between nostalgia-baiting and a myriad of weak modern references (once Akeem said “on fleek”, I knew I was in trouble), with neither generating much in terms of genuine laughs. Everything here just feels tired. The observant jokes and grimey imagery from the original are swapped out for a bland studio flavor. There are no sparks of ingenuity or creativity to be found, with the star-studded cast showing up to collect their checks and get out of the way.
Oddly enough, Coming 2 America uses several direct references from the 1988 original. Those seldom glimmers are honestly the best part of this passionate studio comedy. As a twenty-year-old sequel, Coming 2 America does little to justify its existence.
Coming 2 America released on Amazon Prime on March 5th.
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