In this edition of the New Release Breakdown, I take a deep dive into Pixar’s latest animated effort Turning Red, the 2022 Sundance offering Fresh, and the Oscar-nominated period piece Cyrano. Let’s get rolling!
Turning Red Synopsis: Mei Lee (Rosalie Chiang) is a 13-year-old girl who is torn between being her mother’s (Sandra Oh) obedient daughter and the chaos of her youth. As if that were not enough, she turns into a giant red panda when she gets too excited.
Pixar continues to operate more like a prestigious art house studio rather than a mainstream animation entity, entrusting their elite team of storytellers and animators to conjure thoughtful depictions of the human condition. From a mermaid discovering companionship during the endless summers to a superhero family dealing with their superpowered family dilemmas, Pixar consistently mines creative storytelling avenues that often resonate on a deeply personal level.
Domee Shi’s feature-length writing/directorial debut, Turning Red, unsurprisingly falls in the same mold. Shi approaches her material with vibrant visceral and storytelling sensibilities, injecting an energetic pulse that feels tailor-made for her jumpy adolescent protagonist. It’s a blast to watch the filmmaker zero her sights on the teenage experience. Shi possesses a keen understanding of the period’s distinct joys and conflictions, with Mei enduring an all-too-real struggle for authorship over her life under the shadow of her loving yet controlling mother.
Turning Red finds a comfort zone in its most intimate moments. Enhanced by the narrative’s adept cultural understanding and clever implementation of the early 2000s zeitgeist, Shi repurposes commonplace tenants of the coming of age genre in an experience that feels distinctly its own. I also credit the filmmaker and Pixar for never shying away from difficult conversations. The film handles its subject matter with a proper balance of sensitivity and empathy for its subjects, building toward a well-earned emotional crescendo by the time credits roll.
Turning Red doesn’t avoid some of Pixar’s frequent trappings, including a narrative that relies too heavily on commonplace narrative mechanics. Still, Shi and company draw an agreeable and emotionally sincere descent into the adolescent experience.
Turning Red is now available on Disney+.
Fresh Synopsis: Frustrated by scrolling dating apps only to end up on lame, tedious dates, Noa (Daisy Edgar-Jones) takes a chance by giving her number to the awkwardly charming Steve (Sebastian Stan) after a produce-section meeting at the grocery store.
If social-media age dating wasn’t scary enough, director Mimi Cave and screenwriter Lauryn Kahn delve into a meet-cute gone wrong with their pointed horror offering Fresh. While their film doesn’t tread revelatory waters, Cave and Kahn craft an emphatic denouncement of the dating world’s twisted inequities.
Every aspect of Fresh feels well-tuned to the narrative’s deeper thematic connotations. Our protagonist Noa exists as a cynical realist after running the gamut of unpleasant dating experiences, often dealing with men who cruelly project their inherent insecurities upon her. When she meets the affable goofball Steve, things seem to be finally taking a turn for the better.
Without spoiling the narrative’s macabre journey, Noa soon finds herself in her most chilling relationship dynamic yet. Cave and Kahn infuse their horror sensibility as a clever magnification of Noa’s deeply-seated dread towards dating. The duo effectively delves into how the modern dating world continues to transform into a dangerous playing field – one that’s often defined by men’s disturbing levels of possessiveness and commodification towards women.
Even with its concerning connotations, Fresh doesn’t operate in a constant dreary state. The filmmaking team balances darkly comedic flourishes throughout its twisted narrative, finding provocative ways to elicit chuckles out of challenging situations (I loved the use of 80’s pop confectionary songs). Stars Daisy Edgar-Jones and Sebastian Stan possess the range and gravitas to articulate the film’s tricky tonal balance, with Stan stealing the screen in particular as Noa’s enigmatic boyfriend.
Fresh can get too caught up in its horror machinations at times, which ultimately prevents a more nuanced depiction of its engaging subject matter. That said, Cave and company strike a piercing statement when their narrative eventually finds its rhythm.
Fresh is now available on Hulu.
The Adam Project
The Adam Project Synopsis: After accidentally crash-landing in 2022, time-traveling fighter pilot Adam Reed (Ryan Reynolds) teams up with his 12-year-old self (Walker Scobell) for a mission to save the future.
Have you ever endured a film that seemed to have all the right pieces, yet none of them quite clicked together? Enter director Shawn Levy with his next easily digestible blockbuster, The Adam Project. For Netflix, the streamer’s latest attempts at conjuring big-budget thrills on the small screen never escape its factory-assembled construction.
Levy, the helmer behind studio-friendly hits like Night at the Museum and Free Guy, knows how to craft a competent feature. Every frame bustles with sleek craftsmanship and an array of star-studded A-listers, breezily passing along while incorporating a slew of agreeable homages to its beloved science-fiction counterparts. Levy and the screenwriters (Jonathan Tropper, T.S. Nowlin, and Jennifer Flackett) also attempt to infuse emotional undertones as the two Adams explore their complicated family bonds. When spurts click together, The Adam Project emanates the type of feel-good energy ripped straight out of 80’s crowdpleasing staples like E.T. and The Goonies.
Unfortunately, Levy and the company fail to bolster their promising core. The Adam Project never infuses its time-honored tenants with new ideas or creative upgrades. The general familiarity dilutes the experience into a soulless amalgam of other projects – one that feels more like a consumable product than a thoughtfully constructed project.
Even the cast, which includes Ryan Reynolds, Jennifer Garner, Mark Ruffalo, Zoe Saldana, and Catherine Keener, is left in the dust as they reenact their typical movie star shtick. Everyone seems to be hitting the right beats, but none of the performances or material features the ingenuity to breathe new life into the stale formula.
The Adam Project showcases Netflix vying for another blockbuster franchise without understanding what makes films of this elk flourish. If you are looking for an easy-going romp, I’d recommend the star-studded caper Red Notice instead.
The Adam Project is now available on Netflix.
Cheaper by the Dozen
It’s no secret Disney is surfing down a remake wave. I am already growing tired of The House of Mouse trend, as most of these reimaginings offer meager improvements to their time honored-classics. Most of these remakes only serve as a reason to remember their time-honored counterparts.
Blacklish writer and producer Kenya Barris tries to write the wayward trend with Cheaper by the Dozen. Relegated to a streaming release, the studio’s attempt at re-imaging this remake-of-a-remake feels just as dysfunctional as its titular oversized family.
Barris, co-writer Jenifer Rice-Genzuk Henry, and director Gail Lerner earn points for having their heart in the right place. The trio occasionally wrestles with the modern struggles facing a divorced, mixed-race family, offering a few thoughtfully conceived conversations about factors that often get overlooked. Make no mistake, Cheaper by the Dozen is still a sitcom-esque comedy that delves into familial struggles with a heavy dose of sugary optimism. Fans of the original, or the 2003 remake and its forgettable sequel, may be charmed by the familiar shenanigans.
The good intentions never translated into an enjoyable experience for me. Zach Braff and Gabrielle Union make an agreeable enough pair as the paternal Bakers, yet both stars find themselves stuck in a scattershot comedy that never finds its rhythm. Cheaper by the Dozen overstuffs itself with hackneyed subplots, comedic pratfalls, and sentimental speeches. It’s a tonal blend that drives the film forward without a proper roadmap.
Worst of all, Cheaper by the Dozen lacks heart and originality. The film reassembles its promising premise into a forgettable blip on Disney+’s array of content.
Cheaper by the Dozen is now playing on Disney+.
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