In this edition of New Release Breakdown, I catch up with some of the summer’s under-the-radar entries, including Cha Cha Real Smooth, Fire Island, 18 1/2, and The Bob’s Burgers Movie. Let’s get it rolling!
Cha Cha Real Smooth
Cha Cha Real Smooth Synopsis: A man who works as a bar mitzvah party host (Cooper Raiff) strikes up a unique friendship with a young woman (Dakotah Johnson) and her teenage daughter (Vanessa Burghardt).
After breaking out on the indie scene with Sh*thouse, writer, director, and star Cooper Raiff returns to his coming-of-age lens with Cha Cha Real Smooth. I can see why his latest film received a glowing reception at its Sundance premiere. With both of his first two features, Raiff conveys the type of comforting, quirky material the festival is known for propelling (Coda, Juno, and Garden State).
At the same time, the Sundance coming-of-age formula has shown signs of aging. Several notorious features attempt sentimentality without grounding their insights in authenticity, often creating cheery yet uninspired detours into the coming-of-age milieu (The Only Living Boy in New York and Wish I Was Here). For me, at least, Cha Cha represents another cloying and milquetoast attempt at coming-of-age sentiments.
Raiff follows the typical narrative formula to a tee, introducing his manchild protagonist as a down-on-his-luck college graduate looking for a purpose in his life. Raiff and his assured supporting cast help prop up some of the material’s predictability, but the experience can’t help feeling like a cumbersome exercise in cliche territory. None of the film’s personal revelations, relationships, or comedic gags feel exclusive to Cha Cha’s narrative. Instead, the film runs the gamut of coming-of-age territory without imbuing unique nuances or ideas to the table.
Cha Cha Real Smooth is too affable to detest. That said, Raiff’s latest still can’t escape its oppressively familiar design.
Fire Island Synopsis: A group of queer best friends gather in the Fire Island Pines for their annual week of love and laughter, but when a sudden change of events jeopardizes their summer in gay paradise, their bonds as a chosen family are pushed to the limit.
While Hollywood is still playing catch up in terms of diversity, Fire Island represents a much-needed breath of fresh air. Molded from the classical conceits of Jane Austin’s Pride and Prejudice, Fire Island finds writer and star Joel Kim Booster conjuring a laugh-a-minute comedy from his authentic LGBTQ+ viewpoint.
Booster and Driveways director Andrew Ahn possesses skilled hands in reinventing the studio comedy formula in an artistic light. The duo intelligently delves into nuances of LGBTQ+ culture that aren’t articulated in cinematic outings, often analyzing how race, physique, and other facets create factions in the community.
Where most comedies are grounded in mawkish sentimentality, Fire Island handles its relationship and personal turmoils with a thoughtful touch. The film’s perspective always feels well-articulated and sincere in its heartfelt design. A charismatic cast, including Booster, Bowen Yang, Conrad Ricamore, and James Scully, also helps extenuate the script’s dual strengths through their lived-in camaraderie.
At the same time, Fire Island represents a joyous celebration of LGBTQ+ culture. Booster showcases deft touch in his comedic barbs, pulling clever cultural references and humorous pratfalls while rarely missing a beat. Ahn’s abilities help tremendously in evolving the studio comedy formula. His effervescent imagery and poised composition elicit the bright joys of a warm summer getaway with friends without ever overplaying his hand.
Fire Island elicits laughs from start to finish. My most extensive critique goes to Fox Searchlight for not allowing the film to see the light of day on the big screen. During a summer movie season crowded with blockbusters, this is the type of inspired counter-programming the theatrical market desperately needs.
Fire Island is now playing on Hulu.
18 1/2 Synopsis: In 1974, a White House transcriber is thrust into the Watergate scandal when she obtains the only copy of the infamous 18 1/2-minute gap in Nixon’s tapes.
Writer Daniel Moya and writer/director Dan Mirvish playfully descend into one of history’s forgotten chapters with 18 1/2. Part farce and part odyssey into historical fiction, Mirvish crafts a film that defines its own confident frequency.
Moya and Mirvish exhibit impressive poise as a craftsman. Fitted in the old-school sensibilities of 1960s political thrillers, 18 1/2 finds Mirvish precisely transforming low-budget assets into a thoughtful recreation of the era and its different sentiments. Much of the runtime maintains playful energy, often showcasing a cast of colorful characters who leave a distinct mark throughout the experience.
Still, Mirvish and Moya never forget their script’s political relevance. At its best, 18 1/2 utilizes its fictional canvas for an icey examination of underlying political corruption (Mirvish was inspired in the wake of Trump’s election). It’s a tricky tonal high-wire act to balance, but 18 1/2 successfully marries its conceits into a worthwhile experience.
18 1/2 is now playing in select theaters before a VOD release in July.
The Bob’s Burgers Movie
The Bob’s Burgers Movie Synopsis: A ruptured water main creates an enormous sinkhole right in front of Bob’s Burgers, blocking the entrance indefinitely and ruining the Belchers’ plans for a successful summer. While Bob and Linda struggle to keep the business afloat, the kids try to solve a mystery that could save their family’s restaurant.
Bob, Linda, Tina, Gene and Louise Blecher take their affably sophomoric hijinks to the big screen in The Bob’s Burgers Movie. I’ve only seen a few episodes of Fox’s long-running comedy series, but I always enjoyed the series’ dedication to goofy gags catered for all ages. Now taking center stage on the big screen, The Bob’s Burgers Movie thankfully continues the show’s goofy charms while appealing to a new audience of potential fans.
Writer/director Loren Bouchard (who co-directed with Bernard Derriman and co-wrote with Nora Smith) finds a strong balance between the series’ low-key appeals and an infusion of new content tailor-made for feature films. A few playful music numbers, an engaging yet fittingly goofy plotline, and a sharper animation style help sell the movie as more than an overextended television series episode.
Still, the series’ core appeals remain intact. H. John Benjamin, John Roberts, Kristen Schaal, Dan Mintz, and Eugene Mirman display a dynamic rapport as the oddball Belcher clan. So much of the amusement from Bob’s Burgers, both on TV and on the big screen, comes from their effortless riffing off one another as they stumble through awkward situations. Under all the pratfalls, the Belchers remain an infectious everyman family to follow (the ending gets surprisingly heartfelt in its tugs at the heartstrings).
For series diehards and newcomers alike, The Bob’s Burgers Movie serves up a satisfying big-screen adaptation.
The Bob’s Burgers Movie is now playing in theaters.
We hope you're enjoying BRWC. You should check us out on our social channels, subscribe to our newsletter, and tell your friends. BRWC is short for battleroyalewithcheese.