REVIEW: “BOOKSMART” (2019) Annapurna Pictures

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Every decade comes with its own teen movies.  ‘Fast Times at Ridgemont High’, ‘Clueless’, ‘Superbad’ or any and all of John Hughes films can be par for the course of this genre.  Most are fun and years later you can give them a watch as a reminder of fun moments in life.

“BOOKSMART” might be another one that some will no doubt, add to their list.  Early word of mouth was mostly positive so going in early also and fully expecting to enjoy it, I was dismayed when the film was making “Funny, huh? Wasn’t that funny?!?” noises despite nothing particularly funny happening. Olivia Wilde gets points here though, for making a very colorful and energetic movie that might indeed convince a lot of people through sheer high spirits that it’s a great comedy. But instead it felt just strenuous to me, trying too hard to cover the fact that the funny, clever, witty material you found in all those John Hughes films, wasn’t actually there.

The premise is while some might find ridiculous, can actually happen. Two bookworm protagonists Molly (Beanie Feldstein) & Amy (Kaitlyn Dever), are horrified to discover that after all their sacrifices for the future, all the party-hearty types at their high school ALSO got into Ivy League schools. This would make sense if it took place in a wealthy community where everyone was a “legacy” student thanks for their family’s donations. But the movie makes a point of singling out two characters as the only “truly rich” ones here. Those two, Nick (Mason Gooding) & Gigi (Billie Lourd), like every character save the two lead girls, are complete “SNL”-style caricatures. What’s worse, they all also seem to be played by actors who are about a decade too old, once again apart from the two lead girls.  Add in the trying to be cool character Principal Brown (Jason Sudeikis), who side-lines as a Uber driver role, the crazy girl Triple A (Molly Gordon), who actually is one of the few that brings along the laughs, the poor rich kid with no friends and has to buy them routine character Jared (Skyler Gisondo), and wrap it all up with the lonely oddball teacher Miss Fine (Jessica Williams), (who’s name can explain the entire character to you) that ends up at a school party and sleeps with the over-aged 19 yr old senior student Theo (Eduardo Franco) that really is just weird and oh-so-wrong!

Even so, the premise and the casting and everything might have worked if “Booksmart” were an outright farce. But it seems to be aiming to be sorta-kinda “real,” while the characters nonetheless behave like no teenagers past or present. Everything here is so over-amped and contrived for effect, yet the ingenious comedy situations and bright lines that approach might have served are nowhere to be found.

While it’s can be very lively and somewhat well-crafted movie, it nonetheless felt completely phony and unfunny for the most part.  It’s not boring, but I have no idea what people who like it are responding to, beyond the fact that its being lauded as the “‘Superbad’ for high school senior girls” which is probably good enough for many, though it should be aiming for more.  You could say it tries for a mix of “Superbad” and John Hughes, but those movies do a much better job turning recognizable teenage life into farce with some heart, and if Wilde intended something similar, on the whole she misses the mark.

‘A’ for effort, in the ‘C+’ average range for derivative/uninspired content and it’s no brilliantly put together film like last years brilliant ‘Eighth Grade’ .  It’s like a student paper with a very splashy cover but nothing original or thoughtful inside.

Grade: C+                                                                                                                                                      @pegsatthemovies

 

Review Screening: Tuesday, May 7, 2019 ~ Courtesy of LAFTV Film group                  ‘BOOKSMART’ IS NOW PLAYING NATIONWIDE//WORLDWIDE RELEASE FOLLOWING

 

REVIEW: “DOWNSIZING” (2017) Paramount Pictures

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Welp. we’ve got a strike three for Matt Damon on his 2017 films with “DOWNSIZING”. This movie takes an interesting premise, “What if we could make ourselves smaller to use up fewer resources and save the planet?” and really just does nothing with it. Having heard little about the film aside from its concept, I went into the screening fairly cold. Sadly, the film doesn’t have a whole lot more to offer than its brilliant concept and exceptional first act. I must admit that I left feeling disappointed, thinking they could’ve made this a better movie in many ways. When a film has so much promise and doesn’t exactly deliver on much of it, I feel as though many people would be let down by that.

In this dramedy, which also in part a social satire of its own genre, Downsizing follows a couple Paul (Matt Damon) & Audrey (Kristen Wiig) Safranek, who believe their lives would be better if they were to shrink themselves and be transferred to a new world called Leisureland. This place exists to conserve the Earth and save the environment, as let’s face it, smaller people need much fewer resources. With multiple meanings to the title, this is a concept that sounds incredible on paper but doesn’t exactly translate into that great of a movie. Throughout the first act, I found myself immersed in this world and couldn’t wait to be taken on its journey, but I soon found myself losing interest when political and religious elements began to take over and it started to go very sloooowww. And it’s sad as this is a movie that could’ve done so much more with its premise.

Without giving anything away, there are many characters such as Niecy Nash playing a Leisureworld salesperson, or that of Dusan Mirkovic (Christof Waltz), The Lonowski’s, Jeff (Neil Patrick Harris) & Laura (Laura Dern) or Paul’s good friend Dave (Jason Sudeikis), that come in and out of this film in a heartbeat, pretty much leaving them in the dust, when in reality they were actually interesting and added a layer to the overall story. It felt as though Director Alexander Payne wanted to focus so much on the idea of the Downsizing concept, that he sidelined quite a few characters along the way. His films have always been about characters, and while Paul and Ngoc (Hong Chau) share some great chemistry throughout this film, it’s hard not to wish that all of the characters throughout the first act were present throughout the entire film. This was a very curious issue I had while watching and definitely upon reflection.

As soon as you’re brought into this other world that has been built for those who shrunk themselves over the years, you will find yourself kind of transfixed at how interesting the visuals are and how lackluster the comedy is, but what you don’t expect is for the film to take a dramatic turn and really have you thinking hard about the world we live in and whether or not certain lines of dialogue are true about society in general. This is an eye-opening film in that regard and the third act is incredibly ambitious, but I just don’t think it really sticks the landing that it strives to achieve.

In the end, this is one of the most original ideas I can recall in recent memory, but an idea doesn’t make a film great. It’s the film itself that needs to win you over as a whole, and Downsizing just didn’t do that for me. On many accounts, this is a very impressive movie from a technical standpoint and it takes risks that I didn’t expect it to, but the risks it takes will only work for a few audiences members that can relate to it.

This is a movie that promises a lot and tries to deliver on all of those promises, while also shoving in side plots that make this film too emotionally complex to really be invested in the satirical aspects by the end. I wish this film went through a few more rewrites, because there is a satirical masterpiece of a movie in here somewhere, but it’s just not the product that you’ll be seeing in theatres soon. Downsizing might be worth your time in terms of originality, but I wouldn’t get your hopes up on it being a favorite.

Grade: C-
@pegsatthemovies

Media Review Screening: Wednesday, December 5, 2017 ~ Courtesy of Paramount Pictures
DOWNSIZING is now playing in theaters nationwide. To be released Worldwide in January 2018