Tag Archives: Romantic Comedy

SLAMDANCE 2024: LOVE AND WORK (2024)

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DIRECTED BY: Peter Ohs

FEATURING: Stephanie Hunt, Will Madden, Frank Mosley

PLOT: Diane and Fox love to work, a banned practice which may land them in “Time Out,” but this does not thwart their pursuit of productivity.

WHY IT MIGHT MAKE THE APOCRYPHA: Quirky black and white dystopian rom-com: sure, we can dig it. But Love and Work‘s particular breed of social commentary is unlike any other I’ve encountered.

COMMENTS: Diane and Fox extol the virtues of The Weekend, without fully grasping just what it is; but in their gut they know The Weekend is good, and that it is good only because of what comes before. Their former boss, still recovering from a stint in Time Out and a close run-in with the Reminders after trying to recreate the workplace, seeks answers from them as they stand on a street corner holding inspirational placards.

It’s better than a hobby. It’s better than a job. It’s The Weekend.

“What’s ‘The Weekend’?”

The answer to all your troubles.

Peter Ohs’ Love and Work is among the breeziest of bleak future visions put to screen. In this world, jobs are outlawed—a mandate enforced, free of charge, by busy-bodies whose only qualification is having memorized every governmental ordinance.

An underground network has grown among those who wish to work, employing coded language to dodge the Reminders who would put them in Time Out (a much-dreaded punishment, though not quite so bad as “The Relaxation Room”). In the foreground are Diane and Fox, two rebels who crave supervision, productivity, and shifts as long as possible.

Will Madden’s gangly Bob Fox attempts to woo Stephanie Hunt’s tight-lipped Diane. Love and Work efficiently pushes romantic comedy tropes to their extreme to bring this pair of ambitious workers together, instilling a level of awareness generally lacking in the hobby-filled, run-down town in which they’re stuck in. A previous boss winces as he shows them the ukulele he’s been doomed to play, and a former co-worker stealthily knits a sweater whilst lurking in a back alley after a crack-down on a job site.

It’s all rather silly, and delightfully so. But it serves a purpose. Loath though I am to phrase it this way, Love and Work is a manifesto, and Ohs and his team have an agenda. The scenario could have been a hyper-capitalist dream: “See? People want to work! They long for it!”; alternately, it could have been some wispy musing on the evils of forced productivity. To my surprise and palpable relief, it turned out to be neither. Love and Work is a fun, oddball little comedy, passing along to the viewer a message of hope: hope for a sensible world, where everyone can truly enjoy The Weekend.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“Even the character’s speech feels unnatural and broken, almost a cross between a Yorgos Lathimos screenplay and kids trying to sound like adults. The tone of the dialogue works perfectly in tandem with the setting to create the feeling of peeking in on a surreal, alternate universe.”–Elle Cowley, Slug Mag (festival screening)

CHANNEL 366: SCOTT PILGRIM TAKES OFF (2023)

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DIRECTED BY: Abel Góngora

FEATURING THE VOICES OF: Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Michael Cera, Satya Bhabha, Kieran Culkin, Chris Evans, , Brie Larson, Alison Pill, , Brandon Routh, Jason Schwartzman, Johnny Simmons, Mark Webber, Mae Whitman, Ellen Wong

PLOT: Slacker bassist Scott Pilgrim must defeat seven evil exes in order to win Ramona Flowers, the girl of his dreams… but a surprising outcome leads Ramona to investigate her own romantic past and the new world that has resulted. 

Still from Scott Pilgirm Takes Off (2023)

COMMENTS: When Scott Pilgrim vs. The World was unleashed upon audiences, the entertainment world braced itself for the perfect synthesis of teen romantic comedy and arcade-style fighting action, the arrival of Edgar Wright in the big leagues, and the birth of a storytelling phenomenon. And the result was… something less than that. The film captured the spirit of Bryan Lee O’Malley’s anime-inspired comic, Wright’s dense candy-colored melange of light and sound was groundbreaking, and the movie’s cast would ultimately be revealed as a murderer’s row of silver screen talent. But crowds did not throng to to the cinemas, and the film fell well short of breaking even at the box office. So Scott Pilgrim did the only thing it could do: it became a cult object.

The thing about cult objects is that their dedicated fan base can sometimes inspire the development of more product, but re-capturing that initial magic is often be such a fruitless pursuit that the reality is worse than the longing for more. So it’s not a question of whether the arrival of a Netflix animated series featuring nearly the entire movie cast lending their voices would produce a response from the most devoted Pilgrim-heads, but whether that series would leave diehards fulfilled, or furious. Intriguingly, “Scott Pilgrim Takes Off” charts a course that feeds into the nostalgia machine before almost immediately pulling the plug on it.

As if wanting to reassure faithful viewers that this is the very same material you fell in love with over a decade ago, the premier episode plays out as a near-repeat of Scott Pilgrim vs. The World’s first act, re-introducing all the familiar characters and playing out the meet-cute between slacker-dreamer Scott and doe-eyed dream girl Ramona. But the big twist—which is so fundamental to the miniseries’ execution that the producers begged critics to embargo the surprise during its release, so let’s just consider this a big ol’ SPOILER ALERT right now—is that Scott loses his first showdown with a member of the League of Evil Exes. Leaving nothing behind but a few coins, our ostensible hero is gone, with seven episodes to go. (Essentially, the “Takes Off” part of the title should be interpreted in the most Canadian manner possible.) And what we’re left with is the World Continue reading CHANNEL 366: SCOTT PILGRIM TAKES OFF (2023)

CAPSULE: OPEN (2023)

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Open can be rented or purchased on-demand.

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DIRECTED BY: Miles Doleac

FEATURING: Lindsay Anne Williams, Miles Doleac, Jeremy London, Elena Sanchez, Amber Reign Smith

PLOT: Kristina comes to regret pursuing her long-time fantasy of dating her teen idol when she and her husband explore sharing an open marriage.

Still from OPEN (2022)

COMMENTS: Be advised: if you have an aversion to New Wave music, you will want to avoid this movie. Over its run time, there are some dozen or so interludes featuring ’80s style studio music videos wherein Kristina Corbin’s subconscious processes her situational and emotional circumstances. Her youthful dream of fronting a glamorous synth-rock band is the pulsing heart of this quietly satisfying romantic comedy, and while the segues slip into the narrative like clockwork, they never feel unwelcome.

Ultimately unwelcome, however, is Erik LaRoux, an erstwhile teen idol whom Kristina adored growing up. When she and husband Robert’s marriage hits the rocks—triggered by a recent miscarriage—they are unsure how to proceed. They feel, they know—it must be!—that they’re good together, and that they shouldn’t split up the metaphorical band; but they’ll be damned if they can figure out what direction to go. And so, Kristina makes a suggestion: an open relationship. The first act of Play runs like a cute-‘n’-clever little relationship dramedy, with Kristina hooking up with a charismatic has-been, and Robert falling in bed with a long-time friend.

Open is very much an “all well and good” kind of experience. It shuffles along, capably attaining its realistic ambitions. The characters are all likable (even Erik, before his dark turn) and the songs hover around the better side of average. Sometimes the band is mediocre, other times they flirt with genius. (The tune “Aspic” merits bonus points for the choral couplet, “Damn it to Hell, get me out of this stinking putrid well/I need some elevation for my aspic to gel,” a line which prompts the husband-keyboardist character to exclaim, “‘Aspic’? Really?”) Even when it begins to flounder in the third act, Open is still charmingly executed.

In the end, I was kind of surprised—in a good way. When the closing number queued up, I was hit with the sentiment, “It’s over already?” So, be advised: anyone looking for a fun, mature, and tuneful romantic comedy would do well to take a look at and listen to Open. It’s got heart, brio, and plenty of good advice: “Grab love by the balls, but don’t twist ’em too hard when you feel small.”

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“Doleac, whose previous features have been horrors of deliciously demented delicacies, tries his hand at a quirky musical thriller – and the result is completely darling and truly absorbing.”–Bill Arceneaux, Moviegoing with Bill (festival screening)

36*. THE NIGHT IS SHORT, WALK ON GIRL (2017)

Yoru wa mijikashi aruke yo otome

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“I… wanted to portray the night as dream-like. This is the story of a girl who joyfully takes at face value what she observes seeing
people drinking and their relationships, so I wanted to create a feeling of the girl growing into adulthood, in other words, a fantasy for grown-ups.”–Masaaki Yuasa

Recommended

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: Voices of Kana Hanazawa,

PLOT: At a wedding reception, a Senpai reveals his indirect plan to win the affection of a black-haired Girl whom he loves from afar. The Girl barely notices him, however, instead following her urge to travel into the Kyoto night to experience the world as a young adult, including heroic bouts of drinking, a trip to an open-air used book festival, and an impromptu role in a traveling musical. In the end, everyone the Girl encounters over the night contracts a cold and she spends the early morning attending to them all—including the Senpai.

Still from "the night is short walk on girl" (2017)

BACKGROUND:

  • Based on the 2006 novel of the same name by Tomihiko Morimi (which has been translated into English). Yuasa had previously adapted Morimi’s “The Tatami Galaxy” for Japanese television.
  • Night won the 2017 Japanese Academy Film Prize Award for “Animation of the Year.”

INDELIBLE IMAGE: Whatever it is, it has to feature the indomitable titular “Girl.” The image of her astonished face as a crowd of onlookers, impressed by her unexpected boozing prowess, donate all of their cans of wine into her oversized goblet, is as good as any.

TWO WEIRD THINGS: Sophist dance, “The Codger of Monte Cristo”

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: Eschewing the youthful chaos of his Canonically Weird feature Mind Game, Masaaki Yuasa proves that he can inject strangeness into the least weird of fictional genres: the romantic comedy. Tightly focused both stylistically and thematically, even while the footloose plot wanders from drinking binges to inconvenient plagues, Night walks through a flowery, hallucinogenic city straight into your heart.


Short clip from The Night Is Short, Walk on Girl

COMMENTS: A cross-dresser, a man who has vowed not to change Continue reading 36*. THE NIGHT IS SHORT, WALK ON GIRL (2017)

CAPSULE: ELECTRIC DREAMS (1984)

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DIRECTED BY: Steve Barron

FEATURING: Lenny von Dohlen, Virginia Madsen, Maxwell Caulfield, Bud Cort

PLOT: A socially inept architect buys a newfangled home computer to help him in his work, but an accident bestows sentience upon the machine and inadvertently helps spark a romance with the cellist who lives upstairs; tensions flare when the computer’s newfound emotions blossom into jealousy.

Still from Electric Dreams (1984)

COMMENTS: Steve Barron has multiple feature film credits, including the first Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie. He has also directed several TV miniseries and episodes. But who are we kidding? If you really want to talk about the man’s directorial c.v., then you need to recognize that Steve Barron is an MTV god. From the dawn of the genre, some of the most memorable, enduring music videos ever made find Steve Barron in the director’s chair. That’s where Barron’s career truly excelled. So it’s only appropriate that when he was hired to helm his first feature film, the result was akin to an extended music video.

Like any decent video, Electric Dreams lives and dies by its montages, and fortunately it has many of them. Whenever nebbishy Miles (Lenny von Dohlen in full proto-David Schwimmer mode) wants to do something, it’s likely going to be accomplished in a montage: wiring his apartment to be controlled by his mainframe Alexa ancestor;  struggling to design an earthquake-proof brick;  romping around Alcatraz with his new girlfriend. The film’s most successful sequence is a literal music video, a duet between cellist Madeline and Miles’ computer that showcases the work of composer/electronica pioneer . As editor Peter Honess splices together clips from cinematographer Alex Thomson’s swooping camera to the beat of a propulsive pop tune, the sequences are genuinely energizing, only to be cooled off by the return to the Cyrano-lite plot. It’s not that the movie lacks for dialogue scenes or traditional means of delivering the story. They’re just not where Electric Dreams shines. Those little 3-minute morsels of video ecstasy give the film its juice.

The movie knows it, too, because they let a lot of the story ideas fall by the wayside. Early on, Miles’ technophobia seems like it might be a justifiable fear of a too-powerful computerized singularity with omnipresent cameras and techie doodads, but that concern is quickly abandoned. Miles appears to have a rival for Madeline’s affections, a classic 80s villainous blonde hunk in the person of Maxwell Caulfield, but that, too, never amounts to much. It sometimes feels like nothing that can’t be delivered via montage is worth following. Indeed, the film falters when it has to engage in dialogue, such as Madeline’s determined ignorance toward Miles’ behavior, or the arguments between Miles and his increasingly whiny computer Edgar (although God help me, I chuckled everytime Edgar called him by his typo-induced moniker “Moles”). Electric Dreams is a high-concept movie that doesn’t want to go any further than its concept.

That said, there’s an extraordinary level of foresight at play. Our first look at Miles’ world is one where technology is pervasive and everyone has outsourced their attention to electronics; this is 1984, but the fears of then could easily be the complaints of today. And the breadth of abilities that the computers of 1984 can accomplish are startlingly forward-looking, from the internet of things to CAD to catfishing. A scene where Edgar vengefully destroys Miles’ credit must have seemed like the stuff of fantasy 40 years ago, and yet here we are, in thrall to and afraid of our machines. A lot of science fiction movies have tried really hard to see the future in ways the Electric Dreams pulls off almost as an afterthought.

It’s a genuine shame that Electric Dreams doesn’t have a more prominent place in the conversation when it comes to identifying the most 80s movie ever made. Whatever qualities the film you think deserves the title holds, I can assure you that Electric Dreams has it in ample supply. The fashion and hairstyles, the steady use of jingle-laden advertisements, a young and effervescent Virginia Madsen. And most of all, that synth-fueled song score featuring luminaries of the day like Culture Club, Jeff Lynne, Heaven 17, and a real earworm of a theme song sung by Human League’s Phil Oakey. All that adds up to a movie that has aged into its weirdness over time, reading as stranger in retrospect thanks in part to its unexpected precognitive abilities and Mr. Barron’s skill with a montage. So it’s not a great movie. But it is, like, totally awesome.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“Perhaps it’s because the world resembles our own so much, that the fact that everything is just slightly wrong seems intensely magnified. Perhaps it’s because computers are no longer mystical, and the things that the movie tries to sell as ‘what the hell, who knows how these damn things work, anyway?’ do not seem plausible in any way. Perhaps it’s seeing people doing what we do, only they have ’80s clothes and ’80s hair. Whatever the hell is doing it, it means that Electric Dreams is like reading a transcript of an opium dream – you can see real life underpinning it, but the effect is otherworldly and uncanny, and it’s the most amazing damn thing.

Which is exactly why I feel like I’d have ignored if not hated this movie when it was new: all of the things that seem dazzlingly weird about it now were just the world outside in 1984.” – Tim Brayton, Antagony and Ecstasy

(This movie was nominated for review by Brad. Suggest a weird movie of your own here.)