Sisters (2015)

The legacy of Saturday Night Live has always weighed strongly over American comedy since its debut in 1975, not least in the last 10-15 years. One of the strongest of the players in that time has been Tina Fey, lead writer at SNL before heading on to create and star in 30 Rock (itself loosely based on the show), and her friend Amy Poehler has often been involved in her work. In transferring the hit-and-miss variety comedy approach to film, this year has already thrown out Trainwreck (which shares a lot of SNL alumni), but Sisters is in an even more direct line, given its lead actors as well as its screenwriter Paula Pell, a long-term writer for SNL also. So it should be no surprise that it’s quite often very very funny. It’s also perhaps not so surprising that there’s a variable quality to the humour, and some lands a lot better than others (or maybe we can say it works better on different audiences). There’s also an undertow of sentimentality that becomes most evident towards the conclusion, but for the most part Sisters remains a solidly entertaining comedy based around the antagonism between the two leads — Fey as Katie, a mother with no ability to hold down a job; and Poehler as her younger sister Maura, far more responsible and in control of her life — as they return to Florida to help their parents move home. This premise could easily have bombed with smug male leads (and indeed I understand Vince Vaughn has already more or less made this film), as its one-last-party-gone-awry plot leads to an extended period of home-trashing, which would far more quickly have outstayed its welcome without the chemistry between Fey and Poehler. Bobby Moynihan’s superlative physical comedy is somewhat wasted in a supporting role, by requiring him (as in so much of his earlier SNL work) to be a sort of stand-in for Chris Farley, but it’s great to see comedians of this calibre get to deliver some really funny material. I’m just left wishing it was all a bit tighter and less gloopy towards the end, but maybe I’m being unfair. It’s worth a watch.

Sisters film posterNEW RELEASE FILM REVIEW
Director Jason Moore; Writer Paula Pell; Cinematographer Barry Peterson; Starring Amy Poehler, Tina Fey, Dianne Wiest, James Brolin, Ike Barinholtz; Length 118 minutes.
Seen at Cineworld Wood Green, London, Sunday 13 December 2015.

April 2015 Film Viewing Round-Up

Herewith some brief thoughts about films I saw in April which I didn’t review in full. It includes a couple of films I actually saw in March but had thought I’d write up in their own posts (I didn’t).

Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015, USA)
The Book of Life (2014, USA)
En duva satt på en gren och funderade på tillvaron (A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence) (2014, Sweden/Norway/Germany/France)
Insurgent (aka The Divergent Series: Insurgent) (2015, USA)
Notting Hill (1999, UK)
Pitch Perfect (2012, USA)
Premium Rush (2012, USA)
Wild Card (2015, USA)

Continue reading “April 2015 Film Viewing Round-Up”

Pitch Perfect (2012)

The last film I saw in 2012, and one I enjoyed so much I immediately went and ordered the Blu-ray from the USA where it had already been released, is this campus comedy tapping in to the (presumably burgeoning) activity of collegiate a cappella singing. And yes, although that’s the kind of thing that TV series Glee does, this film feels far more fresh and interesting.

I admit I have next to no interest in the subject matter per se, but as ever the nominal subject is just the euphonious background to a drama of fitting in. Anna Kendrick plays outsider Beca, arriving for her first day at leafy liberal arts university Barden. We are introduced to her outside an airport terminal, wrapped up in her own little world of mixes and mash-ups, headphones on, wearing heavy eyeliner and a stand-offish attitude to everything, especially other students. However, her lecturer dad offers her an ultimatum: he’ll let her pursue her music production dreams if she gets involved in student life, leading her to cautiously nose around the student fair, where she meets uptight blonde Aubrey (Anna Camp) and the more relaxed Chloe (Brittany Snow), who run the Barden Bellas, the only all-woman a cappella society on campus.

In truth, the way the plot unfolds hardly challenges any expectations, but it’s the film’s fondness for its characters that’s more interesting. Aubrey and Chloe’s tug-of-war over the group’s leadership runs throughout the film, but the standout is Australian actress Rebel Wilson as ‘Fat’ Amy (her name for herself), who it’s clear has improvised a lot of her dialogue. You can tell both because of the extensive outtakes of her ad-libs on the DVD extras, but also because of the way the other actors react around her: there’s a nice scene at an a cappella society social mixer where Anna Camp can do little more than just grin and nod awkwardly as Wilson makes outrageous (and slightly insensitive) jokes, while on a bus ride, Wilson’s comedic pauses in explaining why she has the phone number of their male nemesis Bumper is accompanied by Kendrick discreetly cracking up in the background. It shows a generosity towards the improvisational nature of good comedy that the filmmakers have left these little puncturing moments in the film.

There are, though, plenty of other comic highlights, whether the previously mentioned Bumper, egotistical dictator over the Barden Treblemakers, played with brittle self-mocking humour by Adam DeVine, the bitterly sarcastic championship commentators played by Elizabeth Banks and John Michael Higgins, or Lilly (Hanna Mae Lee), a Japanese girl who speaks in a barely-audible whisper and manages to use the resultant extreme close-ups of her lips to great effect. Alongside these strong characters, Skylar Astin’s Jesse makes for a blandly unaffecting male romantic lead, though his story sets up the many Breakfast Club references.

The plot may not take any risks, but the focus on the women’s group with its strong characters is refreshing, and it’s their characters that really make the film. And though I didn’t know much about the world of a cappella singing, the many stage performances are delightful to watch — they may not be overtly comedic, but there’s definitely an underlying ridiculousness to the undertaking that the film is very aware of, without being in any way nasty about it (the appearance of the older Tonehangers is a particular stand-out). It has proved to be a film I’ve enjoyed watching on many occasions already this past year. Quite whether it stands the test of time will be interesting, but for now, this is one of the best teen films out there.

Pitch Perfect film posterCREDITS
Director Jason Moore; Writer Kay Cannon (based on the book Pitch Perfect: The Quest for Collegiate A Cappella Glory by Mickey Rapkin); Cinematographer Julio Macat; Starring Anna Kendrick, Rebel Wilson, Anna Camp, Brittany Snow, Skylar Astin; Length 112 minutes.
Seen at Peckhamplex, London, Monday 31 December 2012 (and also on Blu-ray at home on numerous occasions, and on DVD at a friend’s home, London, Saturday 27 July 2013).