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.
NEW 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
Muppets Most Wanted [U] || Seen at Cineworld Shaftesbury Avenue, London, Saturday 5 April 2014 || My Rating likeable
The previous film based on Jim Henson’s Muppet characters (was it a ‘reboot’?) was entirely delightful and charming — and, it seems, rather successful — hence this sequel. It lacks the first film’s charming and goofy star turns by Jason Segel (who also wrote that film) and the delightful Amy Adams, and I’m not entirely convinced that Ricky Gervais as this film’s bad buy (named Mr Badguy of course) is any substitute. This is not least because it replaces the first film’s cheerfully upbeat naïveté with criminal machinations (and an evil Kermit doppelgänger), though then again I’ve never been a huge fan of Gervais’s shrill comedic talent. Tina Fey has a far more easygoing charm, yet playing a Russian prison guard is probably not exactly comedy gold either these days. Fey wrings what she can out of the broad accent, and what with Ty Burrell’s French gendarme having a similarly ridiculous verbosity, this turns out to be a film heavily reliant on silly European accents. For yes, we find the Muppets now taking their show on the road, and if it currently seems the done thing with sequels to follow a US-set film with some exotic world colour, then Muppets Most Wanted is hardly going to stray from that formula, partly because it’s interested in sending up sequels as a category (the very opening song references the tendency for sequels to be inferior). New Zealand songwriter Bret McKenzie is again on-board to help with the songs, though they are generally a little less memorable than the earlier film’s tunes, and even more guest stars show up for cameos in each successive scene (Christoph Waltz does a waltz! Usher plays an usher!). Yet whatever unevenness of tone the film has, and however threadbare the story, it’s never pursued with anything less than a vigorous single-mindedness, and there are enough gags constantly being thrown around that least some of them stick, making this to my mind a likeable if inessential sequel.
CREDITS || Director James Bobin | Writers Nicholas Stoller and James Bobin | Cinematographer Don Burgess | Starring Ricky Gervais, Ty Burrell, Tina Fey | Length 112 minutes
NEW RELEASE FILM REVIEW || Director Paul Weitz | Writer Karen Croner (based on the novel by Jean Hanff Korelitz) | Cinematographer Declan Quinn | Starring Tina Fey, Paul Rudd, Lily Tomlin, Nat Wolff, Michael Sheen | Length 97 minutes | Seen at Cineworld Shaftesbury Avenue, London, Friday 14 June 2013 || My Rating likeable
This new film pairing Tina Fey and the seemingly unaging Paul Rudd has come in for some fairly disappointing reviews since it was released in the States earlier this year, but I rather liked it. It certainly isn’t a spectacular example of the romance genre (terrain familiar to both lead actors), but its virtues are solid and it has a good supporting cast of characters to enliven proceedings.
As it happened, I saw this back to back with Stuck in Love, another film set amongst bookish intellectuals inhabiting the cynical north-east of the United States, and if it’s possible Admission is even less nuanced with its character arcs. Fey plays Portia, a cynical, uptight and childless middle-aged admissions clerk at Princeton University, while Rudd is John Pressman, a free-spirited progressive educationalist with an adopted family whose star student Jeremiah (Nat Wolff) wants to go to Princeton. So far, so predictable, and in truth there’s little that shakes the viewer from that early assessment. Portia shelters herself from family commitments within her protective Ivy League enclave, while Pressman flits around the world engaging with developing communities to much the same end, so there’s little surprise in way their journey progresses. It’s never quite clear why Jeremiah wants to go to Princeton or whether this kind of elitist education is genuinely worthwhile, but it allows for some gentle comedy at the clash of cultures between the Ivy League and the liberal do-gooding of Pressman’s academy (which incidentally doesn’t seem to be at all academically rigorous in its methods).
Whatever its merits, it is worth noting that Admission is a comedy only in the broadest sense: there are few laugh-out-loud moments. In keeping with its pretentious milieu, the comedy in it is far more about wry smiles and occasional embarrassment such as at Portia’s ineptitude with the younger generation. Continue reading “Admission (2013)”→