This is not a rom-com: Why the Four Weddings and a Funeral series is such a disappointment to fans of the film

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Edit: the below is based at the first four episodes, which at the time of writing I was under the impression was the whole miniseries. There’s now 5 episodes out and according to iMDB there’ll 10 all up (miniseries?). Although it’s clear I’m not really enjoying the show, I’m happy to catch up when it’s finished to see if my comments about pacing and character development still stand. I’m really glad ‘the end’ was not the end.

Well, look at the image above. We have to give them some points for vastly improving the diversity.

But was anything else an improvement? Four Weddings And A Funeral is probably not in my top 5 rom coms (if you’re wondering at the top 2 spots, it’s When Harry Met Sally and Bridget Jones’s Diary) but it’s certainly in the top 10. I love spending time with the characters, but the execrable acting from Andie MacDowell puts me off a little.

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*head explodes*

I’m just saying this movie put me off Andie MacDowell until she popped up in the greatest film of the last ten years, Magic Mike XXL, and I was given no choice but to stan.

Spoilers abound for the series below, btw.

So it turns out that Andie MacDowell provides our extremely tenuous link to the original film, as the mother of Rebecca Rittenhouse’s Ainsley.  We don’t discover this until episode 3, when she turns up to cut Ainsley off from the family money. This is all terrifically mysterious as quite recently in the diegesis Ainsley had a failed wedding, crossing over episode 1 in to episode 2, which apparently her parents decided….not to attend? It was quite a large wedding. It makes no sense. But nonetheless, there’s your connection.
(Note: Andie’s character is credited as “Mrs Howard” and not Carrie so….who knows, tbh. Given Carrie and Charles’s daughter is somewhat-canonically Lily James…)(also yes that clip confirms Carrie and Charles never got married so let’s just say it’s only a cameo and this entire thing is unlinked and they should have just named the whole show something else that would not invite comparison)

It turns out that, particularly when you only insert easily the most charm-less part of the film, it is incredibly difficult to recreate the charm of the first film. Yes, the movie is filled with toffs who we should probably not feel a lot of sympathy for because they’re pretty much all rich. However, they somehow manage to exude warmth, a genuine bond, and they all (Kristin Scott Thomas and Andie MacDowell – a literal model – excepted) sort of *look* like ordinary people – helped along by the fact that 1994 was simply not an extremely attractive time in our history as a people.

The show doesn’t help itself a long a whole bunch by centring around a bunch of beautiful Americans – going so far as to cast the wonderful…British… Nathalie Emmanuel as a Yank – who inexplicably all met in the UK for university and most of them ended up moving there. Leaving the show to be set in London, with a British supporting cast, but unavoidably American. The main cast can’t seem to nail the dry, self-deprecating humour that seems innately part of a British rom com (particularly one penned by Richard Curtis).

Nathalie particularly suffers, I believe, by the Four Weddings and Funeral project sharing a lot of key staff from The Mindy Project – most prominently Mindy herself but also producers, writers and directors. In the end, it feels like they’ve made Nathalie’s character Maya – in many ways, the main character of the series, the catalyst whose return to London sparks much of the plot – in to a Mindy-esque protagonist. Fast-talking, flawed, funny. But it isn’t until you notice it that you realise a lot of Mindy Kaling’s charm is extremely specific to herself.

It’s not helped that our first impression of Maya is her waking up in the bed of a married man. It’s hard to engender sympathy in me personally for a woman who’s either 30 or closing in to it, who definitely knows better and definitely knows he’s married, who is carrying out an affair. Nora Ephron just managed it in When Harry Met Sally, but….a) no-one on this writing staff is Nora Ephron and b) Marie was not one of the very main characters of When Harry Met Sally. It’s there in the name.

The miniseries format seems to have presented a challenge to these writers, very few of whom seem to have worked outside the weekly series format. They seem to want to have characters who are somewhat unlikeable to start out with (intense and jealous neighbour Gemma, rude and conducting-an-affair Maya, pining and insufferable writer Duffy) and bring us around to loving them. In a rom com film, you pretty much have to start out with having the characters you want the audience to like being likeable. In a series, you have the luxury of time to develop and endear. The pacing of this miniseries is off. Very few characters have coherent journeys, nor make the trip for unlikeable to likeable.

Let’s talk about Maya’s love life. Over the course of about 3 hours, she pines after her married boyfriend, dumps him when she realises he’s having an affair, sort of observes her best friend’s fiance Kash from afar while having the occasional flirty conversation about Mamma Mia! (which the show’s trailers want you to think is endgame, even though it would be messy), then suddenly at the end she’s kissing Duffy in the rain. Duffy spends the first bit of the series pining after Maya (who he’s had feelings for since uni), picks up with a fellow teacher at his school, and all of a sudden the end he’s dumped the teacher and is professing his love to Maya on her doorstep. Why did he dump her? We’ll never know, apart from the fact that she’s not Maya, which he’s always known. Apart from a few conversations about the death of her mother, there is almost no build-up on Maya’s side towards deciding she wants Duffy.

This is not a rom-com.

Do not buy that this show is a rom-com.

One of the best things the movie gave us was absolutely no romantic development between Fiona and Charles. Fiona wanted Charles, and we felt for her, but Charles didn’t see her that way. Even if we, as the audience, kind of thought they would be a great match, sometimes love is simply unrequited. Fiona let him know her feelings, and he treated her with honesty and kindness. It’s a more realistic portrayal of what sometimes happens between friends than grand gestures that first go unnoticed and then are suddenly reciprocated from nowhere.

Suffice to say, I did not ship it.

The only character who has a semi-sensible journey emotionally and takes the turn from unlikeable to likeable is Gemma, the extremely posh neighbour who has developed a (deeply possessive) friendship with Ainsley. Her jealousy is off the charts when Maya makes her return. I think we’re supposed to side with Maya, but all in all the female cattiness just comes off as distasteful all round, and Gemma presents as a caricature despite being part of the core cast. She barely develops in to a rounded character – with an emotional life outside the scope of her friendship with Ainsley – until her husband passes late in episode 3, with some of the best work in the series being her send-off to her husband and handling her son’s grief.

By the end of the series, we are left with a broken engagement, a death, a break-up, a secret child and an out-of-nowhere coupling which is only telegraphed by a seemingly unrequited pining. As such, it’s a struggle for such a show to recreate the warm fuzzy feeling you get when you finish a rom com. In fact, I finished it by yelling ‘WHERE THE FUCK DID THAT COME FROM’ at the telly.

Which might mean that the closest analogue is not a rom com, but a horror movie making a play for a sequel.

 

 

 

Netflix, you did it. I’m so proud of you.

Netflix has proved to be really good at some things. Shows about lady wrestlers. Shows about The Upside-Down. Making you cry about makeovers. Making you cry in a different way over terrible cakes.

They’ve not really nailed the rom-com before.

I watch basically every Netflix Original rom-com that goes on there, but I’ve only seen fit to write about A Christmas Prince and Christmas Inheritance because they were really cheesy and ’twas the season etc. And yes I did actually enjoy Christmas Inheritance but that is because the standard for holiday romances is so, so low. However, I’m not going to pretend I’m not counting down the months until The Princess Switch with Vanessa Hudgens.

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I watch the rest of the nonsense they add. I watched Ibiza, which I felt vastly overestimated the appeal of watching people who are drug-fucked and vastly underused Richard Madden’s natural Scottish accent. Happy Anniversary made me want to never be in a relationship lest I have to talk that much. They do okay with teen rom coms….sometimes? Candy Jar was charming. The Kissing Booth was one of the most problematic things I’ve seen in a long time, GIRL RUN AWAY. I did not watch When We First Met because I hate Adam Devine with the fire of a thousand suns.

So I am extremely pleased to say, they’ve done it. They’ve made a good rom-com. Meet Set It Up: 

The basic structure is barely even trying. Two over-worked and under-appreciated assistants who work in the same building set up their bosses to get some free time: “When they’re boning, we’re free, right?”. In the meantime they hardly realise that they themselves are being drawn closer together. So no, you’re not here for the plot. You’re here for the charm.

This whole movie is like some sort of twisted charisma factory. We start with the most important role, the heroine. I haven’t seen Zoey Deutch in a lot, but I knew something very important going in: she made the dire, horrific mess that is the Vampire Academy movie legitimately enjoyable, purely through charm and excellent line deliveries. There was a moment there where even pashing her PE teacher seemed like a good idea. So yes, I was more than happy to be carried along by Harper’s crazy schemes in Set It Up, even if she made fun of Charlie for being horrifically old. At age 28.

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I’ve mostly seen Glen Powell be kind of blandly handsome and pleasant, as Juliet’s poor old American Not-Michiel-Huisman fiancé in Guernsey, and pleasingly not-racist John Glenn in Hidden Figures. He gets to lean in to his asshole (so to speak) a bit more as Charlie. He gets some amusing and cutting lines, although we’re probably meant to think his deeply terrible boss Taye Diggs has rubbed off on him bit. Look, even Mr Darcy has to learn how to soften up a bit before he’s a worthy romantic hero.

I was pleased to see Lucy Liu given credit as the goddess she is in the movie:

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She’s a badass sports writer with her own publication, and while she has a touch of the Miranda Priestlys to her, you never question Harper’s admiration for her.

There’s a great support cast, a brilliantly old-school soundtrack (there’s absolutely nothing wrong with taking that cue from Nora Ephron)… I’ll stop talking. Go watch it. The world is fucking awful, go escape for an hour and 45 minutes.

I’m absolutely delighted that Netflix has managed to produce a movie that balances rom and com so adeptly. I’d love to see writer Katie Silberman do more, but I have some bad news. Her next movie. Such a promising concept:

A young woman disenchanted with love mysteriously finds herself trapped inside a romantic comedy.

It stars Adam Devine.

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An Incomplete Guide To Terrible Netflix Christmas Romances Pt 2

I’ve only watched three additional Terrible Netflix Christmas Romances, in part because did some extracurricular viewing of A Princess For Christmas (awful, awful, but Jamie Fraser is a strong drawcard) and A Royal Winter (actually…not too bad, as far as these things go?). I strongly recommend checking out Part 1 if you want to know how this will go.

Christmas Inheritance
Eliza Taylor and I go way back. No, not just to Neighbours (although Janae Timmins, princess of Colac, was a gift to Australian television). No, not even her struggle to say the word pineapple with a British accent in The Sleepover Club.We go right back to Pirate Islands. Which I watched predominantly because of a severe crush on Oliver Ackland who played Mars. So yeah, Eliza Taylor and I are going strong for 14 years at this point, I knew her way before her turn as the, in turn, blazingly kick-arse and heartbreaking Clarke in The 100, and I feel confident in saying this:
Christmas Inheritance may be Eliza Taylor’s breakthrough role.
You probably didn’t think you’d be reading that about the latest Netflix original Christmas movie, did you? Since I wrote my last post, A Christmas Prince has been subject to waves and waves of internet mockery. Even Netflix itself got in on the act:Screen Shot 2017-12-15 at 11.32.24 pm

So here’s my surprise for you all: Christmas Inheritance is actually good (….on the terrible Christmas romance scale), and Eliza Taylor is even better. And we get to see her in a way we never really have before.
We’re not even meant to like her character, Ellen, that much at the start. She’s pulling dumb stunts….for charity. She also pretty much feels bad about it immediately when it gets bad press, and sets about making amends.
These amends involve her going off to Small Town Somewhere to deliver an annual Christmas letter to the co-founder of her father’s company, before her father will decide on appointing her as the next CEO.
….Oh, and she can’t tell people who she is, and she has to do it on $100.
So we’re meant to judge her for not understanding the bus, and not knowing she’s sitting next to Canadian royalty Mag Ruffman, but when she tells her seatmate she’s never been on a bus, you don’t really feel like you’re watching The Simple Life. Because Eliza Taylor is so fucking charming that it’s really, really hard not to like Ellen from the start.

So that’s the thing about this movie. It’s inherently silly. The important tradition is that swapping the letters forces Ellen’s father Jim, and his co-founder Zeke (current position in the business…hazy), to see each other each year, as they physically exchange the letters going back decades, as well as the new one catching up on the goings-on. And yeah, it’s a responsibility, but sending Ellen essentially negates the whole point of the task, which is for Jim and Zeke to see each other. Ellie ends up working at Zeke’s B&B to earn her keep, and attempts to vacuum in skyscraper heels. Her fiance is a cartoon fucko.

But no matter how unlikely all the things around her are, there’s Eliza Taylor, being warm and delightful and learning that maybe giving money to the homeless is actually a good thing and also how to separate eggs. And it lifts the whole damn thing.

Also helpful is some genuine damn chemistry with Jake Lacey. He plays Jake (big stretch), who once had his heart broken by a city girl and now hangs out in Snow Falls and seemingly just keeps the entire tourism industry afloat, particularly when it comes to taxi-driving and B&B managing. Most of the men in these movies, except for the Christian Grey wannabe hot ghost in The Spirt of Christmas, are just sort of blandly nice dudes who mostly exist to fall in love with our heroine, and preferably propose to her at the end. The writers here aren’t afraid to let it run a little awkward and real, for our hero and heroine to have dumb in-jokes and to have misunderstandings about real things, like hold on, why are we about to pash when I have a fiance.
Y’know, that sort of thing.
But chemistry is really important for a romance, funnily enough. You don’t necessarily realise how nice it is to see, until you try to watch two extremely attractive people like Sam Heughan and Katie McGrath barely be able to muster a tiny spark to pass between them. So I like the chemistry, and I really enjoy watching Ellen. She’s sassy and successful but also stares at the newborn baby she’s holding like she’s Rosalie in Twilight, that creep. Jake may or may not get an instant boner at this. Shades of Matty J there.

Look, even the presence of movie-ruining Andie McDowell couldn’t ruin this dumb movie for me. Go watch it with my blessing. Netflix might subtweet you for watching it, but I won’t.

8/10
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Easter egg: there’s a shot of Eliza in her Erinsborough High uniform from Neighbours in the movie, see if you can spot it!

A Wish For Christmas

So it turns out that Hallmark is almost entirely responsible for making sure fetch continues to happen for Lacey Chabert’s career, and the girl is in no less than seven holiday romances. This has led to my new headcanon revolving around her character from A Wish For Christmas trying to find a new family for Christmas each year, because she didn’t try very hard to spend time with her own in this movie. Despite one of parents being deceased.

Unfortunately, this is not, as it should be, about Lacey’s character Sara walking out on her job because the place is full of unmitigated arseholes – even her ‘friend’ at work is a complete and utter cockknuckle to her. And her boss has declared Christmas cancelled in his own life, and is having people work over Christmas.

Did I mention they work at some sort of design agency? Even if office shutdowns aren’t as common in the US as they are in Australia, their work could not be more non-essential. Having fucking Christmas Day off can be factored in to deadlines when they make their pitches! Oh goddddd there’s no just no reason for it, apart from him to see the error of his ways and for one particularly dim-witted colleague to shout ‘WOW BOSS’ when he turns up with food and graciously allows them to go home. If they have families. Fuck the single people, they can keep working until they die.

Uhhh so anyway there’s a mystical wish-granting Santa in this one, not my favourite trope, and he grants her wish to finally have some fucking balls for once in her life. There’s some satisfying chats but still. She should take this opportunity to quit her job. Toxic environments don’t stop being toxic because one person starts asserting themselves. Someone else just becomes the victim instead.

Her boss gets a competence boner for her but I just can’t get invested in this love story about how awful corporate America is and that a boss might need to be taught how to be reasonable human being by a woman who is obsessed with Christmas to the point of deep, deep, delusion. He’s gonna be heartbroken when she goes off to find a new family next year.

2/10

Merry Kissmas

A Nutcracker toy is a key plot point and the elevator is sentient.

Please just watch the trailer to cop low-rent Robert Downey Jr.’s terrible, terrible fake British accent. Eliza Taylor did better than that when she was 14 years old. Anyway, that’s Carlton, famous choreographer and Kayla’s terrible boss and fiance. We know Carlton is terrible because he doesn’t eat carbs. (I should mention that Ellen’s terrible fiance Gray in Christmas Inheritance doesn’t do sugar. What an arsehole).

Meanwhile, Kayla is an idiot with no self-esteem who emotionally unloads, several times, to an unsuspecting Santa on the street, and goes around pashing strangers in elevators. Dustin is quite used to this, as he’s regularly sexually assaulted in said elevator by Ray Barone’s mother. I don’t want to victim blame but maybe Dustin should consider taking the stairs every now and then.

Dustin runs some sort of catering business with his cousin Kim, which we know because he refers to her, when only she is present, as ‘my trusty assistant and favourite cousin’ (the exposition in this film is just so smooth it hurts) and Kayla ingratiates herself with them by baking cookies with them. Actual dialogue when they’re done:
Kayla: ‘Look at these cookies, they look so happy!’
Dustin: ‘They were made with happy!’
Kim:  ‘The real happy’s coming up…’
Apparently Kim is not talking about these simpletons getting their bone on, but about Kim and her friend from the animal shelter bullying Dustin in to adopting a dog, even though he says his lifestyle does not suit pet ownership (given all their food preparation seems to happen in the middle of his apartment, I’m tempted to agree). But anyway. Who am I to complain about a cute guy and a cute dog?

Kayla eventually half-heartedly breaks up with her fiance, so she and Dustin can have their relationship develop in a montage that seems to represent two months but is in fact two days, then she goes back to her godforsaken fiance because she has no spine, and cannot bring herself to break up with him until he is completely flagrant about the fact that he has been cheating on her the whole damn time. I’m not here for this. Everyone except Eliza, quit your job.

Anyway this movie is bad. Not just because at the end of the movie, they use the same costumes and setting from the montage in a scene that’s meant to be one year later. It’s also because of the atrocious music that seems to have been written just for the movie. The opening music talks about being ‘elevated by this Christmas kind of love’. When they pash it’s a song about being ‘under the mistletoe with you’ having ‘our first Christmas kiss’. This music, and this movie, made me consider never celebrating Christmas again.

2/10

I’ll call the series to a close there, as the only terrible Christmas romance I plan to watch from here on out is an off-Netflix movie starring the Hot Ghost. I think you know why.
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Merry Christmas. Fall in love with a stranger. Dump your fiance.

Quit your job.

 

 

‘The Big Sick’: The Victorian Values Review

This may come a shock, but I haven’t actually started reviewing every single movie I see. I go the cinema quite a bit, particularly at this time of year when lots of the big US summer movies are coming out. But when I went to see Spider-Man: Homecoming and Baby Driver in one day (the official hashtag for this event was, of course, #ManBaby), I didn’t feel the need to weigh in. When movies are as hyped as they are, the mainstream and social media coverage can be pretty overwhelming. You’ve probably decided months in advance if you’re interested in seeing them, and unless the early reviews are dire, you’ll probably stick with that plan. What I’d prefer to do with reviews is to see if I can encourage people to go see films that get less attention. That often ends up being movies that are ‘female-focused’ – like a period drama (My Cousin Rachel) or a romantic comedy, in the case of a The Big Sick. It’s a pretty straightforward set-up – boy meets girl, boy and girl are torn apart by cultural differences, girl gets sick and ends up in medically-induced coma. You know. The usual stuff.

In a fictional film, when one of the lead characters is in a coma, part of the tension should be whether she will recover and our leads will get (back) together. But because the story is based on the real-life tale of couple Kumail Nanjiani and Emily Gordon, reality sort of ends up as a spoiler. Due to her appearances on the promotional trail (and the retelling of their story over the years in places like Dan Harmon’s podcast), we know Emily’s okay and they’re still together. But the genre of the film works in their favour here. It’s a rom com. We know they’ll end up together in the end, because that’s what happens in the end of a rom com. All we have to do is enjoy the journey.
Somewhere between Kumail’s 65 IMDB acting credits, you’ve seen him in something. For example, I have most recently seem him in the dire 2010 Katherine Heigl and Josh Duhamel vehicle Life as We Know It, because sometimes I truly should not be left alone Netflix. But it isn’t until you see him play himself that you realise how consistent his deadpan characteristics are. It’s a fun script and a real star vehicle for Kumail – it can be hard to make the deadpan style charming, but the character of Emily (played by Zoe Kazan) softens him to a great extent.bigsick

One of the main settings of the film is the Chicago comedy club that Kumail gigs at, which helps to maintain the ‘com’ tone when things turn serious. This is not only from the snippets of stand-up routines, but also from the backstage banter between Kumail and the characters played by Bo Burnham, Aidy Bryant and Kurt Braunohler (all accomplished real-world comics). If you’ve seen any other movie that producer Judd Apatow has had a hand in, you’ll have an idea of the humour in their interactions.
The real opportunity for the dramatic chops to come out is when the families come in to the picture. When Emily’s parents meet Kumail they’re immediately hostile – Emily had told them about their reasons for breaking up. We can see through their relationship to their daughter, and to each other, why Emily found it so hard to understand why Kumail had not told his parents about her, and why this was so hurtful. It’s important to have the right actors in the role of Emily’s parents, as we watch them slowly warm to him while going through their own struggles. I don’t need to say anything new about Holly Hunter (apart from, maybe, I want her to be my Mum?), but Ray Romano. Man. I cannot explain how begrudgingly I give respect to the star of Everybody Loves Raymond, but he earns it here. Both Holly and Ray get to have some great comedic moments here too, particularly when they witness one of Kumail’s live shows.

The endless parade of potential Pakistani wives for Kumail is also played for laughs, but their is some dramatic tension in it. Kumail knows he stands to potentially lose his family over choosing an American girl. And if you’re wondering where you’ve seen Anupam Kher before as a kind-hearted Muslim father preaching the importance of keeping marriage within your own culture, let me do you a favour: it’s everyone’s favourite (well, my favourite) early 2000’s British girl’s soccer movie, Bend it Like Beckham.

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I have no idea how he feels about being typecast in this way, but he carries a fair bit of emotional weight in the family scenes.

Lastly I come to Zoe Kazan. It’s a real shame that the mere fact of Kumail and Emily’s story requires her to be sidelined for a significant chunk of the film, because she simply lights up the screen. If you’ve not seen 2013’s What If (also known as The F Word) then ignore what I said earlier about Life as We Know It and fire up your Netflix. You know how she wrote and starred in the fantastic Manic Pixie Dream Girl takedown that is Ruby Sparks? Well, What If is essentially the Friend Zone version of that, with bonus Daniel Radcliffe and Adam Driver. It is a rom com though, and remember what I said about the one thing we know happens at the end of a rom com. Zoe really gets to pull out her dramatic chops in parts of The Big Sick – it feels awful to say, but god is that woman good at crying. However she also gets to maintain her constant charm, and she can play it for laughs like the best of them (like when she doesn’t want to shit in her new boyfriend’s house).

All in all, I have to say that The Big Sick is fairly light on the ‘rom’. We like and root for Kumail and Emily to overcome their obstacles and get together at the end. But with one half of the couple off-screen for a good chunk of the movie, it probably verges more on dramatic comedy territory. I really hope that people who might stick up their nose at the genre will give it a chance – even if it’s just for date night.