Screen view: Three short reviews

Over the past few weeks, Amy and I have watched three very different films. I’m going to write a brief review of each — in chronological viewing order:

Happy Go Lucky

Sally Hawkins stars as Poppy, a London school teacher, in this off-beat character study. Poppy continually looks on the bright side of everything. When her beloved bicycle is stolen, she sees it as an opportunity to take driving lessons, but her instructor turns out to be an angry, and slightly disturbed man who develops a crush on his pupil. The film is engaging, but, in truth, Amy and I both found Poppy to be somewhat annoying… and that was while watching the film. If you had a friend like Poppy, you’d be ready to wring her neck after a few days. In short, Sally Hawkins does a great job in this role, and Mike Leigh’s direction is fine… it is just that I never really felt the affection for this character that I believe the filmmaker expects.

Role Models

Paul Rudd and Seann William Scott star in this coming-of-middle-age story about two men who have refused to grow up. They spend their days giving talks at middle schools getting kids hooked on Minotaur energy drink. Scott embraces this life, Rudd hates it but seems unable to change — an attitude that causes his girlfriend, Elizabeth Banks, to dump him. This rejection leads to some bad behavior by Rudd, and the two men are given the choice of going to jail or becoming big brothers. Enter the kids, Christopher Mintz-Plasse as hopeless nerd Augie, and Bobb’e J. Thompson* as precotious, sex-obsessed Ronnie. The kids steal the show, but they are supposed to. That’s the genius of Paul Rudd. He’s what Ben Stiller should be. Funny, but in a subtle way. He’s much more believable than any character Stiller has played, and we like him more. The story unfolds with few surprises, with a revenge of the nerds sort of ending, but throughout it offers some great laughs.

*Is it me, or does it seem like the younger the actor, the more complex the name?

Doubt

I’m not sure why, but I was expecting more from Doubt. It is based on a Pulitzer Prize winning play and stars Philip Seymour Hoffman, Meryl Streep and Amy Adams — three dynamic actors. Don’t get me wrong. This is a good film, well worth your time. I suppose part of the problem lies with me and how I’ve been programmed to think about films. I was expecting a deeper mystery, and more “action.” By action, I don’t mean car chases and gun battles, but more things going on. But this film is much more contained than that, which is a reflection of its heritage as a theatrical production. Streep and Hoffman are outstanding. Streep is the mother superior/principal of a Catholic school in the Bronx, circa 1964. She becomes suspicious of the behavior of Hoffman’s Father Flynn. Adams is the young, idealistic nun who first comes to Streep with observations about Father Flynn’s relationship with the school’s first and only black student. This touches off a war of wills between Hoffman and Streep. As an audience, we only see hints of possible wrong-doing… all of which could be innocently explained. Who do we believe; why is Streep so certain; do we accept the behavior of the mother of the child in question? The film, as its title implies, raises these questions and others that it never really answers — nor ever intended to.

Of these three films, I’d probably most recommend Role Models, but be warned: you have to have some stomach for crude humor — although the film does not rise (or sink) to the level of recent Judd Apatow films. If you’re looking for drama, Doubt will do the trick.

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