Tag Archives: Independent Romantic Comedy films

My Big Fat Greek Wedding-2002

My Big Fat Greek Wedding-2002

Director-Joel Zwick

Starring-Nia Vardalos, John Corbett

Scott’s Review #806

Reviewed August 28, 2018

Grade: B+

My Big Fat Greek Wedding is a romantic comedy film from 2002 that became a surprising sleeper hit at the time of release. A novel story idea, the film was even recognized with a Best Original Screenplay Oscar nomination. The film achieved success the old-fashioned way by garnering word of mouth buzz despite little promotion. Good natured, earnest, and tender, the film was nonetheless marred by an abysmal sequel and short-lived television series- a lesson learned in leaving well enough alone.

Comedian Nia Vardalos reportedly wrote the story as a one woman play and word of mouth among Hollywood A-list celebrities led to a film version starring Vardalos herself. This casting choice adds enormous authenticity as the writer’s vision shines through on-screen. The film just has a fresh and modern feel to it. Otherwise, the supporting cast is brilliant and perfectly selected. From handsome love interest John Corbett to veterans like Lainie Kazan and Andrea Martin, everyone plays their part to the hilt and seems to be having a ball with the comic elements.

Dowdy Toula Portokalos is a lonely thirty -year-old Greek woman, considered to be the black sheep of her family. Of traditional roots, she is expected to marry and bare children as quickly as possible. Toula still lives at home and works in the family restaurant in bustling Chicago, yearning for something more out of life. When she sees dashing school teacher Ian Miller in the restaurant one day, she makes an embarrassing attempt to catch his attention. Through a computer class, Toula blossoms and finally lands her man, but the drama is just beginning as the couples and their individual families differing cultures collide.

My Big Fat Greek Wedding is written very well and, again, the authenticity is what really shines through in each scene. Admittedly, it does often feel like a television sitcom and many scenes play for obvious laughs, but the laughs work. The funniest of these scenes is when Toula and Ian (now engaged) decide to invite his parents to dinner at her parent’s house. Predictably, events go awry as his parents-conservative and reserved, do not mesh well with hers-festive and bombastic.

Vardalos and Corbett may not have the greatest chemistry in film history, but the build -up and the romance is so charming that we can overlook the lack of lustful vigor or the sexual tension between the pair. In this way the film feels more like a PG rated Cinderella story than anything heavier. Predictably, the couple shares a happily ever after ending.

As much of a jewel as My Big Fat Greek Wedding was in 2002, the risk with a film of this nature is to actually hold up well over time. Specifically, in the romantic comedy genre, films of this ilk have a short relevant self-life (if deemed relevant at all). The humorous Windex references may be lost on audiences over time or just become stale over the years.

My Big Fat Greek Wedding (2002) can be deemed by some as fluff- mainly based on the romantic comedy genre it exists in. But it’s of better worth than that, mainly because of the fresh and genuine use of culture and differing backgrounds. The film has a quality that most of the standard “rom coms” do not possess, that of authenticity. Yes, it certainly contains Greek stereotypes, but the overall vibe of the film is that of a sunny, fun, happy experience. An uplifting film can sometimes be just what the doctor ordered.

Results-2015

Results-2015

Director-Andrew Bujalski

Starring-Guy Pearce, Kevin Corrigan

Scott’s Review #471

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Reviewed August 29, 2016

Grade: C-

Other than one fantastic supporting performance by Kevin Corrigan, who should have been the star of this film, Results is an independent romantic comedy that lacks any real identity. The film has trouble deciding which couple the audience is meant to root for leaving me to root for none of them, and frankly, a bit bored with the overall script. Still, Corrigan and to some degree Guy Pearce make it a tolerable watch.

Corrigan plays Danny, a newly wealthy average joe type, who joins a gym presumably to achieve a supportive network of friends, as he is new in town- Austin, Texas.  He meets Trevor (Pearce), who owns a local gym, and is trained by the moody Kat (Cobie Smulders). The three individuals lives intersect as a triangle of sorts develops.

Kevin Corrigan, who has appeared in numerous independent films over his decades long career, as well as blockbusters such as Goodfellas, completely steals the show and is the main reason to tune in. His acting is effortless as he plays a lonely, rich man looking for human connections. He is troubled, but has a comic , sardonic wit that shines and gives him needed vulnerability. We want him to find happiness despite being unlikable. Speaking of unlikable, Smulders as Kat is a frigid iceberg with attitude for miles. Why anyone- let alone two men- would have interest in her is beyond me.

Pearce is appealing as the good natured, aspiring to be successful businessman named Trevor, who is buff beyond belief- to enormous credit since Pearce is no spring chicken. Otherwise, we know little about his character. He is not in love with Kat, then suddenly seems to be. Kat warms to Danny, but then is in love with Trevor. The entire romantic entanglement is quite silly and no chemistry exists among any of the principles. The casting of Giovanni Ribisi as a stoner lawyer and Anthony Michael Hall (The Breakfast Club from the 1980’s) as a fitness guru are pointless.

The fitness/gym angle is sort of cool if one- as I am- is a fan of physical fitness. It is a nice little lesson as Kat teaches Danny basic core exercises. But after too many scenes of Kat drinking kale shakes and jogging incessantly, or Trevor eating egg white omelets and body strengthening, the message is overkill. They are fitness buffs- we get it.

The biggest fail is how the film begins focusing on Danny and Kat as a potential romantic couple, then suddenly shifts gears, making Kat and Trevor the main couple, with Danny on the outside looking in. It really makes little sense, and by that point I was rather bored anyway and the film just petered out for me.

Results has shreds of potential with better structured story-telling, but the film misses good potential in many areas- underdeveloped characters and a meandering plot are a couple of major problem points.

Your Sister’s Sister-2011

Your Sister’s Sister-2011

Director-Lynn Shelton

Starring-Emily Blunt, Rosemarie DeWitt

Scott’s Review #448

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Reviewed July 9, 2016

Grade: C+

Your Sister’s Sister is a small, 2011 independent film, with a central cast of only three characters- the two sisters mentioned in the title and a young man (Mark Duplass) who is a rival for their affections.

The story tells of a love triangle, of sorts, between two sisters and one man. I admire the improvisational method that is used in the dialogue, ala Robert Altman style, where the characters merely have conversations and discuss issues rather than a structured dialogue- this works well in the film.

The standout is certainly Rosemarie DeWitt (“Mad Men”). I also enjoyed the remote, cabin setting, which makes for a claustrophobic experience. Emily Blunts performance, though, seems bland to me and I did not find her character rather relatable.

The ending of the film leaves everything up in the air and no clear conclusions are drawn, something I could see coming from miles away. I admired the style of this film, but was unsatisfied with the outcome.

Ruby Sparks-2012

Ruby Sparks-2012

Director-Jonathan Dayton, Valerie Faris

Starring-Paul Dano, Zoe Kazan

Scott’s Review #442

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Reviewed July 4, 2016

Grade: B

Ruby Sparks is a smart, creative, indie film from 2012. The films theme is fantasy versus reality as the main character is a troubled writer envisioning a character he has created is real. Is she or isn’t she?

The film centers around a writer (Paul Dano of Little Miss Sunshine fame) with writers block who creates an imaginary dream girl (Zoe Kazan), who magically comes to life one day. This is an interesting premise and film and has some big name actors (Annette Bening, Eliot Gould, Antonio Banderas) in small roles which is a delight to see.

The chemistry is lacking between the two leads and the film delves too much into a typical romantic comedy. Additionally,the film never explains if it is going for seriousness or purely the writers imagination, but I admire its creativity and thoughtful premise.

Celeste and Jesse Forever-2012

Celeste and Jesse Forever-2012

Director-Lee Toland Krieger

Starring-Rashida Jones, Andy Samberg

Scott’s Review #421

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Reviewed June 19, 2016

Grade: D

Celeste and Jesse Forever was a major dud for me. I am not a fan of romantic comedies, but since the film received a nomination for an Independent Spirit award for Best First Screenplay, I decided to watch it. Why this film was nominated for that award I cannot understand. Perhaps someone knows someone who knows someone?

There is nothing impressive about the writing whatsoever. It’s a tried and true romantic comedy formula: couple together, couple splits, couple reunites, throw in some misunderstandings for good measure and that is pretty much the film. The central characters and supporting characters are either dull, annoying, or both.

To be fair, there is nothing loathsome about the movie, but rather, it’s your standard by the numbers romantic comedy that warrants no award nominations. Bland.

 

Hello, My Name Is Doris-2016

Hello, My Name Is Doris-2016

Director-Michael Showalter

Starring-Sally Field, Max Greenfield

Scott’s Review #390

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Reviewed April 1, 2016

Grade: B

Sally Field shines in Hello, My Name Is Doris, a sweet natured indie romantic comedy that tells of a lonely Staten Island woman, and her mostly fantasy-laden relationship with her colleague, a much younger, hunky man.  The film has a certain measure of predictability, but is sweet, honest, and really works well. It hardly reinvents the wheel, but rather is a story of a woman’s reawakening from a dull life and is a nice character- oriented film- refreshing in a world of retreads and super-hero flicks. Hello, My Name Is Doris is humanistic.

Doris Miller meanders through life at her crappy data entry job at an Advertising Agency in mid-town Manhattan. Having worked in the same role for decades, she is overlooked and more or less invisible to colleagues. She is the “weird old lady” or the “wallflower” who goes unnoticed. Her personal life is a dud- she lives with her mother who has recently died, is a hoarder, and is severely marginalized.  Clearly, she has no dating possibilities. One day, on the elevator, heading to the office, a kind young man named John Fremont innocently pays attention to her and she becomes enamored with him. Later, she is stunned to realize that John is the new Art Director at her job. Her crush escalates as she and John become friends, and a series of misunderstandings ensue, with the added conflict of her friends thinking she is living in a fantasy world, worried she will wind up hurt.

Sally Field clearly carries this film in every way. It is nice to see her in a lead role again, which sadly, for a seventy year old actress, is a rarity these days. She convincingly plays quirky, shy, awkward, and has one melt-down scene that is a powerful testament to her continued acting ability. The character of Doris slowly blossoms and becomes rich with zest. We discover she is much more than meets the eye and these moments in the film are wonderful to experience and this is thanks to Field’s charisma.

My favorite scenes involve the nice bond between Doris and the thirteen year old granddaughter of her best pal, Roz, played by Tyne Daly. Despite the age difference, the granddaughter views her as a peer, giving daring dating advice to the inept Doris. This leads to a nice portion of the plot and some funny moments.

One unique aspect of Hello, My Name Is Doris, is that it is not a film about a May-December romance between a man and a woman, at least I did not look at the film that way. Rather, it is about a woman who finally decides to live regardless of her age. I felt her stifled and smothered by her brother and sister-in-law, who clearly did not understand that she hoarded “stuff” in her home to cope with her loneliness and to be surrounded by things that gave her comfort helped her deal. Granted, Doris clinging to one broken wooden ski from the dark ages was amusing in its cuteness.

Worth a huge note is Tyne Daly, who, from an acting standpoint, can recite the phone book and I’d be happy with that. She is one of those natural, confident, interesting, real, actresses and her scenes with Fields glistened with raw talent and emotion. Perhaps a female buddy movie with Field and Daly?

The remainder of the supporting characters are capable, but not spectacular. In fact, they are rather clichéd and one-note. For example, Doris’s colleagues view her as invisible with the classic office jokes and especially the female boss thrown into the film- possessing a hard as nails personality and coldness. I have seen these characters time after time in comedy films. Supporting actors from Orange is the New Black and Mad Men are featured as a couple of the colleagues.

Indie, fun, and with a freshness made in large part by Sally Field, Hello, My Name Is Doris is an innocent comedy with a romantic edge and some nice laughs. It is far from a masterpiece, but a good natured escape, especially for the middle-aged or senior crowd craving a non-stereotypical female character- and that is refreshing in itself.

Obvious Child-2014

Obvious Child-2014

Director-Gillian Robespierre

Starring-Jenny Slate

Scott’s Review #387

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Reviewed March 22, 2016

Grade: C+

Obvious Child is a 2014 independent comedy nominated for a couple of independent spirit awards, that contains mixed results from me. It works on some levels, but has an irritating underbelly and some unneeded components that ultimately give it a thumbs down. The major success is star Jenny Slate, a real-life Brooklyn stand-up comic with immeasurable comic timing, who will hopefully become a rising star. Interesting to note is that Slate starred in a 2009 short film of the same name before said film graduated to a full length feature.

Slate stars as a twenty-eight year old Brooklyn-ite, who moonlights as a stand-up comic in a dingy bar while working in a desolate bookstore that is soon closing. Conversely, her parents are successful- her mother a famed professor. When she is unceremoniously dumped by her steady, she takes up with a handsome young man for a one-night stand filled with fun. Predictably, she winds up pregnant and forges ahead with a plan to abort their child.

The abortion story is quite interesting in that there is never a doubt what she will have done to the unborn child. Unlike films that make abortion the main focus of conflict, Obvious Child wisely does not- every character in the film supports, and even encourages her to have the procedure, including her mother and best friend. Having been written and directed by women, this is clearly intentional and a way of empowering women, which is one of the high points of the film. If one is on the fence about the topic of abortion or is pro-life in stance, this film may be very tough to watch as its slant is made crystal clear.

Slate is the other high point of the film. She exudes confidence and comic range. Jewish and slightly awkward looking, she is not the leading-lady type and this arguably makes her wit and sarcastic language all the more comical. She is a natural in the comedy department and I am hoping she will go far.

Two slight props for me worth mentioning is the wonderful mention of the classic film Gone with the Wind and the setting of Brooklyn. This was a great nod to film history and the setting gave Obvious Child an authentic New York City feel.

On the other hand, an utter annoyance about Obvious Child is the shameless and constant use of blatant and off-putting bathroom humor- not just once or twice, but numerous times. How is this necessary to the plot? I really cannot say, but only can surmise that it was deemed necessary by the filmmakers to show that females can give as good as males can. Almost saying, “men can make poop jokes, why can’t women”? Why this is necessary in any film is beyond me and it gives Obvious Child a crass, ugly feel.

The film also has an unrealistic quality to it. Max is portrayed as a prince charming. He can do no wrong, supports Donna in any decision she makes, is enamored by her sole being, and loves her unconditionally after only a one-night stand. This would not happen in real life. The fact that Donna is Jewish and quirky and Max is Christian and straight-laced is not explored. What conflicts would they undoubtedly face? Why were his parents not featured.

Highly uneven, with a great premise and an interesting slant on a still controversial social issue, Obvious Child succeeds in the story department, but fails in it’s uncalled for use of potty humor to elicit cheap laughs.

Don Jon-2013

Don Jon-2013

Director-Joseph Gordon-Levitt

Starring-Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Julianne Moore

Scott’s Review #27

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Reviewed June 17, 2014

Grade: B+

 I did not expect this film to be as good as it is. Frankly, I was expecting a by the numbers romantic comedy. Written, directed by, and starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt, it tells the story of a 20 something New Jersey bartender who is addicted to porn despite receiving all the female attention he can imagine. Scarlett Johansson and Julianne Moore play 2 completely different women in his life.

The film contains stereotypical, though hilarious and spot on, New Jersey trademarks. Tony Danza is brash and effective as the father. The last 30 minutes the film turns into a wonderful, yet hardly sappy or traditional, love story that makes this film a positive experience. Gordon-Levitt is a breath of fresh air and a young Hollywood talent getting his due.