August isn’t often regarded as a quality time in moviegoing. It’s not a dump month, but sometimes a dip in quality this time of year is apparent. That hasn’t been the case this August, though. Audiences were treated to Straight Outta Compton, Ricki and the Flash, Digging for Fire, The Man From U.N.C.L.E., and, perhaps one of the finest movies we’ll see this year, Joe Edgerton’s directorial debut, The Gift. And who could forget Josh Trank’s Fantastic Four? Based on the noise that surrounded the project, which was more interesting than the deeply flawed but not terrible superhero movie, it’s a film we won’t soon forget.
We’ve still seen a slew of stinkers this month, though. This August has now been taken over by critically reviled major releases. A satisfying summer is concluding on a weak note, but it doesn’t have to end that way for everybody. Maybe don’t end the summer with No Escape. Perhaps you shouldn’t see We Are Your Friends, despite its star calling it the Saturday Night Fever for this generation… There’s also Craig Zobel’s quietly powerful Z for Zachariah, but if you’re looking for laughs, then stay away from that movie for the time being.
Last week two movies worth seeing were lost in the shuffle. One is an immensely enjoyable throwback, the other is a fantastic, wild movie about brotherhood. They’re also both full of laughs, so if you’d rather close out the summer smiling – or cringing while laughing, in the case of option two – seek out these two films:
She’s Funny That Way
When movie fans bemoan, “They just don’t make’m like they used to!” they’re generally wrong. They just don’t make’m like they used to as often as they used to, except that’s not quite the case with co-writer/director Peter Bogdonavich’s She’s Funny That Way – a throwback to farces we never really see anymore. Bogdonavich hasn’t made a narrative feature in 13 years, and sadly, his welcomed return to the silver screen was mostly greeted with a shrug.
She’s Funny That Way — which was originally called Squirrels to the Nuts, a more fitting and charming title – is inspired by the likes of Ernst Lubistch (The Shop Around the Corner) and George Cukor (The Philadelphia Story). Bogdonavich has made films in this high-energy vein before, and sometimes to great results, sometimes not. She’s Funny That Way is one of the director’s more successful efforts.
Owen Wilson stars as Arnold, a scoundrel of a theater director. Arnold, married with children, has a penchant for prostitutes. His greatest high from these moments of infidelity don’t derive from the sex, but from offering these ladies of the night $30,000 to start new lives. Bogdonavich, himself, once gave cash to hookers to runaway from the lovemaking business – which actually inspired the film. The problem is, the newest hooker in Arnold’s life, Izzy (Imogen Poots), is an aspiring actress, meaning their relationship extends beyond their one night fling. Soon after their romantic evening together the young New Yorker arrives at an audition for the director’s latest project, which, after her terrific audition, leads to the two working together.
She’s Funny That Way, like most screwball comedies, follows murphy’s law: anything that can go wrong, will go wrong. In Bogdanovich’s reliable hands, it’s all a matter of how things will go wrong – and usually through sheer happenstance. There’s a wonderful scene in which Albert’s wife and the star of play, Delta (Kathryn Hahn), and her co-star, the womanizing Seth Gilbert (Rhys Ifans), and the rest of the main ensemble – also including Jennifer Aniston, Will Forte, and others – all end up in the same restaurant. The dialogue and jokes are expertly timed, at a rapid fast pace.
Perhaps scenes that coincidental is a part of why audiences and critics haven’t warmed up to She’s Funny That Way. Comedies are rarely this farcical. The only other recent film that resembles Bogdanovich’s film is Noah Baumbach’s Mistress America, but not until the third act do things get crazy there – and the rest of Baumbach’s movie is fairly grounded in reality. As for Bogdonavich, he’s hardly interested in reality. All these characters are caricatures. Almost everything is exaggerated. The characters and events are believable in the reality Bogdonavich creates, though.
She’s Funny That Way is a fantasy – and the opening scene practically yells so at the audience. Imogen Poots’ out-of-this-world Brooklyn accent isn’t intended to be realistic, it’s goal is to be humorous – and that’s what She’s Funny That Way Is: funny. Perhaps the old-fashioned style of She’s Funny That Way is outdated. There’s nothing dated about the jokes or scenarios, but the delivery is sillier – not broader – than what we see from comedies today. Maybe this kind of clever, non-mean-spirited humor doesn’t fit in anymore. Whatever the case, She’s Funny That Way is a breath of fresh air and a big ball of energy, especially until we see a cameo from a director who’s never exactly been regarded for his acting chops…
Here’s another quasi-comedy audiences missed out on, albeit a considerably more disturbing, raw, and less comedically overt picture than She’s Funny That Way. John Magary’s The Mend is a 111 minute movie that feels twice as long as it is – in a wonderful way. Every moment of pain, comedy and self-destructiveness in this wild trip must be experienced, especially with a sibling.
The film opens with Mat (Josh Lucas) charming his girlfriend, Andrea (Lucy Owen), and then cuts to him getting kicked out of her apartment for some unexplained reason. Quickly we understand Mat well enough that we don’t need to know what he did to his girlfriend; he’s a man who creates nothing but problems. With no ambition or dream of any kind, the 40-something then goes on to spend an unpleasant day in New York – bumming cigarettes, throwing a drink at a stranger, and committing plenty more questionable acts. It’s all uneasy and queasy, but then the movie finds a way to kick things up a notch when Alan (Stephen Plunkett) is introduced. Mat appears a party, one he’s clearly not welcomed at, and we learn the host, Alan, is his brother.
The two brothers, despite their appearances and different levels of success, are two sides of the same coin. The difference between the two men is, Mat’s problems are more apparent on the outside. Take one look at the guy and his baggage is obvious. He doesn’t try to mask his flaws, unlike his brother. The film is a riveting portrait of how people accept or ignore their problems.
The relationship between Mat and Alan can go from love to hate overnight, which anyone with a brother should relate to. One minute The Mend is hilarious, the next it’s unnerving. This movie is too wild to put into a box. This isn’t really a drama, a comedy, or a dramedy. The Mend, while being hilarious, is something else entirely. 25 minutes of the movie takes place at Alan’s party, and like all parties worth going to, it’s joyous, uncomfortable, and ends up being a bit of a trainwreck. If 25 minutes of mixed emotions taken to the extreme doesn’t sound appealing, then how does almost two hours of that sound? Because that’s The Mend.
John Magary has made an uproarious assault on the senses, using everything from the sounds of New York, some nightmarish cinematography, and abrupt transitions to get under the audience’s skin. To sweeten the deal, the film contains by Josh Lucas’ finest performance to date. Lucas has always been an actor with serious talent, but he’s never quite gotten his due. The Mend shows him at his most present and alive. It’s an electric performance in an electrifying film.
She’s Funny That Way and The Mend are now playing in limited release.