Tag Archives: Kathryn Hahn

Flower (2018)

26 Mar

No subgenre of film is so elusive as the indie teenage romantic comedy.  Take some time to browse through any program guide of SXSW or Sundance from the last two decades and you’ll see that independent film history is rich with varied examples of offbeat and angsty teens falling in and out of love. Sometimes, it works (look no further than the aptly titled First Girl I Loved or the nuanced sleeper The Spectacular Now) but more often than not, you end up with a smorgasbord of character tropes, bad sex jokes, and dialogue from writers who’ve seemingly forgotten how teenagers actually behave.  It’s common knowledge that teens are complicated – why is it so hard for their films to be as well?

In Flower, the painful combo of teen-romance-movie-misfires intercedes with gags about sexual assault and pedophillia. Because nothing says funny like trying to figure out if a highschool teacher is into little boys or little girls.

The film starts of with a cop engaging in felatio with our underage hero Erica (Zoey Deutch) who then blackmails him in exchange for cash. We then learn that Erica has made a habit of engaging with older men and then blackmailing them in order to save up enough to bail out her absent father from jail. If you are questioning Erica’s motives here don’t worry, she literally tells a stranger she has daddy issues, just in case there was any confusion to the audience. Her distant mother (Kathryn Hahn) has been dating guy-after-guy ever since her Erica’s father was locked up, and she finally settles with generic Bob (Tim Heidecker) whose son Luke (Joey Morgan) has just graduated rehab and is about to live with the family, much to Erica’s disdain.

There is also a shoehorned subplot here about the aforementioned child-molester (Adam Scott doing his usual shtick) but the heart of the story rests with Erica and Luke’s relationship as new step-siblings from very different worlds trying to get along with each other.  Erica is popular, outgoing, and has a nifty group of friends; Luke is introverted, lonely, into comic books and prone to panic attacks.

Flower tries to be a subversive take on the paint-by-numbers teen sex comedy, but more often than not the jokes fall flat and the characters seem out of place and counterfeit. Erica is such a bad example of the white-rebel-naughty-girl trope that it would be satirical if the film was more self-aware; I was expecting the production design to feature a poster of Harley Quinn on her bedroom wall, but nope – just your typical PARENTAL ADVISORY sign.  Luke, thanks entirely to Joey Morgan’s performance (easily the best thing about this movie), is a bit more tolerable when he isn’t being fed nonsensical lines of dialogue. But even our subdued foil to our protagonist is subject to one of the most bizzare tonal shifts as the movie stumbles into it’s hasty third act. Watching the final segment of Flower is a bit like watching a youtube clip of a drag race where the car starts skidding out of control – you know it’s going to crash and burn eventually but you have to keep watching in order to see how it all goes down.

Bottom Line: Instead of the authentic examination of teenage sexuality it tries to be, Flower is a cringe-worthy and awkward take that tries to get a pass with an inexcusably-awful third act. 

Rating: 4.1 /10

Film Recipe: Juno + Hard Candy + Never Goin’ Back 

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The Visit (2015)

16 Sep

WTF Mr. Shyamalan?

What was hyped up to be the Oscar-nominated director’s return to horror fame was nothing short of a complete clusterfuck. From start to finish, The Visit is a complete cinematic trainwreck delivered in the form of one of the most tired of all horror cliches: found footage. 

Self-financed by Shyamalan himself after having his movies “robbed of artistic integrity” by previous studio heads, the film was shot on a cheap 5 million and distributed by niche horror outlet Blumhouse (Paranormal Activity, Sinister, The Purge). The story follows two chilren Becca (Olivia DeJonge) and Tyler (Ed Oxenbould) as they take a trip to visit their estranged grandparents whom they have never actually met. Of course things get messy when the grandparents start acting up, and it’s up to the kids to find out why. Becca, a bright young filmmaker, is making a documentary out of the whole ordeal as a means to connect her mother with her family and what we see is supposedly the edited footage leftover on her laptop. It’s a cute idea, made even more adorable when young filmmaker Becca is seen onscreen scolding her brother on the merits of mis en scene and narrative tension (almost as if Shyamalan himself is outright reassuring critics and audiences he knows how to make a film). Unfortunately, the “film within a film” concept falls apart fast.

Almost everything in The Visit reeks of desperation. Shyamalan, instead of carefully creating tension and suspense through narrative like he used to, spends too much time switching between cheap jump scares and potty humor as simple provoking devices. These jarring shifts seem to happen at regular and predictable intervals, making for a long and uncomfortable viewing experience. It would work as a sort of campy absurdist piece (think Neil La Bute’s misunderstood The Wicker Man) if Shyamalan wasn’t trying so hard to be sincere.  Long monologues about the value of family and forgiveness feel so thinly veiled and counterfeit, even when being delivered by an actress like Kathryn Hahn.

And yet, perplexingly, watching The Visit was actually somewhat enjoyable – in parts. About halfway through the film, there was this fleeting hope that maybe, just maybe, M. Night was embracing his own inner goofiness and making an intentionally bad comedy. But that feeling only lasted a minute or two before the film dives headfirst into tiring cliches and I was bored again. One of the best moments comes later on when Tyler tries convincing Becca to leave her camera out overnight to capture some of the strangeness that goes on after dark. “I can’t do that for my documentary!” She exclaims, “Where is your sense of cinematic standards?”

In what is easily the most truthful moment in the film, Tyler the replies:  “No one cares about cinematic standards! There is something crazy going on here!”

Bottom Line: Too sappy to be scary and too cringey to be a comedy, The Visit is nothing more than a cheap and desperate attempt to reclaim a director’s former artistic klout. And yet somehow it’s all bizarrely enjoyable. 

Is anyone really having fun here?

Rating: 3/10 

Film Recipe:  Absurdist WTF-ness of The Wicker Man + a kiddie-approved, sanitized version of  V/H/S