Posts Tagged ‘Comedy’

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REVIEW: Roger Dodger (2002)

August 8, 2010

Jesse Eisenberg’s first ever major film, Roger Dodger, is a unique coming-of-age story with enough simplicity on the surface and enough complexity beneath it to take the form of an impressively entertaining study of the social interactions between men and women. As writer/director Dylan Kidd’s first project and winner of the Best Feature Film Award at the first ever Tribeca Film Festival in 2002, this surprisingly well-done little gem will leave you wondering why it wasn’t a bigger commercial success and why Jesse Eisenberg (Zombieland, The Social Network) is the only member of its production that you still see in the business on a regular basis. (No discredit to Jesse; if there’s anything Roger Dodger does reinforce, it’s the fact that he deserves every bit of success that he’s achieved).

“Sex is everywhere,” Roger Swanson, played by the show-stealing Campbell Scott (Dying Young, Big Night), tells his socially lost, 16-year old nephew, Nick (Eisenberg). Nick has traveled alone to New York City in the hopes of convincing his smooth-talking Uncle Roger into teaching him the ways of seduction so that he might end his romantic troubles by finally getting a girl and losing his virginity. While Roger is overwhelmingly cynical, incessantly arrogant, and often brutally forthright (blatantly exemplified by the motto he applies to the advertising business– “You can’t sell a product without first making people feel bad”), there is no one who knows the rules of the game better. He solidifies his tactics with an impeccable track record; he takes a woman home “every night”.

Originally reluctant to open up his one man band to the prospect of apprenticeship, Roger agrees to spread his wisdom to Nick. What follows is a night out in the city that never sleeps in a crash course in charming women. From hilariously ridiculous scenes of the two scouting out women on the streets to unexpectedly profound conversations at a bar, the night proves to be an open examination of these two previously mysterious characters.

However, the movie is far from simply a character study. While Scott’s and Eisenberg’s performances are near-perfect, the execution of the film ensures that its value is not dependent upon the quality of the acting. Behind a simple plot and seemingly simple characters is a noteworthy script that delivers witty, realistic dialogue and intriguing conversations. Free from hollywood-ized n0nsense and feel-good drivel, the scenes between the two guys and the two women they engage at a bar are perhaps the film’s best, showcasing not only Roger’s subtle tricks and Nick’s charming innocence, but also the natural chemistry between Scott and Eisenberg and the vulnerabilities they both carefully expose with their characters.

The chaotic events of the night lead to an ending that, while it strays slightly from the tone of the rest of the movie and perhaps comes a bit too suddenly, is perfectly raw and unexpected. I can’t remember being more satisfied with an ending in a good while.

All in all, Roger Dodger teaches the common moviegoer that not all good indie flicks have to be about vibrant colors, trendy folk music, and quirky families (Little Miss Sunshine, Juno). And more importantly, this smart man’s American Pie (even if that sounds like an oxymoron) proves that not every coming-of-age, cherry-popping comedy (or maybe more dramedy, in this case) has to be sullied with sloppy and overdone high school stereotypes, eye-rolling dialogue, and unlikable characters of both genders.

I’m hooked, Jesse. Keep making movies.

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REVIEW: (500) Days of Summer (2009)

November 11, 2009

Despite what it may look like from the trailer and everything else surrounding it, (500) Days of Summer is not a love story, as the narrator of the film comes right out and announces at the beginning of the movie. Even those who typically can’t stand the genre of romantic comedies (such as myself) will likely find themselves pleasantly surprised (as I was) by this underrated semi-Indie project that seemed to slip by under the radars of the general population during its time in theaters. Overall, the film is a charming one that seems fantasy-like at times, but still holds onto its unique qualities and unpredictability. While it may seem like cliches do still appear too often, most of the time- the film intentionally takes them and turns them around to present them in a comedic and almost parodic way. Quite the opposite of the unoriginal, cliche-ridden romantic comedies (if I dare bring up the comparison) that pollute the cinema world today, this summer project is fresh, original, and honest.

The film centers around the relationship of Tom Hansen (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), an artistic and slightly dorky architect-wannabe who instead got stuck designing greeting cards for a living, and Summer Finn (Zooey Deschanel), the new assistant to Hansen’s boss. It employs a nonlinear narrative technique in the sense that each scene is preceded by a title card indicating which of the 500 days in the pair’s “relationship” the scene depicts. However, the days are scattered throughout the movie and one scene could be followed by another that takes place 200 days before it chronologically (ex. the movie begins with a clip of the 500th day). So instead of following the traditional sequence of boy meets girl, boy loses girl, and boy wins girl back, 500 Days of Summer introduces the troubles of the relationship almost from the very beginning and builds off of the entrance all the way to the resolution, all the while showing the earlier days that reveal the relationship’s development in between. It quickly becomes clear that the purpose is not to present an understandable, linear timeline that shows where the relationship winds up from beginning to end, but rather to show the unfolding of the events that shaped the relationship and how those sequences influenced what the two experience as the 500 days of the story come to a close.

The audience is immediately thrust into the story, getting a glimpse of how the two meet and their laughably awkward first couple interactions at the same time as receiving bits and pieces of the conflicts they encounter later on in the relationship. Much of the first half of the film illustrates the way Hansen deals with both the start of the relationship and the start of their problems together, consulting his two juvenile and dorky best friends who are of no help to him. But perhaps the best moments of the entire film come from the interactions between Hansen and his preteen sister, who asserts herself with the confidence and authority of an adult, giving him intelligent and insightful advice as if she were the mother of a shy and confused junior high boy. And in a comical way, when compared to his two immature and unhelpful best friends, she becomes his go-to relationship expert with the seeming experience of Dr. Phil.

It may only last 95 minutes, but this comedy proves it’s exactly that– filled with laugh-out-loud moments all around including a Harrison Ford “cameo” of sorts and a hilariously spontaneous dance sequence that takes place right in the middle of town. Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Zooey Deschanel exhibit near-perfect chemistry with realistical dialogue and, together, they create a quirky and odd couple out of the two characters that fits the attitude of the picture precisely. Combined with a great soundtrack, an impressive performance from Gordon-Levitt, and exceptional editing that maintains an appropriate pace to compliment the nonlinear timeline, 500 Days of Summer is certainly one of the best comedies of the summer and perhaps even of the year. Consider it a leader in the “Best Movies Virtually No One Saw” category and be sure to check out this underrated accomplishment whenever you get the chance.

three and a half stars

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REVIEW: Election (1999)

November 9, 2009

Matthew Broderick, now on the other end of the high-school society, stars alongside Reese Witherspoon in Election, a witty and occasionally dark comedy about the troubles that can emerge during high school student council elections. Director Alexander Payne (Sideways and About Schmidt) manages to find a beautiful balance between intelligent satire and compelling drama in a way that never stops being comically enjoyable. It’s as peculiarly captivating as Little Miss Sunshine and as innocently entertaining as Ferris Beuller’s Day Off.

Election time for Washington Carver High School is right around the corner and Tracy Flick (Reese Witherspoon) already has her eye on the glorious prize– the position of student body president. Tracy hasn’t even the slightest reason to worry. She’s a confident and hardworking overachiever who has become a part of every major organization the school offers; she’ll happily raise her hand to answer any question in any class; she evens arrives to school extra early to prepare to campaign for the student signatures she needs to enter the election- a campaign complete with a corny slogan and a manipulative bowl of gum for enticement. And most important of all, Tracy has no competition in the election (not that that stops her from taking the whole matter as seriously as if it were our nation’s presidential election itself). In fact, there’s really only one tiny tidbit that could potentially harm her chances… She recently got out of a secret, but very intimate affair with a teacher who was subsequently fired after the administration found out.

Enter Mr. McAllister (Matthew Broderick)- a young teacher whose life has played out just as he had hoped. He’s everyone’s favorite teacher, he’s involved in the social scene of the school, and he’s one of the most highly valued supporters for the athletics department. Tracy Flick just might be the one thing that dampens his days, with her boring and rigid personality that frames her goody two shoes attitude. Even if he can’t explain it, there’s just something about her that rubs him the wrong way.

So naturally, when Tracy becomes the leading (and only) candidate in the election, Mr. McAllister, the student council administrator, can’t help but be disgruntled by her overwhelming involvement in everything. In the hopes of adding a more democratic element to the election, the three-time Teacher of the Year winner convinces injured football star Paul Metzler to enter the race, assuming that his popularity will give Tracy a challenge. And as if by domino effect, a third candidate joins the two opponents. Paul’s sister, Tammy, sees her participation as a perfect opportunity to get revenge on her brother for stealing her beloved girlfriend. Ironically, the student body responds most emphatically to Tammy’s anarchic tendencies and apathy towards school issues.

Tracy’s stress level reaches a whole new level as her desire to win nearly drives her over the edge, Tammy displays her passion for vengeance, Paul shows his embarrassingly pitiful political skills, and Mr. McAllister gets tied up in a complicated affair; all the basics of your typical high school election are carefully mixed for a remarkable end product.

The quirky atmosphere of the small town and its dysfunctional inhabitants never relents and the story utilizes such simple stereotypes in an unconventional way that makes the characters’ interactions a joy to watch. Comedic dialogue and entertaining twists around every corner, this caricature-driven work is wholeheartedly a fun film that will be especially enjoyed by those who prefer intelligent comedies with just a dab of drama. And perhaps most admirable of all, Election introduces a new type of high school comedy that drops the sleaziness and instead develops an experience that engages audiences with a story that creates plenty of laughs for those with the required number of brain cells. Not to mention, if the comedy ever falls short, it’s amusing enough just to draw parallels to the juvenile affairs of the politics of our own government and certain recent presidential elections in the U.S.

three stars