Monday, June 27, 2022

Film Reviews: A Film Night With the Parents? Try “Cha Cha Real Smooth,” “Good Luck to You, Leo Grande” (Sort of?) and “Jerry and Marge Go Large”

Cha Cha Real Smooth (c) Apple TV+

Film Review:  Cha Cha Real Smooth 
On Apple TV+ 

Imagine if the iconic John Cusack characters of the classic 1980s movies reincarnated into the body of Casey Affleck and you’ll get Andrew, the likable and optimistic hero of director, writer and actor Cooper Raiff’s “Cha Cha Real Smooth,” the Sundance Audience Award winner. And if you think the title is awkward, consider Raiff’s first movie was called “Shithouse,” and this movie’s title (based on the dance, as if I had to tell you that) is rather harmonious and charming. The same can be said about Raiff’s film. Andrew (Raiff) is a college graduate working at the Meat Sticks stand (don’t ask) at his hometown New Jersey mall while everyone he grew up with has moved on. By chance, he chaperones his younger brother David (Evan Assante) at a friend’s bat mitzvah, where he discovers his skill of getting shy Jewish pre-teens to socialize, to the point that he gets hired as a party starter at various mitzahs. He particularly bonds with Lola (Vanessa Burghardt), the autistic daughter of Domino (Dakota Johnson), and not just because he finds himself attracted to the 30-year-old mother. In a more predictable movie, the main character would be David as he winds his way through bar/bat mitzvah season and hoping to kiss his crush with the help of his sort of lovable loser brother supporting player. But instead we get the movie about the loser, and as much as he is seen as not socially reaching potential, his goofy outlook on life makes him the richest character in the film, and that’s saying something since “Cha Cha Real Smooth” also includes both Leslie Mann (who plays Andrew’s mother) and Johnson’s best performances to date. And as much as this film feels like any one made by your typical cis, straight, under-30, white male indie filmmaker of any given Sundance Film Festival, sometimes (just by the law of averages) one of these is actually insightful, charming and fun. It happens. 

Rating on the “Watching a Film With Your Parents” meter? An 8 (out of 10) as the guy at the center of the film is someone who could charm them at dinner. 

Good Luck to You, Leo Grande (c) Searchlight Pictures, Hulu

Film Review:  Good Luck to You, Leo Grande 
On Hulu 

I take offense with the title of Sophie Hyde’s otherwise excellent film, “Good Luck to You, Leo Grande.” Leo Grande (Daryl McCormack) is the young, high-priced sex worker that retired high school teacher and widow Nancy Stokes (Emma Thompson) hires and agrees to meet at an upscale hotel, but while he is half of the cast of this two-hander, he is by far the least interesting one of the pair, despite the fact that McCormack as Grande is quite an interesting character. But the movie belongs to Nancy, as embodied by the always excellent Thompson, who realized she has put her sexual needs behind those of her husband and wants to explore. Of course, it’s one thing to think you deserve things, and quite another when it is staring you in the face by the handsome and charming Leo Grande. How Grande breaks down Nancy’s barriers is the driving action in the film, but how Nancy deals with the aftermath is the drama. So, to have Leo’s name in the title (it doesn’t seem to be a play off any existing song or book title) and not Nancy feels like a cheat, although it’s nice to wish him luck. The chemistry between the two is obvious, so I rolled my eyes at the inclusion of some personal revelations and needless outside drama in an already dramatic situation. It just felt like your typical producer’s note that most writers of two-character dramas get. There’s still a lot to love in this film, but to say Thompson bares more of her soul here than in any other in her résumé is an understatement. Good Job to You, Emma Thompson. 

Rating on the “Watching a Film With Your Parents” meter? An 8 (out of 10) except for some of the more prudish parents (some scenes and language are quite explicit), but many of the topics will resonate across the board. 

Jerry and Marge Go Large (c) Paramount+

Film Review:  Jerry and Marge Go Large 
On Paramount+ 

One of the most inoffensive, but enjoyable film in a “how is this really based on real events” kind of way, “Jerry and Marge Go Large” gives Bryan Cranston (Jerry) and Annette Bening (Marge) some lovely character moments as a couple who rediscovers their love through a little glitch discovered in a lottery game. Jerry has just retired, but his mathematical genius mind has figured out how to manipulate a second chance lottery game in which the odds of winning, if you go large enough (hence the title), is almost guaranteed. At first, the winnings were used to supplement his and Marge’s modest retirement fund, but in order to go large, he enlists the help of his friends in the small, depressed town of Evart, Michigan, and soon the town is revitalized by this influx of capital. The movie is based on a Huffington Post article about how the real-life Jerry and Marge bucked the system, legally, and how Evart benefited. As the film needs a villain, he arrives in the person of Ully Schlessinger as a Harvard student who also figures out the hack. But the movie belongs to two stars who are quite lovely as a couple, especially as the plan proves to be a bonding experience for the both of them. Uneventfully directed by David Frankel from a screenplay by Brad Copeland, this is harmless fun, even as the plot’s predictable beats undermine the drama. And I’m sure this is a sanitized, almost G-rated version of what must have been a messier, more interesting story for everyone involved, but then, this genuinely sweet love story at the center of this movie would have been lost. And who wants that? 

Rating on the “Watching a Film With Your Parents” meter? A 10 (out of 10), even good for grandparents.

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