A Look Back: Good Will Hunting

If you are a troubled character in a Hollywood movie, who is seeking therapy, you have a few choices. You can go with the quirky, laid-back therapist, or you can find one who believes that seduction is a helpful method when thrashing out the issues in an adult patient. You may even find one who will analyze your sibling as well as you at the same time, like Barbra Streisand does with Nick Nolte and Melinda Dillon in “The Prince of Tides,” in what is apparently a two-for-one deal. But sleeping with your patient is not always necessary in forming a rapport and ultimately making a breakthrough, as a movie like “Good Will Hunting” proves.

In the movie, Matt Damon plays an angry young math genius who comes from a blue-collar background and is currently working at MIT as a janitor, when he’s not hanging out raising hell with his buddies, including his best friend (Ben Affleck). At the start, Matt attracts the attention of a professor (Stellan Skarsgard) when he casually solves an equation that Stellan has put on the board, in the hopes that by the end of the term, one of his students will have found the correct answer. Stellan tries to talk to Matt who gives him the brush-off, but then after Matt and friends get in minor trouble with the law, Stellan has better luck when he convinces his colleague (Robin Williams) to provide court-ordered therapy to Matt. Why the others get off scot free, I have never figured out, but anyway, Robin is a therapist in the mold of Judd Hirsch in “Ordinary People,” i.e. baggy cardigans, somewhat unkempt but capable of razor-sharp insight, able to think outside the box., etc. Let the meeting of two quirky minds begin.

Since Matt is already so advanced, him going to college is not really considered, but he keeps sabotaging job interviews that would give him more prospects than menial labor. He’s also just met a Harvard student, Minnie Driver, who he likes but again is conflicted about making a commitment. Of course, Robin’s job is to help Matt work through his ambivalence about the future, both personal and professional, in order to make him a little less a pissed off genius and a little more of an adult.

This movie doesn’t have a sequel, but in “Jay and Silent Bob Go to Hollywood,” both Matt and Ben make fun of the movie and Miramax, when they’re shown rehearsing on the “set” of “Good Will Hunting 2: It’s Hunting Season.” We don’t learn what happens after Matt takes off in pursuit of Minnie, but at least the movie skips the cliché of the one left behind showing up at the airport in the nick of time to prevent their loved one’s flight. But the odds are good, that they do manage to get back together.

 

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Sisters: An Abridged Script

FADE IN:

INT: ORDERLY HOUSE

AMY POEHLER chats with her parents, JAMES BROLIN and DIANNE WIEST, via Skype.

AMY POEHLER
So what’s up? It’s the good daughter checking in to make sure you’re still breathing. Oh, wait, you need to stand closer, so I can SEE you.

(under breath)
Jeez, we can do better than the typical old-people-don’t-get-this-newfangled-technology joke now, can’t we?
(squares shoulders, resolves to try again)

JAMES BROLIN
Amy, your mother and I are selling your childhood home because we’re busy having a life elsewhere. Can you tell your sister, TINA FEY, so we don’t have to deal with her probable potty-mouthed tantrum?”

AMY POEHLER
Er, you’re asking me for the sort of behavior you call me out for later in the movie…oh, all right.

DIANNE WIEST
Thanks, dear, we knew we could count on you! Now your dad and I are going to go have sex…I mean fun! We’re going to play canasta.

AMY POEHLER
OK, just don’t have a heart attack or anything. At least, not without telling me first. Bye!

INT: CHAOTIC HOUSE

TINA FEY is busy giving some random guy an eyebrow wax, when her daughter, MADISON DAVENPORT, arrives.

TINA FEY
OMG, you’re home. Where have you been all these months? Jeez, shouldn’t I be notifying the authorities if this was real life?

MADISON DAVENPORT
Everything’s fine, Mom. Why aren’t you at your job?

RANDOM GUY
Are my eyebrows supposed to be smoking?

TINA FEY
Er…I had the day off?

TINA FEY’s ROOMMATE
(storms in, holds up disgusting mass)
My doggie puked this up and it appears to be someone’s pubes. Tina, I’d really like you to leave soon.

MADISON DAVENPORT
This is grossing me out. I’m leaving again. Bye!

TINA FEY
Wait, are you supposed to be bipolar? At least stay long enough to establish a few consistent character traits, okay?

MADISON DAVENPORT
Isn’t it already obvious, I’m super-responsible because I’ve had to be the parent. That’s all the development I need. Bye.

TINA FEY
Fortunately, I’ve just gotten a call from my sister, Amy, who wants me to take a road trip to our Florida childhood home, so I don’t have to worry about stuff like a steady paycheck and a roof over my head. I’m outta here, too.

RANDOM GUY
Uh…hello?

FLORIDA HOMETOWN

EXT.: AMY and TINA’s OLD HOME

TINA FEY
What is THAT on our front lawn?

AMY POEHLER
It appears to be some kind of sign? Oh, wait, it says SOLD, so that’s a good indication that our house is no longer ours. Looks like our parents have up and sold our childhood home, which technically belongs to them and which they aren’t using anymore, but hey, how could they?

TINA FEY
(goes all Colin Firth in “The King’s Speech”)

AMY POEHLER
Yeah, that’s why Dad asked me to tell you. We’ve got to get all our old stuff moved before the new people come.

TINA FEY
You FUCKING knew already?

AMY POEHLER
Let’s go inside and rummage around our eighties’ stuff to a montage. That’ll make you feel better.

They DO.

INT: AMY’and TINA’s OLD BEDROOM

TINA FEY
(reads from her old diary)
Today, I gave my first blowjob, after sneaking out after curfew to get my tongue pierced and get high.

AMY POEHLER
(reads from her old diary)
Today, I finished my algebra homework, ironed my socks and repotted my new cactus. Wow, we’re really playing against type here, aren’t we?

TINA FEY
Yep. Hey, are you wearing an outfit you had when you were a teen?

AMY POEHLER
(has a sneezing fit from the dust)
Apparently, our parents really meant it when they said they hadn’t touched our room. And apparently, when we were teens, we had more or less the figures we do now, since the clothes actually go on.

TINA FEY
I know what’ll cheer us up. Let’s have a HOUSE PARTY like we used to back in the day. And invite everyone we knew back then because that’s not remotely depressing or anything, right? And since no one but us has left the area, they should all be able to show up on such short notice.

AMY POEHLER
OK, as long as I get to drink, and you get to supervise. Since it was the other way around all through school.

TINA FEY
No fucking way…all right, if you insist.

INT: CONVENIENCE TYPE STORE

AMY and TINA go shopping and run into MAYA RUDOLPH.

MAYA RUDOLPH
Looks like you girls are having a party.

AMY POEHLER
Well, no…wait, you can come if you want.

TINA FEY
Since you have nothing better to do.

MAYA RUDOLPH
I do, too. I have a very fulfilling life. Besides which, I’m having a Jackie Gleason movie marathon.

TINA FEY
Boy, you really are a loser.

MAYA RUDOLPH
Look, so far this movie is desperate for some kind of conflict, since you and Amy get along so well, we need someone to add to the bitch factor. That’s my job.

AMY POEHLER
Whatever, we have to go.

Amy and Tina get pedicures and invite GRETA LEE, who is obviously oppressed and in dire need of fun because she is ASIAN and works in a salon, to their bash, as well as a whole bunch of random classmates they find on Facebook. Then they go clothes shopping, and Amy makes a super-secret call to her NIECE, who has been secretly staying with her, telling her to come on down and secretly join the fun because, hey, the more, the merrier. Then Tina tells Amy she has a new job and is moving here, which technically is a big fat lie.

INT:  CAR
TINA FEY
So what have you been doing for fun lately?

AMY POEHLER
I train service dogs and am mastering the art of making cheese.

TINA FEY
(slows car)
You need a life. Look, there’s IKE BARINHOLTZ doing landscaping. Go invite him to the party. Well, after making sure, he’s not married or anything.

AMY POEHLER
(actual question)
Hi, IKE. How are you with being made good-natured fun of by a couple of women who have never grown fully up?

IKE BARINHOLTZ
I’ll go with it. I majored in comebacks, with a minor in non sequiturs, so I think I can keep up with you.

AMY POEHLER
Great! And you’re single, right?

IKE BARINHOLTZ
Yep. Party at your place, I hear?

AMY POEHLER
Come on down. We may just be compatible.

Amy and Tina return home where they bump into the SNOTTY NEW HOMEOWNERS.

HUSBAND
We’re going to paint the porch blue because why not? It’s our home now, and we’re going to do this amazing thing called renovating to suit our taste. Which you have none of.

WIFE
And we’re gonna chop down your favorite tree, and pave over the grave of your beloved deceased dog.

TINA FEY
(actual line)
Your husband is GAY.

WIFE
What is this, elementary school? And why does it look like you bought out half a convenience store? Not planning on a party, I hope?

AMY POEHLER
No way, not us.

INT: HOUSE PARTY

FIRST GUEST
So look, here are the pictures of my latest mammogram.

SECOND GUEST
I can’t stay too long because we have to get back for the sitter.

THIRD GUEST
This one time? At the PTA meeting?

AMY POEHLER
(under breath)
Everyone is acting like a middle-aged person. Why did we not plan ahead for this? I mean, how bizarre is it that everyone is watching their alcohol consumption when they don’t even have to worry about getting carded?

TINA FEY
Let’s call JOHN CENA and buy some drugs. Because it’s a sure bet that no one has the maturity to just say no.

AMY POEHLER
OK, because even GRETA and her wacky friends, plus BOBBY MOYNIHAN acting like an idiot, and our lesbian friends who are DJ-ing can’t inject enough wackiness into this set-up. We need to get this party started!

TINA FEY
But first, I’m going to throw MAYA RUDOLPH out.

MAYA RUDOLPH
Your sister invited me. What the hell?

TINA FEY
Bitch factor, remember?

MAYA RUDOLPH
I’ll show you!

SOME TIME LATER

TINA FEY
(answers phone)
Mom and Dad? Oh, we’re just having a quiet movie night. That sound you hear is the DVD.

JAMES BROLIN
Good. Anyway, honey, we heard you have a new job and are moving here, so we are going to give you the proceeds from the house sale.

TINA FEY
Wait, you’re only just telling me this now? Isn’t this kind of an odd time?

JAMES BROLIN
Movie logic, honey. So I hope you girls haven’t spilled popcorn on the couch. Don’t stay up too late, hee hee.

TINA FEY
I gotta go.

(raises voice, rushes back to party)
OK, you can all go home now. Fun’s over.

BOBBY MOYNIHAN
(cavorts half-naked with coke smeared around his nose)
Wheee! Coke is cooool! You’re supposed to be laughing at me, people.

REST OF GUESTS
OK, you’re marginally amusing. Now go away.

BOBBY MOYNIHAN
Not a chance!

TINA FEY
Seriously, people, it’s time to go.

GRETA LEE
(dumps entire box of detergent into washing machine)
Cool! Bubbles!

MAYA RUDOLPH
(twirls mustache, pours paint into the sprinklers)

REST OF GUESTS
Well, we’ve pulverized the house, let’s go to town on the backyard!

(line up to sled through chocolate pudding, then cannonball off the roof into the pool)

Meanwhile, AMY is attempting to seduce IKE upstairs.

AMY POEHLER
(sprinkles hot candle wax all over Ike’s bare chest)
Apparently, we’re going to reenact “Body of Evidence.”

IKE BARINHOLTZ
You’ve got a kinky streak, I see. Shit!

Amy accidentally sets Ike on fire with a Garfield candle, only to realize that after she puts out the flames, there’s an even bigger problem.

IKE BARINHOLTZ
Why do I hear music? Oh…

AMY POEHLER
That’s my music box. Which would explain why we hear music coming from a very unexpected place.

IKE BARINHOLTZ
Ah! I’ve got a frigging music box up my ass. Don’t touch me, I’m leaving. They’re going to have hysterics in the ER, but it’s safer than here.

AMY POEHLER
No, wait.
(falls through floor)

TINA FEY
Jeez, you just wrecked the house even more. You think you’re so perfect, but you’re really not.

AMY POEHLER
(sticks out her coked up tongue)

MADISON DAVENPORT
(walks in suddenly)
What the hell?

TINA FEY
Hah, she’s been staying with you all along, Amy. Now this is actually a real grievance, but I’m going to act hysterical, and no one will take me seriously.

AMY POEHLER
What was that noise…

MAYA RUDOLPH
Aliens have just crashed their spaceship into the side of the house. Sucks to be you.

TINA FEY
Hah, good one.

MAYA RUDOLPH
Actually, a sinkhole has just opened up in the backyard, swallowing the pool. I’m out of here.

They rush out to find that suddenly, they’ve all stumbled onto the set of “This Is The End.” Amy and Tina express their emotions by mud-wrestling. with some hair pulling and eyeball clawing for variety. Then James and Dianne arrive.

JAMES BROLIN
What is this shit? Girls, it’s time to grow up.

DIANNE WIEST
You fucking wrecked the house you fucking fuckwits.

AMY POEHLER
(real line)
Mom, don’t swear.

DIANNE WIEST
Oh fuck off.

MADISON DAVENPORT
OK, I’m leaving again, since I’m the only person in this movie with any class and a triple digit IQ.

(slips, falls into sinkhole)

TINA FEY
Honey? Are you okay down there?

MADISON DAVENPORT
Yeah, but I think I found a copy of the SCRIPT. Also I’m gonna need a ladder to climb out.

JAMES BROLIN
You girls are grounded. Tina, you lied to us, and that’s not cool. And, Amy, stop trying to take care of everyone. Also, not cool.

AMY POEHLER
But…

JAMES BROLIN
Just. Get. A Fucking. Life. Already. But only after you and your sister repair the house.

DIANNE WIEST
Yes, get the fuck out of here, people.

IKE BARINHOLTZ
Wait, I’ve decided that I really like Amy, and I’ll donate my services for free.

TINA FEY
Looks like setting a guy you’re trying to impress on fire is the way to go.

BOBBY MOYNIHAN
(falls out of tree)
Whoo! Sex-eee girlfriend!

Amy and Tina, using pluck, determination and good old-fashioned elbow grease, fix up the house. Afterwards, all is sunshine and roses, and they live happily ever after.

Movie Review: Sisters

With all seriousness, do there really exist parents who do nothing with their children’s bedroom after the children are long grown and have families of their own? I suppose, in “Sisters,” you could argue that the parents (James Brolin and Dianne Wiest) simply live too full a life to have time to renovate it. Also, there needs to be a premise for their adult daughters (Tina Fey and Amy Poehler), to return home to clean it out – which is here because their Florida childhood home has been sold to a snooty rich family, and they have to vacate it under deadline. Their room looks like a Generation X time capsule, and it isn’t clear if anyone has actually set foot in the room in years, but in wading through the clutter, they decide it’s the perfect excuse to rejuvenate a high school tradition and have a house party. Cue the wacky high jinks. And reinforce the floorboards.

Amy plays the responsible sister (who interestingly, is the younger), a divorced nurse who keeps busy by giving inspirational cards to street people, training rescue dogs, and learning to make cheese. When she dutifully Skypes her parents at the beginning of the film, they break the news and pass the buck because they don’t want to deal with their other daughter’s (Tina’s) probable tantrum when she discovers they are moving. Tina plays a single mom with an adorably responsible teen daughter and a colorful vocabulary, who has just been fired from her hair salon job, so she has plenty of time to join Amy on their road trip. Amy hasn’t had much of a love life lately, so Tina encourages her to ask a hunky neighbor guy (Ike Barinholtz) to their party. Another guest is the Asian pedicurist they meet while preparing for the party, who brings her friends, which livens things up considerably.

While shopping, the sisters also run into Tina’s frenemy from high school, Maya Rudolph, who still holds a grudge for being excluded and who plans on a little gate crashing/revenge. Meanwhile, Tina agrees to be the “party mom,” and not drink, so that Amy can “let her freak flag fly.” In the course of an evening, someone will get impaled on a ballerina music box, and the house will be destroyed – but the upside is that Tina will learn to take some belated responsibility and Amy will learn that she doesn’t need to always be the fixer in her family. Several other characters also learn things in colorful ways, as well.

If you’ve seen the trailer for “Sisters,” you already know how the movie will unfold, including that ballerina music box scene, which is the best argument I’ve ever encountered for not having sex in someone’s un-renovated childhood bedroom. Things get pretty surreal as the party progresses, and when the elderly parents finally do clue in to what’s going on, their language mirrors that of Tina’s (so that’s where she got that from). But in the end, they all realize the importance of letting go – even if it does an evening of demolition to hammer it home.

Movie Review: Spotlight

Between “Black Mass,” and the recently released “Spotlight,” Boston and its surrounding area does not emerge looking like a particularly pleasant place in which to live. Although the first is a movie about mobsters and the second about pedophile priests, the two share similarities: multiple scenes of people threatening/bribing each other and characters who defend their actions when backed in a corner by blurting out the old chestnut, “I was just doing my job.” Fortunately, the Boston Globe “Spotlight” team (Mark Ruffalo, Michael Keaton, Rachel McAdams, John Slattery and headed by Liev Schreiber as the new Globe editor) are on the side of the victims, in composing a story which will prove that there are more than just a few “bad apples” and something is truly rotten in the Catholic Church diocese.

The movie both fits and deviates from the typical Hollywood portrayal of a whistleblower. Stage One is when we meet the players. Sometimes we get background on their families, but here, the focus is mostly on the journalists themselves. We do learn that except for Liev, who is Jewish, they are all more or less lapsed Catholics. Some, like Rachel’s character, attend church with a devout relative; others, like Mark’s character, have moved away from the Church but haven’t completely given up the idea of abandoning it altogether. At the beginning of the movie, the Spotlight team is attempting to come up with its next big story, and when they hear about a possible scandal involving sexual allegations and what appears to be a church-wide cover-up of the perps, they scrap the one they’re currently looking at and take that one instead. Though there have been attempts by others to give the Globe this information before, for various reasons, it’s not been taken seriously. However, that’s about to change.

Stage Two is the information gathering stage where the characters sense that something is not entirely on the up-and-up but have no idea of the breadth and depth of the evil involved. At first, the team, given information by someone who’s been studying deviant behavior in the priesthood since the sixties, learns that six percent of priests “act out.” They do the math and decide it’s about 13 in Boston; but once they start interviews and probe further, they realize that number is woefully low. As a character points out, it often takes an outsider to start focusing on an issue that’s been a problem for a long time but not addressed. While none of the Spotlight team are ex-employees of a company or, like Julia Roberts in “Erin Brockovich,” someone who is an outsider at her job, they are, as reporters, used to probing into potential hornets nests and aren’t about to be deterred by scare tactics, in order to unearth the truth.

Stage Three is when the characters start experiencing conflict with the source they are attempting to expose. There’s no dramatic bullets in the mailbox or bricks through the window, but the Catholic Church has been assiduously blocking attempts by the victims (and some insiders) to make the allegations public. as well as the fact that their approach has been to transfer priests to a different parish. There’s lawyers who won’t talk because they don’t want to be disbarred, victims who are conflicted about speaking publicly, and a whole other slew of difficulties in obtaining the right documents. But of course, they persist.

Stage Four is the come-uppance phase where hopefully, the bad guys finally get what’s coming to them. Like many movies, however, your enthusiasm is tempered by follow up information presented in an epilogue, in which you learn that sadly, the bad guys are still sort of doing whatever it is they shouldn’t be. Still, like Mark’s character, it may be hard to attend church this holiday season and watch the children’s choir perform with the same kind of perspective. Is faith a stronger force than the law as one priest claims in the movie? Hopefully, not in this case. As Mark’s character puts it, “It could have been me, it could have been you, it could have been any of us.”

2015 Random Movie Awards

I would dearly love to compose a “Best of” and “Worst of” 2015 movie list, except that I have seen only a fraction of the movies that came out this year. There are so many movies that fall under the following categories: a) Movies that I would have to be paid to sit through which amazingly enough, no one is offering to do. b) Movies that came and went so fast they didn’t even say goodbye. (“Rock the Kasbah” anyone?) and c) Movies that look awesome but which are still not yet around where I live, so to compile a list that truly represents what came out this year would be unfair.

So instead, I made this 2015 movie award list.

1. Best Random “Lord of the Rings” Reference: “Ted 2.” (“Do I have fuck-me eyes?” “No, you have Gollum eyes.”)

2. Same Role, Different Wig: Paul Giamatti who first tried to assume control of Brian Wilson’s (John Cusak’s) finances in “Love and Mercy,” and then did the same for N.W.A. in “Straight Outta Compton.”

3. Passive-aggressive Product Placement: Burger King in “Burnt.” (Big-deal chef played by Bradley Cooper compares the chain to “French peasant food.”)
Runner-up tie: Google Science Fair: the perfect cover for a group of teens dealing drugs in “Dope.” Or Amazon in “Dope.” (“OK, we’ll mention you in our movie but only in a convoluted metaphor justifying why a disadvantaged minority student should demonstrate his aptitude for the Ivy League by selling drugs that aren’t even his.”)

4. Best Tagline: “The Gift”: “The sins of the past are about to become your present.”

5. Best Performance by a Professional Athlete: LeBron James (playing himself) as Bill Hader’s guy pal in “Trainwreck.”
Runner-up: Tom Brady in “Ted 2.”

6. Best Use of an 80’s Pop Hit: “We Belong,” by Pat Benetar in “Pitch Perfect 2.”
Runner-up: Billy Joel’s “Uptown Girl,’ in “Trainwreck.”

7. WTF Use of an 80’s Pop Hit That Later Turns Out to Make Sense: Tears for Fears’, “Everybody Wants to Rule the World,” in “Straight Outta Compton.”

8. Classical Piece You Will Never Hear Again the Same Way: Edward Elgar’s “Pomp and Circumstance,” (i.e. the Graduation March) in “Kingsman: The Secret Service.” Surely, Elgar never envisioned his work would be set to a film scene of heads exploding into fireworks.

9. Only in Hollywood Casting Choice: Adorable, not-in-the-least-hefty actress Mae Whitman as the “designated ugly fat friend,” of “The DUFF.”

10. Best Non-Human Performance: The dog in “The Gift.”

11. Best Non-Human Performance Carrying a Franchise: The orange cat who appeared as Buttercup in three of the four “Hunger Games” movies, including the final one, in which he goes paw-to-paw with Jennifer Lawrence expressing her grief by hurling half a china cabinet at him.

12. Franchise That Should Have Been Left to Rest In Peace: “Vacation.” The sound you heard when it opened was everyone who’d grown up enjoying the Chevy Chase franchise wailing and gnashing their teeth. Plus John Hughes spinning in his grave.

13. Most Depressing Depiction of the Future: “Tomorrowland,” in which, kids, only optimist geniuses need apply.
Runner-up “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2.”

14. Most Awkward Sex Scene: Amy Schumer tries to seduce Ezra Miller in “Trainwreck” not knowing he’s underage and lives with his mother.

15. Most Awkward Non-Sex Bed Scene: Anne Hathaway and Robert De Niro in “The Intern.”

16. Most Awkward Dinner Table Scene: Johnny Depp as Whitey Bulger in “Black Mass.”

17. Most Awkward First Date: Elizabeth Banks and John Cusack in “Love and Mercy.”

18. Most Ironic Character Profession (Possibly Ever): Jason Bateman playing a man who works in the home security field in “The Gift.”

19. Most Dramatic Meltdown Under the Influence: Colin Firth takes out a church of rednecks in “Kingsman: The Secret Service.”

20. Most Dramatic Meltdown Sober: Bradley Cooper as an irate chef in “Burnt.”
Runner-up: Mark Ruffalo in “Spotlight.”

21. Most Convincing Present/Past Character: Helen Mirren and Tatiana Maslany in “Woman in Gold.”

22. Least Convincing Present/Past Character: Ben Kingsley and Ryan Reynolds in “Self/Less.”

24. Best Argument for Checking Props Beforehand: “Pitch Perfect 2.”

25. Best Argument for Reading the Directions to Your Rental Car: “Vacation.”

26. Best Argument for Insisting Your Hosts Show You Photos Prior to Arrival: “The Visit.”

27. Best Argument for Reading All That Stuff Your Wife Gives You Before Hiking: “A Walk in the Woods.”

28. Best Dressed Spy Character: Colin Firth and crew in “Kingsman: The Secret Service.”

29. Worst Dressed Spy Character But Still One With the Best Comebacks: Melissa McCarthy in “Spy.”

30. Best Summing Up of the Movie Plot By a Character Keeping a Straight Face: “Steve Jobs,” in which Michael Fassbender notes that it’s like everyone who knows him (Jobs)goes to a bar and gets drunk before a product launch then comes back and spouts off. A wink-wink, nudge-nudge moment?

And the 2016 So Far Most Flimsy Excuse for a Sequel goes to “My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2,” which, from the plot point given away in the trailer, is pretty lame. Although the movie itself may be good.

Movie Review: Brooklyn

“Brooklyn” is one of those movies to which you can herd your holiday guests of various ages into the car and drive to the local Cineplex to see (though some depending on age and gender may be bored stiff), and not have to worry about having any kind of uncomfortable debate on the way home. It contains no objectionable language (that I can remember), and the lights are discreetly dimmed before the main character and her boyfriend can get completely undressed, when they finally give in to temptation.

In the film, Saoirse Ronan plays a young Irish woman in the 1950’s, who finds a way to escape from her browbeaten existence, when her older sister and a priest arrange for her to move to Brooklyn, take a job in an upscale department store as a shopgirl, and live in a boarding house full of catty single ladies, presided over by Julie Walters. We can tell right off the bat that Saoirse is unschooled in the ways of men because she is wearing very little makeup and when asked what she uses on her skin, replies, “Soap. At night.” She also makes every mistake you can on her maiden voyage to America, such as eating a hearty meal her first night and neglecting to hammer out bathroom negotiations with her neighbors, but she does find another young woman who gives her valuable advice on going through Customs, i.e. “Look like you know where you’re going,” and makes it to Brooklyn in one piece.

Unfortunately, Saoirse is walloped by homesickness right from the start, and even breaks into tears when she’s at the department store waiting on a customer. Fortunately, her boss is understanding and finds a local priest (Jim Broadbent) who takes her under his wing and enrolls her in a bookkeeping course at a college. Her ambition, we learn then, is to eventually become an accountant like her older sister, so this is a start. She begins to come out of her shell, volunteering to do charity work on the holidays and finally managing to say a few words in response to a young man who tries to start a conversation when they meet at school. She has more luck finding love when she attends an Irish dance and meets a nice plumber named Joe (Emory Cohen). Joe turns out to be (gasp) Italian, but they hit it off, until there is the necessary tragedy that forces Saoirse to return to Ireland, where she meets another nice guy (Domhnall Gleeson) and then things get even more complicated. But in the end, it basically comes down to: will she stay or will she go?

This is the kind of movie which could have been dramatically shortened if the heroine had chosen to be honest, but then there wouldn’t be much conflict. The scenery in the film is gorgeous and made me want to take a vacation to Ireland. The leading actress is also attractive, which is good, because there are endless shots of her in close-up looking plucky and resolute. Julie Walters is also a hoot as the boarding house matron who tries, with varying degrees of success, to teach life lessons to her charges; the set-up could almost be spun off into its own sitcom. There was no one in my theater when I saw this, but it’s a nice movie to sneak into if you’re looking for a change of pace from movies like “Krampus.”

A Look Back: The Ref

“The Ref” is basically “Ransom of the Red Chief,” with a Christmas twist: it asks what would happen if you were an upscale Connecticut suburban couple, and you, your spouse and your moody adolescent son were taken hostage by a cat burglar – shortly before your relatives were due to visit. And not just any relatives but “those” relatives. You know, the ones who secretly stop off for sustenance on the road before arriving at your house because they dislike your cooking or don’t trust that you’ll be able to adequately feed them. The ones who insist on sticking to the rules, such as that gifts can only be opened at a certain time. The ones who give you truly terrible presents that seem chosen without regard for your age, interests or gender. In this case, the hapless burglar (Denis Leary) decides to pose as the couple’s (Kevin Spacey’s and Judy Davis’s) therapist, which works okay – for about five minutes. Then all hell breaks loose.

When executing a burglary in said ritzy suburb, Denis (and his partner Gus) don’t reckon on a) a startled cat urinating on them, b) being captured on home video, or c) the town being put into lockdown by the local police who are thrilled to have some bona fide excitement happening. Realizing he’s going to have some trouble getting out undetected, Denis then decides to take Kevin and Judy hostage, which he does by popping up in the backseat of their car with a gun. The couple has just returned from marital therapy, which has not gone well. From this, we learn that these are two people who would be better off divorcing, as the only thing they agree on is that the therapist should shut up and let them bicker. (You might think the gun would short-circuit the squabbling, but you would be wrong.)

Once home, he ties them up and extracts the important information that their son is due home from military school shortly, and that their relatives: grandmother (Glynis Johns) and in-laws, (Adam LeFevre and Christine Baranski, plus their two hapless kids). are about to arrive, as well. Meanwhile, the local police chief, who is under pressure to solve the case, instructs his not-too-bright team to watch the video and pay close attention. Also, there is a local who dresses up as Santa every year to entertain the kids, and he is getting tired of always being left milk to drink.

Problems arise when the son (Robert J. Steinmiller Jr.) gets home and finds his folks tied up; it turns out that he is acting out (such as stealing the Baby Jesus from the town crèche) because he resents his parents sending him to military school (though he was a handful before that). Denis realizes his best option is to keep the kid bound and gagged upstairs, so he does (mostly to muffle his whining), then goes downstairs to meet the relatives, who are just in time for Judy’s Scandinavian dinner feast, complete with candlelit wreaths to wear as headgear!

Meanwhile, the police chief gets in a mess with the case, thanks to the bumbling of his staff, but manages to get his own back in an unexpected way.

And Santa, who’s visiting a neighborhood family, gets fed up with the merriment and switches to the harder stuff, pleading lactose intolerance, which will later have an impact on the main story.

Back at Kevin’s and Judy’s, things begin to deteriorate. Various people lose it and confront other people. Even the Christmas tree doesn’t emerge unscathed. At one point, Denis lets Glynis have it, “I know loan sharks who are more forgiving!” he snaps, while she calmly insults the size of his member. But it all ends in a most satisfying way, with the in-laws getting their just desserts, and Denis getting away. Although he still hasn’t manage to shake off the odor of cat urine.