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The Big Sick (Review 2)

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Reviewer: Philip Price

Director: Michael Showalter

Stars: Adeel Akhtar, Aidy Bryant, Anupam Kher, Bo Burnham, David Alan Grier, Ed Herbstman,Holly Hunter, Jeremy Shamos, Kumail Nanjiani, Kurt Braunohler, Ray Romano, Vella Lovell, Zenobia Shroff, Zoe Kazan

Released: July 28th, 2017

I love movies about stand-up comedians. There is something to the art form that I, personally, don’t believe I’d ever be able to successfully master and that is the factor of succeeding in such a fashion where it outwardly seems like one is struggling without actually struggling at all. Stand-up is very much an art that requires one to put their whole selves on the line and bank on the fact their personality is endearing enough for the majority of the audience to find appealing and latch onto. To do this one has to express a large amount of humility while simultaneously sparking a small amount of jealousy-jealousy in the way that the audience wishes they could channel and overcome their own life’s obstacles in the same way a given comedian seems to be doing by discussing them in front of a crowded room. One can’t succeed at the job too effortlessly or they lack credibility yet if the routine doesn’t come with a certain amount of effortlessness they seemingly lack the natural “it’ factor it takes to thrive; to stand out among a sea of other would-be storytellers. It’s a fine line one must walk in order to be able to pull off a certain kind of aura and it no doubt comes down to knowing one’s self better than others might ever care to get to know themselves i.e. exposing or opening one’s self up to their own shortcomings, faults, disadvantages-whatever it may be that people believe takes them down a few pegs from the pedestal they constantly hope to achieve as a person. By all accounts, Kumail Nanjiani is a fine stand-up comedian though I’d be lying if I said I’d listened to any of his sets prior to seeing his feature writing debut in The Big Sick (and no, I haven’t seen Silicon Valley either). This is brought up for the reason that those strengths Nanjiani plays toward as a stand-up have clearly crossed over to his screenwriting process as not only have he and his wife, Emily V. Gordon, crafted a heartfelt and rather eye-opening story around cultural differences in relationships, but they have done so by telling their story and to do this in an effective manner one certainly has to know themselves and be honest about themselves with themselves if that story is truly going to resonate. Needless to say, The Big Sick accomplishes as much rather well and, not coincidentally, does so with just the right amount of effortlessness so as to be both endearing to audiences in its quest and enviable to fellow artists in its craft.

In The Big Sick Nanjiani plays a stand-up comedian of Pakistani descent so not too much of a stretch for the actor/comic, but this is still very much a concrete representation of a very formative part of his life and deals in a subject matter that is obviously very near and dear to his heart, so you better believe he brings the best he can to the screen. As was true in Nanjiani’s life not too long ago this version of Kumail is a struggling stand-up who hopes to make it to the big time, but for now is working as an Uber driver to keep the lights on. He has a circle of comic friends that include the likes of CJ (Bo Burnham), Mary (Aidy Bryant), and roommate Chris (Kurt Braunohler). It is on a night down at the local comedy club where the four friends along with other comics do five or so minute sets that Kumail is heckled by an innocent enough looking white girl after he calls out for his fellow Pakistani’s in the house. This, of course, turns out to be a rather critical person in Kumail’s story as it is none other than Emily (Zoe Kazan), a college student studying to be a therapist who is out for a night with some friends. Kumail is inherently drawn toward Emily and the conversation starts out cute enough with Kumail trying a few of his own parlor tricks that Emily sees right through. The two hook-up, but swear that’s all it is and come to the mutual decision they will probably never see one another again. Of course, this doesn’t come to pass and before we know it The Big Sick is offering us a tale of a whirlwind romance through the guise of a romantic comedy that is truncated into a forty minute runtime. It is at the forty minute mark that the film begins to alter its DNA – taking on a more serious, more dramatic role as Emily falls ill with what is known as adult-onset Still’s disease (AOSD) or an extremely rare form of arthritis that can shut down major organs when left untreated. To try and remedy the situation the doctors at a Chicago hospital place Emily in a medically induced coma leaving Kumail, who has yet to meet his girlfriend’s suburban parents, to navigate the waters of their relationship and what might come to be with those parents. Enter Emily’s parents, Beth (Holly Hunter) and Terry (Ray Romano), who aren’t overly excited to see Kumail given his and their daughter’s recent turmoil having to deal with the fact Kumail had not yet informed his traditional Pakistani family he was dating outside their religion and had been evading meeting Emily’s parents due to a fear of getting so involved that undesirable decisions would have to be made.

It is this crossroads in life that makes The Big Sick so unique in its approach to storytelling and interesting in terms of character dynamics and other, larger themes. For all accounts and purposes the writing of this film by Nanjiani and his now-wife, the real-life Emily (spoiler alert), was a therapeutic process in and of itself for the couple who were, ten years on, able to think out loud and evaluate everything they had to in fact overcome in order to wind up together; the tangible things that had to be dealt with in this life for a feeling-a hunch, that there was something worth pursuing between the two of them. It has always surprised me by how much we, as humans, can let our emotions and potential feelings determine such large parts of our being-aspects that have sometimes been determined without our consent even. It takes a lot of courage to place a bet on feelings that may or may not turn out to be a love of the moment rather than the girl, but in taking this step towards evaluating their own love story we see how Nanjiani and his character of Kumail come to decide it is most definitely the girl they are in love with over the course of her being in a coma. It is in this navigation that The Big Sick and its director Michael Showalter (Wet Hot American Summer) find their secret weapon and that is in the film’s ability to transition back and forth so effortlessly (there’s that word again) between the heavier dramatic beats that include Emily getting sick, being admitted to the hospital, and Kumail being asked by the doctor to sign a consent form so that they may put her under the medically induced coma to the more comedic ones such as Holly Hunter’s Beth manically dealing with her daughter’s illness by lashing out at a heckler at one of Kumail’s shows. All of this only for the movie to then revert back to Kumail having to deal with his own parents and them kicking him out of their family because of his refusal to abide by Muslim tradition and marry a Muslim/Pakistani woman. The movie does this a number of times, but we never feel the tonal shifts in ways that are disruptive. Never is it jarring to go from a moment where Romano’s character is smiling and reflecting just seeing his daughter up and walking around again to that of him making a joke about her calling him if she “feels a coma coming on.” It is yet another facet of the film that is a technically difficult thing to pull off when you’re manufacturing every moment and emotion being projected on screen, but that the movie itself pulls off without so much as a hiccup. Without feeling as if it has to try. It would be one thing if the film felt like two separate entities as it very much is given it charts Kumail and Emily’s relationship as well as Kumail and Emily’s parents relationship, but the script eases the audience from one scenario to the next with a structure that keeps it consistently funny enough that Showalter knows where to keep his tone and knows how to use that consistency to really drive the heavy moments home with the only downfall being that, with so much going on, it gets to feel a little more labored than it should in the last fifteen to twenty minutes.

In that The Big Sick more or less becomes this movie about Kumail hanging out with his girlfriend’s parents and his discovering of his love for Emily while coming to terms with what he must do in regards to confronting his own parents it is the large middle chunk of the movie that features Nanjiani, Romano, and Hunter playing off of one another that becomes the most memorable. For starters, Hunter is cool as hell and there’s nothing anyone can do about it making it impossible to resist her charm despite the fact she is initially opposed to having anything to do with Kumail because of that aforementioned recent turmoil. Hunter is a woman and a personality so strong and so singular to herself that she automatically becomes one of those people you want to impress and you want to like you or, in this situation, that we want Kumail to overcome the obstacle of and earn her seal of approval. Hunter’s Beth is a spitfire for lack of a better word and she rightfully puts nothing in front of the well-being of her daughter. Romano is not necessarily the more emotional parent, but he is the one that is easier to read and because of this is more of a push-over than that of his counterpart. It is Terry who first invites Kumail to come eat with him and Beth at the hospital cafeteria, and it is Terry who suggests they go to one of Kumail’s shows the night before Emily’s surgery so that he might be distracted by something to take his mind off the stress of his daughter being in a coma. As Terry, Romano portrays more than just the lovable dad figure who is willing to give whatever his girl happens to love a chance because he believes there must be a reason his daughter adores something or someone, but he is a layered human being with as many faults as he has merits. The Big Sick is a movie that very easily could have gotten itself into the weeds of who is right and who is wrong and why so and so is justified in feeling this way, but it never makes the movie about an “us versus them” type dilemma. Rather, Kumail’s parents Azmat (Anupam Kher) and Sharmeen (Zenobia Shroff) are portrayed as human beings entrenched in their heritage and who only want for their son what they have built. They are understanding as far as his ambitions despite their urging of him to be a doctor or lawyer, but they hold out for Kumail to marry a nice Muslim girl going so far as to set-up blind dates with potential candidates every time Kumail comes over for family dinner. Kumail’s arguments are made and his struggle realized, but his parents are never vilified despite the fact their actions tend to be rather radical. It is a movie about acceptance and love, about generational differences and cultural clashes that is able to preach about as much without outwardly stating as much while still leaving viewers with all the warm, fuzzy feelings they might expect from a solid rom-com.

The combination of these distinct personalities along with Nanjiani’s leading turn that sees him utilize his keen sense of humor to deflect the impossibly personal and delicate situation he encounters make this movie the diamond in the rough it no doubt felt like it was coming out of Sundance back in January. With the hype that has followed though, and with it becoming one of if not “the” hit indie movie of the summer there are expectations to temper. The Big Sick is an all-around good movie and is aided by the fact it not only has an interesting love story at the heart of it, but by the fact that it also champions the acceptance of different cultures in America by showing the day to day existence of a native Pakistani man and a Pakistani family while featuring all-around great performances from a dream cast with the added bonus of being sincere in the emotions it means to elicit from its audience. I wasn’t as moved as I expected to be though there is a scene involving a few voicemails that will undoubtedly get anyone with any remnant of a soul, but I was invested in the characters plight and more importantly, in the characters themselves. I was happy to see Bo Burnham on the big screen for the second time this summer and I was more than moved by the amount of heart this thing showed in the moments that it let go of all the inhibitions surrounding media these days and just allowed itself and its characters to be happy and human, but this isn’t necessarily the exceptional piece of filmmaking you might have been led to believe. It’s very good for what it is and there is much to be said for that (I’ve just written nearly 2,500 words on it, so there’s that), but not every piece of art that is exemplary for its own form or, in this case, genre, has to be a masterpiece and The Big Sick, while no masterpiece of the cinematic art form, is still a very good movie. A movie that plays as both pleasing and challenging in that it admits its love story isn’t a fairy tale, but still comes with a “Happily Ever After”.

I love movies, simple as that. I watch them with an intent to write about them and have always enjoyed discussing the latest news and releases with others. I received a Bachelor of Arts in Writing and Mass Communications/Digital Filmmaking and combined those interests when I began writing about cinema. Hope you enjoy the reviews, Happy reading!

Movie Reviews

Tessa Thompson In Talks To Lead Disney’s Lady and the Tramp Remake

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British actress Tessa Thompson, who rose to prominence in HBO’s Westworld and Marvel Studios’ Thor: Ragnarok, is in final talks to join Disney’s ‘live-action’ Lady and the Tramp remake.

Thompson is in the running to portray the titular Lady, a pampered cocker spaniel who meets and falls in love with a street mongrel named Tramp (Justin Theroux). They journey across the city together, spaghetti is eaten, you know the drill.

The film will be a CG / live-action hybrid, incorporating real locations, sets, and humans, but digitally inserting the dogs themselves. The Lego Ninjago Movie director Charlie Bean is set to helm the project, which is expected to debut on Disney’s forthcoming (and presently-untitled) streaming service.

Tessa Thompson can next be seen reteaming with her Ragnarok co-star Chris Hemsworth in Sony’s Men in Black reboot.

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Movie Reviews

The Equalizer 2

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Reviewer: Philip Price

Director: Antoine Fuqua

Stars: Abigail Marlowe, Ashton Sanders, Bill Pullman, Denzel Washington, Jonathan Scarfe,Melissa Leo, Orson Bean, Pedro Pascal, Sakina Jaffrey

Released: August 17th, 2018 (UK)

Denzel Washington is sixty-three years-old and will be sixty-four this coming December. I can recall taking note of this fact when writing about the first Equalizer film when Washington was about to turn sixty and how impressive it seemed that the guy had no intentions of slowing down. In the interim between that 2014 film and what is the first sequel one of the world’s most charismatic actors has agreed to be a part of, Mr. Washington has still shown no signs of slowing down. Since The EqualizerWashington has already paired with director Antoine Fuqua (Training Day) again prior to this latest entry with their remake of The Magnificent Sevenwhich I found to be immensely entertaining as well as having adapted, starred in, and directed August Wilson’s seminal piece of work in Fencesfor which he was shrouded in awards love. And again last year, the actor earned another Best Actor nomination for his work in Dan Gilroy’s quirky, but largely effective Roman J. Israel, Esq. (which I probably liked more than you). The point being, each of these gave Washington the chance to continue to do what he loves as he flexed a different muscle in regard to each respective project, but the choice to return to the character of Robert McCall among every character Washington has played is a curious one. I enjoyed The Equalizer upon initial release and was happy to find it wasn’t simply another case of an aging star attempting to cash in on the Liam Neeson-proven method of combining a once valuable name on the poster above a newfangled action-centric conflict. Of course, Washington was never relegated to being a star whose name ever lost any value. Denzel is Denzel and no matter what he does people typically turn out in fair enough numbers to justify his mid-range action projects and awards contenders. In fact, since 2009 (which accounts for Washington’s last ten films), the star has never seen less than a $50 million lifetime gross with the exception of Israellast year with seven of those ten releases doing over $70 million worth of business during their theatrical runs. Denzel, the man, is typically all the brand recognition that is required and so it feels weird that Washington has been brought into this fold of sequels and franchises. Maybe it’s just the first time someone has offered the actor a follow-up to one of his projects or maybe it’s just a sign of the times. Whatever the case may be, The Equalizer 2 isn’t exactly what one might hope for in a “first” from Denzel Washington, but more it plays into what the first did more to subvert in not being your by-the-numbers action flick as this sequel, with nowhere else to go, had no choice but to surrender to the trend.

The Equalizer 2 begins by luring the unknowing audience into what will turn out to be the most interesting mission Washington’s Robert McCall goes on in the film. This deals with some Turkish thugs on a train who have kidnapped their ringleader’s daughter from the U.S. for no other reason than to be vindictive against the mother who was left with little else when this guy up and left. It’s some pretty odd circumstances, granted, but Fuqua shoots the action in a way that Washington never shows his age and better-we completely believe McCall via Washington’s physicality, is able to accomplish what the script lays out for him to accomplish. In short, if The Equalizer 2 is good for anything it is to say that, for Denzel Washington, age is indeed nothing but a number. From here, the film takes us back to Boston where Fuqua and his editor cobble together a mirage of what seem to be shots of the cityscape as if taken from any one of the many nineties procedurals that no doubt featured these exact same shots as if to make us aware of the exact type of movie we’re in for. One might think that after the opening action sequence taking place abroad and then the film returning to Boston to catch us up on the day to day of McCall the film would eventually come to be about the murder of an undercover operative in Belgium as this is what we’re given next in the movies sequence of events. It never does. In fact, McCall never again leaves the country despite the aforementioned opening sequence seeming to imply the type of work the character is now taking on. Rather, McCall resigns to his day job as a Lyft driver (yes, you read that right) only picking his cases from the conflicts of those he comes into contact with during these shifts. How does our man in Belgium come back into the picture then, you ask? Well, that would be when McCall’s former supervisor and the only other person in the world who knows who he was in his former life, Susan Plummer (Melissa Leo), comes back into the picture and begins investigating the Belgium incident with the help of McCall’s former partner of seven years, Dave York (Pedro Pascal). When Susan and Dave travel to Belgium to investigate the murder of one of their own, but only one of them returns McCall takes it upon himself to get to the bottom of what happened and exact revenge on those who are behind it. There’s also several extraneous subplots dealing with an elderly man (Orson Bean) who is searching for his long-lost sister, and a paternal relationship McCall strikes up with a young resident who lives in his building as played by Moonlight‘s Ashton Sanders.

All of this mixed bag of events comes to feel like nothing short of an odd combination by the time we reach the conclusion of this two hour actioner that is twenty minutes too long. The movie, from a screenplay by Richard Wenk (Jack Reacher: Never Go Back, The Expendables 2), is all over the place, but ultimately turns out to be a rather small story. This is one of the reasons it can’t help but to feel as if The Equalizer 2 never takes off. There is this precedent set for something of a globe-trotting adventure and the audience is led to believe that Washington’s McCall will be pulled into the Belgium investigation alongside Leo’s Plummer as this will somehow undoubtedly connect to one or both of their pasts, but in the single surprise the film is able to offer it also seals its downfall by having to then revert to a generic revenge thriller. If you’re curious as to just how generic the movie is then take into consideration the fact that when McCall’s living complex is vandalized the tag on the wall literally says, “gang” rather than what could be interpreted as an actual gang name. That’s how broad this movie likes to play things. That’s how familiar all of this feels. It is also in this standard execution of the revenge thriller that Washington and Fuqua run into an inherent issue with their franchise and its central character. The Equalizer films, and I don’t know if this is true of the television series off which they are based, face a difficult contradiction of tone and moral code. When McCall takes action he is ruthless in as much and yet at the same time he is the most gentleman-like of assassins when not in direct conflict with whoever is in front of him. This type of nature may be more effectively explored in David Lowery’s The Old Man & the Gun (though I doubt Robert Redford will be decapitating people and throwing them onto rocks), but in Fuqua’s follow-up these mentalities clash in a more disagreeable way that didn’t rear its head in the first film. The difference in The Equalizer and something like Non-Stop or 3 Days to Kill was the fact Washington and Fuqua’s film was able to go there; it was allowed to play up the vulgar aspects of the job McCall was doing. It was allowed to bathe in the gore and the grim perpetuated by all those that existed within this world because that was McCall’s world in the wake of his wife’s death. He lived and existed in the shadows and thus his actions to bring some balance to the community made sense and were in line with where the character was at mentally. In this sequel though, the mentality with which McCall approaches Sanders’ Miles in an effort to pull the young man from a life of crime and push him more towards a brighter future that Miles doesn’t think is possible just doesn’t line up when that same guy says something like, “…then I’m going to kill you all, and my only regret is that I only get to do it once.”

Both Fuqua and his movies are well-oiled machines in that they’re relentless, sturdily storied, and well put-together, but more often than not neither to offer the depth they seem so capable of producing. The Equalizer 2 feels like the epitome of this as Fuqua’s films tend to at least have some redeeming entertainment value most of the time. Largely an exercise in going through the motions though, The Equalizer 2 leaves the audience to wonder what half of the subplots might have to do with the main narrative in which half of those that seemingly have nothing to do with the main story in fact do not while your standard themes of redemption, virtue, and the promise of exploration into good versus evil being too simple an idea to blanket the society of today abound with no real substance. There was a moment in the film where it seemed Wenk might take the opportunity to say something really interesting or at least begin to navigate his way through tricky terrain that dealt in the difficulties of trying to leave a gang without any lasting repercussions, but while this moment in the movie where McCall rescues Miles from what is essentially preparation for his initiation into a gang hints at as much it seems McCall’s actions were enough to convince the gang that Miles wasn’t worth the trouble. Fair enough given how much McCall roughed up a couple of the guys, but rather than utilizing this strand as a way to say something more profound Wenk instead only utilizes Miles as a plot device the antagonist can use against McCall in the final act. Speaking of that antagonist, I suppose it’s a spoiler to say who it is exactly despite the fact it’s terribly telegraphed fairly early on. I’ll just say that if you’ve seen Kingsman: The Golden Circle you might get a sense of where this is going before it does. As for the supporting players Leo is fine, Bill Pullman is wasted as is Sakina Jaffrey, while it seems uncertain at this point what it is Pascal can bring to the table that a handful of other aspiring actors couldn’t. His interpretation of the co-lead here is bland and completely deprived of any humanity as it shows him in a picturesque setting with his family in one scene and then passively gunning down a seemingly innocent individual in another. And if you were at least hoping for a climactic action sequence that matched if not exceeded the warehouse set piece in the first film you’ll be sorely disappointed to find out The Equalizer 2 spends intermittent moments of its running time telling us a storm is brewing for no other reason than to set its climax in an evacuated town where McCall and those who oppose him run amok and the main antagonist remains perched atop a building. Of note is the fact this is one of the uglier looking Fuqua films I think I’ve ever seen, but there is one shot of Washington, wearing all black, as he runs in between buildings and through the rain and wind in that climactic action set piece where for a brief moment he almost looks like the caped crusader. It lends a fleeting sense of what could have been. I understand Washington wanting to have his own super hero alter ego and God knows he deserves it at this point in his career, but early on in the film his McCall talks about there being two types of pain in this world: the pain that hurts and the pain that alters. The Equalizer 2 is largely painful to watch and most of the time it just hurts.

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Movie Reviews

Christopher Robin

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Reviewer: Philip Price

Director: Marc Forster

Stars: Brad Garrett, Bronte Carmichael, Ewan McGregor, Hayley Atwell, Jim Cummings, Mark Gatiss, Nick Mohammed, Orton O’Brien, Peter Capaldi, Sara Sheen, Sophie Okonedo, Toby Jones

Released: August 17th, 2018 (UK)

There is a moment within the opening credits of Disney’s latest attempt to turn one of their classic animated properties into a live action ATM that hints at the devastating nature of our lives. It is fleeting and it, if only for a moment, says all it needs to say about what this movie aspires to be. As it passes though and as it becomes more and more apparent the film doesn’t really know how to accomplish what its initial ambitions intended the film instead becomes all the more broad and all the more safe. This moment is one in which a young Christopher Robin (Orton O’Brien) comes to the Hundred Acre Wood for the last time. He is going off to boarding school, you see, and won’t be able to visit his friends as often anymore. His friends being his stuffed toys, which include that silly ol’ bear named Pooh (voice of Jim Cummings), the perpetually petrified Piglet (voice of Nick Mohammed), the ever-exuberant Tigger (also Cummings), the steadily gloomy Eeyore (voice of Brad Garrett), as well as Rabbit (Peter Capaldi), Kanga (Sophie Okonedo), her little Roo (Sara Sheen), and of course Owl (Toby Jones). Robin’s toys know change is afoot and are throwing Christopher a farewell party of sorts in which treats-ranging from pots of honey to carrots, of course-are served and where even Eeyore is moved to make a speech. It is in light of the depressed donkey’s surprisingly apathetic speech that Rabbit reacts to accordingly that we hear Cummings as Winnie the Pooh whisper a soft, “I would’ve liked for it to go on a bit longer.” And just as fleeting as the moment itself is it simultaneously felt as if I’d been knocked over by a half ton barrage of scattered thoughts and emotions that reminded me just how fleeting time itself is. It’s the one thing we can’t get more of no matter how much wealth we possess or the circumstance of our lives; we all have a finite amount of time and Christopher Robin, in its first five minutes, exists to remind you that your children will grow and change just as you did and even though you feel you’re different, that you’re special, and that despite knowing it was a fact of life all along you were never really meant to grow old and become like your parents before you. Time truly waits for no man. This affected me to the point I wondered why I was sitting in a theater watching a movie when I should have been at home snuggling my three year-old daughter. In short, that would have been the more entertaining option of the two and certainly the more fulfilling one as it is only in this aforementioned moment that Christopher Robin was able to pull any genuine feeling out of me. And might I remind you, this is a movie wholly designed to pull on the heart and nostalgia strings. One moment.

Deep in the Hundred Acre Wood, this fictional land inhabited by Pooh and his friends, is where we initially meet the cast of well-known characters in director Marc Forster’s (Finding Neverland, Monster’s Ball, Quantum of Solace, World War Z) film, but we don’t spend much time here over the course of the next ninety or so minutes as Christopher Robin quickly enters the real world first showing us in montage how our titular character comes to stray so far from the childhood that has seemingly brought so much joy to so many other’s childhoods. Beginning with boarding school-and a very telling shot in which Robin’s father turns his back to walk away as soon as he’s hugged and told his son goodbye while his mother stands for a moment longer, watching her son walk away-onto having to become the man of the house at a younger age than most, into the fact this young boy who we’ve always pictured as something of a Peter Pan-like touchstone actually served overseas in the war for several years away from his pregnant wife, Evelyn (Hayley Atwell), therefore missing the birth and early years of his daughter’s life. It’s a lot to take in especially given the amount of time in which the film delivers it, but more interesting is the fact any point in these events would have made for a more satisfying experience in terms of what the movie wants to do, but instead of having Robin hit rock bottom-losing his sense of childlike wonder completely-during the war the screenplay from Alex Ross Perry (writer/director of such indie darlings as Listen Up Philip and Queen of Earth), Tom McCarthy (writer and director of the Best Picture-winning Spotlight), and Allison Schroeder (whose first feature screenplay made into a film was Hidden Figures) instead decide that the film’s namesake will have this crisis of identity post-war when he’s stuck in an office doing mundane, day to day tasks because “Hey! At least the war was unpredictable!” This may be the most “movie” thing this movie does, but this has a lasting effect on the film as the biggest issue Christopher Robin runs into is being a movie about the purity and preciousness of childhood and yet it never feels authentic. Everything about from how the scenes are stitched together to the very example-like nature that each of the situations possess lend the overall impression of a series of contrivances rather than a genuine truth that conveys the thesis of the pitch that adults too easily lose sight of a child’s perspective including the multitude of joys that can be found in the world if we alter how we look at it.

Forster is a diverse director, but in less and less of his more recent efforts has he seemed to be able to find his own sense of footing or who he is as a filmmaker. It’s admittedly been some time since I’ve seen either Monster’s Ball or Finding Neverlandthough he will always have my favor and optimism thanks to Stranger than Fiction (I need to see The Kite Runner), but while it was those early films that marked Forster’s arrival on the scene and as something of a formidable force to be reckoned with he was then snatched up by the studios to direct pre-destined tentpoles such as the next James Bond. It’s easy to see how his career trajectory went astray after this, but with Christopher Robin it seems he might have landed on a project that would allow that footing to once again be surer of itself. And while there are components, arguably the most critical of components, that work well and bring the aimlessness of the plotting and the lack of efficiency (ironically enough) in the pacing up to levels of charming and more consistently funny than expected after the slog the first act turns into the movie itself ultimately never has any stakes that are worth getting involved in, has a message and main idea that should be fairly obvious to the main character, but that he doesn’t fully give into until the third act when he’s supposed to give into his epiphany despite long-since realizing the lesson he’s intended to learn. Worse, none of these actions ever truly gel with what the movie really wants to say. There is this line that is repeated often by Pooh that goes something like, “doing nothing often leads to the very best something,” and though there is certainly flaws to be found with this nugget of wisdom it might have been beneficial had Forster taken cues from his characters. Christopher Robin is aimless because it tries to do so much at once, throwing multiple character arcs and conflicts at the wall, but never giving any of it enough weight to the point it amounts to anything. There is a bit with the Robin’s weird neighbor who keeps insisting he and Robin have a game of gin rummy, but this goes nowhere and is ultimately nothing more than something thrown in to get a laugh. The likes of Atwell and Bronte Carmichael who plays their daughter, Madeline, are more or less wasted and serve simply as reminders of how much Robin is messing up and how much he is missing. Christopher Robin is oddly paced because it largely wraps up its core story in an hour and then has to go on for another forty minutes so that the title character can repeat his arc and Madeline can fill in the role once played by her father in regards to his toy friends. Oddly enough, this redundant final act is the only time the movie possesses some forward momentum. Essentially, should Forster’s Christopher Robin have less distractions filtered through it the characters themselves might have been more in tune with the film’s very visible heart.

Being a story about how Christopher Robin becomes so lost to the point it is difficult for his own child to imagine him as a child though, the most critical of elements that would need to be pulled off in order for even the single most innocent member of the audience to buy into the fact Robin could make the realizations he needs to make in order for viewers to feel as if they’ve been taken on a journey is that of the credibility and connections of those inhabitants of the Hundred Acre Wood. We needed to care about Winnie the Pooh and his make-believe friends and believe in their ability to serve as not just reminders of who Christopher Robin once was, but as symbols of what he’d lost in the course of growing up. It is in this course of action that Forster and Christopher Robin as a whole succeed the most. This is a very handsome film, a gorgeously rendered film, if you will, as each of the characters we all know and love are depicted as something of a balance between the animated incarnations most will associate them with and the real-life dolls of the real-life Christopher Robin and his father, author A.A. Milne. Forster and cinematographer Matthias Koenigswieser create this warm and comfortable aura with a soft sun luminescence within the Hundred Acre Wood that lends the realm something of an ethereal element whereas Robin’s London-based job and home life couldn’t be drearier or more drained of color. The aesthetics of these dolls come to life in truly tangible ways and their interactions with both real-world environments as well as, when Pooh makes his way to London, real-world people are what give the film a much needed vibrancy. Pooh will rattle off little sayings like, “It’s always a sunny day when Christopher Robin comes to play,” but in the case of this movie it is more the opposite for it is when we get to see cute little Piglet try to hide, but be tempted by the thought of acorns, or Eeyore float down a river with no hope of being saved, or even when the movie blatantly pays fan service by having Tigger perform his trademark song that the most joy comes off the screen and we, the viewer, are ourselves reminded of what made our childhood so magical. This isn’t to say Ewan McGregor isn’t fine enough as the titular character, but he’s simply strapped with so much of the dour material that he can’t help but to pull down both the energy and the tone. The challenge with Christopher Robin was always going to be how to make it more than just a nostalgia trip though, and while it might have yielded a better, more insightful movie better in tune with its feelings and ambitions had Disney maybe allowed Perry to direct a script he wrote by himself based on the given premise what Forster has crafted here is a very nice, very quaint film that hits its necessary marks, but is far too slight to ever reach the emotional heights it’s scaling.

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