Monthly Archives: July 2012

10 Reasons To Watch……. 10 Things I Hate About You

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This film starts with Cameron (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), the new guy at school who falls madly in love with popular girl Bianca on first sight. Unfortunately she isn’t able to date until her sister Kat (Julia Stiles) does. Even worse Kat is a man hating feminist with an attitude problem that no guy would be willing to date. So Cameron and his friend Michael (David Krumholtz) set it up for bad boy Patrick (Heath Ledger) to try and woo Kat into dating him. Complications arise in the form of Joey-(Andrew Keegan) a less then bright jerk jock who also has his sights set on Bianca and Patrick own surfacing feelings for Kat.

Here is my ode to why everyone should see 10 Things…

1. It’s a funny teen comedy

When most people hear the words teen comedy it’s a sign to run quickly in the other direction. Even someone like me who enjoys the teen comedy genre admits that there have been some truly dreadful ones in the past. Happily 10 Things… is one, if not the best of its kind. Probably one of its strengths is that it doesn’t rely too much on gross-out jokes (although it still manages to get in a few). Instead the comedy in 10 Things… comes from the characters and the overly complicated situation they get themselves in.

Arguably the funniest part of the whole film is in the outtakes played over the end credits, where actors mess up their lines and the cast play pranks on each. Probably some of the funniest outtakes I’ve seen on film and worth watching just for them alone.

2. Kat Stratford

For those sick of seeing teen girls as the same superficial, materialistic wanabees who only care about getting the guy, Kat Stratford is a breath of fresh air. Despite the first impressions of her being a violent, irritable bitch, the audience in fact roots for her for not conforming. Maybe the fact she is such a well developed character is as a result of the films two writers being female?  Kat used to be popular before the film began, before she realised she didn’t want to do things just because others wanted her to. She is opinionated, intelligent and not afraid of what others think of her. Her blossoming relationship with Patrick doesn’t feel like a character being pulled down, rather its two strong individuals coming together to make an even stronger relationship. She may show a softer, emotional side more towards the end but Kat is no push over. She has dreams and ambitions of her own outside of boys and is a joy to watch. Wonderfully played by Julia Stiles, its no wonder she got an MTV Breakthrough performance for her role and (in my opinion) it is still her best to date.

3. It’s a great update on a Shakespeare play

The film is based upon The Taming of the Shrew with its complicated love troubles, except the focus is on dating rather than marriage, obviously. The film adapts the play by taking away the more misogynistic undertone and giving us a proudly feminist character. I wish I could be as honest and unafraid as Kat is. It also manages to slip in some quotes into the film such as “sacrifice yourself on the alter of love” with hilarious affect.

4. The great one liners

In a script full of funny one liners possibly the best is Kat’s defence for a violent outburst on a pervy male student. ‘I maintain he kicked himself in the balls.’ Priceless.

5. The ensemble cast

Unusual for a teen comedy the main characters are all three dimension. Even the supporting characters are well developed. Kat’s sister Bianca at first comes across as just another self obsessed pretty girl but as the film progresses you slowly see her grow into being more considerate and likeable. Joseph Gordon-Levitt is adorable as the love sick Cameron and Andrew Keegan throws his all into his one note but hilariously vain jock Joey.

The adult characters are also more than just the standard authority figures from Kat’s blunt, romance novel writing, guidance councillor (she says Kat is best described as a ‘heinous bitch’- to her face!), to her exasperated English teacher are funny and well observed. Best of all is her overbearing father (Larry Miller) who made up the ridiculous dating rule to keep his daughters safe from his perceived ‘dangers’ of the world (i.e. boys). There’s not a bad character in the script and everyone gets a chance to shine.

6. The official 10 Things…soundtrack

Whether its Letters to Cleo’s cover of ‘I want you to want me’, or Madness ‘Wings of a Dove’, this soundtrack is full of pop/rock hits. There is guaranteed to be at least one song that will stay in your head for weeks. I love the official soundtrack, although one issue- why is “Bad Reputation” by Joan Jett and The Blackhearts not on it? No matter this is still a superior movie soundtrack and a great companion to the film.

7. Heath Ledger’s breakthrough performance

He may have won the Oscar for The Dark Knight and critical acclaim for Brokeback Mountain but most of us got our first glimpse of Heath Ledger as the bad boy with a heart Patrick Verona. As well as being easy on the eye, Ledger also shows great comic ability whether its throwing himself into singing Frankie Vallie (more on that later) or delivering lines with aplomb such as “Are you saying I’m not a pretty boy?” It’s great to see a film where Ledger shows his lighter side and a worthy entry in the Oscar winner’s short career.

8. Visual gags

Not just relying on the fantastic dialogue the script also has plenty of visual jokes. As well as lots of funny back ground events such as Bianca accidently hitting her teacher in the bum with an arrow(!), there are also some fabulous set pieces such as Michael loosing control of his bike over a hill in front of the entire school. Another laugh out loud moment is the pregnancy suit Bianca is forced to wear by her father when she tells him she’s going to a party.

9. Heath Ledger sings Frankie Vallie

Trying to win Kat over by making a fool of himself, Patrick sings ‘Too good to be true’ in front of the entire school. Funny and romantic, for many girls (including this one) this is the moment they fell in love with Heath Ledger.

10. It has heart

The film is mainly about the laughs but it doesn’t forget to give you characters to root for. The two couples, Bianca and Cameron and especially Kat and Patrick are likeable pairings with great chemistry. The show also focuses on the Stratford family and issues such as the girl’s absent mother are explored without being smothered with sentimentality and gives insight into why the girls act the way they do. Their relationship with their father, while mostly played for laughs; don’t go the whole way into making him purely a one joke character. He too has his own insecurities which are being projected onto his daughters. The sisters’ relationship is fraught with tension, jealousy and annoyance and is treated as complicated as real sisters relationships are. If you’ve written off the teen comedy genre, 10 Things…may be the film that will change your mind. Or at the very least be the exception to the rule.

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The Dark Knight Rises

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There aren’t many movie sequels that live up to the original. There are even fewer trilogies that make the grade. Seriously, I can only think of The Bourne series and the Indiana Jones films as examples where the quality has been maintained the whole way through. Can Christopher Nolan’s latest Batman film join that elusive list?

For those who don’t know The Dark Knight Rises is set 8 years after the events of The Dark Knight. After Harvey Kent’s death has been blamed on Batman, Gotham has been relatively crime free, while Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) has hung up his cape and is living like a recluse. Threatening Gotham’s new found peace is Anne Hathaway’s morally ambiguous Selina Kyle (aka Catwoman, although she’s never called that on screen) and Tom Hardy’s villainous Bane.

I’m a big fan of Nolan’s work as a director. As with Inception and the previous Batman films Nolan isn’t afraid to mix intelligent films with high entertainment value, and The Dark Knight Rises doesn’t disappoint. Nolan gives us dramatic car chases, fights and most memorably Gotham’s football stadium imploding on itself. But the audience is also treated to discussions on state responsibility and tensions between the haves-and have not’s.

Whereas most trilogy fail by introducing too many new characters to the mix (looking at you Spiderman 3) the characters slip effortlessly into Nolan’s world and serve a purpose to the plot instead of feeling shoehorned in. Finally Nolan gives us a strong female character in Selina Kyle, she brings a sense of fun sometimes missing in the Batman series and her quips bring plenty of laughs to the screen. Also making a great debute to the Batman series is Joseph Gordon-Levitt as police officer John Blake who gives the film heart as he encourages Bruce Wayne to come back into action.

The film’s main antagonist Bane is a good opponent for Batman to end his trilogy with. He is a mix of brawn and brains, showing he is more than a match for Bruce Wayne as shown in their brutal first fight together. Wayne has been out of the crime fighting game for a while and having gathered various injuries, Bane knows how to use those weakness against him and comes across as a credible threat to Gotham’s stability.

There are a few downsides to the film. Michael Cane’s Alfred doesn’t have as much screen times as in the earlier films, and the romance between Bruce Wayne and Marion Cotillard’s Miranda Tate is dull with little chemistry between the two. There’s much more spark in his encounters with Catwoman. Although Tom Hardy is great as Bane, he has a distracting and sometimes inaudible voice that’s almost as irritating as the voice Bale puts on for Batman. Was there a secret bet going on as to who had the more ridiculous voice?

There is more I want to comment on in this film but it does involve huge spoilers which I wouldn’t want to ruin for anyone else. But there were moments in this film which made my inner fan girl scream with delight. A good film to end on.

4/5

About as brutal and serious as a blockbuster gets, Nolan’s Dark Crusader will be missed.

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Magic Mike

I pride myself on being an objective reviewer that is not easily swayed by the male form. But Steven Soderbergh is making this very difficult for me when he serves up a cast that includes Channing Tatum, Mathew McConaughey and Joe Manganiello ( Alcide from True Blood). As male strippers! God help me!

For those who don’t know this is the film formally known as the Channing Tatum Stripper movie. Tatum, who also produces the film, stars as Mike, a male stripper who takes Alex Pettyfer’s The Kid under his wing and introduces him to a world of excess where girls fall at their feet. It’s a film based on Tatum’s own experience as a male stripper before he hit the big time. At first it was feared this could be the male Showgirls until Soderbergh was announced as director. Could Magic Mike go from being a lame joke to a credible, possibly award worthy film?

For anyone going to see the film expecting hot guys in very little clothes, they won’t be disapointed. The guys look amazing and no one is shy about showing off their bodies. However this isn’t just a film based on looks. At the centre of it we have Tatum’s Mike, a likeable, ambitious guy who hopes to get out of the stripping business to set up his own carpentry store.  We follow Mike as he tries to get a loan to start up his new venture, see him becoming friends with The Kid and romancing The Kid’s older sister (a great turn by Colby Horn). Along the way we see the darker, seedier side to his world and see him wonder if he has made the right choices in life.

Tatum continues on his way to becoming a surprising versatile actor. From his breakthrough performance in Step Up we’ve seen he can dance, in A Guide To Recognising Your Saints showed us his serious side, and 21 Jump Street proved he can do comedy. Magic Mike gives Tatum that chance to show all his skills here and he looks like he’s enjoying the chance to stretch himself.

Right now I’m leading the charge for Matthew McConaughey to get nominated for next year’s Best Supporting Actor. His brash, shameless bar owner Dallas is hilarious and McConaughey looks as though he’s having the time of his life (perhaps glad he’s got away from the string of so-so rom coms he’s been stuck with for the last few years-except How To Lose A Guy In 10 Days, that one’s great).

Yes this is a film mostly for the ladies (and some men) to enjoy ogling hot guys but happily this film offers more of a plot than that, as well as characters you are happy to follow for an hour and 50 mins.

4/5 Good looking guys, great acting and an engaging story to boot, what more can you want? There’s even female nudity if the guys are feeling left out.

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The Amazing Spiderman

Before it came out I had my doubts over The Amazing Spiderman. It’s not that I’m having superhero fatigue, but was the world really crying out for the another Spiderman origin story only 10 years after Sam Rami’s Spiderman first hit our screen? Well whether we want it or not it’s here.

For those who don’t know, where have you been? Andrew Garfield is Peter Parker a high school genius who lives with his Uncle Ben and Aunt May after his parents mysteriously disappeared. He’s a loner, getting bullied by a guy called Flash (really and Peter’s the one getting beaten up?) and in love with a girl called Gwen Stacey (Emma Stone). Trying to find out more about his parents he visits his father’s co-worker Dr Curt Conners (Rhys Ifans) at Oscorp and ends up getting bitten by a genetically modified spider. This leads to amazing superpowers. After his uncle’s death at the hands of a criminal he sets out to find the killer and along the way become a hero.

The Amazing Spiderman is not a radical reinterpretation of the Spiderman franchise. A lot of the same points are revisited, the spider bite, discovery of new powers, Uncle Ben’s death, Peter’s guilt etc. But this film has two Aces in its pack and those are Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone. Garfield is a loveable ball of nervous energy; his Peter is lanky, awkward and funny. I was a big fan of Toby Maguire’s Peter Parker and I was afraid it was going to be a tough act to follow. Luckily Garfield is a likeable Peter, getting the audience’s sympathy even when he’s acting out against his long suffering Aunt May.

Stone is engaging in a role which could easily have been two dimensional. She’s a girl who is clearly smitten with Peter but doesn’t build her whole life around him. She’s allowed to be smart and feisty and manages to avoid the typical girl in peril role. We see that she has just as strong a moral centre as Peter and able to make her own decisions when the danger sets in.

The film’s strongest scenes are those involving Peter and Gwen. Luckily Peter reveals his secret to Gwen fairly early which makes for a more interesting, equal dynamic rather than the tired I-have-to keep-this-a-secret-to-protect-my-loved-ones old story. The two of them together have great chemistry (one that spilt over to off screen) and it’s a lovely romance to be watching.

Not that The Amazing Spiderman is lacking in action. Peter has a lot to face with Conner turning into an evil Lizard (another experiment gone wrong) which leads to some great set pieces, one on a the   bridge and another at the film’s climax. This Spiderman is also a lot more snarky in this film which will please those who enjoy Spiderman’s quips in the comics.

The only thing really failing this film is that it does have to start at the beginning again. Sometimes it feels like we’re rehashing old ground just with a new cast. Although it throws up a few different things such as the mystery behind Peter’s parents but then there’s few revelations to this at the end of the film. Just a few tantalising hints which one guesses they’ll explore further in future films. Something that I’m surprisingly looking forward to.

Total score 4 out of 5

A good film boosted by smart casting choices that leaves me highly anticipating the next instalment.

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10 Reasons To Watch…Stand By Me

The film is a coming of age drama centred on four friends in 50s America who, after overhearing a conversation from local gang about finding the body of a missing boy, decide to go on a journey to find the body and become heroes.

An ode to my favourite film of all time, here are the reasons why everyone you should see Stand By Me.

1. River Phoenix.

This is a film filled with amazing performances which I will go on to later. But arguably the best is River Phoenix as the tough but sensitive leader of the gang, Chris Chambers. He gives a sensitive and mature performance especially in the scene where he tell his best friend Gordie about the adults in his life and how they have all let him down. This is a boy who can see how his life could turn out and wants to change it but doesn’t know if anyone will let him do so. It’s a breathtakingly turn by Phoenix and given his untimely death at a young age a tragic example of how good he could have been.

2. The chemistry between the four boys.

Stand By Me is essentially at heart a coming of age tale looking back on the last time the four main characters really spent together before life inevitably gets in the way. The four leads are amazing together, Chris the leader (Phoenix), Gordie the smart one (Will Wheaton), Vern the funny guy (Jerry O’Connell-no really!) and Teddy the weird, angry one (Corey Feldman). Despite each character being so different they make a believable group of friends and you want to come along on their journey. The actors were made to hang out together before filming so that their chemistry would be more believable and it works-I wanted to be part of their gang!

3. The kids actually behave like real kids!

They smoke! They swear! They argue about who would win in a fight- Superman or Mighty Mouse! (Ok I still have arguments like that even as an adult) I remember this being one of the first films I watched where the kids’ conversations sounded real. I was even more surprised that most of the dialogue in the film is taken almost word for word from the source novella The Body by Stephen King (one of his few non-horror works). Kudos to the director for keeping to the book and letting the kids actually speak like kids.

4. That Line

There are also so many good quotes in this film but one of the best and most quoted is Gordie’s epic line to Ace “ suck my fat one you cheap dime store hood”. Brilliant!

5. The train scene

While on their journey Vern and Gordie have to run over across a bridge to get away from an oncoming train. According to the DVD commentary the director Rob Renier couldn’t get the reaction he wanted from O’Connell and Wheaton. So he shouted at the boys to make them cry then set the cameras rolling. It’s no wonder they look genuinely upset. Even now the scene still makes me tense as I’m shouting for them to hurry up!

6. Kiefer Sutherland

This film, as well as The Lost Boys and 24, cemented my belief that Kiefer Sutherland is one of the coolest people ever! (On screen at least- having never met him in real life I cannot possibly comment on whether he is as cool off screen). He was only in his late teens when he filmed his breakthrough role in Stand By Me. He plays Ace, the local bully whose is also looking for the same body (and potential reward and fame as our heroes).  He is menacing and threatening without going too over the top. See the scene where he first taunts Chris and Gordie, stealing Gordie’s hat belonging to Gordie’s deceased older brother, there’s no compassion or feeling there. He is the villain and we despise the character but something about Sutherland’s performance draws you to him and makes you compelled to watch what he’ll do next. Stunning.

7. The laughs

As I’ve said the boys conversations are not only realistic but funny and the whole film is full of these moments. The dreaded stories about Chopper the dog (“Chopper! Sic balls!”) and his reveal. The leeches-although probably not so funny when it comes to poor Gordie! One of the best moments is Gordie’s story he tells to the others about a young fat boy who enters a pie eating contest to take revenge on those around him. This manages to be disgusting and hilarious at the same time, while also establishing young Gordie’s talents as a storyteller and why Chris believes so much in him and his potential future.

8. The tears

For me, the scene that breaks my heart is Chris and Gordie’s talk of the future. Chris is trying to tell Gordie that he deserves better than the way his father treats him, telling him “I wish I was your father” because he cares so much about his friend’s future and doesn’t want him to waste his life away. Gordie in turns tries to make Chris see that he too could have a life away from his family and the people who don’t believe in him, leading to an emotional scene where Chris breaks down and cries, wishing he could go where nobody knows him. He doesn’t believe anyone would let him be different even if he wanted to. It’s a heartbreaking scene played well by both actors. Despite the drama and the laughs, the film doesn’t lose its emotional grip on you and if you haven’t cried at some point by the end of the film you’re probably dead inside.

9. The Music

As well as being my favourite film it also features my favourite song of the same name. A hit the first time around “Stand By Me” by B.E. King was an even bigger hit the second time around being rereleased in time with the film.  It even got to number one here in the UK. A soulful, heartfelt song that sends shivers down my spine. The film is also full of great songs from the 50s to help get you into the era. I also love the part where the boys sing along to ‘Lollipop’ as they’re making their way along the tracks.

10. Its as good now as when I first saw it

I’ve seen this film many times since I was a kid and it still has the same effect on me now as it did then. If anything it gets more poignant as you can look back at your own childhood. You remember the friends you had, the adults that let you down and being able to enjoy the long days of summer before you have to grow up. It’s a film that about looking back and ultimately about friendship.  It’s a classic film that deserves to be seen and remembered for generations to come.

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Spiderman-To Reboot Or Not To Reboot

As I’ll be watching The Amazing Spiderman film this week it’s got me thinking about whether Spiderman really needs a reboot?  Is it necessary to keep the franchise fresh or just an excuse to make more money for studio bosses?

Personally I love the first two Spiderman films. I thought Toby Maguire was fantastic in the role of Peter Parker and had great chemistry with Kristen Dunst as Mary-Jane. Overall the films were filled with great action sequences (especially the train scene in the second movie) as well as a satisfying emotional journey for the characters.

Not that Sam Rami’s Spiderman films were flawless. Mary-Jane got more annoying with each film and the third film suffered from too many villains and wasting the potentially great character of Venom. Despite this I was sad when I heard Sam Rami and co would not be returning for another spin of the web (sorry I had to have one rubbish pun). Then hearing that another Spiderman film was due to be released rebooting the franchise to have Peter Parker back at school had me worried.

I have nothing against remakes/reboots in general. As long as they have something new to say about the concept they’re remaking. After the cheesy Batman and Robin the Batman franchise was in need of a facelift (although I have to say the film is a guilty pleasure of mine). Christopher Nolan put his own stamp on the franchise drawing inspiration from the classic comic books such as Batman: Year One to give us a darker Gotham, grounded in realism for the new Batman to inhabit.

For a remake or reboot to work I think a director has to carefully put his own style and creativity into the film, adding something fresh to the mix, a new perspective on the characters or making it relevant for a new generation of filmgoers, without forgetting what makes people love the original in the first place. This is not an easy task especially with audience expectations so high and studio meddling often involved.

Sometimes a film doesn’t need remaking. Case in point John Carpenter’s The Thing. Itself already a brilliant remake of The Thing From Out of Space. Last year’s remake/prequel of The Thing was just a waste of time (note to movie studios-if you’re lucky to get one excellent remake of a film what are the chances of it happening with a remake of a remake? Sorry remake/‘prequel’.)

Now Spiderman 3 wasn’t great but it was no Batman and Robin. I’m not against another Spiderman sequel but does it really need another origin story so soon? Couldn’t it have just been Spiderman 4 with a new director and actor? Or is the only option for a fresh take is to go the Nolan way and to start at the beginning?

There are good signs with this film. The leads Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone are two of my favourite rising stars. Check out Garfield in brooding form in the first episode of tv series Red Riding or Stone’s hilarious turn in Easy A for evidence they deserve the success Spiderman could give them. I think Garfield could make a wonderfully geeky Peter Parker and Stone has enough presence to be more than just the ‘love interest’. It also bodes well that the director Marc Webb made 500 Days of Summer (go see it-Joseph Gordon Levitt is brilliant).

Still I can’t help but not feel overly excited by the prospect of seeing The Amazing Spiderman. With this film coming after the funny and exciting Avengers Assembled and with the hotly anticipated The Dark Knight Rise still to come, is there enough room for a third superhero film to share the spotlight this year?

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Friends With Kids

In 2001 an indie rom-com was released calling Kissing Jessica Stein, it was an intelligent, comedy film about relationships that gave you a lot to think about. From the writer and star of that film is Friends with Kids. Hoping to follow in the success of Bridesmaids can this be the smartest comedy of the year?

For those not in the know: Friends with Kids is a romantic comedy starring, written and directed by Jennifer Westfeldt. Its about two single friends Jason (Adam Scott) and Julie (Westfeldt) and their circle of married coupled friends Leslie and Alex (Maya Rudolph and Chris O’Dowd ) and Missy and Ben (Kristen Wiig and John Hamm-also Westfeldt’s Kissing Jessica Stein co-star and long term partner, sorry ladies!). Jason and Julie want children but having seen how strained the relationships of their married friends are after having children, decide to avoid finding partners and getting married and instead have a baby together. They agree they won’t be in a relationship but will raise the baby together leaving them free half the time to date other people.

Friends with Kids hits a lot of right notes and most of them funny. Westfeldt is a wonderful writer and the script really shines in this film, aided by a great cast. The best scenes are when the six friends are together, where lines are fast and funny but you also feel as those these characters and conversations are real. An early scene with them at a bar establishes the couples and their relationships before children impact on their lives. Alex even jokes that nothing will change once they have kids. He is soon proven wrong when we fast-forward a few years later and see that he and Leslie have hardly been out since having kids and are having petty arguments in front of their friends.

Although posters for the film have the stars of Bridesmaids Wiig and Hamm at the front, they are not the focus of the film. They’re more a warning to the main couple of how a good relationship can go badly wrong if you have a child with the wrong person. John Hamm looks like he’s having a blast as unhappily married Ben, whose goes from one vicious rant to another with his wife and friends looking on in horror (A New Year’s Eve trip is especially uncomfortable). The main focus is on the protagonists Jason and Julie, and whether their friendship can survive babies and dating other people, or will romantic feelings get in the way of their family bliss.

In one of the movie’s big surprises Megan Fox turns up as Jason’s girlfriend and is actually quite good. It’s a small role but its enough to make you wonder if Jennifer’s Body was not a fluke, and a good sign that her career post Transformers may be on the way up. One can only hope she keeps turning in likeable performances like this.

If there are any flaws, maybe Wig is underused in her role as Ben’s long suffering wife. Her reactions to her husband’s Ben’s many angry outbursts are well played and subtle rather than melodramatic. After seeing Bridesmaid you know she has the acting chops to get her teeth into more meaty scenes. In fact with such a talented ensemble cast it would have been good to have a few more scenes with them. At times Jason and Julie, while likeable for the most part, can come across a bit superior and patronising at times so it’s satisfying when John Hamm finally lets rip about their family situation, however out of order he may be.  The last act also suffers from being a bit slow. Feeling are realised, fall outs ensures, emotions expressed but it takes a while to get there.

However it is a film where its good points far outweighs it flaws. The ensemble cast is great and there are plenty of laughs out loud moments and interesting characters for the audience to enjoy.

Verdict 3 ½ out of 5

A smart comedy about relationships, it’ll be interesting to see what Westfeldt will do next.

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