Momentum Pictures

Fun Mom Dinner (2017, Alethea Jones)

The best thing about Fun Mom Dinner is the soundtrack. It’s all mainstream early-to-mid eighties hits–some Cars, 99 Luftballons, the song from the end of Sixteen Candles because a Jack Ryan crush is a major plot point (which is a little weird since it’s lead Katie Aselton was six when Sixteen Candles came out and she formed that crush). Sadly Jack Ryan doesn’t appear in the movie. Instead it’s Adam Levine semi-standing in as the object of her infidelity fantasy. Fun Mom doesn’t have a lot of great writing, but it’s never godawful. It’s trite and benign, but it’s not godawful. So Levine’s laughably godawful performance is all his own. Especially since it’s things like… he can’t pretend to listen to people.

Aselton is one of the four not really fun moms out at the Fun Mom Dinner. She ends up being the lead because maybe she’s going to cheat on not good parenting partner and perpetually stressed out husband Adam Scott with Levine. Also because she brings the moms together. She’s friends with Toni Collette, who seems like she’s going to be the lead at the beginning; she’s the disaffected pot-smoking mom. Only it turns out the script’s got nothing for her to do after she buries the hatchet with other fun mom Bridget Everett in their third scene together. Before the end of the third act. There’s some more character development for Collette after that point, but it’s when her husband (Ron Huebel) talks to Scott about it. Huebel and Scott are taking care of their kids while the moms are out having fun.

Everett’s kids and husband don’t matter. They don’t show up after a brief opening introduction. And the four fun mom, Molly Shannon, is in a similar situation. Only she’s divorced so the film isn’t ignoring her husband, just her kid. Or kids. They make so little impression it’s hard to remember how many Shannon or Everett have. And Shannon does get a romantic flirtation subplot with Paul Rust, which could have been cute. It’s proto-cute.

For not getting any story to herself, Everett still is the backbone of Fun Mom Dinner. She has enough energy to make moments connect, even if they don’t always work. Shannon’s character is written too slight; her performance isn’t too slight, the writing is too slight. Collette just loses anything to do except procure pot for the outing or encourage smoking pot and drinking. Aselton’s got the one-two punch of a slightly written character–really, Julie Rudd’s script has the depth of a television commercial–and a too slight performance. Aselton’s never believable. The movie’s never believable, but you can pretend with Everett, Collette, and Shannon. With Aselton. No.

Fun Mom Dinner is not some raunchy, raucous affair. If it weren’t for the moms toking some reefer and dropping f-bombs, it’ll be PG. Aselton’s threatened dalliance with Levine isn’t just bad because Levine’s awful or Asleton’s writing and acting is thin, it’s because director Jones doesn’t do dramatic tension. Not even when it seems like Everett is going to throttle Collette for being such a nasty elitist. Oh, right. It’s never explained why Collette’s such an elitist since she’s married to super-nice, super-supportive doofus Huebel.

Clearly there’s not much budget. When the moms are roaming the streets, the streets are empty. When they’re in restaurants or bars, the shots are very careful not to include too many other people. If Jones weren’t shooting it in Panavision and filling the wide frame with nothing, the movie might not seem so visibly sparse. Sean McElwee’s photography isn’t bad. It’s not great, but it’s thoroughly competent. He’d have been able to shoot the frame more concise.

Jon Corn’s editing is terrible, however; he’s worst with Levine, which is kind of hilarious. Not really. It’s just unfortunate, like everything with Aselton once she becomes the de facto lead.

Fun Mom Dinner is also really short. Eighty-one minutes. And full of filler. Karaoke filler. The movie’s target audience is moms neglected by spouses who daydream about smoking pot and singing Karaoke. Hopefully. Because otherwise it doesn’t even have an intended audience. Otherwise it’s just an exercise is fodder.

Actually the Karaoke deserved more screen time. Everett and Collette can sing. Embracing it–though Everett gets two singing scenes–would’ve helped. It would’ve had to help at least a little.

There’s an extended cameo with Paul Rudd and David Wain as a pair of pot shop owners who avoid any contact with their wives. As much as possible anyway. Like so much else in the film, no one does anything with it except the actors. The actors make it work. Sort of. They keep Fun Mom from being overrun by its own disposability. They don’t make it respectable, but they keep it from being miserable.

Except Levine. And Aselton when she’s with him.

Fun Mom Dinner isn’t terrible enough to be a curiosity. It’s inoffensively pointless.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Alethea Jones; written by Julie Rudd; director of photography, Sean McElwee; edited by Jon Corn; music by Julian Wass; production designer, Tracy Dishman; produced by Andrew Duncan, Alex Saks, and Naomi Scott; released by Momentum Pictures.

Starring Katie Aselton (Emily), Toni Collette (Kate), Bridget Everett (Melanie), Molly Shannon (Jamie), Adam Scott (Tom), Rob Huebel (Andrew), David Wain (Wayne), Paul Rudd (Brady), Paul Rust (Barry), and Adam Levine (Luke).


Intruders (2015, Adam Schindler)

Should Intruders be good? It should be better, no question, but should it be good. It’s about an agoraphobic (who’s an agoraphobic solely as part of the film’s gimmick) who has to fend off intruders into her home. Beth Riesgraf plays the agoraphobic. She’s quite good in the first act, then she loses her own movie to one of the villains. Because it turns out Riesgraf isn’t a damsel in distress and is able to return the intruders’ ferocity.

I’m trying to give the spoilers a wide berth, but Riesgraf doesn’t whether their reveals well. Partially because it’s terribly written and terribly directed, partially because she just doesn’t. At the same time, writers T.J. Cimfel and David White–along with director Schindler–give Jack Kesy a whole bunch to do. He goes from being “vicious redneck #1” to Sherlock Holmes Jr., complete with qualifications to his attack on Riesgraf and her response. It’s exactly where Intruders shouldn’t go. It isn’t capable of asking big questions. It’s capable of offering working television actors a nice change of pace in a reasonably well-directed thriller. And I don’t think Intruders necessarily wants to ask big questions, but shutting Riesgraf out of her own movie to showcase Kesy’s acting? It defaults and becomes a pain to watch.

Vaguely amusing support from Martin Starr as a psychopathic thug (with what appears to be a glued on lumberjack beard). Rory Culkin’s good as Riesgraf’s flirtation, though he eventually just becomes the film’s damsel in distress (which it probably could have gone further with, but didn’t). Kesy’s fine. Riesgraf ranges from great to weak. But there’s nothing she could do after a certain point. The script breaks both Kesy and Riesgraf’s characters, his for the better, hers for the worse. Neither move helps the film at all. It’s just to drag out the narrative.

Schindler’s got some solid directorial moves on Intruders. He knows how to make a limited budget seem bigger, he does fine with the actors. Bad music by Frederik Wiedmann. Eric Leach’s photography is competent but lacks any personality.

Some of Intruders is pretty good, but when it goes bad, it doesn’t stop. Is that a saying? It is now, I want to be done with Intruders.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Adam Schindler; written by T.J. Cimfel and David White; director of photography, Eric Leach; edited by Brian Netto and Schindler; music by Frederik Wiedmann; production designer, James Wiley Fowler; produced by Lati Grobman, Erik Olsen, Jeff Rice and Steven Schneider; released by Momentum Pictures.

Starring Beth Riesgraf (Anna Rook), Martin Starr (Perry Cuttner), Jack Kesy (J.P. Henson), Joshua Mikel (Vance Henson) and Rory Culkin (Dan Cooper).


Happy-Go-Lucky (2008, Mike Leigh)

I’m not sure how I feel about Panavision Mike Leigh. Dick Pope’s cinematography–and the film’s overall color scheme too–is very vibrant. Happy-Go-Lucky is a peppy, bright, Panavision Mike Leigh film. It’s got a loud–good, but loud–score (from Gary Yershon); the score’s peppy too. There’s a very definite arc to the film, with a predictable ending. It’s improvised like the rest of Leigh’s films, but it’s going for a different effect–it’s a comedy. If Hugh Grant showed up in Happy-Go-Lucky, he wouldn’t be at all out of place. In fact, he might even be a good addition to it.

The film has a deceptively small dramatic vehicle–always happy schoolteacher and all around nice person Sally Hawkins has her bike stolen so she has to learn to drive, introducing her to misanthropic driving instructor Eddie Marsan. Will Marsan eventually fall under her–unintentional–spell? I spent most of the film hoping not, since the driving scenes would only add up to something–other than just being Hawkins in driving classes, not an epical framework for a narrative–if there’s a culminating scene with Marsan freaking out and screaming at her for being so happy.

So happy-go-lucky.

The film presents Hawkins as a little annoying in her constant jubilance, but she is a good person. There’s a scene–maybe in the middle–where it’s clear Hawkins is such a good person, she sometimes puts it before her personal safety. So raising the question of her motives for her behavior in the conclusion and subjecting the viewer to a traditional romantic comedy self-reflective montage… it’s wrong. Happy-Go-Lucky spends most of its time meandering, only to get real close to attaining something special at the end, then decides to be a romantic comedy instead.

It’s a Mike Leigh movie with an intentional comic set piece. Sure, Karina Fernandez’s flamenco teacher is hilarious–but it’s a fake moment in a Mike Leigh film. It’s a good, fake moment, exactly the type of thing a theater-full of romantic comedy goers would love to see. I really enjoyed it, but it’s the type of thing where the followup joke involves Hugh Grant learning to flamenco.

Hawkins is great, no question, as is Marsan. She makes the character work, usually during the quiet scenes. The supporting cast is all solid–Alexis Zegerman plays her roommate (there are a few comments about the pair having a romantic relationship, but it’s all in jest… the movie might have worked better if it hadn’t been), Samuel Roukin’s her romantic interest (they have a lovely romantic comedy conclusion).

The stuff Leigh drops–the unique material Happy-Go-Lucky initially tries to discuss (racism, abuse)–is almost forgotten by the end. The lengthy comedy material makes it all disappear, swept under the carpet during one of the funnier scenes perhaps.

But Leigh also introduces the idea Hawkins’s innocence, her demeanor, will eventually land her in hot water. He exploits the viewer’s concern for the character, the concern he’s created for just that reason–to add tension to a number of scenes. It’s a standard move, occasionally honest, occasionally not, always with good acting from Hawkins. But the move’s a middling one, not the kind of thing I expect from Mike Leigh, lovely Panavision composition or no lovely Panavision composition.

Oddly, Leigh’s a great Panavision composer. His shots are magnificent… like he spent more time on how the shots look than what goes on in them.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Written and directed by Mike Leigh; director of photography, Dick Pope; edited by Jim Clark; music by Gary Yershon; production designer, Mark Tildesley; produced by Simon Channing Williams; released by Momentum Pictures.

Starring Sally Hawkins (Poppy), Eddie Marsan (Scott), Alexis Zegerman (Zoe), Andrea Riseborough (Dawn), Sinéad Matthews (Alice), Kate O’Flynn (Suzy), Sarah Niles (Tash), Sylvestra le Touzel (Heather), Karina Fernandez (the flamenco teacher) and Stanley Townsend (Tramp).


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