“Split”

LOUISA: 3 STARS


LOUISA SAYS:

I can see why M. Night Shyamalan‘s tepid suspense / horror thriller “Split” is a runway hit with average audiences. It’s entertaining, well acted and suspenseful enough, but there’s not much to it aside from the gimmick. As with most of Shyamalan’s movies, this one is a chaotic mess — but it’s less disastrous than some of his previous works that are better left forgotten (“After Earth,” “The Village”).

James McAvoy obviously has a lot of fun showing his range by playing the lead character Kevin, a mentally ill man with a dissociative identity disorder (re: multiple personalities). When his trusted psychiatrist Dr. Fletcher (Betty Buckley) learns that Kevin can physically change the state of his body with each split personality, things start to get a little concerning when her patient starts to talk about “The Beast” being unleashed. Kevin abducts three teenage girls so the mythical beast can feed, and the film presents a nice blend of suspense and horror as we watch them attempt to mentally outsmart their captor and escape.

McAvoy is quite talented and chews the scenery with delight, but indie “it girl” Anya Taylor-Joy does little but showcase tears welling in her eyes complimented by her signature pout. The other young women (Haley Lu Richardson and Jessica Sula) basically sit around in various states of undress, breathing heavily. There’s a surprisingly dark subplot involving one of the girls that’s well done but no less disturbing, but of course it’s the showy lead who steals the spotlight.

The story is creative and good enough, but it’s not great because it’s so contrived. Clever isn’t quite the right word for this, but I will say the film is more clever than man-eating plants that inspire suicide (“The Happening”) or a mermaid who lives in a motel pool (“Lady in the Water”). There’s no real twist ending yet the story is crammed with dead-end plot twists. It’s an unpleasant story and movie and it’s not really scary nor really a feel good movie experience, so calling it enjoyable is also not exactly accurate.

The movie’s potential is mostly wasted, but it’s fun to watch McAvoy go full-on camp as a dude suffering from two dozen personalities.

“The Edge of Seventeen”

LOUISA: 3 STARS


LOUISA SAYS:

The marketing campaign for “The Edge of Seventeen” will undoubtedly cause a bit of damage to the film’s box office and audience scores, marking a true disservice to this insightful, character-driven dramedy. If you’re expecting your average laugh a minute, R-rated teen sex comedy, think again. This is an astute (and candid) exploration about a suffering kid just trying to make it in her angst-ridden teen world.

The film took me back to the late 80s John Hughes era because it truly gives an accurate portrayal of all that sucks about being a seventeen year old girl. It’s rare that modern coming of age films are packed with such well written wisdom and authenticity. It’s also refreshing to see that the more things change the more they stay the same, with a younger generation dealing with the same problems all of us once suffered through (and survived).

Nadine (Hailee Steinfeld) is a neurotic, awkward high school junior who decides her life has fallen apart when her popular jock brother Darian (Blake Jenner) begins dating her longtime best friend Krista (Haley Lu Richardson). To a 17 year old, this feels like the end of the world. Nadine suddenly feels as if she can’t rely on anyone and begins to act out with those closest to her, including her needy widowed mother (Kyra Sedgwick). She begins to form a friendship with the thoughtful and charming boy next door Erwin (Hayden Szeto) and her sarcastic yet wise history teacher (a beautifully understated Woody Harrelson).

The secondary characters all play nicely off the lead character, and Steinfeld gives an effective performance as Nadine. She manages to make a total melodramatic jerk likeable and sympathetic, which is no easy feat. Being a teenager sucks, and she conveys that with an impressive, perceptive sophistication.

The typical teen film clichés are all present, from the popular kid’s party debacle to an embarrassing missent sext to the realization that the nerd boy is (surprise!) a real sweetheart while the hot crush guy (double surprise!) isn’t so nice after all. In fact, there aren’t many plot surprises here, period. The real surprise lies with the film’s honest, frank dialogue and situations.

The film is slow to start and hits several speed bumps along the way (including some attempts at humor that flat-out bomb and a few too many overplayed, tearful spectacles), but overall it’s authentic, wise and reads as a completely real and genuine look at why growing up is so hard.

“The Bronze”

LOUISA:   4.5 STARS  MATT:  4.5 STARS


LOUISA SAYS:

Humor is very subjective, and “The Bronze” is the perfect example of an incredibly divisive comedy that will push even the most tolerant viewers to their limit. Will you like this movie or will you bail after 10 minutes? That’s hard to say. If you are a fan of classic subversive comedies like “Bad Santa,” “Borat,” and “A Dirty Shame,” then this should be right up your alley. If you are easily offended, stop reading this review now.

From this point forward I will assume that I only have similar-minded readers, so I am confident to recommend this movie. Yes, it’s a comedy about gymnastics — but it’s so much more. Be forewarned that this movie is loaded with strong sexual content, graphic nudity, drug use and a steady stream of sarcastic foul language throughout. It is very, very vulgar, but it’s not the gross-out, disgusting style of vulgarity as showcased in this year’s “Brothers Grimsby.” The film’s R rating is nearly earned through profanity alone, but it’s the outrageous, absolutely outlandish graphic sex scene that puts it over the top. Seriously, you have to see it to believe it: it’s without question one of the funniest and most exotically choreographed sex scenes in movie history (and let’s just leave it at that).

Hope (Melissa Rauch) is a former Olympic bronze medalist trapped in her glory days. This faded, small-town celebrity is an obnoxious, unemployed loser. She lives at home in her pathetic dad’s (Gary Cole) basement and never changes out of her 2004 U.S. Olympics jacket. Hope has stretched her 15 minutes of fame into a decade of “privileges” (like free pizza at the local Sbarro at the mall, a reserved parking space in downtown Amherst, Ohio, and her photo on the wall in the town diner).

When local athletic ingénue “Mighty” Maggie (the perky Haley Lu Richardson) has a chance to make it onto the 2016 U.S. Olympic team, Hope reluctantly agrees to train her for a supposed $500,000 payday. As Hope realizes that her local celebrity status as a hometown hero is threatened, she has to choose between helping or sabotaging Maggie. Sebastian Stan delivers an uproarious performance as conceited gold medalist Lance, one of Hope’s past sexual conquests and now a rival Olympic trainer. Thomas Middleditch charms as the sweet and nerdy Ben, a kindly, put-upon gym owner who has an inexplicable attraction to Hope.

It seems like audiences are in two different camps on this film: they either love it or they hate it, and I think a lot of that has to do with the Tonya Harding type lead character. Jokes are pushed to the limit and the vulgarity of the language here reaches epic heights. The film doesn’t rely on gross-out jokes or sight gags either, its humor is mostly derived through crude, profane dialogue. I found it refreshing to see a sports movie that’s not full of inspirational platitudes, and this quirky comedy takes no prisoners. There are so many laugh-out-loud moments that this film could easily become an oft-quoted cult classic.

The plot here is very basic but it works, and that’s mostly because of the hysterical dialogue and the straight-faced delivery. It’s hard not to laugh at the obscene, spiteful character as she spews caustic f-word laced tirades in her thick Midwestern accent. No doubt this is cruel verbal abuse, but it’s also very, very funny. Hope is an ungrateful, spoiled, self-absorbed, bratty monster; an awful person who hurls insults at everyone in her path. Somehow I found myself starting to like her. You’ll want to hate her, but her raunchy candor is a little refreshing, and the more obscene and cruel she gets, the more the satirical elements of the film shine through.

It’s not all mean, however: throughout the story we see glimpses of the dejected, bitter woman that lies underneath Hope’s ginormous bangs and tough exterior. And much like its lead character, this film is crude — but underneath it all lies a big heart.

MATT SAYS:

This is the week for movies about adult children who refuse to grow up. First, we had “Pee-wee’s Big Holiday,” and now “The Bronze.” But the similarities end there.

In “The Bronze,” Hope Ann Greggory (Melissa Rauch, who shares co-writing credit) is a former Olympian gymnast who won the bronze medal for Team USA in 2004 in dramatic fashion. Nowadays, Hope is still riding a wave of goodwill in her hometown (which translates to free stuff), living in her childhood home with her single dad (Gary Cole), and reminiscing about her glory days. When a hotshot young gymnast in town loses her coach, Hope has the chance to step in and mentor Maggie (Haley Lu Richardson) a young new star from her town. But if Maggie outshines hope in the Olympics, will Hope fade into the background?

I have never been very interested in the Olympics. As a man, I have even less interest in gymnastics. I fully expected to be bored by this movie. I wasn’t.

I found myself actually rooting for Hope and Maggie and amazingly, I didn’t find the routines boring. Unlike “Race,” where there was way too much emphasis on showing the actual track-and-field events, “The Bronze” uses a more judicious approach, showing Hope or Maggie on the bars, or balance beam, or whatever just enough to support the story, but not so much that it slowed things down. The focus here isn’t on gymnastics, but on Hope and her frozen-in-time insistence on reliving her past instead of trying to create a new future for herself. Along the way, Hope gets to learn a few things about love, friendship, support, and loyalty – but not before she shocks and offends everyone with her incredibly foul mouth.

Oh, did I not mention that before? This movie is raunchy as hell. Hope would fit right in in a high school men’s locker room after a football game. She has a foul mouth that would make a sailor blush, and she doesn’t mince words. She’s not well-educated but she thinks she knows everything. In other words, she’s no one’s role model. And she’s funny as hell. Despite its subject being one that probably appeals to young teens, “The Bronze” is a very adult comedy (with one of the funniest sex scenes I think I’ve ever seen in a movie) and decidedly not for kids or those who offend easily.

If it were just a profane sex comedy or a drama about what it means to finally grow up, “The Bronze” would be forgettable. The reason it works well is because it balances the two; it’s at times both hilariously raunchy and oddly touching. I really liked it.