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dir-scr Gillian Robespierre
prd Elisabeth Holm
with Jenny Slate, Jake Lacy, Gaby Hoffmann, Gabe Liedman, Richard Kind, Polly Draper, David Cross, Paul Briganti, Cindy Cheung, Stephen Singer, Emily Tremaine, Cyrus McQueen
release US 20.Jun.14, UK 29.Aug.14
You make me laugh: Lacy and Slate
SUNDANCE FILM FEST
|R E V I E W B Y R I C H C L I N E|
A blast of honesty prevents this hilariously offbeat romantic-comedy from falling into the usual genre traps, filling the screen with sparky characters who do unexpected things. It's a rare film that keeps the audience laughing while telling a story that's essentially very serious.
Donna (Slate) is a regular stand-up performer at a Brooklyn bar's open-mic night, entertaining the crowd with stories from her life. But her boyfriend (Briganti), fed up with being the butt of her jokes, dumps her. After turning to her pals Nellie and Joey (Hoffman and Liedman) for help, Donna melts down on stage then gets drunk with Max (Lacy), a nice guy she meets in another bar. A few weeks later she finds out that she's pregnant. Her parents (Kind and Draper) offer emotional support, but Donna has to make the big decisions herself.
Writer-director Robespierre clearly knows the stand-up world, capturing the raucous uncertainty of a struggling young comic as well as a bustling side of New York not usually seen on-screen. The characters all feel organic and raw, with improv-style dialog and encounters that refuse to go in expected directions. And even if Donna seems to survive without a job, her journey is realistic and involving, played transparently by Slate as a bundle of nerves who should be annoying but is instead thoroughly endearing.
It also helps that Donna is surrounded by a terrific mix of side characters who seem to have their own lives going on. Hoffman and Liedman are superb comical foils for Donna, adding their own snappy observations to every situation. Kind and Draper play parents who are loving but rather self-absorbed. And Cross is terrific in a brief role as a predatory old friend. So even if the plot itself relies a bit heavily on implausible coincidences, the people are earthy and very funny.
Robespierre's central point seems to be that growing up means taking responsibility for your own behaviour, and the story's final scenes are remarkably light-handed. Where other filmmakers might go for a pushy moral message, Robespierre lets her cast gently draw out the more important subtle truths about interpersonal connections and personal responsibility. This also lets the story's romantic plot develop in ways that refuse to hit the expected movie beats, which refreshingly leaves the world open to endless possibilities.
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© 2014 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall|
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