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Out in Theaters: ‘INGRID GOES WEST’

Perfect paired with a few beers and a Xanax, Matt Spicer’s Ingrid Goes West is a psycho-stalker comedy that’s as unsettling and hilarious as a 12-year’s mexi-stache . Aubrey Plaza is devilishly weird as an Instagram-obsessed pariah, a Peeping Jane who turns to social Play-Doh to emulate those of higher social standing, but the role is more than meets the eye. Ingrid befriends up the ladder by copying the purchasing habits of her “friends”, buying the same designer bag or sharing the same favorite breakfast joint, phishing for likes, comments and follows but mostly on the hunt for a new #BFF. Though side-splitting funny, Ingrid Goes West dares to be more than a laugh, unleashing some powerful material essential to our conversations on social media and self-worth.  Read More

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Talking With Aubrey Plaza and Jeff Baena of ‘THE LITTLE HOURS’

Best known for her depiction of April Ludgate on NBC’s hit sitcom Parks and Recreations, Aubrey Plaza has found a niche in the tv and Hollywood stratosphere as the perpetually awkward, alarmingly tongue-in-cheek millennial  type. Quick with a jab and quicker with an eye roll, Plaza has flexed her thespian muscles lately playing Lenny Busker on FX’s standout superhero series Legion and her resume shows no signs of slowing. Her most recent venture, playing an irreverent nun in Jeff Baena‘s subversive slice of per-Renassiance feminism The Little Hours may see the star angling in familiar waters but the fit is perfect nonetheless.
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Out in Theaters: ‘ADDICTED TO FRESNO’

*This is a reprint of our 2015 SXSW review.

Addicted to Fresno benefits greatly from the duel casting of Judy Greer and Natasha Lyonne as scrubby, flawed sisters who drag each other down a spiral of bad decisions. At the helm, Jamie Babbit makes her own series of bad decisions, often unable to get out of the way of a problematic script from Karey Dornetto and some off-putting and downright absurd character decisions throughout. It certainly has its moments of nigh inspired hilarity but the blistery chemistry between Greer and Lyonne can only do so much. Read More

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SXSW: FRESNO

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Fresno
benefits greatly from the duel casting of Judy Greer and Natasha Lyonne as scrubby, flawed sisters who drag each other down a spiral of bad decisions. At the helm, Jamie Babbit makes her own series of bad decisions, often unable to get out of the way of a problematic script from Karey Dornetto and some off-putting and downright absurd character decisions throughout. It certainly has its moments of nigh inspired hilarity but the blistery chemistry between Greer and Lyonne can only do so much.

Fresno tells the story of two sisters who have just recently started working together in a not-so-idyllic position as hotel maids. Fresh out of sex rehab, Shannon (Greer) bears a chip on her shoulder and a hunger in her pants. She’s acerbic, mean-spirited and even cruel and Greer plays the eye-rolling indifference with an inbred intelligence. Even when her character is making disastrously immoral choices, Greer’s humorously numbed performance keeps us from completing hating the character, despicable though she may be.

On the other side of the fence is Lyonne’s Martha, the more responsible of the two and a hard-working, if easily influenced, ingenue who’s just been dumped by her gym instructor girlfriend. Martha either doesn’t notice that another gym instructor (Aubrey Plaza) has eyes for her or she doesn’t care but either way she wallows in the shoals of heartbreak and that makes her particularly susceptible to Shannon’s bad influence. 

When a horned-up and ready to rumble Shannon decides to bang a sketchy guest and ends up caught by Martha, she claims that he raped her. Next, she ends up accidentally killing him when pushing him and his wobbly, confused dong. Despite all signs that they should immediately report the incident to the police, Shannon convinces Martha to help cover up the “manslaughter” lest she end up in the slammer. Because all registered sex offenders go straight to jail when they’re involved in an accidental death? Immeasurable moral quandaries raised here aside, Fresno plays the scene for laughs when it might benefit it to tread lightly around such potentially controversial and dangerous territory. Especially if the writing is going to be so thin.

The rest of the film revolves around the girls’ efforts to dispose of the body as they carry him conspicuously to and fro in a motel laundry bin. Some of the situations they get themselves into are genuinely funny – a literal bag of dicks, a bemusing Fred Armisen/Allison Tolman cameo, pretty much anything Greer says and does – but it skates around most of the real dramatic issues that it red flags to return to later.

It’s worth mentioning that the film is directed by a woman, written by a woman, stars two women and the conversation rarely traverses the likes of men so it passes the Bechdel Test with flying colors. Having said that, the product itself – if taken as a sort of blind taste test for cinema – should not be celebrated for its admirable gender composure alone, lest we provide handicaps that would ultimatley benefit no one. It’s a nice try but one that lingers too much in the kiddy pool.

Babbit has mostly played the home box office game, lending herself out to direct television shows from Malcolm in the Middle to Gilmore Girls to The United States of Tara to Girls. Babbit jump-started her career in 1999 with queer satire But I’m a Cheerleader, which (ironically enough) marked the first real lead role for Natasha Lyonne. It – like Fresno – also featured Lyonne as a lesbian. Unforuntuately, what works on television doesn’t necessarily work in a movie and we see Babbit’s tendency to make affairs episodic and even hollow. The absurdity of any given situation often lacks reasonable followthrough and this seems in large part due to Babbit’s familiarity with a sitcom medium that champions quick laughs and surface level depth.

The product as a whole is reasonably entertaining during its run time, and certainly has its fair share of chuckles thanks to its pissy leading ladies, but is mostly unmemorable in the grand scheme of things.

C

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Sundance Review: LIFE AFTER BETH

“Life After Beth”
Directed by Jeff Baena
Starring Aubrey Plaza, Dane DeHaan, John C. Reilly, Molly Shannon, Cheryl Hines, Paul Reiser
U.S.A.
91 Mins

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The scales may tip all over the place on this zom-rom-com but even with all its tonal inconsistency, we’re dumped in a place of smirky satisfaction and forgiving admiration of intent. Life After Beth is narrowly shoddy, but still an easy crowd-pleaser and an affable experiment in reckless absurdity.

As Tomboy one famously said, Dane DeHaan could sell a ketchup Popsicle to a woman in white gloves, so even though his chemistry will Aubrey Plaza might be hard sold, it’s impossible not to believe the earnestness evidently pouring from his drippy soul. Plaza, that beloved goon, is no certifiable dramaturge and rides her quirky shtick hard here but, for what it’s worth, seeing her strapped to an oven, face peeling away with rot and sauntering towards brains is worth the price of admission alone.
 
Beth (Plaza), for whom the movie is cleverly named, met her end at the tip of a raddler’s fang solo hiking at night. The film opens on her funeral which sets the stage for a rather dour half hour with DeHaan almost over-committing to the conceit that his star-crossed lover has met her end. His performance oozes grief, demanding the likes of the Beth’s parents, John C. Reilly and Molly Shannon, who help keep things frothy as the film boils towards full-blown satire.

Without announcement, Beth reappears as if nothing had happened and overwhelmed with the miracle that is her revival, all are willing to overlook how this Beth isn’t quite the same as the one they put in the ground a week prior. Like the changing tides of puberty, Beth begins to undergo a new transformation, budding into a full blown zombie.

Leaps and bounds away from the breed of zombies George Romeo has familiarized us with, these Z’s suffer a case of super strength and amnesia but lack the malevolent, herdish brain-gobbling qualities. At least, at first. It’s during these introductory “zombie” moments when director Jeff Baena experiments with his own, unique faction of the obnoxiously popular iconography that the movie proudly rears its creative head and is at the top of its game for it. With zombies’ unnatural penchant for smooth jazz and love of reassurance-laden chatting, Life After Beth proves fitfully riotous. But when chaos breaks out and everything goes to piece, that flair of individuality and precision of vision falls apart as well.

More of a fun experiment than a certified success, this zillionth installment in the zombie niche has its share of dicey moments but it’s also riddled with guffawable zingers and crafty physical comedy. Plaza goes for broke and will surely be remembered for one of the strangest performances this year while DeHaan is rarely off the mark and it’s their unlikely chemistry that rounds Life After Beth round the bases, even if it occasionally limps its way across home plate.

C+

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