June 29, 2012. Family Secrets. Movies reviewed: People Like Us, Take This Waltz

Posted in Canada, Cultural Mining, Drama, Family, Movies, Toronto, Uncategorized, US by CulturalMining.com on June 30, 2012

Hi, this is Daniel Garber at the Movies, for culturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM, looking at high-brow and low-brow movies, indie, cult, foreign, festival, genre and mainstream movies, helping you see movies with good taste, movies that taste good, and how to tell the difference.

Till death do us part they say, but it’s not always as simple as that. For, when it happens, parting is such sweet sorrow… This week I’m looking at two family dramas. One’s a Canadian movie about a Toronto woman who has to choose between staying with her stay-at-home husband or parting to live with the guy across the street; and an American movie about a man who finds out that his late father faced a similar choice many years earlier.

People Like Us
Dir: Alex Kurtzman

Sam (Chris Pine – Star Trek’s new Captain Kirk) is a wheeler-dealer sales exec in the rarified profession of commodity barter trading. But on the same day he makes a grave shipping error, and he also finds out his estranged, music exec father has died. So, under protest, he flies out to Los Angeles or the funeral. And he discovers he’s inherited a zippered dop kit, with 150K in cash, and a note – saying he has to find a woman and give her the money.

But he needs the money, hasn’t a moral bone in his body, and hates his father Gerry. No reason to do it. Gerry was a record company dude whose claim to fame was discovering Kajagoogoo. But Sam soon discovers this woman Frankie (Elizabeth Banks), in fact, is his sister. He gradually makes friends with  bartender, AA veteran, and single mom, without telling her who he is. And also becomes a sort of a mentor for the jaded Josh, her 11-going-on-65-year-old son. Josh (Michael Hall D’Addario) talks like a 65 year old blues singer, and is caught blowing up his school swimming pool.

It’s up to Sam to try to make things right again, even as his job is on the line, his girlfriend is fed up with his lies, and he has yet to accomplish anything worthwhile with his life.

Will Sam ever come clean as to why he’s hanging out with Frankie and Josh? Will he give them the money? Will Frankie stop bartending and pursue her dream — landscape architecture? Will Sam’s mean, bitter mom (Michelle Feiffer) — she’s not passive aggressive she’s active aggressive! – ever answer some of his questions? And will this confusing, hidden family ever be a single entity?

People Like Us is a surprisingly engaging movie, even though its story is nothing more than a typical Movie of the Week. The dialogue is witty, the acting is good, and the plot turns, though predictable, keep the story going. (And it even has a walk-on role for Mark Duplass as Frankie’s casual sex partner. That’s surely a record: three Duplass movies in 3 weeks, plus the DVD release of Jeff who Lives at Home.) This is a good movie if you like dysfunctional family dramas.

Take this Waltz
Wri/Dir: Sarah Polley

Margot and Lou (Michelle Williams and Seth Rogen) wake up each morning saying how much they love each other – so much s0 they’d gladly poke each other’s eyes out. Such love you seldom see. It’s a happy but boring relationship. They sleep in the same bed, and live and work beside each other in the same house in Parkdale, downtown Toronto… basically they’re together 24/7. He does cookbooks, she’s a freelance writer. And they get together with Lou’s loud extended family, including his sister recovering alcoholic Geraldine (Sarah Silverman).

But things start to change when Margot goes on a trip to a colonial village in Louisburg to write a pamphlet for Parks Canada. Watching a reenactment of a colonial punished for adultery, she meets a flirty, obnoxious guy named Daniel (Luke Kirby). Sparks fly. And when they’re back in Toronto, turns out the rickshaw driver and secret artist… lives right across the street from her.

What’s a lady to do? The right thing or the lustful thing?

Take This Waltz is a daring movie. It’s filled with some very funny scenes – like an aqua fitness class – and some images that will stick with you, like an amazing psychedelic ride at an amusement park on Toronto’s Centre Island to the tune of “Video Killed the Radio Star”. She also takes risks – like an extended nude scene with Michelle Williams and Sarah Silverman in a women’s shower room, that shows real bodies of all ages and types.

And it has countless, wonderful locations all around this city – Kensington Market, Lakeshore, the Royal Cinema… A beautiful view of Toronto. So I wanted to love this movie, her second picture, following her great debut Away From Her. But I just couldn’t. The last twenty minutes or so are just excruciatingly awful and completely incongruous with the rest of the movie.

It shifts from an uncomfortable marriage to an extended sequence – possibly a fantasy montage – of what happens to her once she makes her decision. I guess that’s there to tie up various loose ends, but it leaves the viewer scratching his head and squirming at this uncomfortable addition to a lackluster family drama.

There are lots of good reasons to see this movie, but I can’t say it worked.

I don’t want to leave you with the impression that People Like Us is a “better” movie than Take this Waltz. Take This Waltz is a potentially great film that tried but failed, while People Like Us is an ordinary M.O.W.-style family drama with a clever script, likeable stars and a watchable, if unoriginal, plot. It was capably done and worked well. The thing is, I’ll long remember scenes from the failure, while I’ve already forgotten most of the one that worked.

Take this Waltz and People Like Us both open this weekend — as does Todd Solandz’s excellent Dark Horse — check your local listings; the ICFF Italian Contemporary Film Festival continues through this weekend, closing with the Toronto Premier of Woody Allen’s latest film, To Rome, With Love. Also check out the Toronto After Dark series on Wednesday nights at the Bloor, for lots of gore, shocks, found footage. Next show: July 11th.  And the very cool Japanese anime and cult movie fest called Shinsedai starts in mid-July this year.

This is Daniel Garber at the Movies each Friday morning on CIUT 89.5 FM, with podcasts and complete reviews available on my web site CulturalMining.com.

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