RRR (2022)

As I’ve already stated in reviews for titles like Karnan, War, Saaho, Master, and 2.0, there is nothing Hollywood has to offer than can out-entertain mainstream Indian action cinema.  While American action franchises like the MCU and the Fast & Furious “saga” have long outlasted their initial novelty, Indian movie industries like Kollywood & Tollywood routinely escalate the explosive absurdism of the genre to new, delirious heights audiences have never seen before.  They recall Hong Kong’s heyday as the most exciting, inventive action scene in the world, when seemingly every new title—no matter how anonymous or cheap—instantly earned a place in the canon of all-time greats.  And even with that miles-high industry standard looming over him, director S.S. Rajamouli might be establishing himself as the very best craftsman in modern Indian actioners – recently striking big with the two-part action epic Baahubali, and now following it up with the ferociously entertaining RRR.  While most modern, bloated American action pics only offer a post-nap headache, a Rajamouli picture guarantees a skull-cracking good time.

RRR is an anti-colonialist epic about the power of friendship (and the power of bullets, and the power of wolves, and the power of grenades, and the power of tigers, and the power of dynamite, and the power of bears, oh my!).  The two friends at the center are a fantastically unlikely pair, frequently compared to fire & water, or “a volcano & a wildfire” in the rock anthems that underscore their volatile bond.  One is a militant supercop whose wuxia superheroics enable him to fight off an ocean of unruly protestors while armed with just a baton.  The other is a rural tribal leader on a one-man, Schwarzenegger-style mission to avenge his people against a governmental wrong – culminating in releasing wild, blood-starved animals at a fancy garden party in a righteous act of terrorism.  Separately, either one of these burly supermen could’ve been highlighted as the hero of their own over-the-top action adventure; likewise, either one could’ve played villain.  Instead, the movie gives them equal time as dual protagonists, eventually pushing them to form Voltron (see also: Krang, Master Blaster) as one united force against a common, worthier enemy: white British colonizers.  It’s a beautiful bromance between good, muscly buds, with plenty explosions, dance-offs, and feral animal attacks keeping up the energy as they fall further in bruv.

RRR never strays from its mission as a populist crowd-pleaser, but it’s also a fiercely political film.  Every white British colonizer that rules over 1920s Delhi in the picture is a sneering, monstrous piece of shit, and the entire arc of the unlikely cop-dissident friendship that forms at that colony’s fringes is pushing for their violent overthrow.  A pre-credits warning explains that the events of the film are fictional (a disclaimer that’s even less necessary than its companion warning that the wild “animals” are entirely CG), but both of the film’s dual heroes were real-life revolutionaries & populist heroes.  Alluri Sitarama Raju & Komaram Bheem violently revolted against colonialist rule in the 1920s & 30s in separate rebellions.  RRR functions as a kind of anti-imperialist fan fiction that turns those historical heroes of the people into modern heroes of the screen.  At the very least, it’s a much more politically purposeful & satisfying superhero team-up than any comic book or street-racing equivalent I can name in its genre’s American competition.  That probably goes without saying, but it is stunning to see populist cinema with sharpened fangs, since so much of what we’re fed at home is conspicuously toothless.

Anything else I could say in praise of RRR would just be a rambling list of exciting images.  You don’t need to hear about a motorcycle being launched as an explosive projectile any more than you need to hear about a wolf & a tiger brawling for dominance or our two heroes locking arms for the first time against a full-flame backdrop.  All you need to know is that friendship is beautiful, imperialism is evil, and S.S. Rajamouli knows how to entertain.  See RRR big & loud while you can.  Otherwise, you’ll regret missing the chance when it’s shrunken down to TV-scale on Netflix in a couple months.

-Brandon Ledet

Together Together (2021)

The pre-packaged media narrative about what makes Together Together special is that it’s a mainstream comedy that cast a trans actress as a cisgender, pregnant woman.  That’s true enough, but what really makes the film incredible is that the actress in question is Patti Harrison, who’s just about the last comedian on the planet you’d expect in a mainstream role of any kind.  Harrison’s comedy is confrontational, absurd, and explosively funny.  Together Together is none of those things.  This is a very Sundancey comedy about two lonely people establishing an unlikely friendship in an intensely awkward scenario.  Harrison is cast opposite Ed Helms as her co-lead – a bland, safe, everyman comedian whose defining quality is that you always kinda wish he was Jason Sudeikis instead.  She’s asked to be earnest, muted, and vulnerably awkward, and she does so ably . . . but that’s not what you think of as Her Thing.  This is not at all the movie you’d expect from a comedian who says things like, “[I] feel very caged by [a lot of well-meaning social media liberals] who claim to be pro-my-autonomy. You’re pro-my-autonomy until it comes to my work, and then you can’t accept the fact that I love to joke about fucking dogs.” It’s extremely cool to see her land such a high-profile gig—complete with promotional interviews on NPR  (home base for well-meaning social media liberals) about the film’s cultural importance—but it’s also a little bit of a bummer that she couldn’t be more herself in that spotlight.

I don’t want to be too hard on Together Together.  It’s cute.  Twenty years ago, this soft-pedaled quirky comedy about an upper-middle age, upper-middle class tech bro (Helms) forming an unlikely bond with the twentysomething barista he’s paying to be his child’s surrogate mother (Harrison) almost certainly would’ve been a romcom, with the two leads falling for each other across generational and class divides.  Instead, they establish a low-key platonic friendship, which is much trickier to navigate but a lot less icky.  It’s mostly a film about boundaries.  Their employer-surrogate relationship is contractually defined by legal & therapeutic boundaries that are set in ink & stone, but once they start finding comfort & pleasure in each other’s company, those lines are hopelessly blurred.  They’re two deeply lonely people who very much need each other but don’t know how to express that need without violating the terms of their firmly established legal, financial dynamic.  The movie quickly establishes this uneasy rapport in an opening interview where the barista is hired for the surrogate mother job, then it gently tracks their friendship’s rocky development across the pregnancy’s three trimester-chapters.  It’s all very cute and charming and has no business being Rated R.

Even if another performer replaced Patti Harrison in the starring role, there’d still be something perverse about the way this movie assembles so many aggressively strange comedians for something so deliberately toothless.  Jo Firestone, Anna Konkle, and Tig Notaro are very funny people, so why are they given so little room to make jokes?  Julio Torres is the only comedian who’s fully set loose to be Funny here as Harrison’s spaced-out weirdo co-worker, while everyone else is mostly just asked to be awkwardly sweet.  Still, it was nice to see so many talented performers in one spot.  Hopefully it’ll be the kind of word-of-mouth charmer that’ll gradually make Patti Harrison a big enough name that she can star in a comedy molded closer to her own delightfully fucked up tastes.  She deserves it.  For now, this is decent enough as lazy-afternoon comfort viewing.  It feels condescending to label a movie “cute” and “nice”, but there really no other words for what Together Together offers.  I’m just a little confused why so many outrageously funny people had to be assembled to accomplish that.

-Brandon Ledet

Good Boys (2019)

I laughed at least once for every minute of Good Boys, which I don’t know that I can say about any other mainstream comedy in recent memory. Even other coming-of-age sex comedies like Blockers, Booksmart, and The To Do List can’t compete with this film’s joke-to-laugh ratio, despite being objectively Better films on the whole. Of course, humor is subjective, especially considering the specificity of this film’s POV in its suburban teen boy sexuality, so I can’t claim that every filmgoer will have the same high success rate with Good Boys‘s many, many gags as I did. I do feel confident in saying that the film is far more endearing & well-written than its initial “Superbad except with cussing tweens” reputation prepared me for, though. This is not a one-joke movie about how funny it is to watch children do a cuss; it’s got a lot on its mind about innocence, the pain of outgrowing relationships, and what distinguishes the earnest generation of radically wholesome kids growing up beneath us from our own meaner, amoral tween-years follies. These are very good boys.

A major aspect of this film’s success is that it acknowledges its own limitations from the outset. Its story of young tween boys’ friendships struggling to survive the social perils of sixth grade is about as low-stakes as any narrative that’s ever reached the big screen. A couple larger comedic set pieces within the film (including drug trafficking, an interstate pile-up, and a frat house brawl) distract from the plot’s total lack of meaningful consequences, but for the most part the film keeps its conflicts intimate & small. The pint-sized trio at its center want to attend their first “kissing party” at the coolest kid in sixth grade’s house. In order to achieve that modest goal, they have to avoid getting grounded, dodge teen girl bullies, try their first sips of (room temperature) beer, and maintain their solidarity as a unit even though they’re clearly outgrowing the friendship that binds them. The details of the obstacles that stand in their way can be outrageously broad, leaning into the tweens-confronted-with-sex-drugs-and-violence humor promised in the ads. Their goals & circumstances remain aggressively minor, however, and much of the humor reflects how the least meaningful bullshit imaginable means everything to you at that age, because the world you occupy is so small & inconsequential.

There’s an intelligently mapped-out relationship dynamic maintained between the three titular boys as their meaningless, go-nowhere adventure shakes their friendship to its core. Jacob Tremblay stars as the loverboy heartthrob of the group, the only one who has an active interest in reaching the kissing party destination. Keith L. Williams & Brady Noon co-star as the angel & devil on his shoulders, respectively, staging a constant moral-compass tug-of-war that steers his focus away from his girl-kissing objective with distractions like Doing the Right Thing and Searching for Beer. Of course, even the most wicked of the trio isn’t all that maliciously evil in the grand scheme of human morality. Not only are these children too young to get into too much trouble; they’re also from a nicer, more considerate generation that’s being raised with a less toxic model of a masculine norm. If we’re comparing this film to Superbad, it’s impossible to not notice how much sweeter, more vulnerable, and more aware of the value of Enthusiastic Consent these children are compared to the generations who preceded them. Superbad is often praised for its final emotional grace notes shared between teen-boy friends who’ve struggled to maintain a tough masculine exterior throughout their entire gettin’-laid adventures, to the detriment of their relationship. Here, the earnest vulnerability & emotional grace notes are constant & genuine from frame one, providing some much-needed hope for the men of the future.

If you’re looking to Good Boys for broad jokes about children doing cusses and failing to differentiate what is and what is not a sex toy, the movie is more than happy to supply them. And those jokes are funny too! They’re just not all that’s going on. I won’t say this film is better constructed or more emotionally satisfying than its fellow 2019 Superbad revision Booksmart (with which it shares a Run the Jewels needle drop and a goofball-dad performance from Will Forte), but I do think it equally clarifies what makes the earnest generation of youngsters growing up right now so unique & promising while also garnering more guffaws-per-minute on a joke efficiency scale. As a pair, the two films work well in signaling that the kids are alright, a refreshing sentiment in a mainstream comedy landscape that likes to stigmatize Gen-Z as #triggered #snowflakes (while also often miscategorizing them as Millennials for some reason). It also proves that you can participate in that open-hearted earnestness without sacrificing the horned-up raunch and deliberately offensive edginess everyone pretends is disappearing from mainstream comedy in these supposed “safe space” times. You’re just no longer tolerated for being an inhumane dickhole while doing so. Be better. Be a good boy.

-Brandon Ledet