Long Shot (2019)

In a lot of ways, the Seth Rogen/Charlize Theron two-hander Long Shot is a traditional, by the books romcom. Two socially mismatched idealists spark an unlikely romance after a chance meeting in the first act, then gradually learn to be more like each other through the ups & downs of their early months together (most romcoms bail before the real work of building a relationship starts, once that early emotional rush cools down). It’s arguable that Seth Rogen’s overgrown stoner-bro humor is a little out of place in that context, but the Apatow style of modern comedies where he cut his teeth were basically just romcoms with some lagniappe improv takes, so even that influence isn’t much of a subversion. If you find it comforting to watch two characters fall in love over a series of quippy one-liners and farcical misunderstandings, Long Shot is more than willing to deliver the formulaic romcom goods, building an amiable romance between two adorable leads with oddly believable chemistry. What’s really interesting about the film is how it manages to pull that off while discussing something most formulaic romcoms actively avoid: politics.

Charlize Theron plays a US Secretary of State who’s poised to make her first presidential bid in an upcoming election. Against the guidance of her campaign advisors, she hires Seth Rogen as her speech writer for the early stages of the campaign trail – both because she respects his leftist idealism and because she thinks he’s cute. In apolitical romcom tradition, the unlikely couple inspire each other to edge closer towards the political center from their extremist starting points. Theron relearns to stick to her guns ideologically without giving up too much in political compromise, while Rogen learns that compromise & reaching across the aisle are sometimes necessary to accomplish larger goals. It’s a relatively safe, careful approach to modern politics – an arena defined by increasingly violent extremes. As such, the movie leaves little room to make clearly stated, concrete political points without risking the fun-for-everyone charm of romcoms. Its only clear political stances are detectable in Theron’s campaign platform that centers The Environment, and in the way working in the news media spotlight is unfairly difficult for her as a woman. As far as modern political topics go, gendered scrutiny & saving the trees are about as safe as the movie could have played it, and you can feel it struggling with how political is too political for a romcom when addressing nearly every other topic.

One major way Long Shot avoids alienating half of its audience with its political stances is avoiding declaring which political parties it’s actually talking about from scene to scene. Theron’s environmentalist crusade and the feminist lens through which she views media coverage of her public persona both suggest that she’s a registered Democrat, but the movie is careful to never make that association explicit. Her role as Secretary of State is in service of a bumbling president (Bob Odenkirk) who is even more amorphous in his declared politics. Neither Democrat nor Republican (at least not explicitly) Odenkirk is a cipher for more universally acceptable jokes about how all politicians are more obsessed with celebrity than policy and how they’re all corrupt goons in lobbyists’ pockets. The only time I can recall the words “Democrat” or “Republican” being verbally acknowledged in the film is when Rogen is mocked for being horrified by the revelation that his best friend (O’Shea Jackson Jr.) is a member of the GOP, when he supposedly should be willing to find common political ground with his best bud. That’s a tough pill to swallow in a time when Republicans are actively trying to outlaw abortion access and in a time when, as acknowledged in the film’s opening gag, many “Conservatives” are literal Nazis hiding in plain sight. Still, it’s the only position the film can really take without risking its traditional romcom cred.

For a more daring example of how the romcom template can productively clash with modern politics, the Jenny Slate vehicle Obvious Child is commendable in the way it plays with the genre’s tropes while also frankly discussing Pro-Choice stances on reproductive rights. The closest Long Shot gets to saying something specific & potentially alienating about modern politics is in its parodies of Fox News media coverage (complete with Andy Serkis posing as a hideous prosthetics-monster version of Rupert Murdoch), which is a joke that writes itself. The difference there is that Obvious Child is a subversion of the romcom template, one that nudges the genre closer to an indie drama sensibility. By contrast, Long Shot is more of an earnest participation in the genuine thing. It is, for better or for worse, a formulaic romcom – with all the charming interpersonal relationships & tiptoeing political rhetoric that genre implies. I can say for sure that the romantic chemistry between Theron & Rogen works completely. The gamble of bringing modern politics into an inherently apolitical genre template is a little less decidedly successful, but at least makes for an interesting tension between form & content.

-Brandon Ledet

Podcast Movie Report: Detective Pikachu (2019) & Long Shot (2019)

For this week’s new-releases podcast report, Brandon and CC discuss the last two movies they caught in theaters: the live-action pokénoir Detective Pikachu (2019) & the unusually political romcom Long Shot (2019). Enjoy!

You can stay up to date with our podcast through SoundCloud, Spotify, iTunes, Stitcher, TuneIn, or by following the links on this page.

-CC Chapman & Brandon Ledet

Unexpected Horror in the Romance Novelist Rom-Coms She-Devil (1989) & The Boyfriend School (1990)

While we were discussing September’s Movie of the Month, the Steve Guttenberg/Jami Gertz will-they-won’t-they comedy from Hell The Boyfriend School, we had a hard time pinning down the film’s exact genre. Ostensibly a traditional rom-com, the film had some painfully awkward stretches of cringe comedy that clouded the issue. Even stranger yet, the romance novelist character played by Shelley Long was a terrifying, overbearing presence that overstepped her bounds as a quirky sister/side-character & ventured into some truly horrific torture-tactics territory. Her meddling was at least somewhat well-intentioned; she wanted to help her brother, played by Guttenberg, recover from a near-fatal battle with Hodgkin’s lymphoma (told you it gets rough) by reshaping him into an alpha male biker trope straight out of one of her romance novels. The problem is that the transformation is emotionally painful for The Gutte & it leads to a really nasty line of deception that he finds difficult to escape once the ball gets rolling. Shelley Long’s romance novelist is the source of all the film’s non-Hodgkin’s related conflict & creates an amped up level of dread that’s not typically present in a traditional, lighthearted rom-com, making for one very strange little movie.

While The Boyfriend School isn’t exceptionally unique in its genre play that takes dimestore romance novel tropes into unexpected territory, it is at the very least part of a small crowd. Perhaps the most well-known romance novel-themed comedies are the Robert Zemeckis films Romancing the Stone & its little-loved sequel Jewel of the Nile, but those are more oriented towards action comedy (as is typical with Zemeckis) than the unusual discomfort & horror of The Boyfriend School. I could only find one picture that explores unexpected horror in a romance novel-themed romcom similar to the dread Shelley Long’s meddling creates in The Boyfriend School. 1989’s She-Devil, an underloved gem starring Meryl Streep, Roseanne Barr, and Ed Begley Jr., injects a surreal sense of horror into the romcom format, at the same time making sure to lampoon the very idea of romance novels, as well as the illusion & cruelty of unfair beauty standards and the competitive wedges that are driven between women who would benefit much more from a sense of camaraderie. She-Devil may, in fact, be a far supreior film than The Boyfriend School, because its writing is so pointed & satirical that its horror can only be read as intentional, whereas the terror of The Boyfriend School sometimes seems to exist outside what the film’s creators intended. I assume that we were supposed to leave The Boyfriend School feeling great that The Gutte got the girl, but I was honestly more in a state of shock & disbelief than anything, whereas in She-Devil the horror element is promised right there in the title.

She-Devil stars Roseanne Barr in the titular role as a frumpy housewife who goes on a violent quest for revenge when her husband leaves her for a wealthy romance novelist played by Meryl Streep. Streep reveals herself to be hilariously adept at playing the butt of the joke here & the movie has a field day poking fun at her in a much more obvious way than The Boyfriend School attacks Shelley Long’s very similar antagonist. First introduced as “The Reigning Royal Highness of Romance” by none other than Lifestyles of the Rich & Famous‘ Robin Leach (who also provides voice over work for the film’s trailer), Streep’s bodice-ripping novelist Mary Fisher is a genteel bore with more than thirty novels to her name, a boy toy butler who does more boytoying than butling, and a vast fortune she vainly tries to enjoy despite her crippling loneliness. In a very early plot development, she seduces the husband of Roseanne’s housewife frump (played by Ed Begley, Jr.) under the guise of hiring him as her accountant. Begley’s accountant is hilariously dedicated to seeing the world in terms of his profession, constantly making offhand remarks about electric bills, tax writeoffs, and balanced checkbooks whenever a vague opportunity arises. When he finally breaks things off with his wife (who was knowingly, but patiently suffering through his adultery) he describes himself as having four assets in life (his home, his family, his career, and his freedom) & exactly one liability: her. That alone would be cruel enough, but he punctuates the conversation with this ugly diatribe: “You’re a bad mother, a lousy wife, and a terrible cook. In fact, have you looked in a mirror recently? I don’t even think you’re a woman. Do you know what you are? You’re a she-devil!”

Watching Roseanne’s much-humiliated wife suffer through this indignity is a horrifying moment, something the film is smart to immediately acknowledge. After her husband’s abusive tirade a visible change takes place in her. She turns to her make-up mirrors, which provide an amusing sort of fun house effect, and Mario Bava-esque horror movie lighting takes over the screen. She’s shown with glowing red eyes & accompanied by fire. Her transformation into the titular She-Devil is very much the kind of classic horror movie theatrics you’d expect to accompany the birth of the Frankenstein monster. This is also when the mood of the film shifts. No longer feeling loyal to a man that has taken her for granted, the She-Devil systematically destroys every one of her husband’s assets (his home, his family, his carreer, his freedom) until he’s broken down to a literal prisoner & not even Mary Fisher wants to pick at the crumbs. To her credit, the She-Devil does not attack Mary Fisher directly, although she does have wicked thoughts about her, like “I hope your pink palace crumbles into the sea. I hope your delicate white skin breaks out in hives and your shiny blond hair falls out at the root.” Instead, she attacks the verbally abusive, adulterous man that takes advantage of both Fisher & herself and even goes as far as to start an employment agency that gives all of the other disenfranchised, unglamorous, non-Mary Fishers of the world a chance to stand up for themselves in a society that’s systemically stacked against them.

Despite the horror movie lighting & the “She-Devil” moniker she’s awarded, Roseanne’s protagonist is actually pretty inspiring. Even though she’s presented in the context of becoming a monster, her transformation makes for a subtly feminist revenge-fantasy spin on the romcom genre that feels almost like a spiritual opposite of the deception & violation that’s played for uncomfortable laughs in The Boyfriend School. Unlike The Boyfriend School, She-Devil adopts a woman’s POV and has pointed things to say about sexual politics & the nature of romance novels as an art & a product (at one point calling them “nothing more than softcore porn for bored housewives”) that extend beyond the basic jab that they’re silly. When a woman complains in the film that, “Men get away with murder, you know. It seems like if you’re a woman, there’s just no justice in the world” the evil She-Devil of the title refuses to accept those terms & (gasp!) makes her own justice. The horror! Besides these thematic charms there’s also some great visual playfulness, like direct references to Psycho & What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?, a scene transition that cuts from a blowjob to a violent cucumber chopping, and a brief appearance from GLOW: The Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling. Both The Boyfriend School & She-Devil subvert the romance novel genre by portraying it as a horror show (it’s surprisingly rare that it’s portrayed in rom-coms at all), but The Boyfriend School‘s subversion feels cruel & unintentional while She-Devil‘s is much more winkingly transgressive. They make for an interesting double feature either way, one with much more terror & discomfort than you’d expect from a pair of late 80s rom-coms.

For more on September’s Movie of the Month, 1990’s The Boyfriend School, check out our Swampchat discussion of the film.

-Brandon Ledet

Movie of the Month: The Boyfriend School (1990)

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Every month one of us makes the rest of the crew watch a movie they’ve never seen before & we discuss it afterwards. This month Britnee made Brandon and (newcomers) Erin & Boomer watch The Boyfriend School (1990).

Britnee: As a fan of uncomfortably terrible films, I was more than excited to select The Boyfriend School (aka Don’t Tell Her It’s Me) for September’s Movie of the Month. This is a film that was washed away with the other thousands of unsuccessful romantic comedies of the late 1980’s and early 1990’s, but it’s truly a diamond in the rough. What makes The Boyfriend School stand out from the rest is, well, just about everything. The film’s cast includes the crème de la crème of chintzy actors: Steve Guttenberg, Shelley Long, Jami Gertz, and Kyle MacLachlan. Who can resist a line-up like that? Throw in a crap ton of cringe worthy, knee-slapping moments, and you have one hell of a movie.

The film follows the sad, sad life of Gus Kubicek (Guttenberg), a depressed cartoon artist that just won a battle against Hodgkin’s disease. His overbearing sister, Lizzie (Long), is a romance novelist, and she is disturbingly obsessed with getting him a girlfriend. She decides to prey on a young journalist, Emily (Gertz), and attempts to force Emily and Gus to become a couple. It’s extremely difficult to sit through the first half of this film without doing a couple of facepalms. Every ounce of Gus’s embarrassment and humiliation seeps from the screen and into your soul, and just when you think it can’t get any worse, it does. Lizzie creates a persona for Gus, and he morphs from a chubby, hairless Average Joe into a hunky biker from New Zealand named Lobo Marunga. Guttenberg ends up looking like Mad Max and George Michael’s love child, and it’s absolutely amazing.

Brandon, what are your feelings on the love story between Gus and Emily? Should she have ran after him or away from him?

Brandon: Discomfort is certainly the story at the heart of this film & Emily The Love Interest had so, so many discomforting reasons to run away from Gus that the movie was honestly pretty gutsy to go for the traditional romcom ending at the airport than the much more appropriate option of a murder-suicide. At the risk of spoiling a decades old Steve Guttenberg vehicle for anyone who could possibly care, let’s get this out of the way: Gus violated Emily. He doesn’t come clean about not being Lobo until the morning after they slept together. That’s pretty fucked. The only time Emily met Gus as himself he was in full Uncle Fester cosplay (because of the cancer, God help our souls) and the two of them were force-fed jellyfish salad (a dish Emily humorously describes as “chewy tears”) in a scene that makes Shelley Long’s character out to be less of a romance novelist & more of a torturer whose techniques rival those of Vlad the Impaler or the Holy Inquisition. Even if Emily saw something in Gus through the façade of Lobo Marunga, she should at least have ran far away to escape his sister’s evil clutches.

The strange thing is that even though Gus is a certifiable monster for not coming clean before doing the deed, it’s still difficult not to feel bad for him because he starts the film as a visible monster. In the opening scenes Gus is a Hunchback of Notre Dame type who’s locked himself away in his seaside cabin to draw cartoons & die alone so his Jack Russell terrier can pick at his bones. It very well may have been his sister that motivated him to win his battle with cancer, but she uses his extra time on Earth to remind him of how sad & ugly the disease has made him as a means to try to whip him back into shape & “get himself out there”. No one comes across looking good in this exchange. Gus is is a horrifying shell of a man. His sister is a Type A sociopath who takes great glee in playing God. Emily is an astute journalist who can’t figure out that this dude (that she has met before) who is most definitely not from New Zealand is not from New Zealand. There are very few traces of dignity or humanity to be found in this film & the resulting cringe fest is oddly fascinating.

Erin, am I exaggerating here? Is this kind of absence of dignity or recognizable humanity normal for a romcom or does The Boyfriend School push the pained awkwardness into unusually morbid territory?

Erin: I have got to agree that this movie definitely pushed the boundaries of taste, even for a self-consciously cheesy romcom.  I’d almost categorize it as a cringe comedy, instead.  I can only hope that the actors protested their roles in this wreck of a movie.  It’s set in a strange and unrealistic world, a caricature of a reality populated by caricatures.  Yes.  Undignified and inhuman and inhumane.  The most real character is Annabelle, Gus’s toddler niece, who has a speech delay and has somehow survived Lizzie’s negligent and neurotic parenting.

Maybe we’re missing something with this movie, or there was a disagreement between the editing team and the director.  If the movie as watched is the intended product, then The Boyfriend School might be a comprehensible work if the watcher forgets the romantic comedy genre and watches it as an exploration of the universe of romance novels.  It has all of the hallmarks of a trashy novel: unrealistic universe mechanics, tragic back stories, completely unbelievable plot turns, romantically picturesque settings, unethical sexual encounters . . .

Boomer, what do you think? Were we mislead by marketing?  Is there any redeeming quality to be found at all in this movie?

Boomer: It took me nearly a week to track down a copy of this movie, and the copy that I did find was the kind of bare-bones affair rushed onto the market in the early days of  DVD to fluff up home video collections; in fact, it has one solitary “special” feature: the theatrical trailer, which I watched before the movie, out of habit. I’m not sure if it was the American market trailer, since it features the alternate title, Don’t Tell Her It’s Me, but the narrative outlined in the promo recapitulates the film’s plot fairly well: unlucky man is made over into a precognitive Dog the Bounty Hunter cosplayer by his sister in order to win the heart of the girl of his dreams. The trailer does make Kyle McLachlan’s Trout character out to be more of an innocent in the end of his relationship, rather than the two dimensional cuckolder that he is in the film, and it fails to show that Gus will end up, as Brandon notes, violating Emily; the marketing is pretty straightforward in broad strokes and (mostly) in the details. At the end of the movie, I thought to myself, “Yes, that was certainly a movie.” The 1990s were the decade of the romcom, a short period in which so many films of the genre were made that the concept itself was subject to so much dilution and derivativeness that Meg Ryan went from starring in such straightforward love stories as falling for a rival storeowner in a remake of The Shop Around the Corner to being swept off her feet by angels and handsome timelost scientific pioneers (that was actually 2001, but you get the picture). As a cultural artifact, The Boyfriend School is charming in its simplicity and straightforwardness, if not necessarily in its subject matter.

As Emily says to Lizzie near the end of the film, the former hates the latter in the abstract, but can’t hate her in the flesh. I would wager that this is true of virtually any character played by Shelley Long; she’s just an intensely likable actress with a great sense of comic timing, and it’s hard to be certain that the enjoyment I got out of this movie would have been present without her. Long brings an effervescent effusiveness to a role that would likely play as more malicious had Lizzie been portrayed by another actress. Jami Gertz is also quite charming here, despite the fact that her character is paper-thin. During the time it takes Gus to grow a full head of hair, learn to poorly impersonate a Kiwi, lose those horrible face prosthetics that are supposed to simulate illness, and sweat off all the cotton stuffed around his waistline, what do we see Emily doing? Shaving her legs. We don’t see anything of her relationship with Trout, or her working on a different story (at one point Gus does read an article of hers about snakehandling, the first paragraph of which is actually about that religious practice, while the rest is advertising copy about desktop publishing software–great job there, propmaster), and yet I felt her character was likable in her sweetness, if a bit obtuse, even before the film felt the need to go full Liz Lemon with her mud-sprayed, torn dress airport run. Even Gus, a handsome creep played with discomfiting ease by Guttenberg, comes off as hatable in the abstract but not the flesh, and, to his credit, Gus is only at Emily’s the night of the violation to come clean about his double identity, although he stops putting forth an effort on this front almost immediately, for the sake of plot contrivance.

If anything, it was the tight plotting of this movie that struck me as a pleasant surprise, especially in a film with such low stakes, so to speak. In contrast to a lot of the romcoms that followed in the next ten or so years, there’s not a single wasted line or moment, and there are a lot of subtle touches and ironies that I found to be inspired, or at least novel. The film introduces the “Unkow” clue and the fact that Lizzie’s dog only likes Gus early in the movie, with a kind of deft subtlety that belies the over-the-top facade of a somewhat high concept story. Lizzie is constantly trying to impress upon Anabelle the potential consequences of her adorable but dangerous random childlike actions, but she fails to foresee the consequences of her own meddling in things that she shouldn’t. She even mentions that she has to get Gus to the metaphorical last page of the bodice-ripping romance she’s constructing in her mind; for her, what matters is getting to that final paragraph of sexual conquest, and what happens afterwards is irrelevant because, in her novels, nothing happens next. It’s a formulaic, cookie-cutter movie, but with the kind of foreshadowing and payoff that you wouldn’t expect from a movie sharing shelf space with other forgettable fare like Something to Talk About, Addicted to Love, or Simply Irresistible (why were so many of these movies named after songs, anyway?).

Anyway, I’ve rambled long enough about a movie that’s, by and large, pretty inconsequential, despite featuring a brief scene between Beth Grant and a life-size demonstration doll with questionably accurate anatomy. What about you, Britnee? How do you see this film fitting into the milieu that was the romcom ocean of last millennium’s last years? Is it a precursor, a relic, or a non-starter?


Britnee:
Even though I really enjoy this film (for all the wrong reasons), I would have to say that when compared to the romcom scene of the 90s, it’s nothing more than a dud. The film does try hard to be great by playing on the popular “don’t judge a book by its cover” love story, where the nerd gets the hot girl in the end, but as we all know, it leans more towards being a psycho in disguise horror-type film. What really hurt this film (among other things) and caused it to be a romcom failure was the hard-to-believe romance between Gus and Emily. You can’t have a solid romantic comedy without the romance. When she initially meets Gus as himself, she has no romantic or friendly feelings for him, and Gus merely makes a few compliments on her “playboy model” looks. What causes him to go after Emily is his twisted sister, who pushes him to win Emily’s heart for her own sick pleasure. A couple of heartfelt exchanges after Lizzie’s disastrous dinner would’ve made all the difference. Even when Gus becomes Lobo, there still doesn’t seem to be much going on between the two. None of Gus’s personality shines through in his Lobo character. He does have a couple of vocal slipups, but he doesn’t give Emily a reason to fall for him, which really ruins the creditability of the “romantic” ending scene. He violated her and she didn’t really care for him to begin with, so why is she going after him? Big mistake. Huge.

I first came across this film on late-night cable, and the main reason I tuned in was because I noticed that Shelley Long’s name was in the TV Guide description. I’m a huge Shelley Long fan, so I wasn’t going to miss this one. Strangely enough, it wasn’t Shelley that won me over; it was Guttenberg’s horrible New Zealander caricature. In real life, Guttenberg looks, sounds, and acts like someone who would own a candy shop or run a summer camp, so seeing him head to toe in leather, whispering to himself, “I am Lobo. I hunt alone. I need no one,” is beyond hilarious. Even when he’s plain old Gus, there’s just something about his signature Guttenberg mannerisms that make the character unforgettable.

Brandon, do you think Guttenberg did well in his role as Lobo/Gus? Does he contribute this film’s failure or is he without blame?

Brandon: Here’s where I have to cop to genuinely enjoying Steve Guttenberg. It helps that I am just a few years too young to remember a time when he was this unlikely, but oddly ubiquitous leading man that was legally required to star in every movie offered to him no matter the quality. I have the fortunate position of remembering The Gutte as an odd cultural footnote. It’s fascinating to me to see him play parts like the mayor with a secret on Veronica Mars or the pot-smoking DJ in the Village People movie or even his own charming self on Party Down. He’s not a particularly versatile actor, but he is a pleasantly goofy one. Somewhere along the line, I’ve somehow learned to love The Gutte, God help me.

I think that’s why it hurts so damn much to see him in the cancer survivor Uncle Fester make-up, the embarrassing leather daddy New Zealander chaps, and the lowly position of Shelley Long’s whipping boy in The Boyfriend School. I felt as if the film were a punishment someone was putting Guttenberg through to atone for the sins of his mid 80s omnipresence. Throughout the endless parade of embarrassments (especially in the first half of the film), my brain was screaming “This is Hell! This is Hell! Set him free!” The Gutte may not have been exactly deserving of his ludicrously overblown success, but surely this punishment was a little rough for even him. Y’all were right to call The Boyfriend School out for being more of a cringe comedy or a psycho in disguise horror than a romcom, but I find it also plays like an act of penance. Even in the film’s trailer, which Boomer mentioned earlier, where the Gutte is talking directly to the camera (looking like his normal, healthy, non-Kiwi self for longer than he does in the entire film), I can feel the menacing presence of someone slightly off-screen holding a gun to his head & pointing at the cue cards.

Erin, do you think it’s time that we as a society let Steve Guttenberg back into our hearts? Now that he’s served his time in the squalid prison of The Boyfriend School, what kinds of roles (if any) would you like to see him play?

Erin: I can understand how The Gutte earned his spot in the limelight – his completely non-threatening, boy-next-door good looks, his passable skill with goofy comedy, and his string of not-too-terrible 80s movies.  Not to discredit what I’m sure was lots of work, but it seems like The Gutte benefited a bit from right-place-right-time syndrome.

His current career has been hit and miss . . . well, actually, after appearing in Veronica Mars ten years ago, mostly miss.  His latest credit seems to be for Lavalantula.  If you are thinking that this is a move about giant and horrifying lava spewing tarantulas, then you are absolutely correct.  Could it be a hidden gem in the land of self-aware, poorly produced B movies?  Could it be the movie we’ve all been waiting for to watch at 3:00 am while eating a whole bag of pizza rolls?  Maybe.  But probably not.

I’d love to see Steve Guttenberg reclaim his career with a well produced family comedy (The Gutte as a slightly befuddled dad? Sure!), then maybe take on slightly more adult dark comedy roles that explore the world of the aging baby-boomers as they navigate a world vastly different from their heyday.  The Gutte takes on Tinder and deals with the death of his close friends?  Is that past The Gutte’s range?  I’d like to think not.

Boomer, do you see any room in our current movie environment for a Gutte-back?  Are his current roles due to some fault in talent, natural Hollywood career trajectory, or are we simply seeing a man taking the projects that make him happy?

Boomer: There is something to be said for Guttenberg’s natural charm. I, too, remember his sinister turn on Veronica Mars as yet another in a long line of adults who couldn’t be trusted, a wealthy man whose privilege made him feel above morality; somehow, this role felt well suited for him, despite his charm in movies like Police Academy, the Three Men and a Little X flicks and even, God help me, Cocoon. As an actor, he has a charisma that helps him sell characters that are despicable, either intentionally (as on Mars) or unintentionally (as in The Boyfriend School). Earlier, I praised Long, saying that another actress in the role would have made Lizzie seem more sinister, but that dubious accolade could be ascribed to Guttenberg just as easily, and his contribution to making Gus likable in spite of the character’s flaws can’t really be ignored.

Which is not to say that I’m suffering from a lack of Guttenberg in my life, at least not in the way that I miss seeing Shelley Long in vehicles that show off her charm (her occasional appearances on Modern Family notwithstanding). But I could stand to see him in something new. He could put in an appearance as relatively obscure character given new prominence in an upcoming Marvel film, for instance; there’s no dearth of those coming out, and it could give him the visibility he needs to resurrect his career. Personally, I think I’d like to see him in a role more like Michael Keaton’s in Birdman, where he tackles a thinly veiled version of one of his former characters in a serious, postmodern way. The Boyfriend Academy, perhaps? Or maybe Three Men and a Divorcee? If the Vacation movies aren’t sacred, perhaps nothing is.

Lagniappe

Brandon: When I said earlier that there’s very little humanity for the audience to identify with in this film, I may have been selling Gus’ aforementioned, nonverbal niece Annabelle a little short.  Known to her mother by the hideously cruel nickname “Piglet”, Annabelle is a bizarre collection of quirks just like every other character in the film, but she does have the very relatable impulse to escape the confines of The Boyfriend School‘s sadistic universe (and the evil clutches of Shelley Long) by ending her own life. Whether she’s shoving metal into electrical sockets or ingesting toxic household products, I totally understand Piglet’s desire to leave a world that can be this unkind to a man as simple and as goofy as The Gutte. Thank you for speaking up for the audience, Piglet, (even if you couldn’t use your words) when you repeatedly asked that they shuffle off this cruelest of mortal coils.

Britnee: Something I forgot to mention in the Swampchat was the short, strange appearance of zydeco music in the film. Shortly after Gus enrolls in Lizzie’s “boyfriend school” and starts getting into shape, all the fun 80s film pop is set aside to allow a few minutes of zydeco. Watching Guttenberg run to zydeco made my little Cajun heart very happy, but it really threw me for a loop. It was such a weird choice of music for a running scene, but I guess I shouldn’t be all that surprised because, afterall, this is a weird movie. A weird movie with a little heart and loads of discomfort.

Boomer: I was surprised to learn that the screenwriter of The Boyfriend School, Sara Bird, was also the author of the book on which the film was based, and she was named by The Austin Statesman as Austin’s best author in 2011. It’s hard to conceptualize that this accolade could be applied when School is, overall, a fairly mediocre movie, but I can see that the tight plotting of the film probably mirrors a more complex structure in the original novel. That having been said, this film gave us Beth Grant tonguing a lifesize mannequin, so it’s not without some value. I probably never would have seen this movie were it not for this Swampchat, and I can’t say that it changed my life, but it did give me a new perspective on the genre, so I’d have to say I appreciated the opportunity to view this little oddity.

Erin:  The Boyfriend School is definitely a strange movie.  I think that it definitely seems like a novel in the characterization and pacing.  Purely speculation, but I think that some of the creepiness would be mitigated if presented in written form since we would be able to understand some of the thought processes of the characters.  It’s actually pretty interesting for a self-referential trashy movie.

Upcoming Movie of the Months
October: Erin presents Innocent Blood (1992)
November: Boomer presents The Class of 1999 (1989)
December: Brandon presents The Independent (2000)

-The Swampflix Crew

Trainwreck (2015)

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fourhalfstar

Trainwreck is a weird movie. Culturally, we are no longer standing on the threshold of a new era in which comedy, especially raunchy comedy, is the domain of men—but we haven’t finished crossing into that new world on the other side, either. It’s likely we’ve all heard the story about how Amy Poehler took a definitive stance against subliminal sexism in the SNL writers’ room stating that she was there to be funny, not cute; we all know how Bridesmaids was a huge hit that surprised our dudebro friends who thought that women couldn’t be funny or gross, and how that opened the door for fare like Trainwreck (I personally prefer the widely-reviled The Sweetest Thing for its uninhibited provocativeness, but that’s neither here nor there). Comedy Central, formerly the home of media catering exclusively to douches and douches in training, now features transgressive shows like Key & Peele, Another Period, and Broad City, helmed by and starring women and people of color in the timeslots that used to feature Adam Corolla and Jimmy Kimmel mocking little people and ogling women on trampolines. Sure, Daniel Tosh still finds his home there, but he’s old news now, and I’d be surprised if Tosh.0 exists beyond 2017. And, of course, that’s where Amy Schumer’s series airs.

Inside Amy Schumer, recently having completed its third season, is easily one of the most insightful and thoughtful shows on air. A sketch comedy show featuring interstitial footage from Schumer’s stand-up routines, the show has skewered toxic patriarchy and the roles women are forced to play in society, from a sketch in which various successful women in STEM fields participate in a panel in which none of them can stop apologizing, portraying the way women are trained to be “sorry” about everything, to the now viral sketch parodying Friday Night Lights to address the issue of sexual violence against young women, at once targeting both rape culture and the deification of high school athletics culture, and the intersectionality between these two social problems. My personal favorite is the sketch in which Amy’s character attempts to play the military first-person-shooter that her boyfriend is obsessed with; she selects to play as a woman, and said video game avatar is immediately the victim of sexual assault. When given the opportunity to report the assault, the game’s narrator attempts to talk her out of doing so, asking “Did you know he has a family?” The pixelated assailant is convicted at court martial, but his commanding officer disregards the ruling while Amy’s soldier character is relegated to a lifetime of paperwork in retribution. Amy complains to the boyfriend, who runs off to check the message boards; they say nothing about this situation, so he declares she must have played incorrectly somehow. The sketch takes aim at so many things at once, it’s almost hard to keep track: the pervasiveness of sexual assault against women in the American armed forces, the horrible manner in which these women have their careers destroyed for reporting their assaults, the insular toxic “just us boys” attitude that permeates video game culture (the fact that the assault is a de facto result of playing as a woman, coupled the fact that there is no discussion of this gameplay mechanic online, implies that Amy is the first person to actually choose to play as a woman), and the act of “mansplaining.” Given how much of Schumer’s body of work takes aim at the absurdity and darkness of phallocentric culture and mocking that culture’s paradigms, it’s a surprise that Trainwreck follows such a standard romcom formula, albeit one populated by more colorful characters than is the norm.

The film opens with a flashback to the young Amy and her sister, Kim, being given a lecture by their father (Colin Quinn) about how monogamy is an unrealistic expectation, complete with an analogy about only being allowed to play with one doll for the rest of one’s life, especially when you occasionally want to play with a stewardess doll or the best friend of your main doll. As an adult, Amy embraces this philosophy, engaging in a series of one-night sexual encounters with various men with the caveat that she never sleeps over and never becomes emotionally attached. She’s also sleeping consistently with Steve (John Cena), who is completely oblivious to the closet that he’s living in, although this “relationship,” such as it is, comes to an end fairly early in the film’s running time when he discovers that Amy is not sleeping with him exclusively. Amy works for men’s magazine S’Nuff, where her boss, Diana (a perfect-as-always Tilda Swinton), assigns her to work on a story about sports doctor Aaron Conners (Bill Hader), and implies that Amy is up for an editor position.

The film’s most emotionally and comedically satisfying scenes, however, center around Amy’s relationship with her family. Amy’s father has recently been admitted to assisted living due to deteriorating health. He’s a Mets-obsessed alcoholic with a heart of copper, and Amy has an amicable spiritual kinship with him, despite the fact that her sister resents him for his outdated bigotry and the way that his infidelity broke up their family when she and Amy were kids. Kim (Brie Larson, always a delightful screen presence) is now married to the incredibly dorky Tom (Mike Birbiglia) and has a young stepson (Evan Brinkman) whose fascination with esoteric miscellany Amy finds annoying. Both male characters are odd in a way that the audience can’t help but find endearing and charming despite the fact that Amy finds them, and the culturally normative lifestyle they represent in spite of their individual eccentricities, off-putting. Kim is genuinely happy with her family unit, soon to include a new baby; she also tries to convince Amy that she, too, will one day find fulfillment in embracing the narrative of domesticity. Amy’s having none of that… at first.

The plot outline of the romcom is nothing new, and there haven’t been many tweaks to the idea since the genre crystallized into a single formula as part of the Meg Ryan oeuvre. Woman is in an unfulfilling or boring relationship; this relationship ends, and Woman dedicates herself to the abstract art of self-understanding or focusing on her career; despite her protestations, Woman’s Friend or Friends manage to put her in a situation where she meets Love Interest; Woman falls for Love Interest, but forced drama and farcical misunderstandings push the two apart; finally, one party makes a grand sweeping gesture to demonstrate their love for the other party, they kiss, fin.

Since watching Trainwreck, a movie that I unabashedly enjoyed and found riotously funny, I’ve spent a great deal of time meditating on the ways that Schumer’s script managed to find something novel and original in that formula and exploring those nooks and crannies to mine for comedy gold—at least in the first hour. Like Greg Kinnear in You’ve Got Mail (and Bill Pullman in Sleepless in Seattle, Liev Schrieber in Kate & Leopold, etc.), Cena’s Steve is a disposable love interest. Unlike his genre forbears, however, he does fulfill Amy in the only way she cares about, and he extricates himself from her life not in order for a new love to bloom, but because he can’t feel secure in their relationship (and because he’s totally, totally gay). He also elaborates on Amy’s apparent flaws, and that’s where my confusion about the film’s thesis lies; Amy likes to drink and smoke pot and have noncommittal sex, and anyone familiar with Schumer’s comedy knows that she views these activities as lacking moral or ethical components. Who cares if someone’s taking puffs off of a one-hitter during a pretentious indie movie called The Dogwalker, as long as it’s not hurting anyone? Right? But her inability to communicate with Steve because she is stoned does hurt him. And, at the end of the movie, she gives her liquor and drug paraphernalia away in order to take the next step in her life and commit to her love for Aaron, implying that being a pothead really was a character flaw, and not just a characteristic.

I’m not really sure what to make of this. For the last hour of the film, I kept expecting some twist to occur that would further subvert the tropes of the genre the way that the first hour had–maybe Aaron and Amy don’t end up together, or some other variation from the romcom norm. Instead, after Amy meets Aaron and falls into a relationship with him in spite of her misgivings about a heteronormative monogamous lifestyle, the formula plays out fairly standardly. There is something new about the way that the friction between the breeding couple comes not from lies (Amy makes no apologies for or attempts to hide her party-hard lifestyle) or misunderstandings, but from slowly building unspoken resentment of Amy’s choices on Aaron’s part and Amy’s struggles with grief over her father’s death, but this alone isn’t enough to mitigate the predictability of that final scene where Woman and Love Interest declare their love for each other. There’s just something about it that doesn’t feel like it was created by the same Amy Schumer who spent an entire episode of her show appropriating the structure of 12 Angry Men to satirize the way American men are socialized to treat women as sex objects, regardless of the lack of an inherent connection between talent and conformity to a particular beauty ideal.

Don’t get me wrong: this is a funny movie, probably the funniest I’ve seen in theaters in years. The comedy is sometimes broad, sometimes particular, always insightful, and biting; the relationships between Amy and her father and Amy and Kim are emotionally resonant in ways that are superior to most dramas. I just can’t help feeling a little let down because the movie wasn’t as iconoclastic or transgressive as I wanted it to be. It’s not an “anti-romcom,” it’s a romcom that’s smarter, funnier, and more inventive than its predecessors–but it’s a romcom nonetheless. That’s not a negation of the film’s inventiveness, but it is an accurate assessment. Regardless, it’s a delightful movie, and not to be missed.

–Mark “Boomer” Redmond

Get excited! Netflix is now streaming Wetlands (2014)

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2014 was a weird year for the romcom. It’s not often that a modern romcom earns the kind of critical praise that lands it on Best of the Year lists or empathetically addresses a subject as sensitive as abortion, but last year’s Obvious Child accomplished both. The genre also found its first ZAZ-style spoof in They Came Together and some common ground with supernatural horror in The One I Love. These were all exciting developments in a genre long thought stagnant, but by far the strangest new territory under the romcom umbrella was explored by the German film Wetlands.

Most likely the cutest movie about an anal fissure you’ll ever see, Wetlands is by and large an exercise in depravity. It’s as if de Sade or Bataille had written a Tom Hanks/Meg Ryan comedy. If there’s a particular bodily fluid, sexual act, or unsanitary pizza topping that you absolutely cannot handle this may not be the movie for you. However, those who can endure a heap of gross-out humor are well rewarded for their fortitude. Like its 18 year old protagonist Helen (expertly played by Carla Juri) the film’s hard, shock value exterior is really a front for a big old softie lurking under the surface. For all of Helen’s filthy sex pranks and hygiene “experiments”, she’s really just an overgrown child who desperately wants her parents to get back together and for her hunky crush to notice her advances. There’s also some real pain behind her troubled relationships with her mother, her brother & her best friend, as well some surreally lyrical tangents involving dirty panties, microscopic closeups of bacteria, drug binges, and newly sprouted avocado trees. The film may be memorable for the depths of its depravity, but more importantly it manages a remarkable balance that allows it to stick to the romcom format while navigating those depths.

After its minuscule domestic release last year, I’m stoked that Wetlands is finally accessible for easy consumption. As far as I know the only time it played locally was at Chalmette Movies during last year’s New Orleans Film Festival. The film was difficult to watch in more ways than one and as it was my favorite comedy of 2014 (and in my top 5 movies overall) I’ve been sitting on my hands waiting for an opportunity to spread its name. If you’re worried that Wetlands is too grotesque for your taste, this (absurdly NSFW) trailer is a good litmus test. Otherwise, check it out on Netflix or home video ASAP. It’s somehow just as cute as it is gross. It’s very, very gross.

-Brandon Ledet