Tag Archives: Olivia Wilde

Booksmart (2019, Olivia Wilde)

Booksmart opens with high school senior Beanie Feldstein getting up on her last day of school; graduation is in the morning. She listens to self-affirmations about—politely—crushing your adversaries as you excel past them. Now, Feldstein lives in an apartment building. Not a terrible one, but not a nice one. Her lack of perception of privilege and class are going to bite her a little so it’s an important detail. Similarly, when best friend Kaitlyn Dever pulls up to drive to school, Dever’s not in a great car. Booksmart is going to exist in a very particular bubble and the film’s got no problem with that bubble, it just doesn’t examine it. Because Booksmart is a comedy. Yes, Feldstein’s an overachiever from a different economic class from her classmates and Dever’s an out lesbian teenager living with two Christian but supportive parent. They’ve got things going on. But the film’s more concerned with being funny and fun, which is exactly what it needs to be doing.

At school, Feldstein gets a rude awakening to how the world of college acceptance works from her classmates, who she assumed were all headed to a trade school and it turns out, no, not only are they going to the same school (Yale) or better than her, even the kid who flunked seventh grade twice (Eduardo Franco) has already got a coding job at Google. Feldstein had no fun and excelled but they had fun and excelled, meaning she was wrong and the things weren’t mutually exclusive—which is true, especially once you find out the kids are all rich. Some are 1%, the others are 3-6%. Turns out Dever’s parents have a great house and the old car is just a Dever thing. The class and privilege aspects gradually get brushed over with the comedy. The details aren’t presently important for Feldstein and Dever, who are going to go on to have their own character development—outstanding character development—usually these little moments in the reactions or dialogue amid the comedy. Booksmart’s always working towards a laugh, usually at least medium ones.

The film knows how to get a laugh and it knows what kind of laugh it’s going to get—some of its the script (Emily Halpern, Sarah Haskins, Susanna Fogel, Katie Silberman—so maybe the most successful four-writer movie in a while), most of its Wilde’s direction and Feldstein and Dever’s performances. Wilde’s sense of timing is exquisite. She and editor Jamie Gross cut the humor perfectly, but then it turns out they’ve also got these more ambitious sequences. There’s this fantastic dance sequence out of nowhere and then this emotional visually poetic underwater swimming sequence. Both those sequences serve Feldstein and Dever, but they’re also the showiest Wilde’s going to be able to get in the film and she ties the filmmaking ambition to the stars; they’re breathtaking sequences. And right after them, Booksmart turns out not to really have an idea of how to get from point C to point D. The film’s second to third act transition is exceptionally rough. It’s well-acted, it’s well-directed—Wilde even does this “hands off” thing when it gets too intense dramatically; Booksmart is about the comedy. The specifics of the drama aren’t the point. Especially not since it concerns Feldstein and Dever’s friendship—because of course it does, it’s a high school best friends comedy, weren’t you paying attention to the genre tropes; even when Felstein and Dever are spouting exposition about their history, Wilde always takes a hands-off approach with the pair. Their friendship needs to illuminate itself through the performances, not the specifics of the dialogue, which is very important as well because it’s often hilarious and the film needs to hit the laugh.

After some brief pathos for the stars, the third act then amps up the physical comedy in the search of an ending. Booksmart’s got a great epilogue, but the ending of the film’s narrative gets desperate at the end and plays a lot on the film’s goodwill. Nicely, the film’s still generating goodwill through the rough spots; Feldstein and Dever can handle the pathos fine, it’s just not serving a purpose. Kind of like the kind of icky thirty-something teacher and the twenty-year old student. That one is the film’s only actual problem, even though it too is a high school movie trope… it’s just one in need of more examination of how it executes in Booksmart, where it’s a C plot.

Okay, time to go over the supporting cast. It’s big, but the actors are essential to the film’s success. It’s one of those apparently perfectly casted films—even though Booksmart’s got the epical narrative, it’s also a hangout movie. And Wilde knows how to showcase the supporting cast. Billie Lourd’s the richest girl, who doesn’t make much impression in her introduction but becomes the film’s best running joke. And Lourd’s great. Then there’s Mason Gooding as Feldstein’s dope of a vice president… but a really hot one who Feldstein’s got a secret crush on. Meanwhile, Dever’s got a years long crush on skater girl Victoria Ruesga, who wishes Dever would party on weekends so… possibilities. Molly Gordon’s the mean girl who turns out to have a bunch of depth. Noah Galvin and Austin Crute are hilarious as the theater guys. Then Skyler Gisondo is the richest boy, who’s extremely socially awkward and seems to have a crush on Feldstein, which Feldstein’s mortified about.

The way the night unfolds—and the plot perturbs—informs how the supporting cast is going to interact with Feldstein and Dever, which leads to reaction scenes for the two of them as their expectations get realized and dashed. And Feldstein and Dever get the funniest material—Wilde sets the narrative distance constantly inform their relationship (and performances) more than anything else, even when the supporting cast is getting some big comic moment. Wilde’s stunningly good at the directing thing. Booksmart’s always impressive for one reason or another.

Great lead performances, great supporting performances, great direction, outstanding script; technically it’s excellent—Gross’s editing, Jason McCormick’s photography, Dan The Automator’s score, all superb. It’s a humdinger of a first feature from director Wilde.

3.5/4★★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Olivia Wilde; written by Emily Halpern, Sarah Haskins, Susanna Fogel, and Katie Silberman; director of photography, Jason McCormick; edited by Jamie Gross; music by Dan The Automator; production designer, Katie Byron; produced by Chelsea Barnard, David Distenfeld, Jessica Elbaum, Megan Ellison, and Silberman; released by Annapurna Pictures.

Starring Beanie Feldstein (Molly), Kaitlyn Dever (Amy), Skyler Gisondo (Jared), Billie Lourd (Gigi), Victoria Ruesga (Ryan), Mason Gooding (Nick), Diana Silvers (Hope), Molly Gordon (Triple A), Noah Galvin (George), Austin Crute (Alan), Eduardo Franco (Theo), Nico Hiraga (Tanner), and Jason Sudeikis (Principal Brown).


Better Living Through Chemistry (2014, Geoff Moore and David Posamentier)

Given its ninety minute length and having Jane Fonda perform the comically explicit narration, it might be easy to dismiss–or just describe–Better Living Through Chemistry as a genial amusement. Certainly lead Sam Rockwell can do this role in his sleep. He's a small town pharmacist in a bad marriage (Michelle Monaghan is great as the controlling wife); his father-in-law runs his life, his teenage son is starting the awkward years, no one takes him seriously.

Except unhappily married trophy wife Olivia Wilde.

What actually makes Chemistry so different is how writers-directors Moore and Posamentier seem to have no idea what they're doing. There are all sorts of tangents the film goes on, all sorts of great little moments between Rockwell and Monaghan then later Rockwell and Harrison Holzer (as his son). It's all over the place, with the affair between Rockwell and Wilde ostensibly the foundation of the narrative.

Only it's not. It's a device to go into a series of rapid comic set pieces–as Rockwell tumbles out of control, only everything turns out to be regimented. All of these set pieces go well, thanks to Rockwell and his abilities in both physical comedy and just lovably obnoxious. There's no heavy lifting for the actors in Chemistry, except maybe Holzer, but strong, assured performances in a well-written, if unambitious picture, isn't a bad thing at all.

Nice supporting work from Norbert Leo Butz and Ken Howard rounds things off.

Chemistry is controlled and it's calculated and it pays off well.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Written and directed by Geoff Moore and David Posamentier; director of photography, Tim Suhrstedt; edited by Jonathan Alberts; music by John Nau and Andrew Feltenstein; production designer, Heidi Adams; produced by Joe Neurauter and Felipe Marino; released by Samuel Goldwyn Films.

Starring Sam Rockwell (Doug Varney), Olivia Wilde (Elizabeth Roberts), Michelle Monaghan (Kara Varney), Norbert Leo Butz (Agent Andrew Carp), Ben Schwartz (Noah), Ken Howard (Walter Bishop), Jenn Harris (Janet), Peter Jacobson (Dr. Roth), Harrison Holzer (Ethan Varney), Ray Liotta (Jack Roberts) and Jane Fonda (Jane Fonda).


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Rush (2013, Ron Howard)

Rush ends with such a cop out, all it does is draw attention all the other cheap things Howard and writer Peter Morgan do to make the film exciting. Technically, it’s fine. Howard’s direction is good, Anthony Dod Mantle’s photography is great, Hans Zimmer’s music is fine, Morgan writes okay scenes… it’s just mundane.

Howard does get great performances out of Daniel Brühl and Chris Hemsworth as the leads. It’s a shame Morgan can’t create a real relationship for the two men; he can’t even adequately juxtaposition them. The scenes where Morgan tries to point out their similarities and differences are, well, pointless.

A lot of the problem is Howard. He doesn’t have any approach to Rush. It’s sort of a biopic of the two men, sort of a look at the 1976 Grand Prix season, but the film starts too early in order to establish the characters through amusing scenes. Brühl is a sensible Austrian jerk, Hemsworth is a hard-partying ladies man. Maybe if the picture had focused on the racing season–with the other racers being something other than background–Rush would have turned out better.

Alexandra Maria Lara plays Brühl’s love interest. Hemsworth goes through a handful of love interests, with a stilted Olivia Wilde playing the most serious one.

The real stars of Rush are editors Daniel P. Hanley and Mike Hill. The races aren’t exactly exciting as much as endlessly dangerous.

Too bad Howard didn’t follow the lead and take any risks. Rush stalls.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Ron Howard; written by Peter Morgan; director of photography, Anthony Dod Mantle; edited by Daniel P. Hanley and Mike Hill; music by Hans Zimmer; production designer, Mark Digby; produced by Howard, Morgan, Andrew Eaton, Eric Fellner, Brian Oliver and Brian Grazer; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Chris Hemsworth (James Hunt), Daniel Brühl (Niki Lauda), Alexandra Maria Lara (Marlene), Pierfrancesco Favino (Clay Regazzoni), Stephen Mangan (Alastair Caldwell), Christian McKay (Lord Hesketh), Alistair Petrie (Stirling Moss) and Olivia Wilde (Suzy Miller).


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Cowboys & Aliens (2011, Jon Favreau), the extended version

Five screenwriters get credit on Cowboys & Aliens. I wonder which one (or ones) are responsible for the stupider “twists” in the plot. Cowboys is stupid the entire time, of course, but it gets even dumber as it progresses.

The movie’s big problem is director Favreau. He isn’t just incapable of directing actors (Olivia Wilde’s performance is atrocious beyond belief), he can’t keep track of a big cast. He’s constantly losing track of the characters, usually in action scenes when he needs to be paying attention.

I assume he’s also responsible for telling cinematographer Matthew Libatique to shoot the film through a muddy lens and he okayed Harry Gregson-Williams’s lame score too. In short, Favreau’s a disastrous director for this movie. It doesn’t even feel like he’s seen a Western before.

For example, Daniel Craig’s supposed to be playing a “Man With No Name” type. Except he’s kind to dogs so the viewer knows he’s really all right. While Craig’s lack of personality is partially his own fault (the script and Favreau do no favors), he’s visibly contemptuous of the material. It’s obvious he thinks it’s stupid.

And it is stupid. It’s terribly stupid. But Harrison Ford manages to give an all right performance, even with a dumber character arc than Craig’s got.

There’s some outstanding supporting work from, no surprise, Sam Rockwell and also Paul Dano and Keith Carradine. Walton Goggins shows up in way too small a part and is great.

Cowboys & Aliens‘s imbecility, surprisingly, overpowers its incompetence.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Jon Favreau; screenplay by Roberto Orci, Alex Kurtzman, Damon Lindelof, Mark Fergus and Hawk Ostby, based on a story by Fergus, Ostby and Steve Oedekerk and a graphic novel by Fred Van Lente, Andrew Foley, Dennis Calero, Luciano Lima, Luciano Kars, Silvio Spotti and Jeremy Wilson; director of photography, Matthew Libatique; edited by Dan Lebental and Jim May; music by Harry Gregson-Williams; production designer, Scott Chambliss; produced by Brian Grazer, Ron Howard, Johnny Dodge, Kurtzman, Lindelof, Orci and Scott Mitchell Rosenberg; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Daniel Craig (Jake Lonergan), Harrison Ford (Woodrow Dolarhyde), Olivia Wilde (Ella Swenson), Sam Rockwell (Doc), Adam Beach (Nat Colorado), Paul Dano (Percy Dolarhyde), Keith Carradine (Sheriff John Taggart), Clancy Brown (Meacham), Noah Ringer (Emmett Taggart), Ana de la Reguera (Maria) and Walton Goggins (Hunt).


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