Tag Archives: Toni Collette

Emma (1996, Douglas McGrath)

Emma keeps misplacing things. For a long stretches, it misplaces second-billed Toni Collette (who goes from being the subject of the first half to an afterthought in the most of the second half to just a plot foil in the third act). There’s also lead Gwyneth Paltrow’s painting. The film opens with Paltrow’s paintings of her friends, home, and familiar places, which get used again to identify locations for a bit in the first act, and then the painting becomes a plot point… but then it’s gone, both from the narrative (which could make sense with the plot point if you’re being generous) and the film’s visuals. It’s indicative of Emma’s greatest problem—even greater than Paltrow not really being up to snuff for the lead and often mugging her way through scenes, her costars all doing the double duty of load-bearing and acting—is director McGrath. He’s got some ideas, but he’s rarely consistent with them (outside he and cinematographer Ian Wilson’s astoundingly ill-advised attempt at “natural” lighting), and even if he were… he doesn’t have the chops to pull them off. Not in directing actors (there are some rather oddly bad performances throughout), not in composing shots, and definitely not in establishing a narrative distance. Particularly bad form on the last one, as McGrath adapted the Jane Austen novel himself.

The film’s got two competing narrations, one from Paltrow and one from what we assume is one character but is actually another because getting in a pointless wink is more important than verisimilitude. But the misleading narration—which only works because the supporting cast is so thinly drawn—is just a third act problem. Paltrow’s narration, which kicks off in earnest somewhere in the second half, is from the character’s diary. The diary doesn’t come into play until well after the narration is established and has very little interesting to convey. It’s good writing (so presumably from the source novel) but it doesn’t add anything to the film because the film’s already established itself without needing diary or narration. McGrath’s constantly introducing elements the film’s already shown it can do without. Sometimes they’re competent, sometimes they’re piddling.

Ewan McGregor, for instance, is piddling.

McGregor plays Paltrow’s eventual de facto suitor. So, the film starts with Paltrow just having succeeded in marrying off governess Greta Scacchi to local widow James Cosmo and deciding she’s going to become a matchmaker. Her next subjects? Vicar Alan Cummings (who’s more middling than piddling) and aforementioned second-billed Collette. Now, Collette doesn’t have any money and Cummings is out for a rich dowry only Paltrow thinks love will conquer all. Except the condescending, gently demeaning way Paltrow treats Collette is duplicated in how the film treats her. Collette, and many of the other women in the film, are often used for laughs. Weird since Paltrow getting her eventual comeuppance involves her punching down, you’d think McGrath, adapted the novel, would be able to do something like foreshadowing… but he cannot because he does a poor job of adapting the novel. Seriously; you get done with Emma and don’t even wonder if you should read the novel. Given the film’s from the renewed era of Austen adaptations… it ought to at least encourage readership.

Anyway.

Eventually McGregor shows up as Cosmo’s son and, presumably, Paltrow’s intended. Except he’s playing the part like he’s in a bad Muppet Jane Austen’s Emma and not just because of the hair. In some ways he perfectly compliments Paltrow’s performance; they both mug for the camera, he just does it with more volume, more bluster. Their similarities even potentially become a plot point but not really because of the way McGrath directs the scene, which… is again the biggest problem with the film. McGrath’s well-meaning enough in his direction, just inept with it. And when he does try to show flourish, usually with a silly camera move—one does have to wonder about cinematographer Wilson’s agency—it ends up silly at best.

There are some okay supporting performances: Jeremy Northam’s fine as Paltrow’s male friend, though there’s a way too big performance differential between the two of them and never the right chemistry, Collette’s good, especially given the circumstances, Sophie Thompson’s probably the best, as the woman Paltrow meanest girls. Sacchi’s all right. Cosmo mugs. Denys Hawthorne, as Paltrow’s father, is literal scenery. Juliet Stevenson, as a second half punchline, does a lot better than she should given the part and the direction.

Not great editing from Lesley Walker doesn’t help things. Rachel Portman’s score has its moments but also the ones where it seems more appropriate for an ostentatious adventure picture, which then just introduces the false promise of personality to the filmmaking and what could be, if only McGrath had the chops.

The third act’s particularly disappointing as all it really needs is some narrative sincerity. It doesn’t even need to have Paltrow step up… though I guess it does make some sense how McGrath then takes the movie away from her. It’s like he gives her a vote of no confidence after he’s just made a two hour movie of her.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Douglas McGrath; screenplay by McGrath, based on the novel by Jane Austen; director of photography, Ian Wilson; edited by Lesley Walker; music by Rachel Portman; production designer, Michael Howells; costume designer, Ruth Myers; produced by Patrick Cassavetti and Steven Haft; released by Miramax Films.

Starring Gwyneth Paltrow (Emma Woodhouse), Toni Collette (Harriet Smith), Alan Cumming (Mr. Elton), Ewan McGregor (Frank Churchill), Jeremy Northam (George Knightley), Greta Scacchi (Mrs. Weston), Juliet Stevenson (Mrs. Elton), Polly Walker (Jane Fairfax), Sophie Thompson (Miss Bates), James Cosmo (Mr. Weston), Denys Hawthorne (Mr. Woodhouse), and Phyllida Law (Mrs. Bates).


Fun Mom Dinner (2017, Alethea Jones)

The best thing about Fun Mom Dinner is the soundtrack. It’s all mainstream early-to-mid eighties hits–some Cars, 99 Luftballons, the song from the end of Sixteen Candles because a Jack Ryan crush is a major plot point (which is a little weird since it’s lead Katie Aselton was six when Sixteen Candles came out and she formed that crush). Sadly Jack Ryan doesn’t appear in the movie. Instead it’s Adam Levine semi-standing in as the object of her infidelity fantasy. Fun Mom doesn’t have a lot of great writing, but it’s never godawful. It’s trite and benign, but it’s not godawful. So Levine’s laughably godawful performance is all his own. Especially since it’s things like… he can’t pretend to listen to people.

Aselton is one of the four not really fun moms out at the Fun Mom Dinner. She ends up being the lead because maybe she’s going to cheat on not good parenting partner and perpetually stressed out husband Adam Scott with Levine. Also because she brings the moms together. She’s friends with Toni Collette, who seems like she’s going to be the lead at the beginning; she’s the disaffected pot-smoking mom. Only it turns out the script’s got nothing for her to do after she buries the hatchet with other fun mom Bridget Everett in their third scene together. Before the end of the third act. There’s some more character development for Collette after that point, but it’s when her husband (Ron Huebel) talks to Scott about it. Huebel and Scott are taking care of their kids while the moms are out having fun.

Everett’s kids and husband don’t matter. They don’t show up after a brief opening introduction. And the four fun mom, Molly Shannon, is in a similar situation. Only she’s divorced so the film isn’t ignoring her husband, just her kid. Or kids. They make so little impression it’s hard to remember how many Shannon or Everett have. And Shannon does get a romantic flirtation subplot with Paul Rust, which could have been cute. It’s proto-cute.

For not getting any story to herself, Everett still is the backbone of Fun Mom Dinner. She has enough energy to make moments connect, even if they don’t always work. Shannon’s character is written too slight; her performance isn’t too slight, the writing is too slight. Collette just loses anything to do except procure pot for the outing or encourage smoking pot and drinking. Aselton’s got the one-two punch of a slightly written character–really, Julie Rudd’s script has the depth of a television commercial–and a too slight performance. Aselton’s never believable. The movie’s never believable, but you can pretend with Everett, Collette, and Shannon. With Aselton. No.

Fun Mom Dinner is not some raunchy, raucous affair. If it weren’t for the moms toking some reefer and dropping f-bombs, it’ll be PG. Aselton’s threatened dalliance with Levine isn’t just bad because Levine’s awful or Asleton’s writing and acting is thin, it’s because director Jones doesn’t do dramatic tension. Not even when it seems like Everett is going to throttle Collette for being such a nasty elitist. Oh, right. It’s never explained why Collette’s such an elitist since she’s married to super-nice, super-supportive doofus Huebel.

Clearly there’s not much budget. When the moms are roaming the streets, the streets are empty. When they’re in restaurants or bars, the shots are very careful not to include too many other people. If Jones weren’t shooting it in Panavision and filling the wide frame with nothing, the movie might not seem so visibly sparse. Sean McElwee’s photography isn’t bad. It’s not great, but it’s thoroughly competent. He’d have been able to shoot the frame more concise.

Jon Corn’s editing is terrible, however; he’s worst with Levine, which is kind of hilarious. Not really. It’s just unfortunate, like everything with Aselton once she becomes the de facto lead.

Fun Mom Dinner is also really short. Eighty-one minutes. And full of filler. Karaoke filler. The movie’s target audience is moms neglected by spouses who daydream about smoking pot and singing Karaoke. Hopefully. Because otherwise it doesn’t even have an intended audience. Otherwise it’s just an exercise is fodder.

Actually the Karaoke deserved more screen time. Everett and Collette can sing. Embracing it–though Everett gets two singing scenes–would’ve helped. It would’ve had to help at least a little.

There’s an extended cameo with Paul Rudd and David Wain as a pair of pot shop owners who avoid any contact with their wives. As much as possible anyway. Like so much else in the film, no one does anything with it except the actors. The actors make it work. Sort of. They keep Fun Mom from being overrun by its own disposability. They don’t make it respectable, but they keep it from being miserable.

Except Levine. And Aselton when she’s with him.

Fun Mom Dinner isn’t terrible enough to be a curiosity. It’s inoffensively pointless.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Alethea Jones; written by Julie Rudd; director of photography, Sean McElwee; edited by Jon Corn; music by Julian Wass; production designer, Tracy Dishman; produced by Andrew Duncan, Alex Saks, and Naomi Scott; released by Momentum Pictures.

Starring Katie Aselton (Emily), Toni Collette (Kate), Bridget Everett (Melanie), Molly Shannon (Jamie), Adam Scott (Tom), Rob Huebel (Andrew), David Wain (Wayne), Paul Rudd (Brady), Paul Rust (Barry), and Adam Levine (Luke).


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Muriel's Wedding (1994, P.J. Hogan)

There are a lot of things going on in Muriel’s Wedding, so many writer-director Hogan’s script gets to the point he’s constantly raveling and unraveling foreground and background threads. The threads are all wrapped around the film’s center–lead Toni Collette’s complicated desire to change herself. She mostly accomplishes it through various lies, though cheque fraud plays a big part. Her lying becomes, as the film goes on, a compulsion, one the viewer can identify even when it’s unclear how Collette is processing the situation. Despite her various wrongdoings and insensitivites, Collette is a sympathetic protagonist; she’s ill-equipped for the world, which the first act explores in detail.

Collette lives in a useless Australian tourist town. She’s a high school dropout with few career prospects, unemployed, living at home. Her father (Bill Hunter) is a mildly corrupt local politician who verbally demeans Collette, her siblings, and wife Jeanie Drynan at every opportunity. He’s also a little too friendly with local beauty supply maven Gennie Nevinson. All of Collette’s friends are insipid, shallow beauty queens who mock Collette about her physical appearance.

Everything changes when Collette runs into former high school classmate Rachel Griffiths, who could care less what Collette’s faux friends think of her and thinks Collette is doing just fine. Unfortunately, quite a bit of Griffiths’s opinion is based on Collette’s lies. Many of the lies involve Collette’s desire to get married, which would–in Collette’s eyes–undoubtedly result in her becoming a new, improved person. At the same time, Collette and Griffiths build this otherwise sincere friendship, with Griffiths the booster Collette never had.

Hogan’s script has a lot of laughs in the first half, which has Collette and Griffiths meeting on a tropical vacation, as well as during their move to the big city. The present action is rather fast in Muriel’s Wedding; Hogan and editor Jill Bilcock sometimes identifying don’t slow down to identify how much time has passed between scenes. Rarely in the next subsequent scene and usually in the one after. It keeps the film, which almost two hours, sailing.

Despite some rather bleak circumstances, Muriel’s Wedding is never a black comedy. Tragedies and hardships aren’t for laughs. The characters can be funny–or just plain mocked–but not their circumstances. As funny as the film gets, Hogan always relies on the actors to bring grounding, particularly Collette, Griffiths, Drynan, and Hunter. The laughs often come from how uncomfortable moments can get, whether through Collette’s deceptions (or naiveté) or Hunter’s willful mistreatment of his family.

As the characters react to the plot’s various curveballs during the second act, Hogan narrows the film to Collette. It also changes the pace of things. Hogan has more content in summary scene exposition than in his non-summary sequences. It fits in great with the slightly fantastical characters.

Great supporting performances from Hunter and Drynan. Griffiths is wonderful, ably essaying a part bouncing between comedy and drama. But Collette is the whole show. Even when Griffiths is being hilarious, Collette commands the attention. Hogan exquisitely juggles the dynamic of their relationship, with Martin McGrath’s moody but pragmatic photography playing a big part.

The only problem is the rushed third act, where Hogan speeds a tad fast through all the right notes.

Muriel’s Wedding is magnificent.

Oh, and a big part of the film is Collette’s healthiest obsession–ABBA. So lots of great ABBA music, sometimes for comic effect, sometimes for emotional.

3.5/4★★★½

CREDITS

Written and directed by P.J. Hogan; director of photography, Martin McGrath; edited by Jill Bilcock; music by Peter Best; production designer, Paddy Reardon; produced by Lynda House and Jocelyn Moorhouse; released by Roadshow Film Distributors.

Starring Toni Collette (Muriel Heslop), Rachel Griffiths (Rhonda Epinstall), Bill Hunter (Bill Heslop), Jeanie Drynan (Betty Heslop), Gennie Nevinson (Deidre Chambers), Daniel Lapaine (David Van Arkle), and Matt Day (Brice Nobes).


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Enough Said (2013, Nicole Holofcener)

For most of Enough Said, I marveled at how director Holofcener–apparently in an act entirely lacking irony–created the perfect film to fail the Bechdel test. The Bechdel test, which is all the rage, requires two female characters talk about something besides men.

Well, besides talking about men, the characters in Said do not do much. Lead Julia Louis-Dreyfus otherwise makes acerbic observations about those around her or the minutiae of her life; I wish I could know how the film played if one is unfamiliar with a certain show about nothing starring Louis-Dreyfus, but I cannot. It probably wouldn’t be much better, because Holofcener isn’t just lazy at the plotting, she’s lazy with the characters.

Here’s the idea (straight out of a “Seinfeld”). Louis-Dreyfus starts seeing James Gandolfini (even though he’s fat–she’s supposed to be out of shape too, in one of Enough Said’s more absurd requests for the viewer to suspend their disbelief). She’s a masseuse. Her new client–an exceptionally wasted Catherine Keener–turns out to be really cool and they become friends. Oh, and Keener’s Gandolfini’s ex-wife. Which Elaine–sorry, sorry–which Louis-Dreyfus figures out and keeps to herself.

The film wastes the more interesting empty nest subplot involving Louis-Dreyfus bonding with her daughter’s friend, Tavi Gevinson. Sure, they fail the Bechdel test too, but not as bad as the rest of the film.

Bad editing from Robert Frazen. Great performance from Gandolfini.

Enough’s pointless and slight.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Written and directed by Nicole Holofcener; director of photography, Xavier Grobet; edited by Robert Frazen; music by Marcelo Zarvos; production designer, Keith P. Cunningham; produced by Stefanie Azpiazu and Anthony Bregman; released by Fox Searchlight Pictures.

Starring Julia Louis-Dreyfus (Eva), James Gandolfini (Albert), Tracey Fairaway (Ellen), Toni Collette (Sarah), Ben Falcone (Will), Catherine Keener (Marianne), Eve Hewson (Tess), Tavi Gevinson (Chloe), Amy Landecker (Debbie), Toby Huss (Peter) and Kathleen Rose Perkins (Fran).


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