In-House Reviews #112: Coup de Chance, Sting, Girls State, People’s Joker & More!

Signs of the son of a fallen angel and the spirit of Hanuman are hitting theaters this week, but, as always, still plenty of room for other releases as well. This set of write-ups includes a French Woody, a creature feature, a modern-day doc, a progressive parody, a quiet drama, and an underdog sports story. The following features reviews for Coup de Chance, Sting, Girls State, The People’s Joker, The Listener, and The Beautiful Game.

Coup de Chance: 8 out of 10

The Setup: Fanny (Lou de Laâge) and Jean (Melvil Poupaud) look like the ideal married couple. They’re both professionally accomplished, live in a gorgeous apartment in an exclusive neighborhood of Paris, and seem to be in love just as much as they were when they first met. But when Fanny accidentally bumps into Alain (Niels Schneider), a former high school classmate, she’s swept off her feet. They soon see each other again and get closer and closer….

Review: It’s pretty wild to not only acknowledge that this is Woody Allen’s 50th film as writer and director but that it’s a streak with very few instances where a year went by without a feature from the prolific filmmaker. Fortunately, in addition to the knowledge that the 88-year-old Oscar winner still plans to keep going, Coup de Chance is one of his better efforts from this past decade. Once again stepping out of New York, the Paris setting, along with it being a French-language film provides a refreshing use of what we’ve seen with Allen. On top of that, being a light comedic thriller makes for a level of tension I only see so often in his features.

Outside of that aspect, however, there’s something that remains so continually winning about hearing affected yet smart and emotional dialogue coming from actors who know how to balance these scripts. The brilliant Vittorio Storaro once again steps in to shoot the film, allowing for another Paris-set Allen feature that doesn’t over-emphasize the touristy side of the city, instead aiming for a more intimate perspective. Complete with one of Allen’s more lively soundtracks in some time, there’s plenty to engage with that shows we’re seeing a director do more than just take a chance on what he’s still capable of.

Where To Watch: Available in select theaters, VOD, and digital starting April 5, 2024.

Sting: 6 out of 10

The Setup: After raising an unnervingly talented spider in secret, 12-year-old Charlotte (Alyla Browne) must face the facts about her pet—and fight for her family’s survival—when the once-charming creature rapidly transforms into a giant, flesh-eating monster.

Review: I have a pet tarantula, so the prospect of a horror movie focused on spiders or spider-like creatures is not exactly about to scare me. However, I find it amusing that when it comes to horror films with a deliberate comedic bent, more often than not, when grounding a creature feature in something relatable, spiders are the universal fear to tap into. Arachnophobia, Eight-Legged Freaks, and Big Ass Spider, among other fun efforts, all play with the idea of killer spiders on the loose, and Sting has its own clever way of taking on this idea. Set in an apartment building, with heavy snowy weather keeping everyone indoors, writer/director Kiah Roache-Turner gets a lot of mileage out of how we see a not-so-earth-based spider creature grow and go after its prey.

Made on a limited budget, there’s a sense of nihilism that goes along with the gore and the laughs, which is appreciated. It allows for stakes regarding who could make it out of this thing alive without shying away from the deadliness of the situation, no matter how funny it is trying to be. At 90 minutes, this is a pretty quick watch that helps the movie get around its weaker elements. Still, with a clear appreciation for classic monster movies, including practical effects, this was a fun creepy-crawler.

Where To Watch: Available in theaters starting April 12, 2024.

Girls State: 8 out of 10

The Setup: What would American democracy look like in the hands of teenage girls? A political coming-of-age story and a stirring reimagination of what it means to govern, “Girls State” follows young female leaders — from wildly different backgrounds across Missouri — as they navigate an immersive experiment to build a government from the ground up.

Review: Four years after the well-received Boys State, directors Jesse Moss and Amanda McBaine return with a natural follow-up – Girls State. We are again treated to a look at the week-long democratic experiment but from the other perspective. Not surprisingly, it’s as winning as the other, if not a bit better. With Boys State, the documentary felt like it had a particular angle that clearly acknowledged the film as having a hero and a villain. This time around, those lines are not so clearly defined, and there’s at least a level of respect seen between the various teens the doc focuses on.

It was a solid approach, as it means this film can place attention on both the progressive and conservative sides without necessarily trying to alienate the subjects who share their opinions on a variety of topics that range from environmental concerns to the matter of abortion (this doc notably takes place after the leaked information regarding Roe v. Wade, but before it was overturned). This doc also finds time to show some of the teen girls raising concerns over the gaps and lack of equality between Girls and Boys State, which added a bit more fire to how we see everything play out. All the while, this still manages to be the more optimistic of the two documentaries, even if it’s forced to end on a concerning note.

Where To Watch: Available to stream on Apple TV+ starting April 5, 2024.

The People’s Joker: 6 out of 10

The Setup: A law-breaking comedian (Vera Drew) grappling with her gender identity forms a new anti-comedy troupe with a friend and finds herself battling a fascistic caped crusader.

Review: Having gone through quite the journey to arrive in front of audiences, this superhero parody that doubles as a coming-of-age parable connected to a filmmaker’s gender dysphoria and mommy issues has a ton on its mind. Working off a minimal budget and favors from the various comedic performers involved, this sometimes sloppy feature does have a unique point of view and isn’t beyond granting pathos to its lead character, played by co-writer/director Drew. Of course, a level of satirical madness is taking place, skewering a pop culture icon and comedy institutions such as the Upright Citizens Brigade and Saturday Night Live, the film’s most vicious attacks compared to the ripe for lampooning Batman. In terms of empowerment, there’s enough working in this film’s favor for those already inclined to check it out. I can’t say I ever found the film to be as hilarious as it’s aiming to be, but given the ambition on display and the innovative approach to making a film that essentially can’t get made any other way, it’s admirable.

Where To Watch: Available in select theaters in NYC starting April 5, 2024, and in LA on April 12, with national rollout to follow.

The Listener: 7 out of 10

The Setup: Beth (Tessa Thompson) is a crisis helpline volunteer who gets on the phone every night, fielding calls from people feeling lonely, broken, and hopeless. During tonight’s shift, the stakes rise: is this the night she will save a hurting soul – or lose one?

Review: Acclaimed character actor Steve Buscemi has only directed a handful of features, but he does take on interesting projects. Here is a film that takes place over the course of one long night, as we follow along with “Beth” and the various calls she takes on a crisis helpline from her home. That presents a visual challenge, as the film needs to keep making this location appealing as Beth (not her real name for company reasons, as she explains) moves around various rooms while engaging in conversation. Fortunately, it’s presented well, even if it asks the audience to stand by and take in what’s being offered via various actors’ voices over the phone.

Creating a level of narrative fluidity out of this could risk the film being unable to land what it’s after, but there’s an interesting arc of sorts for Beth, limited as that may be. Even the calls end up giving the movie enough personality as they verge on little more than monologuing about various topics. Still, I was intrigued enough by what was presented, and given the one-woman show that comes from Thompson being the only visible character onscreen, plenty of credit can be given to the success of this performer/listener.

Where To Watch: Now playing in select theaters and available on VOD.

The Beautiful Game: 7 out of 10

The Setup: Mal (Bill Nighy), the manager of England’s homeless soccer team, leads them to the Homeless World Cup in Rome. He takes a gamble by adding talented but troubled striker Vinny (Michael Ward), who must overcome his past to become a team player. Inspired by the real Homeless World Cup, this is a story of second chances, where homeless individuals from across the globe find hope and competition on the field.

Review: I’ll be honest – I rolled my eyes at first glance when I saw Bill Nighy as the lead coach of a homeless football team. I perked up more when I realized that the casting of that team was a pretty diverse set, and even more so when I realized Michael Ward (Small Axe – Lovers Rock) was the true lead of the film (don’t worry, Nighy is as great as always). The results are quite winning, making it a pretty good month for director Thea Sharrock, whose Wicked Little Letters also recently hit theaters. Ultimately, this is an underdog story, but a well-told one and quite inclusive. Given that it focuses on a Homeless World Cup, rather than just letting us see how England pulls through, the film provides several vignettes featuring the other country’s entrants. I really enjoyed that. It is sometimes just nice to have a movie that isn’t too complicated in what it aims to deliver but finds a way to revel in its own genre, and find the right talent and approach to pull it off. Well-acted and well-meaning, The Beautiful Game scores a proper win.

Where To Watch: Now available to stream on Netflix.

***

Written by
Aaron Neuwirth is a movie fanatic and Rotten Tomatometer-approved film critic from Orange County, California. He’s a member of the African American Film Critics Association, the Hollywood Critics Association, the Online Film Critics Society, and the Black Film Critics Circle. As an outgoing person who is always thrilled to discuss movies, he’s also a podcaster who has put far too many hours into published audio content associated with film and television. His work has been published at Variety, We Live Entertainment, Why So Blu, The Young Folks, Firstshowing.net, Screen Rant, and Hi-Def Ninja.

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