If this week’s summer’s prime releases that involve The King of Rock & Roll and Ethan Hawke in a creepy mask aren’t all you plan to see, check out another set of smaller/streaming releases. This set of reviews includes a family-friendly A24 film, another remake of an old classic, a solid Sundance hit, an offbeat friendship film, a lighthearted biopic, and the first film from Patrick (H) Willems. The following features reviews for Marcel the Shell With Shoes On, Father of the Bride, Cha Cha Real Smooth, Brian and Charles, Jerry & Marge Go Large, and Night of the Coconut.
The Setup: Marcel, an adorable one-inch-tall shell, searches for his family with the help of a documentary filmmaker after becoming internet famous.
Review: Marcel the Shell with Shoes On started as a series of short films uploaded by director Dean Fleischer-Camp to YouTube in 2010. His then-partner Jenny Slate provided the voice, which essentially comes off as a little boy appearing in a series of clever mockumentary-style vignettes made with stop-motion animation. So how does this get expanded into a feature-length film? Well, Fleischer-Camp and Slate cracked that code, leading to one of the more pleasant films this side of Paddington 2.
The basic setup is the same. Marcel moves around his home, explaining how he takes on life daily to the man (Fleischer-Camp) who has rented the house via Airbnb. Because this is a movie, Marcel’s life is given more depth. Now he has a grandmother (voiced by Isabella Rossellini) he cares for, while the rest of his family disappeared following the split of the two people who previously owned the house. As this is an A24 film (that’s still incredibly warm and friendly for all), I can understand adding a level of melancholy. Still, the film is too charming and sincere to let its sadder moments overtake the story.
As the plot about finding Marcel’s family gets into gear, it comes alongside the film breaking its own barriers, allowing Marcel to see the world’s reactions to the videos taken of him go viral on the internet. There’s no real question about whether Marcel is a fantastical creation or if these people believe Marcel to be real or are just taken by what they think is an animated character. It doesn’t matter. More important are the bits of emotion that come into play, along with the plentiful amount of little jokes, sight gags, and more.
Made with a lo-fi approach, and seemingly adding qualified talent like Diasterpeace to handle the score says to me that a lot of joy came out of this production. That’s the sort of movie this is. It’s a little weird, but with a certain kind of intelligence, making it more than just an indie kids’ film. It’s a delight.
Where To Watch: Available in theaters starting June 24, 2022.
The Setup: A father (Andy Garcia) must come to grips with his daughter’s upcoming wedding and handle multiple relationships within his sprawling Cuban American family.
Review: Some may not realize it, but the original Father of the Bride novel by Edward Streeter has proven to be a successful franchise. The 1950 original with Spencer Tracy was a huge hit and Oscar nominee. It led to a sequel, a TV series, and the 90s film with Steve Martin. There’s even an Indian Tamil-language version of this story. Now we have a new modern update, with Andy Garcia taking on the lead role, which was my biggest curiosity.
I like Garcia, and while it’s neat/humorous to see him pop up for 3-minute cameos in big movies, getting to have him lead a film is a nice change of pace for the generally gruff star. As it turns out, his persona makes him quite the fit for an older Cuban-American father dealing with the news of his daughter’s engagement. As a comedy, Father of the Bride is not doing anything particularly innovative. Still, along with the onscreen representation, a sense of niceness accompanies this movie’s spirit.
Part of what works about all these versions of this story is how grounded and relatable they make the family. They all may have different dynamics, and there’s good work in this film from Gloria Estefan as the matriarch, along with Adria Arjona as the bride-to-be, and Isabela Merced as her younger sister, but these movies work because we can believe in them as a family. Even when the husband’s family gets involved, let alone the wacky wedding planner (played here by SNL’s Chloe Fineman), things are not too heightened to stretch the story too thin or render the drama null.
Director Gaz Alazraki is a veteran Mexican film and TV director. While he can’t really escape the sitcom-level framing of various scenes, this is the sort of low-stakes film that glides along thanks to the charisma of the cast, most importantly Garcia. He brings gravitas as well as enjoyable exacerbation that once again shows there’s life in this old tale.
Where To Watch: Now available to stream on HBO Max.
The Setup: An aimless young man (Cooper Raiff) starts up a business as a bar mitzvah party host, only to strike up a unique friendship with a young woman (Dakota Johnson) and her teenage daughter (Vanessa Burghardt).
Review: Cooper Raiff clearly has talent. He came onto the scene with his 2020 debut, Sh!thouse, and has followed that up with another light comedy-drama that capitalizes on non-flashy direction, easygoing chemistry he has with his co-stars, and a sense of self-awareness, allowing the movie the be more than just a typical film festival crowd-pleaser. Even if the film ends up feeling a bit slight, there’s a lot to enjoy in the way he chooses to tell this story.
Honestly, I was in the bag when I realized a lot of this film would be taking place at bar mitzvah receptions, let alone focused on the guy who’s supposed to get the crowd on their feet. It’s a silly position to anchor on the protagonist, but what’s very funny is how terrible he is at this job. Raiff’s Andrew basically does a good job once and is convinced he can do this all the time. That speaks to the nature of his character and how he drifts into scenarios and quickly feels like he’s the man for the job, whatever it may be. Attach that to his bitter cynicism when it comes to people he’s not a fan of, particularly his stepdad Greg (Brad Garrett), and you have this flawed central figure that is interesting to watch.
Of course, much of the festival praise went to the supporting cast, and rightfully so. The way Johnson’s character attempts to bring Andrew back down to earth by exhibiting behavior routed in having responsibilities and not being able to go headlong into things works well, along with their easy rapport. Burghardt is a great find as the young autistic girl whom Andrew is able to help. More attention should be paid to Raul Castillo, the fiancé to Johnson’s character, who has to juggle a lot of emotions regarding how he sees here and this young guy who’s spending a lot of time with his family without saying too much or acting out of turn.
Again, this is a film about approaching adulthood. Raiff has found a way to write that into a movie and get the required performances out of everyone, including himself. Having the ability to cast movie stars like Johnson and Leslie Mann means the film doesn’t have the same scrappy determination as Raiff’s previous film. Still, as far as watching a young filmmaker continuing to deliver his voice, it’s coming through real smooth.
Where To Watch: Now playing in select theaters and available to stream on Apple TV+.
The Setup: Brian (David Earl) is a lonely inventor in rural Wales who builds quirky contraptions that seldom work. Despite his failures, Brian attempts his most sophisticated invention ever. Using a washing machine and various spare parts, he creates Charles (Chris Hayward), an artificially intelligent robot who learns English from a dictionary and is obsessed with cabbages.
Review: The second offbeat, PG-rated indie made in the style of a mockumentary I’m reviewing this week, Brian and Charles is a slight winner. Star David Earl is someone I know from the more recent TV series from Ricky Gervais, and it’s interesting to see him headline a feature. His appeal comes from his clear innocence. Whether playing a bawdier character as he does in Gervais’ productions or the sweet-natured inventor seen in this film, one can plainly see the man is harmless and means well. In turn, this makes his creation all the more intriguing and humorous.
Charles is an ingenious design. His washing machine body and human legs seem jarring at first, but thanks to the very specific vocal choice, it all works in a weird sort of way. How this robot with artificial intelligence works is not a question that needs to be answered. Instead, it’s more compelling to understand this relationship. Brian wants to teach Charles how to do handy chores and interact, but the robot quickly shows signs similar to an adolescent. The film takes a few shortcuts to get to where it’s going, but it’s hard not to deny the fun had here.
Eventually, the film (which was adapted from a short, also directed by Jim Archer) incorporates a romantic angle with one of the villagers (Louise Brealey) who sees something in Brian, as well as increased involvement from the village bully (Jamie Michie). One of these things works better than the other, but there is a level of satisfaction to be had by the time the film reaches a climax. I only with the epilogue felt more earned as far as how Charles exits this film. Still, there’s enough energy and sweetness to be found here, and the film never feels robotic in its assemblage.
Where To Watch: Now playing in select theaters.
The Setup: Based on the true story of retiree Jerry Selbee (Bryan Cranston), who discovers a mathematical loophole in the Massachusetts lottery and, with the help of his wife, Marge (Annette Bening), wins millions and uses the money to revive their small Michigan town.
Review: The theme of this week’s reviews has revolved around nice content. Nothing wrong with that. For all the depressing dramas, cynical comedies, and quip-focused blockbusters, it’s actually refreshing to have a series of low-stakes comedy-dramas that mean well (certainly a change of pace compared to the brilliantly disturbing Mad God from last week). I say all that to note that Jerry & Marge Go Large is nothing special, and not even all that good as a feature, but it certainly makes you want to smile.
This is the sort of easygoing dramatization of a unique experience with the lottery. There are some interesting facts about how things came to be, and the mission Jerry and Marge set themselves up for is something I can get behind. Mild drama ensues, threatening to ruin the plan, but it matters little. By the time this film ends, it’s not about finding ways to surprise the viewer. Instead, Jerry & Marge Go Large focuses on filling audiences in on something and doing so with little ambition added by director David Frankel.
The cast should help, and Cranston and Bening are fine here. Cranston continues to not quite work for me as a leading man in films (he’s one of our finest TV actors), but this is more of a character performance. The supporting cast promises more simple fun, as Rainn Wilson, Larry Wilmore, Anna Camp, and Michael McKean are basically on board to seem familiar enough and help push this story along. As a low-key streaming effort, this movie is entirely fine, if forgettable.
Where To Watch: Now available to stream on Paramount+.
The Setup: The long-awaited conclusion to the Charl storyline that began on the Patrick H Willems YouTube video essay series – a movie about friendship, parallel universes, the internet, and genocidal coconuts.
Review: Having to explain what this film is may be something of a convoluted challenge, which is similar to how video essayist Patrick H Willems ended up turning a video short into a full-length feature. Willems has produced informative and entertaining video essays based on film and other media for several years. His latest season introduced a thread of continuity focused around a sentient coconut with googly eyes. As it turns out, there was far more story going into this ridiculous concept than anticipated, leading to a season finale that’s expanded into a very funny 90-minute film. The question is, what do viewers get out of this?
Is Night of the Coconut a feature that straddles the line between goofy side plots and educated takes on how the film industry operates and what younger cinephiles can learn as they discover more about the medium? No. This is not a feature offering a thoughtful analysis of why people are wrong about plot holes, a referendum on the look of the MCU films, or an argument for Blade II and why it’s great. Instead, this is sheer silliness but competently made silliness.
Willems turns over the lead roles to a more than capable Matt Torpey and Chloe Holgate to deliver increasingly bonkers dialogue and a series of good jokes, movie references, song and dance routines, and callbacks to various Willems videos. Does that mean this film has little to offer those not in on the joke? Well, as a movie only accessible via a subscription service one doesn’t exactly luck into, chances are that anyone interested in watching Night of the Coconut is already aware of what they are getting into. With that said, there are handy recap videos covering the Charl saga for those needing a refresher.
I should also emphasize how charming and fun this elaborate and very low-budget production ended up being. Willems clearly has an eye informed by his passion for film. Even having made this film during a pandemic, with next to no crew, and relying on a script based around a coconut-centric side-storyline from a YouTube video series, there’s a lot of good-to-great stuff to be found in this feature. If there’s another sci-fi comedy featuring conspiracy theories, murderous coconuts, and musical numbers, I’d like to see it. As it stands, Night of the Coconut is a fun diversion and a fitting finale that came to be in the grandest of ways (given the origins).
Where To Watch: Now available to stream via Nebula.