We're almost one-third of the way through 2009 already (I know, can you believe it?) and I've seen exactly seven movies from this year. Pitiful, huh? I know it's not exactly my fault since so few films of quality are released in the winter, but I do think I could have done better (and I'm still behind on a couple of movies like I Love You, Man, Observe & Report, State of Play and three of the biggies released last weekend). What's even more pitiful than that is that I've written about none of these films at all. So, I've decided to remedy that and report on the last four movies I've seen.
Let's start with the least of these: the Zac Efron-starring 17 Again. If you've been paying any attention to my constantly updated list of film screenings on the right, you'll get the gist of my opinion of the movie. However, I thought it deserved a little more explanation. I wasn't expecting much going in, but 17 Again was for me what Twilight was too all of those tweenage girls. I was just excited to see that opening shot of Zac shooting baskets shirtless and am not embarassed to admit that I was squealing with delight the whole time. Sigh. Anyways, the film isn't all about Zac's beautiful chest and eyes and face; he actually has comedic timing and the possibility of being a legitimate movie star one day. You have to give Efron credit for delivering monologues as atrociously written as the ones he is given during the lunchroom and health class scenes with such finesse that they actually kinda sorta work. He even manages to nail the big dramatic moment. You know, the scene where he is reading that letter to his wife (Leslie Mann) and starts bawling his eyes out nearly had me in tears. Apparently, when Zac Efron cries, the whole world cries with him. Plus, he is given ample support from both Leslie Mann as his wife, who subtly and cordially works to make Zac's performance funnier, and Sterling Knight, whose stone-faced stoicism and delivery is a nice change of pace from the eager-to-please Disney hams we've come to expect. Unfortunately, I wasn't buying Michelle Trachtenberg's performance for a minute, especially the part where she wouldn't have sex with her boyfriend, because all I could imagine was Georgina Sparks and you know she would have been snorting cocaine of her boyfriend's dick in a hot minute. I also hate how the movie's "happy" ending is that Mann ends up with an old, flabby Matthew Perry instead of Zac. She works that hard to look that amazing and this is her reward? Oh hell no. Someone needs to rewrite this movie ASAP. Movie: C-, Zac Efron's Performance: B+, Zac Efron Sans Shirt: A++++++++
Next up is the latest attempt from Beyoncé to prove she's a legitimate actress: Obsessed. Was her attempt a success: Yes, but not in the way she expected. She's definitely the most interesting thing about this too long and flatlining Fatal Attraction ripoff, you can hardly wait for her to appear on screen next and when she does appear, she commands the screen like no other, but I'd hardly say it's because she's anywhere near being a good actress. Rather, Beyoncé possesses the rare ability to turn any line into both a bad-beyond-belief, Razzie-worthy reading and a hilariously campy battle cry that advances her character in ways you have to see to believe. Her character undergoes such a wild transformation from the first scene to the last that you manage to believe her insane phone message to the woman obsessed with her husband: "You know who this is. You came into my house. You touched my child. You think you're crazy? I'ma show you crazy. Try me, bitch." Has she seen the "Ring the Alarm" video? Beyoncé will not take shit from anyone. And when she utters the line "I'ma wipe the floor wit yo skinny ass!" during that insanely hilarious battle sequence at the very end (this coming soon after Beyoncé headbutts--yes headbutts her like she's fucking Andre the Giant-- Ali Larter) all hell breaks loose. The film before this moment is a true stinker, D+ at best, but adding in Beyoncé and the camp factor, it's an easy B+.
Now let's move on to a legitmately good film: Christine Jeffs' Sundance hit Sunshine Cleaning. The film has unfortunately been branded as yet another "quirky indie comedy in the Little Miss Sunshine vein" like it was a bad thing. Personally, I'd rather see more films like Sunshine Cleaning than yet another Transformers 2 or another entry in the endless line of brainless popcorn flicks. The style may feel somewhat familiar, but there's more than enough freshness here to allow this film to stand on its own. By now I'm sure your familiar with the quirky premise--two sisters (Amy Adams and Emily Blunt) need to make money and start their own crime scene clean-up company--but there is much more to the film than that. Amy Adams is spectacular as always, but the film belongs to Emily Blunt. We all saw the potential in her in The Devil Wears Prada, but, in my estimation, she has finally realized that potential. She's given the most overdone role--the dark, loser younger sibling--and she does more with it than most actresses would have. During the scene where she's rambling on and on about her vague memories of her mother to a new friend, Blunt makes the moment so uncomfortable it gives Ronee Blakely's babbling breakdown in Nashville a run for its money. Credit is also due to editor Heather Persons, who takes this scene to its limits by keeping the camera on Blunt for as long as possible before inserting a quick shot of the character listening to her. In fact, her work throughout the whole movie is impeccably done; it's extremely subtle, but extraordinarily powerful. B
Finally, the best of these: Greg Mottola's follow-up to his massively successful Superbad (which made my Top 10 of 2007), Adventureland. Like most people, going in I was expecting a return to the crude, foul-mouthed territory he had covered so well in Superbad, but I was pleasantly surprised by what Mottola offered us on this go-around. Adventureland is a surprisingly tender and achingly romantic comedy more in the Nick and Norah vein with Jesse Eisenberg as the sad sack virgin and Kristen Stewart as the blankly beautiful and eternally conflicted girl of his dreams. The two leads have some really great support from SNL stars Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig (whose eyepatch banana scene had me in stitches) and Margarita Levieva as the bodacious and all-around ideal chick Lisa P, but there was one scene in particular, lasting no more than a minute, that really made Adventureland for me: Kristen is driving Jesse around late at night after work. The windows are rolled down and the wind is flowing through the car. Crowded House's dreamy ballad "Don't Dream It's Over" is playing overhead. Jesse is lying back in his seat, intoxicated by the moment, and looks over at Kristen. She's looking off into the distance, with her trademark hand running through her hair, torn by some internal struggle that she can't verbalize to Jesse. This moment would have been glossed over by most directors, but Mottola turns into the most keenly observed moment into the entire film. B+