Friends, I can’t possibly review all the things I watch. Less because I watch so many things (though I most certainly do) and more because my brain only works a fraction of the time and writing reviews is harder than it looks (this is only sometimes true, but don’t tell anyone). So, in an effort to cram more reviews (that absolutely no one asked for) into your faces, welcome to an occasional series called “Things I Watched Without You.” Enjoy!
The Spy Who Dumped Me
This was some unexpectedly boisterous fun that made me laugh out loud more than once.
Risk-averse Audrey (Mila Kunis) gets dumped by her boyfriend Drew (Justin Theroux) via text, and she is understandably pissed off about it. Soon enough, she learns that he’s actually a spy who possibly dumped her to protect her. Love is complicated. She and her more adventurous best friend Morgan (Kate McKinnon) get pulled into a world of espionage and action when they, at Drew’s behest, try to hand off some very secret info to a contact in Vienna. Obviously, that goes seriously awry and ends in a wild and well-choreographed shoot out. I vote for Mila Kunis and Kate McKinnon doing all the buddy movies together! Susanna Fogel, the writer and director, made a conscious decision to never have them fight or compete with each other, and it’s a wonderful thing. Audrey and Morgan are constantly cracking up at each other’s jokes, cheering each other on, and offering each other honest support. You don’t realize how much that kind of friendship between women is often lacking in movies until you see it happen. Can more women write and direct action movies, please? To enjoy this movie, you will need to find humor in lines like, “women can be terrorists too. We can be anything we put our minds to.” I’m pretty sure I snorted. In a good way. There is a scene where the character played by the always delightfully creepy Fred Melamed is coming on to Morgan and asks if she’s into Balzac to which she responds, “Less and less so with every experience.” I definitely snorted at this one. I also greatly enjoyed when she tells Gillian Anderson’s character that she has so much respect for her that “it’s circled around into objectification.” There are also more positive vagina jokes than one usually finds in an action movie. And I’m here for all of them. Though, be forewarned that there are many explosions, car chases, and gunshots. If you live with sound sensitivity, I’d save this for a day when your symptoms are lower. (Amazon)
Oh, this is gentle and romantic and compelling. It’s warm and inviting, like sunshine on your face in Spring. Just warm and welcome.
In 1957 New York City, Sylvie (Tessa Thompson), whose dream is to work in television, is spending the summer at her dad’s (Lance Reddick) record shop working, waiting for her fiancé to get back from the war, and watching television away the from watchful and censoring eyes of her mother (Erica Gimpel), who runs an etiquette school for girls. Robert (Nnamdi Asomugha) is a jazz musician making bupkis playing in a band led by a less talented but more charismatic man when he gets a part-time job at her father’s store. Robert and Sylvie form a friendship (which begins when they accidentally get locked in somewhere together) through their shared love of music that grows into a passion for each other. (Side note: The Duke of Hastings also shows up as one of Robert’s bandmates. But he’s in the background and there are not as many opportunities to admire his…genes.) A small complaint I have is with (Jemima Kirke) as “The Countess” (no relation to the Duke of Hastings). Her character felt more contrived and theatrical, maybe, than everyone else’s. It’s like she was playing an actress playing a part in a movie from the 50s. I wanted to fast forward through her scenes. Anyway, when summer ends, Robert heads off on tour and Sylvie heads toward the aisle, but years later they meet again by chance as Sylvie’s star as a television producer is rising and the popularity of Robert’s kind of music is waning.
It’s the kind of period piece sweeping romance movie in which we rarely get to see Black actors as the protagonists. Sylvie and Robert’s love and success aren’t thwarted by the specter of racism or white supremacy. And, while those things are very real and important to acknowledge and address, everyone deserves to see themselves represented in a love story where hatred and violence aren’t lurking in the shadows. (Amazon)
Love Sarah is a gently uplifting movie that is very much fine enough to watch when you want to feel like big dreams are always in reach, people are inherently kind, and a community is always waiting just outside your door. Also, it has a fair amount of baking porn, which is enjoyable. Wait. Is that clear? I don’t mean people having sex while baking, just sexy shots of baked goods. I feel like I’m not helping myself here. Moving on. At times, the movie feels like it is someone’s deeply personal passion project, and, because of that, there are some holes in the plot that can’t be filled with soft-focus shots of creme patissiere.
So, on her way to begin her long-time dream of opening a bakery in London’s Notting Hill neighborhood, Sarah (Candice Brown) is killed in a cycling accident. While trying to navigate their grief, her daughter, Clarissa (Shannon Tarbet), best friend, Isabella (Shelley Conn), and her estranged mother, Mimi (Celia Imrie, who I always love to watch) band together to make Sarah’s dream a reality. But aside from missing Sarah’s presence, they also lack her skills in the kitchen. That is until Matthew (Rupert Penry-Jones), an old flame of Sarah’s from culinary school, shows up. He’s ready to throw in the towel at his Michelin starred restaurant and work for them, which only kind of makes sense and isn’t ever fully explored. While his creations are beautiful and delicious, the bakery doesn’t really find its footing until they start replicating some of the traditional sweets that remind London’s millions of immigrants of home, which is a pretty sweet (sorry, not sorry) story.
Sadly, the movie stops short of allowing any of the characters much nuance or interest. They are not unlike a mildly disappointing cake: Beautiful to look at, but somewhat lacking when it comes to depth and flavor. All of them are perfectly pleasant and well-intentioned. They face every challenge head-on and succeed with ease. Which makes the movie both easy to watch and somewhat unsatisfying. There is no dessert they cannot learn to make perfectly overnight! Which seems like a stretch! It all could have done with a bit more conflict, a bit more struggle, and a bit more humor, but it’s still watchable. For me, the movie is at its best when it celebrates London as a city made richer and sweeter by the immigrants who live there, and the bakery as a place for everyone to feel like they have come home. That shouldn’t feel like a political statement, but sadly these days it does. (Amazon)
The Sunlit Night
I mean, I can certainly see how people would be drawn in by this movie, which is based on a novel, which is based on the author/screenwriter’s own life. Frances’s (Jenny Slate) life implodes when her artwork is considered a flop, her boyfriend dumps her, her sister gets engaged to a man that her parents hate, her parents (David Paymer and Jessica Hecht) decide to separate, and the only summer mentorship she can find is in Norway painting a barn with a cantankerous artist while living in a camper. The scenery is Norwegian, so it’s breathtaking. There is a goat who becomes her roommate, which seems cute but, having lived with goats myself, all I could imagine was how much pee and poop must be in her bed. She runs into some Viking re-enactors (Zach Galifianakis) and a guy (Alex Sharp) who is there to give his Russian father a Viking burial. There are a lot of unanswered questions about what she’s doing and whether her art is worthy and about whether we make our own misery. So, yeah, I can definitely see how all this introspection would be extremely appealing to many people, but those people are not me. I felt mostly meh and sometimes aargh and occasionally nope about the whole thing. And I often wished for a little more levity and a lot less self-absorption. But you are not me and I am not you, so perhaps you’ll feel differently. Deep, right? (Hulu)
Teenage Bounty Hunters
I don’t know quite what I thought a show called Teenage Bounty Hunters would be about, but I certainly wasn’t expecting whip-smart, sheltered teenage fraternal twins from a wealthy, Southern, conservative, Christian family negotiating their way into working part-time for a cop-turned-bounty-hunter named Bowser (Kadeem Hardison) who owns a frozen yogurt shop as his side hustle. And how do a pair of sixteen year-olds with a country club membership and old-school racist grandparents end up chasing bail skips and probation breakers as their after school job? Well, it all starts with Sterling (Maddie Phillips), who usually follows all the rules, talking her long-time boyfriend into having sex with her by quoting him scripture. She breaks the news to Blair (Anjelica Bette Fellini), who considers herself a rebel and the “slutty twin,” while Blair is driving them home in their father’s hunting truck, which they took without permission. Blair is so shocked that play-by-rules Sterling got her V-card punched first that she crashes into an oncoming car. (Side note: virginity is a social construct of the patriarchy.) The driver, a criminal trying to outrun Bowser (who shows up moments later), is pretty sure two girls won’t be any match for him. It seems he’ll manage an escape until Blair runs and leaps onto the hood of his car and Sterling shoots out his tires with expert aim. Her Mossberg rifle, she explains to Bowser with a nonchalant shrug, was a Christmas gift from her Daddy. In order to fix the damage on the truck before their father notices, Blair and Sterling convince Bowser to give them a cut of his reward money. He’s adamant that it’s only a one-time deal, but of course they manage to persuade him to keep them on.
The whole premise is just absurd enough to work perfectly as a jumping off point to explore all kinds of complex issues, like race, class, sexuality, identity, faith, and gun-rights. Blair and Sterling, with their rapid-fire, stream-of-conscious conversations, are hilarious and spellbinding to watch. Their giddy energy is balanced perfectly by Bowser’s prickly, but caring, toughness. Honestly, there are so many moving parts and digressions in this show—all of which are wonderful—that I was worried that the whole thing was going to fly apart like some well-meaning but ill-conceived mechanical invention. But the center holds through the cliff-hanging season finale, which, sadly, also marks the end of the series. I’m crushed that we’ll never get to hear more exchanges like when Sterling asks what amphetamines are and Blair confidently responds that they’re drugs that can go on land and water. Or that we won’t get to hear Blair explain to a group of men that she supports the right to bear arms, but “if you need an assault rifle to take down a whitetail, you’re a lousy shot and you should get a new hobby. Also the NRA is in with big oil and they are eating up the American wilderness. Soon there won’t be anywhere to hunt anyway.” Or that there will never be more of Bowser rolling his eyes while Blair and Sterling animatedly debate some school gossip. It’s an outrage, really. As protest you should definitely watch the first and only season at least once. (Netflix)