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ANXIOUS PEOPLE (2021)

Title image. Two police officers arguing. At their feet are a pistol and a ski mask. Around their heads are pictures of the hostages in boxes with yellow backgrounds and question marks around them. In the middle are the words Anxious People.

Content Warning: Suicide, addiction.

Who knew there could be such a heartwarming series about hostages? Let alone one that opens with a scene depicting a death by suicide. But Anxious People, the Swedish series based on a book by Fredrik Backman, is a sympathetic, amusing, and pleasant show that might even surprise you.

When Jack (Alfred Svensson) was young, he witnessed a man fill his backpack with rocks and jump to his death from a bridge. He tried to stop him, offering that the man could speak to his father Jim (Dan Ekborg), a police officer and good man who could help with his problems. The man declined, but asked that Jack deliver a letter, sealed in a blue envelope, to the bank. Jim agreed, but only if the man promised not to jump while he was gone. The man nodded, but as soon as Jack turned away, the man stepped off the bridge and out of life.

In the present day, Jack is a policeman who lives and works alongside his father Jim. On the day that everything goes to hostage hell, Jack is getting his biannual haircut when he hears that his father has sent his drug-addicted sister money (again) to buy a ticket home for New Year’s Eve. Angry, because he knows she will only spend the money on drugs, which will, once again, break their father’s heart, Jack leaves mid-haircut to argue with his father. (I swear the heartwarming and funny parts are coming.) As they’re bickering on the street, two things are happening: Several strangers are heading into an apartment for an open house, and a masked person carrying a gun is trying to rob the bank. Jack and Jim are so engrossed in their disagreement that they don’t notice the attempted robbery happening right behind them until the hairstylist, Milou (Shima Niavarani), starts shouting to them from across the street. A chase ensues, and the failed bank robber runs into the building with the open house, locks the door behind them, runs up the stairs, and into the apartment, which is now filled with potential buyers, thus transforming themself from a failed bank robber into a hostage taker (who appears to be as terrified of the situation as the hostages themselves). Trapped inside the apartment with them are Zarah (Anna Granath), a bank manager with anxiety and insomnia; Julia (Carla Sehn), a very pregnant woman, and her wife Ro (Petrina Solange); Roger (Leif Andreé) and Anna-Lena (Marika Lagercrantz), an IKEA-addicted, scamming married couple, hoping to drive down the apartment’s price; Estelle (Lottie Ejebrant), an older woman interested in everyone else’s business; and Lennhart (Per Andersson), a man in a bunny costume, locked in the bathroom. After requesting pizza and fireworks, the hostage taker releases all the hostages unharmed, and disappears into thin air. 

In the hopes of figuring out what happened, Jim and Jack interview the hostages and search for clues. Gradually, through flashbacks to before and during the hostage situation, as well as scenes of the present day, the series pieces together the interconnected and overlapping stories of these apparent strangers. It’s a lovely and endearing story of redemption through human connection, kindness, and empathy that you can mainline straight your soul in one afternoon.

Overall Rating on the Chronically Streaming Pain Scale:

1-Comfortable: Maybe there are some annoying twinges here and there, but overall the good outweighs the bad.

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STAY CLOSE (2021)

Title Image. The words read from top to bottom. A Netflix series. Harlan Coben's STAY CLOSE. On police tape it says: Everyone has secrets. There is an image of four main characters looking straight out with what looks like broken glass in the center with lines spreading out from there, separating the characters. The woods are just visible behind them.
They aren’t joking when they say everyone has secrets. If there were a baby, you can be damn sure that baby would be harboring some dark secrets.

I think I’d mostly rather stay far away from Stay Close, which has a plot made of Swiss Cheese and an ending so sensationalized, cheap, and senseless that I want to request a reimbursement for my eyeballs, which I broke by rolling them so hard. None of this is to say that I didn’t binge the whole thing (I absolutely did), because I’m still a sucker for murdery mystery shows that are well acted, even if they are overwrought but under thought-out when it comes to actual logic or plausibility.

Megan Pierce (Cush Jumbo) lives in a big-ass house and is finally engaged to Dave Shaw (Daniel Francis), the loving, handsome man with whom she shares three children. Her biggest problem appears to be that no one is willing to help her carry the groceries from the car to the house, so you know everything in her life is about to go sideways. When she gets home from her (very tame) hen night, she finds a card addressed to “Cassie” on her doorstep, which causes much ominous music to play and panicked looks on her part. Then, at her daughter’s tennis game, she sees a face from her past among the crowd and there is more ominous music and panicking. It turns out that the face belongs to Lorraine Griggs (Sarah Parish), who knew Megan neé Cassie back in the day when she worked at Viper’s— which is a strip club, though women are never shown in anything other than very cute costumes, some of which appear difficult to remove. Seventeen years ago, Cassie pulled up stakes and disappeared from her old life, ghosting everyone in it, including her fiancé Ray Levine (Richard Armitage), because she found an abusive customer, Stewart Green (Rod Hunt), bloody and probably dead in the woods behind the club. Now, Lorraine claims Stewart Green is back and asking for Cassie. Ominous music very much warranted.

Meanwhile, DS Michael Broome (James Nesbitt) and his partner (and ex-wife) DS Erin Cartwright (Jo Joyner) are asked to look into Carlton Flynn (Connor Calland), a twenty-year-old with a flashy car and a rich daddy, who disappeared on the night of the Carnival celebrations at Viper’s. Broome is utterly disinterested in the case until he realizes that Carlton went missing seventeen years to the day after Stewart Green, whose body was never found and whose disappearance has never been explained. Is there a pattern or is it just a coincidence? (A pattern, obviously. Why else would we be here?) 

And then there is Ray Levine, MeganCassie’s ex-fiancé and a talented photographer who now makes ends meet by working as a paparazzi-for-hire at things like Bar Mitzvahs. (It’s as demoralizing as it sounds, but he does get to work with his bestie, and my favorite character, Fester (Youssef Kerkour), so all is not lost.)  The night Carlton Flynn went missing, he was drunkenly taking artsy photographs in the woods behind Viper’s (after possibly beating the crap out of some other guy), which is completely logical if you don’t think about it at all, because sure he would take his very expensive camera out to all the places with him when he planned on getting plastered. Anyway, there’s something incriminating in his photographs, which we find out because his fancy camera gets stolen, but don’t worry because he backed things up onto the cloud, which he tells us (via Fester) ad nauseam. 

Friends, this is just the beginning of the wide web of secrets and lies and confusing subplots. MeganCassie’s daughter is also involved with Carlton Flynn’s disappearance. MeganCassie’s fiancé also has a Big Secret. There is a heroin addicted lawyer who only does good for people, who will kind of keep secrets. Stewart Green’s wife has been keeping a secret for seventeen years. There are casually mentioned affairs Broome has had with women and will have with women related to his cases. Get out there in the wide world Broome! It would do you some good!  People start covering for other people who they think did crimes, which just further muddies the truth and makes me want to lock all these people in a room and not let them out until they JUST TALK TO EACH OTHER WITH ACTUAL WORDS. Good grief. Like a solid percentage of the drama in this series could have been avoided with some good heart-to-heart chats. There are Ken (Hyoie O’Grady) and Barbie (Poppy Gilbert), the preppy, show-tune singing, synchronized dancing, sociopathic duo hired to find Carlton Flynn. They’re said to come with impeccable references, but even with all their jolly, dead-eyed dedication to torture and killing, they seem utterly incapable of finding even the merest scrap of information about him. There is the whole aspect that MeganCassie never told Dave about her previous life because she didn’t want him to know she was a stripper. Really? Come on. She talks about how much she loved working with the “girls”and how much she loved dancing, but she also won’t tell her life partner about any of it? She could have left out details if she was worried about the whole being implicated in the possible murder of Stewart Green. Is he really the right person if he only likes her if she’s pure as the driven snow? (Spoiler: No one is.) But it’s the end I really wish I could tell you about, and obviously I cannot. I understand part of what they were trying to do, and it’s not that I don’t appreciate the effort in one sense, but overall it just massively failed. And it’s not just the who and the why of the end that bothered me, but also the how that makes absolutely no sense. 

All that said, and it’s much more than I meant to say, it’s not like you absolutely shouldn’t watch Stay Close. There are a lot of actors worth watching in the series, and I for one always enjoy a mystery that allows plenty of time and space for complaining. And I genuinely adored every single thing about Fester. You could just watch it for Fester’s scenes and it would be worth it.

Overall Rating on the Chronically Streaming Pain Scale:

2-Sometimes I have the distinct desire to remove an eyeball to relieve the pain, but I can’t complain too much. Drugs would dull the discomfort, but I can get through without.

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DON’T LOOK UP (2021)

Title Image. At the top it says Leonardo Dicaprio and Jennifer Lawrence. Below that it has the names of the other stars of the movie. In block letters it says DON'T LOOK UP. Framed in the letters are the characters faces, all of whom are looking up. To the right toward the bottom it says BASED ON TRULY POSSIBLE EVENTS. And at the bottom it says A film by Adam McCay, Don't Look Up.

Let’s start with the basics: Climate change is very real. This movie is really very bad. I don’t care what all the other kids are doing, you don’t have to watch Don’t Look Up, which is an unrelenting, bloated, overly long mess of ineffective satire that could have just been a not-at-all-funny Saturday Night Live skit. It’s like two hours and eighteen minutes of someone punching you in the arm and saying, “You get it, right? It’s funny, right?” Unspoiler alert: Even when you get it, it’s still not funny. 

Michigan State Astronomy graduate student Kate Dibiasky (Jennifer Lawrence) is sporting some micro bangs, drinking tea, eating toast, rapping along to the Wu-Tang Clan, and looking through a big-ass telescope (pardon the highly technical term) when she spots a brand new comet. Her advisor, Dr. Randall Mindy (Leonardo DiCaprio), and the other students gather to celebrate the event and do some calculations on the comet, which leads them to realize that the sucker is huge, and it’s headed straight for Earth. Dr. Mindy and Kate contact the Kennedy Space Center who then grudgingly loops in Dr. Teddy Oglethorpe (Rob Morgan) at the Planetary Defense Coordination Office. Honestly, at this point the movie still has real potential. There’s some humor and dramatic tension. Dr. Calder (Hettienne Park) at the Kennedy Space Center responds to them calling it an “extinction level event” by saying, “Let’s not be dramatic here.” It manages to be darkly humorous and satirical. Also, Dr. Mindy is careful here, and at every step in the process, to make sure that Kate gets credit for discovering the comet, and don’t think it’s lost on me the world is literally ending when a woman finally gets her due. I exaggerate, but barely. 

So, Dr. Mindy and Kate head to Washington, D.C. to meet with the President, this movie starts to circle the drain, and life is but a dream. At the White House they’re left in a hallway for an entire day while President Orlean (Meryl Streep) sorts out a scandal related to a highly under-qualified Supreme Court nominee—he doesn’t have a law degree, is known for shooting people, and used to be a nude life model. (Because you really want to make sure you cram the jokes all the way down people’s throats, there will be further unsavory revelations about him later.) The next day they finally get to meet with President Orlean and her Chief of Staff/son/Birkin Bag handler, Jason (Jonah Hill), who completely blow them off because the midterm elections are coming up, and they don’t want to lose. And also because they’re tired of hearing about the end of the world. Dr. Mindy, Kate, and Dr. Oglethorpe decide to leak the information to the press. They go on a morning talk show where, unsurprisingly, the topic is treated like a fluff piece, and Kate loses her shit. Afterwards, they are taken into custody by the FBI, and Birkin Bag Handler Jason adds the extra flourish of requesting they have hoods put over their heads. Isn’t casual torture funny? Yes, I know it’s satire, but without context or depth it just feels empty and grotesque. The President has gotten herself into some hot water, and saving the world seems like as good a way as any to distract people from the scandal. What a relief! Except we’re only 52 minutes into this movie, so you know it’s not going to stick. A tech billionaire with far too many teeth (Mark Rylance) has an idea to make oodles of money off the earth destroying hunk of space rock, so of course the people in power are going to say, Fuck humanity, let’s do that! Kate’s reporter boyfriend (Himesh Patel) starts writing exposé articles about her, Dr. Mindy gets sucked into the media sphere, people start a Don’t Look Up movement, and there are still many minutes to go before the end (of the world and the movie).

 Don’t Look Up is like satire by a thousand sound bites. It’s a barrage of constant noise, but no real depth and no space to rest. It’s just one punch after another after another. Plus, none of the characters are likable, not even in an antihero kind of way. (Maybe this is exactly what you need and want in your satire, in which case, you probably should be watching the movie instead of reading this review.) There were odd inconsistencies in style as well. In one scene they broke the fourth wall, and then it never happened again. Interspersed at odd intervals are clips of things like waves crashing against rocks or a hummingbird sipping nectar, like it was spliced with a documentary. Maybe this is in case we forget what we’d be losing if earth were to be destroyed? 

 It felt like there were several movies crammed into one. To be entirely fair, at the end of the movie, but before the end credits scene or the post credits scene—there was one scene (ONE WHOLE  SCENE!) that I enjoyed. So, there’s that.

Overall Rating on the Chronically Streaming Pain Scale:

4-Agony: Holy hell. Everything is awful. Is this for real? I can’t remember when anything was good. Give me all the drugs at once.

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DANCING QUEENS (2021)

Title image: A Netflix Film. DANCING QUEENS. An image of the lead character that is split by a shimmer spotlight from above. Half of her is in regular street clothing in makeup. the other half is in drag makeup and costume.There are glittering twinkles of light all around her.

There’s probably a very layered and touching story to be told about women and drag and dancing and grief and acceptance, but the Swedish movie Dancing Queens doesn’t do it. I really wanted to like this movie for the gentle way it tells the story of a family in mourning, but I just couldn’t get past the way it uses stock stories of drag queens and gay characters, who are largely relegated to the sidelines, to center and elevate the success of a cisgender white woman with very little to lose.

Dylan Petterson (Molly Nutley) lives on a small Swedish island where she helps her father (Mattias Nordkvist) run their family grocery store and teaches dance to young kids. It’s been seventeen months since her mother (Ellen Lindblad), who instilled a love of dancing in Dylan, died, and her father still isn’t very stable mentally. Dylan feels responsible for his physical and mental well-being, even if that means putting her dreams of dancing beyond the walls of her small school on indefinite hold. However, her spirited grandmother (Marie Göranzon) has other ideas. She keeps pushing Dylan to go to an audition for an international dance company that she found online. Finally, Dylan relents and goes to the audition, but once there she finds out the audition took place the month before. This makes very little sense, but it makes heaps more sense then what happens next, which is that the cleaning woman (Ann Westin) for a drag club near the theater just happens to be standing there and ropes Dylan into taking over her duties for a week so she can go off and meet some guy she connected with on Tinder. What?!? Sure. Why not? Dylan lies to her family, saying she made it to the next round of the auditions and will be staying for further tryouts. 

Meanwhile, the queens at the club are trying to mount a new dance show, but it’s going pretty poorly because some of them can’t seem to learn the choreography, there’s much arguing, and many of them disagree about what songs to use. Plus, the director is in a relationship with the choreographer and that just makes things messier. After practice is over one night, Dylan is cleaning when she knocks over a lamp, nearly scaring the pants off the choreographer, Victor (Fredrik Quiñones), who has stayed to work on some moves. Let me pause here to say that Fredrik Quiñones is just an absolutely arrestingly stunning human being. I would usually say that he has a Genetically Blessed Face, but I think that falls woefully short of describing him. Anyway, Victor asks Dylan to help him out by just standing on the stage, but then he realizes (GASP!) that she can dance!! They dance together. There is magic. Dylan would be perfect in the show, but she is a woman, so she cannot. BUT! Dylan decides to dress as a man, convince them to hire her, and then dress as a woman for the show. Would this really go completely undetected? I find it hard to believe. In the movie it works. They all love Dylan. She breathes new life into the show, their lives, the club. You can probably hum the tune from here on out.

So, you see, a woman saving a group of marginalized people just by her electrifying (false) presence is already problematic, right? And then, added to that, there is the fact that we only really hear all of the queens’ stories via Victor as told to Dylan. The movie also shies away from saying anything particularly interesting or insightful about queerness. Plus, it appears most of the actors playing the drag queens are just that: actors playing drag queens. This seems like an instance where you would want to have people from the marginalized group playing themselves. If the story had been rewritten so that it centered on the queens in the club offering shelter to this young girl who is lost in the sea of grief, and who found safety and solace on their shores of acceptance, it could have been so much better.  

All that said, Molly Nutley’s controlled depiction of grief keeps the movie from tipping over into maudlin. The supporting cast is also strong and keeps the movie, even with a one hour and fifty minute run-time, feeling fairly buoyant. Though problematic in context here, the message of acceptance, self discovery, and community is still generally uplifting and heartwarming. And Fredrik Quiñones is freakin’ entrancing to watch. 

Overall Rating on the Chronically Streaming Pain Scale:

2-Sometimes I have the distinct desire to remove an eyeball to relieve the pain, but I can’t complain too much. Drugs would dull the discomfort, but I can get through without.

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FALLING FOR FIGARO (2020)

Title Image. TO FIND YOUR VOICE, SING FROM THE HEART. DANIELLE MACDONALD, HUGH SKINNER, JOANNA LUMLEY. FALLING FOR FIGARO. FROM BEN LEWIN THE ACCLAIMED DIRECTOR OF 'THE SESSIONS' The two leads, dressed in their opera finery are peaking out from behind curtains. He is looking out toward the audience and she is looking at him. Behind them is their teacher looking seriously at the camera.

A confession. I don’t like opera. (Listen, no judgement, sometimes our brains are just wired a certain way.) So really, I probably have no business watching Falling for Figaro, which is all about a woman who is passionate enough about opera to uproot her safe, comfortable life to pursue a career in it. Even so, I enjoyed the movie, and maybe have a greater appreciation of opera? Okay. That last part might be hyperbole, but I didn’t hate opera in the context of this movie, which is saying a lot!

Millie Cantwell (Danielle McDonald) is a very successful funds manager living with her boyfriend in London. She gets a big promotion that will catapult into even greater fund management things. The speech her boss gives about her would make the word effusive blush. However, instead of accepting the position, Millie decides to quit her job to pursue her long-time dream of becoming an opera singer. All of this is fine except that Millie’s boyfriend, Charlie (Shazad Latif)—who obviously doesn’t understand her love of opera because that’s how things work in these kinds of movies—didn’t have even the slightest inkling of her plans? I mean, this is a huge red flag in a relationship, and while he’s kind of a twit, he does have reason to be annoyed that she upended her entire life without at least sending him a text first. 

Through the help of a friend, Millie goes off to Scotland to audition to become the student of Megan Geoffrey-Bishop (Joanna Lumley), a very salty retired opera singer, living in a run-down house in a tiny village, who is only effusive with insults. Millie, it turns out, has some skill when it comes to singing, but also buckets of determination and a lot of passion, which might just carry her farther than anyone expects. I will say that Danielle McDonald’s acting is sometimes a little uneven—or maybe it’s just that she just sounds unnatural saying some of the lines.

Megan Geoffrey-Bishop only has one other student, Max Thistlewaite (Hugh Skinner), who, you’ll be absolutely shocked to find out, is also conventionally attractive and Emotionally Unavailable. He walks around a lot of the time looking tortured, or at least like he’s very worried that he’s left the stove on at home. Unlike Millie, Max doesn’t have gobs of money saved from a fancy-pants London job, so he earns his keep by doing odd-jobs, including accompanying Megan Geoffrey-Bishop on her grocery shopping, cooking for the local pub, and taking care of all the plumbing in the village (not a euphemism). And would you believe that both Max and Millie have their sights set on competing in the Singer of Renown competition, the winner of which gets to spend a year with an opera company, or some such thing? Max has been trying and failing to win it for five years now. It seems he has all the book smarts and technical skills necessary, but lacks the emotion needed to really sing opera. I wonder where he could possibly find the emotion he lacks? Certainly not in the vicinity of Millie’s pants?!? 

Because this is set in the Scottish highlands, there will also be a friendly barkeep and a crowd of welcoming locals who care more deeply about an opera competition than you’d ever expect. It plays more heartwarming than over-the-top quirky. Not that I’m against over-the-top quirky, but it’s nice to have a break from it in rom-com every now and then. The characters here aren’t particularly deep, but the music kind of provides them with other layers. Max and Millie have enough chemistry for this largely sexless movie to work. (I realize that sounded like an insult, but it really wasn’t meant as one.) Overall, Finding Figaro is a sweet, gentle, sometimes funny movie about following your passion and finding yourself, which I found you can enjoy even if opera generally makes you want to crawl out of your skin. Yes, you’ll mostly know where the plot is headed before you even press play, but the ending does have a couple of twists that make the predictable feel refreshing. 

Overall Rating on the Chronically Streaming Pain Scale:

1-Comfortable: Maybe there are some annoying twinges here and there, but overall the good outweighs the bad.

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THE GUERNSEY LITERARY AND POTATO PEEL PIE SOCIETY (2018)

Title image. The stars names are across the top. Based on the best-selling novel. Images of the main characters in a line. From the producers of THE BEST EXOTIC MARIGOLD HOTEL AND THE MAZUR KAPLAN COMPANY. Dawsey and Juliet stand looking at each other. To the far right is Juliet dressed in a light blue long coat, carrying a suitcase, her head turned toward the camera. In the lower portion on the left are two cancelled stamps and then the title, styled to look like a postal stamp.

If you like romance, English  period dramas, and picture-perfect villages chock full of quirky characters, then you’ll probably be just fine with The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, which, much like its title, runs a bit long, and tries to cram in a bit much. Nonetheless, I know I mostly floated through watching it unassailed by eye-rolls or wondering if the end would be coming soon. 

World War II has finally ended and London is rebuilding. Much to her chagrin, Juliet Ashton (Lily James) has written a very popular book under a pen name, and now her publisher and best friend, Sidney Stark (Matthew Goode, good gracious!), is insisting she go on a book tour and use some of her earnings to buy a nice apartment. How absolutely wretched of him!! Seriously though, Juliet is still very haunted by memories of losing her parents and her home during the war. The book that everyone loves isn’t the book she really wanted to write, and so it doesn’t seem quite fair to celebrate her success. Plus, as she says to her American boyfriend Mark Reynolds (Glen Powell)—who takes her out to fancy parties where they drink champagne like frat bros suck down cheap beer—it feels like they’ve all come out of a long dark tunnel into a carnival. He thinks that sounds like a great thing, but Juliet doesn’t seem so sure. In the midst of this rumination, Juliet receives a letter from Dawsey Adams (Michiel Huisman), a pig farmer on Guernsey Island. It seems that during the war Dawsey ended up with a book by Charles Lamb that used to belong to Juliet (it had her name and address written inside). The book and his book club, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, helped keep him company during the long and difficult German occupation of Guernsey. Now that the war is over and the Germans are gone, he would like to read more of Charles Lamb, but there are no bookstores left on the island, which is why he’s writing to Juliet. Her curiosity piqued, Juliet sends him the book and asks for more information about the book group. Dawsey tells her about how they initially formed the group to keep the Nazis from finding out about an illicit dinner of roast pig, but then reading and books really did become their refuge and their community during the long, wretched occupation. 

Unable to stop thinking about these people, Juliet decides to visit Guernsey with the hopes of writing an article about them for The Times. But wait! First, we need a complication in the love department! Just before she gets on the boat, Mark the Shark puts a big old diamond ring on her finger. Is it love or is it staking his claim? He seems like a nice enough guy, but there are some red flags in the form of dozens and dozens of red roses, which, judging by how many identical bouquets she has in her room, he must buy wholesale from the flower market. Anyway, off she she goes to Guernsey where she meets Eben (Tom Courtenay), the grandfatherly postmaster, Isola (Katherine Parkinson), the somewhat free-spirited woman who makes all sorts of gin, Amelia (Penelope Wilton), the steadfast older woman who seems to be hiding a darker secret, and, finally, Dawsey, who Juliet thinks is pretty damn hot for a pig farmer. I’m paraphrasing. 

She immediately feels at home in their intergenerational, intellectually challenging literary and social community, but there are many more things she wants to understand. Like what has happened to one of the society’s founding members? Why doesn’t Amelia want anything published about them? Why does her heart beat so funny around Dawsey? The movie weaves back and forth between the occupation during the war and post-war times, gradually telling the story of what happened to this small group of people. 

There are a lot of books and movies about World War II. Like, just a plethora of them. On the one hand, I never want the Holocaust to be forgotten. On the other hand, I worry about it being sanitized and romanticized to the point that the atrocities are whitewashed. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Pie Society certainly refers to the horrendous times endured by people on the island, but, at times, it also paints the Germans as easily duped, or the difficult times are shown with too rosy a hue. I understand this isn’t the kind of film that can show too much of the metaphorical gaping wounds, but I still need to point it out. The other thing that sometimes rubs me the wrong way is how reading is held as the moral high ground. Look, I love reading. I love books. I love pages. I love words. However, I don’t love gatekeeping about what constitutes worthy reading, and I feel just a smidge of that here when they have their great debates about the Brontë sisters or Virginia Woolf or Charles Lamb or Oscar Wilde. Did absolutely no one in this group ever want to read something that wouldn’t show up on a list of “100 Great Authors You Should Read Before You Die” or whatever? Did no one want to read a popular novel? Sure, during the war their choices were limited, but now? Now, being post-war, obviously. Juliet could bring them trunks of books. I’m just saying, there would be nothing wrong if it turned out Dawsey really enjoyed reading Agatha Christie to the pigs. Or what if Eben just loved reading and rereading Forever Amber? My point is, you don’t have to only love one kind of book to be an interesting person. 

Even with those caveats, I think you can still enjoy this movie, which has some pretty nice scenery (and yes, I do mean that in both the Genetically Blessed Face way and the nature way), a good storyline, and a predictable, but still captivating, romance. I found it was the right movie for an afternoon when I wanted something quiet, but emotional. 

Overall Rating on the Chronically Streaming Pain Scale:

1-Comfortable: Maybe there are some annoying twinges here and there, but overall the good outweighs the bad.

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AFTERLIFE OF THE PARTY (2021)

SHE'S GOT ONE MORE CHANCE TO FIX THE LIFE SHE LEFT IN PIECES. Cassie in a tight metallic mini-dress, holding a martini glass in her right hand. She has neon wings and a neon halo and is sitting on the glowing words AFTERLIFE OF THE PARTY A NETFLIX FILM. Above the AF it says VICTORIA JUSTICE.

Did Afterlife of the Party really need to be an entire 109 minutes long? Very doubtful. Is it still  refreshing that this overly long, unwieldy story focuses on the fate of friendship between two women instead of a high stakes romance? Without a doubt. Is it still concerning that there is an underlying current of morality with the main character’s clothing getting more and more feminine as she learns to be more selfless? Hell yes! 

Cassie (Victoria Justice), who works as a party planner, is very excited to celebrate her birthday, as she does every year, with a huge event she’s dubbed Cassie-Palooza. Lisa (Midori Francis), her roommate and best friend since first grade, is less excited about the Big Night Out. She’s tired from working so hard at the dinosaur lab and wishes they could just stay home and work on a puzzle like old times. I know! I was also shocked and amazed to learn that these two besties are polar opposites! Brace yourself because more shocking plot points are coming your way. On their way to the party, Cassie and Lisa meet Max (Timothy Renouf), a hottie who is moving in next door. He and Lisa have an instant connection, but they’re both incapable of doing anything about it. (This will be important in about forty minutes.) Cassie gets extremely drunk. Lisa decides to duck out of the party early. This leads to a huge fight where regrettable things are said. The two go their separate ways. Cassie wakes up the next morning, slips in the bathroom, whacks her head on the toilet, and dies. 

Not to worry, though, before you can say Mourning Period, dead Cassie wakes up in a spiritual waiting room of sorts where her temporary guardian angel, Val (Robyn Scott), is watching a highlight reel of Cassie’s life and death. Turns out that Cassie has some unfinished emotional business on earth and, in order to score a spot in the Above Realm, she’s got to make things right with her mom (Gloria Garcia), dad (Adam Garcia), and Lisa. An entire year has passed since Cassie, erm, passed, but for some unexplained reason Cassie only gets five days to figure everything out and make it right. Easy peasy lemon squeezy. Especially when you have almost an hour and half of a movie left to do it all! Now, every movie has its own Rules for Ghosts. This one is pretty fast and loose with them because Cassie can touch things and pick them up, which makes her life, sorry, death, so much easier. Living people shouldn’t be able to hear or see her, but, because she and Lisa had such a deep bond, that rule doesn’t apply to them. So Cassie comes back to rom-com the heck out of Max and Lisa as well as to do a lot of her own soul (literally) searching. 

The movie is pretty heavy handed when it comes to themes like forgiveness and selflessness. Not that there’s anything wrong with either of those in general, but when they get tied up in redemption it gets a little bit stickier. As I said before, I dislike the way that as she learns the intended lessons, she becomes visibly softer and more feminine. Her first post-death outfit is a tight metallic mini-dress and her last is a pale blue flowy, floral mini-dress. Also, there is the whole idea that Cassie has to die in order to learn to be a better person, which is just hugely problematic if you really think about it. The devil being in the details and all that.

Overall Rating on the Chronically Streaming Pain Scale:

2-Sometimes I have the distinct desire to remove an eyeball to relieve the pain, but I can’t complain too much. Drugs would dull the discomfort, but I can get through without.

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