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The two main character embracing with their foreheads touching against a largely washed out background. The title in the lower center in white letters.

Two people getting fake married and then really falling in love is a romantic movie staple as old as celluloid. But getting fake married so one person can afford life saving prescriptions and pay off crushing medical debt? Phew. That’s some dystopian, but accurate, shit right there. 

Cassie (Sofia Carson) is a scrappy singer-songwriter, belting out breathy cover songs with her band, living in a third floor walk up with a broken doorknob, and working several jobs to not make ends meet. She’s up to her neck in medical bills and can’t afford to cover the cost of the insulin she needs for her Type 1 Diabetes. Her fiercely independent streak means she won’t ask her mom, who is also barely making ends meet, for help, even if it means putting her life in danger. Luke (Nicholas Galitzine) is about to ship out to Iraq with the Marines, but he’s got a pocketful of problems at home. Namely, the huge debt he still owes his former drug dealer who refuses to let him set up a reasonable payment plan. Before joining the Marines and finding a life of discipline and service (and some compatriots who make just a jaw dropping number anti-muslim comments), Luke spent too many years “disappointing his family,” especially his father who is a retired Marine himself, by suffering from addiction. Now, he just wants to make things right once and for all by secretly joining the Marines. No irony there. 

Cassie and Luke collide one night at the bar where she waitresses and it does not go well. Luke is all conservative values, pro-military, and NRA. Cassie is anti-military, feminism, pro-immigrant. They hate each other at first sight, but they’re both very pretty and Good People, so we know that won’t really last. (Though I’d argue, if this were a longer review, that Luke is not really that nice when they first meet.)

Cassie first proposes the idea of the faux nuptials to her friend Frankie (Chosen Jacobs), who just so happens to be Luke’s bunkmate. What are the chances? But he politely demurs because he’s just gotten back together with his girlfriend. Luke is initially appalled by the plan because it’s fraud, but there’s still the small matter of the drug dealer who is hounding him for money and threatening to go after his family, so he eventually sees the value in hitching his star to Cassie’s wagon (so to speak) because marriage would come with extra pay. I guess fraud is okay when it benefits him, but not when it saves Cassie’s life? Sweet. Of course, these two total opposites get hurriedly hitched and maaaybe start to feel some inklings of love right away. Very opposing life views be damned! In movies like this one, niceness and/or good looks always sets loins afire over everything else. Luke insists that military people will be watching them constantly, so they have to make the marriage look real at all times by writing emails and video chatting. And we all know what happens when two very attractive, very opposite people pretend very hard to be in love!! They fall in love for realz.

No one should be watching this movie for the plot twists. I mean, the trailer basically tells you most of what’s going to happen. And my hang ups with the movie aren’t about hackneyed plot lines or clichéd dialogue, which are more like a relaxing soak in blandness for your brain than anything else. (I mean that as a good thing.) It’s more that the movie brings in these weighty subjects, like politics, the military, immigration, and healthcare, but then just kind of leaves them there in a heap. Luke calls Cassie a “snowflake.” Cassie calls out Luke about his comments about immigrants, and fucking rightly so. They go back and forth about her “The Future is Female ” shirt, but it’s all so, so empty. None of it stands for anything and all of it is just a handy prop for the characters. I guess the idea is that they evolve and learn from each other. She learns to support the military and he learns to…support her mom? I honestly don’t even know. In the beginning Cassie has a rainbow flag and a Black Lives Matter flag hanging from her balcony. After marrying Luke she adds an American flag as if it’s just that simple a matter, and not a hugely complex subject of supporting a person who is risking their life, while still perhaps raging against the machinery and politics and country that are continuing to fund the ongoing war. It rankled me as well that her health issues just sort of—POOF—stop being an issue at some point. I also had some real issues with how someone’s physical recovery is depicted as heroism and inspiring and done through grit. 

But look, maybe you just want to flop on the couch and be entertained by something that requires you not strain even a single brain cell. And, assuming you can set aside all your thoughts about how opposing political beliefs might affect an intimate relationship and you can ignore the instances of anti-immigrant and anti-Arab views expressed without any real consequences or pushback and you’re okay with the possible military propaganda and you you can get past the dystopian health care plot (this is a lot of ands), this movie could fill that void. Also, Cassie’s singing was distinctly not my jam, which is wholly my personal taste. But if you also fall into that camp, be forewarned that she only sings more as the movie goes along. 

Overall Rating on the Chronically Streaming Pain Scale:

Distressing: I’m so uncomfortable. I wonder if this will ever stop. I might want to be sedated.

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Ravi in a white shirt and grey jacket with his arm around Asha. Both are facing the camera. Behind them is a city scape and green park. The title is in white letters at the bottom. The O in season has a heart in the center.

Assuming you’re a rom com aficionado who isn’t going to do something ridiculous, like poo poo a predictable plot, then Wedding Season is a pretty good watch. Somehow, even with a kajillion wedding dance scene montages, it does feel a little low energy and lacking tension in places. But, you know, you don’t throw out the whole pot of soup just because it needs a little more pepper, and neither should you skip this movie just because its energy flags sometimes.

Asha (Pallavi Sharda) has a few looming problems, but perhaps her biggest and knottiest is her mother, Sunita (Veena Sood), updating her profile on an Indian dating site and then locking her out by changing the password. This causes some poor schmuck to show up with a big bouquet of flowers right in the middle of Asha’s Big Presentation about microloans in front of all the VIP investors from Singapore. It’s definitely not the only reason the presentation, which is a Huge Deal for her non-profit, goes sideways—a lot of that might be because Ahsa is just a smidge Emotionally Unavailable ™  and relies on numbers and data instead of human interest stories when making her case. Asha is, rightfully, upset, but her mother won’t back down because she wants Asha to find a nice guy (which will also shut up the clamorous gossiping aunties). Her father (Rizwan Manji) is just so worried that Asha is throwing her life away since she left banking to work at this piddly non-profit (that has offices in several parts of the world and is courting millions of dollars in donations, so isn’t exactly a mom and pop operation). Her sister Priya (​​Arianna Afsar) is literally begging Asha to just keep the peace for the next few months until seals the deal with her very non-Indian fiancé, Nick (Sean Kleier), who is trying so hard to fit-in that he’s absolutely breaking everyone around him, but especially Priya. So, fine, Asha agrees to go on one date with an MIT grad, start-up having, spelling bee genius of an Indian-American nerd guy named Ravi (Suraj Sharma) whose mother clearly wrote his profile, and who she knows she will not like, AND she agrees to go to all the Indian weddings this summer, but only to get her mother off her back about getting married so she can focus on her work, which is her life, which is how she wants it to be. 

Actually, it was Ravi’s dad (Manoj Sood) who wrote his profile. (Thank you for some gender equality in the pressure to marry game.) His father also thinks Ravi is a total man-child who is grossly irresponsible and wants to show him that he’s got to be more responsible so that women will take him seriously and he can then get married.  Shockingly, Ravi has some secrets that his parents are terrified that, if revealed, will ruin his chances of ever finding a partner for life. Anyway, things do not go well during his first meeting with Asha. She is pretty determined to show him all the ways in which they are incompatible and he ultimately leaves. But, of course, that is definitely not that. They meet again at the next huge wedding, where Asha is doing work in a corner on her laptop because she’s just that dedicated, friends, to her Second Chance Big Presentation. And Ravi is milling around with his certified Genetically Blessed Face. It is a meddling Auntie who ultimately pushes them into classic Fake Relationship situation, which will obviously lead to some Very Real Feelings. There will be, as I said, a lot of wedding montage content helping us get from here to there, which I’m not against, but I do have an inconsequential note. The montages jump back and forth in time, which I find kind of confusing and makes it appear that Asha repeats wedding outfits (THE HORROR!!). Wouldn’t it be better to just give us a linear montage or two? I think so.  

Anyhoodle, you know pretty much where the movie is going from here and it’s enjoyable watching it get there. The movie is pretty well-acted all around and there’s enough humor to keep the realistic-feeling conversations about familial and community pressure to be socially correct and to marry from feeling too heavy for this movie. It’s also nice the way the movie brings in threads about various kinds of intermarriage and how that plays out. It’s also not a movie that’s focused on The One Soulmate. There are second chances out there for people, and you can end up loving that person just as much. This is still a rom com, though, so I was left befuddled by how Asha spent an entire summer figuring out how to pitch microloans, only for her stunning presentation to highlight the most basic and obvious premise of microloans. On the positive side, way to squeeze in a pitch for microloans into a rom com! I half expected there to be a link to an actual non-profit at the end. There are also a couple of places where I needed to stick in my backup pair of eyeballs after mine fell out from rolling them so hard. In one part Ravi tells Asha that she’s the story and “for what it’s worth, I believe in that story like I believe in you.” Is it sweet? I suppose, but it’s so cloying that I’m still tasting it in the back of my throat. Gasp! Water! Please! He also tells her just “let your love be greater than your fear.” I’m pretty sure he got both of these off the little tags that are attached to tea bags. Do they sound good? Not to me. But are they useful advice? Absolutely not. At one point Asha’s dad wonders aloud why they didn’t have boys and I just want this line forever blacklisted from movies unless it is immediately followed up by someone explaining why it is bullshit and wrong. Having boys isn’t “easier” or “less drama.” I mean, have you heard about men and the things that they do? If not, you should really look into it. Spoiler: It’s not great. Speaking of not great, there’s a whole part about Ravi thinking he’s helping, but really he’s just being patronizing,  which isn’t entirely dealt with , and I just want to know that he really learned from the experience and understands how sometimes even when you have the means that it’s important to let people sink or swim based entirely on their own skills. 

But don’t let my extended list of notes scare you off. As Ravi might say, Let your probable watching gratification be greater than my snark,  and go ahead and watch this enjoyable movie. 

Overall Rating on the Chronically Streaming Pain Scale:

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Belly is in a pool with her arms resting on the edge. Conrad and Jeremiah are on the other side of the pool on either side of her. Behind them is a green lawn with hydrangeas and then a very large grey beach house. In pink letters it says THE SUMMER I TURNED PRETTY below in yellow letters FROM THE BESTSELLING AUHTOR OF TO ALL THE BOYS I'VE LOVED BEFORE JENNY HAN

I kind of wish this series had a different title. I played with a lot of different alternatives in my head as I watched—The Summer Sh*t Got Complicated, The Summer I Made Stuff Happen, The Summer the Hormones Hit—but the words I kept coming back to, which are paraphrasing lyrics by The Coup, were The Summer I Got Into Boys and the Boys Began to Notice. It’s not perfect but it works pretty well in this situation, which is also how I feel about the series. 

Isabel “Belly” Conklin (Lola Tung) is elated to be spending another summer at her mom’s best friend Susannah’s (Rachel Blanchard) beach house. Every year she, along with her mother (Jackie Chung) and brother (Sean Kaufman), decamp from the suburbs of Philadelphia to the pristine, upper-class beach community of Cousins, where they stay with Susannah and her two boys Jeremiah (Gavin Casalegno) and Conrad (Christopher Briney) for the entire summer. The fathers don’t really factor into the summer, since they’re mostly away working, which gives the whole thing a sort of retro feel, even though I’m sure this is still the case in many communities. They’ve been going since before Belly was born and, for her, the entire experience is wrapped in magic, nostalgia, and a healthy dose of twitterpated romantic dreams. She’s had a huge crush on Conrad since she was either ten or twelve (it depends on who is talking) and this summer her best friend Taylor (Rain Spencer) is convinced it’s all going to be different because Belly has a brand new pair of breasts, has gotten her braces removed, and has ditched her pink glasses in favor of contacts. Look, I get this whole physical transformation being used as a metaphor for maturity and emotional readiness for more intimate relationships, however I still question its wisdom because YOU DON’T NEED TO WAIT TO HAVE STRAIGHT TEETH OR DITCH YOUR GLASSES OR HAVE ANY PARTICULAR SIZE BREASTS OR HAVE ANY OTHER SOCIETAL MARKERS OF BEAUTY IN ORDER TO FEEL LIKE YOU’VE REACHED SOME WORTHY LEVEL OF ATTRACTIVENESS AT WHICH YOU CAN GO OUT AND PURSUE AGE-APPROPRIATE ROMANTIC ENTANGLEMENTS. For the love of a misunderstood Medusa, some of us would be waiting until our lives were over if that were the case and that’s just ridiculous. No one needs this message anymore. At one point Belly, in a voiceover, talks about how girls are supposed to wait for people to tell them they’re pretty, but that’s bullshit because “we’re all beautiful. In our own ways.” (This particular moment also just happens to be one of only times—if not the only time—that they show a girl who is not incredibly thin, which is also bullshit and makes the whole thing feel jammed in sideways, rather than actually an intrinsic part of the series.) I don’t know. This just feels like a cop out to me. It is absolutely bullshit that we need to wait to be told we’re pretty. It is absolutely bullshit that we have been conditioned not to publicly claim what we like about our own bodies, and only what we dislike for fear of being labeled vain. But we’re all beautiful. In our own way? Come on!  We’re more complex than that! Don’t set it all up like Belly is on the verge of some great realization and then wimp out with some bland statement cribbed from an off-brand, clearance sale greeting card. It’s also bullshit that we need to feel any way about bodies or need to feel beautiful at all. There’s also a part that feels a bit like slut shaming toward Belly, who has liaisons with more than one boy over the summer, which, in my opinion, has no business at all in a series about someone discovering themself and figuring things out. So, I have some issues with those aspects of the show. 

Anyway, everybody is noticing how Belly has changed. A boy working at the gas station mini-mart asks if this is her first summer in Cousins because he thought he knew all the “pretty girls” and invites her to the first bonfire of the summer. Susannah says that Belly has always “been lovely,” but now she’s “in bloom.” Jeremiah says she came back “all growed up” (ew) and Conrad, after giving her the once over, declares he liked her better with glasses (ugh). However, she’s still the youngest kid in the house and decidedly the little sister. She gets thrown in the pool by the older boys and left behind with the moms when they head out on their first night to party on the beach. With her newfound determination, though, Belly sneaks out anyway, makes quite the entrance at the party, and then meets a very earnest boy named Cameron (David Iacono), who invites her on a sunrise whale watching tour (not a euphemism). And you have to respect Belly for making shit happen, which I do.

This is a summer of change for Belly and what better way to mark that than with a good old Debutante Ball that her mother scorns and Susannah reveres? It’s an opportunity for all kinds of tensions about economics, friendships, romances, dances, and who on earth will end up being her escort to the ball?!? (I love the way in shows like this people are required to point out the patriarchal and racist history of things like deb balls before someone else explains how they’ve become more modern with charity work, accepting LGBTQ participants, and other stuff, and then the characters are allowed to get totally get swept up in the whole thing.) Her brother Steven, who works at the local country club as a snack bar waiter, meets his own debutante and learns lessons about class, racism, love, and honesty. Meanwhile, Jeremiah—who should absolutely play Apollo in any movie adaptation of Rick Riordian’s The Trials of Apollo novels—is gleefully lifeguarding, partying, and hooking up with all the boys and girls who will have him, which is most of them, while perhaps harboring some secret feelings for another girl who is closer to home. Conrad, on the other hand, has quit playing football, is drinking all the time, and generally lives under a cloud of depression, anger, and brooding. Everyone just seems mildly perturbed by this? And assumes he’s very down because he broke up with his girlfriend literally months ago? It’s so wildly clear that more is going on that I have very serious concerns about what goes on the other nine months of the year in these households. Obviously, there’s a whole unspoken connection that he has with Belly that his darkness (and current kinda girlfriend) prevents him from acting upon. There are, of course, also some adult dramas, including a huge secret that will Change Everything. (I’m not making fun of the secret. It is indeed life changing and serious.) Laurel stretches her divorced legs in new pastures, so to speak. Susannah tries to create a magically perfect summer for everyone, but it is all built on a foundation of sand, which will lead to a dramatic and teary ending that will likely make you have a lot of feelings about the second season already having been green lit. 

I guess, since this is another Jenny Han gig, I had expectations of something that leaned more toward To All the Boys, which is not entirely fair of me. People are entitled to write different kinds of things. But not this nor my aforementioned long list of notes stopped me from sucking down all seven episodes like they were cold lemonade on a hot summer’s day. It’s well-acted and the plot (even if some parts feel contrived) delivers a lot of what you want from this kind of series—strong friendships, nostalgic montages, emotionally wrenching realizations, romantic self-discovery, fanciful events, and just enough unknowns and twists (predictable or not) to keep you wanting the next episode. 

Overall Rating on the Chronically Streaming Pain Scale:

I couldn’t decide between the two ratings, though I lean more toward Meh.

Distressing: I’m so uncomfortable. I wonder if this will ever stop. I might want to be sedated.

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One thought on “Short Reviews: PURPLE HEARTS (2022), WEDDING SEASON (2022), and THE SUMMER I TURNED PRETTY (2022)

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