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That’s Absurda or That’s Aburrida is what this movie might have more accurately been called. It’s an hour and 35 minutes of slow motion montages mixed with a no-chemistry, drier than day-old toast romantic story-line that wedges in pedantically overbearing lessons about Spanish culture given by people whose accents made my head lock in a “confused dog head tilt” position. But! Credit where credit is due: Nancy Lenehan is an absolute delight in every single scene; she brings warmth, humor, and candor to an otherwise flavorless movie.
Just before she turns 30, Sofia (Riley Dandy) gets fired from her job as an assistant at a graphic design firm and then catches her live-in boyfriend (Bryan Craig) cheating on her. (We know he’s really bad news because his hair is slicked back.) In trying to escape this awful mess, she falls down the stairs and breaks her ankle, which leads to her living at home with her fantastic mother Lainie (Nancy Lenehan). After letting her mope around for a while, Lainie finally insists that Sofia join her at the Zumba class she teaches. Sofia grudgingly goes along. And boy oh boy am I using grudgingly politely. She’s a real pill in the beginning. Lainie oh-so-casually notices a Spanish cooking class for couples on a bulletin board outside the Zumba class and suggests they go together. Sofia is disgusted by the whole idea of going together to a class for couples and says she can’t go anyway because she’s still on crutches. I would go to the ends of the earth with Lainie.
Of course, Lainie tricks her into going. Sigh. Of course, when Sofia sees where they are she refuses to get out of the car. Of course, a handsome young guy named Matias (Isaac Gonzalez Rossi) just so happens to come over to offer them help. Of course, he just so happens to be visiting from Spain and helping his uncle teach the cooking classes. You can probably hum the rest from there, though it does just kind of jump from them being antagonists to flirtationists without much transition, so maybe you can’t.
While I appreciate that the movie is trying to impart some lessons about Spanish culture, I wish they managed to do it with some naturalness. Also, for a whole movie that’s about two people falling in love around cooking? There’s, like, zero sensuality. (And the one sexy scene where there’s skin? They literally only spot-light and focus on Sofia’s bra and breasts. Fine. Fine. Plenty of people like breasts and her bra is pretty, but could we at least get some balance? Matias doesn’t even take off his shirt.) It is exhausting the way the characters explain EVERYTHING to each other. She has to explain in great detail what a graphic designer is to him. Uh, I’m pretty sure a grown man living in Barcelona has heard of graphic designers before. Maybe he didn’t recognize the term in English, but he didn’t need an entire picture drawn for him. For the love of the Intertubes, translation apps exist!! Also, there’s a part where he can’t figure out how to get a bartender’s attention and she says she’ll have to teach him how to order a drink, and I just… Are they trying to say that, generally speaking, Spaniards need Americans to teach them how to be assertive in bars? Because, look, on the one hand I’m trying not to fall into stereotypes here, and on the other hand… Well, I’m going to leave that to any Spaniards to respond. Plus, Sofia has lived her entire life in California but seems to recognize zero Spanish words, which I presume is possible, but seems like a very sad commentary on how sheltered her life would have been. After being in the cooking class and hearing people pronounce words with an accent from Spain, Sofia is completely lost at sea when Matias pronounces Barcelona as BarTHelona, so he has to give her a whole oral history of the difference between “Latin American” and Spanish accents. (It’s probably 20 seconds, but it felt like a lifetime because it was so unnatural and stilted.) I put Latin American in quotes because I want Sofia to know that there is certainly not just one accent for all of Latin America. Again, I’m not judging her for not knowing about the accents, but I am kind of judging the movie for not having her notice it for so long and for making it feel like a “teachable moment” instead of a conversation between people who want to take each other’s clothing off.
Then there is the whole part where Sofia goes out for drinks with her married best friend. She tells her friend that her husband is “one of the only good ones,” to which her friend responds that there are no good ones because you have to train men and re-train them and re-train them. Is this supposed to be feminism? Because no. Her friend also says that her husband, who I guess she chose to marry? Is surprisingly good with their young daughter. Uh, why would you have a child with someone if you didn’t think they would be a good parent? Don’t answer that. But do, like, spend some quality time pondering it. (Psst. The patriarchy is a hint.)
Anyway, other people have said this movie is cute, so, you know, my take could be wrong. (It’s not.)
Overall Rating on the Chronically Streaming Pain Scale:
Huh. Well, this was something. Not Okay is attempting to satirize internet culture, white tears, gentrification, and a few other things, but, for me, it didn’t really work, mostly because it tries to uncenter whiteness by centering on whiteness. Let me try to explain.
Danni (Zoey Deutch) is a photo editor at Depravity magazine, but what she really wants is to write. Sadly for her, that’s not going to happen any time soon because the piece she submits to the editor is incredibly insensitive and self-centered. She cites living in the non-Matcha having part of Bushwick, working in an open-concept office, and missing 9/11 by being on cruise as reasons for being sad. I’d say that the last one is too over-the-top, but I’m far too afraid to find out it’s actually pulled from a real life experience to tempt fate. Anyway, what Danni—and the two blonde streaks at the front of her hair that I definitely did not do to my hair in the late-90s with Jolene body bleach—really want is to fit in with pretty much anyone who will have her, but especially with Colin (Dylan O’Brien), who is absolutely just a red flag posing as a human-being. No judgment for her wanting him, we’ve all been there. She’s ostracized by everyone at work, except her fellow photo editor Kelvin (Karan Soni), who she ignores and calls by the wrong name. She really wants in on queer bowling night, but for some reason Harper (Nadia Alexander) and Larson (Dash Perry) are unimpressed when she tells them that, “You guys are so lucky. You have, like, a community. You have a parade.” To which Larson, responds sarcastically, “Yeah, being a minority is great,” before exchanging a meaningful look with Harper, which flies past Danni. When Danni gets back to her neighborhood she sees there is finally a new Matcha place. What she doesn’t notice is that the “Influencers Eat Free” out front is literally pushing a Black woman (Tamara Della Anderson), who appears to be living outside, out of the way. Is it a cutesy nod at gentrification? I guess, but does this woman have an actual voice in the movie? Not in this part, and in a later scene when she does speak she is cut off mid-sentence in the name of humor. So it feels like the same “wise” jokes and nodes we’ve always gotten about gentrification. Anyway, because of the Matcha place, Colin shows up and Danni manages to get him to notice her. They share a ridiculous joint and she makes up a story about how she’s going to Paris on a writers’ retreat, which really catches his attention.
Back in her apartment, in a moment of stoned non-genius, she decides to take a faux trip to Paris via some edited pictures on Instagram. What could make this bad idea even worse? While she’s on her faux voyage a real terrorist attack hits Paris. Instead of coming clean, Danni continues the mirage and soaks up all the attention she thought her life was previously missing. When she gets the opportunity to write a story about her experience in the attacks, she finds herself with some writer’s block. Again, instead of coming clean, she infiltrates a support group for survivors of violence where she meets Rowan (Mia Isaac), a teenager who survived a high school shooting and now uses her voice to fight for gun reform. Danni doesn’t really care about any of that, but she does care that Rowan has a huge social media following and a way with words, both of which she wants. So Danni gloms onto Rowan and also quietly usurps her ideas, which she turns into an essay in Depravity, which, due in large part to Rowan’s willingness to share the essay, goes viral. Obviously, the red flag in trendy clothing known as Colin takes notice of Danni’s rising star and invites her to an influencer party where they engage in one of the most uncomfortable sex-scenes I have ever witnessed. It’s meant to be uncomfortable, but, again, maybe it’s slightly too overt? Like, does he need to chant that she’s a damaged girl and he’ll take care of her while also pulling on her hair? I feel like if you’re going to get that point, maybe you don’t need to be stabbed with it quite so many times.
Anyway, you know Danni’s downfall is coming, but I thought maybe it would come from Rowan, but no it comes from another white woman who is largely jealous of Danni’s rise to fame. And I guess this movie is supposed to be different because there is no redemption arc for Danni. Also, the movie is very clear (the writer and director Quinn Shephard makes a cameo saying it) that Danni isn’t the main character of the movie, and also that until people like Rowan can be in the lead they’ll have to take their stand how they can. Uh, but this movie could have actually been centered on Rowan and Danni is very much the main character of this movie. And if a movie written by a white person and centered on a white person is using Black and brown bodies to convey the fallout of violence, is it really saying or doing anything different from so many other movies?
Overall Rating on the Chronically Streaming Pain Scale:
This was terrible in so many ways, but I still watched the heck out of it and don’t regret a second.
Poppy (Ashley Williams) has a problem with commitment. She tries teaching yoga (possibly with no training) and gives up mid-way through the class. She gets a job at a pizza place and walks out the first time things go awry. She’s also very single and her sister sets her up with awful guys. But then! Poppy’s sister (Laura Mitchell) has an epiphany when she realizes that Poppy is really good at working with kids. Next thing you know, Poppy has a job lined up working for Ryan (Sam Jaeger), a nice widowed workaholic with two kids named Zoe (Hannah Cheramy) and Zach (Kiefer O’Reilly). In a twist on the usual formula, Poppy and Ryan don’t hate each other at first sight, but the kids despise Poppy. They’ve been through a string of nannies since their mother died—sad dads are the best dads in movies like this—and they don’t have patience for one more. Of course, after one bad day, Poppy nearly quits, but Ryan convinces her to at least stay through Halloween. Shockingly, Poppy wins over the kids, and we discover that what Poppy is actually good at in this movie is being an ideal wife and mother. Oof. She helps Ryan understand how his constant absences from events big and small are affecting his children. She whips up PB and J sandwiches for him before he leaves for work. She finds creative solutions to Zach’s long-standing fear of spiders. She does things that no one has done since their mom died, and she does it all with the biggest grin and greatest amount of joy. Seriously, this woman almost never has a melancholy moment. Even when she’s frustrated Poppy is kind of peppy. (Do you think that’s why she’s named Poppy? Probably.) On an individual level is that perfectly fine? Uh, sure. But the message it sends about the women’s roles inside the domestic sphere is pretty retrograde. Plus, Ryan’s other possible love interest is a high-powered career woman who doesn’t get why Ryan would be worried about missing Halloween or other kid events. She’s not evil or anything. In fact she’s quite gracious, which almost makes it worse because the message is that she’s simply not a good fit because of her goals and ambitions.
But here’s the thing. The movie is well-acted. Sam Jaeger, as we know from Parenthood, can be entirely charming in a dad role. The scenes with Poppy and the kids where they’re shopping for Halloween supplies, putting up decorations, or making cookies are kind of charming. There’s enough chemistry all around that I wanted these people to end up together, even though I hated the entire premise of how they were getting together and what it implied. And people say Hallmark movies aren’t complex.
Overall Rating on the Chronically Streaming Pain Scale:
SOMEONE BORROWED (ESPOSA DE ALUGUEL)
Someone Borrowed is a mixed bag of a movie. Parts of the beginning feel over-the-top and forced, and the acting is a little spotty. At first, I wasn’t sure I was going to stick with it, but I’m ultimately glad that I did. And I’m not just saying that because of one very Genetically Blessed Face, but it certainly doesn’t hurt.
Luiz (Caio Castro), the youngest of five siblings and the only boy in the bunch, is entirely happy living with his mother and not falling in love. In fact, he has several rules for dating to ensure that he never falls in love and ends up abandoning his family like his father did. He never lies to the women he dates. He never has them over to his house. And he doesn’t see a woman for longer than three months. Six months is apparently when you actually fall in love, and that’s very bad in his book. All this is going just fine for him. His mother nags him about finding purpose and love in life, but she also dotes on him and he on her. But then! His mom suddenly gets sick and finds out she has six months to live. AND she tells Luiz that if he doesn’t get married, she’ll cut him out of the will. I mean, this seems extremely unhealthy, but so are his rules, so it’s really a wash of unhealthiness.
Anyway, for the very first time in his life, Luiz lies to a woman when he tells his mother that he actually does have a girlfriend who he’s going to marry. Uh oh! His very jealous sister Maria Inez (Mariana Xavier) is pretty sure he’s lying, but she can’t prove it. (I can’t stand how they make Maria Inez’s character so incredibly one note and always angry.) Meanwhile, Luiz has to find himself a real live girlfriend, but all the women in his phone tell him to get lost. What’s a handsome commitment-phobic man to do? Why, hire a broke, quirky actress, of course. Lina (Thati Lopes) can barely afford lunch and she’s about to be evicted. Playing fake girlfriends for men is her side hustle (no sex included), so she’s very excited to get this job that is set to last six months.
There are some aspects about this whole part that feel a little off to me. Luiz first asks his best friend to be his husband, which is great, but his friend’s reaction at one point is less than ideal. There’s a whole thing about a gay politician hiring Lina to pretend to be his wife so he can get a promotion, which isn’t a comment on the movie, but just, sigh, society. And then there’s a whole thing about Lina pretending to be some guy’s girlfriend to make his wife jealous, which is just so very No, thank you.
Anyway, you don’t need a PhD in the Rom-Coms to know how all this is going to play out. What works well about the movie is that Luiz and Lina, who have a sweet chemistry, are pretty much on equal footing. Although she’s financially strapped, she still has her own life and her own goals. She puts on a successful one-woman show about love and ropes Luiz into a role that will push him to do more with his life. She also refuses to do the housework because that’s not part of what he hired her for, so he ends up learning to do it. Neither of them changes dramatically for the other, but rather they realize they were well-suited from the start. (Oh! Sorry. I didn’t mean to give away that they might end up together!) Also, the overall message of the movie seems to be that love of any kind works best when you have some spaces in your togetherness, and this is a valuable lesson.