Julia Roberts and George Clooney in fancy dress against a background of lush tropical foliage. Her arm is resting on his

First of all, and I really need to get this off my chest, they have a character graduating from a four-year college in the United States and planning to start work as a lawyer the next month. Excuse me?! Exactly how did this movie make it all the way through all the various editing phases and not one person said, What in the Elle Woods is wrong with you?! That’s not how any of that works. It’s incredibly distracting. 

Otherwise this movie is not that great. There is a mean edge to a lot of the action that just seems unnecessary in a movie about an unhappily divorced couple that is trying to sabotage the whirlwind wedding of their only daughter to a seaweed farmer in Bali. 

David (George Clooney) and Georgia (Julia Roberts) Cotton try to stay as far away from each other as possible. They were once in love, but then it all soured, and now they only have to be together when it concerns their one child, Lily (Kaitlyn Dever), whom they both adore. At her college graduation, where she has assured them they’ll be seated on opposite sides of the auditorium, they’re actually side-by-side, and so they try to out cheer each other as Lily crosses the stage to accept her degree. Look, Julia Roberts and George Clooney are both up to the task of the banter, ribbing, and sarcasm that takes place in this movie. I have no doubt that they could happily spar all day and never tire, and they do it well. So that part is fine. But they don’t feel like long lost lovers whose loins secretly still burn for each other. No, they feel more like excellent pals who like to give each other a really hard time and might be convinced to call a truce if enough alcohol and dancing were involved. Which dampens the romance vibe. 

Lily and her best friend Wren (Billie Lourd) head off to Bali for a vacation before they enter the real world, so clearly everyone in this movie is solidly upper, upper middle class because that’s absolutely not what happens after graduation for most people. Wren, by the way, is mostly like if a character were a mumble. She barely exists except to talk about how her family isn’t around, to hand out condoms, and to kind of move parts of the plot along. She is if background noise were a person.

Georgia and David happily go back to hating each other from opposite sides of the country until Lily meets Gede (Maxime Bouttier), a seaweed farmer with a Genetically Blessed Face who upends all her carefully laid future plans. When the two get word that Lily plans to marry Gede and settle in Bali, they decide to join forces to stop the wedding, because they certainly can’t let Lily repeat their youthful mistakes. All of this would make more sense if the characters were not as thin as mosquito netting. They are snappy comebacks and quippy two-line backstories dressed in good clothes and spritzed with expensive alcohol. Look at it all from the right angles and it’s fine, but stare at it directly for too long and the whole thing is going to warp and crumble. Maybe if this movie had been shorter? Maybe if they’d given Lily and Gede more screen time? I don’t know. When Georgia and David get to Bali and start to undermine the wedding plans, the whole movie starts to falter. It doesn’t help that there is a scene where someone gets attacked by a dolphin, which should enter the lexicon as another way of saying something jumped the shark. This is at least the second movie I’ve watched with an unprovoked dolphin attack. It’s two too many. Also, and I can’t believe I’m saying this, Lucas Bravo‘s character of Georgia’s much younger, much dimmer, but very Genetically Blessed pilot boyfriend, probably didn’t need to exist. It likely would have tightened up the whole shebang, shortened the running-time, and shaved off some of the meaner edges. That said, it is absolute blasphemy on my part to request the removal of a face like his from the film. I repent my sins. Or whatever.

The last twenty minutes of this movie do capture some real sweetness and humor. They show many aspects of what I hope are actual Balinese traditions—even though the movie was actually filmed in Australia. Though it’s always an odd thing to insert representation of a culture into a movie like this with no real attempt to delve any deeper into understanding the culture, people, or country. The most we get about Bali is that it’s beautiful and Gede wants to work in harmony with nature and that he sells his seaweed to Whole Foods. It’s at least not negative and they did cast Indonesian actors, but I just think we can keep raising the bar, you know?

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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Four main characters outdoors in wedding finery with arms linked as they laugh. A chair at their feet is upturned. Text: Prime Video. Allison Janney, Ben Platt, Cynthia Addai-Robinson, and Kristen Bell. The People We Hate at the Wedding.

It was a whole choice that they made by having the sister—who is largely ostracized by her siblings, considered too posh for her own good, and held to a higher standard than everyone—be a Black woman among an almost entirely otherwise white cast. No one once paused to think it was even slightly problematic that they were being the bitter Royal Family to her Meghan Markle for the better part of this movie? Setting that incredibly problematic and worrisome element aside, this movie is still not good. 

While they were living in London, Donna (Allison Janney) and Henrique (Isaach De Bankolé) had a baby named Eloise (Cynthia Addai-Robinson), but then Henrique schtupped someone else so Donna moved back to Indianapolis, USA. She remarried a guy named Bill, had two kids named Alice (Kristen Bell) and Paul (Ben Platt), and Eloise came to live with them for half the year. I mean, no. That doesn’t make any sense because Eloise would need to go to school in one country or the other, so she probably couldn’t just start a school year in one place and finish it someplace else. And would Donna really just leave her baby daughter with the man who just proved himself utterly unfaithful? We at least need more back story to make that hang together. 

We don’t get more. Eloise has gobs of money and success and she’s a perfectly fine person. Paul and Alice don’t. And this, along with maybe some other things, drive a wedge between them so great that the arrival of Eloise’s wedding invitation makes Alice say she’s, “five minutes away from homiciding someone. I can’t stand her.” Her brother Paul feels essentially the same way, plus he’s super mad at their mom for getting rid of their father’s belongings too quickly after he died, so instead of speaking to her about it, he’s avoiding her phone calls and pouting. Paul also works for some cultish exposure therapy place that charges people $7,000 a week to do things like stand in garbage or be tormented by large fake spiders. There’s definitely an excellent commentary on the entire wellness industry in there, but this movie just fails to make it. Alice is, of course, working at a job that is below her skillset and sleeping with her wealthy, married boss who has assured her that he’ll be leaving his wife, whom he insists is a monster, and his newborn child super soon. This storyline is so incredibly worn out and tired, especially when the man just POOF disappears midway through the movie so he never really has any accountability or faces any consequences. At some point his wife (Lizzy Caplan ) crosses an ocean in order to confront Alice and I just feel like this not going to happen because if you’re a sleep-deprived parent who finds out your spouse has been sticking their penis in another person’s pot, I just don’t think your first response would be to hop a transatlantic flight sans your baby, you know? You might, like, scream some well-earned obscenities and then hand that spouse the baby and take a well-deserved nap, but schlepp your sleep-deprived ass across continents for a face-to-face confrontation? For what?  Paul, who only desires monogamy, is in a relationship with a twit of mustachioed man who keeps trying to press him into threesomes. So yes, we are going to have to sit through endless gags, which made me gag, about sexual innuendos, sexual situations gone wrong, and oversharing about sexual exploits. Good fun.

So, Alice, Paul, and Donna all pack themselves up and mope their way over to England where they are basically petulant assholes in sundry and various ways through a much larger portion of this movie than I really thought was possible. And there is just so much meanness all around. Look, true snark is a form of high art and when it’s done poorly, it’s just mean unfunny drivel and that’s mostly what you get here in very large servings. This goes on until they’re finally thrown in jail (but not before a fist fight), after which they have the expected awakenings and reconciliations, which lead to what I guess is supposed to be a happy ending, except nothing has convinced me that Alice and Paul actually possess souls or depth of character greater than a millimeter, so I’m not sure how that works. To be fair, though, Donna isn’t really an asshole. She mostly talks about pot gummies, which is pretty harmless, and she does make a very kick ass speech about how hard it must have been for Henrique after he fucked up and had to live the rest of his life without a love as good as hers. But otherwise her character is largely a nothingburger, which is a shame because it’s Allison fucking Janney. It should also be said Dustin Milligan gives a pretty charming performance and makes some scenes very watchable. So there’s that.  

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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Against a purple background Capri with a halo and glowing while holding a pen with a pom pom on top. Below her is Darby. Text: Ghosted but not gone. Darby and the Dead.

Well, this was a confusing morass of mixed and mostly mediocre messages, which is a shame because the premise is good and the acting is charming. 

Darby (Riele Downs), who bursts through the fourth wall with the frequency and vigor of the Koolaid man in an 80s commercial,  is a sort of teenage pro bono social worker for dead people. Ever since she was six and nearly died in a rip tide that claimed her mother’s life, she’s been able to see and hear dead people. While her mother never came back to talk to her, many, many other dead people have shown up over the years asking Darby to reconcile their last earthly emotional accounts so they can move on. Darby very much prefers their company to that of her peers, who baffle her. As she says, “it truly amazes me that at the most formative time of their lives, a time that should be about self-discovery and finding what is individual and unique about themselves, they instead choose to homogenize in groups that give them the unhealthy acceptance they so deeply crave.” Ouch. Also, preach. Perhaps her most hated person in her cohort is Capri (Auli’i Cravalho, who was better in Crush), head cheerleader, queen bee, and Darby’s once bestie. Capri returns the hostility, calling Darby a freak and stealing her clothes from her gym locker. Then Capri dies in a freak flat-iron electrocution accident, and Darby’s life with the dead gets way more complicated. Capri, who has managed to hone some pretty impressive poltergeist powers, physically bullies Darby into ensuring that her Sweet Seventeen party (with a Coachella theme, naturally) still happens posthumously. She tells Darby that popularity is really all an illusion and then proceeds to give her an aggressive “glow up” using her dead mother’s retro (the audacity of that word!) 90s clothing, makeup, and lots of well-angled selfies. Darby tries out for and makes the cheerleading squad, her popularity suddenly soars, and she gets lots of eggplant emojis from some creep who used to ignore her. Instead of being appalled or even mildly thrown, Darby shrugs and tells us that “any press is good press.” Huh? A montage ago she was accurately skewering the sheep-like nature of mainstream teenage (and beyond) culture and now she’s just happy for the exposure? Toward what end? More eventual dead clients? She gets so caught up in her new life that she ditches her dead clients and long-time  dead pal—the school custodian who isn’t crossing over until his wife also dies. Darby also keeps blowing off Alex (Chosen Jacobs), the cute new kid at school who shares her interest in the paranormal, but who Capri insists dating would be social suicide. Charming. 

Look, the story of an outsider at least temporarily becoming an insider is, of course, classic, but usually there’s a clear lesson about being true to yourself and the perils of remaking yourself in someone else’s image. Not so much with this movie. Everywhere we look there’s criticism for Darby’s introversion and skepticism; even her dead mother eventually shows up to say that she’s so relieved Darby finally stopped being such a weirdo. (I’m paraphrasing.) When Darby makes her climactic speech where she cops to being a conduit for the dead, she actually says, “I was just an insecure hater who hid in the corner judging all of you for just being normal teenagers.” And then she goes on to say how incredibly special Capri was and how much she owes to her. Excuse me? Is she really talking about the girl whose spirit recently gave a swirly in a public bathroom because she wouldn’t agree to throw her a birthday party? I guess I beg to differ about the definition of “special.” More importantly, why is this movie gaslighting their heroine? Why are they having her continue to be friends with Capri’s trio of besties who demonstrate the collective depth and empathy of an instagram hashtag? Sure, they try to backfill the movie with phrases and scenes to assuage the contempt it seems to have for its main character, but it all adds up to confusion and too little too late. And another thing, this movie is extremely diverse, but only on a surface level. Race and ethnicity are never, ever discussed, and class only comes up in passing. Darby and her friends, living and dead, deserve so much better.

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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Teal background. Yellow strip toward top with four main characters holding champagne and a feather duster. Below is Gina seated wearing a maroon dress, her face rests on her hand. Behind her a shirtless man in jeans scrubs a wall while his cleaning supplies sit on the ground. He looks over his shoulder at the camera. Text: Sally Phillips, Erik Thomson, Cameron Daddo, Tasma Walton. How to Please a Woman. Pleasure is Serious Business. [Production info for movie.]

The trailer makes How to Please a Woman out to be a very cheeky sort of movie about a middle-aged woman starting an all-male cleaning service, but in truth it’s more of an earnest attempt to look at women’s feelings of invisibility and unfulfilled sexual desires. Though, for a movie all about women finally getting the big O on their own terms, this movie is sweetly chaste. It does however, fail to reach its own apex plotwise, which is a let down, but it’s still worth watching for the subject matter and performances. (Acting-wise, I mean. Not sexually, speaking. Because see above about chaste.)

When Gina’s (Sally Phillips) friends surprise her with a stripper (Alexander England) for her 50th birthday, she really couldn’t be less impressed. First, she insists that he stop taking off his clothes and then, when he tells her they have two hours to do whatever she wants, she puts him to work cleaning her house. Okay, yes, maybe she does enjoy watching him scrub her floors bare-chested, but mostly she likes that her house is getting a good clean. After a confluence of several events, including her husband rebuffing her sexual advances, her company laying her off (likely due to ageism), and a run-in with a struggling moving company, Gina has the idea to start a company offering attractive men as house cleaners. However, things go slightly awry when her house cleaner and first customer end up having some very consensual sex. Gina is at first appalled, but when all the women at her swim club are absolutely clamoring for the same service, she decides to offer orgasms and vacuuming. There are, of course, some bumps along the way because these men need some on-the-job training in both those services. There are a fair number of scenes with women expressing how they’re using the service because they just want to be seen and heard. One woman doesn’t want any kind of relationship, but she still wants to have sex. Another very conventionally attractive woman with large breasts just wants to have sex without her breasts ever being touched. And all of them love having men do the grotty housework they’ve hated to do for years. In other scenes we see women finally speaking up for what they want sexually from their own partners. 

All of this sounds good, and it is, but the movie never really goes beyond the superficial, and the characters, while interesting, aren’t given the chance to fully shine. The whole thing ends up feeling slightly anticlimactic, if you will. Like, there’s all this build up, but then, without enough character development, excitement, tension, and thrust (not sorry), it all just kind of fizzles out in the end. It’s still very much worth watching, just don’t expect complete satisfaction. 

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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