2021 Movie Reviews: House of Gucci / Ghostbusters: Afterlife / King Richard / C’mon C’mon / Home Alone 6 / The Humans

A lot this week.

House of Gucci

Worst Sopranos episode ever.

What is this movie trying to be? There are parts of the exorbitantly long House of Gucci that seem like a very straight-laced, well-shot drama and there are other parts that seem like campy excerpts from Real Housewives of New Jersey. What you end up with is a chunky blend of genres that doesn’t quite work as a drama and certainly doesn’t work as a comedy. The one-liners are there but all seem forced and remarkably unfunny. However, it’s never boring, even when it just feels like Hollywood actors playing dress-up for fun. Basically, it’s a true-crime story about a gold-digging sociopath from an Italian trucking family (that might be involved in the mafia?), Patrizia (Lady Gaga) who meets and falls maybe in love with the heir of the Gucci fortune, Maurizio (Adam Driver). They marry but Maurizio’s dad (Jeremy Irons) correctly guesses Patrizia’s intentions and disowns his son. However, the other old Gucci brother (Al Pacino) and his goofball son (Jared Leto) see potential in Maurizio and especially, Patrizia, and so very quickly, she becomes incorporated into the family business. If the characters were smart and cunning, this could be very quick and intense but since Patrizia is the only character anybody might ever mistake for clever, it all seems pretty predictable and low stakes. Lady Gaga is very good here even if her character doesn’t have enough depth to truly make us empathize with her. Her Patrizia seems like a character plucked straight out of the Public Freakout subreddit, but instead of yelling racial slurs at a Wendy’s employee, she’s yelling at and intimidating every dude she has to deal with. It’s not a great performance but it’s very entertaining. Adam Driver is solid per usual but it’s certainly not one of the better performances of his oeuvre or even this year. Jared Leto is absolutely ridiculous as the Gucci Fredo Corleone. Everything he does is so over-the-top that it never has a chance to feel grounded. His co-stars are over-the-top as well, but he takes it to another level. His Paulo feels like he’d be more at home as the villain in a Steve Martin Pink Panther movie or a Tuscany-set Paul Blart threequel. It’s a terrible performance that sadly never rises to the level of his glorious makeup. Jeremy Irons sports probably the laziest, 1/4 of an Italian accent I’ve ever heard and halfway through his performance, he seems to just give up on it and go full British. Salma Hayek is just there in a nothing role, but the performance of the film belongs to Al Pacino. He’s hilarious every time he’s on-screen and hints at a world where if Ridley Scott understood satire, House of Gucci could have been the best self-aware true-crime since Bernie with Jack Black. All in all, this is an overlong movie that doesn’t work but somehow, miraculously had me interested the entire runtime. Grade: C+ (In Theaters)

Ghostbusters: Afterlife

A last-ditch effort to blast some fat off the script.

Yikes, maybe people should just come to terms with the fact that there will never be a good Ghostbusters movie besides the original. I’m fine with just the original, it’s great, it’s a classic, it perfectly blends comedy with adventure and some fantastic visual effects, without ever sacrificing the integrity of the story or characters. Ghostbusters: Afterlife, on the other hand, is a funky little slice of nostalgia porn, that’s so evidently written, directed, and acted with talent but completely lacks any purpose. The original is funny and goofy and unlike Afterlife, doesn’t get bogged down in exhausting mythos and world-building. Recent reboots are always trying to give its cinematic source material more depth and weight than it can handle, and Ghostbusters: Afterlife is no exception. Nostalgia reveals (like the Ghostbusters logo or a P.K.E. meter) are distributed almost like jump scares, with sudden swelling music, telling us that we should be nostalgic at that particular moment. Also, the choice to use the music score from the original is an awful choice, because it just reminds us how much more we loved the original and those characters. These characters are fairly one-dimensional, which is a shame because the cast includes heavy-hitters like Carrie Coon, Paul Rudd, Finn Wolfhard, and The Haunting of Hill House‘s McKenna Grace. But the biggest sin this movie commits is its awkward pacing. Every time the story starts to heat up, the narrative slams on the breaks and gives us a tedious exposition scene. There are a few sequences that are genuinely funny but almost nothing here is fun. And I’m sorry, but Ghostbusters is supposed to be fucking fun. Grade: C (In Theaters)

King Richard

It’s important to remember that behind every great woman is a great man that made it possible.

Simultaneously rousing and problematic, King Richard feels like a rubber-sharp sports biopic out of the 90s. It’s about the Williams sisters, but not really, it’s actually about their dad whose frequent subtle emotional abuse and insane task driving led them to be two of the best players the white-ass sport of tennis had ever seen. Once you get over the fact he kind of sounds like Bobby Bouche in The Waterboy, Will Smith‘s “King” Richard is an extremely charismatic and interesting character. Sure, he’s presented as virtually flawless, and the major flaw they do bring up is brushed under the rug like it’s no big deal. It’s a bit frustrating but once you get past the fact this is most likely an anything-but-factual representation of the Williams family unit circa 1991 and it’s just trying to make you forget about the coronavirus for two and a half hours, you settle in….until you really start thinking about what’s going on. “King” Richard keeps saying that he’s planned out every moment of his daughters’ lives which is extremely selfish albeit well-intentioned. While it certainly turned out well for both sisters, this is the kind of parental behavior that contributes to numerous emotional and coping problems that follow kids into adulthood, and probably even a few suicides. It’s made even worse by the fact that King Richard is a total hyp[ocrite about it, claiming other tennis parents should be shot for doing more or less what he’s doing with his kids. “We need to let the kids just be kids” he always says. No, Mr. King, YOU NEED TO LET THE KIDS BE KIDS. Speaking of the kids, Venus and Serena are super one-dimensional in this, so it’s hard to comment on how they’re represented in this other than they both like tennis and each other. The two best performances of the film come from Lovecraft County‘s Aujuane Ellis as Richard’s Queen and a never-better Jon Berenthal as the sisters’ nice Italian man coach. This isn’t great cinema, it’s super saccharine and overlong by about a half-hour, but it knows how to trigger those waterworks, no matter how low it has to sink. There’s a particularly shamelessly tear-jerking monologue given by Dick to Venus two hours in that made me weep like a sponge. Even being so emotionally manipulative and low-key problematic, it still earns a passing grade from me because it really nails that winning, 90s inspirational sports movie formula. It’s not great art but it’s a great distraction. It feels like something the real King Richard negotiated for in that Reebok deal. Grade: B- (In Theaters and HBOMax)

C’mon C’mon

Basically, Uncle Buck for hipsters

I’ve never been a fan of writer/director Mike Mills (Beginners, 20th Century Women) but this is actually the first film of his I somewhat liked. A typically excellent Joaquin Phoenix plays Johnny, an uncle who gets a call from his sister in L.A. (a typically great Gaby Hoffman), saying that her husband (Scoot McNairy) is having a psychotic break, so while she goes down Oakland to try to get him into a treatment facility, Johnny has to watch their nine-year-old son, Jesse (Woody Norman). Johnny hasn’t really been present in his sister’s life, due to a huge argument the two had a year previous involving their mom dying. But as many great uncles before him, Johnny must come through and take care of the weirdest kid imaginable. Not kidding, this kid has a thing where he likes to pretend he’s an orphan and starts banging on your living room wall, asking if anyone is home. You are supposed to come down, tell him your children died and ask if he wants to take the place of one of your children, if only for the night. That’s some real Twilight Zone shit. 9-year-old Woody Norman definitely does not deliver one of the better child performances of the past couple years, and creates a character that’s more annoying and unpleasant to be around than anything. C’mon C’mon struggles in the pacing department which makes an 108 minute movie feel well over two hours. It borrows from a lot of taking-care-of-someone-else’s-kids movies and unlike better taking-care-of-someone-else’s-kids movies, there’s no big memorable setpieces. Most scenes involving Gaby Hoffman are on the phone to Johnny, giving him the most basic parenting advice and saying it’s all right to hate your kids for a split second sometimes. Johnny is of course a documentarian podcaster from New York City, interviewing Gen Z kids about lame ass shit like what they think the future might hold. God, these people are so up their own ass which makes sense because this whole movie is so up it’s own ass. This is like Uncle Buck for hipsters, meaning that while it’s certainly more realistic and better filmed, pretty much all the fun is squeezed out. Then something fantastic happens, the last ten minutes of the movie are so emotionally impactful they make me cry in the theater. Uncles can be important figures growing up, because they can offer kids a bridge of communication that might seem too uncomfotable or unpractical with an actual parent. I won’t tell you what happens but they resolve it in a very sweet and life-affirming way which is a complete 180 from how low-key and snail-like the movie has been before. Grade: B- (In Theaters)

Home Sweet Home Alone

When asked if he uses protection.

Last Christmas I did a Home Alone franchise review article with a friend of mine, which means we had to watch all five of the Home Alone movies. Most people only know about the first three, with the third being universally viewed as awful, irredeemable garbage. Well, the fourth and fifth, both ABC Family original movies, are somehow even worse and really, really cheap. I was expecting the sixth film of the franchise to be at least better than 3,4,5 and maybe even somewhat equal footing with Lost in New York. Boy, was I wrong? Despite having that Disney+ money behind it as well as a funny child actor (Archie Yates) in the lead backed by an arsenal of great comedic actors – Rob Delaney, Ellie Kemper, Jim Rash, Chris Parnell, Kenan Thompson, Pete Holmes, Andy Daly!, and Veep’s Timothy Simmons – this one might be the least enjoyable viewing experience of all. It’s a boring movie, slow, even by regular movie and not just kid movie standards, and the booby-traps are super lame. The two “robbers” (Kemper & Delaney) and their A-Z reasoning for breaking into Archie Yates‘ house is absolutely ridiculous and the way they resolve it is maddeningly stupid. It’s a kid’s movie where you’re like “what the hell is the message supposed to be?” I think it’s about forgiving toxic people who say the N-word on Twitter and then try to apologize for it or something. The decision to bring back Buzz as a cop is an interesting idea but they never do anything with him. They never do anything with almost anybody in this, the humor is so tampered down it doesn’t even read and what you’re left with is some really funny people not knowing what the fuck to do. Grade: D (Disney+)

The Humans

The best new movie I saw this week is Stephen Karam‘s adaptation of his Tony Award-winning stage play, The Humans. An intimate and talky family dramedy set over Thanksgiving, The Humans traps six family members in a tiny ass, super enclosed New York City apartment and makes them bicker. It’s the youngest daughter’s (Beanie Feldstein) place, a struggling musician engaged to a psychology major (Steven Yeun) who insists on hosting Thanksgiving that year. The parents (Richard Jenkins and Jayne Houdyshell) bring the grandmother (June Squibb), who’s barely hanging on with dementia, and the oldest daughter, a lawyer (Amy Schumer) dealing with the sudden loss of her job and long-term girlfriend. One by one, secrets and bombshells are dropped highlighting that each family member is going through their own personal hell while lights begin going out because the house may be haunted. The dad begins seeing the apparition of a faceless woman, out of the windows and strange banging noises start spooking everyone. Basically, this takes all the anxiety of a family Thanksgiving and begins to realize it as a low-key horror thriller. This is only successful because of the strength of the performances, which are across the board excellent. Amy Schumer has never been this dialed in and Beanie Feldstein really holds her own against the cast, making her more straight-laced character just as interesting as some of the more eccentric ones. Steven Yeun communicates so much given how quiet and non-confrontational his character is, but the movie ultimately belongs to the parents. Richard Jenkins delivers some of his best work as the on-the-verge-of-a-nervous-breakdown dad and Jayne Houdyshell, reprising her Tony-winning role from the stage production, delivers maybe the best supporting performance of the year thus far as the overbearing mom. It almost feels like an update on Robert Wise‘s 1963 The Haunting in that it’s a haunted house movie that never shows anything but instead focuses much more on character relationships and development. It’s certainly the best new Thanksgiving movie this year. Grade: B+ (SHOWTIME)

3 thoughts on “2021 Movie Reviews: House of Gucci / Ghostbusters: Afterlife / King Richard / C’mon C’mon / Home Alone 6 / The Humans

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