Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Gandolfini's Final Performance Anchors the Beautiful Romantic Comedy ENOUGH SAID (2013)

I know this probably sounds really trite, but divorce crushes a person. When you marry someone, you vow to give them your heart and soul (and your liver, your spine, and pretty much every other essential part of yourself), and the problem is that you actually do. Most people give so much of themselves when they get married, that when the relationship falls apart, it feels as though the very world around you has been torn asunder. Those emotional earthquakes rattle the very core of your being, and leave you feeling hollow and lifeless. There is no way to give of yourself so freely and not be devastated by the separation of a spouse, regardless of the reason.

Getting back on your feet is a slow process, filled with so many steps forward followed immediately by what seems to be a million steps backward. It is hard to be alone, hard to rediscover your own identity separate from that person with whom you shared so much of your life. The progress you make seldom feels like progress. Every relationship feels like a 3rd generation copy of your marriage, almost unrecognizable, yet triggering virtually all the same soft spots and wounds. Eventually, you will find homeostasis, will find a new way to live and love and be loved. It happens in degrees.

Enough Said, the beautiful romantic comedy from Nicole Holofcener, isn’t so much about romance as it is about discovering that we are worthy of love. Julia Louis-Dreyfus plays Eva, a divorced masseuse who gets involved with a sweet, gentle man named Albert (James Gandolfini). Like any divorcee looking to test the waters of a new relationship, her trepidation leads her into some uncomfortable waters. The movie’s twist involves Eva discovering her new client, Marianne (Catherine Keener), is Albert’s ex-wife. Instead of being honest, or walking away from the job, Eva becomes Marianne’s friend in hopes that by learning about Albert from his ex will help her to better understand the uncharted waters she finds herself drowning in. The premise has the stink of a cheap high concept rom-com written all over it, but Holofcener’s script, combined with the endearing central performances, it rises above the sitcom and becomes a sincere exploration of love during midlife.

Part of the film’s success is the way in which Holofcener has created a simple, but fully realized world around her characters. Eva’s problems are not limited to love. Her daughter is leaving for college. Chloe, her daughter’s best friend, lingers around the house, seeking motherly advice. Eva’s best friend, Sarah (Toni Collette) is a psychiatrist who has a compulsive habit of constantly rearranging the living room furniture and picking on her inefficient housekeeper. Meanwhile, Albert is dealing with an impending empty nest as well, and he and the ex can’t seem to settle on who will take their daughter to the airport. He works as an archivist of old TV shows at a museum, happy to live in the comforts of past instead of plunging into the uncomfortable future.

Gandolfini’s performance is stands out here. His sensitivity is key to the movie’s success. You can’t help but love the big galoot. No matter how much venom his ex spits at his memory, he looms large as a man who merely wants acceptance for his distaste of onions, inability to whisper at an acceptable volume, and collection of mouthwashes under the sink. As Eva falls deeper into her spiral of insecurity and neurosis, Albert is the port in the storm, reminding us that while he may not have been what Marianne wanted or needed, he is still someone remarkably worthy of love, and capable of giving the love someone needs. To show this, the movie doesn’t need Albert to perform many gestures. Just a close-up of Gandolfini’s teddy bear face is enough to communicate all this and more.

It’s refreshing to see a romantic comedy that strives to look seriously at the real emotional issues facing people in the aftermath of divorce. The need to go as broad as possible often leads to bland caricatures masquerading as characters. Enough Said avoids this pitfall and allows its characters to fall in love on their own terms.

Saturday, February 8, 2014


Every time I watch something related to the Jackass family of films, I find myself reminded of Mike Judge’s remarkably funny satire, Idiocracy. In the future depicted by Judge, the most popular television show is called Ow! My Balls and features a man running around aimlessly as he is continually – and creatively – hit in the balls. The entire Jackass franchise is built on a similar premise: let’s watch grown men humiliate themselves, or others, for amusement. It’s a concept that has always left me cold, all the while proving to be a successful formula for teenage boys and overgrown teenage men.

Bad Grandpa is an attempt by Johnny Knoxville and his team to expand their brand into feature films that do more than serve as unconnected sketches of men doing dangerously funny things to themselves and each other; they want to tell a story. The story here is that of an old man named Irving (Knoxville), who is saddled with the task of taking his 8-year old grandson, Billy, to be reunited with his methhead father after mom is sent to prison. Along the way, this grumpy, perverted, foolish old man and his grandson get involved in a number of staged hijinks in front of unsuspecting people. It’s similar, in its own way, to Sacha Baron Cohen’s Borat in that the joke is on all the non-acting people these fictional characters encounter. Where it’s different is the intent. Borat uses the format to expose the racism, xenophobia, and ugliness in the hearts of so-called “normal” people. It is misanthropy with a satirical edge. Bad Grandpa just wants to have a good time being bad.

And it is bad. Knoxville’s Irving is every bit the dirty old man stereotype the title suggests. The film draws its laughs from the traditional comic double team of foul talking old men and foul talking children. It adds nothing new to either cliché. So, the success of the film is dependent solely on the inventiveness of the situations created by Irving and Billy. On that front, the film is hit-and-miss. Some scenes, like the ones in which Irving acts like a deaf-mute to teach Billy how to pick up women, are wretched and tired. But a few scenes, such as an early setpiece in a mortuary in which Irving tries to eulogize his deceased wife in front of a group of patient church folk that eventually culminates in him knocking over the casket, are absolutely hysterical. The film’s climatic moment, at a child’s beauty pageant, is one of the year’s funniest moments. It plays like a parody of Little Miss Sunshine, while seeming to actually satirize the child pageant culture. I know Knoxville and his team had no such design, so I consider the scene a happy accident.

I recognized going in that Bad Grandpa was not a movie made for me. I am too snobbish in my comedic tastes sometimes, and I figured this movie would have to really do something unexpected to change my opinion. Ultimately, it didn’t, but I can’t say I hated it. I admire the Jackass team’s decision to try something new and risky. I love the make-up work that transformed the young Knoxville into an 86-year old man so convincingly that none of the non-actors mentioned it (I’m sure there were several things edited out to promote the illusion, but the fact that anyone was tricked up close is either a sign of great craft or the fact that people are simply getting dumber by the day). And I loved the beauty pageant, if only because it permanently redeems my guilty pleasure love affair with Warrant’s “Cherry Pie.”

What I take from this is that while Bad Grandpa may not currently be my cup of tea, it did soften my heart. Maybe I’m on my way to being ready for the future. Better protect my balls.

Friday, February 7, 2014

IN A WORLD... (2013)

Lake Bell is an interesting filmmaker. She has a unique voice. While In a World… is a bit uneven, juggling a few too many storylines, there is this fantastic scene at the end of the movie where she tears apart the hubris of her engaging protagonist. In this scene, we are dip into Bell’s vision of what makes Hollywood tick, and as a result have to revisit her movie with a new perspective. At first glance, In a World… plays like a mix of a femme coming-of-age tale and a rom-com set against the backdrop of Hollywood sound mixing and voice-over work. After the movie is over, you realize that what you really saw was a work about feminism and tokenism in this cutthroat industry.

Bell stars as Carol, a slacker voice coach who lives at home with her legendary voice over father, Sam (Fred Melamed). Because he’s shacking up with a girl half his age, Sam kicks Carol to the curb, forcing her to move in with her sister (Michaela Watkins) and brother-in-law (Rob Corddry). Carol dreams of doing movie trailers like her father, but he takes every opportunity to make her aware of how sexist the industry is. Living in her dad’s shadow, she takes whatever work she can get at a local sound studio, run by Louis (Demetri Martin), who is madly in love with her in that traditional beta-male way.

One day, Carol is given a chance to do a movie trailer voice over for a children’s rom-com, and nails it, stealing the work out from under her father’s protégé, Gustav (Ken Marino). This sets into motion the movie’s core plot, as Gustav and Sam find themselves unknowingly fighting against Carol. It’s a battle of the sexes, and resorts in some funny moments.

Bell’s script, which is full of some great one-liners and terrific wit, at times feels weighed down by unnecessary storylines. The most egregious involves Dani, Carol’s sister, who almost-sorta-kinda cheats on her husband with an Irish client at the hotel in which she works as a concierge. The story draws us away from Carol, and never truly pays off. It feels like its own movie at times, and doesn’t really add much thematically in addition to slowing down the plot. The love story between Louis and Carol is a bit contrived, as well, and even though Martin and Bell have some definite geek chemistry, not enough time is given to their budding romance to make it feel like more than the standard “this is a movie about a woman, so we have to have a romance” angle. Bell’s biggest problem as a screenwriter here is the need to cater to traditional comedic tropes, which falls a bit flat when you consider the film’s subversive ending.

Regardless, as a first film, In a World… is an excellent starting point for Lake Bell. She is definitely a voice worth listening to.

Saturday, January 25, 2014


Halfway through A.C.O.D. (Adult Children of Divorce), Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest is referenced. Wilde’s satirical farce, which reveals the venality and hollowness of the upper class in their pursuit of values they can’t even recognize, is so wickedly funny that even if you can’t quite grasp the subtleties of his language, you can’t help but laugh at the tone. What’s sad is that A.C.O.D. alludes to this comedy, but can’t be bothered to do anything remotely funny. For a movie whose premise is ripe with opportunity for satire, it plays more like a drama dressed up as a comedy.

The film follows a neurotic guy named Carter (Adam Scott) whose entire life has been messed up by his narcissistic parents (Richard Jenkins and Catherine O’Hara). When Carter’s brother (Clarke Duke) announces his engagement, Carter finds his world turned upside-down. He seeks the help of a former therapist (Jane Lynch), whom he discovers wasn’t a therapist at all, but a researcher who documented his childhood in a book called Children of Divorce. And when his efforts to create a civil relationship between his parents creates an even bigger, more unexpected problem, Carter is forced to face his psychological issues head-on.

Director Stu Zicherman really wants us to laugh at Carter’s pain. He wants us to laugh at his oblivious parents, whose me-first mentality constantly screws over their level-headed son. He wants us to enjoy Jane Lynch’s unorthodox research questions. But the movie never connects with the funny bone. It’s like Zicherman and co-writer Ben Karlin watched the TV series Arrested Development and thought they could make something like that for the big screen, but with more pathos. But the reason Arrested Development worked is exactly what is missing from A.C.O.D.: absurdity.

Everything the characters in A.C.O.D. do makes perfect sense. It’s completely logical. When Carter’s parents start up a torrid affair and use Carter as a go-between, no one would say that’s crazy. When Carter tries reasoning with his parents, and they turn his words around to make him look like the heel, it plays as tragedy. Part of good comedy is blowing situations out of proportion and testing their elasticity, or throwing in some awkward element that functions like a bomb, shaking up the status quo. As I watched this movie, I spent most of its short running time (88 minutes) cringing and wondering how many people would watch see their own families without a shred of irony.

It’s sad to watch a comedy that would function better as drama.

Other thoughts:

* Not only is the movie unfunny on a situational level, but there wasn’t even one memorable line of dialogue. This script has no one-liners. Its symbols lack humor, too. For example, Carter, who owns a restaurant, calls the place Whitegrass. One would hope the name might create some funny dialogue, or even a humorous reveal of its origin. But, no, its name is based on a detail born directly out of Carter’s awful childhood. Fail.

*What a waste of great comedic talent. Adam Scott, Richard Jenkins, Catherine O’Hara, Jane Lynch, Mary-Elizabeth Winstead, Amy Poehler, Clarke Duke. This is a terrific cast, and it sucks that each is given nothing interesting to do – unless you consider seeing Jenkins’ old man ass during sex interesting.

* The casting of Jessica Alba as another child of divorce was intriguing, but the movie does nothing with her. Her storyline is dropped; nothing consequential happens because of her involvement. She is a shadow character.


When it comes to superhero movies, I’ve been full of an awful lot of frustration these past couple years. Maybe it’s burnout, but something has been lacking since The Avengers. Either these movies have been way too self-important (Man of Steel, The Dark Knight Rises), too dumb (Green Lantern), or too silly (Thor: The Dark World) for me to really get behind them with any real geek enthusiasm. I’m not setting you up to tell you The Wolverine sets the genre back on its feet, or that it does anything particularly revolutionary. What I will tell you is James Mangold’s version is a fine story, with a strong performance from Hugh Jackman. It’s a quality movie – not a classic, nor the best example of the genre. Instead of swinging for the fences, it is quite satisfied with hitting a stand-up double.

Sometimes it feels like comic book movies have to outdo one another. Clamoring fans have really driven the work studios are putting out, and that has often felt like a detriment (have you seen Iron Man 2?). With every superhero flick, it is as if the ante is being upped, and the next story has to be bigger, better, faster, stronger, more. This is why we usually get sequels with end of the world scenarios, or more villains, or grand death scenes for important characters.

While I understand with all the money being thrown at these movies (The Wolverine is reported to have had a budget of 120 million) there is enormous pressure to make each sequel more epic, I would hope more filmmakers would take a moment to consider how comic books themselves are put together. Not every storyline in a comic book series has to have higher stakes than the previous one. Sometimes the storylines take a more introverted stance, or delve deeper into a running theme within the series, or take the character in a new direction as yet unexplored.

The Wolverine downsizes the epic scale we usually get in the X-Men films (I’m pretending X-Men Origins: Wolverine didn’t happen) and focuses on what turns out to be a pretty personal tale. He’s a wounded animal struggling with his will to live in the aftermath of the events of X-Men: The Last Stand. This movie takes Logan (Jackman) to Japan where he is reunited with Yashida, a man whose life he saved during the atomic bombing of Nagasaki in 1945. As a dying man, Yashida propositions Logan, requesting an exchange: he will take Logan’s mutant healing powers in exchange for the allure of death. Logan rejects, the old man dies, and the situation gets more complex at Yashida’s funeral when local gangsters try to take out Yashida’s cherished granddaughter, Mariko (Tao Okamoto). Unable to deny his nature to protect, Logan rescues Mariko and whisks her into hiding. Unfortunately, Logan has a big problem. Somehow his healing power has stopped working, and he becomes weak and mortal. Not only does he have to save Mariko, but for the first time in his life, he has to also save himself.

The Wolverine is at its best when Logan is struggling with the loss of his power. We learn more about the heart of a hero when he or she cannot rely on their strengths. The storyline is similar to Shane Black’s vision in Iron Man 3, which found Tony Stark having to make do with a malfunctioning suit of armor and no lab to get another. Where Iron Man 3 was more interested in using the lack of power to humble Stark, The Wolverine is more interested in watching its hero grapple with mortality. Wolverine’s greatest struggle as a hero – the essence that makes his character endure – is that he, like a vampire, cannot die. He is brave, tough, macho, and all that, but deep inside he’s devastated at the suffering he’s witnessed, and the friends and lovers he has lost. His will to live is always under attack, and it is the only thing that can truly hurt him since guns and knives and sharp swords have no long lasting effect. Suddenly, without his mutant powers, Logan still must find the resolve to fight. The scenes in which he a Mariko are on the run are the movie’s finest, and the fight sequence on top of Japan’s bullet train is exhilarating as a result.

Once the film resumes the standard hero movie beats in its final act, it becomes sort of ho-hum, but not without its charms. Especially charming is the casting of Rila Fukushima as Yuriko, Mariko’s adopted sister who brings Logan into the Japanese storyline and eventually assigns herself the role of his bodyguard. She is fun to watch on screen with her lynx-like jaw and lithe kung-fu movements. I would be thrilled to watch a film chronicling the exploits of Yuriko and Logan as they travel around like badass samurais –it would be the Marvel Comics version of Akira Kurosawa legend. Not so much fun are the standard issue villains/shapeshifting rogues, Viper and Shingen. Viper is sexy and all that, but after watching Mystique in previous X-Men movies, it’s hard not to yawn. And Shingen, who starts the movie as a cool outsider, plays a role that is paint-by-numbers with a performance as dry as unbuttered toast.

The Wolverine is not going to set the bar higher for comic book movies, but I think that is a good thing. Its low key tale is evidence that if the superhero genre is going to thrive, we need more attempts to tell stories like these. With Marvel’s second wave about to kick start this coming summer with Ant-Man, I have a feeling this may be the case.

Other Thoughts:

* Despite enjoying this movie, I was rather concerned with most of the action scenes. Wolverine's claws make him a deadly character, so it is next to impossible for him to fight with a group of people without killing anyone. Because of this movie's PG-13 rating, the fights are incredibly bloodless, and Wolverine tosses most of his enemies aside like rag dolls when it is obvious he just cut them to shreds. At times this also seems to undercut the major theme of fighting for the will to live. When life is so easily, and bloodlessly taken, it almost makes life look like it is not all that valuable. Mindless, consequence free violence is a prevalent trope of the action genre, and isn't nearly as off putting as it could be in this movie, but it does give one room to pause and consider the idea that maybe the PG-13 rating is sacrificing significance for a teenage audience.

* I laughed my ass off at the beginning of the movie as Logan emerges from his cave in the woods. For a moment, I imagined a scenario in which Jackman finished working on the set of Les Miserables, then sprinted across the studio lot to shoot these scenes in The Wolverine. I kind of hoped he would start serenading Jean Grey in his dreams.

* The now traditional closing credits tease scene was fun, and definitely sets up this summer's X-Men: Days of Future Past by having Wolverine intercepted in the airport by a couple old friends. But I did find myself wondering where the hell Yuriko was, since the title card tells us the scene takes place two years after the conclusion of the movie.

* Jackman is so ripped for this film that he single-handedly does for men what the movies have been doing to women for the last century: breed rampant insecurity. I will continue to ponder this as I crack open another Coke and shove a handful of Doritos into my mouth...

Thursday, January 23, 2014

KICK-ASS 2 (2013)

The first Kick-Ass came out of nowhere, it seemed. It was a sharp stab at the over the top seriousness of so many modern superhero movies. We were introduced to characters we hadn’t seen before, like Big Daddy and Hit Girl, who were psychotics in costumes, arbitrarily fighting on the side of “good.” Hit Girl was only a child, spouting cursings as she cut down gangsters and other assorted baddies without conscience. The film was a commentary on the superhero movies, like Batman, by questioning the very nature of being a superhero: what kind of person dons a pair of tights and a cowl? Alan Moore’s seminal graphic novel, Watchmen, asked the same questions in a much more provocative way back in the 1980s, but Kick-Ass felt like just the right movie for the millennial generation. It felt designed to make them think about the comic book movies they were weaned on.

Unfortunately, Kick-Ass 2 is a horrible sequel. Where the original knew exactly what kind of film it was – a satirical take on superhero movies – the sequel has no idea what it wants to be. At times it is an action flick, filled with extreme action sequences saturated in CG blood. Other times it is a satire, picking at an American culture that has no trust for authority and is in love with violence. And, strangely enough, it also tries to be a coming of age story involving emotionally manipulative scenes composited from a variety of high school movies. And it never gets anything right, failing on all counts.

The sequel picks up a while after the original ended. Dave (Aaron Johnson) is still playing at Kick-Ass, but wants a partner. He is trained by Hit Girl (Chloe Grace-Moretz), who has been ditching school to train and fight crime as a tribute to her dead father. Eventually, Hit Girl is forced to leave the vigilante life behind, so Kick Ass joins a team of wannabe heroes (inspired by his exploits in the first film). He meets several new heroes: Night Bitch (Lindy Booth), Dr. Gravity (Donald Faison), Battle Guy (Clark Duke), and Colonel Stars N’ Stripes (Jim Carrey). They join forces, but their efforts are matched by the emergence of a new supervillain. The character of Red Mist from the original movie finally accepts his calling as a bad guy and rechristens himself the Motherfucker (Christopher Mintz-Plasse). He buys himself a team of villains to which he bestows ethnically insensitive names like Mother Russia, Black Death, and Genghis Carnage. Together, they seek to find and kill Kick-Ass.

As an action film, the movie is piecemeal, with each set piece feeling off in some way. This is especially true of the scenes involving the Motherfucker’s ruthless squad of villains. Their action scenes feel squeezed in, and don’t make much logical sense. They feel like excuses for carnage, and to show off the effects of CG blood work. I’m not sure if the movie uses any practical effects, outside of blood make-up. Even scenes involving Kick-Ass don’t seem to work. He does lots of training early in the movie, but that training seems to do little to help him, making all the groundwork seem pointless. Despite Hit Girl’s efforts, Kick-Ass feels like just as inept a fighter, even when he finally squares off with the even more pathetic Motherfucker, who realizes he would rather pay people to fight for him than actually learn any hand-to-hand skills outside of cheap shots.

The satire that made the first movie so much fun is so hit-and-miss here that it could almost be non-existent. What is the intended target? In the first movie, you often felt the movie was not just satirizing comic books, but also the legions of fanboys who practically jerk off to their vigilante dreams. With that point already made, Kick-Ass 2 just seems repetitive. It never quite hits the satirical points it is aiming for by comparing high school culture with criminal culture, and it completely whiffs on its use of Colonel Stars N Stripes as an indictment of the way the U.S. military pushes our young men into false ideas of heroism founded on love of weapons, dehumanization, and brotherhood. Instead, the movie wastes a great performance by Jim Carrey and turns his character into a useless cliché. Part of this is due to sequel-itis; the original was so sharp and effective that any attempt to tread on the same ground would invoke the law of diminishing returns and come across as derivative. Frankly, the novelty of Kick-Ass wore off once the movie opens on a scene involving Hit Girl shooting at Kick-Ass in the same place her father shot her. It’s a call back that immediately reminds us of a better film.

But, personally, it is the high school material that gave me the most trouble. This is mainly because it is where the movie struggles to most to find a footing. Part of Kick-Ass’s success was the way it approached Dave’s life in high school and with his friends. Every character felt honest in a way that they ring hollow in this movie. First and foremost, this has to do with the fact that Hit Girl is suddenly a major character instead of merely a colorful minor one. Jeff Wadlow, the writer/director, seems to think that the best way to help her story along is to give her typical high school problems that she has to try to solve in Hit Girl fashion. This leads to a funny, but troubling sequence in which Hit Girl gets angry at a group of snobby girls in the cafeteria that seems to suggest she is doing mankind a favor by being a horrible human being to other horrible human beings. Like the heroes, she is rewarded for her efforts with the satisfaction that she is a do-gooder. None of these high school scenes ring true – seriously, the writer/director thought it was a good idea to try to put Hit Girl into scenes in which she is trying to fit in with the more popular girls. And none of her efforts to fit in amount to anything on a narrative level. The movie wastes no time cutting back to the more action packed adventures of Kick-Ass.

Normally, I wouldn’t want to write so much about a movie like this, but Kick-Ass 2 reaches so hard to create something poignant and awesome that it forgets to be a real story. Instead, it’s just a collection of disparate parts sewed together like the Motherfucker’s hideous S&M outfit. It adds nothing to the ideas introduced in the first film, and to some degree makes an even uglier case that human beings are just awful and really should all be dead. The movie wants to celebrate individuals and real heroism, but instead it is really celebrating violence for its own sake. It is misanthropic, hopelessly cynical, and – most importantly – no fun.

Monday, January 20, 2014


Dallas Buyers Club is a social issue movie about how the FDA goes out of its way to keep sick people from getting well by enabling pharmaceutical companies to buy their way into the medicine cabinets and bloodstreams of truly sick people. The story is that of Ron Woodruff (Matthew McConaughey), an electrician, cowboy, and fervently heterosexual man who gets AIDS. After learning about the value of alternative medicines and non-FDA approved substances, Ron fights to help the AIDS infected community in Dallas. The film is a heartfelt, feel-good biopic, featuring one of McConaughey’s strongest performances, and excellent work from Jared Leto and Jennifer Garner. It is also lacking nuance, sophistication, and the subtlety it truly needs to elevate it to the level it believes it is functioning on.

I really wanted to love Dallas Buyers Club, but what really bothered me as I watched was how awful the film made everyone look. The mid-80s was a time of incredible ignorance as it related to HIV/AIDS. As an audience, we can watch this film and judge Ron’s friends and the medical community for their non-progressive ideas about those suffering with the deadly virus. For example, shortly after Ron learns he is HIV-positive, he goes to the local watering hole and encounters the prejudices of his friends, all whom think he is homosexual, and can infect them at a mere touch. Instead of allowing the scene to play objectively, director Jean-Marc Vallee makes us hate his friends. Ron, who comes across initially as a homophobic, misogynistic redneck, is shown compassion – and even seen as endearing – for his backwards views, but his friends do not invite such compassion. Sure, they are morons, uneducated, and full of wicked prejudice, but so was pretty much most of America during that time.

Even more vilified are those in the medical community, with the exception of the nurturing, virtuous Eve (Jennifer Garner). The men are always standing in the way of progress, and we are never allowed to consider the issue from their side. Ron is smuggling unapproved substances into the United States from a variety of countries and selling them to desperate people. He’s doing his homework, knows his stuff, and is definitely trying to do right by those in need, but couldn’t the film provide an honest counterpoint showing that the FDA might have good reason to be concerned? I’m all in favor of good, old-fashioned villainy by government agencies, but Dallas Buyers Club wants us to take it seriously. When the bad FDA man (Michael O’Neill) practically gloats as he raids Ron’s operation, seizing necessary drugs from those in dire need of effective treatment, it comes across as irresponsible. I wanted Ron to succeed, too, but when his opposition practically twirls his mustache, it feels unfair.

Overall, the film is good. It addresses an issue that is still valid – does the FDA stand in the way of progress? Are they merely a government front for Big Pharma interests? Does the federal government really have the best interests of its people in mind? These are questions our politicians should be addressing, our congress should be debating, and hopefully quality films like Dallas Buyers Club can kickstart conversations. While it does a good job addressing the social issue, it doesn’t play with a fair deck on a narrative level. That’s unfortunate, but not especially damning.

Other thoughts:

McConaughey really did his job earning the Oscar for this role. The only actor I’ve ever seen look this emaciated was Christian Bale in The Machinist. This sort of commitment is commendable, and it is obvious he is really looking to subvert his image as a good ol’ boy with his recent slate of excellent roles. He’s played a charismatic, lovelorn con with bad teeth (Mud), a sociopathic local cop (Killer Joe), a party-time, but shrewd businessman/stripper (Magic Mike), and a troubled, philosophical detective (True Detective). How many actors have turned their careers around so dramatically, going from punchline to Oscar nominee, as McConaughey? It’s remarkable, and I’m thankful.

Jared Leto is getting a lot of notices as Rayon, a transvestite hooker, who partners up with Ron to build their “buyers club” business. He is excellent, of course, but at times a bit too obvious as he milks every emotional bit for full tearjerker effect. Rayon is most interesting when interacting with Ron, and the scene in which Ron has to defend Rayon in front of one of his old buddies at a supermarket is a highlight of the movie.

One of the best things about Dallas Buyers Club was how it showed the way AIDS treatment was being handled around the world. Ron may be a Dallas cowboy (no pun intended), but he spends time in Mexico and Japan, and taps into markets in Canada, France, and Israel. It definitely shows how narrow minded our medical community can be with treatments – Americans are often so satisfied with ourselves, so certain of our greatness, that we have a hard time acknowledging the hard work and excellence in research emerging from other countries.

Now that Dallas Buyers Club has been nominated for six Academy Awards, reports are surfacing that Ron Woodruff, who was portrayed as incredibly homophobic, was possibly bi-sexual. This article, from Slate, highlights interviews with people who knew Woodruff and were shocked by the film’s portrayal. If this is the case, and Woodruff was not as homophobic as the screenwriter attests, it changes the way the movie is perceived. Suddenly, it plays as a movie in which the gay community needed a straight man to save them. This is similar to all the movies about civil rights in which oppressed black people need a virtuous white person to help them. This would only add to my feelings that the movie makes its villains almost caricatures of badness by suddenly giving us an obvious hero who changes his backwards views. The jury is still out, but it makes the Oscar nominated screenplay seem lazier than I initially thought.