[REVIEW] ‘Irresistible’ or Don’t Forget to Be Funny

Most of my readers know I am a traditional conservative who did not vote for our current President Donald Trump. This puts me in a bit of a weird position when it comes to observing the current political landscape. I side with Republicans when it comes to many issues particularly fiscal ones, but I cannot abide the moral failings of our leader and the many reprehensible things that have happened since 2016. On the other hand, I also disagree with most of the positions of the Democrats and so I am stuck in the middle with nowhere to turn to.

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Being an independent-of-the-moment should make me primed to enjoy political satire and comedy. Ideally I should be able to see truth in the humor of both the left and the right; however, unfortunately the tension of this moment seems to have made both sides either too nervous or distracted to make good comedy. This is a real shame as comedy can be an important tool in critiquing and even challenging our leaders to do the right thing and listen to the people. You can see this going all the way back to Charlie Chaplin challenging Hitler in The Great Dictator.

Anyway, I say this to make clear my problem with the new film Irresistible by writer/ director Jon Stewart has nothing to do with my disagreeing with its politics. The film actually does a pretty good job of poking fun at both parties equally. Unfortunately, the problem is I just didn’t find it to be funny. To be more specific, I laughed twice over 2 media related gags and that’s it. Everything else fell completely flat.

The problem with Irresistible isn’t that different than the problem most faith-based films have. Stewart wants to reveal a big flaw in the American political campaign system so he made a movie exposing this flaw to the American people. This attempt is perfectly admirable, but just as with faith-based films, it is not enough to have a compelling message in a movie. You must craft a narrative around that message which will appeal to the audience. Story first. Message second!

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Not that Irresistible doesn’t have its strengths. All the acting from folks like Steve Carrell and especially Chris Cooper as a Vietnam War vet are well done. The problem is the script doesn’t give the actors anything to do. Most of the time I was watching campaign stops mixed with board meetings, and if you know anything about me nothing is more boring in a movie a than board meeting (with a tie going to staring at screens).

Most of the attempts at jokes involve the media. Carrell and Rose Byrne’s characters trying to manipulate the 24 news cycle in their favor and most of these jokes are not funny because they are more observations than actual humor. I honestly had more laughs with last year’s Long Shot: a movie I would barely count as political satire.

Again it’s more about the message than an entertaining script. If we want to learn more about the mechanics of the campaign finance system and how it can be corrupted we can read an article or watch a documentary. Watching Irresistible just makes us bored and less likely to want to learn more about this important subject.

If you want to see a well done political satire there hasn’t been much lately but some classic examples are Dr Strangelove, Wag the Dog, In the Loop, Thank You for Smoking, and Dave. As far as current politics you are probably better off watching an episode of The Simpsons or The Daily Show than spending time with Irresistible. I’ve been told VEEP is good but have never seen it myself.

3 out of 10

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[REVIEW] ‘Faith Ba$ed’ or a Laugh and a Prayer?

In many ways the faith-based film genre invites itself for easy satire. Whenever a film puts itself out there as being more than entertainment, but a ministry tool it will be ripe with hypocrisy and ridiculousness. There’s also something so sincere and cheap about them which make it hard to not poke fun at. Filmmaker Vincent Masciale has taken on this fertile ground for satire in his new comedy Faith Ba$ed and the results are a mixed bag but just funny enough to recommend.

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In Faith Ba$ed the film’s writer Luke Barnett plays a dumb but optimistic man who idolizes a multi-level marketer tycoon named Nicky Steele (played by Seinfeld’s Jason Alexander). Barnett dreams of making easy money and living the good life. To make it big he develops a scheme with his BFF Tanner (Tanner Thomason) that they are going to make the world’s greatest Christian film.

Both Masciale and Barnett are regulars on the satirical internet show Funny or Die and you can see some of that influence in Faith Ba$ed. Evidently even just the trailers have gotten some of the conservative media upset calling the film ‘blaspheme’, which should feed right into their advertising. In truth, the script is pretty tame when it comes to their criticisms of religion. Most of the good jokes are similar to any type of misbegotten artistic project like we see in The Disaster Artist or The Producers.

There’s actually a lot in Faith Ba$ed that feels borrowed from other films. For example, Luke has an all Black family, which feels right out of Steve Martin’s The Jerk. Other gags (and the over-all vibe) has strong Napoleon Dynamite or Dumb and Dumber vibes. And their dopey optimism feels right out of the early Will Farrell comedies such as Talladega Nights.

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The derivative nature, however, wasn’t much of a downside for me because I was consistently laughing. The script in Faith Ba$ed is funny especially when it is focusing on the movie. When it’s filming, financing and casting the movie it is pretty hilarious. When it goes off on tangents it works less. For example, when Luke ends up at Nicky Steele’s house to clean his pool Alexander’s over-the-top sales pitches fall flat.

I was also left wondering who the target audience for Faith Ba$ed is? It’s too strong an R rating for most religious viewers to enjoy and will the R-rated crowd be aware of the tropes of the genre to laugh? As a conservative critic I’ve seen lots of faith-based films, so I am the perfect person for this film, but I think it might struggle to find a general audience. It might have been smarter to follow the Napoleon Dynamite model and make it something the skewered audience could more easily embrace while laughing at themselves.

Actor David Koechner in the film “Faith Based”. Courtesy photo

Nevertheless, I always judge a comedy by how much did it make me laugh and in this case it was quite a bit. Like I said, whenever they are making the film A Prayer in Space it’s quite funny. On that basis alone I have to recommend Faith Ba$ed. The script is solid and the chemistry between Barnett and Thompson works. If you get a chance to see it let me know what you think!

6 out of 10

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[REVIEW] ‘The High Note’ is a Good Enough Note

Like most cinephiles I have been quite depressed waiting for theaters to reopen again since the COVID19 shut-down. I am one of the lucky ones that has been able to go to drive-in movies and see one film in an indoor theater (Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows Pt 2). You can see all about my experience here:

In the meantime, we have to be content with the films going on streaming and VOD. To see all my reviews of TV and Film check out my RT site. The latest release, which was meant for theaters, is director Nisha Ganatra’s The High Note. While not platinum release, it was an entertaining enough film to recommend and support.

First thing I want to clarify is Tracee Ellis Ross’s character Grace Davis is a supporting role to Dakota Johnson’s Maggie in the film. The trailer had me believing she was if not the main character at least 50/50 but there are long stretches where you don’t even see her and it is all about Johnson and her boyfriend/client David played by Kelvin Harrison Jr. Nevertheless, the cast is all really good in this and they help elevate somewhat basic plotting.

The story of The High Note centers around Maggie who is a beleaguered assistant for Grace who dreams of becoming a music producer of her own and nourishing new talent with her great ear for mixing and arranging songs. Unfortunately, any attempts she makes to step out on her own are quickly pushed down by Grace’s manager played by Ice Cube. Then one day she meets aspiring singer David and things start moving forward in her career.

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I think most people will agree the best parts of The High Note are when Ross and Johnson get to interact together. The dialogue, for the most part, is pretty good and their conversations felt authentic and true to what the characters would be experiencing in real life. This is not always the case in these types of films where the journey to stardom can feel so phony (Bohemian Rhapsody for instance had some of the corniest stale dialogue I’ve heard in a long time in a film). Here these characters feel true and believable and that is refreshing.

Of course, Ross has a great guide for her performance in her Mother Diana Ross and she channels her quite effectively. She’s not the singer her Mother is but she’s good enough to sell the scenes. I oddly had a harder time buying Johnson as the music producer because I didn’t care for the synthesized sound she added to the tracks but what do I know about R&B music!

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If you are looking for something outside the box and super original The High Note won’t be for you but if you are up for a sweet, enjoyable film with good performances than you will enjoy it. It’s fairly generic and predictable but I enjoyed the ride and recommend the film. If you can see it at a drive-in or local opened theater please go and support those venues. If not, rent it, pop some popcorn, take a big breath in and relax with a movie.

Isn’t that what we all need right now anyway?

6 out of 10

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[REVIEW] ‘The Lovebirds’ or the Sometimes Funny Birds

As shown in my review of the recent film The Wrong Missy most Netflix comedies are not my cup of tea. However, in the case of The Lovebirds I had more hope as it is an acquisition by Netflix not an original film. Indeed, Paramount originally planned to release The Lovebirds into theaters before COVID19 closed everything down.

The film also stars Issa Rae who I recently enjoyed in The Photograph and Kumail Nanjiani who was so great in The Big Sick with the same director Michael Showalter. So how did it turn out? Were my high expectations met? Honestly not really but it had just enough laughs and chemistry to give a mild recommendation.

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The plot of The Lovebirds is similar to 2018’s Game Night but not nearly as funny. Both movies are about a couple who want a simple night of fun and end up in a mad-cap race for their lives with all kinds of violence and over-the-top comedic set pieces. In this case Jibran (Nanjiani) and Leilani (Rae) are a couple who have lost their mojo after 4 years together. Unfortunately just as they are breaking off their relationship they hit a man with their car and then one thing after another happens until they end up in all kinds of shenanigans including a sftrange cult ceremony of some kind.

Most of my favorite parts of the movie came from the dialogue particularly from Nanjiani. He was just manic enough to make me laugh without being shrill or annoying. Nanjiani and Rae also have wonderful chemistry together, and I bought them as this established couple struggling with their relationship.

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The problem with The Lovebirds is not all the comic-action set-pieces worked. In particular there’s a sequence where the 2 are tortured by Anna Camp and forced to chose between getting hot bacon grease on them or get kicked by a horse. This kind of body humor isn’t for me and it went on way too long.

I also didn’t love the long sequence at the cult. Basically whenever the plot or the action was supposed to carry the film it didn’t work for me. When they relied on the dialogue and the witty banter between the 2 leads it did.

The Lovebirds earns its R rating with vulgar language and violence so it will not be for everyone. Although obviously I had problems with it, I did laugh out loud quite a few times and that’s enough to give it a mild recommendation. No masterpiece but if you are looking through Netflix for a comedy you could certainly do worse.

6 out of 10

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[SCOOB!]: a Shoddy Introduction to Scooby-Doo

Going into this year I had a secret shame I knew would come out with this year’s animated offerings. Until today I had never seen anything Scooby-Doo in my life. Growing up I didn’t like anything scary or that had ghosts in it and most of the time we didn’t have cable so something like Scooby-Doo wasn’t a part of my life. In addition, the two live action feature films looked terrible so I never saw those. Everyone has blind spots of pop culture and this was one of mine.

With this gap in my animation viewing I was actually looking forward to the new film SCOOB! from Warner Bros Animation. The animation looked cute and the voicecast is impressive. My hope was the film would be a fun and dynamic introduction into the world of Scooby-Doo.

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Unfortunately I am walking away disappointed with SCOOB! I don’t know how fans will feel but I didn’t care for this film.

The biggest problem with SCOOB! is the script. My understanding is this franchise is all about mystery and spooky stories with a supernatural angle to them. This film has very little of that and instead opts in for a generic, by-the-numbers superhero story. It kind of reminds me of the recent Mummy film where they took out everything that makes a Mummy movie special and replaced it with a generic cinematic universe building plot. Such a shame!

While I enjoyed the voice work and the character designs, the actual characters themselves were frustrating. The biggest problem is the script immediately splits up our team so you have Shaggy and Scooby off with Blue Falcon and company in space while you have Daphne, Fred, and Velma looking for them. I preferred the DFV team every time but would have especially liked having them all together solving a mystery!

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I would like to know how long this script was hanging around because everything about it felt very dated? From the cinematic universe building to the terrible humor it all seemed to come from 10 years ago more than today. For example, there are multiple Simon Cowell jokes. What is this 2005?

People are going to be upset but I don’t think this is much better than Playmobil: the Movie. Both have nice animation but also convoluted storylines and terrible humor, flat characters. SCOOB! has a more recognizable IP to its name so it will definitely do better but the films themselves are similar.

If you are a Scooby-Doo fan and love this film please tell me what I am missing. I would love to hear your insight. As for me, this is a a definite skip!

3 out of 10

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[REVIEW] ‘The Way Back’ or A Portrait of an Alcoholic

Before the world shut down I had the chance to see the new film The Way Back in the theater. I was pretty excited for this film because I love underdog sports movies and director Gavin O’Connor has made 2 of my favorites: Miracle and Warrior (which was best picture worthy if you ask me). Now we have The Way Back and it turned out to be a very surprising film. It’s not perfect but definitely worth a watch if only for Ben Affleck’s raw and intimate performance.

On the surface The Way Back is very similar to the sports classic Hoosiers. Both films are about scrappy underdog basketball teams and both have deeply wounded coaches with troubled pasts. (There’s even a scene where the coach fires a player for rudeness at the beginning of each film). However, the difference between the films is The Way Back is less a redemption story and more a portrait of the life of an alcoholic mid-addiction. In fact, some people might be frustrated at how little this film is about basketball.

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Especially knowing Affleck’s own history with addiction his performance in The Way Back is completely devastating. As he struggles to appear normal throughout the day you see the ache in his eyes and the pull the alcohol has in its momentary release from life’s problems. Affleck’s character has a backstory that makes him susceptible to drowning his addiction and the further he spirals the more I found myself rooting for his character- rooting that he could find a way out of this terrible disease.

I have lost 2 of my cousins to the traps of addiction and so much of The Way Back was hard to watch. I cried a lot as the film provides no easy answers and does not sugarcoat things at all. It is very tough but rewarding for Affleck’s tremendous performance.

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In fact, his performance was so good I found myself not caring much about the basketball. The weight of who won the big game felt inconsequential in comparison with the life and death struggle of Affleck’s character. I almost wish they hadn’t made his job matter at all to the plot because the 2 types of storytelling (addiction drama and underdog sports movie) didn’t gel well together. Also the story would have meant a little more if it was based off of a true story and not fiction.

All that said, the addiction drama stuff is really good and Affleck gives a tremendous performance. The Way Back is definitely worth checking out for that alone. Almost every family in America is impacted by addiction in one form or another so most should be able to relate to this broken man fighting a seemingly insurmountable battle with his demons.

7 out of 10

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[REVIEW] ‘Emma’ and Why Miss Woodhouse is Austen’s Most Delightfully Flawed Heroine

Everyone knows I love me some Jane Austen. For someone who wrote in the late 18th century it truly is remarkable how relevant and entertaining her work still remains to this day. Each year I try to re-read her books and I have seen every film adaptation out there from heroines killing zombies, facing cliques in high school, to Bollywood, to our traditional retellings in Georgian era garb and British accents. They almost always work for me to one degree or another.

And yet even by her fans sometimes Austen isn’t given the credit her writing deserves. They are admired but casually grouped in with romantic novels only about silly women falling in love. This is far from the case. The women of Austen are dynamic humans who are forced to make choices, and frankly the only major choice within their power at that time was who they agreed to marry. So when Lizzie refuses Mr Darcy in Pride and Prejudice this is not a normal dating scenario but a radical departure from customs and even a risk to her own survival and that of her family.

Austen’s novel Emma is especially interesting because it has her only heroine that is not on the outs of society. Lizzie and Jane are losing their home, Eleanor and MaryAnn in Sense and Sensibility are left in rather dire straits after their father dies, Fanny in Mansfield Park is dependent upon her cousins for survival and Anne in Persuasion has a double woe of being both an old maid and having a foolish father who has squandered their fortune.

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But then we have Emma. Miss Emma Woodhouse not only faces no financial crisis but she is so comfortable and frankly bored that she deems it her responsibility to meddle in other people’s lives. As one might expect, the more she meddles the more trouble she gets into and this makes her an interesting character. She has different flaws than the other Austen heroines.With these flaws it would be easy to make Emma an unlikable character, but there are two reasons why her story works:

First, she always has the best of intentions. Whether it is meddling with Harriett or encouraging Mr Elton, she is trying to increase the joy of those around her. This makes her foibles easy to relate with despite her aristocratic lifestyle.

Secondly, the narrative never fails to call her out for her mistakes. This is usually done by Mr Knightley but occasionally by Mrs Weston and sometimes it is her own inner monologing that teaches Emma the lesson she needs to learn. By the end of the novel she has grown immensely and has a new appreciation for her entire community. This is what you want to see in a story- character growth in addition to a compelling romance.

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2020 Film

Anyway, I tell you all this to try and explain why I think the new adaptation by director Autumn de Wilde of Emma works so well. She seems to instinctively understand and respect what Austen was going for in the story and character. Then she adds her own flair and touches I found completely delightful and charming. Aside from Clueless this may be the outright funniest version of the story and yet it still has the heart and vulnerability we need from the titular character.

In this version, Emma is played by actress Anya Taylor- Joy, and she feels younger and more sheltered than other versions. This makes total sense for her character. She certainly would not be someone that would have ever gone to any formal schooling or been out a lot in social situations. Most of her experience would be from her governess and/or her Father. Now her teacher and Mother-figure is leaving, so it’s no wonder she quickly finds a more naive and innocent person she can teach and train in Harriett Smith.

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Harriett is played by Mia Goth and she’s definitely my favorite person to play the role with the exception of perhaps Brittany Murphy in Clueless. The two of them are truly the blind leading the blind but they both mean well and seem to have a true bond of friendship that helps them to forgive and quickly find new loves to dote upon.

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Then we have the Eltons played by Josh O’Connor and Tanya Reynolds (her hair was especially memorable! Take note come Oscars). They are our comic relief/ or rich people who don’t learn and grow like Emma does. Miranda Hart is lovely as the chatter-box that is Miss Bates and Callum Turnder is the mysterious and selfish Frank Churchill. All of these characters sparkled with humor and wit.

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However, the funniest of them all is Bill Nighy playing Emma’s father Mr Woodhouse. He is a hypochondriac who has the doctor on continual notice (even when a baby is crying he wants to call the doctor!) and is constantly worried about the drafts in the house (which leads to a hilarious bit I won’t spoil). Even his reaction to the weather made me laugh. I would nominate him for best supporting actor if it was up to me. So funny.

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Finally, let’s talk about Mr Knightley and Emma in this version. This is a younger version of Knightley than we get in the novel, which I was a bit anxious about but it worked. Because he has clearly been working and out in the world more than Emma, his lectures and scolding still feels valid and earned.

I loved the way de Wilde and screenwriter Eleanor Catton give time where Emma and Knightley are fighting so hard they are shouting at each other. It was very refreshing for this kind of period piece. Also actor Johnny Flynn has the smoulder and suffering for his girl we like to see in spades! However, it is not all grand gestures as we see sweet and swoonworthy moments where he is crying in desperation for Emma. It helps that Taylor-Joy and Flynn have sizzling chemistry together especially in the dancing scenes where they are allowed to touch and linger on the feel of each other’s hands. So good!

While watching Emma I definitely felt some inspiration from 2018’s The Favorite and 2016’s Love and Friendship. They are both films with a period sensibility but a sharp sardonic sense of humor, and I’m all for that. It’s what Austen would have wanted and enjoyed in this day and age. It’s what she was going for with her bold heroines who defied convention in the one way they could: LOVE! It’s the best. l love Austen and I really loved this version of Emma! Go see it!

9 out of 10

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Current Mini Reviews

Hello readers! I hope you are  all having a better start to the new year than I am. Unfortunately today I am sick with a wicked case of a sinus infection/virus. In fact, I didn’t get to go to the Doctor Dolittle screening this morning because I was so worried I would fall asleep/cough throughout the film. Nevertheless, I have 3 recent films I need to update you all on my thoughts so here goes.

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Like a Boss

Hollywood sure seems to struggle in understanding women. So much of what they make for female audiences feels out of touch with any kind of women I know or interact with. For example, so many seem to suggest women spend way more time worrying about their makeup than most do. Most women have a makeup routine and every once in a while try something new and that’s it.

I was one of the only people who liked 2018’s I Feel Pretty (also set in the world of cosmetics and beauty) because at least it had a little bit of a whimsy which appealed to me. But even I will admit the parts involving the beauty industry and supposed female empowerment fell very flat.

Now we have the latest entry, Like a Boss, starring Rose Byrne and Tiffany Haddish who run (you guessed it) a makeup company. I actually didn’t hate this movie. It had some laughs with Haddish and Byrne hanging out with their girlfriends  (an authentic relatable situation and probably helped by improv).

However, all the elements involving business fell flat especially Salma Hayek as an over-the-top beauty mogul. It is not surprising this film is written and directed by men because the complexities of the female experience in business as presented are so reductive and cringe-worthy. I’m not saying a movie like this needs to be realistic but come on? They can do better than this.

Even though I did laugh at the friends scenes in Like A Boss, I can’t recommend you spend the big bucks to go see it in the theater. Go see one of the awards caliber films in theaters instead.

4.5 out of 10

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Underwater

Next up we have another movie I didn’t hate but was pretty meh on: Underwater. This has its fair share of positives including a good performance by Kristen Stewart. They also do a great job in creating atmosphere with cool production and sound design. Everything felt on the same level as Ad Astra last year in that regard. I also liked that the action gets going right away without feeling a need for backstory or exposition to set up the world.

The problem with Underwater is it felt uneven in the storytelling. One minute the creatures would be attacking and then the next they’d be more quiet and observant. One minute Kristen Stewart would be fighting for her life and the next she’d be back on the ship looking through a locker. It felt like some needed transitions were cut in the editing room.

It is also a very derivative film of movies like Alien which takes some of the edge off of certain scenes. There’s definitely a feeling of ‘we’ve been there done all this before and better’.

Still if you see this airing on cable it’s not a terrible watch but I don’t think I can recommend watching it on the big screen. (Also the excuses they have to get Kristen Stewart in her bra and panties for long segments feels a little gratuitous and absurd).

4.5 out of 10

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Marriage Story

To be perfectly frank I have been putting off seeing the critically acclaimed film Marriage Story despite it being available to watch for several months. Especially at Christmas time the idea of watching a film about divorce did not sound appealing at all.

Well, now I have seen the film and while it isn’t my type of movie it is worthy of praise. Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson are both excellent as our feuding couple and the script doesn’t pick sides on the divorce. They are both petty and passionate all at the same time.

I’m a little confused at the high praise being given to Laura Dern for her performance as Scarlett’s attorney. She was perfectly fine in the role, but I didn’t see anything outstanding or Oscar-worthy but that’s just me. I do think it would be interesting to see this story from the perspective of people who can’t afford $25,000 retainers for their attorneys. Like what about a divorce between a couple who run a failing convenience story or are both teachers? That might be easier to relate with than these directors/actors.

But nevertheless, it’s a good film. I particularly liked Adam Driver singing ‘Being Alive’ from Stephen Sondheim’s Company both because I love that song but also I had no idea he could sing (what can’t the man do?).

I am sure if you have been through a divorce Marriage Story will have more emotional resonance. As for me it is good, just not a favorite or something I will ever watch again.

7 out of 10

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