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Josh Reviews Brittany Runs a Marathon

In Amazon Studios’ film Brittany Runs a Marathon, Jillian Bell (The Night Before, Office Christmas Party) stars as Brittany, a single young woman living in New York.  Brittany is happy with her party-going lifestyle, but when she sees a doctor (as part of a scheme to score a prescription to Adderall), she gets the surprising news that she is unhealthy and needs to lose weight.  Initially resistant to the idea, Brittany gradually begins to experiment by going for a run.  To her great surprise, she gets into it, and eventually meets two new friends: Seth (a new dad who is embarrassed about his lack of physical fitness) and Catherine (Brittany’s wealthy neighbor).  The three challenge each other to run the New York City Marathon.

Jillian Bell has always impressed me with her comedic timing, and it’s a delight to see her step into a leading role here in this film.  She is fantastic.  She’s effortless with her mastery of comedy, killing in both the film’s big comedic set-pieces and tiny small moments alike.  But she’s also completely convincing and painful in the film’s dramatic sequences.  I hope this film proves to be a strong boost for Ms. Bell’s continuing career.

The film is very funny, but it’s also grounded in the drama of Brittany’s often-painful, often-failed journey to grow up.  There are some tough-to-watch moments in the film, as we see Brittany make bad choices at times, often taking several steps back after she’s taken a step forward.  The film’s “hook” is about her quest to lose weight by running, but thankfully Brittany’s weight isn’t really what the film is about.  As the story unfolds, and we get to know Brittany as a person, we gradually discover — as she does — the damaged places within her, and the steps she needs to take in order to heal.  Brittany has an almost pathological inability to accept help from others; she interprets offers of friendship and support as pity, and so lashes out whenever someone in her life reaches out to her.  This is the true journey Brittany is on in the film.  Her weight loss is just a side-effect.  I’m pleased that the film has this depth to it.  Balancing comedy and drama is difficult, and many films fail in the attempt.  But I enjoyed both aspects of Brittany Runs a Marathon, the comedic moments and the dramatic character arcs.

Michaela Watkins (Wanderlust, In a World…, They Came Together) plays Brittany’s neighbor Catherine.  Ms. Watkins is a brilliant comedic performer; this is a mostly straight dramatic role, but she is fantastic nevertheless.  Brittany looks down her nose at Catherine, who she sees … [continued]

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Josh Reviews Office Christmas Party

Josh (Jason Bateman) helps run the Chicago-based branch of a tech company, Zenotech, overseen by his friend Clay (T.J. Miller).  The branch is doing OK, but Clay’s rivalry with his sister Carol (Jennifer Aniston), just appointed as the company’s C.E.O., leads her to threaten to close down Clay’s branch if they are not able to land a big new client.  When Josh and Clay and their head of tech Tracey (Olivia Mann)’s pitch to a large financial firm fails, they come up with a last-ditch scheme: they invite the financial firm’s representative Walter Davis (Courtney B. Vance) to come to their office Christmas party so that he can bond with them and see how Zenotech is filled with good people with whom he’d want to work.  So, although Carol had announced that the Christmas party was cancelled, seeing it as a waste of money, Clay decides to pull out all the stops and throw the biggest party his company has ever seen.  Of course, lots of things go wrong and the Zenotech office Christmas party quickly grows into a wild bacchanal and ever-escalating chaos.

OFFICE CHRISTMAS PARTY

There is no ground-breaking comedy in Office Christmas Party, and you can probably spot where all the character-arcs are heading about ten minutes into the film.  But that being said, I nevertheless thoroughly enjoyed the film.  It’s very, very funny, and I was taken by the film’s joyful, everything-will-work-out and everyone-will-come-together-as-a-family spirit.

The film works because of its terrific cast, every single member of which shines.  I had no idea that half of the familiar faces who pop up were in this movie, and I was delighted by every single one of them.

Jason Bateman could play a role like this in his sleep: the nice, decent guy surrounded by a bunch of loony-tunes.  The role might be familiar, but Mr. Bateman is so good at this character-type that it’s hard to complain.  Watching him in this role is like watching an old master at work.  Mr. Bateman is one of the finest comedic straight-men to ever grace the screen.  T.J. Miller’s star has been rising for the past several years (He was solid in 2008’s Cloverfield, his first film, and he’s great on Silicon Valley, which I just started watching), and it’s nice to see him in this big-time leading role.  He’s fantastic as Clay, showing us Clay’s goofball man-boy energy but also his earnest desire to be a good boss who can live up to the idealized image he has of his father, who used to run the company.  I love Mr. Miller’s relationship with Mr. Bateman; you really buy these two as friends.  I also loved Mr. Miller’s relationship with Jennifer Aniston … [continued]

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Josh Reviews The Night Before

Well, its title is pretty generic and meaningless but other than that I have little bad to say about The Night Before, the fun and funny new raunchy buddy comedy starring Seth Rogen, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, and Anthony Mackie.

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Director Jonathan Levine can pretty much do no wrong in my book,  I adored his film The Wackness (definitely track it down, you won’t regret it) and really dug 50/50 (a film about a guy getting cancer, which seems like an extremely perilous subject around which to center a comedy, but Mr. Levine nailed it.). The dynamic of the friends in 50/50 was a lot of fun, so I loved seeing Mr. Levine reunited with Seth Rogen and Joseph Gordon-Levitt here in this film, and Anthony Mackie (so solid in the last several Marvel films as Sam Wilson) is a great addition to the ensemble.  The three men really sell the idea that these three guys are life-long friends, which is critical to this film’s working as well as it does.

In The Night Before, Ethan (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), Isaac (Seth Rogen) and Chris (Anthony Mackie) are best friends who, for fifteen years, have always spent Christmas Eve together, partying.  It began as a way for Isaac and Chris to help Ethan get through the death of his parents, and then continued as an ever-escalating tradition of fun and mayhem.  But now, with Isaac about to be a father and Chris achieving fame as a football star, the guys have decided that this will be the final year of their Christmas Eve tradition.  After one final crazy blow-out evening, of course!

The Night Before isn’t a ground-breaking comedy by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s a lot of fun.  It’s a sort of cozy slipper sort of comedy, in that it’s fun to see these actors have a vehicle that allows them to bounce off of one another.  There are some home-run sequences of comedy in the film, and also a solid underpinning of character-work that gives the film some weight.  Mr. Levine balances the tone deftly, so that you care enough about the characters to engage in their stories.  But the film thankfully doesn’t get all dewey-eyed and sappy in the third act as some comedies make the mistake of doing.

This deep into Seth Rogen’s career (I’ve been a fan ever since Freaks and Geeks almost two decades ago), it feels perhaps like a step back to have him play a character whose basic story is that he is wigging-out on all sorts of drugs for the whole film.  (The idea in the story is that Isaac is a pretty normal, well-adjusted grown-up.  But on the eve of her giving … [continued]

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Josh Reviews 22 Jump Street

I enjoyed 21 Jump Street but not nearly as much as many others seemed to.  I remember reading rave reviews of the film, and I saw it on several best-of-the-year lists.  I’m not sure what others saw in the film that I didn’t.  I thought it was an amusing diversion but not much more than that. (Click here for my original review.)  Still, I was interested when I heard that Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum were reuniting for a sequel.  Their chemistry was the best part of the first film, and I was curious to see where they’d take things in a second installment.

I wasn’t blown away by 22 Jump Street, though I certainly had a good time watching it.  This is not a very clever comedy but it’s funny and good-natured enough that it’s hard to find too much fault with it for being the dumb comedy it clearly is setting out to be.

The film takes a smart approach to being a comedy sequel in that it goes out of its way to repeatedly poke fun at the very idea of a comedy sequel.  I like this self-referential, tongue in cheek attitude, and it gives the film an endearing sense of playfulness.  Even though they make this same joke way too many times.

In fact, the film has two main jokes, each of which it pounds into the ground through repetition followed by more repetition.  Those two jokes are 1) the idea that they’re making fun of being a sequel in which everyone just wants the exact same story of the first film told again, and 2) the idea that the arc of Schmidt (Jonah Hill) and Jenko (Channing Tatum)’s relationship, their “bromance,” is just like the arc of a love affair between a man and a woman.  Both ideas are funny and good fodder for humor.  But both also grow tiresome when the movie makes the hundredth joke about each of them.  We get it guys!!!  We get it!!

Nick Offerman and Ice Cube return from the first film and both have a lot of fun with their scenes, especially Ice Cube who is a hoot.  There are a few new actors of note in this installment, particularly Amber Stevens as Maya, Schmidt’s new love-interest.  I wish she had more of an actual character to play.  Jillian Bell kills it as Maya’s roommate from hell.  She has one scene in particular with Jonah Hill, in which the two can’t seem to decide if they want to beat the shit out of one another or to make out, that is on its own a reason to go see this movie.

The funniest part of the … [continued]