\

Browse Josh's Portfolio and the Comic, Reviews or Blog archive.

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]

Browse Josh's Portfolio and the Comic, Reviews or Blog archive.

Josh Bids Farewell to Catastrophe!

Sharon Horgan and Rob Delaney’s brilliant, brutally funny series Catastrophe gripped me from the very first episode.  And now, after four short but nearly perfect seasons, it’s gone, way too soon to suit me.  I miss it already!!

The series was created and is overseen by Sharon Horgan and Rob Delaney, who also star as Sharon and Rob.  In the pilot episode, the two meet when Rob is in England for a week for business.  After a torrid few days of enthusiastic sex, Rob goes home and neither expects to see the other again… then Sharon discovers that she’s pregnant.  So Rob moves to London and he and Sharon decide to make a go of being a couple.  The four seasons that follow depict the ups and downs of their adventures in parenting and in their relationship.

Season four is pretty much perfect, in my opinion.  We get six new episodes that unfold in the classic Catastrophe fashion, with moments of painful emotion right next to moments of outrageously hilarity.  This series is as funny as anything else on television these days.  It’s also blisteringly profane.  Four seasons in and I am still shocked (in the best possible way) about some of the things that the characters on this show (especially Sharon and Rob) say and do.

Sharon Horgan and Rob Delaney are both spectacular in the lead roles.  They have written themselves roles for which they are each absolutely perfect.  I adore their chemistry.  There is a magic to seeing them on-screen together, especially when they are lobbing outrageous comments back and forth to one another.  The show has not avoided showing rough patches in their marriage, but in my opinion the show is at its best when Rob and Sharon are on the same side, together against the world.  This is the case, thankfully, for most of season four (somewhat of a relief after season three), at least until the finale which I will discuss in a moment.

Season three ended on a worrisome note, with Rob having been in a car accident and admitting to Sharon that he’d fallen off the wagon.  The start of season four picks up the story from right that cliffhanger ending, but thankfully the tone is one of high comedy rather than lugubrious drama.  Rob and Sharon’s appearance in court (and the way in which Rob immediately throws Sharon under the bus) is hilarious, a high mark in the series.  This was a terrific way to start the season.  What a joy it was to have Catastrophe back in perfect form!  Throughout the six episodes, the one-liners come fast and furious.  I need to find time to watch all these episodes again … [continued]

Browse Josh's Portfolio and the Comic, Reviews or Blog archive.

Josh Reviews Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp

David Wain and Michael Showalter’s cult classic film Wet Hot American Summer is not a film for which I ever expected to see a sequel made.

WetHotAmericanSummer.FirstDayOfCamp.cropped

The film did not succeed upon its theatrical release back in 2001.  But then a strange thing happened, which sometimes occurs with films whose style or content fall somewhat outside what one might deem the “mainstream” (and this seems to particularly be the case with comedies): the film slowly began to build a passionate group of fans who love and quote the film endlessly.  At the same time, so many of the performers in the film, who were small-potatoes when it was released, exploded in popularity in the years to come: performers like Amy Poehler, Bradley Cooper, Elizabeth Banks, Paul Rudd, and many others.  Looking back on the film today, Wet Hot American Summer feels like an incredibly prescient film, one that magically brought together an insanely talented array of performers.

And yet, despite the film’s eventually earning a beloved status amongst many comedy fans, who ever thought that a sequel would ever be made?  What flop ever earns a sequel?  And Wet Hot never felt to me like one of those films that is begging for a sequel.  The film’s story, about the last day of summer camp at Camp Firewood in 1981, felt like a complete story.  And how on earth could all of these now-very-popular and successful performers ever be united?

And even if one dared to dream that perhaps someday some studio could be convinced to front the money to make a sequel for a film that flopped, there are all the other challenges of making a sequel to a comedy.  I could probably write a book analyzing all the reasons why this might be, but for now let’s just cut to the chase to state that making a comedy sequel is incredibly hard.  There are very, very few comedy sequels that are any good.  (Go ahead. Try to name one.)

Somehow, David Wain and Michael Showalter have managed to surmount every single challenge that stood in the way of crafting a satisfying and entertaining sequel to the original film.  I don’t quite know how they did it, but they did!  And so, lo and behold, Netflix’s eight-episode Wet Hot American Summer mini-series is now something that actually exists that I have seen with my own two eyeballs.

Somehow, David Wain and Michael Showalter managed to lure back every single cast-member of note from the original film.  That in itself is a triumph of staggering performers.  To reunite that enormous ensemble, all of whom are big comedy names?  Crazy.  (Along with the names I listed above, back for the mini-series … [continued]

Browse Josh's Portfolio and the Comic, Reviews or Blog archive.

Josh Reviews They Came Together

They Came Together was released to select theaters on June 27, but it never opened anywhere around me.  However, I was pleased to discover that the film is available to watch on VOD through iTunes and amazon.  Right now, from the comfort of your own home!  Just click here and watch!

You really should, too, because this send-up of romantic comedies by director David Wain (Wet Hot American Summer, Wanderlust) is fantastic and boasts an extraordinary ensemble of comedic performers.  The film stars Paul Rudd and Amy Poehler and also features Ed Helms, Bill Hader, Ellie Kemper, Jason Mantzoukas, Cobie Smulders, Christopher Meloni, Jack McBrayer, Michaela Watkins, Ken Marino, Melanie Lynskey, and many other fantastic men and women who you’ll probably recognize.  I cannot believe this film is not getting a wide release!  (Is the I-can’t-believe-they-got-away-with-it dirty title holding the film back??)

They Came Together tells the story of the torturous path to romance followed by made-for-one-another couple Joel (Paul Rudd) and Molly (Amy Poehler).  I really don’t want to tell you anything more than that, because the fun of the film is watching hapless Joel and Molly stumble through every single cliche romantic comedy plot-twist that you could possibly think of.

It’s really quite brilliant.  There are some very specific references (I myself was very taken by the film’s version of the trip to meet the wealthy Christian in-laws from Annie Hall) and also a lot of more generalized messing around with the types of scenes we have all seen a million times in romantic comedies.  (The way Joel and his brother each give a tender “thanks” to one another after a heart-felt moment had me in stitches.)  There’s some nerdy clever humor in the film and also some very low-brow, silly humor.  There are a few very literal scenes that would have felt at home in Airplane! (such as the moment in which Joel and his bartender go through a “you can say that again” routine about ten times).  There are also some extremely random digressions (such as a stunningly bizarre sequence in which Joel’s boss is unable to unzip his super-hero Halloween costume when he has to go to the bathroom).  Not every one of these jokes lands, but there are always about ten more jokes coming right on its heels, so I found myself laughing pretty consistently throughout.

The film has a playful, anything-for-a-laugh approach that at times can make the film’s narrative feel choppy, but which I found quite endearing.  There’s one moment when we suddenly discover that Molly has a young son, which provides a great opportunity to get this film’s silly version of the classic romantic comedy moment in which … [continued]

Browse Josh's Portfolio and the Comic, Reviews or Blog archive.

Josh Reviews In a World…

Before I went to see In a World…, I knew who Lake Bell was.  I certainly recognized her face from here and there.  I had nothing against her as an actress, but mostly I knew her as someone involved in projects I had absolutely no interest in seeing (What Happens in Vegas, It’s Complicated, No Strings Attached, the TV show Surface, I could go on…).

Well, forgive me for under-estimating her, because I just saw the new film, In a World…, that Ms. Bell wrote, directed, produced, and starred in, and it is magnificent.  One of my favorite films of the year, no question.  Consider me now a huge fan of Lake Bell!!

In In a World…, Ms. Bell stars as Carol Solomon, a young woman trying to get work in the voice-over biz.  Carol is the daughter of voice-over legend Sam Soto (Fred Melamed), but she goes by a different last name in order to try to have her own identity, separate from her well-known (at least, well-known in the voice-over community) father.  Sam doesn’t believe there’s much room in the voice-over business for non-male voices, and so he has thrown his support behind, not his daughter, but a different hot-shot protege, Gustav Warner (Ken Marino).

The title of the film comes from the famous phrase that real-life voice-over artist, the late Don LaFontaine, used to begin many, many movie trailers.  The central dramatic moment in In a World… comes when the studio behind a blockbuster new epic decides that the time has come to bring back that famous phrase in the trailer for their new film.  Suddenly Carol, Sam, and Gustav are all competing for this one voice-over gig.

In a World… might sound very “inside,” in terms of its focus on the world of voice-over talents, something I suspect the vast majority of movie-enjoying Americans have never given a second thought.  And, indeed, for me a big part of the fun of In a World… was seeing the curtain thrown back on that world, that particular sub-culture of movie-making.  But as in all the best films, that extremely specific subject serves as the setting for a very universal story.  If you know who Don LaFontaine was and got a chuckle at the title of this movie, you’re going to love this film.  But even if you’ve never heard that name before and don’t care a whit about voice-over actors, you’re still going to love this movie.

Because at its heart, In a World… is really nothing more than a sweet, compelling character-study of Carol, a goofy, amiable, somewhat lost young woman looking for her place in the world and chasing after her father’s respect.  Ms. Bell … [continued]