2014: Part 8

Do I Sound Gay?. Directed by David Thorpe. An amusing documentary that has occasional insights but never quite enough to totally justify being a feature-length film, Do I Sound Gay? follows its director, David Thorpe, on a journey of self-discovery as he attempts to figure out why he speaks with a distinctly obvious, classified “gay” voice. Following a break-up with a boyfriend, Thorpe decides to go to a speech therapist to try and talk in a more “straight” way. Thorpe also interviews a number of friends, family members from his hometown in South Carolina, professors of linguistics from the US and Canada, and also some celebrities, including Tim Gunn, George Takei, Margaret Cho, David Sedaris and Dan Savage. The talking heads segments are sometimes informative and entertaining, and Thorpe is a funny and endearing guide throughout the story, but the film never quite reaches any definitive answers as to whether gay men share a common type of vocal cadence and/or lisp. Still, the subject may still prove inspiring to those who are motivated by the film’s message about acceptance and learning to like all the things that make you who you are.

Meet the Patels. Directed by Geeta Patel and Ravi Patel. Described as a “laugh-out-loud real life romantic comedy” on the back of the DVD, Meet the Patels is a documentary co-directed by siblings Geeta and Ravi Patel, focusing on then 29-year-old Ravi’s search for love. Ravi, fresh from a breakup with his first (and only) girlfriend, who was white (a major taboo in his parents’ eyes), Ravi decides to take his family’s advice and allow his mother and father to be “matchmakers” and set him up on dates with Indian women. The film’s amateurish cinematography by co-director Geeta Patel is a little disappointing at first, but eventually you settle into the film’s look. The parents are way more interesting than our protagonist, but the film provides a compelling and oftentimes humorous window into what it is like within the Indian matchmaking/dating community both in India and in America.

Seymour: An Introduction. Directed by Ethan Hawke. Taking its title from J.D. Salinger’s 1965 novella of the same name, this documentary is a lovely portrait of New York-based pianist and composer Seymour Bernstein. Seymour’s many words of advice applied to considerations of both music and life in general are certain to inspire you. Ethan Hawke has done a wonderful thing by paying tribute to Seymour as both a piano teacher and performer and also as a human being who has had the remarkable good fortune to make a living by doing what he loves. There is a lot about Seymour’s life that has been left out of the film – I suppose there were subjects that he didn’t want to discuss, or were perhaps left on the cutting room floor (the running time is a slim 81 minutes) – but whatever the case, Hawke’s film is taut and constantly entertaining, nicely edited by Anna Gustavi and photographed by Ramsey Fendall. It’s one of the best films theatrically released in 2015 and it is a beautiful showcase for a funny, charming, mega-talented man.

This Is Where I Leave You. Directed by Shawn Levy. Wacky family comedy meets gooey sentimentality – that is where This I Where I Leave You leaves us. Certain instances allow the film’s ensemble players to shine: Jason Bateman as our protagonist, giving one of the better performances I’ve seen from him (I’ve seen him in a lot of really awful comedies, so this film seems like a step in the right direction) as one of four children mourning their recently deceased father by sitting shiva with their mother; Tina Fey, trying her best with a poorly drawn character, the family’s lone daughter; Jane Fonda as the family matriarch, straining a little in the comic elements but generally effective in the more dramatic scenes; Adam Driver as the goofy youngest child, probably the film’s most entertaining performer since he has most of the funniest lines but also manages to be genuinely touching in some emotionally resonant moments, signaling a sense of character development; Connie Britton as Driver’s therapist and lover; Timothy Olyphant as Fey’s ex-boyfriend, who has remained in their hometown due to a brain injury (as one IMDb commenter wrote: “It was the most intriguing story line and they spent the least amount of time on it.”); Ben Schwartz as the town rabbi and old friend of the family (funny, as always from him). But why must Kathryn Hahn be wasted in the role of (equally bland) eldest child Corey Stoll’s wife, a job that requires very little of Hahn’s comedic skill? Why is Rose Byrne reduced to a serious of quirky stereotypes as the local Manic Pixie Dream Woman who becomes romantically entangled with Bateman? To return to another IMDb comment, here is the formula that This Is Where I Leave You follows: “Dysfunctional family live under one roof because funeral/thanksgiving/Christmas/funeral/graduation/funeral/estranged relative dying/Easter/funeral and pithy dialogue ensues, someone is revealed to be gay, Mother says insanely cruel heartless things that only a sociopath would say, couples affairs are revealed, pithy dialogue, crying out of nowhere at a weird moment equaling in forced quirky moment, screaming matches about insignificant issues from the past, more pithy dialogue.” And there you have it, nothing new. With more originality and fewer main characters (allowing the focus on each to be stronger), the film might have had a chance to rise above mediocrity.

Two Night Stand. Directed by Max Nichols. Sometimes I like to intentionally sabotage myself by watching movies that I know will be bad; Two Night Stand is one such example of this self-destructive cinematic tendency. (At the time I was snowed in while Superstorm Jonas wreaked havoc outside and the events in this particular film take place during a winter blizzard, so I figured that it was at least meteorologically appropriate.) In truth I can’t completely dismiss Two Night Stand because its leading lady, Analeigh Tipton, is pretty good in it, something that I guessed would be the case since I liked her in two of her earlier films, Damsels in Distress (2011) and Crazy, Stupid, Love. (2011). Miles Teller functions similarly to as he did in That Awkward Moment (2014), although luckily neither his character nor the plot are anywhere near as jerky as in that other shameful excuse for a romantic comedy. Two Night Stand is entirely predictable – I had hoped for more from first-time director Max Nichols, given who his dad was – but at least there’s one truly entertaining moment in the film: Analeigh Tipton dances to the Dramarama song “Anything, Anything (I’ll Give You)” in one scene. But… yeah, that’s all.

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