Friday, June 3, 10 a.m.-ish: Maybe it’s because I go the full eight-hours-plus without eating, but by the end of my latest quadruple feature, I can’t help but think of the day’s collective screenings as a cinematic four-course meal. In retrospect, I should’ve skipped dessert.
Happily, though, it’s hard to imagine a more delicious appetizer than Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping. A satiric Behind the Music by the Lonely Island comedy team of Andy Samberg, Akiva Schaffer, and Jorma Taccone (all three wrote and co-star, the latter two directed), the movie details the rise/fall/redemption of Samberg’s hip-hop artist Conner4Real, the former member of a legendary white-boy rap trio now seeking affirmation as a solo artist. Imagine This Is Spinal Tap with more schadenfreude and less self-awareness and you’ll get the picture, even if that picture doesn't begin to suggest how riotous this thing is. While there are no surprises in the narrative, there are more than plenty in the dialogue, sharp comic performances, and staggering lineup of talking-head interviewees recruited to lionize Popstar’s subject. (Usher Raymond scores highest, but everyone from 50 Cent to Carrie Underwood is great, and even Ringo Starr delivers a topnotch punchline.) As for the songs, as expected from Lonely Island, they’re fiendishly smart in their silliness; this might be the funniest nonmusical musical since Team America: World Police. At one particularly low point for the artist, Conner reads a series of damning reviews for his new solo album, but is cheered by seeing the work referred to as “A Triumph” – obviously not getting the sarcasm in The Onion’s headline. In its gently mocking, joyously goofy way, Popstar is a triumph without quote marks.
11:25-ish: Because Popstar runs a just-right 85 minutes and my next screening is conveniently located in the auditorium next door, I don’t miss a second of Love & Friendship, the latest by writer/director Whit Stillman that, by virtue of being a Jane Austen adaptation, would seem to be the day’s good-for-you movie selection – its salad course, as it were. But if it is one, it’s a salad served with a side of nitrous oxide; the health benefits are immaterial in light of how hard you’re laughing. All the Austen-flick tenets are accounted for: gorgeous 18th Century costumes, well-manicured lawns, handwritten letters delivered by courier, a jaunty score. Yet with our lead (the spectacularly assured Kate Beckinsale) an unfailingly courteous schemer, manipulator, and all-around bitch, this comedy of manners is like what you’d get if you dropped one of Barbra Stanwyck’s noir dames in the midst of Sense & Sensibility. Beckinsale’s merry widow is so unapologetic in her self-serving romantic and financial interests that she’s utterly irresistible, and that eternal cinematic preppy Stillman proves the perfect match for Austen’s decorous wit, providing smooth, controlled pacing and guiding Chloë Sevigny (Beckinsale’s co-star in Stillman’s The Last Days of Disco), Xavier Samuel, Emma Greenwell, Justin Edwards, and the achingly hysterical Tom Bennett to superb portrayals. Granted, the title is a bit blah. It’s the only aspect of Love & Friendship that even remotely is.
1:30-ish: Just like The Fault in Our Stars seemed to encourage audiences of a certain temperament to seek out their own cancer-stricken dreamboats, director Thea Sharrock’s Me Before You appears designed to make quadriplegia hopelessly romantic, telling of a kooky, free-spirited caretaker (Emilia Clarke’s Lou) who falls for her acerbic, paralyzed employer (Sam Claflin’s Will). With screenwriter Jojo Moyes adapting her own novel, this British tearjerker – an entree composed of equal parts wish-fulfillment fantasy and sentiment – is exactly as maudlin, gooey, and by-the-numbers as you’d expect; the instant that Lou mentions loving a pair of bumblebee-colored tights as a kid, you just know what gift Will’s gonna wind up bringing to her birthday party. But while the movie, for my tastes, is tediously formulaic and sometimes unspeakably insulting – its whole narrative hinges on the extent of Will’s physical pain, not one second of which we actually witness – the teen girls at my screening sure seemed to love it. And while I was praying for the wildly overscaled Clarke and her Groucho Marx eyebrows to just give it a rest already, I’ll admit that, as a Game of Thrones fan, it was still frequently a relief to see her in a present-day setting laughing and happy and a little bit tipsy. Sharrock’s outing may not be the pleasant break you yourself want, but Me Before You must certainly have been the break Emilia Clarke needed – even if, during the film’s more cloying passages and insufferable pop ballads, I’ve rarely so longed for the appearance of a dragon.
4:15-ish: For proof that Laura Linney can do anything, I’d almost recommend checking out Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows just for the climactic scene of her NYC police chief handing the reptiles the key to the city, and Linney somehow not breaking character to roll her eyes and tell director Dave Green, “I’m sorry, I just ... I just can’t.” Now that’s professionalism. As for the grim sugar rush that is TMNT:OOTS, it’s just more of the same: spine-crushing action, incoherent editing, lazy end-of-the-world plotting, a startling amount of fatalities and profanities, and bum jokes out of Michael Bay’s putrid handbook, but this time with Megan Fox meeting her vacuous-hottie match in Stephen Amell’s insipid Casey Jones. Early in the film, Tyler Perry (!) is forced to exclaim, “Eliminate those turtles!” Never before have I felt so connected to Tyler Perry.
6:20-ish: Real food at last. Even though, after Ninja Turtles, it’s really my brain that’s starving.