A man kept in captivity his whole life tries to reconstruct the sci-fi series his captors used to keep him pacified.
Directed by Dave McCary
Starring Kyle Mooney and Mark Hamill
Initial Review by Jon Kissel
We’ve been doing this long enough that anyone who’s paid attention to my reviews should know that I’m in on pretty much any movie about a cult. The Master is an all-timer, but my fascination with cults extends to smaller units than faux Scientology. Dogtooth is also in the top 50, and that’s a film where the cult is one family. Wherever there’s people telling bald-faced lies to fawning followers who unquestionably believe them, I’ll be there. Brigsby Bear immediately gets interest points by fitting in this box, but I can’t slap an A on every film whose premise pushes my buttons. The Master or something like Martha Marcy May Marlene are deeply curious about charismatic leaders, mindless ritual, and the creation of dogmatic rule systems, but Brigsby Bear is barely related to that kind of film. It uses a premise I often love to tell a story about making dreams into reality of the let’s-put-on-a-show variety, a premise I am much less fascinated by.
After 14 long years and sequels to “Toy Story (fine),” “Finding Nemo (sure),” “Monsters Inc. (ehh…)”, and a double-dose of “Cars (WHAT?!),” Pixar finally gives us the one movie that actually went out of its way to set up a sequel in “Incredibles 2.” The original, “The Incredibles,” holds up today as one of Pixar’s less-weighty and joyful movies in their catalog. Did the sequel do the same? Indeed it did, and maybe a little too closely.
The Meyerowitz Stories should be a film that hits close to home. I, like Ben Stiller’s Matthew, do not have a close relationship with my family. I moved across the country, putting hundreds of miles between myself and them pretty much only because I could and I wanted to. I don’t go home for holidays. I don’t particularly feel bad about any of that, despite a barely-audible, Danny-like voice in my ear wondering if maybe I should. The part of The Meyerowitz Stories that rhymes with my life, however, is also the one that makes this a frequently irritating film. I was just talking with Blair about how freeing it is to decide to not care what your parents think of you, and to see the characters here make their lives worse in pursuit of their shitty father’s approval is me knowing better than them, and I don’t know anything. Director Noah Baumbach repeatedly returns to films about sons and fathers, usually about the latter being too self-absorbed to care about the former. This is his most intense examination of that theme, but he covered all of it 13 years ago with Squid and the Whale. It’s one thing for teenagers to wake up to their father being human and fallible and a dick. It’s far less appealing when adults do the same.
This viewer is always going to be sympathetic to a story of waking up to the lazy falsehoods of unexamined tradition, and Come Sunday is exactly that. Having only recently listened to the excellent This American Life episode that inspired this adaptation of Reverend Carlton Pearson’s dark night of the soul, Joshua Marston and his talented cast caught me at just the right moment. The confluence of an evergreen theme and the freshness of the real story should’ve added up to a quality experience, but Come Sunday is too bland to make much of an impact. This story is powerful enough to get me tearing up at work when it’s in podcast form, but the cinematic version has me distracted and bored.
HBO’s original programming, consisting of series, movies, and miniseries, have a clear laggard in that trio. The movies don’t have anywhere near the cultural persistence that either series or miniseries have, despite HBO’s considerable marketing and development prowess. The standard format for feature-length films are adaptations of real events, and the strictures of sticking to history don’t let the actors do much more than impressions of well-known figures while the directing is utilitarian A-to-B event tracking. These are sometimes great, like the you-are-there history of Path to War or Conspiracy of the early-aughts, but have lately been Al Pacino in a series of bizarre wigs or make-up as he trolls for Emmy awards by playing disgraced public figures. Literary adaptations are more comfortable in the miniseries category (Empire Falls, Olive Kitteridge), and after reading the Wikipedia plot description of Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, that may have been the better route. Ramin Bahrani attempts to cram a lot of plot and character motivation into 100 minutes, and ends up exchanging believable arcs and actions for ostentatious camera movement and bludgeoning political satire. If this is the art that survives the Second Civil War, we’re in trouble.
JUST SOME IDIOTS GIVING SURPRISINGLY AVERAGE MOVIE REVIEWS.