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SXSW: Bottoms

PJ (Rachel Sennott) and Josie (Ayo Edebiri) are bonded by their lifelong friendship and shared experience as lesbian misfits at their high school. They both have their eye on cheerleaders Isabel (Havana Rose Liu) and Brittany (Kaia Gerber). Their awkwardness becomes a roadblock in their quest to get laid. When Josie injures Jeff (Nicholas Galitzine), the star of the football team and an idol on campus, her crush Isabel is impressed. PJ and Josie soon concoct a plan. They start a girls-only fight club on campus, with the guise of building community, in order to impress their crushes. They even trick their teacher Mr. G (Marshawn Lynch), who is otherwise distracted by his divorce, into sponsoring them. What begins as a ruse becomes more earnest as the club members feel more empowered by their new skills and each other. All the events lead up to a football game between two rival high schools.

Directed by Emma Seligman, Bottoms is absolutely bonkers in the best way possible. The film unabashedly leans into its ridiculousness and is bolstered two strong leads. High school cliches are turned up several notches to great comedic effect. The story was co-written by Seligman and Sennott, their sophomore collaboration after the hit indie film Shiva Baby (2020).

My only quibble is that the romantic pairs, both lesbian and straight, have little chemistry. You have to suspend your disbelief in order to buy that these young people are into each other.

The cast is really stupendous. In addition to Sennott and Edebri, who have great on screen camaraderie, Marshawn Lynch, Miles Fowler and Ruby Cruz also shine in their respective roles. Bottoms is great fun and sure to be a crowd-pleaser.

Bottoms had its world premiere at the 2023 SXSW Film Festival and is distributed by Orion Pictures.

Jon Hamm in Confess Fletch

Confess, Fletch

The best kept secret in movies these days is the new mystery-comedy  Confess, Fletch. Directed by Greg Mottola and based on the novels by Gregory McDonald, Confess, Fletch stars Jon Hamm as a traveling journalist turned rogue detective who tries to solve a murder, an art heist and a kidnapping all while dealing with a cast of eccentric characters along the way.

Jon Hamm in Confess, Fletch (courtesy of Paramount)
Jon Hamm in Confess, Fletch (courtesy of Paramount)
Ayden Mayer and Roy Wood Jr. in Confess, Fletch (courtesy of Paramount)
Ayden Mayer and Roy Wood Jr. in Confess, Fletch (courtesy of Paramount)
Annie Mumolo in Confess, Fletch (courtesy of Paramount)
Annie Mumolo in Confess, Fletch (courtesy of Paramount)
John Slatterly and Jon Hamm in Confess, Fletch (courtesy of Paramount)
John Slatterly and Jon Hamm in Confess, Fletch (courtesy of Paramount)

Fletch (Jon Hamm) has been traipsing about Europe covering the tempestuous world of art. He’s been hired by the Italian Count De Grassi (Robert Picardo) to solve an art heist and meets and falls for the Count’s daughter Angela/Andy (Lorenza Izzo). When he gets word that Harvard art professor Ralph Horan (Kyle MacLachlan) has recently sold two of the Count’s pieces, Angela helps Fletch out by booking him a luxury apartment in Boston so he can further investigate. Upon arrival, Fletch is greeted with a dead body at the apartment and police detectives Monroe (Roy Wood Jr.) and Griz (Ayden Mayeri) immediately suspect him as the murderer. Fletch takes it upon himself to solve the murder, the art heist and the Count’s kidnapping. He takes on numerous aliases and is always one step ahead of the detectives . Fletch must contend with the lustful Countess (Marcia Gay Harden), the drug addict apartment owner Owen (John Behlmann), the pot smoking airhead neighbor Eve (Annie Mumolo), his old boss Frank (John Slattery) and many other quirky characters.

“I loved Mcdonald’s writing — the books are witty, surprising, full of lively, oddball characters and crackling dialogue. And a great, original protagonist: an irreverent, smart-ass investigative reporter as the stand-in for a detective in a murder mystery plot. Between the banter and the investigations, there’s also incisive social commentary.”

director Greg Mottola
Confess, Fletcher poster art

Confess, Fletch is pure delight. Jon Hamm is utterly charming as Fletch. He gives the role just the right dose of eccentricity without going too far. In fact, the entire movie does a great job balancing the comedy elements with the unfolding mystery. There are so many funny moments but it never feels cheesy. The supporting players all have excellent roles with their own story arcs and quirks. This really adds richness to the story. My favorites were Annie Mumolo’s Eve, a free spirit who is constant danger because she doesn’t take precarious situations all that seriously. Spotting the quirks is half the fun. These include Fletch’s penchant for taking off his shoes, Horan’s germophobia and love of EDM, Frank’s constant cursing, Griz’s bad luck and Monroe’s grogginess from too much work and being a new dad.

I wish there was more of Angela’s character and perhaps a bit less of the Countess. I felt that balance was a bit off. And of course we could have used even more scenes between Hamm and Slattery (a delight for hardcore Mad Men fans like myself). 

As a native Bostonian, I thought the film made great use of on location shooting. The living quarters shown are very luxurious, out of budget for someone like Fletch, but it is adequately explained given the fact that he’s being funded by rich patrons.

Overall, Confess, Fletch is pure comedy gold. Solid storytelling, a great lead, full realized quirky supporting characters and a fun murder mystery plot. And it’s even better on second viewing.

Confess, Fletch is currently in theaters and available to rent or purchase on VOD.

Watch on Apple TV

SXSW: Bodies Bodies Bodies

When Sophie (Amandla Stenberg) takes her girlfriend Bee (Maria Bakalova) to David’s (Pete Davidson) mansion for a hurricane party, their reception is tepid at best. Sophie is out of rehab and had stayed away from her booze and drug loving friends for a bit of space. As the group starts to get acquainted, they play a murder mystery game called “Bodies Bodies Bodies” where its tag you’re dead. What starts off as an innocent game starts to get deadly when friends start turning up dead and the hurricane has knocked out the power and cell phone reception. 

Directed by Halina Reijn, Bodies Bodies Bodies is a helluva lot of fun. I attended the world premiere at the Paramount Theatre in Austin, Texas and the crowd roared with laughter. Rachel Sennott  has a standout role as Alice, the daft friend whose much older boyfriend Greg (Lee Pace) becomes the first suspect. She’s got some great lines and is really the heart of the film’s comedic core.

When the lights are off, the characters must navigate through darkness guided by only the light of their smartphones. This adds a cool and creepy element to the movie. There is also a delicious twist at the end. Bodies Bodies Bodies offers a great combination of spooks and laughs that is sure to please horror fans.

Director and cast of Bodies Bodies Bodies at the world premiere.

Bodies Bodies Bodies had its world premiere at the 2022 SXSW Film Festival.

The Bellmen

Review by Ale Turdó

RATING: 6/10

Comedy tip

The Bellmen is writer/director Cameron Fife’s second feature film. A comedy that takes us deep into deadpan territory, involving the most curious and unlikely ensemble of employees —mainly the titular bellmen— working at the King Saguaro Hotel, a popular resort located in Tucson, Arizona.

Steve (Adam Ray) is the captain of the bellmen —a position whose veracity I will not dig into just for the sake of keeping this review running smoothly— and tries to impress his crush Kelly (Kelen Coleman) by lying about a promotion as hotel assistant manager coming his way. Right in the middle of this sort of rom-com scenario we have bellman trainee Josh (Josh Zuckerman), hotel owner Sid (Richard Kind), new-age schemer fraud Gunther Gochamonet (Thomas Lennon) and a vast assortment of wacky characters hopelessly getting into all kinds of trouble while trying to get some work done inside the facility. This includes puppets and anthropomorphous working cactus, which forces me to stress the actual meaning of vast assortment.

Meta humor and self-referential puns are key elements in The Bellmen. The absurd-o-meter —something as made up as “bellmen captain”— is definitively peaking at this one. It is fair to say that some may consider its comedic approach unsatisfying or downright unfunny. If you are not a fan of this type of comedy, it can be a hard pill to swallow.

But the goofiness and good-hearted nature of the main characters is worthy of at least some appreciation. Even at times when the main plot dislodges and takes the back seat for a while, you can rely on random funny moments from peripheral characters.

Richard Kind is probably the most well-known player at this joint, and in spite of having a shorter screen time, you can immediately notice just how natural this particular type of comedy flows thru him.

The directing style suggests that a great deal of what happens on every scene is improvised (something that we can verify thanks to the outtakes included in the end credits). It requires a special kind of skill to be up to the task of improvising and keeping the humor fresh at the tip of the tongue whenever a scene needs it.

Aesthetically, it may not be the shiniest or best-looking feature. One can tell where their limited budget was aimed at and in what non-critical areas they tried to save as much money as possible. Performance is the most important component here: if something is funny enough to keep the audience engaged, they don’t mind how pretty the background looks or think that the photography could have done a better job.

Some say comedy is the hardest genre. It takes craftsmanship to make someone laugh. So even if The Bellmen may not be everybody’s cup of tea, it can definitively grant a few chuckles if you are in the mood for silliness.

 

Foto Ale TN_2018 Ale Turdó —Based in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Alejandro is a film critic and movie enthusiast that has been writing about movies for the past 7 years, covering everything from blockbusters to indie gems and all in between. He majored in Sound Design and Cinematography in college and is a full time digital content producer. He’s the kind of guy that thinks that even the worst movie can have something interesting to write about. Additionally, he writes for Escribiendo Cine and A Sala Llena. Twitter: @aleturdo and IG: @hoysalecine

SXSW: Basic

A dumb lil’ ho doing lil’ ho things.

Kaylinn (Georgia Mischak) is basic. She’s pretentious as fuck, has no friends and documents her sad life with endless selfies. Gross. At least that’s what Gloria (Chelsea Devantez) wants to believe as she scrolls through Kaylinn’s Instagram. Gloria is dating Nick (Nelson Franklin) and is participating in the time-honored tradition of projecting one’s insecurities by cyber stalking her boyfriend’s ex. Maybe it’s time for Gloria to get over it? Or maybe she needs to scroll through a few more pictures first?

Basic packs a punch in a mere 3 minutes and 3 seconds. This short is written, produced and directed by Chelsea Devantez who also stars in the film. Basic is relatable in so many ways. For many women dating in the age of social media, there’s so much at stake with our already fragile egos and the pressure to present ourselves in the best possible light. And in the early days of a relationship, building confidence is difficult and takes time. It’s easy to slip and become infatuated with a perceived threat that doesn’t really exist. I’ve been in Gloria’s situation before. I have cyber-stalked a boyfriend’s ex. I have said some things that reveal some deep-seated insecurities and pettiness.

Basic is funny, engaging and endlessly watchable. It was shot over 2 days in LA with a small crew and tiny budget. The production quality is fantastic and I really loved the aesthetics and the film’s soundtrack. All three actors were great but I was especially entranced by Mischak and Devantez’ performances. If you’re on the lookout for a relatable comedy, look no further than Basic.

Basic was set to premiere at the 2020 SXSW Film Festival. It will be released online on 3/19 as part of the Shorts of the Week’s SXSW virtual fest

Update: You can watch Basic over on Vimeo!

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