Third time lucky - welcome to edition número tres of The Reel!
Estimated reading time: 5 mins 56 seconds.
And the winner is… diversity! Well, in two categories. On Sunday night Parasite took home Best Picture and Best Director at the Oscars, a welcome alternative to the favourite 1917.
Few people saw this coming, except for me. I accurately predicted the top 10 major Oscar winners in a public post three weeks ago - see it here if you don’t believe me. Poor Saoirse goes begging once more, but it’s hard to argue with the results (except Best Supporting Actor - more on that later).
Happy Valentine’s Day (tomorrow)! People complain about this holiday being “fabricated by a corporation” or “not even a real holiday.” But to them I say, every holiday was made up by someone at some point. Except, of course, the Midnight Dance of Tears and Flesh, in celebration of the dark lord Bilgamesh.
In the spirit of Valentine’s/Bilgamesh, let’s take a look at some romcoms!
This week: Romance, Willem Dafoe, and our hero is faced with a difficult choice.
👫 Sex friends without strings.
No Strings Attached (2011), film, directed by Ivan Reitman.
Friends with Benefits (2011), film, directed by Will Gluck.
2011 was a blessed year in cinema. The powerful & predatory men who rule Hollywood decided that we were worthy of not one, but two inane romcoms about hot young 20-somethings with cool jobs who try to have casual sex without falling in love! Truly you spoiled us, Herr Weinstein.
No Strings Attached and Friends with Benefits are so similar that it’s genuinely a surprise one is not just an extremely soon remake of the other.
Just look at their descriptions on Netflix:
This must be doctored, you say? Surely, these can’t be two separate films? You are deceiving us, monsieur Le Reel!
Alas, friends, I shit you not:
The fonts have the same colour scheme, and the films are even the exact same length. It’s so ridiculous that I briefly suspected No Strings Attached must have been an elaborate Punk’d by Ashton Kutcher on his co-star Natalie Portman.
But the question begs, are they any good? Well, I started with No Strings Attached, and the simple answer is no. Revolving around Kutcher’s aspiring writer Adam and Portman’s highly-strung doctor Emma, this was Portman’s first role after Black Swan. She was somehow funnier in a ballet-horror freak fest than she was in this.
ABOVE: Greta Gerwig looking at Natalie Portman like the Academy looks at female film directors.
Ashton Kutcher tries his best, but they have about as much chemistry as I sat for the Leaving Cert, i.e. none. Some talented supporting actors are wasted, and so were the 109 minutes I spent watching.
Friends with Benefits (Mila Kunis and Justin Timberlake this time) I’ve actually seen before, when it first came out, and I remember thinking it wasn’t bad. However, I also used to think Conor McGregor was a national treasure, so a lot can change in a few years.
ABOVE: Interstingly, Mila Kunis is now married to Ashton Kutcher, and Justin Timberlake and Natalie Portman are now father and son.
Another two impossibly good-looking singles with cool jobs (executive headhunter and art director? Come on) fall in love against their wishes, but this is somehow more palatable than No Strings. Their romance is more believable, the conversations are slightly less cringe, and the soundtrack is a few degrees better.
Look out for: The supremely talented Lake Bell steals the show in No Strings Attached. You could (and should) play a drinking game with the amount of product placement in Friends with Benefits - Sony and GQ feature more than the co-stars.
If you liked this: Crazy Stupid Love also came out in 2011, and is better than both of these combined. More com than rom, Lake Bell’s directorial debut In a World… is a brilliant stay-in watch.
Rating: No Strings Attached ⭐ Friends with Benefits ⭐⭐
🎯 You can’t be serious?
Long Shot (2019), film, directed by Johnathan Levine.
What do you get when you take Knocked Up and make it even less plausible, then add a political twist? Long Shot. I know that actors and characters are two separate things, but when I saw Seth Rogen was starring in this film about an unlikely romance between himself and Charlize Theron, I immediately thought:
“How is the bearded guy from Knocked Up still punching so far above his weight, and how are we still paying to watch him do it?”
However, that is an outdated way of thinking, and this film is somewhat enjoyable. Long Shot takes jabs at both sides of the American political system while crafting a love story between powerful presidential candidate Charlotte and her one-time babysittee, journalist Fred. It’s about as tame as a supposedly “politically-charged” romcom can be, but the theme is a welcome wrinkle in what was an otherwise samey year for romantic comedies.
ABOVE: “Netflix! Stop giving us weak content that is incredibly easy to consume!”
There was actually one moment I found bizarrely emotional, where Fred is whispering “I am worthy of love” to himself while a much better-looking suitor dances with Charlotte. I was shook for about 3 seconds, then remembered what I was watching.
There’s a lot (and I mean a lot) better out there, but it wasn’t the worst film I watched in the last two weeks. However, after No Strings Attached, that’s not particularly hard.
Look out for: The opening undercover scene is the best in the whole film, and Charlize Theron is (as always) a class act.
If you liked this: It’s the lazy recommendation, but Knocked Up really is a modern classic. For an infinitely better (non-comedic) narrative on a presidential campaign, watch George Clooney and Ryan Gosling in The Ides of March.
Short and snappy reviews for a short and snappy time:
The Lighthouse (2019, film, dir. Robert Eggers): ⭐⭐⭐⭐
Here be Willem Dafoe, talkin’ like a sailor and squintin’ like one too! I’m not a horror fan, but this is a gripping and freaky watch. Dafoe was criminally overlooked for Best Supporting Actor this year (not just nomination, this is a better performance than Brad Pitt’s in Once Upon A Time In Hollywood Extremely Little Happened…).
Platoon (1986, film, dir. Oliver Stone): ⭐⭐⭐⭐
Here be Willem Dafoe, talkin’ like a solider and killin’ like one too! Also note a young, relatively sane Charlie Sheen in a leading role. Immense war film that gave us every gym bro’s favourite Halloween costume:
Iconic Characters/Breaks Down Career (2017-, YouTube series, GQ & Vanity Fair): ⭐⭐⭐ - ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
📃 Quote of the Week(s)
General: “Mr. President, we still recommend Option C.”
President Chambers: “I am not nuking a tsunami.”
Bob Odenkirk in an enjoyable cameo appearance in Long Shot.
📅 Previously, in pop culture…
Landmark events from the last two weeks in film & TV histoire:
Feb 3 - Janet Jackson has a famous wardrobe malfunction during the half-time show of the 2004 Super Bowl, televised live.
Feb 8 - Taxi Driver, directed by Martin Scorsese, and starring Robert De Niro & Jodie Foster, is released in 1976.
ABOVE (Taxi Driver): You talkin’ to me? Oh sorry I thought you were, haha no no my mistake, no MY mistake haha.
Feb 9 - The Beatles draw 73.7 million TV viewers on the Ed Sullivan Show in 1964.
Feb 11 - Whitney Houston dies from accidental drowning at age 48 in 2012.
✅ Th-th-that’s all, folks.
Thank you very much for reading the third edition of The Reel!
Are you vehemently opposed to any of the thoughts above?
Do you agree that Rick Rolling is long overdue a comeback?
Do you have a personal issue with me that you’ve never been able to say to my face, but would be more than happy to communicate over the internet?
Get in touch!
Please share if you enjoyed, and I’ll see you in two weeks!