RIORI Presents Installment #179: Barry Sonnenfeld’s “RV” (2006)



The Players…

Robin Williams, Cheryl Hines, Joanna “JoJo” Levesque and Josh Hutcherson, with Jeff Daniels, Kristin Chenoweth and Will Arnett.


The Basics…

A classic scenario. An overworked dad needs to reconnect with his family and plans a vacation. You know, to relax and get away from it all. To the perfect vacation spot to chill and definitely get away from it all. But the very reason Dad needs a break follows him down, and such pressure from work defiantly gets him away from all that plagues him.

So now what? Risk his career or risk his family? Both! Let’s rent a clunky RV and head out to Hawaii!

Um, who’s got the map?


The Rant…

As many movies have informed/warned us full-blown family vacations are rarely ever what they’re cracked up to be. Except the whole cracking up part. That’s a given.

Oh sure, it seems like a good idea at first. Whether it’s a road trip with no real destination in mind (or at least mediocre one), a week at the beach, blazing a trail through the great outdoors or dedicating just one weekend to cleaning out under the couch cushions—eventually to the couch itself—to find that dang Amazon Fire remote that got lost one day after the installation. And if that isn’t quality family time, what is (besides also finding all that loose change so one may buy a replacement)?

It’s that nagging “quality family time” bit, that’s what always trips the trip up. As we’ve learned from quarantine (at this time of writing) being cooped up with your loved ones for too long devolves into the love scene from Lord Of The Flies. Whatever skewed and misguided Rockwell-esque dream trip you were imagining stresses you the f*ck out when it doesn’t come to fruition. And why is that? Because Rockwell painted ideals, not actuality, and your imagination has been palsied by too much work, pointless PowerPoint presentations, lousy coffee and those irritating motivational posters that litter your office walls like so many stray bullet holes. One always makes vacation plans when one is desperate to get lost, an end-of-the-rope kinda scenario. How can you think straight when you’re so stressed out? Right.

Getting away from the humdrum is necessary once and again, and of course there are good parts and bad parts to that idea. Especially if you’re strung out at both ends. The good’s obvious: heading away from said humdrum! To the beach for swimming and sun! To the woods for camping and hiking! To Vegas for free shrimp toast and to lose and lose again! Change of scenery is what it comes down too, kinda like that Jimmy Buffet tune, “Changes In Latitudes, Changes In Attitudes.” At least that’s what one expects. Hopes.

Now this is the rub. An essential need in going on vacation is a routine. This facet may be why vacations get so damned stressful, Rockwell notwithstanding. Okay, home/work life is getting you down and you demand an escape. Understood. However in order to take a vacation you must leave that routine—that lifeline—at home for a while, which is in and of itself stressful. Sure, you might’ve gotten tired of dopey Reddit forums and resolve to not touch your phone on your getaway, but by day three you’re back at it again, all wiry and frustrated. See where I’m going here? A vacation is as only as relaxing the further you leave your daily routine behind, however in order to enjoy a vacation your daily routine must be put in perspective; you don’t give it up. You can’t. It’s SOP. You can’t appreciate a vacation unless you measure it against your normal life, and that normal life is what you get homesick for by day three. Doubt me? How many times have you been on holiday when someone in your family/party says something like: “Wonder what the others are doing back home?” or “This sure beats your desk job, right?” Folks don’t truly appreciate vacations at face value. All they are is distraction. Distractions that come with distractions, like scrolling trough Reddit again, foaming at the mouth all the while. And of course you all have to come home eventually, lest have the RCMP form a search party.

BTW: Why is it called Reddit when most posts are written by folks who obviously can’t read and simply adore comma faults?

English lessons aside, one takes a vacation to escape the stress and strain of the daily grind. One gauges how good the trip is against your daily grind. Eventually one needs pieces of that daily grind to deal with the stress and strain of a vacation. Out comes the iPad you should’ve left at home and whatnot. Sure, that hotel room sure is sweet, but that’s not your bathroom. Stocked with rinky-dink soaps and shampoo bottles that aren’t your brand and you didn’t bother bringing your brand anyway because, hey, the hotel provides soap.

You get it. You have to take it with you, otherwise you can’t appreciate the getaway, and you need some anchor with a very, very long chain to keep you balanced. Seems like a lot of baggage to carry while you carry your baggage to the trunk of the sighing minivan. You can leave but you can never escape.

I know, I know. I’ve once again shellacked a cynical veneer across a universally wonderful idea like a vacation. But am I wrong? When I was a pup I was glad—happy—to spend another summer on Fire Island (well away from the gay communities, which sounded like fun incarnate but I didn’t know any better). However over the years the conveniences of the mainland ever creeped onto my summer idyll. First it was my CD player. Then the VCR with a clutch of choice tapes. Then the NES (so long sunset watching). Then cable. Then BOOM, I was home again away from home with no homework. At least there were beaches, but being in the sun between 11 AM and 3 PM were bad for my skin and I was working my way through Legend Of Zelda‘s second quest and…

A trap of bringing too much home with me. Some of it by choice, like the Nintendo. Some of it unavoidable, like hanging and dealing with the extended family. Some of it essential, like the Nintendo. You can’t really “get away from it all.” That’s a myth. You always bring something along to ground you, something you. Hopefully it’s something pleasant, like that book you meant to read, or a pair of field glasses to do some birdwatching, or your Nintendo.

CLONK!

Right. Got it.

What I’m getting at is that if you go hit the road, you gotta throw out a safety line; bring along a bit of the home life you’re tired of to take the edge off. Bring something “me.” Your phone, a book, your 3DS, whatever. Better yet, take your vacation alone. Otherwise your time away hearing other mouths whine and warble can be…well, kinda stressful…


Bob Munro (Williams) is an overextended workaholic of which he is keenly aware. He’s been losing touch with his family for years, always in the grind to make him feel like spent coffee dregs. It’s to be understood he’s good worker, and has earned his bones, but his sympathetic side to his burnt out co-workers has earned him the reputation as a softie. It’s all about the bottom line and whom one must answer to.

That one is Bob’s shrill boss Todd (Arnett), a scheming, self-entitled boor who after his business garden party was ruined by Bob’s leftist teenage daughter Cassie (JoJo) Bob must atone for her sins. Guilt by association and all that. Turn over this ailing account Colorado way and maybe, just maybe Bob’ll get back on Todd’s good side (if he even has one).

But wait. Understanding his predicament that work has trumped family for far too long, Bob booked a vacation in Hawaii for the summer. Hawaii and Colorado are not next to each other Bob explains to Todd. But it’s either a fresh proposal or his job, which means surfing has to wait. Is there a work around? Have a cake and share it too?

Sure! Rent a big ol’ dumb RV and rewire the Hawaiian getaway to a cross-country road trip to go “camping” in Colorado. Bob’s long put-upon wife Jamie (Hines) isn’t so sure about the idea and earth-crunchie Cassie and prison thug-in-training son Carl (Hutchinson) hate it. What about Hawaii? What about beaches and surfing? What the blank’s in Colorado that so urgent?

For one, Bob’s career. For two, winning back his family. What’s going to take priority?

Most likely figuring out the dang seat belt on this mother-trucker…


Both Barry Sonnenfeld and Robin Williams are frustrating talents.

On the whole, Barry’s work is ideal for family fun. Big, brash stuff like The Addams Family movies, the Men In Black franchise and the goof-tastic, so-bad-it’s-good send up of TV’s Wild Wild West. He’s never tried to win awards, he just wants to have fun and wants the audience to take his hand. However when the guy gets lazy or simply complacent it shows. “Fun” films like For Love Or Money, Nine Lives and Big Trouble are terrible yawns, as if the director swore off coffee in favor of an evening melatonin regimen. Barry’s either really into his films, or just calls it in. There’s no grey area that says he’s trying. Instead, his movies get trying. His directing style has bipolar 2.

Same could be said of Robin. He had a lot of good roles nailed down, enough to dismiss (but not eradicate) the crapola he churned out either trying to learn how to ply his trade or just pay the wireless bill on time. Consider this: for every Dead Poet’s Society, The Fisher King or Good Will Hunting he has to answer for HookToys and Father’s Day. Granted, the latter movies are not the former, but it was the same Williams all along. The guy wasn’t stupid, but maybe chose to be stupid just to let the manic comic man-child come out and play. It was more bad than good most of the time, and we as the audience were made to suffer. Care to watch Jack again, anyone?

Pairing such manic depressive talents together made for a very schizo comedy with RV. As far as Shakespeare saw it a comedy has a happy ending and a tragedy has a sad ending. RV twists that conceit backwards. It’s a comedy that we wish to end badly. Like with a thud.

Not surprisingly, RV feels cookie cutter. Ever since National Lampoon’s Vacation we all know what to expect from vacation movies. Everything that can and does go awry and all the antics can only be labeled as “zany.” Not funny, mind you, but definitely zany. BTW, what the f*ck does zany even mean? It means clownish, which is an apt term to describe Robin’s acting and Barry’s direction with RV. Except the usual motormouth comic histrionics are missing here, as well as the goofy zest Barry tries to imbue into his craft. Nope, what we got here are two very tired people. The air was out of the balloon before the opening credits were over.

This is a dumb thing to say but Robin was quite adept at tickling our collective funny bone back in the day. No, really. Look it up. Some of his early onscreen fluff—Popeye, Moscow On The Hudson, The Survivors, etc—just that, disposable entertainment, where acting craft came after the chuckles. His schtick both served and later haunted him as well, I feel. Over the years he became less coked-up man-child to solid character actor. He even got an Oscar under his boot. However all that time since Dead Poets’ Society audiences could never truly shake Robin’s—well—zany sense of humor and ADHD timing. Hey, when you land roles in films like Dead Again and The Final Cut it’s doubtful you’re going to reach for your old whoopee cushion any time soon.

So here, with this fluff titled RV a singularity appeared over Robin’s head and delivered a character completely devoid of clownish. In a comedy. A road trip comedy. Instead of rapid fire dialogue chased with quips aplenty we have Robin as frustration incarnate. Mostly with his character’s predicament but perhaps also with his career choices. It’s the first time I ever saw the man work a slow burn rather than manic panic. It’s oddly refreshing, but not for here and not now. Robin sells it so well it never appears like he’s having any fun at being Bob Munro. And he’s not. Even as the rest of the main cast proffer up their uptight, antisocial charm, Robin was living it in this movie. Come to think of it, none of the main cast seemed to having fun. That was sort of an inside joke at the film’s outset, but it sputtered, rusted and went clank by the end of the first act.We’re all in agreement here that Barry prized capital F fun in all his movies. Didn’t happen with RV. It just came across unfocused and wheezing. Ridiculous, and not in the best way.

The flaws with RV are myriad, but ultimately boils down to this fact: the movie just wasn’t funny. Beyond the stiff performances by Robin et al there were a lot of technical hiccups that pulled what few cards the movie had against its chest. Conflict is important is telling stories, even if it supposed to be for laughs. Hard to build that when the director is in a hurry. There was too much foreshadowing, still I couldn’t wait to see how the story would pan out. No surprises at all, but it’s like when my friend spoiled the twist in The Sixth Sense. Okay, I know Bruce Willis REDACTED, now I just wanna how we get there. Seeing everything coming is (say it with me) not fun.

Now hold on there. I’ve only outright hated just one movie here at RIORI (EG: Project X), and have always tried to find something redeeming about a big batch of bleah. Too put it simply, what was wrong with the Gornike’s? Jeff Daniels’ and his film family were a hoot and a holler, and much more interesting than the Munros, as well as enjoyable. The “down home” gig of the Gornikes might be real cornpone, but they’re a lot wiser and happier than Bob and company. Might be a lesson in there somewhere, like there ever is sequel to RV in the works (never gonna happen) ditch the Munros and bring back the Gornikes. Remember that crucial scene in National Lampoon’s Vacation with Randy Quaid as Cousin Eddie? There you go.

We were trying to laugh here. We were really trying, but it was all so bland. Robin’s (and Daniels’) comedic talents were all but wasted here. Both called it in to some level. Even decent agents can make mistakes. Despite all the hackery I was really disappointed in Barry’s unfunny direction. Like almost everything Blake Edwards cut after Breakfast At Tiffany’s, the law of diminishing returns (and laughs) can’t be avoided unless you care. Believe in your product, lest no one else will.

Best be getting to returning that rental. Got that deposit and all.


The Verdict…

Rent it or relent it? Relent it. Pretty sluggish and joyless flick for being about a cross-country road trip. Don’t forget to buckle up!


The Musings…

  • “Try to remember we’re not friendly.”
  • The whole RENT ME thing is a decent metaphor for Bob’s predicament. And Robin’s.
  • I lost track of my facepalms.
  • “I’ll get some music!”
  • It’s amazing how technology can date a movie so fast.
  • Why do I get the feeling that the motivation here is all about cleavage?
  • “Wipe your feet.” Thank you unknown Amy Schumer!
  • Okay, the “not meat” scene’s final edit was great.
  • “Honey…honey…”

The Next Time…

Willem Defoe and Robert Pattinson are trapped inside The Lighthouse they’re supposed to man through the densest of rolling fog. However insanity can really hamper one’s ability to stay focused.


 

RIORI Vol 3, Installment 85: Jesse Dylan’s “Kicking And Screaming” (2005)



The Players…

Will Ferrell, Robert Duvall (?), Mike Ditka (!?) and Kate Walsh (.), with Musetta Vander, Dylan McLaughlin, Josh Hutcherson and a team of spastic tweenage boys.


The Story…

Phil’s never been the athletic type. Truth be told he’s a total klutz, much to the disappointment of his uber-competitive dad, Buck.

Phil’s always been trying to earn his father’s approval. So when an opportunity arises for Phil to coach his son’s little league soccer team, he figures this might be an ideal way to prove to his old man he really has the chops to be a sports star. If only by proxy through the non-skills of a bunch of misfit, booger-eaters.

Play ball!


The Rant…

Ah, sports comedies. Covered on here with The Replacements installment back in 1870. I’m gonna paraphrase the MO of most sports comedies again right quick. Don’t want to bore you:

It’s all about the underdogs. The end.

Works well with grown-up “athletes” up against crazy odds. Even better with kids. Look at the Bad News Bears, The Mighty Ducks and to a skewed degree Hoosiers. C’mon, it had Hackman and Hopper. That claims some merit. My blog, my rules. And enough with beer cans already. Upgrade to bottles, for pity’s sake.

*klonk*

Thank you. Moving on.

Most sports comedies, by deliberate—if not predictable—design are meant to be feel-good, with much clownish humor and a dash of human drama thrown in. Y’know, to anchor some precious emotional investment. It’s a formula that works most of the time in such flicks. Please refer to the examples above.

*klonk*

Again, thank you. Shows your’e paying attention.

In relation to sports comedies (or any funny formula) there sometimes—okay, often—is what I call “animal mimicry.” It’s a very specific form of rip-off. There are only so many ways to fold a sheet. Namely a certain, specific sub-genre of movies hang on signature tropes to attempt to make the plot work. It’s expected. In fact it’s demanded. Talking about the sports comedy movie here, duh. There’s the essential underdog factor, given. The literal loss leader team of misfits as well. An incompetent, big-hearted coach with personal issues. The basics. Need I remind you of my fave saw regarding most formulaic film devices. Like the blues: it’s not the notes, it’s how they’re played.

Sometimes, however, the strings break like an Entwistle bass solo. The tropes get abused. Familiarities set in. A cocked brow reluctantly raises with hope, smelled this poop before. Not so fresh anymore, pilgrim, so choose wisely at the ticket taker. For every Slap Shot you’re gonna find a dozen The Air Up Theres, all desperate for your stub and not satisfaction. It’s like choosing a personal pizza from the local Target’s snack bar. Plain or pepperoni? Never mind. It’s f*cking Target.

Based on Box Office Mojo, Rotten Tomatoes, AllMovie and the ghost of Ebert, we willfully get duped more often than not about this thing called sports comedies, We want the chuckles, the warm fuzzies, the guilty pleasures of rooting for rapscallions to achieve on the field of glory. It’s the formula we crave as ideal popcorn fodder. We can catch the latest Von Trier movie some other Sunday afternoon.

But at the back of our Twizzler-addled gourds, mostof us want Buddy Guy to thrill us, then leave. The sports comedy it totally disposable, and that’s the way we want it. We know how this game is played, so to speak. Just show us some money for a bit. Pleasure us. Get dopey without being dopey. Bad News Bears was dopey. Slap Shot was very dopey. The Replacements reveled in its dopiness, almost as parody. But they delivered their self-conscious dopiness with elan and not sacrificing the essential dumb to make us laugh.

I think I just described every Rob Schneider vehicle that wasn’t. Whoops.

How a good, formulaic sports comedy works? Don’t bow to our expectations, Hollyweird. Don’t play. We know what we’re getting into. Don’t disappoint us by disappointing us. Don’t play that sharp chord over and over again, Buddy. Tweak. Try b-flat. Might launch a tired show into something worth hearing. In basic terms, don’t deliberately aim for the lowest common denominator. Again, we know what we’re getting into even if we don’t. Don’t throw us any line. Just let us watch, giggle and/or groan and a spit of pathos might work millions. Better than multiple fart jokes. A few, but not multiple. We’ve seen Blazing Saddles already.

Wait. You haven’t?

*klonk*

Thanks. A simple concept shot too simple too often. Sports comedies. Dime a dozen.

Except with Kicking And Screaming. We’re gonna hafta work with eleven…


Attached to two left feet and a needful desire to honor his dad’s neverending legacy towards being a winner, Phil Weston (Ferrell)…fails a lot.

His nemesis and shaman father Buck (Duvall, whose cachet is rapidly wilting) is a sports gear magnate. Phil mans a holistic, humble vitamin store. Phil married his college sweetheart Barbara (Walsh). Buck scored the ultimate trophy wife in curvy, much younger Janice (Vander). Phil’s son Sam (McLaughin) is sweet natured and inherited Dad’s two lefts when it comes to team sports. Buck’s shark of a son Bucky (Hutcherson),the apple and all, tears up the soccer field like a lawn mower on steroids. Fist bump!

Phil’s not much of a winner based against Buck’s ultra-competative world. It rankles him, though he’d never say so outright. To say anything would just goad Buck further. And that’s another form of competition Phil’s been struggling with all his life. If there was only a way to prove his mettle about…something.

This something comes in the form of Buck cutting benchwarmer Sam from his soccer team. From the arch Gladiators to the lowly Tigers. Sam ain’t thrilled by this demotion, but on his inaugural game with the Tigers, he and dad Phil discover the coach has quit. Team can’t play without a coach, and Phil sees an opportunity. He’ll put on the mantle of coach. He’ll prove to his son and Dad both that he really has the goods to lead a junior soccer to the championships.

Right. Go have another cup of coffee, Phil. Smell it while you’re at it…


I had a bad feeling about this one.

This movie is one of the many reasons I risk sanity for all y’all at RIORI, and ultimately how The Standard came into being. It’s a low rent public service, to be sure, but a service nonetheless. And a free one, so there.

I’m gonna admit outright that I am generally not a fan of Will Ferrel’s retarded style of frat boy humor. I was a frat boy, and suggested dick jokes get limp (ha!) pretty damned quick. On the man’s flip side, his ace-in-the-hole is playing the innocent, shoved into said dick jokes. Fish out of water. Victim of circumstance. Yet ready to go streaking or drop the f-bomb on air. I get it, but I’ve seen it done better. I find his schtick too broad. Sorry. Not bad, per se. Just broad.

So after screening Kicking And Screaming I was left with the question, “Did Ferrel really want this role?” Old School, Ron Burgundy and even Elf (a fave Xmas movie of mine, as well as a million other elves) used the man’s comic chops of crass innocence prior to this flick to great effect. Okay, even though Ron dumb, it was self-consciously dumb. I’m really not a Ferrel fan, but I give the guy a wide berth acting in the proper role. With Kicking there is neither the sharp wit or self-aware banter winking to the fact that Farrel is a lovable dolt. With Kicking he tries, but he’s just a dolt, and a smarmy one at that. Not Ron Burgundy territory here.

We looks like we gots ourselves a bad case of the Happy Madison’s here. Trying to mine the numb dumb of Sandler’s earliest cinematic efforts (and effort being the key term, like in bearing to look, swan) is what Kicking reeked of. It also stank of forced sight gags, lame stereotypes, wooden acting and a dire need to shoehorn a PG-13 movie into the context of a G one. It was a bait and switch.

Kicking was Bad News Bears lite. Unlike that classic bad film of misfits and miscreants rising to a little league challenge to a non-victory, our duck drags to an inevitable conclusion. There a few decent sight gags, but the whole wad falls on Ferrel’s nebbish/manic quips and yelling for no good reason. I know it’s a Ferrel vehicle, but it’s also supposed to be a sports com. You can’t have the lead dominate everything. It quickly becomes a high profile act at The Laugh Factory. Kicking ain’t cuddly. It’s bitter, especially when Duvall rears his skull.

Let’s talk about that. Duvall is a great actor, earthy and convincing if not a bit profane. Tender MerciesApocalypse Now (love that napalm stink), Godfathers 1 & 2. His career cachet is grounded in portraying bitter anti-heroes. Hell, even the acclaimed original Twilight Zone ep “Miniature” early in his career proves his studied awkwardness can go far. I’ll even lob his stints in lesser roles like Gone In Sixty Seconds, Falling Down and Deep Impact, reluctance may be his stock-in-trade. Being a boor doesn’t suit his skills well. Enter Buck.

The guy is so annoying. It may be on purpose. It may be a need to be foil to pussy Phil. It might have been Duvall f*cking around with this lark, having a laugh. It might even been a troll to drag the ‘rents to the cineplex so their spawn could watch Lord Business play catch. Whatever the motive, I saw Duvall selling out with precious little shame, shoehorned into a role simply cast as a foil to dopey Ferrel. I mentioned this above. It bore repeating. Duvall wanderered through his role, visage awash with bitterness. I’m gonna place bets that overall a hefty check was his motive.

And yet, and yet…Duvall was the funniest guy in the movie. No joke, so to speak. Maybe being (deliberately) miscast served as a boon for his comedic chops. Right, Tom Hagen, Sgt Kilgore, Mac Sledge and Karl Childers senile dad were never the funniest guys in the room (okay, I’ll give a slight pass to Kilgore and his fetish for surfing and gasoline as tactical weapon). Duvall as crusty Buck was an inspired role born of either a demented agent or a crazy casting director. Maybe both, and maybe not. Let’s review: Duvall’s cachet as an actor may be portraying bittersweet anti-heroes, but there’s a flipside to this style. Duvall’s credited to making an acting career out of awkwardness, yes, but also via characters as fish-out-of-water, placed in situations that demand shrugging shoulders against the roles that are meant for any other actor to be the Rock of Gibraltar. Duvall bows to that, but with calculated reluctance. C’mon. Do you think Tom Hagen had a clear conscience representing the Corleone family? Mac Sledge sure had a time divulging his nasty past with that kid. Kilgore was sure good with all that bluster, but it was all posturing. Taking all this hoo-ha into consideration, maybe him being cast as Buck wasn’t solely about chasing the check. His Buck is an anti-hero, shades of Kilgore. Kicking was an ideal setting for Duvall’s cachet to be turned on its ear. That being claimed, Duvall as wiseass and a walking a anti-PC warning might be viewed as revisionist thumbing-of-nose to a snickering audience. Duvall’s Buck played as an okay to fart at a funeral. Yeah, he was funnier than Ron Burgundy in Kicking. I’m as shocked as you’re most likely not.

*klonk klonk*

You may stop that now.

At least Duvall twisted himself around and chewed some scenery. Ferrel was sleepwalking through his part. All the gags he honed in the above movies are merely laurels here. I know I’m beating up on a pseudo-kiddie flick here, but with a mostly quality cast here misused again and again, the star should at least buoy the flop with their signature style. Hell, even Jim Carrey’s trademark goofy annoyance played rather well with The Truman Show and The Man In The Moon. Here Ferrel is just plain annoying. It’s little wonder why his Phil became his pop’s fave whipping boy. Namely, Ferrel’s Phil is unlikeable and could’ve been salvaged by him playing to his precious few decent roles as amalgam. Instead, no nuance. Matthau made a good drunk with a heart of tarnished gold. Ferrel is just a wimp, and a whiny one at that. No surprise he spent most of the movie being dismissed. I found Phil boring as much as Duvall shrewdly chased the paycheck. Snore.

Yeah, yeah. I’m tearing apart some pastiche about kiddie soccer league like it were Proust. I found that troubling. Kicking was supposed to be disposable, bearing not much thought. EG: the most retarded family sports comedy ever. But the primaries totally dismiss character, the juvie cast ugly and a predicable straight line to the climax made me feel gypped. There’s a total absence of tension; we could see the ending a light-year away. I know we know the outcome’s gonna be; you don’t need to broadcast the sh*t. I didn’t expect to dig Gone In Sixty Seconds no less to be delighted by Elf every Xmas. But that fluff overturned my expectations. Surprised me. I saw Kicking a parsec away, and felt dumped.

I’ve been broadcasting. I know. But even with the crappiest film there is some emotional glue that keeps us watching (beyond the non-existant Walsh shower scene. Got your attention now?). That being shouted, to its credit, Kicking did possess an odd bittersweetness going down. The underlying dynamic is all about dads relating to their sons, for good and ill. In American society competition is the lifeblood of all. What better way to address this dynamic in microcosm than sports? My father and I were like oil and water when it came to the Super Bowl (as well as musical tastes, and books, and porn. The man-on-goat stuff was never my thing. Okay, his thing). I’m not sure my kid’s enthusiasm for field hockey will sow seeds. I only pay attention to pro ball if Boston makes it to the playoffs, then maybe.

In sum sports—and by extension, middling family sports comedies—should bring folks together. Often with polarizing results, sure, but that’s how the game’s played. So to speak. Fun is the name of the you-know-what. Kicking lacked that, and what a shame. We all need a good, goofy sports-com once in a while. Y’know, to pop the proverbial and overblown obsession with football as warfare.

In closing, some words from the front: it was many years ago when I was a baker at some hole-in-the-wall restaurant. I got to talking to a young server about the National Pastime (no, not streaming Netflix). We chatted about the merits of baseball against “faster” sports like football and b’ball. Eventually it came down to our fave teams. He was already going on about Yankees this and Yankees that, and asked me about who I followed.

“Boston.”

He frowned. “Yankees.”

“…I heard.” And frowned back.

In a moment of satori he curled back his hip and withdrew his hand from his back pocket, extended it.

“Okay. Ortiz has a hell of a swing.”

I took his hand, “And Jeter has a hell of an arm. Until the field of battle…where we will crush you!”

We slapped each other on the backs and laughed. Brothers in arms.

There’s a real sports comedy for y’all. Go find your own.

*klonk klonk klonk*

Y’all must be Mets fans. Or for Barcelona.


The Verdict…

Rent it or relent it? Relent it. Kiddie sports comedies are usually funny. As is Farrel. Usually.


Stray Observations…

  • The only true laugh I belted out here was for the “We forfeit” scene. You’ll laugh, too.
  • “Go hemp!”
  • At least the kids ain’t cute.
  • “Get some circulation back in your skull!” Um, huh?
  • Too many pop songs. Cloying.
  • “Meat first!” Wise words.
  • Got the feeling that Ditka carried this movie.
  • “I take a vitamin everyday; it’s called a steak.”
  • Right. Coffee makes you an assh*le. Surprise (finger at face)!

Next Installment…

Dystopia never seemed so politically palpable as Natalie Portman raised her woke fingers in a V For Vendetta.


 

RIORI Vol 3, Installment 47: Lisa Cholodenko’s “The Kids Are All Right” (2010)


TheKidsAreAllRight-PosterArt


The Players…

Annette Bening, Juilianne Moore, Mark Ruffalo, Mia Wasikowaska and Josh Hutcherson.


The Story…

Joni and Laser (Laser?) are the children of same-sex parents Nic and Jules. Their home is a happy one. But the kids become curious about their sperm-donor dad, so they set out to make him part of their family unit.

His arrival…complicates things. Well beyond remembering to put the toilet seat down.


The Rant…

We all have prejudices. We all have families. I think one precedes the other.

For the first, we all are biased in some way towards (or against) some school of thought. Whether it be fave baseball teams, certain writers, vanilla or chocolate. Hell, even who your favorite Beatle was (mine’s George, the quiet one. Ironic?). I’ve also heard such could be said about movies, but I ain’t buying.

Folks still get in a twist over race relations and same-sex marriages and all the baggage that entails. People still get all antsy and agitated over differences in skin color and who should bump uglies with whom. Even if you’re the most left-leaning lefty this side of viewing Caitlin Jenner as a feminist icon, admit it, you like and hate things for no logical reason. Yankee of Red Sock? Tolstoy or Dostoyevsky? Uh, vanilla or chocolate? We all have our favorites, and some based on not considering an alternative important—if not vital—in making an educated decision.

Yeah, including me. Surprise, surprise yours truly’s got issues too when it comes to this over that. Like I said we all do. I’m not talking literally rent it or relent it either. I’ve got scads of issues with both pop culture and human nature alike based only on emotion, opinion and nary a whit of logic to be found. Son in the spirit of an open forum—which blogs are ostensibly supposed to be, regardless of annoying ads in the margins—I’ll spill so you can feel self-satisfied, safe in the belief that you never notice skin color, two guys kissing is sweet, Jews and Muslims can play a pick-up game of basketball on a Friday and all of the Fab Four were equally talented. You know all this because you crank “Honey Pie” up to eleven every time you’re going for a drive, much to the protests of your passengers.

You, and I, are full of sh*t. Let’s get that out in the air, shall we?

Like the wise folks of Avenue Q sang, everyone’s a little bit racist. Me? I get anxious around people not of my race in fear of blurting out something offensive and getting a beat down. Same for people of differing religious views (thought I think most Christians would quickly heed the lesson of Jesus about turning the other cheek, but this is ‘Murica, after all). I don’t believe in organized religion, and even that could get me into a scrape. By me now saying that the Boston Red Sox are my favorite MLB franchise runs the risk of every Yankee fan out there possibly rescinding their feed to RIORI. Social faux pas abound. And future beat downs.

I’m no saint; I got issues. Hell, I got the goddam lifetime subscription. But for all my social flaws and backwards views on society and the human factor at large, I know I’m not a homophobe. For real. Never gave it a second thought about who wants to shack up with whom. Even in high school I figured if I caught one guy kissing another it meant two more chicks for me. That way of thinking explains my relative indifference to same-sex marriages becoming legal in these our United States. On a personal level? Couldn’t give a f*ck. It was going to happen anyway. It’s all nice and good that same-sex couples could come out of the closet and profess their love and commitment to one another without moronic Bible beaters screaming hellfire and sin. By the way, the Good Book has maybe three admonishments against homosexuality and hundreds of admonishments against straight people. Just sayin’.

So besides some relevant political flap to make Congress cringe—millions of dollars in tax breaks for thousands of newly married couples in a tidewater surge. Guess the upgrade on the Capital’s snack bar is gonna have to wait—I do not care who f*cks whom. And for the record to any of you gay-bashers out there, your humble host has a wife, a daughter and a step-daughter. He has had nothing but female companionship in bed. In high school two of my good friends—a boy and a girl—were gay. Didn’t matter to me. My male bud was one of the first up us pimple cases to have Internet access. Of course we looked up porn. We were teenagers. We took turns between sites. I made the popcorn. I even crashed at his place on multiple weekends. And no, nothing every happened, except maybe too much Natty Ice, Paul Simon and Sonic The Hedgehog 2. Christ that stuff was addictive. So was the beer. Rhythm Of The Saints not so much. The closest thing I ever got to homophobia was when Bob Mould stepped out of the closet. I was surprised, then I flipped the record to side B.

There’s nothing wrong with being gay and you know it. Same-sex couples make a lot of sense when you think about it. Guys understand guys. Girls understand girls. When the opposites mix we get wine coolers, Dr Phil and Coldplay. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it. Pass the Zima.

On the second thing, even before we make up our muddled minds over what’s greener we gotta have some yutz sow the seeds. That’s when it begins. Mom and Dad. You got to have a foundation. Most of the time it works. The ‘rents do their best to instill concepts of social justice, morals and decent musical tastes into your mind from the outset. Then again there are kids in expansive Polaroids wearing hunting gear emblazoned with more American flag patches than your average Rear Admiral haunched over a fresh kill, usually a buck with the Star of David spray painted on his flank. That kid is three.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that. Please don’t beat me up.

But it’s true. Moms and Dads everywhere on the planet mould their kids minds and hearts, for good or for ill. No surprise there at all. Then again there that whole “nature vs nurture” argument that’s been raging since one of our ancestor kids asked, “Where did I come from?”

It’s a tough/tricky question when you think about it. Beyond the whole sexual tab A/slot B dynamic, where do we come from? Not our genes so much as our personalities, fears, loves, successes and woes. Where do we come from. Parents have a say, naturally (or any guardian for that matter) but is there some weirdly wonderful chemistry a-cookin’ that makes us us? And beyond that, why is it we feel compelled to learn more about us? And our families, for that matter? Curiosity? An inner drive? The need to understand—nay, comprehend (if that’s possible)—our relatives and how we fit into the big picture, hunting trip or no?

I figure it doesn’t really depend from which bolt of cloth you were cut from. Peoples is peoples. And you gotta admit—briefly ignoring the “nature/nurture” thing—who you are reflects who raised you.

Or maybe for the case of Joni and Laser (again: Laser?) it’s who didn’t raise you…


After years of happy antagonism, sibs Joni (uh…Mia) and Laser (Hutcherson) have been bitten by the curiosity bug pretty damn fierce. Well, maybe not Joni, but when you’re the only guy awash in a sea of estrogen it’s natural to want to get to better know your dad. Wherever he is.

Look, Nic (Bening) and Jules (Moore) have done the best they could to raise two somewhat normal and mostly functioning kids. Mostly happily married and holding down decent jobs (well, Nic anyway), they’ve made a pretty happy home. Laser figures having two moms is cool and actually having a blood sister to bounce off of is pretty okay, too. Nic and Jules were even thoughtful enough to maintain the “typical American family” model that when they wanted children, they were inseminated by the same donor. Therefore the circle would be complete.

It doesn’t feel complete for Laser (that name, jeez).

Since he’s only 17, Laser tasks Joni to do a little Internet sifting. Her being a legal adult gives her a bit more freedom in Laser’s hunt, since most matters involved needs adult clearance. You must be tall enough to ride this ride. And what a ride it is.

Laser (never Laze, mind you) wants to know who his dad is. He came from somewhere; there were two parties involved into his coming into being, and both Nic and Jules are not square pegs. What to do? Scour sperm banks in the greater LA area. Locate records. Find dad. And with Joni’s smarts, Laser knows it’ll only be a matter of time before his dad wiggles his tail. So to speak.

Beating the bushes eventually pays off. Again, so to speak.

Paul (Ruffalo) is a raffish, scruffy, poetic restauranteur living across town. He’s kinda hipster—rides a motorcycle, organic foods, eclectic musical taste, prerequisite beard—and as far away a father could be. Imagine Paul’s surprise when Joni and Laser show up at his restaurant out of the blue. It’s awkward to say the least, but the kids are determined. They want their dad as an active role in their lives. Hopefully give them some insight that their moms can’t on life, love and leaving. Maybe stop by their house, have dinner, meet Nic and Jules. Bring wine.

Paul admits outright that he never wanted to be a father. The only reason he made a donation back in the day was to score some fast cash. Sure he was aware of what his…um, legacy would be, but never did expect his mystery progeny to crash his eatery. Still, the kids seem cool and Paul is a bit curious about his erstwhile moms. And it would be the “fatherly” thing to do.

So unsure of his newfound kids and in-laws intentions, wine in tow, Paul ventures forth with Joni and Laser into to dark terra incognito of the modern, 21st Century blended family. He figures that maybe he could dispense some paternal guidance (if he knew any) to Joni and particularly Laser. Maybe bond a little with the moms, hands where they can see them. Perhaps find a family his vagabond lifestyle has denied him.

Or may be the greatest spanner in the works of the most passive-agressive same-sex marriage dynamic this side of Caligula’s Rome.

Here’s hoping…


Well, well, well. What we got ourselves here is your little ol’, same-sex family comedy-drama here. A first for RIORI. Probably a last as Hollywood deems. No matter.

For a blended family, Kids’ dynamic seems pretty typical. I guess that’s the point. I figured out right quick that the focus, the Maguffin here is not that Nic and Jules are lesbians, married and are raising two kids. No. Their relationship is just a vehicle to bring Paul into the picture. To permit hijinks to ensue. That’s what’s what. Chances are that you know a family like Nic and Jules’. Hell, chances are better that you are in a family like Nic and Jules’. The whole comi-tragic give and take in Kids reflects all of our families, even the ones we never met. I mean, Nic and Jules are my mom, one and the same. This family could be just as normal as yours, if they tried to. The Cosby Show this ain’t. This feels like a “real” family. God help us all.

That bringing us to ground level, and forgetting the ultimately disposable lesbian thing, Kids is all about what I blathered over with the “where did I come from?” quest. First and foremost, Kids is a character study, and running the risk of a beat down I say the lesbian marriage is a gimmick. Now maybe director Chodolenko is gay and simply reflecting her ideas inspired by the gay community (not sure if she is, but regardless she’s pretty astute in her observations. Sonic 2 and all that). Or she was the child of a same-sex couple and Kids reflects years in the trenches. In any case, Kids is about the characters’ interplay. If you consider it, the plot is pretty stock and has been done before (e.g. Flirting With Disaster, Made In America, hell even the dippy 80s sitcom My Two Dads). What holds Kids together is our holy host of characters, because ultimately they are which the story (derivative as it is) hangs.

The key word here is nuance. Despite all of our cast are ciphers (the A-type stern career woman, her freewheeling partner, the nerdy girl, the awkward boy and the rakish interloper “dad”) through subtlety they make their presence known. Cholodenko makes it all work by not emphasizing the cut-and-paste aspects of our motley crew. It’s the dialogue that makes Kids flow. Moreover it’s what’s not said that makes the story go down easily. The director is keenly aware that her pawns lie perilously close to the queen’s gambit, so she plays up audiences’ expectations of their motives by popping their bubbles.

Kids is rife with examples of such subversion. The humor is prickly, like you feel bad for snickering (not laughing, snickering). Paul has this Bowie soundtrack going on whenever he shows up at Nic and Jules’ place (doubtless stinking of Ziggy Stardust androgyny and outsider status, which makes for a cool soundtrack, BTW). And nobody is wearing makeup. I’m not talking rouge and pancake #5. No one is wearing makeup. Suggesting all being naked to the world maybe. Probably the last time this was the case in film was for Susan Sarandon in Dead Man Walking. It’s likely understood (by way of assumption here. Fear of beat downs, remember?) that most lesbians eschew getting dolled up. Stereotype? True. But like I said, quicker. What’s quicker still is the assumption that all of rogue’s gallery is naked to the world. Hearts on sleeves. Having a sh*tastic time keeping their emotions in check. Dance on the coals, folks. It makes for better tension, cringing we can all relate to. We all came from a family, remember? Most likely akin to Nic and Jules and Paul’s. If you didn’t, you’re a liar and you’re boring. Cholodenko taps into this, so squirm.

So. Here’s our characters as I saw them. I’ll try to be brief. I’m aware that I tend to go on and on and onandon about who’s doing what how in these installments. Again, all the cast are cut-outs, so no real need to go into any depth. However they do play their roles very sharply and the awkward chemistry is there to make sense of a dysfunctional, modern day family. Like blackish. or Modern Family. Hell, even The Simpsons. What I’m saying is that there was a reason Married…With Children survived for a decade on the air. We all come from a family and we all love to look at the car wreck.

Nic is your typical alpha-female control freak, trying to corral and keep order at all costs so her family is “safe.” Jules is free-spirited, impulsive and more than a bit ditzy. Small wonder these two get on so well. Or so it seems. Again no surprise that Joni and Laser reflect their moms’ personalities. It’s funny that the two kids spar in nearly the same way their folks do, but their interaction seem more civil and mature than mom times two.

Again it’s no wonder when Paul enters the picture—the outsider/irritant—that things go off kilter. It’s what drives the story. What’s worse is Ruffalo is such a likable, rakish rogue, what with his motorbike and free range chickens he also comes across as kind of sleazy. The whole route of the story is Paul trying to insinuate himself into his extended family in a hip “father knows best” kinda mode. It becomes fast apparent that Paul is out of his depth, and fumbles along trying to do the wrong things for the right reasons. His would-be sage advice and easy going spirit belies a lot of insecurity and opportunism. Paul’s not a bad guy, he just doesn’t realize it.

There is a subtle allusion towards the kids being gay, too, if only to reflect their moms’ sensibilities. Laser and his passive/aggressive friendship with his burgeoning psychopath friend Clay, afraid to bail on him. Joni and her being pressured by her slut-buddy Sasha to make a move on her buddy Jai. Not sure if my suspicions are correct, but I’d be hard-pressed to ignore my previous statements on how families shape as well as corrupt us. Maybe that’s what the director was getting at. Truth be told, been there, done that, will come around for a second helping.

Kids is a pretty good flick. Not great, mind you. It’s a bit predictable. Meaning it’s not that it will work out in the end, it’s how. There’s enough surprises and cracked dialogue to keep you watching, but I didn’t think it bore a second viewing. Once you’ve seen one dysfunctional lesbian movie with the Hulk pushing organic kale, you’ve pretty much seen ’em all.

People are alike all over, regardless of who you shack up with and lower the boom when the kiddies set off bottle rockets in the guest bathroom. I still feel that Kids same-sex marriage was kind of a gimmick. Heck, this plot would’ve worked if it were a hetero couple with a vacant mom/sterile dad. But thanks  to Cholodenko’s personal contributions and spin to the tale, it made for a rather interesting gimmick. That does count for something.

Now where did I put that Paul Simon disc? And my Sega Genesis? My old bud never calls back. Probably too busy dealing with his dad.


The Verdict…

Rent it or relent it? A very mild rent it. Like I said, the sturm und drang in Kids could’ve (and probably did) played out in another film. Still entertaining though, but the movie might’ve benefited from a little late night Sonic 2 binge.


Stray Observations…

  • “Mom, you’re windshield wiping.”
  • Ruffalo’s style is all about the mumbling.
  • “I love lesbians.”
  • Uh Huh Her. Cute, that.
  • “Take your time.”
  • ‘World’s Greatest Mom.’ Cute, too.
  • “I bought you some cigarettes.”
  • This is Moore at her most neurotic. Damn funny.
  • “To your unconventional family.” Clink.
  • You think Jules might’ve gotten knocked up? Well, sequels are en vogue lately.
  • “If I read more Russian novels…” Never solves anything.

Next Installment…

We explore the mysteries the Sahara may hold with Matthew McConaughey as Dirk Pitt, the budget Indiana Jones. And Steve Zahn, too. The Poor Man’s Short Round.