RIORI Vol 3, Installment 61: Lorene Scafaria’s “Seeking A Friend For The End Of The World” (2012)


seekingafriendfortheendoftheworld-posterart


The Players…

Steve Carell and Keira Knightley, with Connie Briton, Rob Corrdry, Adam Brody, Melanie Lynesky, Derek Luke, William L Petersen, Mark Moses, Patton Oswalt and Martin Sheen.


The Story…

A planet-killing asteroid is hurtling toward Earth, so a guy whose wife has abandoned him decides to spend the planet’s final days with a road trip to reunite with his high school sweetheart. But his flighty neighbor who tags along for the ride complicates his plans, what with her anxiety, codependency and lugging around that damned record collection.

And that silly dog. Always with the dog.


The Rant…

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about mortality. The end of it all. The apocalypse even. And no, all that has nothing to do with our president elect. Okay, little to do.

It’s not something us humans think about often, even though we’re the only species known to be aware of our eventual end. It could happen at any minute. It could happen right now—

…loading

Sorry to let you down. Still here? The matrix ain’t crashed yet it seems.

The end comes to us all. The march of time. Illness. Car crash. Gluten allergy. Too many Warren Zevon albums jammed in the ears. A (un)fortunate few can pick their moments. Most of us just sit and wait, pestering ourselves with jobs, mortgages, tanking up at Citgo and the next ep of Madam Secretary gracing our screens that we had refinance our mortgages to afford. None of all that really matters in the longview, barring another shot of Tea Leoni’s legs.

When Death comes a-knockin’ and wants to stay for tea all you’ve done with your life—on an immediate personal level that is—amounts to no more than a Bogie one-liner. Hope bids that you can look back on your accomplishments as perhaps useful to those left behind for another cuppa. You know, your loved ones, friends, kind associates and pets (the pets’ll really miss you come suppertime. I mean the can opener; you had the thumbs and they didn’t. Commence with the staining of the rugs).

Namely, when you go—and you will and gotta—hopefully it won’t be in seclusion. Alone. Living in some spare flat surrounded by your record collection (complete with Zevon’s Life’ll Kill Ya), your books, several unopened tins of Fancy Feast and a grumpy cat pissed she wasn’t a viral Internet sensation first. No. Hope not. Since death is inevitable, you’d rather not want to meet it all by your lonesome. And with a busted needle on the turntable, mocking you. Kinda like Woody Allen when prophesied, “I don’t fear death, I just don’t want to be there when it happens.”

Well it’s gonna happen, and you’re fortunate if you’re not alone. If you still have a few marbles in your head and enough white blood cells in your stream, you can rest assured knowing you made some impact, positive or negative (e.g.: Nintendo Wii vs Olestra) on someone you cared about. And perhaps in some metaphysical way by a toss of the existential dice of mortality it might get reciprocated. Someone else will be glad to feed that cat with the malfunctioning bladder, and perhaps keep the thing from pissing on the rest of your Zevon collection. Poor, poor pitiful you.

*quitting the Zevon references now. Looking for the next best thing. Like empty beer cans. Ducking*

The message here is thus: you’re gonna go, perhaps with a bang or a whimper. But those onomatopoeia only matter if there’s someone around to hear them. When that time comes—and again it will—it’s best not to be alone. Have someone you care about be around. Hell, you best find someone.

To start, I recommend finding a date…


This is it. The Big One. Armageddon. Total annihilation of everything on Earth, including the planet itself. Better get your sh*t together. For what reason no one can say.

Even before asteroid Mathilda was on her collision course with Earth, Dodge (Carell) already had his non-life in order to fall apart. Not long before the grim news of the planet’s demise his wife left him. Left him to stew in his own juices about how ineffectual his existence is. His now quite ironic job as an insurance agent. His best friend is only the cleaning lady, and his fringe buddies are all louts and selfish kids. His family is…somewhere else. Along with his absentee wife. And now the end is nigh, and there’s nothing worth saving, save lost dreams and wasted opportunities. What to do, what to do?

Road trip!

Since Dodge is now alone and with nothing to lose—thanks to that damned asteroid—hell, why not? He decides to do the sensible thing, what with the calendar growing ever obsolete and indulge in an old fantasy we’ve all considered: seek out that high school sweetheart years later on and find out what they’ve been up to. After all, what the hell could go wrong?

Plenty.

Eccentric next door neighbor Penny (Knightley) is futilely trying to escape a sh*tty relationship before the end. Why spend your last days with a d*ckhead? Instead, Penny chooses to hang out with a schmuck instead. Dodge shares his last wish with her, and she explains she’s always wanted to reconnect with her estranged parents back in London. Before either of them could muse, “Hey, why not?” a riot (one of a never-ending many) drives them out of town as fast as their little car can take them.

Along the way, Dodge and Penny encounter a lot of curious strangers, all with their own armageddon wish list. All contain tales of lost loves, missed opportunities and fanciful whims of when and where to go. It’s virtually impossible to not put things in perspective for Dodge and Penny, who have to look each other in the face into the looming destruction in the sky.

So how far will their ride go?

Until the ends of the Earth…


I’m going to try and keep this short.

I know the I’m Not There installment ran a little long. Okay, Homerian epic is a more apt description. Hey, it was a heavy movie, very detailed and invited any movie fan to scratch her beard and try to assimilate all of director Todd Haynes’ kaleidoscopic vision into a simple singularity.

Um, the word count at the end of that installment exceed 7000 words, twice as much on average here at RIORI. That’s a lot of bathroom breaks. Hope you liked it (not the piss breaks, dummy).

So yeah, I’m going to try and keep Seeking A Friend For The End Of The World scouring brief. At least briefer. The plot’s a lot more direct. We have only two leads backed by a f*cking Barnum-like cast of supporters. We have a puppy. Yeah, easier to breathe.

And indeed it was, but it’s worth noting straight out of the gate End is a deceptive film. But the deception only creeps in by the third act, so take it easy for the first two. Beyond the first two-thirds however, it gets exponentially difficult to keep chuckling and not navel gaze. It’s kinda weird. But then again look at the title of the movie. Chances are between popcorn bites it may occur to you that this flick may not end well. Maybe.

The outset of the film plays out like a satirical SNL skit. Lots of left-of-center gags spitting into the face of Earth’s impending, premature end. Not terribly surprising how blasé humanity is about armageddon. What does that say? It says absurd. It also says idful, crazy and petulant. In Dodge’s circle, it’s all like having a substitute teacher with a VCR at the ready. It’s a circus, and the passive ring leader is Dodge, totally in tune the dire circumstances and totally disconnected all wrapped up in his being all at sea with no crew.

And that’s what holds End together despite all the silliness and pithy meditations on mortality: Dodge the average schlub. I mean, after Bill Murray Carell is master as hangdog. Carrell fans know the guy to be very skilled at being funny, and thankfully End is a bittersweet, almost black comedy and the ideal vehicle for Steve to ham it up. He doesn’t. He doesn’t do anything. He’s almost totally reactive. Carrell is known to underplay his roles. In End he under underplays Dodge, so lowly he appears. The only serious moment in Dodge’s work-a-day until the end of the world is when he chews out his friendly housekeeper who’s aloof to impending disaster. If only Dodge had that lust for life.

This ain’t to say Carell isn’t his usually amusing self. It’s funny to watch him react to all the predicaments dealt him, mostly drenched in gloom unlike the rest of humanity. Especially not Knightley’s Penny, who’s a chatterbox. Opinionated, assertive, everything Dodge is not and of course gabby gabby gabby (borderline annoying with her introduction). Admittedly, I’m really not familiar with Knightley’s work. Her acting style eluded me. Full truth be told, I got her confused with Kate Beckensdale during the early Underworld installments (surprised they got to chapter two after the first), and I’ve never seen any installments of the Pirates Of The Caribbean flicks. Such a qualified critic I am.

But I found Knightley’s performance as daffy Penny delightful. Of course her nervous demeanor results in non sequitirs a-plenty, and really good act to serve as Dodge’s foil. There’s an easy chemistry there, which makes sense not just because the End Times are here and desperate people band together for desperate reasons, like some sort of codependent Stockholm Syndrome (is that redundant?). But Dodge and Penny’s coupling is due to being victims of circumstance (not just the End Times and blah blah blah). Both her and Dodge have been abandoned, so they have congress in alienation, and so begins some Hunter S Thompson strange road trip in search of truth and fun. Or at least not desperation.

Yeah, so End isn’t quite black comedy. It does have generally funny scenes in the first act, especially Diane and Warren’s “going away party” (hey, we got ourselves Rob Corrdry here, so there’s that. And Patton Oswalt is creeping around somewhere), but as we follow Dodge and Penny into the wild in an end of Mad Max kind of way (but with records) we get darker and darker. Like Chevy Chase responded to his boss in Fletch: “How dark?” “Charcoal.” It’s not that bad, but End does take a gradual left turn over the course of the next two acts. The problem here is that the movie gets less funny as the story progresses (kinda hard not to considering the circumstances) and it gets hard to tell if this is on purpose. I mean, look at the film’s title for pity’s sake. It’s not like when John Wayne got to walk away with Grace Kelly. End eventually devolves into existential crisis, and maybe that’s the point. Alluding to my usual blasé snark dappling part one of the rant, we’re all gonna go someday, someway (with apologies to Marshall Crenshaw. He played Buddy Holly in La Bamba. There ya go). End is clever and tight enough to examine literally life, love and leaving. What started out as funny grows less funny but sweeter as the days count down. The whole tenor of End doomed it to lousy returns and the dreaded “quirky” tag all slightly left-of-center movies get these day. It’s a shade above (gasp) indie. Nevertheless, all of End is engaging in a weird way understanding the complete destruction of life and love is leaving.

I know I kept this all deliberately vague. Shut up. My f*cking take-apart of I’m Not There was vague. End‘s summary was like the back page of Highlights For Children. You really just gotta see End to get it. Or at least try to get something. I got quite a bit, but like Boys Don’t Cry or American History X I wouldn’t want to watch End again. It’s bittersweet, to be sure, but—

…”This is a test of the Emergency Broadcast System. This is only a test…”


The Verdict…

Rent it or relent it? A mild rent it. It’s an interesting, sometimes sweet, sometimes romantic, sometimes harrowing flick. The slow descent works, just too well. And don’t expect a Hollywood ending. I’m surprised that Hollywood went for the ending. Now where are those old records?


Stray Observations (quite a few; this was a film of moments, fleeting moments)

  • Nancy Walls! Makes sense.
  • “We’re f*cked, Bob!” Finally, honesty in mass media broadcasting. So what’s up with the weather then?
  • I wonder if the director read Richard Matheson’s short story “The Last Day” and giggled.
  • “He’s gonna die with everyone else!” Rob Corrdry makes for a lousy life coach. Surprise.
  • “I wanna do heroin to Radiohead.” Of course.
  • A lot of interesting visuals and framing at work here.
  • Dodge. Not really that subtle, is it?
  • MISFITS. I get it.
  • “No.”
  • “You have a lot guns and a lot of potato chips.” Best line in the whole movie, and a hell of a Saturday night.
  • “That’s a good window.”
  • For some inexplicable reason I loved Kiera’s shoes.
  • Admit it, you’ve thumbed through your old yearbooks on a quest of, “Whatever happened to…?”
  • I found the harmonica lesson on the beach scene terribly beautiful.

Next Installment…

Bella Swan is Joan Jett and Coraline Jones is Cherie Currie as one half of The Runaways, managed by music impresario General Zod as Kim Fowley.

The hell?


RIORI Vol 3, Installment 56: Steve Pink’s “Hot Tub Time Machine” (2010)


Hot Tub Time Machine


The Players…

John Cusack, Rob Corrdry, Craig Robinson and Clark Duke, with Lizzy Caplan, Crispin Glover, Lyndsy Fonseca, Colette Wolfe, Sebastian Stan and Chevy Chase (!).


The Story…

Fueled by Red Bull, booze and nostalgia for their irresponsible salad days, Adam and his best friends accidentally travel back in time to 1986, where they get the chance to relive the best road trip never. At least how they like to remember it.

Oh, and their time machine? Well, it’s a hot tub. You did read the title, right?


The Rant…

Just so you’re all aware, I’ve been feeling kind of blue about my present after I exorcised a chunk of my past for the I Love You, Beth Cooper installment. The rant for that cold cup of coffee was based on failed grade school crushes of mine. Looking back all of, oh two months ago “was based” feels limp-wristed. Extracted is a more apt term. Yeah, I know. It’s hella lame for a 40-year old family man to get in a twist over non-events that happened when the first Bush was in office. But it got me a-thinking, and that’s seldom a good or smart thing. My mind began to play out the most unholy game of Risk tactics in my fevered, man-child imagination. Thanks to that crappy Chris Columbus piss-take of high school crushes he twiddled his thumbs over between vital Harry Potter chapters, dumb old me began to wonder, well, what if?

That, as we all know, can be a very dangerous game to play. Worse than numbly peg. Or Halo 3. What a drag that was. Worse than numbly peg.

*snores from the balcony*

Wake up. This may be relevant to us all. The fate of the free world you don’t wanna hear such drivel. But what if? My little game of nostalgics sent my mind a-reelin’. Beyond my recollections of anti-conquests of girls I might have f*cked if I had the sack—so to speak—things got all snowbally. What if I did ask what’s-her-tits out and we may have had a fine time that evolved into a nice relationship with hand holding and snappy conversations and fellatio and the whole wad (again, so to speak)? Of course it didn’t, but still what if?

Then I thought about other sh*t from my old school, literally. Things that I recall fondly, of course. Most of which came from college, most of some folks furreal salad days. When I was green in judgment. I had immersed myself in tons of philosophy classes. So many I accidentally earned a minor. Playing in the marching band and catching a lot of cool shows at the local clubs thanks to those “connections” (BTW it was rather rewarding to catch Frank Black and his then new band the Catholics since the Pixies crapped out a few years prior. I took what I could get). Fraternity days as me the VP and “barbecue chair” (when I was a practicing vegan. My frat bros figured I was pretty keen on cooking for that and I wouldn’t f*ck around with the steaks much. They did like my three bean veggie chili dosed heavily with Sriracha, so all was good).

I had my days as a barista at the local coffee shop. A for real barista, steeped in the black arts of coffee brewing and deviant incantations recited over the fresh batch of morning scones. It was an assumed a hip thing in the cappuccino-fueled world of Friends, indie bookstores and manically overtaxed in serious need of a caffeine fix to keep the midnight oil pumping cuz Red Bull hadn’t crossed the pond yet. It had a certain cachet then, but it was the 90s and sporting oversized Jnco jeans also had this coolness factor. Not sure why, even when I sported a pair. Pairs (some are mouldering in my attic, waiting for an uncertain time in the future to strike).

High school had its moments, too. Not all of it were wedgies and being spurned by the opposite sex (again, refer to the Beth Cooper installment). I had my group of misfits to whom I called friends and countrymen, and even though the term didn’t exist back then, we were geek chic and reveled in our weirdness. It was akin to circling the wagons in typical high school social hierarchy. There were Friday night movies at the local multiplex where our high school IDs would grant us a ticket for five f*cking dollars. That meant a ticket, small soda and candy for chump change. Granted this was in 90s dollars, but still.

There were Star Trek conventions to attend (stop snickering, and there is no Vulcan death grip). The best two memories I had at those hallowed halls of geekdom were meeting the late, great Leonard “Mr Spock” Nimoy. Guy was a pro at cons, and nothing like his TV alter-ego. He was affable, smiling and truly happy to be there. He had a PowerPoint presentation highlighting a “behind the scenes” for us fanboys, did the prereq Q&A and pitched his new book. Very cool.

The other Trek con moment I recall—one with an air of pride—was when Patrick “Capt Picard” Stewart paid a visit. He was a funny dude, cracking wise and baiting the audience. Again, nothing like his stern character. The inevitable Q&A session came around, and he was bombarded by Picard this and Picard that. I had my question ready for the man on the car ride there. When picked out my upraised hand I laid it on him:

“Mr Stewart, I thought you were great in I, Claudius. Coming from the Shakespearean school of acting I find it odd that most of your notable movie roles have been in science-fiction—thought you great at Gurney in Dune, by the way—but Shakespeare never did science-fiction. Fantasy, sure but nothing dealing with starships. So how does a serious Shakespearean actor devote his screen time to sci-fi when there is no sci-fi to draw from within the canon? Do you extrapolate what was learned under the Bard’s work into—say—the Trek universe, or do you let the series come down to meet it?”

Something like that. I’m paraphrasing.

Not surprisingly there were a lot of grumbles from the audience. What about Locutus?

Stewart looked at me, bemused. He said, “Young man, you do know where you are right now?”

I replied, “Yes sir. I’m at a Star Trek convention having a once in a lifetime opportunity to talk with a respected Shakespearean actor on how he uses his training in the field of science-fiction movies and television.”

Stewart slowly smiled. He snapped a finger at me and said, “A very good question, son! I’m glad you asked me that…”

About fifteen minutes later I had my answer. I won’t bore you with the details, but Sir Patrick alluded his style had something to do with Pop-Tarts. The strawberry frosted kind. Guess it was part of a rider.

And lastly (you’re welcome) my days in the high school marching band, rocking out on my sax and tooting with my fellow bandos at football games and the once-in-a-lifetime trip to Dublin for the official St Paddy’s Day parade. Dublin was and is an awesome city. It bleeds history. It’s not like, say, New York, where sure there is history of note, but more often than not one must scour the city to find it. The City is constantly being torn down and rebuilt. Not Dublin. Side by side new hi-rises rubbed shoulders with ancient castles and abbeys, edifices hundreds of years older than New York. Trinity College is nothing short of amazing. And the locals are tolerant, if not friendly to ugly adolescent Americans like myself. This courtesy seemed to extend to not just tourists but fellow countrymen as well.

I had the odd misfortune of witnessing an auto accident just off the Trinity campus. Nothing major; some bike courier on a scooter lost his balance and skidded under the fender of some dinky car at a red light. No one got hurt. The courier righted himself and his ride and went to check on the driver. What I could only assume by their shaking of hands that their insurance was in proper order. Imagine if that transaction happened in the states? Lately with law enforcement officials in dire need of a joint, how long do you think it would take before the seventh bullet struck the courier’s body? Needless to say, Dublin was a different world.

Not necessary apropos of nothing Dublin was the first place I ever had beer, or at least beer of note. Guinness was f*cking everywhere there. Like in the shower stalls everywhere. I loved my first taste immediately. My best friend, not so much. He fell onto the bed in our hotel room. More like the bed fell into him. This only engendered my nascent beer interest ever forward.

Also, when we finally got to the actual parade I had my first non-ironic turn as being a dopey, young American on vacation. To state that downtown Dublin on St Patrick’s Day is festive is akin to saying that a ghost pepper is “a tad spicy.” Bedlam. Thousands of Irish, ravening for delight. Hundreds of marching bands from all over the world, ready to rock out and stop frogs and simply ready to get it on. A big deal this, ten times over. No shillelagh.

If memory serves me (and this whole bit is about nostalgia remember, so it might by lying), there was a terrific cool moment I did that I was only made aware of as terrific and cool by my fellow bandos later. The ones further back in formation. Some kid on the sidewalk was really amped, like his nuts were clamped to a car battery or something—they did have Red Bull in Ireland back in the early 90s—jumping up and down and a hand outstretched. As I passed I gave him a high five. What the hell. It was a celebration. Later on after the parade was done and me squatting on the curb trying to catch my breath with the aid of one of those ubiquitous Guinness shot bottles a clutch of my fellow musicians asked what did I do to make that kid freak out so. Huh? All I did was give a high five and that was all. Turned out it was a very big deal to have an American band march in the parade, and me slapping palms was the equivalent of the Pope washing your feet. Damn. Didn’t know that. Now where was that other bottle?

Stuff like that.

But that’s the deal with nostalgia. You tend to forget the sh*t and revel in the awesome, no matter how myopic that view may be. A lot of the moments listed above feed into that “what if” train of thought. Now the aforementioned wasn’t intended to be some sort of narcissistic trip down memory lane, rubbing into your puss all the cool crap I did and you didn’t. Truth be told, most of you out there couldn’t give a rat’s ass about Dublin, bands and barista-ing. And that’s okay. We all have stories that make us smile, let us bask in the warm glow of memory and ask ourselves “what if?”

The sick part of playing the “what if?” memory game is that whole “what if?” line is bullsh*t. The past looks a helluva more tasty when your present consists of sucking the algae off the pool for sustenance. Your dream job? Actor. Your real job? Janitor. At the State Hospital. That means those stupid, blue paper booties over your work shoes are a daily reminder that you should’ve paid closer attention in junior year English class.

Truth be finally told, back in the day was a great less rosy than you remember it. You may glom on to the “what if?” train of thought now and again—paper booties notwithstanding—reflecting on your current state of affairs, but no matter how much drudgery you deal with day in, day out back then it wasn’t much better. Just little snippets inspired by that first big deal rock concert you saw, your first joint and scanning cover after cover of each and every Santana album looking for meaning as if they were the Dead Sea Scrolls, the time you scored the winning touchdown in the final seconds of the fourth quarter for Polk High. This is the stuff dreams are made of.

All right. I’ve been slagging on the whole “what if?” game long enough here, so much so that you’re probably sick of reading those quotes. Now let’s spin it right round baby right round. Nostalgia is a good thing, so long as we don’t live there all the time. Pleasant memories are a cheap vacation, and often a good way to reflect on what is was against what it is and how much you learned since those halcyon days of yore. What a yutz I was back then! I was so much older then. I’m younger than that now.

Right. Denial is a river in Africa. Back then it might’ve been low hanging fruit, but those are the ones which were the ripest. Face facts and my lying a paragraph back, stuff back then seemed so much more simple, vibrant and easy-peasy-lemon-squeezy. Maybe they were. But face facts: that was then and this is your crappy now. Better just hitch up your belt (necessary after all those cases of PBR you demolished since…last Tuesday), suck up and deal and follow along with whatever dumb cliche your disgruntled blogger dare jam in here. Best just get on with it.

But wait. What if?…


Adam (Cusack) is a loser. He ex just bailed, dumped him via voicemail and took half the house with her. Up yours.

Jake (Duke) is a loser. He’s been camping out in Uncle Adam’s basement indefinitely, not wanting to be around his screwloose and very loose mom. His days consist of PS3 and Red Bull and denying any rays of sunshine aiding his banana-like pallor.

Nick (Robinson) is a loser. After a once promising career in the recording business, he now works the day away at a grooming salon teasing poodle hair and extricating keys for luxury autos from golden retrievers rectums. That and he believes his wife’s been cheating on him.

Lou (Corrdry) is not a loser. He’s just an assh*le. An alky, druggy, insecure, self-absorbed, dyed-in-wool assh*le. He accidentally decides to end it all by way of closed garage, car exhaust and Motley Crue. That’ll show his so-called buddies, and anyone else who called him a loser. Assh*le. Whatever.

Adam and Nick visit their assh*ole in the hospital. He needs some cheering up. In fact they all do. Looking down multiple barrels of middle age paired with life arrest, Adam gets the bright idea to take a road trip. Off to Kodiak Mountain they’ll go and try to relive the best vacation ever from their youth. Heck, for sh*ts and giggles Adam convinces his nephew to tag along. Jake is ambivalent about hanging out with his loser uncle and his loser friends hell bent on recapturing their glory days. Still, a road trips a road trip. Who packed the booze?

The Wolfpack—wait, that’s another movie—discover much to their dismay that Kodiak has fallen on hard times. What was supposed to be an awesome trip down memory lane has devolved into just memories and touristy rigor mortis. Bummer.

Despite the Lodge is little more than a crack house with a view, the quartet discovers a nice surprise when they check into their room. A deck overlooking the mountainside! Plus a hot tub, in good working order! With all their recreational…paraphernalia lugged along, the foursome decide to make the most of their dreary surroundings and literally drink in the night. Beer, liquor, energy drinks imported from Russia. The four dopes nothing to chance.

Except for a rift in the space-time continuum.

Turns out there’s a reason why this hot tub is so pristine. But the guys never take it into consideration. They should’ve, especially when Jake accidentally dumps some of his Soviet accelerate onto the tub’s controls. Of course the inevitable happens. Whoosh, zoom, barf. The four friends find themselves sucked back in time to the real epic weekend of their memories, where neon was the color, synth pop was the soundtrack, Top Gun was on everybody’s lips and Adam, Nick and Lou were far away from being failures. Jake…well he’s just Jake.

Now’s the time to take the (Red) bull by the horns. Their sh*t may have rolled downhill faster that thought possible, but the guys know what a second chance may bring (except maybe Jake). They know that 2010 sucks. 1986 was much cooler. Time to master some destiny. Reignite some vitality in their lousy adult lives. Maybe figure out in turn what the f*ck eventually goes wrong.

Like when that porter lost his arm…


This here is a movie that you just have to “go along with it.” Again, look at the freakin’ title, before God.

No shock, but Hot Tub is ridiculous. From the plot to the dialogue to the acting to the soundtrack to the freakin’ title, before God. A decent part of you knew outright what you were possibly in store for. Booze, babes and bad behavior from a misfits bunch of man-children. That and a little Back To The Future spin to boot. With drug abuse. And titties. And shades of Mel Brooks-esque bad taste. It’s all a good thing.

There’s a lot of nifty things to dig about this flick (and not just the titties. Or Chevy Chase). I found the underlying themes of Tub pretty cool, albeit blinded by the endless bacchanal, wisecracks, dirty jokes, cultural jabs and cameos from Cornelius toting a toolbox and offering Mr Miyagi-like trapezoidal Zen koan nuggets of non-wisdom. Believe it or not, there are actual messages belying Tub‘s virtual non-stop sinful shuck-and-jive.

Okay, maybe one real message. We’re barring the whole don’t f*ck with fate and/or the Zemekis paradox problem. Butterfly effect. Don’t go a-huntin’ fer a T Rex sh*te. It’s a simpler concept, one I was dancing around in my rant. Ready?

“If I knew then what I knew now.”

Heard it before, right? Tub is the first time travel film I ever caught that takes this old saw to heart. To be sure there have been a-plenty of time travel films made before that troll this old line. Most don’t really dip into the deep well of that dire, common and vital query that has crossed all our minds before. And if you’re denying that and life is fine, then how come you still tote around those dusty yearbooks signed by everyone, including the school nurse? Right. And so do I.

Like I was getting at, time trek movies like Back To The Future, Peggy Sue Got Married, Highlander (yes, Highlander), Millennium, technically Memento and…um, Star Trek IV to name a few all deal with matters of the past against a potential future. Tub is no different, but its “don’t f*ck with future” deal is a major—if not the major—undercurrent of what could’ve been yet another derivative buddy comedy with substance abuse and…titties. Nothing wrong that. It’s invited here. But a moral imperative in a Hangover knock-off? Why yes, yes it can be.

It makes the whole schmeer hang together. At the outset we got yer typical buddy/guy flick, replete with bad behavior, wacky Some Like It Hot atmosphere (minus the cross-dressing) and forever pining for that lost p*ssy. The clever device in Tub is that how if any of our motley crew (pun intended) knowing then what they know now will actively play on that. We know at the outset that Adam and the rest are painfully aware of what sh*tstains their lives have become. Now zipping back in time they carry (rather heavily at first) what such future knowledge may do if acted upon and the adult—weak though it may be—responsibility of holding it in check. Funny, and how’s that for a morality play in a flick that tosses morals into the gutter.

Ahem, sorry. Back to the dick jokes.

A big up from me concerning Tub‘s foundation: we got quite the ensemble cast here. Many lowbrow comedies often feature a panoply of dopes, dweebs and/or dumbasses. Think Animal House, Revenge Of The Nerds and Old School. Yeah, those movies had very much an eclectic cast, but none so divided—if not antagonistic—than these four morons on their children’s crusade of chasing memories.

Adam and co. are fully fleshed out, despite all of these yutzes’ stereotypical antics. A lot has to do with the acting, and we do have a stellar cast at hand here. They’re almost too good for this little asswipe trifle. Cusack with his signature hangdog is in full force here, bewildered and pissy, unwilling to accept the hand fate (or he) has dealt him. I remember catching Robinson in his salt mine years on Comedy Central’s Premium Blend. He stomped on his electric piano and baited the audience, all smooth and self-effacing. Corrdry got his break on The Daily Show, as probably the most acerbic “field reporter” the show ever let such an angry pate show. And Duke was in Kick-Ass. Whatever gets u thru the night.

The odd chemistry these four ne’er-do-wells bring to he scene is what holds this whole brazen mess together. Despite all the bluster with Tub‘s execution all this sh*t would come off the rails if our losers weren’t so endearing. That’s right. These asshats are charming, relatable and worthy of your sympathy. For the most part. They’re dopes, but there our dopes, if only for 90-plus minutes. Chances are that’s all one could stand.

Truth be told, and in the face of what I’ve saying, our dopey heroes aren’t really nice guys. Yeah, yeah. Life’s dealt them a raw deal, but they invited it. At least since 1986. And they have ostensibly living under the shadow of their callow, shitty choices from back when where they reached a crisis point. And all three tanked (save Jake, who was no more an itch in his daddy’s crotch back then).

I know I’ve been kicking Tub around like a rusty can for the past universe now, but ignoring my metaphysical whatsit from the past few paragraphs, Tub is as about as screwball one can get these days when filmmakers have all but forgotten what a screwball comedy is. Tub is manic, yet still smooth. Witty despite being crass. Sophomoric and that’s the point (I think).

And all those highlights can be wrapped up in a nice neat package that is surefire to grab an audience (at least one who remembers Tub‘s “back in the day”): nostalgia.

I wrote about 90s nostalgia back in the To-Do List installment. It naturally appealed to me being a teen growing up the years of grunge, infant internet and Jurassic Park being the film on everyone’s lips. Fun for me and other survivors of Gen X, but only us. Kind of a limited market there. Not much different with Tub, either. I was a kid during the Reagan years with the Cold War, Miami Vice and the NES as comfort. To which I claim: whatever. It’s true that Tub is an 80s Gen X nostalgia fest, and you may have to have lived back in that stone age of Sonic The Hedgehog, pagers and/or new Coke to be hip to Tub‘s backdrop but you don’t necessarily have to pay rent there. Or a lift ticket.

With all the amped up 1908s pop culture baiting, some actual, specific nods to where and when our troupe of dopes shines through. You don’t have to play the “you had to be there” spin to find Tub funny (it helps), and moreover all the goofy, garish, hair metal histrionics serve more as wallpaper—ambiance—to enhance your viewing pleasure, not to mention a candyland for our heroes to slop around in. So if you were alive back then only you our chosen friendly demographic would catch the many clever subtleties director Pink smattered around Kodiak here and there. May I cite a few? I can hear a bunch of you drunken, Jolt Cola loving, Scritti Politti fans say yes. And then burp a lot.

Since Tub’s a flick about time travel is Crispin “George McFly” Glover’s presence meta? In that vein, and since we’re back in the 80s is Cusack’s mere presence meta? All the guy had to do here to complete the allusion was to have him hold a boombox over his head until Gabriel released his next album in 1992. I’ll go you one further. We have Cusack skiing, getting sh*t from a douchebag named Lane. Ever see Better Off Dead (no? Do)? If only for a claymation cheeseburger singing Van Halen. For shame befall the Academy for ignoring this gem of filmmaking.

*blogger feels he is losing his audience so he busts out the concertina and rocks Lady Of Spain*

You back? Good. Speaking of music let’s not ignore the soundtrack. No duh here. You can’t have a “period piece” like Tub without stacks of wax dropping from time to time. Yet again the jokes help if you’re steeped in 80s pop culture. I’m judgmental and am willing to wager some cash that you missed the boat. The songs are strategically  placed, not just wallpaper. Truth be told you don’t have to know the songs when they’re dropped. Just either hear the lyrics or note the timbre of the scene and you’ll get it. It’s like that scene in Super 8 when the object of the hero’s affection reluctantly drives off with him in the shotgun seat and the Cars “Bye, Bye Love” is playing on the car’s radio. Stuff like that. Now focus.

And to this again: the acting. Tub‘s a buddy movie at heart, so there better be some chemistry and ensuing camaraderie present. There is, but it sure is prickly. Truth be told, it’s kinda hard to really root for Adam and his fellow dolts. They’re all losers after all, with a serious d*ckhead in tow. All of them are sniveling, erstwhile men trying to relive their glory days. Thanks to the f*cked up hot tub’s wires getting crossed against the space-time continuum, they get their reluctant wish to literally relive the past. And they do it begrudgingly. Turns out that back then wasn’t much different than right now. And boy, does Pink have a field day milking our leads for all their worth.

Okay, I’ll lie to you. Cusack spends his time being Cusack, with all his wonderful, insecure awkwardness. It’s his thing. Geek chic. His schtick dates back all the way to Sixteen Candles (“Real smooth, Cliff”). Cusack’s nervous temperment serves his Adam very well. Considering the guy comes home to a house cut in half, you might be a tad nervous and insecure, too. I might be, if I had any truly worthwhile crap an ex would want. She’ll leave the Marvel comics be, of course; too much geek on them.

Robinson is an endearing, charming, hapless wimp. He’s the guy who you’d root for the most with his spin around the widening gyre. Of course he keeps blowing his opportunities to do so, and comes across as a cautious Casper Milquetoast, not sure how to put the genie back into his own personal bottle. It’s only until the third act Robinson shines, and believe it or not it’s heartwarming (also in stark contrast to his life in 2010. Very stark, but in a good way. His showcase is almost Shakespearean. Really. Forget what I might’ve said earlier. We need the sympathizer with the piano skills to keep this train on the rails. How else we gonna get that ever so essential 80s movie musical number?

Not much to say about Duke really. Sorry. He’s kinda pesky with all the whining and nagging. But I did like his role as idiot savant being the only one of the lot concerned with getting back to future and trying to communicate with the hilarious repairman Chevy Chase. Yo guys, reality check. We ain’t in Topeka no more. That and he has no reason to stay there in day-glo land.

And now, the queen to bishop’s pawn, Rob Corrdry. He steals the show and is relentless. Exhausting even. Rapid fire quips of definite insensitivity (and insecurity) and inciter of all riots, he takes the cakes and fails to leave any crumbs. Sweet Jeebus, if there were a more prefect specimen of narcissistic, self-destructive (he did try to off himself, the Maguffin he is), petulant behavior, I know not. But he was f*cking funny. The funniest of our cadre. Also the most damaged and vulnerable. C’mon, who isn’t that which we know when we try to play a TV drinking game, and whichever character pops up on screen—say for Gilligan’s Island—they always declare, “I call the lagoon!” There’s Lou for ya. Now start pumping the charcoal.

Hmm. Don’t know how much sense this installment made. Not much at all is what my dwindling senses are poking me. All I can walk away with is that I did like the movie. That’s what counts. The nostalgia baiting. The drunken hi-jinks. Even the whole lesson about “If I knew then…” In the endgame, that all doesn’t really matter. Just like the 80s pop culture references lost on modern audiences (then again, most is lost on modern audiences, necks slumped over their iPhones. Get laid already), it’s no big. Tub‘s whole wad was satisfyingly funny and—surprise for real, surprise—actually conveyed a meaningful message. Is Tub‘s dumb a sneaky smart motif? Nah. This movie ultimately makes no apologies for its conduct, and I like that. Let’s leave Lars Von Trier alone for another night.

Right now, I think I need to bust out the ol’ Walkman with mixtape of Rick Springfield’s greatest hits. Then toss the thing in the microwave. Grow up already.


The Verdict…

Rent it or relent it? Rent it. A solid time-waster, with a solid cast of funny people and more winking this side of direct pupil dilation. We need more dopey comedies like this. Ride the pipeline and avoid New Coke. PSA.


Stray Observations…

  • “The taxidermist is stuffing my mom.”
  • I love Caplan’s Patti Smith stuck in the 80s look. That and the proper attitude to boot.
  • “We should go check on that deer.”
  • Lou is a walking Red Bull enema. I have no idea what that even means, but it sure fits.
  • “It’s your d*ck. I won’t tell you what to do.” That’s what she said.
  • I love/hate the soundtrack. Age is creeping in.
  • “Is it a fetus?”
  • Why was flipping collars up back then cool? Discuss.
  • “I don’t like you takin’ liberties with my d*ck.” That’s what she warned me about.
  • What? No Van Halen?
  • “Carroll’s on the left.”
  • The perpetually alternating sight-gags regarding Phil’s arm got actually pretty tense.
  • “Talk about your lost weekend…”

Next Installment…

Think you can go toe to toe with The Wolverine? No, I mean for real. Not the whole adamantium claws bit. Tap dancing. Hear the guy’s quite the hoofer.


RIORI Vol. 2, Installment 34: Nat Faxon & Jim Rash’s “The Way Way Back” (2013)


TheWayWayBack-PosterArtVOD


The Players…

Liam James, AnnaSophia Robb, Steve Carrell, Toni Collette and Sam Rockwell, with Rob Corrdry, Amanda Peet, Zoe Levin and Maya Rudolph.


The Story…

A terse summer vacation ensues when 14-year old Duncan is suffered by his ineffectual divorcee mother, her assh*le boyfriend, his petulant teenage daughter, their drunken neighbor, and their cadre of wasteful friends on a trip to the beaches of Long Island. The only thing that could make the trip bearable would be—oh, I dunno—a cute girl next door and a reckless water park employee. Trust me, it works every time.


The Rant…

At their most basal, summer family vacations mostly suck. Sure, you get away to the beach or the lake house for maybe a month, but that also includes having to deal with the members of your extended family that, a) you have seldom seen in years, who know less about you as an individual than you do, and; b) imply a need to act as if such interactions are as normal as breathing.

It gets all cramped. You all start assuming roles, a pecking order. That and most of the cast of characters feel compelled to acting out of character, which further muddies the social waters. You ask yourself why you weren’t just left alone between May and August with the Wii and plenty of Netflix streaming in your own den. Yet there is this prerogative. We’re getting out of the house, to points afar, and we’re gonna have FUN, dammit!

Nothing is less fun than mandatory fun, especially when you’re in your teens.

Here we go again on the way-back machine. Your friendly blogger mines his past to make relevant this installment’s existence…

When I was a kid, about a billion years ago, my grandparents had a monthly rental at a beach community—an incorporated summer village—on New York’s Fire Island. Quit snickering. It’s not all gays and syringes on the shore. Okay, it’s not just that.

The little ville of under 200 was called Saltaire, a little pun openly denied it being dubbed after some seaside town in the UK. Whatever. Fire Island itself is wedged between Coney Island and the Hamptons, and is a protected national seashore. The summer villages were established before Parks & Recreations clamped down in the 1960s. Fire Island is about 25 miles long and a mere quarter mile deep. A barrier island; a big dune bolstered by an aquifer and a lot of scattered cottages floating above, all waving a finger at petulant Momma Nature. The place really shouldn’t be there, it defying tides, climate change and hurricanes.

But there it was, and for me almost a decade of summers. Simple, squat beach coming homes settled against the Atlantic dunes. Some even might’ve had cable. These idylls, pieces of summer humanity bookended by seagull splattered protected dunes and unique species of both waterfowl and pine. To give you an idea about how removed Saltaire was from civilization, there were no cars. There were only boardwalks, quite literally made of boards. The only real motor vehicles around were a pair of beater, MacGyver’d pickup trucks that collected the garbage every Monday. Those and the occasional Rascal scooter. The rest of the time it was bicycles and flip-flops.

It was nice for a kid. I was especially lucky to get away for a month every summer from my boring inland existence to have access to not one, but two beaches to slop around in. To the south was the grey, unpredictable Atlantic, rife with seashells and angry waves that made bodyboarding a Knievel-like activity. To the north was the bay, clouded with jellyfish and puddled ferry exhaust but still some really good fishing. It was like a Caribbean red-headed stepchild, with more seaweed.

Hey. Here’s a fave tidbit of mine regarding the frontier nature of my summer ventures. Fire Island is less than 25 miles outside the City. It’s cradled by the Atlantic and Long Island’s Great South Bay. Winds there reign. A/C was not necessary in Saltaire. The two bodies of water acted like Freon, and with the prevailing winds, the entire island was buffeted all the time by a steady breeze. The temp on Fire Island was usually 15 degrees cooler than in the City, with next to no humidity most of the time.

Here’s another (hey, I’m only trying to establish rapport here): back in the day, cable TV was an expensive rarity out there, and the Internet was nary a wet dream. To get in touch with the outside world, you needed a solid, CRT TV with a pair of rabbit ears. Aerials. Back then, TV freqs still rode on airwaves, and you had to hook up your set with this doohickey to capture said waves to get broadcasts. Being so near the City, one could scoop up programming for free. Really. No cable fees. No HBO either, but hey, we all gotta make sacrifices. I used to get my Law & Order fix this way with virtual crystal clear reception aided by a few strands of aluminum foil. That and I also had the rowdy NYC rock and talk stations (which is where I first heard Howard Stern and the Greaseman) on the radio to comfort me.

This be frontier days.

A good portion of the time was spent away from the TV (and my blessed Nintendo), and being hunkered down with my folks, my sisters, my aunts, their kids, my mom’s parents and the occasional, extra member of my extended, unknown family that I only saw every third Xmas. The place my grandparents rented was pretty accommodating for all these bodies. I at least had a bedroom all to myself, which was often empty because, hey, two beaches. But every night it was sovereign that all 800 of us sat down and had dinner. First and foremost to eat, then to squeeze out whatever convo we could to extol the value made with our day.

This sucked. It was like your third stroll through the SATs. Sure, dinner chat was nice, but having to justify how meaningful your day was praise Jesus? Why? What for? Such a slog. And an embarrassing one at that. With these strangers? We all have to open up? Where’s my Nintendo? I’ve yet to beat Zelda on the Second Quest!

Here the respite of the beach became stifling, us having to make the elephant-in-the-room social mixing every dinner. Trying to maintain a faux-Norman Rockwell-esque image was quite the stressor. C’mon, let’s face facts. As much as you may love your family, being in close proximity with them for too extended a period can drive you all to a scene out of Lord of the Flies. My escape? A lot of the times, I scammed a meal at one of my friends’ places. Sometimes I even cooked. Really, anything to avoid the Gregory House routine. I just wanted to have my own summer, especially when I was a teenager. I needed to be far away from these strange adults what with their pretensions and an inability to socialize without wine and beer.

All right. Maybe back then I didn’t really think that way. Girls and scoring free beer were foremost on my puberty-ridden mind. What I did know that a vacation was supposed to be a getaway far away from what troubled you. Especially off the mainland…


Duncan (James) is on the summer vacation from hell. He finds himself wedged in the airless car with his timid, divorcee mother Pam (Collette), her boorish new boyfriend Trent (Carrell), and his stuck-up daughter Steph (Levin). Duncan and Trent do not get along at all, and now they’re both on their way to three months of antagonism. Duncan wanted to spent his summer with his dad out in California, but no go. Pam wants to establish a new family dynamic with Trent and Steph. Besides, Duncan is only 14, so what say does he have?

After barely a week at Trent’s Long Island summer shack, Duncan soon realizes that this trip is an outing for grown-ups only. He spends his days watching his mom, Trent and his buddies Kip (Corddry) and Joan (Peet) get drunk, high and adolescent along with their boozy neighbor Betty (Janney) who serves as the ringleader for this endless bacchanal. Duncan grinds his teeth and broods and knows if he doesn’t get out this place soon he’s gonna starting looking for a rifle and a clock tower.

At least Duncan finds an ally amidst all this sh*t. Betty’s leggy daughter Susanna (Robb) has been in his place before for many of these summers, and has been so ignored and jaded by these so-called vacations that she’s resigned herself to being a second-class citizen. In her droll manner Susanna puts it best, “It sucks here.”

Having had his fill, Duncan steals a bike and pedals into town for some action, anything else than feel alienated. He stumbles into the local pizza joint for a slice when a ruckus over at the Pac-Man machine catches his ears. Roguish Owen (Rockwell) is rocking the game and gets all philosophical over this arcade classic with the awkward Duncan. Owen recognizes Duncan as one of the hundreds of bored teens he’s seen on vacation here. Turns out, Owen is a manager at the local water park, and offers up Duncan the chance to swing by. Looks like this kid needs a little fun.

Finally, some adult who takes interest in Duncan’s lousy predicament! Duncan finishes up Owen’s game and later scoots over to Water Wizz to see what he’s all about. Turns out there is a side to the town that actually cares about what teens really want out of their summer: breakdancing…


I had a unique opportunity when watching The Way Way Back. I usually watch my movies alone, late at night when I won’t be interrupted. I get all curled up with my pen, clipboard and a few shots of Irish whiskey. Not the case this time.

My Dad had stopped by earlier. He crashed shortly after dinner and came to around midnight for a raid on the fridge. I had already bunkered down with the BD player and my drink, when he wandered into the den and asked what was up. I explained my blog activity. He saw Steve Carrell on the screen and made himself at home on the sofa. Until two in the morning, after the movie had concluded, I shared my first social viewing of the next subject here at RIORI. It reminded me of dinners at Saltaire, but not nearly as excruciating. There was some prodding, like this was a klatsch, but more often than not I kept my comments to myself. Most just went on the clipboard.

As grateful as I am for having my folks introduce me to the magical world of movies at a young, water-headed age, they are INSUFFERABLE to watch actual movies with. I always get an endless bombardment of questions. What’s going on? Who’s that guy? What just happened? What year is this? No, I mean it. Is it 1982 or 2026? What’s this lump on my thigh? Got any more whiskey? A piece of advice: if you really want to watch a movie, do it alone. Unless it’s porn. Then have a trio handy.

Here’s how Back managed to fit under the guidelines of The Standard. The movie was sort of well received, even though its feel had been done before. It wasn’t a flop, but there was a definite round peg/square hole thought process going into the marketing of Back, and its returns reflected that. The producers had a wonky idea in unleashing this little caper on a maybe-suspecting public that may have led to its early theatrical run demise. Back was dropped in the middle of the 2013 summer blockbuster season. A dinky little indie film about a disaffected teen—a tried-and-true but overdone movie device—had to go up against the likes of Pacific Rim, Despicable Me 2 and The Lone Ranger (okay, maybe not such a big threat there). What were the powers-that-be smoking to think that Juno Lite could compete against giant robots, train chases and…well, another Steve Carrell vehicle? This took some balls. Not a lot of brains, but a certain amount of cajones. Well, following your balls makes way for pulling a lot of boners.

Oh, shut up. That’s the best pun you’ve ever heard.

Anyway, a few scenes into The Way Way Back, I got a feeling of—to paraphrase Kurt Cobain—“this smells like Little Miss Sunshine.” I didn’t know until later that co-writer/directors Faxon and Rash wrote Sunshine’s screenplay. I figured that I enjoyed that pastiche well enough that I would enjoy Back, too. I’ll admit, not at first. I felt there was something lacking here, but I couldn’t be sure what. Admittedly, Back is slow to get started and find its footing. The humor takes a while to warm up, but when it eventually does, its momentum is gleeful and sunny without being too cloying.

Back is at heart a character study. It’s got a great ensemble cast, and the plot—approaching but not quite arriving at a derivative coming-of-age story—is well handled by these misfits. At times Back comes perilously close to self-parody; although the cast acts well enough, their roles are stereotypical (James’ awkward teen, Robb’s near-dream girl status, Collete’s willowy divorcee, etc). But there’s some meat on the bones, so I went along with second course.

Steve Carrell as Trent is a delight. He plays smarmy very well, and it’s nice change of pace for him to play against type. Carrell made his mark on The Daily Show playing a bumbling, nervous sort with a streak of naïveté sneaking in the background. With that job and later the movies roles he’s had, he’s carved out a niche as being cuddly. Not here. Trent is a blustery, prickly, condescending lout to everyone, and saves his best sh*t for Duncan. He delivers his cutting remarks with patronizing aplomb. My father’s comments about Trent—being an ardent Carrell fan—with increasing disbelief was repeating “What an assh*le!” punctuated with some giggles. Here Carrell plays a villain we love to hate, and that’s lots of fun.

Our two teen leads, James and Robb, play their ill at ease and snarky characters respectively with ease. I liked how their characters were so down with each other. There’s really no flirtation between them (well, not at first), just two shoved aside kids who befriend each other through their lonesomeness and shared unhappiness. Misery loves company and all that. It’s often how you make friends for the duration of a lousy family vacation in an unfamiliar place. And you can practically taste Duncan’s awkwardness on his little jaunt. F*ck, you can see it. Does James have a hunchback with that posture? And his flat affect throughout most of the film becomes such a badge of honor that when he actually cracks a smile, it’s almost jarring.

Robb has a subtle sass. Her aloofness and sarcasm teeters towards another teen stereotype: the unattainable girl next door. What’s nice here is that Faxon and Rash turn this concept on its ear. It is Susanna that seeks out Duncan, rather than the other way ‘round. Sensing his despair, Susanna figures she’s found a sympathetic ear to bend. Her mom and dad are recently divorced too, so there you have it. It’s the subtle touches here and there that makes Back work.

What’s not subtle at all in Back is Rockwell’s Owen, the slovenly, unhinged Water Wizz manager. I really liked him. A lot. His Owen was a f*cking riot, and Rockwell walked away with the movie. He had the best lines, and delivered them with such offhand, wicked humor that I was snickering then eventually laughing out loud. He reminded me of Bill Murray in Meatballs, alternating between d*ckhead and brotherly with equal effectiveness. Why isn’t he in more movies? He’s got “reliable character actor” written all over him.

What I got out of Back, if there was any real message to convey, was an examination of outsider status. Duncan and Susanna feel neglected and dissed. Trent crowbars his way into Pam’s already fragile state-of-mind, as well as Kip, Betty and Joan beating her over the head with wine, weed and all-night parties on the beach. Owen just loves being the rogue monkey, and flaunts being an oddball to any willing audience (or unwilling, as his long-suffering girlfriend Caitlyn, played gamely by Maya Rudolph). The entire cast is made up of fishes out of water, and we all at some point in or lives feel left of center. Pick your character from Back’s cast and play piggyback.

There are some films that challenge you, what with terse characters, labyrinthine plotting, dark humor and/or gut-wrenching dramatics. Back has none of that, and sometimes that works. Back is equal parts juvenile and dramatic, both with a light, offbeat touch (e.g.: the breakdancing scene). Yes, it’s offbeat, but manages to steer clear of the hackneyed term “quirky” that so plagues films like this one. I think “quirky” has replaced “original” as the go-to word to describe an indie film that defies a once undeniable uniqueness, at least by the pros. No, Back is not original, but it does have enough body to kept it afloat. I wouldn’t mind watching it again, so I got that going for me. Which is nice.

I know I’ve been pretty reserved and polite in this review. Back put me in a mellow mood that lasted until the next day. A first. And frankly I needed a break. After three crappy movies in a row, Back was a welcome respite. Not to worry though. I’m looking down the barrel of an action flick staring former Oscar shoo-in Jodie Foster. Next time I’ll return to being snarky and vicious. Promise.


The Verdict…

Rent it or relent it? Rent it. Yeah, it takes a while to build up steam. But if you’re patient, it’ll ultimately be rewarding. Just keep holding…and holding. Still holding. Okay, you’re cleared for holding…


Stray Observations…

  • Did I mention that Back had some really good pacing? The movie ran a little over 90 minutes, and for this story, that was the Goldilocks zone.
  • “Not even food courts are safe.”
  • Pac-Man as philosophy? Candy Land as metaphor? I played a lot of video and board games at Saltaire. None of them spoke to me beyond “destroy your opponent.” Wait a minute…
  • “Enjoy therapy.”
  • The plate-clearing scene. Almost heartbreaking.
  • “The car’s just the right amount of sh*tty.”
  • A Fleetwood Mac reference?
  • It took me a while to divine the meaning of the movie’s title. On the road trip to Saltaire, we borrowed my grandparents’ huge Ford LTD wagon to transport all our sh*t. The trunk was so spacious, it even had a flip up seat like a Murphy bed, facing backwards. We commonly called this sitting in “the way, way back” of the car. The movie starts with Duncan balefully staring out from the way, way back, and (SPOILER) concludes that way too. A better metaphor than Candy Land, I think.

Next Installment…

Jodie Foster’s kid’s gone missing on her cross-country flight! This wasn’t in the Flightplan!