Tag Archives: C

SPINSTER

Producers: Bill Niven, Jay Dahl, Marc Tetreault and William Woods   Director: Andrea Dorfman   Screenplay: Jennifer Deyell   Cast: Chelsea Peretti, Kate Lynch, Susan Kent, Jonathan Watton, Nadia Tonen, David Rosetti, Kristen Olivia Taylor, Amy Groening and Eugene Sampang   Distributor: Vertical Entertainment

Grade:  C+

It’s gratifying that Andrea Dorfman’s movie upends typical rom-com conventions, but it manages to be only moderately amusing in the process.

In the Canadian picture, set in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Chelsea Peretti (“Brooklyn Nine-Nine”) plays Gaby, a caterer whose cynical (or perhaps realistic) attitude toward dreams of romantic bliss and a tendency to speak her mind in caustic terms are revealed upfront in a conversation with a bride-to-be (Amy Groening).  When the woman gushes about her upcoming nuptials and the life she thinks will follow, Gaby counters with brutal observations about marriage beginning as a contract and developing into a form of capitalist profit and often nothing more than a convenient tax break.

But while deflating common notions about the life of husband and children women are expected to embrace, Gaby—on her thirty-ninth birthday, no less—is herself confronted by them when she returns home to find Nathan (Eugene Sampang), her boyfriend of several month, packing up his beloved board games, saying he’s returning to his former girlfriend.  Gaby’s crushed, and in no mood to celebrate, though it’s clear the two were incompatible.

What follows is a voyage of self-discovery as Gaby navigates her post-breakup woes.  She admits to Nathan, before he scuttles away, that she’s an irritating person, but while recognizing that she needs to work on her personality, at a gathering at her best friend Amanda’s (Susan Kent), she crisply admonishes one of Amanda’s two tykes for touching the food, and argues with another woman (Kristin Olivia Taylor) about having children at all.

At the same time she throws herself into the dating pool.  She tries blind dates and speed dating, to no avail.  She joins a softball team to meet guys, only to be berated by a male player when she ignores a fly ball while looking him over.  She eyes a chiropractor without success.  Nothing seems to work.

And yet despite fears of spinsterthood—she remembers an elderly aunt who died in her bathtub—Gaby finds hopeful signs over the next year that make her question whether living alone is such a bad idea after all.  Her considerate father Jack (Bill Carr) hesitantly offers her cash to balance what’s he’s given to her married siblings, and she seizes on the gift to realize her dream of opening a restaurant.  While supporting her divorced, morose brother Alex (David Rosetti), who’s nursing a hopeless desire to become a well-paid standup comic, she gets to know her ten-year old niece Adele (Nadia Tonen), and finds that she enjoys spending time with the kid.  (Surrogate parenthood is perhaps easier, and more fun.)  She connects with Callie (Kate Lynch), an older neighbor who advises her that marriage is not obligatory for every woman.  And she adopts a lovable rescue dog called Trudy.  What more could she ask for?

Near the close Jennifer Deyell’s script takes a somewhat risky turn when Gaby, out on a hike, runs into a nice guy (Jonathan Watton) who’s lost in the woods, and they have an agreeable conversation.  For a moment it seems that romance might blossom and the usual rom-com cycle could materialize after all.

Happily, the film steers away from that easy resolution, leaving Gaby—and us—with the recognition that women who find the single life to their liking shouldn’t be stigmatized as losers or “spinsters.” 

That’s a fine message, and the film is pleasant enough in delivering it.  And while the cast is a good one and the craft crew (cinematographer Stephanie Web Biran, production designer Michael Pierson, editor Simon Smith and composer Daniel Ledwell) do impressive work, it never transcends the feeling of an extended sitcom, “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” brought up to date.  Peretti’s rather blunt performance is part of the problem; Gaby’s right when she admits at the start that she’s irritating, and while Peretti tones that quality down as things progresses, in the end it’s still there to some degree.

So while “Spinster” deserves credit for ditching rom-com cliché, it could have been cleverer and more insightful about it.     

MADE IN ITALY

Producers: Pippa Cross and Sam Tipper-Hale   Director: James D’Arcy   Screenplay: James D’Arcy   Cast: Liam Neeson, Micheál Richardson, Valeria Bilello, Lindsay Duncan, Yolanda Kettle, Helena Antonio, Lavinia Biagi,  Marco Quaglia, Gian Marco Tavani, Gabriele Tozzi, Eileen Walsh, Julian Ovenden, Chelsea Fitzgerald, Costanza Amati and Deborah Vale  Distributor: IFC Films

Grade:  C

It’s unusual—and rather a relief—to encounter a movie starring Liam Neeson in which he doesn’t play a father trying to track down either family members kidnapped by some dastardly villain or their killers.  The first time he shared the screen with his real-life son Micheál Richardson, in last year’s “Cold Pursuit,” Hans Petter Moland’s English language remake of his 2014 Norwegian hit, Neeson was in fact seeking the boy’s fictional murderers.  In actor James D’Arcy’s first feature as a filmmaker, by contrast, the young man, playing a character named Jack Foster, is still alive, and stays that way for the duration.

That’s not to say that Jack’s relationship with his dad Robert (Neeson) is particularly happy.  They’ve been estranged for years, torn apart by the death of Robert’s wife Raffaella (Helena Antonio) in a car crash when she was bringing Jack, then just a tyke, home to their family house in Tuscany from a trip to the nearby village.  Robert then sent Jack away to school, and they’ve been at odds since.

Now Jack is getting divorced from his wife Ruth (Yolanda Kettle), who owns the London art gallery he’s been managing for her family, and she brusquely announces to him that she intends to sell the place, which is his life’s work.  He wants to buy it, but lacks the funds—so he contacts Robert, an aging lothario and long unproductive artist living in a London flat, so that they can quickly sell the Tuscan house that they jointly own, giving him the money he so desperately needs.

Naturally the place, though boasting a beautiful view, is in deplorable condition—though curiously some important rooms turn out to be almost preternaturally pristine for dramatic reasons—and the two men must bond to follow the advice of their local agent Kate (Lindsay Duncan) and work together in order to fix it up for sale (cue the obligatory clean-up montages, set to Alex Bclcher’s jaunty score).  The result is sort of a male-centric version of “Under the Tuscan Sun.”

Rest assured that Jack will, in time, not only overcome his hostility to Robert via a predictable revelation but meet a local romantic interest in beautiful restaurateur  Natalia (Valeria Bilello), a divorcee with a thriving business, a surly ex (Gian Marco Tavani) and a cute-as-a-button daughter named Anna (Costanza Amati).

This is a sloppily sentimental domestic drama, but it is given some resonance by the way in which the narrative, with its basis in Robert and Jack’s shared sense of loss, inevitably carries echoes of Liam and Micheál’s real-life loss of their wife and mother Natasha Richardson in a tragic skiing accident in 2009.  Apart from that, however, it’s a pretty standard-issue—one might say prefabricated—tearjerker.

It does benefit, of course, from the presence of Neeson, who can bring gravitas—as well as gruff humor—to even a weakly-written role.  Richardson doesn’t have his father’s experience, of course, and his performance is variable, though not unpleasant.  Duncan brings some welcome spikiness to the mix, but Bilello, while undoubtedly attractive, with an engaging smile is—is, apart from Natalia’s unhappy marital history, not given much to work with.  The rest of the Italian cast add some stereotypical local color, but D’Arcy encourages the actors playing potential buyers of the house—Eileen Walsh, Julian Ovenden and Chelsea Fitzgerald—to pitch their turns to the rafters, with predictably strident results.

Local color, of course, also comes from the Tuscan setting, nicely shot by Mike Elley, although one could yearn for glossier tones.  Stevie Herbert’s production design is convincing enough—though the interiors of the house are sometimes so filled with junk that one doubts it could all be hauled off in a week (though we see no sign of that anyway). The editing by Mark Day and Anthony Boys is adequate, no more.

While it’s nice to see Liam Neeson in less frantic mode than he’s had to adopt in his recent action flicks—and it must have been a joy for him to work with his son—“Made in Italy” comes across as more ramshackle a structure than its house in the Tuscan sun.