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Film Review

New films: How to Be Single, Deadpool, Where to Invade Next

How to Be Single
Directed by Christian Ditter

Oddly perhaps, the film I’m writing the most about (while still being brief) is the one I liked least in this week’s column. (I actually liked “Zoolander 2” even less, but it is what it is and I watched it on my own time and not the studio’s, so they get a pass.)

“How to Be Single” is the latest in the recent run of R-rated comedies and another that transposes the traditional and stereotypical roles of males and females. In other words, it’s a “women behaving badly” story – and by “badly” I mean like men. It’s a marketing strategy we’ve seen before, the logic apparently being that men will watch movies about women, if the women are crass enough and loud enough.

Dakota Johnson plays a young woman, Alice, who is second guessing her long-term, college years relationship, and deciding she needs some time apart from her boyfriend to figure out who she is. This plan might have some chance at success but for the fact that she goes to work in the same office as Robin – played by Rebel Wilson in larger than life Rebel Wilson style. Robin is the character behind the title of the film and she has determined her own approach to being single, which largely consists of going out, staying out, getting drunk, and waking up in unknown locations with barely remembered sexual partners, on a nightly basis.

This is the basis of almost all the comedy in the film – and it’s not a pattern of behavior reserved exclusively for Robin. There are unrelated jokes in the movie that, while crass (such as making fun of somebody’s personal grooming), produce significant audience laughter (as does the sexual content in “Deadpool” – see below). But it’s inherently problematic when for most of the film, the recurring jokes are based on the concept of people becoming intoxicated enough to apparently lose the ability to remember, or to have consented to whatever happened.

I know we’re not always supposed to dig too deeply into films of this nature (which is why I’m skipping on “Zoolander 2”), but this is a film that runs counter to so many conversations and training modules about personal safety that are shared with young people in what appears to be the target demographic. In that regard, I found the subject matter and the comedy surrounding it to be questionable.

Moviebriefs

The newest comic book film “Deadpool” is also the funniest. But, be warned, it’s very R-rated humor – with constant sexual references – and quite unlike most of the similar films we’ve seen. Which is neat, as it doesn’t feel like another retread or reboot, despite making references to other characters we’ve seen on the big screen, in this case the X-Men. Ryan Reynolds plays the title character, who gains his super powers (primarily healing) while being treated, or so he thinks, for cancer. But he’s also a loner, a mercenary, and generally unpleasant to most around him, and he was all of these things long before he ever held a grudge for the disfiguring process he undergoes. But aside from being a super-anti-hero movie, it’s also a rich spoof on the genre in general, from the opening credits that make fun of comic book conventions, to the post-end credit scene that makes fun of post-end credit scenes. As an example of the absorbingly self-absorbed and self-aware fun-poking, there’s a scene in which Deadpool is told he’s being taken to see Professor Xavier, prompting him to ask if it’s the James McAvoy or Patrick Stewart version of Xavier – one of many fourth-wall breaking moments in the film. “Deadpool” is funny, sharp, and never lets up – and it’s easy to recommend (although not for younger fans of similar films due to the nature of the material – something the studio has also noted in social media).

Documentarian Michael Moore is back with “Where to Invade Next” – a film with the simple premise that America ought to be invading countries with things or ideas that are actually worth stealing. For most people who are fairly aware of differences in political systems and social programs around the world, or who have spent more than a weekend reading memes on Facebook, there’s probably little that will be surprising in this film (although it drew some gasps and exasperated sighs from the audience I was a part of). However, it’s still powerful as a collection of examples of things that are so often dismissed here as being impossible or too costly, but that are working successfully elsewhere. For example, we see schools in Finland with shorter days, shorter years, no homework and better results. We’re shown school lunches in France that look like they could be part of Sacramento’s farm to fork trend. He visits prisons in Norway, where recidivism is approximately a quarter of rates here and talks with both workers and managers in Italy, where vacations and parental leave are generous and paid. The film loses its simplicity, which is otherwise a strength, as Moore tries to tie multiple threads together into a single theme (feminism) – but it still succeeds because the examples are so straightforward. Moore also seems to have lost some of his stridency, which helps the delivery of material that only needs to be shared rather than championed. This feels like a film that could end up in classrooms as a starting point for discussion.

About the author

Tony Sheppard

Tony is a Professor at Sacramento State, Co-Director of the Sacramento Film & Music Festival and a long-time writer, primarily on topics related to film and the film industry. He is an active supporter of the local arts community, an amateur photographer, and has an interest in architecture and urban planning topics. He is currently designing a 595 sq.ft. house on a very small infill lot in Sacramento.

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