‘Palm Springs’ Review: Andy Samberg and Cristin Milioti star in 2020’s most unexpected pandemic-era allegory

This review was first published on KENS5.com, and can be viewed here.

Take a second to look at what’s around you right now—your dog, the pot of coffee, your roommate or spouse, the pattern of sticky notes and photos on the fridge, the cloth mask siting under your car keys. All familiar things made even more so, perhaps uncomfortably so, as most of us continue to stay home amid an ongoing pandemic. All things that, at this point, have come together as a representation of safety more acute than whatever our houses or apartments or rooms may have represented before…or, just as likely, you’re at the point where it’s not newfound gratitude you’re feeling for all those things and people, but exasperation from overfamiliarity; a tinge of claustrophobia inextricably linked with 2020’s dominating question, one that has gotten less clear the most time goes on: When the hell will we return to a normal, pre-pandemic way of life?

As so many other things have taken on new significance in the age of COVID-19, so too – undoubtedly – has “Palm Springs,” a lovely Andy Samberg and Cristin Milioti-starring comedy riffing on “Groundhog Day’s” familiar stuck-in-time formula with an extra sprinkling of existential questioning and Samberg-stamped absurdity. The movie, directed by Max Barbakow, was made with a light touch on heavy material about unbreakable connection – its initial delights and its eventual consequences – through the lens of its fresh what-if: What if you were stuck reliving the same day on repeat…with another person, an eternal roommate, caught in the same unexplainable loop?

The movie makes good (and good fun) on its evolved galaxy-brain premise; Samberg and Milioti are a deliriously entertaining pairing and “Palm Springs” is a satisfying romp in this and any other year. But its obvious, unintentional appeal as an allegory for our way of life in 2020 means its outlandishness is suddenly resonant, its themes of human forgiveness and frustrations and helplessness suddenly a philosophical road map for navigating a period of socio-economic upheaval. Six months after premiering at Sundance, one of the last major in-person U.S. events before the health crisis began, “Palm Springs” is ready to hit Hulu—and it’s been crafted by fate as one of the more appropriate artifacts of a summer spent largely indoors, with the same people, questioning the limits of our isolation in an increasingly surreal situation.

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‘Desperados’ Review: Netflix’s latest is a journey through the seven circles of cliché hell

This review was first published on KENS5.com, and can be viewed here.

Even with all the movies I’ve seen this year – and, yes, they have continued to come out amid a pandemic and cinema closures – I’m having a hard time recalling a louder audible reaction that exited my lips than when a CGI dolphin penis slaps the face of Nasim Pedrad’s lovelorn Wesley in Netflix’s new instant anti-classic “Desperados.”

On one hand, a movie is typically doing something right if it gets a visceral reaction from its audience, or at least achieving its intended effect. On the other hand, “Desperados'” intentions are suspect at best; this was a reaction induced not by narrative or cinematic ingenuity, but by my astonishment that a “comedy” that has limited its punch lines to *checks list* cultural stereotypes, shallow sexism, ostensible pedophilia and rampant vulgarity (and that’s just in the first 40 minutes) could find new depths to its baseless depravity in computer-generated dolphin genitalia. Whatever doubt there may have been up to this point that “Desperados” – a movie with tropes and turns that movies were making fun of 30 years ago – was largely trying to appeal to 12-year-old boys vanishes with a slap heard ‘round the world. The movie may as well have been written by 12-year-old boys.

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‘The Lovebirds’ Review: Kumail Nanjiana and Issa Rae power derivative rom-com from the director of ‘The Big Sick’

This review was first published on KENS5.com, and can be viewed here. 

Perhaps more essential as background ambience at your next Zoom happy hour than a piece of filmmaking, director Michael Showalter’s new Netflix rom-com “The Lovebirds” gets underway with an amusing bait-and-switch: After basking for a few minutes in the smack of blossoming love between Leilani (Issa Rae) and Jibran (a very buff Kumail Nanjiani), we’re rudely met with a “4 years later” card and a relationship that has soured over time as awkward flirting morphs into an acidic exchange of insults. Putting disagreement about how they would fare on “The Amazing Race” aside (the social references here are aplenty), he thinks she’s shallow and she thinks his career is stilted. Romance…isn’t it grand?

These initial 10 or so minutes may be the movie’s most fulfilling. A step-down from his last feature directorial effort, “The Big Sick” (and totally devoid of that film’s dramatic pulse), “The Lovebirds” sees Showalter indulging a less restrained, more chaotic side. A trio of TV veterans collaborated on the screenplay, and the final product resembles a story that would have been constructed by the “idea ball”-plucking manatees seen on “South Park” once upon a decade. That is to say, you’re better off reveling in the non-sequitur energy vibrating from scene to scene rather than expecting “The Lovebirds” to build up to a memorable or ambitious whole. Continue reading →

Review: In ‘Juliet, Naked,’ a delightful (if unfinished) updating of the love triangle trope

We all have idols. Human monuments – whether in the public’s consciousness or merely our own individual headspaces – who we venerate in blogs or by internal means.

But in those obsessions, do we ever stop to monitor ourselves, and consider how we believe they influence the world don’t mirror how they perceive themselves? Have we ever thought about what we’d say if we ever met them, or worse, if they alleged our perceptions are off-target?

That’s one of a few simultaneously interpersonal and intrapersonal conflicts explored in Jesse Peretz’s “Juliet, Naked.” It’s also arguably its most interesting, interweaving adoration and comically exaggerated (or perhaps not?) reverence, though the one Peretz spends the least amount of time deconstructing. Continue reading →