There’s a small but significant list of great and underused comic performers who contribute bigly to Bad Moms; any film featuring Clark Duke, Wanda Sykes and Kathryn Hahn has to be a must-see. And Bad Moms does deliver the laughs needed for a hit comedy; from the duo behind the Hangover films, Jon Lucas and Scott Moore, this comedy manages to slip quietly away from accusations of misogyny and reclaim some comic ground for the ladies. Mila Kunis’ s Amy falls foul of local schoolteacher Gwendolyn (Christina Applegate) and decided to battle back at the local PTA with some help from her friends. Some good music choices (including DNCE’s Cake by The Ocean and Icona Pop’s I Love It) add some montage power to the parent’s rebellion, and Hahn in particular gives an outrageous break-out performance.
Not-unreasonably maligned on release, Ted 2 is a far inferior product to the original talking bear movie, but has a few hidden virtues. When so many sequels are reverent and respectful of the original property, in the hope of spinning a franchise, Ted 2 is a more old-fashioned sequel in the it’s completely slapdash and careless; it’s in the spirit of Smokey and the Bandit 2, and even as a few similar action sequences in the unrated version. Ted 2 also has an interesting idea, as Ted (Seth Macfarlane) and John (Mark Wahlberg) engage lawyer Samantha (Amanda Seyfried) is fight in court to prove that Ted should have ‘human’ rights. While the original was on-point and engaging, the sheer randomness of the in-jokes is the appeal here, with everyone from Liam Neeson to Morgan Freeman pulled in, unwarranted and self-indulgent musical breaks and lots of really filthy humour in the auteur’s patented style.
Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele have been such a boon to comedy through their Comedy Central work, it’s easy to see why a feature film would be a no brainer. And while it doesn’t have the punch of some of their sketches, Keanu is one of 2016’s best comedies, pitting two mild-mannered, middle class dorks into a gangster world which they unexpectedly take to. Their mission is to track down the missing moggy of the title, running into Method Man as a gangster and Anna Faris as herself along the way. A few sequences jump out, like the one in which Rell and Clarence attempt to teach a crew of aspiring gangsters how to act on the street, and there’s some commendable verve in the tension generated as the friends get over their depth. Ultimately, the two-guys-who-look-like-tow gangsters motifs is an ancient one which Key and Peele manage to blow some life into, and bodes well for future cinematic escapades.
Seth Rogen’s work can be an acquired taste; the shambolic nature of This Is The End or Observe and Report are hard texts to get excited about. Perhaps animation has brought the best out of him; although Sausage Party has an all-star cast, they seem more tightly reined in than usual, and the animation, while hardly Pixar, is watchable enough. But it’s the unusual high-concept that’s the big selling point here; the story of a sausage (Rogen) who seeks to escape from the supermarket, Sausage Party manages to mix low comedy with clever satire, as the various consumables and perishables are viewed as a microcosm of society, allowing for plenty of politically incorrect humour. Sausage Party is rude, crude and funny; even the musical sequence at the start is executed with on-point gusto.
Writer/director Marc Lawrence is something of an invisible auteur, making a series of popular rom-coms with the likes of Hugh Grant and Sandra Bullock which generally do well, yet his name is unnoticed. The Rewrite is one of his best, pitting Grant’s jaded screenwriter Keith Michaels into the academic snake-pit of an East Coast college. Despite his slovenly manner and non-existent teaching methods, Michaels becomes a hit with his class, and gets to strike romantic sparks with Marisa Tomei. While some of the details of the class are unpersuasive, the atmosphere of the classroom is warm and enjoyable, and as the rain-drops fall on the windows outside, Grant’s wayward teacher is good company in this undemanding comedy with few laughs but more than a little heart.
A lightweight variation on The Wolf of Wall Street, Todd Phillips’ drama is short on comedy, but tells an interesting shaggy-dog story that might rival Jordan Belfort in terms of entrepreneurial bragging. Unsuccessful linen salesman David Packouz (Miles Teller) is swept up in the wake of Efraim Diveroli (Jonah Hill), who masterminds a process of bidding for munitions contracts and gets them deep behind enemy lines in Afghanistan and elsewhere. Like Wolf of Wall Street, there’s little airtime given to the complications created, or the deadly consequences, but War Dogs is content to be a romp, a tall story about two daft Americans who get way over their head as they attempt to syphon cash out of geo-political conflict. Teller is pallid compared to his Whiplash turn, but Hill steals ever scene he’s in as the Scarface-obsessed wheeler-dealer, a wide-eyed and energetic performance which saves the film over and over again.
Writer/director Noah Baumbach’s output is inconsistent, but at his best, he’s got an eye of character that makes him a unique talent. Working with star Greta Gerwig, who gets a co-writer credit, Baumbach manages to provide a strong companion piece to his similarly offbeat Frances Ha. Tracy (Lola Kirke) falls under the influence of Manhattan socialite Brooke (Gerwig), who has big ideas and a entrepreneurial flair. But it soon transpires that Brooke is anything but the success she appears, and Tracy’s acceptance of that gets Mistress America off on the right foot. It’s almost like The Great Gatsby if Gatsby’s businesses had failed; Brooke is an anti-heroine who is completely wrapped up in herself, and her relationship with Tracy is all the most interesting because the film dares to look at apparently rational people who are slightly deluded about who they are and what they can achieve. It may not be the American dream, but it’s a reality that is universally recognizable. The climax may be theatrical, and the music choices are retro in a way that doesn’t quite fit the narrative, but Mistress America is a snapshot of 2015 that pulls no punches in terms of how millennials can present their lives as constant success despite encroaching failure.