The Guilt Trip by Anne Fletcher

The Guilt Trip by Anne Fletcher

The Guilt Trip by Anne Fletcher

As inventor Andy Brewster is about to embark on the road trip of a lifetime, a quick stop at his mom’s house turns into an unexpected cross-country voyage with her along for the ride.

Growing up as a Chinese boy in the immigrant culture of Canada, aspects of Jewish, Italian and Chinese cultures always seemed similar to me. I don’t think we are all that different after all. We are all family-oriented, express love through home-cooking, and share a deep respect for family ancestry. Subsequently, our mothers aren’t that different either; they nag and embarrass us in public and as indicated by the film’s title, they love using the guilt trip. That is primarily how I connected to the truths and comedy of The Guilt Trip.

Barbara Streisand and Seth Rogen create a charming chemistry as the mother and son. Seth Rogen is a good straight man. I don’t know thing one about Barbara Streisand, her music career or seen any of her movies, but she is the secret ingredient that makes everything work. Without the charm or the truth to the way Streisand played the role, the role would have been annoying very quickly.

The nagging and bickering can be grating for some audiences because of how real everything is presented, maybe to the point it doesn’t feel like entertainment. For me with my theory about Jewish, Italian and Chinese cultures being very similar, it was an insightful engaging experience watching that dynamic being acted out onscreen. That said, I probably would enjoy watching it with my sister laughing about our mother than watch it awkwardly alone with my mother.

I laughed throughout the entire film. What I liked most about The Guilt Trip was how honest and real it was. The truth of the situation never precedes the humor. Anne Fletcher and her editor cut the comedy gags with discipline, the gags never outstay their welcome and all move the story forward. There are even times where there aren’t laughs. That’s where the truth  pays off as it delivers some genuine heartfelt moments between the mother and son. And the heartbeat in The Guilt Trip is why I would recommend it.

This is the End by Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg

This is the End by Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg

While attending a party at James Franco’s house, Seth Rogen, Jay Baruchel and many other celebrities are faced with the apocalypse.

First off, I want to say I am a fan of the Judd Apatow team. Before Judd Apatow made The 40 Year Old Virgin and Knocked Up, I wasn’t really into the American comedies that were dominated by Ben Stiller, Will Ferrel and Vince Vaughn. The improvisational nature of Apatow’s comedy and the crude sophomoric jokes infused with a heartfelt message hit me on a deeper level. As a lover of buddy cop movies, I’m also generally a sucker for bromance movies, of which I would argue is a close relative. Most of all, I like Apatow’s cast of actors. Seth Rogen, Jonah Hill, Danny McBride, Michael Cera, James Franco… they’re all funny in their own idiosyncratic way and seem to have free reign over their own personas.

This brings me to my first critique of This is the End. The central gag of having the actors play themselves isn’t as funny as the film thinks it is. For example, This is the End‘s version of Michael Cera is a foul-mouthed cocaine addict. Why? Because the filmmakers thought it’d be funny to do a total reversal on Cera’s real life persona. That gag is only truly funny if we know what Michael Cera is like in real life. Most of us, unlike the filmmakers, can only drawn upon Michael Cera’s timid onscreen persona. That creates enough of a contrast to elicit laughs and it does. However, the filmmakers are ultimately more connected to the joke than the audience can ever be, and that is problematic on some level. I get the feeling I should be laughing harder than the film is making me.

Just to reiterate, I did laugh. There were times when the celebrity gag won me over. I liked how the character relationships were set up and they all have great chemistry. Jay Baruchel plays the audience’s avatar and reacts to all colors of obnoxious behavior exhibited by the other actors. Actually, the film even takes it one comedic step further. When Danny McBride enters the film, he does his brand of obnoxious behavior that happens to be so overwhelming, the other annoying actors call him on it and ask him to stop.

When the film doesn’t rely on the celebrity gag and gives something for the characters to do to survive the Apocalypse, it’s much more creative and funnier. I liked the graphic novel-like style that went into the world creation of the apocalypse. Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg deliver some surprises to what’s going on outside James Franco’s house. The parts in between that didn’t pertain to surviving the Apocalypse are strung by improvisational dialogue scenes and they stick out as the weaker moments. I recognize the ability to improvise scenes and be funny on camera, but watching the cast react to the fantastical elements was more interesting than watching the celebrities react to each other. As the audience’s avatar, Jay Baruchel ends up being outnumbered as he is the only genuine likable character in a cast of six. So for somebody isn’t already warm to these actors, they easily come off as very unlikable. And that can get taxing rather quickly. The writing isn’t doing enough to build enough character for the cast and the film is completely reliant on what we know of these actors and their past works.

Due to its leaning towards it’s own self-referential quality than being a apocalyptic survival film, This is the End is ultimately a fan film for the Judd Apatow audience. (Think Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back for Kevin Smith’s Viewaskew Universe) If you never liked any of the comedies from the Judd Apatow team, this movie isn’t going to convert you. If you don’t like none of these actors, I’d tell you to just skip it altogether. I am part of the Apatow audience and like these actors, and even with that, it felt like watching one gigantic inside joke.

Goon by Michael Dowse

Goon by Michael Dowse

My friend and I used to have this one joke about how “jerseying” someone is the only Canadian martial art. For the layman, I will proceed to explain what “jerseying” is. To jersey someone is to grab the back of someone’s shirt and pull it over their arms into a knot, which immobilizes them, which frees you up to punch them. If you’re good enough, you can elbow and knee them as well! And it’s fun to watch how helpless they are when they can’t swing their arms while being pummeled.

Yes… that is funny to me. That is the tone of Goon.

Under the right context, it’s very funny to watch somebody being punched. Goon provides this context with a story with heart and a very likable central underdog character. Doug Glatt (played by Seann William Scott) is ostracized from his family, his father and older brother (played by Eugene Levy and David Paetkau) are doctors and he works as a bouncer at his local bar. He is aware he is not smart and there seems to be nothing else for him. But he’s good at one thing: beating the shit out of people. Everybody looks down and picks on him (even when his golden opportunity to play for the local hockey team). When Doug beats the shit out of them, you’re with him and it makes it okay to laugh at the brutal injuries he inflicts on his tormentors.

I’m a Seann William Scott fan, he’s a good comedic actor with a firm grasp for comedic rhythm. He’s played zany, nerdy, and obnoxious. In Goon, it’s different, he plays a straight man and is reacting to the ridiculousness around him. It’s a different comedic dynamic as you’re laughing at a character for not knowing the world better and more often you are touched by his purity (as he romances Eva, played by Alison pill) than him directly doing anything that is quote unquote funny.

The fights are pretty violent. It’s fun watching how these hockey fights build up in the game because there’s almost never a real reason for it. Why do the referees stand there and watch them fight? Why aren’t they permanently suspended from the game? It is a pure instinctual reaction physicalized and that’s what’s fun and funny about it.

There are no cheap gags, in fact there are serious moments in the film where there are no jokes and I appreciated that. Liev Schreiber’s handlebar moustache was very funny, and Liev Schreiber was too. But it’s mostly the handlebar moustache.

I’m a bad Canadian, I don’t watch hockey. However, I throughly enjoyed the hell out of Goon. I laughed pretty hard.