The Summer I Turned Pretty (Summer#1) by Jenny Han

The Summer I Turned Pretty
(Summer #1)
By: Jenny Han

Some summers are just destined to be pretty.

When each summer begins, Belly leaves her school life behind and escapes to Cousins Beach, the place she has spent every summer of her life. Not only does the beach house mean home away from home, but her favorite people are there: Susannah, her mother’s best friend, and her sons, Conrad and Jeremiah. Belly has been chasing Conrad for as long as she can remember, and more than anything, she hopes this summer will be different. Despite distractions from a new guy named Cam and lingering looks from Conrad’s brother, Jeremiah, Belly’s heart belongs to Conrad. Will he offer his to her? Will this be the summer that changes everything?  – Goodreads

Expectations are a very dangerous thing. Its no secret for frequenters of my humble blog that I’m a huge fan of To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before. While the trilogy had its imperfections as it went along, it still had a lot of great moments much like the Netflix adaptations that still managed to capture the essence of the story from both a coming of age and teen romance angle. I’m not going to lie that the synopsis of The Summer I Turned Pretty wasn’t exactly capturing me a lot in the first place however, sometimes the actual read could give some surprises. The issue is that The Summer I Turned Pretty basically didn’t give me any surprises and was what I expected out of an average teen romance.

The Summer I Turned Pretty is pretty much a through and through teen romance. Its a little bit of coming of age and friendship but overall, its mostly focused around its main character Belly (short for Isabel) and her sweet sixteen summer. Belly is not a very captivating character, in fact as a main character from her point of view, it probably painted her out to be much more annoying than anything else. The deal is Belly has a certain grounded-ness, which is the good part like her insecurities as a teenager and trying to feel accepted in a group of friends. Those things worked in favor to her character however for the most part, she did make some pretty bad decisions or inconsiderate ones, although sometimes I feel that its my age reading this now that makes me see this more mature and this stuff is normal for someone at sixteen.

However, talking about the mature element, there are parts of this where Belly feels like she is more than sixteen in terms of how she views love itself and how she words certain things. Its a very odd character that’s been put together. Thing is, looking at the other characters, they feel even less fleshed out and while this inevitable love triangle between her and the brothers Conrad and Jeremiah, the two brothers also feel very lightly written and then the ending gives them a sudden shift.

This does bring us to the execution and structure for The Summer I Turned Pretty. The execution style is actually one that I do enjoy which creates something of a scrambled storyline as she talks about the current and then it links back to a past story regarding a younger self at the summer house vacation. Its meant to create context to give some depth for the story itself, which it does do for the most part. Even if the story itself doesn’t really feel that surprising most of the time, it still adds to the story itself to build up on the events that bring these characters together. That’s the main thing is everything is just about the events but never truly about the growth of the characters other than their expected growth due to getting older.

Overall, The Summer I Turned Pretty is very average. It all dials down to some rather lackluster characters stuck in a predictable teen romance situation. The best part of the story actually are the moments when its not about the romance and the vibe of how the summer house is with the two mothers and their kids in the little anecdotal chapters. Some of them show a rather heartwarming and positive family vibe. Its hard to talk about this one since it stands a bit in the middle. Considering the ending did feel like it had a resolution, it did feel self-contained which is a trait I love in books that are meant to be some form of series. In this case, I’m rather hesitant about reading the rest of the trilogy.

Goodreads score: 3/5

Double Feature: Wedding Season (2022) & Look Both Ways (2022)

Wedding Season (2022)

Director: Tom Dey

Cast: Pallavi Sharda, Suraj Sharma, Arianna Afsar, Sean Kleier, Veena Sood, Rizwan Manji

Pressured by their parents to find spouses, Asha and Ravi pretend to date during a summer of weddings, only to find themselves falling for each other. – IMDB

The latest Netflix romantic comedy plays into the Indian culture as it revolves around a summer full of weddings and two kids who are set up together and decide to fake a relationship to avoid all the chatter. Asha (Pallavi Sharda) is the main character who is the central point of view where the plot is concerned. In some ways, it plays along a generation gap and culture gap that drives with kids born and raised in another country and while some details aren’t quite the applicable, the general story does apply to a lot of immigrant families. Its a fun angle to take for the story even if the romantic comedy of fake relationships turning real isn’t exactly a really unique idea overall and honestly has been done to death a lot, much like when I talked about the same general concept with another recently released Netflix film Purple Hearts (review).

Despite the predictable elements, the characters and cultural elements are pretty fun. The nagging parents and the whole wedding scenes all in different styles and the fun banter between the two leads are fairly entertaining. Its probably where the charm of this film is mostly centered on. Asha’s character is done pretty well as she plans this own thing because she wants to achieve better things in work and forgets about the core values of the project she is working on so as she tries to distance herself from her background because of growing up in the Western society, she eventually realizes a little something more about herself that exceeds that of just romance in the whole picture of the film. There’s a certain depth for Asha as her mindset shifts especially as her and her sister also have a lot of moments which eventually derives to a deeper understanding for the arranged marriage and relationship between her parents as well.

This is a romantic comedy so its time to take a look at the male character Ravi, played by Suraj Sharma. Honestly, I haven’t seen this actor since Life of Pi (podcast discussion). He definitely plays the more chill and fun character here but there is a definite secret that he and his family are trying to keep away that gets revealed by the end. Its a rather silly secret but the reaction from it is on one side fairly comedic because it did feel a little over the top but also a bit annoying because it felt like something that shouldn’t have gotten the reaction from Asha seeing as she is more modernized in her thoughts. Regardless, Ravi does have some fun bits and does also represent a certain other group of immigrant children who take on their own path against their parents’ wish.

To be fair, Wedding Season isn’t a bad film overall. The romantic elements actually are the weaker links here as the cultural elements take over to make the film more unique in this area. That’s not saying that the chemistry for the two main leads isn’t there as there definitely is even if some bits feel like it just jumps over fairly quickly. However, the film shines with the family moments with Asha, her sister and parents as well as the supporting characters from the nosy auntie to the judgmental views of others. There’s some truly charming elements here.

Look Both Ways (2022)

Director: Wanuri Kahiu

Cast: Lili Reinhart, Danny Ramirez, Aisha Dee, Andrea Savage, Luke Wilson, David Corenswet, Nia Long

On the eve of her college graduation, Natalie’s life diverges into parallel realities: one in which she becomes pregnant and remains in her hometown to raise her child and another in which she moves to LA to pursue her dream career. – IMDB

Look Both Ways is one of the latest Netflix films and balances really well the romance, drama and comedy elements of its story. The story itself while being compared a lot to Sliding Doors (a film that I haven’t seen yet) runs a parallel storyline which starts at the beginning when its main character is thrust into a situation following a quick decision when it bases around her pregnancy test on her graduation night. On one hand, the positive result turns her life around and the negative one takes her to execute her five year plan. Look Both Ways is a story about options in life regardless of what things may pop up accidentally and the positive message that it will all work out in the end as both sides of her realities lead to a different level of success and achievement and its own set of challenges as well.

With that said, a film like with alternating realities is heavily reliant on its execution and flow. In this case, it does a pretty good job. There is a logical bounce between the realities which is easily to follow and is a long enough set piece that doesn’t feel like the jumping from one reality to the next is too abrupt or lacking in delivering the feelings of the scene. It does help that the storyline keeps itself simple. On one hand, the planned reality focuses on the workplace challenges while the other side sticks to the challenges of a having a baby and the mixed feelings and responsibilities that come with it as well as how to rebuild her own life. While its a very hypothetical element to give the story two outcomes and their own timeline, these two timelines still feel rooted in a lot of realistic feelings and trials and tribulations especially when even the planned moments in life will have their unplanned obstacles. The positive message is truly what makes this film a fun one, despite perhaps a few plot point flaws here and there which doesn’t take away from the feel-good elements.

Look Both Ways stars primarily Riverdale’s Lili Reinhart, an actress that is very underrated as she does a great job with the role of Betty in Riverdale and despite the supporting role was pretty good in Hustlers (review) as well. In Look Both Ways, she is the focal character and all the events revolve around her and she gives both sides of the realities a really good portrayal and connects really well on both ends with the sentiments at that moment. Its nice to know that destiny doesn’t play a big part here mostly as both realities sees her end up different romantically as well. In reality, the two parts actually play together to create the full person that she becomes. Much like the LA career five year plan focuses on her career and friends more, letting the story focus more on her friendship, the pregnancy sidetrack takes her back home where it brings in a lot of nice conversations between her parents (Luke Wilson and Andrea Savage) as they have to also accept this new reality and gradually despite their disappointment also brings their own form of support.

Overall, Look Both Ways is a pretty good film. The cast is pretty decent especially with Lili Reinhart doing a great job at portraying her character. Its also a film with a wonderful positive message that ends in an open-ended way which gives the film a good thoughtful ending as well. Perhaps, its a good point of view for life in general to explore the reality that when things don’t quite go as planned that it will work out one way or another.

Double Feature: Persuasion (2022) & Purple Hearts (2022)

Persuasion (2022)

Director: Carrie Cracknell

Cast: Dakota Johnson, Cosmo Jarvis, Henry Golding, Richard E. Grant, Yolanda Kettle, Ben Bailey Smith, Nikki Amuka-Bird, Mia McKenna-Bruce

Eight years after Anne Elliot was persuaded not to marry a dashing man of humble origins, they meet again. Will she seize her second chance at true love? – IMDB

Based on Jane Austen’s novel of the same name (review), Persuasion tells the story of Anne, a woman well past her prime for marriage who ends up moving to Bath due to his father’s frivolous spending as the return of a man she once refused marriage after persuasion due to status returns to town after 8 years and brings back her inner struggle as they attempt to run in the same circle as friends.

Years ago when I did a Jane Austen books read, Persuasion was one of the hidden gems considering Pride and Prejudice is the most talked about. The Netflix adaptation is a little odd in execution. Dakota Johnson is rather suitable in her role as Anne and she remains the narrator of her own story as it brings in some fourth wall breaking elements as she speaks her feelings to the audience throughout the film. Unlike the clever use in Enola Holmes, it keeps her character development amusing but still feels almost  little too modernized. However, the attempt to make this unique is a good effort, considering this is one of the key elements of the execution.

Persuasion is a story that embodies a deeper and more mature story as a love slowly rekindles and Anne and Captain Wentworth need to get through their past differences from the failed proposal years ago. The issue here is that these two have no chemistry and part of it is the film execution with how their encounters are written but the other part is that Cosmo Jarvis as Captain Wentworth doesn’t quite have the acting depth to interpret those quiet brooding stares as he observes or as they exchange glances. Arguably, the best moment between them, a lot thanks to some nice cinematography, is their final moment as they rekindle their romance and realize that they both still love each other.

Persuasion does hit a lot of expected elements of a period drama like the setting and the soundtrack are pretty good, much like the costumes themselves are decent as well. Some of the supporting cast including the other suitor played by Henry Golding also does a good job. Where the film falls short is in its tone which adds in a bit of silliness and humor as well as breaking the fourth wall which is a unique take but the script might have let it down a little, much like the romance which felt like it didn’t have the chemistry it needed to make it more memorable.

Purple Hearts (2022)

Director: Elizabeth Allen Rosenbaum

Cast: Sofia Carson, Nicholas Galitzine, Chosen Jacobs, John Harlan Kim, Kat Cunning, Linden Ashby, Scott Deckert, Anthony Ippolito, Loren Escandon

In spite of their many differences, Cassie, a struggling singer-songwriter, and Luke, a troubled Marine, agree to marry solely for military benefits. But when tragedy strikes, the line between real and pretend begins to blur. – IMDB

At this point, Netflix delivers a good amount of romance films a year in whatever genre and usually its a pretty mixed bag and truly a test of chemistry and casting rather than script. Purple Hearts is the latest offering as a romance drama which sets a premise of a marriage out convenience for a young soldier being shipped out very soon and a waitress/musician, both with their own hardships that this arrangement would offer.

Deal is, as someone who watches a lot of Chinese drama, marriage before love premise has been done to death over the past two years in all kinds of premise. Of course, it usually is more humorous and light hearted at the beginning rather than the dramatic twist here. While the general premise is fairly predictable, the use of a soldier and his situation that gives him a purple heart is one that makes this journey much more memorable as while it isn’t so much about war, Luke finds meaning in becoming a Marine through it despite the danger and connects more to his father (Linden Ashby) because of this choice despite the bad decisions he had made prior.

Much like Cassie who as the child of an immigrant family also makes her reconsider her feelings about the sacrifices the Marines are making as she learns more about Luke as they do what they need to do to keep up appearances. This understanding also helps her find inspiration to write powerful music which brings her growing success. This brings in the additional music element which is probably the purpose to cast Sofia Carson. While I don’t avidly listen to Sofia Carson, the two songs that she performs here are pretty good and fit the story well. In some ways, it does tie to the story itself in a meaningful way so its a way for her character to express herself despite the arguments and banter between her and Luke.

Honestly, I’m not too hard on romance dramas. In reality, a predictable story is acceptable when they can deliver a believable chemistry between the two main leads. In this case, the chemistry between the two could definitely be better since their characters are fairly thin in development, however the premise and the execution gives this story a little more than just a love story so with everything rounded together, the two coming together from despise to leaning on each other to their revelation that they love each other by the end , its a pretty decent heartwarming and touching journey between the two. A romance where two people help each other grow in one way or another creates their chemistry subtly and a story with this premise of living the “in sickness and in health” part of the vows despite the fake marriage at the beginning.

To be fair, when it comes to romance films and I’ve seen quite a few of them being the sappy romantic that I am, this one might come up fairly average but it still works for various elements. The ending even had me feeling rather connected with Cassie and Luke’s love when these two finally figure out their feelings.

TV Binge: Bridgerton (Season 2, 2022)

Bridgerton (Season 2, 2022)

Creator: Chris Van Dusen

Cast: Jonathan Bailey, Claudia Jessie, Julie Andrews (voice), Simone Ashley, Charithra Chandran, Luke Thompson, Luke Newton, Nicola Coughlan, Ruth Gemmell, Polly Walker, Golda Rosheuvel, Adjoa Andoh, Kathryn Drysdale, Phoebe Dynevor, Calam Lynch

Wealth, lust, and betrayal set against the backdrop of Regency-era England, seen through the eyes of the powerful Bridgerton family. – IMDB

Following the steamfest that is the first season of Bridgerton as it followed eldest sister of the Bridgerton family as she becomes Duchess and learns from Duke Hastings how to get in touch with her sexuality and sensuality and also helps him embrace his past so that they can move on better in the future, Season 1 comes to a pretty decent close and doesn’t have the appearance of the Duke as many already know since the real life actor has other projects so basically has been phased out with just the Duchess, played by Phoebe Dynevor making a few appearances to guide her older brother Anthony as he looks for his wife. You can check out my review of Season 1 HERE.

Season 2 dials things down on the steamy department quite a bit and Anthony’s story is one very similar to that of Pride and Prejudice and the familiar despise to love sort of story between Anthony and the previously disgraced Lady Mary’s family as they return to debut the younger sister, Edwina into society and find her a husband. Trained perfectly by her older sister Kate, Edwina is basically what Anthony is looking for in criteria as he searches for a wife to fulfill his duties as the eldest son and the Lord of the household and not for love. Right off the bat, Kate forms a strong prejudice against him based on a conversation he overhears at one of the balls and strongly goes against his pursuing Edwina however at the same time, their hatred and constant brush-up with each other creates strong feelings between them that soon turn into love. Season 2 is basically their journey for this season to their marriage at the end. Its much more familiar and tame than the first one but it has a lot more substance especially for Austen fans as Kate is a headstrong woman and she manages to bond well with Eloise, who reluctantly has entered society as well. It gets a little wishy-washy in parts but they do create a nice contrast between Kate and Edwina building on their sisterhood and their family background but also have that nice chemistry between Kate and Anthony that develops pretty nicely.

Bridgerton isn’t just about the love triangle between Kate, Edwina and Anthony. In fact, the story extends further into that Lady Whistledown plot where now, as the audience for the big finale of Season 1 was revealed to us and its just a trek for this character (not saying the name in case you haven’t seen the first season) to hide her tracks as Eloise is once again enraptured by trying to track down this character which leads her to another side of town, meeting people who are opinionated the way she would like to be. Talking about that, I do still love that Lady Whistledown is voiced by Julie Andrews. Lady Whistledown’s facade has a lot more at stake especially since this character isn’t only a part of scandal that the ton love to read but also has stepped on the wrong toes like the Queen who is also adamant on tracking the identity behind this character who constantly challenges her decisions. The final piece of the plot is the story with the Featheringtons as the household of women and girls wait for the new man of the house to show up which creates an interesting sort of side story and if anything builds up on Lady Featherington’s character the most.

Season 2 Bridgerton is much better than the first one. It takes on a different tone and while the material itself feels familiar, it fits so well into this society and how we come know and love this sort of Austen-like scenario. Not to mention that the acting is more refined with all the characters also having more substance to them as they tie up loose ends from the first and the Bridgertons, Lady Danbury and the Sharmas all have some really human moments where their somewhat of a demise separates them from the ton but also makes them embrace each other in some fun. If you’ve watched it, you know which scene I’m talking about. As a final note, I’m hoping that Lady Danbury hangs out for more of these seasons because she is a fantastic character, one of the best of the series as she’s filled with personality and guidance. Overall, a much welcomed step up in season 2.

TV Binge: Fishbowl Wives (Season 1, 2022)

Fishbowl Wives (Season 1, 2022)

Director: Matsuyama Hiroaki & Namiki Michiko

Cast: Ryoko Shinohara, Takanori Iwata, Masanobu Ando, Kyoko Hasegawa, Wakana Matsumoto, Shizuka Nakamura, Saori Seto, Anna Ishii, Hadekazu Mashima, Shingo Fujimori, Atsuhiro Inukai, Yuki Kubota

In a luxury apartment tower, six different women in unhappy marriages end up crossing the line into infidelity. – IMDB

Fishbowl Wives dives into the married lives of various women in a pricey high rise where the higher the condo, the more expensive and wealthy the family is considered. Each of these couples struggle with their own issues which eventually lead them on the path of infidelity or in one case, pondering it. Based on the manga Kingyo Tsuma, the series is formed like an anthology where there is one central plot with the more successful and popular couple in the high rise penthouse who runs away from her abusive husband, giving up a life of luxury for a calmer and respected life at a goldfish store. The other stories of the other women are framed within their own individual episode. The structure itself creates an imbalance, leaving out a lot of actual substance for building these characters for the various women and leaving it with their decision to choose infidelity. With these stories also comes a lot of steamy sex scenes. Giving up their depth on the other characters, it does create space to elaborate on the main storyline revolving around Sakura (Ryoko Shinohara), her abusive husband Takuya (Ando Masanobu) and the goldfish shop owner Haruto (Takanori Iwata).

While the storyline is fairly thin overall, it does look at many different types of marriage especially highlighting the characteristics and values embedded in the Japanese (or maybe even some more traditional Asian) society. It looks at the different dynamics that exist within these marriages which essentially create the issues. While it seems in some cases a fairly ridiculous point for infidelity, it all dials down to the main point that some marriages might fade or change in their priorities or perhaps, all in all the lack of communication between these couples. Some of these affairs focused are truly hilarious to watch and a bit self-inflicted when the final episode shares all the end game of each of these couples. In some other cases, it also is a twist in the whole infidelity plot. It also brings in the whole concept of whether the one you marry is your “twin flame” as the eccentric Feng Shui lady in the high rise tells them seemingly leading them to these different affairs. There’s no doubt that the stand-out one that borders ridiculous and self-inflicted but a tad hilarious is the episode The Lunchbox Lady.

The central plot is where the main story does lie leaving many points to ponder in the whole situation. What makes it very respectable is the story itself especially revolving the growing bond between Haruto and Sakura is very comfortable to watch with a lot of very warm and romantic scenes without involving a lot of sex scenes. It gives their relationship a certain foundation that eventually comes to light a deeper story to the whole scenario. It shares a much more equal and balanced relationship compared to the marriage that Sakura escapes which is controlling and physically and mentally abusive. The whole fishbowl and fish brings in a lot of the analogy to her own life. The key here being that Ryoko Shinohara and Takanori Iwata are relatively good in their roles. I don’t watch any Japanese TV series so this is probably my first one so I’m not exactly sure whether this is below or above normal standard for this sort of show however, while their chemistry wasn’t always great and sometimes felt a tad awkward, it did manage to build up as it went along and the dialogue and their connection also managed to be pretty decent. Ando Masanobu playing Takuya does a good job as well since his character is pretty despicable right from the start and feels a bit more conflicted as it starts spiraling to the finale.

Overall, Fishbowl Wives is not exactly a great series. It lacks depth and character growth for the most part. It plays around with the concept of infidelity in marriage and does cover some interesting stories about marriage itself that may contribute or justify these choices (whether or not you accept it will probably also add or minus to the enjoyment of the series). These stories do reflect in its own way the societal values towards marriage and divorce in the Japanese society. However, if there’s anything to give it praise for selling itself in the steamy market, the show is pretty heavy on the steamy sex scenes and for the most part, they are filmed pretty well. In fact, not only those scenes are done well, there is a pretty decent use of cinematography overall. Not exactly the best first venture into Japanese TV series but it was pretty average, some good and some bad elements.

Love and Leashes (2022)

Love and Leashes (2022)

Director (and writer): Hyeon-jin Park

Cast: Seohyun, Jun-young Lee, EL, Hyun-woo Seo, Han-na Kim, Seoung-kyun An, Suk-hyeong Lee, Bo-ra Kim

Love never hurt so good for two co-workers who enter a contractual relationship as partners in consensual play, pleasure and pain. – IMDB

Based on the webtoon Moral Sense by Gyeoul, Love and Leashes is a new Netflix South Korean romantic comedy that takes its on a journey where an office girl Ji-woo (Seohyun) is approached by her newly transferred colleague, Ji-hoo (Jun-young Lee) when he misunderstands her for being interested in his own tendencies towards dominant-subdominant relationships and BDSM. BDSM has no doubt been a rather hot topic the last few years, probably thanks to the Twilight fanfiction, Fifty Shades of Grey which is some erotic literature (if you haven’t read about it). Its been appearing more in TV series as its central plots and even documentaries talking about Japanese bondage in 2020’s Bound (review).

Love and Leashes takes on a fun approach to the whole subject while building up the relationship between Ji-hoo and Ji-woo as they connect through their 3 month contract for these different plays. For those looking for something steamy, this movie will probably disappoint in that department as their relationship builds up as the film itself almost is like an introduction to the BDSM and DS. It takes that element and contrasts it to the romance itself towards the power dynamics between men and women in the society to this DS relationship versus an actual romantic relationship.

There’s so much to love about Love and Leashes and it has to do with the angle that it takes being so fun. The narrator that talks about all the steps and process of learning as Ji-woo learns about these different elements and intensifies the experience more and more every play has its own sexy moments even if there isn’t actual sex happening. The film strikes a balance of using it to also build up on the two main leads’ connection from their experiences, especially in terms of Ji-hoo and his past relationship and feelings towards how he had to keep his preferences hidden. There’s a deeper exploration of his character in the actual dialogue where Ji-woo’s character development is more in her actions as she gradually becomes more and more comfortable in the dominant role and giving orders where her normal work situation doesn’t allow.

As the story builds, it doesn’t just revolve around them but also adds in supporting characters who either are willing to learn more about this type of relationship but also others who don’t seem to understand it and it delivers both sides of society for their opinions towards it. Basically, the film’s narrative dials it all down to the basics of relationships in terms of “finding someone accepting the person behind the mask”. It all adds a little more substance to the film with their many angles instead of making it into a sexy/steamy angle, which some of their plays because of the music and the cinematography actual does achieve that.

The foundation of the film for this being a first time experience for both is what makes it rather fun to watch both from the level of surprise and comfort that they both achieve in the process which creates a nice chemistry between them, even through the little accidents and the build-up to accepting this whole contract. The two main leads Ji-woo and Ji-hoo played respectively by Seohyun and Jun-young Lee also fit the roles pretty nicely and adds a good chemistry between them, making the most of the romantic connection that gradually builds between them but also having some fun comedic moments, mostly in the first act when the story sets up for this special contractual relationship. Feel-good and fun: Love and Leashes is really quite entertaining as a romantic comedy.

Double Feature: The Hustle (2019) & Falling For Figaro (2020)

The Hustle (2019)

Director: Chris Addison

Cast: Anna Hathaway, Rebel Wilson, Alex Sharp, Ingrid Olivier, Nicholas Woodeson

Two con women – one low rent and the other high class – team up to take down the men who have wronged them. – IMDB

Taking a little break from teem comedies, its time to take a look at an actual comedy about con artists which is a female-centered remake of 1988’s Dirty Rotten Scoundrels which is a remake of 1964’s Bedtime Story. I haven’t seen either of the films that The Hustle is based on. The Hustle is a tad odd and probably will be divisive on how you feel about these two actresses as they team up and face off as con artists. The film primarily circles around them and they play off each other to create the comedy. The contrast of the character’s personality and style being the main driving force of the comedy itself as they fight for the Beaumont-sur-mer turf in a wager for conning a tech guy’s $500K.

Anne Hathway and Rebel Wilson are a little hard to peg down their style. While Anne Hathaway has a lot of different films under her belt, she always seems to fall into comedy quite a bit. And in more recent films of hers that I have seen, she plays a lot with accents (The Witches (review) being the most recent example). They aren’t particularly bad accents and actually it is rather fun since it works well with these cons that her character is doing especially while Rebel Wilson’s Penny is convinced that she is the renowned international con artist, Medusa. Rebel Wilson plays into her style of comedy right from her days from Pitch Perfect (or even earlier in the smaller role in Bridesmaids) and she has come into her own but her comedy style is not exactly for everyone as it does go a little over the top and exaggerated. There is no doubt that Rebel Wilson has her own silly charm. In the contrast of things in this film, it works alright.

Call it a form of buddy film if you will because this does have that sort of feeling to it as these two work together and eventually adapt each other’s con strategies to play against the other. They do have a decent dynamic here even if some of the comedy might not always land right. The Hustle all comes to a twist sort of ending and the setting is absolutely beautiful. Its not a phenomenal comedy but it is pretty fun overall.

Falling For Figaro (2020)

Director: Ben Lewin

Cast: Danielle MacDonald, Shazad Latif, Joanna Lumley, Gary Lewis, Hugh Skinner, Rebecca Benson, Christina Bennington

A brilliant young fund manager leaves her unfulfilling job and long-term boyfriend to chase her lifelong dream of becoming an opera singer in the Scottish Highlands. – IMDB

*Originally posted on Friday Film Club*

As Valentine’s approaches, Netflix is bringing on a lot of different romantic comedies for their release schedule. There’s no doubt that when you look at Danielle MacDonald, her filmography has been rather diverse. Looking at some of her leading roles, she’s been truly wrapped up in trying to be something to break out of what others view her as from wanting to be a rap star in Patti Cake$, to breaking the norm of a pageant queen in Dumplin’ and her latest film right here as Millie who is striving to be an opera singer despite starting later than most would and giving up her own money-making successful career and being apart from her boyfriend for a year to pursue this dream with a harsh opera teacher Meghan (Joanna Lumley) and her only student Max (Hugh Skinner) who is reluctant about her presence as they both try to enter and win the upcoming opera singing competition. However, her presence brings on a journey that doesn’t only discover her talent for opera but also sparks the necessary change for Max to get in touch with his emotions.

Romantic comedies nowadays are really a challenge to truly enjoy especially as a lot of them are formulaic. Falling For Figaro still has a lot of those romantic comedy tropes but also has that comedy element that does deliver rather well as it features a cast of supporting characters and main characters that are colorful to watch in both dialogue and interactions. Not to mention that Danielle MacDonald does tend to connect herself to feel-good films. This one has a few awkward moments especially with her boyfriend character (Shazad Latif) that seems to be an odd presence but the film also focuses on the natural progression of the feelings for Max as they start to train together and despite his reluctance still tries to help her with some of the skills and understanding. The training bits with Meghan also have some comedy and adds to the whole film pulling away from the romance part to not focus too much on it. Its how the film overall strikes a decent balance between the training and the romance that makes it feel pretty fun to watch overall.

Perhaps calling Falling for Figaro a romantic comedy is stretching it a little since the romance is rather subtle and minimal overall. Its spaced out rather well and focuses more on the musical training element. Danielle MacDonald, Joanne Lumley and Hugh Skinner do make the film very fun to watch their entire dynamic both as mentors, friends and potential romance. Of course, the snarky inn owner (Gary Lewis) also adds to the comedy adding to the whole small-town charm much like the setting itself.

Double Feature: The F**k-It List (2020) & The Girl Next Door (2004)

The F**ck-It List (2020)

Director (and co-writer): Michael Duggan

Cast: Eli Brown, Madison Iseman, Marcus Scribner, Karan Brar, Tristan Lake Leabu, Jerry O’Connell, Satya Bhabha, Andrew Bachelor

After a prank blows up on a high school senior’s life, he shares a list of certain things he wishes he’d done differently. – IMDB

As we go through an array of teen films in the past month, I’ve come to the realization that a lot of the plot is pretty similar, mostly surrounding really academic-focused teens realizing that they should have done more upon reaching graduation. The F**k-It List takes it on the other side of the gender scope as we dive into a teenage boy and his friends endeavors when a prank literally does blow up his life which sends him into a spiral which blows him up on a social media level when he talks about his F**k-It List, which is pretty much a list of things he would’ve done but never did. This strong message inspires many to share their own lists and do some of the things, some good and some bad, of course. In many ways, the plot of the film is a good direction since it gives others courage to achieve those things they weren’t able to before but at the same time, the film takes the approach of making this specific teen’s journey a tad whiny and shallow at times. His journey does end on a rather positive note but the process of it feels really irresponsible, which probably was intentional as it was somewhat his way of “acting out” and adding in that coming of age element. The key of the whole plot being finding the balance in life between work and play.

The F**k-It List in all its glory is a bit meh. There are some decent feel-good moments. The soundtrack itself for a teen film is rather decent. The journey itself is a little been there done that but still makes for a good angle. The execution is where it feels a little boring at times. There’s a decent amount of time floating on a pool and pondering and some of the conversation feels a little tip-toeing around some issues that probably are usually talked about more openly. The world of teen films does revolve a lot around young female characters and their coming of age journey in a quick retrospective (or maybe its just me since those seem to hit higher popularity or on my radar more frequently) so this was a decent angle to approach especially watching what would happen to someone who has his life planned out optimally suddenly be hit with something that shatters everything.

The issue with The F**k-It List is essentially the main character himself. Its not really the actor Eli Brown’s issue since he seems to fit the role well enough but perhaps how his character is scripted. It felt like he transitioned into this when his plans went down rather quickly. There’s still conflict but it lacks something to the whole character development. He does play opposite Madison Iseman who seems to be popping up on my watchlist quite a bit the past month. Her character has a lot more conflict and offers another perspective to this whole “f**k-it list* concept.

The Girl Next Door (2004)

Director: Luke Greenfield

Cast: Emile Hirsch, Elisha Cuthbert, Christopher Rodriguez Marquette, Paul Dano, Timothy Olymphant, James Remar

A teenager’s dreams come true when a former porn star moves in next door and they fall in love. – IMDB

Its kind of surprising how long its taken for me to get around to watching The Girl Next Door mostly because upon the release of this film back in 2004, it was the talk among my high school crew as Elisha Cuthbert was also an alumni. Of course, she’s a few years older than myself so not really certain of who she is or what she did (or maybe I just don’t remember a conversation from almost 2 decades ago). But here we are! I finally got around to watching it! The Girl Next Door is pretty fun overall since the whole story has it fun parts of dating an ex-porn star and learning about reality and expectations. Nothing like a high school student having to rethink everything for love, right?

Looking at the overall cast, Elisha Cuthbert plays well into her role as Danielle, an ex-porn star that is house-sitting while trying to run away from her past and trying to start anew before it comes chasing her down. The running away does make for an encounter with her neighbor’s son Matthew (Emile Hirsch) who takes a peek at her changing from his bedroom window and eventually having a friendship and eventual romance. She breaks him out of his studious shell and pushes him to try more daring things in his high school life which he wasn’t able to do being scared of the consequences of his actions. Talking about that, the film does a really great job by creating those made-up moments play through in his head of the worst case scenario much like having best buddies who also are very much like him, one of them played by a young Paul Dano, who is extremely awkward. The film does shift its tone when the danger of Danielle’s past comes finding her in the form of a porn director played by Timothy Olymphant, taking the group to Las Vegas for an adventure. The

The execution of the film works really well also. The building of the relationship between Danielle and Matthew is played out well. The whole shift in tone to add danger to the situation also propels the film in another direction. There is a certain amount of absurdity to some of the scenes but it does add a decent humor to the whole film. Whether its creating the scene where Matthew imagines a lot of things or the crazy adventure that these boys probably would never do if they had it their own way, the film manages to be pretty fun in general. It all culminates to the final scene where they are trying create what seems like a porn video in school on prom night and trying to avoid the eyes of the principal and staff when things definitely take a fun twist for the big final reveal that actually is quite clever as it gives a nod back to something mentioned at the beginning.

Double Feature: Dude (2018) & Every Day (2018)

Dude (2018)

Director (and co-writer): Olivia Milch

Cast: Lucy Hale, Kathryn Prescott, Alexandra Shipp, Awkwafina, Alex Wolff, Brooke Smith, Jerry MacKinnon, Satya Bhabha

A group of teenage girlfriends deal with their impending graduation from high school. – IMDB

Dealing with high school seems like a central focus of coming of age stories as the next step in life triggers change and insecurities. Dude focuses strongly on its group of four girl friends as they face loss right before their final year. As they each have their own worries, they all individually make their own decisions even if it isn’t always in agreement with their group. Between getting ready for graduation, getting high together and planning out their next step for college, their last 2 weeks before graduation is one filled with both comedic and dramatic moments.

Girl friends stories are always quite endearing to watch. These four friends each have their own unique personality. Two of the girls are specifically focused with Lucy Hale’s Lily and Kathryn Prescott’s Chloe who share the same loss at the beginning which makes each of them cope in their different ways. The film does a good job at building their friendship where they go to events/parties/school together but gradually all have their own experiences which change each of them, giving them their individuality as well. Lily has her encounters which takes her aback while Chloe chooses to pivot her plans to be closer to home. All these things highlighting the process of moving on to the stage and accepting change and separation. In comparison, Alexandra Shipp’s Amelia and Awkwafina’s Rebecca both have rather one goal oriented, giving them a much simpler role but still they add some fun scenes.

Overall, Dude is a fairly basic coming of age teen comedy/drama. The issues they face are fairly relevant and believable and the characters are decent. If anything, the characters do make the film rather enjoyable. Plus, you even get to enjoy a verse or two from Awkwafina rapping. The writers remember that the film is about teenagers so there is a good balance between drama and fun.

Every Day (2018)

Director: Michael Sucsy

Cast: Angourie Rice, Justice Smith, Debby Ryan, Jeni Ross, Owen Teague, Lucas Jade Zumann, Katie Douglas, Jacob Batalon, Sean Jones, Nicole Law, Maria Bello

A shy teenager falls for a spirit who wakes up in the body of a different person every morning. – IMDB

Adapted from the young adult novel of the same name by David Levithan, Every Day stands out from its unique premise where a person “A” migrates through different bodies everyday of the same age. Despite this, they still find a girl Rhiannon (Angourie Rice) who is willing to love them for who they are, putting aside gender and appearances. The story itself feels relevant to today more than anything and tells a story about acceptance and love.

Every Day builds on this premise. The film’s focus in love and acceptance is due to this person’s personality or soul and their connection. Another side of this premise highlights all the different person exist within one community from homeschoolers to extremely religious student. While the story itself seems a little ahead of times for teenagers especially talking about romance in connections and such, the message here is pretty good. The whole body migrating mostly remain a mystery as they never quite figure out what it is however, there seems to be some control as they soon discover which also brings up the question of how unfair it is to take over someone’s life and make them lose out. The whole mystery of the situation also does lead to some unclear moments where A embodies the person but still manages to have their skills. Something that isn’t explored quite enough perhaps but then this is a teen romance drama and not some sci-fi or fantasy film.

The film itself works pretty well as the young cast delivers some good performances. The main constant being the female lead played by Angourie Rice as she faces this person and starts to accept him. Angourie Rice does a great job with the role at hand especially when faced with this odd person who morphs everyday. The conflict, the acceptance, the heartache is all well developed and portrayed by her. The cast which A migrates includes a handful of characters which have more screen time with Justice Smith, Owen Teague, and Lucas Jade Zumann. To be fair, the film itself does a decent job but while I haven’t read the source material, the premise itself has a lot to do with the intrigue. The execution is fairly well where credit is due but there are still parts that feel a tad disjointed.

Double Feature: 6 Years (2015) & All The Bright Places (2020)

6 Years (2015)

Director (and writer): Hannah Fidell

Cast: Taissa Farmiga, Ben Rosenfield, Lindsay Burdge, Joshua Leonard, Jennifer Lafleur, Peter Vack, Dana Wheeler- Nicholson, Molly McMichael, Alysia Lucas

A young couple, bound by a seemingly ideal love, begin to unravel as unexpected opportunities spin them down a volatile and violent path and threaten the future they had always imagined. – IMDB

6 Years is a familiar story about young romance. One that talks about about a lengthy young romance that’s been around for years with plans of their future that suddenly get shifted when their future plans take on the unexpected changes because of new opportunities. Do they continue or do they end it? That is the main question these movies take its audience on.

Front and center for this film is Mel and Dan who start the film off in a hot and heavy sex scene. Its a unique way to start it as it does show off their intimacy together. However, the film actually sets them apart a lot of the times to interact with their new circle of friends or their work environment as they start stepping into the young adult path into their new career paths. Mel’s friends are still about getting drunk and immature about their decisions, giving a glimpse of the younger age and the people she hangs out with that also makes for some bad decision-making. However, Dan is different. He feels more settled and grounded and just waiting for his turn to grow in his career and making the connections he needs by associating with work friends. As the film puts them in their own social environment and not so much involved in each other’s social environment, the insecurity also sets in, especially for Mel who starts to react both emotionally and aggressively. The film doesn’t take it too far but the hints of the changes in the essence of their relationship is there.

With that said, the film is mostly about these two characters played by Taissa Farmiga and Ben Rosenfield. Each doing a rather decent job at handling their roles respectively as they spiral away. Perhaps, some of the issues is mostly with the script as some of the dialogue feels rather annoying, no matter the scenario of Mel with her friends or Dan with his friends in the social environment. No one in this film other than them seems to believe that a 6 year relationship at their age would work and with all that negative force, its hard to not have some doubt planted in it. But then, when you think deeper, this also does bring up the issues that have been hidden from the comfort of having each other in their lives.

6 Years is a pretty basic film and whether you connect to the story itself and the content will probably determine how much you enjoy it in the end. These characters have their certain level of depths. The film does lack a little progress in general and makes some strong scenes to instigate those changes. However, the dialogue sometimes does get a little grating and annoying in parts. It does feel rather real and raw in some cases where the doubt does feel reasonable because their plans were made with stability and belief that there won’t be any change to their current situation, which also shows their naivety to real life. That is what brings these character to life and what makes this film an interesting one in terms of the material but lacks a little in the execution of the material to make it completely engaging with the whole situation.

All The Bright Places (2020)

Director: Brett Haley

Cast: Elle Fanning, Justice Smith, Alexandra Shipp, Kelli O’Hara, Lamar Johnson, Virginia Gardner, Felix Mallard, Sofia Hasmik, Keegan-Michael Key, Luke Wilson, Chris Grace

The story of Violet and Theodore, who meet and change each other’s lives forever. As they struggle with the emotional and physical scars of their past, they discover that even the smallest places and moments can mean something. – IMDB

*Published in Friday Film Club HERE*

Adapted from a novel of the same name by Jennifer Niven (review) who also co-writes the adapted screenplay, All The Bright Places tells the story of two teenagers, Violet and Finch who are both living unhappily for their own reasons. Violet is living with survivor guilt after her sister’s death which gives her a fear of cars and limits her to things that she finds are safe. Finch is a little more obscure as he is having consulting sessions at school with the counselor after an incident and is considered a freak by other students. When they work together on a project to wander the town, Finch takes Violet to a lot of adventures that slowly pulls her out of her sadness but slowly he retreats into his own darkness and struggles to get out from it. 

While its been a few years since I’ve read the novel itself, the adaptation does have some differences from the novel but does keep it in the important parts to make it the story effective. One of the key elements of the story is between the two main characters Violet and Finch and in turn their portrayal by the two main leads, Elle Fanning and Justice Smith. These two young actor and actress do capture their roles really well especially since they each have their own struggles. Justice Smith having the more obscure and complex one which never truly gets addressed as to what he has but his struggles from past to present is constantly shown in little details on screen. However, the film is only about these moments but rather it spends much of the time with Finch helping Violet find her happiness and smile again to break free of her own guilt and in turn, their adventures while rather insignificant at the beginning, each has their own meaning.

All The Bright Places has a very strong source material to begin with and a rather surprising ending when Finch gets a much more dramatic turn of events in its set up in comparison to the film. However, the film does capture the essence of the story in general which focuses on the neglect, ignorance, unknowns as well as struggles with mental illness in general and how Finch’s character is trapped in something he doesn’t quite understand but no one seems to notice that he needs the help either.

All The Bright Places might look like a teen romance that can just be brushed over but while there is some romance between Finch and Violet, the story is much more meaningful and has a lot of depth for what its trying to portray. Plus, Elle Fanning and Justice Smith does deliver some solid performances to capture these two teens very well from start to finish to truly feel their mental transition in both Violet and Finch right down to a very touching speech with Violet recapping the lessons she learned from the whole experience with Finch.