EIFF 2014: We’ll Never Have Paris 0 24

eiff-2014-well-never-have-paris

Closing out this year’s Edinburgh International Film Festival in considerably polar opposite and lighter fashion than the opening film Hyena, We’ll Never Have Paris is co-directed and written by Simon Heldberg, most known for his role on TV’s The Big Bang Theory, and it proves a perfectly watchable and charming, if somewhat unmemorable, choice on which to end the festival.

The plot follows Quinn (Heldberg), a neurotic florist in his late ’20s who has been with the same woman for 10 years. Just as he decides to pop the question to girlfriend Devon (Melanie Lynskey), his co-worker Kelsey (Maggie Grace) professes her romantic feelings for him and he starts to have doubts about settling down after only being with one woman. Impulsively deciding to leave Devon for a more exciting life with Kelsey, he immediately regrets the decision and runs back to Devon but admits his interim infidelities. Extremely hurt, Devon goes off to Paris and Quinn is left pining after her, with only his friend Jameson (Zachary Quinto) to talk to and take advice from.

The film begins by telling us that “This is based on a true story. Unfortunately,” and what proceeds is a sitcom-esque series of relationship mishaps and mistakes, mostly perpetuated by our bumbling and narcissistic protagonist. Some of them are pretty effective for what they’re aiming to be, delivering some fittingly awkward encounters as Quinn struggles between following his heart and wanting to live life to the fullest. It tries its best from the outset to be like Woody Allen and every fibre of its being throughout stretches to capture the chatty narcissism and light-hearted charm of the incomparable director’s comedic work, namely Annie Hall. It doesn’t quite get to that level, not even close actually, and has a distinctive whiff of Diet Allen about it.

How much you connect to and believe in the film will largely come down to how sufferable you find the lead character as well as how much leeway you’re willing to give the various interactions. On paper Quinn is an unlikeable and selfish idiot who doesn’t deserve to be with the inexplicably loyal Devon and his repeated relationship faux pas sometimes seem forced rather than realistic in the way the “based on a true story” notice at the beginning suggests. It’s mostly down to the performances, then, by Heldberg and Lynskey that the film just about works. However fussy and stupid Quinn acts, Heldberg has an inherent likeability about him and to his credit he gives the role his all to sell it. Lynskey is laid back and charming, bringing the sense and sensibility to this mis-matched, on-off couple.

The same can’t be said for some of the supporting cast, not so much in their performances which are perfectly fine but how their characters are drawn. Grace is two-dimensional in the extreme, fulfilling the role of the good-looking girl who unaccountably becomes obsessed with a bumbling neurotic in a side plot that comes off as self-aggrandizing on behalf of Heldberg more than anything else. While Quinto’s best friend character Jameson simply makes no sense, a privileged know-it-all who appears to simply live off exotic vegetable drinks and doesn’t care when he loses $1000 when gambling online, merely there as a sounding board for Quinn’s complaints and ramblings. It’s a prime example of how the film features caricatures rather than actual fully fleshed characters.

We’ll Never Have Paris is a deeply flawed and entirely been-there-done-that romantic comedy, derivative of Woody Allen and a million other knowing films of years past. Nevertheless there is a charm, however, slight to it that makes it an affable watch. It’s just about enough to recommend it for fans of breezy rom-coms that thrive on amiability, even if it doesn’t tell us anything particularly new about men, women or the relationships between them.

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I'm a freelance film reviewer and blogger with over 10 years of experience writing for various different reputable online and print publications. In addition to my running, editing and writing for Thoughts On Film, I am also the film critic for The National, the newspaper that supports an independent Scotland, covering the weekly film releases, film festivals and film-related features. I have a passion for all types of cinema, and have a particular love for foreign language film, especially South Korean and Japanese cinema. Favourite films include The Big Lebowski, Pulp Fiction and 2001: A Space Odyssey.

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Movie Review: Home Again 0 203

This review was previously published at The National.

Despite an obviously talented leading lady in Reese Witherspoon and a family pedigree behind the camera in making this sort of rom-com flutter sweetly off the screen, Home Again struggles to finds its way out of cloying cliché and narrative contrivance.

This is the directorial debut of Hallie Myers-Shyer, daughter of genre stalwart Nancy Meyers (The Holiday, What Women Want). It focuses on the life of Alice Kinney (Witherspoon), a single mum who has just turned 40 and tries her best to raise her two daughters Isabel (Lola Flanery) and Rosie (Eden Grace Redfield) in Los Angeles with her job as an interior decorator.

Freshly separated from her British music mogul husband Austen (Michael Sheen), she embarks on a drunken birthday night celebration that leads to her meeting a trio of 20-something lads – Harry (Pico Alexander), George (Jon Rudnitsky) and Teddy (Nat Wolff) – who are trying their best to break into the Hollywood movie business.

The young men improbably end up staying in Alice’s guest house while they work on finishing the script for their first film. Before long they become an integral part of her life, from Alice embarking on a romantic relationship with Harry to George helping out Isabel with her school play. To quote the title of the director’s mother’s 2009 film – it’s complicated.

Except the film mistakes the kind of enjoyably frothy complexity exemplified by the best of the genre for skin-clawing convolution that renders much of the romantic and comedically-tinged drama of Alice’s life lacking in authenticity. Not that it needs the ring of truth that comes with, say, a Ken Loach picture but you need to be able to invest and believe in these characters’ lives as presented.

The approach to gender and generational relationships is simplistic which, of course, is nothing new to a genre that, at least in its Hollywoodized state, so often throws up films meant to be taken as easy-going fluff. But it’s particularly frustrating here when it squanders the potential thrown up with the initial concept of a woman trying to find herself again once she’s out of a stale relationship by entering into one with a much younger man.

It strangely seems far more interested in the plight of the three young men working as three cogs of one creative machine – director/producer, writer and actor – to get ahead in the movie business.  But even then it smacks of implausibility, like a cheap rom-com version of the bromance found in Entourage but without any of the snarky wit or Hollywood satire. Despite decent chemistry between a likeable assembled cast, Home Again is a tough pill to swallow as it rings false through and through.

3.5 out of 10

Movie Review: Goodbye Christopher Robin 0 227

This review was previously published at The National.

The world of celebrated children’s author A. A. Milne and the creation of his beloved Winnie the Pooh stories are chronicled in this frightfully polite biopic from director Simon Curtis (My Week with Marilyn) that flirts with dipping its toes into darker waters but steadfastly clings to safe tropes and always with its top button firmly fastened.

We start off in 1941 where we find an ageing Milne (Domhnall Gleeson in questionable make-up and greyed hair) and his wife Daphne (Margot Robbie) living on their secluded East Sussex farm. They receive a telegram informing them that their son, C.R. Milne, is missing presumed dead after heading off to fight in World War Two.

We then jump back in time to Milne on the front lines of the First World War. He returns from the fighting a changed man; suffering from PTSD (popped balloons evoking sudden gunfire et al.), becoming increasingly sick of just making people laugh with his West End plays and the general hustle-bustle that comes with big city life.

He convinces his reluctant wife to move to the country for some peace and quiet and where his infant son, Christopher Robin (played by Will Tilston at the younger age, Alex Lawther as he gets older), can go on the childhood adventures he deserves with the support of loving nanny Olive (Kelly Macdonald).

Settling into the kind of serene life he craves, he is inspired to create Winnie the Pooh and the rest of his soon-to-be-beloved friends inspired by the stuffed animals with which his young son has become so enamoured. Unfortunately for Christopher – referred to by everyone as “Billy Moon” – his father uses his real name in the stories, turning him into one of the most famous boys in the nation.

Despite the obvious attraction of it exploring the world famous Pooh stories, it’s a film much more interested in the effect it has on a fractured family clinging on to peacefulness, not least the unwanted attention thrust upon a young boy who simply isn’t equipped to handle it and how his parents carry on oblivious.

If anything it takes a curiously bleak outlook on what these stories mean to the world once they’ve been put out there, conveying a somewhat confusing message for a film that ultimately wants us to celebrate these stories as immortally cherished tales; that the Winnie the Pooh embraced immediately by the public and has now stood the test of time for almost a century is in some way missing the point of what it truly means to the author and a son who, inadvertently or not, was used as a tool of innocence to sell the idea of an idyllic childhood in Milne’s Hundred Acre Wood.

It’s bolstered by almost uniformly moving performances; Gleeson plays Milne with a kind of damaged empathy that makes you feel like you get to know the author beyond the public persona. Macdonald is oftentimes heart-breaking as Christopher’s devoted caregiver and Tilston walks away with the film as the adorably sweet-natured young Christopher. It’s only with Robbie that the film makes a misstep; she’s miscast as Milne’s wife and never stepping out of the shadow of cold motherly cliché.

In spite of its darker leanings, the film remains too buttoned up to properly wrestle with those themes in any sort of lasting way, far too polite to ever dive head first into the murky waters into which the drama intermittently peers.

Wrapped in Ben Smithard’s handsomely old-fashioned cinematography and soaked in Carter Burwell’s perpetually swelling score, it’s an aesthetically and emotionally appealing but nevertheless fairly vanilla period biopic best suited to being enjoyed on a rainy Sunday afternoon with tea and biscuits.

6.5 out of 10