Review: Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs

Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs (2009)
Voices of Bill Hader, Anna Faris, Neil Patrick Harris, Benjamin Bratt, Bruce Campbell, Andy Samberg, James Caan, Mr. T, and Lauren Graham. Written by Phil Lord and Christopher Miller (based on a book by Judi and Ron Barrett). Directed by Phil Lord and Christopher Miller.

cloudy3aCloudy with a Chance of Meatballs might be the funniest movie I’ve seen this century. I have now seen it three times, and I keep finding new things to laugh about. It’s cute, smart, and clever, and its animation is sneaky terrific. It has that shiny surface a lot of recent 3D animation has, but it manages not to have just one look, at times looking like a box of Skittles and at others like a postcard from somewhere with foggy moors. I’m not exactly sure what a moor is, but I imagine a lot of damp greys.

cloudy2Like the earliest Pixar films, this picture by Sony Animation seems to be driven by a creative force that says, “What can we do that nobody’s ever done before?” This spirit permeates the animation, story, dialogue, and voice acting, as if every decision was made by a refusal to do what every audience has come to expect from any other film, or (at some of its funniest moments) doing exactly what other films do, but exaggerating them to the point of ridicule. You know those ten million other movies where a nerdy girl takes off her glasses and is suddenly stunning?  The writers in this movie do something different with that idiotic motif that makes me want to hug them.  Meatballs raining from the sky are really the least surprising thing about the movie.

The meatballs fall from the sky because Flint Lockwood, a young genius inventor, has created a machine that turns water into food. His town on a small island in the Atlantic has seen rough times after the collapse of its one-strong sardine industry. Now, since the world doesn’t like sardines anymore, the locals are forced to eat them for every meal. Flint’s idea could turn things around for his community. But as with all his inventions, something goes wrong. Unlike his previous foul-ups, this one seems pretty great. Food falls from the sky, delighting the locals and drawing the attention of a national weather channel, who sends its newest intern, Samantha Sparks, to cover the story. When things get out of hand, it’s up to Flint to save not only his town, but the whole world. He’s joined by Samantha, her cameraman, a pet monkey named Steve, and a grown man in a diaper.

cloudy1The first half of this movie is hilarious, especially for those who appreciate a clever sight gag or bit of playful dialogue. It rewards multiple viewings because there’s so much interesting stuff packed into visual and verbal presentation. I love how it doesn’t take very long to set up and gets right into the heart of the story. The second half is a bit on the wild action-adventure side, something that doesn’t thrill me much, but even in the middle of crazy stunts and heroic sequences, there is a clever, creative touch.

It’s a very good film. I wouldn’t put it up there with the greats because it either shoots for the heart and is off by a little, or it never really wants to go there. Not every animated movie can be Beauty and the Beast, and that’s okay. It’s more than enough as an exercise in super-creative silliness, and it is the first movie to make me regret not seeing it in 3D on a big screen. I’m probably going to have to buy this.

8/10
87/100

Review: Trainwreck

Trainwreck (2015)
Amy Schumer, Bill Hader, LeBron James, Brie Larson, Colin Quinn, Vanessa Bayer, Tilda Swinton, Randall Park. Written by Amy Schumer; directed by Judd Apatow.

trainAmy is a writer for a Maxim-like magazine, and because she hates sports, her editor assigns her to a story about a very successful surgeon who specializes in sports-related leg injuries. The surgeon’s name is Aaron, and he’s so good at what he does that his patients, including LeBron James, become his friends, and he is greeted at Knicks games by all the players. He’s clearly a really nice guy, but he doesn’t seem to have much time or energy for dating. Amy has her own issues: at a very young age, her parents divorced, her father explaining to Amy and her sister Kim that the reason for the divorce is that monogamy doesn’t work. Amy takes it to heart, and although as a grown-up she has a steady boyfriend (a cartoonishly hilarious John Cena as a musclebound meathead), the relationship is open, and Amy has an active and varied sex life.

Amy gets to know Aaron while interviewing him for the article, and while Aaron seems to see in her the woman he’s always wanted, Amy seems to view him as a sex partner she also likes hanging out with. The self-destructive lifestyle she’s curated for herself makes it impossible for her to accept a truly loving relationship, but she can’t help the growing feelings she has.

wreckAmy Schumer (the actor, not the character) is one of the most important voices in comedy these past few years, a feminist voice that plays by her own rules while working within a male-dominated profession. I say this with no irony or hyperbole: Amy Schumer is the emerging Taylor Swift of comedy. She challenges expectations, calls out hypocrisy, and repeatedly zigs when even her closest observers think she’s going to zag. It says something that this is the first film directed by Judd Apatow that he did not at least co-write. Today’s leading director of comic film broke character in deciding to work with her.

Yet Schumer and Apatow seem to favor the same aesthetic: each of them is clever and crass in a way that has you looking over your shoulder to see if your parents or kids are within earshot because what you just heard was filthy, but the creative raunchiness is really just a different palate of colors for a story that pretty much stays in the lines. Sometimes it works really, really well, as with The 40-Year-Old Virgin and Knocked Up, but usually, as with This is 40 and, alas, Trainwreck, it feels a little empty and unsatisfying. Despite some really excellent pieces and some creative moments, Trainwreck doesn’t earn its emotional payoff honestly. Scenes with Amy’s father (Colin Quinn) and sister (Brie Larson) are well done and quite moving, but the film expects that to carry over to the romantic storyline, and it simply doesn’t.

We want Amy and Aaron to connect in a meaningful, lasting way, but how and why they do is never satisfactorily established, and that can mean everything in a romantic comedy. It’s a genre that is largely connect-the-dots, but if that last dot isn’t earned, it doesn’t matter that the final picture is a duck: it’s a dishonest duck, a duck that’s never earned.

Apatow has a habit of working with combinations of the same people from movie to movie, which bodes well for future projects. Another shot with the same cast and writer could be brilliant, even groundbreaking, and Schumer is a perfect candidate to make that happen. I want to see more of the thinking that birthed an intervention involving Chris Evert, Matthew Broderick, LeBron James, and Marv Albert, because that’s a hilarious concept. But man, it takes a lot to pull that off and tell a good story, and Trainwreck, while interesting and entertaining, doesn’t quite do that.

65/100
6/10