OUTtakes: May 9, 2014

This week in OUTtakes, we take a look at the first big comedy of the summer, Neighbors, plus a pair of smaller releases – one with a lot of appeal, the other with almost none.


Seth Rogen, Zac Efron and Rose Byrne lead the cast of Neighbors, a comedy about a young couple suffering from arrested development who are forced to live next to a fraternity house after the birth of their newborn baby.

My Thoughts: Yes, Zac Efron looks like someone a gay guy would create in a laboratory. I mean, obviously. But beyond that, Efron displays a sense of humor and a vulnerability that has been lacking in his major roles to date. That’s the most welcome news out of a lot of positive notes I have on the cast of Neighbors. Following up, there’s Seth Rogen’s role as a father to a newborn. He’s done this before, in a way; his breakout role in Knocked Up was also a new father by the end. Neighbors, though, shows how Rogen has actually grown as an actor and a performer in general since Knocked Up‘s release. As his wife, Rose Byrne shows a lot of the comedic promise she first displayed with Bridesmaids. Given the film’s focus on Rogen and Efron, Byrne is not only able to keep up; she surpasses them plenty of times during the film.

As far as the rest of the film goes, it’s easily one of the funniest comedies from a major studio that I’ve seen in the past few years. A lot of that can be attributed to its runtime. Rather than going for the 2+ hour runtime that a lot of comedies in the Apatow vein attempt, Neighbors clocks in under 100 minutes. Instead of milking every possible joke (though there is an extended scene involving milking that’s played for laughs), the film moves along at a brisk enough pace to benefit the film as a whole. It’s a smart move that pays off. What also pays off is how the film steers clear of stereotypes. The older couple aren’t that much older, and in some cases are about as irresponsible as their frat neighbors. The frat members, meanwhile, are more complex than your standard partiers.


Belle is inspired by the true story of Dido Elizabeth Belle (Gugu Mbatha-Raw), the illegitimate mixed race daughter of Admiral Sir John Lindsay (Matthew Goode). Raised by her aristocratic great-uncle Lord Mansfield (Tom Wilkinson) and his wife (Emily Watson), Belle’s lineage affords her certain privileges, yet her status prevents her from the traditions of noble social standing. While her cousin Elizabeth (Sarah Gadon) chases suitors for marriage, Belle is left on the sidelines wondering if she will ever find love. After meeting an idealistic young vicar’s son bent on changing society, he and Belle help shape Lord Mansfield’s role as Lord Chief Justice to end slavery in England.

My Thoughts: I’ve been looking forward to this film since I first saw the trailer last year, and there’s one reason for that: Gugu Mbatha-Raw. I was a fan of hers during her time on the J.J. Abrams series Undercovers, and I’m surprised that it’s taken this long for someone to put her into a lead film role. She doesn’t disappoint here. What could very easily have been a stuffy period piece is enlivened by Mbatha-Raw’s spirited performance.

Of course, it helps to have an interesting story, and Belle has one. Where the film loses points, though, is the whole “based on a true story” line, since the film’s storyline mixes its historical record around to create a very specific story. The outcome of the film doesn’t exactly match reality. Not even close. It’s disappointing, but the truth would have made for a far less interesting – and certainly far less feel-good – final product.

Moms’ Night Out

All Allyson and her friends want is a peaceful, grown-up evening of dinner and conversation… a long-needed moms’ night out. But in order to enjoy high heels, adult conversation and food not served in a paper bag, they need their husbands to watch the kids for three hours—what could go wrong?

My Thoughts: Where to begin with this one…

First, some autobiographical information to explain my train of thought. I was raised Southern Baptist, so I’m familiar with films targeted for Christian audiences. “The Message” comes first, everything else follows (or doesn’t). The problem with that method is that sometimes the other goals of the film fail to connect, but the film is supported within the community because of “The Message.” Having grown up and largely rejected the way I was brought up, I have an aversion to faith-based films of this sort. Because of that, I generally try to avoid them, because they aren’t fun for me, and I know that my thoughts are going to skew a certain way.

So why am I reviewing Moms’ Night Out? One reason: I wasn’t aware until I started watching the film.

I’ll admit, when I prepare to watch a film screener, I try to know something about the film before I watch it, even if it’s a general one-to-three line synopsis. I did that for this film, and nowhere did I see a reference to anything that tipped me off. It wasn’t until I started the film, and the TriStar logo was quickly followed by several studios with names that sounded like Christian film studios, that my suspicions were raised.

Sure enough, it’s a film that fits the model I described up top. It’s a faith-based, “family-friendly” film with a message that is technically a comedy, but only in the loosest sense. It’s not actually funny. It’s “clean”-funny, and while there’s nothing wrong with that necessarily, this is the weak version of it. It’s tame to the point of causing a cure for insomnia. It’s also rather sexist in its emphasis on gender roles. In this film’s view, women should be content being good mothers, and men aren’t to be trusted for even a few hours to take care of children. As for “The Message”? It seems crudely taped onto the script in some parts. It’s not there until it is, and a few minutes of heavy sermonizing will take place before we’re back to the “laughs” the film thinks it has. It’s weak even in its main goal.


Also in Theaters

Fed Up

For the past 30 years, everything we thought we knew about food and exercise is dead wrong. Fed Up is the film the food industry doesn’t want you to see. From Katie Couric, Laurie David (Oscar winning producer of An Inconvenient Truth) and director Stephanie Soechtig, Fed Up will change the way you eat forever.

Legends of Oz: Dorothy’s Return

Legends of Oz: Dorothy’s Return is a 3D-animated musical based on the adventure books by Roger Stanton Baum, the great-grandson of L. Frank Baum. A continuation of one of the world’s most popular and beloved fairy tales, Legends of Oz finds Dorothy (Lea Michele) waking to post-tornado Kansas, only to be whisked back to Oz to try to save her old friends the Scarecrow (Dan Aykroyd), the Lion (Jim Belushi), the Tin Man (Kelsey Grammer) and Glinda (Bernadette Peters) from a devious new villain, theJester (Martin Short). Wiser the owl (Oliver Platt), Marshal Mallow (Hugh Dancy), China Princess (Megan Hilty) and Tugg the tugboat (Patrick Stewart) join Dorothy on her latest magical journey through the colorful landscape of Oz to restore order and happiness to Emerald City. Set to the tunes of Academy Award-nominated singer/songwriter Bryan Adams, Legends of Oz marks a charming, family-friendly return to the Oz franchise. 


Ivan Locke (Hardy) has worked diligently to craft the life he has envisioned, dedicating himself to the job that he loves and the family he adores. On the eve of the biggest challenge of his career, Ivan receives a phone call that sets in motion a series of events that will unravel his family, job, and soul. All taking place over the course of one absolutely riveting car ride, Locke is an exploration of how one decision can lead to the complete collapse of a life. Directed by acclaimed filmmaker Steven Knight (Eastern Promises, Dirty Pretty Things) and driven by an unforgettable performance by Tom Hardy, Locke is a thrillingly unique cinematic experience of a man fighting to salvage all that is important to him.


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