There is a low-level yet also kind of crazy rumble of movie activity happening below the mega-release of Thor this weekend. Thor is the designated Marvel summer kickoff movie, although some of its proverbial thunder was stolen by Fast Five‘s summer-sized opening last weekend, which the Alien-God of Whatever is unlikely to match. Iron Man wasn’t all that well-known either, of course, but being played by Robert Downey allowed the filmmakers to cut some funny, exciting trailers, whereas Thor is played by more of a generic himbo (albeit, like most superheroes these days, a British one) and looks more like the second-tier operation a Thor movie would probably have to be. Still, even the second-tier Marvel movies these days attract Natalie Portman, Kat Dennings, Anthony Hopkins, and disgraced former auteur Kenneth Branagh behind the camera. It all looks pretty silly, but if Branagh can make a more enjoyable second-tier Marvel movie than Fantastic Four or Ghost Rider, it could be good summer fun, and if he can’t, we will cast him out for his arrogance.
The first round of Thor counterprogramming makes sense: girl movies, y’all! For Hollywood, “girl movies” means “movies about weddings,” and two are paired for this weekend: Something Borrowed (for the white girls!) and Jumping the Broom (for the black ladies!). As a white dude who does not categorically object to movies about weddings but would rather watch Bridesmaids, I went into both Borrowed and Broom hoping for the best. Both premises have been well-worn by other movies targeting these audiences: Something Borrowed addresses important issues like being single at thirty, toxic self-centeredness, and Taking Chances, while Jumping the Broom offers the observation that sometimes two people from different economic backgrounds may have families that clash over various aspects of a wedding.
Actually, Jumping the Broom only pretends to offer that observation, which is disappointing because it has a game ensemble cast led by the charming Paula Patton. Jumping the Broom is actually about how God has a plan for us all; it was produced by pastor T.D. Jakes, and the religious material isn’t inherently offensive or pandering so much as it is clumsily integrated with, and vaguely counter to, the material that might actually make the movie interesting. The scenes where familial conflict emerges from the way that the groom’s mother (Loretta Devine) bristles at the upper-class pretensions of the bride’s parents (Angela Bassett and Brian Stokes Mitchell) have some snap, especially with seasoned scene-stealer Mike Epps cracking relaxed jokes from the sidelines. But the movie doesn’t consider this tension enough, and gussies it up with plenty of soap bubbles. All the while, Patton’s weird insistence that she can’t sleep with her husband until the wedding night meets with only cursory objection (and seems at odds with her apparently enlightened-intellectual upbringing). You expect that a movie like Jumping the Broom will probably end with everyone getting along, but it’s a shame that it takes God’s Plans to get there.
While Jumping the Broom fumbles some of its attempts at class-consciousness, it at least raises the issue and includes a token white lady, played with some charm by Modern Family‘s Julie Bowen. Something Borrowed, on the other hand, imagines a New York City so privileged and monoracial that even the sitcommy wisecracking cab drivers are white. Despite this scary idea of what fairy-tale New York might look like (although: like my dream version of New York, everyone does go to Shake Shack constantly), Something Borrowed is a marginally better movie, if only because director Luke Greenfield doesn’t make many visual flubs, and Ginnifer Goodwin is even more charming than Paula Patton. Goodwin plays a long-time good girl who winds up in an affair with the fiancé of her best friend Darcy (Kate Hudson)—a surprisingly serious-minded and sticky development for a movie that takes place in the run-up to a wedding, that time most fraught with absolutely inconsequential bullshit (at least in movies). Hudson has fun playing the toxic party girl; maybe too much fun, as if she doesn’t believe the audience will understand that she’s playing kind of a bad person unless she pushes it really hard. Strangely, the movie makes no such assumptions about Goodwin; she’s innately likable (and funnier than this movie lets her be), yet the screenplay keeps contriving additional reasons why her affair may not be a horrible decision. Pretty much just having Goodwin engage in bad behavior is enough to make it somewhat palatable, but the movie keeps chasing likability it doesn’t need. Goodwin and the movie’s lack of sitcom lighting keep Something Borrowed more watchable than any number of its frothier sisters in a degraded genre, but that only makes its wan mushiness more disappointing.
Once again, romcom viewers are required to please avoid asking: what exactly do these girls see in these guys? What Broom and Borrowed have in common, apart from a failure to fully engage their most interesting material, is that they both feature male leads (Laz Alonso in Broom and Colin Egglesfield in Borrowed) who appear to be on the verge of physical illness for much of the running time. I probably looked happier during the running time of both movies than either of these dudes, and I wasn’t even enjoying the movies that much.
Those are the movies most of the country will have to choose from this weekend (I guess that makes Thor a force of unity… between white dudes and black dudes who do not want to see any damn wedding movies). But here in New York, indie movies are getting unloaded like it’s garbage day. I’m not sure if this is a race to be the first art-house hit of the summer or just an easy way to sacrifice your contractually obligated theatrical release as efficiently as possible, but most of these releases seem like the latter, even when they also look interesting. The maybe-prestige item among the five Amerindies coming to various NYC screens this weekend is The Beaver, the long-delayed Jodie Foster film starring Mel Gibson as a deeply depressed guy who uses a beaver puppet, rather than hateful invective, to deal with his problems. Benjamin Mercer has the L Mag review, which makes it sound as hit-and-missy as the trailer looks.
But Gibson and Foster aren’t the only stars going out in limited release this weekend; they’re just the only ones who might expand out to a wider release down the line. Elsewhere, a crop of movies getting cursory releases either prior to a quick DVD release or concurrent with an On Demand run.
The most obscure of these might be An Invisible Sign, which has been available via On Demand for the past month but gets a couple of showtimes at the IFC Center this weekend. Full disclosure: I’ve been wondering when this movie would turn up because it’s based on one of my favorite recent-ish novels, Aimee Bender’s An Invisible Sign of My Own. Ben Sutton’s review is one of the only I’ve read, and it makes it sound as if Bender’s off-kilter ideas don’t necessarily translate to film, or at least have been translated by bringing out whimsy and squishiness that seem sadder, stranger, and more interesting on the page. Nonetheless, I’ll be arranging to see it at IFC this weekend, because someone made an Aimee Bender book into a movie and I must see that properly.
The rest of this weekend’s movies are practically begging not to be seen theatrically. The most immediately accessible (apart from Invisible Sign) is Last Night, which played the Tribeca Film Festival, among others, and can be rented on Amazon at the moment, and should be on DVD shortly. An infidelity drama with Keira Knightley, Sam Worthington, and Eva Mendes, it is hitting the Clearview Chelsea and the Angelika (!) this weekend; reviews haven’t been bad (although if they had been all that good, it would’ve come out a lot earlier), and hey, it sounds physically attractive, right?
Daydream Nation will hit DVD on May 17th. Its official site claims that it will hit the Village East in Manhattan this weekend, although it’s not yet listed in Google Movies. I would’ve been all about seeing this movie, which I’ve heard described as sort of a darker, weirder, more poetically inclined version of Easy A, but it’s looking tricky to find, and I agreed to review the DVD for PopMatters later in the month. Intrepid Kat Dennings fans looking for a double feature may or may not be out of luck.
Intrepid Mickey Rourke, Bill Murray, and Megan Fox fans may be out of luck regardless of whether they’re able to see Passion Play, which comes to DVD on May 31st but first makes a pit stop at the Quad. Rourke plays a jazz musician who tries to save some kind of a fallen angel (Fox, naturally) from, I assume, Bill Murray’s character from Mad Dog and Glory. Just kidding: no way will this movie be as good as Mad Dog and Glory! It does sound like a worthwhile curiosity [No it doesn't—not even Mickey Rourke likes this movie, apparently. -Ed.]. I still have a student ID; can I get a discount at the Quad? Can I just get a discount for agreeing to see this movie at all?
Finally, if you’d really rather watch Ruger Hauer than any manner of current movie star, Hobo with a Shotgun is playing the Village East; maybe it blasted out Daydream Nation at the last minute. It’s also available On Demand, but it sounds like the kind of exploitation tribute that should be seen in a real theater; I can testify that the Village East is in suitably ill repair to complete the experience.
Worry not: the indie dumptruck doesn’t stop there: Will Ferrell, Natalie Portman, and Joseph Gordon-Levitt will be around for next week’s crop of long-delayed festival-skulkers that got picked up at the last minute.