"Shithouse," "The Old Guard" and "What If" are this week's selections.
In the wake of a month of Cringe Blog and a very normal and calm first week of November, I'm gifting you not two, but three recommendations for your weekend binge. And no pesky round-up to scroll past, either. How nice am I?
(In reality, there just wasn't that much industry news this week. Don't tell anyone.)
Prime Video, rated R, 100 minutes
The movie I wish had existed when I was a freshman in college, "Shithouse" — a terrible name for this movie, not only because it will turn certain people off on principle but also because the titular house is the location of a single scene early in the movie and is never mentioned again — is proof that quote-unquote nice guys often have some growing up to do, too.
Written and directed by one of its stars, Cooper Raiff, "Shithouse" is a personal movie about what people actually mean when they say college is a time to find yourself. It's a story told over just a few days, when freshman Alex (Raiff) is struggling to adjust to his new home away from his family. He's putting on a happy face, but he's having trouble making friends, mostly because he's not trying. But Alex can't see that; he'd rather believe college sucks and wallow in his own misery, having late-night heart-to-hearts with a stuffed animal instead of partying with his roommate Sam (Logan Miller). His mindset begins to change when he meets Maggie (Dylan Gelula), his sophomore resident assistant who lives to the fullest — sometimes at the expense of others' feelings.
In a Linklater-like story, the two spend an evening or two challenging each other's world views while also bringing out the best (and worst) in each other. Raiff and Gelula's chemistry is more than believable, beginning with an awkward meet-cute before blooming into snappy tête-à-tête. At times it's funny, at times emotional, and at times you'll be unable to look at the screen out of secondhand awkwardness. (Maybe that last one's just me; a few scenes hit pretty close to home.)
It's great, I promise, and is a clear sign that Raiff is a name to remember as a filmmaker.
Just ignore the title.
"The Old Guard" (2020)
Netflix, rated R, 124 minutes
There's no way that Gina Prince-Bythewood, director of "The Old Guard," knew what would await humanity in 2020, but it sure seems like she did.
Prince-Bythewood's film is all about reasons to stay alive, to keep fighting when giving up would be a hell of a lot easier. Andy (Charlize Theron), in particular, wrestles with this dilemma. She's immortal, a power she gained when she was killed and simply didn't die, healing instead. In one of the film's genius maneuvers, it doesn't worry too much about explaining the whys and hows of immortality. It's just something that happened to Andy and a handful of others over the course of thousands of years. These immortals are connected by visions of one another, which they use as a type of GPS. They find each other, making sure no one goes through live confused and alone. But their gift doesn't last forever; at a certain point, their healing powers will cease to work, and there's no way of knowing when or why. They only know it can happen because it has happened before; there's no science to immortality.
Andy (short for Andromache of Scythia) doesn't remember her exact age, but she's thousands of years old, at one point indicating that people used to think of her as a deity. The others in her crew — Joe (Marwan Kenzari), Nicky (Luca Marinelli) and Booker (Matthias Schoenaerts) — are younger, with Booker being "just" 200 years old. Another one of them is "born" when Nile (KiKi Layne), an American soldier, gets her throat slashed while on a mission, but heals, to the astonishment of her fellow soldiers.
"The Old Guard" uses Nile's story as an introduction to the ways of this world, while the rest of the film follows the crew's attempts at staving off capture by a rogue scientist hoping to harness immortality for his own economic gain. But within those stories is a message of hope. Andy and her crew use their power to make change to the world at-large, fighting the good fight when no one else can. They've died countless times because of it, and although they heal, they still feel the pain of death. The film opens with Andy dead and waiting to heal, secretly hoping she doesn't. She's been walking through life alone: It's hard to connect to someone when they age and you don't. But over the course of the film, she's reminded of the good of humanity, the importance of connection. It's enough to keep her inner flame alight. It's enough to want to survive.
2020 has been hard, but we keep fighting. We fight for one another. We're all we really need.
"What If" (2011)
Prime Video, rated PG-13, 93 minutes
I remember when this film — originally titled "The F Word" before it was changed to cater to American audiences and avoid an R rating — was released. I thought it looked like any generic C+ rom-com, but I remember some critics saying, "Actually, it's pretty good!" I became intrigued, but I never followed up on that intrigue by watching it. It's always stayed in the back of my mind though, and when I recently heard David Sims of The Atlantic and the Blank Check podcast (which I highly recommend) laud it as an underrated gem of the genre, the memories from its release flooded back. I had to give it a shot.
I should have watched it long ago. "What If" could have easily been what I assumed it to be: The plot revolves around Daniel Radcliffe and Zoe Kazan — I'm not using character names for this one, sue me — becoming friends while Kazan is in a relationship with someone else. They develop feelings for each other, but they're both too scared to say anything about it, lest their friendship or Kazan's romantic relationship become ruined. Not exactly innovative, right? But there's a magic to this movie, and it comes from everything besides the plot.
The jokes are razor sharp and surprisingly ribald for a PG-13 film. Radcliffe and Kazan mesh like grilled cheese and tomato soup. It's easy to understand why they would fall for each other; listening to them talk is basically this ever-popular Spider-Man meme.
The leads are great, but the supporting players might be even better. Radcliffe's best friend is played by a pre-megastar Adam Driver. He's hilarious, playing something of a cross between a party-boy loser and a sage of love. There's a scene of his involving nachos that alone is worth the rental price. (Or the Prime Video subscription price, whatever.) Driver quickly falls into a relationship with Mackenzie Davis, another fave of mine, and their energy together is something to behold.
It's these things that take this from a C+ to a B+, a movie that is worth your time. It's funny enough to split your sides and charming enough to keep your insides warm at night. You've seen this movie before, but you might not have seen it done this well.