Sunday, February 19, 2012

Away We Go and Crazy, Stupid, Love - superior romcoms

I love a romcom as much as the next person, but it's been a real pleasure to see two particularly brilliant ones over the last couple weeks. First up was Away We Go, a film that raised a small ripple of appreciation when it was released, but has probably found its indie, put-a-bird-on-it audience, me included, on DVD/Blu-ray.

Unflashily directed by Sam Mendes and starring The American Office's John Krasinski and Bridesmaids' Maya Rudolph, it follows a couple as they travel across the States, trying to find the best place to bring up their unborn child. And it's lovely. Actually not as twee as I'd expected, there are some big laughs here, but importantly you just enjoy spending time with this charming and very grounded couple. Perfectly cast and with some surprisingly lyrical passages of dialogue, it's a little gem.

With Steve Carell (The Office again, of course), Julianne Moore, Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone on board, Crazy, Stupid, Love got rather more attention in cinemas, but the Portlandia set shouldn't dismiss it on that account.

Carell plays Cal, a once-happily married man who finds himself being coached in picking up women by the super-smooth Jacob (Gosling) when his wife tells him she wants a divorce. Along the way we also learn about the lives and messed-up loves of Cal's kids and even Jacob himself, as lessons are learned and soulmates united.

Ok, so the fact that Jacob's alpha male posturing apparently works on every single woman he meets rankles a little, but in the main this is a hugely likeable and big-hearted film with a neat twist. The performances are what really make it - but then that's exactly what we've come to expect from the likes of Carell and Stone. Great fun.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

The Muppets - Dork Adore review

"The Muppets mean a lot to me. I watched The Great Muppet Caper over and over as a kid, and when I was 11 I wrote a piece about myself in which I said I don’t watch much TV (how things change) but that I always made time for Shooting Stars and Muppets Tonight (ok, maybe they don’t change so much…)"

I totally reviewed The Muppets for Dork Adore. Check it out here...

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Sex With A Stranger - Trafalgar Studios

Anyone who’s seen more than a few token minutes of the above-par BBC Three sitcom Him and Her will probably have picked up at least two things: writer Stefan Golaszewski has an impeccable ear for dialogue; and Russell Tovey is your go-to guy for a slubby everyman. Oh, and perhaps one extra thing – Tovey clearly relishes and excels at delivering Golaszewski’s uber-naturalistic lines.

It’s no surprise, then, that this pairing works just as well on stage; Sex with a Stranger is 80 minutes of slow-burn but high-laugh-rate comedy that gets as many laughs from the uncomfortable silences as the gags. Tovey stars in the three-hander along with Jaime Winstone – these two being the strangers in question – and Naomi Sheldon as Adam’s (Tovey) long-suffering and highly-strung girlfriend Ruth.

We only meet Ruth about half way through the play, however, the first 40 minutes or so revealing how Adam and Grace (Winstone) meet on a night out, and head off back to Grace’s flat via a long and rather awkward bus and cab ride filled with circular, gossamer-light conversations about how great the club was, and that living five minutes from Homebase must be ‘handy’.  

It may be brand new and, probably, never to be revisited, but it’s actually quite a sweet relationship and it provides the majority of the humour – Winstone is hugely likable and very funny as the down-to-earth, giggly Grace. It’s only when we start to get drip-fed information about Adam’s ‘real’ life back home that things start to turn from amusingly clumsy, to distinctly uneasy.

The first real action we see from Ruth is a good five minutes spent meticulously ironing a shirt – the very shirt, of course, that Adam wears on his night with Grace. It’s an uncomfortably long period of time to watch someone completing a domestic chore (there were stifled laughs in the audience, and one man gave her a brief ironic round of applause when she finished) but that is of course the point. We need to see the care and attention that Ruth has put into ironing the shirt for us to start reassessing how we feel about the affable Adam.

After this scene we’re all set up to be on Ruth’s side, but as we’re taken back through the history of their relationship – from meeting at uni to tortuous discussions about whether to get some new bookshelves – we start to detect a few, shall we say ‘issues’ on Ruth’s behalf that complicate things a little. She’s clingy, paranoid and, to be honest, quite dull, but then dullness is no excuse for infidelity, and she clearly has a lot to be paranoid about.

Ultimately there is no big revelation or showdown, so the ending feels pretty flat, but there’s no doubt that Sex With A Stranger is a beautifully written and impressively acted play in which the little details of genuinely real conversation are the real star.