Tag Archives: Melanie Lynskey

But I'm a Cheerleader (1999, Jamie Babbit)

But I’m a Cheerleader is too short. It runs eighty-five minutes, which would be fine if the narrative fit into director Babbit’s affected, aspirationally camp style. But Brian Peterson’s script is front heavy. And Jules Labarthe’s cinematography is too flat. Rachel Kamerman’s production design is loud, but Labarthe shoots it too shallow. He’s also not great at lighting actors between shots. Even if he were, Cecily Rhett wouldn’t be good at cutting those shots.

Cheerleader is utterly sincere, which is great, but Babbit and Peterson don’t take the film through that sincerity as it develops. After a deliberately paced two-thirds, all of a sudden Cheerleader is in a rush to finish. The script has taken a traditional romantic comedy direction–down to a deus ex conclusion so spared down it utterly lacks the needed spectacle. Peterson’s script doesn’t lay the groundwork for it until the second half, which is a whole other problem. The film doesn’t flow well.

It wouldn’t help if Cheerleader accomplished affected camp. It doesn’t need to be camp. It accomplishes something else entirely, this amazing relationship between Natasha Lyonne and Clea DuVall, which turns out to be the point of the script. Only it doesn’t seem like it was always the point of the script, because the original point of the script was Lyonne’s character development; her personal growth arc gives way to traditional rom-com stuff.

Lyonne’s a high school cheerleader who finds herself whisked away to a “brainwash the gay away” camp. Parents Bud Cort and Mink Stole are upset previously prim, proper, and Protestant Lyonne now wants to eat tofu. And then there’s her Melissa Etheridge poster. So they call RuPaul (out of drag and quite funny) to consult. He’s an “ex-gay” who works at the camp (run by Cathy Moriarty).

But Lyonne doesn’t think she’s gay. So there’s character development on that plotline. And there’s development on her plotline with her parents. And there’s development on her plotline with DuVall, the semi-goth rich girl who isn’t trying to get rid of her gay, just learn how to hide it. The last plotline doesn’t just tie into Lyonne’s own sexuality plotline, but also her parents plotline and her life and values in general. In the midst of the affected camp, with Lyonne looking like a sixties cheerleader doll, she and DuVall have these terribly lighted, terribly edited, wonderful moments.

Lyonne’s fine in the lead. She gets better as her character becomes more proactive, but DuVall’s spellbinding. She’s (maybe) the object of Lyonne’s affection and Babbit does a great job presenting her and developing her from Lyonne’s perspective. While it’s not camp or affected and often feels like a different movie, their chemistry makes Cheerleader quite special for a while.

Then comes Peterson’s disastrous third act. It happens gradually too, almost forecasting itself. There’s just no way for Babbit and Peterson to get the film across the finish line in the eighty-five minutes so they grab what they can and wrap it up quick. Peterson throws out distractions in almost every scene–which can be cute, like ex-ex-gays Wesley Mann and Richard Moll bickering–but don’t end up doing anything. It’s filler, because the film’s lost Lyonne’s character development. She’s a protagonist with a stalled arc.

Moriarty’s all right. The script stops giving her anything extra after the first act setup and, given the outrageously pink (and overtly homoerotic) mansion interiors, Moriarty should have a lot extra. Instead, she just has son Eddie Cibrian, who’s a buff temptation for all the gay boys at the camp. There’s a big supporting cast of “campers” and they’re all fine. Melanie Lynskey gets more to do than most, she’s good.

Babbit wants to have the freedoms of affectation while retaining sincerity. Only Cheerleader doesn’t get to sincerity through affectation, it’s something Babbit and Peterson just drop into the affectation and try to make room. It doesn’t work, which is a shame, because DuVall and Lyonne deserve a better film. Babbit seems like she wants to deliver one too.

But I’m a Cheerleader is cute and fun. And sweet. But it could’ve been something much better.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Jamie Babbit; screenplay by Brian Peterson, based on a story by Babbit; director of photography, Jules Labarthe; edited by Cecily Rhett; music by Pat Irwin; production designer, Rachel Kamerman; produced by Andrea Sperling and Leanna Creel; released by Lions Gate Entertainment.

Starring Natasha Lyonne (Megan), Clea DuVall (Graham), Cathy Moriarty (Mary Brown), Melanie Lynskey (Hilary), RuPaul (Mike), Bud Cort (Peter), Mink Stole (Nancy), Dante Basco (Dolph), and Eddie Cibrian (Rock).


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Detroit Rock City (1999, Adam Rifkin)

Detroit Rock City is going to be difficult to talk about. It’s painfully unfunny, yet fully embraces the idea it’s the complete opposite. Maybe director Rifkin really thinks his weak seventies pop culture references, his sight gags, and his terrible cast are funny. Or maybe he’s just good at hiding any awareness of the film’s stupidity and obviousness.

Carl V. Dupré’s script seems to be for an audience who only knows about the seventies through television reruns and movies, but also for diehard KISS fans. There’s no establishing of the KISS theme; if you aren’t a fanatic, you’re probably missing something. It’s too bad, because the thorough (if bad) opening titles utilizes seventies news and pop culture and it sure seems like KISS could be a zeitgeist worth exploring.

Maybe if the actors were better. Of Giuseppe Andrews, James DeBello, Edward Furlong and Sam Huntington, it’s a constant race to see who’s worse. Andrews is real bad and obviously trying. DeBello’s real bad and not trying–he gets all the “funny stoner” lines and butchers each one. Furlong looks stoned and bored; it should have been part of his character. Huntington’s awful but somewhat less annoying than Andrews, who’s desperately trying to play a bad boy.

And Lin Shaye’s evil Christian mom? So bad. So’s Natasha Lyonne.

Maybe the only distinct thing in Rock City is how much it likes rampant bigotry and misogyny. Rifkin identifies them in seventies pop culture artifacts… and then the film embraces them.

Icky bad stuff.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Adam Rifkin; written by Carl V. Dupré; director of photography, John R. Leonetti; edited by Mark Goldblatt and Peter Schink; music by J. Peter Robinson; production designer, Steve Hardie; produced by Kathleen Haase, Barry Levine and Gene Simmons; released by New Line Cinema.

Starring Edward Furlong (Hawk), Giuseppe Andrews (Lex), James DeBello (Trip), Sam Huntington (Jam), Melanie Lynskey (Beth), Nick Scotti (Kenny), Shannon Tweed (Amanda Finch), Miles Dougal (Elvis), Natasha Lyonne (Christine) and Lin Shaye (Mrs. Bruce).


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THIS FILM IS ALSO DISCUSSED ON BASP | KISS MEETS THE PHANTOM OF THE PARK (1978) / DETROIT ROCK CITY (1999).

Leaves of Grass (2009, Tim Blake Nelson)

I wonder if Tim Blake Nelson has read Disgrace. Cheap, cheap, cheap comment.

One-liner even.

It’s a one-liner.

Leaves of Grass is not–if I underlined, I would here–an American Disgrace. It’s something different from that sort of attempt, but also something different from a mainstream or independent attempt… it’s a comedy drama unlike most others because the comedy is absurd at times and it’s got Edward Norton playing a genius pot grower.

It’s also got him playing a genius classical philosophy professor, which then makes it a twin movie–in a genre occupied, with the exception of Parent Traps, mostly–in recent history–by Jean-Claude Van Damme. I wonder if anyone mentioned that one to Norton.

It’s a fine, fine film. It’s funny, it’s touching–it features the best Richard Dreyfuss performance in many years not to mention actually talking about anti-Semitism in an American film without being sensational. I don’t think, actually, anti-Semitism even gets a sensational handling in American film anymore. American film pretends the country isn’t chock-full of bigots, unless they’re bigots who get easily cured by the end of the picture.

Great acting by Norton (the lack of Oscar nomination is a hilarious, gut-bursting joke), Dreyfuss and Nelson. Susan Sarandon’s underwritten but fine, as is Melanie Lynskey. Keri Russell’s surprisingly okay.

It’s a great film until the third act, when Nelson seems to realize something should probably happen and it’s fine after that point.

Just not great.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Written and directed by Tim Blake Nelson; director of photography, Roberto Schaefer; edited by Michelle Botticelli; music by Jeff Danna; production designer, Max Biscoe; produced by Nelson, Edward Norton, Bill Migliore, John Langley, Elie Cohn and Kristina Dubin; released by Millennium Films.

Starring Edward Norton (Bill/Brady Kincaid), Tim Blake Nelson (Bolger), Keri Russell (Janet), Richard Dreyfuss (Pug Rothbaum), Susan Sarandon (Daisy), Josh Pais (Ken Feinman) and Melanie Lynskey (Colleen).


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The Informant! (2009, Steven Soderbergh)

How does Steven Soderbergh pick projects–more, what kind of artist’s statement would he make? The Informant! is his best film–among all his other rather good films–in a while and it owes more to what he learned on Ocean’s Eleven 12 and 13 than on any of his other films. It’s a great time, but it’s a great time with a bunch of humanity. I think I’ve said it before, but one can look at a Soderbergh film and see where he’s learned something from a previous effort but this identification doesn’t hinder the work at all. It’s still brilliant, even if it’s clear he developed some approach or method from, say, Solaris.

I knew, off the bat, The Informant! was going to be amazing for a couple reasons. First, the opening titles. It looks like The Conversation, only with the titles in this goofy font. Then, the music. Marvin Hamlisch. The score’s this amazingly fun, vibrant, colorful thing of its own. It’s incredible to see a nearly mainstream picture with this kind of approach. It makes up for Matt Damon wasting his time in those Bourne movies.

Damon’s performance in the film probably has to be his best, if only because he too is mixing genres. He’s creating a real person, but with all the humor stuff he learned in the Ocean’s films. And Soderbergh’s use of Scott Bakula against type as a sensitive FBI agent.

Or Melanie Lynskey’s outstanding performance as Damon’s wife.

A fantastic film.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Steven Soderbergh; written by Scott Z. Burns, based on the book by Kurt Eichenwald; director of photography, Peter Andrews; edited by Stephen Mirrione; music by Marvin Hamlisch; production designer, Doug J. Meerdink; produced by Gregory Jacobs, Jennifer Fox, Michael Jaffe, Howard Braunstein and Eichenwald; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Matt Damon (Mark Whitacre), Scott Bakula (Agent Brian Shepard), Joel McHale (Bob Herndon), Melanie Lynskey (Ginger Whitacre), Thomas F. Wilson (Mark Cheviron), Allan Havey (Dean Paisley), Patton Oswalt (Ed Herbst), Scott Adsit (Sid Hulse), Eddie Jemison (Kirk Schmidt), Clancy Brown (Aubrey Daniel), Richard Steven Horvitz (Bob Zaideman) and Tony Hale (James Epstein).


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