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Sundance Quick Takes: The Trip to Italy, Laggies, Hits

 Our Sundance coverage is just about wrapped up. Here's Michael on three pictures starring Steve Coogan (Trip to Italy), Matt Walsh from Veep (Hits) and Keira Knightley & Chloe Moretz... which is where we'll start.

There is a good study to be written on how the longer the economy remains bad, the higher the age of protagonists in coming-of-age stories creeps up. Now with Lynn Shelton’s Laggies we have Keira Knightley as a woman pushing thirty literally retreating back into high school when the prospect of marriage and career looms closer than she can handle. [more...]

Knightley plays Megan, a woman who has less and less in common with her marriage and baby obsessed friends, and whose career prospects amount to spinning a giant arrow outside her father’s accounting firm. When all her pressures collide at a friend’s wedding she flees the ceremony and ends up at a nearby supermarket buying booze for Chloe Grace Moretz and her high school buddies. Hanging with her high school kids is such a welcome break from her life that she ends up making up some excuses and all but moving in with Moretz, who is in need of the guidance an older sister figure. Sam Rockwell plays her single father who looks on with appropriate skepticism at the grown woman who is engaging in an extended slumber party with his teenage daughter.

Laggies has a bad case of “no one would do that in real life” and an even more severe case of “we all know where this is headed”. Will Megan follow through on her engagement to her milquetoast husband or will she find a new lease on life with charming single dad attorney Sam Rockwell? Don’t strain yourself trying to guess.

Even though it's lackluster in the big picture, Laggies has some undeniable charms in the details. Knightley gets to stretch her comic muscles and prove she can go beyond her sweetness and fluff performances in rom-coms like Love Actually or Seeking a Friend at the End of the World. As for Sam Rockwell he continues to be Sam Rockwell, which is to say he is charisma personified, all the more so in this case where he is reining it in to suburban dad levels. So let it be said that Laggies has some appealing performances and a handful of individual moments that work quite well, provided you are willing to ignore the forgettable plotting in which they come packaged. 

Grade: C+
Distribution: A24 will be releasing it this summer

It is refreshing to have a sequel that needs little more setup than “That was fun the first time. Shall we do it again?” Such is the case with The Trip to Italy, the sequel to Michael Winterbottom’s cult favorite The Trip. The bar for success for this film couldn’t be much lower. Most sequels get criticized for repeating the formula of the first film, but in this case doing anything besides supplying more of the same with Coogan and Brydon needling each other and riffing impressions over gourmet meals would be greeted with disappointment. On that level the film is successful. The pair remains a terrific comedic duo. 

If The Trip to Italy is missing some of the spark of the original it may be because Coogan and Brydon have switched roles from the first film. What backbone the first Trip had was in the contrast between the two stars' outlooks on life, Coogan with his messy personal life and his raging insecurity that compelled him to make a competition out of everything, and Brydon, content with his place in show business and a healthy balance between work and family. This time Coogan has mellowed a bit with and it’s Brydon who is struggling with ambition and the temptation of adultery. The problem is they were perfect the first time. Brydon is too big a sweetheart for his dilemmas to carry much bite, and a Coogan that is (slightly) less of an asshole isn’t a funnier Coogan. The review of The Trip to Italy doesn’t need to be more complicated than “if you found them funny the first time, you will the second time. I did, and I did. However, if they intend to go back for thirds it might be time for them to think of a reason.

Grade: B-
Distribution: IFC, date unknown

My hunch is most critics are going to be too quick to dismiss Hits, the directorial debut from David Cross. Its flaws are substantial and not difficult to spot. Cross’s direction is too amateurish to support his ambitious Network for the YouTube generation plotline, and the screenplay has a weakness for cheap shots aimed at hipsters and reality star wannabes. (For a film that takes dead aim at the jaded hipster mindset, while still taking them seriously as human beings see Rick Alverson’s brutal The Comedy) Still, even with these drawbacks, I found Cross’s satirical crosshairs to be on target. That Hits is ultimately unsuccessful, doesn’t mean I wouldn’t be eager Cross take another stab at directing. 

Veep’s Matt Walsh stars as Dave Stuben, your standard Fox News watching angry white man. He is a fixture at city council meetings where he rails about how his freedom and liberty are being infringed upon because no one is fixing the pot holes on his street. When the footage of his rants goes viral he becomes the target of hipster political action committees from Brooklyn who seek to hold Dave up as a kind of free speech martyr. His daughter meanwhile, wants nothing more than to be a guest on Ellen and believes that burning desire is all you need. In her mind trivial things like talent are just a byproduct of wanting fame.

Few comedians can be more effective as Cross in tearing a subject to pieces. With Hits he takes aim at a culture that honors fame above all else, regardless of how it is earned, but he lets his target off the hook easy by skewering only the most clueless of fame-seekers. If he ever makes a film populated with­ characters as sharp as he is, he might really be on to something.

Grade C+
Distribution: Unknown


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