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« Valerian in the shadow of The Fifth Element | Main | Tom Hardy's Furrowed Brow Acting »
Wednesday
Aug022017

Double Feature: "Atomic Blonde" and "Girl's Trip"

This article was originally published in Nathaniel's column at Towleroad. It is reprinted here in a slightly extended edition.

It’s a special ‘Sister’s Are Doin’ It For Themselves’ double review with two female-driven hits.

Have you caught Girls Trip yet? I was one week late to the party after its hit opening weekend. When we looked around the theater this weekend my best friend was all “it’s 80% women of color and 20% gay men!” Truth! And perfect as target audiences go for an urban female comedy called Girls Trip. The crowd was boisterous, laughing their asses off throughout but also visibly feeling the '90s hiphop soundtrack and audibly praising the “message” moments in the movie.

The night before I saw Atomic Blonde and though I didn’t see anyone dancing in their seats, I was dancing on the inside with its killer 1980s new wave soundtrack...

Nobody talked back to the screen during Atomic Blonde but if they had you would have definitely heard several “YaaaassQueen!”s since Charlize Theron absolutely slays the role. She's reminding us that she’s always been a fierce bitch and that did not begin or end with Mad Max Fury Road I did not see a gaggle of gays in the crowd for Atomic Blonde so you’ve all failed me. Get yourself to both movies!

Girls Trip, if you’ve haven’t yet heard, is about a group of college friends from the 90s who called themselves “The Flossy Posse” reuniting 20 years later for a free trip to New Orleans courtesy of their Queen Bee (Regina Hall) who the movie tells us is the second coming of Oprah Winfrey; she’s a self-help icon and about to become very rich by signing a new TV show deal. Along for the ride are her estranged bestie (Queen Latifah, a gossip blogger), the uptight ‘mom’ of the group (Jada Pinkett Smith who steps up her comic game here), and the randy party girl (Tiffany Haddish in a star-making crude bullseye — she runs away with the whole movie).

If you’re thinking a riff on that Sex and the City plot where they all got a free aspirational-porn trip to Saudi Arabia because of Carrie's job and used it to party, get frisky, and reconnect, you’d be somewhat correct, but this movie is much funnier and no rip-off. Besides, it’s been mandatory since at least the Golden Girls that when there are groups of four women portraying best friends, the dynamic always has to include the following types: the center of attention, a judgy friend, a thirsty party girl, and the naive prude. It’s the law!


One of the movie’s most singular jokes comes early on, when Regina Hall has to dress down her white girl business manager (Kate Walsh trying way too hard with this character who is herself trying way to hard). The business manager keeps trying to be down with the Flossy Posse and awkwardly tosses off lingo like “turnt” and “byegurl” and “#blackgirlmagic”. Regina cautions her to avoid using any phrase she had to look up on Urban Dictionary. I laughed (too loudly) and reminded myself not to look up “Flossy” from that site when I got home from the theater. But the second punchline of the joke, which sweetens and sharpens it, comes when Walsh marvel's at Hall's ability to call her out so calmly and firmly without ruffling her feathers "I'm not even offended!" It's a pretty great joke which makes the white people in the audience the brunt of the joke but encourages them to laugh at themselves rather than getting all 'this movie's not for me' hurt about it...even though, strictly speaking, this movie is very much not made for them, if you will. That's just one example of the movie's smart, generous, and thoughtful comic spirit.

Girls Trip isn’t a perfect movie — it’s kind of sloppily made in spots and, like most comedies lately, 20 minutes too long but it’s hard to care about flaws when a movie is this much fun and the friendships this engagingly portrayed. Not every joke works (there’s one raunchy joke about blowjobs that is utterly hilarious the first time but lands with a thud in its extremely literal reprise) but the ratio of big laughs to jokes is remarkably high. Bonus points for the hot man-candy (Kofi Siriboe, Larenz Tate, Mike Colter) and fun costumes which helps make this an ideal-night-out-with-the-girls-or-gays movie.

Speaking of eye candy and fun costumes...

Over in Berlin in the late ‘80s before Mr Gorbachev tore down that wall, we see a much different kind of movie celebrating powerful women. Or woman, singular, in the case of Atomic Blonde, since Charlize Theron isn't a posse kind of good time girl, but a poker-faced lone wolf. Theron plays the British spy Lorraine Broughton. We first meet her completely naked in a bathtub filled with ice. She's banged up badly -cue: the rest of the movie in unfolding flashbacks. This first vision is so potent and the music so 80s that I kept thinking of a song that’s not on the soundtrack from General Public “so hot you’re cool…  so cool you’re hot” That’s a perfect description of Charlize Theron’s erotically icy screen persona. (She’s so perfect for this movie I’m thirsty for a sequel already.)

Dangerously sexy Lorraine has been sent to Berlin to clean up a mess that involves another dangerously sexy spy (James McAvoy, as reliably fun as ever), a dangerously sexy Russian (Danish star Roland Møller, Land of Mine), a dangerously sexy watchmaker (German star Til Schweiger), and a dangerously sexy Frenchwoman (Sofia Boutella, freed from The Mummy). You get the idea of what kind of movie this is. Most of them are after a top secret list containing the real names of hundreds of spy. They’ll all be targets if the list gets out.

If you feel like you’ve seen that plot before in other espionage movies, you definitely have! But plot isn’t everything. In Girls Trip it’s just an excuse to hang raucous jokes, party music, and fun actress chemistry on. In Atomic Blonde the plot is similarly beside the point. We're here for the set pieces that are half fashion ad (Charlize owns the gritty runway in black and white 80s costumes, fierce footwear, platinum tresses), half furious action (Watch Lorraine take out several men in one super long unbroken shot that is just masterfully executed) half straight-boy fan service (Charlize gets naked and gets it on with another hot lady) and half deadly espionage thriller (I was gripping my arm rest throughout). That’s too many halves but if you’re trying to check the math of this artfully-crafted nonsense, you’re watching it wrong!

 

Both Movies: B+?
Oscar Chances: Not so much because Oscar doesn't have a sense of humor (Girls Trip) and gets stuffy about nonsense popcorn movies even if they're brilliantly executed (Atomic Blonde).

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Reader Comments (9)

I'm so excited for Atomic Blonde. It won me over in its trailer when Charlize uses a red stiletto to bash in the face of an assailant in the back seat of a car.

Movie Magic

Buzzfeed's' recent profile of Theron also whetted my appetite, reminding me of how singular her persona and stardom has become in the present Hollywood system

August 2, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterIanO

What a fun review! Seeing Atomic Blonde this Friday, and stoked for it - love Charlize and J McAvoy, and husband & I enjoyed John Wick very much for what it was, so hoping to have a good time with this one, too.

And speaking of good times, I definitely want to see Girls' Trip, although probably not with my husband. Even without seeing it I just *knew* it was going to be a big hit, and I'm happy to be proven right.

(I'm like a week behind with all the major-release movies, all because I was out of town weekend before last. Saw Dunkirk last weekend, hoping to catch Detroit next week/weekend.)

August 2, 2017 | Unregistered Commenterlylee

I desperately want Haddish to get the Melissa McCarthy treatment and score an Oscar nomination for her ingeniously brilliant and wild turn.

August 2, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterSteve_Man

Yeah, my only real quibble (and this IS a quibble) with Atomic Blonde is that one of the random news reports brings up the "Is Sampling Art" debate, but I don't think they use a song that uses sampling in the entire movie. I know this would be a slightly anachronistic choice, but, because of that mention, I was expecting, when that bass line started up, that Ice Ice Baby and not Under Pressure would be the song leading us into credits.

August 2, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterVolvagia

I agree. Tiffany Haddish better be in the running for a Best Supporting Actress nomination! She was unforgettable in GIRLS TRIP!

August 3, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterGeorge P

In a perfect world Oscar would embrace Atomic Blonde's art direction and editing!

August 3, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterDAVID

I'm a fashionista, a fashion blogger and my beat often covers my love of film and fashion. Well Atomic Blonde did a fabulous job of combining fast slick film making with extraordinary fashion . Costume designer Cindy Evans did excellent work and partnered with Dior, John Galiano and many more to bring about her great wardrobe. I give the aesthetics of this film 4out of a possible 5⭐️'s. I recently wrote a blog post on the costumes in Atomic Blonde.
Jandrew
Dress The Part
http://www.jandrewspeaks.com

August 3, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterJandrew

Atomic Blonde was one of the most fashion-forward cool movies I have seen in a long, long, time. I loved the clothes, furniture, music, german cars...every bit of the design was flawless. And that scene with Father Figure playing while she kicks butt! Love.

August 3, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterBia

Atomic Blonde should totally be in consideration for Production Design, Costume Design and Hair & Makeup.

August 4, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterCal

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