What to Watch on Netflix: Scrotal Recall (2014)

Netflix: Scrotall Recall

Created by: Tom Edge
Starring: Johnny Flynn, Antonia Thomas, Daniel Ings

I have a confession: This is not an objective critique.  I want you to watch this Brit-sitcom.

Scrotal Recall, the latest original Netflix show to catch my attention off the scrolling banner, has the sentiment, humour and charm of the best British romantic comedies.  But we can only indulge in one, six episode season.  At roughly 20 minutes an episode, it simply isn’t enough for me; especially given the beautifully heart-wrenching and all-to-abrupt finale.

Don’t let the abrasive title fool you.  Recall isn’t an overblown sex romp. It has warmth and tenderness while being funny, even, at times, hilarious. Think New Girl rather than It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia. Here, series creator Tom Edge manages to create something new out of a genre that has failed miserably at being itself for a very long time.

What I liked: The premise offers a candy jar of material: Dylan, a 20-something still trying to figure it all out, contracts chlamydia and must revisit each of his previous sexual partners to let them know the bad news; and there’s a list of them.  The structure is concise: each episode revolves around the memory of an original sexual encounter with each former partner.  However, the writing does not limit itself to the structure or the premise. Dylan runs through his list alphabetically, not chronologically, so many storylines overlap out of sequence and are carried out over numerous episodes allowing for surprises in a genre whose plot is predetermined.

The actors are perfectly cast: Johnny Flynn (Song One) is sympathetic, if detached, as Dylan and serves as a  reliable, thoughtful narrator; Antonia Thomas (Misfits) is heart-wrenching as Dylan’s tortured best friend Evie; and Daniel Ings, now on my radar, shines as Luke, the womanizer of their bestie triad. He manages to deliver predictable lines to hilarious effect and most of my laughter generated from him.  In an early episode, a line as simple as “Oh F*uck OFF” at a three course dinner party had me busting a gut simply because I felt Luke’s genuine frustration; and I laughed harder and louder with each subsequent episode.

What I didn’t like: The show is a bit choppy at times and there are emotional moments that rely too much on the strength of its actors rather than the buildup, but it still works; and if we feel we have missed part of the story, we can hope that they will come back to it in future episodes.

There also isn’t much new here.  It’s a testament to the directors and the cast that they have elevated sitcom tropes, almost all of them, to something better; something charming, heartfelt and even moving. Episode 1 is thoughtfully reminiscent ofFour Weddings and a Funeral and Recall, as I’ll refer to it in polite circles, subsequently lives up to the standard, likely because it still feels fresh.

There is no word yet on whether the show will be picked up for a second series or if people have responded to Netflix’s recent push to watch.  I hope it has because it’s worth it.  That’s my campaign.

imdb: 7.7   netflix: 3.8 stars

Don Jon (2013)

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Directed by: Joseph Gordon-Levitt
Written by: Joseph Gordon-Levitt
Starring: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Scarlet Johansson, Julianne Moore, Brie Larson, Tony Danza and Glenne Headly.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s directorial debut is an interesting one.  To its credit it is new, interesting and entertaining.  Gordon-Levitt clearly has a message as he plays the eponymous Jon who escapes into his obsession with porn rather than connect with another person or learn about himself.  I give credit to Gordon-Levitt for making me think during a film that could have been reduced to a romantic comedy with a twist.  At the same time, I couldn’t help but wonder if this was a self-indulgent project or a meditation on isolation and the misrepresentation of relationships in a sex obsessed culture.  Where Gordon-Levitt falters is in his character portrayal but, overall, I was impressed with his writing, direction and wit.

What I liked: Gordon-Levitt’s use of repetition works.  His narrative framework is based around a series of mundane events – home, porn, sex, clubbing, the gym, cleaning, church and family dinner – that convey his character’s disconnectedness and masked despair.  Gordon-Levitt also conveys his ideas with an artistic flare that is thought-provoking, witty and fearlessly uncomfortable.

What I didn’t like:  His characters, while at times endearing and relate-able, are no more than caricatures, which is probably why he is being taken to task for what the Italian American One Voice Coalition believes are “racist stereotypes” rather than developed characters.   I think Gordon-Levitt pulls off his Jersey Shore-type character with flare, because it is so outside our perception of him as an actor that beneath his empty façade we recognize the scrawny do-gooder of 50/50, (500) Days of Summer or even Batman.  The rest of the characters offer no such recognizable depth other than Julianne Moore who escapes the stereotype and offers the real soul of the film.  To be fair, Scarlett Johansson has fun with her role and is both convincing and comical as the romance obsessed love interest.  While I imagine creating such extreme characters was the point, I still can’t quite figure out why since many of us ‘real folk’ often feel the same way or limit ourselves to routine so I can see how the message was lost.

My rating:  An admirable first effort and worth watching, because it is new.

My IMDb rating:  7/10      tomato: 83%

Drinking Buddies (2013)

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Directed by:  Joe Swanberg
Written by: Joe Swanberg
Starring: Olivia Wilde, Jake Johnson, Anna Kendrick, Ron Livingston and Jason Sudeikis (uncredited?)

This is one of those movies that we all complain is missing from Hollywood, because it is heartfelt, truthful and real, but when it comes down to it we want the payoff.   Joe Swanberg creates a true-to-life romance about two good friends who sense but try to ignore the tension between them.  It is a quiet film that unfolds as you imagine life to unfold, but is missing any quirkiness that could have elevated it into something greater.

What I liked: Swanberg does a fine job bringing out the most honest performances from each of his actors.  Olivia Wilde is effortless as a working woman trying to understand herself.  Jake Johnson, with the help of a little facial hair and fine acting, sheds all traces of New Girl’s Nick Miller, while maintaining a comedic streak that endears us to both characters.  Together Wilde and Johnson have such chemistry that we can enjoy the journey, if not the ending.

What I didn’t like:  I appreciate Swanberg’s effort to bring real-life to the screen without the cliched meet-cutes or gimmicks that can be spotted a mile away; and yet the movie is so real that when all is said and done we discover there were no stakes and no consequences.  Drinking Buddies is a film that, even though we sense a change in character at the end, feels too linear, like a reality show without forced drama.

My rating:  Take the tension but leave the rest.

IMDb: 6.0        tomato: 69%

Release Date:  July 25, 2013

The Big Wedding (2013)

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Directed by: Justin Zackham
Written by: Justin Zackham, Jean-Stéphane Bron (motion picture “Mon frère se marie”)
Starring: Robert de Niro, Susan Sarandon, Diane Keaton, Topher Grace, Katherine Heigl, Robin Williams, Amanda Seyfried, Ben Barnes

You know a movie isn’t very good when critics use ‘all star cast’ as a euphemism for no plot.  At least that’s what I discovered when I tried to find something to say about this romantic wedding comedy.  Other than the famous faces that populate it, there is absolutely nothing memorable or forgivable about this 89 minute cliche.  The worst part is that they tried to modernize a tired genre that desperately needs reinventing but forgot to update the dialogue and punch lines at the same time.

What I liked: The location is beautiful.  I wouldn’t mind getting married at the lakeside property where it was shot.  Robin Williams was sort of funny.  Topher Grace delivered a couple of funny lines.  I’m curious to know if the original French version had the same punch lines that just didn’t translate well or if Hollywood butchered what could have been a fun romp.

What I didn’t like: Everything.  From the forced story, the clichéd dialogue and expected crises, to the undedicated cast, the sloppy editing and the laboured jokes. I groaned at every new scene and rubbed my forehead with each punch line.  However, in fairness to Zackham, he clearly targeted and reached a certain audience because my theatre was roaring with laughter and I just didn’t get it.  Maybe I’m too young to appreciate the trite sex jokes delivered by Sarandon, de Niro and Keaton and felt they were too old, or respected, to be convincing.  My feeling throughout was that Zackham must cringe when he watches this film.

My rating: I wish I could unsee every minute of it.

IMDB: 5.1

Rotten Tomatoes: 8% (Yup. That’s an 8. Top critics gave it a 4%)