CAPSULE REVIEWS: In a World, Drinking Buddies, Don Jon

Regrettably, it’s been a few weeks since I last posted a film review on the site. But to prove I haven’t been sitting around avoiding the movie theatre, I’ve decided to package up three shorter reviews of recent releases I’ve seen in an effort to catch up.

Below, you’ll find capsule reviews on three indie comedies I had the pleasure of watching recently – just like my full-length criticism, jump in and join the discussion about any or all of the films in the comments section!

Lake Bell wrote, directed and starred in the indie comedy 'In a World'

In a World…  -  Three and a Half Stars

In a World… is the feature directorial debut of actress Lake Bell (What Happens in Vegas, Children’s Hospital). It follows Carol, a young voiceover artist (Bell) as she tries to break into the competitive and male-dominated world of movie trailer voiceovers. To hammer home the film's male-female divide, the title derives from the now-classic trailer phrase popularized by the rumbling voice of Don LaFontaine.

At first, Carol is shot down by her father Sam Soto (Fred Melamed), a major player in the voiceover industry. Nevertheless, Carol uses her passion for her craft and a more than a bit of luck to make a name for herself in the eccentric subculture of Hollywood devoted to movie ads.

Bell's offbeat comedic timing pairs nicely with her compelling argument for equal rights for women in show business, helping deliver a message without becoming preachy. But first and foremost, In a World… is targeted at movie buffs obsessed with the many stages of film production – the closer you follow the film industry, the more you’ll get out of Bell’s film. Even so, the characters and performances are fresh enough that general audiences will still find something to like about this unexpected, earnest film. Three and a half stars out of four. (Watch the trailer)

Olivia Wilde and Jake Johnson star in the Joe Swanberg film 'Drinking Buddies'.

Drinking Buddies  -  Three Stars

A new comedy from busy actor/director Joe Swanberg (V/H/S, LOL), Drinking Buddies is one of those indies that can easily fly under the radar of most viewers – surprising, considering it stars three up-and-coming actors: Olivia Wilde (Rush, House M.D.), Anna Kendrick (Pitch Perfect, Up in the Air) and Jake Johnson (New Girl).

The film examines the fluid nature of modern relationships, and centres on four Chicago thirty-somethings: Kate, Chris, Jill and Luke. Kate (Wilde) and Luke (Johnson) both work at a local craft brewery and have terrific chemistry, but are currently dating other people: Kate is with Chris, and Luke is with Jill. As the film unfolds, it’s clear that Luke would prefer to be with Kate, and Wilde leads the audience on a merry game of “will-she-or-won’t-she?”, as we try to guess if her character feels the same way about Luke.

The relationship drama plays out against a cheerful (if worrying) backdrop of the non-stop beer drinking and partying of the brewery workers, who are rarely seen without a full pint glass in hand. Swanberg directs in an extremely loose fashion, allowing his actors to improvise much of the dialogue.

It results in an enjoyable and naturalistic movie, but as David Denby of The New Yorker points out, the cracks begin to show in some scenes. Swanberg leaves in all the awkward moments between his actors and even a few imperfect takes, which certainly lends the film some realism, but also suggests a lack of confident direction. Three stars out of four. (Watch the trailer)

Scarlett Johansson and Joseph Gordon-Levitt star in 'Don Jon'.

Don Jon  -   Three and a Half Stars

Another Sundance premiere that’s opened in theatres recently, Don Jon is the feature directing debut of Joseph Gordon-Levitt, whose career exploded last year with roles in four major films (The Dark Knight Rises, Premium Rush, Looper and Lincoln). Don Jon (which Gordon-Levitt also wrote and starred in) tackles the sometimes dicey topic of pornography addiction, including its disturbing and increasingly discussed effect on male concepts of sexuality and masculinity.

The film tells the story of “Don” Jon Martello - a slick, popular New Jersey bartender with a list of one-word passions:  “my body, my pad, my ride, my family, my church, my boys, my girls, my porn”. Martello has no trouble bringing home a different girl each night of the week, but his relationships (and, it’s suggested, his sexual performance) are hampered by his addiction to online porn. Even when Martello believes he’s found the girl of his dreams (Scarlett Johansson), Martello’s addiction threatens everything, and he’s forced to re-evaluate why he can’t form real connections with women.

Because Don Jon is such a thoroughly Gordon-Levitt production, there are times in the film that we question how much the writer/star believes in the character he’s created. It sometimes feels that Gordon-Levitt is making fun of Martello when he should be sympathizing with him. But that doesn’t diminish from what is otherwise a stylish, well-written comedy/drama on a topic that’s been in the news more and more often in recent years. With Jon Martello, we have an ideal pop culture touchstone for modern questions about the aforementioned topics, as well as an unforgettable debut for a young filmmaker. Three and a half stars out of four. (Watch the trailer)


Have you seen any of the films reviews above? If so, what did you think? Join the discussion in the comments section, and if you liked these capsule reviews, share them with your friends and followers! I’m planning another collection of short critiques for later this week, so check back for my reaction to Rush, Gravity and Captain Phillips!


Past Reviews:

TIFF 2013: Third Person | TIFF 2013: Supermensch: The Legend of Shep Gordon

The Way, Way Back