-A rather unimpressive Fatal Attraction ripoff and a lovely little Indie dramedy from Sundance.

It’s never really fair to rail on a couple of the yearly factory movies, ones that are assembled by a machine, like peppering used ingredients into a potpourri of cliches and familiar plot tropes that define the overused romantic thriller genre. I’m a fan of movies like Fatal AttractionSleeping With the Enemy, or Eyes Wide Shut, but the genre peaked with the truly surprising and excellently directed Gone Girl from 2014. Outside of that one outlier, domestic thrillers have gone pretty stale in recent years.

This film is really a good example of a studio throwing together a semi-cohesive plot to just make a little bit of money in a dead September film season. We’ve gotten other films like this in the last few years such as No Good Deed or The Perfect Guy. If you’ve seen Fatal Attraction, just make the antagonist also a surrogate mother for the couple. You’ve got your movie.

To be more specific, Morris Chestnut and Regina Hall are married but have struggled to have children, now settled on their last attempt to try to have a child, this time through surrogacy. After several potential meetings, they fall for Anna (Jaz Sinclair), a seemingly nice, innocent young girl who is clearly pleased (initially) to do something nice for the couple. After a few isolated incidents with a crazy boyfriend (Theo Rossi), the couple welcomes Anna into their home to stay until the pregnancy is carried out. But as she gets used to money and being catered to, she becomes a little obsessed with Morris Chestnut’s John, creating a very tricky situation between John, Anna, and Regina Hall’s Laura, who is often traveling for work.

Besides the too clinical visual palette and stark similarities to others in its genre, When the Bough Breaks is a horrifically bland and unintentionally hilarious film that was placed together entirely for monetary circumstances. I’ll give my score to allow me to put some spoilers in the lower paragraphs…

1.5 stars

 

So, the film’s mistakes are mainly through the plot conveniences to try to make highly implausible circumstances slightly more “realistic” for the audience. Some of these choices are just completely, relentlessly stupid, and despite being desperate to play along with the silliness of this film, it slowly comes off the rails to the point of madness.

A film that focuses as much as this one on the legal field should’ve done just a bit more research about the sticky situations the characters get themselves into, especially because Morris Chestnut’s character is an attorney, and has the resources to look into the law in areas that matter here. One of the film’s main tension points deals with the fact that Anna threatens to keep the baby. There are two problems with this, the first being that in any court of law, it would be persuaded by the intended parents of the child, and both components of the surrogacy are from Morris Chestnut and Regina Hall. Jaz Sinclair’s Anna is just carrying the baby, but does not have an actual relation to the child. The second being that any Judge would side with the employed, wealthy, responsible, natural parents over the surrogate mother who is unemployed with a criminal history. So many of the characters’ reluctance to deal more in a more strict manner with Anna’s behavior is placed with the caveat that they’re worried about her keeping the child.

This is made even more obvious when they have a private investigator/friend of Morris Chesnut’s, played by Michael K. Williams, do a background search on Anna. Somehow, because she changed her last name, all of her background checks by the state institutions missed a ton of juvenile convictions. She even stabbed her step father with a pair of scissors, killing him, and “checked herself out” of a mental rehabilitation clinic. Contrary to this movie’s belief, juvenile offenders at 16 or 17, even if not tried as an adult, do not magically get to roam free from a murder charge once their clock strikes 18. There’s also a bunch of language about “this was really hard to find, but…” Christ, guys, she only changed her name once. Are we seriously still doing this?

Other things were really bothersome also in a smaller sense. Anna’s boyfriend gets “arrested and charged” with criminal domestic violence, and yet on the same night, is walking around their front yard without being cuffed or anything. So, he then charges at our leads trying to hurt them, and I’m thinking, “wait, if he was arrested and charged with X, why is he free to walk around right after?”

Morris Chestnut gets a sexy video sent to him at work from Anna, and he opens it on his computer, immediately responds that he wants this behavior to stop, but then his bosses call him in and say “our system picks up ‘certain kinds of files.'” What, they pick up .mov’s? Really? Wouldn’t they also see his “please stop this right now” messages back?

Then, in the same meeting they give him shit because Anna’s doctor works under the same umbrella as a company that they’re involved with in a lawsuit. They say that this is a “BIG DEAL” and prepare to fire him. Throw in some seduction talk from Anna with phrases like “I feel you inside me,” to Morris Chestnut, and a squabble that ends up with throwing Anna into a closet filled with guns and leaving her there to then arm herself when she wakes up, and you have the ongoings of When the Bough Breaks. Jeez.

 

When the Bough Breaks (2016)

Genre: Crime/Thriller

Director: Jon Cassar (Forsaken)…TV credits in: “24,” “Terra Nova,” and “Wicked City”

Starring: Morris Chestnut, Jaz Sinclair, Regina Hall, Theo Rossi, and Michael K. Williams

RT Score: 6%


A refreshing little gem comes out of Sundance this year, and had a limited release for a few weeks around the United States, but didn’t pick up much traction due to mixed reviews and a lack of good press. It’s rare that I really say this, but I do not understand the dislike for The Hollars, a family dramedy that details a pretty well worn plot about a New York son who comes home to his rural hometown to help care for his terminally ill mother. “The Office’s” John Krasinski moves to the director’s chair alongside a wonderful ensemble cast and funny, albeit touching, script.

Krasinki’s John Hollar works for a publishing company, living with his inheritance-wealthy girlfriend Becca (Anna Kendrick), who designs animal clothing in her spare time. They’re having a baby, but have not yet tied the knot after years of dating, clearly with some uncertainty over their future. They love one another, but things aren’t perfect; Becca is controlling and John lacks self-worth and inspiration. Fatherhood may be a rude awakening for him, thus, he’s terrified.

He goes home when he learns that his mother (Margo Martindale) has a brain tumor, and has to be operated on pretty much immediately. His Dad (Richard Jenkins) is deeply in debt due to a failing contracting business. He recently even had to lay off his own son, John’s brother Ron (Sharlto Copley), who has also had a nasty divorce and a loss of major parenting time with his children in recent months. His ex-wife is played by Ashley Dyke, her new boyfriend by Josh Groban.

Upon dealing with his own issues, John’s high school sweetheart (an underused Mary Elizabeth Winstead) comes back into the picture, unhappy with her boyfriend Jason (Charlie Day), who happens to be a nurse at the hospital in which John’s mom is staying. Randall Park is even one of the doctors. When I said great cast, I meant it.

It’s true that Sundance churns out a few of these films a year, as the “return home” for an adult is a threshold moment in your life that can be mined for both intense melodrama and comedy. We all feel weird going to places we went to as kids, seeing people we haven’t seen in years, and The Hollars is one of the best of this subgenre of dramatic comedies. I admit that I’m a sucker for schlock, romance, tear-jerking manipulation and the runny-eyed laughs in between the melancholy. However, with this cast, it’s hard not to immediately root for everything to be okay for this family. Every character, every actor, is fleshed out with their own personalities, and the film is given true weight based on how real some of the moments feel. Even the exaggeration of drama for the cinematic presence of the film works because it’s handled with awkward humor.

The driving relationships of the film tend to be husband/wife, boyfriend/girlfriend, as we try to juxtapose a happy marriage between Martindale and Jenkins, who act the hell out of this movie. They may not be a perfect match, but they’re happy together due to the way their life was carved out. As they see this persevere through the struggle of her illness, John really reconnects on a deep level with Anna Kendrick’s Becca because of this. She gets one scene to really stand out, where the fear of their impending parenting comes out in waves. Sometimes, it’s hard to remember how good of a dramatic actor she can be, but she is really great in this. Even Krasinski, known often for his stiffness, gives a good performance. Copley, also, does not dominate the screen with his often oppressive persona, instead fitting nicely into this ensemble. It’s good to see him dialed back, he can actually be a pretty good dramatic actor, also.

Overall, this is a perfect fall movie to watch on a dreary day where you need some melodrama in your life. It was just so touching and well acted.

 

4.5 stars

The Hollars (2016)

Genre: Drama

Director: John Krasinski (X)

Starring: John Krasinski, Anna Kendrick, Sharlto Copley, Margo Martindale, and Richard Jenkins

RT Score: 44%

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