Moving Pictures
Aug 24, 2023, 06:27AM

Strays of August

A round-up of movies coming out as summer ends, including Jules, Theater Camp, Strays, and more.

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Strays: To the best of my knowledge, the director and screenwriter of Strays, Josh Greenbaum and Dan Perrault, aren’t 12 years old. But judging by the comedic sensibility of their movie, one might get that impression. It's not just that the film is immature and scatological—although it’s both—but it's created with the belief that curses and pee-pee and poo-poo are funny on their own, without any need for well-constructed jokes or comedic payoffs. It less resembles a comedy movie than one kid blurting out "penis!" and 15 other kids giggling.

Strays is a high-concept movie told from the point of view of talking dogs, in the tradition of A Dog’s Purpose and Homeward Bound. But the twist is that it's a hard-R comedy in which the dogs curse, screw and shit in the voices of Will Ferrell, Jamie Foxx, Isla Fisher and Randall Park. Robert Smigel's Triumph the Insult Comic Dog character has shown for over 25 years that dogs speaking in human voices and doing blue material can be very funny. But Strays is dire, full of abrupt tonal shifts and jokes that are run into the ground. When one of the dogs humps a garden gnome, it's funny. The fourth and fifth time it's not. Will Ferrell was the worst thing about the Barbie movie, and he doesn't do much more to distinguish himself here. Perrault co-created the Netflix series American Vandal, which was just as scatological and vulgar as Strays, but represented an incisive parody of the true-crime genre. But this movie was a bad idea all around.

Theater Camp: The star of American Vandal's first season, Jimmy Tetro, has a key part in Theater Camp as the business-bro son of the founder of the titular camp, who sticks out like a sore thumb among a cast of theater kids of all ages. That's one of the many elements of this winning comedy mockumentary, directed by Molly Gordon and Nick Lieberman, which is set at a failing theater camp in the Adirondacks, called AdirondACTS. After the Tetro character's mother (Amy Sedaris) falls into a coma, the camp falls under the leadership of a straight woman/gay man pair (Gordon and Ben Platt) who are "lifelong friends" even though they appear to hate one another.

This movie will appeal to anyone who was ever a theater kid, and likely repel anyone who wasn't, and it appears both camps have hatred for Ben Platt. But the film wisely casts him as a jerk, whose name happens to be "Amos Klobuchar." Theater Camp has a witty script, made by a group of people who know this world and is geared towards those who know it too. There's a funny bit in which one of the male kids comes to terms with being straight, and has to admit to his gay friends that he likes throwing the football around. It recalls that great bit in Rachel Bloom's memoir about the peculiar mating habits of heterosexual men in the musical theater world.

Dreamin' Wild: Bill Pohlad is part of the family that owns the Minnesota Twins. Rather than take on a major role in the family business, he’s pursued a career in movies, first as a producer/investor and later as a director. He directed Love and Mercy, the fantastic biopic of Brian Wilson from 2015, and now he's back with Dreamin’ Wild, also a musician biopic that toggles between a pair of time periods. Donnie and Joe Emerson were a fraction as famous as the Beach Boys, but their story is compelling in a different way: a brotherly duo from Washington state, they made an album as teenagers in the late-1970s that went nowhere. But 30 years later, their record was discovered by collectors and it became an underground hit, leading to new interest in the now-middle-aged brothers. The brothers are played by Casey Affleck and Walton Goggins (whose Uncle Baby Billy on The Righteous Gemstones is at least the fourth iconic TV character Goggins has created in the last 20 years.) Noah Jupe plays the younger Donnie in flashbacks.

The film has found a rich emotional center in the story, in how the sudden revival of lost musical dreams after three decades unearthed buried resentments and guilt, especially in the way that their dad (Beau Bridges) sold the family farm to fund those doomed shots at stardom.

Jules : Jules is an earnest drama about older people, and a rare movie with a cast of seniors that isn't constructed as the protagonist being an asshole who slowly gets redeemed. But it also allows itself to get really, really weird. In director Marc Turtletaub’s film, Ben Kingsley plays Milton, a widower in his late-70s, who one day has a UFO land behind his house, and in it is a silent extraterrestrial who he names Jules. He soon tells people, including his daughter (Zoë Winters), and they all think his talk of an alien is a sign of encroaching dementia. The alien, borrowing a page from ALF, has a weakness for cats. He also lets his two neighbors (Jane Curtain and Harriet Sansom Harris) in on the secret, and they all get what they need out of this new friend, played by stunt actress Jade Quon.

There's a dark comic joke in the middle of it: an alien comes to Earth, and none of the humans who meet him can resist the urge to treat the alien like he's their therapist. You can call it E.T., only with senior citizens instead of children, but then again that's what Cocoon was too. It’s a slight but sweet movie.


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