Marlowe: This one appears to have all the pieces in place. It’s a story about Philip Marlowe solving a mystery in Los Angeles, which over the course of movie history has been a pretty good bet. It’s got a director (Neil Jordan) and a screenwriter (William Monahan) who’ve made some very good movies. Liam Neeson’s a natural to play Marlowe, Diane Kruger’s a natural as a femme fatale, and the supporting cast includes Jessica Lange, Danny Huston, Colm Meaney, and Daniela Melchior. It’s a dud. It may beautifully photographed, but the plot never gets beyond the surface level, and Neeson just goes through the motions. It doesn’t help that’s based on a Marlowe novel from long after Raymond Chandler’s death, or that this Marlowe film, in which Los Angeles is such an important part of the iconography, was shot in Ireland and Spain.
Somebody I Used to Know: This Amazon Prime romcom, which has no idea how loathsome its protagonist is, is the month’s worst film. Alison Brie, an appealing performer in everything from Community to GLOW, gets a rare leading role in this romantic comedy directed by Brie’s husband, Dave Franco. Lifted blatantly from My Best Friend’s Wedding, Somebody I Used to Know borrows that movie’s conceit of taking a female performer who audiences love, and having her lie and cheat to break up a male friend’s marriage. Brie’s Ally is a failed TV showrunner who goes back to her Washington state hometown, runs into an old boyfriend (Jay Ellis) only to find that he’s engaged to aspiring rock musician Cassidy (Kiersey Clemons.) She insinuates herself into the wedding, crossing moral and ethical lines, even as the movie seems entirely on her side. We keep expecting another shoe to drop, and for Ally to admit to some sort of mental illness, something Brie played very well in an indie movie called Horse Girl a few years ago. But this film, repeatedly, has characters forgiving each other in a way that they shouldn’t.
At Midnight: A much more successful streaming romcom that touches on Hollywood satire is this one, which landed on Paramount+ this week. It comes from Jonah Feingold, who during the pandemic released his debut film Dating & New York, a loving homage to the When Harry Met Sally/Crossing Delancey/Woody Allen canon. This one’s more conventional, and cornier, but it’s a pleasant experience all around. The film happens to have an almost identical plot to another Julia Roberts movie, the mostly forgotten America’s Sweethearts from 2001. Monica Barbaro, who was in last summer’s Top Gun movie, plays a young movie star who’s filming at a Mexican resort with her boyfriend (Anders Holm) who she’s caught cheating. Wanting to play along for the movie’s seek, she falls into a friendship, and later a romance, with a junior manager of the hotel (Diego Boneta). As in Feingold’s first film, the best thing about At Midnight is Catherine Cohen, the celebrated cabaret singer, who brings a phenomenal energy.
Sharper: Directed by Benjamin Caron, whose credits have mostly been in TV, this con artist thriller from Apple and A24 (in theaters now, on Apple TV+ Friday) is like one of those 1990s movies where there’s a twist about every 15 minutes. Call it Wild Things, with a lot less sex. It starts out with a young couple (Justice Smith and Briana Middleton) who meet and have a sweet romance, until we discover nothing was what it seemed. Everyone’s conning everyone else, with other players including Sebastian Stan as a middleman, Julianne Moore as a trophy wife, and John Lithgow as a billionaire. The twists are jarring, and it’s unbelievable that the marks fall for the con every time. But the film lands successfully, and the ending is especially satisfying.