How To Deter A Robber (2021)

Quick Synopsis: A young couple (played by Vanessa Marano and Benjamin Papac) face off against a pair of burglars in Wisconsin.

I was interested by this. The concept seemed fun and the trailer? Well my reaction to the trailer was to send someone a link to it and say “this looks like it will be made or ruined by the pacing and directing”. The concept seemed wacky and fun, but the way the trailer was edited made it look weirdly slow-paced. The concept was crime-comedy, but the directing seemed Napoleon Dynamite. It’s a weird mix that doesn’t really seem suited. That was just the trailer though, there was always a chance the actual film would be the opposite.

It’s not. This film is dreadfully slow. It seems like a short film unnaturally stretched out. There are moments here which add nothing and a lot of this film is kind of tedious. You have a lot of the film just setting the plot up, and it doesn’t really do a good job of that. Part of that is that it’s not needed, there are quicker and better ways of setting up what it sets up. It doesn’t help that the situation doesn’t develop naturally. The plot drives the characters actions, their motivations solely being “we need this to happen so the plot can develop”. Chief among this is the “inciting incident” where they think their neighbours house is being robbed, so they break in, and then…….do a séance? Okay then. That’s something believable. They fall asleep and wake up to the house having been robbed. It doesn’t make character sense, and it wasn’t really needed. They could have had the same end result if they just went to the house and found it robbed. The only way this would have changed the plot is would have had to think of another reason for them to move to their uncles house (at the moment they do so because they’re under suspicion of being the robbers because they’re the ones who phoned the police, which is obviously what robbers do after they burgle a house). It’s unnatural and overly written, and there doesn’t seem to be much of a reason for them staying that nearby if they think they’re in danger. Considering it’s a snowy area they could have just gone with “snow is too heavy” and would have saved time. Plus it would have made the most of the gorgeous setting, something it only really does in the closing stretch. Maybe it’s because Bissell is used to those visuals that she doesn’t realise just how beautiful it has the potential to be. She sees those kind of things all the time so they’re standard to her, but to the rest of the world it’s something new and exciting, and I wish it used it more.

The set-up to the robbery itself is also pretty funny too, when they duct-tape a knife to a roomba, when they get nervous about handling guns etc. It all feels incredibly real. It does still have a few moments where the film is sitting around waiting for the plot to start, but it’s mostly good.

And then the robbery itself starts. And it’s here where the quality of the writing and directing really shines and we get a better idea of what Maria Bissell is really capable of when she’s at her best. It’s slick, smart, and funny as hell. It’s just a shame that doesn’t start to happen until halfway through the runtime. It’s a shame as when the film is good, it’s incredible. Like I said, the robbery itself is a delight to watch (that sounds wrong). If the film was just that, it would have been one of the best things I’ve seen all year. The characters are at their best, and we’re introduced to the robbers themselves, one of whom is played by Abbie Cobb. I’m not too familiar with her work but she is incredible. There’s something of the Anna Kendrick in the way she plays her and I would love to see her do more stuff. The writing is at it’s best here too, the dialogue has a natural flow to it which really makes the situation seem real.

So in summary, see this film, but you don’t need to pay too much attention for the first half of it. As a directorial feature debut, this is incredible and shows a lot of promise. It’s just when it’s compared to other films that it seems to lack, maybe that’s unfair but it’s really the only way you can do it. It has made me want to see what Bissell does next as she’s obviously incredibly talented and has the potential to one day do my favourite film, it’s just she hasn’t quite managed that yet.

Downhill (2020)

I saw a trailer for this somewhere, can’t remember where, and it should have been a warning to me that I couldn’t remember anything from the trailer besides the movie exists. I couldn’t even remember that Will Ferrell was in it. I knew Julia Louis-Dreyfus was in it, so I considered that a good thing as I genuinely love her performances and am always happy to see her in things. It was directed by Jim Rash, who played the Dean in Community, who co-wrote it alongside Jesse Armstrong, famous for Peep Show, Veep, The Thick Of It, Four Lions, and In The Loop, all of which are wonderfully scripted. So while hopes weren’t high, I did hold out hope that this would be a sleeper hit.

It’s not, it’s just asleep. It’s incredibly lazy, some of the jokes are basically just “Europeans are weird” (bit weird that’s the second Will Ferrell film of 2020 that can be said about). It’s a shame as everybody involved is incredibly talented, but none of them show it in this. If I had to guess I’d say it’s a clash of comedic styles. Will Ferrell normally does quite loud and physical comedy which is slightly obvious and manic, whereas Julia Louis-Dreyfus goes for slightly more dialogue-focused and subdued stuff (her most extreme physical stuff probably being a few Elaine moments in Seinfeld). And Armstrong’s strength is usually dialogue and story, the film is a remake so he doesn’t have control of the story, and Will Ferrell is more physical than dialogue based. That creates a very weird mesh of conflicting styles that never seems to settle on what it wants the film to be.

It’s hard to explain why, but this film felt incredibly small, like a TV movie, albeit with a big name cast. Watching it, you can almost sense the advert breaks. It’s not just that, it’s the tone too. Nothing hits home. The emotional beats don’t work, the characters feel incredibly ill defined, I think one of the kids is written to be incredibly nervous, but it’s not showcased effectively enough for it to be something that character can overcome for narrative purposes. A lot of the side characters are pointless too, appearing just to drive the plot forward for a small moment, then disappearing.

It’s a shame as by all logic this should be a fantastic film, as it is, I can’t recommend it, even as a curiosity.

Palm Springs (2020)

I went into this pretty blind. I knew it existed, I knew Andy Samberg was in it, and I knew the poster. The first minute or so were pretty much as I expected: he wakes up and has sex (attempts to) with his partner the morning of a wedding.

Then it gets weird. He seems a little too bored, a little too like he knows exactly what is going to happen at all times. There’s a reason for that, he’s in a Groundhog Day situation and has lived this day multiple times. The good thing about this is the film drops just enough hints that if you’re paying attention you can figure it out before it’s revealed. Before the reveal it is kind of a standard romcom, and then he gets shot by someone who hates him because he caused him to go through the loop too.

So yeah, the opening section sets in stone the notion that this is not a typical romcom. It has far more jokes about suicide than the typical romcom (well, the typical romcom not written by me, at least). It also has a much darker undertone than it appears. He brings up how he behaves knowing nothing has consequences, bringing up the fact that it doesn’t matter if other people don’t remember, you do. So if you do something awful, you will be haunted by it. As he says

“Being a source of terror is not fun and it’s not fulfilling, I know from experience”

That one line gives us so much potential backstory to that character. It hints that he went through a stage where he killed people, where he viciously tortured those who annoyed him (and considering he knows his girlfriend is cheating on him, that gives us some VERY dark possibilities). I love that it hints at that backstory, but never shows us. It gives us the impression that the characters have lives outside of this film, these characters and this world seem real (except the random dinosaurs).

This film does so much right, the performances are all spot on, and overloaded with unsaid character motivations and beliefs. Everybody is on top form, it doesn’t have as many comedian cameos as you think it would. Truth be told I only remember recognising three of the cast members, but even the “unknowns” do their job incredibly well, all meshing together to form a cohesive unit. I firmly believe this may be one of the best ensemble casts I’ve seen in a long time, not a single weak link.

Now the downsides: visually it doesn’t really do much. There is some impressive stunt work in it, but the location itself never feels as paradisiacal as you feel it could. I don’t know whether it’s set design, or directing, but the location itself doesn’t “pop” as much as you feel it should. Also I feel the music could be better, I can’t remember a single song from this film, and considering it’s a summer-based horror-comedy that’s a disappointment. Also some of the montages aren’t quite fun enough. There are some moments where they’re genuinely sweet and funny, but then there are others where they just feel kind of standard. Overall though, well worth a watch. If you have a hulu account (or have a friend with one), it’s on there so you should definitely check it out on there.

Good Boys (2019)

They’re kids, but they’re swearing? Hilarious! Hahahahaahahahahaahahahahahaahahah. The story is terrible and sexist, but look, there’s a kid swearing, hahahahahahahahaha.

That’s what I worried this film would be like. That it would focus so much on making these kids seem like adults that it would forget to make them kids. That it would just be a gimmick, and a gimmick which will wear itself out pretty quickly. This film actually worked though, was really funny, heartwarming, and most importantly, it let the kids be kids. It had plenty of moments where it played off their innocence and naivety. The best moments are when it comes to drugs, and they refuse to throw it in the river because of the negative effects it could have on the environment. Moments like that are kind of cute and wholesome, kind of like a season finale of a long-running sitcom. It also has a surprisingly good attitude to women. There is a moment where they fly a drone camera in order to spy on two women, but they get called out on it and are suitably chastised.

Actually, that’s pretty much a good summary of the general tone of this film, a season finale. You feel like you’ve known them for a while. That’s not always good though, the familiarity doesn’t really breed contempt, but it does sometimes seem to breed complacency in terms of the script. There are moments where it is a little bit too by-the-numbers, a little too bland. And then there are moments where they accidentally sell a sex doll to Stephen Merchant. The madcap moments are brilliant, with one notable exception.

There’s a scene where they go into a frat house to buy some drugs (it makes sense in context) and the frat guys are complete dicks, so one of the kids ends up shooting him with a paintball gun. This leads to a scene where a room full of men in their 20s are attempting to beat the shit out of pre-pubescent kids. And the stuff they do should logically kill them. That scene’s a little uneasy to watch, mainly because it completely takes you out of the film, you realise you’re watching something fake and it breaks the immersion.

That’s a shame as the rest of the film is believable to the point of embarrassment. It makes you remember what an idiot (and kind of a dick) you were when you were younger. The situations aren’t universal, but the motivations are. It’s a film about acceptance, personal growth, and adjusting your ambitions. These are things which we all went through as kids, and are still going through now. It’s that kind of relatability which anchors the best moments of the film. None of this would matter if the actors weren’t at the top of their game, thankfully they all are. We all know Jacob Tremblay is talented, but Keith L. Williams and Brady Noon are great too. Noon, in particular, gives a strong performance that carries the film through some of the weaker moments. Molly Gordon and Midori Francis are also great, and share a chemistry which makes me wish they could lead a film together.

So in summary, you don’t HAVE to see this film, but I strongly recommend you should.