Tag Archives: amy adams

‘Dear Evan Hansen’ Review

You know what they say about the road to Hell…

“Dear Evan Hansen” is based on the 2015 stage musical of the same name, and features Ben Platt reprising his titular role as a socially awkward high school student who finds himself caught up in a lie involving a recently deceased classmate. Amy Adams, Julianne Moore, Kaitlyn Dever, Amandla Stenberg, Nik Dodani, Danny Pino, and Colton Ryan also star while Stephen Chbosky directs.

I didn’t know much about this film until recently, not even that it was based off a successful musical (I assumed it had been a YA novel or something, since everything is based off an IP nowadays). There has been some heat on the internet surrounding the casting of 27-year-old Ben Platt (whose father also produced the film) as a high school student, as well as the questionable morality of the film’s plot, and while both of these are valid complaints that are hard to completely ignore while watching “Dear Evan Hansen,” the film makes up for it with some catchy songs and solid performances.

Ben Platt made his theatrical debut as a college student in 2012’s “Pitch Perfect” and here we are a full nine years later and he has regressed into high school. The film tries its best to pass him off as a fresh-faced teen but it is often hard to buy. Sometimes a performance or narrative is so engrossing that it is easy to ignore mid-20-somethings playing high schoolers (Tobey Maguire in “Spider-Man” or the entire cast of “Scream”) but here Platt is too distracting. His performance is solid enough, with some scenes of genuine emotion, but his singing is hit or miss (it may be the songwriters’ fault but his octaves just seem too high sometimes) and he has an ugly cry face (which doesn’t help the “looking old” thing).

I enjoyed Nik Dodani’s performance as Platt’s friend, he has a few amusing quips, and Kaitlyn Dever, whom I’ve been a fan of for years, continues to show why she is a rising star with some nice work as the sister of Platt’s deceased classmate. And God bless Amy Adams, even with a middling script like this she is determined to sell it. Playing a grieving mother desperate to latch onto any positive memory of her son, Adams is one of the only consistently genuine things about the film, and while it obviously won’t earn her another Oscar nomination to inevitably lose, it is a solid performance.

The musical was created by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, the duo behind “La La Land” and “The Greatest Showman,” so obviously there are going to be a few banger songs and dance sequences. I particularly liked “Sincerely, Me,” while is pretty comical as well as probably the most toe-tapping of the whole film. Some of the other songs are entertaining, too, but there are some that seem out of place (and a few cringe-worthy “talk-sing” monologues).

People on Twitter have questioned the morality of the film, centering on a character who exaggerates his friendship with a dead student simply to make the parents feel better, and if that offends you then I can’t tell you that you’re wrong. It never stopped me from fully enjoying things as I think it is handled as well as one could possibly expect a premise like this to be handled, but it’s worth noting.

“Dear Evan Hansen” wears its heart on its sleeve and tries to be something a little different in the pretty worn teen drama genre. Not everything sticks and you feel the 136-minute runtime (this could’ve easily ran 100 minutes and been a better, slicker experience), but if you like your movies covered in cheese and built to contrive the tissues, then this is your ticket.

Critics Rating: 6/10

‘Hillbilly Elegy’ Review

See, this is what happens when you don’t give people their Oscars when they deserve them; they put on a bunch of makeup and take on heavy-handed family dramas.

“Hillbilly Elegy” is based on the memoir of the same name by J.D. Vance about his upbringing in rural Ohio, and the struggles he faced with his drug addict mother (Amy Adams) and no-nonsense grandmother (Glenn Close). Gabriel Basso portrays Vance as a young man and Owen Asztalos plays him as a boy, while Ron Howard directs.

Glenn Close is a seven-time Oscar nominee and should have finally won for her work in “The Wife,” but was upset(ish) by Olivia Coleman in “The Favourite” (the real point of contention there being most argue Coleman was a supporting role, not a lead). Not to be outdone, Amy Adams is herself a six-time nominee, and most of the time simply goes up against better competition (on two occasions even facing off against her co-stars). Much like Leonardo DiCaprio and others before them in an all-out attempt to finally get that trophy, Close and Adams are seemingly throwing off the gloves and putting on the prosthetics, as they are both nearly unrecognizable in their roles as strict mother figures. Their performances are solid, especially Close, but that is about all “Hillbilly Elegy” has going for it.

From chewing scenery in “101 Dalmatians” to spewing nonsense words in “Guardians of the Galaxy,” Glenn Close always seems to be enjoying her roles, even the more serious ones. She is also one of our more underrated actresses, possibly due in part to the fact she has never taken home that one elusive trophy. She may finally have her name called on Oscar night for “Hillbilly Elegy,” a role that she is almost unrecognizable in. At times sweet and caring, at others strict and sharp but never cruel, Close carries the film like her Mamaw carries the Vance clan. The scenes with Close are by far the film’s strong points, and you notice when she is not there.

Amy Adams is solid (when is she bad?) but I wouldn’t be surprised if she doesn’t even land an Oscar nomination here. This is the kind of role that actors do when they want awards, and at times you just get the “this is my Oscar scene” vibes from Adams. Her character is a free spirit but also controlling of her children, and I found it hard to root for her; but I feel that comes down to Vanessa Taylor’s script.

The film jumps back and forth between 1997 and 2011, following J.D.’s struggles as a youth then his attempt to get a summer law job at Yale. Young J.D. at times comes off like a complete idiot, and not just because he is at risk of flunking math. Some of the things he says and does, like running into a table while chasing a dog or dancing into a display in store (or saying “Native Americans know they’re going to die”) just make him seem unbelievably stupid, and it is hard to believe that this kid would grow up to attend Yale law school.

In fact, everyone in this film does not act like any person based in reality, and the script never establishes any flow. People have sudden mood swings (J.D. and his mom go from buddy-buddy to him yelling how he hates her in a matter of five seconds), and things just don’t make sense from a character standpoint (teenage J.D. turns down smoking weed but just a few scenes later is tossing back a beer like it’s nothing).

“Hillbilly Elegy” may be remembered as a Trivial Pursuit answer for “what film did Glenn Close finally win her Academy Award for?” but otherwise it is a pretty bland and at times contrived family drama. Ron Howard has made some great films, and we know he can manage family dramas, but this was just a swing and a miss on almost every level. I didn’t see myself or my family in any character, and none of them are interesting enough in their own right to root for. Just a bunch of missed opportunities given all the talent involved…

Critics Rating: 4/10

‘American Hustle’ Mainly Bells and Whistles


Sometimes in movies it is very apparent the actors had much more fun making the film than the audience has watching it. That pretty much sums up “American Hustle”, the new David O. Russell film with an all-star cast including Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Bradley Cooper, Jeremy Renner and Jennifer Lawrence.

Set in the late 1970’s, the film follows con man Irving and his partner Sydney (Bale and Adams), who are forced to work with an FBI agent (Cooper) and take down politicians in exchange for their own freedom.

The premise of the movie is very intriguing, and could have been something fantastic. People trying to scam the mafia, corrupt Congressmen and other con artists all in one big deal? With a tighter script it might have been like “Goodfellas” meets “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” (how’s that for a movie reference?). But instead we get a movie that decides to focus more on its characters, rather than its plot or story arch.

According to Christian Bale, Russell allowed the actors to improvise their lines whenever they felt the desire, even if it changed the plot. This may seem like a creative, fun idea at the time however the end result is the movie lacking solid flow or a true narrative (try and decipher whether this is a drama, comedy or political thriller, because it doesn’t have a clue). It seems like the whole film was just a scene with a punchline or dramatic moment, followed by another scene with a punchline or dramatic moment which is almost unrelated to the previous scene.

All the actors do a fine job, particularly Bale. His dedication to any role he does is admirable, as he gained 40 pounds to play Irving. Bale went from dangerously skinny in “The Machinist” to ripped in “Batman Begins”. He then lost weight again for “The Fighter”, and had to put muscle back on for “The Dark Knight Rises”. Bale is the best part of “Hustle”, as he plays a man who deep down has good intentions but can’t seem to get out of the rut he has put himself into with his scamming.

The rest of the cast is solid, albeit nothing memorable. I’m sure they will all earn their award nominations, however I couldn’t help but get the feeling their roles could be done by anyone, particularly that of Jennifer Lawrence, who plays Bale’s wife. Until the film’s climax she really isn’t anything but an extended cameo, and I just never felt she brought anything special to the table (except that she is Jennifer Lawrence).

There are flashes in “Hustle” that made me think the film would rise above the mediocrity that had so far been presented, but it never does. I’m not sure if it was the pacing or the lack of any true resolution, but I just never got absorbed into its world of 1970’s New Jersey. People disappear from the plot never to be seen again, and others do actions that are just completely out of character and leave you shaking your head wondering why that just happened.

“American Hustle” may have looked good on paper, and it is clear the actors all had a fun time with each other while filming it, but in the end it just feels like a missed opportunity. The ending is clever and some of the dialogue is sharp, but it just doesn’t come together in a pretty bow, which is a disappointment considering the cast. The movie may not be a scam, but it certainly sold itself short.

Critics Rating: 6/10