Some briefs on recent movies:
This bittersweet comedy about two sisters who launch a crime-scene cleanup business was produced by the team responsible for Little Miss Sunshine, which it resembles in its mordant affection for its hard-luck characters, and the casting of Alan Arkin as an eccentric grandpa. Amy Adams is Rose, an Albuquerque ex-cheerleader who cleans houses and is having an affair with a married cop (Steve Zahn), who tells her there’s money to be made cleaning up after murders and suicides.
Rose, who needs to pay for private school for her unusually imaginative son (Jason Spevack), recruits her hapless sister Norah (Emily Blunt), and they plunge into the messy business. The sisters, who along the way meet a gentle, one-armed janitorial-supply salesman (Clifton Collins Jr.), are affected by the tragedies they encounter, particularly Norah, who’s so moved by a dead woman’s family photos she tries to befriend the woman’s daughter (Mary Lynn Rajskub). Eventually the sisters begin to heal the wounds left by their mother’s premature death. Some of the situations strain credulity, but the movie achieves moments of sublime poignancy. The acting is superb, and the mood artfully balanced between sadness and hope. Christine Jeffs directed.
Observe and Report
Writer-director Jody Hill specializes in deluded, self-important antiheroes (The Foot Fist Way), and in this movie he casts Seth Rogen as Ronnie Barnhardt, a volatile, bipolar mall security guard who lives with his doting mom, lusts after a pretty cosmetics clerk (Anna Faris) and dreams of becoming a real cop.
If you think you’ve seen this before, know that this is the evil twin of Paul Blart: Mall Cop: same basic story, funnier but with the violence cranked up to eleven. The story is about Ronnie’s plan to catch a serial flasher and thereby seize his chance at law-enforcement glory. His inept efforts pit him against an ambitious police detective (Ray Liotta).
Rogen is usually enjoyable, but here is defeated by Hill’s wobbly screenplay, which hasn’t decided whether Ronnie's a psychotic gun nut or a sweet, well-intentioned slob. The movie is replete with laugh lines, and the scenes between Ronnie and his alcoholic mom (Celia Weston) are wickedly funny. It’s hard to understand, then, why Hill found it necessary to include so much ugly mayhem, including a scene that all but suggests date rape and the gunning down of a relatively harmless, unarmed man. You can’t just throw a lot of shooting into your movie and call it a “dark comedy.” Generally speaking, comedy and serious gun violence are a queasy mix.