A terrible disappointment. Rose Byrne saves what is otherwise a film whose tone is so all over the place, the funny bits ruin the dramatic bits, and vice versa. The extremely talented Kristen Wiig plays a character who contributes so much damage to the preparations of her best friend’s wedding (an underused Maya Rudolph) that it is unthinkable that she would actually be welcome at the final event. Wiig has to straddle the two, divergent, tones of the film, at times playing super-broad comedy, at times crying alone in her car in what are meant to be highly affecting dramatic scenes; unfortunately her character comes off as really quite unlikeable in her self-possession. Melissa McCarthy, Rebel Wilson, Matt Lucas and Jill Clayburgh ham it up as though they’re in one sort of extremely broad comedy; the appealing Chris O’Dowd plays his “only-in-RomComs” romantic interest straight from the pages of a “How to play the romantic interest in a RomCom” book; and it is left to Ellie Kemper, Wendy McLendon-Covey and, most importantly, Rose Byrne to actually achieve a playing style that is both real and funny. Byrne’s character, easily the film’s most complex, has multiple shades; what could have been a villainess emerges as sympathetic, intriguing, and whole. Byrne is conquering Hollywood rapidly; she steals this film so completely, it must be obvious the time has come for her to get her big-budget lead: she’s the new Natalie Portman, and I hope she chooses her roles with the same degree of panache. She was too good for this film, but, ironically, it will be this film that makes her a big, big star: she needed it to show how she can take a sinking ship and not only save it, but save it with class.
X-MEN: FIRST CLASS **1/2
Thank goodness for the brilliant actor Michael Fassbender (INGLORIOUS BASTERDS, FISH TANK, HUNGER) because without him this prequel to the X-MEN franchise would be a fizzer. He plays the young man who will eventually become Magneto (Ian McKellan in the other films) and his performance is way more powerful and intriguing than we are used to seeing in a superhero movie. The main thrust of the film concerns his alliance with, and then divorce from, the young Professor X (James McAvoy, playing a young Patrick Stewart), and this is the meat of the film, and relatively compelling. The whole, expensive thing, however, is set off its rails by the necessary inclusion of a raft of young “mutants”, gathered by these two to help them deal with their societal differences. It would not be fair to single out the actors, for these characters are given dialogue not a third as rich as that given to the two men; they are also burdened with pretty silly, bordering on boring, powers; even worse than that, they are expected to lift the whole film’s dramatic weight by discussing – in facile terms – how they relate to the world at large, and in doing so we are meant to experience all sorts of reverberations – of the Holocaust, gay rights, indeed the entire world history of prejudice against minorities. Suffice to say, any film that includes a scene where a bunch of kids take on new, “super-hero” names while showing off their assorted butterfly wings and gorilla feet cannot bear this sort of meaningful association: THE PIANIST, BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN or TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD this ain’t. In his defense, outstanding British director Matthew Vaughn (who made the best “superhero” movie of them all, KICK-ASS) keeps the mood outlandish when he can, utilizing a fair amount of fun 60s-kitsch (the film, uncomfortably, is set in the heyday of the Cuban Missile Crisis, and uses that as its dramatic backdrop), best embodied by January Jones (MAD MEN), who, in a James-Bond-style white catsuit, probably sums up the tone of the film as it should have been the whole way through. Rose Byrne plays it straight and once again brings a touch of class to her unfortunately ludicrous role as a top-flight CIA operative.