Tuesday, October 31, 2023

Joy Ride (2023): A Review (Review #1763)



Joy Ride is the worst film of 2023. 

I said that about Book Club: The Next Chapter. I came close to saying that about The Boogeyman. However, Joy Ride outdoes them all in its crassness, its degeneracy, its racism. Joy Ride is not funny, not clever, and a horrifying reflection of a society that can give lavish praise to such garbage.

Lifelong BFF's Audrey (Ashley Park) and Lolo (Sherry Cola) are total opposites. Audrey, adopted by a white couple as an infant from China, is studious, responsible and a successful attorney. Lolo, born in the States to Chinese immigrants, is vulgar, unemployed and making art that resembles penises. Audrey's job requires her to go to Beijing to close a big deal, and Lolo goes as her unofficial translator. Tagging along is Lolo's cousin Vanessa, better known as Deadeyes (Sabrina Wu). Deadeyes lives up to her moniker: generally catatonic and more interested in K-Pop and her online community than anything else. In Beijing, Audrey reunites with another friend, Kat (Stephanie Hsu), who has found fame as a Chinese television soap opera actress. 

The deal for some reason requires the men to know all about Audrey's Chinese family, so after some hoodwinking the foursome travel through China to find the adoption agency and track down Audrey's birth mother. They end up sharing a train carriage with a white drug dealer who forces them to ingest heavy amounts of cocaine, cause freak sex accidents to a traveling basketball team and try to pass themselves off as a Korean K-Pop group.

Why the last? Simply put, Audrey discovers that she is not Chinese but Korean. That requires a trip to South Korea to find Audrey's birth mother, but their efforts to get to South Korea end up a disaster. A livestream of this faux-K-Pop group performing WAP ends with Kat's skirt falling, revealing a massive Devil tattoo covering her vagina. That scandal causes friction among the group, which is surprisingly the least of their issues.

Ultimately, their relationship heals, and Audrey reconciles with her past. 

The audience that I saw Joy Ride with laughed exactly once. It was at the beginning, when the child Lolo defends the child Audrey. I need to set this up a bit. Audrey's white parents had approached Lolo's Chinese parents, who were openly hostile to them until they reveal their daughter. Lolo takes Audrey to go to the swings but are stopped by a little white boy who ran up to them and said something about "no ching-chongs allowed". At that point, Lolo tells him, "F*** YOU!" and punches the boy, who is sent flying and then is sent flying again when another girl on a swing hits him accidentally.

I think they laughed uproariously at the sight of a little girl cursing. What can be funnier than that? After that though, the theater was dead silent as Joy Ride went on. This is not surprising, given that Joy Ride was devoid of humor and good taste. I figure that screenwriters Cherry Chevapravatdumrong and Teresa Hsiao were aiming for an Asian female version of The Hangover, one where hijinks and cringe comedy blended.

What perhaps they, along with director Adele Lim, failed to note is that viewers are not laughing with the guys from The Hangover. We are laughing at them. There is a big difference. We are not asked to sympathize with the Wolf Pack, but recoil in horror at how they got where they are. Joy Ride, oddly, wants us to like these four women, but they are all so unlikeable. Even Audrey, ostensibly the most responsible and mature one, quickly and irrationally goes in on a menage a trois with two basketball players.

This sequence where three of the four women go all-it with their sex partners is not funny. Leaving aside for the moment the editing is choppy, all of these women look like complete sex-obsessed loons. Only Deadeyes was not shown in sexual debauchery, apparently fine with just having a K-Pop dance-off with another basketball player.

To be fair, perhaps their irrational behavior can be attributed to their forced cocaine ingestion. That entire sequence leads us to how everything in Joy Ride is awful. While on a Chinese bullet train, Audrey is adamant about looking for the best carriage to share with others. She repeatedly rejects any carriage that has Chinese people in them, then comes upon one that is occupied by a single white Caucasian female, whom they find is American. 

It should be obvious to everyone except those who found Joy Ride hilarious that the single white female will end up being a criminal. She is a cocaine smuggler, and in order to save herself, forces the four of them to swallow all the coke she has through every bodily orifice. Yes, they literally take it up the ass. 

Despite this, they are thrown off the train and stranded in the middle of China. 

As a side note, given that Kat is a major Chinese star, she could not afford a driver and accommodations for herself and her gal pals? 

Perhaps in the wild, hysterical overacting that everyone in this scene was involved is where those praising Joy Ride got that this was funny. All I could think about was how racist and idiotic everything was. It is racist for Audrey to assume that an Anglo woman traveling alone in China would be the "safe alternative". It is illogical to think that the outlandish amounts of cocaine they all took would not have instantly killed them. One of them, I think Kat, bemoans her plight, complaining loudly about "the blow that literally exploded in my asshole". 

Yes, perhaps it is a stretch to put too much thought into the logic of seeing people swallow so much cocaine that it would kill a small Uighur concentration camp. However, I don't think you can have such a scene and not have people with functioning brains ask how any of this is possible. It might have actually benefitted Joy Ride all the more if they all had overdosed on the train, thus sparing us more misery.

Joy Ride is a very racist film. Right from the get-go, when the little Anglo boy stops Audrey and Lolo from going to the swings, the film pushes the idea that whites are either openly racists or dumb. Audrey, for example, thanks her employer for the "Mulan-themed birthday party" they gave her. That, I figure, must have read funny when the two television writers came up with that. However, it was not funny, made less funny by Park's forced delivery. Audrey's fondness for Mumford & Sons and Taylor Swift also makes her somehow "less authentic" to her heritage. One can play with stereotypes, but Joy Ride is not clever enough to give us that. 

It is curious, however, that the film actually made an unintended case for how white parenthood is actually better for Asian children than Asian parenthood. Audrey was brought up by two white parents, and she (menage a trois notwithstanding) became a successful lawyer. Lolo was brought up by immigrant Chinese parents, and she ended up a sex-obsessed loser. There is no way in any world, real or fantasy, where Audrey and Lolo would be friends, let alone BFF's. All friends will have varying degrees of differences between them. However, they also have to have some things in common. Audrey and Lolo have nothing in common, not even their Chinese heritage. 

No Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother parenting for Lolo.

The racism even extends, perhaps unintentionally, to how the Asian characters were portrayed. There was controversy a few years back when Michelle Yeoh and Zhang Ziyi were cast in Memoirs of a Geisha. The argument was that only Japanese or Japanese-descended actresses could play the roles. A major plot point in Joy Ride is that Audrey was Korean and not Chinese. Is the film arguing that "all Asians look alike"?  The plot point of an Asian-American woman searching for her past in The Joy Luck Club ended up being a bit of a bad punchline in Joy Ride

The film has no performances, at least until Park is left alone to search for her birth mother. Joy Ride takes a strange detour into a drama, where Audrey meets Dae (Daniel Dae Kim), her late mother's husband. We see a surprisingly touching moment where Audrey sees a video her late mother made for her long-lost daughter in case she came after her death. That part of the film somehow worked much better than the raunchy, idiotic monstrosity we were mostly given.

Joy Ride is shockingly unoriginal. The characters were one-note (responsible one, irresponsible one, weird one, nonentity). The situations cringe-inducing: no amount of faux-female empowerment will make their irrational WAP performance look good. The movie has no plot. It has nothing to offer.

Joy Ride is dreadful beyond what I could have imagined. It is the anti-Joy Luck Club, one that denigrates everyone involved in the film. Even the audience.  


Wednesday, October 25, 2023

Life with Lucy: Lucy and Curtis Are Up a Tree



I cannot remember where, but I read or heard somewhere that a Lucy episode be it I Love Lucy, The Lucy Show, Here's Lucy and/or Life with Lucy started with a simple premise and built from there. Lucy and Curtis Are Up a Tree, the tenth and second unaired Life with Lucy episode, takes that idea to a whole new level by literally telling you about the entire plot in the title. Lucy and Curtis Are Up a Tree is also bad, just bad, and would have been another reason to dump this misguided debacle.

Margo McGibbon (Ann Dusenberry) is very concerned that her mother Lucy Barker (Lucille Ball) and father-in-law Curtis (Gale Gordon) are spoiling the kids. Margo's husband Ted (Larry Anderson) is more blase about things, and their disagreement turns into a fight. Lucy overhears the fight and is alarmed. 

She goes to Curtis, who is busy building their grandson Kevin (Philip J. Amelio, II) a treehouse. Realizing that they have indeed been spoiling the children, they agree the best solution is to move out. Which one should move out, though, is a source of contention. Kevin overhears their conversation via the walkie-talkie Curtis got him. Managing Herculean strength, Kevin moves the latter away from the treehouse to force them to negotiate. 

Lucy and Curtis agree to cut back on their gifts and that neither will leave, which brightens their day. That is a counter to the rainstorm that traps them there. They are all wet but there's hope. The rest of the family has returned, rescued them, agreed to not seeing them go and everyone starts "singing in the rain".

One might imagine that I would like Lucy and Curtis Are Up a Tree more because this is the first Life with Lucy episode in which Donovan Scott's Leonard does not appear. Lucy and Curtis Are Up a Tree is also the first Life with Lucy episode which does not have a single scene at the hardware store. To be honest, those are positives: Scott's Leonard is both a bad and unnecessary character. However, Lucy and Curtis Are Up a Tree is bad because it is more than unfunny. It is boring and illogical.

I cannot remember if Margo and Ted ever opted to talk to their parents about how they were spoiling the children. I think there was mention that they had or tried to. By not doing so, Margo and Ted essentially infantilized their parents, refusing to see them as adults. 

That these adults opted to fight with each other rather than approach or be firm with their own parents is probably the most logical thing in the episode. Ball has an irrelevant sequence where she tells Kevin a bedtime story. To be fair, hearing her version of The Frog Prince is a showcase for her still-agile skills. However, it is totally unnecessary to the story and is there as time filler. It shows how thin Lucy and Curtis Are Up a Tree is.

Kevin is about five to seven in the series. How exactly would he be physically capable of moving a large, heavy ladder by himself? I doubt he would be able to even shift it, let alone pull it away. Why did no one notice or care that Lucy and Curtis were missing? From what I remember, Ted and Margo take the kids out to dinner to celebrate making up. I guess they opted not to ask Lucy and Curtis to join them, or even ask, "Has anyone seen Grandma or Groovy Grandpa"(Groovy Grandpa being Curtis' walkie talkie handle)? 

More bizarre is how Lucy and Curtis Are Up a Tree is shot. In the opening scene, the editing made it look like Dusenberry was not in the same room with Ball. It gave the impression that she had to reshoot the scene and was inserted into it later. The editing is so jarring that one got the idea that the original scene was so bad acting-wise they had to hurriedly try for reshoots without Ball's presence. Given how bad Dusenberry was, one can imagine how awful the original scene was. 

Perhaps the saddest part of Lucy and Curtis Are Up a Tree is when Ball breaks out into crying. The audience loved it, probably for the same reason I hated it: it brought back memories of Lucy Ricardo. 

Lucy and Curtis Are Up a Tree is more Lucy and Curtis Find Their Time is Up.  How bad is the episode? Even the absence of Leonard can't make it good.


Next (Unaired) Episode: Lucy's Green Thumb

Tuesday, October 24, 2023

1985: A Review



With AIDS no longer being a death sentence, it may be hard for today's generation to understand not just the gravity of those early days of terror but the terror itself. 1985, a strong if perhaps at times predictable drama chronicling one man's impending death, does a good job in humanizing those aware and unaware of this terrible disease.

Adrian Lester (Cory Michael Smith) has come back to his Texas home (an unspecified suburb of Dallas) for Christmas. We soon see that he is different from his more faith-based parents Eileen (Virginia Madsen) and Dale (Michael Chiklis). Adrian wants to get closer to his younger brother Andrew (Aidan Langford) but Andrew is a bit cold towards him. This is probably due to how Adrian has not kept in touch and skipped out on a promised trip to visit Adrian in New York City.

There is, however, a reason for Adrian being a bit separate from his family. There is a reason for the surprisingly lavish gifts Adrian gives them, including a trip to Hawaii. There is also a reason for his distance from Carly (Jaime Chung), a former friend with some benefits who is starting a career as a stand-up comedienne. 

Adrian is dying of AIDS. He wants to tell those around him that he is gay and that he may not live to see Christmas, 1986, but ultimately, he can tell only Carly. That is not to say that the Lesters are not aware of something being amiss. Dale reveals that he made a side trip to New York after attending a fellow veteran's funeral and saw Adrian wrapped around another man. Dale is also privately troubled by Andrew's switch from football to drama, and his love for Madonna also raises concerns. Eileen is caring, but she too knows her son is keeping something from her. With Adrian going back to New York City, she quietly tells him that when he's ready to tell her, she'll try to be ready to hear.

1985 is a very quiet film. No one has a big scene or moment, not even when conflict comes up. Dale and Carly both are angry and/or upset at Adrian, but there is no yelling or even raising of voices. Instead, both are assertive on their points, but not violent or belligerent. I think it communicates more a sense of hurt than hostility, making them more believable as characters. 

I think the humanizing of the characters is to the film's benefit, as we can see in 1985 these five people, flaws and all. Other films might have made Adrian very saintly or Dale perhaps too aggressive and belligerent. However, writer/director Yen Tan resists this temptation. Yes, Dale for example is still a gruff, growly individual and Eileen is sweeter and more nurturing. However, Chiklis has a scene with Smith where he talks about how his father never hugged him to express emotion. His background as a Vietnam veteran still haunted by his experiences in combat also reveals him to be more than the somewhat hostile man.

In the brief time frame and running time (85 minutes), 1985 tells its story simply. Perhaps too simply, as for most of the film we get very few hints about what exactly troubles Adrian. We see him take some medication and be evasive about matters, but it is not until close to the end that the hints become stronger. For example, Adrian cuts himself while slicing an onion. While Eileen goes to get a band-aid, Adrian's panic over the blood is so great that he tosses the onion and even the cutting board into the trash. This moment, brief as it is, reminds viewers of the panic AIDS caused. It also suggests that Eileen may finally get hints about what is going on.

There are many subtleties and suggestions in 1985. It might be stereotypical, but Andrew's newfound love for theater and Madonna strongly suggests that he too might be gay. It is never made clear whether Andrew is, but it does explain Dale's growing sharpness with both his sons given how he knows Adrian's sexual orientation. In some ways, the subtleties make 1985 more tragic. Dale knows that Adrian is gay. Eileen knows, or strongly suspects, that Adrian has AIDS. They may not know that it is both. We the audience now know, but Adrian's inability to verbalize it for most of the film makes him all the more tragic.

1985 has strong performances from most of the cast. Cory Michael Smith scored major recognition when playing The Riddler on Gotham, and now he shows us a softer, gentler side as Adrian. For most of the film, Adrian is a bit distant from things, such as when he meets up with Marc (Ryan Piers Williams), a repentant former bully. It is not until he reveals all to Carly that we see Smith use so much skill to move the viewer. Adrian's revelation of his late partner Leo's agony when he ultimately succumbed to AIDS, coupled with his thorough loneliness in his grief, is heartbreaking. We see that it is not just his impending, inevitable death that tears at him. It is his inability to share his grief with his family, both of Leo's death and the knowledge that he too will most likely be gone soon. 1985 is another strong calling card for Smith, and I hope he gets more roles to showcase his skills. 

He is matched by Virginia Madsen, who excels as Eileen. She plays Eileen as very gentle and sincere, always trying to keep the peace, nurturing if sometimes a bit too involved. Her last scene with Smith though makes one almost weep. "You don't have to tell me until you're ready. And I'll try to be ready when you are," she tells him. By keeping things simple, Madsen, Smith and Yan all make this moment all the more beautiful and heartbreaking. Madsen even has a small moment of humor, when she quietly, almost conspiratorially confesses to Adrian that she voted for Walter Mondale in the 1984 election. It does remind me of a similar moment in Peggy Sue Got Married only it was Kennedy that the mother secretly supported. The more things change...

One can fault Chiklis for being a bit too gruff and stereotypical as the working-class Dale. At times it skated towards parody of the not-tolerant man. However, his last moment with Smith when Adrian hugs Dale shows the father, in his way, letting go of anger to embrace the child he loves. Chung was a little more stilted as Carly, but like Madsen and Chiklis, her last major scene works well.

I do not know why the last scenes are the best for people, but there it is. 

1985 is made up of many master shots, where we have the characters in the middle of the frame. The black-and-white cinematography may be too artsy for some. You are, however, left not with a sense of either hope or despair, but with mourning for everyone involved. 1985 is a well-acted, well-written, quiet film that reminds viewers of the early, terrifying days of AIDS. 


Monday, October 23, 2023

Life with Lucy: Lucy and the Guard Goose



Joan Crawford's estranged daughter Christina once remarked that she did not know if Trog was Joan's last film but that if wasn't, it should have been. Mother of the Bride was the final Life with Lucy episode broadcast, and as such it ended Lucille Ball's disastrous fourth television series on a high note. Had it ended with Lucy and the Guard Goose, one of the five "lost" episodes, it would have sunk Ball's reputation to where it would never have recovered. While none of the Life with Lucy episodes had been good save for Mother of the Bride, Lucy and the Guard Goose was just beyond awful, a total fiasco from opening to closing that is simply cringe inducing. 

The M&B Hardware Store has been robbed. Co-owner Curtis McGibbon (Gale Gordon) does not want to spend money on a security system. Co-owner Lucy Barker (Lucille Ball), who inadvertently caused the situation by leaving the key in a visible key stone, first suggests a guard dog and then a guard goose. Somehow, Curtis goes along with this, only to end up being held hostage by Oliver the Guard Goose. Lucy's efforts to rescue Curtis ends up with her also being held prisoner by the honking horror until in frustration, Curtis throws something at Oliver.

Worried that he killed him, they take Oliver home, where they find to their relief that Oliver is not dead. He, however, is still terrorizing the McGibbon family. Even police officer Sergeant Green (Charles Levin) is no match for Oliver the Goose. Ultimately, Lucy outwits the goose by imitating a goose herself, drawing him out of the house.

Lucy and the Guard Goose is such an embarrassment from the word "go" that one watches more in sadness than horror. The entire idea of a "guard goose" might have sounded funny, but one asks, "Why a guard goose"? Lucy tries to rationalize it by saying that geese are naturally aggressive, but it still sound stupid. Curtis may have been wildly cheap, but even he might have considered that a burglar alarm would have been a better investment than a literal guard goose. He could have hired a security guard or invested in better locks, but a guard goose?

As a side note, I figure the hardware store should have been insured for robbery, so the theft of power tools would not have been the disaster the episode portrayed. 

Perhaps it is not unexpected that we do not see Oliver being bonkers in Lucy and the Guard Goose. We have maybe one shot of him when he strolls into M&B Hardware, but for the rest of the episode all we hear is his honking. While I do not think it would have been fun to see any animal harmed, I empathize with Curtis' frustration and anger at being held prisoner by a rampaging bird. To be fair, why did he ask Lucy to help him? He's pretty much has had contempt for Lucy, with reason, but why trust the person who caused the problems to help solve them?

Lucy and the Guard Goose is not helped by the performances. Of particular note is Ann Dusenberry as Margo Barker McGibbon. For reasons unknown, her running gag is retelling her oddball dreams. The episode starts with her talking about a dream where she dances the tango with Tip O'Neill (the then-Speaker of the House). When she gathers with her family as they face the crisis of the out-of-control goose, she decides this is the perfect time to tell of her newest dream.

"I was having this great dream. Mick Jagger came over and wanted me to join his group, but I said, "Mick, you can't always get what you want". I did a literal eye roll at this line. I figure that she did her best with such an awful line, but her performance is particularly atrocious. It really was just awful. Awful. Awful. Awful. There was an almost unhinged manner to it, hurried and desperate. It is as if she knew all of this was truly horrendous and was desperate to get out of it. 

There was just nothing in Lucy and the Guard Goose. The performances were all bad, even Ball and Gordon, who so far have been the only good things in Life with Lucy. I think they too did their best, particularly an agile Ball who had the ability to move like a goose. That, however, oddly draws from a similar moment from I Love Lucy almost thirty years prior except they were baby chicks. 

Lucy and the Guard Goose is shockingly bad. The public was spared a stunningly bad Life with Lucy episode. Perhaps after seeing it, the network executives decided to cancel Life with Lucy rather than watch Lucille Ball be so humiliated by this dreck. 


Next (Unaired) Episode: Lucy and Curtis Are Up a Tree

Thursday, October 19, 2023

Big Time (1988): A Review



I am neither a Tom Waits fan or a Tom Waits hater. Truth be told, I think I know the name more than the music. That is, until I saw Big Time, his combination concert film experimental performance piece. It is a good introduction to Waits' music, though perhaps a bit odd for most people.

Divided into three acts, Big Time intercuts Waits performing two concerts in Los Angeles and San Francisco with some performances as a kind of oddball Master of Ceremonies. As he performs on stage, one sees a surprisingly magnetic performer. We get a good variety of songs, which are in my view quite good. Down in the Hole, for example, makes him sound and look like a ragged Jim Morrisson. Innocent When You Dream (Barroom), which closes the concert (Big Black Mariah plays over the credits) is a good song, albeit a strange one. 

Waits' gravelly, growly voice mostly speaks a lot of his lyrics versus singing them. Waits is scratchier than say Leonard Cohen but surprisingly softer than late Bob Dylan. His performance style is also curiously like Joe Cocker, almost flaying about with slightly possessed glee. Waits is also quite theatrical in Big Time when performing either on stage or in filmed sections directed by Chris Blum. 

Whether you think Tom Waits is artistic or crazy is up to you. His performance style seems to have him perpetually hunched over when he is not sitting at the piano. The aforementioned Down in the Hole intercuts his song with him doing a faux-preacher manner on a stage. It works well, though it does also come across as slightly bonkers. 

His dialogue at times makes a case that he is crazy. As he attempts to be some kind of barker to attract men to a strip club, he calls out that the women went beyond XXX to being girls without skin. That kind of almost outrageous manner lends Big Time a bit of a kooky manner. It is watchable, if a bit odd for some people. 

Questions on his sanity continue when he performs a song under an umbrella on fire. One watches, if not in shock, at least in mesmerized puzzlement. It does give one an idea of what a Tom Waits concert would be like, though it is hard to know if all the theatricality he had.

Big Time is a pretty lost film, having never been released on DVD and rarely screened. I understand that at one point, no prints could be found. I think Tom Waits fans will enjoy Big Time. Those of us who have barely a passing acquaintance with the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame member will find things to like though be warned: it can be a bit oddball. 

Wednesday, October 18, 2023

Life with Lucy: Mother of the Bride



1986 was a generally horrendous year for Lucille Ball. Her hoped-for comeback series, Life with Lucy, bombed with critics and audiences. The series was an absolute fiasco, seriously damaging her reputation as the Queen of Comedy. The same year Life with Lucy was cancelled, her ex-husband Desi Arnaz died after battling lung cancer. To see the deaths of both her career and the great love of her life so close together were emotionally devastating for Ball. Only her Kennedy Center Honors that same year brought any sense of joy to the besieged comedienne. Mother of the Bride, the final Life with Lucy episode broadcast before its cancellation, was a glimpse into what the show could have been, for it is the best Life with Lucy episode.  

Lucy Barker (Ball) is still slightly miffed that her daughter Margo (Ann Dusenberry) and her husband Ted (Larry Anderson) eloped. Lucy always wanted to give her daughter a big wedding even if Margo did not want one. Nevertheless, prodded by their children Becky (Jenny Lewis) and Kevin (Philip J. Amelio, II), they decide to take advantage of their tenth wedding anniversary to renew their vows and have the wedding Lucy always wanted.

Into this comes Audrey (special guest star Audrey Meadows), Lucy's sister. A successful cruise ship director, Audrey eagerly volunteers to help with the wedding plans. Her idea of "help", however, is to take over every aspect of the event, freezing out Lucy. Clearly upset, she shifts between fuming and crying, but has one card up her sleeve: her own wedding gown which Margo once loved and which Lucy will offer to her as a surprise. Unfortunately, Audrey already took Margo shopping for a wedding dress. Margo's father-in-law Curtis (Gale Gordon) tries to get Lucy to speak up, but she's too devastated.

Eventually, Lucy and Audrey have a quiet fight involving the wedding cake frosting and refuse to speak to each other. Their frosty relationship however, ends the day of the renewal. Realizing that each was jealous of the other but still loving her only sister, they reconcile, and through a little help from Curtis, Margo wears her mother's wedding gown. 

Mother of the Bride is unique for a variety of reasons. This is the first episode where the guest star is billed in the opening scene, announcing "Special Guest Star Audrey Meadows". It is the first time that there was genuine conflict handled humorously. It is the first time that Life with Lucy showed a true heart, where one feels for Lucy versus being concerned for her physical safety.

It is technically not the first episode where Curtis is on Lucy's side (the preceding episode Lucy, Legal Beagle was), but here he was nowhere near as antagonistic as he had been before. In fact, he was quite sympathetic to her plight. As Lucy explodes over how Audrey has hijacked her moment, Curtis begins by noting Audrey's qualities to add that she is a big "buttinsky". This surprise Lucy, who sees that Curtis may dislike her but also dislikes people taking advantage of others. It reveals Curtis to be, granted, a cantankerous man, but also an upright one.

Having shared with Curtis her plan to present her wedding gown to Margo, we can see Lucy trying not to openly cry when Margo shows her mother the dress she and Audrey picked out. Curtis begins to softly say, "Lucille, Lucille" as a way to encourage her to speak up and speak out over Audrey's meddling. Lucy gets the hint but won't go along with it. Gordon here reveals Curtis' genuine sadness for his nemesis, fully aware of just how hurt and heartbroken she is.

I understand that Audrey Meadows was at the very least considered to join the Life with Lucy cast had the show been renewed. While ultimately turning down the offer, Meadows' character demonstrated that Lucy is best when working against a foil. Curtis, despite Gordon's talent, was a poor foil, for you know that it was more bluster than genuine dislike to hatred. Last episode's Hilda Loomis was a better antagonist, for she was not above going after the jugular. Meadows' Audrey was also not afraid to go toe to toe (or nose to nose) with Lucy. In both Lucy, Legal Beagle and Mother of the Bride, Lucy was the person you rooted for. Past Life with Lucy episodes really had little to no conflict. Worse, they made her look less endearingly daffy and more totally insane as well as a danger to herself and others.

Almost all the performances are top notch. Guest star Meadows was pitch perfect as Audrey. She made Audrey not someone who was deliberately cruel but at least initially trying to help. I do question how she could not, on some level, realize that she was pushing Lucy out of the way. However, Meadows never made her overtly mean. She and Ball worked quite well, particularly when they silently go at each other with the cakes. It was not as funny as I think the audience thought. It still was amusing.

Their final scene when they reconcile is simply beautiful, almost moving. One is touched to see the sisters come together. Lucy tells Audrey that she is thankful that she's her only sister, then adds out of Audrey's earshot, "Thank God". It is funny but also true.

Gordon here was both amusing and gentle as Curtis. The glance that he throws when Margo tells Lucy that Curtis had mentioned her old wedding dress is sweet. Ball gets nice quips about inviting Ronald and Nancy Reagan to the wedding. She doesn't do it expecting them to actually come, but in the hopes that they will send a nice gift. She also has an amusing moment with her Cousin Florence (Jacque Lynn Colton), a heavyset woman whom Lucy is obviously fond of.

Another unexpected positive to Mother of the Bride is how Leonard (Donovan Scott) does not appear until 19 minutes into the episode. Given that the episode runs about 22 minutes, that is another blessing. 

Mother of the Bride was the last the public saw of Life with Lucy until the series was released on DVD. Sweet, moving and actually funny, one can see that with some retooling prior to the show's premiere, we could have had the show that everyone was aiming for. Whether it is a good or bad thing that Life with Lucy ended on probably its best episode I do not know. I am just glad that at least one episode of Life with Lucy did not embarrass Lucille Ball.


Next (Unaired) Episode: Lucy and the Guard Goose

Monday, October 16, 2023

Life with Lucy: Lucy, Legal Beagle



We are now on Episode 7 of the eight Life with Lucy episodes broadcast (with five others left unaired). Lucy, Legal Beagle (or Leagle Beagle or Legal Eagle, honestly, I've seen a variety of versions for the episode's title) gives us a little glimmer of what could have been, but which was not used by people who should have known better.

The McGibbon family is having a yard sale though it is taking place indoors. Lucy Barker (Lucille Ball) gets some sass from Hilda Loomis (Dena Dietrich), one of the customers, who leaves understandably angry when Lucy accidentally tears off her skirt. However, there has been an unfortunate accident in that Charlie, the beloved teddy bear of Kevin (Philip J. Amelio, II) has been mixed in with other items in the sale.

Kevin's grandparents Lucy and Curtis McGibbon (Gale Gordon) offer a $50 reward for Charlie's return. A self-proclaimed "sweet old lady" (Nora Boland) tries to hoodwink them by trying to pass off a rabbit for Charlie, but soon the real Charlie emerges. The bear is now with none other than Hilda, who demands $500 for his safe return. It's off to small claims court, where there is the expected disorder in the court until Lucy manages to win the case and bring Charlie home, even if her efforts are ultimately for naught.

Maybe it is just me, but I think Lucy, Legal Beagle makes no sense even for a sitcom. The legal point, which curiously law student Ted McGibbon (Larry Anderson) apparently can't figure out, is on whether or not Hilda bought the teddy bear. I am not even sure that she bought the bag that Lucy had put Charlie in for safekeeping when Kevin's BFF Max (Brandon Call) started teasing him for having a teddy bear at all. I watched Lucy, Legal Beagle twice to see the exact set of circumstances that we the audience were presented with.

Nowhere in Lucy, Legal Beagle was it ever clear that Hilda had bought the bag or even that she had taken it by accident when escaping Lucy's generally disastrous vacuum cleaner demonstration. Surely someone at their indoor yard sale would have remembered selling Hilda the bag in question. Moreover, it was obvious that Hilda did not buy the teddy bear in the bag. Again, she might have even bought the bag given that Lucy had deliberately put it away from other items. At the most, and I think I'm being wildly generous here, Charlie was sold accidentally and thus, not a legal sale. Therefore, Hilda had no right to Charlie and may have even stolen the bag that he was in (though to be fair, in the confusion of her quick exit she might have picked up the bag by mistake). 

Had screenwriters Richard Albrecht and Casey Keller shown us anyone selling Lucy's bag, we might have at least had a decent setup to the eventual showdown. However, studying Lucy, Legal Beagle like some people study the Zapruder film, I can say that it makes no sense that no one so much as remembers selling the bag in question or bothered to see why it looked so full. The extended section of "the sweet old lady" tearing the ears off a stuffed rabbit in a totally crazed effort to pass him off as a bear for $50 dollars was there to stretch the episode. It did make that old lady look like a complete psycho and ended up being almost frightening than hilarious.

Yes, I am aware that to give a lot of thought to the minutiae of legal points on a sitcom is odd. However, in my defense, you are asking us to accept a premise that eventually goes to trial, so I'm not totally bonkers on said minutiae. 

What made Lucy, Legal Beagle slightly better than past Life with Lucy episodes is that we had a bit of bite, particularly with Dietrich's Hilda. When Lucy asks her daughter Margo (Ann Dusenberry), "Remember the lady who had her 100th birthday last summer?", Hilda replies to Lucy, "Did you get a lot of presents?". She did not say this in a sweet or innocent manner, but in a sharp edged, sarcastic one. She was quite sassy with Lucy, and it made me wonder if Lucy would have done well to have a rival or foil to fight. It almost made me want Hilda to come back to cause Lucy more mischief.

Lucy, Legal Beagle did have a strong, sharp edge to it. When Hilda goes to the hardware store, Lucy accuses her of trying to take advantage of the situation as payback for Lucy accidentally ripping Hilda's skirt off. Hilda replies that she isn't even upset by that now. "Why just the other day I was saying not enough people are tearing off my clothes". Without missing a point, Gordon's Curtis retorts, "Who did you say it to: Mr. Loomis?". For once, Curtis is on Lucy's side, a nice change. 

Gordon and Dietrich were the best parts of Lucy, Legal Beagle. Gordon could do the sarcasm when he sees Hilda beating up on Lucy and Kevin. He could also do the slightly embarrassed, slightly flustered Curtis when he is unexpectedly called to testify. Lucy obviously never learned an important legal lesson: never put a witness on the stand without knowing what his/her answers are. Dietrich's mix of sarcasm and stumbling when forced to admit that she had not technically bought Charlie were also well-acted.

Ball did as well as the script let her, able to do a nice buildup to her bumbling legal act and playing keep away with Curtis. Everyone else though was pretty bad. Lucy, Legal Beagle was Kevin-focused, but Amelio was pretty bad in the episode. Dusenberry was too, playing up her brief moment when trying to explain to Hilda why the yard sale was indoors in an almost desperate manner to make it sound funny when it was not. Lewis was barely in the episode, though I think she was on screen longer than Anderson or Donovan Scott's Leonard, whose continued existence on the show has yet to be explained.

Lucy, Legal Beagle did not work save for Curtis and Dietrich. Other than that, Life with Lucy is fast coming up to closing its official run without having anything good to show for it. 

In perhaps the strangest set of coincidences that I have come across for the Life with Lucy retrospective, part of Lucy, Legal Beagle's plot is mirrored in the premiere episode of The Golden Girls' Season Three, Old Friends. In that episode's subplot, it's Rose's teddy bear Fernando who is being held hostage. More bizarre? Rose's late husband was named Charlie! Adding to the wildness of how things were in this odd Life with Lucy/Golden Girls connection is that the hostage holder, a Sunshine Cadet named Daisy, is played by Jenny Lewis, who played Lucille Ball's granddaughter Becky on Life with Lucy. Old Friends aired nearly a year after Lucy, Legal Beagle. Finally, Dena Dietrich would go on to guest star on The Golden Girls herself as the second Gloria, Dorothy Zbornak's sister. 

Strange coincidences indeed.  


Next Episode: Mother of the Bride

Sunday, October 15, 2023

My Big Fat Greek Wedding 3: A Review (Review #1760)



I believe it was film critic Richard Roeper who observed that when a franchise was running out of steam, the cast would go to another country for the newest film. Case in point: The Bad News Bears Go to Japan. Now having overwhelmed Americans with humorous Hellenists, Nia Vardalos steps behind the camera to direct and write My Big Fat Greek Wedding 3.  More like a series of ideas in search of a plot than a genuine film, My Big Fat Greek Wedding 3 gives us lovely Greek sights and absolutely nothing else. 

Portokalos family patriarch Gus has recently died, his long-cherished dream of going back to his homeland and presenting his childhood friends with a journal unfulfilled. 

Also, Ian Miller's (John Corbett) father died as well, but we don't care about him. 

Ian's wife Toula (Vardalos) had decided she will go to Greece for the first time and fulfill her father's wishes. Also going along with her are her brother Nick (Louis Mandylor), her Aunt Voula (Andrea Martin), hereto unknown Aunt Freida (Maria Vacratis), Toula and Ian's daughter Paris (Elena Kampouris) and Voula's assistant and Paris' frustrated love interest Aristotle (Elias Kavacas). Voula helpfully tells us that Paris "ghosted" Aristotle, though I question whether Voula is aware of what that actually means.

Why is Gus' widow Maria (Lainie Kazan) not going? She is starting to suffer from dementia, sometimes lucid, sometimes unaware of what is going on.

Arriving in Athens, they are greeted by Victory (Melina Kotselou), the nonbinary mayor of Vrisi (Gus' birthplace) who repeatedly assures them that everything will be "OK, the best". She hopes that their arrival will spur other sons and daughters of the Aegean to return for a reunion, thus bringing tourism and even permanent settlement to her struggling town. Paris struggles with her secret of being on academic probation as well as what she wants with Aristotle. Nick, when not shaving or clipping his toenails at the breakfast table, is searching for the oldest tree in Vrisi for mysterious reasons. The extended family is shocked to discover that Gus had a love child even he was unaware of. 

Their half-brother Peter (Alexis Georgoulis) is truly Gus' son, as he is not thrilled that his own son Christos (Giannis Vasilottos) is in love with Qamar (Stephanie Nur), a pretty young Syrian refugee. That, of course, will require a Big Fat Greek Wedding, won't it? 

Will Nick find the giving tree? Will hurriedly imported cousins Nikki (Gia Carides) and Angelo (Joey Fatone) be able to track down Gus' old friends in time for the reunion/wedding? Will Vrisi's fabled waters flow again?

Here is the big takeaway from My Big Fat Greek Wedding 3: it was Nia Vardalos' vacation video. I have long thought that acting is actually a hard profession. You have to endure a lot of rejection. You have to craft a variety of characters that may or may not reflect your authentic self and do it convincingly to audiences who pay to see you embody someone else. Sometimes your success or failure depend on your looks. 

My Big Fat Greek Wedding 3 reminds me though, that at times actors also get to go on paid vacations to luxurious locales and not have to put in any real work.

Nia Vardalos does not have a script. What she has are a whole slew of ideas swimming around, with no direction or reason or connection to the other ideas. Ultimately, she opted to throw every idea in and see what would happen. Even at its 92-minute running time (which makes it the shortest of the Big Fat Greek Wedding films), there is nothing there. She could have focused on the reunion element. She could have focused on Gus' bastard child. She could have focused on the Christos-Qamar romance.

Instead, she just focused on the beautiful Greek vistas, and to be fair, they are beautiful. 

I imagined so many other scenarios that would have worked infinitely better than what Vardalos came up with. What if we start with the family discovering that Gus had a child when he comes to Gus' funeral or as part of an estate issue? That estate issue would require them to go to Greece. What if Ian and Toula decide that with Paris now about to graduate, they could go on a second honeymoon (which inevitably was used by the others for a vacation)? What if Maria and Voula decided to take Gus' ashes to the old country and Toula, forever anxious, followed them to make sure that they were safe (which inevitably was used by the others for a vacation)? What if Paris quit college and try to make a run for it but somehow ended up in Greece? What if Paris worked on a cruise that landed in Greece and decided to elope in the motherland, requiring all the Portokalos clan to rush there to either stop or celebrate it?

As a side note, it strikes me as very strange that after twenty-plus years, this is the first time the Portokalos family has ever gone to the old country. Given their overall fanaticism towards all things Greek, it's a wonder they went anywhere else. Maybe Athens, Georgia, but I digress.

The hodgepodge nature of the script means that My Big Fat Greek Wedding 3 has no focus. Worse, it has no point. The various stories never fit, so we go from one oddball point to another with no rhyme or reason. Things that Vardalos intended to be funny weren't. When she, for example, was struggling to get onto a horse, I just asked why she did not just get a stepladder or stool to mount it versus endlessly struggling to get on her pony.

Things that Vardalos intended to be touching weren't. Part of the film involves the Christos/Qaram love story. Here's the problem: we barely saw Christos and Qaram. We see them when they take Paris and Aristotle to a Greek club, but then we get sidetracked with the Portokalos Family Hijinks be it Paris' secret, Nick's boorishness and/or tree hunting and Toula's inability to hold her ouzo before we get back to their nephew's romance. Vardalos does not give us a Big Fat Greek Wedding. She gives us a tiny Greek/Syrian wedding, one that cuts off before we can get anywhere. 

Vardalos' script is so lazy that it does not even bother to make note of the time difference between Chicago and Greece. Toula, Ian and Nick call Maria to break the news about Peter to her in the morning. Let's be generous and say it is around 10 am Greece time. We see it is daytime in Chicago when the semi-lucid Maria, aided by Athena and her husband, are talking to them. However, Toula would be calling her mother at 2 am. I am, for better or worse, someone who gets hung up on details, but this is too absurd to accept. 

Vardalos' script also does not make sense when it comes to the first generation. Voula and Freida are, I think, from the same village that Gus is from, so why are they not leading things? Also, their first language is Greek, so they would not be lost in understanding things and should be the ones everyone else defers to. Instead, rather than being the ones leading the expedition, it falls on their children and even grandchildren to be the leaders. Given that their knowledge of Greek and Greece is less solid, it is such a strange choice for Vardalos as screenwriter and director to make.

I do not think poorly of Kampouris or Kacavas (the latter who had to have the obligatory shirtless shot, though the family's jaunt through a nude beach was more creepy than comic). That they had no chemistry is due in this case more to having nothing to play with than them as actors. I do not think poorly of Carides or Fatone, who were shoehorned into the film by Vardalos. I do not think poorly of Corbett, who was so relaxed that he was just enjoying getting a paid vacation. I do think well of Martin, who is so much better than what she had to work with.

I think poorly, very poorly, of Mandylor and Vardalos. The former should have told the latter that Nick may have been dim, but he would have known much better than to shave, clip his toenails and trim his ear hair at the breakfast table. The latter, for her part, came across as a bit of a scold and surprisingly unlikeable. 

There is nothing interesting, funny or touching about My Big Fat Greek Wedding 3. I have never been so enamored of this accidental franchise, but I never actively disliked to hated it as much as this film made me hate it. My Big Fat Greek Wedding 3 did something I have not done in the past two films. It made me actively hate Nia Vardalos. Few people have parlayed their heritage (or a seeming contempt for it) to major success as Vardalos has. I do not know why anyone bothered with this film, apart from the beautiful Greek scenery and an admittedly beautiful looking moment when the three Children of Gus go to his old tree to bring him home. 

Ultimately though, there isn't enough ouzo in the world to get me to go to another Big Fat Greek Wedding. Maybe a Big Fat Greek Funeral, but to misquote Shakespeare, we will have no more Greek weddings. 


Friday, October 13, 2023

Life with Lucy: Lucy Makes Curtis Byte the Dust



In retrospect, I cannot remember why I thought slightly well of Lucy Makes Curtis Byte the Dust, the sixth Life with Lucy episode to be shown. Maybe I've grown so immune to the overall awfulness of it all that I now feel generous. I think it may have to do with how Lucy Makes Curtis Byte the Dust almost completely excludes the other characters. Given how bad they have been overall, that ought to improve any Life with Lucy episode.

Lucille Barker (Lucille Ball) and her in-law/business partner Curtis McGibbon (Gale Gordon) area doing the tedious work of inventory. She is desperate to finish but naturally makes a right mess of it by accidentally turning on a powerful leaf blower, causing them and sole employee Leonard (Donovan Scott) to start all over again. 

After this disaster, Lucy hits on the idea of bringing in a computer to keep inventory and orders for them. This does mean dumping Stanley (Dave Madden), Curtis longtime supplier and friend. Progress, however, waits for no man. Progress, however, never dealt with Lucy Barker. 

Despite reading the instructions that clearly state to not place any magnets on the computer, Lucy keeps adding more and more of them, erasing their entire inventory. She somehow manages to get the inventory back, but inadvertently ordered 111 lawnmowers, not realizing she held the 1 key too long. At a whopping $4,192.67, Curtis is enraged at her continued incompetence. He's more enraged when, in trying to fix that mess, she ends up making another when she convinces the bank that that he is dead! In her total befuddlement, she had typed out "deceased" instead of "decreased". Eventually, all the elements sort themselves out. They even manage to get Stanley his job back, but beware. For reasons unknown, Lucy gets a robot named Rupert to help out at the store, potentially putting Leonard out of a job.

It's strange that Lucy Makes Curtis Byte the Dust did not aggravate me given that Leonard was more prominent in the episode than any of the McGibbon family: Ted, Margo, Becky and/or Kevin. The family pretty much disappeared altogether, which was a welcome event. I think Leonard's appearance did not bother me here because he was not there a lot. The absence of both the family and M&B's sole employee (for a relatively successful hardware store, there have never been any other employees there) made the episode more Lucy and Curtis focused. As such, we could see Ball and Gordon interact and work with each other more. They really should have been the focus of the series to start with.

To be fair though, given their ages, incompetence and resistance to the computer, it is a wonder why they did not give the job of handling the computer to Leonard. He would have been more familiar with computers than either of them, so the continuing chaos "Mrs. B." kept unleashing would probably not have occurred. We also get to see a nice moment with Madden's Stanley, bringing the reality of older people losing their jobs to technology to the show. While Madden's role was small, it did suggest that Gordon's Curtis had something of a life outside his work and family. 

I think those are the reasons why Lucy Makes Curtis Byte the Dust work better than past Life with Lucy episodes. That, however, does not mean that Lucy Makes Curtis Byte the Dust was any good. It makes Lucy look less daffy and more stubborn moron. Again, I think a major issue is age. As she keeps reading the instructions she was given, she almost psychotically keeps sticking magnets even as she reads clearly and openly to not do so. One asks first, why did she not read the instructions prior to starting her magnet mania? Second, why does she keep disobeying the instructions despite reading them? Maybe a younger person could have pulled it off as a sign of idiocy. With the 75-year-old doing it, it looks like a sign of senility.

Her accidental ordering of 111 lawnmowers and somehow bizarrely thinking "decreased" was "deceased" end up reenforcing stereotypes of seniors being incapable of handling technology. The episode closing with her using a robot is downright dumb.

As Lucy Makes Curtis Byte the Dust is more a two-man show, it does wonders with its smaller cast. Gordon's eternal irritation (which to be fair is justified) balances the comedy with the horror. When he in a mix of anger and despair yells at Lucy, "GIVE ME BACK MY INVENTORY!", it is an actual funny moment. When Leonard comes to "pay his respects" to the family, Gordon's irritation at hearing Leonard tell Lucy, "I'm going to miss that old goat" is perfect. 

Lucy Makes Curtis Byte the Dust is a better Life with Lucy episode than the ones that have been broadcast. It is a pity though that there would be only two episodes left before the show was cancelled. 


Next Episode: Lucy, Legal Beagle

Thursday, October 12, 2023

My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2: A Review



I think those behind My Big Fat Greek Wedding were hoping for a modest hit. Instead, the wacky Hellenistic adventures of the Portokalos family took the world by storm, becoming the fifth highest-grossing film of 2002. As such, we could not leave well enough alone, and thus we got more comic Greek yogurt with My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2. Apparently not taking the hint from the failure of the now-forgotten sitcom My Big Fat Greek Life, My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2 does nothing to justify its existence. 

Toula Portokalos Miller (Nia Vardalos) and her husband Ian (John Corbett) have one daughter, Paris (Elena Kampouris), who is deciding where to go to college. Paris yearns to escape her intrusive and smothering but well-meaning extended family. She also yearns to get away from Toula, who cannot fully escape her helicoptering ways.

Toula's extended family is having issues of their own, particularly Portokalos patriarch Gus (Michael Constantine). He is dead-set on finding a nice Greek boy for Paris, never having fully reconciled himself to the xeno Ian lumping his branch onto his Greek family tree. As pointed out before, xenophobia is a word rooted in Greek. 

He is also having health issues, making him more cantankerous, and his ideas of being a direct descendant of Alexander the Great are driving everyone within earshot bonkers. Would it help to point out that Alexander the Great could be considered technically Macedonian and not Greek, or are we not going to even bother at this point?

Gus' determined efforts to prove his royal lineage along with trying to fix Paris up with the right boy have curious results. He discovers that through a technicality, he and Maria (Lanie Kazan) are not actually married. At first, Maria finds this news more hilarious than horrifying. It is not until Gus flat-out refuses to propose that she becomes angry. Eventually, a major health scare gets Gus to propose and Maria to accept. As such, it is time for another Big Fat Greek Wedding.

With the preparations for Gus and Maria, as well as Paris' decision on her future, Toula is at wit's end. Ultimately though, she can turn to Thia Voula (Andrea Martin) for wise, if at times far too blunt, advise. More secrets emerge and everyone rejoices in the Hellenic lovebirds coming together.

There is exactly one element in My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2 that I thoroughly enjoyed. That is how people outside the Portokalos family called out Gus for his own xenophobia masquerading as Greek pride. We see this early on when the family essentially crashes Paris' College Fair. The loud, boorish clan is already wildly boisterous and causing general mayhem. The nadir of this is when Paris' Uncle Nick (Louis Mandylor) literally threatened a Northwestern University recruiter (Rob Riggle) if Paris did not get in.

That recruiter, however, would not accept Gus' wild claims about anything. He particularly chastised him for suggesting that his last name was also Greek, pointing out that he was a Sephardic Jew of Spanish descent. It was nice to see someone, anyone, call out Gus on his Hellenistic nuttiness. Gus gets more comeuppance when at a physical therapy session. Here, he meets a Scotsman and a Chinese man who are just as proud of their heritage as Gus is of his. They too won't accept Gus' oddball notion that everything stems from the Aegean Peninsula. I can't quite my finger on it, but knowing that at long last, Gus' near-insufferable Greek adoration is getting pushback makes me happy.

To be fair, Gus does have one funny line, even if it is wrapped up in contempt and xenophobia. He scolds Ian for not having reproduced as much as Gus' other children Nick and Athena. "You vegetarian. One girl, slow sperm," he tells his son-in-law. 

Apart from that, My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2 is a dull dud. I put this down to Vardalos, who once again wrote the screenplay and has her voiceovers. By now, one would have that the characters would have changed somewhat, but for reasons I cannot fathom we start the film with Toula looking schlubby again. Later on, despite the severity of the situation, three grown men (Nick, Ian, and Athena's husband) appear terrified to see Gus' penis when he is unable to leave the bathtub. He isn't Noah lying naked and drunk, you know. It seems bonkers to imagine these three men so terrified of seeing their father/father-in-law naked. Embarrassing, I grant you, but so frightened.

Vardalos also introduces elements that seem, if not out of place, at least shoehorned in to get diversity points. This is primarily with regards to Toula's cousin Angelo (Joey Fatone). It is remarked more than once that he is not married, a surprise given how the family so far has been interested only in marrying off the women. Nick overhears what I thought was a very innocuous conversation between Angelo and his business partner Patrick (Jeff White). From that, Nick correctly deduces that Angelo is gay. This is quickly confirmed by Angelo's mother Voula, who asks him, "Is he your partner...or your partner?", with him admitting that Patrick is both.

From my memory of My Big Fat Greek Wedding, there was never any indication that Angelo was gay. From my memory of My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2, there was never any indication that Angelo was gay either. Maybe I am unaware of things, but the conversation between Angelo and Patrick that had Nick discover their Spartan friendship would have gone clear over my head. Even that shocking revelation would have worked had the Angelo/Patrick relationship been relevant to anything. 

As a side note, Angelo's family quickly and easily accepting his same-sex relationship strikes me as a bit untrue given how fanatical the Portokalos family is when it comes to tradition and family. All these people freaked out over the non-Greek Ian begins a romance with Toula, but they do not bat an eye when Angelo finally comes out with Patrick? Honestly, hearing Paris' great-grandmother Mana-Yiayia (Bess Meisler) speak flawless English to her is more shocking. I calculate Mana-Yiaya's age to be well over 100 by now, but details. At least she's not screaming about the Turks, so there's that.

Then again, Vardalos is not bothered by such things as plot or structure. As part of Gus' deranged efforts to fix Paris up with a nice Greek boy, he makes friends with local reporter George (John Stamos) and his wife Anna (Rita Wilson), who just happen to have a Greek son. The humor comes from the fact that their son is around seven years old, but apart from this gag they add nothing to whatever story Vardalos typed out.

I take that back a bit. It did give Stamos and Wilson, both of Greek heritage, a chance to appear in a Greek-centric film. Take them out though, and the film works just fine. 

Despite a short running time of 94 minutes, there is a lot you can take out of My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2. The George & Anna bit. The Angelo & Patrick bit. Gus' fanatical if not deranged obsession to prove his connection to Alexander the Great (I'm honestly surprised that Gus did not claim he was the direct descendant of Zeus). Paris' prom date with Bennett (Alex Wolff) who also turns out to be Greek (guess there is no such thing as Greek-dar). Bizarrely, Paris' prom takes place at the exact day and time as Gus & Maria's wedding, which makes no sense on any level.

There really are two plots in My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2: Paris' college choice and Gus & Maria's wedding. Everything else is just filler. It is not funny filler either, unless you have always dreamt of seeing Mana-Yiayia strutting about in a lacy negligee down the street in the middle of the night.

To be fair, there is one good element in My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2, and that is Andrea Martin as Thia Voula. She is surprisingly levelheaded, such as when she advises Toula to have a date night with Ian and not bring up Paris in conversation on said date. Voula is not perfect. There is a montage of her, Maria and Voula's daughter Nikki (Gia Carides) rampaging wedding shops to the Greek version of Billy Idol's White Wedding with almost psychotic glee that the wedding planner they hired is openly frustrated and quits after one day. I think Corbett is just happy to be there, the super-cool yin to Vardalos' frantic and harried yang. 

My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2 might please people who have nothing else to do or watch. It is no surprise that it plays like a sitcom, given that it followed the flop My Big Fat Greek Life. I would not reject seeing it, but word to the wise: have more than a few shots of ouzo to get through it. 


Wednesday, October 11, 2023

Life with Lucy: Lucy is a Sax Symbol



Lucy is a Sax Symbol is a first for Life with Lucy. It is the first episode that both has no sight gags and which takes place completely outside of the hardware store. It is, to be fair, more character-oriented than previous episodes. It also maintains being a bad episode, though not without some redeeming qualities.

Lucy Carter (Lucille Ball) is cleaning out the basement when she comes across her old saxophone. Her grandchildren Becky (Jenny Lewis) and Kevin (Philip J. Amelio, II) show interest in her stories of musical memories. Lucy takes it upon herself to gift her old sax to Becky, encouraging her to follow in Lucy's steps.

Bad idea, for Becky's playing is atrocious. Moreover, everyone but Lucy can see that Becky has no enthusiasm for the instrument and is essentially guilted into learning to please Lucy. Lucy won't take the hint, leading to an irritated Curtis (Gale Gordon) literally pouring his now-ruined mousse down the saxophone while Lucy is playing it. Lucy manages to get her hand stuck in the saxophone trying to clean it. However, this makes everyone realize that Becky has been playing a cassette of her rehearsals to get out of playing the instrument. Eventually, Lucy accepts that Becky will not be a virtuosa, and the two reconcile.

It is so strange that experienced television cast and crew failed to see how Lucy is a Sax Symbol showed the flaws in Life with Lucy. Despite this being the first episode that took place in the McGibbon home, we still had to shoehorn M&B Hardware Store employee Leonard (Donovan Scott) into things. He appeared only once in the opening scene, where for some reason he needed to do a bad pratfall that was forced and obvious.

I do not consider Leonard's pratfall as a sight gag, but it was not good or funny.

Lucy is a Sax Symbol is also curious in how it makes Lucy into a totally unsympathetic figure. It is clear that everyone hates Becky's playing. Even Lucy initially appears to see that Becky is pretty bad at the playing. However, for most of the episode, Lucy seems at best oblivious, at worst openly hostile to the suggestion that she could possibly be wrong. It is almost as if Lucy does not care about what Becky wants but makes it about what she wants. As much as Lucy is a Sax Symbol wants us to side with Lucy, I think she deserved to have the mousse poured down the saxophone. I probably would have done worse, like smash the instrument to pieces.

In terms of performances, the clear MVP is Lewis. It perhaps is no surprise given that the episode is Becky-centered, and she sells the mix of loving her grandmother and hating what she is doing to her. Lewis' final scene with Ball was surprisingly tender and sweet, making the drama work well. She also had a nice quip when Becky's deception is discovered. Pointing out the recording, Ball says "I'm trying to decide if it's real or if it's Memorex". 

Gordon too was strong, delivering quips with flustered anger. "If you're going to operate on that buffalo, at least use some anesthetic!" he bellows when storming into Becky's practice session. In a surprising turn, guest star Brandon Call was good as Max, Kevin's friend. Long before he gained fame on Step by Step, Call showed he had talent as a child actor. Everyone else pretty much fades and frankly, should have given their overall performances. 

Lucy is a Sax Symbol could have been better. Perhaps that is why I thought it was bad, because there was a chance to open up the series to genuine conflicts. It pulled back, which was a bad choice. Life with Lucy has now aired five of its eventual eight broadcast episodes and so far, it blows. 


Next Episode: Lucy Makes Curtis Byte the Dust

Tuesday, October 10, 2023

My Big Fat Greek Wedding: A Review



We Greeks, we are the funny people. So goes a line from an Are You Being Served? episode. That line came to me after seeing My Big Fat Greek Wedding, a surprise hit when it was released in 2002. Having seen it twice now, I was still not overwhelmed or even charmed by this tale of Hellenistic nuptial hijinks. Still, it was tolerable if perhaps surprisingly cruel to the characters.

Told in voiceover, we learn that ever since she was a child, Toula Portokalos (screenwriter Nia Vardalos) has been inundated with and embarrassed by her loud, slightly boorish Greek family. Pretty much everyone in the Portokalos family is eccentric to say the least. Her father Gus (Michael Constantine) tells everyone that every word in existence is rooted in Greek and that all ailments can be cured by spraying Windex. Gus' Greek pride is so deep that he manages to find the Greek root to the word "kimono". Toula's mother Maria (Lanie Kazan) is a traditional Greek woman doing what all Greek women should do: marry and have children.

Gus and Maria have a successful Greek restaurant, Dancing Zorba's, which has Toula working there too. Her older sister Athena (Stavroula Logothettis) has already fulfilled her Greek duties, while their younger brother Nick (Louis Mandylor) is still playing the field. Toula is the ugly duckling of the extended Portokalos family: 30, unmarried and looking like a schlub.

Into Dancing Zorba's one night comes Ian Miller (John Corbett). He may look like a Greek god, but he is clearly not Greek. No matter, Toula falls head over heels for him. More surprising for Toula, he is enraptured by our Mediterranean bombshell. Her newfound romance inspires her to take college courses, and she thanks to Maria and her Aunt Voula (Andrea Martin) wheedles her way to work at Voula's travel agency. Eventually, her illicit romance is discovered, horrifying the others in the Portokalos clan.

Eventually, they surrender to reality, and opt to bridge the culture gap. Ian goes along with almost everything thrown at him, be it saying idiotic things in Greek thanks to Nick and his cousin Angelo (Joey Fatone) or getting baptized into the Greek Orthodox Church. The only thing he won't do is change his vegetarianism, which appalls the family but which again, they accept as a mere eccentricity on Ian's part. At the end, Ian Miller and Toula Portokalos marry, and Gus realizes that Miller is a Greek word meaning "apple". As Portokalos means "orange", we have a mix of apples and oranges, fully aware that at the end, we are all fruit.

Perhaps my lack of enthusiasm over My Big Fat Greek Wedding is due to the fact that I too am part of a large extended family. As such, having such a family is not surprising or unique, which I think is what sold My Big Fat Greek Wedding to general audiences. 

Take the issue of the first cousins. When she tells Ian that she has 27 first cousins, I first thought my mere 17 first cousins could not compete. However, she does not clarify if it was 27 first cousins on one side or 27 first cousins overall. If she means on only one side, then she's got me beat. If she means overall, then my Mexican family overtakes her Greek family because those 17 first cousins are just on my mother's side. 

I figure that Vardalos was aiming to show the humor in the culture clash between the very WASP Miller family and the outrageously ethnic Portokalos family. The end result, though, to my mind, is that Toula is deeply embarrassed by her family. To be fair, I can see why: they are loud, vulgar, and obnoxious. The massive Parthenon-inspired Portokalos home is almost arrogantly and defiantly built to stand out among the more traditional homes their neighbors have. That all the Portokalos family members seem oblivious to how they come across is, I figure, meant to be wacky.

It just never sat well with me though. What I saw was an immigrant success story. Gus and Maria came to America (in the film, Chicago, in real life, Canada) and built up a successful business that provided for their children. Toula's Aunt Voula (Maria's sister) similarly built with her husband not one but two successful businesses (travel agency and dry cleaner). Yes, their love for Greece and all things Greek was borderline psychotic, but on the whole they were good, hardworking people. As such, Toula seems to have if not contempt for her boisterous family, at least deep shame. She does not have to be as insanely enthusiastic about all things Hellenic, but she also does not have to chuck her heritage to acquire some WASP exterior that she apparently aspires for. 

I also never figured why Gus in particular was so appalled and opposed to this xeno swinging into his family tree. 

As a side note, xenophobia is rooted in Greek, but that was never brought up. 

Given how Toula was essentially an old maid, something that the family seemed almost obsessive in bringing up, I would figure the Portokalos family would be thrilled that someone finally took an interest in this schlubby woman. Any port in a storm is not something that they considered. Gus came across as monstrously sexist, at one point bemoaning "Didn't I say it was a mistake to educate women?". That he expects a grown man like Ian to ask him for permission to date his 30-year-old daughter is really bizarre. Again, had I been Gus, I would have perhaps been displeased that my Greek daughter was going out with a non-Greek man, but at least she will be providing grandchildren. Gus' sexism lets him ignore how Nick is similarly unmarried with no apparent desire to do so. Gus also ignores Nick's constant pleas to create new menus with his art. Somehow, Gus comes across as a very unpleasant and ignorant man. Why would Toula taking community college courses equal her "leaving him"?

Perhaps this is why almost everyone in My Big Fat Greek Wedding is so broad. The Portokalos family were a mix of cliches and parodies, with few moments of sense or sensibility. The only one who did not go broad and cartoonish was Corbett. He was the opposite: forever calm, almost stupefied, by how often Ian was the butt of jokes. He doesn't even appear too bothered that the wedding invitations that Maria got for them have his mother Harriet's name spelled as "Harry". I figure that is meant to be hilarious. I didn't find it so. 

Ian is a high school teacher, the cool type who has a satchel bag and has a calm class. He says he teaches Hamlet, but he also teaches science, making me wonder exactly how strapped the school is if it needs teachers to teach various subjects. Yet I digress. 

I cannot go much into the acting because like I said, the characters are almost all one-note, usually dialing up the volume to 11. I did think well of Gia Carides as Cousin Nikki. Yes, she is vulgar and openly sexual, but she could also rattle off clever quips. "Hello, Mr. Pottery Class," she greets Ian with, having fun with the excuse Toula has been using to date Ian on the down low. Andrea Martin's Thia Voula is also humorous in her wily ways. Unlike everyone else, her cluelessness is more amusing than idiotic. When Ian tells her he does not eat meat, she is at first appalled. "What do you mean you don't eat meat?", she says, shocking every Portokalos this side of Athens. After a beat, she pulls herself together. "It's OK," she calmly says. "I make lamb". 

As a side note, the Greek words for Aunt and Uncle, Thia and Thio, are surprisingly similar to the Spanish words for Aunt and Uncle: Tia and Tio. Maybe Gus really is not far off. 

It is not, however, that My Big Fat Greek Wedding does not have some nice moments. There is a beautiful moment late in the film when Toula's Greek grandmother silently presents her with her old wedding crown from the old country to Toula. That, I figure, is a theme of the film: the importance of family, continuity and tradition, those elements that tie us together to our past and build our future. 

Maria advises her daughter that she must not take Gus' rejection of Ian so seriously. Man may be the head, but women are the neck, she tells Toula, making clear that women can make men see things the right way. In retrospect, while Kazan too had the broadness that ran through the whole film, she too had moments of genuine wisdom.

Ultimately, I was after two or now maybe three viewings of My Big Fat Greek Wedding still not won over by it. I've endured too many Big Fat Mexican Weddings to be impressed. Still, it is not without some charm and amid the spitting on the bride for good luck and confusion over what exactly a Bundt cake is, it is serviceable souvlaki of silliness. 

"I don't know anything about you except you're Greek," Ian tells Toula early in their relationship. Given that being Greek is her sole defining characteristic, what else is there for him to know?