- David Parkinson
Parky At the Pictures (12/6/2020)
(Reviews of Citizens of the World; A Rainy Day in New York; Standing Up, Falling Down; Banana Split; Hooking Up; Trick or Treat; and Echo in the Canyon)
Cinemas may be closed during these dismal days. But there are still ways to connect with some of the films on general release over the next few weeks and months. In addition to Curzon Home Cinema. MUBI and the BFI Player, it should also be possible to access the titles under discussion via iTunes, Apple TV, Amazon, Sky Store, Virgin, Microsoft, Vimeo, Google Play, Rakuten, BT and Playstation.
A RAINY DAY IN NEW YORK.
Is it possible to review Woody Allen's 49th feature, A Rainy Day in New York, without being distracted by its attendant baggage? After all, it has only secured a belated release in this country after Amazon Studios disowned it while cancelling a four-picture deal with a film-maker who had become an embarrassment to an online behemoth that needs to avoid controversy lest it loses customers. Interestingly, despite being threatened with a since settled $68 million lawsuit, the rest of Allen's filmography is still available from a site that also offers Apropos of Nothing, the autobiography that was dropped by Hachette after another of its authors, Ronan Farrow, threatened to quit in a show of support for his sister. Dylan, whose accusations against Allen have made him a pariah, even though no actionable charges have ever been brought against him.
Such was the furore created by Farrow's 2017 Los Angeles Times article, `Why Has the #MeToo Revolution Spared Woody Allen?' that Timothée Chalamet, Selena Gomez and Rebecca Hall felt the need to distance themselves from the feature and make very public donations to make it clear that they had not profited from their involvement. In so doing, they joined a number of other previous collaborators who had expressed regret at working with Allen, in spite of the fact that no new prosecutionable evidence about the alleged 1992 assault had come to light since they signed on the dotted line. Allen has had his say on these gestures and the motives behind them. But the fact remains that no one has come any closer to establishing the conclusive truth and, while this sorry state of affairs persists, it remains difficult to assess Allen's work solely on its own merits. Critics are duty-bound to have a go, however.
Having won $20,000 playing stud poker, Yardley College student Gatsby Welles (Timothée Chalamet) invites girlfriend Ashleigh Enright (Elle Fanning) to spend the weekend with him in New York so that he can show her the sights of his Manhattan stomping ground. She is the daughter of a banker from Tuscson, Arizona and, by a curious coincidence, she needs to go east in order to interview film director Roland Polard (Liev Schreiber) for the college paper.
So, they travel downstate from Yardley by bus and check into a swanky hotel overlooking Central Park. Gatsby mentions that his parents are hosting an Autumn Gala that evening and can't decide whether he wants to attend or avoid it. But Ashleigh is so excited by the prospect of meeting the director of Winter Memories that she only half hears what her boyfriend is telling her.
Pollard is so taken by Ashleigh's gushingly gauche appreciation of his work that he invites her to a private screening of his new picture with screenwriter Ted Davidoff (Jude Law). This prevents her from keeping a lunch date with Gatsby, who learns from sneeringly smug pre-med Alvin Troller (Ben Warheit) that mutual school pal Josh Loomis (Griffin Newman) is shooting an NYU shdent film nearby. He offers Gatsby a bit part kissing Chan Tyrrel (Selena Gomez) in the front of a parked car. But he is spooked because she is the younger sister of an old flame and proceeds to criticise his kissing technique through several takes.
Nettled by Chan's acerbic character assassination, Gatsby drops in to visit his older brother, Hunter (Will Rogers). He confides that he doesn't want to marry fiancée Lily (Annaleigh Ashford) because her laugh creeps him out so much that it's rendered him impotent. This contrasts with the fact that Ashleigh gets hiccups whenever she's sexually conflicted, a confidence that she shares with Pollard before the screening, from which he stalks out midway through because he no longer believes in his work. But Ashleigh insists on staying to the end with Davidoff and agrees to go to a studio in Queens when Pollard goes missing.
As they drive through the rain, however, Davidoff spots his wife going into his best friend's building and insists on parking up to snoop on them. At the same moment, Gatsby hails the same taxi as Chan. They agree to share and she advises him to call Ashleigh when he complains that her assignment is ruining the romantic weekend they had planned. His mood isn't improved by Ashleigh's furtive whispering or by Chan remembering why she had taken a dislike to him when Gatsby had been dating her sister. But he agrees to go to the Metropolitan Museum of Art with her and plays the old Frank Sinatra hit, `Everything Happens to Me', on the piano in the Tyrell family apartment, while Chan is changing. She's impressed by this previously unseen sensitive side, but they end up disagreeing over how the perfect love scene would play out.
Meanwhile, Davidoff has confronted Connie (Rebecca Hall) outside her lover's building and she admits to the affair. She counters with accusations that he is hardly a model of fidelity and snaps at Ashleigh when she pops out of the car to ask if everything is okay. Caught in the middle of the row, she starts taking notes and assures Connie that the Yardley Argos isn't a tabloid that prints salacious gossip. Realising that she isn't helping the situation, Davidoff bundles Ashleigh into a taxi to the studio and asks her to convince Pollard that his film is fine.
While Ashleigh bumps into dashing actor Francisco Vega (Diego Luna) and is snapped by the press pack as they drive off for dinner (where she gets tipsy and revealingly chatty), Gatsby discovers that Chan had a crush on him while he was dating her sister, who used to come home and confide intimate details of everything from first kisses to nocturnal love-making sessions in the rain in Central Park. He is stung by the fact that she gave him points out of 10 for each encounter and denies giving her bronchitis. Unfortunately, he bumps into his aunt and uncle in the Egyptian section and is caught hiding in a labyrinthine tomb and has to call his mother to tell her he was always coming to the gala as a surprise.
Frustrated by Ashleigh being detained at the studio, Gatsby takes Hunter's place at a poker game and scoops another $15,000. On seeing his girlfriend with a movie star on the TV news, he uses a third of his winnings to pay an escort named Terry (Kelly Rohrbach) to pose as Ashleigh at the party hosted by his mother (Cherry Jones). While she plays the part to elegant perfection, Ashleigh finds herself pinballing between Vega, Davidoff and Pollard at a boozy showbiz soirée and all three men declare their love for her, with the latter inviting her to the South of France so that her unspoilt innocence can help him rediscover his muse.
However, she goes home with Vega and smokes a joint while being shown around his luxurious apartment. No sooner has he kissed her and stripped her down to her underwear, however, than his estranged English paramour, Tiffany (Suki Waterhouse), shows up and Ashleigh has to flee into a downpour wearing a raincoat. Across the city, Mrs Welles chides Gatsby for trying to pass off a working girl as his date and surprises him by revealing that she had been plying the same trade when she met his father. They had fallen in love and her nest egg had helped him build the company that had given her boys the finer things in life. She apologises for being a tough taskmaster and only wanting the best, but she also wants Gatsby to know that he gets his fascination with the demimonde from her.
Reunited with Ashleigh in the hotel bar, Gatsby takes her word that nothing happened with Vega and they head up to their room. She is still explaining her crazy day, as she packs the next morning. He also admits to feeling closer to his mother after she had surprised him in a good way for the first time in his life. They decide to take a carriage ride in Central Park before catching the bus. But, when Ashleigh thinks that a lyric from Cole Porter's `Night and Day' is a line from Shakespeare, Gatsby sends her back to Yardley alone and takes his chance that Chan will remember their half-joke about a romantic rendezvous under the Delacorte Clock.
A good deal of bandwagon jumping has accompanied the delayed release of this film, as critics seek to side with the hashtag angels on either side of the debate. Many have lazily taken the line of least resistance in dismissing the picture as the work of an old man whose time passed long ago. Others have complained about the curlicued nature of the dialogue and the over-concerted efforts of production designer Santo Loquasto and cinematographer Vittorio Storaro to bathe this Manhattan Neverland in the golden light that is twee movie shorthand for nostalgia. But few have lingered to offer any in-depth analysis.
Woody Allen has already borrowed the plot of Federico Fellini's The White Sheik (1952) for To Rome With Love (2012). But here, he requisitions it for use on his own stomping ground and dares to populate it with bright young things who can still be seduced by its charms rather than with people of his own age, who know that dreams rarely, if ever come true.
Granted twentysomethings who dress in sweaters and tweed aren't exactly two a penny these days. But anyone who has been to college will recognise the Old Fogey type and one could be forgiven for mispronouncing the title of George and Ira Gershwin's `A Foggy Day in London Town', which Fred Astaire sang while flying solo with Joan Fontaine rather than Ginger Rogers in George Stevens's A Damsel in Distress (1937). The Art Deco world inhabited by `the human Mickey Mouse' (as Graham Greene called him) was far removed from the everyday experience of the average American struggling to survive the Great Depression. But, as Allen has already shown in The Purple Rose of Cairo (1985) - another film containing echoes of The White Sheik - moviegoers didn't expect or want every film to be a work of photo-realism and this is where so many of the reviews of this pre-judged picture have got it so wrong.
Admittedly, things get off to a shaky start, as Timothée Chalamet struggles to nail the cadence and mannerisms of his director in a portrayal that owes more to Made in Chelsea than Manhattan (1979). But he grows into the role and even allows himself to accept that Gatsby Welles is as bogus a character as his Citizen Fitzgerald name. As a result, our anti-hero manages to be equally resistible in the opening and closing scenes, as he has only learned how to be himself on his own terms rather than undergone any Capracorny epiphany. Given the digs elsewhere about gossiping journalists and pampered juveniles, could Gatsby be Allen's side-swipe at the estranged son he believes has been manipulated by his mother?
Ashleigh remains similarly unchanged, as she was so dazzled by the faux glamour during her adventures in wonderland that she failed to notice that it was as phony as its shallow, self-absorbed inhabitants. Consequently, Elle Fanning is able to riff on Diane Keaton's Oscar-winning performance in Annie Hall (1977), which saw another scatty naif fall under the spell of a successful artist, in the form of musician Paul Simon. There's no need for her to wind up in her underwear, while the hiccup gag is as gauche as Annaleigh Ashford's ear-piercing laugh. For someone with a proven track record of creating memorable (not to mention award-winning) roles for women, such gaffes are dispiritingly inexcusable. Maybe the decision for Gatsby to abandon Ashleigh is Alvy Singer's long-delayed revenge on the one who got away. But this is nowhere near as good a film as the Best Picture winner that also earned Allen Oscars for his direction and the screenplay co-written with Marshall Brickman.
Now in his 85th year, Allen is too set in his ways to work with another writer. Indeed, he penned the forthcoming Rifkin's Festival alone. Yet another voice might be able to steer him away from the occasional lapses in taste and judgement that are seized upon with such relish by his detractors. There's nothing wrong with revisiting perennial themes - where would Auteur Theory be unless film-makers explored recurring preoccupations in a signature style - but a bit of empathetic input might not go amiss. Whatever he does, Allen is never going to win round the naysayers. He's also unlikely to recapture such relative post-heyday glories as Everyone Says I Love You (1996), Vicky Cristina Barcelona (2002) and Midnight in Paris (2011). But surely there's little to be gained by making the target larger than it needs to be.
CITIZENS OF THE WORLD.
It's easy to forget that Gianni Di Gregorio was a jobbing screenwriter before he teamed with Matteo Garrone on Gomorrah (2008). This masterly crime saga seems an odd entry on a CV whose early entries include three collaborations with director Marco Coll on Carefree Giovanni (1986), Naufraghi sotto costa (1991) and Long Live the Monkey (2002), and two more with Felice Farina on Sembra morto... ma è solo svenuto (1986) and Affetti speciali (1989).
None of these films was widely seen outside Italy. But Garrone encouraged Di Gregorio to write about his unique relationship with his nonagenarian mother and her delightfully ditzy friends and the resulting picture, Mid-August Lunch (2008), established the 59 year-old as a late bloomer to watch. He confirmed his promise with The Salt of Life (2011) and it's one of the biggest cinematic disappointments of the last decade that no one had the gumption to release its follow-up, Buoni a nulla/Good For Nothing (2014).
Five years elapsed before Di Gregorio felt moved to make another feature and, once again, Garrone provided the impetus, as he called to suggest that he should mark his 70th birthday with a comedy about the growing trend for impecunious Italian pensioners to move abroad to stretch their resources. Having formulated his ideas in a novella (which was published in a collection entitled Stories From the Eternal City), Di Gregorio and co-scenarist Marco Pettenello added a subplot inspired by the ongoing migrant crisis.
Yet, while Citizens of the World could be glibly subtitled, `The Last of the Summer Vino', this is much more than a whimsical treatise on growing old (dis)gracefully in Trastavere, as it riffs playfully on the contention of Cesare Zavattini - the theoretical father of neo-realism and the screenwriter of Vittorio De Sica's Shoeshine (1946), Bicycle Thieves (1948), Miracle in Milan (1951) and Umberto D (1952) - that the perfect film would feature 90 minutes in the life of a man to whom nothing happens.
Unhappy with the increased deductions from his pension, sixtysomething Giorgetto (Giorgio Colangeli) suggests to his old friend, Il Professore (Gianni Di Gregorio), that they should leave Italy and relocate to a paradise where their state pittance would go a lot further. No better off after spending decades teaching Latin and Greek, the Professor jokes that Giorgetto should be grateful for the handout, as he has barely done a day's work in his life. However, they give the proposition further thought after the Professor gets upset when Giorgetto breaks the news that their mutual friend, Cesare, had died of a heart attack at the racetrack a year earlier.
As Simona (Simona Sorbello) at the corner shop had passed on the address of an uncle in Tor Tre Teste whose brother had settled in Santo Domingo, the pair take a bus to visit Attilio (Ennio Fantastichini), who is struggling to make ends meet with his antique furniture restoration business. Having shown them a North American totem pole and an Australian didgeridoo (which he tries unsuccessfully to play), Attilio serves up beer and pizza, while they discuss the merits of their plan.
Agreeing that they need to leave, the trio descends on Federmann (Roberto Herlitzka), a retired academic whose wife, Carolina (Francesca Ventura), is one of Attilio's clients. He runs through the social, economic, cultural and geographic variables that they will have to take into account before deciding on a destination. Reminding them of the need to select somewhere with a fiscal treaty with Italy to ensure they can receive their pensions without having to pay tax, Federmann suggests Cuba, Bali and Bulgaria as likely prospects before inviting them to join him in a couple of glasses of grappa while his wife is out.
The pals are sceptical and agree to find somewhere closer to home so that it's not such an upheaval if they need to leave. An old hippy who still rides a 1975 Triumph Bonneville, Attilio arranges to meet hairdresser daughter Fiorella (Daphne Scoccia) to let her know his plans, while the Professor's attempt to chat to the elegant woman in the bar is stymied by a former student who proves to have forgotten everything he ever taught him. Meanwhile, Giorgetto is given as short a shrift at the social security office as the Professor was at his bank and they are all wondering if they are doing the right thing when Federmann interrupts a barbecue to suggest they decamp to the Azores.
While the Professor buys a pair of swimming trunks, Attilio meets Fiorella at the beach to ask if she will take care of his dog, Joey. She is used to him being a wanderer from her childhood, but she has misgivings about his plan to open a small hotel with his new friends. He explains that he is too poor to stay in Rome and she scoffs when he defines poverty as the inability to afford the things he wants. In fact, he had recently witnessed actual destitution when he met Abu (Salih Saadin Khalid), a Malian migrant who uses Giorgetto's shower, but sleeps rough and makes a meagre living selling carved animals on the street.
In order to prepare for their move, the three amigos start taking Portuguese lessons with Marisa (Iris Peynado). But they get distracted by her mother cooking a spicy Brazilian dish and Marisa despairs of teaching them anything. They agree to start a kitty to cover appurtenant expenses and Giorgetto is frustrated when his greengrocer brother, Oreste (Giancarlo Porcacchia), refuses to give him a loan.
The Professor has to resort to selling books and is saddened when old friend Matteo (Matteo Maglia) informs him that volumes he had sold him as rare no longer have much value. He has some of the pages photocopied and gets into an argument with the copier and a passing customer about whether the print is legible. When he leaves them behind on the bar, the women he has been admiring from afar calls after him and she admits they are a bit blurred. She's in a rush to meet a friend, but promises to have a drink some time soon.
While the Professor is disappointed to discover that he had no medical conditions that could prevent him from travelling, Giorgetto makes a few euros from working on Oreste's stall, while Attilio pays Abu to help him shift a few items of stock to an old rival. He also smuggles him away from a police raid at the Ponte Di Castello and hears that he was forced to flee his homeland during civil unrest and had risked his life in a rubber dinghy to reach Italy. Now, however, he wishes to join his brother in Canada and Attiliio begins to realise that life on a lower rung may not be that awful after all. Indeed, he even confides in Fiorella that he might not leave after all.
The Professor's misgivings are also gnawing away at him, but Giorgetto becomes more bullish than ever when he blows €300 on scratch cards from Simona's shop and wins €1000. However, he doesn't take much persuading to fall in with Attilio's plan to give the cash to Abu so he can fly to Canada and make a new start. The youth is too stunned to know how to respond to the spontaneous simplicity of the gesture, but the veterans feel good about their decision and drive out to Terracina to have lunch with Attilio's brother. But there's no one home and the threesome cross the quiet country road to a snack bar to feast on large slices of watermelon.
There are two touching footnotes to this delightful film. Firstly, it proved to be the last made by Ennio Fantastichini, who died on 1 December 2018 at the age of 63. On a happier note, Di Gregorio understands that Salih Saadin Khalid, who was a genuine African migrant, used his fee to reunite with his own brother in Canada. Given the current rightful focus on how much black lives matter, this detail only adds to the poignancy of a story that also has to be viewed against the backdrop of so many elderly Italians perishing during the coronavirus pandemic.
In their views of the busy streets around Trastavere, Di Gregorio and cinematographer Gogò Bianchi capture the mood of daily life and how so much of it passes by the old people nursing drinks at the pavement cafés and the street hawkers hoping to make a sale and stay out of the clutches of the cops. Most notably, they make effective use of the Porta Settimiana, which Giorgetto's drinking buddies claim he's never been through while dubbing him `Christopher Columbus' and teasing him about forgetting his compass.
But Di Gregorio and Pettenello avoid strained comparisons, as they contrast the options open to a retired teacher, a wheeler-dealer and a very casual labourer and an undocumented kid who witnessed the deaths of his mother and grandmother in an explosion before spending two years on the move in order to sleep rough on a patch of wasteland near Castel Sant'Angelo.
In the grand neo-realist tradition, the non-professional Salih Saadin Khalid more than holds his own against the experienced triumvirate. The white-bearded Giorgio Colangeli seethes with indignation at the tyrannies of a system he has spent much of his life opting out of, as has Ennio Fantastichini, who still hankers after the time he dropped out to explore Afghanistan on the back of motorbike.
Di Gregorio's taciturn teacher is a less natural rebel and his friendship with the lower-class Colangeli and their impetuous decision to throw in their lot with a complete stranger on the advice of an eccentric academic are the only creaky plot points. But, therein lies the film's charm and, besides, the Professor and Colangeli appear to be natural born bachelors, in spite of the former's bashful attempts to strike up a conversation with Galatea Ranzi.
The episodic nature of the week-long narrative is deftly handled by editor Marco Spoletini, while the shifts in tone are reflected in the jovial score by Stefano Ratchev and Mattia Carratello, which makes sprightly use of piano, woodwind and strings to counterpoint the leisurely pace of Di Gregorio's direction. By all accounts, he is raring to get behind the camera again and it will be interesting to see whether he references the tragic events of the last three months or resorts to the ante-pandemic period. Judging by this and his previous three pictures, however, whatever tack Di Gregorio elects to take will be spot on.
STANDING UP, FALLING DOWN.
Having cut his comic teeth on the sitcom, Kevin Can Wait (2016-18), writer Peter Hoare made a move into features with Darren Grant's one-gag misfire, Killing Hasselhof (2017). He bounces back with first-timer Ben Schwartz's Standing Up, Falling Down, an odd couple dramedy that ambles along amiably with a mix of shtick and schmaltz that says more about the quality of the acting than the writing or direction.
From his open mike routine in a California coffee shop, it's clear why 34 year-old Scott Rollins (Ben Schwartz) has failed to make it as a stand-up. Arriving back in Long Island, it's clear that neither father Gary (Kevin Dunn), mother Jeanie (Debra Monk) nor younger sister Megan (Grace Gummer) felt he stood a chance of making the big time. Best buddy Murph (Leonard Ouzts) tries to be supportive over a beer, but he reminds Scott that he burnt his boats on leaving and that old flame Becky (Elose Mumford) has moved on and got married, while he has been dying multiple deaths on stage.
Having bumped into drunk dermatologist Marty (Billy Crystal) in the washroom, Scott consults him about a rash on his forearm. While Scott is upset by the fact that Gary has a higher opinion of Megan's security guard boyfriend, Ruis (David Castañeda), than he does of his own son, the twice-widowed Marty is suffering because neither of his grown-up children will speak to him. When they meet again at a wake for a classmate Scott barely remembers, they wind up in a bar Jager bombing the sorrows caused by Scott seeing Becky with her spouse and Marty being snubbed by his son, Adam (Nate Corddry), after Scott had caused a commotion by knocking over a little old lady in the aisle.
While smoking dope in Marty's car, he tells Scott that he should ditch jokes and base his act around his life because he's a funny guy. They are interrupted by an officious security guard, who turns out to be Ruis, who joins them for another smoke in a children's playground and Scott is forced to agree with his family's assertion that Ruis is awesome. However, he struggles to connect with his father, who runs a lumber yard and can't understand why his son is wasting his life cracking unfunny gags for pocket change when he should be holding down a proper job.
Megan has hardly set the world alight by working at a pretzel stand in the mall and she sympathises with her brother when he pays her a visit. He bumps into Becky and rushes round to Marty's to relay their conversation and fantasies that his soulmate has recognised she made a mistake in marrying the handsome, but drab Owen (John Behlmann). But Marty isn't so sure and changes tack by inviting Scott to accompany him to a pristine stretch of beach to help scatter the ashes of his second wife.
Scott does an observational set at the local comedy club and is overjoyed to get a congratulatory text from Becky. But Marty fails to show, as he was getting drunk at a karaoke bar with Vanessa (Jill Hennessy). Moreover, his bid to reconnect with Adam culminates in a doorstep harangue about how he had betrayed his first wife, who had committed suicide while he was drinking, gambling and cheating on her in a foundering attempt to cope with her depression. As he waves through the window at the grandson he barely knows, Marty realises that some wrongs just can't be righted.
While paying a visit to Becky in her perfect, Scott has a similar epiphany when he pulls away from a bedroom clench and scuttles down the stairs to avoid making another mistake, She accuses him of running away, but he wishes he could move faster when he bumps into Owen, who chases him several blocks before punching him in the nose in a neighbour's garden. He pleads with Scott to stay away from his wife because life isn't easy as a consolation prize.
As he drives home, Scott sees Marty's car at the side of the road and a body being wheeled into an ambulance. At the funeral, he interrupts the rabbi's mundane eulogy to make the congregation laugh by remembering Marty in his own way. He tries to persuade Adam that his father had been a good man, but has more luck with his daughter, Taylor (Caitlin McGee), who agrees to go for coffee.
Indeed, she suggests they eat together and she is soon a guest at a family dinner, where she fits in instantly, as even mom joins in a Jager tribute to Marty. Shooting the breeze on the patio, Gary pats his son on the back, as a crack of lightning rips through the night sky and Scott takes this to be Marty's blessing on his romance with Taylor and, consequently, he logs into his Twitter account to leave a jokey `boo' from beyond the grave.
This clumsily cathartic climax is the only major misstep in a scenario that recognises the benefits of gentle meandering over beeline linearity. The wisecracks are never particularly funny, while the stand-up material is feeble. But Hoare (who photo-cameos as Scott's dead school friend) gives Billy Crystal and Ben Schwartz enough to work with to ensure that their banter has both bite and bathos. Schwartz's sparing byplay with sister Grace Gummer is also engagingly effective, although the exchanges with parents Kevin Dunn and Debra Monk are more formulaic, while the awkward adulterous fumble with Eloise Mumford fails to convince because her re-stirred emotions stubbornly remain a plot device.
Schwartz's sudden lurch into maturity also feels contrived, as he remains something of a putz and scarcely deserves someone as winning as Crystal's archly concealed daughter. But he holds his own against a consummate scene stealer close to the top of his game, as Crystal hasn't been on this form for some time. Despite thinning on top and thickening around the jowls, he remains charismatic, while his sense of timing is as acute as ever. He also handles the darker aspects of his story arc with a restraint that hasn't always been evident in his more dramatic turns.
Credit for this must go to Ratner, who paces the action deftly without quite managing to nail down the Long Island vibe. He's well served by cinematographer Noah Rosenthal, production designer Michael Fitzgerald and editor Shayar Bhansali, while David Schwartz's melodic score enhances the mellow ambiance of a picture that pleases without leaving a particularly deep impression.
It says much for a Hollywood that's been in thrall to fanboys ever since it discovered how easy it was to separate them from their money that great gal pal movies are few and far between. Among the most readily recalled are Lesli Linka Glatter's Now and Then, Amy Heckerling's Clueless (both 1995), David Mirkin's Romy and Michelle's High School Reunion (1997), Terry Zwigoff's Ghost World (2001) and Olivia Wilde's Booksmart (2019). Cinematographer-turned-director Benjamin Kasulke takes a shot at joining this exclusive list with his debut feature, Banana Split. But, despite being co-scripted by star Hannah Marks and Joey Power and having its share of amusing set-pieces, this genial relict from 2018 struggles to resolve its plot plausibility issues
High-schooler April (Hannah Marks) lives with her mother, Susan (Jessica Hecht), and younger sister, Agnes (Addison Riecke), in a suburb of Los Angeles. As an opening montage reveals, she has been dating Nick (Dylan Sprouse) since losing her virginity two years earlier. However, as the clock starts ticking down towards orientation, April makes the shocking discovery that Nick has started to move on because he believes they will inevitably break up when she departs for university in Boston. Her confusion turns to pain when she learns through social media that Nick has started seeing Clara (Liana Liberato), a newcomer to their social circle who has the blonde confidence that the dark-haired April lacks.
She gets little sympathy from the smart-mouthed Agnes, who also has a crush on Nick and isn't shy about expressing her opinion at the dining table. But mutual friend Ben (Luke Spencer Roberts) feels sorry for April and (because he has a crush on her) offers to hang out with her when she shies away from the endless round of summer parties. Eventually, however, April summons the courage to face up to the sight of Nick and Clara together and stomps into a gathering with every intention of getting sloshed.
Naturally, she winds up having her hair held over the toilet bowl by Clara, who turns out to be a nice person. She suggests that they spend time together behind Nick's back and the pair adopt cell phone code names from David Fincher's Fight Club (1999) in striking a pact to pal up without ever mentioning the man in the middle of their unconventional ménage. Not being the sharpest tool, Nick has no idea what's going on, as Clara lures April away from her holiday job behind the snack counter at the multiplex managed by Jacob (Jacob Batalon) and persuades her to take a road trip to Venice Beach after getting bored with furtive days out around town.
But, just as this teenage womance seems set to stray into intriguing territory, an injudicious birthday text brings Nick and April back together and her friendship with Clara crumbles when the truth emerges about their double lives. Once again, Agnes has nothing supportive to say to her sister, while Ben is furious with April for placing him in an invidious position. As the day of her departure for Boston approaches, April remains a pariah. However, Clara decides that she would rather be friends with April than lovers with Nick and there's an upbeat feel to the farewells, as April heads east.
In her recent documentary, Romantic Comedy, Elizabeth Sankey rightly pointed out that the majority of male critics are quick to dismiss feel-good fare that focuses on feelings rather than derring-do. The boys' brigade have certainly closed ranks in dismissing this messy, but amusing rite of passage. Marks and Power - who had collaborated as writer-directors on After Everything (2018) - may not be able to escape from every cliché in the teenpic playbook, but the find plenty of new angles from which to view them, while also coming up with some corking juvenile insults. Moreover, the self-effacing Kasulke and editor Brendan Walsh keep the story moving, even if they overdo the montages accompanied by the winsome musical musings of Annie Hart.
Onetime child stars Marks (channelling her inner Sandra Bullock) and Liana Liberato know all about playing conflicted teens and they spark splendidly in realising that while girls just want to have fun, they are also open to exploring their emotions in ways that lads of the same age are not. Ultimately, Marks and Power opt against stepping over a certain line and the film perhaps suffers from that timidity. But a lot of adolescents will see themselves in April and Clara and they can surely only take away positive messages about evaluating self-worth from this witty, if occasionally sentimental and rarely groundbreaking rompcom.
Last year, British critic-cum-consultant Stephen Follows revealed on his Film Data blog that only 36.5% of debuting directors have gone on to make a second feature since 1949. He went on to show that only 8.6% make it to their sixth picture, while just 134 film-makers (or 0.1% of all directors over the last 70 years) have passed the 20 credits mark. It's taken Nico Raineau a decade to graduate to features after making his first short in 2009. But, having viewed Hooking Up, it doesn't take a crystal ball to gauge that this son of Mystic, Connecticut is going to have his work cut out to buck the trends.
Fresh from humping the man running her sex addiction session in an Atlanta elementary school classroom, Darla Beane (Brittany Snow) bumps into Bailey Brighton (Sam Richardson) in the corridor. She makes a tasteless crack about cancer while lighting a cigarette and is pained to discover he is attending a survivor meeting. He is anxiously awaiting test results a year after losing a testicle and is struggling to get over being dumped by his long-term girlfriend, Liz (Anna Akana).
The next day, Darla gets fired by editor Tanya (Jordana Brewster) from the style magazine for which she writes a raunchy sex and the single girl column for having sex with an intern on Tanya's desk. She vows to write a story that will have her begging Darla to come back and decides to revisit each spot where she's had an ill-advised encounter and reclaim the moment and the place by having sex with the same guy. Having been diagnosed with a suspicious lump, Bailey volunteers to be her travelling companion and they make out for the first time in a cubicle in an airport washroom.
Bailey has no idea that Darla has promised to live blog from the road and is exploiting his condition to ramp up the story's human interest angle. He is, however, astonished to discover that the red crosses on her map of the United States add up to 169 partners, while he has only had two. Moreover, he is taken aback when Darla announces that they are going to re-enact each episode exactly as it happened in the past so that she can get closure on her wicked ways. But he is hiding a secret of his own, as he has postponed surgery to make the trip and has to keep deleting messages from his doctor.
Following a supposedly comic montage of Darla and Bailey having sex in various way-out places, they reach Arkansas, where she discovers that he is a talented artist who has been prevented from pursuing his dream by his desire to appease Liz and his need to please his father, a macho type who owns a gym. As they drink beer in a bar, Bailey notices that Darla has skated past a red X and he insists they circle back. They break into a suburban house, where she informs him that she was caught in the kitchen by a wife and mother who wound up in a wheelchair after driving off in distress. Bailey tries to stop Darla blaming herself, but her guilt is too deeply ingrained.
When she wakes, she finds herself outside the home of Bailey's parents and Cindy (Vivica A. Fox) and Ron (Bryan Pitts) are highly sceptical that Darla is really a new girlfriend with breast cancer. But Darla goes along with Bailey's gauche attempt to make Liz jealous by breaking into her family place and making love on the bed where Bailey lost his virginity. They feel comfortable around each other and Darla agrees go to an anniversary party for Liz's parents as Bailey's date. While she's showering, however, he finds her latest blog post on her tablet and realises that she has been using him. They argue at the function in front of a suspicious Liz and, when Darla accuses him of not being a real man, he taunts her with never having been in love.
Following an unsatisfactory hook-up in a bar, Darla heads home to see her mother, Betty (Amy Pietz), who is cooking breakfast for the latest in a long line of overnight guests. Meanwhile, Bailey tells Liz the truth about his health and he is furious with her when she tells his parents over supper. Unable to write the next entry in her blog, Darla confronts her mother about her need for validation from men and Betty insists that sex addiction classes exist to shame women with the same appetites as intimidated males. But Darla explains that she has come to see she has been living a false life and she sidles sadly away to bed.
They patch up the next morning, however, and Bailey tells Liz that there's no point in being together simply because they're scared of being alone. As they part amicably and agree to be good friends, Darla drives home in her clapped-out car and happens to be outside the cancer support session when Bailey confesses that he found a cool companion who made him feel normal and messed it up by hurting her. Interrupting Molly (Alexis G. Zall), who is clearly sick and keen to testify, Darla bursts in to tell her own story and everyone twigs that she is the woman from Bailey's account.
Cross-cutting between Darla and Bailey sharing in voiceover with their respective self-help groups, we see them spending a platonic year together, while he recovers from successful surgery and finds a job as an illustrator and she walks away from the magazine and magically lands an advance from a publisher for a book about her relationship with her mother that she writes in a coffee shop (where else?). As they emerge from their classrooms, Bailey ticks her off about smoking and invites her to dinner and, having checked whether this represents a genuine date, Darla accepts.
One thing is clear from this debut, Nico Raineau (who also cameos as a barista) is a much better director than he is a writer. He tells his tale capably enough, but one has to question whether it's a story worth telling. Co-scenarist Lauren Schacher must shoulder some of the responsibility for a plotline whose contrivance is compounded by its dubious taste and the dullness of much of the dialogue. For a comedy, wit is in short supply, while the depiction of being afflicted with cancer and sex addiction is as crassly shallow as the insights into gender stereotypes.
In their favour, however, Raineau and Schacher treat Darla, Bailey and Liz as regular people and make no reference whatsoever to their colour in poking fun at their contrasting class distinctions. They are significantly abetted in this regard by the solid performances of Brittany Snow and Sam Richardson , while YouTube channelist Anna Akana's deadpan delivery is a consistent delight. But, while the characters evolve along predictable lines, their interaction is based on the flawed premise (which isn't excused by a self-defensive reference to it in the script) that Bailey would no have the curiosity to Google Darla to find out a little more about his companion on a cross-country bonkfest.
Raineau also wastes the landscape and conveys little sense of the distance being travelled by the pair by insisting on pointing Jeff Bierman's camera at the occupants of the front seats rather than occasionally let it glance out of the window. The charmless sexcapade montages compiled by editor Waldemar Centeno similarly betray the picture's comic paucity. Yet the action has momentum and a clumsy vigour that ultimately means its good intentions just about balance its demerits. But it never addresses the gravity of its core issues and, as a consequence, the tonal shifts around the more dramatic sequences emphasise just how strained the entire enterprise is.
TRICK OR TREAT.
Since it first appeared in Maurice Elvey's 1918 adaptation of Stanley Houghton's hit play, Hindle Wakes, Blackpool Tower has featured in a number of seaside sagas. Telling the story of a Lancashire mill girl who refuses to marry after her dalliance with the boss's son is rumbled, this theatrical warhorse has since resurfaced in the form of Elvey's 1927 silent remake, Victor Saville's 1931 talkie version and Arthur Crabtree's 1952 updating. Laurence Olivier even directed a variation for the telly in 1976 and it could easily stand a millennial retelling with a little updating of its perennial themes of class. morality, sex and acceptance.
But the 126 year-old structure has also towered over Basil Dean's Gracie Fields vehicle, Sing As We Go! (1934); Lupino Lane's spy romp, No Lady (1936); Bernard Vorhaus's mill comedy, Cotton Queen (1937); John E. Blakeley's Frank Randle farce, Holidays With Pay (1948); George King's noir, Forbidden (1949); Alfred Travers's circus thriller, Double Alibi (1957); Gurinder Chadha's astute acceptance odyssey, Bhaji on the Beach (1993); Peter Chelsom's Pleasure Beach dramedy, Funny Bones (1995); Paul Orerenland's gay boxing drama, Like It Is (1998); David Blair's gritty slice of social realism, Away (2016); and Jason Wingard's family reunion sitcom, Eaten By Lions (2018).
Now, James Maxwell and Charles Tuke's 518ft edifice provides the backdrop to Trick or Treat, the fourth feature - after Blooded (2011), The Mirror (2014) and An American Exorcism (2017) - by Ed Boase, who co-founded the Young Film Academy with James Walker in 2004. Lockdown or not, it feels a bit odd to launch a Halloween movie in the second week of June, especially when its story is more than a little familiar. But it's nice to see siblings Craig and Dean Lennox Kelly playing off each other alongside a supporting cast of familiar faces.
It's Halloween and Blackpool is coming towards the end of Illuminations season, as Greg Kielty (Craig Kelly) celebrates his 45th birthday. Wife Gemma (Maimie McCoy) is exhausted from taking care of their new daughter and in no mood to listen to Greg's insistence that he has the gift of prognostication and could make a decent living as a fortune-teller. While she has an early night, Greg rolls a joint and is taken aback when the long-haired comedian (Hugo Speer) on the television stops telling jokes to insult him.
Answering the door, he's cursed by a Scottish Grim Reaper demanding to have his palm crossed with silver. But a second knock brings his estranged brother, Dan (Dean Lennox Kelly), to the front door and he wants help disposing of a hit-and-run victim he's stashed in the boot of his car. Appalled by the sight of a body under the blanket, Greg returns indoors to remonstrate with Dan. However, a third rap sends Dan scurrying for cover, as Clarence (Shaun Parkes) bursts in with his silent oppo, Lesley (Jamie Sives). They have spotted Dan's motor and joke about the porn mags stashed in the hatchback boot before dragging Greg off to the nearby working men's club to see their boss, Miss Ferguson (Frances Barber).
Snorting cocaine over a midnight feast, she wants to know the whereabouts of both Dan and her son, Baxter (Brady Dowad). She gives Greg until 2am to find them or face the prospect of choosing whether his wife or his baby dies first. With Clarence for an armed escort, Greg goes in search of Dan's girlfriend, Karen (Jessamine-Bliss Bell), who is a nyotaimori model at a downtown restaurant. She doesn't recognise him and confides that Dan is having an affair with his sister-in-law.
Fuming, Dan gives Clarence the slip and heads home to find Dan in the kitchen, Knowing he's incapable of lying, he asks about Gemma and is satisfied with Dan's vehement denial. He's more sceptical when he confesses to bludgeoning Baxter with a metal pipe, but agrees to help him ditch the body. When Dan thumps a copper (Kris Marshall) who pulls them over, he starts to have second thoughts. But, when Dan stops for a wee, Greg sees a video about staged interventions to help people suffering from depression and becomes convinced that Gemma has asked Dan to concoct a scenario to haul him out of his funk by showing him that the good old days after which he had been hankering are best left in the past.
He soon learns otherwise, when Lesley takes them at gunpoint to Miss Ferguson's lair, where she has the brothers tied to chairs. Selectinga blade, she cuts them both and is threatening to slit Dan's throat when Greg manages to reach the gun he had hidden in his back pocket and he locks Clarence, Lesley, Miss Ferguson and her toyboy, Ronaldo (Giando Rossa), in a cupboard before scarpering. While taking the boss's phone, however, he notices that she has the same tattoo on her forearm as his old mentor, Damo (Richard Carter), whose frenzied screwdriver attack on a victim had persuaded Greg to flee to London nine years earlier.
Agreeing to flee the country, Greg drops Dan so he can fetch his passport and parks for a smoke. He hallucinates that the Grim Reaper is standing behind him in a halo of fire and rushes into an amusement arcade, where Karen scoffs at his efforts to seduce her and Gemma suggests that he starts to grow up and take some responsibility. When Clarence and Miss Ferguson appear, Greg threatens them with his gun, only for it to be a lighter. But, as Dan reveals himself to be the Reaper, Greg snaps out of his reverie and backs over Baxter, who had been trying to clamber out of the boot.
In a panic, Greg calls Dan, who claims to be on his way to collect Gemma and baby Abby so they can fly from Manchester Airport. But something doesn't ring true and Greg detours via the restaurant to ask Karen if he is being cuckolded by his brother. Playing footsie with his crotch under the table, Karen informs Greg that he needs to have some fun. However, he pulls away when he gets a text from Dan on Gemma's phone and Karen makes a call to an unknown person to tip them off.
Arriving home, Greg overhears Dan and Gemma chatting on the baby monitor. He listens outside the door of Abby's room to hear his wife joke that he would never know that Dan is the baby's real father. But, rather than confront them, Greg grabs his passport, dumps Baxter's body in the hallway and reports a disturbance in the house to the police. So, as he drives away, the players in the ruse designed to jolt him out of his funk (including Ronaldo, who appears to be a psychologist), find themselves trapped with a corpse and a far-fetched story.
Echoes of David Fincher's The Game (1997) reverberate around this serviceable thriller like the Steeplechase roller coaster clanking its way around the Pleasure Beach. Geraint Anderson's screenplay springs few surprises, but, as both director and editor, Boase allows the twists to unfold at a teasingly sedate pace that enables the viewer to enjoy the ripe performances of the Kelly brothers and such dependables as Jason Flemyng, Jamie Sives and Kris Marshall. Frances Barber has the most fun spewing out expletives as the Fylde's very own Ma Barker, but model-actress Jessamine-Bliss Bell belies her associations with Paris and New York to deliver a creditable Lancastrian accent.
The star of the show, however, is Blackpool itself, as Maeve O'Connell's camera capably captures the seedy glamour generated by the Illuminations and the wild romance of the waves rolling against the nocturnal beach. Clearly, the need to shoot during the wee smalls deprives Boase of the bustle that makes the resort's streets both enticing and intimidating once darkness falls. But he nails the air of seaside ennui that was also evident in the Saltburn of Bryn Higgins's Electricity (2014), the Bournemouth of Dan Pringle's K-Shop (2016), the Weymouth of Tom Beard's Two For Joy, the Southend of Ed Lilly's VS,, the Margate of James Gardner's Jellyfish, and the Hastings of David Jackson's Winterlong (all 2018).
ECHO IN THE CANYON.
In the decade from 1965, Laurel Canyon became mission control for a certain strain of American music. In Echo in the Canyon, industry insider and debuting documentarist Andrew Slater recalls the first two years of this edenic heyday in the company of Jakob Dylan, son of the more famous Bob. Coming alongside Alison Ellwood's two-part docuseries, Laurel Canyon: A Place in Time, this can feel a little slender, especially as so many of the well-burnished anecdotes have been told before. But, while familiarity mostly breeds content, it's impossible to overlook the fact that Slater's stellar saga has ignored a clutch of key figures, including Joni Mitchell.
Her recent health issues may well have restricted access, but to bypass her contribution completely when she recorded her debut album at the tail end of the period under discussion is unpardonable and leaves this fitfully fascinating, but narrowly focused trip down memory lane trailing in the wake of such superior fare as Paul Justman's Standing in the Shadows of Motown (2002), Denny Tedesco's The Wrecking Crew (2008), Greg Camalier's Muscle Shoals, Dave Grohl's Sound City and Morgan Neville's 20 Feet From Stardom (all 2013).
Following a dictionary definition of the word `echo', as the opening, twanging chords of The Byrds hit `Turn, Turn, Turn' fade into the darkness, we see Jakob Dylan in a guitar shop with Tom Petty. He also tools around Los Angeles in a vintage roadster, as a drone hovers over Laurel Canyon and David Crosby takes credit for having been the first one to move there. Producer Lou Adler and musicians Stephen Stills, Graham Nash, Michelle Phillips and Roger McGuinn recall the joy of being able to pop into someone's house and try a new song on them, while Eric Clapton reflects on the delight of having so many genial eccentrics in such a small space.
The reason Dylan is our host for this paean to the California Sound is that he had organised a celebration of the music at LA's Orpheum Theatre in 2015, which had showcased his own band, The Wallflowers, and some special guests. Clips from Jacques Demy's 1969 drama, Model Shop, offer tantalising glimpses of the Canyon back in the day, but modern artists like Regina Spektor, Beck and Cat Power (who played the gig) mumble unpersuasive platitudes about what the 60s mean to them, as they rehearse in a swish house with paper lanterns swaying over the pool in the background .
The appearance of The Beatles on The Ed Sullivan Show in 1964 was the catalyst for the new sound, as McGuinn combined folk and rock with a 12-string Rickenbacker version of `I Want to Hold Your Hand' that went down like a lead balloon in clubs in New York and Los Angeles. But Petty and Jackson Browne recognise that McGuinn's instincts were right and Crosby recalls how The Byrds were formed and pushed Bob Dylan towards going electric with their version of `Mr Tambourine Man'. Still, Clapton and John Sebastian of The Lovin' Spoonful all acknowledge the debt that mid-60s rock owed to McGuinn's style, which was rooted in such Pete Seeger folk classics as `The Bells of Rhymney'.
As Petty and Crosby rightly note that The Byrds were putting poetry on AM radio at a time when lyrics were largely of the `Moon/June' variety, we cut away to Fiona Apple doing `It Won't Be Wrong' at the Orpheum concert. Thankfully, we're soon back in the company of McGuinn, as he tells Dylan about hanging out with The Beatles and The Rolling Stones in London. Ringo Starr pops up beside a sports car to eulogise about The Byrds and how they introduced the Fabs to a `hallucinogenic situation', while McGuinn remembers how the Stones had butlers to roll joints for them. Crosby lauds John Lennon and Paul McCartney for being so cool to them, while Petty tells the story of how George Harrison changed the sound of rock guitar after getting hold of a 12-string Rickenbacker that had been intended as a gift for Lennon.
Stills notes how bands were in competition with each other and Crosby credits Brian Wilson and The Beach Boys for teaching everyone about harmonies. Sebastian references the influence of Bach in Wilson's melodies and we get a candy-coloured clip of `California Girls' from a 1965 TV show. Petty claims there's nothing in Mozart to top Wilson, but his case is instantly undermined by a wretched Apple/Dylan version of `In My Room' from the Orpheum show. Dylan's studios take on `I Just Wasn't Made For These Times' isn't up to much, either. But Browne and Petty marvel at the fact that the 1966 Beach Boys album, Pet Sounds, goaded Lennon and McCartney into trying to gazump them with Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (1967).
Wilson sits in on Dylan's Capitol session and enthuses about The Beatles and how Rubber Soul (1965) clued him in to how to refine his trademark meld of Bach, Chuck Berry and The Four Freshmen. Michelle Phillips remembers visiting Wilson's house and finding a Steinway in a sandpit in the front room. She also jokes that husband John Phillips had joked that if The Byrds could have a hit there was no reason why their band, The Mamas & the Papas, couldn't score, too. Clips follow of them singing `Dedicated to the One I Love' (1966) and "California Dreamin'" (1965) before we head to Western Studios in Los Angeles, where Michelle Phillips and Lou Adler reminisce about recording sessions.
Slater cuts between Dylan recording `Monday Monday' in the studio and performing it with Regina Spektor, Jade Castrinos and Beck at the Orpheum. Once again, there's a high-class karaoke comparison with the original, but the Dylan/Jade duet on `Go Where You Wanna Go' is tremendous in both the studio and stage setting. However, it helps that Phillips recounts the story of her affair with bandmate Denny Doherty with such a twinkle in her eye, as she jokes that she was a `busy girl' during this period, as she never felt constrained by her marriage vows.
Following a clip from Richard Lester's Help! (1965) of The Beatles doing `You're Going to Lose That Girl', Adler describes how McCartney and Mick Jagger had heard an acetate of Pet Sounds and being inspired. Crosby, Stills and Nash all agree that there was a degree of cross-polinisation in the music of the time and Petty reveals how Harrison borrowed McGuinn's riff from `The Bells of Rhymney' for `If I Needed Someone'. McGuinn seems fine with it and Ringo explains that The Beatles were basically buskers, who jammed on a song until it sounded right.
Back at the swaying lantern soirée, Beck and Spektor chat awkwardly about how cool it is that all these bands were around at the same time. Artfully, Dylan picks up a Buffalo Springfield's eponymous gatefold album and Slater cuts seamlessly to monochrome footage of Neil Young introducing bandmates including Stephen Stills, who shares vocals on a splendid colour clip of `For What It's Worth' segueing into `Mr Soul'. He remembers meeting Young when he was playing with The Squires and they spent an intense period plotting how to further the cause of folk rock. Crosby recalls them opening for The Byrds on tour and being intimidated by how good they were, while Petty sighs at the memory of seeing Buffalo Springfield on the same bill as The Beach Boys in Gainesville, Florida.
Clapton was a big fan of the song `Bluebird' and Stills takes Dylan to the Sunset Sound studio to see where the magic happened. He also prompts Clapton to admit that `Questions' influenced his song, `Let It Rain', while they are recording the former together at British Grove Studios for the Echo in the Canyon duets album. Thanks to the wonders of technology, Stills is able to jam with Clapton in LA on a track that Dylan plays with Jade at the Orpheum. Moreover, Dylan gets to participate in a long-distance anecdote, as Clapton and Stills recall being busted during a weed-fuelled Buffalo Springfield rehearsal session in the Canyon, when the latter hopped out of a backroom window to avoid arrest.
Following a whistlestop tour of the various studios in Los Angeles - during which Brian Wilson recalls recording `Good Vibrations' in four different locations and Ringo and Graham Nash reminisce about the technicians in white coats at Abbey Road being like something out of a 1940s boffin movie - Norah Jones joins Dylan at United Studios to record The Association's 1967 track, `Never My Love'. Halfway through, Slater cuts to Dylan duetting at the Orpheum with Cat Power, who has a very different voice to Jones and, while the version has its merits, the juxtaposition jars.
A scene from Model Shop follows, in which an architect about to be dispatched to Vietnam (Gary Lockwood) extols the virtues of Los Angeles. McGuinn and Nash echo the sentiments, as a tourist map reveals the whereabouts of the various star dwellings in the Canyon, including those of Tom Mix, Boris Karloff, Harry Houdini and Peter Tork of The Monkees. Stills remembers neighbour Frank Zappa coming out into the garden to shout the lyrics of `Who Are the Brain Police' across the street.
Crosby reflects on the freedom of spirit in the 1960s and the readiness to flout rules, while also pointing out that a lot of socialising took place in people's homes rather than nightclubs or bars, as was the case in New York. McGuinn remembers Brian Wilson getting high and spendng an entire day at his house working on `Ding Dang', while Ringo tells the story of rolling up to Mickey Dolenz's place with George Harrison and being amused by the fact that everyone who had been hanging out in the nude like hippies suddenly put clothes on because they had guests. Getting misty-eyed about the power of music to change the world, Nash compares the Canyon at this time to fin-de-siècle Vienna, Paris in the 1930s and Golden Age Hollywood and predicts that historians will cite this as a remarkable period of artistic confluence.
As Dylan records `Goin' Back' in the studio and duets at the Orpheum with Beck, McGuinn recalls how tensions rose during the 1967 recording of The Notorious Byrds Brothers after Crosby's ménage song, `Triad', was pushed off the running order by the more commercial number that had been written by Gerry Goffin and Carole King, who had just arrived in the Canyon from New York. Nash and Stills joke that Crosby was a bit like Marlon Brando when it came to bypassing conventions and that he was no stranger to threesomes when he wrote what he knew was a risqué song, even for the Summer of Love. Looking into the lens, Crosby admits that he was sacked from The Byrds for being an asshole, although he also avers that the band had grown apart musically and that he regrets having occasionally taken the money while playing greatest hits with the backing of a smoke machine.
As Crosby gives thanks that so many fates aligned, Dylan conducts a cringingly gauche discussion about the reasons why the Canyon's first gold rush came to an end in the winter of 1967. Beck waffles on about individual self-discovery being incompatible with communal endeavour, while Spektor gushes about songs becoming more about dreams than real life, as pop became more sophisticated. Dylan seizes upon this throwaway remark to proclaim Buffalo Springfield's `Expecting to Fly' as the valedictory anthem.
Stills claims he was barred from the sessions, as Young had decided to go solo and Salter cross-cuts between Dylan and Spektor duetting at the Orpheum with scenes of Gary Lockwood and Anouk Aimée in Model Shop. It looks chic, but it's archness is inescapable. However, the picture ends on a high note, as we see Young playing guitar behind glass, as the original version of `Expecting to Fly' takes us into the credits.
What a curate's egg of a film this is. The premise is sound and Slater manages to include a lot of pivotal people. But the absentees are noticeable, with Neil Young and Monkees Mickey Dolenz and Mike Nesmith among those who might have put in a worthwhile appearance. And then there's Joni. Or The Doors. Moreover, next to nothing is said about Cass Elliot being the Gertrude Stein of the Canyon, as she kept a largely open house for friends and liggers to come and go as they pleased. In recompense, David Crosby is on fine form and his insistence on telling it like was makes some of the more discreet contributions feel a little anaemic. The backslapping is understandable, but seems a little trite in a documentary claiming to have serious cultural credential and a bit more musical analysis and a lot let gossip would have helped the cause considerably.
Of the awed onlookers, the late Tom Petty (to whom the film is dedicated) is much better value than Jackson Browne, who tries to be too cool for school in mocking photos of The Beach Boys wearing identical shirts and holding a single surfboard. But the millennials Slater has assembled are woefully out of their depth, with Beck, Regina Spektor and Cat Power seeming to know next to nothing about the period, its personalities or its sounds during their eek-inducing conflab with Jakob Dylan. He clearly knows his stuff and takes a respectful approach to covering songs that mean a lot to him. However, he comes across as a stiff media studies tutor during the interviews with his idols and Slater should have cut down on the grimace-grin reaction shots to some of the anecdotes. He should also have prodded Dylan into exploring his dad's influence on the folk-rock genre in more depth.
Slater's team of five editors should also have prevented him from narcissistically including himself at so many points in proceedings, while he might have done more to explain the wider significance of Model Shop and its influence on this project, as Demy was markedly more critical about the LA scene . He most certainly could and should have worked harder at contextualising the period under review, in terms of both the American music scene in the days before the British Invasion and the socio-political impact on the artists and their audience of the civil rights movement and the Vietnam War.
Sadly, he should also have left the original music to speak for itself, as too many of the covers are pale imitations, with the notable exceptions of those featuring the excellent Jade Castrinos. But, even though the Canyon-centric coterie is somewhat mythical (as several of these contributors admitted in a 2015 Vanity Fair article), it's nice to linger on Lookout Mountain and its environs before heading off to dig out some old LPs.