Monday, September 17, 2018

Judy Greer's directorial debut, A HAPPENING OF MONUMENTAL PROPORTIONS, opens

I am hard pressed to think of another actor whose performances over 21 years -- 129 of them, according to the imdb, and generally in supporting roles most often of the comedic variety -- have garnered her such good will (at least among movie-goers like me) than Judy Greer.

From Jawbreakers and Three Kings through Cursed, The Descendents and the recent Measure of a Man plus countless TV shows, Ms Greer, shown below,  has proven consistently interesting, reliable, funny and smart. When TrustMovies learned of her directing debut via a film entitled A HAPPENING OF MONUMENTAL PROPORTIONS, he was both excited and expectant.

The stellar cast Greer is working with, too, could hardly be bettered and includes Common, Bradley Whitford, Allison Janney, Jennifer Garner, John Cho, Katie Holmes, Kumail Nanjiani and Keanu Reeves. (Mr. Reeves does not appear until movie's end, but his scene -- taking place mostly in a very colorful restaurant men's room, pictured at bottom -- proves bizarrely memorable.)

So: What's not to like? Let's start with the movie itself, which, although Ms Greer, who has directed well enough to pass muster and has most of her actors achieving as consistent a tone as possible, is working here with a screenplay written by Gary Lundy (below) that pretty much sinks the best intentions of the rest of the cast and crew.

What exactly was Mr. Lundy going for, I wonder? Some kind of satire of American society, hypocrisy, the current workplace and our school system, perhaps? If so, the result is slipshop and half-assed. The plot is undercooked, while certain characters -- the school administrator played by Rob Riggle, for instance -- are overdrawn and banged home with a vengeance.

To note but a single joke gone wrong: the suddenly deceased gardener with the name "Kevin," which of course in the Los Angels area where the movie takes place is so wrong, since all gardeners must be Hispanic. The idea may be funny but given the Lundy/Riggle combination, it is repeated so often, long and loudly that what would have been clever once or twice is instead done to death.

Greer and her very able cast try to put the spin of reality (occasionally hyper-reality) onto this mess, but the script and characterization keep upending them.

There are dead moms aplenty, the school's career day in which parents participate, a workplace coffee machine that gets sabotaged, adultery and its payoff, possible suicide, father-daughter/father-son tsuris and other assorted situations, none of which quite work for either comedy or pathos (and especially not for credibility) but instead begin to make us feel real sadness for the performers caught up all this, especially Common, who works particularly hard as a single dad trying to please his daughter while doing his job, as well as his assistant, played by Ms Garner. (The actor is shown above, left, with Mr. Whitford, who plays his nasty new boss, and below, right, with Storm Reid, who plays his sweet, intelligent daughter.)

Along the way there are some funny and/or enjoyable moments, as well as decent performances, too. But the tale told is too often too nonsensical to hold water yet not nearly clever enough for decent satire. Perhaps I am missing the point that screenwriter Lundy is trying to make -- is he just going for something goofy? -- or don't understand or appreciate the style he's using to accomplish it. But I'd have to call this one a misfire of monumental proportions.

From Great Point Media and running 82 minutes, A Happening of Monumental Proportions opens this Friday in a limited run of theaters across the country. In New York City, it will screen at the Cinema Village, and in the Los Angeles area at both the Laemmle Monica Film Center and the Ahrya Fine Arts

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