By Richard Roeper
Signal Contributing Writer
Bleecker Street presents a film written and directed by Alex H. Fischer and Eleanor Wilson. Rated R (for language). Running time: 93 minutes.
Su and Jack are Uber millennials, and by that I mean if they Uber around their Brooklyn neighborhood, they probably struggle with giving a poor rating to the driver even if the experience is horrible, because that driver is no doubt working a couple of jobs to make ends meet, and the last thing Su and Jack would want to do is negatively impact someone from the working class. Can you imagine the guilt?
You gotta love Jack (John Reynolds) and Su (Sunita Mani). They’re just the nicest, sweetest, most caring and considerate couple you’d ever want to meet, as is established in the early going of Eleanor Wilson’s and Alex Huston Fischer’s pinpoint funny social comedy “Save Yourselves!” a wry commentary about how some — note, I said SOME — millennials might be the least-prepared adults in history to cope with an alien invasion. (That’s right. More on that to come.)
Su and Jack have reached the point in the relationship where they’re comfortable lazing a day away on the sofa, not bothering to put on “grown-up” clothes, tethered to their phones and laptops. When they finally do go out, they reconnect with their old friend Ralph (Ben Sinclair), who runs a start-up company making 3D-printed, sustainable surfboards constructed from algae and has nearly completed, by hand, a renovation of a cabin in upstate New York. Ralph suggests Su and Jack stay at the place for a week and, drunk on booze and intoxicated by Ralph’s do-something-REAL-with-your-life initiative, Su and Jack take Ralph up on his offer and agree to spend the entire week off the grid: no phones, no laptops, just being with each other and in the moment.
Mani (“Mr. Robot,” “GLOW”) and Reynolds (“Search Party,” “Stranger Things”) are wonderfully talented comedic performers, and they have an easy, likable chemistry as Su and Jack fumble about their apartment getting ready for the trip. What if they forget something? “It won’t be the end of the world,” says Jack as they finally head out.
Well. It might be.
Su and Jack settle in for a weekend of taking hikes, playing cards, getting a little high, breathing in the fresh air, stargazing and becoming one with nature while recharging their spiritual batteries. They are comically inept when it comes to canoeing or making a fire, but they’re extremely proud of themselves for making this grand gesture of unplugging from the world for one whole week. They’re also oblivious to the fact that alien predators — small, fluffy creatures that look like something out of an old “Star Trek” episode — have invaded the planet.
When Su and Jack finally realize that decorative thing in the cabin Su has dubbed a “Poof” has in fact been moving around and is trying to kill them, they have to switch to survival mode, and you can imagine how that goes. There’s a gun on the premises, but Jack reminds Su they’re not “gun people,” and just having a gun in the house makes it 11 times more likely one of them will be shot. And when they find a car in the garage, even that presents a challenge because it has a manual transmission and of course, neither of them knows how to drive a stick.
On the run and doing battle with cuddly-looking beings that also have lethal, 20-foot tongues that can penetrate steel and kill you in an instant, Su and Jack bring a kind of 1930s screwball comedy energy to their frantic efforts to stay alive, and even though these two can be borderline insufferable with all their self-aware sincerity, we’ve come to know and like them, and we really hope they don’t get whacked by one of those relentless Poofs.
‘The Boys in the Band’
Netflix presents a film directed by Joe Mantello, based on the play by Mart Crowley. Rated R (for sexual content, language, some graphic nudity and drug use). Running time: 121 minutes. Premieres Sept. 30 on Netflix.
here’s a not a weapon in sight and only one punch is thrown in “The Boys in the Band,” but this is one of the most bruising movies of the year if you count all the verbal slings and arrows flung about during an intense group therapy session disguised as a birthday party in a New York City apartment in 1968 — a birthday party where everyone is gay and most are in the closet and we’re still a couple of years away from Stonewall and a half-century away from modern times and a culture that is hardly perfect but inarguably more enlightened.
Mart Crowley’s “The Boys in the Band” debuted off-Broadway in 1968 and was considered groundbreaking for its frank and honest portrayal of the lives of gay men. Two years later, the great William Friedkin directed the film version, one of the first major American movies entirely about gay characters. Fast-forward a half-century later, with renowned theater director Joe Mantello (“Wicked,” “Blackbird,” “Assassins”) directing the revival, first on Broadway in 2018 and now in a crackling, electric and searing Netflix feature film reuniting that Broadway cast — all openly gay actors. Wisely, Mantello retains the 1968 setting, so “The Boys in the Band” doesn’t come across as dated, but rather a period piece accurately reflecting the tenor of those times.
And wow, what a cast. The entire ensemble is excellent, but the nomination-worthy standouts are Jim Parsons and Zachary Quinto as two friends with a complicated dynamic that has us wondering if they despise each other or are in love with one another, or it’s both and that’s what makes it disconcertingly intense and toxic and yet, somehow, almost … touching.
Director Mantello and cinematographer Bill Pope deliver fluid, intimate camerawork that makes us feel as if we’re an invisible witness to the proceedings, most of which take place in the spacious but tastefully cluttered apartment of Michael (Parsons), who is accustomed to a certain lifestyle that includes jet-setting around the globe and wearing expensive sweaters — not that he can actually afford any of it. Michael is a bundle of neuroses and issues. He’s a recovering alcoholic, a Roman Catholic, a struggling writer AND he’s obsessed with his receding hairline, but he’s going to put all that aside, at least for the time being, as he prepares to host a birthday party for his friend Harold, who will be the last to arrive because Harold is always the last to arrive.
“The Boys in the Band” is filled with stingingly vicious repartee as nearly every character depends on cleverness as a defense mechanism. Even when there’s almost zero dialogue, e.g., when Herb Alpert’s gorgeously sparse “This Guy’s in Love With You” plays on the stereo as a number of characters dance, literally and otherwise, it’s an emotional whirlwind to behold.
But there also are some genuine and moving moments of unvarnished truth, as when Michael finally breaks down and laments, “If we could just learn to not hate ourselves quite so very much.” More than a half-century after first taking the stage, “The Boys in the Band” still leaves us with so much to think about, so much to feel, so much to consider.
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