09 February 2015

Hope Springs (starring Colin Firth, Heather Graham and Minnie Driver)

It doesn’t take much to confuse me. So, I was mystified by finding reviews of a film I had seen - the 2012 ‘Hope Springs’ starring Meryl Streep - and one I had no recollection of, starring Colin Firth, with the same title. I did realise fairly quickly that these were entirely different productions, and put the latter on my wishlist, as it sounded like a good film. We watched it last night with our younger son, who is in his 20s.

Colin Firth’s character is also called Colin. He’s an Englishman who is very talented at charcoal portraits, and arrives in a small town called Hope in the USA. We quickly learn that he’s suffered a painful betrayal, and is running away from his memories of his ex-fiancĂ©e, Vera.

He stays at an inn, owned by a friendly couple who send him a therapist, the vibrant Mandy (Heather Graham). There’s a strong attraction between the two, after a slightly shaky start, and Colin is beginning to feel that he can move on, when Vera (Minnie Driver) turns up, determined to woo him back…

The overall plot is fairly predictable, but the detail is unexpected, and beautifully done. Mandy is decidedly quirky with a host of problems of her own, and Vera is not the harpy she first seems. There’s a very good chemistry between Vera and Colin, which is explained in the brief documentary ‘extra’: apparently the two have worked together many times and know each other well.

And it’s a lot of fun. Some ‘rom-com’ films are high on the romance but have little comedy; others rely on slapstick or bawdy humour that appeals to a limited audience only. This one (mostly) gets it just right: the timing is superb, the script cleverly written. There are some obvious cultural misunderstandings that lead to humour, but most of it is understated and all the more amusing as a result. There are some decidedly silly sections too, and it’s not a thought-provoking or even memorable film - but we liked it.

There’s some lovely scenery - the autumn colours are there in full - but the story is character-based, and the settings less relevant. The three main players are excellent, with the minor ones portraying lovable caricatures who add to the whole. The pace is just right, and at around 90 minutes, it felt like a perfect length.

Rated 12 in the UK, PG-13 in the US, I think that’s probably appropriate. Most of the bad language is minor - and not excessive - and we only noticed one incident of so-called ‘strong’ language. There are, unsurprisingly, some bedroom scenes, but they’re tastefully done; people are shown in underwear more than once, but they are not directly shown doing anything ‘adult’. There are plenty of implications; however the storyline is such that I can’t imagine anyone under the age of about fifteen or sixteen being interested anyway.

The only ‘extra’ is a brief documentary featuring most of the main characters, explaining that most of the filming was done in heavy rain.

Recommended, if you want something lightweight and enjoy the romantic comedy genre.

Review by copyright 2015 Sue's DVD Reviews

04 February 2015

Stuck in Love (starring Greg Kinnear, Jennifer Connelly, Lily Collins and Nat Wolff)

This is another DVD which Amazon suggested, based on my previous preferences. It went on my wishlist and I was pleased to be given it for Christmas.

‘Stuck in Love’ is supposedly a romantic comedy, but there’s not much that’s humorous about it. It features a year in the life of an American family, from one Thanksgiving to the next. Bill (Greg Kinnear) is the father, a well-known writer who has published several books. He has been unable to write anything new since his wife Erica (Jennifer Connelly) left him for another man, a few years before the story starts. Bill has not remained celibate (far from it) but he is still in love with his ex-wife, in a somewhat obsessional way. He still sets a place for her at family mealtimes, and he snoops around her house in the evenings.

Bill and Erika’s son Rusty (Nat Wolff) is at high school and still lives with his father, while their daughter Samantha (Lily Collins) is away at university. She is determined not to fall in love, after seeing the problems in her parents’ marriage, but is highly promiscuous. Rusty, by contrast, would love to find a girlfriend. He is a bit of a geek, and tends to stay in at his computer. Both Rusty and Samantha are writers, funded by their father to keep journals and write - and Samantha is about to have her first book published.

It’s a character-based story, one that flows nicely with smoothly alternating scenes that allow us to get to know each of the family in turn. Samantha, at the start of the year, is still furious with her mother and refuses to speak to her. Bill is persuaded that he needs to move on and start dating again, but can’t forget his wife. Rusty starts going out with a girl he has liked for a while, only to discover that she has a very troubled lifestyle.

It’s a good story, with a positive message and, I thought, an encouraging ending. The actors are very believable, the situations realistic, and it’s quite thought-provoking.

Unfortunately, it’s plagued with bad language including (according to one website) at least fifty incidents of what the censors call ‘strong’ language. Perhaps a couple of times it would have been acceptable, but after the first half hour it grated. It felt as if the word was put in so that the censors would give it a higher rating. In the UK it’s rated 15; in the more cautious US it has an R rating.

While there’s no explicit nudity, and only a couple of incidents of relatively minor violence, there are various intimate scenes where very little is left to the imagination. There are also scenes - albeit brief - of smoking illegal substances.
In the context of the story, these scenes are not out of place, but we were very unimpressed with the coarse and annoying bad language, which, we felt, was out of place and unnecessary.

There are no extras at all on the DVD, which was a slight disappointment as we enjoy documentaries about the making of movies.

Review by copyright 2015 Sue's DVD Reviews