TIMMY FAILURE: MISTAKES WERE MADE (Disney Plus)
A family film based on a popular children’s book series may seem like an odd fit for the director of the Oscar-winning journalism drama “Spotlight.” But with Tom McCarthy at the helm, “Timmy Failure” is a kids’ movie that doesn’t dumb itself down for its audience. Timmy (Winslow Fegley) is an 11-year-old boy who runs a detective agency in Portland, Oregon with his imaginary polar bear friend Total. The film is a series of anecdotes of Timmy and his exploits (which, as the title suggests, never go as planned), ranging from investigating supposed Russian spies to thwarting a purse-snatcher. Timmy has a deadpan reaction to all things that can be tiresome, but is actually his way of coping with the stresses in his life: getting ready to go to middle school, his dad walking out on his family, his single mom (Ophelia Lovibond) struggling to make ends meet while dating a police officer (Kyle Bornheimer). These heavier themes, as well as the film’s dry sense of humor (the story is told from Timmy’s perspective, and his perspective leads to some humorous situations), are conveyed in a way that both kids and adults can appreciate, but this movie never wavers from its younger target audience, and it doesn’t resort to merely throwing in a joke or two for just the adults to appreciate. “Timmy Failure” strikes just the right balance of clever, weird, and fun that not enough family films do nowadays. Also starring Wallace Shawn as Timmy’s beleaguered teacher and Craig Robinson as the school counselor. Runtime: 99 minutes. Rated PG. 4 out of 5 stars.
HORSE GIRL (Netflix)
“Horse Girl” is a hard film to know what to make of it, mostly because the film doesn’t know what to make of itself. Directed by Jeff Baena, the drama stars Alison Brie as Sarah, an awkward and lonely young woman who starts to have bizarre dreams that affect her reality. The film opens as a quirky indie movie and ends as a wild sci-fi thriller, and it makes this transition between tones so seamlessly you almost don’t even pick up on it. Brie gets to show a new side of herself as she transitions Sarah from quiet to wild paranoia. Her performance and the way the film itself merges dream sequences and reality lets the viewer inside Sarah’s mind in a way that makes it difficult to dismiss her as merely crazy. It’s a brutally honest portrayal of mental illness, but the story is so ambiguous that—while it does hold the viewer’s interest—it fails to bring home a lot of the ideas it presents. Costarring Debby Ryan, Molly Shannon, John Ortiz, and John Reynolds. Runtime: 104 minutes. Rated R. 3.5 out of 5 stars.
TO ALL THE BOYS: P.S. I STILL LOVE YOU (Netflix)
Netflix’s 2018 teen romantic comedy “To All the Boys I Loved Before,” based on the novel of the same name by Jenny Han, was a smash success, and not just among its target audience. The story, which follows high schooler Lara Jean (Lana Condor) dealing with the repercussions of love letters to past crushes that were never meant to see the light of day being mailed to their recipients, may deal with rom-com tropes, but does so in a genuinely endearing and fresh manner. Not only that, but the chemistry between Condor and Noah Centineo (who plays Peter Kavinsky, a popular boy who Lara Jean forms a fake relationship with to make each others’ crushes jealous, only to really end up together by the end of the movie) is palpable. Unfortunately, there’s less of that in this sequel, which is based on the second installment of Han’s trilogy (the third movie is already in the works). “P.S. I Still Love You,” which is directed by Michael Fimognari, picks up with Lara Jean and Peter starting over as an official couple. But while everything in their relationship is a first for the relatively low-key Lara Jean, she’s constantly plagued by the fact that her boyfriend is admired by every other girl in school, and that he’s already experienced all this with his past girlfriends. Things between them are complicated further when another recipient of one of Lara Jean’s old letters, former classmate John Ambrose McClaren (Jordan Fisher), reenters her life. The first film possessed a winning combination of comedy, romance, family drama, and friendship that made it memorable. In other words, despite the title, it wasn’t only about “all the boys.” While this film has a fun and breezy opening that is reminiscent of the tone of the first movie, it ultimately spends the majority of its time focused on Lara Jean wrestling with whether or not she is good enough to be Peter’s girlfriend—too much time. Centineo is still good and charming, but we don’t get enough scenes with him this time around. Fisher is also good and charming as Peter’s rival, but so much so that we feel bad for still wanting Lara Jean to end up with Peter. Condor does get some nice scenes with the other supporting players, including Gen (Emilija Baranac), Peter’s ex and Lara Jean’s former friend, and newcomer Holland Taylor, who plays Stormy, an older woman at the retirement home Lara Jean volunteers at who dishes out some advice for her. While we do get a couple nice moments as well with Lara Jean’s family and exploring her Korean heritage, ultimately her father (John Corbett) and sassy younger sister Kitty (Anna Cathcart) take a backseat to the action, while older sister Margot (Janel Parrish) isn’t even in the picture. It’s still a watchable movie that has some magical moments, and fans of the first film will likely be pleased just to see all these characters again. But P.S.: the first movie was better. Runtime: 102 minutes. Rated TV-14. 3 out of 5 stars.
THE LAST THING HE WANTED (Netflix)
The world may never know how a thriller directed and co-written by award-winner Dee Rees, based on a novel by Joan Didion, and featuring an immensely talented cast including Anne Hathaway, Willem Dafoe, Ben Affleck, Rosie Perez, and Toby Jones turned out so messy. The story revolves around Elena McMahon (Hathaway), a tough journalist tasked with the mundane job of covering the 1984 election but who would rather be chasing a story on the U.S. funding of Nicaraguan Contras. She steps away from it when her ailing father (Dafoe) requests her help completing one last job for him—one involving Contras that sends Elena all over Central America. What starts out as a seemingly straightforward story quickly becomes incomprehensible, as too much is packed into this two hour movie to all the story and characters a moment to breathe. The story jumps from place to place with little to no explanation, and there’s virtually no character development, with the characters’ motivations making no sense within the plot. No one in the cast is able to do their best work as a result, while the swelling music and the dramatic voiceover narration from Elena is overly pretentious. This is supposed to be a thriller, but there are little thrills to be had, since we’re not really following what’s going on, and to say the ending is a head-scratcher would be an understatement. It’s a disappointing film for everyone involved. Runtime: 115 minutes. Rated R. 1 out of 5 stars.