Film review – Despicable Me (2010)

26 September 2010
Despicable Me: Gru (Steve Carell)

Gru (Steve Carell)

Gru was once the greatest super-villain of them all but is now facing obscurity and bankruptcy. In order to reclaim his status as the ultimate evil genius, he devises an elaborate plan to steal the moon. However, he not only has to contend with an ambitious young rival but also with three orphaned girls who are becoming increasingly fond of him.

The 3D computer animation Despicable Me is comparable to Pixar’s 2004 The Incredibles, which was about superheros living everyday lives. The idea of instead focusing on a super-villain facilitates lots of jokes about balancing the crazy inventions and plans for world domination with suburban domesticity. While lacking the sophistication of The Incredibles, Despicable Me is still a fun series of throwaway gags and slapstick; balancing its black yet family-friendly humour with moments of sincerity that never feel saccharin.

Steve Carrell is great voicing Gru and the animation feels like a faithful extension of his personality and physicality. The army of Beaker-like minions also provide plenty of laughs but they also have a lot to do with the film ultimately being a series of fun gags rather than something more cohesive and satisfying.

Originally appeared in The Big Issue, No. 363, 2010

© Thomas Caldwell, 2010

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Film review – Date Night (2010)

4 April 2010

Claire and Phil Foster (Tina Fey and Steve Carell)

The premise of Date Night is one of a classic case of mistaken identity where Phil and Claire Foster, a dull but likable middle-aged and middle-class married couple, are suddenly on the run after being confused for another couple who were attempting to blackmail the mob. However, while this scenario sounds like it may take a few cues from the classic string of wrong-person comedic thrillers by Alfred Hitchcock, Date Night is fairly light on plot and simply a showcase for two of the funniest people working in show business today. The idea of casting Steve Carell and Tina Fey as the Fosters, whose dreary life becomes unexpectedly spiced up, is brilliant but any assumptions that their presence alone will make Date Night work are unfortunately unfounded.

Date Night should have been a hilarious film and the outtakes over the end credits give some idea of just how funny Carell and Fey can be when they are simply trading banter with one another. The film certainly does have moments where this chemistry is captured and a reoccurring character played by Mark Wahlberg certainly livens up several scenes too. The rare quieter moments between Carell and Fey that are used to affectionately portray a loving married couple whose lives have become a bit of a drudge are also handled nicely and actually evoke a degree of pathos. But overall Date Night feels too much like a lame married couple version of Adventures in Babysitting with its mild humour and tensionless action.

Date Night is a missed opportunity and Carell and Fey certainly deserve better material. Not only is the film mostly rather bland but it is also poorly made with ugly digital cinematography and substandard editing that often fails to even adequately create match-on-action transitions. It was also disappointing to see the film eventual fail so badly in terms of its attitude towards gender roles. For much of the film both the Fosters are on fairly equal terms with each other but by the time the film ends Claire is having to dress like a prostitute while Phil is left to come up with the final big plan that he inexplicably keeps to himself. Stay home and watch Carell in the US version of The Office and Fey in 30 Rock instead as for the most part Date Night doesn’t deliver.

© Thomas Caldwell, 2010

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Film review – Dan in Real Life (2007)

12 February 2008

In Dan in Real Life Steve Carell leaves behind his comedic personae to once again play a melancholic 40-something type character, as he so brilliantly did in Little Miss Sunshine. This time Carell is Dan, a widower with three daughters, who while on a family weekend meets Marie (Juliette Binoche), falls madly for her and then discovers she is his brother’s new girlfriend.

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Film review – Little Miss Sunshine (2006)

28 September 2006

At first glance the storyline of Little Miss Sunshine appears to be a completely clichéd American independent comedy/drama – a dysfunctional family is thrown together under strained circumstances to go on a road trip. All of the family members have their particular peculiarities, most of them don’t want to be doing the trip and all hell is threatening to brake loose at any moment. And to be honest, this pretty much sums Little Miss Sunshine up. What sets it apart from so many other ‘quirky’ independent films are its appealing characters and the skill in which their relationships with one another are developed.

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