What'll You Have: Escapism Or Insurrection?

Reviews of new releases "The Idea of You," "The Sixth," "The Fall Guy," and "Unfrosted." Plus: Ron Howard, mensch.

What'll You Have: Escapism Or Insurrection?
Anne Hathaway and Nicholas Galitzine in "The Idea of You"

It's a good weekend to disappear into the movies: Three new films – two streaming, one in theaters – offer temporary but enjoyable relief from the pounding headache that is 2024. Meanwhile, a new streaming documentary jolts us back to the recent past and possibly the near future in a way that demands to be seen.

Of these four movies, I've reviewed three today for the Washington Post – Post subscribers can read them there or paid Watch List subscribers can read them below – but here's a preview:

“The Fall Guy” (⭐ ⭐ ⭐, in theaters)An action-comedy-romance-mystery, heavy on the flipping cars, high-speed chase scenes and plummets from tall buildings. Surprisingly, the quieter romantic comedy scenes are the best, but that’s probably inevitable when you have Ryan Gosling and Emily Blunt as leads, two actors who could class up the reading of legal boilerplate.

“Unfrosted” (⭐ ⭐ 1/2, streaming on Netflix) – Jerry Seinfeld inviting everyone in his Rolodex to come over for an extended hang and to parody the current craze for trademark biopics (“BlackBerry,” “Tetris,” et al.) “Unfrosted” gives the invention of Pop-Tarts the Mad magazine treatment — lightly roasted with a lot of nuts.

“The Sixth” (⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐, for purchase or rent on Amazon, Apple TV, YouTube, and elsewhere) – A chilling documentary by Andrea Nix Fine and Sean Fine that immerses a viewer in the sounds, sights, sensations and shock of Jan. 6, 2021. Best watched with sober concentration and preferably older children or grandchildren by one’s side. Civics lessons rarely come this disturbing or this convincing.

Nicholas Galitzine and Anne Hathaway in "The idea of You"

Here's a home truth: One of the reasons people like going to the movies is to watch pretty people doing ephemeral things. Yes, we go for art and entertainment, for thrills and shock and laughter, but sometimes we just like to massage our eyeballs with the sight of Anne Hathway boinking a 25-year-old cuteboi. Thus "The Idea of You" (⭐ ⭐ 1/2 or ⭐ ⭐ ⭐, maybe ⭐ ⭐ 3/4, I really can't make up my mind on this one), which starts streaming on Amazon Prime today and which is pleasant, narcotizing romantic-comedy fluff that occasionally steams up your corneas.

Hathaway plays a divorced Silver Lake gallery owner and single mom teetering on the edge of 40; accompanying her teenage daughter (Ella Rubin) to Coachella, she has a meet-cute with one of the members of a boy band (Nicholas Galitzine). Complications follow. That's it; that's the plot. Are you in or are you out?

Regular readers of the Watch List know this writer's cavity-pocked sweet tooth for romantic comedies/fantasies, the stupider the more irresistable. ("The Lake House," enough said.) "The Idea of You," based on a popular novel by Robinne Lee, is not stupid enough to make the all-timer list; in fact, it's quite sensible, at times too much so. There are plenty of reasons Hathaway's character – who has been graced with a great embossed-cover romance-novel name, Solène – should not get involved with a young, ardent, ever-so-slightly-emotionally-wounded global superstar. His tattoos, for one thing; they're terrible. But Galitzine, as a pop singer with the equally excellent boy-band name of Hayes Campbell, is hard to resist, the actor having played straight (Netflix's "Purple Hearts"), gay (Amazon Prime's "Red, White, and Royal Blue") and dumb (he was the high school football jock in "Bottoms").

Whether or not you buy into the central relationship of "The Idea of You" – and plenty of people don't and won't, in the movie or watching it – the two leads have the chemistry required. Scratch that, they're just hot. Once you get past the tattoos, Galatzine is winsome and likable, and Hathaway has acquired a fully mature timing to go with her immense eyes, lips, teeth and hair. She gives a much better performance than is necessary for this type of tapioca and in fact provides her underwritten role with a measure of exhaustion, grace, and renewed fire. The kind to give hope to the lumpier people on the other side of the screen, which is the entire purpose of romantic fiction, innit?

Also, whether you go for the movie or not, "The Idea of You" does have one of the better screen kisses in recent memory. Not up there with Cary Grant's and Ingrid Bergman's in "Notorious," of course, but, like theirs, a kiss that keeps kissing, as if the characters and the film were reluctant to call "cut." It's a moveable smooch, and for its duration you forget about a lot of other things in the world. For such things we should be properly grateful.

(photo credit: Pierce Harman)

I've been so busy this week, I forgot to post about sitting down with Ron Howard last week for a Q&A at a benefit gala for the New England Historic Genealogical Society and its "American Ancestors" program. The excuse was for the Society's genealogists to run Howard's family tree and present him with a fancy book and video presentation in which he learned (to his great surprise) that he shared his genes with: Franklin Roosevelt, Clint Eastwood, Jordan Peele, Harriet Beecher Stowe, the Wright brothers, Richard Nixon, Ethelred the Unready, Tennessee Williams and (wait for it) Andy Griffith.

It was a fun and too-brief conversation: Howard's a natural raconteur and one of those dream interviews who, asked a question, is off and running. Given the venue, we spoke mostly about his historical films (as opposed to, say, "How the Grinch Stole Christmas") and his own family history – I'm not sure if or when the discussion will be posted to the Society's video page – and it gave me the occasion to tell the audience the story of Howard's and my one previous encounter: When he called me at the Boston Globe to ask me about my negative review of his 2015 whaling drama "In the Heart of the Sea."

This is the only time this has happened in my 40-odd years of writing film criticism: A director ringing me up to have a little chat. I've received occasional emails from grateful or aggrieved filmmakers, but a phone call? Never. I came into my warren at the old Globe building on Morrissey Blvd. to find a post-it on my phone with a phone number and the message "Ron Howard called." I quizzically dialed the number, heard a woman say "Ron Howard's office," and a few seconds later, the director was on the line. He said he'd thought of "In the Heart of the Sea" – based on Nathaniel Philbrick's best-selling book about the 1820 whale attack that served as inspiration for "Moby Dick" – as a movie that the critics would like, as opposed to a broad-appeal blockbuster. And the critics didn't like it. And he wondered why.

So (he told me) he was calling up three or four reviewers whose work he admired (smart man, buttering me up) to dig a little deeper. He was genuinely curious and quite congenial, and I immediately regretted some of the snarkier comments in the review. We had a pleasant (and for him hopefully helpful) 20-minute conversation in which I tried to diplomatically convey that A) changing the true story so that the whale in the film attacked the Essex not once but many times across the vast ocean, returning over and over like a cetacean Freddy Krueger, was more conducive to laughter than suspense, and B) the decision to have Chris Hemsworth and the other actors playing early-19th century New Bedford fishermen talk like hot dog vendors at Fenway Park in 2015 felt ... forced. He took my criticisms seriously, or seemed to, and after some further pleasantries, he rang off. And I found myself greatly respecting him for his willingness to listen and politely push back, which I told him during last week's Q&A. Didn't change my opinion of "In the Heart of the Sea." But it changed my opinion of the man who made it.

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