The Films of Miguel Arteta
Chuck & Buck
The Good Girl
Youth in Revolt (July 24/10)
Based on the first book in C.D. Payne's six-part series, Youth in Revolt follows precocious teen Nick Twisp (Michael Cera) as he meets (and quickly falls in love with) an enigmatic stranger named Sheeni Saunders (Portia Doubleday) - with Nick's ongoing efforts at cozying up to the object of his affection inevitably complicated by a host of outside forces and figures. Director Miguel Arteta has infused Youth in Revolt with a lighthearted and easygoing sensibility that proves an appropriate complement to Gustin Nash's quirky screenplay, with the animated credits sequence that opens the movie effectively setting the stage for a consistently off-kilter piece of work. There's little doubt that Cera's entertaining, frequently hilarious performance plays a large role in the film's mild success, as the actor employs his established screen persona - ie the awkward, stammering introvert - to exceedingly positive effect and there's little doubt that the actor's tongue-in-cheek delivery results in many of the movie's biggest laughs (ie "Like John Muir, I enter the woods with nothing more than my journal and a childlike sense of wonder.") And although Arteta's pervasively low-key modus operandi occasionally dampens the movie's effectiveness, Youth in Revolt - anchored by the undeniably sweet romance between Cera and Doubleday's respective characters - ultimately establishes itself as an engaging and faithful adaptation of Payne's admittedly superior novel.
Cedar Rapids (February 3/11)
Directed by Miguel Arteta, Cedar Rapids follows small-town insurance salesman Tim Lippe (Ed Helms) as he arrives at the title locale for an annual convention - with the film subsequently detailing Tim's fish-out-of-water exploits within the comparatively big city. Arteta has infused Cedar Rapids with a decidedly low-key feel that's reflected rather keenly in Phil Johnston's observational, uneventful screenplay, and there's little doubt that the film initially benefits from Helms' wide-eyed turn as the guileless central character. (Having said that, the movie occasionally does go a little too far in portraying Tim's naiveté - with his shock at meeting his black roommate, whom he refers to as an "Afro American," undoubtedly the best example of this.) The pleasant vibe is heightened and perpetuated by a strong supporting cast that includes Anne Heche, Stephen Root, and Kurtwood Smith, though it's John C. Reilly, playing a notoriously gregarious fellow salesman, that ultimately walks away with the title of MVP - as the actor delivers a larger-than-life performance that provides the movie with sporadic bursts of much-needed energy. The affable yet far-from-engrossing atmosphere holds steady right up until around the one-hour mark, after which point the film's pervasively subdued sensibilities become a little oppressive - with the presence of a few melodramatic plot twists compounding the progressively uninvolving feel. Still, Cedar Rapids is, for the most part, an agreeable little comedy that gets plenty of mileage out of its quirky premise and its impressively off-kilter cast.
Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day
Beatriz at Dinner (June 29/17)
Beatriz at Dinner casts Salma Hayek as the title character, a holistic medicine practitioner who arrives at a client’s (Connie Britton’s Cathy) home to deliver a massage but is eventually stranded after her car breaks down – with the movie detailing the culture clash that ensues once Beatriz is invited to join a fancy dinner hosted by Cathy and her husband (David Warshofsky’s Grant). (Said dinner party includes John Lithgow’s powerful, callous businessman and Jay Duplass’ snivelling, obsequious lawyer.) Filmmaker Miguel Arteta, working from Mike White’s screenplay, delivers a strong opening stretch that revolves almost entirely around the title character’s hardscrabble existence, with the heavy emphasis on Beatriz’s day-to-day exploits – which somehow includes caring for a goat – effectively highlighting the vast chasm that exists between her and the assorted well-to-do dinner guests. (Hayek’s understated performance only perpetuates this feeling.) It’s interesting to note, too, that White initially does a nice job of portraying both sides in less-than-flattering terms (ie Beatriz doesn’t come off as an entirely angelic figure, to be sure), and the back-and-forth that consequently ensues is generally as intriguing (and occasionally electrifying) as the pared-down premise might’ve indicated. There reaches a point, of course, at which the somewhat congenial atmosphere begins to change dramatically, with the escalating tensions between the two parties paving the way for a series of impressively gripping sequences (eg Beatriz grows more and more horrified as Lithgow’s Doug Strutt brags about his kills during a recent big-game expedition). Beatriz at Dinner builds and builds before arriving at a finale that ultimately turns out to be a fake-out, with the movie’s actual ending, which is about as abrupt and anti-climactic as one could imagine, threatening to undo the good will established by everything leading up to it – which ultimately does secure the picture’s place as a massively uneven effort that doesn’t quite seem to know what it’s trying to say.