Four Comedies from Mongrel Media
Coach (October 19/10)
An affable piece of work, Coach casts Hugh Dancy as Nick - a thirtysomething slacker who reluctantly agrees to become a youth soccer coach as he attempts to prove that he can be responsible to his girlfriend (Gillian Jacobs' Zoe). Coach has been hard-wired with an exceedingly easygoing and likeable vibe by filmmaker Will Frears, with Dancy's remarkably captivating performance certainly proving instrumental in initially capturing the viewer's interest. The actor's irresistible chemistry with the various kids helps offset the familiarity of the soccer stuff (ie we've seen this ragtag-team-makes-good plot many, many times before), while Nick's tentative romance with a sweet doctor (Liane Balaban's Gabrielle) is stirring enough to warrant its own movie. It's subsequently worth noting that the rather stagnant midsection doesn't fare as poorly as one might have feared, yet it's just as clear that the movie does wear out its welcome as it marches into its almost hopelessly hackneyed third act (ie there's a fake break-up, Nick loses the faith of his kids, etc, etc). The inclusion of a few genuinely compelling moments during this stretch - ie a gay player asks Nick for advice - ultimately prevents Coach from sinking into all-out tedium, although, in the end, one can't help but wish that the film's final half hour had been as engaging and effortlessly charming as everything preceding it.
Score: A Hockey Musical
Director Michael McGowan's follow-up to 2008's One Week, Score: A Hockey Musical follows a gifted athlete (Noah Reid's Farley Gordon) as he's recruited to play hockey for a minor league team - with problems ensuing as Farley realizes that playing the game within a professional environment is a far cry from what he's gotten used to. There's little doubt that Score: A Hockey Musical fares best in its opening half hour, as McGowan has infused the proceedings with a pleasant, easygoing atmosphere that's heightened by the likeable performances and impressively catchy songs The amiable vibe persists right up until Farley is sent to the big leagues, after which point it does become harder and harder to work up any enthusiasm for the character's hockey-related exploits (ie McGowan's decision to pander solely to fans of the sport ensures that neophytes will find it awfully difficult to care about any of this). The stagnant nature of the movie's midsection is ultimately exacerbated by the inclusion of an almost aggressively dull subplot revolving around Farley's refusal to fight on the ice, while the romance between Farley and a fetching neighbor (Allie MacDonald), which is admittedly quite charming at the outset, inevitably becomes just as tedious as everything else within the proceedings as screenwriter McGowan places an all-too-prominent emphasis on romcom cliches. And although the film does briefly recover for an upbeat, energetic closing number, Score: A Hockey Musical has, unfortunately, long since established itself as a well-meaning yet utterly misguided effort that holds little appeal for fans of hockey and musicals alike.
Tulpan (October 19/10)
Set entirely within the barren landscape of the Kazakh Steppe, Tulpan follows the members of a small family as they go about their day-to-day exploits - with a specific emphasis on both the eldest son's efforts at finding a wife and the entire family's ongoing struggles with their herd of sheep. There's little doubt that Tulpan generally does come off as an impressively authentic look at life on the Steppe, yet filmmaker Sergei Dvortsevoy proves unable to transform any of these uniformly unlikable, uninvolving characters into figures worthy of the viewer's interest. The film's pervasive (and downright aggressive) lack of plot undoubtedly exacerbates its problems, as Dvortsevoy offers up a documentary-style structure that only grows more maddening and infuriating as time progresses (ie the relentlessly uneventful atmosphere is just impossible to take). It's subsequently not surprising to note that the novelty of the admittedly fresh locale wears off almost immediately, and the viewer is forced to wait patiently for something (anything) of interest to occur. (This never happens, FYI.) The final straw is the movie's unpleasant treatment of its various animals - this is to say nothing of the protracted, needlessly graphic sheep birth that transpires towards the end - which effectively cements Tulpan's place as a misguided and hopelessly unwatchable piece of work.
Wonderful World (October 21/10)
Written and directed by Joshua Goldin, Wonderful World follows misanthropic copy editor Ben Singer (Matthew Broderick) as he falls for his roommate's pretty sister (Sanaa Lathan's Khadi) and subsequently finds himself forced to rethink his pessimistic world view. Goldin has infused Wonderful World with a thoroughly subdued sensibility that ultimately prevents the viewer from wholeheartedly embracing the spare narrative, with Broderick's engrossing and downright captivating performance the one consistently engaging element within the proceedings. Goldin's tendency to pepper the storyline with a few needless elements - ie Ben's ongoing conversations with The Man, as embodied by Philip Baker Hall - ensures that Wonderful World does suffer from a demonstrably uneven vibe, and there's little doubt that one's interest is subsequently only piqued on a stop-and-go basis. There's ultimately little doubt that the movie is far more successful as a showcase for Broderick's stirring work than as a fully realized drama, which is a shame, certainly, given that it possesses several admittedly compelling stand-alone sequences and a conclusion that's quite satisfying and even a little moving.