The Films of Jesse Peretz
First Love, Last Rites
The Ex (May 9/07)
Though infused with a whole host of personable performances, The Ex adopts an increasingly routine and flat-out needless tone as it progresses - with the end result a distinctly uneven effort that's nevertheless entertaining enough to warrant a mild recommendation. Zach Braff stars as Tom Reilly, an amiable yet aimless slacker who agrees to take on a job with his father-in-law after the birth of his son. Problems emerge when Tom is paired up with Chip Sanders (Jason Bateman) at the office, as it's quickly revealed that Chip used to date Tom's wife (Amanda Peet's Sofia) and has never quite gotten over her. Director Jesse Peretz - working from David Guion and Michael Handelman's screenplay - initially does a nice job of imbuing the movie with an appropriately lighthearted touch, though one can't help but question the inclusion of several incongruously melodramatic subplots (ie Sofia's attempts to cope with her stay-at-home-mom status, a variation on the ubiquitous fake break-up, etc). Braff's effortlessly charismatic performance is certainly worth mention - as are the amusing cameos from folks like Amy Adams and Paul Rudd - yet there's little doubt that Bateman deserves the lion's share of praise thanks to his scene-stealing work as Tom's hilariously smug nemesis. In the end, The Ex generally comes off as an agreeable - if entirely forgettable - romantic comedy that, while never flat-out boring, isn't quite able to live up to the promise of its above-average premise.
Our Idiot Brother
Our Idiot Brother casts Paul Rudd as Ned, an easygoing idealist who attempts to get his life back on track after a brief stint in jail - with the film primarily detailing Ned's impact on the various folks in his life, including his three sisters (Elizabeth Banks' Miranda, Zooey Deschanel's Natalie, and Emily Mortimer's Liz). It's a low-key premise that's employed to consistently entertaining and breezy effect by director Jesse Peretz, with the film's irresistible opening sequence - in which Ned hilariously sells marijuana to a uniformed police officer - effectively setting the stage for a light-hearted comedy that benefits substantially from the ongoing efforts of its impressively eclectic cast. (There's little doubt, however, that this is Rudd's show through and through, as the actor delivers a consistently engaging performance that holds the whole thing together.) The almost episodic nature of the movie's narrative often fares a lot better than one might've anticipated, with the continuing inclusion of irresistibly entertaining interludes - eg Ned assists Liz's husband, Dylan (Steve Coogan), with his documentary, Ned poses nude for a struggling painter (Hugh Dancy's Christian), etc, etc - certainly going a long way towards perpetuating the film's affable atmosphere. And though there's a palpable loss of momentum as Peretz begins emphasizing elements of an incongruously dramatic feel, Our Idiot Brother is, for the most part, a pervasively enjoyable piece of work that fares better than the majority of contemporary comedies.
Based on a book by Nick Hornby, Juliet, Naked follows Rose Byrne's Annie as she unexpectedly begins an online friendship with a reclusive musician (Ethan Hawke's Tucker Crowe) worshipped by her oblivious boyfriend (Chris O'Dowd's Duncan). Filmmaker Jesse Peretz does a fantastic job of initially drawing the viewer into the familiar yet pervasively affable proceedings, with the movie certainly benefiting quite substantially from the various actors' thoroughly affable work here. (Byrne is especially compelling as the film's conflicted protagonist, while both Hawke and O'Dowd deliver typically solid turns as, respectively, Annie's potential new love interest and her distracted beau.) Juliet, Naked, as a result, is generally at its best when focused on the low-key exploits of its characters, and there's little doubt that the chemistry between the three leads certainly plays a central role in confirming the picture's success. It's clear, too, that scripters Evgenia Peretz, Jim Taylor, and Tamara Jenkins generally manage to infuse the somewhat predictable narrative with better-than-expected sequences, including a touching interlude in which Hawke's Tucker recounts the details of his last show more than 20 years ago. And although the film admittedly does falter in its final stretch - ie there reaches a point where the story could (and should) end and yet things proceed for another 10 minutes or so - Juliet, Naked, for the most part, nevertheless comes off as a charming little dramedy that's rife with appealing, likeable elements.