Two Comedies from Phase 4 Films
Familiar Strangers (July 15/11)
Subdued yet entertaining, Familiar Strangers follows Shawn Hatosy's Brian Worthington as he returns home for Thanksgiving - with the film subsequently detailing Brian's efforts at dealing with the various members of his family (including DJ Qualls' Kenny, Cameron Richardson's Erin, and Tom Bower's Frank). It's a fairly commonplace premise that is, for the most part, employed to watchable effect by director Zackary Adler, as the filmmaker, working from John Bell's screenplay, does a nice job of establishing the various characters and the small town within which they reside. Hatosy's strong, charismatic performance certainly goes a long way towards perpetuating the film's better-than-expected atmosphere, with the actor's engaging turn matched by a stellar supporting cast that also includes Ann Dowd and Nikki Reed. (The latter stars as a local checkout girl that flirts with Brian, and although their tentative relationship initially displays some promise, Adler curiously, disappointingly abandons Reed's character around the one-hour mark.) There does reach a point, however, at which Familiar Strangers begins to demonstrably peter out, with the third-act emphasis on the family's dying dog wreaking havoc on the film's already-tenuous momentum - which effectively (and ultimately) cements the movie's place as a passable yet all-too-minor familial drama.
Mayor Cupcake details the turmoil that ensues after a beloved baker (Lea Thompson's Mary Maroni) is elected mayor of a small town, with the film primarily detailing Mary's ongoing efforts at solving her community's various problems. It seems fairly obvious that Mayor Cupcake is a labor of love for star Thompson - she produced the film and her own daughters appear as her onscreen children - and there's little doubt that, in its early stages, the movie comes off as a pleasantly diverting low-budget effort. The bland visuals and less-than-engrossing storyline are, as a result, initially not as problematic as one might've feared, with the film's biggest deficit in its early stages undoubtedly Kays Al-Atrakchi's consistently distracting and flat-out obnoxious score. There reaches a point, however, at which the pervasively pedestrian atmosphere becomes increasingly difficult to stomach, as the movie's lightweight sensibilities ensure that it runs out of steam long before it reaches the halfway mark - with the progressively underwhelming vibe exacerbated by an increased emphasis on simplistic elements (eg Mary must learn to balance her work life with her home life). Thompson's warm performance can only carry the proceedings so far, and it is, in the final analysis, impossible to label Mayor Cupcake as anything more than a well-intentioned failure.