The Films of Will Gluck
Fired Up! (February 19/09)
An affable throwback to the comedies of the 1980s, Fired Up! follows a pair of slick high schoolers (Nicholas D'Agosto's Shawn and Eric Christian Olsen's Nick) as they swindle their way into cheerleading camp in an effort at meeting (and sleeping with) a variety of girls. It's a high-concept premise that's employed to surprisingly positive effect by director Will Gluck, as the filmmaker has infused the proceedings with an easy-going and lighthearted vibe that inevitably proves impossible to resist. There's little doubt that the effortlessly engaging central performances play a substantial role in the film's success, with D'Agosto and Olsen's charismatic work ensuring that their respective characters never come off as the sleazeballs one might've anticipated (ie Shawn and Nick's relentless scheming is almost Ferris Buelleresque in its good-naturedness). Screenwriter Freedom Jones does a nice job of peppering Fired Up! with the various elements that are part and parcel with comedies of this ilk, including wacky misunderstandings, quirky supporting characters, and histrionic third-act plot developments - with the latter handled particularly well by Jones (ie such interludes aren't nearly as painful and eye-roll-inducing as they could've been). And while there are a few lulls within the narrative's midsection, admittedly, Fired Up! primarily establishes itself as an enjoyable and mindlessly entertaining romp that's certainly a whole lot better than one had any right to expect (and it's impossible not to admire the gusto with which actor David Walton attacks his almost ludicrously jerky character).
Entertaining yet uneven, Easy A follows smart-alecky high schooler Olive Pendergast (Emma Stone) as she becomes the focus of gossip after word gets out that she lost her virginity to a college student - with the situation escalating as Olive agrees to perpetuate similar rumors about her exploits with several less-than-popular colleagues. Filmmaker Will Gluck has hard-wired Easy A with a fast-paced, easygoing opening hour that's consistently elevated by Stone's winning performance, as the actress does a superb job of transforming her character into a likeable (and surprisingly relatable) figure that one can't help but root for and sympathize with. (It also doesn't hurt that the supporting cast has been filled by an almost astonishing number of familiar faces, with Stanley Tucci's tremendously appealing turn as Olive's sarcastic yet compassionate father undoubtedly standing as a highlight.) It's worth noting, however, that the movie does lose some steam as it takes an expectedly dramatic turn towards the end, as, despite what screenwriter Bert V. Royal clearly believes, the narrative simply isn't deep enough to withstand the increasingly pervasive emphasis on sentimental elements (and all the John Hughes references aren't really helping, either). Still, Easy A is an agreeable endeavor that remains worth a look if only for Stone's star-making work as the central character (ie she's good even when the movie isn't).
Friends with Benefits
Friends with Benefits follows Justin Timberlake's Dylan Harper and Mila Kunis' Jamie Rellis as they embark on a no-strings-attached physical relationship, with the situation inevitably progressing from fun to problematic as emotions and feelings slowly-but-surely enter the equation. There's little doubt that Friends with Benefits, in its lighthearted first half, moves at a remarkably brisk pace, as filmmaker Will Gluck, working from a screenplay cowritten with Keith Merryman and David A. Newman, has infused the proceedings with a slick and almost sitcom-like feel that's reflected in virtually all of its attributes. The movie consequently suffers from a lack of authenticity that is, to put it mildly, somewhat troublesome, with the pervasively smug atmosphere heightened by an emphasis on jokes and gags of an eye-rollingly desperate nature (eg an ongoing bit involving pro snowboarder Shaun White falls completely flat). It doesn't help, either, that both Timberlake and Kunis are charming yet utterly bland in their respective roles, which does, as a result, prevent the viewer from working up any interest in or sympathy for Dylan and Jamie's relationship woes. (This, of course, ensures that the inevitable fake breakup phase feels even longer and more drawn-out than usual.) The film's padded-out vibe is compounded by an assortment of oddly incongruous subplots, with the best and most apt example of this everything revolving around Dylan's Alzheimer's-afflicted father (Richard Jenkins, in an admittedly stirring performance). And although Gluck and company spend much of the movie's running time mocking various romcom cliches, Friends with Benefits, which contains virtually every beat and twist associated with the genre, closes with an upbeat and thoroughly romantic stretch that's strong enough to almost compensate for everything preceding it. (Almost, but not quite.) The end result is an oddly flat romantic comedy that never entirely achieves liftoff, with the movie's few positive attributes rendered moot by elements of a disappointingly underwhelming variety.