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Catching Up On Reviews (Our Idiot Brother, The Family Tree & Swinging With The Finkels)
by Erik Childress

Today we revisit the previously entitled MY Idiot Brother from Sundance and two of the year's worst films involving wives who choose to go outside their marriage for sex. Two of the year's worst involving anything for that matter.

Paul Rudd plays a variation of his stoner cameo from Forgetting Sarah Marshall as Ned, who works on a pot farm with his girlfriend until he's arrested (for selling to a uniformed cop) and thrown out. Moving in with mom is not all it's cracked up to be so he begins spending time with each of his three sisters. Miranda (Elizabeth Banks) is a busybody journalist trying to land a scandal-laden interview. Natalie (Zooey Deschanel) is a lesbian whose exploration of bisexuality may throw a wrinkle into her current partnership. And Liv (Emily Mortimer) has settled into motherhood with hubby Steve Coogan who doesn't find her as desirable in the bedroom anymore. Sounds just like your average Sundance film, does it not? You are paying attention to the cast list though, right?

This is a comedy through and through and one that takes the old premise of the outsider who comes into people's lives and fixes everything (even if that is not his intention) and elevates it with an A+ cast of comic aptitude. Jesse Peretz's last film was the ill-received and oft-delayed, The Ex, that featured its own collection of able-bodied comedic actors. Whatever problems that may have occurred with last-minute editing (and a late-game title change from Fast Track) are not readily on display here. A couple of the subplots do fall by the wayside with no resolution, notably Mortimer and Coogan's relationship, but the film is consistently funny enough to forgive what might be less forgivable with a standard Sundance drama. The work of the aforementioned provides more than enough laughs to make Our Idiot Brother worth a look. Add to it appearances by Adam Scott, Kathryn Hahn, Rashida Jones and T.J. Miller, all of whom get their moments and you have another well-earned "R"-rated comedy that you can happily place next to Rudd's ever-watchable efforts like Role Models and I Love You, Man.

Have you ever seen a movie that started out with promise only to become a movie you didn't want to see? We probably all have. Whether to blame director Vivi Friedman or writer Mark Lisson for the sudden change in tone and ludicrous plot twists may be as big a mystery as to how a film can sink into the depths of such unwanted and forced comic pageantry as this. The promising beginning shows the Burnett family as the kind of mis-communicating, smart-ass bunch that might produce some abhorrent wit through the course of 90 minutes in that hip, indie kinda way that is all the rage. Jack (Dermot Mulroney) is not particularly fond of the direction of his children - foul-mouthed slut-apparel hangar Kelly (Brittany Robertson) and sharpshooting religion spouter, Eric (Max Theriot) - and it seems everyone else in town is enjoying sexy time with his wife, Bunnie (Hope Davis), but him. They include some local teenager who gives auto-asphyxiation a new twist and the next door neighbor (Chi McBride) who enjoys playing out Bunnie's home invasion/rape fantasies. Pleasant, huh? Not as pleasant though as when Bunnie gets knocked on the head, envelops a bout of amnesia and essentially goes about being a better person. Think Overboard with masturbating, asphyxiated teens, gun-toting/weed-smoking priests, lesbian high school teachers preying on her students, a parade of wasted talent, and Bow Wow.

No spoiler alerts necessary. This is a film that goes downhill so fast and then finds ways to bottom itself in the final act and extended prologue that you may forget how it all started in the first place. Blink and you might miss brief cameos from Jane Seymour and Rachael Leigh Cook or slightly extended cameos in Jack's office from Gabrielle Anwar as a sexy co-worker who never seems to finish a seduction and Christina Hendricks as a secretary who looks she wandered onto the wrong Mad Men set. It is hard to fault any of the actors here, unless they actually read Lisson's screenplay and it was exactly as the film plays out, introducing an out-of-left-field home invasion element to bring all the storylines together. And that is STILL not the end of the film which pulls one last bait-and-switch-and-switch-again that is worth throwing at least the sauce from your theater-bought pizza as a tomato substitute at the screen. It still won't make the faces of those associated with the film red enough to complement the embarrassment they should all be feeling for being a part of this.

Whether the divorce rate is growing or people are starting to come around to the realization that a monogamous marriage is not natural, films of late have started to revisit the sexual revolution of yesteryear. At least when it comes to trying on different partners for size. Films like Hall Pass and The Freebie have comically explored this territory to mixed results, but each look like definitive masterpieces compared to the God-awful monstrosity that is Jonathan Newman's Swinging With The Finkels. The first clue that Newman's film is headed down bad sitcom territory is the appearance of Jonathan Silverman in the opening credits. Yes, the poor man's Matthew Broderick swinging a golf club to remind us he was in Caddyshack II is actually a pleasant memory and a film worth renting rather than continuing to move forward with this one. But we shall.

Mandy Moore and Martin Freeman play a married couple who have lost their sexual drive with one another. They try role play. No go. She tries lubing up a cucumber and gets an American Pie moment when hubby brings granddad Jerry Stiller into the bedroom. What's left but swapping, right? Newman's film has already left the building before making it to this decision, but it continues to sink further down the reality hole as the Finkels desperately interview a series of weirdo potentials whom no vanilla couple would ever think of inviting into their home, let alone having sex with. We cannot even believe who Moore's character is willing to settle for when the big moment arrives - which is no big moment at all since Newman keeps the entire event (aside from some brief smooching) off screen. So much for a centerpiece.

Finkels gets even worse though. Having cheated the audience on any awkward comic possibilities or genuine feeling in the bedroom (unless you left after the cucumber incident) Newman then jettisons his titular plotline altogether so we can experience another 45 minutes of regret as if we had stumbled into Indecent Proposal all over again. At least that film had characters driven by their actions. The Finkels has no direction whatsoever and sinks the usually funny Freeman and the occasionally likable Moore into, well, Silverman territory. Believe if you will that he's playing the cad rather than the caddy this time around, cheating on Melissa George because she has evidently let her hair go all to frizz (until her miraculous straightening for the final reconciliation), because you will not believe any other single second of this dishonest travesty of a comedy. If you make it to the so-called happy ending, which pretty much negates everything we were meant to believe in, think aloud if Swinging with the Finkels would have lived up to its name better if the titular couple ended their relationship (and the film) on the business side of a noose.

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originally posted: 08/27/11 00:18:54
last updated: 08/27/11 00:20:41
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