Friday, August 27, 2021

Weekend Screen Scene: Vacation Friends, Together, and Ma Belle, My Beauty

Marcus (Lil Rel Howery) and Emily (Yvonne Orj) travel to a Mexican resort for a romantic holiday and find it both ruined and saved by hedonistic couple Ron (John Cena) and Kyla (Meredith Hagner) in Vacation Friends.

It's a little weird watching this a couple of weeks after the finale of HBO's The White Lotus; I kept expecting Armond to pop up promising to make everything better. But Vacation Friends is much more of a straight up comedy, or at least tries to be, and it only partially succeeds, usually because of Cena and Howery,

It's also a little weird to watch two white people cause so much strife and destruction within the lives of a black couple, and yet never hear race brought up even once. But maybe we've reached a point where it doesn't need to be commented on, because of course it's a couple of white people who almost ruin the lives of a couple of black people.

Vacation Friends is now streaming on Hulu.

For almost a century the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic was forgotten history, as if the entire world preferred to forget it had ever happened, once the dying stopped. But entertainment centered on the Covid-19 pandemic seemingly started to pop up the moment we all entered lockdown, and as a result, a lot of it felt forced and unsatisfying; ultimately, just...too soon.

Together has the benefit of a little more time. Spanning a year of lockdown in London from March 2020 to March 2021, this chamber drama about a bickering couple stuck home together consistently breaks the fourth wall allowing stars James McAvoy and Sharon Horgan to speak directly to the audience, resulting in some staginess that may be off-putting to some. (I found it perfectly fitting after a year when so many of us have spent hours watching loved ones on screens talk to us.)

At first it feels very similar to Horgan's (excellent) Amazon series Catastrophe, which also dealt with a couple who seemed to hate each other more than they loved each other, but Together delves into much more serious terrain, and Horgan proves herself to be as fine a dramatic actress as she is a comedian; she's the primary reason the movie works at all.

This latest bit of Covid-centered entertainment may also feel too soon to some. But for me there was comfort to be had in seeing a well acted drama reflect and comment on the all too common pains and frustrations this past year (and counting) has brought.

 Together is playing in select theaters.

I originally screened Ma Belle, My Beauty as part of San Francisco's Frameline festival, where I found it a tad slight, but ultimately charming. If the love triangle between New Orleans jazz singer Bertie (Idella Johnson) who has married French musician Fred (Lucien Guignard) after the end of their polyamorous relationship with Lane (Hannah Pepper) isn't exactly riveting, there's enough lush French countryside, beautiful people, and jazzy musical performances to keep you watching.

Ma Belle, My Beauty is playing in select theaters.

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