Each year when I do my Top 10 movies, friends and family ask me why they haven’t heard of half of them. They knew Lady Bird, Last Flag Flying, Wind River, and Molly’s Game. But I’m one of the few critics that was disappointed in other movies everyone was praising. Those include Three Billboards, Call Me By Your Name, Phantom Thread, and well…the list is too long to mention here.
The two movies on my Top 10 list that I really wish people would seek out are Good Time (Robert Pattinson) and Entanglement.
Entanglement opens Friday in select theatres, but not here in San Diego. You can watch it On Demand and pay outlets, and I highly suggest you seek out this Canadian comedy. It’s very original and clever.
The movie starts off with Ben (Thomas Middleditch of Silicon Valley) trying to commit suicide, and it’s surprisingly funny. The only time I can think of a suicide attempt ever being funny is in the Billy Wilder movie Buddy Buddy (Jack Lemmon attempts to hang himself in the shower, but it breaks and water goes everywhere, upsetting the hitman, Walter Matthau, in the hotel room next door).
This film does a terrific job of being a dark comedy, romantic comedy, and serious drama dealing with mental illness. Writer Jason Filiatrault and director Jason James really deserve a lot of credit for putting together such an incredible movie (my interview with James to follow).
So after Ben tries to kill himself, he embarks on a journey to figure out his life. His father, after a heart attack scare, shares a family secret. They had adopted a baby girl thinking his mom couldn’t conceive. When she found out she was pregnant, they took the baby back. Ben is convinced having a big sister may have made his life completely different and wants to find her.
Of course, the adoption agency won’t give out that information (well, unless you bribe them just the right amount, in one of the many hysterical scenes).
Neighbor Tabby (Diana Bang of Bates Motel and The Interview) always gives him tough love, and you get the feeling she may have feelings for Ben. Some might be bothered by the stereotype character — Asian best friend with sound advice. But really, if nobody had a problem with that crazy Asian character in Downsizing, I don’t want to hear anybody complain about any stereotypes in movie characters again.
Their chemistry together is great, and one of the reasons for that is Ben isn’t so neurotic that he annoys you (the way Ben Stiller and Woody Allen can on screen). Middleditch gives such an honest performance, and finds just the write blend of comedy and pathos. The dry humor creates such enjoyable moments.
Andrew Harris provides a hypnotic score that really evokes the proper vibe for some of Ben’s depressive, quiet moments. The doo-wop and old rock songs help add an interesting element, as well.
Usually comedies that have scenes with psychiatrists are funny. It’s rare to see a comedy that can’t pull those humorous moments off. Yet these are funny in a completely different way, one reason being this is a child therapist (Johannah Newmarch of Supernatural).
The plot thickens when Ben meets Hanna (Jess Weixler) and this wild child (who reminds me of Melanie Griffith in Wild Thing) brings him out of his funk.
The movie also has some surprising whimsical, animated scenes that work wonderfully and avoids the tropes I’ve seen in countless other films that try to tackle various emotions.
Everything about this movie kept a smile on my face the entire time I was watching it. My wife adored it, too. It’s the type of experience you should have when watching a film.
It gets 4 ½ stars out of 5.
Interview with screenwriter Jason Filiatrault.
JOSH BOARD: This cast was perfect. When I read a book that screenwriter William Goldman wrote, he mentioned that when they assembled the cast for his The Princess Bride, he thought the group looked awful. Yet as soon as they started doing the table read, he thought they were perfect. In this movie, Middleditch at first seemed like some slacker I’d have a hard time sympathizing with, but he’s so humorous, and not just feeling sorry for himself. And when we see his angry alter-ego yelling back at him in the mirror…you realize this guy can really act. Jess Weixler as the love interest/adopted sister, is perfect. We think she’s cute, and a bit flighty, but not in a way that make us not like her or feel that she’s bad news for him. So, what can you tell me about the cast and your opinions of the people saying the words you’ve written?
JASON FILIATRAULT: Thomas was… perfect. Honestly, we were so fortunate that he responded to the script and that he and Jason James (director) were on the same wavelength and that he bought into the film we wanted to make. He was the first person we thought of and just embodied that excitable sadness that his character has in the movie. He’s fantastic, and I think he shows so many more shades and so much more talent than people might be used to seeing from him. He’s great. Such an actor and such a hard worker.
As for Jess Weixler — she just got the role so perfectly, and if you’ve seen the movie you know it’s not as simplistic a part as it might seem from the outset. But Jess was just so trusting and open and willing to dive in and really play up the fun parts and the dark bits. And the nicest person in the world.
Also I have to mention Diana Bang, who plays Tabby. I only knew her from Seth Rogen’s “The Interview” where she plays this broad over-the-top character and seeing her in this, just being so real and vulnerable and precise… it was a joy. She’s the best secret weapon in Canada.
For a writer, especially on my first feature, to have this kind of talent – it was ridiculously awesome. I was spoiled and they were all so generous and dedicated. It was a dream come true.
JOSH BOARD: I’m glad you mentioned Diana Bang. The Interview was an underrated comedy, and she was great in that. The love scene with her and Rogen was one of the funniest in years. I like that their friendship feels real, and not like a fake, movie friendship. It’s also nice that you have an Asian playing a character that…could’ve been any race. These are the types of things minority actors want to see more of. Asians that aren’t just playing a computer nerd or ninja, but playing regular parts that usually go to white actors.
Is there anything you wrote with these characters that made the cutting room floor? I often hear about screenwriters being upset about that, or begrudgingly editing something out for time.
JASON FILIATRAULT: There’s a few moments that definitely didn’t make the cut. Editing is always a tough process. You’re really finding the film and making something totally different, so there’s always going to be things you lose along the way. For Entanglement it was all about focusing the film more and more on Thomas’s character and how important it is to be inside his head, so to speak. So anything that pulled us away from Thomas or made us feel like we could just back out of his reality, had to go.
As for being upset about it – Never. The words are never the point. I don’t write scripts to make good scripts, I write to make good movies, and editing is a huge part of that process.
JOSH BOARD: How hard is it to write a screenplay?
JASON FILIATRAULT: Writing a screenplay is easy. Writing a great screenplay is very hard. I would imagine. I’ve never done it. I think I wrote a mostly good one, and that was fairly hard – in that it took careful planning and thinking and a lot of concentration… but, it’s not that bad. It’s a job like anything – you just do it and try to make it better than it needs to be.
JOSH BOARD: Everyone says comedy is the hardest thing to write and I agree. You have moments in this movie that amazed me with how funny they were. I think the audience might not get some. Others might not think they’re appropriate. For example, somebody attempting suicide in a humorous way. Do you run those by people first?
JASON FILIATRAULT: I think the best comedy, and the best jokes, they are not for everyone. My favourite jokes are for, maybe, five people in the audience and the rest just don’t get it. Because I think we all want to think a joke was written just for us. This movie is definitely not for “everyone” but I think the comedy is pretty accessible if you’re in the mood. I mean, dark comedy – life, death, mental illness, suicide, depression, love, fear… these are all pretty funny things to me.
JOSH BOARD: A follow up question to that…the only humorous suicide scene I can recall on film was a Billy Wilder movie Buddy Buddy. That makes me wonder…were there any scenes in this movie inspired by something you’ve seen before?
JASON FILIATRAULT: A huge movie for me, especially in relation to this, is Billy Wilder’s The Apartment — which also deals with depression and suicide in a very different way. But comedy about depression isn’t that unheard of. Charlie Kaufman for sure deals in it, as do Wes Anderson and Woody Allen and Hal Ashby and Maria Bamford… the list is kind of endless. Good comedy is about extremes, and there’s something funny about being so low that you’ve got nowhere else to go but up.
JOSH BOARD: Yeah, now that you mention it…I do recall a hysterical scene in a Woody Allen movie where he’s working on a documentary about a brilliant professor who jumps out of the window one day, and he’s surprised by how short the suicide note is. It was funny. But since we’re talking Billy Wilder, and he’s done some of my all-time favorite movies, name five of your favorite comedies of all time.
JASON FILIATRAULT: Oh geez…this list changes every day. Okay: Some Like It Hot, Rushmore, Juno, the Miracle of Morgan’s Creek, and… let’s say Obvious Child. Plus like, five hundred others.
JOSH BOARD: Some Like it Hot is on my list, too. I dug Rushmore, but felt it was highly overrated. I’d take Wes Anderson’s Moonrise Kingdom over that. Your movie is better than those and Juno. Morgan’s Creek…I have no clue what that is, but if you liked it, I’m curious to seek it out.
What age were you when people started telling you that you’re a good writer, or had a good sense of humor?
JASON FILIATRAULT: Um… I was always pretty literate and could turn a decent phrase. I was an only child, too, and pretty nerdy, so that all made me weird. Let’s say… 10? Thereabouts. I think you just kind of grow up into it. If you can do something well as a kid, you want to do it a lot because you crave attention. Or I did, anyway.
JOSH BOARD: Because I’m obsessed with The Kids in the Hall, I have to ask about Young Drunk Punk, since you wrote an episode. Did you work with Bruce McCulloch on that at all?
JASON FILIATRAULT: I did work with Bruce and he was fantastic! He’s got such a unique mind and is so focused and dedicated to the job. I learned a lot working for him. It’s honestly impossible to be in a room with him and not become a better writer. He made me super-nervous and I was always awkward around him, but he was great.
JOSH BOARD: There were certain things I wanted to ask about the movie but didn’t, so I wouldn’t spoil things for the audience that hasn’t seen it. Is there anything else about the movie you’d like to add?
JASON FILIATRAULT: I just want to say that I hope the people that like Entanglement spread the word. It’s hard for movies to find an audience these days without a 20 million dollar marketing budget, so word of mouth matters a lot and everyone who worked on this, all the cast and crew from top to bottom – they all worked so hard and really for the love of filmmaking, I just hope as many people see this and find something to love in it.