If you are a man or woman of a certain age — middle age, specifically — then you more than like have some familiarity with and affinity for the ’80s films of writer/director John Hughes. Movies like The Breakfast Club and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off absolutely dazzled young audiences with the way they captured the teen experience, or at least the teen experience they wished they were having, and have rightly gone down as contemporary classics. Let’s all pretend that Weird Science never happened, though.
I don’t know what John Hughes’ secret was, but he had a perfect ear for the interactions between teenagers. Sure, these teenagers were all cleverer and more insightful than fully ninety percent of the target audience, but the characters in Hughes’ films spoke to larger truths and identification was therefore easy and total. I have seen The Breakfast Club easily a dozen times, and still enjoy it as an adult, largely because it brings me back to a time when I was young and dumb and thought the social minefield of high school was the most important thing in the world. As I say above, I am not alone.
Easy A is not a film from the ’80s, but it is a love letter to those John Hughes films in pretty much every way possible. I’ve never heard of screenwriter Bert Royal — and he’s apparently done no movies since Easy A, so I don’t know what’s going on there — and I’ve never heard of director Will Gluck, though he did go on to direct the notorious bomb, Friends with Benefits, featuring Justin Timberlake. But despite the fact that these men are and were essentially anonymous to me, their creation is a lovely, effervescent concoction in the Hughes mold and it is delightful viewing.
A word of warning: if you’re somehow devoid of a soul and don’t like John Hughes movies, avoid Easy A at all costs. In fact, you may as well stop reading this review now.
Question: when is a Cary Grant movie not a Cary Grant movie? Answer: when it’s Topper, a film from 1937 that was popular enough to spawn not just a theatrical sequel, but a 1950s-era television show.
If you go digging around in my review archives, you will find a review for The Thin Man, made just a few years before Topper and starring the classic couple, William Powell and Myrna Loy. That movie is absolutely fantastic and holds up startlingly well after nearly 80 years. It’s funny, it’s clever and both mystery and comedy fans will find something to like about it. I can imagine it was a delight for Depression-era audiences, especially as it made light of how the other half lives. But then you have something like Topper, which is completely tone-deaf and renders up unlikeable characters in irritating situations, yet somehow managed not to alienate its audience completely. I’m not sure how.
This may sound like I’m calling Topper a complete waste of space, and I assure you that I’m not. The movie rubbed me up in exactly the wrong way, but it’s a classic for a reason and when it does things well it is an enjoyable, if slight, romp. From my perspective, however, there’s far more wrong with it than right, which makes Topper a difficult 97 minutes to sit through.
Topper is a comedy without much comedy in it. It’s also a film where Cary Grant gets top billing and is prominently featured on the poster, yet barely appears in the picture. I’ve complained about bait-and-switch movies before, and Topper is proof positive that studios have been doing that kind of thing since at least 1937 when this film was released. It remains no less off-putting.
You may recall from my review of Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy, that I have a particular affection for the scene involving Paul Rudd and a cologne called Sex Panther (it’s illegal in nine countries). It’s easily the best part of the movie, and I share it here for your enjoyment.
Call me slow on the uptake, but I’ve come to the conclusion that Will Ferrell has one character: braggart moron. Maybe that’s selling him short as an actor, as I know he’s done at least one dramatic role and played a variety of characters on Saturday Night Live, but when it comes to the bulk of his filmic output he has been the same guy over and over again. Luckily that same guy is funny, just so long as the settings remain novel, and Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy has an extremely novel concept.
Anchorman bring us back to the 1970s, when men were men and women were accoutrements. The titular Ron Burgundy is San Diego’s number one local news anchor, the man people trust, despite the fact that he has about two neurons floating around in his big, perfectly coiffed head. Maybe it’s his decidedly manly mustache. Yes, that must be it.
Accompanied by his news-team cronies, which include the always-perfect Paul Rudd as field reporter Brian Fantana, Ron Burgundy is the toast of the town. He even plays jazz flute like a pro, because why not? But this story takes a sad turn, at least from Burgundy’s perspective, when female liberation comes calling.
I have never been a particularly huge fan of Christina Applegate, probably because I hated the TV show Married with Children so damned much, but she’s great in Anchorman as Veronica Corningstone, the television reporter from back east who comes to San Diego with one thing on her mind: becoming the evening news anchor. As I mentioned, this is a man’s world, so Burgundy and his pals aren’t going to take this invasion of the fairer sex lying down.