Barb and Star Go To Vista Del Mar: The Film We Need in 2021

It’s officially been a year since the pandemic began. 2020 was a year full of death, illness, incredibly challenging and confrontational political events, and isolation for many. I lost my job due to the pandemic and working on my dissertation full-time has been particularly taxing on top of everything. Film was one of the main things that helped get me through the hell of 2020. I went from one 80s slasher film to the next at the beginning of the official quarantine. I watched every James Bond film and ranked them. I made my way through countless horror franchises (Halloween twice, obviously!). Needless to say, film was a pretty intense coping mechanism that helped me deal with the stress and anxiety of the year. As 2021 began, things continued to escalate with an attempted insurrection and all sorts of other nonsense, and then a ray of light arrived at just the right moment. And that ray of light is a little film known as Barb and Star Go To Vista Del Mar.

After being pretty disappointed with the release of Wonder Woman: 1984, I left the film with an appreciation for Kristen Wiig’s performance as Barbara Minerva, the individual savior of the troubled film. To say that Wiig carried the film on her back would be an understatement, if anything. It was as if every other performer was simply going through the motions. Wiig, alternately, shined through all of the mediocrity to showcase her humor and talent in a film that did not deserve her. A role in a blockbuster superhero film was not all that Wiig had rolled up her sleeve during the pandemic, however. Originally intended to be released in the spring of 2020, Barb and Star was pushed back due to the pandemic and was released through the theatrical rental at-home system that is becoming increasingly popular. The film is the product of the creative zaniness of Wiig and her co-star Annie Mumolo, who finally gets to shine after years of smaller roles and bit comedic parts.

Barb and Star Go To Vista Del Mar is the epitome of a “feel good” film. It’s a truly zany comedy that features so many over-the-top moments (even a few glorious musical numbers), an aggressively bright color palette, a genuinely funny and very physical performance from Jamie Dornan, and the escapist images of a beach paradise that we needed during the dreary early months of 2021. Barb and Star are two of my favorite characters that I have encountered in a film in quite a while. They manage to be vivacious, raunchy, charming, and hilarious all at once. These are two iconic comedic performances that deserve to be remembered for years to come. This is also just a truly odd film. Narratively it jumps from spy film parody to romantic comedy to buddy comedy to musical and back again many times over. Some might find that a bit distracting. I found it incredibly entertaining, as all of the elements were perfectly constructed and added new layers of comedy as the film progressed.

Many have praised Kristen Wiig for her performance in Bridesmaids (a film that was also written by Wiig and Mumolo), which continues to be a film that I very much enjoy. But I found her performance here to be even more developed and effective. I was so enamored with these incredibly odd characters that she and Mumolo have created. They just really commit to their eccentricities and the viewer is simply along for the enjoyable ride.

If you think of Jamie Dornan as simply Christian Grey from Fifty Shades of Grey, he will definitely surprise you here. While he gives stilted and bland performances with his co-star Dakota Johnson in those films, as both were clearly just riding them out for the paychecks (much like their Twilight compatriots), here he is visibly enjoying working with these incredibly funny women and we see him deliver a very earnest and comedic performance. You can just tell that everyone involved here is having a blast working on this film.

The soundtrack is also just as fun as the film, itself. I’d suggest waiting to do that Spotify search until after watching the film, though, as there are so many comedic moments that happen as the result of song selection. Matching the wackiness of the narrative, the soundtrack incorporates songs that encapsulate who these women are and perfectly highlight the vibe of the film. The movie also features many cameos from folks that will have you laughing heartily and one that had me gasping in surprise.

Is Barb and Star Go To Vista Del Mar the best film of all time? No. But is it an incredibly enjoyable and hilarious bit of escapism that is necessary and vital in 2021? Definitely. This is a film that I have been recommending to all of my friends, who, after watching it, have all stated that they find it just as funny as I do. In closing, just do yourself a favor and rent Barb and Star Go To Vista Del Mar. If you’re like me and need a fun escape from the stress of the pandemic, this is the film to check out. It wears its brand of kitsch and camp on its sleeve proudly (along with its love of culottes) and never shies away from being truly zany. Personally, it is the most enjoyable film that I’ve watched in ages, and that definitely counts for something right now.

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Review: Dykes, Camera, Action!

Film Critic B. Ruby Rich shown in Dykes, Camera, Action!

New Queer Cinema is a film movement that I have researched for my academic work throughout grad school. It’s something that I have been interested in since college when I was first really exposed to more challenging queer cinema. Coming from a more rural area in Ohio, it’s not always easy to seek out LGBTQ-driven narratives at your local Cinemark. Growing up, I can’t even think of one film that played at our multiplex that was considered a queer story, but when I was in high school, our town was lucky enough to get a small independent movie theatre known as “The Big Picture,” which tragically closed after only a few years of showcasing independent and foreign films, as well as fun late-night horror film screenings. It was here that films like Brokeback Mountain were shown to our community. Even at this theatre, however, a film like that was still a rarity.

Caroline Berler’s documentary Dykes, Camera, Action! fuses the history of lesbian activism and lesbian cinema to weave the tales of these queer filmmakers that broke barriers to finally give voice to their experiences. Using very engaging interviews with key figures of lesbian cinema (Rose Troche, Cheryl Dunye, Lisa Cholodenko, Barbara Hammer, and Su Friedrich) as well as current lesbian filmmakers on the rise (Yoruba Richen, Desiree Akhavan, and Vicky Du), Berler shows just how drastic the impact of these earlier works have been on the younger generation of filmmakers. We see the transition from Barbara Hammer’s experimental lesbian films of the 70s to Rose Troche’s portrayal of realistic contemporary lesbians of the 90s in Go Fish to Cheryl Dunye’s search for classic examples of queer Black women in The Watermelon Woman and much more. This finally leads to the current state of lesbian portrayals in post-gay marriage society with films like The Kids Are All Right.

Iconic Lesbian Filmmaker Barbara Hammer

When looking at documentaries that focus on queer cinema, the majority of attention is generally placed on white gay male narratives. Caroline Berler more than succeeds in her goal of shifting that focus. In her film, Berler shines the light solely on queer women making films for queer women. Diving into an even more ignored population, the documentary deals heavily with queer women of color. Many of the interviewees in the documentary talk at length about how the main goal in their film work is to simply tell the stories of their communities that they were not able to see on the screen in mainstream Hollywood films. Hearing these stories from well-established lesbian filmmakers like Dunye and Troche makes the documentary all the more effective when you hear the younger lesbian directors speak about how these films made them feel seen and motivated them to pursue filmmaking as a result.

For someone who has a decent background in studying queer cinema, several films were discussed that I had not seen. Naturally, I was jotting down the names of these films to add to my watch list! If you have any interest in lesbian film, you’ll be doing the same. The documentaries and films that were made by the Lesbian Avengers, a queer and feminist activist organization, are just a few that I’m very excited to seek out.

Cheryl Dunye being interviewed in Dykes, Camera, Action!

Film history is ruled by the patriarchy. Male filmmakers are raised up on pedestals that female filmmakers simply do not have access to. But slowly, with films like this, that hyper-unbalanced system is beginning to change. With mainstream films made by straight men (Brokeback Mountain, etc.) so often drawing the focus away from these talented directors, we need more films like Dykes, Camera, Action! to showcase the work of queer filmmakers that have been pushed to the side and further marginalized. Caroline Berler’s documentary is necessary viewing for anyone hoping to learn more about queer women making films.

Dykes, Camera, Action! packs in such a wealth of information in its short 60 minute running time. This is a documentary that will have you seeking out all of the films showcased that you haven’t seen already, and even want to rewatch those that you have. I also really loved how the interview with film critic B. Ruby Rich (the creator of the term “New Queer Cinema”) was used to highlight the chronological history of lesbian cinema throughout the documentary. If you are looking for a documentary to explain the evolution of lesbian cinema, this is the one for you! It features great interviews with so many of the key lesbian filmmakers, clips from their films, and connects everything with the history of queer activism. My only complaint is that I wanted more when the film ended.

My rating: 4.5/5

Dykes, Camera, Action! is currently available to rent through iTunes and is distributed by Frameline Distribution. More information on the film can be found at: https://www.dykescameraaction.com/.

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Review: Malcolm and Marie (2021)

From the opening frame of Malcolm and Marie (Sam Levinson, 2021), it’s clear that the entirety of the film that follows will be beautifully shot as we get to know the titular couple. Director Sam Levinson is the creator of HBO’s Euphoria, a show that highlights the incredible performance and acting skillset of Zendaya who plays Marie here. Levinson’s third feature film is not heavily plot-driven. Instead, Malcolm and Marie is a tense character study of two people in a troubled and complicated relationship, relishing in their moments of bitterness and contempt, but also in the sensuality shared between the two.

Cinematographer Marcell Rév chooses to showcase the lengthy conversations between Malcolm and Marie with incredibly intimate camerawork. The beginning sequence where filmmaker Malcolm is telling Marie about the critics of his work that are stating that he will be the next Spike Lee, John Singleton, and Barry Jenkins, is one long take with the camera dollying from left to right and back again as the conversation goes on. Rév follows Malcolm as he walks throughout the living room and slowly returns to Marie as she smokes reflectively in the open doorway. This moment sets a tone for the couple’s dynamic throughout the film. We’re also given handheld camerawork that pits us right in between the couple as they talk, fight, and make love. The stark black and white images are used to devastatingly beautiful effect. Every image just pops.

Zendaya (Euphoria, The Greatest Showman), once again, proves that she is beyond capable of commanding a space. Her subtle expressions and slight inflections in her vocal choices escalate the tension between the feuding couple without her having to raise her voice and when it is finally raised, you really feel the intensity. In the middle of the verbal altercations, Zendaya will sit or stand silently for a beat, contrasting with the more vocal Washington. There’s a really fantastic quiet moment where Marie plays a song on her phone while she and Malcolm sit outside smoking that showcases all of her emotions without relying on any dialogue at all.

John David Washington (BlacKkKlansman, Tenet) is also doing strong work here as Malcolm, but relies more on volume increases and movement. That is the intent of the character, however. We’re able to read him fairly clearly throughout the film, while he is trying to decode how Marie feels after his forgetting to thank her in his film premiere speech. Washington also delivers very effective and emotive rants in several moments throughout the film. It’s incredibly impressive that Malcolm’s rants are shown in long takes, proving that Washington just truly inhabits the character.

Malcolm and Marie is a great example of a film that was safely shot during the COVID-19 pandemic. The entirety of the film takes place in one small location and Zendaya and Washington are literally the only two performers in the space. In the press kit provided by Netflix, they discuss just how careful they were with social distancing, testing, etc. It’s nice to see something creative and impactful born out of a pandemic tragedy. I’m definitely interested to see more work made during this time.

Malcolm and Marie premieres tomorrow (February 5th) on Netflix. If you’re looking for an emotionally complex film that shines a light on the flawed relationship between two people while utilizing stunning images to show us the true nature of both characters, definitely give this one a go. This is not simply a sensual romance, it is a gritty and troubling examination of a modern relationship. I also loved the many discussions on film, production, and social issues in contemporary cinema. It features a really great score that perfectly encapsulates the emotional and sexual tension in the film. Check this one out!

Rating: 3.5/5

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Sundance Film Festival 2021: The World to Come

Contrasting in the extreme to the Nicolas Cage film earlier today, Mona Fastvold’s The World to Come is a subdued tale of secretive and forbidden queer desire on the 19th century frontier. When Tallie (Vanessa Kirby) and her husband (Christopher Abbott) move to the area, Abigail (Katherine Waterston) is quickly drawn to the enigmatic red-haired woman who slowly breathes new life into her day-to-day doldrums with her husband Dyer (Casey Affleck). The film moves slowly over the course of a few months as the two women draw closer together and their chemistry blossoms.

In terms of visuals, The World to Come delivers incredibly lush and beautiful images of the country landscapes throughout several seasons. Fastvold delves deeply into Abigail’s narrative here, as her diary is the primary informative device. Waterston’s incredibly contained voice-over narration for her many diary entries guides us along as she develops feelings for Tallie. Kirby and Waterston’s chemistry is undeniable as the spaces between them slowly shrink as the pair become more comfortable with each other. Fastvold utilizes natural lighting for the internal sequences in the log homes of the women, and for the most part it is very effective. But there are a few moments when the darkness was a bit too overwhelming and swallows the characters into the dark spaces.

In the Q&A for the film, Fastvold discusses how the cinematographer André Chemetoff shot the film on 16mm to capture more grain and a more filmic image. Additionally, she talks about how the title is meant to suggest how same sex love is part of the world to come, and how it was a sign of hope for the future to see these women in this time stuck with the societal norms and judgment of the period while also commenting on how this is still such a harsh reality for queer folks today.

Overall, this was a very effective and powerful film that deals with the queer issues of the 19th century but also is shockingly relevant to the constant battle for equality that is continually fought every day. This was a nice film to wrap up the Sundance Film Festival screenings for the week, and I’m glad that I got a chance to see a new film produced by Christine Vachon’s Killer Films early, as her production company has been one of my favorites since I was in college. The virtual Sundance Film Festival experience has been incredibly well-handled with the app on the Firestick being very easy to use. So, keep up the great work folks that organized everything during this hectic pandemic time. Thanks again to my friend Lee for making this possible! What a great week for film, indeed!

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Sundance Film Festival 2021: Prisoners of the Ghostland

Nicolas Cage films are always a wild ride. In general, you kind of know what you’re in for when you pop one of Cage’s more recent films in. Prisoners of the Ghostland is Japanese auteur Sion Sono’s first film to be shot in English. Known for his violent films like Suicide Club (2001), Sono gives us a film that he describes as a hybrid of “East Meets West,” paying tribute to samurai films, spaghetti westerns, tales of revenge, and so much more. It’s a colorful concoction of neon and vibrant colors that really elevate the violence beyond simple blood splatter. Due to its beautiful cinematography and fun action sequences, this is a film that would greatly benefit from being seen on the big screen.

Nicolas Cage plays a character simply named Hero, who is released from jail by The Governor (Bill Moseley) forcing him on a quest to rescue Bernice (Sofia Boutella). The Governor claims that his granddaughter has been kidnapped. Hero is fitted with a leather jumpsuit that has small bombs aptly placed in areas that can blow up if he makes a mistake (naturally there are two fitted to his crotch! Ha!). What follows is a truly wild ride with Hero finding out that The Governor may not be telling the truth. The film also makes comments on nuclear fallout and how the aftermath of the bomb has impacted Japanese culture.

I’ve been a huge fan of Sofia Boutella, through her films like Climax (2018), Atomic Blonde (2017), Star Trek Beyond (2016), Kingsman: The Secret Service (2014). Boutella is always beyond incredible at uniting powerful physicality and intense action training with strong emotional performances (particularly in Climax!), and Prisoners of the Ghostland is no exception. In the Q&A Boutella speaks about how the fighting choreography melded with her intense dance training background as her performance is always so controlled and rhythmic.

Sion Sono discusses how they had originally planned on shooting the film in Mexico, but due to the director having a heart attack during pre-production, they ended up shooting in Japan instead. While initially disappointed by this, as he was so excited about shooting in locations that mirrored his favorite spaghetti western films, he grew to love the hybrid look of the film that the crew was able to create. Personally, I absolutely loved the look of the film and the hybrid style left a very memorable impression that I’m excited to revisit later.

This is a prime example of a film that is destined to be a cult classic. Nicolas Cage gives a memorable and fun performance where he, as is expected, just fully embraces the craziness. If you’re a fan of Cage, director Sion Sono, Boutella, or Bill Moseley, do not miss this one. It’s just pure genre glory that needs to be seen. Just give in and enjoy yourself. Here’s hoping that Prisoners of the Ghostland finds success when it is released later.

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Sundance Film Festival 2021: Eight For Silver

For the third Sundance screening of the week, we were presented with Sean Ellis’ Eight For Silver, a werewolf film set in the 19th century. Ellis’ period horror film breathes some new life into the werewolf sub-genre, which made for a very interesting and unique vision. John McBride (Boyd Holbrook) arrives in a small British village that is being attacked by a mysterious creature to assist the Laurent family (Alistair Petrie and Kelly Reilly) after Seamus (Petrie) has massacred a Romani clan that was inhabiting land that they had a claim to near his home. The massacre leads to the Romani leader cursing the land before her death. To not spoil anything else, I will just describe the rest as a very intense and well-performed horror spectacle.

I absolutely loved the misty and moody visuals that fill every frame of the film. Ellis is well-known for his mastery of photography, and it is just so impressive that he wrote, directed, and shot the film. It looks incredible. The village, the fields, and the forest are all perfectly encapsulated in stark and immersive images. The only flaw with the visuals of the film lies in the few instances of a foggy filter being applied over a couple of the action sequences, which was a bit distracting. Aside from that, the werewolves were shown in brief flashes and in carefully constructed frames to make them quite effective.

In the Q&A for the film, Ellis discusses critical horror films like Alien (1979), The Thing (1982), and The Exorcist (1973) as being big influences for the feel of the film, and it’s easy to see that when looking at the incredibly effective and disturbing practical gore effects in Eight For Silver. Petrie and Reilly join Ellis in the Q&A and describe how they constructed their narratives in terms of a family drama instead of looking at it as a horror film.

Eight For Silver was a thrilling and intense werewolf film that I feel will definitely stand ahead of the mediocre werewolf fare that we’re normally given. With strong performances, beautiful images, and intense practical gore effects, it is very easy to give this film the highest recommendation.

Here’s to three more Sundance screenings this week. As a funny note, there were characters named Edward and Jacob here, which I like to think was an intentional joke referencing everyone’s favorite love triangle! Ha!

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Sundance Film Festival 2021: In The Earth

For the second Sundance screening of the week, we were presented with Ben Wheatley’s experimental plague horror film. I had absolutely no expectations for this film, as I’ve only seen Wheatley’s earlier film A Field in England (2013). Martin (Joel Fry) is able to get out of the city following the seemingly global pandemic, that is clearly modeled after COVID-19, and sets out to find a doctor who has been missing when he joins forces with Alma (Ellora Torchia). What follows is an incredibly experimental take on horror and science fiction, focusing on nature, psychology, and possibly magic. Honestly, this one didn’t do a whole lot for me, but it serves as a very interesting experiment of the COVID age.

Wheatley’s film features very interesting visuals and beautiful shots of nature, but very little character development for the two main protagonists in the film, leaving the viewer with little to connect with outside of being able to comprehend the isolation of quarantine and the trauma of plague. The base concept of the film is interesting, and I do like the idea of it being an experiment to create something relevant during COVID-19. It was fun seeing pumps of hand sanitizer, people wearing masks, and social distance being respected between the actors. But ultimately, it didn’t add up to more than a visual experiment that addresses the psychological impact of isolation and the pandemic.

In the Q&A following the film, Wheatley discusses how this was the first production to film following the initial lockdown in the UK in 2020. He stated that while writing the film in March of 2020, he was at home in lockdown watching films that were being released on streaming platforms that had been shot prior to the pandemic and how it was so weird seeing sequences with large crowds and no reference to the events of the world. That is something that I have often thought about when viewing films during the pandemic. It is odd seeing large crowds and social events in films and how it is just not something that is happening right now. Once again, Heidi Zwicker did a nice job moderating the Q&A. Wheatley and Torchia both gave detailed accounts of how different it was preparing for and shooting the film during a pandemic, touching upon the many Zoom meetings and how some folks hadn’t met until their first day of shooting.

If you’re a big fan of Wheatley’s work, you might find yourself interested in this and able to draw comparisons to themes touched upon in some of his other, more experimental, features. Personally, this was a one-and-done for me, but it was definitely interesting to see a film made during the pandemic that was shot outside of Zoom.

Here’s to four more Sundance screenings this week!

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Sundance Film Festival 2021: Censor

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This week I find myself lucky enough to be friends with someone who has passes for six films being shown virtually in the Sundance Film Festival. Honestly, it has always been a dream of mine to go to a legitimate film festival, so this is a really amazing and fun opportunity in the middle of a hellish pandemic. So, a huge thanks to my friend Lee for making this possible.

Starting off our screenings of the festival is Prano Bailey-Bond’s feature film debut Censor (2021). The film focuses on Enid (Niamh Algar), a troubled woman who censors “video nasties” during the height of the moral panic of Thatcher-era Britain in the 1980s. Enid watches with distaste all of the shocking and disturbing horror films of the time to censor out the bits that would warp the minds of children and “drive people to commit violence themselves”, as was so often the thought process behind the conservative British politicians of the time who sought to stamp out the violent horror films. Adding to her discomfort, Enid is suffering from the trauma of her sister disappearing when she was a young girl. Constantly attempting to find her and trying to recall new information that might lead to her sister’s rescue, Enid goes on a psychological journey that takes the viewer on an intense and disturbing ride through the glory days of horror films past. (Note: That’s all I’m going to say about the plot, so as to not spoil anything for anyone!) At a brisk 84 minutes, there is not a moment in the film that drags, and I found myself captivated and entranced for the entire feature.

Prano Bailey-Bond achieves great things in her first feature. This is an incredibly strong start to what I hope is a very successful career. She has also directed three shorts that I need to seek out online to watch immediately. She has a very keen eye for 80s-fused visuals that harken back to the VHS genre classics that her film both honors and critiques. It’s beyond refreshing to see such a unique and bold female perspective on horror from someone who so clearly loves the genre. I’m incredibly excited to see her future work in horror. I’ve included her introduction to the film below where she briefly discusses the influences of the film and her process.

Bailey-Bond introduces the film for Sundance.

Niamh Algar’s performance as Enid is the very backbone of the film. In Enid, Algar has captured such a conflicted and complex sense of the character. The way Algar is positioned throughout the film, often in powerful and commanding poses that really reminded me of Katherine Hepburn’s stance in her classical films of the 30s, counters the increasing paranoia of the character and we physically see her mental state change over the course of the narrative through her physicality. I loved her period clothing that really captured her sense of morality through costume, as well. This was the first film that I’ve seen Algar in, and again, I’m very excited to see more of her work, also.

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Zwicker, Bailey-Bond, and Algar in the Q&A following the film

The film was followed by a lively Q&A session with Bailey-Bond and Algar where they answered questions from fans and questions prepared by Sundance Senior Programmer, Heidi Zwicker. This was a fun opportunity to see Bailey-Bond really showcase her knowledge of the horror films of the time, as she was asked what films have greatly influenced her (The Evil Dead (1981), Suspiria (1977), the films of Lucio Fulci, and Let’s Scare Jessica To Death (1971) were the films she name-dropped). It’s just always such a treat to see a filmmaker get to gush about the films that made them who they are. Algar also had great comments about her immersion into the genre to prepare for the role. I wasn’t aware that the Q&A would be included with the pass, at first, so this was a really exciting treat as it made it a more personable experience overall. Bailey-Bond and Algar were both great in the Q&A and Zwicker did a really nice job moderating.

Overall, I just really loved this film. It checked off all of my horror genre boxes, showcased all female perspectives in the genre, featured stunning visuals and a riveting narrative, and was both thought-provoking and entertaining in equal measure. It’s definitely one that I’ll be thinking about for a long time, and it’s one that I can wholeheartedly recommend to anyone who is a fan of the video nasty era and is yearning for female representation within the genre. It also has a sequence that played with aspect ratio in a way that I had never seen before, so the film tech geek in me was just giddy in all regards. So, in closing, this is a film that you should definitely rush out to rent or purchase when it is eventually released if you enjoy horror films that pay tribute to the genre’s greats and feature a strong female perspective.

Here’s to five more exciting Sundance Film Festival screenings this week!

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Review: The Kid Detective (2020)

Adam Brody as Adult Abe Applebaum

When I was growing up, I was constantly reading books featuring kid sleuths like Encyclopedia Brown, Nate the Great, the Hardy Boys, the Boxcar Children, and Cam Jansen. You could say that mysteries were among my favorites as a kid. It was always a fun challenge to see if you could uncover the identity of the thief of the chocolate bars, find out who had stolen the school mascot’s uniform, or see who was behind the haunting of the movie theatre before the sleuth(s) in the book explains everything in the closing of the story. Publishers knew that mysteries were a key element to selling more Scholastic Book Fair product, so nearly every popular kids book series in the 90s had an accompanying line of mystery books, as well, i.e. The Baby-Sitters Club Mysteries (and Super Mysteries), The Wishbone Mysteries (and also Super Mysteries), and many more. That brings us to 2020’s The Kid Detective, a Canadian neo-noir film released theatrically on October 16th, and now available to rent on Amazon Prime, VUDU, etc.

Adam Brody’s Abe Applebaum, once the king of solving small-scale mysteries as a child, is now 31. After being unable to solve the disappearance of his former detective assistant and friend, Abe has just kind of stumbled through life. Attempting to cling to his youthful glory days, he tries to solve mysteries but the cases are few and far between. He’s turned to alcohol to help cope with depression and the knowledge that he’s not become the impressive adult that his parents want him to be. Caroline (Sophie Nélisse), a high school student, arrives in his office one day to hire him to find out who murdered her boyfriend. This is the first time that he is offered an “adult” case and he is eager to accept it to prove that he is still the same Abe Applebaum that the community loved when he was a kid.

Jesse Noah Gruman as Young Abe Applebaum

The Kid Detective fits very nicely into the neo-noir genre, alongside films like Brick (Rian Johnson, 2005) and Knives Out (Rian Johnson, 2019), in that it does feature elements of comedy, primarily through Brody’s incredibly strong performance, but also because it is not afraid to go to the darker side of the genre. There were moments where I laughed out loud at Brody’s dialogue, but there were also times when I was shocked by the intensity of the events unfolding. While it does have a small section in the middle of the film that slows down a bit, it manages to pick the pieces back up again to deliver a very strong and effective conclusion. I had mainly expected the film to focus primarily on the laughs as the trailer really pitches the comedy, but it was the combination of comedy and gritty noir mystery that really hit the film home for me.

Sophie Nélisse as Caroline and Abe on the Case

The film features so many intimate moments with Brody’s Abe that it serves as a really great character study on this very specific character trope from 90s young adult literature. Adam Brody delivers a very memorable performance that is full of tragedy, funny quips, and moody moments of contemplation. He has very engaging chemistry with Nélisse’s Caroline, as well, as the pair work together throughout the film to find out who murdered her boyfriend. It would have hit a tiny bit harder if there had been a fun cameo role by a veteran performer as one of Abe’s parents or as one of his former clients. But as it stands, the performances are solid across the board, with Brody and Nélisse doing all of the heavy lifting here.

The Kid Detective is writer-director Evan Morgan’s first feature film credit, and it is a very impressive first outing. The film really oozes neo-noir style through its use of color, very striking cinematography, and overall moody ambience. I am really looking forward to what Morgan does next. Personally, I would really love a series of Abe Applebaum films, as this character is just so engaging and relatable. It’s such a shame that the film couldn’t have been released theatrically outside of the pandemic, where it would have had a better chance at the box office. Here’s hoping that the streaming rentals and physical media purchases will still make the film a success. This is a very entertaining neo-noir that is worth checking out because of it’s strong lead performances, intense mystery, and nostalgic look at 90s YA mysteries.

Rating: 4/5

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