Tag Archives: Bill Hader

Inside Out (2015)

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In a weird way, the premise of “Inside Out” is kind of unnerving. Beings inside your mind that click on the control panel to trigger your emotions? Whatever happened to good old free will? It’s kind of a psychological dystopia for tweens (though in a universe where my emotions were living creatures who controlled most aspects of myself, they’d probably be doing a better job than I’m doing now- how’s that for unnerving?)

Take away the disturbing social and psychological implications of this deconstruction of free will (!), and you’ve got a typically delightful, touching Pixar film. The basic plot centers around Riley (voiced by Kaitlyn Dias,) an eleven-year-old daughter of supportive, hockey-crazy parents (Diane Lane and Kyle MacLachlan) who is going through some tough life changes.

Her dad is having ever-present but obliquely mentioned financial problems, and her parents move her from her much-loved home in Minnesota to a small, shabby San Francisco pad. Luckily (?), the celebrity-voiced personifications of Riley’s feelings are there to help. Joy (Amy Poehler) runs the show, and under her watchful eye everything is mostly fun and pleasant, though  when Sadness (Phyllis Smith) interferes Riley’s mood transitions, predictably, from sunny to gloomy.

Anger (Lewis Black) fumes and rages while flames literally leap from his crimson head while Fear (Bill Hader) timidly and neurotically weighs the possible risk in any given situation. Disgust (Mindy Kaling) is kind of the queen bee of the group, adding a dose of much-needed snark.

Riley’s feelings are kind of a dysfunctional little family held together by the same circumstances (i.e. they inhabit the same brain,) but Joy fails to recognize that melancholy can a valuable, even healthy part of the spectrum that makes up the self until she and Sadness are inadvertently cast into the outskirts of the mind and Riley suffers a kind of an emotional shut-down.

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Tender and funny, “Inside Out” didn’t hit me in the feels as much as “Up,” an earlier effort and a personal favorite of mine, but it is an enjoyably creative adventure through an eleven-year-old girl’s mind. If the visuals of the dreamscape that Riley’s emotions inhabit was half as fun to create as they were to watch, then they must not have felt much like work at all as much as a veritable artist’s playground.

Aesthetically, Pixar studios has done it again. “Inside Out” looks gorgeous, both within Riley’s mind and out on the streets, school, and hockey rink she inhabits. “Inside Out”‘s success both visually and in terms of storytelling and pathos prove that filmmaker Pete Docter’s mastery of the craft in “Up” was not a fluke. There’s a lot of psychological jokes that most kids (and maybe certain adults) won’t get but there’s a distinct lack of the thinly veiled sexual humor that Dreamworks flaunts like a Harvard degree.

“Inside Out” has a pensive, melancholic quality that captures the insecurity and fragile uncertainty of adolescence which might go right over little kids’ heads, but they’ll be sure to enjoy the bright visuals and buoyant humor. Parents are likely to empathize with Riley’s parents’ financial and familial struggles without their woes overwhelming the picture.

A few parts of the film seem to drag along a little longer than they should, such as the abstraction sequence, but overall “Inside Out”is an outstanding film the young at heart or those who remember being young, when setbacks felt like crushing failures that seemed like they couldn’t be assuaged or mended with time, and life was made up by the highest of highs and the lowest of lows. This juxtaposition of jubilation and misery, through a child’s innocent eyes, is what makes “Inside Out” a truly singular experience.

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The Skeleton Twins (2014)

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A good movie can find humor in tragic circumstances and goodness in extremely flawed characters; “The Skeleton Twins” does both. Twins Milo (Bill Hader) and Maggie (Kristen Wiig) have not spoken for ten years when the near-suicides of both bring them together, for better or worse. Milo is a gay, unemployed aspiring actor still enamored with the former teacher (Ty Burrell) who seduced him when he was fifteen; Maggie is a depressed, unhappily-married dental hygienist who doesn’t love her husband Lance (Luke Wilson.)

Lance is a total sweetheart and I think Maggie is in love with the idea of him (a kind, caring hubby who doesn’t treat her like shit,) but for a sexually frustrated serial adulterer like Maggie,  the idea of true love and the reality of a sparkless relationship isn’t going to cut it. Milo begrudgingly moves in with Maggie and her husband, and exacerbates Maggie’s personal drama, but it is the conflicted relationship between the two siblings, who have been torn apart by the suicide of their dad years before,  that might pull them together or destroy them.

This all sounds like some very heavy crap, and I guess it is, but director Craig Johnson sprinkles some laughs and light-heartedness among the dark drama. Milo and Maggie are extremely sarcastic and acerbic, and yes, they can be grade-A douchebags sometimes, but they end up coming through for each other and are ultimately each loyal to the other one’s needs, whether or not a loved one’s intervention is what the person in crisis was looking for.

The humor leavens the moments where the movie seems like it’s going in the direction of pure familial nastiness (I can go to my Aunt’s house and bring up politics for that.) There’s a definite realism to the proceedings and the filmmaker never tries too hard to get a sniffle or a laugh. I found the acting from everybody, from Milo and Maggie to Lance to even the “Modern Family” guy as a pedophilic schmuck, to be very effective.

Don’t go into “The Skeleton Twins” expecting belly laughs and wild escapades resembling those of Wiig’s breakout hit “Bridesmaids.” If you hadn’t guessed from all the suicide talk. “The Skeleton Twins” is rather low-key and sad. It’s real life, as filtered though the lives of some seriously troubled human beings. It’s love and family and emptiness and the trials of two fuck-ups trying to maintain their own sanity. In the end, all they have is each other. God help them.

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