In the last issue, I reviewed a romantic comedy starring JLo. This week, one starring Reese Witherspoon. They can keep their fashion choices, but I am happy to see these familiar leading ladies again.
New on Netflix, Your Place or Mine stars Reese Witherspoon and Ashton Kutcher as Debbie and Peter, long-distance besties with a real will-they-or-won’t-they vibe. When Debbie needs to finish her accounting program to get a better job and her babysitter leaves her in a lurch, Peter steps up to look after her teenage son, Jack (Wesley Kimmel), in Los Angeles while she stays at his apartment in New York.
Although Your Place or Mine lacks much opportunity for romance because the leads are on opposite coasts, something is charming about watching them learn so much about someone they thought they knew everything about by living in each other’s homes. The dynamic is reminiscent of The Holiday. I also found Debbie and Peter’s individual plots interesting. Both are full-fledged characters outside of the friendship. That the leads have so much chemistry and share so little physical space might be a missed opportunity, but I liked the setup.
In smaller ways, the screenplay tries too hard to be quirky. For example, there are too many side characters. Steve Zahn as Debbie’s neighbor, Zen, is meant to provide a comedic foil to Peter, but Tig Notaro already fills that role as Debbie’s overcaffeinated, opinionated friend. Of the abundant side characters, she draws the most laughs. Similarly, some jokes resurface too many times. A gag about Debbie’s suitcase flops the first time but gets several more attempts.
Despite the flaws in the writing, I enjoyed the locations, characters, and most of all the love of books in Your Place or Mine. In theaters, I probably would have been disappointed, but for a Netflix romcom, it was pretty good.
Your Place or Mine was written and directed by Aline Brosh McKenna. It runs 109 minutes and is rated PG-13.
Usually, zombie stories do not draw me in. Recently, however, I read Entangled Life: How Fungi Make Our Worlds, Change Our Minds & Shape Our Futures by Merlin Sheldrake, so when a friend mentioned that the new HBO Max series The Last of Us focused on a world ravaged by a fungus that takes over human hosts, I was curious. In the series, Joel (Pedro Pascal) takes a young girl, Ellie (Bella Ramsey), under his care as they struggle to survive in the aftermath of a deadly pandemic.
In a time when both pandemics and the threats of a warming planet are perhaps too close for comfort, the series takes a gamble, but the opening episode sets the scene and the stakes with heartbreaking clarity that overcomes even an oversaturated zombie market. Made more harrowing by the fact that fungi have a real zombifying effect on ants (seriously!), the series makes science totally horrific. The series also depicts the horrors of a human society reduced to bare bones and run by fear—mass graves, public executions, bribery, etc.—but the human drama on a smaller, more personal scale keeps the story moving.
While the core cast carries the story forward with tense, emotional performances, the series also uses single-episode characters to build out the broader context. For example, in the pilot, Nico Parker draws viewers into Joel’s life, and in a later episode, Nick Offerman gives a beautiful guest performance. Melanie Lynskey is sensational as always.
Having never played the video game on which the story is based, I cannot speak to how the series fares as an adaptation, but it provides high stakes, deep characters, and enough thrills to have me hooked.
The Last of Us runs for ten episodes. As of this writing, four have been released. It was created by Craig Mazin and is rated TV-MA.
Also on HBO, the beautiful documentary All That Breathes tells the story of two brothers who fight to protect the migratory Black Kites against the horrors of extreme air pollution by running a makeshift hospital for downed birds in their basement. All That Breathes is a little hard to watch both because it uses subtitles in an era of constant second-screening and because of the suffering and strangeness of the birds. Still, it is a beautiful testament to the determination of people to tend to something that they love and a powerful statement about the impact of environmental toxins and pollution on all of us who breathe. Religious and family drama also add distinctly human elements to the story, but the poetic reflections on the ecosystem were the most moving for me.
All That Breathes was directed by Shaunak Sen. It runs 97 minutes and is unrated.
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