Netflix’s ‘Beef’ Lives Up To The Hype ~ At The Movies With Kasey
This week, we hit a dead zone in the Hollywood calendar. Finding a movie that looked worth the time was a real struggle. It seems like every story must be produced as a miniseries. At the theater, my best option was a movie so ridiculous that even my love of Toni Collette could not get me to go. Streaming, the newest movie was a Dennis Quaid flick about an airplane that was practically unwatchable. So, I abandoned my search and sat down to watch a new Netflix limited series, Beef. It turns out it is about a grudge, not cows.
In Beef, Danny (Steven Yeun) and Amy (Ali Wong) get into a road rage altercation that neither one of them can let go. Their escalating retaliations threaten Danny’s efforts to start his own business and build his parents a house and Amy’s deal to sell her designer houseplant business to a major retail chain.
Featuring a nearly all-Asian cast, Beef includes a constellation of characters who also have a lot to lose through Amy and Danny’s antics. Amy’s rage is balanced by the calmness of her family, sweet George (Joseph Lee) and June (Remy Holt), and her wise, but calculating mother-in-law, Fumi (Patti Yasutake). Danny’s relationship with his little brother, Paul (Young Mazino), complicates the swings his character takes between bad guy and down-on-his-luck dreamer. While Steven Yeun and Ali Wong make incredible scene partners and give stand-out performances, together the ensemble brings to life rich and complicated family dynamics.
Full of outrageously large SUVs, aggressive drivers, and trigger-happy gun owners, Beef plays out some of the biggest dangers in American life, but underneath the anger runs a current of sadness about the limitations of the American Dream. As Danny struggles to establish himself, longing to make his parents proud, Amy finds that all her achievements do not stop her depression and self-loathing. They both need to slow down literally—stop driving like a maniac!—but also to pause and take stock of how their unaddressed emotional needs and family issues undermine their relationships. Beef weaves together an abundance of absurd events with poignant emotional truths.
The beautiful art direction further illustrates these dynamics. George’s unique (ugly?) vases linger in the background of many scenes in contrast to the clean lines of Amy’s interior design choices. Retail mogul Jordan (Maria Bello) has an entire mansion decorated with art and historical objects collected from Asian cultures. In one haunting scene, Naomi (Ashley Park) zips herself into a couture garment bag as she decides whether to bite back at her frenemy, Amy. Plus, the soundtrack comically features a variety of late-90s/early ‘00s alt-rock that resonates with Amy and Danny’s bad attitudes.
Unfortunately, controversy around the casting of David Choe as Danny’s cousin Isaac tinges praise for Beef. I will not unpack here why his presence is problematic, but to have cast him was ethically questionable and pointless. Choe delivers the weakest performance by a longshot, saying his lines with an awkward, stilted cadence. They could have found a better actor without the baggage in any studio waiting room.
I found Beef utterly gripping until the last two episodes when the story spirals out of control, but by that point, I had bought into the narrative so much that I went along for the strange final ride.
Beef was created by Lee Sung Jin and runs for 10 30-minute episodes on Netflix. It is rated TV-MA.
I did finally find a movie to watch on Amazon: Reggie, a documentary about legendary baseball player Reggie Jackson. Using extensive interviews with Jackson and other players—such as Hank Aaron—and abundant archival footage, Reggie takes a closer look at Jackson’s career and his struggles on and off the field.
When I started the movie, I knew who Reggie Jackson was nominally, but I could not have told you everything he accomplished. The documentary lovingly examines Jackson’s legacy while taking a hard look at how racism impacts professional athletes and the communities in which they play. Especially for baseball fans, Reggie is worth watching.
Reggie was directed by Alex Stapleton. It runs 104 minutes and is rated PG-13.
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