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Baking Cakes & Choosing Your Own Adventure ~ At The Movies With Kasey

If you have never watched ABC’s Black-ish, I suggest you enjoy it while the ongoing strikes impact network TV. I was reminded of that smart, funny sitcom when I accidentally watched two movies featuring actors who the series gave their breaks.

New on Amazon Prime, Sitting in Bars with Cake focuses on best friends Jane (Yara Shahidi) and Corinne (Odessa A’zion) trying to get their lives started in Los Angeles. Corinne concocts a plan for anxious, shy Jane to bring the amazing cakes she bakes to bars as a way to put herself out there and meet guys, but then Corinne is diagnosed with a brain tumor, complicating all of their plans. Bette Midler plays Corinne’s boss and Ron Livingston and Martha Kelly costar as her parents.

So much of this film depends on the relationship between Jane and Corinne and as best friends, Yara Shahidi and Odessa A’zion have wonderful chemistry. Each actor, however, portrays the unique challenges their characters face with depth and subtlety. Although Shahidi provides her trademark steadiness, A’zion is especially good in the heavy scenes in which Corinne struggles with the effects of cancer. Ron Livingston also gives a funny performance as a dad who expresses concern through handyman tendencies.

I do not tend to enjoy stories about young people with cancer. I find them too sad and sweet. But, I do like cake. The many scenes in dim, grungy bars balance the sad sweetness of the story, and the variety of cakes punctuated the scenes in a fun way that made me want to bake. Still, Sitting in Bars with Cake felt very long. The story drags through suffering and friendship. It is well-made, beautifully acted, and slow.

Sitting in Bars with Cake was written by Audrey Shulman, based on her book, and directed by Trish Sie. It runs 120 minutes and is rated PG-13.

On Hulu, How to Blowup a Pipeline includes Yara Shahidi’s TV brother, Marcus Scribner in an outstanding ensemble bringing to life a thrilling story of environmental activism. The film follows Xochitl (Ariela Barer), Rowan (Kristine Froseth), Logan (Lukas Gage), Michael (Forrest Goodluck), Theo (Sasha Lane), Alisha (Jayme Lawson), Shawn (Marcus Scribner), and Dwayne (Jake Weary), a group of young people driven to radical action to push back against the oil industry.

The screenplay divides the story into different sections, moving between the present and backstories of the characters, giving their extreme choices important and emotional contexts. The result is a slow and moody exposition, but the suspense builds in the second half, leading to a surprising conclusion.

The performances are outstanding, drawing together a community of characters and allowing each actor a charged scene or two. With such a large cast, no individual actor really rose above the pack, but together they conveyed a critical message about the stakes of pollution and climate change. How to Blow Up a Pipeline is not a movie that everyone is going to love but I will not be surprised if it appears on award shortlists later this year.

How to Blow Up a Pipeline was written by Ariela Barer, Jordan Sjol, and Daniel Goldhaber, who directed. It runs 104 minutes and is rated R.

Finally, on Netflix Choose Love gives romantic comedies the Choose Your Own Adventure treatment, allowing the audience to select from multiple options, impacting how the story unfolds. The premise is that Cami Conway (Laura Marano) has a promising career as a sound engineer and a devoted boyfriend, Paul (Scott Michael Foster). As the two move towards getting engaged, Cami starts to have doubts when an old flame, Jack (Jordi Webber), and a charming popstar, Rex (Avan Jogia), enter her life, setting her up for complicated feelings and some crucial decisions—which she asks the viewer to help her with.

Part of the fun of romantic comedies is how formulaic they are. Choose Love takes advantage of the formula and offers the audience six possible endings. Of course, all endings are happy, but not all of them actually end in romance. The writing of these stories falls somewhere around Hallmark movie territory, but I was impressed by how often I was given choices and surprised by some of the funny moments between Cami and her love interests.

As Cami, Laura Marano holds the story together with her sweet, charming performance. It is hard not to compare her to the great Alison Brie, but I would like to watch Marano in a romcom of higher quality in the future.

Choose Love was directed by Josann McGibbon and written by Stuart McDonald. It runs 77 minutes and is rated TV-14.

Kasey Butcher

Kasey Butcher

She is proud to be a Ft. Wayne native, a graduate of Homestead HS, Ball State University & Miami University. She became involved with journalism editor-in-chief for her high school magazine. She authors the "At The Movies with Kasey Butcher" review. > Read Full Biography > More Articles Written By This Writer