Film Reviews: Selves Misplaced, Doubts Erased And Problems That Need To Be Faced

November 10, 2014

By BRUCE DENNILL

 

Delivery Man / Directed by Ken Scott / PG                                    6.5

Struck By Lightning / Directed by Brian Dannelly / PGL               7

The English Teacher / Directed by Craig Zisk / 13LS                      6

Grudge Match / Directed by Peter Segal / 16LV                            6

 

Finding yourself should be a hell of a lot easier than it sounds. Just look in the mirror, right? What often complicates matters is that once you’re found, you lose yourself again, and then you need to go back to the beginning and try and avoid making the same mistakes the second time around.

 

In Delivery Man, Vince Vaughn’s David Wozniak is a man who’s aware that he could have done better. Approaching middle age, he’s still working for his father, making what should be a very simple job – driving a meat delivery truck – seem fairly complicated, thanks to his dithering and tendency to get distracted.

Even such a man can be influential, however. Wozniak, when steady money was hard to, er, come by as a young man, made a (high) number of paid deposits to a sperm bank and through an unlikely but Hollywood-friendly technical twist, his investments have yielded no less than 533 offspring.

Unsurprisingly, this is the sort of thing that gets a few column inches in the human interest section, and as more and more of Wozniak’s biological children become aware that they might have brothers and sisters they’d like to meet, the pressure on him to reveal his identity quickly builds.

Putting a bit of fluid in a cup in exchange for a bit of cash shouldn’t equal paternal responsibility, but director and writer Ken Scott examines a couple of very unglamorous traits that Wozniak is able to exhibit: empathy and compassion.

He doesn’t have to get involved with any of the youngsters he fathered – they’re all adults now, with well-established identities. But he realises that many of them still need to be recognised as worthwhile, and in affording them that privilege, Wozniak is able to get some perspective on his own place in the world.

 

Struck By Lightning is an interesting piece. It’s written by its leading man, Chris Colfer, instantly recognisable as Glee’s Kurt Hummel and sees Colfer play a similarly demanding, peripheral character. He’s a high school senior, smarter and more mature than all of his peers and intent on keeping his passion – writing – as an important part of the curriculum, even if his ideas are profoundly unfashionable.

The film’s relatively low profile – despite a supporting cast that includes the always wonderful Allison Janney, along with Christina Hendricks and Dermot Mulroney – plus Colfer’s involvement on the writing side suggests that the project is at some level a vehicle designed to help the young actor transition from huge television success to big-screen credibility.

If that’s true, he’s likely to have something more substantial lined up already, as Struck By Lightning ticks all the basic quality boxes while neatly undermining a number of the more irritating American high school movie clichés.

It’s certainly not smooth sailing for Colfer’s character, and the slightly uncomfortable way in which many of the issues he experiences are resolved won’t make everyone happy. But that’s a sign of a level of integrity in the story that belies the lightweight fluff its packaging suggests.

 

In another small, high school-based tale, Julianne Moore is The English Teacher, a woman named Linda who loves the drama in great literature but is at some pains to avoid it in real life wherever possible.

Her passion for the subject she teaches makes her a wonderful teacher, but it is ultimately the underlying reason she makes a string of bad decisions – most of them well-intentioned – when it comes to supporting a former pupil named Jason (Michael Angarano), who returns to his small hometown after failing to make it as a playwright in New York City.

Is it wrong to support an obviously talented youngster in an artistic endeavour, however short of polish the final product may be? Surely not. But does being an artist’s patron mean you should alter your perceptions of the personality and ambition of that individual? That’s one of the questions asked here, with the potential seriousness of the matter pleasantly diluted by the appearance of Nathan Lane as Carl, the drama teacher at the school where Linda works.

By the end, viewers will be convinced that passion is something worth protecting and promoting. But they’ll also be aware that the consequences of putting soul before sense may also be considerable.

 

Grudge Match sees two aging boxers, contemporaries and from the same New York neighbourhood, revive a competition that embittered both of them as much younger men. Razor (Sylvester Stallone, no stranger to being punched in the face onscreen) has put his past behind him and is content with a dead-end job, an old house and occasional visits to his mentor (Alan Arkin). The Kid (Robert DeNiro, who seems a less likely fit in the gloves, despite all he did in Raging Bull) hasn’t moved on at all and is still agitating for a chance to fight his old enemy again to prove once and for all who the better boxer is.

To some degree, each man only knows who he is in relation to the other. Between puerile posing and occasional moments of dignity, the unspoken value of their relationship is that each is a reference point that the other can use to map out their behaviour. Razor is trying to get on with his life but can’t do so until The Kid leaves him alone and The Kid is stuck in a loop he’ll only be able to break once he gets to face off with Razor one last time.

The outcome is predictable, but the film is well made, with Stallone easily winning the acting contest on points and technical wizardry helping to make both actors look pretty useful in the ring. That there is some depth to the script is confirmed by the fact that it’s as difficult to respect – in worldly terms – two past-their-prime man who struggle to make decisions and engage at the level of a high school bully respectively.

If you’re confused by your struggle to fully ally yourself with either man, that’s okay. If nothing else, the story suggests that you don’t have to like someone to learn lessons from them.

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