Staff Favorites

Mark and Jay Duplass
Reviewed by Megan
Cyrus

This quietly surreal comedy provides a refreshing alternative to scatological grossfests.

The film’s story is contained to the disruption of an insular relationship between a single mom (Marisa Tomei) and her son (Jonah Hill) by Tomei’s new lover (John C. Reilly.) Social misfit Hill, unaccustomed to sharing his mother’s time with an outsider, attempts a variety of covert strategies to oust the clueless Reilly from their lives.

The movie’s tension and comedy derive from the disconcertingly awkward situations that its cast manages to foment. The story motors along well with its weird, elusive sort of discomfort—far more vague than The Office’s routine of bumbling social mix-ups, but still somehow familiar. It’s a spare enough premise that its success follows entirely from the talents of the cast. Reilly and Hill are veteran outcast character actors and their interplay is unsurprisingly very convincing. And Tomei, cast once again as the ageless beauty paired with a creep, somehow manages to effectively enter their bizarre little world.

Cyrus is a rare film that manages to be genuinely quirky without being cutesy. Recommended.

Rachel Shukert
Reviewed by Megan
Everything Is Going to Be Great: An Underfunded and Overexposed European Grand Tour

Rachel Shukert takes Europe after landing a non-remunerative part as a male elf in an experimental theatre troupe. While this is less a “European Grand Tour” than a modest survey of tall, eccentric countries that aren’t Germany (i.e. Austria, Switzerland, and the Netherlands), Shukert’s sharply maniacal remembrances make for an inspired, inventive romp.

This work is the provident intersection of a delightfully deranged imagination, history-engorged cities and their bizarre inhabitants, and a candid tale about finally taking responsibility for your own happiness. It bears mentioning that the scatologically averse should steer clear, but just about everyone else will revel in Shukert’s honesty and absurdist humor.

Gary Shteyngart
Reviewed by Eric
Super Sad True Love Story

Essentially, this novel is comprised of a mixture of two elements: 1) a near-future dystopian setting and, 2) a cheesy love story. I picked up this book mostly because I was interested in the crazy sci-fi elements, but it was the two main characters and their relationship that actually won me over.

Shteyngart throws us into a world where all the most absurd elements of our culture are amplified to a piercing howl – China basically owns the US and everyone shares every single last thing about their superficial, youth-obsessed selves using various facebook-esque technologies. All of this is, I suppose, intended to be intensely humorous. But it all falls totally flat.

However, at the center of the novel is Lenny Abramov, an ugly, book-loving schlub in his late-30s who can’t for the life of him fit into this ludicrous, ludicrous world. He meets Eunice Park, the damaged daughter of Korean immigrants, who is much, much younger and much, much better looking than he is. He falls for her immediately and, though it takes a while, she somehow eventually falls for him too.

And it all ends horribly, and absurdly, and it turns out that Schteyngart is pretty good at breaking your heart. I came to really care about these characters, but I could never bring myself to become interested in the world in which they live.

Christopher Hitchens
Reviewed by Megan
Hitch-22: A Memoir

Christopher “Don’t Call Me Chris” Hitchens is a lover and a fighter, and the two sides hash it out in this superb memoir. We get deeply felt cheers for Auden, scotch, Marx, civil disobedience, Paul Wolfowitz, and the United States alongside scalding jeers for totalitarianism, organized religion, bullies, Michael Moore, narcotics, and the Clintons. With this in mind, I really don’t think there’s anybody out there who agrees with Hitch (yes, that’s what I call him) about everything, but his arguments always prompt deeper, revelatory thinking. The book also has plenty of vignettes both joyous and tragic, intellectual history (personal and otherwise), and--of course--fond reminiscences of famously brilliant friends.

Though Hitch states that he doesn’t have a gift for fiction, I can’t help but think that his facility with language and instinct for the subterranean would make for some thrillingly good novels. Then again, maybe he realized he doesn’t have to stoop to mere invention when he can instead regale us with turbo-literate remembrances of a big life saturated with wit, courage, absurdity, regret, and a profound sense of gratitude. Carry on then, Hitch; carry on.

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