|Queen of Versailles
The good, the bad, and the ugly will hit cinema screens over the next two weeks.
The exceptionally good is The Queen of Versailles, opening July 27. Itâ€™s one of the best documentaries of the year. In every sense of the word, this film is astonishing. Jackie Siegel, the title character, is someone who will give reality TV stars a run for their money. And Jackieâ€™s husband David, 30+ years her senior, desperately needs that money. With the 2008 financial crisis causing his timeshare empire to become near bankrupt, the Siegels are defaulting on payments for their 90,000 square feet(!) Orlando dream home--a mansion modeled after Versailles. This jaw-dropping spectacle of conspicuous consumption is shocking, depressing, and still hugely entertaining. Davidâ€™s ego is as big as his home, and Jackieâ€™s inability to downsize (hell, even her breasts need reducing) is darkly comic. She may know nothing about the financial state of her family, but she apparently knows less about renting a car, asking the agent--with no discernible irony--for the name of her driver. The Queen of Versailles is less a cautionary tale about the perils of over-spending, though it is hard to watch Jackie at Walmart, and more a darkly satisfying riches-to-rags tale about the 1% joining the lower 99. The testimonies from nannies, drivers, and even Jackieâ€™s friends and former neighbors make viewers appreciate watching Jackie and Davidâ€™s assets depreciate while their relationship deteriorates.
The bad is Ruby Sparks, opening August 3, the latest effort from Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris, the directors of Little Miss Sunshine. Like that film, Ruby Sparks stars Paul Dano, who here plays Calvin, a very successful young writer who published a work of â€śgeniusâ€ť at 19.
But now, a few years later, he has writerâ€™s block. He has recurring dreams about Ruby Sparks (Zoe Kazan, who penned the screenplay), a â€śquirky, messy woman whose problems are endearing.â€ť And when he writes about her, suddenly the dream girl he manifested in his mind becomes real. If he wants her to speak French or snap her fingers, she does. Never leave him--she wonâ€™t. He controls her by typing out his wishes. But he never quite uses his powers to his advantage, or gets at what Calvin really wants, which makes it tough to care about what happens to him. Ruby Sparks shows how Calvinâ€™s situation is crazy, but heâ€™s not. However, the film, which starts off as a clever story, soon turns into standard romantic comedy-drama. There are montages of the lovers having fun and being cuddly together, and there are fights about separation, cloyingness, jealousy, and loneliness. There is also a wasted episode involving a trip to Big Sir to meet Calvinâ€™s hippie-dippy mother (Annette Bening). Ruby Sparks exaggerates male-female relationships for comedic effect, but too much of the film is just unfunny. Calvin mostly mopes, and has little disregard for others; he is neither likeable nor unlikeable. Dano makes him a quirky, milquetoast hero whose problems are not endearing. Kazan has a bit of verve as his inspiration, but their romance never quite clicks. Neither does this Ruby Sparks.
The ugly is Babymakers, a crude--and crudely made--comedy opening August 3, about Tommy (Paul Schneider) trying to get his wife Audrey (Olivia Munn) pregnant. After months of sex in the shower, car, living room, under a table, and even in a bed, he cannot knock her up.
Learning the unfortunate fact that his sperm isnâ€™t up to snuff, Tommy devises a plan to recover (i.e., steal) the healthy sperm he donated to a cryobank years before he married Audrey. It is, of course, a wrongheaded plan--and one that involves an untrustworthy member of the Indian mafia, Ron Jon (Jay Chandrasekhar, the director)--and it goes wrong. But then so does much of Babymakers. The soph-moronic jokes range from jerking off to cantaloupe to a character slipping and sliding in a sea of sperm. Itâ€™s a sign that the filmâ€™s biggest laughs come from Tommyâ€™s testicular traumas--basically, the guy getting hit (repeatedly) in the crotch. Schneider tries his best with this lame material--he acquits himself quite well in the sexual fantasy sequences--but mostly he wears a perpetual look of disbelief on his face. Viewers will too.
Babymakers is about as much fun as a kick in the groin.