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CCFF 2017: The Little Hours, Patti Cake$ & Bitch

May 15, 2017

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Opening night of the Chicago Critics Film Festival (CCFF) at the Music Box Theatre was a bustling, energized event with a sold-out movie to kick off the festival which runs from May 12th through May 17th.  The three films that opened the festival debuted at Sundance this past January and were receiving their Chicago premiere. Writer/director Jeff Baena returned to the festival with “The Little Hours”, after his film “Joshy” was part of the lineup last year. Beana was in attendance to introduce the film, as took part in a Q&A afterwards, along with two actors from the movie, Aubrey Plaza and Kate Micucci. You can tell the packed house thoroughly enjoyed this comedy, which was followed by the touching drama “Patti Cake$” and a midnight screening of a dark family comedy called “Bitch”.  Certainly a trio of films offering some variety, yet quite female-centric which is always welcome. My thoughts on all three below….

 

THE LITTLE HOURS (2017) 

Just take at this cast one look at this and try to tell me that doesn’t pique your interest. Right from the start, this bawdy comedy about foul-mouthed nuns in a 14th Century Italian convent immediately reminds me of the kind of broad satires from the likes of Monty Python, Mel Brooks and the Zucker/Abrams movies. Writer/director Jeff Baena adapts one of the stories from Giovanni Boccaccio’s The Decameron and the results are quite hysterical, thanks to his phenomenal cast being given opportunities to just have a good time and do their thing. The goal here is simply to elicit laughs as we watch a trio of nuns (played by Brie, Plaza and Micucci) explore sin and carnal desires when a new handsome young handyman (Dave Franco), hired by the Father of the convent (John C. Reilly). Hilarity ensues and grows as the story unfolds, especially with great scene-stealing supporting roles from Nick Offerman, Molly Shannon, Fred Armisen and Paul Weitz.

“The Little Hours” isn’t purposely out to offend, but it also doesn’t care if it does. I had an absolute blast and laughed throughout just watching these actors work off each other. The film opens in theaters in mid-July.

RATING: *** 

 

PATTI CAKE$ (2017)

I usually expect a festival movie to come out of nowhere and surprise me, but I didn’t think it would be the second film I’d see on opening night. The story revolves around 23-year-old Patricia Dumbrowski (amazing work from Australian actress Danielle Macdonald) aka Patti Cake$ aka Killer P, who resides in her disheveled home with her alcoholic mom, Barb (Bridget Everett) and wheelchair-bound Nana (Cathy Moriarty), in a working-class northern New Jersey community. Struggling to land a job to pay for Nana’s medical treatment, she’s aching to get out and dreams of rapper superstardom with her energetic pal, named Hareesh (Siddarth Dhananjay), her number one source of encouragement. Patti has a tough exterior on the outside and at times can muster some forward-momentum confidence for herself, but there’s some obvious insecurity and discouragement that comes from her mother (who at one time had a shot at a Lita Ford-type singer) and the neighborhood thugs who grew up calling her (and still call her) “Dumbo”. After warming up with some street grinding, Hareesh gets the two some gigs (he affectionately calls them Thick & Thin, on account of their comparative sizes), but it’s not until Patti recruits a withdrawn and intense guitarist/studio geek (Mamoudou Athie) that they’re able to record something with an original sound, which compels them to form a group called PBNJ. It’s not all smooth sailing from there, otherwise it wouldn’t be a compelling tale of navigating fear, doubt and obstacles, while chasing your dreams.

 

With its contagious beats and intense performances, “Patti Cake$”  is an obvious crowd-please that wears its cliches and manipulation right on its big heart and there’s nothing wrong with that.  Look for a theatrical release later this summer.

RATING: ***

 

BITCH (2017)

I wasn’t too keen on writer/director Marianna Palka’s horror-comedy “Bitch”, which is taking what feels like an outdated concept running it into the ground – or in this case, digging a hole and burying it. In the titular role, Palka stars as an overworked, selfless stay-at-home mom of four kids, whose on her least thread of sanity.  She’s married to a Bill (an overacting Jason Ritter, who also starred in Palka’s previous Sundance film “Good Dick”), a philandering corporate shill who sees right past her and basically treats as if she’s property. What does she do after a failed attempt to hang herself from the dining room chandelier? She turns into a dog. Growling, barking and remaining in the basement, naked; surrounded by her own urine and feces. Whiny, demanding and concerned kids, a husband who doesn’t chip in or understand all that she does – it all feels like an overdone scenario, played out over and over again in the 80s. There could be a good story here, maybe if Palka would’ve dropped the attempt at comedy (none of which ever works) and really gave us more time to know this harried mother, in order to earn this bizarre transition. I wouldn’ve been more interested if the mom/wife just left her family and left her husband to take care of everything he’s taken for granted. We get some of that here as Ritter’s clueless doofus (seriously, the guy doesn’t even know what school his kid goes to?) is forced to reconnect with his kids and his sister-in-law (Jaime King, in a thankless role) . Is it disturbing to see a woman break down and get on all fours, barking  from a dingy basement? Sure, but it’s also disappointing to see this story’s failed potential.

I have no idea if this film is getting picked up by a distributor or if there’s any possible release date and I’m okay with that.

RATING: *1/2

 

 

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