Playing Catch-Up — Andre the Giant; The Wife; Life of the Party

andre the giant

Andre the Giant (Jason Hehir, 2018). A veteran of ESPN’s acclaimed 30 for 30 series of sports documentaries, Jason Hehir brings a studious steadiness to this recounting of the life and career of the professional wrestler born André René Roussimoff. It’s a tale tinged by tragedy, as the hulking form that gave Andre the Giant his fame was a result of his body’s over-production of growth hormone, which eventually contributed to his death before the age of fifty. He also lived in a tremendous amount of pain, and Hehir finds wrestling footage that suggests Andre the Giant still putting on a show while in paralyzing agony. What Hehir seems unwilling to do is really press on whether or not the continued placement of Andre the Giant on wrestling cards was exploitative, whether, in essence, those owners and investors who saw professional wrestling explod in popularity — in no small part because of Andre the Giant’s fame — owed him a better and more gracious shift to retirement. WWE head honcho Vince McMahon atypically gets a little teary on camera, but that’s about it. Andre the Giant offers fine tribute, but it stops short of justice.

wife

The Wife (Björn Runge, 2018). Glenn Close plays the title role, a woman who’s spent decades as the caring, dutiful partner to a Great American Novelist (Jonathan Pryce). When he receives the Nobel Prize in Literature, the pair — along with their son (Max Irons, really overdoing the sullenness and flash-point anger) — journey to Sweden for the festivities. Prompted in part by the inquiries of an aspiring biographer (Christian Slater), the unsteady life the couple has built begins to teeter. The film exists as little more than a showcase for Close’s acting, and she plays all her key moments with the firmly contained roil of emotions that’s long been her signature. Although fine work, her approach is also familiar enough that the choices show. Björn Runge directs with a pedestrian flatness that matches the script. Jane Anderson adapted a novel by Meg Wolitzer, scrubbing away any moral nuance she might have found there. There are pieces to a insightful, complicated story here, but none of the creators show any interest in putting them together.

life party

Life of the Party (Ben Falcone, 2018). By chance, a couple hours before settling in to watch Life of the Party, I caught a good chunk of Back to School, the 1986 Rodney Dangerfield starrer with a similar premise. There’s a notable crudity — in every sense — to the earlier comedy, but at least it’s got some life in it and a capacity to surprise. Melissa McCarthy has some charming moments as a middle-aged woman on the brink of divorce who decides to finish her college degree, alongside her daughter (Molly Gordon). She also engages in a lot of tired comic riffing. As he’s done in other comedies co-created with McCarthy, director Ben Falcone lets scenes drag to the point of indulgence, probably convinced that it reads as commitment and even audacity. The main pleasures come from the fringes, such as the endearingly odd line readings from Maya Rudolph (as the lead character’s best friend) or Gillian Jacobs (as a sorority sister who’s arrived at school later in life because of years spent in a coma, a fertile premise that’s barely touched).

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