Every week, The Post’s critics highlight original movies that are being streamed and made available on demand. Here are this week’s picks.
MIKE BIRBIGLIA: MY GIRLFRIEND'S BOYFRIEND
Fans of the 2012 film “Sleepwalk With Me,” a dramatic adaptation of comedian/actor/monologuist Mike Birbiglia’s acclaimed one-man stage show about chronic somnambulism and romantic failure, should be overjoyed to learn that a version of Birbiglia’s theatrical follow-up, “My Girlfriend’s Boyfriend,” has just been released to Netflix. It’s even better — meaning funnier, wiser and sweeter — than “Sleepwalk.”
Taped this past spring at Seattle’s Intiman Theatre, “Boyfriend” plumbs the same theme as “Sleepwalk”: Birbiglia’s love life. Anecdotes deal with the comic’s awkward first kiss and first time falling in love. But where the earlier show ended with a slight sense of defeat, the new work is, in a way, triumphal.
That may seem an odd way to describe anything that Birbiglia does. The comedian has made a career out of celebrating, in a self-deprecating way, his own supposed inadequacies (physical, intellectual, social). In reality — or in this recorded stage show at least — he comes across as whip-smart, a master of the shaggy-dog story, cute and endearing.
“Boyfriend” opens with as close to a rant as the genial Birbiglia ever gets against the institution of marriage, which comes off sounding a bit like sour grapes, or at least a mild case of commitment phobia. At any rate, it’s familiar stuff, not only for those who saw “Sleepwalk,” but for anyone who follows stand-up comedy in general. Avoidance of the Serious Relationship is a staple of many male (and, increasingly, some female) comics.
As the show progresses through a litany of misadventures with girlfriends, however, it starts to become clear that “Boyfriend,” like “Sleepwalk,” is actually in pursuit of some larger truth. Along the way, there are some wildly amusing side trips into the realm of carnival-induced vomiting, Olympic gymnastics and, in one case, an extended impression of a dog eating spaghetti. Trust me, it all serves a purpose.
Therein lies Birbiglia’s genius. Although “Boyfriend” superficially resembles a meandering stand-up concert documentary, Birbiglia’s stage shows are much more than that. In the dramatic structure of his art, he’s actually closer to monologuist and performance artist Spalding Gray than, say, Jerry Seinfeld. His work is about something.
In the last 15 minutes or so of “Boyfriend,” the tone of Birbiglia’s voice — always perfectly pitched to his material, whether trying to evoke comic resignation or astonishment — falls into a hushed whisper. For almost anyone else, the shift would come across as pretentious, let alone just plain not funny. It feels, at first, like a misstep.
But don’t worry. Under the guidance of director Seth Barrish (who co-directed “Sleepwalk”) and producer Ira Glass (whose “This American Life” has hosted Birbiglia many times), the comedian — part raconteur, part acrobat — sticks his landing. -- M.O.
Unrated. 75 minutes. Contains mild sexual references. Available on Netflix.
But, odds are, you haven’t seen “The Entrepreneur,” a hidden gem of a documentary that’s been in the Snagfilms library for a few years, but recently became a mini-hit on iTunes. Directed by Jonathan Bricklin, “The Entrepreneur” follows the filmmaker’s father, Malcolm — the man who made Subaru and Yugo name brands in the United States — as he tries to make one more score, this time importing cars from China.
Profane, irascible, combative and gloriously indefatigable, Malcolm is an utterly mesmerizing leading man, the kind of alternately charismatic and offensive character viewers will gladly follow as he travels from New Jersey to India, Poland and Britain in search of a billion-dollar car-import venture. He finally strikes gold with the Chery company in Wuhu, China, where his son films him up close and personal, wheeling, dealing and otherwise being a “good mish-mosher,” as longtime marketing consultant Paul Lambert calls him.
The culture clash between the brash 65-year-old Malcolm and his far more circumspect Chinese cohorts is a foregone conclusion (one of the film’s funniest scenes finds Malcolm doing a literal strip-tease for his amused potential partners). What’s most surprising is how close Jonathan is able to get to the behind-the-scenes meetings in which Malcolm desperately “mish-moshes” for money, at one point visiting a Libyan prince. This is undoubtedly an affectionate portrait of a man the filmmaker clearly loves and admires. But even with that bias, “The Entrepreneur” manages to be remarkably clear-eyed, an “only in America” story capable of highlighting both brash can-doism and myopic self-defeat. -- A.H.
Unrated. 92 minutes. Contains pervasive profanity. Available on iTunes, Hulu, Amazon Instant and cable on-demand.
A fresh concept bolsters “Miss Dial,” a light romantic comedy with a fairly simple narrative structure. The twist here is that almost the entire movie consists of dialogue that takes place during phone calls.
The film follows Erica (Robinne Lee), a customer service representative who works from her Los Angeles home fielding complaints and conundrums. Why is one caller’s potato shredder jammed? Because she’s putting spuds into a paper shredder, Erica realizes.
While many of the calls are idiotic, they’re also believable and they make for some amusing little vignettes featuring the likes of Dule Hill and Gabrielle Union. Oddly, both actors somewhat misleadingly appear on the movie poster despite minuscule screen time (although Union, admittedly, very nearly steals the show).
But the meat of the story involves Erica’s relationship status. She’s dating the deadbeat Alex (Jon Huertas), and when she reaches for the phone to vent to her best friend, she accidentally calls a soldier in Fayetteville, N.C., and they end up having an interesting conversation. This inspires Erica to put work on hold and start randomly dialing other numbers in search of meaningful connections. She finds one when she punches in a New York number and meets the voice of Kyle (Sam Jaeger), an EMT.
A little tension enters the mix when Erica’s boss notices she hasn’t been very efficient, but for the most part, it’s pretty clear where this is going.
Much of the dialogue between Erica and Kyle sounds natural, and possibly even improvised, with Jaeger coming off especially breezy. Lee does a good job of embodying the cheery side of Erica, though the more emotional scenes tend to look forced.
There is something sweetly nostalgic about “Miss Dial.” It’s not a perfect movie, but it focuses on real human connections born of lengthy conversations, which feels refreshing in our e-mail- and text-obsessed culture. -- S.M.
R. 89 minutes. Contains sexual references. Available on iTunes, Amazon Instant and cable on-demand.
Previously: 'Other Than,' 'Paradise,' 'Rock Jocks'