The Post’s critics highlight original movies that are being streamed and made available on demand. Here are this week’s picks.
I can guess why “The Lifeguard” didn’t get a wide theatrical release this past August. The dramatic tale of Leigh (Kristen Bell), a 29-year-old Associated Press reporter who returns to her small hometown to take up her old lifeguarding job — and an affair with a 16-year-old boy (David Lambert) — is something of a cliche.
Haven’t we seen the dynamic of the woman who finds herself in the arms of a younger man, while attempting to find herself, as recently as last year’s “Hello I Must Be Going”? (Both films, oddly enough, feature swimming pools on the poster, an apparent allusion to getting in over your head.) At least in “Hello,” the boy was 19. There’s something creepy about “Lifeguard’s” central — and, yes, abusive — relationship, which would be obvious if the genders were reversed.
Still, Bell’s nuanced performance as a woman in early-onset mid-life crisis is good enough to warrant a look. And to its credit, the film, written and directed by first-time feature filmmaker Liz. W. Garcia, does acknowledge at least some societal censure of the sexual misbehavior, if only in the form of Leigh’s friend, Mel (Mamie Gummer), an assistant high-school principal. Gummer, the daughter of Meryl Streep, turns in an eminently watchable performance as a woman struggling with her own marriage. As for what to do about her icky best friend, Mel is steadfastly ethical.
More bizarrely, the boy’s father (John Finn) pretty much shrugs off the affair.
That’s probably because his son Jason, by the unexpectedly dark end of the film, has experienced far worse trauma than anything inflicted on him by Leigh. “The Lifeguard” is a much heavier film than “Hello I Must Be Going,” and involves plot elements about homosexuality and suicide.
Despite its flaws and blind spots, “The Lifeguard” is not bad at all. It presents a mostly honest appraisal of what it feels like to be so lost that your moral compass doesn’t even work. -- M.O.
R. Contains sex, nudity, drug use, obscenity and smoking. 98 minutes. Available via Amazon Instant, Google Play, iTunes, Netflix and Vudu.
SOME VELVET MORNING
“Some Velvet Morning” represents something of a return to form for Neil LaBute, the playwright known for his acidic dialogue and bleak, hyper-aware social commentary. He directed 2010’s American adaptation of “Death at a Funeral,” and wrote “Some Girl(s).” With “Some Velvet Morning,” LaBute gives viewers the intense, razor-tongued, twisty little mind game they grew to love (or loathe) with “In the Company of Men” and “Your Friends and Neighbors.”
As “Some Velvet Morning” opens, a beautiful young woman reclines, listening to music, her red dress and blonde hair rendered as impressionistic blurs. But Velvet (Alice Eve) eventually comes into focus, after she answers the doorbell to find Fred (Stanley Tucci) standing on the stoop of her attractively appointed New York brownstone. He’s finally ended his 24-year marriage, he announces while bringing in his baggage, while his wife was at the store.
What ensues over the next hour and twenty minutes is an intriguing real-time exercise in mental and emotional jiu-jitsu, a funny, angry, talky examination of the darker vagaries of human motivation and moral reasoning. As this smart, swift two-hander finally makes its intentions clear, it’s classic LaBute through and through.
The sarcastic, embittered Fred is a role Tucci was born for, his tightly-coiled humor and menace perfectly serving a character whose interior coloration changes in as much time as it takes to run up a flight of stairs or walk from the kitchen to the patio. Eve, a British actress best known to most viewers for her role in this past summer’s “Star Trek Into Darkness,” possesses just the angelic but expressive poker face that Velvet needs to keep Fred wondering exactly where they stand.
Like that first shot, “Some Velvet Morning” eventually comes into sharper and sharper focus. Even that tastefully accessorized house turns out to have a subtext in a deft sleight of hand that will leave the audience just where the filmmaker wants them: unsettled, provoked and more than a little angry.
There are moments in “Some Velvet Morning” when viewers may think LaBute has simply created a showcase for two accomplished actors working at the top of their games, but that turns out to be the ultimate, craftily delivered point. -- A.H.
Unrated. Contains profanity, sexual references, a sexual situation and adult themes. 83 minutes. Available via Amazon Instant, iTunes and on-demand cable.
VEGGIE TALES: MERRY LARRY AND THE TRUE LIGHT OF CHRISTMAS
It’s been 20 years since the first “VeggieTales” cartoon premiered with its hopping, talking animated vegetables offering up family-friendly, faith-based diversions. Last year, when DreamWorks bought VeggieTales owner Big Idea Entertainment, some might have wondered if changes were afoot for the straight-to-video cartoons.
“VeggieTales: Merry Larry and the True Light of Christmas” proves there are some surprises. The most noticeable is the movie’s collaborators, who are better known in mainstream pop culture. The narrator, Silas, is voiced by Si Robertson, one of the camo-clad stars of TV’s “Duck Dynasty,” and the closing credits unspool to a new Christmas tune by top-40 singer Owl City.
Other than the semi-flashy names, the VeggieTales formula remains intact. This is a film aimed at keeping the Christ in Christmas, and its message sounds like a much softer version of Pope Francis’s recent headline-making exhortation against materialism. Christmas isn’t just about presents; it’s about giving, kindness and helping others.
The story follows the somewhat incompetent Merry Larry, a cucumber who works at a shopping mall (but only because he’s the owner’s nephew) and dresses as a Christmas elf each holiday season, taking notes on what all the fledgling soybeans and baby tomatoes want from Santa. He’s especially touched by a little girl — or peapod of some kind, it’s hard to say — who wants nothing for herself for Christmas. She’s collecting money to help her elderly neighbor, whose dilapidated house looks like it may soon be condemned.
Larry ends up at odds with the consultants his uncle brings in to amp up the mall’s aesthetics. One of them, Bob, sings that Christmas is all about lights, but Larry believes it’s really about love.
Of course, Larry is right. The problem is that with no real villain, the movie can feel dull. This may be the only time a rotten vegetable would have been a welcome sight. On a recent viewing of “Merry Larry,” a 7-year-old was fairly entranced, but the movie had a harder time connecting with viewers both younger and much older. This isn’t Pixar, with jokes aimed at entertaining adults (unless they really like puns). Then again, Pixar doesn’t serve up the kinds of moral lessons some parents might want their children to receive. -- S.M.