Last updateMon, 20 Apr 2020 1pm

The Lovebirds—the latest Michael Showalter effort—caught my eye before it was originally scheduled to be released in theaters in April. The Wet Hot American Summer co-architect had made his best film as a director a couple years back, The Big Sick, and The Lovebirds has him re-teaming with that film’s star, Kumail Nanjiani.

The film wound up being sold to Netflix, and Showalter has taken the romantic-comedy to new, deranged levels here, pairing Nanjiani with Issa Rae—and the two have crazy chemistry. The plot has them as a married couple hitting the skids before being thrust into a nightmarish night after they hit a dude on his bicycle and subsequently witness that dude’s murder.

The plot mechanisms are fairly standard; what isn’t standard are the hilarious observations and dialogue that keep this consistently and undeniably funny. The two stars exude an anything-can-happen vibe, even when the script is following a typical rom-com road map. It’s actually fun to watch a talented team like this take a standard formula and own it.

Showalter’s deft touch is all over the place; the man is one of the planet’s funniest people, and that always shines through in his directorial efforts. (The Baxter, his 2005 film, is an egregiously underrated film.) The Lovebirds represents his ability to take a typical plot line, turn it inside out—and weave magic.

The Lovebirds is now streaming on Netflix.

Published in DVDs/Home Viewing

The ballad of Mickey and Gus (Gillian Jacobs and Paul Rust) comes to a satisfying conclusion in the third and final season of Love on Netflix.

Whenever I watched this show, co-produced by Judd Apatow, I wound up binging it over the weekend it came out. In other words … I watched all of the episodes quickly—and happily. Rust and Jacobs have proven to be one of TV’s all-time-great, and most-realistic, couples since the show premiered in 2016, and I’m actually quite sorry to see their saga has ended. I would like to see a season of this every year until I die.

Season 3 starts with two episodes directed by Michael Showalter, who hit his big-screen stride with last year’s The Big Sick. Showalter starts the season off with sure footing, and the momentum continues thereafter. Apatow himself directs an episode, all of which are consistently hilarious.

On top of the entertaining Mickey and Gus dysfunction, Claudia O’Doherty continues getting laughs as Bertie, Mickey’s roommate. Season 3 spends more time on Bertie and her strange boyfriend, Randy (Mike Mitchell), a relationship as funny as the central one.

Mickey and Gus still fight all the way up to the show’s ending, which I found to be incredibly heartwarming … and a little insane. That’s how this show made me feel the entire time watching it.

Love is now streaming on Netflix.

Published in DVDs/Home Viewing

Wet Hot American Summer: Ten Years Later is the third trip to Camp Firewood after the original film (Wet Hot American Summer) and the Netflix prequel series (Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp), and it’s the least-funny of the three.

It’s still one of the funniest things you will find on television.

Most of the group is back again for the eight-episode series, by writer-director David Wain and writer Michael Showalter. At the end of the original movie, the camp counselors (including Showalter, Michael Ian Black, Amy Poehler, Bradley Cooper and Janeane Garofalo) promised to reunite 10 years later to see how things turned out. Here, they do just that, with their reunion threatened by an evil Ronald Reagan (Showalter) and George H.W. Bush (Michael Ian Black, in what has to be the worst and most hilarious George Bush impersonation ever). The two presidents want to nuke the place for nonsensical reasons.

Cooper, a superstar actor now, had to drop out (though he’s replaced in a very funny way by Adam Scott), while Ant-Man himself, Paul Rudd, manages to return as rebel Andy. This time out, Andy is sporting grunge long hair, and it often looks like he is inserted into group shots in post-production, probably because Rudd couldn’t stick around for the whole shoot. Wain finds ways to make this obvious and, yes, very funny.

There are a lot of early ’90s references. Wain is the king of wiseass humor, and this might be the most wiseass effort of them all. The humor involves a young Reagan taking spherical shits; Ken Marino’s Victor and his still pathetic virginity; and a psycho nanny played by series newcomer Alyssa Milano. Elizabeth Banks spends most of the show in a separate storyline. A moment in which a door is slammed on her hand made me laugh harder than I have all year.

This series seems like a final chapter, with everything winding up in one of those clever ’90s twist endings. However, I hope they continue to get the band together for years to come. The world needs the continuing saga of Camp Firewood.

Wet Hot American Summer: Ten Years Later is now streaming on Netflix.

Published in DVDs/Home Viewing

The Big Sick is a romantic comedy like no other. Yes, two people fall in love—but that’s about all The Big Sick has in common with your average romantic comedy. This film is an amazing beast off in its own category.

Real-life couple Kumail Nanjiani (Silicon Valley) and Emily V. Gordon penned the script based on their own courtship. Nanjiani plays himself, while the eternally awesome Zoe Kazan (Ruby Sparks) steps into the role of Emily. Their story is incredible, and the way it is presented here—by a fine ensemble under the direction of the great Michael Showalter (Hello, My Name Is Doris, Wet Hot American Summer)—results in one of the year’s best films.

Kumail is a standup comedian trying to make it in Chicago when Emily takes in one of his sets. The two wind up in bed together, with Kumail actually being the Uber driver who has to take her home. They have a good time, but they vow to never see each other again.

That doesn’t last long, and the two wind up in a relationship—one that Kumail keeps secret from his Pakistani parents (Anupam Kher and Zenobia Shroff), who are trying to arrange a wife for him. Things get complicated, and the two of them split. Things get even more complicated when Emily winds up in the emergency room with flu-like symptoms, and Kumail is called upon by her friends to check on her.

After an awkward hospital visit, Emily winds up in an induced coma, with Kumail informing her parents (Ray Romano and Holly Hunter). As Emily’s situation worsens, Kumail, technically her ex-boyfriend, spends a lot of time with her parents—and a lot of time coming to terms with his feelings for Emily.

Nothing you know about Ray Romano will prepare you for just how damn good he is as Terry, Emily’s sensitive dad. I mean, the man was funny on Everybody Loves Raymond, but who knew he could not only do drama, but more than hold his own with an epic Holly Hunter? He has a scene in Kumail’s apartment, where he reveals details of his marital tensions, that will stand as one of the year’s best-acted scenes. He’s a legitimate Best Supporting Actor Oscar contender.

Hunter is right there along with him when it comes to Oscar worthiness. Her Beth is a strong-willed person—so strong that she practically beats up a frat boy who is heckling Kumail at one of his gigs. Hunter is always good, but this role is her best in years. It’s also her funniest turn since playing Edwina in Raising Arizona 30 years ago. (Yes, Raising Arizona came out 30 years ago. Let that linger for a moment.)

Showalter—who actually spoofed romantic comedies when he co-wrote the script for 2014’s They Came Together starring Paul Rudd and Amy Poehler—rides the film’s shifting tones like an expert surfer. There are so many ways in which this movie could’ve gone wrong, but it’s never melodramatic or kitschy or cutesy. It deals with every relationship, cultural issue and family problem in an incisive way—all while making you laugh and cry. Hats off to Showalter.

Nanjiani, like Romano, has shown a stellar ability to make people laugh with past projects, but he delivers a range of emotions here that should lead him to dramatic roles for the foreseeable future, if he wants them. He is yet another Oscar contender—and even though her character spends a good chunk of this movie asleep, don’t count out Kazan, either, an actress of extreme power.

I don’t think I’ve ever before had to use my T-shirt sleeve to dab away tears from both laughing and crying while watching a movie in public. The Big Sick got me both ways—and it will get you, too.

The Big Sick is playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews

Sally Field plays the title character in Hello, My Name Is Doris; she’s a 60-something office worker who gets a crush on John (Max Greenfield), a much younger co-worker. The two become friendly, and then Doris gets a little carried away into a fantasy world regarding John. Yes, she’s a bit of a stalker, but it’s Sally Field doing the stalking, so it winds up being kind of cute.

Directed by Michael Showalter (The Baxter, Wet Hot American Summer), the film mixes goofy comedy with some laughs of a darker variety. Field, who hasn’t had a chance to shine in a comedy in a long while, gives us a multi-dimensional character to go with the laughs. Greenfield is excellent as the object of Doris’ desire, and he actually has a palpable chemistry with Field. You never really know if something might happen between Doris and John; even though Field is 30 years older … hey, it’s Sally Field.

Showalter, who co-wrote the film with Laura Terruso, put together a nice supporting cast including Stephen Root and Tyne Daly. Showalter didn’t get his due with his sweet and funny feature-directing debut, The Baxter. His movies show he can go beyond the realms of outrageous comedies and deliver material with a dramatic oomph … while still managing to be a bit silly.

Hello My Name Is Doris is playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews

Michael Showalter is best known as one of the creators and stars of the cult classic Wet Hot American Summer and its prequel, the hilarious 2015 Netflix series, Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp.

He’s a veteran of legendary comedy troupes The State and Stella. In 2014, he co-wrote the funny rom-com spoof They Came Together, co-starring Paul Rudd and Amy Poehler; it was co-written and directed by his fellow State and Stella alumnus, David Wain.

In 2005, he made his feature-directing debut with The Baxter, a criminally underrated and charming comedy starring himself, Elizabeth Banks, Michelle Williams and Justin Theroux.

Now, 11 years later comes his sophomore feature-directing effort, Hello, My Name Is Doris, starring the one and only Sally Field.

Field plays the title character, an oddly dressed cubicle-dweller who falls in love with a much-younger man (Max Greenfield) at the workplace. This results in strange workplace fantasies and a gloriously awkward friendship between the two.

Showalter recently took the time to talk about working with Sally Field, the future of Wet Hot, and what it’s been like to work with other screen legends.

Doris started as a short film. Doris and the Intern, by Laura Terruso, who went on to write the feature script with you. Did Laura always intend for the Doris character to have a feature film? Was this a sort of Whiplash situation, where a director makes a short as a pitch for a feature?

No … no. I was teaching screenwriting at the NYU (Tisch School for the Arts) graduate film school, and Laura was a student—not one of mine, but she was around. She made the short film, and I just thought the main character was really funny. We became friends and started talking about writing something together. After much trial and error with other ideas, we actually came back to: “What if we expanded Doris into a feature?” It wasn’t at all Laura’s initial intent to make Doris into a feature, but I started to see the feature version in my mind. She created that character, and then we took that character and ran with it.

The short is a little darker and sillier than the eventual feature.

In the short, Doris is just kind of a kooky old lady who gets a crush on a younger guy. For the feature, we added the friendships, and the hoarding, the whole hipster angle and the mother and brother. We imagined a whole new world around her and a new story.

At what stage in the production did Sally Field get involved? Did you write the expanded Doris part with someone like her, or her specifically, in mind?

Not her specifically, and only because I would never have assumed she would do the movie. She’s a Hollywood icon. You don’t assume someone like her would do a little movie like this. I mean, she’s not someone who does a lot of independent film. She’s never done one, as far as I know. During the process, we did feel like, “Wouldn’t it be unbelievable if Sally Field could play this part?” because it’s perfect for her. The Doris character is this amalgamation of so many qualities that Sally Field possesses. So we sent the script to her agent, thinking nothing would come of it, and then this amazing thing happened in that she read it and responded to the material. The rest is history.

I was looking back at Sally Field’s career. She hasn’t really headlined a comedy since 1991’s Soapdish.

Yeah, I know.

Doris has a lot of dramatic punch to go with the laughs. Did the script always have that strong dramatic element, or was it an adjustment you made after Sally got involved, knowing that she could knock the dramatic stuff out of the park?

The script always had the dramatic scenes in there. It was always written to be funny and sad. Getting an actress like Sally really made the movie everything it could possibly be. She took the role and ran with it. If it was going to be a great actress, but not one necessarily of Sally’s caliber, then it was going to be more about making a great movie that people really like, but maybe that character wouldn’t be loved as much as it will be now that Sally is in the role. When Sally said she would do the movie, immediately, my role was to just give her everything she needs to do her work. My job as director was to help her, and give her whatever support she needed to deliver the performance she wanted to give and was capable of giving.

There is one scene in particular featuring Sally and Stephen Root as her brother, where Doris has a bit of a meltdown. That’s a real turning point in the movie. It’s a pretty brutal moment for a comedy.

Yeah, we liked the idea that the audience would be convinced the brother was a bad guy. And then Stephen gets to show that the character has this different side to him, and all of the sudden, you realize that nothing in the film is quite as it seems, and nobody is exactly how we think they are. That scene is kind of the scene that sets up how the movie is going to end: Doris is going to have to get herself out of that house, and out of her situation somehow.

Max Greenfield, hilarious as the brother in They Came Together, plays John, the object of Doris’ office crush. Was his involvement in Together what got him involved in Doris?

Yes! I met Max while making Together. Obviously, he’s a kind of hotshot young actor. It was great when we got him for that film, and he and I became quite friendly. At the time we were making Together, I was writing Doris, and he was just perfect for the John character. Max actually was the first person to sign on for Doris.

He has terrific chemistry with Sally Field. You believe that two people who are three decades apart actually might have a shot romantically. Now, I get a sense that Sally Field must bring an amazing, positive energy to any film set she is on.

Completely. I mean, she’s a hard-worker, and she’s a no B.S. kind of person. It’s not like she’s George Clooney, pranking everybody on set. She’s all business, and she’s very serious about the work. And she expects the same of everybody else.

I think I’ve had a crush on her since I was about 10 years old, up until … well, let me think … now. I still have a crush on her now.

Yeah, me too. Me too. When you were saying the relationship between her and Max is convincing, it’s, like, not very hard to act like you could have a crush on Sally Field.

The cast also includes Tyne Daly, Natasha Lyonne, Peter Gallagher and SNL’s Kyle Mooney. You also have musician Jack Antonoff (of Fun., Bleachers and Taylor Swift fame) making his feature-acting debut as Baby Goya of the fictional band Baby Goya and the Nuclear Winters. Is the music he plays in the film specifically created for it?

Yes. Laura and I wrote the song titles and created the character of Baby Goya and then cast Jack. We basically asked Jack if he would consider writing songs, based on these song titles, in the character of Baby Goya. So you hear two songs in the film by Baby Goya and the Nuclear Winters. One is “Dance, Rascal, Dance” and the other one is called “Lasers and Lace.” He wrote those songs with his band Bleachers, and that’s his band Bleachers in the movie with him.

You are doing a lot of directing jobs besides Doris. I just watched the episode of Love, the new comedy show from Judd Apatow, which you directed for the Netflix series. What is it with Netflix all of the sudden? Four years ago, you would be lucky to find Phantasm 17 streaming on a Saturday night, and now it’s the comedy hub of the universe.

I know.

With your episode of Love; The Baxter movie, Coop’s troublesome plight in Wet Hot American Summer; They Came Together; and now Doris, you are becoming the king, modern architect of awkward romantic comedies.

Oh, thank you.

You also got to direct yet another project for Netflix, an episode of Grace and Frankie, starring Lily Tomlin and Jane Fonda.

Yes, and I think Sally Field helped me get that job. She’s friends with Jane Fonda. I told her I was up for the gig, and she said, “OK, let me e mail Jane right away.” So Sally e mails Jane Fonda and says, “He’s great; you should work with him!”

Just like that, you’ve found yourself working with three legendary screen actresses in the last couple of years. Did you get to show Lily Tomlin your incredible re-enactment of her epic I Heart Huckabees battle with director David O. Russell? The shockingly authentic one you did with Paul Rudd on your Internet series The Michael Showalter Showalter?

Funny you should ask, because I didn’t even think about doing that. No, I was just too intimidated to barely say anything. All of these great actresses are so intimidating, even though they are all very nice people. They are completely humble in every sense, but they just don’t realize that for someone like mem who grew up watching them and fantasizing about one day being in the industry, they just don’t know they are intimidating. And why should they? They’re just people. It’s so exciting to work with all of them. They are just so fantastic.

I have to ask a Wet Hot American Summer question. The prequel, Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp came out last year on Netflix and was a resounding success. Do you think there could be more?

100 percent … I think it’s going to happen.

Oh, wow!

99.9 percent I think it’s going to happen.

Uh oh … that’s less than 100 percent! Maybe another prequel where you are all in your deep 50s playing teenagers? Do you think it will happen quickly, like, in a year? Or will it take more than a decade like the last time?

You can take this however you want, but I have no comment on how long it’s going to take.

Do you have any parting words regarding Doris?

I hope people see it. I think it’s a good movie, and I’m really proud of it. I think it’s something everybody can enjoy. Sally Field gives an amazing performance that nobody should miss.

Given the dramatic undertones in Doris, can we expect a more purely dramatic effort from you?

I would love to do that.

Hello, My Name Is Doris is now playing at four theaters across the valley.

Published in Previews and Features

One of the summer’s best bets isn’t in theaters; it’s on Netflix.

David Wain and Michael Showalter have finally birthed their Wet Hot American Summer prequel as an eight-episode Netflix series. However, I see it more as a four-hour movie feast of dick and fart humor.

The film takes place in the same year (1981) as the film did, but this time, it’s the first day of camp rather than the last day. Everybody has returned, and there has been no effort to make the likes of Showalter, Janeane Garofalo, Bradley Cooper and Amy Poehler look any younger. Oddly enough, Paul Rudd, A.D. Miles and Michael Ian Black somehow look younger than they did in the 2001 film.

New additions to the cast include Kristen Wiig, Jon Hamm and Jason Schwartzman, and they make the day at Camp Firewood all the more special. Ken Marino’s character is even more of a virgin than he was in the original (he punches his own cock a lot), and Christopher Meloni’s Gene the Cook is living a lie with a secret identity. We also find out how his can of vegetables attained its voice.

Because this is set in the ’80s, toxic waste, bad gym shorts and “Weird Al” Yankovic all play prominent roles. If you hated the original film, you will hate this, and I feel sorry for you. If you regard the original as one of the funniest movies ever made, as I do, then this stuff is heaven—and we need more.

New songs include the Pat Benatar-like “Heart Attack of Love” and Paul Rudd’s searing rendition of “Champagne Eyes.” Paul Rudd singing is something to be cherished.

Published in DVDs/Home Viewing

David Wain and Michael Showalter, longtime collaborators who are two of the funniest men on the planet, have put together a great goof on romantic comedies with They Came Together, a perfect vehicle for Paul Rudd and Amy Poehler.

Wain directs from a script co-written with Showalter, and it turns out to be a nice companion piece to their brilliant summer-camp parody Wet Hot American Summer, one of the 10 funniest movies ever made. Wet Hot also featured Rudd and Poehler, performers who are right at home with the Wain-Showalter brand of bizarre, random rapid-fire humor. The film takes pokes at drippy rom-coms, most notably the Tom Hanks-Meg Ryan barfer You’ve Got Mail, while still being a legitimate, authentic romantic comedy.

Wain and Showalter use the age-old framing device of two couples talking and reminiscing about relationships over dinner and wine. Joel (Rudd) and Molly (Poehler) reveal that their meeting was a “corny romantic comedy kind of story,” and indeed, it is.

We then see Joel and Molly as two recently dumped individuals living in Manhattan and toiling away on opposite sides of the candy-trade spectrum. Molly owns a little candy shop called Upper Sweet Side; Joel works for an evil corporate candy company opening across the street. They meet for the first time at a costume party—both dressed as Benjamin Franklin, and both not really interested in meeting anybody. While Joel is a corporate drone, he longs to start a little coffee shop called Cup of Joel. Molly just wants to give all of her candy money away to charity.

Things begin badly for the couple, but start picking up when the two meet at a bookstore and discover they both like fiction books, of all things. They then go through all of the standard new-couple-falling-in-love-against-all-odds scenarios, with Joel being the handsome-but-not-so-much-that-he’s-threatening prototype, and Molly the fussy, clumsy, breakfast-cereal-consuming kind of girl.

The almighty Michael Ian Black (the third member of the legendary Stella troupe, along with Wain and Showalter) scores laughs as Trevor, Joel’s competitive co-worker who is trying to steal both Joel’s promotion and Joel’s girlfriend, a woman Tiffany Amber Thigpen (a Saved By the Bell joke!). We know he’s trying to steal Joel’s girlfriend, because he takes a rubber out of the rubber bowl (yes, a hard-candy dish full of loose rubbers) right after mentioning her.

Christopher Meloni is on board as Joel’s boss; he has a superhero-costume mishap in what becomes one of the year’s funniest movie scenes. Ed Helms plays a well-meaning loser who tries to move in on Molly when she and Joel get into trouble.

The movie goes through many of the rom-com standard moments, including dinner at Molly’s frighteningly odd parents’ house; musical montages during which Molly tries on outfits for Joel (she settles on a suit of armor); and romping in a pile of leaves at the park, with the pile of leaves, of course, containing a surprise they fail to notice. The film hits its comedic apex during a dinner date featuring a waiter with a pole up his ass.

In a perfect world, Wain and Showalter would make a movie like They Came Together every three or four days, but I guess we have to settle for once a decade. Or maybe not—because Wain spoke of a potential Wet Hot American Summer prequel while promoting this film on the talk-show circuit. The project has even been proposed as a mini-series for Netflix.

The film is available for rental via online sources including iTunes and, and is also available on demand. Watch it—not only because it will make you laugh a lot, but because its success could mean somebody will bankroll the Wet Hot prequel. I want that Wet Hot prequel!

Published in Reviews