On Saturday, I saw my sixth and almost certainly final movie of the summer: "In A World...," the indie comedy written by, directed by, and starring Lake Bell, about an aspiring voice actress trying to break into the male-dominated world of movie trailer narration. It is, as that description would suggest, a small movie, but also a smart, funny, and at times very poignant one. It also fits into a rich tradition of actors whom the business doesn't quite know what to do with — Bell tends to be cast as the strange woman the hero abandons for his true love interest — deciding that the best way to show what they can do is to write a showcase for themselves. Sylvester Stallone did it with "Rocky," Jon Favreau with "Swingers" (which was also showcasing his buddy Vince), Matt Damon and Ben Affleck with "Good Will Hunting," and here Bell has written the best part anyone's ever given her. There are the usual glitches of any first-time feature director, but Bell demonstrates — and pardon the terrible pun, given the subject matter, but it's the best word that applies here — a real voice as both writer and director. It's a movie that's about something, in addition to having a lot of good jokes, a sweet romance, etc.
(Fienberg wrote a much longer review of the movie — which has a cast peppered with Bell's "Childrens Hospital" pals like Ken Marino, Rob Corddry, Nick Offerman and Michaela Watkins, plus Sy Ableman himself, Fred Melamed — when he saw it at Sundance. Like him, I'm glad she let Jason O'Mara play Irish for once; like most foreigners playing American, he's vastly more interesting when he's talking like himself.)
"The Heat," for instance, could have just coasted on Melissa McCarthy doing slapstick, but it takes the time to develop a funny and three-dimensional relationship between her and Sandra Bullock, and it's the rare action comedy that's able to neatly balance the jokes, the shootouts and the pathos. "This Is The End" could have been a very expensive in-joke among the Apatow Family Players, but it has an actual story to tell about friendship, and the jokes work (and are impressively sick and twisted). "Iron Man 3" is, like most superhero sequels, too busy, but the Shane Black/Robert Downey Jr. reunion brought just enough wise-ass "Kiss Kiss Bang Bang" flavor into the sequel to make me happy and erase memories of the second movie.
As for the other indies, the half of "The Way Way Back" that's blatantly aping "Meatballs" (with Sam Rockwell as Bill Murray and Liam James as Rudy) was a lot of fun, and the psychodrama back at the beach house worked well enough, with Steve Carell making a surprisingly plausible heel. And "The Spectacular Now"(*) not only features interesting supporting turns from TV favorite actors like Andre Royo (Bubbs as guidance counselor!), Bob Odenkirk (Saul Goodman, haberdasher!) and, especially, Kyle Chandler (mean-ass drunk Coach!), but told a great, non-formulaic teen love story and was a fantastic showcase for Miles Teller.
(*) Full disclosure: I worked at the college newspaper with co-screenwriter Scott Neustadter.
So I came away from my time at the cinema happy this summer. I know based on the mixed reaction to some of the bigger films (including a few I mentioned above that are on my to-do list) not everybody had as strong a batting average with their own viewing choices. So if we can talk about the films you saw this summer — the good, the bad, and the ugly — without major spoilers for those who haven't seen them yet (I feel like I already know much too much about how "Man of Steel" ends, for instance), now seems like a good day to try.
What did you see? What did you like? What did you wish you'd never bought a ticket for? And what came and went from theaters before you had a chance to see it?