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Reviews for July 3rd, 2009

I Hate Valentine’s Day

Directed by Nia Vardalos.

Genevieve (Nia Vardalos), a single woman, lives in Brooklyn where she owns a flower shop. When it comes to dating guys, she only goes on five dates with each one and immediately ends the relationship at that point, in fear of getting hurt as the romantic spark wanes. One day, Greg (John Corbett) walks into her flower shop and she instantly has her eyes set on him. He owns a new restaurant in Brooklyn called Get on Tapas—-a pun that every character he mentions the name to takes a while to understand. Soon enough, Genevieve and Greg go on their first date while playing by the 5-date rule. What might happen when Genevieve falls in love with him during those five dates and wants more? Anyone who has ever watched a romantic comedy before should already know the answer to that question. The real question is whether or not you want Genevieve and Greg to fall with one another to begin with. Unfortunately, writer/director Nia Vardalos, in her directorial debut, makes them both seem like dumb, immature teenagers rather than real, intelligent grown-ups. Much of their interactions feel contrived with stilted dialogue. Genevieve’s neurotic behavior gets annoying very quickly. It’s ironic that she could use a lot of therapy, yet her friends consult her for advice. Perhaps they’re just as bird-brained and simple-minded as her. There’s not a single scene throughout the film that feels authentic or genuinely endearing. Moreover, the attempts at generating laughter fall flat with poor comic timing and comedic material that’s simply inane and tedious—-how many times do you have to watch the reaction of others to the restaurant name Get on Tapas? Even Zoe Kazan, who’s so radiant in The Exploding Girl, doesn’t have a chance to shine here in a small role as a flower shop employee. Here’s some advice to Nia Vardalos if she wishes to write/direct another film: please edit the script to make it flow at least somewhat naturally à la When Harry Met Sally… , Once or even, more recently, the funny and tender Belgian film Moscow, Belgium. At a running time of 98 minutes, I Hate Valentine’s Day manages to be a contrived, juvenile and painfully unfunny romantic comedy.
Number of times I checked my watch: 6
Released by IFC Films.
Opens at the Quad Cinema.

Lion’s Den

Directed by Pablo Trapero.

In Spanish with subtitles. Julia (Martina Gusman) wakes up one morning with blood on her hands, takes a shower a shower and heads off to class at a university. When she arrives back to the apartment, she discovers her lover, Nahuel, and his gay lover, Ramiro (Rodrigo Santoro), lying on the floor seriously wounded. The police arrive to arrest her and, after Ramiro testifies against her, she’s sent to a special prison ward for women with children. She doesn’t want to have the child and repeatedly hits her stomach repeatedly inside her jail cell in anger and frustration. Once she gives birth to her baby, named Tomás, she gradually calms down and learns to appreciate being a mother while doing everything possible to protect her son. Tomás initially weans only from Marta (Laura Garcia), Julia’s cellmate, who becomes a close friend and lover of Julia throughout their prison sentence, but after many attempts, he finally weans from his own mother. In an interesting turn of events, Julia’s estranged mother, Sofia (Elli Medeiros), eventually shows up and takes Tomás away from her for a while. At that point, Julia becomes determined to do anything in her power to get Tomás back from her, so, with the help of Marta, she stages a rebellion at the prison. The intelligent, well-focused screenplay by director/co-writer Pablo Trapero brings the complex character of Julia to life even though you don’t really know that much her or how she met her boyfriend, Nahuel, to begin with. Trapero has a knack for showing the gritty realities of prison life for Julia without veering toward any silly subplots or melodrama. He also includes a well-chosen soundtrack and terrific cinematography. Martina Gusman delivers an utterly convincing and raw performance as Julia which helps you to stay engrossed from start to finish. As you watch Julia go through her ordeal, you want her to escape from prison as much as she wants to so that she could take care of her beloved son peacefully. Ultimately, Lion’s Den manages to be a thoroughly captivating and engrossing drama with a raw, unforgettable performance by Martina Gusman.
Number of times I checked my watch: 0
Released by Strand Releasing.
Opens at the IFC Center.

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