The women in "The Banger Sisters" are being labeled as modern day versions of Lucy Ricardo and Ethel Mertz by blurbs in promotional spots on television, but somehow I doubt that those two sitcom ladies would ever want to be associated with the bewildering stuff that we witness Susan Sarandon and Goldie Hawn resort to during the course of this awkward 97-minute sisterhood comedy. In their own warped realities, smoking joint after joint and staring at collections of photos featuring musician genitalia were merely common pastimes, but to those of us on the opposite side of the screen, such incidents almost have to be seen to be believed, especially when they involve actresses who are generally better known for more innocent things in their screen careers. That doesn't mean what they do is exactly crucial enough to tarnish the movie's credibility, but it does tend to make the experience a little too brazen for its own good.
The alienation of American youth knows no restrictions when it comes to someone like Jason Slocumb Jr. (Kieran Culkin), a 17-year-old boy who finds himself at the beginning of "Igby Goes Down" in the midst of a messy personal war fueled by family, society and culture, sometimes all in the same breath. What this adolescent but underestimated slacker faces on his trek towards individual freedom isn't necessarily anything out of the norm, but his own twisted interpretation makes it seem that way. Through his eyes, life is made up of countless losers who spend too much of their time pretending to be someone they aren't. Jason's goal (at least during the course of the picture) is simply to sit around and absorb the simplicities laid out at his disposal. The only complex details are the disagreements he faces with those around him, who tilt their heads like they understand his perspective, holding back the hard truths that would no doubt send him hurling obscenities at their seeming disapproval of his choices.
It is often said that certain actors are able to elevate potentially-lethal movie material to a tolerable level simply based on their own screen presence. If that's indeed a true omen, then Reese Witherspoon must be exactly that kind of performer. The sweetness and charm that she exhibits through many of her roles is some of the most infectious since Audrey Hepburn's, even though the roles themselves are nothing to be proud of. When she shows up in the new "Sweet Home Alabama," we don't care about what happens to other characters or how the plot plays out. Good thing, too; minus the vivacious charm of its lead star, the movie would have easily been a waste of celluloid.
The service of photographs in "One Hour Photo" is as fundamental to the premise as the red roses in Sam Mendes' "American Beauty," in which ordinary items that pass though our daily lives without much importance take on an identity of their own when they fall into the hands of someone outside of the norm. In writer/director Mark Romanek's feature film about a reclusive and mysterious anti-hero who works a retail chain's photo processing division like it were a lost art form, seemingly innocent little snapshots of everyday events are rescued from the clutches of passive American photographers and treated like rare precious gems, each signifying a moment in one's life that was crucial enough to garner a camera's focus. Why do people not see the beauty of each and every frame on a negative strip? Why do they place their development in the hands of complete strangers who care nothing about their content? Such questions are the everyday musings of Sy Parrish, a middle-aged nobody whose obsession with the printed images slowly begins to blur the lines separating lucidity from alienation. To him, pictures aren't simply forgotten treasures or abused artifacts, either; in fact, photos themselves become his only link to any feasible reality, even if the reality itself turns out to be somewhat disturbing.
The plethora of jokes that find their way into the bowels of "Stealing Harvard" occupy the screen like early drafts of wisecracks featured in "There's Something About Mary" and "American Pie," tossing around the essence of bad taste without ever actually getting to a punch line. You are no doubt familiar with the concept of gross-out comedy and all its contingencies, but do you truly know the difference between that which is successful and that which is not? The audience of a recent promotional screening for the film certainly didn't, as they zealously chuckled through the 84-minute endeavor like undernourished preteens who hadn't seen a good comedy in years. Considering the frightening consistency of their laughs, it wouldn't surprise me in the least if that were true.