Everything's Trash isn't, Where the Crawdads Sing doesn't, and Dakota Johnson's Persuasion lacks
Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris
In theaters now
They don't really make fairy tales for women over 40. If they did, though, it might look a little like Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris — a featherweight meringue of a movie so sweet it threatens to float away on its own sugar high, if not for the sheer generosity of the story's premise and luminous commitment of its lead actress. Lesley Manville, Oscar-nominated for 2017's The Phantom Thread, stars as Ada Harris, a middle-aged housekeeper long accustomed to scrubbing the floors of ingenues and aristocrats in post-war London. She lives alone in a modest tenement, passing after-work hours at the pub or the racetrack with her cheerful best friend (Ellen Thomas) and holding out hope that the soldier husband long missing in action will return to her.
Utterly smitten one day by a bedazzled wisp of Christian Dior hanging in an employer's closet, Ada decides to put all her chips in one haute-couture basket: Dior, or die trying. And so she takes her life savings direct to the source, ready to knock on the atelier's door and bring home the gown of her dreams (in cash). Director Anthony Fabian, working from the 1958 novel by Paul Gallico, has frothed that basic plot into an engaging wisp of magic realism, featuring a London and Paris fit and stage-lit for a 1950s musical.
The script is hardly a stickler for historical accuracy — everything, including disparities of race and class, pass through Fabian's rose-colored filter, and Ada actually utters the phrase "You go, girl" at one point unself-consciously. Still, Manville, who will take over the role of Princess Margaret on The Crown this fall, and Isabelle Huppert (playing Dior's sniffy maîtresse, indignant as a ruffled house cat) bring depth and charge to their chocolate-box roles. And supporting actors, including Jason Isaacs as the kind-eyed bloke next door and Emily in Paris's Lucas Bravo as a secretly bohemian accountant, invest it all with a sort of warm, tender glow: gentle co-conspirators in Mrs. Harris's never-too-late dream of happily ever afters. Grade: B —Leah Greenblatt
Premieres July 15 on HBO
The only problem with Nathan Fielder is how hard it is to explain Nathan Fielder. An absurdist comedian who builds elaborate stunts inside elaborate stunts, Fielder previously headlined Comedy Central's wonderful Nathan For You, a reality-show goof that quickly evolved into a reality-warping psychodrama. Except, like, funny: Even at his most mindbending, Fielder's work is always hysterical, with a humane focus that clashes wildly with his Vulcan-monotone delivery.
Few TV shows have ever been more mindbending than The Rehearsal. In simple terms, the six-part series is about, well, rehearsals. Fielder brings in regular people with problems. One man must confess a years-long lie to a friend; another must reach an agreement with his brother; a single woman ponders the difficulties of committed relationships and parenthood. In his capacity as host, Fielder constructs elaborate simulated events around them. He hires actors to play their loved ones. He builds freakishly accurate sets, like a favorite bar with "a working simulation of the pizza oven," or a house with a fake baby where seasons change overnight. ("It turns out winter was very expensive to maintain.") And then he watches as the people — contestants? — live through tense situations over and over, preparing themselves for the actual events.
At least, that's how things start. But Fielder's particular brand of logical insanity means there's a twist every couple minutes. In the premiere, we see the comedian meet with the rehearsal subject in the man's apartment. And then we see a flashback to Fielder rehearsing for that first meeting, with an actor playing the regular person in a duplicate apartment Fielder secretly built without the man's knowledge. Things spiral from there. The creator's participation in the rehearsals shifts unexpectedly, and emotionally. "I was starting to lose track of which version of myself I was supposed to be in these rehearsals," Fielder admits. The result is something that can resemble a real-life Charlie Kaufman movie, or a less obviously malicious (but not un-scary) version of David Fincher's The Game. Sound weird? Trust me: Nathan's for you. Grade: A —Darren Franich
On Netflix now
We are living in the age of Revisionist Jane, a truth universally acknowledged by the cascade of Austen adaptions pumped out by studios and streaming services with almost head-spinning frequency over the last few decades. So far, there doesn't seem to be an end to the ways her timeless narratives can be tweaked and parlayed by the Hollywood machine. So why does Persuasion feel more like blasphemy than all the fizzy Fire Island updates and Beverly Hills teens that preceded it?
The book's Regency-era costumes and country manors at least arrive intact, and Dakota Johnson, her hair prettily curled and cadences polished, makes for a vivacious Anne Elliot: twentysomething spinster, neglected middle daughter of the English aristocracy, lover of novels and long walks. Then, alas, she starts talking — directly to the camera, as frequently and casually as Fleabag, or between swigs of Merlot while throwing off lines like "I'm single and thriving."
Anne has a father, a dimwitted peacock played by the great Richard E. Grant, and two insufferable sisters, both monuments to Kardashian self-absorption. She also once had a true love, naval officer Frederick Wentworth (Cosmo Jarvis), but he had no money or prospects, so she refused him. Seven years later, he returns, and so do the feelings between them — along with several competitors for their respective affections, including a dashing, disreputable cousin (Crazy Rich Asians' Henry Golding) and the radiant ingenue Louisa (Nia Towle).
Jarvis (Lady Macbeth) makes for a dashing hero with his die-cut jawline and Byronic sweep of hair, and Johnson is so naturally charming she nearly sells the idea of an Anne more suited to a high-concept dating show than the ball gowns and drawing rooms of Regency England. The script crackles and pops when it's not trying so hard to lather every line of dialogue in TikTok zingers and bitchy bits of flair. (When one character smirks, "It is often said that if you're a 5 in London, you're a 10 in Bath," a kitten dies somewhere.) It's never really clear, though, why this Persuasion chooses to reproduce the setting so faithfully but wear its source material like a thin disposable skin, discarding many of the vital organs (brain, heart) and most ideas of subtlety as it goes. Austen may be immortal, but she's not inexhaustible; maybe it's time to tell another story and let her rest in peace. Grade: C+ —LG
Wednesdays at 10 p.m. (Freeform)
She's hosted hit podcasts (2 Dope Queens, Sooo Many White Guys), authored best-selling books (You Can't Touch My Hair), and written for an Emmy-winning TV series (Portlandia) — so it's about time that someone gave Phoebe Robinson a star-vehicle sitcom. With its wispy premise and winning ensemble, Freeform's Everything's Trash offers an amusing enough platform for the writer-comedian and her smirky-silly appeal.
Inspired by Robinson's 2018 book of the same name, the comedy follows Phoebe Hill (Robinson), a blissfully single thirtysomething in New York City. When she's not hosting her hit podcast, Everything's Trash, with producer/bestie Malika (Toccarra Cash), Phoebe spends her time hooking up, teasing her endearingly uptight brother, Jayden (Jordan Carlos), and sister-in-law, Jessie (Nneka Okafor), and hanging out with her harmless-weirdo roommate, Michael (Moses Storm). The arrival of an intriguing love interest named Hamilton (Brandon Jay McLaren) prompts Phoebe to start questioning her "smash-and-dash" approach to love — though dating him could cause issues for Jayden's nascent political career.
The five episodes made available for review have a loose and casual charm. We tag along as Phoebe lives her life: Using a rich lady's bathtub while canvassing for Jayden in a Brooklyn neighborhood; dragging a one-night stand to the drug store to buy her the Plan B pill; grappling with Imposter Syndrome when a university invites her to be a guest speaker; competing with other podcast hosts for a splashy cover story. The podcast humor is particularly sharp — Phoebe's rivals include Atticus (Chris Gethard) and Virgil (Michael Torpey), the smarmy hosts of Brooklyn Dads, and a pair of snooty white ladies (Dara Katz and Chloë Kerwin) who host a true-crime podcast called Murder Gals.
The cast has an easy and relatable chemistry, and it's fun to watch Carlos match Robinson's devil-may-care vibe with Jayden's tightly controlled anxiety. Writers also flesh out Okafor and Cash's characters as the season progresses, though they don't seem to know yet what to do with Storm's Michael, whose primary characteristic so far is a deeply unrequited love for Malika. And Robinson's cutesy, abbreviate-everything quirk ("sear-sear" for "serious"; "Critical Race Theer-Theer") borders on grating at times. Like Phoebe Hill, Everything's Trash is still figuring things out — so it makes sense that things are a little messy. B —Kristen Baldwin
Where the Crawdads Sing
In theaters now
Do crawdads really sing? If they do, their song lives off-screen — one of many unsolved mysteries in this drastically unhurried melodrama, a story so faux-folksy and casually retrograde it seems as if it has tapped into some lost TV-movie portal from 1995. In fact, the film is set in 1950s and '60s North Carolina, and is based on one of the most popular books of all time (12 million copies of Delia Owens' blockbuster 2018 novel sold, and counting).
Catherine "Kya" Clark (Normal People's London-bred Daisy Edgar-Jones, trading her cut-glass accent for corn pone) lives alone in the wilds outside Barkley Cove, abandoned there by her family as a child but self-sufficient enough to survive on her own, even if the malicious townsfolk shun her and call her "Marsh Girl." She loves birds and shells and pretty leaves, and she has a gift for putting them down on paper in delicate drawings. What comes to the attention of two handsome local boys — one sweet (Taylor John Smith), one sinister (Harris Dickinson), and otherwise indistinguishable — though, is her blossoming swamp-nymph beauty. And when the mean one turns up dead, Kya is suddenly in the position of defending her life.
David Strathairn is great, as always, as a gentle lawyer trying to break through and prove her innocence, and Edgar-Jones is consistently game, even if her version of backwoods poverty looks suspiciously like a dispatch from an Anthropologie catalog. But director Olivia Newman (First Match) bathes the story in so many broad, creaky tropes and odd tonal shifts that nothing ever feels real for a moment. Characters, from the sympathetic Black shopkeepers who care for Kya as best they can to the townies who hiss like aggravated geese every time she comes around, are all archetypes plucked from a Nicholas Sparks slush pile, and the did-she-or-didn't-she at the center of the story hardly bothers to follow any kind of internal logic (or the laws of due process). Crawdads, made with producer Reese Witherspoon's book-club blessing, surely has a built-in audience; if only it had anything interesting to say. Grade: C– —LG