Musts & Misses: We don't Love That for you, and Liam Neeson's Memory is fading
Each Friday, our critics provide a few quick-hit reviews of the titles that have them giddy and groaning — or, to put it another way, the Musts & Misses of the week.
The Way Down: Part 2
Thursday, April 28 (HBO Max)
Last May, director Marina Zenovich was wrapping up post-production on The Way Down — her HBO Max documentary exploring Remnant Fellowship, a Tennessee-based megachurch-slash-weight-loss empire — when Remnant's singular leader, Gwen Shamblin Lara, died in a private plane crash along with her husband and five other parishioners.
Zenovich and her team rushed to revise and expand their investigation, and viewers of the addictive, five-part docuseries — subtitled God, Greed, and the Cult of Gwen Shamblin — were left with a tantalizing "To Be Continued" when the first three episodes dropped last September. Now, the final two installments are here — and they were worth the wait.
As Remnant looks to control the narrative around Gwen's death, a new wave of ex-members reaches out to the documentarians to share their experiences within the church — a place that left many of them with physical, financial, and emotional trauma. "The church wanted everything from me," laments one former Remnant follower. "All of me." (The Church denies accusations of wrongdoing.) The delay caused by the crash allowed Zenovich to incorporate the church's response to The Way Down — including a series of "nothing to see here" video testimonials — into the final two episodes. ("Yes, I saw the videos," scoffs an ex-Remnant parishioner. "That whole response is bulls---.") The story of Remnant Fellowship and its petite, high-haired leader is beyond bizarre and at times almost comical, but The Way Down stays grounded by focusing on the human cost of Gwen Shamblin's hubris. Grade: B+ —Kristen Baldwin
Dear Mr. Brody
Thursday, April 28 (Discovery+)
In 1970, 21-year-old margarine scion Michael James Brody Jr. announced that he planned to give his $25 million fortune away to anyone who needed it, in the name of world peace. Unsurprisingly, news of the "hippie millionaire" and his doe-eyed bride quickly went whatever the analog version of viral was; everyone from Ed Sullivan to Walter Cronkite turned their cameras on, and thousands of letters from across the globe poured into Brody's suburban Scarsdale, N.Y. home.
The reality of strings-free philanthropy, of course, proved a lot more complicated, as filmmaker Keith Matlind documents in his colorfully offbeat documentary — a ramshackle snapshot that toggles between the inherent grooviness of its Aquarius-Age setting and the current state of the lost, broken, and merely curious who hung their hopes and dreams on Brody's promises. The heir himself turned out to be a naïve and troubled young man, though Matlind leaves his particular fate a mystery until the final moments of the film. What's in between is unevenly executed but still compelling: a far-out cautionary tale of money, media, and gonzo idealism gone wrong. Grade: B —Leah Greenblatt
I Love That For You
Friday, April 29 (Showtime Anytime); Sunday, May 1 (Showtime)
A childhood cancer survivor who seeks to shed the perennial-patient baggage she's carried with her into adulthood. A home shopping superfan who lands a dream job alongside her favorite TV host. Either idea has the potential to become a satisfying TV show — but by attempting to execute both concepts at once, Showtime's I Love That For You fails to do either of them well.
Joanna Gold (co-creator Vanessa Bayer) leads an adequate but intensely uneventful life in Cleveland. She lives at home with her parents (Matt Malloy and Bess Armstrong) and works alongside her dad at Costco, handing out samples of pita chips and turkey tots. Joanna is an adult who doesn't really know how to adult, coming on too strong with a guy (Jason Schwartzman) after two dates and generally flailing her way through every interpersonal encounter. I Love That traces Joanna's arrested development back to her preteen battle with leukemia, when the only bright spots in her life were watching Jackie Stilton (Molly Shannon) on the Special Value Network — and realizing that people have to be nice to you when you have cancer. Those two themes collide after Joanna (improbably) lands a host job at SVN and is almost immediately fired for incompetence — so she tells everyone her cancer is back.
I Love That For You, which is inspired by Bayer's own experience with childhood leukemia, puts more focus on the "character with a secret" trope than the actual characters, most of whom are loosely-drawn sitcom archetypes. There's the preposterously out-of-touch boss (Jenifer Lewis) and her sneery gay assistant (Matt Rogers), the vain and toxic rival (Ayden Mayeri), the nice-guy love interest (Paul James), and so on.
Bayer is excellent at playing cartoonishly awkward, which made her a standout in the sketch-comedy confines of Saturday Night Live, but her cringey antics don't quite translate to episodic storytelling. Shannon salvages the underwritten Jackie — a 30-year SVN vet who's reevaluating her life — with her invincible charm, and Jackie's attempt to wrest control of her SVN image from Lewis' Patricia is a promising subplot. (Showtime made four of the season's eight episodes available for review.) As easy as it is to respect Bayer's hustle, I Love That For You just can't close the deal. Grade: C+ —KB
Friday, April 29 (in theaters)
Wouldn't he like to play an orthodontist just once, or maybe a man who breeds miniature horses for a living? Alas, Liam Neeson has one job in Memory, and it is death — a thing he delivers efficiently but with a growing furrow in his brow. That's because (twist) his aging El Paso assassin Alex Lewis is facing down a family legacy of Alzheimer's, though mental clarity doesn't necessarily make anything in this broody, enervating thriller make sense.
One thing Alex knows for sure is that he doesn't want to kill a 13-year-old girl who may be the only surviving witness to a child-trafficking ring, a protective impulse he shares with a federal agent named Vincent Serra (Guy Pearce, who already did this so much better in Memento). They may be on different sides of the law, but they both want to take down the international criminal organization led by a local real estate mogul (a blasé Monica Bellucci, almost too tired to vamp).
Director Martin Campbell helmed The Mask of Zorro and two Bonds, Goldeneye and Casino Royale, though aside from a few stylish kills (hey look, we're on a boat!) you wouldn't really know it; the whole thing is so wrapped in leaden dialogue and B-movie cliché that by the last weary, bloodletting hour, you'll envy Alex's ability to forget. Grade: C– —LG
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