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A Nice Girl Like You: Lucy Hale’s porno pilgrimage

“Sex To-Do” list: watch 25 hardcore skin flicks, visit a sex shop, take in a strip club, etc.

A Nice Girl Like You: Lucy Hale’s eyes have it.
A Nice Girl Like You: Lucy Hale’s eyes have it.

What’s A Nice Girl Like You doing in a lead review spot like this? Happy accidents happen. Were it not for my stringent self passing on a screener with a disclaimer branded across the bottom of the screen and subtitles printed over it — throughout the entire picture! — this gently salacious R-rated romantic comedy might not have gotten the chance to gradually sneak up on me.

Producer/star Lucy Hale first blipped my radar in a pair of low-budget Blumhouse Pictures horror entrees (Truth or Dare and Fantasy Island). The one image peremanently branded in my brain file was that of a narcotic pair of peepers beaconing from beneath a diligently-mown supraorbital ridge. What a set of brows on this lass — as though Joan Crawford and Martin Scorsese produced a daughter out of wedlock. When it came to delivering jump-scares, the camera loved Hale, even though there was not much to love about her choice of projects. Until today. (And even then with a degree of kind indulgence.)

The direction by the Brothers Riedell, Chris and Nick, sets the film off at a sluggish pace. A running gag involves the rather prurient Lucy Neal (Hale) practicing a line of smutty pillow talk: something to do with a throbbing member, and I don’t mean an angry teamster. What eventually evolves into a brilliant curtain line was a long time in the making, particularly when the first joke in the film involves a senior entering the powder room and unwittingly overhearing Lucy in full-throated rehearsal. This is followed by a transitional pan-up/pan-down that turned day into night so rudimentally that it left me pining for a superimposed close-up of the whirling hands on a clock.

Lucy is shocked to discover that her boyfriend of four years (Stephen Friedrich) has purchased a membership to a porn site, especially since he has her lying beneath him every night. (It might have something to do with the fact that during these meetups, her mind is anywhere but on lovemaking.) She delivers an ultimatum: porn or me. The next day finds him gathering his belongings and moving on. Is it the pornophobe in Lucy that makes it impossible for her to say anything even remotely racy, let alone enjoy sex? She’s about to find out, with the help of three friends and a “Sex To-Do” list that consists of such endeavors as: watch 25 hardcore skin flicks, visit a sex shop, take in a strip club, etc.

Harvard grad Lucy lives in a beautiful home willed to her by her grandmother, which may explain how she can make a living as a member of a classical music quartet that performs at swanky weddings. (An upcoming audition with the Philharmonic is teased throughout the picture.) It’s at one such set of nuptials that she meets Mr. Right, Grant Anderson (Leonidas Gulaptis). His sole function is to anchor the film in coincidence, constantly appearing in the wrong place at the right time throughout the picture. Both the film and its lead would have done better without him. What clicks is when the focus is on Lucy, aided and abetted by her musical mates, checking items off her list. Remember Mindy Cohn, Natalie Green on TV’s The Facts of Life? She’s all grown up and never better than as the cello-playing cohort who vicariously rekindles her 25 year marriage thanks to her friend’s forays.

Not all of the segments pay off. And better no music at all than a series of standards performed by the Soundalikes. Still, the film proves unsinkable, thanks to the overall good-natured feel of the presentation and the star’s captivating display of light comedy. ★★★

Video on Demand New Release Roundup

Guest Artist — Basically a one-act, one-location play, with not enough material to justify its scant 74-minute running time. Jeff Daniels stars in and scripted this tale of Joseph Harris, an alcoholic (what else?) playwright who hasn’t produced bupkis in over 20 years. He agrees to mount his latest production (that has yet to be written) in Lima, Michigan, where he’s set to be met at the station by (what else?) a nerd by the name of Kenneth (Thomas Macias). A third character, the nebulous station keeper Franz (Richard McWilliams), is on hand whenever a cutaway is needed to break things up. Kenneth claims to be Harris’s #1 fan, yet he oversleeps when the train carrying his idol, whom he’s supposed to pick up and bring to a hotel, pulls into the station? And if Harris is so intent on getting a drink, why not raid the hotel minibar as Kenneth suggested, rather than spending his first night in Lima inside a remote train station? Frankly, I’d rather spend my time reclining in the lounge that opens the picture, listening to Harris’ agent (Erika Slezak) and her client go at it, than living out another fanboy fantasy. Timothy Busfield directs. 2019 —S.M. ★

Walkaway Joe — A kid with trouble for a father and a father whose son wants nothing to do with him fill the gaps in each other’s lives in this tough but tender road picture. “Always know where the cue ball will wind up after the shot,” says pool hustler Cal (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) to his fast-learning teenage son Dallas (Julian Feder). It’s a piece of advice first-time director Tom Wright follows almost to the letter. When Cal disappears, Dallas packs his cue and a pocket full of past winnings and, hops a ride with Joe (David Strathairn), an honorable man traveling cross-country to ostensibly crash his estranged son’s wedding. Strathairn is one of the most trusted actors in Hollywood — who else could have played Edward R. Murow? Many an actor would have buckled when Cal asked what a man his age is doing in the company of a 14-year-old boy, but Strathairn’s response clearly and cleanly sets things straight. Filmy green screen effects at times detract from powerful dialogue exchanges, and one burning question remains unanswered: if both his ex and his son hated him, how did Joe score a printed invite to his boy’s wedding? But overall, this sturdy genre picture is well worth a look. 2020. —S.M. ★★★

Yes, God, Yes — The directorial debut of Karen Maine, author of Obvious Child, tracks a coming of age sex comedy set at a Catholic high school retreat that proves the road to damnation is paved with masturbation. Any film that begins with a quote from scripture followed by the textbook definition of “tossing a salad” has my attention. It’s the latter act of sexual perversion that has made Alice (Natalia Dyer) the target of gossip among her classmates. In order to make this film work, a fine line needed to be trod, such that both Mike Pence supporters and smart people would think they were the film’s intended audience. Alas, many of the jokes — licking the lid of a chocolate pudding wrapper, squirt bottles filled with mayonnaise, etc. — run the risk of turning off both groups. The truths Alice discovers while at the seminar cause her to break free and take refuge in a women’s bar, where the owner hits her with a dose of education one never gets in the classroom, no matter the denomination. 2019. —S.M. ★★★

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A Nice Girl Like You: Lucy Hale’s eyes have it.
A Nice Girl Like You: Lucy Hale’s eyes have it.

What’s A Nice Girl Like You doing in a lead review spot like this? Happy accidents happen. Were it not for my stringent self passing on a screener with a disclaimer branded across the bottom of the screen and subtitles printed over it — throughout the entire picture! — this gently salacious R-rated romantic comedy might not have gotten the chance to gradually sneak up on me.

Producer/star Lucy Hale first blipped my radar in a pair of low-budget Blumhouse Pictures horror entrees (Truth or Dare and Fantasy Island). The one image peremanently branded in my brain file was that of a narcotic pair of peepers beaconing from beneath a diligently-mown supraorbital ridge. What a set of brows on this lass — as though Joan Crawford and Martin Scorsese produced a daughter out of wedlock. When it came to delivering jump-scares, the camera loved Hale, even though there was not much to love about her choice of projects. Until today. (And even then with a degree of kind indulgence.)

The direction by the Brothers Riedell, Chris and Nick, sets the film off at a sluggish pace. A running gag involves the rather prurient Lucy Neal (Hale) practicing a line of smutty pillow talk: something to do with a throbbing member, and I don’t mean an angry teamster. What eventually evolves into a brilliant curtain line was a long time in the making, particularly when the first joke in the film involves a senior entering the powder room and unwittingly overhearing Lucy in full-throated rehearsal. This is followed by a transitional pan-up/pan-down that turned day into night so rudimentally that it left me pining for a superimposed close-up of the whirling hands on a clock.

Lucy is shocked to discover that her boyfriend of four years (Stephen Friedrich) has purchased a membership to a porn site, especially since he has her lying beneath him every night. (It might have something to do with the fact that during these meetups, her mind is anywhere but on lovemaking.) She delivers an ultimatum: porn or me. The next day finds him gathering his belongings and moving on. Is it the pornophobe in Lucy that makes it impossible for her to say anything even remotely racy, let alone enjoy sex? She’s about to find out, with the help of three friends and a “Sex To-Do” list that consists of such endeavors as: watch 25 hardcore skin flicks, visit a sex shop, take in a strip club, etc.

Harvard grad Lucy lives in a beautiful home willed to her by her grandmother, which may explain how she can make a living as a member of a classical music quartet that performs at swanky weddings. (An upcoming audition with the Philharmonic is teased throughout the picture.) It’s at one such set of nuptials that she meets Mr. Right, Grant Anderson (Leonidas Gulaptis). His sole function is to anchor the film in coincidence, constantly appearing in the wrong place at the right time throughout the picture. Both the film and its lead would have done better without him. What clicks is when the focus is on Lucy, aided and abetted by her musical mates, checking items off her list. Remember Mindy Cohn, Natalie Green on TV’s The Facts of Life? She’s all grown up and never better than as the cello-playing cohort who vicariously rekindles her 25 year marriage thanks to her friend’s forays.

Not all of the segments pay off. And better no music at all than a series of standards performed by the Soundalikes. Still, the film proves unsinkable, thanks to the overall good-natured feel of the presentation and the star’s captivating display of light comedy. ★★★

Video on Demand New Release Roundup

Guest Artist — Basically a one-act, one-location play, with not enough material to justify its scant 74-minute running time. Jeff Daniels stars in and scripted this tale of Joseph Harris, an alcoholic (what else?) playwright who hasn’t produced bupkis in over 20 years. He agrees to mount his latest production (that has yet to be written) in Lima, Michigan, where he’s set to be met at the station by (what else?) a nerd by the name of Kenneth (Thomas Macias). A third character, the nebulous station keeper Franz (Richard McWilliams), is on hand whenever a cutaway is needed to break things up. Kenneth claims to be Harris’s #1 fan, yet he oversleeps when the train carrying his idol, whom he’s supposed to pick up and bring to a hotel, pulls into the station? And if Harris is so intent on getting a drink, why not raid the hotel minibar as Kenneth suggested, rather than spending his first night in Lima inside a remote train station? Frankly, I’d rather spend my time reclining in the lounge that opens the picture, listening to Harris’ agent (Erika Slezak) and her client go at it, than living out another fanboy fantasy. Timothy Busfield directs. 2019 —S.M. ★

Walkaway Joe — A kid with trouble for a father and a father whose son wants nothing to do with him fill the gaps in each other’s lives in this tough but tender road picture. “Always know where the cue ball will wind up after the shot,” says pool hustler Cal (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) to his fast-learning teenage son Dallas (Julian Feder). It’s a piece of advice first-time director Tom Wright follows almost to the letter. When Cal disappears, Dallas packs his cue and a pocket full of past winnings and, hops a ride with Joe (David Strathairn), an honorable man traveling cross-country to ostensibly crash his estranged son’s wedding. Strathairn is one of the most trusted actors in Hollywood — who else could have played Edward R. Murow? Many an actor would have buckled when Cal asked what a man his age is doing in the company of a 14-year-old boy, but Strathairn’s response clearly and cleanly sets things straight. Filmy green screen effects at times detract from powerful dialogue exchanges, and one burning question remains unanswered: if both his ex and his son hated him, how did Joe score a printed invite to his boy’s wedding? But overall, this sturdy genre picture is well worth a look. 2020. —S.M. ★★★

Yes, God, Yes — The directorial debut of Karen Maine, author of Obvious Child, tracks a coming of age sex comedy set at a Catholic high school retreat that proves the road to damnation is paved with masturbation. Any film that begins with a quote from scripture followed by the textbook definition of “tossing a salad” has my attention. It’s the latter act of sexual perversion that has made Alice (Natalia Dyer) the target of gossip among her classmates. In order to make this film work, a fine line needed to be trod, such that both Mike Pence supporters and smart people would think they were the film’s intended audience. Alas, many of the jokes — licking the lid of a chocolate pudding wrapper, squirt bottles filled with mayonnaise, etc. — run the risk of turning off both groups. The truths Alice discovers while at the seminar cause her to break free and take refuge in a women’s bar, where the owner hits her with a dose of education one never gets in the classroom, no matter the denomination. 2019. —S.M. ★★★

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