There were some pretty ‘bad’ movies released this summer. There were not, at least that I saw, as many actually bad ones as we usually get. I saw a lot of silly nonsense but almost all of it was really pretty gosh darn fun. And a bunch of those just fun movies were not just fun in spite of themselves; a few of them were actually pretty good movies.
Let’s start with The Spy Who Dumped Me because it’s the one that made me want to write this article. Before heading into this Mila Kunis Kate McKinnon action comedy, I’d heard it was really really bad. It looked pretty bad. Or at least it looked deeply silly and totally inconsequential. But I kind of loved it. I laughed that out loud belly laugh many times- and that’s not one I pull out that often. The movie is fun, well paced, delightfully acted by a cast that’s not just two great leading ladies but a whole slew of well-chosen supporting players from well-chosen hunks Justin Theroux and Sam Heughan to my beloved Hasan Minhaj to an absolutely aces use of Gillian Anderson’s otherworldly calm. Ivanna Sakhno gives one of the great surprising performances of the year as a former gymnast with deep wounds and cold blood. Of course it’s Kunis and McKinnon who really make the thing sing with strong chemistry in a truly unique display of believable best friendship on film. Thoughtful director/co-writer Susanna Fogel uses her silly fun nonsense movie to make a completely essential point about the perception of women as either “too much” or “not enough” and the moments of vulnerability McKinnon artfully plays within the wacky fantasticness of her character Morgan really hit a nerve. The point loses a bit of its steam in the reality that the “not enough” character is the only one with love interests but that’s really getting into the expert cultural insight stuff and it’s important to remember that we’re talking about a super silly summer action comedy here. I loved it. What a delightful surprise.
On the other hand, I wasn’t even a little bit surprised that I loved Mamma Mia 2: Here We Go Again. I love the music it’s based on, I loved the original musical, I loved the first one, and I really loved the trailers for this glossy sunny funtime sequel. It’s so pretty and full of life and cast with people who are mostly shaky singers but everyone’s giving it their all and that’s just adorable (jukebox musicals are exempt from my demand that actors in musical movies all be able to really handle the score, because who cares). There’s no real plot to speak of and, I know this is controversial, but I could have done without Cher. She was shoe-horned in and really awkward and I’m really not feeling this strange Andy Garcia resurgence and I’ve never much liked “Fernando” so let’s all just pretend that last bit doesn’t happen (and definitely isn’t the climactic moment of the movie). But I literally started crying during “Dancing Queen”. Why? Hard to say, really. I think maybe the flood of just unadulterated happiness and the uncool freedom of that number (a phenomenon probably best encapsulated in Colin Firth’s wild abandon) proved too much for my cold hard heart to resist. But I also cried at all the places where the movie really totally earned those tears with big, heartfelt, honest emotion. I’m also obsessed with Lily James and don’t care who knows it. What I want from an ingenue more than anything is warmth and depth and those qualities are written all over Ms. James. If she taught a seminar, I’d take it. If she ran a website, I’d be in with or without a free C$88 sign-up offer. She’s just the best.
Last but not least is Skyscraper, a movie I wholly expected to hate but left not just saying “you know what, that was a fun couple of hours” but actually declaring it a really well-made movie. Because it is. It’s got a pretty nearly perfect structure- tightly plotted with strong connecting threads, smart Chekhov’s gun payoffs, and incredible momentum. It’s not balanced on big twists the way most action thrillers are these days, which meant I rarely got the chance to get ahead of the movie and I actually find myself wanting to see it again (good movies aren’t spoilable, I really believe that). The Rock is obviously a Hollywood god for all time and he’s in peak form here with both stunning physical feats and big ole family man heart, but the supporting characters are well-developed too (I particularly liked Byron Mann as a skeptical police inspector and even Neve Campbell’s wife character has agency and a personality and a purpose beyond motivating the hero). Everyone’s motivations actually made sense, for the most part. I hardcore hated Hannah Quinlivan’s bizarre plot-mover of a character with her overly stylishness and pouty rootlessness but she’s literally my one complaint about a movie that truly shocked me by being actually pretty good. I love when that happens.