Cute, Trashy, Scary, Weird, Awkward
            Beverly Hills Chihuahua” is one of those cute little talking animals movies, featuring (the voice of) Drew Barrymore as the upscale, uppity Beverly Hills Chihuahua who winds up lost and alone in Mexico City.  But she is saved despite herself, learns some self-reliance and some humility, and now we all like her a lot more, plus she has a better perspective, as well.  Of course it’s a parable.  But it’s sweet and kind-hearted, and the whole family can enjoy it, which in itself is rare enough.
            Role Models” is definitely not a family movie, but it also has a soft heart, despite apparent cavalierness.  Two slacker dudes, determined to stagger through their young lives in a foul-mouthed, self-indulgent, post-hangover stupor, suddenly find themselves in a court-ordered mentoring program.  Their “little buddies” consist of the class nerd, a teenage boy whose family life is miserable, so he escapes in medieval role-playing fantasy, and a foul-mouthed younger boy whose home life isn’t that bad, he just enjoys being incorrigible.  We all know what’s going to happen next:  the slacker dudes respond to being forced to assume some responsibility, the “little buddies” start enjoying the odd matchup, and the raunchy comedy morphs into something almost sappy.  The problem is that plot turn will leave it with practically no audience at all, because those desiring continuous R-rated hilarity will be disappointed, and those seeking a poignant and touching drama will surely be offended.
            “Quarantine” is also definitely not a family movie, and not for the squeamish of any age.  It begins calmly, as a local television crew targets a particular fire station for a feature story, but things get scary quickly.  Responding to a 911 call at an apartment building, they all find themselves trapped inside, in involuntary “quarantine,” as the mysterious rabid zombies pick them off one-by-one.  The handheld camera device will leave the viewer dizzy and frustrated, but it also feels real.  Down to the last violent horror.
            Synecdoche” is a rambling, self-pitying, depressing, disjointed meandering through the existential musings of a successful but downward-spiraling director (Phillip Seymour Hoffman), whose wife (Catherine Kenner) leaves him because of his joylessness, so now we’re stuck with him.  An unexpected financial grant bestows upon him complete creative license for a new play, which turns out to be his undoing, because he can never call it finished.  Despite the incredible loyalty of hopeful women in his life, he manages to find ways to disappoint them all, and thus self-fulfill his cynical expectation of utter catastrophe.  Despite remarkable success as a writer, Charlie Kaufman’s first directorial effort is a crashing bore.
            Rachel Getting Married” has its down moments, but the tension among the characters keeps this angst-filled weekend saga from drowning in its own sarcasm.  Anne Hathaway goes against type as Kym, the pretty but troubled young woman who has been in and out of rehab for 10 years, and still is, but gets a weekend pass long enough to attend her sister’s wedding.  This family is beyond dysfunctional, it is actively angry and frequently confrontative, but Hathaway’s sympathetic, platitude-rejecting performance carries the whole melodrama.  Sure, there’s a big difference between forgiving and forgetting.  But what if wallowing in guilt, indulging in anger, and playing the selfish rebel is more fun than being clean, sober, and cheerful?
Questions For Discussion:
1)      How can the addict attain sobriety?  Is the AA “12-step” agenda the only viable recovery program, or are there acceptable alternatives?
2)      How can the well-heeled retain humility?
3)      How can the immature learn discipline?
4)      How can the despairing find hope?
Dr. Ronald P. Salfen, Pastor, Grace Presbyterian Church, Greenville , Texas