Every young hot leading lady needs to do a horror flick at some point in her career – it’s a Tinseltown requirement apparently – and The House at the End of the Street is Jennifer Lawrence’s. Of course it’s not exactly what it seems shying away from bloody vicious gimmicks and opting for a more psychological brand of horror.
Lawrence is an actress who doesn’t exactly jump for the easy grabs. Even the Hunger Games which was born out of a giant literary franchise isn’t your typical starlet fare. And for the typical young-actress-in-a-cheesy-horror-flick move House is a step above. But despite Lawrence’s solid performance and the film’s attempt to really dig at the complicated psyche of a young girl who falls in love with a (potential) psycho it still winds up being just another horror movie.
The film spends most of its time establishing the cutesy love story between Lawrence’s Alyssa and her boyfriend/enemy Ryan — and an exorbitant amount of time letting the pair make-out like the horny teenagers they’re supposed to be — and only a sliver of the plot actually allows Lawrence’s character to wrestle with her emotions. It’s there but it’s gone in a flash wasting the talents the film has in its corner.
Still for those looking for a schlocky horror film to gobble up on a Friday night House at the End of the Street will certainly do the trick.
[Photo Credit: Relativity Media]
On the outside Charlie Bartlett (Anton Yelchin) couldn’t be further from the mold of a “normal teenager.” He wears a suit everywhere he is precocious and he has a spring in his step that suggests oblivion to his high school surroundings. Of course Charlie isn’t really at all oblivious and at his core is very much that “normal teenager”: He wants only to be popular. After starting anew at a public school--because he got kicked out of yet another private school for distributing fake IDs--Charlie is promptly pummeled for the way he dresses by the school’s bully (Tyler Hilton). He complains to his psychiatrist whom his mother (Hope Davis) keeps on retainer. The shrink decides to put Charlie on Ritalin. Ever the entrepreneur Charlie tries to parlay his easy access to drugs into popularity and it works like gangbusters. Before long “Dr. Charlie” is listening diagnosing and prescribing drugs to the entire student faculty. He’s got the popularity the trust and the girl (Kat Dennings) the latter of which just happens to be the principal’s (Robert Downey Jr.) daughter. And that relationship--not to mention the slight legality issue of prescribing controlled substances to minors--threatens to ruin his whole operation. Yelchin (Alpha Dog) is a Hollywood rarity: He’s an ‘it’ boy because of his acting not his looks (sorry Anton). Rarer still is the fact that Yelchin’s actual age is near that of Charlie Bartlett and not since the days of Freaks and Geeks has that industry taboo been broken so successfully. It’s all a credit to the young actor who in the span of Bartlett oozes everything from vulnerability and precociousness to Ritalin-induced mania and the theatricality of a much older actor. There’s nothing he can’t do in this movie; the same goes for his acting future. And the same goes for his adversary in Bartlett Downey Jr. although that’s been abundantly clear for decades now. Downey Jr. is famous for making seemingly effortless work of a complex character which is precisely what he does with Principal Gardner--a concerned parent recovering alcoholic and dutiful high school enforcer/villain. He’s a force to be reckoned with on screen and when Yelchin’s Charlie finally squares off with him the scene is a thing of beauty. As an essential link between those two characters Dennings (40-Year-Old Virgin) is a credible charmer and refreshingly the rare non-ditzy non-clichéd high school-portrayed girl we’re used to seeing. Rounding out the cast is Davis (American Splendor) aka Laura Linney-in-waiting. Her clueless alcoholic mom is a source of laughs and ultimately sobriety--for the character and us. For the first time in his decades-long career Jon Poll trades the editing room for the director’s chair. And after seeing Bartlett it makes sense that Poll who has edited movies like Austin Powers in Goldmember and Meet the Parents/Fockers is a behind-the-scenes veteran but a rookie helmer. His debut is fresh and loose but also very sure-handed. The movie is constantly a pleasant unclassifiable surprise spurning both the raunchiness of teen comedies and the pretention of psychology dramedies. The result is something far less precious and opaque than Wes Anderson’s Rushmore--to which Bartlett bears a broad thematic resemblance--yet a sharp commentary nonetheless. To that end Gustin Nash’s debut screenplay is just as impressive as his director’s rookie effort. His writing is clearly steeped in satire namely how loose today’s doctors are with the prescription pads--especially when it comes to our children--but it’s also able to be sweet and real when necessary. It’s the most impressive screenplay debut we’ve seen in a while--gold standard Juno notwithstanding--and the directorial one isn’t too shabby itself.
If you've seen Heathers Clueless or Jawbreaker then you've seen Mean Girls. Cady Heron (Lindsay Lohan) is the new girl having moved from Africa where she was raised (one of many comic head-scratchers that goes nowhere) and now trying to win
friends in a hostile new high school environment. On the verge of becoming--gasp!--friends with two geeks one gay and one Goth she is invited to join "The Plastics" (Rachel McAdams Lacey Chabert and Amanda Seyfried) the coolest girls on campus. When she develops an unfortunate crush on the head Plastics' ex-boyfriend (Jonathan Bennett) the girls declare war on each other and all hell breaks loose. Saturday Night Live regulars Tina Fey Amy Poehler Tim Meadows and Ana Gasteyer fill in the adult roles and Fey wrote the script as well.
Lohan has star power in spades and enough going on behind the eyes to at least suggest the inner life and back story absent from the script. She conveys Cady's
sudden character changes with aplomb and her comic timing is excellent. McAdams makes the biggest impression with the showiest "Plastics" role and is certainly someone to watch for in the future. Her Regina George is one of the funniest nastiest high school girls since Election's Tracy Flick. Bennett is likeable in a one-note jock role and Daniel Franzese and Lizzy Caplan are similarly stereotyped as the Gay
and the Goth respectively. Of the adults Poehler
who is always funny stands out as Regina's alcoholic mini-skirted mother. Fey wisely and selflessly wrote herself a straight-man role as the calculus teacher. And Meadows as the principal quite simply has never
been funnier. Whether he has ever been funny before is another question.
To take on a project already burdened with two strikes--Teen Comedy and SNL Movie--is either a bold move or career suicide but director Mark S. Waters doesn't need to worry. He does a nice job of staying out of the way and tells the story simply without relying too heavily on fruit-flavored set design drowning every scene in music or ruining the witty laughs with too much slapstick. And it is a very witty script sharply observed and rich in detail. (The Halloween party scene showing every single girl wearing lingerie and a different set of animal ears stands out.) Fey adapted sociologist Rosalind Wiseman's nonfiction
best-seller Queen Bees & Wannabees and the interaction between the various species of teen is note perfect. That said Fey seems to have been given a lot of leeway due to her stature on SNL and it shows. One example: everyone has trouble pronouncing
Cady's name which wasn't funny the first time and still isn't 500 times later. The movie also attempts to impart a message of female solidarity but by building the characters on the same cookie-cutter stereotypes it denounces its girl power is undermined. Plus the movie seems cut to within an inch of its life. If it is possible for a comedy to move too quickly Mean Girls does as Waters furiously connects the dots without consideration for the characters or the audience. It's like watching schizophrenics at a track meet--but maybe that's the point.