I’m “biast” (con): nothing
(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)
It breaks my heart to have to say this, because I adore Judy Greer and want all good things for her career. But the only happening of any proportion to be found in the directorial debut of this gently comic actor and creative force-of-nature is the confirmation of the monumental esteem — which is completely justified — in which she is held by her Hollywood peers. The evidence? The cast she has assembled for ensemble dramedy A Happening of Monumental Proportions includes: Allison Janney (I, Tonya), Bradley Whitford (The Darkest Minds), Common (Megan Leavey), Keanu Reeves (Destination Wedding), John Cho (Searching), Jennifer Garner (Love, Simon), Katie Holmes (Ocean’s Eight), Kumail Nanjiani (The Big Sick), Rob Riggle (Midnight Sun), and many other recognizable names and faces. And yet one can only imagine how they all held their noses and gamely dived in anyway, just for Greer’s sake, once they read the deeply awful script, a terrible screenwriting debut from actor Gary Lundy.
What we witness here, jaws dropped: Over one day in Los Angeles, an array of vague approximations of human beings who all share some tenuous connection engage in roundrobin behavior and conversational exchanges that no real people would ever be found in the vicinity of. The title of this sad simulacrum of an entertainment is intentionally ironic, and yet still feels like a bad and desperately unfunny joke. Parents behave abominably in the presence of their children, in one cringeworthy running motif, worst of all in a situation guaranteed to haunt the children for years. I know no one is perfect and even parents do stupid things sometimes with regards to their kids, but this is by no stretch of the imagination any point of the movie, and the way it plays out here would still be downright unforgivable even if it were. Also too: Dead bodies are desecrated; office workers impinge on the dignity of their fellows; teachers betray their students. Almost nothing here comes within a million light-years of how human beings interact with their fellow human beings, even at our worst. The cast and Greer-as-director are trying their best, but if someone told me that Gary Lundy is in fact an alien in a human skinsuit trying to pass for homo sapiens in Hollywood, I wouldn’t be surprised.
There are brief moments here of genuine humanity and connection. Storm Reid (Meg in A Wrinkle in Time, though how young she looks compared to that film is a testament to how long this movie has been sitting on a shelf) is charming and authentic, even when — especially when — Common as her dad is embarrassing her character. Anders Holm (Show Dogs) as a music teacher who is living in his car has a few poignant moments, but those are undercut by others that force him to act in ways that no one with his demonstrated level of empathy would do.
Mostly it’s difficult to even fathom whence the presumed sentimentality that drips from this movie springs. Los Angeles has never looked so sociopathic, and so unintentionally. We’re meant to feel for the people who behave here so appallingly. We do not.
A Happening of Monumental Proportions was the Alliance of Women Film Journalists’ Movie of the Week for September 14th. I could not endorse it, but for a counterpoint to my review, read the comments from other AWFJ members on why the film deserves this honor.