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Theme Tuesday - Penny Marshall - Renaissance Man, The Preacher's Wife & Riding in Cars with

In honor of one of the few American female filmmakers that regular people could name, I will be watching all of the works of Penny Marshall, who passed away in late 2018, for January 2019.


Renaissance Man

This is decidedly a much more modest follow-up to Marshall’s wildly successful A League of Their Own. Danny DeVito plays a former businessman who gets a short-term gig instructing a group of Army soldiers at a boot camp. Of course, these soldiers are the colorful and academically underachieving misfits called the Double D’s (surprisingly no one makes the obvious crack at their name. The film falls into the genre of Freedom Writers and Dangerous Minds, a genre I have come to despise as an educator. These movies are meant to make the people who watch them feel better about themselves, since they identify with the teacher and how, if they just understood Shakespeare, these gosh darn kids could make a breakthrough. My biggest problem is that these types of films glorify the teachers and make the students people who need to be “saved”, and they never take a critical look at the institutions that created their unfavorable circumstances in the first place. This is supposed to be a feel-good movie for most people, so it follows every cliche of these types of movies. In fact, the whole movie reminded me of that parody of a TV show about a hip teacher in Funny People that starred Jason Schwartzman in which he tries to convince his struggling class that the real OG was, you guessed it, Shakespeare. Danny Devito is pretty game for this part, and he gets a lot of good one-liners, but otherwise I did not care for this movie.

The Preacher’s Wife

A movie that is distinguished by its cast, and not much else. It starts with a cloying voiceover by the son of Rev. Henry Biggs (Courtney B. Vance) and his wife Julia (Whitney Houston). Rev. Biggs is facing dire financial straits for his church, while his marriage to Julia is also faltering. Along comes Denzel Washington’s Dudley, literally an angel sent from heaven. I will say that all the cast is very good, especially Denzel Washington, who plays smooth without seeming smug. The soundtrack also features Whitney Houston quite heavily, which automatically makes this movie noteworthy, though apparently Houston was doing drugs every day and couldn’t sing in the morning. I don’t know exactly why this movie didn’t really click for me. It was pleasant enough. Perhaps I couldn’t distance myself enough from the reality of the situation, and how black communities are so embattled by nearly every social and government institution in the United States. The storyline with the wrongly convicted young Black man was a reflection of the times, and is sadly only more of a grim reality now. While this movie was mostly enjoyable, that storyline just did not sit well with me and solutions seemed a little too facile, even for a fantasy movie like this one.

Riding in Cars with Boys

This movie has a strange mix of the dramatic and Penny Marshall’s light touch. Based on the memoirs of Beverly Donofrio, who raised her son while attending college and grad school and becoming a writer, the movie is fairly heavy and emotional, which is why the moments of comedy seem jarring. With Penny Marshall movies though, the movie usually features a great performance by its main actor and Drew Barrymore is so good. She can say the zingers with perfect comic timing, and she is actually believable at all ages, even when her son (Andy Garcia) is actually a couple years older than she is. It’s also worth noting that this story is from the mother’s point of view as opposed to the child’s, and we understand her actions, even if her kid doesn’t, which is rare in most movies based on memoirs when it is usually commonplace to blame the parents.

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