Film reviews: The Shallows | Wiener-Dog | Valley of Love

Blake Lively in The Shallows. Picture: Sony Pictures
Blake Lively in The Shallows. Picture: Sony Pictures
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The Shallows sees Blake Lively ingeniously battle a hungry Great White, but there are troubling undercurrents when you see who ends up as fish food and who doesn’t

The Shallows (15) | Rating: **

Weiner-Dog. Picture: Contributed

Weiner-Dog. Picture: Contributed

Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates (15) | Rating: *

Wiener-Dog (15) | Rating: ***

Valley of Love (15) | ***

If The Shallows sounds like the name of a sitcom family composed of character-types from dumb movies, it is at least an accurate description of everything related to this idiotic shark movie, not least its heroine. Played by Blake Lively, Nancy is a medical school dropout who decides to get over the death of her mother by going surfing on a secret beach in Mexico that her mother once visited when she was pregnant with her.

“What’s the point of studying medicine if you can’t even save your own mother?” she practically says at one point, spelling out her inch-deep existential crisis just in case it’s not patently obvious from all the social media navel-gazing she engages in early on. Needless to say, when she drifts into the feeding ground of a giant killer shark and gets stranded on a rock, she soon realises that life is still worth fighting for after all. Or at least, it is if you’re a good-looking, privileged white American woman whose wetsuit only zips up to her cleavage. If you’re Mexican, the film seems to be saying, you’re pretty much fish food, as evidenced by the surfer who tries to hit on Nancy and is promptly eaten, or the drunk local who stumbles onto the beach at night, steals the cash she’s left in her bag and is then promptly devoured by the shark as he attempts to nick her surfboard too by fishing it out of the sea. As for poor Nancy, despite facing down a CGI-rendered shark that’s taken a chunk out of her leg and seems to change proportions with the tide, she’s blessed with the sort of dumb movie luck and logic breaks that enable her to fend off a large underwater predator with some jellyfish and a conveniently placed winch.

From shallow to scraping the barrel, Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates is based on a Craigslist advert placed by a couple of self-confessed sex-pest brothers whose friend insisted they bring dates to his wedding so they wouldn’t harass all the female guests and ruin the day for everyone. Unbelievably, Fox optioned the movie rights. Somewhat more believably, the resulting film is abysmal. Zac Efron and Adam Devine play the witless brothers who place the ad at the insistence of their parents, who don’t want them to ruin their little sister’s upcoming nuptials. A should-know-better Anna Kendrick and Aubrey Plaza play the equally moronic best friends who pretend to be nice and respectable in order to score a free trip to Hawaii. Hilarity does not ensue. Instead, the film’s amateurish production values, scattershot performances, predictable plot turns and questionable jokes (some racist, some homophobic, lots about being sexually violated) make for pretty grim and dispiriting viewing.

Fans of Todd Solondz may remember that the title of his new film Wiener-Dog was one of the many insults hurled at Dawn Wiener, the bullied 12-year-old protagonist of his breakout feature Welcome to the Dollhouse. In this film – comprised of four unrelated stories linked by a dog – it literally refers to a dachshund, although in the film’s second segment, it turns out that Dawn – killed off in Solondz’s earlier film, Palindromes – is alive and well and played by Greta Gerwig. If that’s a little disorientating, it’s feeds into one of the themes of film, namely that we’re not necessarily condemned by fate, even if the world around us is relentlessly cruel. That’s about as heartfelt as Solondz is ever likely to get, but Wiener-Dog certainly isn’t as bleak as some of his more recent efforts. That said, it does start off in a very dark place with a story about an upper middle-class couple (Julie Delpy and Tracy Letts) who buy a dog for their sickly son and proceed to impart terrible life lessons to their child via their treatment of the dog.

Proceedings lighten somewhat as the dog is sprung from a veterinary surgery by Gerwig’s Dawn, who promptly runs into an old high-school acquaintance (Kieran Culkin) and forms an affectionate connection based on mutual empathy for the various hardships in their lives. After an amusing, irony drenched animated intermission, ownership of the dog is taken up by Danny DeVito’s has-been screenwriting professor, whose bitterness at his own failing career makes for some amusing satirical gags about the comic book-obsessed movie industry and the self-righteous nature of minor talents who can’t move with the times. The final story – featuring Ellen Burstyn as an old woman regretting her life – is the darkest, and most conceptually daring of the four stories, but ties this uneven but intermittently lacerating and wry film together in ways that won’t exactly leave you feeling happy, but may leave you feeling happy that Solondz is still casting his misanthropic eye over middle America.

Valley of Love, on the other hand, casts a distinctly metaphysical eye on the US. Directed by Guillaume Nicloux, it stars Isabelle Huppert and Gérard Depardieu as couple of long-since-divorced veteran Gallic film stars brought back together by a posthumous letter from their recently deceased son, who sets forth a detailed plan to have them meet in California’s Death Valley after his suicide. The film is a meditation on grief, celebrity, marriage and parenthood, but while it offers incidental pleasures and insights, it doesn’t have the emotional force of something like 45 Years, to which it bears a passing resemblance.