Welcome to 5 Favorites. Each week, I will put together a list of my 5 favorites (films, performances, whatever strikes my fancy) along with commentary on a given topic each week, usually in relation to a specific film releasing that week.
For five seasons, Dan Harmon’s Community entertained and delighted audiences (who could find it on television as NBC kept changing its mind on the show’s prospects). It was one of the best written comedies of recent memory. This week, two alums from the show, Alison Brie and Danny Pudi, have new releases coming out. Brie co-stars in The Rental, Dave Franco’s directorial debut, as part of two couples who rent a large house for a weekend getaway and find their lives in danger. Pudi co-stars in Babysplitters, a comedy about two couples who decide to have a baby together so that each person can enjoy their anticipated favorite aspects of raising a child and let others take care of the more difficult aspects.
Having such a rare opportunity to see what the series regulars have been up to since the show’s cancellation, I thought I would look back at the best films from the cast of Community. I looked at the resumes of Joel McHale, Gillian Jacobs, Pudi, Brie, Yvette Nicole Brown, Donald Glover, Chevvy Chase, Ken Jeong, and Jim Rash. While many of them have extensive television credits, only one of them (Chase) has made a successful career on the big screen. Still, I managed to cobble together enough to highlight five films. Four of the actors, Brie, Glover, Jeong, and Chase, had lead or small parts in their films that I’ve chosen to highlight. The other five either had nothing worth mentioning (Jacobs) or had bit parts in the rest. Ultimately, I eliminated McHale in his feature debut in Spider-Man 2, Pudi in his bit part in Captain America: The Winter Soldier, and Brown in Dreamgirls where she played a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it secretary. The final selection was from Rash who played a bit part in a film that deserves more attention than the other three, which is why I chose that picture. Here’s my list.
National Lampoon’s Vacation (1983)
Chase began his career in television and radio in the 1960s before landing a role in the first season of NBC Saturday Night (now known as Saturday Night Live). Chase parlayed his early successes into a solid film career in the 1980s with roles from Caddyshack to Funny Farm. Since then, his career has been rather oblique with few major roles with the one on Community bringing him new-found attention.
His best films were part of the National Lampoon’s Vacation franchise with the death knell Vegas Vacation failing to live up to the promise of either Vacation or European Vacation. Here, he plays Clark Griswold, a caring, but self-centered father who insists on a cross-country road trip to Wally World, a moose-themed park in California, a spoof of DisneyLand. Zany adventures follow as Clark and his family, played by Beverly D’Angelo, Anthony Michael Hall, and Dana Barron travel across the United States meeting countless travails along the way. Imogene Coca delivers most of the best laughs half-way through the film.
If you’re looking for a laugh-out-loud comedy, there are few better than this one, but be sure to follow it up with viewings of European Vacation and Christmas Vacation as well. You can skip everything else in the series.
The Nines (2007)
It’s hard to believe that it’s been thirteen years since this revelatory sci-fi comedy gave Ryan Reynolds his best pre-Deadpool film role. Written and directed by John August, the film follows the interweaving lives of a troubled actor, television showrunner, and celebrated video game designer all played by Reynolds. He is joined by the equally wonderful Hope Davis and Melissa McCarthy as the only other characters that figure into all three stories. Elle Fanning, David Denman, Octavia Spencer, and Ben Falcone appear in small roles with Community‘s Jim Rash in a barely-even-there performance.
August’s fascinating concept is played brilliantly by Reynolds, McCarthy, and Davis who provide nuanced performances in each of their three varied roles. Reynolds, for his part, delivered on a promise that hadn’t yet been fulfilled when this picture failed to have much impact at the box office. Reynolds would eventually star in some hugely successful films, but The Nines is one of my early favorites of his and is a film off of which I base all of my appreciation for his acting talents.
The Martian (2015)
Donald Glover has risen to prominence in recent years not just as the celebrated rapper Childish Gambino, but as the creator and star of award-winning television comedy Atlanta. After his star rose higher with the success of Community, Glover took on a small role in Ridley Scott’s The Martian, which featured Matt Damon in the lead role as an astronaut stranded on Mars who must science the hell out of everything in order to survive longer than anticipated. Glover is among the scientists back on Earth working towards mounting a rescue operation, even though the government wants to consider him lost.
Scott’s post-Thelma & Louise filmography has been spotty at best, but this adaptation of Andy Weir’s popular novel, written by screenwriter Drew Goddard, was a rare treat for the once-dominant sci-fi feature director. The Martian is all Damon’s show and he commands the screen anytime he’s on it, but when things get to the events on Earth, Glover is among a sterling cast of supporting performers giving the film their best.
The Post (2017)
Steven Spielberg’s Oscar-nominated exploration of Kay Graham’s (Meryl Streep) unprecedented tenure as the first female newspaper publisher in history as she led the Washington Post through the tumultuous relationship between the government and the fourth estate. The film focuses on her struggle to maintain a tight grip on control of the paper as her male underlings work to undermine her.
The film takes place as Graham rises to power and her lead editor, Ben Bradlee (Tom Hanks), prepares release of the notorious Pentagon Papers, which exposed the lengthy cover up of events taking place in Vietnam by several presidential administrations. Streep and Hanks are solid as is the rest of the cast, including a very small role for Alison Brie as Kay’s daughter Lilly.
A fascinating precursor to the events depicted in 1976’s All the President’s Men, The Post is a fine example of how important journalism is in a world of increasing corruption. Not only was it a terrific, if slow-boiling, film, it reminds modern audiences that real journalistic integrity exposes the emperor without clothes, it doesn’t pay complements to him for his wonderful new outfit.
Crazy Rich Asians (2018)
Actor/comedian Ken Jeong has been working in film and television since the late 1990s, but it wasn’t until his role in Community that his fortunes began to rise. Although he’s contended himself with mocking Hollywood’s cliched interpretation of Asian characters, he’s delivered a few strong performances of his own, including in Crazy Rich Asians, a box office success for director Jon M. Chu and stars Constance Wu, Henry Golding, Gemma Chan, Lisa Lu, and Awkwafina to name a few. Only Michelle Yeoh in this cast had been widely seen by American audiences on the big screen before.
The film was adapted by Peter Chiarelli and Adele Lim from the popular novel of the same name by Kevin Kwan. Audiences are introduced to Rachel Chu (Wu) an economics professor at New York University as she meets handsome Nick Young (Golding) who invites her to Singapore for his best friend’s wedding. There, the two face his family matriarch (Yeoh) who isn’t impressed with Rachel’s humble beginnings. Cultural identity and clashing loyalties drive the narrative in a beautiful and engaging film.
Yeoh is stellar as always, but the rest of the cast is equally strong in a film that is funny and touching. It’s also a potent exploration of family and tradition as it shows the similarities and differences between American and Asian cultures, all in a most stunning package (kudos especially to production designer Nelson Coates and cinematographer Vanja Cernjul).