This movie weekend offers unexpected pleasures -- as well as a few clunkers -- for all cinematic tastes, including the very R-rated "Neighbors," modestly-scaled indies "Palo Alto," "The Double" and "Chef," and a potently disturbing food doc, "Fed Up." (Trailers below.)
The hilarious, well-constructed "Neighbors," starring Seth Rogen and Zac Efron as the titular domestic warmongers, reveals Rogen and "Bridesmaids" star Rose Byrne at their whip-smart best as hip young parents reveling in their new baby until new neighbors move in next door. It's the nightmare from hell: a raucous fraternity house dominated by ringleader Efron. At first Rogen and Byrne make nice with the enemy, trying to be cool and showing them that they too, baby monitor in hand, can party all night. While Efron and his boys play along, they have no intention of changing their wild ways and the neighbors are soon engaged in all-out war.
A third-generation Coppola makes a bid at ethereal filmmaking in the beautifully empty "Palo Alto." Director Gia Coppola offers much to look at, but little to see in this ensemble portrait of wayward adolescence: Emma Roberts leads, in a star-making turn, as a sexually curious high school senior; producer-star James Franco phones it in as a creepy soccer coach; Jack Kilmer commands the screen as a sensitive, too-cool-for-school hipster whose best friend, played by Nat Wolff, is a sociopath. Aunt Sofia did it better with "The Virgin Suicides." Fortunately for Gia, it's not her problem -- it's Franco's. He wrote the book of stories this is based on, and some of these characters are woefully underwritten, with absolutely nothing specific about them.
Fashionable alienation is more fun in "The Double," from director Richard Ayoade, who proudly wears his influences on his sleeve. It's Jesse Eisenberg versus Jesse Eisenberg in this twisty-turny doppelganger nightmare rife with artful production design, deliriously over-the-top performances and maddening comedy. Mia Wasikowska's lovely, honeyed supporting turn as the object of Eisenberg's unrequited obsession gives this cold, cantankerous experience a bit of heart. Surely one of the year's most entertaining pictures, and one of its most enjoyably frustrating as well.
Jon Favreau's scruffy indie crowdpleaser "Chef" centers on a cook-turned-food-truck-owner trying to rebuild his estranged family, and his reputation. With references to "Eat Drink Man Woman," the film is best seen on an empty stomach, both enjoyable and full of chuckles. Though a tad sentimental, the loosely improv style and camerawork are winning. Sofia Vergara is lovely on the eyes but stiff as a film actress, in a rather underwritten role.
And while that film tries to woo, and whet, your appetite, "Fed Up" will most certainly quash it. Stephanie Soechtig's potently disturbing documentary "Fed Up," nominated for the 2014 Sundance Grand Jury Prize, sets out to dispel myths and shatter illusions surrounding the American food machine. Produced by Katie Couric and Laurie David ("An Inconvenient Truth"), the film suggests that when it comes to diet and exercise, we're doing it all wrong.
Neighbors Dir. Nicholas Stoller, USA | Universal Pictures | Cast: Seth Rogen, Rose Byrne, Zac Efron, Dave Franco | 79% Fresh | San Francisco Chronicle: "When Rogen and Efron face off against each other, you feel that you're looking at two characters with everything on the line. It's funnier because it's more real." | Our review and video interview with Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg
The Double Dir. Richard Ayoade, UK | Magnolia Pictures | Cast: Jesse Eisenberg, Mia Wasikowska, Wallace Shawn, Paddy Considine, Sally Hawkins, Chris O'Dowd | 84% Fresh | Village Voice: "'The Double,' with its inviting alienation, nails a curious mood that's been too long absent from contemporary film." | Our review
Palo Alto Dir. Gia Coppola, USA | Tribeca Film | Cast: Emma Roberts, Jack Kilmer, James Franco, Nat Wolff, Chris Messina | 83% Fresh | The Wrap: "Coppola doesn't let these kids off the hook for their stupid decisions, of which they make many, but she's not judging them for their folly, either." | Our Tribeca interview with Coppola
Chef Dir. Jon Favreau, USA | Open Road Films | Cast: Jon Favreau, Sofia Vergara, John Leguizamo, Bobby Cannavale, Dustin Hoffman, Oliver Platt, Robert Downey Jr., Scarlett Johansson | 81% Fresh | Associated Press: "A delectable take on an out-of-work cook who experiences career rejuvenation when traveling cross-country serving Cuban entrees on a foodtruck." | Our SXSW coverage