The snow has melted and (fingers crossed) it looks like the worst winter weather may be behind us. Still, the weekend ahead looks like it might be a wet one, and you'll want to start fortifying those queues for a (literal) rainy day. Here's what we've loved at Portland Monthly this week, from a Danish political drama to a dreamlike read from Japan and beyond.
Remember fun? I didn't. Not until Saturday, February 13, 2021, when Kristen Wiig and Annie Mumolo's Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar came into my life.
I peeped the trailer sometime pre-COVID, when it was slated to drop in theaters during the summer of 2020. I thought it looked silly and frivolous. Little did I know how desperately I'd come to crave frivolity.
Barb and Star—played by Mumolo and Wiig, respectively—are midwestern adult roommates/BFFs who work at a furniture store called Jennifer Convertibles. They love Chico's, culottes, and plain food. When a friend describes her recent to trip to Florida as "a soul douche," they decide to throw caution to the wind and head south. Little do they know, their chosen oasis (the titular, fictional Vista Del Mar) is the target of an evil agent (Wiig again, in incredible prosthetics) and her himbo lackey (Jamie Dornan, who makes such an impression that I don't even know where to begin).
Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar is one of the funniest movies in the entire world. It buzzes with the energy of two supernaturally hilarious friends just riffing, throwing in every joke they can imagine, plus the kitchen sink and a pair of musical numbers for good measure. It's the first movie Wiig and Mumolo have written together since Bridesmaids, and it is conspicuously absent that movie's studio intervention. (In an interview with the New York Times, they note that the original Bridesmaids script was much weirder.) Every square inch of this thing is made up of jokes, and almost all of them hit. An early scene on an airplane where Barb and Star discuss the name "Trish" is an instant comedy hall-of-fame moment; the eventual payoff will spit in the face of your wildest dreams.
Barb and Star has the unalgorithmed, freewheeling feel of bygone studio comedies like Zoolander or Austin Powers, but it is funnier than all of its predecessors. I cannot stress this enough: I laughed my absolute ass off. I watched it two and a half times during my 48-hour rental period. It's also incredibly sweet—it pokes fun at Barb and Star, but never derides them, notably taking Star's affair with Jamie Dornan seriously as an emotional and sexual triumph—and in the dark depths of 2021, a little gentleness goes a long way.
The film's current VOD price tag is $20. Admittedly hefty. But can you put a price on the rediscovery of joy? On genuine, from-the-gut, have-to-pause-the-movie-to-recover laughter? On Jamie Dornan belting out a song to a flock of seagulls while he rips his polo off in the ocean? I do not think you can. —Conner Reed, arts & culture editor
What better way to while away the time bemoaning the state of American democracy than having the Danes rub their multi-party, coalition-building system in our faces? In other words, I have belatedly come to Borgen, the political drama set in red-roofed and cobblestoned Copenhagen and currently streaming on Netflix. The series, which kicked off in 2010, follows the fortunes of Birgitte Nyborg (Sidse Babett Knudsen), bicycling idealist and savvy political operator, as she rises in Danish politics with the help of her trusted spindoktor Kasper Juul (Pilou Asbæk, aka Euron Greyjoy from Game of Thrones), all chronicled by the crack journalistic team at TV1 and its star reporter, Katrine Fønsmark (Birgitte Hjort Sørensen).
I named my cat Yuko, for no other reason than it was the de facto name given to him by my friends from whom I adopted the little guy. His name, I later learned, originated from Japan, and means something along the lines of “gentle child,” and I liked that, so I kept it and thought very little of it for the two years we’ve been hanging out.
But while perusing the Book Bin in Salem on a weekend trip to the southern Oregon coast a few weeks before this winter hell storm we just received, I came across a book by the late Japanese author Yūko Tsushima. The book, Territory of Light, drew me in with its soft blue-yellow-pink gradient cover and its minimalist presentation. Translated by Geraldine Harcourt, Territory of Light follows a young woman, recently separated from her husband, and her 2-year-old daughter as they adjust to a new life in a new apartment over the course of a year. Through fragmented, almost dreamlike scenes, we’re absorbed in a complicated, sometimes murky depiction of single motherhood, of a woman still discovering herself while raising her daughter and coping with a lingering sense of abandonment.
This is not a rave, but an expression of pleasant relief that the third item in a once-promising series is better than the dismal second. The first movie in the To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before trilogy, based on Jenny Han’s young adult novels about a shy teenage girl, Lara Jean, who finds herself in an unlikely romantic entanglement, was a delight. The second, To All the Boys: PS, I Still Love You, was a serious dropoff—in sequel terms, much more Chamber of Secrets than Empire Strikes Back.
The second film really leaned into its alleged Portland setting, too, while being very clearly filmed in Vancouver, Canada. In To All the Boys: Always and Forever, released on Netflix February 12, Portland briefly appears on a map in some travel transition graphics, and while standing in front of a Manhattan Macy’s a character announces they have all the same stores back home. (Do we still have a Macy's in the city limits, though? We have a Muji, and don’t have to go all the way to Beaverton for Kinokuniya, so I guess....) And that’s it!
But the lack of Portland, or fake Portland, means Portlanders can watch the movie without being annoyed, and can even enjoy the cities that did get real location shoots: Lara Jean visits a vibrant Seoul with her family for spring break, complete with food stands, a triple tandem bike, and skyscraper hotel karaoke, and then takes a school trip to New York, where everyone in Washington Square is wearing so much NYU garb they look like poorly trained undercover agents. Everywhere, there are cupcakes. (I would suspect the film is just advertising for Big Cupcake, but there doesn’t seem to be any bakeware in the companion home and clothing line for sale at Target.)
Familiar faces from other Netflix shows pop up here and there (does the streaming service also have its own repertory company?), and one bit of Gen X casting might have you in shock as you realize a certain someone turns 50 this year. And the story itself? Well, Lara Jean is in more of a Romeo + Juliet than a Sixteen Candles mood this time around, so you know things are getting intense with Peter. Mistakes are made. Lessons are learned. The usual. —Margaret Seiler, managing editor