The Incredible Jessica James and Becoming Warren Buffett chart the journeys of a newly single woman and the world's third-richest man respectively
As movie studios increasingly drop mid-budget works for grown-ups in favour of sure-fire all-ages concepts, talent is moving to streaming and cable networks.
One example is The Incredible Jessica James (NC16, 83 minutes, now streaming on Netflix,), charting a newly single woman's journey through the shoals of modern dating.
When every single-and-dating show's point of view seems to be grounded in the film-maker's minority identity (black, Indian-American) or weird quirk (sex addict, commitment phobia, stand-up comic), this drama-comedy goes general when others go specific.
Jessica (played by the charismatic Jessica Williams, former senior correspondent on The Daily Show) is a struggling playwright and theatre snob. She is extremely picky about her dates, one of them being Boone (Chris O'Dowd), because she is devastated by a recent break-up.
The jokes are well-crafted, if a little unfocused. If Jessica is not as prickly, black or woman-centred as she needs to be, perhaps it is because this is written and directed by a white man, James Strouse, the writer who helms other similarly genial works of comedy (People Places Things, 2015).
The HBO documentary feature Becoming Warren Buffett (84 minutes, premieres on Sunday, 10pm, HBO Signature, StarHub TV Channel 603, ) has an alluring title. How should we become him, the third-richest man in the world?
There is something of a how-to guide in here, but the "becoming" refers more to how he became him. A camera crew is given a few days' access to his life, including a high-school pep talk. Woven around the talk is his biography, with well-designed graphics explaining stock-market jargon.
The journalism is filled out with interviews with his children and colleagues, as an expert performs the business-for-dummies clarifications.
While this is fact-filled, its emphasis on the human-interest angle leaves insufficient room for the how-to portion, which unhelpfully includes tips such as "never lose money" and "focus".
From its cringey premise, there was little hope that The Emoji Movie (PG, 92 minutes, now showing, ) would be anything but awful. The premonition is correct.
That it embeds a message of uplift for misfits and dreamers somehow makes it worse - it's as if a corporation with a contract to strip mine in a wildlife reserve produced commercials about patriotism and healthy living.
Repurposing the video game in-world references of Wreck-It Ralph (2012) and blending it with the microcosm-within metaphor of Inside Out (2015), it begins with an emoji, Gene (voiced by T.J. Miller), a Meh icon, representing indifference.
He finds that he cannot do that one simple job because he is too well-rounded and complex, just like you and me.
The rest is as one might expect - there are visual gags for the kids and double-entendres for the grown-ups ("What could a teenage boy do on his phone that he would want to hide from his parents?" says James Corden, voicing the High Five emoji. Looks at audience, pauses meaningfully).
Born of a need to use a universally recognised image as movie fodder, this work fails to recognise another universally recognised fact: It's hard to turn a marketing gimmick into good art.
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 11, 2017, with the headline 'Navigating the dating, business worlds'. Print Edition | Subscribe
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