Insomnia File No. 17: The Suburbans (dir by Donal Lardner Ward)


What’s an Insomnia File? You know how some times you just can’t get any sleep and, at about three in the morning, you’ll find yourself watching whatever you can find on cable? This feature is all about those insomnia-inspired discoveries!

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Last night, if you were still awake at 3:45 in the morning, you could have turned over to Starz and watched the 1999 comedy, The Suburbans!

And, in all probability, you would have fallen asleep before it was over.

This film tells the story of four guys who used to be in a band.  The name of the band was The Suburbans and, in 1980, they had a hit with a song called … wait … what the Hell was that song called?  See, this is an example of how slapdash The Suburbans was.  The whole point of the film is that they had a hit song but the movie goes off in some many different and random tangents that I can’t even remember what the name of this very important song was.  All I remember is that the song didn’t really sound like it would ever be a hit (no, not even in the 80s) and that the four guys really didn’t seem like they would ever be rock stars.

Anyway, The Suburbans only had that one hit and now, nearly twenty years later, all the band members are leading conventional lives in the suburbs.  Oddly, they all appear to live in the same suburb and they’re all still best friends.  Craig Bierko is the former lead guitarist, who is now a doctor of some sort.  Will Ferrell (yes, that Will Ferrell) is the former bass player who now works with computers.  Tony Guma is the overweight drummer who is at the center of a lot of scenes, presumably because Guma co-wrote the script.  Donal Lardner Ward is the former lead singer.  Along with starring in the film, Ward also directed it.  That might explain why, despite not being a very interesting character, everyone in the film is portrayed as being in love with him.

The Suburbans briefly reunite to play at Ferrell’s wedding.  A music executive (Jennifer Love Hewitt) happens to be at the wedding.  It turns out that she used to love The Suburbans and their one hit!  (The problem is that Jennifer Love Hewitt was only 20 when this film was made, which means that, when the Suburbans were famous, she would have only been a year old.)  She arranges for The Suburbans to reunite for a pay-per-view special and…

…and then a lot of stuff happens.  And I do mean a lot of stuff.  But what’s odd is none of that stuff adds up to anything.  Ward’s girlfriend (played by Amy Brenneman) is briefly threatened by Hewitt but, fear not — Donal Lardner Ward is the world’s greatest guy!  Occasionally, one member of the Suburbans might argue with another member of the Suburbans but fear not — they’re all great guys!

What’s funny is that, after spending 81 minutes with these characters and listening to their oppressively relentless quippy dialogue, you still don’t feel like you know a damn thing about any of them.  You never even find out how The Suburbans first got together or what inspired them to write their one hit in the first place.  Nor do you find out why they broke up.  They’re just sort of there and we’re supposed to care.

I guess I should mention that Ben and Jerry Stiller are both in the film.  They play Hewitt’s bosses and it’s painful to watch both of them.  Apparently, the director just said, “Ben, say something funny!” and the result was an endless scene of Ben Stiller saying whatever popped into his head.

(I should also probably mention that J.J. Abrams produced this movie.  Yes, that J.J. Abrams…)

If you track down the Suburbans on DVD, you’ll notice that the cover art is pretty much centered around Jennifer Love Hewitt and Will Ferrell.  What’s funny is that neither Hewitt nor Ferrel really get to do much in the movie.  (That said, Ferrell’s performance is enjoyably odd, even if it does feel totally out of the place.)  The entire movie is centered around Tony Guma and Donal Lardner Ward.  After all, they wrote and directed the damn thing.  So, I guess if you’re a Tony Guma fan, The Suburbans is the movie for you!

Previous Insomnia Files:

  1. Story of Mankind
  2. Stag
  3. Love Is A Gun
  4. Nina Takes A Lover
  5. Black Ice
  6. Frogs For Snakes
  7. Fair Game
  8. From The Hip
  9. Born Killers
  10. Eye For An Eye
  11. Summer Catch
  12. Beyond the Law
  13. Spring Broke
  14. Promise
  15. George Wallace
  16. Kill The Messenger

What Lisa Watched This Afternoon #114: Babysitter’s Black Book (dir by Lee Friedlander)


Earlier today, I watched last night’s Lifetime original movie, Babysitter’s Black Book!

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Why Was I Watching It?

I love Lifetime movies about out-of-control teenagers.

What Was It About?

Ashley (Spencer Locke) wants to go to a good college and is terrified of getting stuck at a community college.  She’s even started a babysitting service in order to help pay for school.  However, she soon finds herself having an affair with one of her clients (Ryan McPartin).  Meanwhile, one of her employees has turned the babysitting service into a prostitution ring.

And while that may seem extreme to some, never underestimate the lengths people will go to avoid having to enroll in a community college…

What Worked?

Before I watched this film, I thought there was a very good chance that either Sugar Daddies or Back to School Mom would be the best Lifetime film of 2015.  But then I watched Babysitter’s Black Book and oh my God!  Babysitter’s Black Book is one of the best Lifetime films that I have ever seen.  How good was it?  It’s almost as good as Confessions of a Go Go Girl!

(And that’s pretty freaking good…)

Babysitter’s Black Book features everything that you could possibly want from a Lifetime film.  Melodrama, comedy, pretty clothes, sordid happenings in artfully decorated settings, and wonderfully over-the-top dialogue.  When Rachel tries to convince her friends to have sex for money, she very reasonably says, “Use it before you lose it.”  When Mark offers Ashley something to eat, he tells her, “Try it and you’ll never want to have another thing in your mouth.”  How can you not love this film?

The film was also remarkably well-directed and acted.  In the role of the greedily pragmatic Rachel, Angeline Appel stole every scene that she appeared in.  Another scene stealer was an actor named Jeff L. Williams.  Playing the role of the decadent Walker, Williams only appeared in a handful of scenes but he definitely made an impression.  The minute he smirked and said, “Let’s take some real pictures,” you just knew that bad things were going to happen.

This was exactly the type of film that we watch Lifetime to see.

What Did Not Work?

It all worked.  This was a perfect Lifetime movie.

“Oh my God!  Just like me!” Moments

Not that we ever would but, if for some reason we did decided to start a prostitution business, I would hope that my best friends and I would be as cheerful, giggly, and supportive about it as the girls in this film.  And I really do think we would be.  That’s one of the best things about Babysitter’s Black Book.  It’s a film that — much like Sofia Coppola’s Bling Ring — is honest about the fact that sometimes it’s fun to be bad.  (Especially when you’re still too sheltered and naive to understand the consequences…)

Babysitter’s Black Book perfectly captured the feeling of just how exhilarating and scary it can be to have your entire future in front of you.  Whenever Ashley dreaded the prospect of having to stay home and attend a community college, I found myself nodding and thinking, “Oh my God.  Just like me….”

Lessons Learned

Actions have consequences but it’s still fun to have money.

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Shattered Politics #82: An American Affair (dir by William Olsson)


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Though the names may have been changed, the 2008 film An American Affair is clearly based on the true story of Mary Pinchot Meyer.

In the early 60s, Mary Pinchot Meyer was a celebrated member of the Washington D.C. social scene.  A talented painter, Meyer was also the ex-wife of CIA officer Cord Meyer and was an early proponent of LSD.  She also happened to the mistress of John F. Kennedy and reportedly use to smoke weed with him in the Oval Office.  It’s also been reported that she kept a diary, which mysteriously disappeared after Mary’s still unsolved murder in 1964.  Needless to say, many a JFK assassination conspiracy theory has featured Mary Pinchot Meyer as a supporting character.

In An American Affair, Meyer is renamed Catherine Caswell (Gretchen Mol) and she lives across the street from 13 year-old Adam Stafford (Cameron Bright).  While Catherine has secret meetings with the President and deals with her alcoholic ex-husband (played, quite well, by Mark Pellegrino), Adam watches from his bedroom window.  Eventually, Adam goes across the street and offers to work in Catherine’s garden.  Realizing that Adam has a crush on her, an amused Catherine agrees.  While the future of America is being determined all around him, Adam learns about life, love, and art from Catherine.

An American Affair is an odd mix of conspiracy film and coming-of-age dramedy but it actually work pretty well.  Gretchen Mol gives a good performance as the poignantly unstable Catherine and, despite the fact that Adam is kind of a creep at times, Cameron Bright manages to make the character sympathetic.  However, the film’s best performances come from James Rebhorn and Pellegrino, playing two menacing figures who always seem to hovering in the shadows.

An American Affair is a surprisingly good film.  I saw it on Netflix and so should you.