Live from New York!

(USA 2015)

A fortieth anniversary retrospective of NBC’s Saturday Night Live! and its rise from DIY skit show to American institution. Objective and analytical in tone, it’s more oral history than nostalgia, broaching unflattering topics like SNL‘s inherent sexism, “anti Golden Age” of the early Eighties, and historical lack of diversity. Insights from Jane Curtin, Garret Morris, Larraine Newman, Julia Louise-Dreyfus, Dana Carvey, Will Ferrell, Tina Fey, Jimmy Fallon, Andy Samberg, and many others.

(AMC River East) B

Love and Mercy

(USA 2015)

Easily the saddest story I’ve seen this year, Love and Mercy chronicles the beginning of Beach Boy Brian Wilson’s head trip and his later courtship with his wife, Melinda (Elizabeth Banks). I seriously doubted John Cusack as Wilson—even more because he looks nothing like Paul Dano, who plays young Wilson. My doubts proved wrong, because it works. Paul Giamatti plays a wonderfully evil physician with power of attorney over Wilson. Flashbacks to earlier days are effective and purposeful, unlike Saint Laurent. I have no idea how much was accurate literal history, but it thoroughly engrossed me.

Director Bill Pohlad’s previous films include Brokeback Mountain, 12 Years a Slave, and Wild.

(Landmark Century) A

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl

(USA 2015)

American Horror Story: Coven director Alfonso Gomez-Rejon’s adaptation of the 2012 novel of the same name by Jesse Andrews, who wrote the screenplay. Me and Earl and the Dying Girl is a simple and underwhelming story, really, with a punchy if morbid title: a self-deprecating goofball teenager named Greg (Thomas Mann) is forced by his mother (Connie Britton) to hang out with prickly classmate Rachel (Olivia Cooke), who is sick with leukemia. Greg’s mother thinks it would be a “nice” thing to do to “make her feel better.”

Rachel is on to Greg, though, and she resents his pity. Nonetheless, the two go through the motions of faking a friendship to get their mothers—Molly Shannon plays Rachel’s mom—off their backs. After Greg introduces his buddy, Earl (R.J. Cyler)—the two of whom make parodies of real films with titles like “Senior Citizen Cane,” “My Dinner with Andre the Giant,” and “Rosemary’s Baby Carrots”—the three develop a friendship. Greg and Earl set out to make a movie for Rachel.

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl easily could have gone off the rails and become an insipid little mess, but it doesn’t. It holds together quite well, probably because it’s full of funny (and cringeworthy) moments despite its sad subject matter. Two things make this film exceptional: the acting is superb, and the script nails teenage boy angst with laser precision.

(AMC River East) A-