Tuesday, May 23, 2017

OVP: Trolls (2016)

Film: Trolls (2016)
Stars: Anna Kendrick, Justin Timberlake, Zooey Deschanel, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Christine Baranski
Director: Mike Mitchell
Oscar History: 1 nomination (Best Original Song-"Can't Stop the Feeling")
Snap Judgment Ranking: 3/5 stars

Each year when the Oscar nominations are announced, part of my annual tradition is to add the films that I now "have to see" for the OVP into a spreadsheet.  For the most part, this is fun because I add a number of foreign films to the list that I normally wouldn't have caught, or it gives me an excuse to indulge an action-adventure that randomly got in for Best Sound.  On the other hand, however, there are moments where I dread this activity, as it puts on my viewing list a movie that I had no intention of ever seeing, one in fact that I specifically didn't want to see.  While Suicide Squad was surely at the top of that list this year, Trolls wasn't far behind.  This had nothing to do with an aversion to animated movies (I tend to like them), but instead was due to an allergy I have developed to Justin Timberlake.

(Spoilers Ahead) This wasn't always the case.  I still remember Justified with fondness, and his Rolling Stone issue I kept hidden under my bed with, well, fondness is one word for it.  I like his music as a whole, but I'm really over him being a matinee idol.  Timberlake as a movie star seemed to take hold in 2010 when he got over-praised for his work in the admittedly superb Social Network (Andrew Garfield should have gotten all of the buzz for Supporting Actor from that film...anyone who vouches for Timberlake or Hammer instead needs to check themselves).  After that, Timberlake has managed to headline movies with Cameron Diaz, Mila Kunis, Ben Affleck and Clint Eastwood (anyone else remember Trouble with the Curve?), but no one seems to be willing to point out the obvious: while Timberlake is charming in his way and can be funny, he can't, well, act.

As a result of being one of the few people whom this truly frustrates, I had benched Trolls even though I thought the trailers were kind of cute until Timberlake became an Oscar nominee (a year after Lady Gaga, who also can't act and has less comedic skills than even Timberlake, also became an Oscar nominee), and so I was forced to watch the movie.

And lo and behold, while my opinion on Timberlake hasn't changed, the movie itself isn't bad.  The film, centered around two trolls, one impossibly sunny (Poppy, voiced by Kendrick) and the other a dour grump (Branch, voiced by Timberlake).  While the plot beats are extremely easy to guess, the musical choices are fun (in a jukebox sort of way), and Kendrick & Timberlake have solid chemistry.  Given only the opportunity to shine vocally (much like he does with music), Timberlake actually succeeds here in a way he hasn't since The Social Network, perhaps because he's free of his ability to smirk on camera rather than connect with his characters.  Kendrick (and for that matter, Christine Baranski, wonderfully cast as the villain) can both pull this off in their sleep, but it's quite a bit of fun all-around.  It's not breaking down Pixar's door here, but it's hardly in the same league as Shrek in terms of using crudeness for constant humor, and I liked how Poppy doesn't get taught to "be cynical" as part of her lesson.

The film received a solo nomination for the Oscars, and say what you will about "Can't Stop the Feeling," but it works in the context of the movie.  The film features elaborate musical numbers based on pop hits, so it's actually quite gutsy to include this initially unknown song at a critical juncture.  Seeing the film on video months later, after the song has become a gargantuan hit on-par with the rest of the numbers in the movie, actually adds to the impact, helping the film seem less dated in the process.  It wasn't the best nominated song of 2016, but quite frankly I was wrong to pre-judge this nomination, as it kind of fits into the nominated field.

Those are my thoughts on Trolls-how about you?  Anyone else surprised they liked it?  Anyone want to explain the appeal of Timberlake as a movie star?  And who would you give the 2016 Best Original Song Oscar to?  Share in the comments!

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