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Rotting in the Sun / Happiness for Beginners

Rotting in the Sun

Sebastian Silva, the filmmaker behind some of my favorite films like Nasty Baby and Chrystal Fairy & the Magical Cactus, is back with another film that blends comedy with sometimes heartbreaking and mean characters who are dealing with the struggles of existing in this world as a human being.

In Rotting in the Sun, Silva and his co-star and collaborator, Jordan Firstman, play factionalized versions of themselves, each seemingly exaggerating some of their worst tendencies in this film.

Silva is a suicidal filmmaker and painter, pouring over the book "The Trouble with Being Born" and struggling with a severe bout of depression when his manager suggests that he go to a hedonistic nude beach to get some sun, rest, relaxation, and hopefully meet some new men for conquest.

When Silva gets there, his problems follow him. He sits on the beach furiously taking notes from this nihilistic text, possibly making his already bleak outlook on life even more hopeless. This is when he meets Jordan Firstman in a very unlikely way, which changes the course of the rest of the film. Firstman is an online influencer who has a vigor and love for life that Silva can't muster. Firstman is a fan of Silva's film and tries to get him to work on a project with him, among other things.

From there, I won't speak any more about the story itself, except that it's full of surprises. Rotting in the Sun is a pitch-black comedy, with Silva's signature off-color humor, handheld, almost vérité style camera work, his penchant for incorporating improv, and his ability to be both self-deprecating and make it feel incredibly relatable. It’s like when Silva is holds a mirror to his worst version of himself, he shines a light on our own, showing us that no person is all one thing; we're all complex beings just trying to exist.

Rotting in the Sun is now available on MUBI.

Happiness for Beginners

When Happiness for Beginners popped up in my Netflix feed, I was initially excited. A feel-good comedy featuring Ellie Kemper and an ensemble of comedic actors from shows I love, like Super Store, Shining Vale, and Yellowstone, about a woman going on a personal journey to find herself, was exactly the film I needed. I wanted an uplifting, funny, and easy-to-watch film, but unfortunately, even with low standards for what I wanted this film to be, it didn't meet them.

Ellie Kemper, as Helen (with an H), plays a more dramatic character here, letting her co-stars be the comic relief, but unfortunately, it doesn't work. The film feels saccharine and boring. The story hits all the points that a film like this should hit, but it feels passionless and aimless.

It's not a horrible film by any means, but it feels stagnant. "Lifeless" is a strange way of describing it that I'm not sure I've ever seen before.

There are some moments of comic greatness, especially Hugh, played by Nico Santos, who becomes Helen's champion and de facto best friend therapist, and Kaylee, played by Gus Birney, is delightfully weird as a woman going on a camping trip to get over her fear of wood. These two characters bring some much-needed energy and humor to the film, but unfortunately, they aren't given enough to do to save it.

Overall, Happiness for Beginners isn't an offensive film by any means. If you need something to put on and zone out, maybe while working, it works. Also, someone else could see something in this that I didn't feel, but beyond that, I think it's worth skipping.

Happiness for Beginners is available on Netflix.

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Joshua LaBure is a documentary filmmaker, radio producer and podcaster based out of Omaha, Nebraska. His experience includes having directed and produced several short films, two narrative features and two documentary features, with his works featured at the Lone Star Film Festival, The Bureau of Creative Works and other filmmaker showcases. His most recent documentary had a sold-out premiere and received a standing ovation at the Benson Theatre. Furthermore, he founded the Denver Filmmakers Collective, which hosted local filmmaker showcases, has served on jury for major film festivals and has hosted countless film screenings.
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