#NativeNerd reviews: ‘I Know This Much Is True,’ ‘Hustle’ and ‘The Lovebirds’

Vincent Schilling

Mark Ruffalo delivers a viciously honest performance worthy of an Emmy, ‘Hustle’ lacks any innovation and ‘Lovebirds’ is a hilarious and fun rom-com romp

It’s been a few weeks since I last posted any movie reviews, simply due to a changing movie world. In full disclosure, I wasn’t really sure how to approach my reviews as for the most part, I am often able to see a movie before it hits the public, so I feel I get to offer some insight before any fellow moviegoers might invest their time and money.

But all considered, the world of movie content has been upended. Many of us are at home, working from home or — since you are unable to go to a theater — looking through several streaming platforms wondering what you should invest in.

So I will do my best to deliver suggestions and reviews based on what I see is out there.

This week’s reviews are "I Know This Much Is True," which stars Mark Ruffalo and is now available on HBO Now, "Hustle" on Amazon Prime and "The Lovebirds" now on Netflix.

Here are my reviews.

A note about my #NativeNerd scoring system

When reviewing movies, I employ the decimal system to a tenth of a point. So instead of 7 stars, I might give a 7.4 out of ten. Some movies aren’t an eight but deserve a little more than a seven.

So that’s that.

I Know This Much Is True

10 out of 10

My quick quote: “Mark Ruffalo delivers what may be the finest performance of his career. Gritty, challenging, disastrous and real. Run, don’t walk to see this masterful work portrayed by an incredible ensemble cast”

I Know This Much Is True

Synopsis: Middle-aged Dominick Birdsey recounts his troubled relationship with Thomas, his paranoid schizophrenic twin brother, and his efforts to get him released from an asylum.

As I wrote in my quick quote above, I really have to say, Mark Ruffalo delivers what may be the finest performance of his career. When I score a movie or work of cinematic art. I am extremely critical before I give a perfect 10 out of 10.

In a way, I do it in reverse. I start by saying to myself, ‘If this film had a perfect 10, what factors would chip away at that perfect score, effectively whittling away at the numeric score?’

So I thought through all six episodes, I thought through all of the acting performances, all of the moments, all of the interactions, the expressions of emotion — and I have surmised — that in my view, there is no fault. Thus, it deserves a golden 10.0.

Mark Ruffalo is masterful, and in the six-episode series, the progression is painful, true, real and ugly. But every bit of it is necessary. Ruffalo plays two roles, Dominick and Thomas Birdsey. Dominick is a struggling house painter, while his twin brother, Thomas, is a paranoid schizophrenic who lives in and out of mental institutions.

Dominick honors his mother’s dying wish to mind after his brother, whom he both loves and resents. Thomas’ mental state continues to deteriorate throughout the course of his life, continuously causing a strain on Dominick.

Not once did I struggle with Ruffalo playing two roles, it was so flawless, I simply accepted there were two brothers. They both had their separate pains, struggles and their own lives to live, which was both codependent and yet detached.

Other performances stuck out to me in terms of their exceptional delivery. Rosie O’Donnell as the mental institution’s social worker Lisa Sheffer was incredible, believable and I believed in her backstory. There was a world behind every word she said. Archie Panjabi as Dr. Patel was also an incredible actor who was so believable, I would swear she had a psychological medical practice in addition to being an actor.

There was also a Native theme to “I Know This Much Is True,” as well as several Native actors to include Michael Greyeyes, Tatanka Means, Acahkos Johnson, MorningStar Angeline and others. As much as the film had a family history story about Dominick and Thomas’ Italian heritage, there was also a Native American family story.

Within the confines of the family stories of Italians and Natives, there was the exploration of racism and systemic microaggressions. Ultimately, the show even delves into the unanswered crisis of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls. The emphasis is placed on the word, unanswered.

For all of it’s grim reality and real struggle, there is a beautiful method to this madness. And everyone who worked on this project should congratulate themselves.

For all of its struggle, for all of its heartache, tragedy and ugly and gritty reality, Ruffalo and all of the actors worked masterfully together to create a real slice of life. Not everything is beautiful in life — and therein lies the beauty of this work.

“I Know This Much Is True,” is now on HBO.

Hustle

2.5 out of 10

My quick quote: “Two actors I really love fall prey to Hollywood’s ‘make a movie with an overused tired formula’ machine. Sadly, a non-delivering train wreck without much humor.”

Hustle

Synopsis: Josephine Chesterfield is a glamorous, seductive British woman who has a penchant for defrauding gullible men out of their money. Into her well-ordered, meticulous world comes Penny Rust, a cunning and fun-loving Australian woman who lives to swindle unsuspecting marks. Despite their different methods, the two grifters soon join forces for the ultimate score -- a young and naive tech billionaire in the South of France.

Please take me out of my misery on this one. Ooof, there were tired old formulas in place here and Anne Hathaway was doing the weirdest accent that I just couldn't shake. This was simply “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels” with women actors. And so sadly for such incredible actors, not done well.

The thing is, I truly enjoy the performances of both Hathaway and Rebel Wilson. But I think they might have gotten a little too comfortable with being appreciated as actors. Or I don’t know, it just didn’t work.

This movie was terrible and I had to stop watching, regroup after a bit of time, and come back to it more than once after having to stop the pain.

The formula was this: Goofy girl is a small time swindling thief who meets a big time swindling thief and wants to learn her ways after encroaching on her territory. Big time thief reluctantly says ‘yes,’ then for every way the big-time thief teaches an elite technique, the goofy girl shows her ineptitude with a raunchy response. Lather, rinse, repeat.

The humor and jokes were uncreative and I really wish they would have gone back to the drawing-room on several occasions. It really could have been funny if both Hathaway and Wilson would have stopped lapsing into the characters they thought they should be. As a matter of fact, instead of just existing as their characters, they were ‘acting.’

I really feel like I am being pretty rough on Wilson and Hathaway. Perhaps they might read this. If they do, I would say this: ‘Don’t worry, this film would never stop me from watching any of your future work, even future work together. But I feel this work lacked the truth behind the humor. Who is the real person behind your character here? What would you have done if this film wouldn’t have been labeled a comedy? How would you have approached your characters if they didn’t think they were supposed to be funny? What was the real threat of loss, of investment?’

All said, perhaps the characters Josephine Chesterfield and Penny Rust just might be a little bit closer to Hathaway’s and Wilson’s real selves then they wanted to explore in this film.

In the real reality of life, there is humor.

But there was not much reality here … and that’s where the humor was lost.

“Hustle” is now on Amazon Prime and other streaming platforms.

The Lovebirds

8.9 out of 10

My quick quote: “Issa Rae and Kumail Nanjiani are a hilarious duo with great chemistry. The reality of their stakes never felt too intensely dire, but their journey was a ton of fun”

The Lovebirds

Synopsis: On the brink of breaking up, a couple gets unintentionally embroiled in a bizarre murder mystery. As they get closer to clearing their names and solving the case, they need to figure out how they, and their relationship, can survive the night.

Issa Rae and Kumail Nanjiani delivered one of the funniest journeys from start to finish with “The Lovebirds.” I have long loved the performances of Nanjiani, especially his tag team epic winner “Stuber” with Dave Bautista. (In fact, I need to watch it again.)

See related: #NativeNerd Movie Review: 'Stuber' is Uber hilarious

But Rae and Nanjiani are one of the best romantic comedy teams ever, with incredibly hilarious chemistry. Sometimes when a romantic comedy pairs a couple, the chemistry can be off and any of the romantic scenes, like kissing, might come across a bit weird. But not in this rom-com. I loved it.

Starting off with a near breakup, the two quickly get into a random and completely bizarre situation where a bicyclist smashes into their windshield and shortly thereafter, another man — identifying himself as a cop — takes command of the couples’ car, chases after the bicyclist and smashes back into him, then runs him over a few times.

Looking at a dead bicyclist, a funny scene in itself, the couple flee the scene, fearing they will be mistaken for the murderer.

The rest is a fun and weird romp through their city — which all the while explores the confines of a relationship filled with one-liners and perfect comebacks.

I think there was a bit more room for such banter, and overall I never really worried about their welfare, suspecting they would somehow come out of it all unscathed.

But the movie was a ton of fun, filled with impossible choices such as choosing between a mysterious horse’s butt and a face full of hot bacon grease, whether they should steal from fraternity brothers stuffing envelopes with blackmail photos and whether or not to go to a private event wearing Illuminati-style masks in an opera of sorts.

The movie was jam-packed with fun and laughs, and I can’t wait to see more by these two.

“The Lovebirds” is now on Netflix

Native Nerd Phone

#NativeNerd Vincent Schilling is the associate editor for Indian Country Today and a film industry certified movie reviewer. Have a film, product or another review request? Email vschilling@indiancountrytoday.com or reach out via Twitter @VinceSchilling and Instagram @VinceSchilling.

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