SXSW: Is “Lemon” the fest’s most (intentionally) cringe-worthy movie?



Some facts: “Lemon” stars Brett Gelman, was written by Gelman and his wife, Janicza Bravo, and was directed by the latter.

It poses one of the year’s most important cinematic questions — is Isaac Lachmann, the person Gelman plays here, actually a worse human being than Martin, his character on the British TV show “Fleabag”? It is a neck-and-neck race to the bottom in the Annoying Middle-Aged White Guy Stakes.

Self-consciously mannered with an almost Pinter-like vibe (moreso perhaps than the post-Pinter bard of Long Island, Hal Hartley), “Lemon” is the story of Lachmann. Everything about this guy screams jerk — tall but not self-possessed, he sports a comb-over, is an unsuccessful actor and works, sort of, as a bitter theater director. He also wears shorts. A lot.

Lachmann is directing a production of the “The Seagull,” hates the lead actress and clearly has some sort of increasingly odd crush on the lead (Michael Cera with bonkers hair, and God bless him for getting weirder with age). Lachmann’s girlfriend, Ramona (Judy Greer), is blind, goes on lots of work trips and clearly wants out of this relationship.

Things never really get less awkward — indeed the film just seems to get stranger by the minute.  As Ramona slips away from him (emotionally), Lachmann books some small TV ads, where the director examines him like a steer. (The film’s best joke might very well be the cameraman’s reaction when Lachmann gives his age and weight.)

RELATED: SXSW adds fifth screening of buzz flick “Lemon”

The cringe-hits just keep on coming. When he goes to a Passover Seder hosted by his parents (Rhea Perlman and Fred Melamed), his brother (Martin Starr) breaks out some racially awkward chatter about their sister (Shiri Appleby) and her African-American child. The scene where everyone sings “A Million Matzoh Balls” is just as stomach-turningly odd as it sounds.

Even when fortune smiles on him and a lovely Jamaican woman (Nia Long) take a liking to him, he remains the sort of fellow who meets her family and says “I saw a documentary about African-American hair. A lot of hair comes from horses.” The final sequence is … explosive.

There is no hugging and no learning here, no big catharsis or revelation.  Bravo and Gelman deliver an unnerving and deeply weird portrait of the artist as a middle-aged jerk. We have seen such things before, but maybe never quite like this.

Because you demanded it! Here are the SXSW Film buzz screenings

“68 Kill”

Well, maybe not literally demanded it, but South by Southwest audiences do generate buzz for certain films, and here is the complete (so far) list of added screenings.

A note for wristband holders (and anyone really): There are often plenty of seats at the Zach Theatre.

Bad Lucky Goat
5 p.m. March 16, Alamo South Lamar
Small Town Crime
10:30 p.m. March 16, Alamo South
Bill Nye: Science Guy
1:30 p.m. March 17, Alamo South
The Ballad of Lefty Brown
4 p.m. March 17, Alamo South
Two Pigeons
5:30 p.m. March 18, Alamo South
68 Kill
7 p.m. March 18, Alamo South
Grand Jury Award: Narrative Feature
9:15 p.m. March 15, Zach Theatre
11:30 a.m. March 18, Alamo Ritz

Grand Jury Award: Documentary Feature
6:45 p.m. March 15, Zach
11 a.m. March 18, Stateside Theatre

James Franco’s ‘Disaster Artist’ relives a movie people love to hate

Dave Franco and James Franco in “The Disaster Artist.” Contributed

So, if you make a biopic surrounding the making of a god-awful film turned cult hit, could that potentially make the biopic even worse than the original film? I can’t accurately say, because I might have been the only individual at the work-in-progress premiere of James Franco’s “The Disaster Artist” who hadn’t seen its inspiration, “The Room.”

“The Room” is a 2003 independent romantic drama directed, produced, written and starred in by Tommy Wiseau. It’s arguably the best worst film ever made, and people love this movie — not quite “Rocky Horror Picture Show” love, but it might get there one day.

“The Disaster Artist” is based on Greg Sestero’s book “The Disaster Artist: My Life Inside ‘The Room’”; Sestero starred in “The Room” and is played by Dave Franco in “Disaster.” James Franco gives a hilarious performance as Wiseau, the mysterious renaissance man behind “The Room,” and the most intriguing thing about the biopic is Wiseau himself.

The strange thing that is difficult to get past in “The Disaster Artist” is that everything feels like a caricature of a caricature, which gives the film a plastic sheen that is only salvaged by the Franco brothers’ natural chemistry.

SXSW: ‘Served Like a Girl’ shines spotlight on courageous female military veterans

The U.S. military may have done away with its combat-exclusion policy for female service members in 2016, but that doesn’t mean female soldiers didn’t know the horrors of war before that. Even though the policy was to keep women out of combat, many of them were in the middle of firefights and attacks, whether as military police or in support roles. And one doesn’t have to be fired upon to bear the scars of service.

Women know the danger of combat. And, just as significantly, they know the price paid for service after returning from deployment, as evidenced in “Served Like a Girl,” Lysa Heslov’s honest portrayal of female veterans that made its world premiere at South by Southwest on Monday. (The movie screens again Tuesday and Thursday afternoons.)

The title is a reference to the tongue-in-cheek slogan worn on the shirts of the finalists in the 20015 Ms. Veteran America competition that serves as the centerpiece of Heslov’s story. While the idea of pageants may bring to mind awkward question-and-answer segments and spark feelings of exploitation in some, the Ms. Veteran America pageant is a celebration of courageous warriors who have sacrificed greatly for their country. As seen in the film, the cost paid comes in the form of lost limbs, fractured lives, post-traumatic stress and the other emotional and financial complications that make re-entry into the civilian world difficult.

Heslov follows a collection of women from various socio-economic backgrounds from all over the country as they prepare to compete for a small cash prize, but the purpose of the competition isn’t about financial gain or vanity. Heslov shows the process to be a cathartic opportunity for female soldiers to bond as they raise money and awareness to support and advocate for homeless women veterans, of which there are an estimated 55,000 in America today.

Ms. Veteran America is one of the main fundraising apparatuses of Final Salute, Inc., an organization founded by Jaspen Boothe, a veteran who founder herself out of the service and homeless after a cancer diagnosis and the devastation of Hurricane Katrina. Boothe, who shepherds the women, sometimes with a disciplined military hand, through the process of the competition exemplifies the strength and courage of female soldiers, who take the same pledge as their male counterparts: to never leave a fallen comrade behind.

The film suffers from some jarring jumps in narrative at times, but it allows Heslov to show the diversity of the female soldiers and mine some rich and specific details about their struggles, from the horrors of military sexual trauma to putting the pieces back together after a divorce. There are avenues viewers may leave wishing were explored in more detail, such as how Boothe could be discharged and callously sent by the V.A. to collect food stamps following her discharge simply because she was a woman, but “Served Like a Girl” does a sensitive job of showing the bravery of female soldiers in both deployment and at home.

As with Ms. Veteran America, “Served Like a Girl” gives these women a chance to find their voices and tell their stories. And they do so by asking for fair treatment, not special treatment. They just want (and deserve) to be seen and heard.

In the words of Boothe, “We are not second class soldiers or damsels in distress. We are warriors.”

“Served Like a Girl” screens again at 4:45 p.m. Tuesday and 1:45 p.m. Thursday at Alamo South Lamar.

Jon Hamm reveals his favorite breakfast taco on SXSW red carpet

Actor Jon Hamm, in case you forgot, attended the University of Texas at Austin between 1989 and 1990. On the red carpet for the new Edgar Wright film “Baby Driver,” we asked him about what he remembers from his college days.

Photo by Suzanne Cordeiro

The “Mad Men” star waxed nostalgic for Kerbey Lane Cafe and a more modest Austin skyline. He also revealed his breakfast taco of choice.

REVIEW: The insanely fun “Baby Driver” celebrates turning up the tunes and hitting the gas

 Watch the full video to find out what Hamm puts in his tortilla. (It’s not ham.)

Hamm left the university in the fall of 1990 after being implicated in an alleged hazing incident, according to reports.

Get ready: ‘The Son’ might be the next great Texas TV series

“The Son,” a new series based on the 2013 novel by Austin’s Philipp Meyer, premieres April 8 on AMC, and if you were a fan of the epic Texas novel about the McCullough family, then you’ll be a fan of the new show, too.

Pierce Brosnan plays the family patriarch, Eli McCullough, who was kidnapped by the Comanches as a boy, only to thrive with them and go on to found a Texas empire after leaving the tribe. He’s an archetype, of course, but what a complex character, whom Brosnan fully captures in the first two episodes of the first season, which premiered at South by Southwest.

The episodes go back and forth in time, including the initial attack on a Texas homestead where the young Eli, played by Jacob Lofland, is kidnapped by the Comanches. He endures a lot of pain and suffering, but the first two episodes give you an inkling that he might be a survivor, and a thriver, rather than a victim.

The patriarch version of Eli is no less interesting. In the first couple of episodes, we see a hard businessman realizing that the age of cattle is waning and that the age of oil is on the horizon. But there’s much more going on. The episodes explore the tensions between the Anglos and the early Tejanos, who resent the arrival of the whites as much as the Indians did. There are attacks on the McCullough ranch, and you realize fairly quickly that McCullough isn’t one to respond nicely to attacks.

There’s tension in the McCullough family, however. One of Eli’s sons, Pete, played by Henry Garrett, thinks negotiations might work. He has a wife and daughter, and he seems like a more modern version of his ruthless father. But guess what? Circumstances will test his mettle.

What’s so great about the series? It captures the essence of the novel, with an inventive switching of time periods between young and old Eli, while paying respect and giving voice to all of those who resent the rise of the McCullough dynasty. And you might want to watch out for a star in the making: Garrett, who plays Pete. He’s a Method actor, and he knows what he’s doing.

Also, Lofland, who plays the young Eli, played Neckbone in Jeff Nichols’ “Mud,” and you’ll see why he’s one of the hottest young talents these days.

Meyer, a former Michener fellow at the University of Texas, has been intimately involved with the development of the series, and showrunner Kevin Murphy and he seem to have developed a creative and intellectually hospitable relationship. The first 10 episodes are done. And Brosnan says he’s up for more, if AMC is willing. That looks likely, based on the first two episodes. But Brosnan says there’s one stipulation: He doesn’t want to film the Central Texas-shot series again in 105-degree weather during the summer. Meyer and Murphy say that’s a deal.

RELATED: James Bond is in Austin, and he’s becoming quite the Texan