VODepths: What to See (and Avoid) on Demand This Week

A dazzling new film from the director of Selah and the Spades highlights this week’s low-profile VOD releases, which also include insufferable narcissists in their teens, twenties, and forties, plus a blind dude kicking ass.

The Young Wife (VOD May 31): In her second feature, writer-director Tayarisha Poe does for chaotic wedding days what she did for teenage cliques in her striking 2019 debut Selah and the Spades. The Young Wife is just as boldly stylized and brilliantly acted — an ambitious, maximalist vision that expresses personal turmoil as global catastrophe. At its core, though, the plot is simple: Hedge-fund manager Celestina (Kiersey Clemons) is set to marry baker River (Leon Bridges) at her family’s lush, secluded estate, where various relatives have converged, making constant demands of her as she undergoes a crisis of confidence. What makes The Young Wife so mesmerizing is Poe’s colorful visual style and surreal setting, a retro-futuristic 2033 ravaged by climate change. Celestina deals with the timeless pressures of capitalism and patriarchy, while engaging in emotionally raw confrontations with friends and family. The excellent supporting cast includes Michaela Watkins, Sheryl Lee Ralph and a never-better Judith Light as River’s grandmother, an oasis of calm as a literal and figurative storm rages around Celestina. Grade: A-

Guy Friends (VOD and select theaters May 31): There is almost no recognizable human behavior in this grating comedy about an aimless young woman figuring out her life after a break-up. Jaime (Kavita Jariwala) is blindsided when her longtime boyfriend announces he’s leaving her, and she’s even more blindsided when a series of men she considered friends declare their passionate love for her. Guy Friends isn’t really about any of these guys, though; it’s about Jaime’s tentative efforts to forge a friendship with a woman for the first time. Sandy (Katie Muldowney) is the crass girlfriend of Jaime’s friend Ted (Justin Clark), apparently the only man she knows who isn’t secretly trying to sleep with her. Writer-director Jonathan Smith unwisely invites comparisons to rom-com classics with black-and-white cinematography and a jazzy score reminiscent of Woody Allen’s Manhattan, and periodic When Harry Met Sally-style faux-interviews with pairs of female friends. All of the characters are annoying and phony, and none of their relationship choices, either platonically or romantically, are convincing. Nobody in this movie seems worth befriending. Grade: C

Re: Uniting (Select theaters May 31; VOD June 4): A little past the midpoint of this turgid melodrama, the group of six reunited middle-aged college friends gather in the living room of the tastefully appointed home owned by lawyer Michael (Jesse L. Martin) and his wife Rachel (Michelle Harrison), to finally reveal the dark secrets that have been heavily, tediously telegraphed since the beginning. What should be a moment of emotional catharsis plays out like self-parody, as the characters flatly yell out their hidden truths to each other, replacing the strained playful interactions of the first half with even more strained recriminations and reconciliations. What started as a plodding Big Chill-style piece of nostalgia bait (complete with needle-drops of prominent 1990s one-hit wonders) turns into a disease-of-the-week weepie, dragging out its central tragedy for maximum tear-jerking potential. That central tragedy is so all-consuming that it crowds out all the interpersonal drama around it, even as the actors struggle to make their overwrought character arcs feel genuine. The result is manipulative and exhausting, but never affecting. Grade: C

Edge of Everything (VOD June 7; DVD June 11): Following the sudden death of her mother, 15-year-old Abby (Sierra McCormick) runs through the gamut of stock troubled-teen behavior, including shoplifting, drinking, experimenting with drugs, and flirting with sketchy older men, all thanks to her newfound friendship with another troubled-teen archetype, the Bad Influence (Ryan Simpkins). There isn’t much nuance to this variation on the worn-out Afterschool Special formula from writer-directors Pablo Feldman and Sophia Sabella. McCormick and Simpkins look too old to be playing impressionable young teens, which blunts some of the potential shock value. Jason Butler Harner does his best as Abby’s overwhelmed dad, but the father-daughter relationship that could have been the heart of the movie is never fully developed. Feldman and Sabella avoid some of the worst tendencies of alarmist teen dramas, but they don’t have much to replace them with, and the short movie leaves too many narrative and thematic threads hanging. Abby will probably turn out okay, but the audience has to rely on faith and cliché to understand that. Grade: C

Blind War (VOD and Blu-ray June 11): The martial-arts movie staple of the blind swordsman fits better into a semi-mythologized historical setting than the modern day, when it can just come across as silly. There’s certainly nothing serious about this over-the-top Chinese action movie, in which police officer Dong Gu (Andy On) is blinded during a disastrous courthouse raid, then callously dropped from the force as his mental state deteriorates. A couple of training montages later, he’s essentially become Daredevil, with ultra-heightened senses to compensate for his lack of sight. Those come in handy when his teenage daughter is abducted by sex traffickers who happen to be connected to the criminal mastermind behind the initial courtroom attack. The convoluted plot also brings in a traumatized psychopath (Yang Xing) who may or may not be on Dong’s side. It’s all an excuse for absurd, excessive action scenes, which are marred by fake-looking CGI blood and other dodgy effects. The performances are as broad as the action, making the whole thing too cartoonish to be particularly thrilling. Grade: C+

Josh Bell is a freelance writer and movie/TV critic based in Las Vegas. He's the former film editor of 'Las Vegas Weekly' and has written about movies and pop culture for Syfy Wire, Polygon, CBR, Film Racket, Uproxx and more. With comedian Jason Harris, he co-hosts the podcast Awesome Movie Year.

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