'Golden Arm' and 'Best Summer Ever': A couple of US indie comedies to brighten your day

MAY 22 ― Now that we’re more or less back to lockdown life with MCO 3.0, I found myself gravitating more towards feelgood indie comedies in the past week.

Maybe it’s because it’s two years in a row now that I have to celebrate Hari Raya alone in Kuala Lumpur, away from my family in Ipoh, unable to travel interstate because of the current MCO.

Being alone on Raya and missing out on all that wonderful Raya food like lemang, rendang, ketupat, kuah kacang and serunding, not to mention my favourite kuih Raya like biskut Makmur can definitely do that to you.

Lockdown life has also meant that there are barely any new major studio comedies released in the past few months, with only the Melissa McCarthy vehicles Thunder Force and Superintelligence, and the excellent Amy Poehler-directed Moxie (with original score done by Mac McCaughan of legendary US indie rock band Superchunk!) coming to mind right now.

Thankfully the US indie side of the movie industry has managed to keep things interesting, especially with two new releases that I think deserve way more attention than they’ve been getting so far.

So, if you’re looking to brighten up your day with some laughs or at least some cheery little smiles, check these movies out!

A YouTube screenshot of arm-wrestling comedy ‘Golden Arm’ which stars Betsy Sodaro and Mary Holland.
A YouTube screenshot of arm-wrestling comedy ‘Golden Arm’ which stars Betsy Sodaro and Mary Holland.

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Golden Arm

If you put Melissa McCarthy and Sandra Bullock in the leading roles of this absolutely cracking arm-wrestling comedy, with everything else remaining constant (especially the sparkling quality of the performances delivered by relative unknowns Betsy Sodaro and Mary Holland here), I’m pretty confident that this would be one of the biggest comedy hits of the year.

As it stands right now, very few people have heard of this wonderful film especially in this part of the world, which is a huge crime and is something I’m definitely looking to correct here.

Remember that classic Sylvester Stallone movie Over The Top? Well, like Stallone in that movie, Danny (an irresistible, star-making performance from Sodaro) is also a truck driver involved in the arm-wrestling scene.

She begins the movie getting her wrist broken by Brenda the Bonecrusher, which leaves her unable to compete at the Oklahoma City Women’s Arm Wrestling competition, so she cooks up a plan to tempt her old college buddy Melanie (also an eye catching performance from Holland) by dangling the US$15,000 (RM62,115) prize money as bait.

Turns out Melanie has what arm wrestlers like to call a “golden arm” ― seemingly soft, petite and unintimidating, but with surprising strength.

And, like all good buddy comedies cum road movies, so begins Melanie’s journey of self-discovery, which is not only a joy for her, but also a joyous experience for the film’s viewers.

Skillfully put together by director Maureen Bharoocha and chock full of both laugh-out-loud crude jokes and heartwarming moments, this delicious little comedy is one of the funniest movies you’ll see this yea and one that’s sure to tickle you silly and leave you with a huge grin on your face.

Best Summer Ever

If Golden Arm plays like a rollicking major studio comedy in all but its cast name, Best Summer Ever is an all-out indie comedy in everything else barring its typical high school musical narrative that will more than bring to mind the likes of musicals like Grease and Footloose.

Perhaps the reassuring familiarity of an established formula is needed to ground what is a totally radical statement about inclusivity in film casting.

Why I say this is radical is because we may have seen an increase in the number of Asians and African Americans playing lead characters in “normal” mainstream movies lately, but the fact is that they are still playing characters of their respective ethnicity.

In Best Summer Ever, however, all those barriers are very nonchalantly shattered. The film begins with two teenage lovers Sage (Shannon DeVido) and Tony (Ricky Wilson Jr) saying goodbye to each other after a magical summer at camp.

At this stage audiences would have noticed that Sage is in a wheelchair, but it’s a fact that the film never even bothers to address.

More than half the participants and counselors at the said camp also have a range of physical and mental disabilities, which still won’t raise any alarm bells just yet, because many will assume that it’s a summer camp for kids with disabilities.

But when Tony gets back to his hometown and goes to practice with his football team and the same kind of inclusive casting involving actors having a range of physical and mental disabilities are also in place here, as it is throughout the movie, without the movie mentioning or explaining even once about their disabilities, then it’ll dawn on you how radical this movie is.

Best Summer Ever is a world where the beautiful new girl in school can be effortlessly and irresistibly played by someone in a wheelchair, where football players, radio commentators and cheerleaders can be played by people with a physical disability, and it’s definitely not a big deal!

Clearly not the most polished movie in terms of acting, but the film’s overall good cheer and enthusiasm will melt even the coldest of hearts out there.

*This is the personal opinion of the columnist.

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