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On HBO: HELLO LADIES: THE MOVIE (2014)

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HELLO LADIES: THE MOVIE
(US - 2014)

Directed by Stephen Merchant. Written by Stephen Merchant, Gene Stupnitsky, and Lee Eisenberg. Cast: Stephen Merchant, Christine Woods, Nate Torrence, Kevin Weisman, Kyle Mooney, Sean Wing, Stephen Tobolowsky, Allison Tolman, Adam Campbell, Henrietta Meire, Stephanie Corneliussen. (Unrated, 80 mins)

Cancelled after one season by a network that somehow kept ARLI$$ on the air for seven, HELLO LADIES garnered enough of a fan base for HBO to greenlight a spinoff film that doubles as a feature-length finale, albeit one with a few more aerial shots than usual for a bit of a cinematic flourish. The brainchild of THE OFFICE co-creator Stephen Merchant and BAD TEACHER co-writers Gene Stupnitsky and Lee Eisenberg (also a writing team on the American OFFICE), HELLO LADIES dealt with Brit Stuart Pritchard (Merchant) and his escapades as a would-be player in the L.A. dating scene. Stuart is a nice guy who means well, but he tries too hard and has always been obsessed with being popular, and his awkward attempts at ingratiating himself in with the cool kids at trendy nightspots and any other social setting provided some outstanding bits of wincing, cringe-worthy discomfort comedy. That element of the show tapered off as that lone season wore on, with more of a focus on his "Will They or Won't They?" platonic relationship with his friend and tenant, aspiring actress Jessica (Christine Woods), who was spinning her wheels in a dead-end relationship with her douchebag agent Glenn (Sean Wing).

HELLO LADIES: THE MOVIE picks up right where the first season left off, with Stuart still sucking up to Glenn to get into parties attended by supermodels, Jessica abandoning her acting career after a humiliating audition for a yogurt commercial, and Stuart's divorced best friend Wade (Nate Torrence) still tagging along as his hapless wingman. Stuart is panicked after getting a phone call from Trudy (Henrietta Meire), an ex from the UK who's visiting L.A. with her husband Mike (Adam Campbell). Trudy left Stuart for Mike, and Stuart was so traumatized that he moved to L.A. in an attempt to reinvent himself. Obsessed with showing Trudy and Mike that he's "won at life," Stuart manages to convince one of Glenn's Russian supermodels (Stephanie Corneliussen) to go on a double date, but she backs out to go to a party instead, prompting Stuart to press Jessica into service as a last-minute replacement. The night goes perfectly, at least until Stuart and Jessica are forced to confront their feelings for each other.


HELLO LADIES worked best when Merchant got Stuart into situations that were so awkward that it was difficult to even look at your TV (ask anyone who saw the fourth episode, "The Dinner," where Stuart starts telling jokes, gets some laughs, gets a bit overconfident, and has what he deems a smartly-conceived observational one about hypocrisy that blows up in his face...and then he somehow makes it worse). The cringing genius of HELLO LADIES at its best is a good indication that while Ricky Gervais is essentially the face of the UK version of THE OFFICE, Merchant probably came up with a lot of the show's most memorable laughs. Merchant and his co-writers packed these kinds of moments into the first half of the season and they're the ones that provided the biggest laughs, but anyone approaching HELLO LADIES: THE MOVIE cold will get a perfectly entertaining movie with Merchant's love of '70s and '80s songs, with a very effective use of Gerry Rafferty's "Days Gone Down," but one more in tune with the latter part of the series. The aftermath of Stuart and Jessica taking things to the next level provides some truth bombs from Jessica that force Stuart to take stock of his life and exactly why he's the way he is. It's well-written and believably acted, but the film needs more scenes like Stuart pestering Nicole Kidman at a party because Trudy's a fan and a bullshitting Stuart claims to be friends with her. There's a nice subplot later on with Nate meeting a woman (Allison Tolman, of FX's FARGO) who's just as likably odd and as thoroughly comfortable about it as he is, and one laugh-out-loud reveal of Stuart's "assistant" Rory's (Kyle Mooney) new hairstyle, but their horndog, wheelchair-bound buddy Kives (Kevin Weisman) more or less gets relegated to the sideline. HELLO LADIES: THE MOVIE seems poised to end on a bittersweet note, but it also needs to bring closure, so there's really nothing surprising about the crowd-pleasing wrap-up. It's hard to tell where HELLO LADIES would've ended up had HBO given it another season or two. Maybe there wasn't enough there for a long-running series, anyway. Amusing and occasionally heartfelt, HELLO LADIES: THE MOVIE is an enjoyable enough coda to a series that hit the ground running and didn't exactly switch gears, but seemed to burn brightest too early, losing some of its edgy fearlessness.




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