HBO roundup: Andre the Giant, Paterno, & Girls Trip

Andre the Giant

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Andre the Giant follows the career of wrestling legend and cultural phenomenon André Roussimoff, who rose to notoriety in the 70’s and 80’s before dying of acromegaly in 1993 at the age of 46. According to the film Andre was more than seven feet tall and nearly 500 pounds, and his celebrity is due as much to the mythology his stature created as his actual wrestling career.

At 85 minutes, Andre the Giant is a brisk watch, but it covers a lot of ground: Andre’s humble beginnings in France, his meteoric rise to wrestling stardom, his mythology in pop culture, his film career, his tragic health issues. The documentary also serves as a history lesson on the ascendance of wrestling in American culture in the 80’s; I had no idea how big Wrestlemania was. (Side note: the interviews with Hulk Hogan are easily the most interesting and heartfelt; Hogan makes the case that he deserves his own documentary). I wish the film had more time to devote to any one of these aspects. There’s a ton of fascinating information here, but it’s spread pretty thin.

The best part about this documentary is its ability to reflect the complicated nature of the public’s relationship to Andre. Friends recount stories of going out drinking with Andre, recalling how he could down more than 100 beers in a sitting (this is not an exaggeration), and it’s enthralling. But those same friends also lament how he drank because of a deep sadness. In his later years, the gentle giant was often in pain caused by acromegaly, the disease that made his organs continue to grow. He was a mythic figure, and a deeply tragic one. Even if this film sometimes feels thin, Andre is too compelling a documentary subject for this not to work.

Andre the Giant was produced by The Ringer’s Bill Simmons, formerly of ESPN and formerly one of the driving forces behind the network’s 30-for-30 sports documentary series. Andre the Giant has the look and feel of some of those ESPN documentaries, and I’m looking forward to the future projects Simmons and HBO have lined up.

Andre the Giant: 3 stars

Paterno

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Paterno, like Andre the Giant, is another new HBO film about a mythic, complicated sports figure, but this one is not a documentary. Al Pacino stars as the legendary Penn State head football coach, who in the span of two weeks went from the winningest head coach in college football history to one of the sport’s most disgraced figures, and then was diagnosed with cancer.

Paterno’s downfall came when it was revealed that a longtime coach on his staff, Jerry Sandusky, had been sexual abusing children in Penn State football facilities, and the staff knew about it. The film presents an ambiguous picture of JoePa’s role in the scandal, considering his potential lack of awareness, his moral and legal obligations, and the role his deteriorating physical and mental health played in his culpability.

Between all of that, the film pretty much lands...nowhere. With a figure like Paterno, moral ambiguity is fine, probably even a good thing. But this movie is less moral ambiguity than a shrug. Everything is laid out there, but nothing is really said.

I honestly think this film would have been better as a documentary. Pacino, of course, does a good job portraying Paterno. But the story of the real man would have been much more compelling than this meager dramatization. The film’s brightest spot is Riley Keough, who plays the reporter trying to expose the depth of Penn State administrators’ knowledge about Sandusky’s actions. She was great in last year’s Logan Lucky and 2016’s American Honey, and stars in three of the most promising films set to be released this year (The House That Jack Built, Under the Silver Lake, and Hold the Dark).

Paterno: 2.5 stars

Girls Trip

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Girls Trip was the breakout comedy of 2017, the highest-grossing comedy based on original material not named The Boss Baby. The film tells the story of the self-proclaimed ‘Flossy Posse,’ a longtime group of friends who have grown apart but reunite for a weekend trip to New Orleans. A cheating husband quickly complicates the weekend, and a raunchy few days full of imitated blowjobs on bananas, spraying pee on tourists, and tripping balls in the club ensue.

There’s nothing particularly new about Girls Trip; it’s a cinematic relative to the Judd Apatow world of extreme raunch and friendship being prioritized over romance. But it’s a truly hilarious movie, with fantastic performances from Jada Pinkett Smith and Tiffany Haddish.

To say that Haddish was great, or that she had a ‘star-making’ performance, is an understatement. Honestly, trying to put into words what Haddish does in this movie in any way inevitably falls short. Every scene she’s in is one of the funniest I’ve seen this decade, period. If there were any justice in this world, this kind of performance would have a chance at getting an Oscar nomination. But since my words can’t really do her justice, just enjoy the clip below.

Girls Trip: 3.5 stars