This week’s guide to what is streaming is brought to you by an occasional pleasant breeze cutting through the humid soup of summer, fried everything, peanut-butter-fueled desserts (low-carb living can be hacked, thank you coconut milk), late afternoon sweat fits, the joy of hats (and UV umbrellas), and the complete and utter terror of the ocean being on fire. As always, look back at past issues of the Scene for more streaming recommendations.
There are two axioms to be aware of before reading anything I have to say about this sequel to the 2017 surprise international hit featuring Alec Baldwin making Glengarry Glen Ross jokes for, you know, the kids. One: This was not made for me, nor with me in mind as a possible member of its audience. Two: There is nowhere I won’t follow Amy Sedaris. The specifics of The Boss Baby: Family Business are very hazy, just because the material was not particularly engaging to my sensibilities. But honestly, I thought it would be a larf to see Jerri Blank herself deconstructing the family film industry from within.
The universe of these Boss Babies is perplexing, because there is an entire industry of extremely advanced babies with an ingrained business structure. (They also wear little tailored suits, which is absolutely a warning about baby couture and how it is to be viewed with skepticism — one cannot really wear a suit until one has experienced a feeling of such mortification that they have a baseline sense of shame to battle against with slacks and a tie. Babies are shameless, in all senses of the word, so to have them wear business suits is both surreal and obscene.) But this movie has a squad of baby ninjas, so who am I to try to impose aesthetic guidelines?
What makes the biggest impression in this animated whatsit is how at every step of the way, the tenets of reinforcement and repetition are in play. You can see this in just about every film aimed at kids, or trying for that four-quadrant appeal, in which every reel requires a restatement of the film’s thesis. (In this case, that babies help shock parents out of routine and drudgery through a benevolent chaos and that unity is stronger than division and that family problems spring from misunderstandings left to fester.) It’s weird, though, because this film is sort of at war with itself: On one side, there’s brightly colored madcap baby adventure and body transformation, and on the other there’s a labyrinthine conspiracy involving Jeff Goldblum’s Halloween III-style quest to eliminate parents coupled with family drama meant to stick in Mom and Dad’s craw and compel them to reach out and make that call and heal whatever rift is eating away at their own family. It’s certainly more ambition than you might initially expect.
As for Amy Sedaris, she’s vibrant and energetic and delivers exactly what was asked of her, which is kind of — disappointing? Again, this film has no reason to be concerned with what I, a single person in his 40s with no kids, have to say about it, but I really hoped there might be some interesting facets peeking out from behind this tsunami of digital everything. There’s a three-way brawl that for some reason is cut to “The Time Warp” from The Rocky Horror Picture Show, and that’s weird. It is defiantly not even casually addressing what that song or experience represents — it’s just part of a pop-culture gumbo that incorporates ’90s dancehall slang and a random assortment of movies and music from the past few decades, assigning them new meanings for the next generation. This is not Parker Posey in Blade: Trinity — it is a dartboard of several decades’ worth of entertainment magazines assembled in a lab, and it made me feel like the most decrepit, rotting mummy of a sentient being you could imagine.
If ultimately a little too loosey-goosey with its mythology and way meaner than it ought to be (Note: That is not what an industrial slicer is for), this first installment in a trilogy of films (the sequels, 1978 and 1666, are forthcoming) is a promising strike across the bow of contemporary horror. Bloody and brutal in abundance, with (in this installation, at least) enough ’90s hits to let you know they put that music budget to good use, this reinvention/resurrection/revitalization of R.L. Stine’s Fear Street series of books steps things up considerably from the Goosebumps universe, and it delivers some good scares and excellent sound-effects mixing. But here’s the thing: Fear Street Part One: 1994 delivers something that I’ve personally always wanted to see — a fusing of giallo stalkcraft and mall-culture decadence that pulls taut the synapses of timeless terror and youthful nostalgia. I’m talking about a suspense sequence in an after-hours Spencer’s Gifts lit only by black light.
Maybe that’s not something that speaks to you. If not, I don’t know what to tell you. There are also weirdly heightened high school rivalries, palpable lesbian drama, a lot of murderers and a witch’s curse. Although there is probably more to the situation, which finds the town of Shadyside facing unspeakable horrors every few decades, than something as patriarchally pat as all that. Truthfully, it’s kind of sad that a film that exults in its R-ratedness to this extent is instead a Netflix exclusive, but if it gets more audiences to take a chance on bread-and-butter horror like this, I can’t complain. Bring on 1978 and 1666.