Friday, May 21, 2021

Solos, on Amazon Prime

If you were ever upstaged by yourself, than you'd only have yourself to blame. It would be even worse to be overshadowed by a voice-over, because you couldn’t even accuse it of standing in your light. Such are the risks run by the thesps starring in a new series of one-person speculative fiction stories. The finale appears to be the exception, but its aptness will eventually come to light. Being human is a lonely business in creator David Weil’s Solos, which premieres today on Amazon Prime.

Each story is short, most less than 30 minutes, yet the ill-chosen opening episode, “Leah,” feels interminably long. Anne Hathaway tries way too hard playing the title character, who is obsessed with time travel research. Unfortunately, this means we must listen to her riff with other selves on
13 Going on 30, which she inaccurately argues is the only time-travel movie with a female protag. Surely, a nerd like her would know The Girl Who Leapt Through Time movies, anime, and manga. Plus, there’s Peggy Sue Got Married (you know, Kathleen Turner, Nic Cage, Francis Ford Coppola—ringing any bells here?). To make matters worse, Weil’s story totally violates the accepted logic of the time-travel subgenre.

Happily, things greatly improve with “Tom,” which is similar thematically and tonally to Michael Almereyda’s
Marjorie Prime. In this case, Anthony Mackie is terrific as the titular Tom, in what turns out to be a dual role, which he differentiates nicely.

Like many of the
Solos, “Peg” often feels somewhat overwritten, but obviously Dame Helen Mirren can handle the long monologues. Technically, she has a bit of support from the AI driving her spacecraft, who really is helpful, but it is up to Mirren to land the life-is-for-living message. And she does.

Initially, as a story of a woman bound to her smart-home due to a global pandemic, “Sasha” seems to hit to close to home. However, it has a timely message people perfectly suited for where we are today. It is not just applicable to the Covid era, but to years of the nanny state-mentality that has demanded ironclad safety above all else, especially in place of freedom and the enterprising spirit.

“Jenny,” starring Constance Wu, might be the hardest to watch, because the title character slowly evolves from fingers-nails-on-the-blackboard annoying to profoundly and heartrendingly tragic. It is a great performance, but this story isn’t much fun. On the other hand, it is the only installment that lays any groundwork for the concluding episode.

Essentially, “Nera” is an okay but not especially memorable riff on Bradbury’s “The Small Assassin” and any number of evil baby horror movies, but it uses the language of science fiction rather than the occult. It also arguably breaks format.

The same is true of the final episode, “Stuart,” starring the series narrator, Morgan Freeman, but Weil sort of figures out a way to square the circle. Stuart is an Alzheimer’s patient, whom the mysterious Otto will offer an opportunity to regain his memories—except it won’t be that simple. Directed by Sam Taylor-Johnson, “Stuart” is the best of the series, which is fortunate, since it is what Weil has been building towards. Supposedly, it also ties together all the previous episodes, but that really does make sense in the case of “Leah.” Again, it compares to
Marjorie Prime and Amazon’s Tales from the Loop in terms of mood and tone. Freeman is rock solid, but Dan Stevens really drives this episode home as Otto.

If you only watch three episodes of
Solos, they should be “Tom,” “Sasha,” and “Stuart”—and maybe that’s exactly what you should do. It is a rather inconsistent series, but the high points are quite provocative. In general, it is nice to see Weil attempt a more socially and psychologically speculative variety of science fiction. Recommended for its good parts (but definitely skip the first episode), Solos starts streaming today (5/21) on Amazon Prime.