July, for U.S. readers, is National Park and Recreation month. Rather than celebrating by taking in the fresh air in the abundance of park trails in southeast Ohio, I paid homage to park awareness by diving into streaming services to find writing and directorial projects from alums of Parks and Recreation. I’ll contemplate better life decisions later. For now, enjoy some reviews.
Alum contributor: Rashida Jones (Parks’ “poetic, noble land mermaid,” Ann Perkins)
Rashida Jones co-wrote and directed this bio-documentary focusing on her father Quincy Jones. It’s odd to imagine cutting together your family’s home videos and selling them to Netflix. However, you could stand to if your father was as prolific a creator as Quincy Jones.
The documentary gives us a window into Jones' life and career through copious amounts of genuine video footage. Spanning 70 years, Jones’ career in the music industry saw him producing orchestral arrangements, albums, and movie scores for some of the greatest artists and filmmakers of all time. He led Frank Sinatra’s band, mentored Michael Jackson, and discovered Oprah through producing The Color Purple. The story of Jones’ early life and career is beautifully supplemented by Rashida following present-day 82-year-old Jones on his global speaking tours while organizing the opening of the National Museum of African American History and Culture.
Quincy is a particularly touching documentary because it humanizes a music industry giant. Even after all his creative success, the elder Jones has about the same perspective on life as my grandmother: Jones misses his friends. He is acutely aware of all those talents the world has lost and must now face a life filled with their memory. He sadly reminisces about his mother and works through the trauma that her mental illness caused him; he wishes he had made different decisions in his marriages; he is thankful for the time he can now spend with his seven children. He even has a daughter who made him a beautiful documentary.
Alum Contributor: Alan Yang (Mouse Rat bassist Chang and writer on all eight seasons of Parks and Recreation)
Alan Yang writes and directs this genuine and emotional drama of a wistful Taiwanese immigrant. The movie slides between aged Grover (the legendary Tzi Ma) and earlier memories. His distant relationship with his adult daughter Angela (Christine Ko) is compared via flashback to his close relationship with his mother. His how and why of immigrating to the United States and his mercenary marriage to Zhenzhen (Kunjue Li) explain the deep sadness continually present in Ma’s performance. Grover is revealed to have left his two greatest sources of joy, his mother and his former lover, in Taiwan and moved to New York in the hopes of creating a better life – one where he may be able to give his mother the retirement she deserves.
Yang is working out some of his own parental issues through the central relationship between Grover and Angela. When one generation has sacrificed joy to secure a place in the world, sometimes they expect that the next will be better off doing the same. It has the blunt hallmarks of a typical parent/child drama, but made effective by the performances and the focus on Grover, not Angela, as protagonist. Tigertail, while by no means a happy movie, stands as a powerful glimpse into the psychology of a person looking into a long past of upheaval and hardship.
Plan B (2021)
Alum Contributor: Natalie Morales (Parks recurring role and Tom’s perfect match Lucy)
Have you ever been so stressed that you can’t help but laugh? Director Natalie Morales achieves the movie version of this emotional reaction in Plan B. 17-year-old Sunny (Kuhoo Verma) has 24 hours to find a morning-after pill after a reckless hookup at her own party – and then get home before her mom realizes she’s gone. She is joined in her comically escalating adventure by best friend Lupe (Victoria Moroles), a trash-talking and fiercely loyal friend who is working out her own identity crisis all the while. Their journey, both literal and figurative, finds them in some intensely dangerous situations that shouldn’t be funny but become hilarious because of Morales’ absurdist style.
Plan B is fun and profoundly touching as it unfolds into a movie about a culture of shame and a lack of options for women. Expect both to laugh and cry, not only due to excellent writing and direction but from the performances of the two leads. It’s a rare joy to see two young actors with such range and dedication to their characters.
Alum Contributor: Amy Poehler (Deputy Director of the Parks Department Leslie Knope)
Leave it to Amy Poehler to direct the most feel-good movie on this list. Hadley Robinson stars as Vivian, a high school student that discovers that her cool mom Lisa (Poehler) was once a teen rebel and feminist activist. Fed up with the establishment herself, Vivian decides to follow suit. She learns who is with her and who is against her as she anonymously publishes an activist zine and begins a revolt amongst the women of Rockport High.
On the surface, Moxie seems fairly similar to the movie above; a high school setting complete with best friends and bullies and a focus on women’s rights, for starters. It does not take long to realize they are very different movies. Moxie is designed for those moments where you stand up and cheer for your favorite characters taking a stand. It may not be subtle storytelling, but it’s elevated by its winsome and nuanced characters. Poehler succeeds in retelling the inspiring coming-of-age story with fresh perspectives and the all-important mission of empowering the female voice.
Find Plan B on Hulu. Quincy, Tigertail, and Moxie are available on Netflix.