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Ty Burr

A guide to on-demand treasures

Shia LaBeouf (left) and Sverrir Gudnason star in “Borg vs. McEnroe.” Julie Vrabelova/Neon

"Quality Problems" is the kind of movie that makes the endless slog through your Video on Demand listings worthwhile. A raw, funny family comedy-drama made by an actual family — LA-based writer-director-actor duo Brooke and Doug Purdy, their kids, and friends — the movie played the festival circuit last year but never got a proper theatrical release. It has no reviews on Rotten Tomatoes or Metacritic. If it hadn't been for a handful of ecstatic Amazon user reviews, I wouldn't have been able to tell it apart from all the other straight-to-streaming New Release chum with titles like "Son of Bigfoot," "SheChotic," and "Nanny Nightmare."

So, yes, there are diamonds in the VOD muck, or at least very well-turned costume jewelry. "Quality Problems" spends a week in the fictional lives of Bailey (Brooke Purdy) and Drew (Doug Purdy) as their fractious working-class paradise threatens to come asunder: Bailey's breast cancer has returned, her father (Chris Mulkey) has early-onset Alzheimer's, husband Drew has to hold the house together while keeping the carpentry jobs coming — did I say this is a comedy? Yes, and much invested in finding and treasuring the day-day-day absurdities that glue a family into a unit. There's not much of a plot, and you'll need to be charitable toward some of the supporting performances, but the Purdys themselves are delightful to spend time with. I'll personally take this clan over the glossier soap of "This Is Us," and it beats the hell out of the suddenly reburied "Roseanne."


Here are a few more VOD movie recommendations to get you through the first half of summer.


It's being sold as an HBO film and Globe TV critic Matthew Gilbert has already given it a well-deserved rave. I'll just add that this powerhouse drama — based on writer-director Jennifer Fox's true experiences — was the best movie I saw at this year's Sundance Film Festival. Laura Dern continues her strong mid-career resurgence as a filmmaker slowly and belatedly coming to terms with the awful truth of what she'd always told herself was her "first romance." It's a repressed-memory play, ingeniously constructed, profoundly disturbing, and acted with conviction by the star, Ellen Burstyn, Jason Ritter, and the remarkable Isabelle Nelisse as Dern's younger self.



Are tennis movies becoming a thing? For years, moviegoers have had to content themselves with the suspenseful match in Hitchcock's "Strangers on a Train" and those mimes at the end of Antonioni's "Blow-Up," but with last year's "Battle of the Sexes" and this solid double biopic about a classic sports rivalry, we need only one more for game, set, match. Sweden's Sverrir Gudnason plays the glowering, leonine Bjorn Borg, whose legendary 1970s run at the top was challenged at Wimbledon in 1980 by tantrum-prone newcomer John McEnroe. Shia LeBeouf plays McEnroe, but hold the jokes — he gives an excellent, even soulful performance underneath all the racket. The film never made it to Boston theaters, so here's your chance to rush the net.


This barely made it to theaters at all, but it's worth ordering up on demand as an example of stellar direction in the service of an overambitious script. At first you may think you're getting an updated "Wait Until Dark," with Natalie Dormer ("Game of Thrones") as an imperiled blind musician in London. But then the musician's beautiful neighbor mysteriously dies and it turns out her dad was a famous Serbian war criminal and maybe the musician knows something about that and there's a hunky hitman with a sinister sister and — oy. Talk about ambitious: Dormer co-wrote and produced with her husband, Andrew Byrne, who directed, and the whole mess is stylish enough to make you want to see what they do next.



What if John Hughes had made a teenage coming-out movie? That's just about what you get with this winsome comedy-drama starring Nick Robinson ("Jurassic World") as a happy, popular suburban teen with a secret — shh, he's gay — that he shares only with an anonymous online crush. Jennifer Garner and Josh Duhamel are his affable parents, Logan Miller is the obnoxious nerd classmate who ropes Simon into a far-fetched blackmail scheme. It's a charmer that at times is a little too charming — real life is rarely this easy. But maybe that's why they make movies.


No, I'm not kidding, and, no, you don't have to have seen the first "Paddington" movie (2014) based on Michael Bond's beloved children's books to enjoy this whimsical fantasy, set in a wind-up carousel version of London and featuring a bang-up British cast: Hugh Bonneville ("Downton Abbey") and Sally Hawkins as Mr. and Mrs. Brown, Hugh Grant as a villainous ham, Julie Walters and Jim Broadbent in supporting roles, and Ben Whishaw as the voice of the bear from Darkest Peru. It's the daft visuals you'll enjoy most, half CGI and half Tinkertoy. As family films go, it's within shouting distance of "Babe," and if you want to watch it without a kid in the room, I won't tell.



In honor of the late, great novelist Philip Roth, download the best movie version of his work. (Roth himself thought so, and posterity has generally agreed.) The 1969 Larry Peerce film almost seems like a Jewish variation on "The Graduate," with Richard Benjamin's Neil Klugman a more engaging, down-to-earth schnook than Dustin Hoffman's Benjamin Braddock. From the "Introducing Ali McGraw" title card to the soundtrack by the Association, this is as late-'60s as movies get, but it's also strikingly modern — which is to say timeless — in its gently jaundiced look at class and assimilation in America. You could dig up a DVD of "Portnoy's Complaint" (1972) instead, but don't say we didn't warn you.

If you subscribe to Filmstruck/Criterion Channel ( — pricey at $10.99 a month or $99 per year, but worth it for the streaming service's unparalleled trove of foreign and Hollywood classics — you'll find a Joan Crawford festival this month that will tickle your camp funnybone, fill in historical gaps (like the star's breakthrough 1928 silent, "Our Dancing Daughters"), or lead you to underrated jewels like "Humoresque" (1946), a deluxe, delirious melodrama in which self-loathing uptown heiress Crawford falls for downtown violin prodigy John Garfield, with Oscar Levant cracking wise on the sidelines and Isaac Stern dubbing the violin licks. A visual ravishment — Ernest Haller shot it — made by the journeyman director Jean Negulesco in one of the aberrant peaks of his career.


Also on Filmstruck — but leaving the service June 9, so hurry! — the marvelous works of documentary restorer/collagist Bill Morrison, whose specialty is the art of celluloid decay. His most recent opus, "Dawson City: Frozen Time," about a trove of movies buried for nearly a century in an abandoned gold rush town, was one of my favorite films of 2017, and 2002's "Decasia" — a symphony of melted and mutated cinematic history — is even more splendidly out there. Morrison is a poet of ruin and one of the movies' most ardent and unique visual artists.

Ty Burr can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @tyburr.