I’ve been working on a novel so I haven’t had as much time for reviewing, but I have been watching. Here’s a quick round up of what I’ve seen over the past few months . . .
KNOCK DOWN THE HOUSE
Director: Rachel Lears
I decided to watch this on Monday night in solidarity for AOC, who had deal with Trump tweeting racist comments at her all weekend. When it was over I felt like Trump’s tweets can’t even touch her, she’s too powerful, too gifted. She just doesn’t take the bait. I believe her response to Trump was something like, “he’s attacking me personally because he can’t defend his policies.” It’s incredible to see such clarity in someone so young. In this documentary, you meet AOC when she is just beginning her campaign, and even then, she has the ability to communicate in an authentic way very quickly and off the cuff.
I feel bad because I’m not mentioning the other women in this film, who also ran for Congress: Cori Bush, Paula Jean Swearengin, and Amy Vilela. They were all in equally difficult races, and unfortunately, they did not win, but seemed poised to unseat someone if they try again. I highly recommend this one for when you’re feeling discouraged by the Trump administration or if you just need to have a good cry.
Writer & Director: Heather Graham
This movie was a mess. It didn’t seem to know if it wanted to be a satire about Hollywood’s sexism or an earnest movie about three women trying to find love. The sincere, earnest parts were actually good and I liked the dynamic between the three actresses. They seemed like they were enjoying themselves and I felt like Graham gave them room to improvise. I can’t say I recommend it, but its heart was in the right place and it’s free on Hulu, so why not give it a try?
Director: Nisha Ganatra
Writer: Mindy Kaling
I don’t understand why this didn’t do better at the box office. It was so entertaining and smart, and, in addition to being her usual impeccable self, Emma Thompson was dressed to the nines in every scene. Its minor flaws were that Mindy Kaling was a bit too old for the part of young upstart, and the ending was only vaguely satisfying. But the writing was overall very funny, the pace was brisk, the jokes were sharp, and Emma Thompson, Emma Thompson, Emma Thompson!
Writers: Evgenia Peretz, Jim Taylor, and Tamara Jenkins (based on a novel by Nick Hornby)
You can tell this movie is adapted from a novel because there’s a lot of voiceover of email correspondence. My husband wasn’t into it: “This is boring,” he announced during a montage sequence that showed the characters going about their daily routine during a voiceover narration of their getting-to-know-you emails. I guess it was a little flat, dramatically, and also, possibly, old-fashioned, because wouldn’t they text? But I was enjoyed this as a break-up fantasy about dating the one person who would most irritate your ex. In that respect, the casting was brilliant, because a lot men seem to find Ethan Hawke uniquely annoying, and can’t understand why women like him.
ALWAYS BE MY MAYBE
Director: Nahnatchka Khan
Writers: Michael Golamco, Randall Park, and Ali Wong
I was feeling burned out on Netflix rom-coms, so when my husband said he wanted to watch this one, I told him to go ahead and watch it while I cleaned up. But the snippets I overheard drew me in and I ended up watching it with him. I wasn’t totally convinced by the romance at the center of this movie, which, yes, is a big problem for a rom-com, but I lovedAli Wong as celebrity chef, Sasha. Her character and career were fleshed out, and I liked the backstory about how she made a connection with Marcus’s parents. It complicated the relationship between Sasha and Marcus in an interesting way, and I think also showed how we are raised by lots of different people, not just our parents. Most movies, especially rom-coms, oversimplify familial bonds and this one didn’t.
Director: Olivia Wilde
Writers: Emily Halpern, Sarah Haskins, Susanna Fogel, and Katie Silberman
I put this movie on my “most anticipated” list and so did everyone else. It may have suffered, a little, from great expectations. I feel like everyone wrote about it and then people were disappointed when it didn’t have an amazing opening weekend — but was this ever the kind of movie that was going to kill at the box office? It’s crowd-pleasing because it’s fast-paced and upbeat, but it’s also a day in life of two dorky, middle-class teenage girls. I think there is a big audience for this, but sadly, not a universal one.
Anyway, I liked this movie, especially the artistic flourishes, like the claymation sequence and the long take that starts in the swimming pool. The leads were great, but I think I appreciated the supporting cast even more, especially Billie Lourd and Skyler Gisondo. Overall, it was a very strong debut, and made me curious to see what Wilde will make next.
Writer & Director: Claire Denis
I went to this movie with high expectations. I must admit, I had never seen a Claire Denis movie until this year, when I saw Beau Travail for the first time in the theater. I was so bowled over by it that I then watched Let The Sunshine In at home a few nights later, and I loved that even more. Then I watched Trouble Every Day and turned it off halfway through because it was an unsettling combination of boring and gruesome.
This is all to say that I had an idea of what I was getting into when I went to High Life. I knew the storytelling would be odd, or at least, not traditional, and I knew there would be a lot of attention to colors, textures, bodies, faces, and other physical details. I also knew it was Denis’s first English-language feature. And I knew it was set on a spacecraft and would be claustrophobic. I was ready for all of it.
What I was not ready for was the boredom. I really resisted this movie. I couldn’t find a way into it–even the scenes with the baby, which were distinctive for their slow pace and willingness to enter into baby time. There were two are three very visually arresting scenes, but otherwise, I felt like I was listening to a piece of music without a melody. The storytelling was very muddled. Sometimes, it seemed as if Denis was telling a typical space quest story, where a small group of people are doing something to save the planet; at other times, the film seemed to be a mood piece about traumatized people being cooped up together. Meanwhile, there were meditations on fertility, celibacy, masculinity, and sex, and none of it came together. There were also some awkward attempts to make aspects of their journey seem scientifically plausible. I was surprised that this made it onto a lot of “Best of the Year So Far” lists. Maybe people were drawn to its ambition. It’s worth seeing, if you’re curious or if you love Juliette Binoche. But if you haven’t seen Let The Sunshine In, watch that first.