I finished revising my novel a few weeks ago and since then I’ve been catching up on 2020 releases. There are so many 2020 female-directed movies that I want to still want to watch that I divided the remaining titles into three categories: Must See, Should See, and If Time. Theoretically I was going to start with the Must See list but I ended up watching two from the If Time category, including Summerland (pictured above) and The Glorias, and was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed them both. Below, you’ll find reviews of those two, as well as five other recent movies . . .
When this premiered back in September, it got mixed reviews and was compared unfavorably to the television show Mrs. America, so I wasn’t planning to see it. But one night, I decided to give it a half-hour and I’m so glad I did. I was immediately drawn in, and I ended up staying up to watch the whole thing. It’s based on Gloria Steinem’s memoir, My Life on the Road, with different actors portraying Gloria at different stages of her life: childhood, young adulthood, and middle age. This structure allowed the different Glorias to interact with each other and reflect on pivotal life decisions. It also allowed the movie to cover a long period of time, and when I watched the scenes from Steinem’s childhood, it hit me for the first time just how old she is and how much change she has witnessed in her lifetime. Steinem herself helped to produce The Glorias, and while it is undoubtably a flattering portrayal, there is a complexity to the storytelling that helped me put her legacy into a larger context.
There was a lot of controversy surrounding this movie about pre-teen girls who form a dance troupe and incorporate highly sexualized movements into their choreography. After watching it, I don’t know how you could interpret it anything other than a condemnation of the over-sexualization of young girls, and an indictment of patriarchal culture in general — maybe that’s really what offended the religious right? To me, it was a very powerful mother-daughter story: a portrait of a girl channeling her mother’s rage, both as a way to have an authentic relationship with her mother and to find an identity for herself that won’t leave her feeling powerless.
Is this a movie? I don’t even know. But I really enjoyed it even though it doesn’t really compare to other concert movies I love. And yet it was just what I needed this winter. If you liked Folklore, you will like cozy, acoustic set, filmed in a cabin in upstate NY; and if you like The National you will like it, and if you like Bon Iver, you will really like this, because he gives a great vocal performance for “Exile.” Sometimes his voice is obscured by the production on his albums, but in this stripped-down concert, you hear how much emotion he brings to his singing.
When I was in my first year of college, one of my roommates was really into debate and tried to convince me to join the debate team. She said I should come along on the team’s trip to New York City. I went because I had never seen NYC except in movies. I ended up wandering around Columbia University and wishing I could go downtown to hear music — but I was not brave enough to go alone and at that time (the late 90s) people regarded the area around Columbia as very dangerous. So I was stuck watching the debates, which were very fast-paced and verbally dense. The energy was hyper and aggressive. Although I could see that a lot of the debaters were intelligent and charismatic, I didn’t care about the outcome or mechanics of the competition. I felt the same way watching this documentary about Texas high school debate teams, although it clearly has a lot to say about how easily political debate can become partisan.
Someone on Twitter remarked that this film had been overlooked so I decided to give it a try and was so charmed by its setting and performances that it was easy to ignore some of its more sentimental elements. Set in English countryside during WWII, Summerland tells the story of Alice (Gemma Arterton), a grouchy spinster/writer who is forced to take in a nine-year-old boy to protect him from the bombing of London. Alice is irritated to be stuck with a strange child and vows to give him back as soon as possible, but as they get to know each other she finds her emotions getting stirred up as she recalls a past heartbreak. There’s really nothing remarkable about the story or the film’s structure, which intersperses flashback with present-day action, but the writing is humane and realistic, the scenes are well-paced, and Arterton really made me feel her character’s loneliness. I fell for it.
I’m not sure how I feel about this movie. People should definitely see it. It’s extremely entertaining, a story of female revenge, with an excellent central performance from Carey Mulligan. I appreciated the twisty plotting, and the way it is set in a slightly off-kilter world. There’s a borderline fairy tale aesthetic which you can kind of see in the above image, with Mulligan’s cotton-candy-colored sweater and the colorful set design. It seems to me that writer-director Emerald Fennell executed her premise just as she wanted, which is difficult for any director, let alone someone making her debut feature. But there are no scenes, images, or lines of dialogue that are haunting me, and even though it was very engaging and satisfying to watch, I didn’t have much of an emotional response. What it reminded me of, more than anything, was the TV show Black Mirror — it has the same audacious plotting and tidy pessimism.
The less said about this sequel the better. To be fair, I wasn’t planning to review it, but my husband and son started watching and I was drawn in. The first third is great! As with Patty Jenkins’s first Wonder Woman installment, I loved the opening scene set on the island of women (I forget what it’s supposed to be called) where a baby Wonder Woman performs amazing athletic feats while Robin Wright sternly watches. The whole movie could have been set in that world, as far as I’m concerned. I also liked the part where Chris Pine tries different 80s ensembles. After that, it was downhill and a waste of Gal Gadot.