Late to the Party

Recently, I’ve seen three really great movies directed by women, movies that everyone said were great and which I really wanted to see, but it took me a while to catch up to them — seven years in the case of one . . .

The-Farewell-Movie-1280x720The Farewell
Writer & Director: Lulu Wang

It’s heartening to see how well this one has done in the theaters. It was released mid-July and it’s still playing in many New York theaters. It is Wang’s second feature, a family drama about a young Chinese-American woman, Billi, who feels conflicted when she learns that her extended family living in China have decided to lie to her beloved grandmother, Nai Nai, about her health. Nai Nai is very ill and according to her doctor, dying of lung cancer, but Nai Nai’s sister tells her that she’s fine and will have a full recovery. Meanwhile, the rest of the family is told the truth. Nai Nai’s children are far-flung, having emigrated to the U.S. and Japan and so a plan is made to allow them to come back and say goodbye to Nai Nai: they pressure a younger member of the family to get married immediately so that there will be a wedding to bring everyone together. This makes for a very awkward family reunion. Everyone is sad but must pretend to be happy; meanwhile, there are long simmering tensions between the family members who have left China and the ones who remain.

I loved how attentive this movie was to family dynamics and how each family member  gets a moment and is allowed to reveal their perspective. There’s a low-key humor in every scene, and Akwafina is surprisingly, the perfect anchor. I’m used to her as a zany character but here she is observant and melancholy. The ending was stunning, and reminded me of the final scenes of Lady Bird, when Lady Bird returns to New York City and, without a quick series of images, you realize she has come to the end of a certain period of her life.

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Lots of Female Directors at TIFF

AntigoneDirector Sophie Deraspe adapts Antigone 

I was reading a bummer of an article in Hollywood Reporter about there are only two female directors showing films at the Venice Film Festival, when I remembered that I had meant to check the Toronto Film Festival listings, which, happily, are a completely different story. There are many, many films directed by women and what is especially delightful is the way the website includes “female directors” as a genre, so that you can see a complete listing of female-directed films. This made it especially easy to update my 2019 Female Directed/Written films list.

One of these days I’m going to get to the Toronto Film Festival. It’s been on my bucket list for a long time, because it always seems to have the movies I’m most excited about, and this year is no exception: They are showing Julie Delpy’s My Zoe, Kasi Lemmon’s Harriet, and Marielle Heller’s A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood. 

Revisiting Frances Ha

Frances-Ha-6

I re-watched Frances Ha the other night and it’s as fresh as a daisy despite being made seven years ago. I was a little worried that it wouldn’t hold up because I remembered its plot as being somewhat slight, focused on the travails of Frances Ha (Greta Gerwig) a late-blooming twenty-something who hasn’t quite figured out her path in life — or as she puts it, “I’m not a real person yet.” In our exhausting, post-Trump world, where we seem constantly to be in the midst of environmental and human rights catastrophes, I wasn’t sure the story would feel urgent enough. But I forgot how funny and self-aware this movie is.

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Review: Sword of Trust

sword of trust

Many of the comedies I’ve seen this year have seemed slightly off, with contemporary settings that weren’t quite plausible or even fantastical in the right way– I’m thinking of Long Shot, Late Night, and Book Smart. I attributed that misalignment to the intense speed of the news cycle and the internet, and figured it was unavoidable, but Lynn Shelton’s new ensemble comedy, about a disturbing internet conspiracy theory, is so fresh and in tune with the current moment that it feels like it was made yesterday.

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Movie Diary: May – July

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

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.

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Is She Really Going Out With Him?

the souvenir

The Souvenir, British director Joanna Hogg’s fourth feature film, is the first part of a two-part memory piece that focuses on a love affair that took place in Hogg’s early twenties, when she was in film school in London. Though not quite a memoir, the film is unabashedly autobiographical, and similar to Alfonso Cuaron’s recent Roma in how it seeks to reconstruct a particular period in the director’s life. To play a version of herself, a young woman called Julie, Hogg has cast Honor Swinton Byrne, a newcomer who at this point in her life is best known as Tilda Swinton’s daughter—though her performance in The Souvenir and next year’s sequel will likely change that. Swinton herself plays Julie’s mother, Rosalind, tamping down her usual charisma to embody a meek matron who rarely exerts her influence or reveals her knowledge of the world. It’s startling to see Swinton this way, especially with Byrne nearby, exuding youth and curiosity. With her height and her red hair, Byrne looks enough like Swinton to bring to mind her mother’s glamour, but also has a calm dreaminess that it is all her own.

Read the rest over at The Common . . .