Miss Americana (2020) ★★★
Directed by Lana Wilson
For a few years, my friends teased me because one evening in 2009, after I’d been writing for a few days and hadn’t paid much attention to the news, I asked if anyone could fill me in on whatever it was that had happened between Kanye West and Taylor Swift earlier in the week. Um, yeah. They could fill me in. Pretty much anyone I talked to at the bar could have filled me in at that point. I’d thought I was bringing up a piece of light gossip, but my friends quickly informed me that this was a world historical Internet Event, one so engulfing that even President Obama had weighed in.
Continue reading “Review: Taylor Swift: Miss Americana”
Writer & Director: Sandi Tan
In 1992, at age 19, novelist Sandi Tan wrote and starred in Shirkers, a feature-length road movie shot on the streets of Singapore. The title was inspired by Tan’s idea that in life, there were people who were neither movers nor shakers, but shirkers—those who evade responsibility and duty, escaping the confines of society. It starred Tan as S., a murderer and kidnapper on a mysterious mission to save children. One of Tan’s points of inspiration was J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye. The plot didn’t matter as much as the mood, which Tan cultivated through carefully chosen locations, props, costumes, and music. Tan hired a friend to compose a soundtrack on his electric guitar, and hand-made many of her props, including a colorful board game that S. uses to plot her kidnappings. S.’s costume was a pink sailor shirt and blue knee-length shorts; she carried an old-fashioned camera on a strap, as well as a leather suitcase. “When I was eighteen,” Tan explains, “I thought you found freedom by building worlds inside your head.”
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Writer & Director: Nicole Holofcener
If you’re thinking about moving to the suburbs but would like to be convinced otherwise, I recommend streaming The Land of Steady Habits immediately. With the exception of a divorcee played by Connie Britton, the characters in this movie are all low-key unhappy as they try to make the best of their affluence. Adapted from Ted Thompson’s novel by the same name, it follows the midlife crisis of Anders, a fifty-something guy who is attempting to forge a new life for himself after divorcing his wife and quitting his lucrative job. The film opens with the screenshot above: Anders trying to choose towels for his new single-guy condo. It’s a striking image that shows both the state of Anders emotional life (bewildered, overwhelmed) and the soul-numbing indecision brought on by big box stores. Maybe it also hints at the extraordinary class divide, where a small percentage of Americans have an endless array of meaningless choices while a huge percentage have no choice but to get by. Continue reading “Review: Land of Steady Habits”
Writer & Director: Tamara Jenkins
One of the downsides of being an amateur reviewer with small children at home is that I usually see movies after they’ve been released. Though I try to avoid reviews of movies that I know I’m going to see, it was hard to avoid the buzz on Private Life, Tamara Jenkin’s first feature in eleven years about a couple dealing with infertility. It seemed like every podcast I listened to had something positive to say about it, extolling the quality of the writing and the storytelling and the splendid characterization and the wonderful acting. I second all that, but in the end, I had trouble getting into this movie. My attention wandered. A half-hour in, my husband and I both remarked that it seemed like a lot more time had passed, but not because it was slowly paced. Instead we felt like we had already been dragged through so much pain and indecision. The screenplay of Private Life is very carefully constructed, and I wondered if Jenkins was trying to create in the viewer some of the feelings of frustration and detachment that her characters are experiencing. Continue reading “Review: Private Life”
It’s the first week of October and I’m still catching up on all the movies I meant to review last month. I lost track of time with school starting at the beginning of the month, and then for the past couple of weeks I’ve been consumed by the Kavanagh hearings and aftermath. More to say about that, but I’ve been struck over the past few days by how easily people can see Kavanagh’s point of view, and sympathize with him, and how much that has to do with the fact that we are all accustomed to reading the male point of view, through decades of male-authored movies, television shows, novels, comic books, etc. Conversely, people are able to listen to Blasey Ford, and feel bad for her, and maybe even believe that she was assaulted, but they disregard the details that place her story in a shared reality, i.e. her naming of Kavanagh and his friend Mark Judge. It’s as if she doesn’t exist in the world as completely as Kavanagh does.
Anyway, here are five quick reviews of some movies that are streaming now. All are worth a watch, and one is a masterpiece. Continue reading “September Streaming”
When I was working on my most recent update of 2018’s women-directed films, I noticed a small trend: Netflix acquired a lot of the best women-directed movies and documentaries from film festivals, and they’ve also financed a number of women-directed movies. Netflix has such varied offerings that it’s a little difficult to come up with definitive stats, but just eyeballing it, they seem to have an unusually high percentage of female-directed and/or written movies on offer, including well-established directors like Nicole Holofcenter and Tamara Jenkins. Finally, Netflix has already been getting a lot of press for their recent efforts to bring back the rom-com, but I’m not sure anyone has noted that almost half of these movies are directed or written by women: Set It Up, Sierra Burgess Is a Loser, To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before, Nappily Ever After, and Us and Them.
Here’s a complete list of upcoming films. I’m especially excited about the ‘coming soon’ section, which contains a couple of film festival acquisitions, including The Kindergarten Teacher, a remake of an Israeli film, starring Maggie Gyllenhaal, and Proustian-sounding documentary, Shirkers, about a writer who recovers film from a movie she shot in 1992.
Continue reading “Trending on Netflix: Female Filmmakers”
Well, this movie was as charming and sweet as The Great British Baking Show, and like GBBS, you can find it streaming on Netflix. It’s based on a Jenny Han’s much-beloved YA novel by the same title and it’s been generating a lot of conversations about representation because the story centers on an Asian-American girl, something that is still rare in Hollywood. Even more depressing is that the author and director had to fight to cast an Asian actor in the lead role because, according to producers, “there was nothing in the story that required her to be Asian.”
Thank goodness the author and director did insist on Lana Condor for the lead, because she had the perfect mix of dreaminess and intelligence for Laura Jean, a character I immediately liked and could relate to. She’s a smart girl, who’s grounded in family life and schoolwork, but at the same time, she’s naive and nervous about social life. She wants romance but doesn’t know how to find it. Han said she wrote the novel thinking about her own high school experience: “Particularly being in early high school and younger, and the idea that you want these sort of [romantic] relationships and love, and [how they feel] so comfortable in your head, but then can feel so uncomfortable in real life.”
Laura Jean also reminded me of one of my favorite literary characters, Anne of Green Gables. Like Anne, Laura Jean has a rich imaginative life and romantic ideals that aren’t quite met in real life. Like Anne, she unexpectedly finds herself falling in love with the most popular boy in school (and he with her). Also, like Anne, Laura Jean doesn’t have a mother, and I found myself tearing up a little when Laura Jean talks with her kinda-sorta boyfriend about their parents. It wasn’t the content of the conversation so much as the fact that the two characters were listening to each other. There was a lot of sweetness in the moment, and in this movie in general, of the kind that you don’t usually see in teen rom-coms.
Some nights, you’re in the mood for a movie but not something that’s heavy. But you don’t want to watch TV because you want something that ends. Preferably in two hours. Something that won’t insult your insult your intelligence, and might possibly cheer you up. Because it’s been a hard news week. (It’s always a hard news week.)
Enter Set It Up, a Netflix original movie that Netflix has probably already recommended to you if you watch sitcoms on its platform. I’m here to second that recommendation. It’s not a great movie, but it’s a fun, romantic comedy that is very happy to be one. The conventions are all in place: it takes place in New York City, and our star-crossed lovers work for vague, unnamed media companies. The girl, Harper, works as a Girl Friday for the editor of a sports news website. The guy, Charlie, also works as a personal secretary for, hmm, I can’t remember what his boss does. It doesn’t matter! This movie is not making any important observations about the modern day workplace and that’s okay. Continue reading “Set It Up”
Here’s a simple list gleaned from a huge one at New York Magazine that ranks all the Netflix Original films. From that compilation, I picked out ten films directed by women. I made this list for myself, so that I would have a go-to group of Netflix movies instead of getting overwhelmed by the selection on the screen. Most of them I haven’t yet seen, though the two that I have—Mudbound and On Body and Soul—were so good that I’m very excited to dig in. Continue reading “10 Netflix Original Movies That Are Directed by Women”