Tag Archives: Ann Dowd

Bachelorette

You know when you’re on a deep dive into Netflix’s back catalogue and you come across a movie that’s packed full of A-listers that you’ve somehow never heard of before? There’s always a reason.

Bachelorette is a deeply offensive and rarely funny movie that probably meant to be Deep Impact to Bridesmaids’ Armageddon, but wasn’t. It stars Rebel Wilson as bride-to-be Becky and Kirsten Dunst, Lizzy Caplan, and Isla Fisher as her horrible best friends. This trio are quite cruel to Becky, to her face and behind her back. They discuss amongst themselves how impossible it is that their fat friend is the first to be married, and to a good catch at that – rich, handsome, and totally in love with her. They’re jealous, they’re mean, and they’re determined to fuck up her wedding.

On the eve of the wedding, Becky heads to bed while her “friends” get drunk and do coke and fail to find a single ounce of happiness for the bride. In a fit of particular cruelty, Regan (Dunst) and Katie (Fisher) decide to try on Becky’s dress, without permission, and at the same time. The dress does as most would do when taxed with two wearers: it rips down the middle. The rest of the evening is spent in a “hilarious” race to somehow fix the dress before the morning wedding. They’ll get more drunk and do more drugs, and cross paths with the bachelor party on more than one occasion. The dress will be dragged along the sidewalk, get tossed in the trash, and be besmirched by several bodily fluids. And through it all, none of these women ever feels bad or learns a lesson. They’re disgusting human beings but they never face a consequence and they never get called out. I’m half afraid the script doesn’t even realize that they’re pathetic, ugly people.

Bridesmaids was crude and edgy, serving up women behaving badly with style though not always class. It got away with it because underpinning the gross gags and lewd humour was an essential sweetness and an elemental bond that made its hot mess relatable, and grounded. This movie is anarchic but tonally confused, and its characters hideously irredeemable. Even ringing its theme for all it was worth, the film failed to squeeze out even a drop of entertainment. There’s a reason I’d never heard of this movie – I just wish that had stayed the case.

Sundance 2021: Mass

I’ve seen a unicorn rip a man’s guts out, an axe chop a man’s toes off, and an eyeball skewered on a sharp metal tent peg. It’s Sundance, and I’ve seen some shit. And yet nothing prepared me to watch Mass, a movie about four middle aged adults sitting around a folding table in a church rental space.

It’s hard to say who’s more reluctant to be there – Richard (Reed Birney) and Linda (Ann Dowd), or Jay (Jason Isaacs) and Gail (Martha Plimpton). Richard and Linda’s son killed Jay and Gail’s in a school shooter incident years ago, and this is an attempt for healing, or closure, or something other than the smothering pain they’ve been living in.

One room, 4 people, 110 minutes of emotionally exhausting confrontation, conversation, and contemplative silence. A movie like this either succeeds or it doesn’t based on two things: the script, and the performances.

The script, by director Fran Kranz, is restrained, nimble, as revealing as it is concealing. It’s almost voyeuristic to sit in on such an intimate and fraught conversation, but while we think we know where the lines will be drawn, Kranz shows the grief, victimhood, and aftermath of a mass school shooting is as complex as the event itself. It is natural to want to identify causes and assign blame, but here, in this room, guilt and innocence overlap.

Kranz is himself an actor with an intuitive sense of how dialogue can rise and fall, and how grief can express itself in more than just words. In this claustrophobic space, all four performances are committed; there is trauma and sorrow on both sides of the table. Each has lost a son. But Jay and Gail persist. They want, nay, they need to know: did Richard and Linda see this coming? Is there something they could and should have done? There isn’t going to be an easy answer here, just pain across four faces. Recrimination, bitterness, anger, empathy, and loss. There are heavy burdens in this room and perhaps Kranz is a little inclined to tidy them up by the end, but grief isn’t something you fix or get over. It’s something you learn to live with – the question is, will this conversation help them do so, and if not, can anything?

Rebecca

Lily James plays a lady’s companion, a woman paid to accompany her mistress as she travels about Europe, but when Mrs. Van Hopper (Ann Dowd) gets sick, her companion, used to attending to her mistress’s every need, suddenly has a lot of time on her hands but few options to fill it. As paid staff, Lily James’ character isn’t allowed to use the hotel’s amenities intended for guests. Luckily, the handsome if brooding Maximus de Winter (Armie Hammer) comes to her aid. A mysterious young widower, Max and his beautiful estate Manderley are often gossiped about, and it is whispered he has been terrorized by grief since his wife’s sudden passing a year ago. But on outings with the lady’s companion, he’s a perfect gentleman and charming company. Sadly, Mrs. Van Hopper eventually recovers only to catch wind of her companion’s secret rendez-vous, and she immediately books them passage back to New York. Facing a sudden goodbye, Max de Winter proposes to the young, na├»ve girl of lowly station, and they share a passionate honeymoon before he brings her home to Manderley.

Rebecca is a ghost story, written by Daphne du Maurier and newly adapted for Netflix by Ben Wheatley. The new Mrs. de Winter is haunted by two malevolent forces. First, the house itself, which is demanding in its size and responsibilities, and isolating too. Manderley is spooky because it is simply too large for just two people. It never feels like it belongs to her, in part because it’s been passed down for generations by the de Winter family, and partly because Rebecca, the dearly departed former Mrs. de Winter, had so confidently left her mark. Manderley is also a symbol of a growing class divide. It reminds us that not long ago, our young protagonist was staff herself, but even as a lady’s maid she’d never worked in or even seen such a massive estate. As its current mistress, she is uncomfortable in the position and feels out of place among Max’s friends and family. And then there is the spectre of Rebecca herself. The new bride experiences two very different encounters when it comes to Rebecca. Mrs. Danvers (Kristin Scott Thomas), the housekeeper, seems nearly obsessed with her, and speaks reverentially of Rebecca. Rebecca’s routines and methods and preferences are considered by Mrs. Danvers to be the ‘right’ ones, and the new Mrs. de Winter can never quite measure up to a ghost. Max, on the other hand, will never speak of her, and loses his temper when the subject is broached. His new wife is cowed by how much he must still love Rebecca to be so sensitive, and realizes that there are perhaps 3 people to this marriage.

It’s a brilliant gothic exercise in gas-lighting and gender roles, and Ben Wheatley’s added some drop dead visuals to the mix, taking full advantage of every second they’re not in that house. It kind of feels that Ben Wheatley, known for his twisted, psychological horror films, went in the opposite direction, flexing new muscles with a talkier script and dazzling production values. However, because it was Ben Wheatley attached to direct, I imagined dizzying psychological warfare, and on that he under-delivered. Directing for a broader Netflix audience for the first time, he’s erred in favour of conservative and pretty. But Du Maurier’s source material is actually a good match for Wheatley’s usual directing style. I would have loved to see him seize on the madness, make Manderley as sinister and foreboding as High-Rise. Manderley is haunted, if not by Rebecca’s ghost, by secrets and resentments and insecurity. The house feels like a prison, and gender norms are the new bride’s shackles. Between her husband and the housekeeper, she is made to feel crazy. There is so much potential for psychological horror that went wasted.

Ben Wheatley, you are a talented man with a unique directorial voice. The world is improved by your personal brand of weird, and I wish that Netflix money hadn’t robbed you of the courage to just be you.

Speed of Life

June (Ann Dowd) is nearly 60 but hasn’t yet filled out the obligatory paperwork for relocation after 60. So says her house. Not in a weird way. The year is 2040 and her house is wired with a bunch of monitors and an Alexa-like voice tells her when her bills are due or the pH in her urine is less than desirable. June rips out all the monitors and buries them in her garden but you can’t really keep Big Brother out.

June has a good reason for not wanting to leave her home. Well, depends who you ask. A good reason to June sounds perfectly crazy to everyone else. You see, back in 2016 she and her boyfriend were having a fight. She’d just found out that David Bowie was dead and Edward, as usual, wanted to crack jokes. His inability to take anything seriously was a pretty big sore point in their relationship and they were on the verge of a blow-out fight about it when Edward disappeared. Like, a rip in the universe opened up and he went through it and was gone. Gone forever. Gone for the past 24 years.

But guess what? One night, Edward (Ray Santiago) reappears. He hasn’t aged a day. He doesn’t know that he was missing, presumed dead, mourned. Doesn’t recognize this older woman as his girlfriend June.

Speed of Life, written and directed by Liz Manashil, is interesting on a few levels:

a) The wormhole: where did he go, where has he been?

b) The relationship: is everything still there 24 years later, when June has changed so much and Edward not at all?

c) What happens in a few days when June turns 60 and “The Program” takes over?

The Program is a very interesting aspect; seniors 60 and over are given mandatory government housing where they no longer go outside, or socialize with other age groups. They are medicated, zombie-like. It’s a little funny because the old people in 2040 are Millennials. Old Millennials. It’ll happen to all of us. And I realize that Baby Boomers are sort of ruining everything just by reaching retirement age in such voluminous numbers. It’s crushing to the generations underneath them. So I get why you would want to deal with the problem. And yet Baby Boomers are also proving that 60 is hardly old at all. It used to be. Now it’s practically the same as 40. I know lots of Baby Boomers who are fit and busy and contributing in many ways, even outside employment (in fact: perhaps particularly outside employment). They are redefining old age even as they seem to reach it. They are living longer, yes, but also, I think, better. There are many more healthy years after retirement than ever before. So think of June (again: Ann Dowd) as somehow so old that she is now irrelevant to society…it’s jarring. It feels very Atwood. God I love sci-fi/ speculative fiction when it’s written by women.