Tag Archives: Blythe Danner

TIFF18: What They Had

Ruth is confused a lot of the time, most of the time. Some days she wakes up not knowing who the old man in her bed is, determined to get home to her mother and father, who must be worried. The old man in her bed is Burt, her husband of many years. She’s his girl and he can’t stand being separated from her, so he keeps her at home despite it not being what’s best for either of them at this point.

One Christmas Eve, Bridget (Hilary Swank) gets a phone call from her brother Nick (Michael Shannon). Their mother (Blythe Danner) has left home in the middle of the night and their father (Robert Forster) can’t find her. Anywhere. In California, Bridget is dealing with her own empty nest, estranged daughter, and failing marriage, but she’s What They Had - Still 1been insulated from the problems with her father, who’s recently had a heart attack, and her mother, whose Alzheimer’s is only getting worse. It’s Nick who’s been dealing with them in Chicago and now he wants and needs her support in getting Ruth into a memory care facility – a suggestion he knows Ruth can’t consent to, and Burt will oppose vehemently.

What They Had is a tender movie about memory and family, and what it means to lose a loved one in increments. There’s no one in this family you can’t relate to, and it’s painful to watch them fail to unite, even in their grief. They are all, in fact, playing for the same time: each wants Ruth to be cared for. Burt think she should be cared for by the man who has spent a lifetime loving her, even though no single person can provide the round-the-clock care she requires. Nick worries that Burt caring for Ruth puts them both in danger, and is eager for professionals to take over and give him some respite. Bridget wants to avoid conflict and plays both sides, unwilling to see her mother neglected or her father alone. This is a choice that many families will face, and the film reflects our pain and reluctance so clearly it can be hard to watch.

Throuh it all, Blythe Danner shines her light. Ruth may not have her memory, or even a stable sense of self, but Danner always shows her humanity and her dignity, and even glimmers of humour and comfort. Robert Forster is wonderful, gruff and gentle, unwilling to let go of the love of his life. He is the movie’s anchor, and his family’s anchor, though not always a benevolent one. Is he a bit of a bully? Certainly he continues to treat his children like father knows best, and the dynamics are accordingly unhealthy. Bridget spins her wheels of indecision and Nick internalizes his anger. Shannon is terrific, as always, a kooky, rude, intemperate git who feels like everyone’s pain in the ass brother.

The film gives you permission to laugh. It feels uncharitable to do that with someone who has reduced capacity, but sometimes the jams Ruth gets herself into are quite funny. And sometimes they’re so egregious all you can do is laugh. Laugh or cry – and this movie will have you do both.

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Hearts Beat Loud

First off: Brett Haley. Can we just get a round of applause for this guy? He’s way too young to be making such grown up movies, and yet he’s dazzled me with I’ll See You In My Dreams, utterly charmed me with The Hero, and now he’s blown my fucking socks off. And he must be a damn good guy too – not just because he writes such thoughtful, sensitive stuff (the credit for which must be shared with his writing partner Marc Basch), but because his actors keep coming back. I’ll See You In My Dreams gave a much-needed starring role to the lovely Blythe Danner, with Sam Elliott by her side, and then Elliott grabbed the titular role in The Hero, with Nick Offerman as a sidekick, and in Hearts Beat Loud Offerman earns leading man status, with Blythe Danner gracing us with her presence yet again.

Secondly: Nick Offerman. Man. If you’ve known me for more than 30 seconds, you probably know that sort of low-key love him. Not romantically. The kind of love where I’d just happily get into some flannel pajamas and deposit myself between him and his lovely wife (Megan Mullally) and eat cashews with them all day long. Without knowing them personally AT ALL, I get the impression that the Mullally-Offerman household is pretty down to earth and, frankly, a bit goofy. And I think they both make really interesting choices as far as work – not really taking the glitzy roles their TV fame has assured them.

So you had me at Haley. Or Offerman. But both? Are you trying to kill me?

And then the story. Offerman plays Frank Fisher, single (widowed) father to Sam (Kiersey Clemons). The two basically grew up together when a dead wife\mother left them in a puddle of grief, but as Sam has neared adulthood, she’s needed her father less and less. And now that his record store is failing and she’s about to move away for Hearts Beat Loud - Still 1college, Frank is wondering who in the hell he is. His landlady (Toni Collette…oh, did I not mention that the phenomenal Toni Collette is in this?) is sympathetic, his barman\best friend Dave is sympathetic (Ted Danson…oh, did I not mention that Ted Danson is in this, and he’s tending bar???), but good intentions aren’t enough to set this wandering soul on the right path. What does help, enormously, is making music with his daughter. The only problem? He’s ready to start a band with her, and she’s still adamant that medical school is in her immediate future. And what kind of father doesn’t want his brainy daughter to pursue her doctor dreams?

This movie gets everything right, but let me be more specific. The music. The goddamn music. A movie like this can be made or broken by how good the music is. We need to believe that music is a viable option, not just some over-inflated jam session, but a true and fresh talent that’s just waiting to be discovered. And we do. In part because Kiersey Clemons has a stunning voice. I’ve loved her in just about everything I’ve seen her in. She’s glowy yet somehow also unprepossessing. But I’ve never heard her sing before, so when she opened her mouth, I think we all did, in that jaw-droppy, holy shit kind of way. But let’s also throw heaps of praise Keegan DeWitt’s way. He’s Haley’s music guy (well, not just Haley’s – dude is in demand, and this movie makes clear why) and he helps to create this sound that is infectious, but also believable from a father-daughter duo, but wouldn’t be out of place on the radio or, perhaps, on my record player (hint, hint).

The music’s lyrics help advance the story as the two write heartfelt songs that are as gutting as they are toe-tapping. Did I cry? Of course I cried. What am I, some sort of monster? But ultimately, as the director himself puts it, Hearts Beat Loud is an “unabashed feel-good film.” It’s also mature and wise and casually inclusive, but screw that – it’s a damn good movie, a fun movie that presses gently on the heart’s chords, and one that deserves to be seen, and then hummed merrily on the way home.

Paul

There’s just something right to me about a Nick Frost – Simon Pegg pairing. And this movie celebrates their inherent dweebitude. Graeme (Pegg) and Clive (Frost) are just a couple of nerds visiting the U.S. for comic con and then an alien-themed road trip, you know, Area 51, Roswell, New Mexico, all those popular conspiracy theorist tourist traps. Only this road trip just happens to bring them a real alien, and his name is Paul (voiced\motion captured by Seth Rogen).

MV5BMTQxODA4NDc2Nl5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwNjQzMDQ2NA@@._V1_SX1777_CR0,0,1777,999_AL_.jpgPaul crash-landed here decades ago and has put up amiably with interrogation and testing, but he’s making his escape now that the only thing left is to slice and dice him. Is the government simply going to let him get away? Of course not. Jason Bateman, Bill Hader, and Joe Lo Truglio are all hot on his tail (he doesn’t have a tail). Graeme and Clive have an RV and a religious one-eyed woman named Ruth (Kristen Wiig) and that’s about it: not ideal fleeing-the-government provisions, but it’ll have to do.

Paul is a love letter to science fiction fans. Pegg and Frost made the film’s pilgrimage in real life, and based the script on some of their odd encounters. The idea first came to them on a rainy night on the set of Shaun of the Dead, where they quickly sketched the character. Cameos and references to pop (science) fiction abound – how many can you spot? Paul is a real tribute to the genre but also just genuinely funny, even for those of us without an intrinsic love of extraterrestrials. This isn’t an excellent movie, but it’s a good enough movie, and frankly, it’s funnier than anything presently in theatres.

Tumbledown

Hannah is deep in mourning for her husband. Her grief is complicated by the many strangers who share in it; he was a folk singer of some renown, perhaps memorialized more for his mysterious and untimely death than for his single album of songs. Friends and family think Hannah should be moving on but she’s frozen, paralyzed by the stores of love she has unused. She thinks the only way to exorcise his ghost is to write his biography, but it turns out it’s hard to write about the man you’re still in love with, in awe of, and angry at, for having left you.

MV5BMzcyODA4NDA2MF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwMTE1MjU2NzE@._V1_Hannah (Rebecca Hall) has avoided fans and journalists alike but relents for Andrew (a bearded and bespectacled Jason Sudeikis), a brash professor in search of a tenure-assuring topic for his thesis. This reclusive, rarely written about musician fits the bill. And Hannah thinks working with Andrew will bolster her own writing. So they hunker down in a little cabin in the woods and set to work, pretending that their purposes aren’t at odds with each other.

I enjoyed this, the rawness of grief, the fallacy of closure, the importance of legacy, the obstacles to moving on. It felt sweet and tender. But it wasn’t spectacular. The two leads lack chemistry. And for a movie about the legend of a dead folk singer, there was a notable dearth of music. And though Hannah tells us that his death was the least interesting thing about him, we have to take her word for it, never learning much about him, not even the truth behind his sudden death. So there’s a third character who’s a third wheel in this odd romance, and he truly is a ghost. Without establishing his worth, we can’t really tell if Andrew is an adversary or a milestone in moving on. Despite Tumbledown’s themes, it makes a pretty light film – light but not necessarily easy.

 

The Last Kiss

In a (seemingly) other lifetime, I was married to someone else. Someone not Sean. If that’s strange for you, believe me, it’s way weirder for me! I was in love the way only a 19 year can be. And maybe I still would be had bipolar disorder not reared its ugly head. My background in psychology came back to bite me: my rational brain thought, it’s fine, bipolar can be treated and managed. Don’t panic. I should have listened to the irrational part that said: run! Because while bipolar disorder IS highly manageable, the person has to WANT to manage it. The person has to TRY. The person has to not concoct elaborate lies in order to fool his wife, not buy generic over the counter drugs, file off the stamped logos, and pretend to be taking doctor-prescribed meds. You know, that kind of thing. Anyway, somewhere in the dramatic and volatile end of our marriage, I watched a movie called The Last Kiss. I cried my eyes out until they literally swelled shut. It was an emotional time.

I have never forgotten the emotional trauma of watching this movie, but I recently threw caution and hankies to the wind and gave it a rewatch, and here’s what I found out:

Other than a kick-ass sound track, this movie is a worthless pile of shit. There’s a fair bit of fat shaming nearly right off the top. I was rolling my eyes so hard at the shamelessly cheesy lines that an eyeball almost popped right out of the socket.

The premise: Michael (Zach Braff) is having the slimiest of crises – a quarter-life one. He has everything he wants – a nice home, a good job, a beautiful girlfriend, Jenna, and a baby on the way. So of course his complaint is that life is too perfect and he’s such a basic bitch that he’s worried life holds no more surprises for him. So while celebrating a MV5BNTUzODg0ODk5NV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwMjU0NTgxMDI@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,1535,1000_AL_friend’s wedding, he naturally flirts with another woman – er, girl. The wedding guests are all in pastel but Kim (Rachel Bilson) saunters saucily up to the bar in a flaming red dress. She is leaking manic pixie dream girl out of every pore. No one pretends that she’s a real person, just the embodiment of the very young woman that a man about to start a family really wants to fuck. They go on dates, they kiss. They are rudely interrupted by the inconvenient death of his best friend’s father, which blows his cover story to shreds. His (pregnant) girlfriend throws him out, devastated.

Theirs is not the only relationship in tatters. Michael’s friend Chris (Casey Affleck) is on the verge of a nervous breakdown – since the birth of his son, his wife can’t stop finding fault with him and all they do is fight and try to keep the baby alive. Meanwhile, Jenna’s parents (Blythe Danner, Tom Wilkinson), o ye of the 30 year marriage, are also on the outs, also due in part to infidelity, but also, it seems, to a lifetime of happiness.

Michael, a dope and a natural born idiot, invokes double jeopardy: since he’s already in the dog house for kissing Ms. Manic Pixie, he figures he may as well fuck her. Because men are scum. But then he’s filled with regret and decides to stage a sit-in, or a vigil for his relationship, and it’s this whole sordid deal.

I must have been really messed up to find anything worthwhile in this mess. My marriage suffered from no mere infidelity – that seems a far smaller betrayal than the ones we suffered at the hands of mental illness. I’m not even sure which parts I related to, and today, all these years later, I want to slap Jenna across the face just to remind her that this sack of shit doesn’t even deserve to sit on her front porch. So yeah, things change. I’ve changed. The world has changed. Zach Braff is still a fuck knuckle.