Tag Archives: coming of age

Mid90s

Stevie (Sunny Suljic) is a 13 year old kid living with his single mother Dabney (Katherine Waterston) and his older brother Ian (Lucas Hedges). It’s the 90s, so we don’t have helicopter parents yet, no crazy attachment hyper-parenting bullshit. Just kids roaming the streets until it’s dark, which they more or less survived.

Stevie has good reason to want to flee his home. His mother has apparently curb-tailed her wildest instincts, but still unburdens her romantic woes on her tween son. Ian poses the more straight-forward threat, frequently beating up his little brother for little or no reason. But Stevie may be his own worst enemy, self-harming in mv5boti5mjvjmjqtmzlkni00mdu1lwiwy2mtyje2mje1ymu5nzy2xkeyxkfqcgdeqxvymta2odmzmdu@._v1_alarming ways. It’s not until he begins to ingratiate himself with a skate group that he comes out of his shell. Ray is the undisputed leader of the group. He’s effortlessly cool, and everyone looks up to him. Fuckshit skateboards equally well, but seems more interested in partying and getting fucked up. Reuben and Fourth Grade fill obligatory minion roles within the group, and Stevie, henceforth known as Sunburn, is the newest, youngest, and greenest of the bunch. And he’s just so happy to be there.

Mid90s does a very good job making a time capsule out of 90s-era L.A.  It gives us a gritty, accurate, insider look at skater culture, though it also feels quite sweet and quite intimate at times. We get a rare glimpse of masculine vulnerability, and the age-old attempt to swallow it up.

This is Jonah Hill’s directorial debut, and he’s quite a confident director right out of the gates. He’s got a very laid-back, observational style that almost mimics skate movies that kids were putting together at the time, just footage of their buddies daring to do new tricks. Hill’s favourite trick, and perhaps his greatest asset, is the minimalism with which he shoots. I just wish the script didn’t follow the same route. The skateboard metaphor, along with the unsubtle tag line ‘Fall. Get back up.’ are pretty heavy-handed, but the rest is a little…not superficial exactly, but undercooked, in that we don’t really get underneath the feelings. Hill picks at some scabs but allows very little bloodshed. Mid90s feels a bit more like a character sketch than a whole movie, with subplots thin enough to necessitate questions of existence, but the parts that are on screen look cool and feel authentic, and it’s a promising new direction for Jonah Hill.

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Angus, Thongs, and Perfect Snogging

I suppose it’s inevitable that I’ve failed to relate to this coming of age comedy about a young girl in high school who’s utterly obsessed with snogging. More alienating than the age difference is my absolute distaste for the word snogging, which is repeated so often in the film that my stomach acid has stripped away the mucus lining of my throat after throwing up in my mouth so frequently.

In fact, I do not care at all for kissing in films because I really cannot abide the sound effects attributed to it. You can hear the spit. It’s all spit. It’s slurpy and damp and you can just hear the strings of saliva between open, bacteria-ridden mouths. It grosses me the fuck out. Which is weird because I don’t really mind it in person. But as in many things, real-life kissing is almost nothing like movie kissing, and if done reasonably well, and MV5BMTM0MDQ2MDgyMF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwMzc2NDkxMw@@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,1503,1000_AL_with the avoidance of too much tooth contact, it’s never nearly as noisy. So I already know that I hate kissing scenes in movies. And poor Georgia wants nothing more than kissing all the time. Scratch that. She wants snogging, because she’s British and therefore had to come  up with a gross word for it that ruins it for the rest of us. I mean, first of all, snogging has always sounded to me like rather more than just kissing. In fact, it pretty much sounds like the whole enchilada. The whole kit and caboodle. But no, snogging is what twerpy little teenage girls do to the backs of their hands at sleepovers and such. Georgia is sadly snog-free at this stage in her life, but she’s devoted herself (at the expense of school, friends, and family, naturally) to correcting this void. And wouldn’t you know it: the eminently dreamy Robbie moves to town, and is the perfect target for all her lusty fantasies (which mostly involve running uphill???).

Angus is just about the only thing that I don’t despise in the film. Angus is Georgia’s long-suffering cat. Normally I don’t go in for cats, but Angus tolerates dog-levels of indignity – tea parties, costumes, even getting pretend-lost so that Georgia and cat-loving Robbie can share a moment or two searching for him.

The other thing that director Gurinder Chadha gets right is casting a very young, very floppy-haired Aaron Taylor-Johnson (who of course isn’t going by that yet) as dreamboat Robbie. It is quite arresting to see him so young and smooth-faced in this film after so recently having seen him waggle his penis about in A Million Little Pieces, and bare the madness of his soul in Outlaw King. I know I complained about all the brutal horse murder in the latter, but it turns out that the slaughter of innocent animals is easier for me to cope with than the sound of perfect snogging.

Social Animals

Austin, Texas, where every hipster thinks they should be able to open and run their own business. They’re all failing of course. Zoe’s is failing. Apparently her big dream was to wax women’s pussies, but the pussies aren’t coming. Across the street from her, Paul’s video store is failing too. Only the food trucks that circle these going out of business sales seem to be proliferating, business owners that have fled their lease agreements and work on wheels instead.

Of course, business is not Zoe’s only concern. All her friends are getting married and having babies, but she’s chronically single and collecting polaroids and hopefully first names of all the men she brings home to her trailer; if it’s a-rockin, you know MV5BYTJjNjdhZWItY2U3ZC00YjVjLTlkN2ItMTE0OWEzOTA3ZWU5XkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMjExODQwODM@._V1_SX1777_CR0,0,1777,999_AL_the rest. But her friends are getting tired of Zoe’s (Noel Wells) bullshit and she’s not much fun to be around now that her life is fully falling apart. The only person who seems to understand is Paul (Josh Radnor), the unhappily married man across the street. His wife has given him permission to have an affair, and Zoe is undeniably cute in a damaged way, but he’s still a bit shy to ask for what he wants.

Social Animals is a clever if inconsistent script. Watching Millennials attempt to “adult” is at turns entertaining and depressing. My sister was telling me recently about the very young, very new woman at her work who uses “adult” as a verb, as in “I was adulting this weekend; I made soup.” She was very proud at this stab at adulthood, but when my sister asked her what kind, she replied “Campbell’s.” Which, okay, makes sense, because I literally just heard on the radio this morning that the sale of canned tuna is way down because Millennials don’t know how to use a can opener. So perhaps successfully opening and microwaving a can of Campbell’s is something to celebrate if you’re young and dumb. Although I was once upon a time chronologically her age, I was never that young. At her age I was married, running my own household, and managing to cook impressive multi-course meals. Of course, I don’t really believe that Millennials are idiots. I believe their parents have ruined them by doing everything and teaching them nothing, and especially not independence. Millennials aren’t the problem. Their parents are.

Of course, Zoe’s parents are dead, so I probably shouldn’t speak ill of them. But even cold and in the ground she moans about getting a raw deal from them. Even the bank seems to imply that the reason her business is failing is because her parents aren’t giving her cash injections (so now we know why the American economy tanked). But I kind of enjoyed this movie about young people groping around, trying to figure shit out, and dramatically burning polaroids under a bridge. It didn’t make me feel superior, but it did make me feel secure. I may not always love getting older but I sure as hell wouldn’t want to be that young again. Sometimes Sean and I still feel like a couple of kids, but we have non-Ikea furniture, and RRSPs, and a fairly casual relationship with avocados. We’ve got our shit together. And even when making roasted red pepper soup from scratch, I never use “adult” as a verb. I just am.

 

Blue My Mind

Mia has just transferred to a new high school where she’s desperate to fall in with the popular mean girls. Gianna and company are serious mean girls though; their first group activity is breath play, where the teenage (tweenage?) girls grab each other by the throat until they pass out. You know, kid stuff. Unconscious, Mia has a dream or a hallucination that she’s underwater, the bubbles overtaking her.

At home, Mia (Luna Wedler) and her parents are struggling to get along. She thinks they might be keeping her adoption a secret from her. They’re not sure whether her recent moodiness is regular teenage stuff or not. I’m not exactly sure how old Mia is. She looks easily 15 to me, but she gets her first period and has her first sexual experience back to back, and not necessarily in that order. I do know that whatever’s going on with her MV5BOTAzODhiZGItOWI0Ny00ZjE2LTlkNDItNzk2ODY1YWY2YjIyXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNjE3NzgzMDM@._V1_SX1777_CR0,0,1777,743_AL_emotionally, her physical transformation is NOT normal teenage stuff. She’s suddenly compelled to eat the family’s pet goldfish. She grows webbing between her toes. In her mind, these are linked to the onset of her period but her doctor disagrees. Moodier than ever, Mia is also learning to be more secretive.

Some of you will remember how hard it is to be a teenage girl. Well, it’s a whole lot harder when you’re a teenage girl in the process of becoming a fish. And though her transformation seems random to her, to us it feels linked to her increasing desire to fit in with a crowd travelling way faster than her normal speed. The more she conforms, the more her body changes – and all she wants to do is fit in! It’s a cool idea that feels a little familiar, because all the rest of the bratty teenage tropes are right there.

The movie gets uncomfortably into body horror territory when Mia tries to alter or “fix” the changes in her body. This is a bold movie and probably not for everyone. Wedler and Zoe Pastelle Holthuizen manage some pretty compelling performances, and director Lisa Bruhlmann creates some stunning visuals. The metaphor’s a little too on the nose, but if you’re intrigued by the fishiness or you’ve always had a thing for mermaids, this might be worth a watch for you.

Eighth Grade

What was eighth grade like for you? Sweaty palms and horrible class photos and nerve-racking social encounters? A bad haircut, perhaps? An unrequited crush? Does anyone ever feel cool in the eighth grade? Is that even possible?

Kayla does not. She’s wading miserably through her last week of the eighth grade, friendless and sort of petrified, living a double life. At home she creates Youtube content teaching others to be confident like she is – although at school, of course, she is not. She knows classmates would describe her as quiet if they describe her at all, but that’s not how she feels inside, even if she can never quite communicate this gregarious alter ego to anyone, ever.

Kayla is portrayed by Elsie Fisher, who is so good and so talented she’ll take you right back to your eighth grade shoes. And boy are they awkward shoes. But it takes great MV5BZDYxZWY4NjQtYzM2Ni00YmE0LTlmZDItNTZlZGMwYWVkZWI0XkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNDg2MjUxNjM@._V1_SY1000_SX1500_AL_wells of courage in an actor to be as vulnerable as she is up on that screen, so raw and real that we are instantly transported to our own childhoods. And Fisher is indeed a very young woman herself, (otherwise best known as the voice of Agnes from Despicable Me, for which she improvised that delightful little tune about unicorns) which makes it even more impressive that straight out of the box, she’s amazing and transcendent.

Eighth Grade is about that tender age, around 13, when kids are transitioning to young adults. To when everything feels big and important and all-consuming. When a spot of unhappiness feels like it might last forever. But in reality, things are changing so fast, and life is lobbing surprise after surprise, and it’s really only in the looking back that we can pinpoint all these little episodes that helped make us who we are. The Eighth Grade itself probably felt like it went on for decades, but it’s something we all have in common, and it’s the reason like someone like Bo Burnham, who as you might have guessed is a man, can still relate so well that he’s made a pretty accurate account of that time in a young person’s life. And even if Elsie has slightly different trappings: iPhones and Instagram and FMO, her base desires and fears and neuroses are universal.

Elsie is a brilliant character. Despite her social failures, she is sweet and smart and resilient. We see ourselves in her, but we also want to befriend her, mother her. She is the sun and we orbit around her, experiencing her different angles until all are exhausted and all we want is to hug her, to tell her it gets better.

We didn’t all have the same voyeuristic roommate at University, we didn’t all have the same embezzling first boss, we don’t all have dads who are dentists/truck enthusiasts, but we were all knobs in the 8th grade. Bo Burnham has captured this gracefully in this feature; Eighth Grade is a movie for all of us. Except, of course, for eighth graders themselves, who can only watch a movie about themselves when they are old enough to take it. Yeah, let’s just sit with that one for a minute. This movie is rated R, for language, for some teen drug and alcohol use, and some sexual material. All things the typical 8th grader will encounter in their every day lives but cannot be trusted to witness in movies. Which is kind of fucked up. So if nothing else, this movie reminds us all how hard it is to be that age, to be in tricky situations that we aren’t really prepared for, to have the burden of expectation without the benefit of experience. If you know an eighth grader, this movie will have you wanting to cut them just a little extra slack. Life is hard. Kindness costs nothing. Set a good example.

Summer of 84

All year long I wear the badge of wimp proudly. It’s made out of bubble wrap and bandaids, and is attached with safety velcro in order to never risk the prick. I DO NOT WATCH HORROR MOVIES. I do not. In fact: I cannot. I even turned my cowardly back on Hereditary despite its starring one of my all-time-favourite actresses, and I stalk her from beneath her floorboards 4 days a week. I don’t watch em. I can’t do it. They don’t just make me scared, they make me mad. And not just husband sleeps with your best friend on your birthday mad. Oh no. I’m talking REALLY mad. Mad that I have ALLOWED myself to feel this bad. So I sit there seething. Self-loathing. And so scared I might pee – and that’s not an expression, it’s an alarmingly real possibility.

But.

But in July, I make an exception, an exception called The Fantasia Film Festival. It shows an incredible lineup of genre films, which takes me out of my comfort zone and challenges me as a movie lover, watcher, and reviewer. It’s got odes to action, horror, sci-fi, and loads besides – the most frontier-pushing stuff from Japan, South Korea, and more, and stuff to inspire fresh nightmares for a year. Truly something for every sicko out there, and I love it.

And this isn’t the first time I’ve let myself be pee-strength scared. As a kid I remember that a simple game of hide-and-go-seek would strain my 7 year old heart into cardiac arrest territory. Relocate that game to the woods, and set it at night, and I was a cowering, quivering mess. Did anyone else put themselves through these MV5BNWNjOTNkNTAtOTQwNi00MzM0LWE0OTktY2VmYzE2NDdiY2Q2XkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNTU4ODA4MTg@._V1_neighbourhood games of hell? Obviously someone must derive pleasure from being on the brink of abject horror, and at the beginning of Summer of 84, we meet 4 such young fellows. Davey and his friends are 15 in the summer of 84, mere shadows of mustaches playing on their upper lips, and haven’t yet outgrown their midnight game of “manhunt.” I think it’s creepy even before the big news is revealed: the Cape May slayer is on the loose in their community. With 13 confirmed kills and a preference for teenage boys, Davey and his buddies should rationally be concerned about this serial killer but they’re kids, hornily hovering about the precipice between childhood and growing up, and instead they think it’s kind of cool.

Kind of cool until Davey (Graham Verchere), an amateur conspiracy theorist, convinces Eats (Judah Lewis), Woody (Caleb Emery), and Farraday (Cory Gruter-Andrew) that his next-door neighbour Mackey (Rich Sommer) fits the serial killer’s profile, and that Mackey’s job as a cop is nothing more than the perfect cover. So even though there’s a beautiful girl next door, a couple years older and rocking a side pony, Davey is single-minded in his surveillance and suspicion of Mackey. Which makes me hyperventilate on at least two fronts: 1. If Mackey IS the killer, Davey et. al are drawing an awful lot of attention to themselves, and 2. If he is not the killer, then the killer is on loose, and the boys are very distracted, which makes them easy targets. 

This is the most recent offering from directors RKSS (Roadkill Superstar), a trio of talented young Canadians otherwise known as Anouk Whissell, François Simard, and Yoann-Karl Whissell. Summer of 84 is inevitably being compared to Stranger Things, but that comparison isn’t really fair, just a lazy nod to the 1980s nostalgia they both evoke. Summer of 84 more like The Goonies, a childhood adventure movie, but with higher stakes. RKSS is not afraid to let some kids meet with some pretty real-world consequences.

As you can imagine, this movie is brimming with barely-awakened testosterone, and enough tension to blow the roofs off several treehouses. 105 minutes is a long time to be barely containing the urge to scream “Get out of there!!!!” in a theatre full of heavy-breathing moviegoers. My notebook reveals that I survived the ordeal by sketching people’s shoes. But I also survived by being pleasantly surprised by the production value in this movie. RKSS know and love their gore, but they’ve also crafted a movie that looks terrific. It certainly looks levels above what their budget must have dictated, and it’s rooted in an 80s realism you’ll identify as “grandparent’s rec room chic” rather than the too-slick, glossy, neon, facile and over-stylized way many other directors are dazzled by. Of course, it’s rather ironic since the film makers were not likely even born yet in the summer of 84, but who’s counting?

The four young actors are all quite good; Verchere has an honest and earnest face that’s hard not to root for, and Emery’s face is probably already familiar to you. There’s an easy and genuine camaraderie between the boys, which makes it easy to care for them even if their characters aren’t exactly well-developed. And getting us to care for the lambs being left to slaughter isn’t something you can take for granted in a horror movie. Blood comes cheap, but RKSS pays full price.

 

 

Laggies

Megan panics when her boyfriend of 10 years proposes to her at a friend’s wedding, but really it’s what she’s been waiting for – not so much for the ring, but for someone to just decide for her. With her post-graduate studies complete, she’s still without a job, still waffling on her daddy’s couch when convenient. She’s lost. Which doesn’t excuse the following: when she flees her brand new fiance and her dear friend’s wedding reception to “get some air” she winds up at a grocery store, buying beer for some teenagers.

And then she ends up following one of them home. Annika (Chloe Grace Moretz) is pretty interesting for a 16 year old, but the home she shares with her single father Craig (Sam Rockwell) is appealingly simple and cozy to Megan (Keira Knightley) and her quarter life crisis. Of course, the addition of Megan instantly complicates things for everyone and life is never simple. Megan should bloody well know that.

This film is apparently known as Say When in some countries, and I sort of think it MV5BNDhhM2FiMWUtYTBhNi00M2Q5LWI3ZTMtNWVmODcwMGU3ZTAwXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMTI3MDk3MzQ@._V1_should be in mine as well. Laggies? An expression I was unfamiliar with, but could kind of understand with context. Urban Dictionary, bless its lack of soul, provides several helpful definitions, including 1. dragging along (which I believe Megan is doing) 2. someone who is stalkerish (which Megan borderline is) 3. a combination of both large + saggy, referring to boobs, as in “she’s got a nice rack, but she’s laggy” (which Megan most assuredly is NOT) 4. “the laggies” is a disease (well, a pretend one) caused by chronic masturbation (I’ll let you watch the movie to find out which characters may suffer from it).

Keira Knightly is not entirely convincing in her part or in her accent, but director Lynn Shelton is working really hard to throw a little sympathy her way, which is hard to do when an overeducated, overprivileged white girl is whining about her own indecision. Chloe Grace Moretz and Sam Rockwell, though, are pretty fantastic additions to the cast. They bookend Megan’s 20-something ennui, and give it some perspective. I also appreciated pop-ups from Ellie Kemper and Jeff Garlin; Shelton has a knack for comedy that I can only wish was more present in the script by Andrea Seigel. This film puts a little too much faith in Knightley’s charm. She tries her best to be our plucky heroine but she’s not half as enchanting as she thinks she is, and she’s easily upstaged by her teenage counterpart. Possibly Megan should have locked that shit down while she still could. Instead she’s stuck in that crack between childhood and adulthood, and the only enticement of this film is the viewer’s desire to be the one to give her shove she needs to get the fuck out.