Tag Archives: coming of age

Booksmart

It’s the last day of school, and best friends Molly (Beanie Feldstein) and Amy (Kaitlyn Dever) are ready to bid high school goodbye. They’ve been serious students, buttoned down and focused, and their hard work has paid off: they’re off to Yale and Columbia respectively. But their pride is tamped down a little when they learn that that many of their classmates are also headed for the Ivies – this despite the fact that they rarely seemed studious, and made lots of time for parties and fun. “I’m incredible at hand-jobs but I also got a 1560 on the SATs,” says one.

Molly is particularly devastated; sure she’s the valedictorian, but did she sacrifice fun for nothing? She doesn’t want to show up at college in the fall a party virgin. Her whole worldview is sliding down a crap chute, and her instinct is to dive in after it. Luckily, they have one last night before graduation, and Amy’s departure for a summer of volunteering in Botswana. One night to make up for 4 years of skipping parties and feeling left out of the in-crowd. They set their sights on Nick’s party – the most effortlessly popular kid in school (played by Mason Gooding, son of Cuba Gooding Jr).

The ladies do not get from point A to point B without boatloads (and sometimes they are literal boatloads) of shenanigans. This is Superbad, only because it’s girls, it’s much smarter. And it seems like this one night of trying to party teaches them more about themselves than the previous four years of high school. That sounds about right, doesn’t it?

The movie gets so much right even as we learn how much the girls have gotten wrong. Molly always assumed she was purposely excluded, but it turns out these kids are all too happy to greet her socially; her exile was self-imposed. How maddening, isn’t it, to discover that too late – and a good reminder for us all to check in with ourselves. How often do we impose our own limitations? Amy tackles her fears while Molly checks her ego, and her assumptions. The two women in the lead have amazing chemistry and it’s a lot of fun to witness the particular dynamic of their friendship. You and I know that college will test the bonds of their friendship, and inevitably change it if not crush it outright. They’re starting to have inklings that this might be so. So this last night out has some tangible pressure to it. Beanie Feldstein is a cinematic lantern, lighting up every screen she’s on, and lighting the way for others. Kaitlyn Dever is an excelling pairing for her, able to play off her energy in a more conservative and subdued way, while still holding her own.

Olivia Wilde tries out the director’s chair and seems to find it a pretty comfortable fit. She’s got an eye for letting actors do their thing; so much of the best bits feel spontaneous and are the best kind of weird. She’s also got an amazing feel for music – she introduces characters and themes with pop songs, and it really took me back. I bet most of us can come up with a soundtrack of our own high school experience. Music is such an important part of that time in our lives. I still surround myself by music constantly, but I will never again spend the day on my bedroom floor inhaling lyric booklets, or spend hours recording stuff off MTV like I did then. I know which songs I kissed to, slow-danced to, had sex to. Which ones we played on repeat as we drove recklessly and restlessly around parking lots doing donuts, which ones played at the diner as we split an order of fries, which ones we cried to when boys were mean to us, which ones accompanies us down the aisle at our own graduations and commencements. Wilde seems to have an intuitive sense of that, and I caught it.

There’s a theme in Booksmart that is hinted at but never spoken of: class. As in economic and social class. Molly points out the school’s 1% (Billie Lourd and Skyler Gisondo, whom Sean finds uproariously funny), but it’s clear that the Los Angeles high school as affluent as heck. Everyone, it seems, except for Molly. Not a single thing is ever said about it, but we see that she lives in an apartment building while everyone else has a McMansion, and her parents are absent from the film. So when Molly discovers that all her other classmates also got into good schools, she berates herself for having skipped the fun when she didn’t have to. But you and I know that she probably did: that kids like Molly have to earn their way in, but kids from rich families do not. They have legacy status, they know alumni who can pull strings. Their families donate money to schools. And, as we’ve seen in the news recently, they pay money to fake their way in on a little-used athletic scholarship or some other fraudulent means. College admissions are not the meritocracy we want to believe they are. There are very valid reasons why Molly worked so hard and others did not, even if the film never states them. So maybe Molly’s takeaway was to loosen up a bit, and experience life, which are not bad lessons. But for us, it’s a little bit more than that.

Even with these subtle layers, Booksmart never stops being fun. The cast is lively and diverse, the tropes are thankfully on the unexpected side, and the movie has a great pace. Plus it has an exception friendship at its centre. Just when you think we’ve said all there is to say about high school, Boomsmart is a charming, genuine and clever addition to the field.

Advertisements

Virus Tropical

Virus Tropical is a black and white animated film celebrating the coming of age of a young Colombian-Ecuadorian girl in a close-knit family.

Paola’s conception is near-miraculous; her mother had her tubes tied and her pregnancy was initially diagnosed as a tropical virus of some sort. Nine months later, a third daughter was added to the family. Paola’s oldest sister is adoring and the middle sister is instantly jealous, having been so firmly bumped out of the baby position. Paola’s father is a former Catholic priest with many of the religious tendencies still intact, and her mother is a domino-reading fortune teller favoured by the president. It’s a mystical-sounding childhood that in fact turns out to be quite ordinary.

Paola is a kid like any other, struggling to be accepted by her peer group, finding her place among her sisters, rebelling against her parents. The film, based on Paola Gaviria’s (aka Power Paola’s) graphic novel of the same name, belongs in the bosom of the family, and rarely looks out toward larger social or cultural contexts. But even the mundane events are recounted with such attention to detail that they’re fully absorbing, the story rich and brimming with life.

The black and white line drawings are surprisingly effective, and director Santiago Caicedo has a knack for drawing in the eye with relatively simple art. The story itself is rather episodic, and the transitions between them aren’t always smooth, but I was pleasantly surprised by how watchable it felt, and how connected I felt to Paola and her family of strong-willed women. The film doesn’t aspire to make larger connections so you’ll have to be content with diary-style recounting rather than introspection; Virus Tropical is pleasant and interesting, but it isn’t particularly deep.

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.

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.