Tag Archives: Courtney B. Vance

The Photograph

Reporter Michael Block (LaKeith Stanfield) flies to New Orleans to interview Isaac (Rob Morgan) about his first love, celebrated photographer Christina Eames (Chanté Adams), recently deceased. Back home in Manhattan, Michael follows up with an interview with her daughter, Mae (Issa Rae). Mae is a successful art curator, and doing a retrospective on her mother’s work is a way to get in touch with her grief; the only love that Christina could express was that for her work. Mae and Michael pool their resources to better understand the enigmatic artist, but after a while it’s pretty clear that this is just an excuse to spend more time together. Mae and Michael are falling for each other.

They don’t intend to, of course – she’s focused on her career, he’s about to move to London – but when has intention ever stopped cupid’s arrow? So we’re really getting two love stories for the price of one – young Christina and Isaac before she moved away to pursue her passion, and Mae and Michael, who are in the middle of pursuing theirs.

Writer-director Stella Meghie doesn’t quite figure out how to co-mingle the two stories satisfactorily, but the chemistry between Rae and Stanfield is so electric it almost doesn’t matter. Issa Rae was of course recently seen dazzling in The Lovebirds, and in The Photograph she proves that wasn’t a one-off; 2020 is the year of Issa Rae, and we can only hope that 2021 will be too.

Meghie’s love story is modern and grown-up: sensitive, vulnerable, unapologetically sexual. Rae and Stanfield have an easy and smart flirtation that draws us in too, rather intimately, as if we’re rooting for our own friends to finally find the love they deserve. Of course, adult love stories make one thing obvious: finding love is the easy part. Keeping love, maintaining love, nurturing love, sacrificing for love – those are the difficult, unglamourous things often left out, simply brushed under the rug with the mother of all euphemisms, “happily ever after.”

Uncorked

Another entry into the “dad wants to mould his son into his own image” trope. Dads. Can’t live with them, can’t make life without them (yet). We ask so little of them but so many manage to screw things up anyway.

Louis (Courtney B. Vance) isn’t a bad dad, not exactly. He just assumes that son Elijah will do as he did – subsume his own desires and dreams and follow his father’s path, keeping the family business going. The family business, a barbecue joint, isn’t a huge money maker but that’s not why Elijah (Mamoudou Athie) isn’t interested. The truth is, he’s a wine guy. In his spare time he works in a liquor store just to be near it. He’s mustering up the courage to try sommelier school and while his mother Sylvia (Niecy Nash) doesn’t understand it, she supports him. His father, however, is another story, varying from passive aggression to outright hostility. If even a tiny fraction of him is proud of his son, he doesn’t show it.

This may be a tired trope, but both the setting and the actors perfume it above its normal station. Vance and Athie craft very watchable characters, grounded in sincerity and tenderness.

Between commitments to class and a new relationship, Elijah has less time for the Memphis bbq joint, which Louis of course reads as personal rejection. But children aren’t clones. They’re not meant to be replicas of their parents. And parents are supposed to want better for their kids. Easier said than done, especially for a certain brand, and perhaps generation, of father whose manhood and identity is so tied up in work that they can’t really see around it. Movies like this give them permission to let go, to find new sources of pride, and maybe even a new sense of self. Which is a lot for one little movie to accomplish of course, but even if Uncorked doesn’t quite manage to heal all the father-son bonds of the world, at least it’s got some very charming performances and an honest attempt at connection.

Keep the fun going on Youtube!

TIFF18: Ben Is Back

Ben is back. Believe the title. It’s Christmas Eve and Holly (Julia Roberts) has been out and about with her kids, running last-minute holiday preparations. But when she pulls in to her driveway, her eyes light up. Her Christmas wish has come true: eldest son Ben (Lucas Hedges) is back. He’s been away at rehab, and so has a piece of her heart. What a wonderful thing to have him back, to have her precious family all together for the holiday. But her happiness is tempered. It’s obvious without her saying so that she doesn’t quite trust him, that he’s given her lots of reasons not to.

MV5BMTgxMTk0MDgyMl5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNTI1MzkxNjM@._V1_SX1500_CR0,0,1500,999_AL_Her teenage daughter is skeptical, but her husband Neal (Courtney B. Vance) is downright wary. Not only has he also put up with Ben’s ups and downs, he’s been the one putting his family back together afterward. But with Ben’s sponsor’s blessing, they come up with some boundaries and agree that Ben can stay for 24 hours of holiday magic and memories.

Well, there will be memories. Just not the cozy ones Holly was hoping for. This is what addictions are really about. About how they make a whole family sick. About the lies and the broken promises. But it’s also about a mother and her boundless love. About how she is afraid to enable him and afraid not to. Afraid of the danger and the toll and the consequences, but mostly afraid to lose him – lose him to drugs, lose him by pushing him away. So she jumps off the cliff alongside him. So now, instead of a sweet Christmas reunion, we’ve got a sketchy, seedy, underground drug movie. Holly’s concerned family at home remind us what the consequences are.

There were lots of movies about addiction at TIFF this year. Beautiful Boy was similar in theme – it too is told more from the parent’s perspective but its content is totally different. Steve Carell stays at home and frets for his son’s safety – the horror is in not knowing whether he’s alive or dead, in anticipating that phone call. For Julia Roberts, the horror is watching it all happen, finally understanding the extent of her son’s problems but still feeling just as helpless. Roberts is fucking fantastic in the role. Ben Is Back is heart breaking and intense. It is further proof that we still don’t know the best way to help an addict, and lord have mercy on any parent who has to learn that first hand.