Tag Archives: disabilities in film

Wonder

Auggie is a very special little boy. Born with a genetic condition called Treacher Collins syndrome, Auggie’s facial deformities are the least threatening of the complications but they’re what make him look so different. He’s most comfortable when he’s wearing an astronaut helmet that keep prying eyes and hurtful comments at bay. For the first ten years of his life he’s had countless surgeries and has been schooled at home, but he’s about to start middle school for real, and a classroom of students is more daunting to him (and his mom) than any operating room.

Wonder is based on the wonderful YA novel by R.J. Palacio, which you should, should, should definitely, definitely read. But happily, this is a rare case where the movie does MV5BMTIwOTUwNTEtYzMwNS00N2YxLTg0ZWYtNzM0YzVjOWYwZWM5XkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMjg5NDY3Mw@@._V1_SY1000_SX1500_AL_the book justice. And even happilier, the movie doesn’t suck, period, which was a major concern of mine. It seemed far too easy to just let it coast on its sentimentality. But while director Stephen Chbosky doesn’t have a lengthy track record to ease my worrisome nature, he does have one credit under his belt that’s all I really needed to hear: he adapted and directed The Perks of Being a Wallflower, which he’d also penned.

Wonder is a much different beast, however. First, it necessarily involves casting the perfect but very young star. A bad child actor in a lead role will ruin the whole thing, and in this case you have to find someone who can convey a whole range of complicated emotions from underneath a mask of scars. Chbosky went with Jacob Tremblay who’s already proven his chops with the most trying and powerful of roles in Room; Chbosky calls him “a once-in-a-generation talent” and I think he may be right. But we can’t discount the fact that Chbosky surrounds Tremblay with talent.

The secret to Wonder’s success, both in novel and in film, is that yes, it tells the story from the perspective of a sweet and brave 10 year old boy who’s been through hell and is still going through it. BUT it also shares the stories of the people around him. His mother Isabel (Julia Roberts) has had to pause life itself in order to become his warrior. His father Nate (Owen Wilson) copes with humour and cries by himself. His big sister Via (Izabela Vidovic) feels like a mere planet revolving around Auggie, the sun. A disease like Auggie’s is a family affair, energy-stealing, all-encompassing, leaving no one unaffected. And no one likes to complain about that because it seems petty in the face of something life-threatening, but it’s true and Palacio’s book as well as Chbosky’s film really add legitimacy to a family suffering as a unit. Even Auggie’s only friend is untouched – being his friend is a social sacrifice most 10 year olds won’t be strong enough to make. Another formidable young actor, Suburbicon‘s Noah Jupe, lands and aces this role.

Wonder is not about the suffering though; that would be too easy. It’s about overcoming that suffering, in ways that are clunky and ungraceful and sometimes accidental. That’s why Auggie’s family seems so real, and why so many real families with sick kids can relate to the material. It’s emotionally raw stuff and you may find that it touches a nerve. But it’s got a takeaway message of positivity that’s irresistible, and will help justify the numerous soggy kleenexes in your lap.

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Breathe

Breathe is the directorial debut of motion-capture artist Andy Serkis, and if there was any justice in this world, it would be his last. [there isn’t: he’s already got a live-action Jungle Book slated next – but at least he seems uniquely qualified for that]

It’s the based-on-a-true-story of Robin and Diana Cavendish, an adventurous, fun-loving couple who are brought low when Robin (Andrew Garfield) is suddenly and irrevocably paralyzed by polio. He wants to die, but she wants their unborn son to know him, so they compromise: she springs him from the hospital, and he does his best to stop being so gosh darn glum. He’s the first of his kind to live away from a hospital setting, and it’s thanks to the devotion of his wife (Claire Foy) and the ingenuity of a friend (Hugh Bonneville) that he’s able to do more than just survive.

So yes, there’s an inspiring story in there somewhere. This is Andrew Garfield’s most hero_Breathe-TIFF-2017Eddie Redmayne role yet, but he can’t quite live up to those man-in-chair heights. As his character is paralyzed from the neck down, all he has to use is his face, and of course he overuses it. I liked Foy’s performance a lot better than Garfield’s. He came off as grating; Sean called it nearly unbearable. But he’s far from the only problem with the movie. First, the script is cloying, predictable, and overly sentimental. It’s an emotional predator, designed to wring tears from your face. I refused to comply. It hits the all-too familiar beats of a biopic and doesn’t stray once from conventional story-telling. But Andy Serkis’s direction does stray from the norm, and from the tolerable. It’s shot in an ultrawide aspect ratio that I hated. I felt like I was watching a skinny rectangle at best, but often felt as though I was viewing the movie through a fishbowl. Serkis’ angles are often weird, and not quirky weird, but uncomfortable and off-putting. But I suppose the worst crimes against this little against-all-odds love story is that Serkis rushes through the prologue, the courtship, the thing that should make us understand why this guy deserves so much devotion, why their love is so strong that she’s willing to wipe his shitty bum and go without sex for the rest of her life in order to keep a suicidal man alive. It’s a crap life for her. I’m not saying it’s not worth it, just that it’s always going to be difficult. And I realized that though there are seemingly lots of movies about men being tended by loyal wives, the same is not true in reverse. Husbands cut and run. So really the movie’s most interesting character is Diana, and we know little about her. We don’t see any of her struggles or her inner life. In fact, for Breathe’s 117 minute runtime, I’m not sure we got to know anyone particularly well in this movie. And that’s really too bad.

Maudie

Maudie was born “funny” – sharp in her mind but infirm in her body. She is discounted, invisible to the world. Abused then neglected by her brother, his monthly sum to her caretaker aunt doesn’t mean the aunt is nice to her, not at all. So it shouldn’t be surprising when Maudie seeks to improve her situation by lending herself out as a housemaid. The only person who’d have her is an ornery (possibly autistic, in a time way before that would be diagnosed) fishmonger who lives out in rural Nova Scotia.

maudie_01Maudie (Sally Hawkins) and Everett (Ethan Hawke) are a couple of odd socks – the world has discarded them and they do not belong together but for lack of anything better have somehow become a pair. Their relationship doesn’t exactly blossom into romance but their mutual tolerance and sometime thoughtfulness or generosity does translate into a partnership of sorts, and marriage. And while Maudie may neglect her household chores, she blossoms in Everett’s house as a painter. Her arthritis makes it increasingly hard to even hold a brush but her joyful spirit paints their modest, one-room home in bright, colourful designs. Soon the community around her will embrace her for it. Maud Lewis (1903-1970) is one of Canada’s best known folk artists.

Sally Hawkins is phenomenal. She underplays everything because she can, because she can rely upon her talent to communicate big things in small ways. Her eyebrows alone are Oscar worthy. Her smile is reminiscent of the real Maud – wide and innocent. She gives such dignity to this character who really led a simple life, a life of poverty, but a life that was more than enough for a woman who needed only some space and a paint brush in her hand to feel happy. Maudie is not just a tribute to the artist, but to her way of life. I was moved by this film, for Maud specifically and women generally, for anyone who was marginalized and squashed and found a way to bloom anyway.

SXSW: Baby Driver

Is this the absolute coolest movie ever?

Honestly, I think I’d pay my $12 just to see that opening scene again.

Baby (Ansel Elgort) is a getaway driver, the best in the biz despite his young age, according to his boss, Doc (Kevin Spacey). But Baby has a glitch: he wears ear buds constantly to fight tinnitus. So to him, the whole world is a soundtrack. And you’re about to enter his world.

Doc never works with the same crew twice, so we see a rotation of criminals including MV5BMzk0NzMyNzcyN15BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNTYwNDU5MDI@._V1_Darling (Eiza Gonzalez), Griff (Jon Bernthal), Buddy (Jon Hamm), and my personal favourite, Bats (Jamie Foxx), personal motto: “I’m the one with mental problems in the group. Position taken.” GUYS, HE’S NOT KIDDING.

But don’t get attached to any of those fellows. This is Baby’s movie. He’s being coerced into this life of crime, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t good at it. He is, however, trying to get out, and nothing is as inspiring as the love of a good woman. So when Deborah (Lily James) soft shoes into his life, he’s got a boner for the open road. But wait – you didn’t think getting out would be that easy, did you?

This is a film by Edgar Wright, whom I love, unreservedly. This is a very different sort of film from him, but he’s already thrust himself to the top of the game. When you catch your breath at the end of the film, you’ll have to answer me truly: have you ever seen action to equal it? Ansel Elgort’s character Baby is obsessed with two things: music, and cars. And so is the film; car chases and music both turned WAY up to 11. Anything that gets between them is incidental.

MV5BMTEyMzQxMTI0ODZeQTJeQWpwZ15BbWU4MDQ2MDQ1OTAy._V1_Wright is a phenomenal writer, and Baby Driver is just as quippy and quotable as any other in his oeuvre. The music jangles, sometimes wildly incongruous to what’s developing on screen, sometimes deliciously ironic, but it stitches the film together between Wright’s explosive action sequences. Wright’s films are always kinetic. His own exuberance for film making comes across on the screen, is barely contained by it, in fact.

If Ryan Gosling from La La Land fucked Ryan Gosling from Drive, Baby Driver is what you’d get. On paper, this isn’t the kind of movie I normally care about, or for, but on the screen it sang to me, I fuck-yeahed in the dark of the theatre, and I can’t wait until August when I can see it again. [LUCKY US, THE RELEASE GOT MOVED UP TO JUNE 28 DUE TO THE WELL-DESERVED ACCLAIM THIS GOT AT SXSW!]

 

 

 

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Incidentally, I have a mini poster signed by Edgar Wright himself. If you’re interested in winning it, Follow us on Twitter (@AssholeMovies), and retweet the relevant post. Comments here are worth extra entries. Good luck! [THIS IS LONG GONE (CONGRATS TO THE WINNER) BUT FEEL FREE TO RETWEET ALL OUR POSTS OUT OF THE GOODNESS OF YOUR HEART.]

 

 

Also: super DUPER bonus: check out the comments section for ROBERT RODRIGUEZ doing a Q&A with Edgar Wright and stars Eiza Gonzalez, Ansel Elgort & Jon Hamm.

SXSW: Unrest

Myalgic encephalomyelitis (ME), commonly referred to as chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS). It’s a debilitating chronic disease as often misunderstood as it is misdiagnosed. People like to call it “the lazy disease” or “the I don’t want to go to work” disease. Doctors often diagnose a mental disorder rather than the autoimmune disease it actually is, telling patients “it’s all in their heads.” But to the 1-2.4 million people who suffer with it in the United States alone, it’s a disease that leaves you drained, sensitive to light and noise and possibly much else, perhaps unable to stand and walk. Permanently housebound and bedridden, they feel they’ve gone missing from their lives – it passes them by while they lie in bed, sometimes with cognitive impairments that make them feel like they’re not truly living.

Director Jennifer Brea is one such person. She was a happy newlywed when suddenly she just got hit with a disease she didn’t even know about. Robbed of the things she once loved doing, this film documents her daily struggles, the constant tug of war that must be waged against her body. She also reaches out to people around the world suffering the same thing, and together they try every supposed miracle cure on the market. When none work exactly as they hope, they stage a protest most are unable to attend. It’s really sad to see such vibrant people struck down by such sweeping disability. It is no wonder that despite serious medical symptoms, one of the most common causes of death for ME sufferers is suicide.

I am moved personally by this film because as you may know, I too have an autoimmune disorder. There are tonnes of autoimmune disorders and all but a handful are practically unknown, even to doctors. I admit to a small bit of jealousy when Brea complains about ME being the least-funded of the major diseases because my disease doesn’t even rate – we call it an “orphan disease”  – nobody’s even trying to cure it. There is no funding. There is no ribbon. There is no textbook. I’ve visited approximately 100 doctors and I’ve had to educate all but 2. The lives this disease ruins are too few for anyone to care. So in that way I understand perfectly what she’s going through; you have a terrible disease and you have no hope of cure. You have no hope, period. And on top of having no hope for yourself, you also have this huge burden of guilt because like her, I’ve dragged someone else into the equation. And while Sean is not sick, his life is also disabled by my disease. If I’m too riddled with pain to leave the house, he stays home with me. He cares with me. He deals with my terrible moods when I’m in pain, and my pushing him away when I’m in despair. He has brought me around the world to different doctors, and he feels the same low when I leave another appointment hopeless. In order to live our lives, I push myself out of bed and out of the house too often, and we both know I’ll pay the price. I’ve cried in anguish in Paris, outside the Centre Pompidou. I’ve bled across the Miami boardwalk. Even right now, in Austin, Texas for the South By SouthWest Conference and Festival, my suitcase is bursting with pills, gauze, and needles (that Sean has had to learn to inject me with) just to get me through, and I’ve limped along in secret pain, unable to even bring one of my most depended-upon medications with me because it’s illegal in this country.

So you’ll understand why I think a film like Unrest is so important. It sheds light in a dark corner of the medical community. It’s important to remember the real people who live their lives in this dark corner. They have voices. They have families who love them. They have friends who miss them. And if we cannot contribute to the cure, we can become allies. We can be witnesses and sympathizers and believers, so that nobody needs to hear from a doctor that “it’s all in your head.”

It’s screening at SXSW March 14 at the Vimeo Theatre and March 16 at Alamo Lamar, which serves great pretzels.

Short: The Present

What was the best present you got this year?

Did you ever get a dog for Christmas? Dogs are probably as close to the meaning of life as we’ll ever get, but a dog is also a responsibility more than a gift, so  you should always think twice, and maybe even three times before you give a dog to someone. Like giving a cell phone, which saddles the recipient with a monthly bill, a dog is a mouth to feed and 4 paws to clean, and about 3\4 of your bed to kiss goodbye. But they fill your heart with joy.

That said, I present to you a 4-minute short that will likely pull on your heartstrings. A boy gets an unexpected gift from his mother – and he’s less than happy about it. With thanks to Mr. Bad Bloke Bob for turning us on to it, you can watch it here (and I recommend that you do):

Attractive animation and smart, succinct story-telling accomplished in near-silence. The Present is a 4-minute gift you should give yourself right now.

The Ex

Is this movie worth watching for Paul Rudd’s douchey earring?

Jason Bateman plays a dick very well. Unfortunately, Zach Braff plays a dick very naturally himself. Like, even when he’s not supposed to. Even when he’s supposed to be the sympathetic character. Does anyone actually like Zach Braff?

Tom (Braff) is a NYC cook who loses his job on the very day his wife Sofia (Amanda Peet) gives birth. As punishment, they move to Ohio where Tom mv5bmtkyodq0njk4of5bml5banbnxkftztcwnzc2ndywna__v1_cr025266150_al_ux477_cr00477268_al_will work with Sofia’s dad at some new-agey ad agency while she stays home to care for the baby. Tom is mentored at work by Chip, the son his father in law never had, and incidentally Sofia’s ex-boyfriend. Chip (Jason Bateman) is a grade A ass but for some reason only Tom (and we) see it, possibly because Chip is in a wheelchair and kind of milks that for all it’s worth. But as hard as Bateman tries to steal the scenes with smug, smarmy schtick, he just can’t keep this stinker afloat.

The Ex has been disowned by nearly everyone who made it. The credited screenwriters, David Guion and Michael Handelman, insist that most of what you see isn’t really their material, nor the director’s, come to think of it. “It was unfortunate because the director, Jesse Peretz, is great and very talented, but the movie was ultimately taken out of his hands.” I’m not sure if that’s true – certainly there’s not a lot of evidence of capable direction in the film. It feels half-cooked, sitcomy, and oddly truncated, like someone was just washing their hands of it rather than actually finishing it. And yet it’s been presented to audiences like it’s a real film that you should watch. And it just isn’t (despite the fact that I’ve seen it twice now). Viewer beware.