Tag Archives: female directors

To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before

Netflix is trying to resuscitate the rom-com. I remain unconverted. How does their latest attempt fare?

Lara Jane is about to be a junior in high school. Her older sister Margot has just left for college in Scotland, leaving behind a huge gap – a gap only grown wider because she broke up with her boyfriend Josh, literally the boy next door, before leaving, and he was an every day presence in their home – not least of all because he was Lara Jane’s friend and secret crush first. With Margot gone, it’s just Lara Jane and little sister Kitty, who isn’t afraid to call out her sister for being super lame and not having any weekend plans of her own. Their mother is dead so it’s just them and their dad.

But then something weird happens. Lara Jane’s old, secret crushes all receive letters MV5BYWNhOTJiMzYtNmY5NS00ZDNkLTg4NjUtNTRhNzRkODg5MTQ4XkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNTk5MTc3MTc@._V1_from her. Letters that she wrote eons ago when the crushes were new and exciting but never, EVER, intended to send. Josh receives one, and so does Peter, Lara Jane’s first kiss but current boyfriend of her arch-enemy. Ah, high school. But she’s so desperate to avoid Josh that she consents to have a fake relationship with Peter in order to divert attention. It’s the kind of plan that can only seem reasonable to a 16 year old.

Lana Condor is all kinds of adorable as Lara Jane. She’s sweet and charming and nearly everything you’d want in a romantic lead in 2018 (dorky, smart, independent). The movie takes no risks and offers no surprises. The two blandly handsome possible love interests, played by Noah Centineo and Israel Broussard, look similar enough that Sean couldn’t tell them apart. Sean is no teenage girl. Teenage girls, I bet, will have no problem choosing which one to swoon over (and apparently there IS a right answer). For me, this movie felt very Disney channel, and its constant 16 Candles references didn’t really earn it any favourable comparisons (in fact, it made Sean mourn some distinct missed opportunities). To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before is not a rom-com for old ladies like me. It’s innocent in a lot of ways, but with a 2018 flavour that’s still alien to me. But I have no doubt it will find its audience – it’s just not going to be anyone born in the previous century, and not even John Corbett (no longer the leading man, relegated strictly to dad status) can change that.

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The Spy Who Dumped Me

As its title would suggest, The Spy Who Dumped Me isn’t exactly the most original, or, frankly, funny. The jokes, like the bullets, are hit or miss. They don’t all hit their targets. Director and co-writer Susanna Fogel is perhaps too inexperienced to spin this uninventive fare with a twist of creativity, but she gets at least one thing absolutely right: Kate McKinnon.

Kate McKinnon is a luminescent show pony who just trots across the screen pooping comedy gold. Even her facial contortions are helping to sell mediocre material. She’s worth the price of admission. She works harder here than I wish she had to, but on MV5BYjkzNWZmMDgtODM2NS00MTM4LThlMTgtMGM4Yjg3OTc3YTE5XkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNTc5OTMwOTQ@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,1442,1000_AL_the whole the movie still worked for me, as a light and breezy r-rated comedy. I came to laugh and I did – mostly at her, granted, but she’s so fantastic and so talented and if the movie doesn’t quite measure up, I think this is her best role to date. I could have watcher her and her cat earrings fangirl over Gillian Anderson for hours.

The movie probably doesn’t need a lot of illumination in terms of plot: Audrey (Mila Kunis) was recently dumped via text by bad boyfriend Drew (Justin Theroux). Best friend and roommate Morgan (McKinnon) is nursing through heartache when they’re rudely interrupted by men claiming to be CIA – they’re after Drew, who turns out to be a spy and not just a podcaster as Audrey had always believed. This immediately turns into raging gunfire and a dead ex-boyfriend whose dying wish is for Audrey to deliver a “package” to Vienna. And being very obliging girls, Audrey and Morgan jet off to Europe and are immediately in wayyyy over their heads.

The sweet thing about this movie is the friendship between Audrey and Morgan. Morgan is the kind of supportive cheerleader we all deserve to have in our lives. She thinks Audrey is kicking ass as an amateur spy, and she’s not wrong. It’s completely implausible that they survive even the first 10 seconds of this adventure (the movie’s got surprisingly intense action sequences), but if Daniel Craig can do it, so can they. I just wish the friendship felt as good as it was described; the chemistry just wasn’t there. I love McKinnon and have no particular objection to Kunis (though I think she probably over-relies on those big doe eyes of hers), but all the glowy, wonderful vibes seemed to flow in one direction. Kunis is a very pretty receptacle for other people’s good acting, but I’m not sure she gives back very much as a costar. The CIA guys (Sam Heughan, Hasan Minhaj) are a bit on the bland side too (Heughan is Tom Brady with a British accent, if that helps) but there are lots of other supporting cast that I was quite pleased with – not least of all Jane Curtin (!!!) and Paul Reiser as Morgan’s incredibly understanding parents (I would watch a sequel involving just this family), and the aforementioned Gillian Anderson as the big boss lady. Being a Lady Dynamite fan (that’s Maria Bamford’s amazing show), I was particularly glad to see both Fred Melamed and Ólafur Darri Ólafsson pop up. I was less enthusiastic about Ivanna Sakhno as the Ukrainian model\gymnast assassin. The first glimpse we get of her is half nude and totally emaciated, which just felt off in a movie that’s got two fantastic, strong female leads and is directed and co-written by a woman. We can do better. 

Which is perhaps a good way to sum up this review: we can do better. And with Kate McKinnon on board, there really is no excuse.

Recovery Boys

So in my other life, I’m a crisis counselor. Which is different from the type of therapist you see once a week. I come in when someone is thinking urgent thoughts of or is planning or attempting suicide. Sometimes I only talk to clients once, on the worst day of their lives, in order to make sure it’s not their last. Other times they might become a regular, someone I’m in contact with very often, sometimes every day, because every day is a struggle. As you can imagine, I’ve heard and seen everything. EVERYTHING. But that doesn’t mean shit doesn’t get to me. I’ve been the recipient of every graphic disclosure you can think of about 70 billion you can’t even imagine, but something rather innocuous struck me last week: a client told me he’d recently met someone who claimed to have never had an addiction problem in their life. And my client couldn’t believe it. Had never encountered such a person before. Declared he must either be a liar or a rarity. Imagine not knowing a single sober MV5BMTk1NDY0OTE0OV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNjg0MjI0NTM@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,1498,1000_AL_person. In my life, and probably in yours, addictions are the exception and not the rule. But for people who are in different circumstances, life is hard as fuck, and living sober can feel impossible. And that’s not even factoring in genetics. I felt so sad for this client of mine who has never known anything else.

So this is my mindset, I’m either in the best place to watch this documentary, or the worst. It’s about a group of men in a farming-based residential rehab facility.

Jeff is the rehab’s first ever client, and arrives straight from jail. He’s very young but he’s got two kids in foster care, awaiting either him or their mother to get straight and reclaim them. They’re at the forefront of his mind, and visitation makes it clear that he is a loving and doting father. So the fact that he keeps fucking up proves how deeply the addiction monster’s got his claws in him.

Adam receives a loving letter from his grandmother and it unravels him because he can’t reconcile her affection with his behaviour. She works at a goodwill to stave off homelessness because of all he’s stolen from her, but still she loves him. He knows he would never be so forgiving. He’s undone.

As a staff member of the rehab facility points out, these men are facing a “menu of shitty options.” I know that addictions are a disease, one that gets almost zero sympathy, but it’s not unlike heart disease. Sure there’s a lifestyle component, but there’s also genes and compulsion. But no matter how many hamburgers you continue to eat after your first and second heart attacks, society will continue to weep for you around your hospital bed. Not so with drug relapses. Those people we revile for their “weakness” and “bad choices.” If only it were so easy.

This is not an episode of Intervention. No one’s trying to dramatize or glamourize anything, and it doesn’t get wrapped up neatly in the end. It’s clear that director Elaine McMillion Sheldon knows something about addictions, understands that your first trip to rehab is rarely your last. We don’t learn anything about addictions in this film. Instead, we live briefly in their shoes. We see the struggle. We know there is no cure, that recovery is an every day commitment, and we should be really honest with ourselves about how hard that would be for any single one of us. But some of us win the genetic lottery and some of us lose. The least we can do is show a little compassion, which this documentary engenders rather well.

 

Leave No Trace

This is a special breed of movie. In a summer of blockbusters, this quiet movie is a stand-out, a necessary refuge from the storm of testosterone and TNT playing at the local cineplex.

It’s about an army vet, Will (Ben Foster) who has made a home for himself and 13 year old daughter Tom (Thomasin Harcourt McKenzie) in a national park, where they read books, grow and forage food, and live a peaceful, low-stress existence. Until, that is, a small mistake trips them up and they are apprehended by park rangers and social services. Though Tom is obviously well-cared for and has been MV5BMjExNWUzZDItMTdmMS00ZjQ5LThlZTktYTE0Y2RhNzEzOWRkXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNzM1MTc3ODg@._V1_educated beyond her grade level, she should be in school, and have a roof over her head. At least that’s what the social worker says. But once housed and employed, things get sticky. Tom is a curious and lively teenager, making friends and thriving in her new environment. Her dad struggles to assimilate, and he’s largely unable to cope.

Trust me, I know the description sounds ordinary, but the execution is flawless.

  1. The casting is impeccable. Ben Foster isn’t a big, bankable name but he’s every casting director’s wet dream. He brings intensity and gravitas to every role he encounters, and the stoic approach he takes with Will is perfect, though few other actors would give themselves permission to try such subtlety. Opposite him, Thomasin McKenzie is fabulous. The movie is all about their dynamic and it only works if both halves of their little family unit is working in synchronicity. Tom is obviously bright but McKenzie gives her such a sense of vulnerability that we never lose sight of what’s at stake.
  2. The script, by Debra Granik and Anne Rosellini, is such a luxury. They find so much value and beauty in simplicity that I’m astonished at how much I felt for what amounts to a fairly sparse script. The difference is, they’ve edited carefully, they’ve pared it down to the essentials, and tuned them ever so carefully. What’s left is a lot of room for the actors to be comfortable and take ownership. Room for the director to make her mark. It’s so smartly-written. It would be easy to find melodrama in these circumstances but instead Granik and Rosellini consistently find empathy and dignity and it makes weepy just to write about it.
  3. The cinematography is astonishing. At times it looks like an expensive nature documentary – one that fits seamlessly into a feature film. Someone (Michael McDonough) took a lot of care with this. He films the park with such loving and patience we get the sense of how at home the characters are in this special place. By contrast, the city looks colder, less inviting.
  4. Granik’s direction is flawless. As you may be surmising from everything written so far, there isn’t much in the movie, not even silences and blank spaces, that aren’t actively working for the plot or the characters. And by keeping things trim, it forces the audience to be active too. The keys are all there, and the deft direction encourages us to pick them up, sort them out. This movie respects its characters and its audience – objectively, the events and circumstances are tragic, but they’re communicated with such restraint. It’s easy to have sympathy when no one is asking for it. Will and Tom do not describe their situation as homelessness, and the movie lovingly backs them up in this.

This movie is so thoughtful and caring and it shows a different model for living and loving with no judgment. There’s no malice, no villains. Even the social services are shown to be well-intentioned. But Will and Tom are hardly the only outcasts, and Leave No Traces embraces them as well. It has room in its heart for everyone and even though there is much to be sad about, the film is so sweetly assembled that I left the theatre with a little pocket of hope in my heart. There are no easy answers, but Granik’s gaze is fair and honest and I’m just bowled over by every inch of this movie. It’s a rare and precious thing, and though it may be called Leave No Trace, it actually leaves quite a mark.

 

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.

 

 

The Feels

Andi and Lu are being celebrated at their joint bachelorette party. Andi’s friends are fun but their clique is perhaps intimidating to those on the outside – which number only Lu, and her one friend Helen, the only friend of hers to show up (the elusive Nikki is forever “on her way” and “almost there”). Of course Helen is a notable odd duck, would be odd no matter which pond she was quacking in, the type of forward, abrasive character you’d expect Melissa McCarthy or Fortune Feimster to play (though in this case played by Ever Mainard).

When Nikki does finally arrive, she brings Ecstasy, and conflict, and it’s hard to say which is ultimately worse for the group. Secrets come out, secrets GET TOLD. Like, for example, the fact that Lu (Angela Trimbur) has never had an orgasm and fiancee Andi MV5BNDkxODNhNTQtMDgyNy00YjM5LWE5NzEtMjk1YThmZTc4MzBmXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNTEzNDY5MjM@._V1_(Constance Wu) is the last to know because Lu’s been faking this whole time. Which, you can imagine, is not a great thing to be learning when you’re mere moments away from marrying the person. And in the company of everyone you know. So that it becomes THE topic of conversation for the rest of the weekend, which is fucking awkward, dude!

The Feels isn’t bursting with originality. It isn’t bursting with anything. It’s a pretty low-key movie. But in between Helen’s bouts of inappropriateness, the ladies talk some real talk, which is kind of refreshing; taboo subjects get a full airing here. It’s a safe place for women to dish about their sexuality, and more. But despite some great inter-cast chemistry, a safe space for feelings does not necessarily a fun or exciting movie make. It was all right, but in the end, easily forgotten, which is not something I imagined I’d be saying about a movie about the mysteries of the female orgasm ACTUALLY TOLD FROM THE FEMALE PERSPECTIVE.

To Each, Her Own

Simone and Claire are celebrating their 3rd anniversary together. Simone promises that should she blow out all the candles at once, she’ll finally come out to her family. She gives good blow, but can she keep her word?

Simone (Sarah Stern) insists that she’s ready, in fact beyond ready, to come out: the problem is her family. And when we meet them, well, it may be true. Her mom already treats her like an odd duck because she’s a non-practicing Jew. Of course, all the idiosyncrasies that Simone nitpicks about her mother are also true of her, she just can’t see it yet. Give it some time. We all turn into our mothers, ESPECIALLY the crazy ones. And it turns out there’s already a disappointment in the family; Simone’s brother is gay, and her father is very clear on the “fact” that homosexuality is a IMG_20180624_123946disease, one that he does not want brought into his home. Simone fears that a second coming-out will prompt a heart attack, but her father’s health concerns seem, frankly, a bit brought on by himself. Perhaps worst of all, her oldest brother operates a Jewish dating site, and neither he nor his mother can think of a better way to marry her off, with or without her consent.

Does all of this create problems for poor Simone? Of course it does. But, um, so does the handsome Senegalese chef (Jean-Christophe Folly) at her favourite restaurant. The way things are going, Simone may not have a Claire (Julia Piaton) to come home to for much longer. Is this movie merely masquerading as queer cinema? It feels a tad, I don’t know, homophobic at times, like it really doesn’t respect lesbians or their relationships very much at all.

What To Each, Her Own boils down to is a lot of stereotypes and a lot of ideas that don’t quite amount to much, and certainly not to a very satisfying conclusion. If this is a comedy, it isn’t an overly comedic one, but it’s certainly not super romantic either, so it kind of waffles about in the farcical gray zone, sort of toying with stepping over the line in racial, religious, and sexual spheres, so in that way it’s a real triple threat. Or a triple non-threat. A triple mistake. A triple cringe. I guess this is me not really recommending this movie at all, unless you’re that rare, self-hating gay Jew who enjoys taunting fathers into cardiac arrest.

 

Miss Stevens

Miss Stevens is a 29 year old high school English teacher taking 3 students on a weekend away for drama club. Student Sam (Anthony Quintal) is bright and sensitive and dedicated. Margot (Lili Reinhart) is studious and uptight. Billy (Timothee Chalamet) is “having trouble caring about a lot of things” – a kid with behavioural problems Miss Stevens is supposed to keep an eye on, but actually he’s the one she most relates to. And it doesn’t seem like she relates to much these days. Outside of the classroom, Miss Stevens (Lily Rabe) is sloppier, less responsible, more potty-mouthed. And on this drama outing in particular, she seems to let her guard down.

Julia Hart is a super talented director who I might never have known if not for MV5BMjA5MTc2Njg4OV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwMzY1MzMwMDI@._V1_SX1500_CR0,0,1500,999_AL_touring around to various film festivals. She makes beautiful, sad, detailed films about strong women. Miss Stevens is such a character. As chaperone, she’s discovering that this whole “coming of age” thing isn’t just for teenagers – you do it first when you actually become the age of majority, and a second time when your adulthood really takes. For Miss Stevens, it is perhaps only truly gelling now, on this trip, as the only grown-up jumping on the hotel bed.

Life is hard. Miss Stevens is fragile. But the fact that she’s navigating these conflicting things, and the spongy, tricky thing that is friendship between students and teachers, means she is growing and learning and becoming the self she’s supposed to be. And it’s kind of amazing to see something so authentic on the screen. This movie is small but perfect in its smallness, uniquely positioned to bring out those tiny intimacies that string us together in life.

Lily Rabe is terrific in this, heart breaking and complex and frustrating and real. Timothee Chalamet proves that he’s got star-making stuff up his sleeve. Everyone and everything just comes together to make this movie mature and fascinating, balanced and natural, intimate but familiar. Check it out.

 

 

Mamma Mia

I love Meryl Streep, and I love her in this. Sean sort of threatened me with re-watching the entire Mission: Impossible franchise in order to “prep” for its 67th installment, so I said: not until you watch Mamma Mia first. Because of course he hasn’t seen it.

Immediately he notices that this is the free-est we’ve ever seen The Streep, and it’s not just the dancing and prancing about. “Unhinged” is what he calls her, but I see it too. She’s fluid and feminine and it makes me realize how comparatively locked down she is in her other roles – even in Ricki and the Flash, which was so terrible you’d at least hope she had fun making it.

MV5BMmRhMmIzYjctYTExYi00YmNkLWEyMzUtMjNhZjliZTZjZWUwXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNjAwODA4Mw@@._V1_The second thing he notices is Preacher. This has just ruined Preacher for Sean. Dominic Cooper is 100% lame in this movie, there’s no getting around it. He plays Amanda Seyfried’s love interest, and Meryl’s soon to be son-in-law, but mostly just a floppy-haired wanker who can’t wipe that shit-eating grin off his face. And Preacher NEVER grins. His character’s name is Sky so it’s official: twat.

Now, Sean is very comfortable in his manhood and he doesn’t hate on musicals as a genre, but ABBA isn’t exactly his bag – although come to find out, it’s a little more his bag than mine (Columbia House sent him a CD once, so he knows that some of the songs are different from some of the other songs, whereas I think they’re basically indistinguishable). Still, he’s a little concerned when they seem to have exhausted the entire ABBA repertoire and the movie’s not half done. Don’t worry, I tell him, they repeat. Not that that’s much comfort. And it doesn’t leave a lot for the sequel, although eagle-eyed Sean did spot a character in the sequel named Fernando (Andy Garcia) (though that song’s about war, and seems hard to place…not that that stopped them using a song about divorce in a wedding scene).

This movie’s 10 years old, and watching it all this time later, I can tell I wanted to like this movie because besides Meryl, I also adore Pierce and Brosnan, but man this is junk. The plot is structured around ABBA songs, so the best they could come up with is that Meryl’s daughter is getting married at their hotel\home in beautiful Greece, and she’s invited three former flames of her mother’s, all possibly her father. Awkward! The director, Phyllida Lloyd, is probably a talented lady, but she’s mostly a theatre director, and you can tell how married she was to the Broadway musical version of this. The acting all feels hammy, the gestures over-the-top, exaggerated for those in the cheap seats. The scenery is beautiful and it’s obvious they shot on location, but that realism makes the theatricality feel cheesy and out of place. 

It took this rewatch to realize I really don’t care for this movie, and I’m certainly not anticipating its unnecessary sequel. And it makes Sean a bit nervous to note how little Meryl is featured in its trailer…and the fact that the movie seems to largely focus on a younger version of her character (played by Lily James) does not bode well. If even Meryl didn’t care to revisit Mamma Mia, why the hell should we?

Woman Walks Ahead

In the 1880s, widow Catherine Weldon travels alone to North Dakota to paint the portrait of Chief Sitting Bull. The Lakota aren’t thrilled by her arrival (at least not until she brings the rain) but it’s the US Army that’s the real problem. Officer Groves and his men are stationed at Standing Rock in order to undermine the Native American’s land claim. Any friend of the Lakota is an enemy of theirs, which basically means that the soldiers will literally spit in her eye.

Catherine (Jessica Chastain) is “just here to paint a painting” but as she befriends the Lakota, and Sitting Bull (Michael Greyeyes) in particular, the government provides a tighter and tighter squeeze. Catherine and Sitting Bull share a common goal in freedom, and independence, but Groves’ (Sam Rockwell) continued menace is a threat to them both.

It’s a fascinating true story that’s perhaps not quite fascinatingly told. It doesn’t tell us nearly enough about the time or the people, so it’s hard to justify its existence. But MV5BNjViOWYyOTctNzhhZS00YjgyLWI5MjctZmM2ZDE3MWM4MTQxXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMzQ2NzcxOTk@._V1_I really like Jessica Chastain, and she tends to make wise and informed career decisions, so I lean toward giving this the benefit of the doubt. This could easily veer into white saviour territory, and maybe it defaults too much toward politeness, but I think it strives to be a respectful and faithful rendering. I just wish it could be entertaining as well. And I really wish it didn’t take one insignificant white woman to tell the story of an entire people, but if that’s how we have to frame it, then (I guess) this more feminist bent is at least an improvement.

Now let us talk about Jessica Chastain for a moment. Jessica Chastain the actor, but more importantly, Jessica Chastain the principled woman. I don’t know her personally at all, but I see that she is walking the walk, using her privilege and position of power to raise up the talented women with whom she surrounds herself. Not unlike her character in this film, she is fighting battles for equality. Twice Oscar nominated, her talent is raw and smoldering. Undeniably a beautiful woman and a style icon, she’s not afraid to appear in this film without a stitch of makeup and with substantial armpit stains (I’ll credit this bit of realism to her female director, Susanna White, who doesn’t feel compelled to turn a “painter of a certain age” into a sexpot, which is 100% what would have happened under the direction of literally any man). Now what do we have to do to get this story told from the Lakota perspective, with a Native director in the chair?