Tag Archives: female directors

Where Hands Touch

Leyna (Amandla Stenberg) is the only person of colour in her village. She’s aware of that fact, of course, all too aware, but it’s not until her 16th birthday when her difference starts to truly matter, so her mother packs her and little brother Koen up and takes them to Berlin where they can be ‘invisible.’ But Berlin isn’t any safer for a biracial girl in 1944. Leyna and her family live in fear, and Leyna’s mother Kerstin (Abbie Cornish) is so desperate she sacrifices her relationship with her own family to obtain some false papers for her daughter, papers that promise Leyna will never commit the crime of racial mixing with a German aryan, papers that claim she has been sterilized.

Koen joins the Hitler Youth, compulsory for every aryan boy, and his mother is trying her best to temper the hate he learns there with the values and morals of home. As for daughter Leyna, Kerstin is just trying to keep her alive, a feat made more difficult after Leyna falls in love with Lutz (George MacKay), himself a member of the Hitler Youth, and the son of a prominent SS officer. This could get them both killed – it has become obvious that the Nazis aren’t just hunting Jewish people, but anyone deemed “impure.”

There’s obviously an interesting story in there somewhere, but the script by writer-director Amma Asante doesn’t quite sniff it out. Possibly the best thread to follow would be that of Kerstin’s relationship with her children, both rebellious in their ways, and her struggle to balance her beliefs with what will keep the family safe, not unlike Scarlett Johansson’s Oscar-nominated turn in Jojo Rabbit.

Instead we experience the world from Leyna’s perspective. Amandla Stenbert does good work, but Leyna is a teenager, confused and confident at the same time. She insists she wants nothing more than to be treated like any other “good German,” which, considering the context, is kind of uncomfortable. Against the backdrop of millions of Jewish people being led to slaughter, it sort of feels like Leyna has shown up to a Black Lives Matter protest with a sign that reads “All Lives Matter.” Leyna’s youth sees only injustice against herself, and her lack of awareness or irony starts to feel worryingly tone deaf.

The increasingly improbable love story does little to recommend itself and its compassion feels miserly and misplaced. Sean and I recently watched Schindler’s List (he for the first time), a perfect reminder that there are plentiful and worthier movies on the subject, ones that manage to paint a fuller and more accurate picture.

 

 

Athlete A

USA Gymnastics knew that Dr. Larry Nassar was routinely and repeatedly sexually assaulting the many young girls in his care. They knew and they did nothing. They knew and the covered it up. They knew and they kept him in the position, kept sending child gymnasts to him, kept inviting him into their midst. They had a duty to protect their young charges. They had a duty, morally and legally, not only to remove him, but to report him to the police. Rather than doing so, they continued to feed victims into the hands of a known pedophile.

In Jon Stewart’s recent political satire Irresistible, he talks a bit about about the pundit economy, how the news has largely been replaced by talking head opinion. These aren’t journalists, not by a long shot, but they sit behind anchor desks as if they are, injecting issues with their own agendas. It’s a dangerous trend, especially when you consider it took reporters from the Indianapolis Star to expose these crimes and trigger a police investigation. Once the newspaper made the allegations public, women started coming forward. In droves. Hundreds. Newspapers are nearly extinct, but can we afford to lose the last few people dedicated digging for truth and informing the people?

Because USA Gymnastics was never going to do the right thing. In fact, they’d fostered a culture of abuse with coaches like Bela Karolyi who believed dominating and terrorizing young gymnasts was the key to success. USA Gymnastics wasn’t just looking the other way, it was enabling abusers and suppressing evidence because that’s how they kept the sponsorship dollars rolling in.

This is a difficult film to watch, obviously. But directors Bonni Cohen and Jon Shenk deliver on a sense of hope, too. And hope? She’s female. Called Athlete A in the documents, in court, woman after woman stood up, identified themselves, and spoke to the man who’d abused them, and to the judge who would sentence him. And also to all of us. They showed us there is power and dignity in being able to name the crime, and the perpetrator. It takes real courage to do that, but it made me want that same thing for every woman. Many, many, many sexual assault victims don’t get justice. They don’t speak up because they don’t feel they can. Or they are not believed. It took years for these gymnasts to see their day in court, but isn’t justice the very least we can do for these victims?

Feel The Beat

Not only did I fail to feel the beat, I couldn’t even find a pulse.

But that’s me, discerning movie viewer, critic without a cause. I won’t deny that it may hold some cachet as a family-friendly offering for the tween set. For the rest of us, it’s exceedingly missable.

April (Sofia Carson) is a hometown success story, having left for stardom on the Broad Way. She didn’t find it, of course, and slinks back home, tail between her legs. Luckily the small town where she’s from is sufficiently square that their twitter feeds have sme sort of hillbilly 3 day delay (a mild scandal brews on social media). To them, she’s still Impressive April, and the (very) humble dance studio where she got her start fawns over her terse, uninterested, one-word replies to their burning questions. This they call a “master class.” But when April gets a whiff of redemption (ie, a national dance competition with a handy dandy “teacher feature” which could put her in front of a judge’s panel including a top Broadway producer), suddenly she’s interested. Sure her interest is self-serving and mostly takes the form of verbally abusing an eager if unskilled dance troupe. They’re a bunch of misfits, as dictated by the trope, with a lineup including a deaf girl, a chubby girl, a poor girl, and a boy.

As you might venture to guess, the road to nationals is predictably paved with teachable moments and personal growth for our girl April, who never quite got to likable with me, which is just fine since I also found her unwatchable. Absolutely nothing personal with any of the cast, who were dancing their little tushies off. This is merely a trite script and a small budget and a green, though not necessarily untalented, crew. Which adds up to a harmless but ultimately subpar, forgettable movie that I did not need to see.

Judy & Punch

If your memory needs refreshing, Punch and Judy are traditional puppets who have been entertaining crowds in the UK and beyond for over 400 years. They started out as marionettes in Italy; Punch was derived from the Neapolitan stock character of Pulcinella, which was anglicized to Punchinello and eventually just Punch when the show made the jump over to Great Britain, and the marionettes became hand puppets out of convenience or laziness or both.The show costarred Mr. Punch’s wife, Judy, and a cast of rotating characters. Much like a soap opera, the story wasn’t fixed, but it always featured some key elements: their baby, mishandled by Punch, a hungry crocodile, an officious policeman, a prop string of sausages, a generic hangman named Jack Ketch. The show was a series of scenes in which various foes come for Punch, but each is eventually victim to his slapstick (note: though Mr. Punch does an awful lot of clowning around, his slapstick is indeed a large stick used for slapping people, often to death). Mr. Punch will then utter his famous catchphrase “That’s the way to do it!” which is how the expression “pleased as punch” was derived – from his sense of gleeful self-satisfaction. Despite the numerous murders, a Punch and Judy show is a comedy, often provoking shocked laughter.

Cut to 2020 when writer-director Mirrah Foulkes re-imagines the show’s origin story in her own sordid tale, called Judy & Punch. In the tiny 17th century English village of Seaside (actually nowhere near the sea), Punch and Judy entertain the villagers with their weekly puppet show. The violent show is right at home among these people, who satisfy their bloodlust with public “stoning days” where their anarchic mob rule interprets random coincidences as witchcraft, condemning their neighbours to die – unless of course the crime is though to be particularly heinous, wherein they might just be hanged immediately.

At home, Punch (Damon Herriman) is a drunk and Judy (Mia Wasikowska) his hard-working and long-suffering wife. One day while she makes a quick trip to market, Punch accidentally kill their baby during a drinking binge. Judy has been gone but an hour and is understandably heart broken to find her baby murdered but her sobs only enrage Punch, who then makes her a victim of his slapstick. He disposes of both bodies.

Allow me to interrupt myself here to say this: when the baby dies, it is under circumstances so perfectly orchestrated, so perfectly designed and directed that I uttered a single “Ha!,” followed by a horrified silence as I processed that the baby is in fact dead. If you were not familiar with the particular and very specific brand of dark humour found in a traditional Punch and Judy show, you might think that this movie has a serious problem with tone. But understanding the history means you cannot fail to admire Foulkes’ ability to find what has to be the very slimmest of veins wherein a baby’s death can be both funny and cruel, and executing it to perfection.

In the film, Judy narrowly survives the beating, unbeknownst to Punch, and hides among a band of outcast heretics while she heals. Together they plot revenge not just on Punch but indeed on the whole town who have so successfully driven out or eliminated anyone with a difference. In this way, Foulkes is able to explore the kind of atmosphere where such a show could have proliferated. Punch is undoubtedly a bad man. Each show usually includes a scene wherein Punch lays out the bodies of each and every one of his victims for the audience to count, yet they still cheer when he bests the hangman, or indeed even the devil himself. These were cruel times fueled by fear: if not them, then us.

Mia Wasikowska delivers a strong performance as a woman with talent, brains, and resources, yet so few options that she must hide in the forest for fear that her survival may be interpreted as witchcraft. Herriman pulls off an even harder feat as damned Mr. Punch: a fool, a predator, a charmer, a pretender. The thing about puppets is that whether dancing with their wives or bludgeoning them, their expressions never change. Perhaps a painted-on grin helped the audience swallow his violent attacks. But our Mr. Punch is a man, a puppeteer. Herriman has to be believable as both the bumbling buffoon chasing after a dog who’s stolen his sausages, and mere moments later, a father who has not only charbroiled his own baby, but pinned her murder on elderly innocents. And he is!

I am reminded of a time back in 2016 when I reviewed a “black comedy” that I felt was SO black it merited a whole new category, so I invented the Vantablack comedy, Vantablack being in fact a colour that is blacker than black, absorbing all but 0.035% of light; a black so black our human minds can’t actually perceive it. I would like to unroll this categorization once again, in honour of Judy & Punch, Mirrah Foulkes’ audacious directorial debut.

Judy & Punch is available digitally on Apple/iTunes as well as VOD services.

 

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.”

The High Note

Grace Davis (Tracee Ellis Ross) is a mega music star. She’s touring the world, selling out stadiums, and she’s not slowing down. But she’s not recording new music, either – not in a decade. She’s a middle-aged woman of colour, not exactly the stuff of 2020’s Billboard #1 artists, as her manager (Ice Cube) and label guys keep not-so-gently reminding her. The safe bet is to keep playing those same beloved songs to her ever-fervent fans, maybe do a nice, safe Vegas residency, and every so often repackage those hits into a “new” greatest hits album. Grace Davis is a fictional star but I’m sure these credentials are reminding you of more than one of yesterday’s top recording artists. Maybe even of Tracee Ellis Ross’s own mama, Ms. Diana Ross.

Grace’s personal assistant Maggie (Dakota Johnson) has been fetching her green juice and dry cleaning thanklessly for the past 3 years. Maggie keeps hoping her role will be a stepping stone to where she’d actually want to be – a producer – but not only is Grace not recording music, she’s adamant that Maggie stay in her lane. So when Maggie bumps into David (Kelvin Harrison, Jr) on an errand for Grace, she’s pretty open to following her dream in another direction. David’s playing the grocery store’s parking lot, but his talent is legit so she fudges the details and convinces him to let her produce his album.

Does the moonlighting go well? It would be a crummy movie if everyone just lived happily ever after forevermore. There’s going to be some major bumps. Ellis Ross is terrific as Grace, but she’s definitely not just channeling her mother. She’s made Grace the hardest of things: a pop icon, and an actual woman. She’s worried about staying relevant, about aging, about work-life balance, about being the only woman in a room full of men trying to determine her future. Meanwhile, Maggie is trying to break into a male-dominated field that tries to discourage her by having her fetch coffee. Thematically, this film is the perfect follow-up for director Nisha Ganatra, who gave us Late Night last year.

The Dakota Johnson arc is a little pat, a little too rom-commy; The High Note actually shines when Ross is on screen stealing scenes. I almost wish we could have just stayed with her and lived in her skin, a true testament to Ross and the layered character she crafts. Still, the ensemble is talented, and if at times the script veers toward formulaic, the film is glossy, the songs are catchy, and Ross is indeed a star.

Ophelia

This one’s been sitting idle in my drafts folder for way too long. All I had was the title, Ophelia, which was a freebie.

As you may have guessed (or perhaps you’ve seen the film, released as it was in 2018), this is a re-telling from Hamlet, from the fair Ophelia’s point of view. She doesn’t exactly get a fair shake from Shakespeare. Will director Claire McCarthy finally do her justice?

I’ve seen this described as a “feminist reinterpretation” so many times I want to throw a pewter goblet through a stained glass window. Stories with female protagonists don’t need special labels. It’s like saying the original Hamlet had an “idiotic interpretation” just like all stories with male protagonists. Oh, that seems unfair and perhaps a bit reductive? YEAH I FUCKING KNOW. I have so much rage. Of course I want to give this movie a pass just for having to deal with stupid male critics and stupid male bias and stupid male viewers but the truth is, this female was bored stiff.

Yes, it’s shot extremely well; there’s palpable value in its production. And Daisy Ridley and George MacKay are quite wonderful, really. But the thing is, very rarely are going to improve upon FUCKING SHAKESPEARE. Sure Ophelia got a shitty deal, and yes, it’s nice to see her flexing some agency. But this version just feels like we’re getting the bits of Hamlet that were left on the cutting room floor – and for good reason. There’s only so many jugs of water a girl can fetch. It’s enough to drive anyone crazy. But while Ophelia’s background may be fecund in theory, it was rather barren in execution. It fell so far short of the mark for me I rather wished we’d been in Queen Gertrude’s (Naomi Watts) shoes instead, uncomfortable as I’m sure they were.

Canadian Content

National Canadian Film Day is technically celebrated on April 22, 2020, but given our current collective situation, why not your quarantine just a tiny bit more patriotic by viewing these worthy Canadian titles.

HYENA ROAD Three different men, three different worlds, three different wars – all stand at the intersection of modern warfare – a murky world of fluid morality where all is not as it seems. Directed by and costarring Paul Gross, who’s gone full silver fox, plus Rossif Sutherland and Allan Hawco 


INDIAN HORSE Follows the life of Native Canadian Saul Indian Horse as he survives residential school and life amongst the racism of the 1970s. A talented hockey player, Saul must find his own path as he battles stereotypes and alcoholism. Directed by Stephen Campanelli, starring Forrest Goodluck and Sladen Peltier


ROOM Held captive for 7 years in an enclosed space, a woman and her young son finally gain their freedom, allowing the boy to experience the outside world for the first time. Directed by Lenny Abrahamson, starring Brie Larson and Jacob Tremblay


RUN THIS TOWN An emerging political scandal in Toronto in 2013 revolving around crack-smoking mayor Rob Ford, seen through the eyes of young staffers at city hall and a local newspaper. Directed by Ricky Tollman, starring Mena Massoud, Nina Dobrev and Ben Platt 


THE SONG OF NAMES Several years after his childhood friend, a violin prodigy, disappears on the eve of his first solo concert, an Englishman travels throughout Europe to find him. Directed by François Girard, starring Tim Roth and Clive Owen 


BIRTHMARKED Two scientists raise 3 children contrarily to their genetic tendencies to prove the ultimate power of nurture over nature. Directed by Emanuel Hoss-Desmarais, starring Matthew Goode, Toni Collette and Suzanne Clément


THE KINDNESS OF STRANGERS The story of people whose lives intertwine during a dramatic winter in New York City. Directed by Lone Scherfig, starring Zoe Kazan, Andrea Riseborough, Tahar Rahim, Jay Baruchel and Bill Nighy

FREAKS A bold girl discovers a bizarre, threatening, and mysterious new world beyond her front door after she escapes her father’s protective and paranoid control. Directed by Zach Lipovsky, Adam B. Stein, starring  Emile Hirsch, Bruce Dern, Grace Park 


THE YOUNG AND PRODIGIOUS T.S SPIVET A ten-year-old scientist secretly leaves his family’s ranch in Montana where he lives with his cowboy father and scientist mother, escapes home, and travels across the country aboard a freight train to receive an award at the Smithsonian Institute. Directed by Jean-Pierre Jeunet, starring Helena Bonham Carter, Judy Davis and Callum Keith Rennie

THE CAPTIVE Eight years after the disappearance of Cassandra, some disturbing incidents seem to indicate that she’s still alive. Police, parents and Cassandra herself, will try to unravel the mystery of her disappearance. Directed by Atom Egoyan, starring Kevin Durand,  Ryan Reynolds, Scott Speedman, Rosario Dawson


THE 9th LIFE OF LOUIS DRAX A psychologist who begins working with a young boy who has suffered a near-fatal fall finds himself drawn into a mystery that tests the boundaries of fantasy and reality. Directed by Alexandre Aja, starring Jamie Dornan, Sarah Gadon and Aaron Paul

ASTRONAUT A lonely widower battles his family, ill health and time to win a competition for a golden ticket to space. Directed by Shelagh McLeod, starring Richard Dreyfuss, Lyriq Bent, Krista Bridges, Colm Feore


BANG BANG BABY A small town teenager in the 1960s believes her dreams of becoming a famous singer will come true when her rock star idol gets stranded in town. But a leak in a nearby chemical plant that is believed to be causing mass mutations threatens to turn her dream into a nightmare. Directed by Jeffrey St. Jules, starring Jane Levy, Justin Chatwin, Peter Stormare and Kristin Bruun

EVERYTHING’S GONE GREEN Ryan, a good-natured slacker, is tempted into a money laundering scheme while working for a lottery magazine. A capitalistic comedy that asks the question – when is “enough” enough? Directed by Paul Fox, starring Paulo Costanzo


DIM THE FLUORESCENTS A struggling actress and an aspiring playwright pour all of their creative energy into the only paying work they can find: role-playing demonstrations for corporate training seminars. Directed by Daniel Warth, starring Claire Armstrong and Naomi Skwarna

TAKE THIS WALTZ A happily married woman falls for the artist who lives across the street. Directed by Sarah Polley, starring Seth Rogen, Michelle Williams, Luke Kirby, Sarah Silverman


EDGE OF WINTER When two brothers are stranded by a brutal winter storm with an unpredictable father they barely know, the boys begin to suspect their supposed protector may be their biggest threat. Directed by Rob Connolly, starring Tom Holland and Joel Kinnaman 

GIANT LITTLE ONES Two popular teen boys, best friends since childhood, discover their lives, families, and girlfriends dramatically upended after an unexpected incident occurs on the night of a 17th birthday party. Directed by Keith Behrman, starring  Josh Wiggins, Darren Mann, Taylor Hickson, Maria Bello, Kyle MacLachlan

THE BODY REMEMBERS WHEN THE WORLD BROKE OPEN After a chance encounter on the street, a woman tries to encourage a pregnant domestic abuse victim to seek help. Directed by Kathleen Hepburn and Elle-Máijá Tailfeathers, starring Elle-Máijá Tailfeathers, Violet Nelson, Charlie Hannah, and Barbara Eve Harris


AND THE BIRDS RAINED DOWN (IL PLEUVAIT DES OISEAUX) Three elderly hermits live in the woods. While wildfires threaten the region, their quiet life is about to be shaken by the arrival of two women – A story of intertwined destinies, where love can happen at any age. Directed by Louise Archambault, starring  Andrée Lachapelle, Gilbert Sicotte, Rémy Girard 

WINDOW HORSES A young Canadian poet with Chinese and Persian parents travels to Iran to perform at a poetry festival (animated). Directed by Anne Marie Fleming, voices by Ellen Page, Sandra Oh


WATER Set in colonial India against Gandhi’s rise to power, it’s the story of 8-year-old Chuyia, who is widowed and sent to a home to live in penitence; once there, Chuyia’s feisty presence deeply affects the lives of the other residents. Directed by Deepa Mehta, starring Seema Biswas, Lisa Ray, John Abraham and Sarala


THE GRIZZLIES In a small Arctic town struggling with the highest suicide rate in North America, a group of Inuit students’ lives are transformed when they are introduced to the sport of lacrosse. Directed by Miranda de Pencier, starring Ben Schnetzer, Will Sasso, Paul Nutarariaq, Anna Lambe,Tantoo Cardinal, Emerald MacDonald and Booboo Stewart


MAUDIE An arthritic Nova Scotia woman works as a housekeeper while she hones her skills as an artist and eventually becomes a beloved figure in the community. Directed by Aisling Walsh, starring Sally Hawkins and Ethan Hawke


BROOKLYN An Irish immigrant lands in 1950s Brooklyn, where she quickly falls into a romance with a local. When her past catches up with her, however, she must choose between two countries and the lives that exist within. Directed by John Crowley, starring Saoirse Ronan, Domhnall Gleeson, Emory Cohen, Jim Broadbent and Julie Walters 


ANTHROPOCENE: THE HUMAN EPOCH Filmmakers travel to six continents and 20 countries to document the impact humans have made on the planet. Directed by Jennifer Baichwal, Nicholas de Pencier and Edward Burtynsky. Narrated by Alicia Vikander

CANADIAN STRAIN When cannabis becomes legal in Canada, boutique weed dealer Anne Banting is swiftly run out of business by the biggest gangsters in town – the government. Written and directed by Geordie Sabbagh and starring Jess Salgueiro


DRONE Ideologies collide with fatal results when a military drone contractor meets an enigmatic Pakistani businessman. Written and directed by Jason Bourque and starring Sean Bean


FALLS AROUND HER A successful singer leaves everything behind to return to her reservation to live alone. Written and directed by Darlene Naponse and starring Tantoo Cardinal

JAMES VS HIS FUTURE SELF A scientist meets a version of himself from the future who has traveled back in time to stop himself from inventing time travel. Starring Daniel Stern


LAVENDER After discovering old fractures in her skull, a photographer recovering from amnesia becomes increasingly haunted by a sinister childhood secret. Directed by Ed Gass-Donnelly and starring Abbie Cornish,  Dermot Mulroney, Justin Long


BEN’S AT HOME Heartbroken and cynical after he’s dumped by his girlfriend, Ben makes the unusual decision never to leave his house again. Directed by Mars Horodyski and starring  Dan Abramovici, Jessica Embro, Jim Annan

TAMMY’S ALWAYS DYING At the end of every month, when the welfare runs out, Catherine talks her alcoholic mother off of the same bridge. Literally. Directed by Amy Jo Johnson and starring  Felicity Huffman, Anastasia Phillips, Clark Johnson 

Valley Girl (2020)

First: a word about Logan Paul. Logan Paul is a Youtube star. “Star.” I know his name but not his content; he’s the brand of entitled-obnoxious that my life doesn’t need so I’ve never seen a single thing he’s done. I do know he’s been controversial, though. The first I heard of him, he’d gone to the suicide forest in Japan in late 2017 and posted a video of the corpse of a recently deceased (hanged) man. Cue uproar, cue “apology.” Youtube gave him a slap on the wrist (with 25M subscribers, their partnership is extremely lucrative to both) but he was back at it just a few weeks later. He’s sexist, he’s homophobic, he’s racist. Basically, he’s a giant douche. Valley Girl director Rachel Lee Goldenberg had the misfortune of casting him in her movie to play…well, a giant douche as it happens. This was in the spring of 2017, before the big controversies started to add up. The film was scheduled for a 2018 release by they scrapped it due to his involvement. This poor movie has languished on some shelf in Hollywood, serving a sentence for crimes committed by a single cast member. So yes, I acknowledge that Logan Paul is a problematic douche nozzle and we all wish he wasn’t in this movie even though he’s actually perfectly cast. With that said, onto the movie.

Yes, this is a remake of the 1983 film of the same name, starring Nicolas Cage and Deborah Foreman. Foreman played Julie, a perfect, preppie valley girl who falls for a punk (Cage) from the wrong side of the hills. In the 2020 version, Julie is a proper grown up. She (Alicia Silverstone) is a mom now, and she recounts this teenage romance to her daughter.

Cue: the 1980s. Cue the leg warmers, the big hair, the jazzercize, the popped collars. A young Julie (Jessica Rothe) frolics on the beach with her gal pals and then hits up the mall. She’s dating arrogant jock Mickey (Logan Paul) but an edgier guy has grabbed her eye. Randy (Josh Whitehouse) is not a punk, because punk is dead, but if she’s a little bit country, he’s a little bit rock n roll. Her friends think she’s having a nervous breakdown but as far as rebellious streaks go it’s actually pretty tame – just dreaming of leaving the suburbs and maybe prioritizing a career instead of marriage and motherhood.

2020’s Valley Girl is somehow even more 80s than the original: it’s an homage, a love letter, a glossy, hair sprayed tribute, and in doing so, it’s rounded out the edges and presents a sanitized pop version for your nostalgia cravings. This Valley Girl is a jukebox musical which means every song sung will be one you know; the retro soundtrack includes We Got the Beat, Bad Reputation, Hey Mickey, Call Me, Girls Just Want to Have Fun, Kids in America, Just Can’t Get Enough, Material Girl, Safety Dance, Take On Me, Under Pressure, I Melt With You…well, you get the picture. The 80s vibes are strong in this one.

Is this a life-changing movie? No. Is this a great piece of cinema? Still no. But if you’re willing to embrace the cheese, it’s actually quite a bit of fun. And the great thing about the 80s is that you don’t actually have to have lived through them to be nostalgic for them. It feels like the nostalgia was baked right into the decade (and quite possibly Tang flavoured). Play I-Spy during the carefully curated costume party: can you spot Boy George – George Michael – Michael Jackson?

This movie is Grease meets Trolls World Tour meets Romeo and Juliet, but feels like it’s a 90 minute version of those Tiffany videos she used to shoot at the mall. Valley Girl knows what it is and isn’t afraid to lean right in. This is the 80s, turned up to 11.

The Weekend

Zadie (Sasheer Zamata) is a shameless third wheel. She’s been moping about her breakup for three years and instead of moving on with her life, she’s spending the weekend at a bed and breakfast with him…and his new girlfriend. And by “new” I mean “not Zadie,” because this couple have already been together for two years and Bradford’s walking around with a diamond ring in his pocket. Zadie is downright hostile to new girlfriend Margo (DeWanda Wise), who is understandably less than thrilled to have her love life constantly monitored by Zadie. And Bradford (Tone Bell) seems infuriatingly oblivious…or does he just like having two women fight for his attention?

So while Zadie is crashing what should be a romantic weekend for two, a man named Aubrey (Y’lan Noel) shows up at the B&B without his plus one, who minused herself out of their equation. Aubrey, who is handsome and charming and available, makes some overtures in Zadie’s direction. God knows why: Zadie is not exactly a catch and she’s pretty busy making a fool out of herself.

I wanted to like this movie but I hated it immediately. Zadie is a stand-up comedian and her whole schtick is a pity party in honour of her breakup which is now several years behind her. She’s an unlikable protagonist and exactly the kind of person I avoid at all costs so it was painful to spend a whole 87 minutes in her grating, self-centered presence. Zadie is so pathetic it’s hard to imagine that anyone would be romantically (or otherwise) interested in her, but only her mother (Kym Whitley) ever calls her on her bullshit so the rest of us are left searching for blunt objects to make the pain go away (strictly speaking, a remote would get the job done with a lot less mess).

The thing is, I love Sasheer Zamata who is in fact a stand-up comedian whom I have enjoyed on many occasions. I hated to see her good name debased with such a wretched and plaintive set. The whole cast had much to recommend it, and with better material this could easily be a group to watch. Likewise, writer-director Stella Meghie is an immense talent who would be better served by characters worthy of her attention. The Weekend is not her best work but I hope it at least exorcised some ghosts.