Since their son Ronnie died 5 years ago on prom night, Charlene (Amy Ryan) and Richard (Greg Kinnear) have grieved differently, and separated. Charlene and her younger son Philip (Nick Robinson) still live at home and are surprised one day to find Ronnie’s girlfriend Melissa (Margaret Qualley) on their doorstep and even more surprised to hear her news. She’s pregnant. With Ronnie’s child. Yes, Ronnie who died five years ago. He’s the only boy she was ever with.
Charlene and Philip remain skeptical despite Melissa’s “proof,” ie, a recording of a psychic reading that confirmed it. Melissa’s been distraught ever since she lost her boyfriend, and has been obsessed with his death. Her parents have thrown her out because of her interest in mysticism so she lives with a sweet elderly couple, Bill (Brian Cox) and Gail (Blythe Danner), who have all but adopted her. But Bill’s health is questionable, and while Gail worries about him, we worry that Bill and Gail may not always be around to care for Melissa or her baby on the way. Meanwhile, Melissa isn’t totally healthy herself. She’s had blackouts recently and needs to take care of herself and the baby that’s growing in her belly. Shaken, Charlene has been researching furiously, but rather than learn anything useful about frozen sperm, but learns that her ex-husband Richard has been secretly been paying Melissa’s rent at Bill and Gail’s. Philip’s also holding on to his own secrets; there are so many threads to entangle that Charlene won’t be able to keep up, and frankly, neither will we.
Turns out, dead baby daddies were the least of our worries. Rowan Athale’s thriller isn’t thrilling in the traditional sense, but it did surprise and horrify me, and I did find it compelling and interesting. It’s a great cast, a little wasted, who take us to places far scarier than merely the supernatural. The film is indeed quite strange, unapologetically so, and while it is not and never was true, it is a pretty decent watch.
Sally Alexander (Keira Knightley) and Jo Robinson (Jessie Buckley) have little in common, and they even fail to bond over their mutual cause when they meet at a women’s meeting. But though they usually take a different path toward their ideals, they unite over the upcoming 1970 Miss World beauty competition which will be held right in their backyard – London.
It’s extremely upsetting that women have been protesting the sexism inherent in such a pageant for 50 years now, and yet they continue to happen, judging women on the height of their hair and the curves in their bikinis.
Okay, technically the women were still competing in one-piece bathing suits in 1970, but their measurements were recorded and announced during the broadcast, which leaves even less to the imagination than even the skimpiest swimsuit. Sally, Jo, and their cohorts plan to attend the live broadcast, and to disrupt it.
Meanwhile, feminism isn’t the only movement on the rise. Racism is too, and this year, for the first time, South Africa is impelled to send a woman of colour in addition to the ubiquitous white one, and Grenada sends a Black woman to compete as well. Sally et. al believe that a “family” show judging a woman based on appearance alone shouldn’t exist, but Miss Grenada, Jennifer Hosten (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) knows what her presence will say to little girls of colour all over the world. They both have a point, and unfortunately, this is a good illustration of how feminism has routinely left its sisters of colour behind. Misbehaviour isn’t about to shy away from that unpleasant fact, and it isn’t afraid to tackle difficult or unpopular topics.
Case in fact: Bob Hope. Legendary, beloved Bob Hope, fondly remembered for his numerous USO trips, on which Miss Universe would sometimes join him, the mere sight of her deemed a boost to morale. Bob Hope had hosted the Miss Universe pageant back in 1961 and was tapped to host again in 1970, to the disapproval of his wife, since in ’61 he’d started a 30 year long affair with the winner. Bob Hope (portrayed in the film by Greg Kinnear, his wife Dolores by Lesley Manville) was a more legendary womanizer than he was a comedian; he carried on more affairs than he could probably count. Knowing that “women’s libbers” were protesting the pageant, he thought it wise to work some extra misogyny into the pageant with remarks like “It is quite a cattle market here tonight and I’ve been back there checking calves.” Har har.
These different story lines help tell a fuller truth and give the events a proper context. The lesson here is a little complicated, but it’s told in an entertaining way by an extremely talented cast and I’m quite pleased if a little surprised to confirm that Misbehaviour strikes the right balance and delivers a movie you’ll actually be glad you saw.
Phil (Greg Kinnear) is a depressed dentist who becomes obsessed with his patient Michael (Bradley Whitford) who seems to have it all. Chasing the secret to happiness, Phil more or less stalks the guy and his perfect family. Phil’s as surprised as anyone when Michael suddenly, and seemingly inexplicably, commits suicide. If the guy who has everything takes his life, where does that leave guys like Phil who most decidedly do not?
If you answered black-out drunk on Michael’s grave, you answered right! That’s where Michael’s widow Alicia (Emily Mortimer) finds him the next morning, hung over with a face full of dirt. But it does not account for why Phil decides on the spot to impersonate Michael’s long-lost Greek friend Spiros as a way of ingratiating himself into the grieving family. Before you know it, he’s renovating their bathroom while digging through Michael’s belongings trying to answer the age old question WHY?
I get it. Suicide is one of those tricky things, like cancer, that leave us feeling vulnerable. We want to know why so that we can feel safe. If someone got cancer because they smoke, we feel relieved because we ourselves are not smokers. Bullet dodged. If someone commits suicide because they have huge gambling debts, lucky us again, because we aren’t gamblers. Phew. We need these tangible markers to help us feel insulated from these scary possibilities. When a vegetarian marathon runner gets cancer, well, that reminds us how random it can all be. And when someone who lives a good life ends it – well, don’t we all sleep a little worse at night wondering why?
Both Phil and Michael’s widow Alicia would like to understand Michael’s motivations, but the truth is, those aren’t always knowable. Mental health is complicated and the things that make one person feel hopeless and helpless don’t always translate. Is better, then, to have each other – even if one of them is not who they claim?
Greg Kinnear stars and directs himself in Phil, a very dark comedy that doesn’t work more often than it does. And it’s not just the tricky subject matter, though it’s difficult to feel good about watching one man find the meaning in his life because of another man’s suicide. Doesn’t quite feel right. Or maybe it’s just not pushed far enough to be convincing. It’s obviously got dark undertones but Greg Kinnear often pushes the goofy side, and those two things don’t always pair well. The script is clunky and the direction doesn’t help – even the performances struggle to rise above. Phil is fine, a mild disappointment I suppose. There’s worse to watch but better too, so I suggest you scroll a little further before clicking on this one.
In the 1970s, Captain America went to Africa disguised as Captain Israel, where he assembled a crack team of Super Jews, including a harpoon-wielding Hawkeye and a Black Widow with feathered bangs.
Well, okay, that’s not exactly how it happened, and it DID mostly happen.
Ethiopian Jews were being slaughtered in their homes in the late 70s and early 80s, so Mossad agents led families on a 1000km walk to Sudan where, if they survived the journey, they became refugees waiting to be taken to Jerusalem, which was the tricky part. Sudan was receiving a stipend from the UN for each refugee they took in. The refugees starved, but the Sudanese government was not interested in losing easy money. In order to smuggle them out, the Mossad agents posed as hoteliers, actually running a resort, to remove Ethiopians by sea, toward a waiting Israeli Navy Seal ship.
The crew is run by Ari (a bearded Chris Evans), a reckless agent known for running into danger without a plan for getting out. Always by his side, the very courageous local Kabede (Michael Kenneth Williams), for whom this is not a mission but very simply life.
Anyway, I callously poked fun at the casting of Captain America in this film, but it is a genuine problem. Not Chris Evans per se – he’s fine. He’s just too identifiably heroic, and the camera knows it. The story is infatuated with the idea of this rescue mission and it pumps up the hero aspect to 11 while disregarding their humanity. We know the group’s Black Widow (ie, only female component, played by Haley Bennett) is a mother and that she has left her child(ren?) behind for months or years in order to help save strangers but literally nothing is made of it. Who is she? How does she cope? How do the kids? Where are the kids? Ari is also a father, with an ex-wife who is already tired of his bullshit before this story even begins. His backstory is almost as empty as Black Widow’s, but his guilt is exculpated by a crayon drawing that implies his daughter forgives him for his repeated abandonment. What I’m saying is: the Avengers are super heroes who are just doing their jobs. In this case, the Mossad agents are real people with real loved ones and lives back home that they’ve sacrificed in order to save people, not from Loki or Ultron or Thanos, but from genocide, a less-glamourous, real-world problem that most people look away from. But the movie takes the one thing that it’s got going for it and ignores it almost completely.
Okay, scrub that: the film had 2 potential things going for it – the heroes, sure, but also the victims. Because these Ethiopian refugees are perhaps the true heroes of this story, and maybe any story. I’ve always thought that, as bloated as End Game was, the only story I was really interested in is the one they never told – that of normal people on Earth, those left behind by the snap, and those who disappeared because of it. What is their experience? Such a global, world-shifting event deserves some story-telling but never got any (they failed to even really touch on it in Spiderman Far From Home, disappointingly). But in this case, the Ethiopians escape with little else besides their lives, and know they are lucky to have that much. Many are missing children and spouses and parents. Many will lose more along the arduous journey, only to end up in a crowded, unhygienic camp where their bodies are worth money to their captors, so they are given just barely the means to stay alive. And that’s only half the trip: next they’re going to smuggled past armed check points, onto rubber rafts, and raced through the choppy waves of the Red Sea onto vessels that will sail them into a new life, one so different as to be unimaginable from their straw hut lives in Ethiopia. Now that’s a story. But by all means let’s eschew that for more of Michiel Huisman in a speedo.
So yeah, The Red Sea Diving Resort fails to overcome the same tired old tropes. It feels like a compilation of other movies you’ve already seen, but not a best-of compilation, more like a cross-section of the just-okay bits. Which is a weird compilation, I’ll grant you that. Who’d want to watch it? Not me. Not really. Not even for a bearded Chris Evans, still very much in Captain America mode.
One day the cops show up at James’ house and take away from his parents and his home. He’s surprised he can breathe the air outside their bunker, but that’s the first of many surprises. Turns out he’d been kidnapped as a baby and raised by his captors (Mark Hamill and Jane Adams!) to believe that Brigsby Bear, a TV show that unbeknownst to him was being made by his “father” and seen only by himself, was the culmination of human existence. You haven’t heard obsessed fan theory until you’ve met a man who has never done or seen anything else, ever.
Now that he’s “free” it’s hard to let go of his favourite, most important show ever, and when he learns that it was Mark Hamill making the 700+ episodes all along, his main takeaway is: anyone can make a movie! So why not him? Unfortunately, the cop (Greg Kinnear) isn’t keen to turn over the confiscated equipment, and his therapist (Claire Danes) isn’t keen on the idea, period. But this is the only thing giving a grown man comfort now that he’s out in a world he never knew existed, let alone how to exist in it.
Kyle Mooney plays James, a man who still identifies more with his captors and their cult-like lifestyle than with his biological parents who have spent 25 years looking for him but only a couple of weeks knowing him. This is man’s search for meaning, but no one is comfortable when he finds it in an animatronic bear head. But teaching him history, or how to drive, or what slang to use, isn’t going to be enough. He just doesn’t belong to this world, or to his new family, and that’s a sort of sadness that’s translatable even as it’s played for laughs on screen. It’s kind of neat to be able to see the impact of pop culture on someone who hasn’t been part of it. Brigsby Bear is a true indie film, not just marching to a different beat but spasmodically interpretive-dancing to the synthesized stylings of a keytar. It’s on a slightly different frequency than most movies, but if you feel like joining it there, you’ll find yourself having a surprisingly earnest, often charming, feel good time.
Julianne Moore is The English Teacher. That she is 40-something and unmarried seems to be a major plot point, one that made me immediately vomit into my mouth. Apparently because her standards are too high, a prim, stick-up-her-ass voice-over lady informs us. And indeed we witness several of Ms. Linda Sinclair’s dates, during which she mentally marks them up with red pen and assigns them grades – mostly failing. She is much more comfortable in front of a classroom of teenagers, discussing the authors, stories and characters who never disappoint her.
But then an older student returns, having failed to make a living writing plays in New York City. Linda adores his play of course, loves it so much she steps out of her comfort zone to help mount it at her school, with the help of drama teacher extraordinaire, Mr. Kapinas (Nathan Lane). Things do not exactly go smoothly. The play is costly; Mr. Kapinas is demanding; the leading lady (Lily Collins) is a temperamental trouble-maker; the school board objects to the violence. All the while Linda keeps clashing with Jason’s dad (Greg Kinnear), believing that the play’s dark themes have been inspired by their real life.
The thing is, Julianne Moore is great, but the movie that surrounds her is not. It’s kind of a mess. The movie begins and ends with the prissy narration, but forgets it entirely otherwise. These little gimmicks only detract from a movie that’s already a bit hard to follow. It’s a modest movie about a playwright being forced to insert a happy ending into his work – which then forces a happy ending on itself, which feels completely improbable and doesn’t fit with the underlying sadness of the film’s tone. I didn’t hate this film but I cannot figure out the point of it. Only because I was hot for teacher will I generously give this a grade of C-.
Jake (Theo Taplitz) and Tony (Michael Barbieri) are two 12 year old boys who form a quick friendship when Jake’s family movies into the apartment above Tony’s Mom’s store. It’s a nice friendship for both as Jake, a budding artist, is a bit of an outsider without many friends, and Tony, an aspiring actor, has plenty of soccer buddies but not a lot of fellow artists to relate to. And it just so happens that Jake’s dad (Greg Kinnear) is an actor himself.
The friendship weathers bullying and other outside forces but takes a hit when the two families conflict. Jake’s dad Brian has just inherited this apartment when his own father died – not just the apartment, in fact, but the building, which includes Leonor’s (Tony’s mom) store. Brian’s sister is demanding her fair share, and that means increasing Leonor’s rent, which has languished very generously far below market price for years. She can’t afford to pay the higher rent and insists that Brian’s father wanted her there. Brian is pulled by his sister, who is rightfully wanting her share of the inheritance, and his wife who supports the family herself (what little acting work he gets doesn’t pay much).
The parents force this tension onto their children, trying to keep them apart, forbidding them to set foot in each other’s homes. It’s an awkward situation and one of the reasons why this film is titled Little Men: these two 12-year-olds are dealing with pretty mature issues, which is why it’s so sad and frustrating when they’re unable to be each other’s support system. It’s further heart breaking because Tony, having an absent father, was rather leaning on Brian for some fatherly advice. Jake will perhaps recover more quickly, having two loving parents, but what of Tony? It’s a question that doesn’t quite get answered but I think is worth asking.
Little Men is an interesting reminder of how economic power can poison relationships. The grown ups each believe themselves to be not just right, but righteous. Their strained politeness turns cold, then hostile. It’s a cloud that casts a dark shadow over the friendship of their sons, and that friendship is willingly sacrificed by the adults. But those adults are kept at a remove; director Ira Sachs doesn’t judge them much, he’s more interested in what the boys are going through. Their experience is somehow discounted because they are young. We, the cynical audience, watch the parents declare that they’d do anything for their kids while in reality, they flush a genuine relationship down the toilet over money and real estate.
This is my jam. A movie I can watch again and again and it never gets old. It’s well-constructed and absorbing and there’s always some small detail to catch and enjoy.
The Hoovers are having a hard time. Sheryl brings her suicidal brother Frank to her home where he’s scarcely the most damaged. Frank (Steve Carell) has just been rejected by his lover and is suffering from acute profession angst as he watches his rival in Proustian studies get recognized while his own work languishes. Sheryl (Toni Collette) takes him in but barely has a thought to spare for him, poor guy, no matter how fresh the bandages on his wrists are. Her husband Richard (Greg Kinnear) has a self-help technique for attaining success that nobody wants. He’s a loser, and his starry-eyed confidence is waning by the minute. Their teenage son Dwayne (Paul Dano) has taken a vow of silence. He can’t wait to leave his family behind to pursue his dream of becoming a pilot. Dwayne’s grandpa Edwin (Alan Arkin) has just been kicked out of his retirement residence for selling (and taking) drugs. The family’s a mess, and Sheryl’s beginning to feel emotionally bankrupt, so it’s under these circumstances that the family rallies around its youngest member, Olive (Abigail Breslin). Olive may be an unlikely candidate for the beauty pageant circuit but she’s an enthusiastic one. On a whim, the family decides to leave their troubles behind and hit the road from Albuquerque to Redondo Beach, California, in pursuit of little Olive’s dream of pageant glory.
Little Miss Sunshine is about dreams, and I guess, their inverse – illusions. This family of fuck ups needs so badly for one goddamned thing to go right. But for some of us, happiness, or contentment, needs to be found in small moments of unity. Triumph found in trying. Not everyone is a winner at life, and that’s what makes this film so funny, and so heart breaking. It’s what makes it feel real despite some increasingly absurd twists of fate.
Family dynamics are made clear to us during a long scene around a bucket of KFC. My goodness. Toni Collette has long been a favourite of mine but she’s determined with each performance to win me over again, astonishing me with her willingness to let ego go and embrace the honest dregs of each character. Steve Carell was an unknown when they cast him, and producers worried that he wasn’t famous enough to help their little movie along. But in the short time between filming and the movie’s release, Carell burst onto the scene in a star-making turn in the 40 Year Old Virgin, and then introduced himself to all of America as everyone’s favourite boss on The Office. He is quiet and introspective in Little Miss Sunshine, but his underplayed pain and ennui have a presence that take up space in the family’s forever breaking down VW bus. Little Abigail Breslin did not make her acting debut in Little Miss Sunshine (she was in 2002’s Signs) but she did become the first person born in the 90s to get a Best Supporting Actress Oscar nod for her role; she was 10 at the time. She lost but Alan Arkin won in his category. His snatching of the Oscar from Mark Wahlberg was the only one of 5 categories that The Departed lost that night.
This family’s dysfunction is perhaps a little more urgent and layered than most, but almost everyone can see a slice of their own family somewhere in this script. We laugh, we cry, we have a good time, and we leave better people because we’ve witnessed someone’s pain and empathized.