Tag Archives: grief

A Man Called Ove

There is indeed a man called Ove. He is a crotchety old man who rules his condo tenement with fierce rigidity. He’s aged out of his job and his wife has left him (well, died, but he’s such a grump I can only assume it was purposely, to escape him). I shouldn’t joke; his wife’s grave is the only time and place where he’s a little tender. Does he list her a litany of complaints? Of course he does. But only because the world’s gone to MV5BNTgzNDcxYzEtZDljOC00NDZmLTk2ZTAtOTVhM2Y1MWI1YzUyXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMDc2NTEzMw@@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,1581,1000_AL_shit without her. The only reason he hasn’t committed suicide yet is the damn neighbours, who need constant monitoring and discipline, and who else would take it upon themselves to mete it out?

It turns out that Ove has had a pretty interesting life. It’s just that no one knows it because he isolates himself, sequestered in a condo that’s still a shrine to his dead wife. It’s only because some boisterous, needy new neighbors draw him out against his will that we learn the ups and downs that have contributed to his current thorny state. If you’re feeling like this sounds a little sentimental, well, it is. But it stays just shy of saccharine thanks to a nuanced performance by Rolf Lassgård in the title role. He never lets Ove go full-martyr, he keeps the role alive and flawed and beautiful. Ove’s may not exactly be a unique character arc, but it’s charmingly irresistible in Lassgård’s hands.

The film is a little predictable but so sweetly executed that I’m finding it hard to fault it. It’s surprisingly funny at times, mixing genres fairly deftly, making for a lovely, bittersweet, and humane character study that’s a pleasure to watch.

 

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Ride

Watch Helen Hunt show her versatility by playing both The Mom and The Bitch in a single role! I’ve never been a big fan of Helen Hunt and this is not the movie to win me over. Her character is so shrill and cliched I feel a strong itch to break into a rant about the very narrow width of roles for women of a certain age in Hollywood, except here’s the awkward catch: Helen Hunt wrote it herself. She directs too. But this is not something I’d be very proud to put my name on.

Jackie (Hunt) is a New York book editor with an unhealthily codependent relationship ride_helenwith her son Angelo (Brenton Thwaites), an aspiring writer just out of high school. He’s not too keen on post-secondary education, and when he fucks off to California for the summer (where his dad lives, and the waves beckon), she irrationally follows. Is young Angelo happy to have his Mommy along on his big independent adventure? No he is not. So to prove how cool she is, Jackie takes up surfing. When stubbornness alone isn’t quite enough, she reluctantly takes lessons from Ian (Luke Wilson).

Ian is a chill dude, but can he help her remove the stick from her ass? And do we really need another movie about a woman who needs to be taught to unwind from a barely employed but somehow revered younger man? Fuck no. Like Hunt or dislike her as an actor, she clearly isn’t very mature as a writer. Her script is obvious and creaky. And she’s pretty uninspired as a director, taking too long to develop any sympathy for the lead character (ie, herself). And don’t get me started on the missing irony of a book editor and a writer griping and agonizing over endings, when the film in fact has none.

Ride is a crummy movie, but it might have limited use as an instructional video for middle-aged surf noobs.

August: Osage County

Truth tellers: every family has one. They say mean shit and then hide behind its being “the truth” as if no harm ever came from telling the truth. But that’s not the truth. The truth is that the truth can be painful, can be private, and can be left unsaid. And as humans with emotional intelligence and self-control, we have no excuse not to hold back. My grandmother is a truth-teller, often leaving hurt feelings in the wake of her “plain-spokenness”.  I don’t always understand what has kept my grandparents together for 66 years (well, okay, probably Catholicism, and good old fashioned not believe in divorce), but my grandmother is not a pill-popper and my grandfather is not a suicidal alcoholic. So there’s that.

When Bev (Sam Shepard) goes missing, his wife Violet (Meryl Streep) rallies the troops. Daughter Ivy (Julianne Nicholson) is already there, always there, but it’s favoured daughter Barb (Julia Roberts) who really matters, who will make everything better when she arrives.

Favourites: every family has these too. Maybe it’s the one who reminds you most of yourself, or maybe the complete opposite. And maybe it changes over time, favouring the best achiever, and then the one who produces the most grandchildren, and then favouring the one who sticks closest to home. There isn’t always a rhyme or reason but we do seem to agree that we must never, ever admit it out loud. But your kids know, just the same as you knew it of your parents. It’s the way of life. Most people are just pretty good at being diplomatic about it.

Violet’s not. Violet’s pretty nasty about it. Ivy is the good one, but Barb is the favourite. Karen (Juliette Lewis) doesn’t really even figure, but it’s mostly nice when she shows up. And she does show up eventually, because her father’s bloated body is fished out of the river and now it’s not his disappearance they’re dealing with, it’s his death. The dynamic between the sisters is fragile, and with Violet twisted with grief and pills, she lets her truth flag fly. And you know how gets caught in the crossfire? Everyone.

The passing on of pain: Violet and her sister Mattie Fae (Margo Martindale) were abused by their mother. Violet is so self-righteous about her own pain that she can’t fathom the pain she causes others, or she doesn’t think it rates. Violet is cruel to her daughters, and Mattie Fae can’t seem to stand her son Charles (Benedict Cumberbatch). That’s the way abuse works, it trickles down the generations. Is Barb messing up her own daughter, Jean (Abigail Breslin)? She’s suffering too.

Family secrets: What’s a family without its secrets? Maybe secrets are the cement that hold us all together. Only Ivy and Charles know they’re in love, despite being cousins. Only Mattie Fae knows that Ivy and Charles aren’t cousins, they’re siblings. Only Barb and her husband (Ewan McGregor) know they’re separated. Only the devoted nursemaid knows what Karen’t fiance is trying to do with Barb’s young daughter. And only Violet knows that Bev’s death was actually a suicide.

You’ve got to have nerves of steel to get through August: Osage County. The family drama is raw as fuck. But Meryl Streep and Julia Roberts put in incredibly strong performances amid a top-notch cast that never puts so much as a baby toe wrong. It’s note perfect, it’s just not pretty. A lifetime of pain is more poisonous than all the pills in the world. This film, based on a brilliant play by Tracy Letts, is a force.

 

 

Wild Oats

Eva is a grieving widow who doesn’t even get through her husband’s funeral before her daughter is reminding her of unpaid hospital bills and a home that isn’t worth much before significant sprucing. So can we really blame her when she cashes the 50K insurance cheque even though it’s accidentally made out for 5 million? Nope!

Eva (Shirley MacLaine) vanishes into the night with her friend Maddie (Jessica Lange), their eyes set on a luxury resort in Spain. Maddie is sick, her days numbered, and her Wild-Oats_poster_goldposter_com_2-702x336husband’s just left her for a secretary a fraction of her age. Eva’s been caring for her sick husband for a long time, so washes away her guilty feelings with generous dosages of mojitos and embraces the mistake, determined to live it up. These two chiquitas have nothing to lose so it’s all blackjack and boy toys until a) a dashing Billy Connolly enters the picture and b) the fuzz are on their tail. Well, not so much the fuzz as the insurance company trying to reclaim their losses, but you get the picture.

Is this a brilliant movie? No it isn’t. It’s kind of like Going In Style for old biddies, an adventure for senior citizens that’s exactly as predictable as you’d think. Lange and MacLaine are ludicrously charming but they deserve better material. They’re able to polish a few pieces of coal into diamonds thanks to their professionalism and gung-ho spirit, but for every high, there’s a low. I found it a perfectly inoffensive time-waster, but this movie will really only appeal to people who always wondered what How Stella Got Her Groove back would be like if Stella was an 84 year old white lady.

 

 

Asshole Ethics 101: would you cash the cheque, or report it?

 

Everything, Everything

Are you a teenage girl? Or perhaps you simply have the taste in movies of one (Twilight, The Fault In Our Stars, Before I Fall)? If so, you can confidently add this movie to your lineup. For everyone else: keep moving.

It ain’t bad, it’s just not that good. It’s about a young woman, Maddy (Amandla Stenberg), who has SCID, a disease that basically renders her immune system void. She has to stay in her sterile home just to stay alive. She has never left it. It’s a sad and sheltered existence without outside contact except for her mother and her nurse, Carla, and what she can observe from her window. When a cute boy (Olly, Nick Robinson) moves in next door, it widens her world by a tiny margin, but only makes her feel more keenly for what she’s missing.

MV5BMTU5ODEzNTI4N15BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwODU1MTQzMjI@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,1498,1000_AL_Their love story unfolds slowly, as it must when one person is physically removed from the other. In the novel they communicate by text or instant messaging. To make that play a little less boring on screen, director Stella Meghie imagines them within the architectural models that Maddy’s always working on. It’s a device that works while still reminding us that these conversations don’t actually take place in a face-to-face reality. Still, it’s a talk-heavy, plot-light movie that doesn’t move around too much. If you aren’t swooning over Olly’s too-long-locks, you’re probably going to find this long.

As you might guess, this relationship prompts Maddy to consider going outside for the first time in her life. She’ll be risking her tenuous health and the sharp disapproval of her overprotective mother. But what else is young love for, if not rebellion?

Anyway. As you know, Hollywood only thinks teenagers are good for two things: romance with vampires, and death. Or at least they’re only profitable doing one of those two MV5BM2UwNDlhNmUtOWRiYi00MzgzLWFiMzEtMDE2MWE2NWY0MzMxXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNTkxOTY3MDY@._V1_things. Amandla Stenberg is very charming as Maddy, the brave, beautiful, but socially awkward girl next door trapped in a glass castle. She succumbs to the kind of romantic gestures no teenage boy would be caught doing and only a young-adult novelist could dream up. There’s some major eye-rolling to be had in this movie, and it starts rather early, when Olly first appears in his driveway, tossing his luscious locks in the unfiltered sunlight, shooting his pretty neighbour a cocksure grin while showing off on his skateboard. I was so sure he was about to eat it, and truthfully hoping he would, that it set a really weird tone to the movie for me. I guess my lusty teenage days are too far behind me. Your enjoyment of this movie will depend on the calculation between yourself and your own misspent youth.

One Week And A Day

When Eyal and Vicky Spivak finish the week of mourning for their son, their grief is a gulf between them. Vicky is ready to launch back into the comfort routine but Eyal seems lost, stuck, and unsure of how to proceed, or why. His stealthy rescue of a bag of medicinal pot from his son’s hospice room leads to a form of mourning unlike any other you’ve seen on the screen before.

In an odd way,  One Week And A Day is a comedy about grief. After a hilarious montage of Eyal’s inept failure to roll a proper joint, he recruits the young neighbour next door MV5BZmE0NGJjYzItOTExNy00ODI3LTljOWYtNWQ1NmMyN2NiZjU0XkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNjA5NjAzMjI@._V1_SX1776_CR0,0,1776,960_AL_(an old friend of his son’s) and the two of them roll their way through grief and loss. Vicky is as disapproving as you might imagine, but she’s not exactly smoothly sailing through this period either. Her grief is just as bumbling, if more sober.

Turns out the neighbour, Zooler (Tomor Kapon), is an aspiring air guitarist, and his quirky, oddball demeanor is just what the doctor ordered, maybe not just for Eyal (Shai Avivi), but for all of us. The death of one’s child is a subject so sensitive, so awful to contemplate, that often we avoid it. Movies that dare to breach the topic are often morose and difficult to watch. In this case, writer-director Asaph Polonsky gives us reason, and permission, to smile through it. It’s a relief.

Which is not to say there isn’t something deeply emotional running under the surface. It bubbles up during a eulogy that comes late in the film, and it’s such a poignant moment that it stops you short. It gives balance to the film, and grounds us once again in reality.

Polonsky uses a wide lens to show the dynamic between Zooler, Eyal, and Vicky as the back and forth between them tends to be quite powerful. Everything in this movie feels casual and off-hand, allowing us to get closer to the subject, but this is due to careful orchestration behind the scenes. Afterward, recounting my favourite scene to Sean, tears sprung in my eyes. I hadn’t realized how moved I was by it because the movie doesn’t manipulate you into sadness. It very gently cradles you, but clearly even without the histrionics it’s capable of evoking feeling.

 

The Book of Love

Truth bomb: I came upon this movie only because my friend Justin couldn’t stand it. And he tried. I mean, he watched a full 57 minutes, sweating profusely, pausing often to debrief his pain. The cause: Maisie Williams’ uneven accent. He couldn’t hack it. He also couldn’t place it. And good friend that he is, he thought I should have the chance to crack it. Since the film is set in New Orleans, I believe Cajun is the accent she was after. And since I don’t watch Game of Thrones (and Justin does), it wasn’t quite so jarring to me. But still kind of jarring. And hers isn’t the only one.

The premise: Jason Sudeikis plays a widower who works through his grief by a) growing a beard and b) befriending a troubled teenage girl (Williams) and helping her to build a raft out of garbage which she will then use to sail to the Azores. From New Orleans. Not symbolically.

Smothered with grief or not, I think it’s mostly understood that grown-ups are not allowed to help kids with projects that will certainly kill them. Right? But let’s cut poor Jason Sudeikis some slack. We’re not just talking about a dead wife, but one of those elusive COOL wives, the ones you don’t secretly loathe. His wife (Jessica Biel) was The Shit. Through extensive flash backs we learn that she was a manic pixie dream girl, except attainable, apparently. Way better than your wife. She was never not being crazy-awesome-cool. So it stung poor Jason Sudeikis really hard, guys. Really hard. It annoyed the fuck out of me, her constant perfection.

But anyway. If you’re a better person than I (and let’s face it, you likely are), this movie is about two people finding each other when they’re each at peak hurt and need. So that’s nice. Justin Timberlake does the music, which (sorry Jessica) is probably the only reason his wife gets asked to be in anything. The title of the movie is completely nonsensical except for the fact that they do play the song of the same name at some point. My sister danced to that song at her wedding, the Peter Gabriel version anyway.

Verdict. Don’t watch if you’re sensitive about accents. Do watch if you’ve just lost your Ultra Jiggy wife and you’re looking for reckless-child-endangerment ways to get over her. For the rest of you: it’s an okay watch. It doesn’t pack the emotional punch that it probably should, but hey: finally a movie about a dead wife and an orphaned kid where the box of kleenex is unnecessary!

Tumbledown

Hannah is deep in mourning for her husband. Her grief is complicated by the many strangers who share in it; he was a folk singer of some renown, perhaps memorialized more for his mysterious and untimely death than for his single album of songs. Friends and family think Hannah should be moving on but she’s frozen, paralyzed by the stores of love she has unused. She thinks the only way to exorcise his ghost is to write his biography, but it turns out it’s hard to write about the man you’re still in love with, in awe of, and angry at, for having left you.

MV5BMzcyODA4NDA2MF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwMTE1MjU2NzE@._V1_Hannah (Rebecca Hall) has avoided fans and journalists alike but relents for Andrew (a bearded and bespectacled Jason Sudeikis), a brash professor in search of a tenure-assuring topic for his thesis. This reclusive, rarely written about musician fits the bill. And Hannah thinks working with Andrew will bolster her own writing. So they hunker down in a little cabin in the woods and set to work, pretending that their purposes aren’t at odds with each other.

I enjoyed this, the rawness of grief, the fallacy of closure, the importance of legacy, the obstacles to moving on. It felt sweet and tender. But it wasn’t spectacular. The two leads lack chemistry. And for a movie about the legend of a dead folk singer, there was a notable dearth of music. And though Hannah tells us that his death was the least interesting thing about him, we have to take her word for it, never learning much about him, not even the truth behind his sudden death. So there’s a third character who’s a third wheel in this odd romance, and he truly is a ghost. Without establishing his worth, we can’t really tell if Andrew is an adversary or a milestone in moving on. Despite Tumbledown’s themes, it makes a pretty light film – light but not necessarily easy.

 

Manchester By The Sea: Discussion

If you’re looking for a spoiler-free review of the film, please see Matt’s excellent offering. I don’t want to ruin the movie for anyone, but if you’ve seen the film, then you understand the need to discuss it. It’s deeply affecting and disturbing and it’s one of the best things I’ve seen this year.

When Lee’s brother dies, the reclusive janitor reluctantly returns to his hometown to help out with the arrangements. He’s kept there longer than expected when he’s revealed to be his nephew’s new guardian.

Casey Affleck stars as Lee, a spook more than a man, a ghost still barely among the living, haunted by his past, carrying a huge burden of guilt, grief, and regret that we can almost physically see sitting atop his slumped shoulders. His performance is really restrained, as befits an emotionally blunted character. He manages to be subtle and to find lots of power in quiet moments. His performance will almost certainly be rewarded with an Oscar nomination, if not a win. What do you think his chances are? Did you see anyone out-act him this year? And what part do you think the allegations of sexual harassment against him will play in whether or not he wins?

Lee has a new life in a new town, though it’s pretty clearly only a half-life at best, given his physical and emotional isolation. During his questioning by the police, it’s clear that Lee feels he should be punished, and directly after he tries to take his own life. While clearly still trying to punish himself, do you think Lee is still suicidal?  When he tells Patrick “I can’t beat this thing” – is he talking about depression, guilt, grief? His reputation? Or something else?

I thought the movie started off pretty slow, but looking back on it with context, I wonder if the lethargy was deliberately representative of Lee’s depression. The movie never says the D-word, but certainly exhibits all the Hallmarks: violent outbursts, hopelessness, emptiness, the inability to enjoy life or take pleasure from thinks you used to enjoy, pushing people away.

The idea for the story didn’t originate with writer-director Kenneth Lonergan: in fact, it was Matt Damon and John Krasinski who came to him with the idea and asked him to develop the script. Damon would star and direct. But conflicts with The Martian prohibited him from doing so, and they turned control of the movie over to Lonergan. Do you think Lonergan stands a chance for best screenplay, or for that matter, best director?

The script is often praised for its “masculinity” which rubs me the wrong way. I don’t think Lee’s refusal to deal with anything should be lauded in any way, and his continued self-torture isn’t exactly gender specific. But the story is told in a refreshingly sparse sort of way, where the lead character speaks only under duress, and as a little as possible. And so much is implied rather than spoken outright: the unspeakable things his ex wife said to him, the town’s rejection of him, his own struggle with addiction, his attachment to pain,  his father’s death, the legal proceedings\media scrutiny that must have surrounded his case. Was there anything you felt the film missed? Any glaring holes you needed to see filled?

Some people felt the score was sufficiently bad to pull them out of some of the movie’s most impactful scenes (the house fire, in particular). Did you notice the score being good, bad, or ugly? Were there any stand-out supporting performances for you? Did you think the nephew, Patrick, was a realistic character? He really showcases the dark humour of the film, but sometimes I thought it odd how adult he seemed for a 15 year old.

We see Patrick trying to reconnect with his mother, who seems to have sobered up and carved out some sort of life with her new conservative Christian husband. But she’s not stable. She can’t handle things not going well. What purpose do you think this subplot served? Was it jarring or distracting for you to have Matthew Broderick in the role of her husband? Did you feel sympathy for the mother?

In the scene where Patrick’s girlfriend’s Mom comes out to Lee’s car to invite him for dinner and he says no, she responds that if he changes his mind in the next 10 minutes, “we’ll all be here”. The night of the fire, Lee remembered about the fireplace grate 10 minutes into his walk. He could have changed his mind, gone home, and his wife and kids would have all still been there. But he didn’t, and that scene is such a brutal reminder. What scene was the most emotionally engaging for you?

I think when Joe makes Lee the guardian, Joe is telling him: “You’re a good dad. I trust you with my kid. It’s not your fault.” And Lee can’t handle that. It’s too much like being absolved, and Lee cannot stand to be forgiven. In some ways, the guilt might be his only connection to his girls, and he’s unwilling to give it up. He doesn’t believe he deserves a second chance. Do you think there’s any hope for Lee?

Lee’s common refrain, uttered when things get too intense, is “Can we talk about this later?” only there is no later. We never see Lee deal openly with his emotions. He never lets us in. The audience is denied closure: how well has this film sat with you? Were you able to connect with a character who is so detached?

manchester-by-the-sea-boatI noticed that in flash back scenes with the 3 Chandler men aboard the boat, there was a big white pole stretched across the back of the craft, but in more recent scenes where just Lee and Patrick take to open waters, the pole is noticeably absent. Do you think this loss of a safety net is symbolic of anything else?

I felt like the film really addressed the ways in which we can judge parents. Clearly the town blames Lee for the accident that took the lives of his children. This is hammered home when he has a close call making dinner – he passes out and wakes up to an angry fire alarm. Some may see this as further evidence of his negligence, but who among us hasn’t made a similar mistake? Either way, it seems to be a catalyst for him giving up guardianship. Maybe it’s that his own self-doubt will never abate. One mistake proved fatal to his young family, and it’s clear that society has judged him harshly for it, perhaps because it makes us feel more insulated from our own mistakes. What really slapped me in the face though was when Lee is trying to make awkward conversation with Patrick’s girlfriend’s mother. I think she knows what is most likely going on in her daughter’s bedroom and she says something like “At least we know where they are.” Lee, however, knows damn well that kids are not necessarily safer in their own homes. No wonder he couldn’t get the conversation back on track. Even the most banal things paralyze him with fear. Remember how he overreacts when his nephew tries to exit the truck at the hospital when Lee thought he was meant to drive off? He admits that he just “gets scared” and his mind immediately goes to the worst possible scenario. In part, parenting often means confronting those fears. We try to keep our children safe but have to come to terms with the fact that we won’t always be there. Lee could have changed his mind just 10 minutes into his walk; 30 minutes later, his kids were dead. When he gets the phone call about his brother, he rushes to the hospital only to discover that Joe died an hour ago. He didn’t make it back on time. He wasn’t there. He couldn’t save him. There are so many near misses. But his reaction here is so real and raw. Do you think this sets the tone for the film? Does it foreshadow some of the later revelations?

One thing that I found very profound and very interesting is that the movie levels diseases. Three main characters suffer from disease: Kyle Chandler’s character from congenital heart disease, Casey Affleck’s from depression, and Gretchen Mol’s from addiction. None of them can “beat it.” But just as in real life, sympathy is usually only given to physical illness, whereas mental illness is stigmatized, and certainly here Joe is practically remembered as a saint whereas the other two are vilified.

We’re used to happy endings, or at least hopeful ones, but this one does little to console us. The ending is a bit abrupt, and just as bleak as the rest of the movie. Lee has sentenced himself to returning to the prison cell he’s built for himself. The only difference is that now he’s maybe possibly open to visitation. But could it have ended any other way?

 

In addition to discussing these points in the comments, feel free to ask your own questions, and to link to your own reviews.

 

 

The Descendants

Matt King’s family has lived in Hawaii for generations. He and his numerous cousins own 25,000 acres of undeveloped land on Kauai held in trust, which ends seven years hence. It makes sense to most to just sell the land, speculation of which has featured prominently in island gossip – after all, to whom they sell could literally change the face of Kauai.

Matt (George Clooney) is a humble enough guy, choosing to live on his attorney’s salary rather than on the wealth that comes with being a land owner. However, his perfect Hawaiian life is a ruse. His rocky marriage is 2011_the_descendants_006surviving only because of his wife’s coma. His 17 year old daughter Alex (Shailene Woodley) has been sent off to boarding school due to bad behavior but she returns as her mother is declared brain dead to reveal the nature of the fight she’d had with her mother. It’s all a lot more than Matt feels he can handle, especially now that he’s effectively a single parent.

It’s a satisfying movie about the messiness of life, beautifully filmed on location around Hawaii.

In  1992, Hurricane Iniki tore apart many chicken coops on Kauai that housed birds used for cockfighting. By the time The Descendants went into production, there were thousands of feral chickens roaming the island. In the Kauai scenes, chickens are sometimes seen wandering through the shot. Sometimes the crew had to shoo chickens away before a take. Animators observed the same thing when they were working on Moana, which is why her sidekick is a rooster named Heihei.

Matt decides that he’d rather not sell the land.  “We didn’t do anything to own this land, it was entrusted to us,” and if they sell it, “something we were supposed to protect is gone.” Perhaps losing his wife reminds him of the importance of a family’s legacy. Certainly the film gently reminds us of the land’s fate should it be sold to a developer: contrasting the rolling green hills, we also see condos and golf courses and resorts-in-progress.

The movie fails to engage in a meaningful way about what it means that Matt’s family – “haole as shit” (a derogatory term for white immigrants) – owns so much Hawaiian land. It’s still not as bad as Aloha, a movie about Hawaii featuring an all-star cast of white people.

Sean and I are in Hawaii and on the lookout for feral chickens as we speak.