Tag Archives: grief

TIFF18: American Woman

At first glance, Deb (Sienna Miller) is all-too-easily dismissed. She’s a former teen mom turned grandmother at 31. She’s a mistress whose hot date turns out to be a trip to a sleazy motel room, where she is handed a plastic bag containing either dollar store lingerie or a slutty devil halloween costume (same difference, really). The next morning, we see that she is waking up alone in her own bed, suggesting the motel room was paid by the hour.

At that point, we’re about five minutes into American Woman, and you’re ready to write Deb off.

But don’t. Don’t you dare.

AmericanWoman_02Because Deb is worth more than she even knows, which she stars to discover after her daughter fails to come home one night after a date with her basement-dwelling baby daddy.  A loved one’s disappearance must be life-shattering. Miller lets us see the dissapearance’s drastic effects on Deb in such a restrained and measured way that Deb’s resulting character growth is organic, believable, and most impressively, almost invisible at first. Deb’s evolution is captivating, and the Deb we know by the end of the movie is at once the same core character and a woman whose outlook and attitude have evolved beyond anything I could have ever expected.

I cannot overstate the magnificence of Sienna Miller’s performance in American Woman. She is magnetic and conveys a mix of strength and vulnerability that is as authentic a performance as I can remember. And while Miller is the standout, he excellence is almost always matched by the rest of the cast, including Christina Hendricks as Deb’s sister, Amy Madigan as Deb’s mom, and Mad TV’s Will Sasso as Deb’s brother-in-law. Deb is rightly the focal point but it’s great that the strong supporting characters each get the chance to shine.

The gauntlet thrown down by the cast’s fantastic performances is picked up by those behind the camera, and they are up to the task. Brad Ingelsby’s script is smarter than it has any right to be, discarding obvious answers on a regular basis, and showing off by giving effortless depth to secondary and tertiary characters (including turning an obvious villain into an earnest guy deserving of our sympathy). Director Jake Scott uses care and moderation rather than flash and sensationalism, particularly in a crucial scene at the film’s climax, proving beyond any doubt that less is more. Scott consistently makes brilliant choices even in small details, such as by using visuals and settings to indicate the passage of time, rather than title cards.

The result of all of this individual brilliance, naturally, is a standout character study that can hold its own against anything that TIFF18 has to offer (which I can say with certainty since I saw If Beale Street Could Talk and Roma on either side of it). American Woman is as smart, rewarding and satisfying a cinematic experience as anyone could ask for, making for a film that you absolutely do not want to miss.

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TIFF18: Papi Chulo

Sean the weatherman has a meltdown on the air, so he’s sent home for some mandatory personal time off. His partner left him recently, and left a large, unpainted circle on their deck to boot. Pretty, soft-hands Sean (Matt Bomer) is out of his element in the hardware store. He buys the paint with help but the actual painting doesn’t go well, so the next day he trolls the lineup of available day workers and brings home Ernesto.

Ernesto (Alejandro Patiño) doesn’t speak English and Sean doesn’t speak Spanish. Odd couple alert!

The thing about this movie is, it sounds pretty light and predictable. And it is. But that doesn’t do it justice, because in fact it was one of my favourite movies at the festival. And maybe that’s because 90% of the movies I saw were depressing as shit and this one comes with a hint of optimism. But it’s the movie that I needed without knowing I needed it, and I felt like a life line.MV5BMTg1ODNhODQtMTQ3YS00OTY4LTk2OGItZDExZTNiM2VlMWU5XkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNTQ1MTYzNzY@._V1_

 

Poor Sean. His friends and coworkers see him floundering and all agree that he needs to talk to someone, but to Sean, the act of doing so is the same as admitting that he’s alone and things are bad. He can’t. But he does find himself opening up to Ernesto. Ernesto who continues to be paid $20 an hour for “painting” finds himself hiking the canyons instead, and posing for Instagram pics. Although it looks like friendship, Sean is using Ernesto in at least 2 strange ways:

 

  1. As a therapist. A therapist who is easy to talk to because he can’t understand him, thus there is no fear of judgement.
  2. As a replacement boyfriend. Sean has Ernesto doing couple-y things, like renting a boat to row around the lake, and going to parties where he lets everyone assume they’re dating.

It’s not a great pretext for a relationship of any kind, but it’s done with such sweetness from both sides it’s hard to condemn…until it inevitably escalates. But your heart aches because on some level we all understand this awkward reaching out, the inability to call it what it really is, the denial and the loss that motivates it.

Matt Bomer is very vulnerable in this, he teeters between faux-cheeriness and complete abandon and at times we’re scared for him because he feels like our friend and we see him spinning out. Alejandro Patiño is great too – the perfect mix of skeptical and concerned. I love these two together so much that I don’t want the movie to end. I don’t want Sean to get better, to outgrow a friendship I understand is toxic for him. This movie makes me selfish because it has entertained me and sustained my soul during a dark day of movie watching. Papi Chulo is a huggable movie, perfect for watching in bed with a big bag of pretzels.

The Cakemaker

One day, a handsome man named Oren walks into Thomas’s German bakery, looking for cake and coffee, and possibly a gift suggestion for his  young son. By the end of the day, Oren and Thomas are lovers, but their affair must be put on hold as Oren returns to Jerusalem to see his son and wife. A month, he tells Thomas as he walks reluctantly out the door, trying to make it sound insubstantial. One month.

Only Oren never does return, and Thomas’s calls go unanswered. There’s been an accident in Jerusalem, and Oren was killed. He isn’t coming back, to Thomas or to anyone. Grief-stricken, Thomas travels to Israel to feel close again to his ex-lover, MV5BZWRjODFhZGYtYzI4NC00M2M0LWI4MmQtZjQ4ODk5ZWIwNjQzXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNTUwNDQ4NQ@@._V1_SX1777_CR0,0,1777,744_AL_wrapping himself up in the city where he last knew he was alive, and he finds himself in the cafe of Oren’s widow, Anat. Thomas (Tim Kalkhof) takes solace by inhabiting different aspects of his dead lover’s life, and it’s not long before he’s helping out in Anat’s cafe, and erm, doing other things for Anat (Sarah Adler) besides. Of course, Anat is unaware of the relationship her husband had with Thomas, so it’s only her grief pushing her into Thomas’s strong but unfamiliar arms.

The Cakemaker is slow and deliberate. It feels a bit like a recipe, with ingredients lovingly chosen and carefully measured, and everything kneaded together with slow, sensuous strokes. There are no surprise ingredients, but the way they’re blended makes for a very interesting movie, equal parts delicate and passionate. Writer-director Ofir Raul Graizer stirs his creation in a way which suggests that our identities, religious, political, sexual, whatever, they’re fluid. And grief is complicated. It’s sad of course, because love is inevitably sad, but it’s the journey more than the destination, the story of survival, the getting there, and the rest is just cake crumbs.

 

 

The Cakemaker screens as part of the Toronto Jewish Film Festival and if you’re lucky, you can catch it tonight, May 9, 8:30pm, at the Cineplex Cinemas Empress Walk 9.

Humor Me

Nate, a prize-winning playwright, has been writing his most recent play for the last four years. When his wife leaves him, taking his adorable son and his ability to pay rent with her, he’s forced to do the thing he’s always sworn he’d never do – move in with his father, who lives in a retirement community called Cranberry Bog.

Of course, Bob (Elliott Gould) thinks his son is a lazy, stagnant fool who’s wasting his Harvard education, so he puts him to work fluffing and folding towels in the Cranberry Bog laundry. And Nate’s talents are further wasted by producing a portion of a musical number with the local community players, ie, old ladies who are unequal parts cranky humor-me-stilland horny. Nate (Jemaine Clement) would like to reconnect with his father, but the two have been distant since the death of Nate’s mother – and he was always closest to her. Other people think Bob is very funny, but since his answers to all of Nate’s very serious questions are always jokes, the two men remain separate in their grief.

I have loved Clement since his days on Flight of the Conchords. His performance in Humor Me is more grounded in reality than usual, infusing this sad-sack with some quirks and personality tics that give Nate some real warmth. Of course, I have loved Elliott Gould for much, much longer, and his diverse professional background is evident in every line, not all of which are truly worthy of him, but he never lets them down. In fact, I’d say the casting and performances in this film are its greatest asset. Ingrid Michaelson, Maria Dizzia, Priscilla Lopez, Joey Slotnick, Willie Carpenter, Le Clanché du Rant, Rosemary Prinz, Annie Potts, and Bebe Neuwirth fill in the gaps between Bob and Nate, creating a living, breathing community not easily conveyed through film.

Humor Me manages a delicate balance that often errs on the side of comedy. It’s light, and if it’s not exactly fresh, it has a lot of talent backing up the retreads.

 

 

Humor Me is screening at the Toronto Jewish Film Festival tonight, 8pm, at the Cineplex Cinemas Empress Walk 5, and May 10, 9pm, at Hot Docs Ted Rogers Cinema. Check it out, and bring your dad.

 

The Hollars

I’m really struggling to write this review. I’m even struggling to tell you why I’m struggling with the writing. The thing is, I quite liked the movie, liked it a lot for a movie that is perhaps not meant to be ‘liked.’

It’s about a family that comes together awkwardly when things go bad. Matriarch Sally (Margo Martingale) falls ill – a tumor in her brain requires surgery. Her husband Don (Richard Jenkins) thought symptoms including numb extremities and partial blindness were due to her weight, and sent her to Jenny Craig. Their son Ron (Sharlto Copley) has just been fired from the family business where his dad was his boss, and is living in his parents’ basement. John (John Krasinski) leaves his job and pregnant girlfriend (Anna Kendrick) to be by his mother’s side but it’s immediately obvious why this family doesn’t come together more often. The dynamic is a MV5BMjIwMTEzNjY3OV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNjg2OTY1OTE@._V1_SX1500_CR0,0,1500,999_AL_little…sticky. And perhaps in the days before a serious surgery, The Hollars could use a little less hollering and a lot more making amends.

You’ll already have noticed that this movie has a super stellar cast, and everyone’s acting like their jobs depend on it (haha – movie joke). But this could easily have just felt a little light-handed and a little familiar, but between writer Jim Strouse and director Krasinski, they manage to keep it light but not superficial.

What I adored about the film is its characters – every single one flawed. And yet even Don is sympathetic, perhaps not caring for his wife as he should but absolutely terrified of life without her. These people feel real. I feel like I’ve sat in waiting rooms with them. Crises do not bring out the best in them. They still do the wrong thing and say the wrong thing and they don’t have picture-perfect moments around the old hospital bed. Real life doesn’t work like that, and neither does this movie.

So that’s what I liked about The Hollars: the connection. Somehow it opened a creaky door to my dusty heart and beamed a bittersweet chunk of real life straight in. Dysfunction doesn’t magically iron itself out just because someone has a brush with death, but in hospitals round the globe you’ll see families trying their best to muddle through, putting on brave faces, eating vending machine junk food instead of dinner, navigating the complicated familial fault lines of in-laws and exes, making good decisions and bad decisions, wiping away secret tears, hassling doctors, re-reading the same page of a magazine twice, three times. It’s what we do. It’s not particularly dignified or graceful or entertaining, and it’s not usually the stuff movies are made of. But once in a while they sneak one through, and it’s how we know we are not alone, that other people look just as bad in bathrobes, that other families have embarrassing conflicts, that other sons have survived seeing their mothers vulnerable and scared, and lived to tell the tale.

Dude

I’m glad that teenage girls are finally having their moment as three dimensional characters in film. Shopping and boys, that was the John Hughes model. Teenage boys were the hunters and girls their prey, and it’s taken until 2018 to flip the script, first with Blockers, which dared to show young women actually in charge of their own sexuality. Dude follows in its footsteps.

Lily (Lucy Hale) and her friends are in their last year of high school. That’s all that I knew going into this film that recently popped up on Netflix. That, and they were stoners. Not promising, I thought. So colour me surprised when, in between masturbating and getting high, they made friends with me.

Amelia (Alexandra Shipp), Chloe (Kathryn Prescott), and Rebecca (Awkwafina) have MV5BMTk5MDk1NTQ0NF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwMjM4ODk5MzI@._V1_been super tight as far back as they can remember, and can hardly envision a future that doesn’t include each other – like, on a daily, hourly basis. So the ultimate theme of this movie is not so unusual: it’s letting go. Letting go in more ways than one, sure, but it’s not exactly groundbreaking stuff.

But what is remarkable is the depth to the characters and the way the script (by director Olivia Milch) refuses to infantilize them. These ladies are EMPOWERED. Their virginity isn’t idolized. They can smoke pot AND be valedictorian. These girls are me (like 4 minutes ago, when I was in high school). Portraying young women as they are shouldn’t feel so monumental, so brave, but it is. This may be how lots of girls act, but it’s not how society wants to see them, and so we don’t. We pretend that girls don’t want these things because it threatens the status quo.

The cast is good, with Awkwafina being a particular stand out for me: I’m crushing hard. And I can’t wait to see literally everything Milch does for the rest of her life. But most of all I’m just kind of feeling all puffy-chested that a movie like this can finally exist. And that you can still find diamonds amongst the usual Netflix coal. And that someone, somewhere, is willing to take a risk on a movie like this.

 

Wind River

Cory is a seasoned tracker with the Fish and Wildlife service in Wind River Reservation. He hunts predators. But when he comes across the frozen body of a young woman in the snow, he gets conscripted by FBI agent Jane to help in her investigation. The cause of death hasn’t officially been listed as a homicide, but no one runs 6 miles barefoot into Wyoming’s snowy, sub-zero mountains unless she’s being chased by something REAL bad. Jane (Elizabeth Olsen) is suspicious, and Cory (Jeremy Renner) has some unresolved grief, so the two team up to uncover some very unsavoury things going on in this small community.

Avengers: Infinity War opens in theatres in just a couple of weeks. No, I haven’t randomly started writing a second review. It’s just that Sean and I have been cramming for the upcoming film by watching the Avengers back catalogue which means we’ve seen a lot of Olsen (known in the MCU as the Scarlet Witch) and Renner (Hawkeye) team up inside-movie-wind-river-renner-2-3-2cc2cc20-bc30-440c-88f6-1f5fdf320875an awful lot lately. Now here they are shivering the frigid scrub of one of the largest but least populated states in the country. Wind River Rez is served by a minuscule tribal police force – there are more Avengers than cops in Wind River. Well, that’s not saying as much as it used to, the Avengers continue to recruit to the point that they don’t all fit on the same poster anymore. But the Wind River cops you can count on one hand.

Anyway, Elizabeth Olsen has worn the wrong colour jacket in this one, so without her super powers, Jane’s restricted to good old fashioned detecting, and without much backup. Good thing Cory has no badge and no scruples – his methods are brutal, maybe, but the nature of the crimes here are so heinous they never seem out of bounds.

Writer-director Taylor Sheridan astonishes once again. His style, in many ways, is commendably economical. Every word and shot that makes it to the final cut is necessary but it never feels sparse. It just effectively delivers on the thrill inherent in the premise. The chill is bone-deep, it’s emotional, it’s felt not just seen. Sheridan wants you to experience both the snow and the silence the area is known for. Navigated by Renner’s casual competence, you’ll want to stick to this protagonist for shelter and protection. But there’s a psychological depth here so significant you’ll need snowshoes just to survive.

Yes, this is bleak stuff, but it’s also reality for the Indian tribes who live on and around Wind River. Every day, Indigenous women and girls go missing or are murdered and our law does very little about it. Sheridan paints a careful portrait of the power plays at work, and if bearing witness is the least we can do, then watch.