Tag Archives: mother-son relationships

TIFF18: Ben Is Back

Ben is back. Believe the title. It’s Christmas Eve and Holly (Julia Roberts) has been out and about with her kids, running last-minute holiday preparations. But when she pulls in to her driveway, her eyes light up. Her Christmas wish has come true: eldest son Ben (Lucas Hedges) is back. He’s been away at rehab, and so has a piece of her heart. What a wonderful thing to have him back, to have her precious family all together for the holiday. But her happiness is tempered. It’s obvious without her saying so that she doesn’t quite trust him, that he’s given her lots of reasons not to.

MV5BMTgxMTk0MDgyMl5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNTI1MzkxNjM@._V1_SX1500_CR0,0,1500,999_AL_Her teenage daughter is skeptical, but her husband Neal (Courtney B. Vance) is downright wary. Not only has he also put up with Ben’s ups and downs, he’s been the one putting his family back together afterward. But with Ben’s sponsor’s blessing, they come up with some boundaries and agree that Ben can stay for 24 hours of holiday magic and memories.

Well, there will be memories. Just not the cozy ones Holly was hoping for. This is what addictions are really about. About how they make a whole family sick. About the lies and the broken promises. But it’s also about a mother and her boundless love. About how she is afraid to enable him and afraid not to. Afraid of the danger and the toll and the consequences, but mostly afraid to lose him – lose him to drugs, lose him by pushing him away. So she jumps off the cliff alongside him. So now, instead of a sweet Christmas reunion, we’ve got a sketchy, seedy, underground drug movie. Holly’s concerned family at home remind us what the consequences are.

There were lots of movies about addiction at TIFF this year. Beautiful Boy was similar in theme – it too is told more from the parent’s perspective but its content is totally different. Steve Carell stays at home and frets for his son’s safety – the horror is in not knowing whether he’s alive or dead, in anticipating that phone call. For Julia Roberts, the horror is watching it all happen, finally understanding the extent of her son’s problems but still feeling just as helpless. Roberts is fucking fantastic in the role. Ben Is Back is heart breaking and intense. It is further proof that we still don’t know the best way to help an addict, and lord have mercy on any parent who has to learn that first hand.

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Chef Flynn

Flynn McGarry, 15 in the documentary, has been “cheffing” since he was 10. I’m not talking about peanut butter toast, this kid is the real deal, sourcing ingredients most people wouldn’t recognize as food, preparing it in ambitious ways, plating it with finicky precision to detail. His mother Megan, once a film documentarian herself, has no shortage of home video of his meteoric rise to culinary stardom, and this film uses that footage liberally. We see him hosting a 12-course “supper club” for family friends in his home at age 13, with a kitchen full of children to do his bidding, and transitioning to professional pop-up restaurants in New York, with trained staff underneath him, just a few short years later.

Chef Flynn is replete with food porn sure to make foodies happy, but this documentary doesn’t exactly focus on the culinary side of things. Instead, director article-2269130-1733455C000005DC-923_634x422Cameron Yates focuses on the unusual relationship between mother and son. Meg McGarry allowed her son to drop out of school to focus on his passion. Now, nearing 16, he’s ready to move away to pursue his career. As a mother, we see helicoptering, permissiveness, indulgence, and an incredible amount of creative nurturing. But we also find a woman who has lost herself in her son’s shadow. Pursuant of her son’s great passions, she’s forgotten hers, and now that he’s ready to leave her behind, what will become of her?

Yates shows a little of the familial friction but that’s as far as he’s willing to go. This is otherwise about as thoughtful as any home video: with almost no input from outside the family, it’s hard to judge how good Flynn really is, or what place he has among top chefs. Plenty of pro chefs balk about even calling him a chef, but we never get to hear from the opposition. I think his talent and enthusiasm are in earnest, but the truth is, this is a privileged white kid whose parents indulged his whims and bought him his biggest dreams. His childhood bedroom housed more high-end appliances than my grown-up kitchen. He hasn’t paid any dues. He didn’t have to work for this. Chef Flynn is interesting, but it’s a one-sided story, all sweet with no salt, which any chef should know makes for a boring meal.

The Book of Henry

Henry (Jaeden Lieberher) is the smartest, most responsible 11 year old you’ll ever meet. He takes care of his little brother Peter (Jacob Tremblay) in the schoolyard and he takes care of his single mother Susan (Naomi Watts) financially. I mean, she’s got the income, but he’s the financial planner. He even wants to take care of the girl next door who he thinks may be abused by her stepfather, Glenn (Dean Norris). Henry’s heart is as big as his IQ, and he challenges everyone around him to be their best, which can be a lot to live up to if you’re Henry’s little brother, or worse, his mother.

Anyway, Henry is a force of nature and he’s determined to do right by his next door the-book-of-henry1neighbour, Christina. She’s silent on the subject, but he’s seen the bruises and feels compelled to act, even if the adults in his life won’t. His moral compass is ginormous. It’s tricky, though, because Glenn is the police commissioner and may be too powerful to touch. Henry makes careful plans.

But what if an eleven year old boy can’t actually carry them out? His mother finds his notebook and is guilted, and perhaps guided by said compass, to act upon it.

This film was not well-received by critics but was for the most part enjoyed by audiences, including myself. It’s directed by Colin Trevorrow, kind of a departure since he’d previously directed Jurassic World, and is the co-writer of Star Wars: Episode IX. In its way, with its modest budget, The Book of Henry also bears the marks of Trevorrow’s childlike fascination. Henry may be precocious, but there’s a sense of wonder to the movie that’s quite appealing. But it’s also an ambitious movie; its shifts in tone startling at times, and perhaps not always successful.

The characters are inconsistently realistic and their actions even more so, but some terrific performances go a long way to grounding those characters. Naomi Watts is playing an imperfect but loving mother; I don’t know from where she draws inspiration, but she gives Susan a believable base, hard as that may be. Jacob Tremblay has a meatier role than just kid brother but he’s more than equal to the task. He’s already proven he’s more than just an adorable face. Jaeden Lieberher (you know him from St Vincent, and Midnight Special) as Henry has the hardest job of all. Henry is brilliant (he prefers precocious) but he is still a kid, after all, so he has to be steadfast, confident, but still vulnerable. This script asks a lot of its actors and in some ways the cast is what this movie gets most right.

The Book of Henry crosses genres, and that’s its weakness. There’s a silliness that sometimes dilutes the tension. I don’t mind a movie reaching beyond its limits, but this one doesn’t seem to have a firm destination in mind. What movie did you mean to be? I’m not sure. But I still enjoyed it on the whole, even while mentally noting all thing things I could have done better myself.

Kidnap

If you’ve ever seen the film Taken and thought: this is cool and all, but I wish Liam Neeson was a soccer mom. Or, if you’ve ever seen Tom Hardy in Locke and thought: I like movies about people driving, but couldn’t there also be a child’s life at stake? Well, stop yer yammering, I’ve got something really exciting for you. Mind you, Kidnap is only exciting for those very specific individuals who put their hands up earlier. For everyone else, this is a generic movie at best.

Halle Berry plays the soccer mom who takes her eyes off her son for just one itty bitty minute and POOF! – he disappears. Only his kidnappers are just barely proficient so Halle Berry actually sees her son being stuffed into the back of a stranger’s car, and like Kidnap-movie-Halle-Berryany angry mama bear she takes off on a parking lot tear, totally prepared to outrun the car if only she can, but of course she can’t. So she hops behind the wheel of her trusty mini van and the world’s slowest, most meandering, and good lord most repetitive chase begins.

Halle Berry doesn’t have her cell phone so her only means of contacting the outside world for help is to drive erratically and hope that a cop will notice that something’s amiss. She’s pretty sure that every other missing child just wasn’t loved enough by his or her parents so she’s going to break the mold by putting the law into her own hands, which are white-knuckled on the steering wheel for a good 80% of the movie.

Halle Berry is good, even when she’s spouting cringe-worthy lines from a tired, uninterested script, she’s nothing short of panicky, breathless, desperate.  Her character goes through quite an ordeal as you can imagine, but the film’s 84 minutes feel like an ordeal for the audience as well. We must endure hardships together. But since you have a choice, let me help you make the informed decision: Kidnap is derivative, predictable, and horribly cliched. The only positive thing I have to say is I was grateful not to find the story encumbered by secondary roles, subplots, or a character development. The movie stays true to its one-word title. And then they beat you over the head with it.

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.

SXSW: Dara Ju

Seyi has a good life: he’s handsome, Harvard-educated, has a great job on Wall Street, and a budding new relationship. You might assume that this Nigerian immigrant is living the American Dream, but things are actually much more complicated than that. His family places heavy demands on his time, his money, his emotional well-being. His mother guilts him with “Family sticks together” while holding her hand out. So he lies about his family to his new girlfriend, who suspects something’s up and doesn’t appreciate his reticence. Wall Street comes with enormous pressure to achieve, and snorting drugs turns out to not be enough in terms of keeping up, so Seyi eyes up some more nefarious options. And then there’s, you know, racism in the air, because it doesn’t pass you by just because you wear a fancy suit to work. Safe to say his plate’s heaped really high and nothing is turning out the way he thought. Ooof.

MV5BYWUxZGVkYTgtNWUxNi00Y2ZjLTk2NDctYTYwN2RmYTczNjdkL2ltYWdlXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMDY5NzA2Ng@@._V1_Aml Ameen is enormously good as Seyi. Not all of the cast is as strong as this, but I also really enjoyed Michael Hyatt, who plays his mother. There is dysfunction, drama, and heartbreak between the two and I could have watched a whole movie just about their dynamic. In fact, this movie would be improved had it narrowed its focus just a little. Seyi’s burdens are great but they result in a lot of sub-plots that aren’t well-served in a 90 minute run time. That said, I can’t believe this is writer-director Anthony Onah’s first feature film. He’s already got a polished style that belies a lot of talent. Onah is also a Nigerian-born Harvard grad, so his script is informed if a little busy.

Onah explained that Dara Ju means “Better”, and is meant as a nod to the immigrant’s aspirations. Certainly this dichotomy between ambition and obligation is what’s most interesting about Dara Ju. As much as Seyi embraces his American life, his family will always tie him back to the homeland. This is a fascinating look at the immigrant experience and it’s a bold first work from a soon to be famous director.

Short Film: Where You Are

A young mother continually loses her son to time and to space. It sounds like sci-fi but it’s actually a bittersweet testament to childhood flying by. Each moment, each stage is gone so quickly, and we see it all through this woman’s parental panic as she literally grasps for her son. It’s parenthood in an emotional 12 minute chunk: a reminder to stay in the moment, to cherish time, to be present.

Written and directed by Graham Parkes, Where You Are stars the astonishing Sarah Burns, who you may know from EVERYWHERE. She got her start playing Barney (yes, THE Barney), believe it or not, but has since appeared in nearly everything – including Grandma and Slow Learners more recently. Parkes uses long, uninterrupted takes to help draw us in to Burns’s increasing urgency and bafflement. Feel free to watch the film if you’ve got 12 minutes to spare (and your kids are in bed) and let us know – can you relate?