Movie Review ~ Beautiful Boy


The Facts
:

Synopsis:  Based on the best-selling pair of memoirs from father and son David and Nic Sheff, Beautiful Boy chronicles the heartbreaking and inspiring experience of survival, relapse, and recovery in a family coping with addiction over many years.

Stars: Steve Carell, Timothée Chalamet, Maura Tierney, Kaitlyn Dever, Amy Ryan

Director: Felix Van Groeningen

Rated: R

Running Length: 120 minutes

TMMM Score: (6.5/10)

Review: After so many landmark films about the perils of addiction have been made featuring numerous memorable performances, it takes a special story not to mention top flight actors and on-the-ball filmmakers to make the case for another entry. What is different about this story that sets it apart from what has come before? Where and what is the message? Is there a lesson to be learned? A final thought to hold tight to? It’s an uphill battle of questions for even the most talented of professionals to answer which is why the final take-away from Beautiful Boy is that it’s a respectably well made film of a story that feels too familiar.

Based on the popular memoirs from journalist David Sheff and his son Nic Sheff, Beautiful Boy documents the journey both men go through as they deal with Nic’s addiction to alcohol and drugs. A child of divorce, Nic was a bright young man who became entangled with narcotics at a young age and continued to use through his attempts at going to college and after his various stints in rehab. Bouncing between his parents that tried in their own flawed way to pull their son out of his darkness, Nic (Timothée Chalamet, Call Me By Your Name) continually hit rock bottom but couldn’t stay sober for long stretches of time. He becomes homeless, despondent, overdoses, and watches as friends (some of whom he brought into his drug orbit) overdose as well. It’s a pattern that repeats itself often throughout the film, to intentionally maddening results for David (Steve Carell, Foxcatcher), his wife (Maura Tierny, Insomnia), and his ex-wife (Amy Ryan, Goosebumps)

Chronicling this frustrating journey, screenwriter Luke Davies (Lion) effectively blends elements from both memoirs that give a narrative through line but never truly fleshes out the lasting effects Nic’s addiction has on the two men and the people in their lives.   I almost wish they had chosen one perspective to focus on and stuck with that or done a better job at sectioning off David’s story and telling that in parallel to Nic’s side of things at the same time. As it stands, we get bits of pieces of this long road the Sheff family traveled without being able to stop and explore the territory.

Directed by Felix Van Groeningen (director of the stunning Oscar nominated The Broken Circle Breakdown), the movie is slow to get started but does have some highly effective moments when it starts to cut its own path. We’ve all seen movies about addiction but the recovery aspect isn’t something covered in detail that often. The film works best when we see Nic on the other side of his binges and trying to put his life back together. These passages work so well because when he eventually falls victim to his addictions again we feel that grief right along with everyone else. When David finally stops trying to aggressively parent Nic and treats him like an adult with consequences, it’s a powerful moment for him (and the actor playing him) – I wish there were more moments like this throughout the movie but they are few and far between.

As indicated, the performances are good but not totally revelatory. While I applaud Chalamet’s approach to the role I didn’t fully find myself immersed in his performance as I thought I would. So unforgettable in his Oscar-nominated role in Call Me By Your Name, his work here feels like aspiring actor effort instead of fully formed. He hits the notes and looks the part but doesn’t quite deliver from the inside. I have much the same issue with Carrell, though the comedic actor fares better because he’s given a less obvious arc toward ownership of his shortcomings to help his son. Carrell has more moments to shine and work though some of the pain David experienced as he struggles to be a considerate parent to his troubled son but also an attentive father to Nic’s young half siblings.   Ryan and especially Tierney provide strong support as well as the maternal figures in Nic (and, let’s be honest, David’s) life.

It’s Oscar season so it’s not hard to see why Beautiful Boy is being released near the end of the year. It feels like Oscar material that we’re supposed to like because it has so many prestige people involved. It’s a good film and one I’d ultimately recommend, but in several key areas it misses the mark to be something to consider in the “best of” lists critics and audiences are starting to make for themselves.

Movie Review ~ Call Me by Your Name


The Facts
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Synopsis: In Northern Italy in 1983, seventeen year-old Elio begins a relationship with visiting Oliver, his father’s research assistant, with whom he bonds over his emerging sexuality, their Jewish heritage, and the beguiling Italian landscape.

Stars: Timothée Chalamet, Armie Hammer, Michael Stuhlbarg, Amira Casar, Esther Garrel

Director: Luca Guadagnino

Rated: R

Running Length: 132 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (9/10)

Review:  At first glance, it may appear that Call Me by Your Name is a throwback to a simpler and more carefree time.  Sure, the Italian countryside on display in this romantic drama is filmed postcard ready and the means by which the sun waxes and wanes to cast great light on everyone it touches may have you ready to dial your travel agent the moment the credits roll.  People lounge around pools next to their villas, ride bikes into town to grab a drink, and meals are served al fresco with ingredients sourced from local farms.  It’s a beautiful life, to be sure, but there’s an unseen struggle that’s captured here and it makes for one of the most tantalizing movies of 2017.

It’s the summer of 1983 and the Perlman’s have opened up their home to a new graduate student, Oliver (Armie Hammer, Mirror, Mirror).  Arriving to assist Mr. Perlman, an archaeology professor, Oliver’s Greek god physique and allure has a way of opening more than just doors for him.  That doesn’t seem to matter much to Elio (Timothée Chalamet, Lady Bird) the Perlman’s 17 year old son that has to yield his bedroom to Oliver for the next six weeks and isn’t an initial fan of the older man.  (Random thought: Interesting that Elio’s new room seems just as spacious as his previous one…why couldn’t Oliver just take that one?  Well…anyway).

This is a family of book-smart, talented individuals that have a funny way of not talking about what they’re really feeling.  It’s not a stifling home, though, and Elio’s parents seem understanding and thoughtful.  Feigning disinterest in Oliver but secretly harboring a growing curiosity he can’t explain away, Elio goes about his summer dating a local girl, finding ways to point out how Oliver is perhaps not the perfect specimen people seem to think he is, and giving command performances that show off his innate musical abilities.  Instead of recognizing that he is attracted to Oliver, Elio does what we’ve all done when we like someone but are too afraid to let them know, he acts like a jerk.

Adapted from André Aciman’s novel by Oscar nominee James Ivory, the movie takes its sweet time to get to Oliver and Elio’s eventual union.  It makes for a bit of a tease for the viewer and Chalamet and Hammer have such unique chemistry that by the time Elio steals a furtive kiss on a mid-day excursion you almost feel like standing up and applauding his bold move.  The range of emotions captured after that first toe dip in gay waters is handled so delicately by director Luca Guadagino (A Bigger Splash) and his actors.  They don’t just hop into the sack together, but both take time to think about what this coupling means for themselves and each other.

As the summer days dwindle and the fall approaches, Elio and Oliver’s romance has its ups and downs as both push back against their needs as a way to safeguard their heart.  For the more experienced Oliver, he sees a responsibility to his younger lover to treat him with respect for his new feelings while Elio just wants to drink in as much time with Oliver as he can before he returns to the states.  As the departure day arrives, our stomachs start to twist into knots at the anticipated goodbye that’s sure to wreck us almost as much as it does Elio.

Gay or straight or other, there’s a little bit of something for everyone in Call Me by Your Name.  It’s honest approach to first love and the devastation of it slipping away is summarized perfectly in a final speech from Elio’s dad (Michael Stuhlbarg, The Shape of Water).  Delivered with a painful honesty that shows his ultimate respect and compassion for his son, it is maybe the most transcendent scene I saw in theaters this year.  Everything seemed to fall away (the theater, the audience members, the rest of the screen) and all I saw was his face and heard his voice.  A suberb moment in a magnificent film.

Movie Review ~ Lady Bird

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The Facts
:

Synopsis: The adventures of a young woman living in Northern California for a year.

Stars: Saoirse Ronan, Laurie Metcalf, Tracy Letts, Lucas Hedges, Timothée Chalamet, Beanie Feldstein, Lois Smith, Stephen McKinley Henderson, Odeya Rush, Jordan Rodrigues, Marielle Scott

Director: Greta Gerwig

Rated: R

Running Length: 93 minutes

TMMM Score: (7/10)

Review: There was a time in the not so distant past when Greta Gerwig and I weren’t on speaking terms.  I know when the rift started: Frances Ha.  While Gerwig’s collaboration with writer/director Noah Baumbach became an indie twee delight, it didn’t bowl me over in the slightest.  Finding Gerwig’s titular character vapid, vain, and selfish, I just couldn’t get into the film and struggled to even finish it.  Gerwig’s popped up here and there in the following years, to better results, in Mistress America, Jackie, and 20th Century Women but it’s Lady Bird where our fences can be considered mended.

A thinly veiled but admittedly autobiographical look at Gerwig’s years as a teen in Sacramento in the late ‘90s, Lady Bird is going to be compared to Juno and with just cause.  Both are female led films that find a truth to their portrayal of adolescence and an authenticity in how teens and adults struggle to find common ground while just trying to make it through the day.  The difference between the two is that looking back at Juno it seems like it arrived from another wacky dimension while Lady Bird is already a period piece so there’s less chance of it becoming rapidly dated.

About to enter her senior year of high school, Christine McPherson (Saoirse Ronan, How I Live Now) demands that her family and friends call her Lady Bird and wants to attend college as far away from her Northern California town as possible.  She dreams of a life surrounded by arts and artists, while her mother (Laurie Metcalf, Uncle Buck) wants her daughter to come down from the clouds and understand that community college may be the best she can do.  With a father (Tracy Letts, The Post) that just lost his job and a brother living at home with his goth girlfriend, there isn’t much space for Lady Bird to breathe.

A small chance at happiness shows up in the drama department’s production of Stephen Sondheim’s Merrily We Roll Along.  Cast in the ensemble, she falls for the leading man (Lucas Hedges, Manchester by the Sea) who is both her first love and first heartbreak.  Feeling like she has to climb higher socially than she can sticking by her best friend (Beanie Feldstein, who was wonderful in Broadway’s Hello Dolly!) she ingratiates herself with the popular girl (Odeya Rush, Goosebumps) and takes up with an alt-emo boy (Timothée Chalamet, Call Me By Your Name).  As the school year draws to a close and the great unknown future awaits, Lady Bird will learn tough lessons about finding one’s place and making a unique path toward happiness.

As she did in Brooklyn, Ronan is able to find a mainline to your heart without making it seem like a huge effort.  That’s surprising because her Brooklyn character was warm and selfless, and Lady Bird is anything but that.  Constantly sucking the air from any room she’s in and preventing others from finding their own orbit, Lady Bird is a force of nature and while it can be easy to get frustrated with her it’s just as easy to feel her pain as dreams she makes for herself vanish just as fast as they take shape.  If you’ve ever heard Gerwig talk it’s instantly clear that her voice comes through loud and clear not only in Ronan’s performance (Ronan channels Gerwig in eerie ways) but in the thoughts and ideas expressed by other characters.

Ronan isn’t the only star of the show here, though.  She gets the movie stolen away from here more than a few times by Metcalf as her steely mother.  Though the movie opens with mother and daughter waking up staring into each other’s eyes, both women soon wind up in an argument that bursts whatever peaceful bubble they had formed.  Scene after we scene we see Metcalf deliberately divert attention away from her daughter if she feels she’s getting too big for her britches or cast a spotlight on her when she makes the wrong move.  It sounds bad, but she’s doing what every parent tries to do but doesn’t always succeed in…help their child see that life is tough with the least amount of outside pain as possible.  It’s easy to see part of oneself in these moments when a child will push their parent’s buttons or the parent cuts their teen down just to prove their point.  I know I winced a few times when I recognized actions I’ve had in my own life.

If you’re already a fan of Gerwig’s, you’re going to get a lot of satisfaction out of her directorial debut which will likely earn her a place on the shortlist for Best Director and Best Original Screenplay.  Expect Ronan and Metcalf to earn nominations as well for their deeply felt and carefully layered performances. If you’re just coming around to Gerwig like I am you’ll find it easier than ever to use Lady Bird to fly back into the fold.

The Silver Bullet ~ Call Me by Your Name

Synopsis: Summer of 1983, Northern Italy. An American-Italian is enamored by an American student who comes to study and live with his family. Together they share an unforgettable summer full of music, food, and romance that will forever change them.

Release Date: November 24, 2017

Thoughts: With a screenplay from James Ivory (The Remains of the Day, Howard’s End, A Room with a View) and directed by Luca Guadagnino (I Am Love), Call Me by Your Name is a title that could be one to keep your eye on as we transition from the summer slate to the Oscar hopeful season.  Based on the 2007 novel by André Aciman and taking place over one gauzy summer in Italy, there are some strong themes of love and self-discovery clearly present in this first trailer.  It’s always interesting to see how a tender story like this will play out for audiences in the wide-release arena, but then again movies like Call My by Your Name aren’t exactly made for mass consumption.  Starring Armie Hammer (The Lone Ranger), Michael Stuhlbarg (Doctor Strange), and Timothée Chalamet (Love the Coopers), call me very intrigued with this one.