An aging jockey rides out the final stage of his career.
Directed by Clint Bentley
Starring Clifton Collins Jr, Molly Parker, and Moises Arias
Review by Jon Kissel
The life of a ‘that guy’ has got to be pretty frustrating. Not that character actors have hard lives necessarily, but they spend a lot of time being adjacent to serious, world-beating fame and power without being of it. People know their face but not their name, and most occasions when they’re recognized in public probably devolve into a humiliating guessing game of which movie the recognizer is thinking of. They make a solid living, but auditions and all the difficulty of that are still a thing. Clifton Collins Jr is one of these guys, cranking out an average of four credits a year for 3+ decades. Often memorable but rarely central, Jockey provides Collins with a starring vehicle about an old pro who’s been doing his thing for a long time without much to show for it. Collins’ real life is surely nowhere near as bleak, but there is some life imitating art in Clint Bentley’s sensitive feature debut.
Immigrant stories are a recognizable kind of film for Hollywood, as the many stories about Italian or Irish or Latin newcomers to America attest to. Most of the time, these flatter American sensibilities even if the experience of the immigrant character is less than hospitable. The fact of the immigrant coming here supports the myth the nation likes to tell itself, circumstances on the ground be damned. Black Americans never get this kind of story because how could they? For anyone brought here as an enslaved person, dreams of a better life or even personal will never entered into it. The connotation for a wider/whiter audience is one of accusation instead of flattery. What makes Daughters of the Dust compelling is that it’s that rare cultural item, an immigrant story from a Black perspective. Thanks to the geography and the history of the Gullah islands on the South Atlantic coast, formerly enslaved people were able to isolate from the wider country and retain the customs of Africa, turning it into the equivalent of the immigrant burroughs in major cities that have a foot in both the old and new worlds. The dilemmas of the Gullah people then become recognizable and universal as they consider the comfort of the familiar versus the adventure of the unknown, heritage versus adaptation, superstition versus modernity.
The earliest non-dream-sequence shot in Kasi Lemmons’ debut Eve’s Bayou is of a big white plantation house nestled amongst swamp willows and lazy rivers slowly coming into frame. There are few better symbols of American cruelty and exploitation than a big Southern estate, meticulously curated and appointed but undergirded by enslavement and dehumanization a short distance from the front porch. This iconic image is the last time white people are going to be evoked in the entire film, as the house is owned by a Black doctor who operates in a town with only Black citizens. The people of Eve’s Bayou are cocooned in their racially homogenous world, which allows Lemmons to tell their story without dramatic boosts from racism or discrimination. An original story by Lemmons, Eve’s Bayou turns race into a non-factor and focuses on the plentiful melodrama within her Creole concoction.
The trend of monumental TV shows following up their runs with a long-gestating movie continues with The Sopranos, the show least likely to indulge its fanbase. Friends and Parks and Rec, sure. Breaking Bad turned itself over to fan service with its series finale so why not a feature length epilogue to answer lingering questions about Jesse Pinkman’s fate. Deadwood had a famously abrupt ending and a creator withering away from Alzheimer’s, so a last hurrah provided a sentimental reunion for him more than for the show’s adherents. With the exception of Friends, which I can’t and never will speak to, all of these reunion specials and follow-up films have been acceptable, at best. None improve on or significantly add to the body of work from television. David Chase, the creator of The Sopranos, is perhaps the most misanthropic brain behind any of the Golden Age of TV shows, and should therefore be the most likely to turn this trend around. His immunity to giving the audience anything that they might want should distill any follow-up movies into the essence of whatever idea he wants to pursue. The problem with The Many Saints of Newark, a prequel to the events of The Sopranos, is that Chase gets too caught up with future events and loses the thread on the present. Such and such anecdote was mentioned in the series, and therefore it must show up in the prequel. The Many Saints of Newark has its fan-flattering moments, and I’m a Sopranos fan so I was flattered, but I don’t love Chase’s masterpiece TV show because it patted me on the head. I loved it for its prickliness and its adherence to its vision and theme. Chase has done so little since the Sopranos ended, and the rust is apparent.
Sian Heder’s CODA, an acronym for Child of Deaf Adults, throws as much melodramatic ammunition at the viewer as they can handle, and then flings a little bit more. This Sundance crowd-pleaser, bought by Apple for a festival-record amount of money, features half-a-dozen liberal feel-good’s and satisfies them with present-day demands of casting and representation. If the working class struggle doesn’t work on the viewer, then the non-threatening teenage boy romance or the first-to-go-college subplot will. At the center of all these subplots is the plight of a hearing young woman who too frequently finds herself subverting her own hopes and dreams to support her deaf parents and brother, all of whom are cast with deaf actors. CODA is an ADA-certified Billy Elliot for the New England set. Its earnestness can be blunt and broad, but it comes in such overpowering waves that its charms cannot be fully resisted.
JUST SOME IDIOTS GIVING SURPRISINGLY AVERAGE MOVIE REVIEWS.
Click to set custom HTML