Directed by Olivia Wilde
Starring Beanie Feldstein and Kaitlyn Dever
Review by Jon Kissel
Earlier review by Drew Landry
Liz Lemon from 30 Rock spent an episode traveling back home for a high school reunion that didn’t go as she thought it would. She imagined herself as bullied and overlooked, but her misremembered talent for the perfectly cutting remark meant that she was the bully, pushing her peers into plastic surgery clinics and therapy couches with her emotional brutality. Olivia Wilde’s directorial debut finds her own teenage Liz Lemon in Beanie Feldstein’s Molly, a valedictorian who passed on partying to focus on her accomplishments and developed an antipathy towards her less disciplined classmates. With best friend and cohort in teetotaling Amy (Kaitlyn Dever) by her side, who needed all these drunks and skanks who were surely going to peak in their teenage years? Booksmart hilariously follows Molly and Amy as their worldview is turned upside-down in their final days of high school. In this gender and ambition-flipped Superbad for a new generation, the bittersweet emotionality is replicated and the jokes are updated for current sensibilities, losing nothing in their potency.
DC comics movies continue to operate in the shadows of the Marvel juggernaut, but they’ve at least figured out how to avoid critical derision. Wonder Woman took stirring advantage of its place as the first female-led superhero film of the previous ten years, and Aquaman used a mythic, anything-goes approach to bludgeon its audience into awed submission. Both went back to the well-trod heroism well and left Zach Snyder’s overwrought approach, grasping futilely for insight, behind. With Shazam, DC continues its embrace of adolescent filmmaking with some old-fashioned wish fulfillment, while retaining, in pieces, the violent and dark tone from Snyder’s earlier output. This collision produces whiplash and makes it impossible for the very different parts of Shazam to work in harmony.
Laika Studios suffered its biggest failure with Missing Link, an unjust treatment by the moviegoing public for a group of true artisans. The stop-motion animators, increasingly backed up by the largesse of CEO Travis Knight’s father and Nike founder Phil Knight, consistently make beautiful creations and complex stories for the family. Missing Link is no exception, it currently reigns as the biggest box office animated bust of all time. Hopefully, Laika can withstand this blow, because in a sea of CGI, no one else makes movies like they do. Missing Link isn’t up to the standard Laika has set by previous greats and personal favorites Paranorman and Kubo and the Two Strings, but there’s still plenty here to warrant success instead of historical failure.
Far From Heaven
One of the most indelible images from Mad Men occurred in an episode where Don Draper takes new wife Megan to try out a Howard Johnson chain in upstate New York. He raves about the sherbet, and a serving is brought to Megan in all its unnatural orange glory. The color of the dessert leaps off the screen, though its brightness doesn’t stop Megan from discarding it after a single, disagreeable bite. Those colors are all over a film that may well have inspired Mad Men, Todd Haynes’ Far From Heaven. In its 1950’s setting of wealthy Connecticut, the cars are sparkling pastels, the clothes pop with brightness, and the autumn leaves serve as a tourist advertisement, but all the lives contained within are allowed none of this vibrancy. Haynes’ film is both luxurious and repressed, a clenched fist wrapped in silk that skewers northern self-congratulatory liberalism and looks incredible doing it.
Random projects from the MMC Universe.