Damien Chazelle's modern musical La La Land opens with a big, spontaneous musical number that evokes an era of Hollywood before freeways and smartphones. Smiling dancers jump around on their cars, weaving through a traffic jam and extolling the eternally beautiful weather in Los Angeles. No matter what happens on one day, no matter the level of disappointment and humiliation, the sun's going to rise on another day filled with bright possibility. The film that follows shows how difficult it is to keep up that facade, to avoid being crushed by failed auditions and gigs that take one away from whatever their professional dreams are. La La Land's more cynical than its opening number, as it wonders who would still be dancing and singing joyfully after months or years of tedious compromise.
Luca Guadagnino's A Bigger Splash is superficially as distant as it could get from Danny Boyle's Sunshine, but they both share a structural problem. The former is about an Italian vacation and the latter is about a last-ditch space expedition, but each are near-perfect films until a bout of violence is introduced and their perfection ebbs. The feeling of a masterpiece slipping away always hurts, but with A Bigger Splash, at least what comes before the slide is brilliant and memorable. Adapted from an earlier Italian film spoken in Italian, this Italian film spoken in English contains the boisterousness of the country's great directors and the beautifully-sketched characters of a director like Richard Linklater.
The over-the-top nature of the films of Korean director Park Chan-wook meets his granular attention to detail in The Handmaiden. He merges the high of immaculately-dressed costume dramas with the low of a gritty heist film, a melding of genres that wildly succeeds. Park's filmography, with its oft-repeated themes of sexual taboos, vengeance, and pathetic yet deadly men, feels like its reaching a climax here, like this is the film he's always been supposed to make. The Handmaiden, drowning in sensuality and subterfuge, is at the level of the best this auteur has ever done, if not his best work to date.
A coming-of-age two-hander set amongst the mountains of southwestern France, Being 17 gives its two protagonists emotional peaks and valleys that mirror the geography outside their windows. August French director Andre Techine infuses chaotic life into his film, while co-writer Celine Sciamma contributes the perceptive inner lives of children that she's also brought to Tomboy and My Life As a Zucchini. Their combined effort supports a film simmering in heated feelings barely contained beneath the surface, giving Being 17 a primal urgency and an emotional momentum that lasts all the way to the end credits.
Early in Sleeping With Other People, Jason Sudeikis' Jake is running after his pseudo-girlfriend, who has furiously stormed out of his apartment after finding out about his infidelity. He catches up to her, and lays out a series of condescending talking points, implying that this is a practiced pose that he's finding himself in yet again. She softens a bit, implying that these arguments might be working and she's going to take him back, but instead, she pushes him into traffic. His attempts to make the emotional into the intellectual end with bruises and lacerations, a theme that writer/director Leslye Headland returns to in her light, sexy two-hander.
Random projects from the MMC Universe.