A hippie shares a meal with her rich opposites.
Directed by Miguel Arteta
Starring Salma Hayek, John Lithgow, and Connie Britton
Initial Review by Jon Kissel
Alternative medicine practice is a killer for me in movies, much like it is in real life. I am being told something about the user/practitioner, and it’s not flattering. There’s not a huge sample size (a term alt-med practitioners are allergic to) of films that engage with this topic, but one that comes to mind is druggy road-trip movie Crystal Fairy. Its woo-woo moron is treated as deeply unstable, loony, and damaged, and is made tolerable by the sheer intolerability of the protagonist. Beatriz at Dinner takes a similar tack. It resists canonizing its titular bullshit artist and humanizes her by putting her in sharp relief to someone with an antithetical belief system. Watching two unlikable people parry and thrust is de riguer for a domestic potboiler, and Miguel Arteta’s film is a strong version of that subgenre.
This viewer is always going to be sympathetic to a story of waking up to the lazy falsehoods of unexamined tradition, and Come Sunday is exactly that. Having only recently listened to the excellent This American Life episode that inspired this adaptation of Reverend Carlton Pearson’s dark night of the soul, Joshua Marston and his talented cast caught me at just the right moment. The confluence of an evergreen theme and the freshness of the real story should’ve added up to a quality experience, but Come Sunday is too bland to make much of an impact. This story is powerful enough to get me tearing up at work when it’s in podcast form, but the cinematic version has me distracted and bored.
When a director’s made as many films as Tim Burton has, they develop a distinct style. In Burton’s case, that style is mostly an eccentric jumble of affectations, often portrayed by Johnny Depp in a weird hat or Helena Bonham Carter… in a weird hat. His characters are often outsiders with no chance of fitting in to society but they give it a go anyways. Though he’s made plenty of fantasy films, even his films that ostensibly take place in the real non-magical present either have characters that push the envelope of what’s real (Big Fish) or live in their own fantasy worlds (Ed Wood). He’s also someone who’s burned through a lot of critical goodwill. Big Eyes feels like an attempt to get some of that back, as it has little in common with anything else he’s ever done. Released during 2014’s Oscar season to little effect, Big Eyes suffers from a feeling of going through the motions, like no one’s excited or challenged by this material.
Gabriela Cowperthwaite’s Megan Leavey is an example of the biopic that’s more interested with hitting plot points than finding the real person onscreen. If a subject had a life notable enough to get a film made about them, then those plot points should be interesting in and of themselves, as is the case in this story. There are givens in Megan Leavey, specifically that an intense bonding between a dog and its owner are going to be affecting. However in relying too much on cinematic reportage (this happened, then this happened), the characters in Megan Leavey feel like talking heads in a documentary, providing some background and a sense of stakes without ever drawing the viewer in. This is a bare-bones film, carried along by the raw power of the events behind it. Cowperthwaite gets the big moments right while skimping on any depth or nuance in the smaller ones.
Chad Hartigan’s Morris From America places an American kid in Germany, but the culture clash it depicts is both less and more specific than just a transplant of continents. Hartigan gets the strangeness that exists whenever a kid goes to a new school, language barrier or not. They like different things and have their own social rhythms, but there’s also the difficulty of getting comfortable in a new crowd and allowing yourself to take part. While that curtain’s up, it’s difficult to let anyone in, especially peacocking teenagers. There’s also the racial aspect that drills down into Morris’ unique circumstances, being a black boy in a society that only knows about African Americans through stereotypes. Morris From America provides a deeply sympathetic look at the isolation and loneliness of a new place while also giving peeks at the kind of euphoria provided by breaking those walls, no matter how fleeting it may be.
JUST SOME IDIOTS GIVING SURPRISINGLY AVERAGE MOVIE REVIEWS.