The day in which Nathaniel got sick (cough sneeze), wanted to jump on Ari Graynor (with love!), saw Paul Dano at a party (quite adorable), went to a gay party by himself (absolute torture) and saw a few movies. Which is what we're here to talk about. So here goes...
I've seen more than enough drug dramas in my lifetime but this one is about an ecstasy smuggling ring with Hasidic Jews as couriers. So ...that's new. Movies with unusual premises or angles win initial "potential" points right off the bat. Jesse Eisenberg plays Jesse Eisenberg again... only with payot. (somebody needs to start stretching. I'm just sayin'). He plays Sam Gold who, despite the fact that he's living an Orthodox life, he soon dives deep into crime with an older friend and fellow Hasid (Justin Bartha), as his guide. Ari Graynor, whom I love yet more with each new movie, plays their bosses arm candy. She enjoys torturing (i.e. flirting with) the Jewish boys and delighting me in my theater seat. There's a certain punch to a couple of the performances and the milieu is interesting, but I wish the movie were stronger. It lacks a certain urgency that's necessary for crime dramas (even non-violent ones like this) but the religious backdrop was refreshing. Holy Rollers also accepts and doesn't judge the way that people often retreat into religious ritual and habit, whenever they feel threatened by the waters they've tested outside. C+
P.S. At one point Ari Graynor offers Jesse ecstasy on her tongue. I've never done E but I've never been more tempted. I am becoming obsessed with Ari Graynor. Help me!
Mother and Child
The premise goes like so: Mother "Karen" (Annette Bening), pregnant when she was only 14, gave up Child "Elizabeth" (Naomi Watts) for adoption. Both of them live the next 37 years deeply affected by this decision. Mother spends the rest of her life thinking about this girl and who she might have become. Bening's performance, typically strong, is all brittle self-punishing defeat. Karen's anger isn't only internal, she's got enough of it to spread around, keeping potential friends and would be lovers at a (safe) distance. Bening has played icy women before but Karen feels like a fresh creation. There's no theatricality to her rudeness, no joy in her solitude.
Elizabeth, meanwhile, has become a skilled successful lawyer. Like her mother she also lashes out, only she knows she's doing it. There's an unsettling 'I dare you' challenge in her gaze and she seems to greatly enjoy undermining the happiness of neighbors and angling for power in her relationship with her boss (Samuel L Jackson). It's a difficult unlikeable character to wrap your head around. Watts is typically intense but she doesn't find a way to make the ice queen thaw feel like more than a forced screenplay choice. There's a third would be Mother in the film "Lucy" (Kerry Washington) and the film also runs into some trouble here. All the parallels and connections began to feel too schematic and less than organic.
Writer/director Rodrigo García's career from Things You Can Tell Just By Looking At Her through his television work and to Nine Things suggests that he loves actresses as much as I do. I thank him for that but next time I hope he loves them more spontaneously and energetically. Mother and Child has both sorrow and warmth but it needed more fire in its (pregnant) belly. C+
Joan Jett, Dakota Fanning and Kristen Stewart all came to town for the festival to promote this rock star bio film. And Sunday night Jett even performed -- she still loves rock and roll -- but I was not invited. The universe is cruel that way.
Though I had my worries about Kristen Stewart portraying this iconic 80s rock star, the mimicry seems to have encouraged her to drop some of the usual tics that she brings with her when playing fictional characters. She's fine here even though, as it turns out, she's nearly a supporting character despite her top billing. We meet Joan first but by the time Dakota Fanning takes the mic as the "ch-ch-ch-ch-ch-cherry bomb" jailbait, the catalyst for their success as the film argues, the film is hers. Or maybe it's Michael Shannon's? He gives the only comic performance in the film as their manager.
Director Floria Sigismondi has fashioned a visually exciting bio that is refreshingly punk in spirit: she doesn't shy away from the unsavory reckless behavior, the sexually fluid promiscuity (yes, Dakota & Kristen get it on), or the money-minded exploitation of underage Cherie. Speaking of: what will people make of the parallel exploitation of Dakota Fanning in this role? For all the snap of the music, the fun of the period details and the colorful aesthetic, The Runaways is hit and miss. Like many biopics, it suffers from a repetitive nature and some missed opportunities in focus and character development, particularly within the supporting cast who barely seem to exist. B
The next day sidelined by general sickness miserabilism, I only took in one movie: the extremely buzzy documentary about... well, here's the catch. You're not allowed to talk about what it's about. I wrote a little bit more about it in my weekly Tribeca column. B+
What have you been watching this past week? Have you ever been to Sundance.