Archive for the ‘ Movies ’ Category

Young Adult (Movie Review)

Young Adult movie posterAfter Juno, it was difficult to tell whether screenwriter Diablo Cody was a future star or a gimmicky one-hit wonder. A few years later, her new movie Young Adult makes it clear that she truly has writing talent. The cutesy slang that drove Juno is gone, but the believable characters and interesting situations remain. Of course, those characters and situations are still overly clever, but without insulting our intelligence like most dramas do.

The only real flaw left in Cody’s writing is her lack of subtlety. The characters are complex and nuanced in a manner of speaking, but it’s all on the surface. Charlize Theron plays Mavis, a Young Adult fiction writer who – surprise! – hasn’t grown beyond her own days as a young adult. Her stories bitterly try to justify her past as a self-absorbed prom queen, every night she drinks until she passes out with her clothes and the TV still on, and her first act in the morning is to chug from a bottle of Coca-Cola without bothering to close the refrigerator. When she hears that her high school boyfriend (played by Patrick Wilson) is a happily married father, she returns to her old hick town on a mission to win him back.

The plot and dialogue are smooth and witty enough to seem like a feel-good comedy at first glance, but Mavis’ darkly funny self-destruction is for an artsier, feel-bad audience. The characters look frumpy and realistic, and the camera wavers with a calculated lack of polish. Theron and Wilson play their roles perfectly and realistically as the protagonist obliviously sails through a world of genuine people she can’t comprehend. The real star, both in acting and as a character, is played by Patton Oswalt, who is literally crippled from his days as Mavis’ classmate. Shunned at the time, he’s now the only person bitter enough to understand Mavis, and he plays his role with a perfect mix of adult confidence and self-loathing.

It’s frequently difficult to believe that Mavis could be oblivious enough to stick to her course of action, but some (unsubtle) hints of mental problems may explain it. With just a little generosity on the part of the viewer, this builds naturally to a surprisingly awkward climax and an appropriate, but unexpected, resolution. Young Adult is a tragically funny slice of life. exaggerated but feeling true despite that.

Grade: B


Blue Valentine (Movie Review)

Blue Valentine

Last weekend, Alicia and I went to see Blue Valentine. It tells the story of a husband and wife whose relationship is falling apart, and it manages to convey this so believably that it’s honestly unsettling. Maybe it wasn’t the best choice for the first movie to watch together after becoming engaged, but both of us are glad we saw it.

 

I want to keep this article much shorter than my other recent ones, and besides, most of what I want to say about the movie is based on spoilers. So I’ll be direct here: The acting, casting, directing, and writing are all excellent. Blue Valentine tells a story that is way too rare in movies, and makes its human drama absolutely convincing. In fact, the characters and setting are thought through so well that they can let many important things go unsaid. I assume you’re familiar with the feeling of a movie that starts to unravel as soon as you think about it afterwards, or one that you can’t even discuss afterwards without noticing all the plot holes. With Blue Valentine, everything fits together even better as you think about it. Alicia and I talked about it for a while afterwards, and every time one of us said that we didn’t understand a certain person’s motivation, or how something fit together in the timing or setting, we would talk it through and realize that it made perfect sense. The movie just hadn’t held our hands the whole way through it. In fact, I woke up the next morning with new insights into the characters and fresh opinions about their situation. I can’t remember the last time anything (other than reality) let me know people with such intricacy.

Blue Valentine receives a solid A- grade, and you should see it. If anything, I’m being too harsh in my grading. I’m going to discuss a central theme in spoilery detail below the cut, but you shouldn’t read that until you’ve seen the movie. Because this is one of the rare ones that deserve to be experienced.

Continue reading