Posts in women reviews

“Our Friend” Finds authenticity, love, and even humor in this tragic story

January 21st, 2021 Posted by Review, women reviews 0 thoughts on ““Our Friend” Finds authenticity, love, and even humor in this tragic story”

“Our Friend,” based on the Matthew Teague’s article “The Friend: Love Is Not a Big Enough Word,” retells the heartbreakingly loving story of friendship and compassion. Nicole (Dakota Johnson) has terminal cancer. We learn this in the opening scene as Nicole and her husband, Matt (Casey Affleck) discuss the essentials of delivering the news to their two young daughters who are currently being entertained by the family friend, Dane (Jason Segel). “Our Friend” takes us on an extraordinary journey over a decade as the family lived and subsequently dealt with the short future ahead.

As quickly as we hear the devastating words of Nicole’s impending death, the story jumps back in time for us to experience the young couple’s blissful beginnings and comedic introduction to Dane, a hapless sweetheart who, at one time, pined for Nicole. The three, against all odds, become inseparable and Dane finds himself as a part of a family. The story jumps back and forth in time to inform us of all that has happened in their lives, the ups and the downs, the joys and frustrations, to bring us to the pivotal point of the end. This counterweight allows our emotions to relax and enjoy the every day banter or the arguments and issues that every couple experiences, but with these bookmarks in life, we always pivot back to the fallout of the inevitable.

Occasionally, the timeline is a bit confusing as it jumps from references of 5 years ago or 1 year after the diagnosis, and while this is off-putting during the film, you realize that it’s not that important to the overall story. What is important is that we glean important information about the past, getting to know this couple and the incredible generosity and loyalty of their friend. And thanks to the insightfully detailed and evocative skills of writer Brad Ingelsby (“The Way Back”) who pays careful attention to each of our main characters, we can see the world through their eyes.

Dane, lacking in confidence and direction, finds meaning in his life as the fun uncle or as he calls himself Grandma Dane, but we also see him struggling to find his own path in life. However, his friendship is unwavering with a deep love for the entire family, however there’s an emotional barricade he seems to face, driving him to care for others more than for himself. In fact, the film, originally entitled “The Friend” is much more aptly renamed as “Our Friend” as Nicole, Matt, and both children rely heavily upon him, and sometimes, as we see, to his own detriment.

Matt, on the other hand, dreams of being recognized as a great writer and wants to further his career which leads to marital issues. Nicole’s theatrical focus is her only outlet, but both have missing pieces in their lives. Dane is always the sounding board, the voice of reason, and the safety net they both need no matter where he is in his own life, floundering to make sense of it all.

There are plenty of moments to laugh, and to cry, as we are captivated by the giggles of the children and relate to the everyday moments, “Our Friend” is a perfectly balanced story that rings true to every aspect of life including facing death. Director Gabriela Cowperthwaite delicately allows her stars to perform with all the subtleties and nuances of reality which brings us into the picture, into their lives, and to walk beside them on this journey. It’s hard to imagine any other actor having the capacity to deliver these performances other than Segel, Affleck, and Johnson. They portray their characters as flawed, imperfect people who forge ahead, trying to properly play the cards they have been dealt. Segel, while he makes us laugh and chuckle, captures our hearts as he becomes Dane—we all know someone like him—a complicated, sad soul looking for someone to guide and love him. Segel is the glue that binds the entire cast together, a superglue force, who reminds us to cherish every day with those you love.

Johnson’s understated performance has incredible depth as a wife, friend, and then loving mother who must wrestle with the possibility of leaving her children behind. It’s simply devastating, but Johnson finds the humanity and humility to give us a performance of a lifetime. And Affleck, no stranger to the importance of nuanced roles, delivers with brilliance. If you’ve not walked in his character’s shoes, you will be able to better sympathize with someone who has by the time the credits roll. Affleck shows us the trauma, anger, and frustration over the inability to protect someone he loves; his children from losing their mother and his wife from succumbing to the disease. We also get a bird’s eye view of the domino effect of what cancer can do to a family; the ripples reach much further than we can imagine.

“Our Friend” reminds us of the importance of compassion and giving our time to those we love and those who are in need. This heartfelt and original yet universal story with superb performances thanks not only to the talented actors but to a credible script and an intuitive director makes “Our Friend” a film you need to see.

3 1/2 Stars

“Promising Young Woman” promises to entertain, shock, and educate

December 14th, 2020 Posted by Review, women reviews 0 thoughts on ““Promising Young Woman” promises to entertain, shock, and educate”

A vengeful woman is a dangerous woman and Emerald Fennell’s debut feature film “Promising Young Woman” accentuates this to an extreme. We meet Cassandra (Carey Mulligan) in a drunken stupor alone in a club, late at night, as three young men across the room have a revolting conversation about her situation. One, seemingly the morally best of the three, offers to drive her home as her friends have abandoned her and she’s lost her phone. Cassandra unwittingly finds herself in this man’s apartment and in a situation in which she’s not giving consent. And with the words, “Hey! What are you doing?” repeated twice, the tone and actions are set for the remainder of the film.

WATCH THE TRAILER HERE

Cassandra works in a coffee shop and seems to have lost her way. Living at home, pushing 30, and in an entry-level job, this young woman was once a promising medical student, shining brighter than her colleagues, according to Ryan (Bo Burnham), a now successful pediatric surgeon who stops in coincidentally for a cup of coffee. The two begin to date, reluctantly-so on Cassandra’s part, but there’s a sweetness with a refreshing humor that perfectly counterbalances the previously gruesome hook-ups we’ve been witnessing.

There’s a vengeful hatred that emanates from Cassandra’s soul, and while we get a glimpse into why she is setting men up to fail and teaching them a lesson about consent, we don’t get the full picture until midway through the film. And then there’s a visceral and shocking twist that knocks you off your feet as you emotionally attempt to process what has happened. It is at this point that we plunge into an even deeper abyss filled with pain and an inability to change or heal.

This is a horror film but not in the traditional sense. Yes, there’s some occasional cringeworthy gore, but the true horror comes from the reality of the situations in which Cassandra is placed. Writer/director Fennell delicately yet boldly travels down several paths: the emotional trauma of rape; the complicit behavior of others; and the stereotypical responses of the he said-she said scenario. But all of these paths have different nuances to them to make you see things from a novel perspective. A perfect example is when Dean Walker (Connie Britton) is confronted with her decisions from years ago. As she, a woman, is rationalizing and justifying herself, you better understand the reasons for the need for the #MeToo movement.

The writing of “Promising Young Woman” is incredibly smart, intuitive, and well-balanced as we quickly begin to not only understand Cassandra, but root for her whether she’s seeking vengeance or attempting to move on in her life as she finds happiness. Fennell artfully balances drama, tension, and humor into this screenplay but it is the humor that is surprising. The various types of comedy she taps into are brilliant—irony, sweet, charming, and malevolent—all finding just the right place in the script and are executed by each actor perfectly. And this all-star cast comprised of Mulligan, Burnham (“Eighth Grade”),Laverne Cox, Alison Brie, Molly Shannon, and Jennifer Coolidge, contribute their own style and personality to their characters to give a resounding reality to this film.

Each character is obviously aptly cast, but of course, the weight of the film rests on Mulligan’s shoulders who carries it with ease while we see in her eyes, the importance of never forgetting the underlying theme. Her cool, measured, and razor sharp words and physical reactions make her formidable, emphasizing her character’s drive and motivation. And whether or not we agree with her character’s actions, Mulligan’s powerfully nuanced performance establishes a connection with the viewer. We feel her anger, initially, and then understand her pain as she struggles internally with her emotional well-being. Mulligan is transformative in this character as she brings a familiar story to light and hopefully, into future conversations.

With the realistic attributes of the film, the ending, although quite surprising isn’t without a few flaws, but not enough to take you out of the moment. In an era that has raised awareness of consent, sexual harassment, and rape, “Promising Young Woman” goes one step further past awareness to start a conversation of understanding, acknowledgment, and perhaps even change.

3 1/2 Stars

Opening in theaters Dec. 25, 2020

“If you or someone you know has been affected by sexual violence, you are not alone. You can contact the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 800.656.HOPE or online.rainn.org. It’s free, confidential, and available 24/7 in English and Spanish.”

“On the Rocks” – A bumpy father-daughter story

October 20th, 2020 Posted by Review, women reviews 0 thoughts on ““On the Rocks” – A bumpy father-daughter story”

While best known for “Lost in Translation” starring Bill Murray and Scarlett Johanssen, winter/director Sophia Coppola’s credits are significant and now she is reunited with Murray in her newest film“On the Rocks.” This time, Murray is paired with Rashida Jones as a father-daughter duo tackling life and the ghosts that haunt their relationship.

We meet the happy young couple, Laura (Jones) and Dean (Marlon Wayans) upon their wedding day with a bright future ahead of them. Fast forward nearly a decade later and we are thrust into their chaotically busy life filled with two kids, a traveling husband, and a former writer trying to get back in touch with her passion. It’s a familiar scene of striving for balance in life but achieving it is another story.

Laura begins to have doubts about her relationship with her husband and reaches out to her father, Felix (Murray) whose previous actions with women may help her decide. The story becomes a study of this particular father-daughter relationship as the two attempt to reconnect as they play private detective.

The film is very narrowly focused on this duo, but make no mistake, this is Laura’s story. We get a glimpse into her life of being a mom and wife as she constantly transports kids, waits for them at school, and briskly interacts on the run with other moms all while trying to write her next book. It’s anxiety producing and for many of us, it brings back memories of a time that are merely a blur as we tried to juggle it all.

The heart of the film comes from Laura and Felix’s interactions. Felix, ever a flirt, seems to happily flit through life, superimposing his own morals and values upon every male including his son-in-law. This personal moral compass of his significantly and negatively impacted his relationship with his daughter and may continue to do so as we watch the story unfold.

On the surface, the question of “is Dean having an affair with his gorgeous assistant” is always looming overhead, but as we dig deeper into the story, it’s about Laura coming to terms with who her father is and if she will allow those attributes to effect her life now. It’s a slow burn and sometimes a bit too slow, but that initial question keeps you hooked. You have to find out if Dean is having an affair.

“On the Rocks” is a small slice of one woman’s life as she yearns for the relationship and identity she once had while her relationship with her father comes to a head. We immediately know Felix has disappointed Laura in the past, but she holds out hope that maybe this time he’ll be different. It’s apparent that these unresolved issues must be confronted before she can independently and emotionally move forward.

Jones creates a believable character to carry this significant load, skillfully finding the right subtle actions and reactions to show us her longing for her image of a father to guide her. It’s an understated performance, and while she and Murray find a connection, the rhythm just isn’t consistently there. Murray seems to be constricted as he portrays the less than likable dad with a cavalier and self-absorbed perspective. He seems to pull back in this film, however when he does relax, as he does in the scene to talk his way out of a ticket, it’s wonderfully engaging.

The film is beautifully shot as the pair zip through New York City in a convertible or have an intimate drink and dinner at a familiar-feeling restaurant. This personal perspective to the film allows us to have empathy with Laura as the turmoil in her life culminates. Where the story suffers is its attention to character development with the supporting cast. We never get to know Dean or Laura’s annoying “friend” Vanessa (Jenny Slate) who adds a touch of humor to the dramatic film. There are a few unanswered questions , but ultimately, the film poses an introspective question for us all—how much do we let others’ baggage influence us?

While it’s a slow-moving film with a feeling of tying things up too neatly and quickly at the end, Jones and Murray create an intricate story of how our past influences our future.

3 Stars

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