SIGNIS REVIEWS SEPTEMBER 2012
BOURNE LEGACY, The
EXPENDABLES 2, The
KATH AND KIMDERELLA
MADAGASCAR 3: EUROPE’S MOST WANTED
YOUR SISTER’S SISTER
Directed by Erik Canuel
In 1997, Christopher Plummer had one of his best successes on Broadway, winning the Tony Award for his one-man show, Barrymore. It was based on the life of actor, John Barrymore, who made an impact on the American and British stage early in the 20th century, also made an impact on the screen, but then declined into alcoholism and hammy performances. He tried a comeback in 1942 just before he died.
Christopher Plummer bears something of a physical resemblance to Barrymore.
In 2010, a group of producers persuaded Plummer to reprise his role in Toronto and decided to film the performance live. This film is the result. It gave Plummer and the writer,, an opportunity to revisit the play, consider new emphases, keep the humour (a lot of word-play and jokes, brisk and sometimes brittle one-liners) but emphathise the pathos. Director, , contributed to the writing as well as envisioning how best the play could be put on the screen.
It is opened up a little with Barrymore arriving at the theatre, entering, preparing in his dressing room. During the performance, some devices are used to broaden the feel: a backdrop of Florence for the recounting of some anecdotes, a screen for some scenes from Hamlet... The editing is fluid. While we see the size of the theatre and the stage and, sometimes, the audience, this is a close-up performance which contrasts with watching the acting from the stalls or balcony.
Plummer’s performance is impeccable, mastery of timing, Shakespearian and pseudo-Shakesperian rhetoric and the descent into slang and vulgarity and a switch to singing the popular songs of the period. His Barrymore is vain (though not entirely self-deceiving), a man who relished his magic moments of success, appreciating these opportunities in life, but a man who can always be wittily cynical, at his own expense as well as of others (including his wives).
It is not entirely a one-man play. There is Frank the prompter, off-stage, desperately trying to get Barrymore to get back to his rehearsal of Richard III, curb his digressions, respond to his anecdotes, an admiration for the actor who frequently taunts him.
By the end of the play, we have been taken through Barrymore’s life, his eccentric and addled actor-father, Maurice Barrymore, his fond grandmother, his brother Lionel, with Plummer doing wonderful impersonations of his sister, Ethel, as well.
We have an impression of the American theatre, of Hollywood, and of a man of great talent who used it well, who exploited it and then who squandered it.
But, ultimately, the admiration is for Christopher Plummer and his memorable performance.
Alice Mc Connell, Gary Mc Donald, Simon Stone,
Directed by Miro Bambrough
No, not that Venice. While the Sydney settings, the National Park and the harbor are attractive, they cannot substitute for that Venice. Especially since most of the action takes place around inner city Stanmore.
Venice is a young woman, a poet, whose life seems to be rather morose. She makes notes of phrases for her poems, especially showing a fascination with insects. Caught without a ticket on a train, she notes that the police office has ‘miserabilist décor’. That’s probably the word for this film and for Venice herself, despite a hopeful, if not happy, ending.
We gradually learn about Venice’s misererabilist childhood which means that she doesn’t relate all that well, turns men off, and the film has her wandering around being miserable, even finishing up in hospital for a while. Venice is played with convincing misery by Alice Mc Connell.
The other key character in the film is Venice’s father, Arthur, a teacher who lives in New Zealand but who has come to Sydney for a seminar. He is played by Garry Mc Donald (and his teeth which are quite prominent many times). Arthur has an oddly posh-sounding accent at first. He is pedantic, often acidic in his comments. He stays with Venice.
Gradually, father and daughter do talk and some understanding does eventuate.
This is a film that will appeal only to a specialist audience who are interested in offbeat or odd characters and how they navigate through life.
THE BOURNE LEGACY
Jeremy Renner, Rachel Weisz, Edward Norton.
Directed by Tony Gilroy.
Dramatically striking when spy chief, Edward Norton, declaims it, that the actions of his organization were ‘morally indefensible, absolutely necessary’, this phrase is a key quotation for appreciating what is happening in the Bourne films and so many other espionage stories. The final credits do remind us that the characters bear no resemblance to any person living or dead. But… While this all seems far-fetched, but…
Probably handy to do a bit of revision of the original trilogy if you have the time before seeing this one. It makes a number of references to previous operations with Jason Bourne, his alleged rogue behaviour, his minders (with glimpses of Albert Finney, Joan Allen, David Straithairn). There are several photos of Matt Damon’s Bourne.
However, this is the story of Aaron Cross, a specially trained operative and genetically modified agent. We see him on a survival exercise in Alaska, tough stuff. But, the chiefs are wanting to eliminate these agents and any trace of the doctors and labs for these modifications. But, like Jason Bourne, Aaron has quite a capacity for eluding death attempts (including some fascinating drone sequences), for taking on other identities and for going under the radar to escape detection. When there is a massacre in the lab, the surviving doctor, Rachel Weisz, goes on the run with Aaron whom she knew from chemical examinations.
The screenplay, by Tony Gilroy who wrote the previous Bourne films, requires a lot of attention to try to piece together what is going on, especially with the hard-bitten authorities. But it all comes together. And, for those who thought the film might have lacked action (except for Aaron surviving mountains, wolves and drones), the last half of the film has action a-plenty. The massacre in the lab is quite riveting. The attack on the doctor’s house is exciting. But, using the streets, buildings and roofs of Metro Manila, the long chase, on foot, by car, on motorbike should satisfy the fans. After all, that is what the movies, editing, musical score and pace, can do.
Jeremy Renner is quite effective as Aaron though he does not have the ironic smirks and tongue-in-cheek of Matt Damon. Rachel Weisz keeps up the pace as well. There are some interesting supporting roles, especially from Stacy Keach as the head of the CIA.
The final credit says that the film has been inspired by the books of Robert Ludlum. This one, with its worldwide conspiracies, rogue authorities and spies on the run, is certainly Ludlumesque.
Directed by Lee Hirsch.
Bullying is one of the harshest realities close to parents and families as they try to communicated with their bullied child. And, one of the severest consequences of bullying is child and teenage suicide.
The makers of this documentary, allied with several organisations to deal with bullying have combined for this film, given worldwide release by the usually more commercially-minded, The Weinstein Company.
Parents could find the film quite harrowing. However, the director, Lee Hirsch, has opted for a more straightforward exploration and avoided sensationalism. It is an important film for teachers and education authorities to watch. Also local police who have to deal with complaints and investigate.
While there is physical bullying in the stories told, there is far more emotional and psychological bullying. Many adults can dismiss such behaviour as boys will be boys or, that’s part of growing up. One authority states plainly that it is only physical violence that has any sway with him. He has no sympathy let alone empathy with a child who claims mental bullying. The film offers many siutations where adults dismiss bullying.
Lee Hirsch focuses on four stories and then brings in a fifth after the first hour of the film. The states where his stories come from are Iowa, Oklahoma, Georgia and Mississippi.
The first story, that of Tyler Long, offers a thread for the film, especially as his parents want his voice to continue to be heard and have been campaigning on behalf of underage suicides. We see interviews with Tyler Long’s father and mother and a selection of home movies, building up the case of bullying pressure until Tyler hanged himself at age 17. The fifth story is also one of a suicide but this time the boy was eleven when he killed himself. His parents, who tell us that they are ordinary people, nobodies, but they too have been campaigning on behalf of bullied children.
Three other stories are interwoven, a quite lengthy story of Alex, something of a loner, though from a large family, who looks awkward (he was born prematurely after 26 weeks and was expected to live only 24 hours). His personality comes across well (as well as his parents and sister). He is from Sioux City, Iowa. The school commission of the city welcomed the film-makers, illustrating some details of day-by-day life in the school and the response of the Assistant Principal.
There is the story of Kelby, a fifteen year old who has realised that she is gay and has been penalised, ridiculed and shunned by students. Her family, in a small Oklahoma, bible-belt town, have experienced being shunned by long-time friends. Kelby’s father speaks of the ugliness he has experienced from the town because of Kelby. We are reminded of how vicious adults and children can be as they fling the epithet, ‘fag’ around to those who don’t seem to meet expectations of how children should be.
The other story of a girl is an Afro-American? story from Mississippi where a young teenage girl, so pressured by cruelty, brandishes her mother’s gun in the school bus and is overpowered, arrested and liable to 45 charges of kidnap and threat of bodily harm. We see the effect of this episode on her mother.
There is nothing particularly new in Bully. That is not important. The film serves as a reminder of the realities of bullying and a challenge to society of how they will deal with it, especially for the sake of the children – so that the bullying will not be so bad that the child finds there is nothing else but to kill themselves.
THE EXPENDABLES 2
Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham, Bruce Willis, Jean- Claude Van Damme.
Directed by Simon West
The two Expendable movies have a niche audience – macho, action-oriented fans, many of whom have developed a computer-games sensibility, kill or be killed. For those who want first hand testimonies from these fans, check out the blogging for the film on the Internet Movie Database (over 200 already). And, The Expendables 3 has been announced!
So, what is there to say except that it achieves what it sets out to do – the question is whether that was worthwhile in the first place. Early in the piece, Bruce Willis’ character refers to the Expendable squad as ‘psychotic muts’. He later joins them of course in their major skill – mowing down adversaries instantly, in great numbers, and with great satisfaction.
It is all pretty much over-the-top and pretty brutal – cancel that: ugly brutal.
As with the first film, there is a prologue to introduce the group, Stallone (looking his mid-60s age) as leader, Jason Statham as his best-friend lieutenant, Terry Crews, Randy Couture and, looking older and more haggard as well, Dolph Lundgren. The action is in Nepal – which doesn’t leave alive a great number of the militia which has kidnapped a Chinese businessman. And Jet Li is there for a minute or two – as is Arnold Schwarzenegger, who says he will be back and is. (Being Governor has not really honed the Terminator’s acting skills; he is still into clunky recitation of lines which works best when he is being deadpan funny).
The rest of the action is in an ugly remote area of Bulgaria where they are pursuing arch-villain (Jean- Claude Van Damme rather enjoying himself as nonchalently sinister) who is digging up some tons of buried plutonium from Cold War days. Oh, when they are in dire straits, who should turn up (with a fanfare from the Good, the Bad and the Ugly theme) but Chuck Norris (looking better than his age)!
There is an improbably gung-ho climax in a local airport.
Avoiding the accusation that this is all too macho, a female computer expert who is handy with guns as well (Nan Yu) becomes a key member of the group. One performer who comes off fairly well is Liam Hemsworth as a young warrior who brings a bit of emotion into the film (and into Stallone himself).
Watching the mayhem become repetitive, one’s mind wanders to the implausibility of so much of the plot. One way of understanding what is going on (how do they move from being stranded into flying in their plane? how do they get from here to there in their truck without explanation?) is that it is like a comic strip: key scenes sketched in and you have to use your imagination to supply the links.
Corny conclusion: if you are making a list of must-see movies, this one is expendable.
Meryl Streep, Tommy Lee Jones, Steve Carell,
Directed by David Frankel
Talent, age, experience. All very impressively present in this light and serious comedy about marriage and marriage counseling.
Both Meryl Streep and Tommy Lee Jones, in their 60s, are so at home in front of the camera that their performances seem effortless – but, it is obvious that they have given a great deal of thought to each scene, even to body language with small details.
Hope springs eternal, of course. The title refers to Great |Hope Springs, a small town in Maine.
In the meantime, in Omaha, Kay and Arthur are a 31 years married couple with two children. Their lives roll out every day in the same, the very same way. They love each other but have separate rooms. Is that all there is? Kay doesn’t think so and really can’t understand Arthur’s unwillingness to touch, his rather going to work, coming home to his meal and falling asleep before golf programs on TV. She looks for some books to help and discovers Dr (Steve Carell whose performance, except for the final credits, consists of sitting, listening empathetically and suggesting action steps). She watches his on-line promotion and books tickets to his office in Maine.
Most of the film is how Kay and Arthur deal with the sessions – he, of course, off side right from the start. Kay discovers that she is very traditional, even narrowly unaware, in her understanding of marriage and sex. The film also shows the ups and downs of the relationship after each session, the tension in finding a way to touch each other, let alone some relational behaviour that they are not used to (especially a farcical scene in a cinema). The two stars are at their best and their comic timing is impeccable. Tommy Lee Jones is amazingly good in making Arthur, his lack of awareness of how his wife feels, completely credible.
The screenplay makes the two a couple who are decent and good people who need the counseling to rediscover their love – especially going back to their meeting, their falling in love and the possibilities that were there as they married.
Afterwards? Back to ‘normal’? A fresh beginning? Of course. But the interest and the delight is in watching how it all work out. And the makers are shrewd. They keep plot development going all the way through the credits, keeping us there, a very happy family celebration and love renewal.
The film is strongly in favour of love, of fidelity, of marriage commitment, of not opting out of getting help but actively seeking it. Just as Kay tried to persuade Arthur to go to see Dr for couple counseling, many women may well be insisting that their husbands come with them to see Hope Springs. Yes.
KATH AND KIMDERELLA
Jane Turney, Gina Riley, Glenn Robbins, Magda Szubanski, Peter Rowsthorn, Rob Sitch.
Directed by Ted Emery.
‘Kath and Kim’ (first screened on TV ten years ago) is an acquired taste. Australian audiences by and large embraced this mother and daughter whose suburban lives, attitudes and prejudices, parody so many of us, accent, vocabulary, fashions (and non-fashions) and all. A tribute to creators and performers, Jane Riley and Gina Riley (who made their TV marks two decades ago with the hilarious series, Fast Forward and Full Frontal). And, of course, there is Magda Szubanski as large, sporty and frustrated in romance, Sharon, victim number one of Kim’s barbs (though poor hen-pecked husband, Brett, gets it all the time as well).
This feature film answers one question I have had for a while: is Kim in her extraordinary self-centredness (and, as Age reviewer, Philippa Hawker, noted, her ‘iron whim’) the successor to Edna Everage? Then, suddenly, towards the end of the film, I could scarcely believe it, Kath does a magic trick with her wand (after all she had done a TAFE Wica course) and who should Kim turn into but Dame Edna? So, there you are!
The advantage of the 30 minute episode is that the makers can give quick vignettes of the main characters, Kath and Kim, with respective husbands, Glenn Robbins as the genial Kel, so positive in outlook as is Kath, and Peter Rowsthorne as the browbeaten, Brett. There could be guests like Shane Warne or Eric Bana or even Kylie Minogue doing a variation on Kim as the grown-up version of daughter, Ebony. There can be a plot, but that is not the point. Satire, spoof and comedy are the point.
Well, the feature film has a plot. It is, of course, preposterous – it would be strange if it weren’t. It is a fairy tale (much more by the end than we might have thought). After some Fountain Lakes sequences (with the strangulated pronunciation of shop attendants, Prue and Trude, who also turn up in Italy, reminding us of the versatility of Jane Turner and Gina Riley), the film moves to a small kingdom (Spanish-oriented) on the beautiful Amalfi coast, where the bankrupt king (a pleasure to see Rob Sitch) is on the lookout for a rich wife. He assumes Kath fills the bill. In the meantime, the crown prince who wears a Phantom of the Opera mask, sees ‘Princess’ on Kim’s t-shirt and makes the worst assumptions. Oh, Sharon has tagged along and has set her cap for the majordomo, a superciliously entertaining performance from Richard E. Grant.
Variations on a lot of ingredients from old stories (especially Jane Eyre) and from European royal intrigue movies.
It’s not as hilarious as hoped for. I wish Kim had been sharper and more viciously outspoken than she is. There is a bonus with Marg Downey reprising her smooth, emotionless and unctuous voice as Marion, the counselor.
But it is better to have a Kath and Kim movie than not having it.
MADAGASCAR 3: EUROPE’S MOST WANTED
Voices of: Ben Stiller, Chris Rock, David Schwimmer, Jada Pinkett Smith, Martin Short, Frances Mc Dormand.
Directed by Eric Darnell, Tom Mc Grath, Conrad Vernon.
It’s seven years already since Alex, Marty, Melman and Gloria left their New York Zoo home and were transported to Africa. In the sequel, they were still having African adventures. This time, they decide to leave Africa and make for home, setting out first for Monte Carlo where the villainous and scheming penguins have flown their plane with no intention of coming back to rescue the stranded group. The familiar voices are back: Ben Stiller, Chris Rock, David Schwimmer, Jada Pinkett Smith along with Sacha Baron Cohen as the mischievous King Julien.
The writers must have more than a soft spot for Europe. We spend a lot of time in Monte Carlo, not only at the Casino, which they leave the worse for wear, but the whole city as they flee, penguins and monkeys along with them, from the relentless and ruthless pursuer of animals, Mademoiselle Dubois voiced by Frances Mc Dormand with determined relish. After the mayhem in Monaco, they arrive in Rome, having bought a run-down circus so that they could escape in their train. Disaster – though the film spends some pleasing time in Rome for those who have visited the city. The marquee is set up in the Colisseum (which the pragmatic penguins decide ought to be torn down for something new and efficient). Julien visits the Vatican and kisses the Pope’s hand – and swallows the papal ring which he tries to pawn.
What are stranded animals to do? They decide that the show must go on, so they spend time in the Alps inventing new acts, getting a Russian tiger who has lost his mojo, Vitaly (Bryan Cranston), to rediscover his courage, helping out the maestro sea-lion, Stefano (Martin Short), Alex falling for Gia (Jessica Chastain). This is mainly where there are some funny parts, especially Marty being shot out of a canon and fulfilling his dream of flying. There is quite some amusing use of music and songs from Pomp and Circumstance, Non je ne regretted rien (from Mlle Dubois) and Born Free.
It’s on to London where they want to impress an impresario who could take them back to New York and home at the Zoo. It won’t spoil things to say they do get back to NYC, but they realise they have discovered life in the world and their cages are too confining for them. Scarcely have they had time to realise this than there is Mlle Dubois in a final face to face confrontation.
It’s all rather bright and breezy, which is how it should be.
Fellig, Sophie Nelisse, Emilien Neron.
Directed by Phillipe Falardeau.
This is a very fine and moving film, one to seek out. It was Canada’s entry for the 2011 Oscar for Best Foreign Language film (beaten by the also wonderful Iranian film, A Separation). It also won two awards from SIGNIS, the World Catholic Association for Communication, in Hong Kong and in Washington DC.
The opening shot is an overhead view of primary school children playing in a snow-covered Montreal playground. The film stays principally within the school and, at these times of debate about education (teachers’ hours and pay, classroom teaching and staff meetings and corrections, strict regulations about touching children and about discipline, all of which are part of this film), it is both perennial and topical.
The first segment, well orchestrated as it introduces us to two of the main children (who give extraordinarily convincing performances, especially in highly emotional sequences) leads to the discovery that their teacher has hanged herself in the classroom. The children’s responses (and those of teachers and parents) and the need for grief and counseling remain a constant theme, the screenplay offering the many-sided, sometimes contradictory, facets of dealing with such a tragedy.
But Monsieur Lazhar, of the title, has not yet entered the film. Reading of the death, he comes to offer the school principal his services as relief teacher. He is from Algeria, a political refugee, whose wife and daughter have been killed in a deliberately political apartment fire. In fact, this part of the narrative raises another topical issue, that of asylum seekers. There are some stirring sequences where M. Lazhar has to justify himself to migration authorities who take a devil’s advocate position, seemingly inured to thinking or feeling about what life’s experience and tragedies have been for the refugees trying to explain what has happened in their lives.
However, most of the film is set in the classroom and the school corridors, yards and principal’s office. M. Lazhar has some old-fashioned methods but, gradually, the children warm to him, trust him, especially has he teaches them creative writing along with their grammar, and tries to deal with the grief at the death of their teacher. We do see him outside the school, alone at home, a visit to a colleague, the migration interrogation.
60 year old Algerian actor, Mohamed Fellag, simply billed as Fellag, is totally convincing as M. Lazhar, winning over the audience as he does the children and staff. He has suffered. He has survived in Canada. He is trying to gain citizenship. He emulates his teacher wife as he deals over the school year with the students.
As mentioned already, the children are also convincing, Simon the angry little boy, Alice the intelligent and creative little girl, Marie-Frederique? the poised and bossy girl, Victor the large Chilean boy who is picked on, little Boris who suffers from migraines (and a bad, sugary diet), M with an Arabic background. You believe the teachers as well, the sports master and the janitor (the only other men on the staff), the principal trying to do her best but with pressures from parents and the education department.
Director Philippe Falardeau makes every scene effective with an attention to visual or acting detail which makes the audience feel that they are vividly present to the school. There is also a restrained piano score.
Monsieur Lazhar is going immediately on to my list of favourite films.
Bill Murray, Frances Mc Dormand, Edward Norton, Tilda Swinton, Jared Gilman, Kara Hayward.
Directed by Wes Anderson.
Moviegoers will know that any film from Wes Anderson can be described as ‘quirky’ (at least). Moonrise Kingdom has plenty of quirks.
Basically it is a fable and, with a title like this, it is something of a fairytale. You sense that from the artificial opening during the credits, the camera panning from room to room, upstairs and downstairs, of what looks like a doll’s house. In fact, it is a house that belongs to two lawyers, the curmudgeonly Bill Murray and the flighty Frances Mc Dormand. In the meantime, there is a scout troop on exercises, with an earnest but unimaginative scoutmaster, Edward Norton. At home is the 12 year old daughter, Kaya Hayward, who wants to run away. In the troop, is a young lad, Jared Gilman, who doesn’t want to be scouting. They do run away together.
In the meantime, there is a colourfully dressed narrator, Bob Balaban, who emphasises the stylized nature of the storytelling. While Bruce Willis plays it for ordinary realism, Tilda Swinton is in the spirit of the playfulness and the satire as the Social Services official.
They have a series of adventures, survival moments. In pursuit is the local captain, Bruce Willis with the rest of the adults helping and hindering.
In theory, there is room for entertainment even if the whole thing is a mixture of the realistic, the artificial, the emotional and the twee.
One of the problems is that the two children are not as engaging as all that (especially compared with other screen children – the Harry Potter series comes to mind since Kara Hayward looks something like Emma Watson). Which means that, unless an audience is engaged (and many have been), we are observing what happens rather than wanting to support the children in their venture for freedom.
Moonrise Kingdom has been described as a comedy. Perhaps. Rather, this is a wry fable, with some laughs, but with a more challenging intention of helping us to look at a children’s world.
Colin Farrell, Kate Beckinsale, Jessica Biel.
Directed by Len Wiseman.
A remake of the 1990 science-fiction film with Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sharon Stone, directed by Paul Verhoeven. Time has enhanced the memory of the original and, with the huge outburst against this new version, it has acquired pedestal-classic status. This raises a perennial question: should movies be remade? More often than not, they don’t measure up to the original (or memories of the experience of the original which may not have been seen for some time). But, sometimes they do.
This review is happy to go out on a critical limb and praise Total Recall, 2012. In 1990 , the about-to-be governor of California was basically a bodybuilt action star with a heavy accent and delivery. Sharon Stone was just another actress – Basic Instinct came after this. Maybe, audiences read back their later iconic status into the film. It was directed by Dutchman Paul Verhoeven who had made Robocop and was to direct Basic Instinct.
The point. Colin Farrell is an actor, handsome but ordinary-looking. This means that this version is meant to offer a hero who is bewildered, manipulated, tormented by nightmares, laboring in a humdrum factory job, seeking his true identity and prepared to go to the company, Rekall, to be injected with new memories. Audiences can identify with Farrell. His wife is played by Kate Beckinsale who turns into a relentless pursuer of her husband, a fighter bent on vengeance. And, whatever her limitations, Beckinsale can act more persuasivley than Sharon Stone could in 1990. Perhaps modern audiences compare them as unfavourably ordinary compared with the larger than life protagonists of the original.
There is Jessica Biel as the mysterious rebel from The Colony. This time, there are two habitable parts of earth after chemical warfare in the 21st century, the United Federation of Britain and The Colony (as the map shows it: Australia) rather than Mars in the original. Bryan Cranston is the ruler of the Federation with malign intent on the Colony. Bill Nighy appears briefly (with an American accent) as Matthias, leader of the Revolution.
One of the most striking features of this Total Recall, and one reason for seeing the film, is the production design. The futuristic sets, intricate with great detail and huge in scope, are outstanding. The dark colony, very much like a crowded Chinese waterfront, reminds us of the design of Blade Runner. The Federation is much more London-like. But, it means that whatever is happening in the action, there is always something to look at, amazing sets.
We Can Remember it for you Wholesale is the Philip K. Dick short story on which the film is based. It ties in with the identity themes and control from his Blade Runner and Paycheck.
Maybe Paul Verhoeven and the original script had more tongue-in-cheek than this version which plays everything quite straightforwardly. As a straightforward version, with an effective lead who has to transform from meek worker to double agent and huge heroics, always good to look at, this Total Recall is gripping in its action and in its questions (though laziness in the screenplay often substitutes quick expletives for genuine emotions of fear and frustration).
YOUR SISTER’S SISTER
Emily Blunt, Rosemarie de Witt, Mark Duplass.
Directed by Lynne Shelton.
This review will try to be fair since it did not appeal to the reviewer at all.
It is certainly crafted with some care. The credit to Lynne Shelton is ‘written and directed by’. However, the three stars and actor, Mark Birbiglia, who makes the opening speech, are credited as ‘creative consultants’.
This means that she gave them situation information and they improvised. When Mike Leigh has done this with his casts, he hones what they have improvised into a finely wrought script. Here, the improvisation is filmed as such (edited later, of course). Which means that a lot of it (most of it) is like a home movie, actors interrupting or talking over each other – not helped by the sound engineering which makes it sound as if taped while it is happening. (Fortunately, the director does not use hand-held camera – which would be too much).
So, praise to the experimental approach, to the performances and the skills that went into the improvisation. But not to the sometimes over-pounding guitar score.
The trouble for this reviewer is that the whole thing is not particularly interesting. Mark Duplass plays Jack, the middle-aged slacker of a brother, Tom, whose memorial is being celebrated. Emily Blunt plays Iris, Tom’s girlfriend who is devoted to Jack. Rosemarie de Witt plays Iris’ sister who has just broken with her lesbian partner of seven years. Most of the action takes place at a holiday house on an island off Seattle (wonderful scenery). Lots of talk, lots of misunderstandings. The sisters have a strong bond. Jack finds himself in the middle of an emotional tangle which leads to questions about pregnancy, sperm donors and bringing up the children.
For the audience for whom this all clicks, satisfaction and praise. For those who are not drawn into the lives of this trio, who feel that they are trapped on the island and being forced to listen in to and observe what is going on, it will be a film difficult to sit through and be as interested in the characters as all that.