Tag Archives: film festivals

Tribeca 2018, Part 2: Fuck-Ups or Just Funny?

Jesse

Jesse is a cofounder of SportsAlcohol.com even though he doesn't care for sports or alcohol. His favorite movie is Ron Howard's The Paper. I think. This is what happens when you don't write your own bio. I know for sure likes pie.

I don’t mean to be glib when I say that this year’s Tribeca is, like some Tribecas of the past, pretty big on women-fucking-up indie movies. I’m actually pretty excited to say that, because women-fucking-up indies tend to be a lot more fresh and a lot less mopey than their male counterparts, the latter tending to be awash with sensitive acoustic guitar music, passivity, beards, and Manic Pixie Dream Girls.

There actually might be a Manic Pixie Dream Girl of sorts in Duck Butter (Grade: C-), or maybe she’s a commentary on one; it’s hard to tell, because the movie is so low-key unpleasant. Sergio (Laia Costa) meets Naima (Alia Shawkat, who co-wrote the film with director Miguel Arteta) in between Naima’s first day on the set of an indie movie and the next day, when she is told she’s been fired; Sergio is first seen singing in public in a way that’s not very good but supposed to be bold and charming (not a good sign) and makes a post-hookup proposal that Naima initially rejects, then warms to after her firing: Why don’t they spend a full 24 hours together, having sex every hour or so, as a way of jumpstarting their intimacy and honesty?

Why not? Well, mostly because it’s exhausting, even with a 93-minute running time. Sergio acts vaguely mercurial (which is to say petulant), Naima acts vaguely overcautious (which is to say normal), and rather than a fuller understanding of their characters, you mostly get an idea of what kind of thought-experiment noodling Shawkat and Arteta would like to see from the movies they watch. Credit due, though: Duck Butter (which opens today in limited release and hits VOD next week) is the first movie where I’ve seen both Duplass Brothers playing themselves, and the awkwardness of their interactions with Naima feel more like vintage (if second-tier) Arteta.

Naima is an actress who is too self-conscious about the shitty state of the world to appear especially creative. Two more Tribeca movies focus on women who use their creativity to fight their crummy circumstances, not so much women-fucking-up movies (though one sort of takes the form of one) as women-fucking-shit-up movies. The documentary Love, Gilda (Grade: B-) chronicles the life of peerless SNL player Gilda Radner, who died far too soon at the age of 42, from ovarian cancer. The film, assembled from old photos, home movies, and diaries (though it’s hard to tell when the latter are fudged together with the audio book of her autobiography, It’s Always Something), is a moving and candid portrait, though the materials it’s working with sometimes feel stretched thin, cinematically speaking (some of the shots of old photos linger too long, as if the movie has nothing else to cut to for the moment). It’s not a wildly insightful movie, but it’s valuable both for getting to hear Radner’s voice again (in the voiceover audio as well as her comic voice in various clips, some oft-repeated SNL bits and some more obscure), and to see Amy Poehler, Melissa McCarthy, Maya Rudolph, and Bill Hader read through her diaries and reflect on her comic technique (Poehler calls most of her SNL characters poor Radner imitations, a humble way of acknowledging her hero’s influence).

The talking-heads from people who actually knew Radner are a little thin. Lorne Michaels, Chevy Chase, and Laraine Newman go on camera, but it’s disappointing not to hear from Dan Aykroyd, Jane Curtin, or (less surprising, but even so) Bill Murray. What resonates most about the movie is Radner’s joy of performance – that despite her eating disorder or neediness, she truly and, especially toward the end, unselfishly, loved making people laugh.

It wouldn’t be fair to compare the tough and fictional stand-up comedian of All About Nina (Grade: C+) to Gilda Radner, but as well-observed as the movie’s fake stand-up routines are, it could have used a little more sense of that joy, however fleeting. Nina (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) is a brash, smart lady comic with a dark past who gets a long-awaited shot at an SNL-style show (based for plot convenience in Los Angeles rather than Nina’s native New York). The pacing of the movie, as Nina breaks things off with an abusive boyfriend, moves to L.A., temporarily rooms with her agent’s new-age-y friend, and strikes up a romance with a plainspoken guy outside the entertainment industry (Common), is careful and appealingly slow. But the movie’s turn into Nina’s tragic backstory, while right up to the minute with the #MeToo movement, isn’t handled as adroitly, and even makes the movie’s first hour feel poky and rambling in retrospect. It’s too bad, because Winstead is typically great as Nina; she has a great scene running through some material three-quarters naked in front of her apartment window, invigorated by her own talent. In the end, though, All About Nina feels ambivalent about the very act of making comedy; it wants to position it as Nina’s salvation, of sorts, but at arm’s length, like it secretly finds the whole thing kind of distasteful, a remove the movie never fully explores.

Karen Gillan’s The Party’s Just Beginning (Grade: B-) is more of a traditional young-lady-fucking-up movie, about a Scottish gal (Gillan) flailing through a drunken, French-fry-binging, casual-sex-having life after the suicide of her best friend. As written, the material is pretty boilerplate, but Gillan shows a lot of promise behind the camera. In front of it, she captures the desperate helplessness that can come with grief. Even when she’s spiraling, the movie never mopes—or breaks out the sensitive acoustic guitar.

Tribeca 2018, Part 1: Forbidden Love and Forbidden Sex, Too

Jesse

Jesse is a cofounder of SportsAlcohol.com even though he doesn't care for sports or alcohol. His favorite movie is Ron Howard's The Paper. I think. This is what happens when you don't write your own bio. I know for sure likes pie.

I’ve been attending the Tribeca Film Festival since (checks notes) 2013, and when I file dispatches during the festival, I usually have to wait a few days for at least a couple of thematic links to form between seemingly disparate features. Not so in 2018, as my first day at the festival took me from a movie about forbidden love (and lust) between adult women to a movie about forbidden lust (and love) between gay teenagers to a movie about self-forbidden lust (or love) between mostly hetero teenagers. The first two movies, with their narratives about boundaries on homosexuality imposed by various parts of society, should have made the third feel like a privileged trifle, but as it happens, the progressively less intense playing order made the final film feel like a blessed relief.

I started with Disobedience (Grade: B-), which opens commercially next weekend and is the most serious of the batch—not in terms of what happens in it, which is not especially disturbing or upsetting, but in terms of its tone, which might be what a writer’s group I’ve been in might call an imitative fallacy. Because the movie is set in an Orthodox Jewish community and that community is located in London, and because the two leading women are not especially happy to be in this restrictive setting, Disobedience is drab and dour, capturing barely more than a minute or two of sunlight over the course of its two hours.

What it lacks in color, humor, or liveliness, it does make up for in Rachels: Rachel Weisz plays the estranged daughter of a recently deceased rabbi who returns home after his passing, and reconnects with childhood friends played by Rachel McAdams and Alessandro Nivola. They’re still in the Orthodox community—and they’re now married. But the Rachels have been holding torches for one another this whole time, and reignite their relationship with alternating caution and recklessness. Weisz and Adams are very good here, and do a hell of a lot to make this movie watchably rather than oppressively downcast. McAdams in particular offers a potent reminder of what a smart, subtle, no-frills actress she is in the right role.

These characters don’t entirely acquiesce to their oppression, but despite the judgmental people around them, their struggles are mostly internal as they are, after all, more or less free to make their own decisions. There’s plenty of internal struggle in The Miseducation of Cameron Post (Grade: B), but whatever self-loathing can come from realizing your sexuality in adolescence is terrifyingly externalized when Cameron (Chloe Grace Moretz) is sent to a school that specializes in straightening out gay teens—sort of half Bible camp, half cult. Director/cowriter Desiree Akhavan makes a major leap from her promising debut Inappropriate Behavior, and it happens within minutes of Miseducation’s opening. She moves the action from Cameron’s rendezvous with her secret girlfriend, to prom night, to exposure as a lesbian, to enrollment in the school with terrific fluidity and lack of exposition. It’s all quickly engineered yet perfectly observed, right down to its 1993 period details (The Breeders on cassette, what what!).

The action slows a bit once Cameron reaches the school; the movie introduces a lot of new characters but their importance as individuals comes more from inferences than big scenes, especially Jane (Sasha Lane), who sometimes feels like an attitude in search of an individual. But Akhavan is able to elicit sardonic laughter from the material without sacrificing the sense of psychological pain that is being inflicted on these kids. And the movie ends with a couple of scenes so unhurried and plainspoken in their loveliness and sadness that they start to recall David Gordon Green or Lane’s American Honey director Andrea Arnold. Akhavan isn’t quite on that level yet, but she bookends her film with virtuoso displays of talent.

The French-Canadian teens of Slut in a Good Way (Grade: B+) have no such worries on their minds. The movie’s central trio of teenage girls all get jobs at a big-box toy store on a whim, because there are cute, somewhat older guys there (college-aged, to their Grade 11), and one of the girls is nursing a broken heart (the gay guy she thought wanted to be with her anyway turns out to be, yeah, actually gay). First they want to goof off and sleep with their new coworkers; then they decide to impose a moratorium on interoffice sex for, well, 24 hours later the reason is escaping me. If I recall correctly, it’s because the guys start to just expect that they’ll be able to fool or fuck around with any of the girls, and also they decide to raise some money for charity. I’d be happy to watch the movie again to clarify, because Slut in a Good Way (whose actual French title translates to either Charlotte Has Fun or Charlotte Having Fun; I’m not sure) is a delight.

It’s sort of a one-crazy-summer movie, except it takes place over the fall, and its characters aren’t especially outsized or caricatured. There are also bits of Clerks (besides the workplace shenanigans, it’s shot in a halo’d, soft black and white), American Pie (a little smutty but sex-positive), and workplace sitcoms. Those influences are all enjoyable, but it isn’t particular a gender-flipped version of any of them (it also resembles a more antic companion piece to the sleepier Canadian delight Tu Dors, Nicole). What’s most magical about the movie is how director Sophie Lorain choreographs her camera and her actors. She’s very aware of where the characters are within (or outside of) the frame, and pans her camera around the Toy Depot aisles to capture the musicality of their movements, even though none of the actors play the material with much theatricality. When she executes a funny extended sight gag based on characters playing a dance video game, you think: of course.

Lorain, a movie and TV actress from Quebec who has made some Canadian TV and one movie, unseen by me, nearly a decade ago, is a find (which is to say, Americans may find her after this movie; clearly she’s been around in relatively plain sight for our Canadian neighbors). Instead of coming across like a carefree irritant, Slut in a Good Way, showing up at the end of my triple feature, felt aspirational. Here’s hoping more gay teenagers can grow up (and fuck up) with this kind of near-musical ebullience.