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Tribeca 2019, Part 2: American Women

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.

If my first batch of Tribeca movies featured a lot of woodsy scenes, Clementine (Grade: B-) occupies a whole woodsy subgenre: the Two Women in a Cabin movie. Another title for this obscure-ass video shelf, Always Shine, premiered at Tribeca a few years ago; another, Alex Ross Perry’s Queen of Earth, was his first time giving Elisabeth Moss a starring role, an uncomfortable prelude to their current collaboration Her Smell. Clementine, Lara Gallagher’s feature directing debut, doesn’t derive its tension from two women who are ostensibly close friends but secretly ready to maybe throttle each other; Karen (Otmara Marrero), unlike the characters in those other two movies, admits at the outset that she just wants to be left alone. Then again, she has a weird way of showing it: She breaks into her older, imperious-sounding ex-girlfriend’s vacation home, and decompresses from their recent break-up.

Her solitude is disrupted by Lana (Sydney Sweeney), a girl-next-door of indeterminate door. She shows up asking Karen, a stranger at least five or six years her senior, to drive her around and help find her lost dog. Karen both doubts the existence of this dog and agrees to help, and for the rest of the movie, the two women circle each other with uneasy fascination and sometimes flirtation. Gallagher takes her time, and never goes into full-blown psycho-stalker territory; Clementine often feels like a movie about two women deciding whether or not the other is a stalker, an object of obsession, or something in between. The film has a short-story quality that drags, a little, at 90 minutes; written out at 25 pages, this might be masterful (and would probably seem a lot more eventful). But I admire its quiet precision, even if it its outlines look a little thinly sketched.

There’s a similarly uneasy quality to the relationship between the two central women of American Woman (likely to underdo a name change, as it shares a title with an upcoming and unrelated Sienna Miller film). This American Woman (Grade: B-) has an impressive pedigree: It’s an adaptation of the Pulitzer-nominated Susan Choi novel, written and directed by Semi Chellas, a Mad Men staffer, fictionalizing the story of kidnapper-turned-radical Patty Hearst. Sarah Gadon takes the Hearst-ish role, while Hong Chau plays a radical-in-hiding hired to look after her. She’s also supposed to encourage ringleader Juan (John Gallagher Jr.) and his partner Yvonne (Lola Kirke) to put their experiences down on paper, to self-publish and further their cause, but good luck with that; the pair is antsy and unfocused.

A bond of sorts develops between Gadon and Chau, and Chau is especially terrific as a radical who has grown accustomed to containing and managing her emotions to survive. In just a few movies (she was great in the underappreciated Downsizing), she’s become an expert at showing women working, pushing through their personal feelings to get shit down. But the movie oddly elides a lot of the pair’s one-on-one time; they aren’t isolated from the other major characters until the movie is nearly over. American Woman has an ambiguity, sense of place, and performances worthy of Mad Men, but there’s something frustratingly elusive about it. It doesn’t make a clean break from its real-life inspiration, and winds up feeling like a docudrama even though the characters are made up. But Chellas and Choi are both artists to watch.

Tribeca 2019, Part 1: Into the Woods

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.

There are certain types of indie movies I’ve seen a lot in seven years or so of Tribeca Film Festival coverage: the gritty coming-of-age movie, the would-be scrappy rom-com (more on that in a future dispatch!), the slow-burn thriller. But it was still a little surprising that at Tribeca 2019, I saw no fewer than three movies in a row that featured following shots of its characters traipsing through woodsy environs. The movies had very little to do with each other. Sometimes it’s just one of those things.
Continue reading Tribeca 2019, Part 1: Into the Woods

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.