BATTLE OF THE SEXES
THE BIG SICK
CALL ME BY YOUR NAME
THE DISASTER ARTIST
MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS
THE SHAPE OF WATER
STAR WARS: THE LAST JEDI
THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE EBBING, MISSOURI
The first “Bad Moms” was hilarious and fun, so I was excited to see the sequel. Man alive was this a piece of shit. I don’t know whose idea it was to make our three main protagonist moms have mothers closest to the Allison Janney-type, but that did not pay off in any way. It’s one thing to portray complicated relationships that are worth working through and strengthening (like in “Lady Bird”). It’s another to just be a complete shit of a person who doesn’t deserve nice people in her life, and to use these awful examples of mothers who shouldn’t have children to try to say that, what, you should always love and cherish your family, even if they are toxic? That’s dangerous bullshit that no one should ever listen to. If someone in your life is destroying you, cut them out, no matter who it is. Christine Baranski as Mila Kunis’s mom was verbally abusive and beyond dismissive of her daughter, and Mila should have cut her from her life. It wasn’t funny, and there was no reason for Mila’s character to suffer through all of that just because it’s her mother. Also, Peter Gallagher as a soft ball-less skinbag of a man should have left her ages ago instead of sitting back quietly and letting her destroy nice people. I guess ever since Jody Sawyer told him ‘sorry not sorry but I don’t need you to teach me ballet’, he’s had no sense of self. Next we have Susan Sarandon, Horrible Ignorant American, as the mother of Kathryn Hahn, American Treasure. This piece of work abandoned her kid long ago and only comes back when she needs money, like now, or when she wants to spout really asinine political theories like how Jill Stein was not a Russian plant meant to divert support from a great lady we never deserved. Cut her off, Kathryn. Lastly, we have Cheryl Hines as Kristen Bell’s mother, a legit crazy woman with no boundaries who buys the house next door to her daughter without telling her, copies her haircut to look just like her, and watches her have sex and TAKES NOTES. This woman is a terrifying monster who puts the likes of Single White Female to shame, and Kristen should have run far away from her. When the two of them go to therapy and Wanda Sykes says that it’s Kristen’s fault because her mom may have been normal before she had her (I can’t), I was so enraged I shot up out of my seat, threw a cup of water at the screen, and tried to leave the room so I could violently slam the door to express my fury at such an irresponsible, dangerous take on this situation. Unfortunately I was watching on an airplane, so I could not complete that mission. I could turn it off though, so yay for me. I want to meet whoever wrote this movie, especially that therapy scene, and slap him in the face. And you know it’s a ‘him’, because he does not understand shit.
Sure you might be saying ‘but it’s sort of a biopic of Billie Jean and she had to discover her true sexuality at some point’, and that’s true and well and good, but this movie wasn’t called “The Billie Jean King Story”; it was called “Battle of the Sexes” because it was specifically about the historic match of that name against Bobby Riggs, male chauvinist asswagon. (I combined asshole (or asshat! both good choices!) and jackwagon.) I understand that Billie’s struggle with hiding her sexuality threw her off kilter leading up to the match, but like, that’s all the movie was about. That and Steve Carell prancing about in costumes to prove that men are better (at wearing costumes?) and for some reason Elizabeth Shue as his long-suffering wife decides not to light him on fire like I/Frances McDormand would have done and instead puts up with him for no good reason other than probably a lifetime of gaslighting.
If the makers wanted to solely explore Billie’s sex life, with the affair of choice (with her hairdresser!) occurring while she was still married, and the effect it had on her game and her mindset (really the same thing), then they could have done that (even though that’s like kind of weird to be so fixated on, give the lady some peace.) But to pretend that this film was primarily about the Bobby Riggs match is just bad faith. Honestly it felt like the male writer and the rest of the men responsible for this wanted to see Emma Stone kiss other girls and they just came up with a thin frame to work that into. They watched Emma’s old movies for inspiration and when they got to “Birdman” they thought a) what the fuck is this and b) hey that other girl in it, Andrea Riseborough, makes out with Naomi Watts in one scene so let’s hire her to make out with Emma in our movie! The best, most thrilling part of this movie was the very, very quick shots of the actual match at the end, and I realized that what would have made this movie better is more of that, and then you realize that you are better off simply watching the actual, real match full stop. I have yet to see a tennis movie where the time spent watching it would not have been better spent watching real tennis. In the inevitable Roger Federer biopic, I hope we see mostly his amazing skills and no bedroom scenes with Mirka, but honestly, this movie shows that we’re better off just watching recordings of his old matches.
Kumail and his wife, Emily Gordon, pretty heavily spoil the movie they wrote about their love story by being married. They tell the story of how they met when Kumail was a fledging comedian, how they had a good time for a while, and how they broke up because Kumail’s family was weird about him marrying a Pakistani girl and he was weird about keeping a box of their photos. But if I met Vella Lovell in real life I would keep her picture in a weird creepy box too, just saying. They break up and it’s sad but life goes on OR NOT because Emily falls into a coma and the doctors have no idea what’s going on and it’s terrifying because she’s so young and Zoe and you’re like omg is she going to die? And Kumail stays by her bedside the entire time and that’s incredibly sweet and moving but also kinda awkward because she dumped you. Her parents arrive, played by Ray Romano and Holly Hunter in I’m going to say career bests. Their performances should have been nominated for all the awards because they are pitch perfect and they so perfectly play off each other so maybe the Oscars should have a Best Couple category like the MTV Awards or whoever does that, Kids Choice? and add them in last minute. They flawlessly capture the complexities of parents dealing with this trauma while also dealing with their own marital problems.
As our unobtrusive hero who holds fast to his convictions about this girl he loves, Kumail quietly shines and wins your heart. Even though his standup in the movie is objectively painful, you really want him to get everything he wants, even a standup special. This is a horrible movie to watch on a plane, which I did once, because we landed with 20 seconds to go in the movie. You would think that a movie’s plot couldn’t hinge on the last 20 seconds, right? Usually it’s just like a wide shot of a field or a sunrise or something and everything that has happened before is the whole story, nothing can change. But the very last shot of this movie is very important and turns the whole thing from good but sad to omg let’s throw a celebratory fiesta. Luckily I had seen it before but I feel bad for anyone who just assumed ‘wow that was sad I didn’t see the last few seconds but what could have happened? Sad movie.’ And it was sad but oh my god was it beautiful and then all of a sudden not so sad. I remember when Cameron Crowe won an award for “Jerry Maguire” (I think it was this matchup but I could be wrong) and he was like ‘thank goodness I won because if I didn’t it would mean you didn’t like my life’ and I’m like first of all that’s not what that means, but second if that were a thing, this movie should definitely win something because it’s actually their life story, you were not a sports agent who married the mother of the cutest little boy in existence until my nephew showed up, Cameron.
Shia Labeouf was g-d perfect casting as John McEnroe, two entitled, volatile brats who don’t realize how annoying they are (don’t get me wrong I love me some Johnny Mac nowadays as a commentator but he’s still kind of a d-bag and back in his day, man alive, was he the worst. Stop YELLING, White Man! your days are numbered). He gave the young John a bit of humanity (in his quieter moments) and actually made you feel for him and you REALLY didn’t want his dad to be disappointed in him. But the real star was Sverrir Gudnason (I honestly thought it was a Skarsgard) as Bjorn Borg, a dead-ringer for the tennis great and incredible in this role. He was so believable and so effective at portraying the volcano of emotion and rage simmering below Bjorn’s surface of robotic calm. To use the flashbacks to show that the two players had more in common – particularly their anger and explosive natures – than anyone would ever predict, was a smart way to frame the movie in the buildup to their huge Wimbledon match. Not knowing how it ended in real life really helps with getting into the drama and the stakes of this match – Borg’s trying to make history with an epic fifth consecutive win, Johnny’s trying to prove himself as more than a shithead miscreant, especially to the Brits who despised him (they love manners). And I didn’t remember who won this one! I know Borg had a shittonne of Wimbles…es but I didn’t remember if he got to five in a row, and I knew Johnny won Wimbles several times but I wasn’t sure when, so I was really into this movie. Again, it would have been better to watch the real match in full, but for a movie version of it, this wasn’t half bad. I learned a lot about the two players and how they came to be tennis champions, and most importantly there was a Skarsgard in it (Stellan, as Borg’s coach/father figure) which you expect in a Scandinavian movie, so all was well.
So Gary Oldman is completely unrecognizable in a fat suit and a whole lot of Mrs. Doubtfire-esque chin jowls to play Churchill, one of the most revered and important men in British history. We see him right as he is asked to become Prime Minister when Britain is at war both with the Nazis and with itself, not having a government with a strong will in terms of direction and gumption. So British of them am I right? All his fellow politicians were like ‘hmmm we could do x or y but I don’t want to be too forward oh pish posh can’t be too forward.’ Winston came in like a wreeeeeeecking baaaaaall and was like shut up and listen to me, I know what we have to do, we gotta go kill us some Nazis. Maybe he didn’t say it like that but honestly thank god for him (the him that is portrayed in the movie, who knows how accurate it was (I mean I’m sure many people do know how accurate it was, that’s what history and records are for but shh do I look like Suetonius)) because while all the other pale scrawny men with upset tummies were like ‘let’s negotiate with Hitler to save our people!’, Churchill was like ‘are you f-ing kidding me, you do not negotiate with a terrorist and also why would we trust him to hold to the terms and also HE IS LITERALLY HITLER’. He’s shown as the only British politician with the courage to fight rather than capitulate to the scary mustache baby. I hope that the speeches he gives once he finds his nerve to stand up to the fellow cabinetters who want to negotiate and then hide are accurate, because they were spellbinding. In a time when we are suffering with actually evil politicians who are not only being outsmarted by children but are literally working with Nazis, it was a little tearjerky and a little heartbreaking to remember that once upon a time a leader of a major nation was not only unwilling to work with Nazis, he wasn’t one.
I freaking loved this movie and wanted it to win all kinds of awards just because it’s so hilarious and would be so hilarious to do so, but Franco had to go be a Hollywood man and ignore the rights of women and only care about his own desires and go ruin everything for everyone.
But this was a gloriously perfect movie, a hysterical takedown of “The Room”, the famous worst movie of all time, and it’s creator, the famously insane Tommy Wiseau. Knowing “The Room” makes this behind-the-scenes look at it even sweeter, but it’s not necessary to enjoy the genius ridiculousness. James Franco gets all of Tommy’s mannerisms down, but more importantly he gets his voice down, with the impossible-to-place accent and usually-impossible-to-understand inflections. Anytime James verbalized anything even a little, the audience was rolling in their seats. It’s really a testament to Franco’s talent, begrudgingly as I admit that, that even just a random word here or there produced some of the funniest moments of the year, all because of his delivery and his really strong direction. (He directed it too.) It’s kind of mean but kind of loving in its treatment of Wiseau and the entire infamous shitshow of a shoot. The cast and crew are littered with familiar faces, and it’s not even worth it to try to name them all because it would go on forever. But let’s try a few – there’s Sharon Stone, Melanie Griffiths, Megan Mullally, Seth Rogen (as one of the funniest characters; his short scene in the bank was amazing), Adam Scott, Judd Apatow as a hilarious fictionalized version of a producer like himself, and my fave, Jason Mantzoukas. Oh and Bryan Cranston as himself. This movie is RIDICULOUS and crazy and somehow it all came together perfectly. James Franco really knows what he is doing outside the bedroom. The water bottle scene was one of the best comedic takes in forever.
If you haven’t seen it yet, I recommend it wholeheartedly and suggest that you watch “The Room” after, not before, as many say to do. Watching “The Room” first, you may get more of the jokes and references in “The Disaster Artist”, but watching it after will be so much more rewarding because you’ve seen the making of it, or at least ‘a’ making of it, and you will appreciate the nonsense in it even more.
I’m sure their creators want the films to stand on their own merit, and they do, but this is a great companion piece to “Darkest Hour”, and both are improved by watching them together. In “Darkest Hour”, Churchill confers with his cabinet about the problem at Dunkirk – all the abandoned men, no good way to save them – and we see just a bit of what happens. Here, it’s like you paused “Darkest Hour” and hit the ‘Tell me more!’ button on your audioguide in a museum or something, and got more of the story of this important moment in the war. I love how perfectly the two British tales of WWII connect and how they strengthen each other by giving detail on one hand and context on the other. Christopher Nolan did a nice job of marrying the harrowing aspects with the inspiring parts of the story, to avoid the soul-crushing depression that war movies usually produce while forestalling the risk of being too hopeful. It is war, after all.
“Get Out”, from comedic mastermind Jordan Peele, is not funny as you’d expect from him, but it is freaking brilliant. I knew going in that it was supposedly genius about race, but with it being a horror movie, I just expected that maybe racists were gonna be murdered. It’s not that at all. Okay, racists do get murdered and that’s nice but there’s so much more to it than that. “Get Out” is the story of a black guy named Chris (Daniel Kaluuya, who is fantastic and so believable and omg the stillface crying amazing) who goes with his white girlfriend (Alison Williams) to her family’s, like, compound in the woods (already a red flag, man) to meet her parents. Alright, that sounds…fine? Chris’s best friend, whose real-life name is Lil Rey so that’s what we are going to call him because why would you ever rename that, is like dude don’t ever go to meet a white girl’s fam, that shit’s gonna be bad. And Chris is like calm down and go back to violating air travelers’ basic constitutional rights, it’ll be fine. Lil Rey was right though, because immediately things are weird. Alison’s parents, Bradley Whitford and Catherine Keener in like the most g-d perfect casting ever, are that sort of outwardly nice but creepy and uncomfortable in the way you can’t really call out without sounding like a douche. At first, I mean; later you can say why very clearly. They say things like how they would have voted for Obama a third time to obviously try to show that they are so cool with black people but it really shows how wrong they get it. Her brother, played by Caleb Landry Jones who is just all over the Oscar map this year (he’s the ad guy who gets thrown out the window in “Three Billboards”), is terrifyingly unhinged and prime for a fight even though he is a weak-looking white boy. He has that totally unstable, deranged look of a psychopath in his eyes from the start, and you think oh this guy is the scary racist one but nope everyone is. There are two black servants in the house/compound, and Chris tries to reach out to them and find some common ground, but something is seriously off with them. They have fake smiles and don’t seem to be capable of basic honest interactions. Something is off, like their minds are under external control.
Alison claims to have forgotten that her grandfather is having a huge let’s-have-all-our-rich-white-out-of-touch-friends-over party that same weekend, so Chris has to deal with a barrage of odd, racist-but-not-enough-to-call-out comments on his physical appearance and his relationship and everything. These scenes so perfectly call out white liberals who think that if they aren’t wearing a Klan hood, they can’t possibly be racist. But it’s clear that the white people find black people to be other. Things get extra creepy when Catherine Keener hypnotizes Chris, ostensibly to quit smoking but she breaks him down to his rawest emotional core to do so. Then, at the party, there is one other black man, a man we met in the terrifying opening scene of the movie, seemingly unrelated to the plot we’ve seen so far. It’s a man that Chris knew was missing from Brooklyn a few months back, and now finds him married to an old white lady and is acting, well, different, like a stuffy old rich white man living in the woods might act. Chris is freaked out and calls Lil Rey and Lil Rey is like ahh get out of there (that’s why it’s called that). When Chris finds a pile of photos of Alison (yes Chris is the only character’s name I’m using does it matter?) and other black boyfriends, and one of her with the maid, he knows something sinister is going on. He tries to leave and the family – including Alison, the one he thought was on his side – blocks him from leaving and you think ohhh shit, here we go. Catherine’s previous hypnotism means that as soon as she makes a certain sound again, Chris passes out, and he wakes up locked in the basement. Shit got real, real fast.
You could never guess the revelations to come, and as out-there as they are (I mean who besides Joey Tribbiani believes in brain transplants?), everything is done with such a keen eye towards a deeper meaning that it doesn’t even matter how sci-fi things are; you buy into this world Peele has created and everything adds up in it. Of course the big scary secret is full-on bodily takeover through intricate medical procedures. Of course this rich white family has made their fortune through the subjugation of black people, and of course they don’t think there’s anything wrong with that. One of the best moments is the montage-y, wordless bit where Chris and Alison are off talking about how creepy everyone is, while Bradley supposedly takes the guests to play Bingo. But it’s clear they aren’t playing Bingo; they are holding up Bingo cards in what seems to be an auction, with a portrait of Chris at the front. There’s no getting around what they are bidding on, as if they have the right to buy and sell black people just because they are white, and the too-accurate similarity to a slave auction is undeniable. And while they are buying the men for slightly different reasons, the mindset allowing for this still comes from the same place, of the sort of racism that tells them they have the right to do this by virtue of their skin color.
Every second of this movie, and every bit of acting, informs the overall story so well that it requires repeated viewings to catch everything. The servants you thought were merely brainwashed and/or scary are more complex than that, and their initial impressions do more than you gave credit for. I honestly did not predict that Alison was going to be part of the scheme, and her physical transformation from cute and fun to terrifyingly sinister is really well done (she looks like Sharon Stone in “Basic Instinct” afterwards). The initially friendly manners of the family aren’t simply a cover for their true evil, they also mirror how people in real life think that if they act nice, that means they can’t be racist, that they are good people, even if they are actively taking your rights away, even though Sondheim taught us long ago that nice and good aren’t the same thing. I couldn’t really sleep after I watched this movie because I was so terrified of Bradley Whitford but more than that I was shook, as a white person and as a person living in a society that pretty much the same as the one depicted, albeit minus a few steps in medicine. And that’s the point of the movie, isn’t it? It’s horrifying but in a smart way, to make viewers really consider what they are watching and more importantly what they are a part of in real life.
As I’m sure you do, I remember vividly the lead-up to the 1994 Lillehammer Winter Olympics, when Nancy Kerrigan was attacked. Everyone remembers the news channels, newly reveling in their ability to broadcast bullshit across the airwaves 24/7, playing over and over and over her screaming “Whyyyyyyy!!!” It was so sad. Somehow, “I, Tonya” makes that clip of her screaming funny. It’s not – it’s horrifying – but the movie’s lead up to it is so funny and well done that the audience laughed at her screaming. Now that’s super dark. Anyway, we all remember how Tonya Harding became a name that will live in infamy, as she was widely suspected to have known about the attack that her bodyguard set up. This movie pretends to be based on interviews with Tonya and her husband and is similar to an older documentary about the subject. Despite the docu-style content, it is still made very clear that we still do not know and never will know the truth about what happened – both to Nancy and to Tonya throughout her life. Every player tells a different version of events, and one of the most genius parts, and most frustrating, is that they remind us that we really will never know the truth, because I don’t know about you but I don’t exactly trust Tonya Harding hundo p at her word, and you definitely don’t trust her mother or husband. Tonya becomes the most sympathetic character in a room full of horrible people.
Margot Robbie as Tonya took me by surprise. I never gave her credit for her acting ability, considering her past roles have usually focused on her just being pretty. But she makes a sensational Tonya, if a little too pretty. She’s angry and rough and strong at times and weak at times and it’s so fully developed. It’s an incredible performance and this whole Tonya Harding redemption thing that’s going on, which is weird because she may be a criminal who attacked a friend and competitor, is happening because her performance makes you really want Tonya the character to succeed and get treated better and that blurs the lines between her and the real-life version. The other sensational performance in this movie is Allison Janney as her mother LaVona, a black-hearted witch if there ever was one. This kind of role is so much fun for the actor, who can completely let go of everything and wallow in being pure evil but kind of funny. Allison is always great, and here she is so incredibly wicked it’s riveting, if terrifying.
A lot of Tonya’s life, as depicted, is terrifying. Her father abandons her early on, and she never stood a chance alone with her cruel, abusive mother, who beats her almost as much as her first boyfriend and then husband Jeff does. Luckily, through all of that turmoil, she was able to skate, and she had something special that fancy coaches saw. Unfortunately, the hoity toity judges in figure skating never gave her a fair shake, because they wanted their leading skaters to represent the sport with class – meaning, they hated Tonya because she wasn’t very pretty, or petite, or rich, or otherwise fancy-looking. She was told to get a fur coat so the sport would acknowledge her presence, so she, being dirt poor, made one from animals she hunted. (Vegan note: Close your eyes when she is a little girl and hunting with her dad.) Worst of all, she became the best at one point, always landing her jumps with athletic prowess, always skating her heart out, but because her hand-sewn costumes didn’t look nice, and because her power wasn’t as girly and delicate and innocuous as they wanted, the judges across the sport kept her from taking her place at the top. That is, until they couldn’t deny her any longer – when she became the first woman in the world to land a triple axel in competition. No one else even had the balls to attempt one, and she was out there landing them with aplomb. For that brief, shining moment leading up to her first Olympics, she was the best and had a world of good prospects.
But her f-ing husband was a piece of shit, and his repeated beatings messed with her mind so much that it kept her from doing her best. If she tried to get away from him, her mother would pick up the slack. In present-day interviews, older and wiser Tonya (a truly horrid Margot, in really impressive latex and makeup, just great job all around) would recount all the trauma and trouble she encountered and repeatedly add in that x and y weren’t her fault. And they weren’t, but after a few more instances you realize that she doesn’t accept credit for anything that happened in her life. Nothing was her fault, and maybe most of it wasn’t, most of it was awful people being awful to her, but in avoiding any responsibility she also avoided doing anything to improve her unfair situation.
And that’s what this movie does so well. Amid all the brilliant skating (I love figure skating so all the actual routines they showed (with Margot and two trained doubles) I adored) and all the competitiveness was a look at the everyday human condition, the introspective look at what makes some people able to ascend their upbringings or get past their hardships and what makes them stuck there. And despite being really depressing, seeing how unfair everything in her life was, it was also hilarious. A lot of this was from her beyond-bumbling bodyguard Shawn, a true idiot if there ever was one, who bungled everything he put his giant greasy hands on. No matter what we know or don’t know about Tonya and Jeff’s role in the attack, we know Shawn was the ‘mastermind’, and he is portrayed so hysterically as just a giant sack of stupid. I loved when they included his prime time TV interview, in which he said he was an international counter-terrorism expert, and the news anchor was like ‘…no you’re not.’ Tonya’s husband, Jeff, was a different kind of idiot, a sleazy, less obvious idiot but an idiot nonetheless. That these brainless boobs tried to get away with a crime of any sort, let alone a high-profile one related to the Olympics, is mind-boggling. And as for Tonya herself, the movie creates a host of contrasting emotions and I guess that’s what the point is. Whereas everyone was taught to simply hate her at one point, the movie makes you feel bad for her, feel sorry for her upbringing, feel angry that she was treated so terribly by every single person in her life (except the nice lady coach), and of course feel conflicted that maybe she knew more than she said she did. I really never would have guessed that a movie about Tonya Harding would be incredibly enjoyable, funny, and moving.
“Lady Bird” follows the life of Christine McPherson, a Sacramento teenager who gives the impression of finding herself too cool for her town, too cool for her Catholic high school (I mean who isn’t), and too cool for her family and friends. She believes wholeheartedly that if she could just get to New York, for college, then she would find and be a part of the real life she wants and knows to exist there. It’s so common, that feeling that teens have that real life is happening somewhere else, and they just have to get there to be a part of it, and then when they go they realize that everywhere is pretty much the same and this ideal of ‘real life’ is up to you to create, regardless of location. But until that realization, people like her resent everything and everyone around them for not being the far-off dream. The meticulous writing exposes her relationships so efficiently, you understand where everyone stands in an instant. For example, in the first scene. Christine (Saoirse Ronan, amazing and omg her accent is perfect can you please teach all the British actors on the West End doing American parts), who wants to be called Lady Bird because of course she does, is in the car with her mom (Laurie Metcalf, a total bitch but soooo good in this) crying at the end of the audiobook of “The Grapes of Wrath”. When it finishes, Lady Bird goes to put the radio on, and her mom stops her and asks to just sit with what they just heard for a minute (which I SO GET). This pisses Lady Bird off and in the quickest of moments they go from nice bonding moment to all-out fighting and it’s the most believable interaction. You see it coming and you can tell that neither can stop it from happening but there it goes. So precise and flawless.
The cast of characters in school with Lady Bird are just as impeccably depicted. There’s Ladybird’s sweet, overweight best friend Julie (Beanie Feldstein, my FAVORITE, absolutely amazing in “Hello, Dolly” on Broadway with Bette Midler and now in this movie??? GO BEANS GIT IT), sweet and lovable and the perfect kind of friend for Lady Bird, aspiring popular girl, to drop by the wayside when cooler prospects call for it. There’s Lucas Hedges, more than making up for being in the most overrated movie of the 2010s, “Manchester by the Omg I’m asleep so fast”, as Danny, a charming and respectful boy who is great in the school musicals which must mean he’s hiding something. The scene in which he and Lady Bird finally confront each other over his secretly being gay is one of the most moving and remarkable on both actors’ parts. Lucas is heartbreaking in his abject fear of what will happen to him (he goes to a Catholic school remember jfc), and Saoirse goes from cold and angry with him to supportive and compassionate in a split second when she realizes his fear is more important than her being disappointed in a high school relationship. This scene was utter perfection. I mean everything was perfection but this scene will stick with me. I also loved the depiction of Timothee Chalamet’s douchey Kyle (this cast tho), because Greta’s writing nails that kind of white privileged pretty boy who has no idea of anything in the world. “Oh I don’t believe in money; I try to barter where I can” and Lady Bird’s like “our private school costs money and you are rich you dingus” well she doesn’t call him a dingus, I added that, because she’s still swooning over his face even though he is suuuch a douuuche. It’s so ACCURATE. And there’s Odeya Rush as popular pretty Jenna, who isn’t nearly all that and a bag of chips but Lady Bird really really wants to be her friend because that’s how teenage girls think.
The essential, poignant relationships are of course those of Lady Bird and her parents. Laurie Metcalf so quickly defines her character with precise bounds, you understand how a teenage girl would react to and try to break them. You clearly see why they each act the way they do, and how their clashing personalities can’t prevent every looming conflict, and while Laurie’s character kind of sucks a lot, you still can understand why she is so harsh (sometimes) and that it (sometimes) comes from a place of love. She is so clearly afraid for what her not-so-hard-working daughter’s life will hold once she is out of the safety of high school, and although she doesn’t prod her daughter in the most positive ways, you see that she just wants the best for her. Her strictness is driven by the fear that her daughter won’t amount to anything once she leaves home. She simultaneously wants Lady Bird to work harder to achieve more and lessen her expectations regarding what the real world holds for her. Getting much less acclaim, though no less deserving of it, is Tracy Letts, my main man, as her father. Can I just say, it is SO NICE to see this incredible actor and one of our best living playwrights as a decent, kind man instead of a jackass like his character on “Homeland”, or, as I first saw him, as the hideous psychological tormenter in “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” He also writes really disturbing work, like “August: Osage County” so yay for giving him a job that just let him be nice and supportive of his family instead of trying to destroy it.
The real stars are of course Saoirse and Greta (kind of sounds like Hansel and Gretl right), creating absolute perfection, one with her vision and imagination, one with her interpretation. I can’t remember a movie that was about a female protagonist that felt so real and lived in. It’s nice to get one. I can’t wait to watch this over and over.
In this very nice to look at film, Kenneth plays Hercule Poirot, famous detective, doing a ridiculous French accent because apparently no one in Kenneth’s life ever tells him no. He’s in like Istanbul or something and he solves a crime that gets a police man in trouble, so that’s a great start, but then it’s confusing and you’re like okay somehow he’s on a fancy train, not sure why or how considering the crime he needs to solve on the train didn’t happen yet, whatever. Then you see this incredibly fancy train and you’re like what the actual fuck because what trains really look like that, where are the flooding toilets of recycled water and the Uzbek men taking off their shirts and the babies running around naked and screaming at you in Chinese and the heat, my god the heat? Fancy people know how to travel. And you see Johnny Depp flirt with Michelle Pfeiffer and Josh Gad in a silly mustache and Leslie Odom, Jr. NOT singing and also in a silly mustache and you see Penelope Cruz and you are like what the actual fuck are you doing in this movie and then there’s a Jedi and then there’s Judi Dench and by this point you’re like no this is too much nonsense. How do so many good actors produce so horrendous acting? Is that a result of poor direction or the camera speed where everything looks like the news? So much potential but so poorly managed, and I don’t know whether to blame Kenneth or just recognize that this story is best told in book form. Maybe both maybe both.
“The Shape of Water” (whatever container it’s in? heyoooo) tells the story of Eliza, a kind little woman who is mute and has only her older gay neighbor Giles (Richard Jenkins, always so good) to spend time with outside of work. She works as a cleaning lady in a government research facility, where her only friend there is the always hilarious Octavia Spencer as Zelda, talking enough for the both of them. Soon the two Michaels enter the scene: Michael Stuhlbarg, a govvie scientist (named Dr. Robert Hoffstetler, which I’m sharing because I think my high school English teacher was named Robert Hostetler it’s close it’s close) , is helping examine a new ‘asset’ in the lab, a man-sized sea creature that will help them fight the Russians…somehow…; and Michael Shannon, always terrifying, is the Colonel in charge of the operation who really just wants to bash the thing open and examine it that way, and also wants to take all the joy out of the world. Zelda and Eliza are tasked with cleaning the lab where the creature’s giant tank is located and FOR SOME UNKNOWN REASON they are often LEFT THERE UNMONITORED. I mean really, of all the crazy shit that happens in this movie, what with a sea creature not only EXISTING but being able to fall in love with humans and cure their baldness, THIS was the most unbelievable part. There’s no way in hell that a government lab would ever leave an alien type life form unattended, especially with civilians in there with him/it.
But let’s suspend that little touch of disbelief for now because we’ve already accepted this world where the creature exists anyway. At the beginning, you’re like, is this going to be some really weird Beauty and the Beast situation where we’re supposed to be okay with bestiality? But after a little while you’re like eh what’s the harm, and you stop holding onto your doubt and your scruples because this world onscreen is so gloriously considered that it doesn’t really matter what you personally think. And all the thoughts I had early on like looking around and saying ‘um this is weird, guys’ to the ghost of Guillermo in the theatre with me quickly vanished and I was just like ‘alright I’m buying into this.’ Even my initial annoyance that Sally Hawkins had to be completely naked in the beginning went away the next time she was naked (she was naked a lot) and I just totally bought that she had to be naked a lot. Guillermo is a wizard.
So Eliza, although she has two whole friends, is still pretty lonely, and she slowly starts to befriend the sea creature, whom we will refer to, because I’m tired of typing sea creature, as…Baby Fish Mouth. She feels bad for it because mean old Michael Shannon keeps beating and electrocuting it into submission because he is another great example of fragile white masculinity in a man who needs to oppress those in positions of lesser privilege than him in order to continue feeling like he has a hold on his undeserved power. He really hurts Baby Fish Mouth okay that’s not going to work either, okay he’s like a mermaid, well a merman, right so let’s call himmmm Ethel Merman oh my goddddd this is my best work. Omg they should have called Eliza ‘Ethel’ because they he could be Ethel’s Merman. Okay so Eliza is very sweet and like one of those rare decent humans who feels empathy for others in pain and shockingly doesn’t want any being to suffer, so she starts sneaking in to the lab and giving Merman eggs to eat and teaching him signs for things. One of the main reasons she is drawn to his company is because he is like her in his silence and his communicating with signs, and she doesn’t really have anyone like that in her life, anyone who sees her for what she is and doesn’t judge her as lacking anything. It’s weird af I know but it’s really sweet when you break down the reasons for their connection. Over time (not as much as you’d think though; you’d think that a human would need a little more time to come around to the idea of taking a mermaid as a lover but here we are), their connection deepens, and when Eliza overhears the Colonel’s plan to kill Merman against the protestations of the guy who is actually a scientist (and a Russian spy, but that’s neither here nor there), she is initially devastated and then determined to save his life. With the help of Giles, and with the grudging consent of Zelda, Eliza undertakes to save the life of the man? thing? Merman she loves and keep him in her bathtub for just a bit until the rains allow the canal to open to the ocean. It all makes a lot of sense.
Because this world of the movie is so meticulously formed and so beautifully rendered, with every word and frame carefully considered, it manages to expertly handle so many things at once - the evil government operative with a great deal of power, the Russian spy who may still be a decent man who means well, adorable old Richard Jenkins trying to pick up a pie shop worker, the fact that Giles and Eliza live above a movie theatre, and of course the love story between a mute lady and a SEA MONSTER – without ever feeling like there’s too much going on or that something could have been cut. Everything feels necessary to tell the complete story, and it’s so well done. The revelation of what Eliza’s scars may have always been meant for was one of my favorite moments in movies this year, maybe ever. I was super stressed out the entire time watching this movie – there’s a lot to worry about – but at that moment, towards the end, there’s a feeling of resolution and it resolves everything that came before, like one complete perfect circle that you didn’t know was going to be a circle until that moment. It feels so natural, that it had to end like that, and even though this story is wacky af on paper, onscreen it’s beautiful and poignant.
Frances McDormand, who apparently only does amazing work, like has she ever ever done something that wasn’t incredible, plays Mildred Hayes, the grieving mother of Lucas Hedges (yet again; who is this kid’s agent) and a girl who has been abducted and murdered. She is furious, as one would be, that the local police department, run by Woody Harrelson and ‘helped’ by an inept Sam Rockwell, still hasn’t found the murderer or served any kind of justice, meaning that Frances isn’t being allowed to fully grieve. As such, she decides to take matters into her own hands, to try to get something done. She hires the three titular billboards to call out the police department – Woody’s chief in particular – and ask why nothing has been done. And although everyone in town kind of hates her for it, it does light a fire under their asses a bit, and spurs further investigation in a case that most of the people wanted to forget about.
Woody’s chief is actually a decent man, who understands where Mildred is coming from although he doesn’t like it. He’s also dying of cancer, which doesn’t seem like the moooost necessary plot point, but it does mean that the town hates her even more for being hard on him. I mean, she just wants him to do his job, but he is so beloved and it’s so sad that he’s suffering that she gets lots of death threats. Like she gives a shit. The sense that, although the two of them can’t really stand each other, they understand and maybe respect each other, is well established and it’s unfortunate that it’s so short-lived. One part that was really not well done, and sticks out like a sore thumb as just the weirdest part of the movie, is Woody’s last jaunt with his wife and the letter he writes her after. That letter is awkward as ass. No one would write that kind of stuff ever, let alone in a suicide note. I call bullshit.
There’s a lot that seems extraneous but it all works together to inform the story. Like Mildred’s abusive ex-husband who is now with a super young girl, making her life even harder than it already is. There’s Peter Dinkalge as a local who wants to date Mildred and so helps her out even though she’s mean to him. That’s not so necessary but ok. There’s the young guy working in the office that owns the billboards (Caleb Landry Jones) who is a dumb goof but means well. And then there’s the man who throws him out the window and causes a whole lot of trouble before he maybe starts doing some good, Sam Rockwell, as Officer Dixon, is a racist who enjoys beating up local black people for no reason, so we are told in dialogue but so it is not hard to believe because that is indeed what American cops enjoy doing. He’s a monster who thinks he is doing good, which is the worst kind of monster. Like when he beats the living hell out of Caleb, he thinks he is doing a nice thing by protecting his chief’s honor. He’s like an idiot helper dog, or a kid who dumps flour all over the floor and says “I’m helping”. He’s like an evil racist Ralph Wiggum, I guess.
Mildred becomes a sort of similar monster too, when she thinks she is doing good and has good intentions but decides to do things like set the police station on fire. When Dixon is revealed to be still in the station when it’s set alight, I really thought he was going to die; I did not realize how much time was left. The near-death experience helps him to sooooort of start acting like he’s not the worst person on the face of the earth, and he tries to actually solve the Hayes case. It’s a nice turnaround, but it’s effectively the redemption story of a horrible white male racist, which is not the story we really need. Yes racists should stop being terrible and should help people solve crimes or whatever, but when taken with the fact that all the black people in the movie are irrelevant to the plot, or that he never really faces consequences for his racism, it’s a bit much.
Putting aside the racial awkwardness, the film is a whole lot. I’m not sure of what, but it’s a lot. It’s moving sometimes, it’s harrowing, it’s hilarious sometimes – though not as much as the trailer would have you believe. Honestly, this had probably the best trailer I’ve ever seen, so masterfully done to make it seem like a really sensational dark comedy. But while parts were funny, it was a serious drama overall. Trailer lied. The movie is much more serious than the trailer gave it credit for, or admitted, but of course it is when you learn what really happened to the daughter. It’s disturbing and hard to agree with the perspective that Mildred is going too far off the rails when you think about what she’s dealing with. Yes she’s going nuts and neglecting her son and her sense of decency, but I’m sure it’s hard to remember what decency feels like at times like that. And although there is so much to grapple with, so much discomfort both in the story and the telling, I think that’s the point? Maybe? Regardless, Frances does such a tremendous job of carrying this film that the issues don’t terribly matter in the end, because it’s so exhilarating to watch her wreak havoc on everything around her with such mastery. The acting is what makes this movie great when the writing threatens to let it down. I feel like I really enjoyed this movie and thought it was great but the more I think about it the more conflicted I get so let’s just stop.
Your turn! Tell me your thoughts!