Lina Lamont

"What do you think I am, dumb or something?"

Archive for the tag “Greta Gerwig”

Jackie

This review first appeared in the Sunday Star-Times, 15th January 2017

4.5 stars, Rated M, 99 mins

The first thing that strikes you when watching Natalie Portman on screen as Jackie Kennedy is that the actress must have done her homework. Portman, an Oscar winner for Black Swan who has forged a reputable career since she debuted at age 12 in Leon: The Professional, took a break from Hollywood to complete a psychology degree at Harvard because she considers being smart more important than being famous. And so, if the strangely accented, halting drawl comes across as a bit mannered in her evocation of JFK’s First Lady, rest assured that Portman will have worked tirelessly for this role, and what we’re seeing is the real deal.

jackie

Jackie is a strange sort of biopic in many ways. Principally, it doesn’t seek to tell the tale from the beginning – we learn nothing of how the socialite met her prince and established the house of Camelot. Instead, the film focuses on the days surrounding JFK’s assassination in Dallas, skipping between Jackie’s interview with a dispassionate reporter (a steely and terrific Billy Crudup) as she conjures up recollections of that dreadful day, and a depiction of the actual event and its immediate aftermath.

With a great cast and evident dedication to accurately relaying history, it’s an often devastating watch. Portman’s superb performance as distraught widow is underscored by the tension between her right to privately grieve and a lack of time in which to do it. The brutal haste with which JFK is succeeded is galling: Vice President and Lady Johnson (a perfect John Carroll Lynch and Beth Grant) make excellent villains as Jackie witnesses his swearing in as President on Air Force One mere hours after the shooting, while she stands dazed in the background.

The other thing that marks Jackie out is director Pablo Larrain’s very particular style of filmmaking. Shot on 16mm film, every frame looks like archive footage from the period (excepting the small quibble that Portman is too beautiful to truly convince as the albeit stylish Jackie O), and several scenes are recreated shot for shot from clips you can view for yourself on YouTube. The production design of the White House and, of course, Jackie’s signature suits are spot-on, while her staffers (Greta Gerwig, Richard E. Grant, both terrific) and brother-in-law Bobby (Peter Sarsgaard) perfectly embody the 1960s in their speech and attitudes.

But above all, this is Portman’s film. With tangible pain, she portrays a woman preoccupied by her husband’s legacy and reputation, while clearly drowning in grief. There is nothing as lonely as the sight of the former First Lady wandering vacantly around the White House in a pink suit stained with her husband’s blood. Harrowing and fascinating, Jackie is a beautiful, painful throwback to a terrible moment in history.

Mistress America

This review first appeared in the Sunday Star-Times, November 2015

The quirkily charming Frances Ha won hearts and critical acclaim two film festivals ago, so it’s natural that the repeated pairing of director Noah Baumbach and lead actress/co-writer Greta Gerwig should feel somewhat like a trip down memory lane.

Sticking to the seminal setting of New York City (because why move away from that wonderful town), Gerwig again takes the tale’s titular role, but this time her leading lady status is filled by TV starlet Lola Kirke. (Aside from small roles in Gone Girl and Reaching for the Moon, her face will be fresh to most audiences.) The coltish, doe-eyed Kirke plays Tracy, a smart young woman in her first year at university who is not fitting in. An aspiring writer, she longs for the kudos bestowed by the secretive and elitist Mobius Literary Society, but instead winds up drinking home-made screwdrivers in the dorm room of a platonic male friend. Tracy’s life then takes a more exotic turn when she meets her soon-to-be stepsister, the adventurous and self-obsessed Brooke (Gerwig).

Like Frances Ha, the script is laden with hilarious, scatty dialogue and while the film sometimes slides into self-indulgence, it’s sufficiently meta to almost get away with it. There’s a lovely evocation of the travails of a budding young author, and Brooke’s particular shade of frivolous is just this side of credible, thanks largely to Tracy’s deadpan foil which helps to soak up the franticness of the pacing and gives us time to absorb the scriptwriters’ considerable wit.

Also like Frances Ha, Mistress America is reminiscent of the TV show Girls (and the metaphor is extended by Lola Kirke’s being the real-life sister of Girls’ Jemima), but while Brooke manages to deliver several of the cleverest insights without appearing disingenuous, the subject matter is kept pretty light and frothy. An hilarious, rather theatrical show-down at the fancy house of an ex-best friend provides the story’s raison d’être and, for many, this will be reason enough to see it.

Frances Ha

Frances Ha (not her real name) lives in a black and white New York City. She’s 27, still finding herself but not even really knowing where to look, as she drifts between college and an attempt at a grown-up career as a dancer. Quirky and undeniably lovely, she nonetheless suffers the slings and arrows of being told she looks older than her age “but less mature”, and that she’s “completely undateable” by her evidently keen flatmate, Benjy. To top things off, her best gal-pal, Sophie, just isn’t around so much anymore. Frances is at a bit of a loss.

Directed by The Squid and the Whale‘s Noah Baumbach, and co-written with the star, Greta Gerwig, this is economical filmmaking at its best (and a mere snip at 82 minutes). We see just enough of Frances’ family Christmas to know she’s parentally-supported and stable, and not to be pitied. Whip-smart dialogue between her arty flatmates (including the droll Adam Driver from TV’s Girls) keeps pace with zippy action as Frances makes an ill-fated trip to Paris, providing a ruefully funny anti-cliché. She’s awkward at dinner parties, but manages to pirouette neatly along the fine line between foolish and funny so that we don’t find her annoying.

Though Frances Ha is inevitably reminiscent of Girls (in tone and subject as much because of Driver’s participation), Frances is less angsty and self-conscious than Hannah. This girl deserves accolades in her own right.

The youth of today – When child actors steal the show

My favourite Oscar memory is from 1994. New Zealand is perfectly situated on the globe to enable us to watch the livecast ceremony on an otherwise boring Monday afternoon each year. Two decades ago a bunch of us eschewed uni lectures (gosh, this is becoming a theme…) and took over a table at the uni pub, instructed the bartender to switch the channel from sport, and sat for four glorious hours as The Piano took home lots of trophies. It was on this afternoon that a wee Anna Paquin, wide-eyed and hyperventilating in an aqua beret but ever the professional, proclaimed a breathless, Antipodean-accented “I’d like to thank the Academy” as she took the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress.

Kids on film are great. For some reason there are far more bad adult actors than there are children, and this isn’t just because the casting director got lucky. Kids often have a guileless honesty about them, and therefore deliver performances that lasso you with their heart-aching simplicity.

Weight of Elephants

The Weight of Elephants is one such example. The New Zealand-Danish production takes us into the strained life of young Adrian who lives with his fraught grandma and mentally ill Uncle Rory (Matthew Sunderland, terrific as always). Adrian’s little face is in frame for most of the movie, and though his travails are those of many a young Kiwi lad – the longing to be accepted by friends and family – novice actor Demos Murphy moves like he’s living the experience rather than acting it out. Filmmaker Daniel Borgman has created a stunning film that indulges the audience with sweeping slo-mo shots set to an exquisite soundtrack. The plot is gently involving, opening up myriad threads that feel urgent in their resolution, so if I have any complaint it’s that this truly cinematic and beautiful film stops more suddenly than you might wish.

Two more great kids steal every scene in the superlative The Selfish Giant. Despite glowing reviews from the UK, I was still surprised to see a totally packed out audience at my screening; the type of crowd who usually flocks to something cheerier. I worried one of us must have misread the programme, until the story began and I knew that it wasn’t me…

It’s grim up north and director Clio Barnard sure knows how to paint an authentic portrait of life below the poverty line as wiry, hyperactive Arbor and his best friend Swifty, counterpoint to Arbor in every way, search for scrap metal in order to raise money to “pay the electric”. Set in Bradford, life is grey and grimy and extremely hard, as evidenced on the faces of all the adults (including a welcome turn from Downton Abbey‘s Miss O’Brien playing a contemporary, downtrodden mother). But despite the universally hard knocks, there is a glimmer of hope that their lot may improve thanks to Swifty’s acuity with gypsy horse racing.

With intensely natural dialogue, every performance is heart-breakingly real – think Ken Loach or Mike Leigh when he’s not being funny. Aided by stunning cinematography and a knack for pacing, this is effortless filmmaking.

Slightly older kids, and closer to home, are Romeo Montegue and Juliet Capulet, two beautiful young things living in the Verona Campground just outside Auckland. Their families are rivals, so it doesn’t bode well when they clap eyes on one another at a boozy party and fall instantly in love. Given the bad odds for marriage nowadays, is their fate sealed or doomed?

Capulet

Forget Baz Luhrmann’s madcap updating of Shakespeare’s classic tale – Romeo and Juliet: A Love Song presents the star-crossed lovers as you’ve never seen – or heard – them before. Set entirely to a newly written rock opera soundtrack, the Verona Campground is a haven of Westie attire and rough but loving family values, peopled by tough-looking folk with angelic voices. The acting is by turns hilarious or heartfelt (as appropriate), and the music an exciting compilation of rap, rock and ballad – all photographed like one long glorious music video.

My friend, an accomplished musician and high school English teacher (thus aptly qualified to comment) was so rapt she described it as better than Jesus Christ Superstar. Indeed, it’s not just local audiences who will dine out on the Kiwiness of it all, but this innovative and incredibly accomplished rendering of one of the oldest stories in the book deserves to be appreciated worldwide.

A final shout-out to the youth of today: Greta Gerwig’s charming performance in Frances Ha. Far away from Waipu Cove, Frances lives in a black and white New York City with her best gal-pal, Sophie. Frances is 27, still finding herself but not even really knowing where to look, as she drifts between college and a grown-up career as a dancer. Quirky and undeniably lovely, she nonetheless suffers the slings and arrows of being told she looks older than her age “but less mature”, and that she’s “completely undateable” by the evidently keen Benji.

Frances Ha

Directed by The Squid and the Whale‘s Noah Baumbach, and co-written with Gerwig, this is economical filmmaking at its best (and a mere snip at 86 minutes). An ill-fated trip to Paris provides a ruefully funny anti-cliché. She’s awkward at dinner parties, but pirouettes neatly along the fine line between foolish and funny.

Though Frances Ha is inevitably reminiscent of TV’s Girls (enhanced by the presence of Adam Driver), Frances is less angsty and self-conscious than Hannah. This girl deserves accolades in her own right.

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