Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

Booksmart (2019)

Image is property of Annapurna Pictures and Gloria Sanchez Productions

Booksmart – Film Review

Cast: Beanie Feldstein, Kaitlyn Dever, Jessica Williams, Billie Lourd, Lisa Kudrow, Will Forte, Jason Sudeikis

Director: Olivia Wilde

Synopsis: Two high school students who’ve shone academically realise they have have missed out on some major high school/teenager shenanigans. On the last night before graduation, they decide to go out of high school with a bang…

Review: In many ways, high school/secondary school is the place where we really start to grow up, the place where we slowly start to make that steady transition from childhood to adulthood. We undertake some important exams that can potentially shape the rest of our lives. Whilst simultaneously, it’s a time when we usually start going out, partying and with any luck, making long lasting friendships and relationships. Some may choose to party too hard, some may get the balance right, and some may work too hard and not party enough.

Best friends Molly (Feldstein) and Amy (Dever) are most definitely the latter. They have spent their time very much concentrated on the academic side of high school with the focus of attaining a place in a top class college. However, as they prepare to graduate, it dawns on them that their focus on their academic work has been so razor sharp, that they have missed out on several years worth of partying and letting their hair down. Desperate to rectify this mistake, they realise that they must use the last night before graduation as their chance to cram as much partying and raucous behaviour into one night as they possibly can.

Look at these pesky up-to-no-good troublemakers….

Putting a refreshing and wholly unique take on the high school sex comedy/drama, is by no means an easy challenge. However, for her directorial debut, Olivia Wilde does exactly that. Having women front and centre, both in front of and behind the camera, definitely plays a massive part in ensuring this film stands out from the crowd. As the leading ladies, Beanie Feldstein and Kaitlyn Dever both give terrific lead performances. These two bounce off each others’ personalities to wonderful and hilarious effect. Their interaction and chemistry on screen is so warm and fuzzy, that they feel like fully fleshed out people. Right from the moment you meet them, they genuinely feel as though they have been friends for years.

Feldstein, who arguably stole the show with a wonderful comedic performance in Lady Bird, maintains that wonderful level of humour in a role that really gives her the chance to shine. She comes across as a bit aloof and snobby to the other students, but there is a warmth and sincerity to her, as well as a brilliant sense of humour.  By contrast, Dever as Amy is a much more withdrawn individual. She carefully chooses the right moments, when she is not with Molly, to come out of her shell.  Both have rich layers to them, so much so that there will almost certainly be people out there who will relate to them in some capacity, whether it be the desire to place emphasis on those hours of studying or being slightly withdrawn when it comes to social interaction, or perhaps even both.

Alongside Wilde in the directors chair, the film’s female team of writers (Emily Halpern, Sarah Haskins, Susanna Fogel & Katie Silberman) pen a fantastically witty script full of some truly brilliant jokes that are downright hilarious. There are one or two jokes don’t quite hit their mark, but the rest are just fantastic and extremely unique in terms of the delivery and the punchlines. Try as we might, those high school years are not a constant barrel of laughs, there will be times when some drama unfolds. Wilde’s excellent direction and the sincere performances from every member of this cast, ensure that this is captured in such an honest and authentic manner. It just goes to show that when you do your homework, as the cast and crew most certainly did, that it will pay tremendous dividends. Top marks all around.

Hilarious and heartfelt, with very sincere and genuine performances, a wonderfully refreshing take on the teen drama/coming-of-age comedy. 

Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

Lady Bird (2018)

Image is property of A24, Universal Pictures and Scott Rudin Productions

Lady Bird – Film Review

Cast: Saoirse Ronan, Laurie Metcalf, Tracy Letts, Lucas Hedges, Timothée Chalamet, Beanie Feldstein

Director: Greta Gerwig

Synopsis: Lady Bird  (Ronan) is a 17 year old woman in the final year of high school, while having a tricky relationship with her mother, must negotiate friendships, romance and the prospect of college…

Review: For some, those teenage years  are the best times of your life, on the brink of adulthood but not quite at that point where you have to start looking after your own affairs. It’s something that we all go through and is as much a part of life as death and taxes. As such, to make such a film about going through that particular period of life, and to give it such a refreshing and unique spin is a very impressive feat, even more so considering that this is the film that marks the directorial debut of Greta Gerwig.

Focusing on Christine or Lady Bird as she prefers to be known, as she navigates her final year of school before heading off to college. Before that can happen though, she experiences everything people go through in their final year of school, establishing friendships, making new relationships, and bickering with your parents. It is such a simple, almost by the numbers premise that has been done so many times before. Yet through her remarkable and screenplay that has some razor sharp wit and humour, Gerwig fashions a story that will be relatable to almost all who watch it, as everyone will have remembered that point in their lives when they were in the exact same position as Lady Bird finds herself here, particularly when it comes to moving away from home and settling down at college/university.

A key reason as to why this film feels so fresh and so impactful is the performance of Saoirse Ronan. You know that when you just see the character and not the actor is when you know you’re witnessing a good performance, and that is applicable for almost everyone in the film. Everything about her just feels so real and genuine, and though she has a bit of a temper (let’s be fair who didn’t when they were a teenager?) she is effortlessly watchable.  To have already garnered three Oscar nominations at the age of 23 is a staggeringly impressive achievement and it is a testament to her wonderful ability as an actor. With everyone everyone else on screen giving perfect performances, it does feel like you’re watching real people with real lives, rather than watching a film.

Special mention must go to Laurie Metcalf as Lady Bird’s mother. This Mother-Daughter relationship makes up the most significant portion of the film. It is a relationship that is far from perfect, indeed it’s a pretty fraught one at times. Yet there is a clear respect for one another, even if they don’t always show it. In everything the film says about the typical struggles a teenager goes through, especially for teenage girls. It manages to tell them in a manner that almost no coming-of-age film has done before. What’s more, the film is utterly hilarious, it finds its humour in all of those little moments that life throws at us when we’re on the brink of adulthood. The road of life is full of ups and downs and this film captures those moments of joy and heartbreak and tells them with such affection, that you will want a pal like Lady Bird around in your life. She’s just that lovable.

A familiar tale, but told in such a refreshingly original manner, this is a coming-of-age drama done almost to perfection, with a stunning turn from Ronan at its centre. 

Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

Moonlight (2017)

Image is property of A24, Plan B Entertainment and Pastel Productions

Moonlight – Film Review

Cast: Trevante Rhodes, Ashton Sanders, Alex Hibbert, Naomie Harris, Janelle Monáe, Mahershala Ali

Director: Barry Jenkins

Synopsis: Set in three distinct acts, chronicling the life of a young black boy growing up in Miami, charting his childhood, teenage years and finally his growth to adulthood.

Review: Growing up no matter who you are can be extremely difficult, no matter the circumstances. However, there is in certain parts of the world, a massive stigma that is attached towards people who are homosexual, which for any person in that situation, can be extremely difficult to come to terms with who you are. This makes Barry Jenkins’s coming of age drama about a young black boy growing up in a difficult Miami neighbourhood feel particularly relevant and poignant, what with the extremely delicate racial tensions occurring in the USA right now.

Adapted from In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue, an unfinished play by Tarell Alvin McCraney, we follow young Chiron in three stages of his life: childhood, adolescence and adulthood (played in each by Hibbert, Sanders and Rhodes respectively). To say he leads a difficult life is an extreme understatement. Picked on at school, an absent father whose whereabouts are never disclosed,  a mother who is addicted to drugs (Harris) and facing questions about his sexuality. In comes Juan, a father figure to Chiron who fills that void that so desperately needed filling. With the help of Juan, Chiron seeks to find his place in the world.

YE-Film-Top 10

With three distinct acts, the film chooses to not do what Boyhood did and narrow its focus to a few quite specific points in this three very different stages of life. This first act is the Mahershala Ali show, he’s the figure that Chiron needs in his life right now and there are a few scenes in particular that feel raw and emotional. With the move to adolescence, Juan is now out of the picture and although Sanders’s performance feels very raw, Juan is sorely missed as his absence is really felt. Jenkins script and direction helps to capture that struggle that it’s quite possible every teenager goes through, which is only compounded when you’re getting ruthlessly picked on because of your sexuality.

However, despite the delicate themes that the film seeks to explore, there is something in Jenkins’s screenplay that feels absent. As emotionally impactful as the subject matter may be, there isn’t really enough to really engage the audience or to get them to care about Chiron perhaps as much as they should. The dialogue at times feels drawn out and aimless in its direction, and though there is some character development, there is not sufficiently enough to the point where you feel completely invested in the life of this young man as you really ought to, and the final act in particular drifts painfully aimlessly to an extremely melancholic conclusion.

Alongside Ali, Naomie Harris gives perhaps her best ever performance as Chiron’s drug addicted mother. A woman who clearly loves her son, but though she tries so hard to show it, her addiction really harms their relationship. Harris rightfully scooped an Oscar nomination for her impact performance, and Ali went one step further and also very deservedly became the first Muslim actor to win an acting Oscar.

Nicholas Britell’s accompanying score is also worthy of immense praise, adding to the raw emotion really effectively in particular scenes. The Best Picture gong at the 89th Academy Awards indicates that there is no shortage of admirers for Moonlight, but for a film that has such delicate subject matter, there was a real opportunity to make a powerful statement, but with such an uninspiring third act, it feels like a glorious opportunity squandered.

With great performances from Ali and Harris, there’s something to be admired about tackling such tricky subject matter, but the end result is just not as compelling in a way that it could, and perhaps ought to be.