Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review, London Film Festival 2019

Waves (2019)

Image is property of A24

Waves – Film Review

Cast: Kelvin Harrison Jr, Taylor Russell, Alexa Demie, Renée Elise Goldsberry, Sterling K. Brown, Lucas Hedges

Director: Trey Edward Shults

Synopsis: Focusing on an African-American family, and the lives of the two children as they navigate the testing period between their teenage years and adulthood…

Review: No matter who you are, or where you’re from, there’s a lot of pressure on you when you’re young. The period between your teenage years and the transition to adulthood are extremely tough to negotiate as you try to figure out your path in life, and certain decisions can define your trajectory for a long time to come. With only his third feature film, writer/director Trey Edward Shults presents an emotional look at one family’s journey through this testing time, with some immensely powerful results.

Right from the get go, there’s something about the way Shults writes and directs this powerful story feels so raw and honest, and this translates into flawless performances from every member of the Williams family. At the head of the family is loving, but tough father Ronald (Brown), stepmother Catherine (Goldsberry), and the two children Tyler (Harrison Jr) and Emily (Russell). Initially, we see things from the perspective of Tyler, and on first glance, things appear to be going well for him. He has his place on the wrestling team and a loving girlfriend in Alexis (Demie). Through relentless pushing by his father, he strives for excellence in every aspect of his life. However, a startling revelation threatens to turn his idyllic life completely upside down, with potentially long-lasting consequences for him and everyone he loves.

In a film with impeccable performances across the board, Kelvin Harrison Jr leads the way with a tremendous, wounded performance as Tyler. He imbues this young man who’s not short of confidence and self-belief. However, underneath that exterior is someone who faces severe pressure of the expectations that society places on the shoulders of a young man like him. The whole time, he has something eating away at him. Amid the constant pushing from his father, he runs the risk of making a severe lapse in judgement. The film illustrates how young men all over the world can be overwhelmed by the weight of expectations that society places on them, and that it’s imperative for them to have figures of support to help them navigate the tricky journey that we call life.

Opposite him, Taylor Russell delivers an equally sensational performance as Tyler’s sister Emily. Though Tyler gets the limelight in the early stages of the film, Emily very much represents that vital figure of support that her brother really needs, even though she too is facing pressure of her own. The film is very much told in two halves, first from Tyler’s perspective, and then from Emily’s perspective. The first half of the screenplay is the stronger of the two due because of the sheer strength of the emotion of the situation that builds between these characters. Though, there comes a point about half way through where that emotion builds to a crescendo, and hits you like a ton of bricks.

Like a wave itself that has its highs and then it comes crashing back down, the second half of the story very much represents the point after the wave has reached its crescendo. It’s not emotionally powerful as the preceding half, but it serves as a necessary after-effect for the events that precede it. There’s a very intimate and personal manner to the way Shults directs the film, which gives the story a authentic vibe to this touching, and emotional story. Bolstered by a superb score from Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, the film serves as a reminder that growing up is far from an easy time, and that love and support can go a long way to building long-lasting relationships, with family and with friends in equal measure.

Flawless performances across the board, especially from Harrison Jr and Russell, bolstered by a well developed, and powerful story told with raw honesty. Be prepared for the extraordinary emotional journey that Waves will take you on.

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.