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Stateside Review


Grim
Stateside is interesting, for awhile, in the way that it fractures and places together pieces of several youth-movie subgenres. We have here, at various points, Rich Kid Makes Good; Opposed Young Love; Gaining Character in Grueling Boot Camp; and, most dubious of all, Mental Illness Romance. Starring in all of these mini-movies are Jonathan Tucker as Mark DeLoach, rich kid sent to the U.S. Marines in lieu of jail time for a DWI; and Rachael Leigh Cook as Dori Lawrence, schizophrenic star of stage and screen.

This sounds ridiculous, and sometimes it is -- when this mash-up isn't telling an engagingly off-kilter story with clever and/or strange details. For example, when Mark keeps a '40s-style pin-up in his Marine locker, there's a weird joke in the fact that the poster actually is the girl waiting for him back home. And that it's actually the '80s (you can tell because, like seemingly all quasi-hip characters in a sensitive youth-driven indie movie, everyone is constantly going to see The Evil Dead in theaters).

Continue reading: Stateside Review

The Squid and the Whale Review


Excellent
One feels pretty easy predicting at the start of Noah Baumbach's The Squid and the Whale - after a scene in which a family of four plays tennis and the father keeps hitting the ball so hard that the mother finally gives up in disgust - that divorce is not far away. Note to husbands: Do not try to hit spouse with tennis ball. Be especially wary of said aggressive behavior if that spouse is Laura Linney.

It's Park Slope, Brooklyn, circa 1986, and the Berkman family is splitting up at the mid-swing of the pendulum of the adults' professional lives. On the downswing is the father, Bernard (Jeff Daniels), a professor and once-celebrated writer. Linney plays the mother, Joan, a blossoming writer coming out from under Bernard's shadow. He's been distant and awful, she's had affairs and been generally resentful, so now Bernard is moving to a falling-down house on the far side of Prospect Park while she gets to keep the gorgeous brownstone. The kids, of course, get screwed, with split custody keeping them in one house for half the week and the other house for the rest. Ensuring that things will stay nice and dysfunctional, the kids choose sides, with teenaged Walt (Jesse Eisenberg) sticking with Bernard and even picking up his mannerisms, while younger Frank (Owen Kline) throws in with Joan.

Continue reading: The Squid and the Whale Review

Lover's Prayer Review


Grim
The hero of the unlikely British drama Lover's Prayer, based on Ivan Turgenev's story "First Love," is a frail, pale-faced, Russian boy named Vladimir (Nick Stahl) who stumbles through the movie as if his legs were stilts, barely finishing five complete sentences. The son of middle-class landowners, Vladimir is spending away summer near Moscow, waiting to go to college in the fall. He desperately wants to fall in love but, being very shy and deeply absorbed in his own naïve imaginary world, he's unsure of himself. To explain his longings, the director relieves the actor from acting almost entirely, and, instead, simply asks him carry his dour face throughout the movie and adds a voice over of an older Vladimir, his tone so dispassionate one wonders if the actor took sedatives before taking on the project.

Soon enough, Vladimir becomes acquainted with his parents' neighbors, an alcoholic and broke princess with a hair like a haystack, who, while reaching for a bottle, utters banalities in a loud piercing voice. Immediately, Vladimir falls for the princess's daughter Zinaida (Kirsten Dunst) and spends endless summer days in the company of this pug-nosed, plain looking capricious young woman. Zinaida adds Vladimir to her circle of admirers -- a group of men of every stripe, age, and rank. They all dance around Zinaida, playing charades, eager to fulfill her every wish. As it turns out, she seems to have many such admirers -- and Vladimir learns that she is having an affair with his own father.

Continue reading: Lover's Prayer Review

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