With its darkly emotive themes and brittle humour, this well-made drama by Jean-Marc Vallee (Dallas Buyers Club) isn't quite what it appears to be. It's not, for example, an exploration of grief, although that's in here. And it also isn't meant to be taken literally, because it's more of a parable. The main clue is in the moment when the central character comments that everything in his life seems to be a metaphor. Indeed it is. And this heightened sense of meaning makes the entire film unusually vivid.
The film opens as Wall Street banker Davis (Jake Gyllenhaal) emerges unscratched from a car crash that kills his beautiful wife Julia (Heather Lind). Unable to grieve, he begins to feel like the world around him is shifting inexplicably. So he starts taking things apart to see how they work, or why they don't. Soon he's dismantling his entire house. His father-in-law Phil (Chris Cooper), who is also his boss, becomes increasingly perplexed at Davis' erratic behaviour. And the only person Davis confides in is customer services rep Karen (Naomi Watts) and her confused 15-year-old son Chris (Judah Lewis). As Davis worms his way into their world, he slowly begins to see his own life more clearly.
This is a film about how some people let themselves drift along in the expected ways, never questioning what happens even though it doesn't feel quite right. In Davis' case, his wife's death jolts him awake. He begins to see the real world around him for the first time, including the absurdities of the life he had built around himself. Gyllenhaal invests Davis with remarkable layers of emotion as a generally cheerful guy being pulled apart from within by something he initially can't understand. His reactions to people around him grow increasingly more honest as the film progresses. And by the end, he's defying expectations and conventions in ways that feel shocking but are actually bracingly truthful.
Continue reading: Demolition Review
With one of Kate Winslet's most layered, resonant performances, this film is definitely worth a look, even though the indulgent filmmaking style pushes it perilously close to Nicholas Sparks-style sappiness. Clearly, writer-director Jason Reitman (Juno, Up in the Air) is shifting gears as a filmmaker, but the movie is in dire need of just a hint of his usual jagged wit.
It's set in 1980s New Hampshire, as the agoraphobic Adele (Kate Winslet) is struggling to raise her sensitive teen son Henry (Gattlin Griffith) on her own after her husband (Clark Gregg) left. Then one night escaped convict Frank (Josh Brolin) arrives at their house in need of a place to hide. The next day, Frank offers to help with some repairs on the house. He also notices that Henry needs to learn how to throw a baseball. And that Adele needs some affection. So over the long Labor Day Weekend, he becomes the badly needed man of the house. Then when a neighbour (J.K. Simmons) and a cop (James Van Der Beek) start snooping, they make a plan to run for the Canadian border.
Instead of a dark, menacing edge, Reitman washes the film in sun-dappled earnestness, ramping up the soapy emotions rather than the grittier issues these people so badly need to deal with. This reaches a low point when Frank teaches Adele how to bake a peach pie in a scene reminiscent of the lusty pot-spinning sequence in Ghost: laughably ridiculous. Fortunately, Winslet and Brolin generate some uneasy chemistry, and Griffith is a fine young actor in a very difficult role. Together, they pull the film back from the sudsy brink just in time for a genuinely tense final sequence.
Continue reading: Labor Day Review
Spikier than the average coming-of-age movie, this astute comedy-drama is packed with memorable characters and resonant situations. It's also strikingly intelligent, refusing to accept Hollywood's fake moralising as it grapples with big issues from mental health to bullying. And even better, it's funny and sexy.
Set in the early 1990s, it's the story of the painfully shy Charlie (Lerman), who plans to blend into the background as he starts high school. Scarred by an emotional event in his past, the only new friend he makes is his English teacher (Rudd). Then his sharp wit is spotted by the colourful Patrick (Miller), an anarchic gay teen who doesn't care what people think. Patrick also has a sexy stepsister, Sam (Watson), who takes a liking to Charlie as well, and soon they become inseparable friends. Well, until Charlie loses his nerve to ask Sam out and ends up in a relationship with her friend Mary Elizabeth (Whitman) instead.
After some less-than-thrilling lead roles (such as Percy Jackson or last year's Three Musketeers remake), Lerman finally comes into his own here with a sensitive, intelligent performance that's nicely underplayed. He also has terrific chemistry with Watson and Miller, whose feisty, hilarious love of life fills every scene they're in. They make such a strong trio that we are deeply moved by each rocky shift in their friendship. And Whitman brings a sparky energy to her scenes as the Buddhist punk with a bracingly honest approach to whatever happens.
Continue reading: The Perks Of Being A Wallflower Review
Mavis (Theron) left her small-town home for Minneapolis to become an author of young adult fiction. But as her book series comes to an end, she hears that her high school flame Buddy (Wilson) has just had a baby with his wife Beth (Reaser). So Mavis heads home to try to win him back. Of course, nothing goes as planned, and she ends up instead commiserating with another former classmate, Matt (Oswalt), who also can't seem to move on from his teen years.
Continue reading: Young Adult Review
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