Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Jump Cuts: Citizen Ruth, You Again, Beginners

Full reviews aren't right for all films - movies that seem past the point of timely comment, movies I can't find an interesting angle on, or movies I just don't feel like explicating. Some films are better off with bite-size opinionating. Let's call them "Jump Cuts."

Citizen Ruth
Dir. Alexander Payne

3.5 out of 5

Before applying his deft touch and dry wit to harrowing yarns about student body elections and Santa Ynez wine tours, Alexander Payne honed his approach on a suitably lightweight topic: abortion. Citizen Ruth's effectiveness as an ensemble satire rests predominately on the fiercely unglamorous shoulders of Laura Dern as the indigent, paint-huffing expectant mother who is used as a political football for competing pro-life and pro-choice groups. Her boorish honesty and lack of self-awareness - as well as spot-on supporting work from the likes of Kurtwood Smith and Swoozie Kurtz - help offset what is otherwise very depressing subject matter (a late appearance by Burt Reynolds amounts to little more than a glorified cameo). In fact, Dern is so convincing as a wastrel that her character's third act machinations feel somewhat unbelievable, but it can't distract from Payne's impish glee in lampooning the polemic politics that turn spectators into participants and individuals into unwitting symbols.

You Again (2010)
Dir. Andy Fickman

1.5 out of 5

Psychoanalysis is bunk. All your subconscious motivations and enduring mental hang-ups are forged in the fiery crucible of high school, dictating your destiny until the day you die. I know this because the movies told me - movies like You Again, in which a former wallflower (Kristen Bell) is shocked to discover that her brother is engaged to the tyrannical queen bee (Odette Yustman) of her teenage years. In many ways this film is like the season finale of a long-running sitcom - the action is brisk, the slapstick is broad, and (non-spoiler alert) it all ends with a wedding that looked to be in jeopardy. Overall, You Again gives the audience very little to think about that isn't spelled out with insipid gags or ham-fisted morals, so I'll try and provide a few discussion questions: Is there a scene that Betty White can't steal? What, exactly, are the subtle differences that make Sigourney Weaver an expert scenery-chewer and Jamie Lee Curtis an insufferable ham? Why did Yustman borrow Daniel Day-Lewis' body from Gangs of New York? And is that you, Carl Winslow?

Beginners (2011)
Dir. Mike Mills

4 out of 5

Though his character's death hangs over the entirety of Beginners, Christopher Plummer is an indispensable source of warmth as a perfectly jocular septuagenarian who reveals to his son, glum graphic designer Ewan McGregor, that he is gay and that he has cancer, in that order. He is able to enjoy at least a few years out of the closet before his health begins to falter, an experience (told via numerous flashbacks) that serves as the last piece of fatherly advice digested by McGregor as he begins a whirlwind romance with a French actress (Mélanie Laurent). Undercutting any assumptions of morose pretension with whimsical asides and the cutest Jack Russell terrier this side of The Artist, director Mike Mills spins a saga of despair and hope that cuts to the core of what it takes to care so deeply about another person. And while it might chafe a bit to sit alongside these lonely, lovesick Angelenos as they ride their never-ending romantic carousel, Beginners still has an undeniable optimism that keeps us surmising that, maybe this time, things will finally turn out differently.

No comments:

Post a Comment