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On this page: FRANCES HA | IF I WERE YOU
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last update 5.Jun.13
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Frances Ha
dir Noah Baumbach
scr Noah Baumbach, Greta Gerwig
prd Noah Baumbach, Scott Rudin, Rodrigo Teixeira, Lila Yacoub
with Greta Gerwig, Mickey Sumner, Charlotte d'Amboise, Adam Driver, Michael Zegen, Grace Gummer, Patrick Heusinger, Michael Esper, Hannah Dunne, Josh Hamilton, Cindy Katz, Maya Kazan
gerwig, zegen and driver release US 17.May.13,
UK 26.Jul.13
12/US 1h26


Frances Ha This film is such a blast of fresh air that it's impossible to dislike it. Shot in black and white, a clear homage to Woody Allen and the French New Wave, this is a rare comedy that's funny without ever being untruthful, features a genuinely independent woman at its centre and is awash in optimism.

Frances (Gerwig) lives in New York with her best pal Sophie (Sumner). They're inseparable, taking the town by storm. But while Frances' romance with Dan (Esper) withers, Sophie and her boyfriend Patch (Heusinger) are moving forward. And soon Frances has to find somewhere else to live. She shares a flat with Lev and Benji (Driver and Zegen), while pressing the her dance company's director (d'Amboise) for more roles. But it seems like everyone else's life is on an upward trajectory, while she's going backwards. Still, her positive approach to life never wavers.

Gerwig nails the performance with bouncy wit: Frances is offbeat without ever being annoyingly quirky, hilarious without being too goofy and only willing to achieve her goals on her own terms, even if that means humiliating herself with a dire summer job at her old college. Even the film's one slapstick moment (a mad dash to find a cash machine) is silly without feeling false. And her various relationships all ring almost painfully true. But best of all is Frances' uneven but unshakable connection with Sophie.

Baumbach orchestrates every scene with an impeccable sense of timing. The monochrome visuals may seem like a strained attempt at movie magic, but this also focusses our attention exactly where it should be: on the character interaction. And several scenes are destined to be classics. A dinner party sequence is particularly brilliant, as are a couple of revelatory side-trips: visiting family in Sacramento or briefly soaking in Paris.

As Frances' journey progresses, we can see so much of ourselves in her interaction that we can't stop laughing. At least when we're not squirming with awkward recognition. Sometimes the film feels like a particularly good episode of Girls, but Baumbach and Gerwig continually inject a breezy curiosity that continually catches us off guard. And in the end, it's simply wonderful to watch a movie that trades in happiness rather than misery.

15 themes, language, innuendo
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If I Were You
dir-scr Joan Carr-Wiggin
prd David Gordian, Alan Latham
with Marcia Gay Harden, Leonor Watling, Joseph Kell, Aidan Quinn, Michael Therriault, Gary Piquer, Valerie Mahaffey, Bethany Jillard, Elizabeth Whitmere, Claire Brosseau, Patrick Garrow, Darren Keay
dillane release US 15.Mar.13
11/Canada 1h52
If I Were You A clever plot and strong performances hold our interest even when this film starts feeling a bit stagey and contrived. But it's packed with real human emotions and characters we can identify with.

Madelyn (Harden) is shocked when she spots her husband Paul (Kell) having dinner with Lucy (Watling), who after they part roughly is clearly suicidal. Unable to look away, Madelyn befriends Lucy without telling her who she is, merely saying she's a woman who knows her husband is having an affair. So the two women bond over their romantic problems, making a pact to help each other be more objective. Then Madelyn accompanies Lucy to an amateur theatre audition and inadvertently ends up with the the lead in King Lear. Lucy lands the role of the Fool.

As the story progresses, Madelyn struggles to bear the weight of the knowledge she alone has. Paul is oblivious to all of this, but knows something is going on. He suspects that Madelyn is having an affair with her lovelorn work colleague (Piquer), whose wife (Mahaffey) is also suspicious. Meanwhile, Madelyn meets another man (Quinn) who complicates things. And she knows that when Paul and Lucy learn the truth, it's going to be messy.

All of this is played with a light comical touch, despite the intensely serious themes. Since Madelyn takes heavily to the bottle, much of Harden's performance involves gentle drunken farce, which begins to feel forced as the story develops. But Harden keeps the character grounded so we can identify with her and, more importantly, feel every blow life throws at her. Watling also finds the humanity in her more comical-airhead character, revealing surprising depth as the script pushes Lucy into some tricky situations.

So the fact that it all feels so theatrical doesn't really help, because it continually reminds us that we're watching a movie about Big Important Themes. As the opening night of Shakespeare's gender-twisted play gets nearer, the film groans under the weight of the story structure. So it's nice that filmmaker Carr-Wiggin resists the urge to tie everything up in a tidy, sentimental bow. Even with the play's big drama, she opts instead for a more telling, subtly realistic conclusion that's genuinely thoughtful.

15 themes, language
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The Last Exorcism Part II
dir Ed Gass-Donnelly
scr Damien Chazelle, Ed Gass-Donnelly
prd Marc Abraham, Thomas A Bliss, Eric Newman, Eli Roth
with Ashley Bell, Julia Garner, Spencer Treat Clark, Muse Watson, Tarra Riggs, David Jensen, Louis Herthum, E Roger Mitchell, Erica Michelle, Sharice Angelle Williams, Boyana Balta, Joe Chrest
release US 1.Mar.13,
UK 7.Jun.13
13/US StudioCanal 1h28

The Last Exorcism Part II Abandoning both the premise and the video-cam format, this sequel essentially relegates the 2010 original to a backstory. "A piece of him is still inside you," says an expert (Jensen), completely without irony. Yes, the movie is just as ridiculous as the oxymoronic title, but it's also enjoyably nuts.

The only survivor of that farmhouse conflagration, Nell (Bell) moves into a New Orleans halfway house and gets a job as a hotel maid. She still has a deep sense of her religious background, but is beginning to believe that her demon-possession wasn't real. As she gets to know the other women in the house, she begins to blossom, recovering from her isolated upbringing and even flirting with handyman Chris (Clark). She also turns out to perhaps be not so exorcised after all. And the demon isn't happy.

The unsettling tone and some clever plot turns make us feel uneasy, augmented by a liberal use of flashbacks to the first film plus every horror cliche imaginable, including a sassy psychic (Riggs), figures in masks, inexplicable broadcasts, sinister phone calls and even buzzing houseflies. It helps that Bell plays the role with such conviction, making us at least believe her internal torment. She's much more efficient at freaking us out than all the histrionic movie gimmickry.

Technically the film has a slick, bland American horror sheen, complete with the usual swishing sound effects that punch every moment the filmmakers want us to think might be frightening. But aside from the noisy jolts and random visual trickery, it's painfully simplistic. The actors make the most of their roles, but the script never develops characters or situations properly enough to genuinely scare us.

Fortunately, the script finds traction in Nell's background: she was locked away from the world all her life, and is only now exploring aspects of her humanity that had always been forbidden. Which of course makes her question everything about herself. Although when the demon makes his grand reappearance, all of that subtlety is swiftly replaced with gonzo horror mayhem. Best of all, the wickedly vicious finale turns the film into a gleefully guilty pleasure. And makes us look forward to Part III.

15 themes, language, violence
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The Year Dolly Parton Was My Mom
dir-scr Tara Johns
prd Barbara Shrier
with Julia Sarah Stone, Macha Grenon, Gil Bellows, Rebecca Croll, Rebecca Windheim, Trevor Hayes, Mung-Ling Tsui, Akalu Meekis, Brian Roach, Emma Elle Paterson, Lea Roy, Dolly Parton
stone and parton release Can 4.Mar.11,
UK 27.May.13
11/Canada 1h35
The Year Dolly Parton Was My Mom Sensitive and observant, this warm coming-of-age drama is infused with a heartbreaking current of emotion as a lonely young girl struggles to figure out who she is. But it's never mopey or sad, and has a lot to say about mother-daughter relationships.

In 1970s Manitoba, Elizabeth (Stone) and her best pal Annabelle (Windheim) are anxiously awaiting the start of puberty. Elizabeth is a bit annoyed by her staid parents Marion and Phil (Grenon and Bellows), since Annabelle's mom and dad (Croll and Hayes) are so much cooler. Then while studying blood types in school she realises that she must have been adopted. And when she looks into it, she becomes convinced that Dolly Parton must be her biological mother. So she sets off on a road trip to meet her.

The script is peppered with commentary about gender roles in society, as Elizabeth learns about the realities of inequality while being inspired by Parton's refusal to lose her femininity even as she runs a business empire. Johns' writing and direction are impressively artistic, with rich themes and a striking, witty visual style that draw us into the story. All of the characters have their own issues to deal with, including Elizabeth's parents, whose marriage is badly strained.

And there isn't a villain: everyone is likeable and understated, even if their interaction sometimes becomes a little cutesy. At the centre, Stone gives a nicely internalised performance as a 12-year-old eager to become a woman and going through a severe identity crisis with virtually no help from anyone around her. Grenon and Bellows are sympathetic as parents distracted by their own problems, and in the end Marion's journey becomes just as powerfully moving as Elizabeth's. Meanwhile, Croll adds a some zing as their straight-talking neighbour.

With a background of Parton's evocative songs (plus a snappy voice-over cameo), the film finds moments of emotional rawness that are startlingly moving, mainly because the characters are all so brittle. In its final act the plot takes a couple of lovely twists that really win us over, deepening the resonant drama while getting us more involved in the adventure. And in the end it leaves us with a big smile on our faces.

PG themes, language
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