Coastal Elites

Review by Rich Cline | 3/5

Coastal Elites
dir Jay Roach
scr Paul Rudnick
prd Emily Cohen
with Bette Midler, Dan Levy, Issa Rae, Sarah Paulson, Kaitlyn Dever
release US 12.Sep.20
20/US HBO 1h28

dever rae paulson

Is it streaming?

Coastal Elites
Written for theatre then adapted to the screen during the pandemic, this film is, as the title suggests, a pastiche of liberal views from Los Angeles and New York. The five monologs are "desperate confessions from people barely coping with the new abnormal", rants about how Trump has polarised society. It zeroes in on politics, with only tangential references to Covid-19 or Black Lives Matter. Which makes it somewhat shouty.
Retired New York teacher Miriam (Midler) is in a police interrogation room, lamenting about how "he" has stoked hatred where there used to be friendly disagreement. Mark (Levy) speaks to his new therapist by video chat, grateful to have regular work as an actor even if he's only offered gay roles in an industry that either whitewashes or exploits queer characters. Callie (Rae) is reminiscing with an old friend being at school with Ivanka, a super-nice rich girl, then recounting her visit to the White House for a surreal confrontation with the "blonde avalanche".

With her Mindful Meditations episodes, Clarissa (Paulson) wants to soothe and enlighten her viewers, but she's overwhelmed by the views of her right-wing Midwestern relatives, especially her dad. And finally, Wyoming nurse Sharynn (Dever) travelled to New York to help during lockdown, and is now exhausted after a long shift during which she treated Miriam, whose reaction to her illness gives her hope. Through each of these scenes, which play out of sequence, the performances are knowingly heightened, even as they're basically preaching to the choir.

The hugely entertaining Midler's timing is impeccable, shifting from broad comedy to dark emotion. Paulson has a lot of fun with her goofy role, hilariously dropping bombs into her calming message. Rae is terrific at keeping her storytelling offhanded, delivering pungent jabs everywhere. Dever's segment is much more low-key and whispery, and emotionally moving. In the strongest segment, Levy is so likeable that we hang on every word, cleverly revealing provocative internal thoughts and feelings while maintaining comical energy that snaps into powerful focus when needed.

As each character recounts a vivid story, the film touches on important issues from education to the arts. And there are razor-sharp observations along the way, including depictions of how annoying educated liberals can be. Much more potent are comments on inclusion and representation, and the fact that real people simply don't fit into tidy boxes. But some segments include cheap shots that are just as simplistic as the people and beliefs the script is criticising. While this waters down the film's salient points, it should at least get us thinking.

cert 15 themes, language 14.Sep.20

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© 2020 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall