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|Shadows off the beaten path
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|See also: SHADOWS FILM FESTIVAL | Last update 26.Mar.23
Review by Rich Cline |
dir-scr-prd Todd Flaherty
with Todd Flaherty, Wyatt Fenner, Joey Taranto, Kiyon Spencer, James Tison, Nicole Spiezio, Joao Pedro Santos, Olivia Oguma, Dito Van Reigersberg, Nicholas Mongiardo-Cooper, Deon Oliverio, David Gow
release UK Mar.23 flare,
Is it streaming?
Told from the perspective of someone who thinks 30 is old, this comedy-drama is a lovely look at the way friendships ebb and flow. Actor-filmmaker Todd Flaherty has a gift for dialog and comedy, shooting in black and white to add a classic screwball flavour, with lovely nods to Some Like It Hot. This is an ambitious film made on a very small budget. It's also deeply charming.
In New York, Chrissy (Fenner) and his best pal Judy (Flaherty) have a messy but loveable drag double act. Then on a weekend with friends in Provincetown, Chrissy informs Judy that he's moving to Philadelphia to live with his on-off boyfriend Shawn (Spencer). Thrown, Judy struggles to reinvent himself as a solo act, reconnects with old friend Samoa (Tison), then burns that bridge by hooking up with her friend Marcus (Taranto). And after an explosive visit to see Chrissy and Shawn in Philly, Judy begins to realise that a more drastic reinvention is needed.
Catty banter and deadpan comedy keep scenes bubbling brightly even when darker emotions emerge. These are fully formed characters, flaws and all, and Flaherty adeptly highlights their overwhelming self-interest. Most impressive is that each has an idea of what a relationship should look like, which is something rather blurry for queer couples in a proscriptive society. But none of the models are wrong, and the important thing is a solid friendship, even if it might be time to move on.
Most dialog sounds improvised, crackling with delicately lacerating wit. Flaherty and Fenner have terrific chemistry, revealing the beautiful bond between these men, and it's impressive that the actors also convey the issues that have kept them from falling for each other. The people who circle around them are equally well-formed, played with authentic snap to offer pointed commentary when needed. Each is so specific that they become memorable characters who keep Judy's journey from ever being predictable.
This is a rare film that explores how relationships shift over time, and that we sometimes grow away from our closest friends. Refreshingly, Flaherty never tries to push this into a romcom formula, allowing the story to develop in an organic way that will resonate with audiences. His use of the drag world is also unusual, avoiding the high-camp side of things for a more glamorous stage presence that centres on music and comedy skills. This also helps ground the film as a reminder of how important it is to find both your place in life and your tribe.
Review by Rich Cline |
dir Saela Davis, Anna Rose Holmer
scr Shane Crowley; prd Fodhla Cronin O'Reilly
with Emily Watson, Paul Mescal, Aisling Franciosi, Declan Conlon, Marion O'Dwyer, Toni O'Rourke, Lalor Roddy, Brendan McCormack, Isabelle Connolly, Barry Barnes, Andrew Bennett, John Burke
release US 30.Sep.22,
Ire 24.Mar.23, UK 31.Mar.23
22/Ireland A24 1h40
CANNES FILM FEST
Is it streaming?
Set alongside an angry sea, this Irish drama maintains a gloomy tone while taking a nuanced look at interrelationships in a small fishing village. Emotions are dark, complicated by feelings of love and affection. Even with their unsparing approach, directors Saela Davis and Anna Rose Holmer find resonance in the characters, while Shane Crowley's script provocatively grapples with extreme themes. Which gives the ace cast plenty to play with.
A manager at the local fishery, Aileen (Watson) is delighted when her prodigal son Brian (Mescal) returns home after many years in Australia. As Brian revives the oyster beds his now bedridden Uncle Paddy (Roddy) used to farm, he clashes with his father Con (Conlon) over a variety of old issues. Meanwhile, Brian also reconnects with his ex-girlfriend Sarah (Franciosi), who is now working with Aileen. And everyone is shocked when Sarah accuses Brian of assault. Without hesitation, Aileen defends her golden boy son. But secretly she begins to have nagging doubts.
With its oppressive atmosphere, the film plays on psychological tension between characters who care about each other. And nothing is remotely obvious. Each conversation bristles with unspoken thoughts and feelings, as these people talk around the things that concern them. So their reactions are sometimes hard to read, partly because filmmakers keep the details of the situation just out of view, blurring the film's perspective as seen through the characters' eyes.
As Aileen, Watson delivers another storming dramatic performance as a woman grappling with conflicting emotions. Aileen's camaraderie with Brian is so warm and witty that it's impossible to imagine anything pulling them apart. So when shadows creep in, it's painful to watch. Opposite her, Mescal once again finds complexity and depth in a rather bleak, understated role. Brian is happy and proactive, and yet there are things about him that seem slightly off balance. Meanwhile, Franciosi shines as Sarah, even if the character is underwritten.
Because everything takes place alongside or on a churning ocean, accompanied by a moaning string-based score, the film rumbles with underlying layers of meaning. So while it touches on the idea of a male-dominated society that protects its own, it is also an engaging and often wrenching tale about the point when a mother's unconditional love for her son meets a potentially grim reality. The filmmakers kind of hedge their bets by switching the point-of-view for an awkward but positive final shot. But it's what we've seen beforehand that will haunt us.
Pinball: The Man Who Saved the Game
Review by Rich Cline |
dir-scr Austin Bragg, Meredith Bragg
prd Summer Crockett Moore, Tony Glazer, Stacey Parks, Lana Link, Rob Pfaltzgraff
with Mike Faist, Crystal Reed, Dennis Boutsikaris, Christopher Convery, Toby Regbo, Mike Doyle, Bryan Batt, Eric William Morris, Damian Young, Michael Kostroff, Todd Susman, Connor Ratliff
release UK Nov.22 rff,
Is it streaming?
Recounting a true story with cheeky charm, this biopic centres on a young man fighting for something he's passionate about. Because it includes rather too much geeky detail about pinball, the film feels talky. But the writer-director Bragg brothers add plenty of wit, and woven between the gaming stuff is a much more involving romance, as well as an odyssey about a guy who figures out who he is.
After honing his pinball-playing skills at university, aspiring 25-year-old writer Roger Sharpe (Faist) moves to 1970s Manhattan. But the only pinball machine he can find is in a porn shop, and he's shocked to learn that pinball was banned 20 years earlier as a political stunt. So he sets out to write a book about the game and also to team up with a lawyer (Morris) to challenge New York's law. Meanwhile, he begins working at GQ, where he falls for the smart, slightly older Ellen (Reed), who has an 11-year-old son Seth (Convery).
Narrated by a sparky older Roger (Boutsikaris) who walks through the scenes while revisiting his own experiences, the film has a snappy tone that's engaging. Roger is supposed to be making a documentary about pinball, but he's more interested in recounting his lovelife. And we're also far more interested this cute and earthy tale of people who are trying to put pain behind them and move forward. But the balance between the script's dual narrative layers doesn't always work.
With his riotously bushy moustache, Faist has an engaging presence. Roger is scrawny and a bit goofy, and his charm grows as he musters confidence both in his personal and professional life. His chemistry with Reed's Ellen is refreshingly offhanded, and expands to the superb Convery's turn as Seth. There's also colourful interaction at the magazine (most notably with Batt's colourful art director), in the pinball industry and as he takes on city hall.
It's difficult to get terribly interested as the film so deeply delves into how pinball was developed, banned and re-introduced in New York. The personal journey taken by Roger, Ellen and Seth is much more compelling. And even Roger's personal tenacity is far more interesting than the rather too-specific history of the game. So while there's plenty of interesting material in here, and while the Braggs do a great job livening things up with period details and quirky characters, the film only occasionally comes to meaningful life.
See also: SHADOWS FILM FESTIVAL
© 2023 by Rich Cline, Shadows
on the Wall
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