Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Film Week

A review of the films I've seen this past week.

SORORITY SURROGATE (2013)
Just... no. No, Lifetime. No. *

A FAMILY AFFAIR (1937)
The first of the Andy Hardy series of movies. I've never seen any of them, and just happened to be flipping around when it was playing on TCM the other day as part of the Mickey Rooney tribute. It was better than I thought it'd be; not so saccharine, but a nice, quirky-without-being-cutesy flick about a small town judge fighting against impeachment over his delay of a public works program. Lionel Barrymore, who I almost always like, plays Judge Hardy. Rooney is his son Andy, who falls in puppy love with a local girl in a subplot that feels more or less unnecessary. The movie doesn't urgently make a case for itself, but it was a pleasant 69 minutes with a little more of a hint of darkness than I expected. I'd watch another one. ***

THE SIN OF MADELON CLAUDET (1931)
I tend to get impatient with these movies where a woman suffers for the crime of being a woman and then continues to suffer and suffer until the end and we're supposed to be uplifted by the sacrifices she's been forced to make. Here, Helen Hayes plays Madelon, who is abandoned in France by her American lover, has his child, gives up the child, is imprisoned for a crime she didn't commit, and turns to prostitution to pay for her son's education. The movie is mercifully short at 75 minutes; this just isn't really my kind of story, especially given how stagy and melodramatic it can be. Hayes is excellent for what the movie requires of her, but 80+ years later it's predictable, treacly, and mainly of historical interest. **1/2

THE WAY, WAY BACK (2013)
Really, really likable coming-of-age movie about a 14 year-old boy (Liam James) who is spending the summer at a beach house with his divorced mother (Toni Collette) and his mother's new boyfriend (Steve Carell). He bonds with the girl next door (AnnaSophia Robb, cute as a bug's ear), also a child of divorce, and forms a sort of friendship with Sam Rockwell, who runs the local water park. I'm not sure I can define what it is that separates this movie from a hundred other coming-of-age movies, except for perhaps its tone and the easy way I related to it. The movie adeptly taps into that language of reticence and self-awareness punctuated by moments of emotional outburst that you develop when your parents divorce just as you're beginning adolescence. It also is eerily good at creating the way the world can shut you out at that age. When I was 14, I felt like everyone was trying to get me to act like an adult without really trusting me to be one; I felt adrift because I felt too old to ask for help and too young to understand how I was supposed to act, and with my parents wrapped up in their own divorce, there wasn't always someone for me to talk to. That was probably the worst feeling of my entire life; the film re-creates it well, getting the feeling of sullen, resigned confusion that you have when everyone is having a good time except you, but no one is going out of their way to make you feel a part of it. The movie also knows the singular hell of being forced to play a board game no one wants to play in a room full of rising tensions. It's that combination of being very specific but broadly universal that really won me over, inviting me to relive some of the hardest moments of my life but also letting me look at them from a safe distance and find the sweetness and humor that could develop out of them. I just... I don't know, it felt like the movie was giving me an encouraging hug without being condescending, and I love it for that. The performances are also great, especially Sam Rockwell's; he nearly runs away with the entire movie. I also loved Allison Janney in a small role as the tipsy divorcee next door, playing every neighbor I really, really wished I had back when I was a pervy, troubled 14 year-old. And likable Steve Carell is surprisingly good at playing a prick. Great stuff. Great, great stuff. ****