Zoe Kazan

Film Bouquets 2022

2022 was a surprisingly good year for film, although – as cinephiles – it was worrying to note that audiences seemed happy enough to continue watching movies at home after last year’s lockdowns ended. Cinemas were feeling the pinch and there was a lot of talk of this being the end of an era, while others pinned their hope on Avatar: The Way of Water bringing people back in droves. Here at B&B, we’ve always believed that the big screen is the best possible place to watch a movie, so we were delighted to be back in our local multiplex and indie venues. Here’s our selection of the films that have really stayed with us throughout the year.

Belfast

Kenneth Branagh’s semi-autobiographical film was the first must-see of the year – an absolute joy, with a brilliant central performance from newcomer Jude Hill. This film is all about formative experiences, the kind that shape a young boy’s future.

Nightmare Alley

A new film from Guillermo del Toro is always cause for celebration. This bleak, dark tale is the work of a gifted director at the peak of his powers, handling a tricky subject with consummate skill.

Red Rocket

Director Sean Baker’s ability to depict working-class life is his real strength and Red Rocket, powered by astonishing performances by Simon Rex and Suzanna Son, offers a brilliant exploration of Trump’s America.

The Worst Person in the World

Joaquin Trier’s film is a rare beauty, a picaresque tale of life and love in contemporary Oslo. It’s built around a superb, award-winning performance by Renate Reinsve. A film that positively buzzes with invention.

Elvis

Baz Luhrmann’s biopic is a big, brash, noisy exploration of the late singer’s life and times. Against all the odds, Austin Butler makes the role his own and Tom Hank’s portrayal of the sleazy, manipulative Colonel Tom Parker is also right on the button.

Bones and All

Luca Guadadigno’s visceral tale of love and cannibalism is a brilliant reinvention of a well-worn trope which can be seen as an allegory about drug addiction. It’s brilliant stuff, but not for the faint-hearted – by turns romantic and repugnant.

She Said

This searing account of the uncovering of Harvey Weinstein’s crimes by two Washington Post journalists is timely and superbly recreated, with excellent performances from Carey Mulligan and Zoe Kazan in the central roles.

The Banshees of Inisherin

Martin McDonagh’s film is a beautifully observed contemplation of the thankless futility of human existence. This is his best offering since the sublime In Bruges, with wonderful performances from Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson.

Aftersun

A gorgeous film, sweetly sad and tinged with tragedy. Debut writer/director Charlotte Wells knocks it out of the park with her first feature, coaxing extraordinary performances from Paul Mescal and Frankie Corio. An absolute must-see.

Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio

Not content with one title in our selection, del Toro has two – despite the fact that we had to watch Pinocchio on the small screen. Few films deserve the description ‘masterpiece’ as thoroughly as this one.

Philip Caveney & Susan Singfield

She Said

29/11/22

Cineworld. Edinburgh

She Said sets out its stall in the first few minutes. New York Times journalist Megan Twohey (Carey Mulligan) is about to publish a story about women being sexually abused by a presidential candidate, and the accused man calls to refute the claims. He’s boorish and threatening. The story is published, and the victims learn they were right to be afraid of speaking up. While they get death threats and envelopes of dog shit through the post, Donald Trump gets elected president.

So when Twohey and her colleague, Jodi Kantor (Zoe Kazan), begin to investigate rumours about Harvey Weinstein, they know what an uphill battle they face. The system is skewed in favour of powerful men. Uncovering the truth is relatively easy; acquiring sufficient evidence to publish it is horribly complex. As if persuading understandably anxious women to out themselves to a global audience weren’t difficult enough, there are also NDAs to contend with. How are these malignant settlements even allowed to exist? They’re just get-out-of-jail-free cards for rich arseholes, who can easily afford to spaff megabucks on silencing the people they abuse. But Twohey and Kantor are tenacious, and refuse to give up. It’s not easy for either of them. Kantor has a young family, and Twohey is in the throes of post-natal depression. Calls come at all times of the day and night – both threats from trolls and revelations from sources – but still, they can’t let go. It matters too much. So they grit their teeth and crack on, relying on their partners to do the lion’s share of parenting. (It’s refreshing, actually, to see Ron Lieber and Tom Pelphrey in these peripheral, domestic roles that are usually reserved for women.)

Maria Schrader’s understated direction works well, illuminating the sheer grit required to bring a prolific sex offender to account. The screenplay, by Rebecca Lenkiewicz, draws on the book written by the two journalists, and focuses on the painful process rather than the assaults. This is one instance where telling is better than showing: we don’t need to see these women being abused. Instead, we see the aftermath. We see how, while Weinstein continued to live the high life, perpetuating his attacks over and over again, any woman who dared to reject him or, worse, complain about his behaviour, had her life turned upside down. From Ashley Judd (appearing here as herself) being blacklisted and branded ‘a nightmare to work with’ to Zelda Perkins (Samantha Morton) fleeing to Guatemala, the fallout was immense.

The performances are detailed and meticulous. Kazan and Mulligan both fizz with pent-up energy, and the supporting cast are just as committed. Jennifer Ehle stands out as Laura Madden, attacked by Weinstein back when she was a young assistant, naïve and excited to be working for him. Thirty years later, she has a double mastectomy to deal with, so speaking out seems urgent, not least to show her daughters that they don’t need to internalise abuse.

She Said does a good job of highlighting the inherent power discrepancies in our society, and how ‘consent’ is problematic if one party holds the other’s prospects in their hands. It also shows how we can fight back.

#MeToo.

4.6 stars

Susan Singfield

Wildlife

11/11/18

Wildlife is Paul Dano’s directorial debut, and its an impressive opening gambit from the quirky young (ish) actor. He’s co-written the screenplay too (adapted from Richard Ford’s 1990 novel), his second collaboration with his real-life partner, Zoe Kazan. I like it. A lot. It’s a quiet, understated piece of work, and it gives the actors space to develop their roles.

It’s 1960-something. Joe (Ed Oxenbould) is fourteen, and he’s moved with his family to Great Falls, Montana. We soon learn that he is used to new beginnings, that his dad, Jerry (Jake Gyllenhaal), is a dreamer; he finds it hard to hold down a job. Joe’s mom, Jeanette (Carey Mulligan), indulges Jerry’s fecklessness: she loves him. So she and Joe follow him from town to town, never putting down roots.

But when Jerry is fired for being over-familiar with the members of the golf club where he works, he decides he wants to join the firefighters tackling the flames devouring the Montana forests. Jeanette begs him not to take the job: it means leaving his family, and they’ve never been apart before. She’ll deal with anything, it seems, as long as they’re together. If he goes, he risks the whole relationship, but he can’t seem to stop himself. Never mind that Jeanette can earn more than him, as a substitute teacher or a swimming coach; never mind that there are other jobs in town; he’s too proud to take them. He’s set on his course, determined to see it through.

Gyllenhaal is a gifted actor, no doubt about it, but it’s at this point – as he leaves – that the film begins to flower. Joe’s pained, inarticulate response to the disintegration of his parents’ marriage is excruciating; Oxenbould excels at conveying discomfort without saying anything.

And Mulligan is magnificent as the aggrieved Jeanette, bitter and resentful that her sacrifices haven’t been enough. She’s stuck with Jerry through thick and thin, but now he’s abandoned her. She reacts with self-destructive fury, seeking to recover the girl she used to be, dressing up and acting up, flirting with men she doesn’t even like. There’s a vulnerability at the heart of the performance that keeps us onside, even when she’s making Joe’s (and our) toes curl, with the kind of sexual and emotional revelations no teenager ever wants to hear from a parent.

And Gyllenhaal gets his chance to shine too, on his return, when the inevitable consequences creep up on them all. No one’s behaving well, but no one means any harm: it’s a sad tale of human frailty, an affecting tragedy.

The Montana backdrop is beautifully filmed, the hazy smoke a constant reminder of the dual threat the fires pose. There is a slow, almost dreamy quality to the storytelling here, an emotional depth that draws us in with no sensationalism. Mulligan has been widely tipped for an Oscar nomination, and I can absolutely see why. Jeanette is a character of great complexity, the performance nuanced and intricate.

A must-see, I’d say.

4.8 stars

Susan Singfield

 

 

The Big Sick

23/07/17

The Big Sick is a fascinating movie: a rom-com for the modern age. Despite being produced by Judd Apatow (Bridesmaids, Knocked Up), the ‘com’ part of the equation is relatively subtle, avoiding (for the most part) the broad, scatalogical approach for which he is famed. Instead, this is a gentle, honest exploration of cross-cultural love and the complexities of modern relationships.

Based on the true story of writers Emily V. Gordon and Kumail Nanjiani, the film charts the initial stages of their romance as they negotiate the choppy waters of one-night stands, reluctantly-developing feelings and parental expectations. When a sudden, devastating illness is added to the mix, it seems as if the relationship might break under the strain.

Kumail Nanjiani plays himself, which adds to the sense of truthfulness. His performance is both charming and understated, with a quirky mix of confidence and modesty, which is very appealing indeed. He doesn’t self-aggrandize, but nor does he self-deprecate in that ostentatious, humble-bragging manner some comedians employ. And his account of his family is affectionate and kind, even though he’s largely shown in opposition to them. They want him to become a lawyer; they want him to be a devout Muslim; they want to arrange his marriage to a Pakistani woman. None of these things coincides with what Kumail wants for himself: he’s an aspiring stand-up comedian; he’s not sure about his faith. But his parents (Anupam Kher and Zenobia Shroff) are not his enemies: they are his family and they love him as much as he loves them. Their marriage is happy, and so is his brother, Naveed (Adeel Ahktar)’s: they all just want the best for him. The women they introduce him to are not awful; they’re real, believable people: attractive, intelligent, with interests of their own. But Kumail has fallen for Emily (played by Zoe Kazan). And she doesn’t fit the mould because she’s a white American.

As for grad-student psychologist Emily, she’s appalled to discover that Kumail is considering an arranged marriage, and that his plans for the future don’t necessarily include her. She’s in love with him, and devastated by the realisation that he’s caught between two worlds. “I can’t be the reason you lose your family,” she tells him. It’s too big, too much.

When Emily falls ill, however, Kumail is forced to confront his feelings and make a decision. He can’t coast along trying to appease everyone forever.

It doesn’t sound very amusing when it’s summarised, but this film is as irreverently funny as it is moving. Holly Hunter and Ray Romano are hilarious as Emily’s bickering parents, and Kher and Shroff’s disapproving double act is also excellent. The scenes backstage in the comedy club are illuminating, and benefit from a convincing shot of authenticity – after all, this is a world that seasoned stand-up Nanjiani knows well.

Really, this is a delightful film, with such a lot going for it. But don’t go along expecting a gross-out comedy. This is something way more interesting.

4.4 stars

Susan Singfield

What If

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26/08/14

There’s nothing startling about the premise of What If; it confronts the same fairly standard rom-com conundrums as countless films have done before: can a man and a woman really be ‘just friends’? And what happens to the friendship when they fall in love? So far, so humdrum – and yet, somehow, What If succeeds in feeling fresh and vibrant.

Some of this is down to the dialogue, which is endearingly believable. There are jokes about poo – but it’s not gross-out. Potential cliches are set up, and then undercut. The characters are as flawed and odd as real human beings – not simple amalgams of manufactured quirks.

Daniel Radcliffe, as the sweet but directionless Wallace, shows once again that he is more than a boy wizard. (He really can act, and has a pretty impressive range: from The Woman in Black to Kill Your Darlings and now this; I think he’s proved himself.) The awkward chemistry between him and Zoe ‘Ruby Sparks’ Kazan (as the horribly-named Chantry) lights up the screen, and the Toronto setting is also a welcome change.

A charming and very watchable film.

4.3 stars

Susan Singfield