Nearly a decade after emerging with the unsettling psychodrama Martha Marcy May Marlene, Sean Durkin has finally arrived with a follow-up to that horror-adjacent debut. That film launched the career of Elizabeth Olsen as its fractured titular character, and his latest, The Nest, should rightly send its underrated lead actress Carrie Coon into the stratosphere. But while this film also provides its female headliner with a rich role of stifled expression, here Durkin hones the forebodingly tense traumas of his first film into something less overtly menacing, yet still as keenly psychologically observed. Like a haunted house movie without the ghosts, The Nest thrills with a pervasive sense of unease and no catharsis, making for a special breed of melodrama that eschews the emotional demands of the genre.Continue reading “In Review: The Nest”
Bo Burnham’s debut film Eighth Grade begins as outsider Kayla wraps up the unheralded school year of its title, solitary and not so hopeful about the impending high school years to come. To mark the occasion, her class is given their sixth grade time capsules, decorated and filled with an already dated optimism. Hers calls out from the unfathomably long distance of a few years time like a stranger, “To the coolest girl in the world”. Kayla doesn’t feel so cool, lesser so in the shadow cast by her own former earnestness.
The saying “you can never go home again” means something different for queer folks. At best, our formative communities and family units still carry the feeling of before and after we became someone else. For those of harsher reality, a return brings it’s own consequences, a reckoning of lingering past, anxious present, and uncertain future. If this person is permitted to return at all.
In Disobedience, the latter is closer to the truth for Ronit, a photographer and former member of an enclosed conservative Jewish community, played with tense reserve by Rachel Weisz. Her return is prompted by the funeral of her strict father to which she was estranged, but the real coming home is to her former trio unit with the doting Dovid (Alessandro Nivola) and Esti (Rachel McAdams). Dovid has risen in the ranks of the Orthodoxy as a rabbi and Esti is now his wife, creating odd maneuverability around what their group has been and how it has changed.
But the meaningful glances between Ronit and Esti tell us all we need to know about this repressed shared past. And yet the palpability of the unspoken brews questions upon questions for us until they can now more stifle themselves behind their darting eyes and hesitant sentences.
This year brings two widely dissimilar studies on Christine Chubbuck, the local Florida television journalist that committed suicide on live television – the documentary Kate Plays Christine and Antonio Campos’s considerably more traditional Christine. In the narrative version, Rebecca Hall plays the disturbed Chubbuck in the weeks leading up to the mythologized event and her news station cohorts (played by Michael C. Hall, Tracy Letts, and Maria Dizzia plus others) take a deeper part in her story. The two films create interesting dynamic in contrast unlike similar competing films close in release (think Capote and the less successful Infamous), illuminating both the subject and the larger societal implications of her case when seen in close proximity.
This Christine belongs mostly to Rebecca Hall’s stunning and alive performance, with challenges unlike anything the actress has ever been granted. Hall possesses a gallows humor underneath her pain that is unexpected and quite effective in helping portray Chubbuck as a flesh and blood human being as the film doubles down on her enveloping psychosis. Equally impressive is her ability to play the woman’s nuance and more unhinged moments with a cohesiveness that the script doesn’t always achieve. As heartbreaking as it is terrifying, Hall just delivered a career high performance that will rattle you.
This year has been a filled with richer female-driven films, and it’s going to be a photo finish for any year-end kudos. With solid work from Blythe Danner and Lily Tomlin (which could have been slam dunks in previous years, mind you) getting unfortunately left out already, and clear leads egregiously aiming for Supporting consideration, we finally have the photo-finish lineup we usually see in Best Actor. Year-end catch-up can often yield a robust surprise, and you should make time for a forgotten gem of the summer: Margot Robbie in Craig Zobel’s post-apocalyptic adaptation of Z for Zachariah.
Her sharp-shooting trophy wife of The Wolf of Wall Street is unrecognizable to her unwordly farm-girl Ann in Zachariah. Her evident versatility lends the quiet and nuanced performance an edge upon which the film hinges – with plot moments developing slowly, every crucial relationship discovery and complication is plain on Robbie’s subtly expressive face. Unassuming, but fiercely present with her adept scene partners Chiwetel Ejiofor and Chris Pine, she sells Ann’s naive sexual awakening without getting lost in the film’s more overt themes.
Perhaps being ignored because the film is too unobtrusive and relaxed in its observations of primal human interaction to register against weightier fare at this time of year, Zachariah is at its most immediate when focused on Robbie’s precise acting choices. It may be less blatant, but her work is never undercooked. With a field of more showy emoting, it’s refreshing to see a lead actress performance as fully-realized, but with more delicate intentions.