In Review: On the Rocks

In her delightful seventh feature On the Rocks, Sofia Coppola captures the New York City streets so lovingly as to deceive you into thinking she has always been a New York filmmaker. Or maybe it’s simply that the warmth and generosity she casts over her characters is so overflowing that it can only pour over into their surroundings. Without question, this is her most affectionate film, a deceptively light quasi-screwball comedy about reconciling a parent’s bullshit when it manifests in your adult life. 

But here Coppola seems to be leaving many of her definitive fascinations behind – most obvious being an Angeleno atmosphere both literal and in vibe, but also the dying gasps of youth. Instead she reveals some of the deeper characteristics of her point of view that register more subtly: suppressed emotional displacement, the fitful enlightenment of aging, and our inability to see just how good we have it. Is On the Rocks something of a pivot for the filmmaker? It at least feels like she has shed something cinematically, and given way to deeper feeling.

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In Review: Kajillionaire

Miranda July’s new film Kajillionaire, her first in nearly a decade, is another melancholy, silver lining-punctuated comic fable on the pains of being alive. But this effort finds July in her most accessible mode yet, telling a universal story about how we transcend the ways our parents screw us up that also finds the auteur at her most optimistic. Here we follow Old Dolio (a droll and committed Evan Rachel Wood), a young woman who lives with her small-time con artist parents (Debra Winger and Richard Jenkins) that have been as clipped in their affections as they are with their scamming. Their life is led by hardline pragmatism and small-time grifting to get by – mail theft, giveaways, evading the landlord of their office space home that seeps pink foam from the walls. While their is little space for compassion in this family’s life, there is still plenty of room for Julyisms.

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In Review: The Nest

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.

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In Review: Tesla

All due credit to Michael Almereyda for approaching the biopic with an aim to color largely outside of the lines. His latest, the Ethan Hawke-led Tesla, employs multiple disparate and attention grabbing stylistic oddities to make for what it hopes is a different kind of historical study of a storied man. Indeed, the film’s flirting with neon lighting and anachronisms within the staid genre are certainly valid ways to highlight how Nikola Tesla stood apart from his contemporaries. But unlike the famous inventor that the film depicts as an outsider among American scientists, Tesla largely disappoints because it is far more conventional than it leads you to believe.

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In Review: Words on Bathroom Walls

Teen melodramas, while somewhat unfairly treated as disposal in the marketplace, have recently found renewed value in telling important stories previously excluded from their genre’s narrative. While The Fault in Our Stars received perhaps the widest popularity in its love story centered on terminally ill teens, the genre was at its finest with The Hate U Give‘s youth-centered examination of racism and police brutality. Now following in The Perks of Being a Wallflower‘s shoes, another story of young love, self-acceptance, and mental illness is offered in Words on Bathroom Walls. It’s not one that stands alongside any of those better films.

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