Clooney, Veterans, Killer Teens & Harry Dean Stanton at the Movies
Clooney + Coen Brothers = subversive fun. Who said you couldn’t do math? You can also find American history in theaters this weekend, as well as bloody social media commentary, a real-life romantic comedy and a near-perfect send-off for the late, great Harry Dean Stanton.
Ah, the good old days.
In these turbulent times, who doesn’t long for a return to that simple life, when everything was just so peachy and America was…what’s that word? Great!
Suburbicon is hardly the first film to cast satirical aspersions onto idealized visions of 1950s Americana, but few have created such a biting bridge to the present while doing it. Just when you might think it’s being too obvious in its messaging, the powerhouse pedigrees of almost everyone involved remind you there must be something more at work here.
There is — something that’s often deliciously dark, twisted and satisfying.
The village of Suburbicon is peddled as the pinnacle of modern living for the upwardly mobile families of the 1950s. It’s a community proud of its diversity…until a black family moves in.
Right next door to the new unwelcome neighbors, Gardner Lodge (Matt Damon), his wife Rose (Julianne Moore), sister-in-law Margaret (also Julianne Moore) and son Nicky (Noah Jupe) are dealing with the consequences of a violent home invasion. An insurance claim follows, which brings a visit from an eager fraud investigator (a scene-stealing Oscar Isaac).
Director George Clooney and frequent writing partner Grant Heslov resurrect a decades-old script from the masterful Coen Brothers, loosely based on an account of the first black family to live in a 1957 Pennsylvania suburb, to mine both the ridiculous and the profane.
Beyond the tired metaphors of fences and observant children lies the point that this is the history so many want to “take America back” to, and it was far from great.
Thank You for Your Service
American Sniper screenwriter Jason Hall moves behind the camera for his thematically similar big screen adaptation, Thank You for Your Service.
Miles Teller is Adam Schumann, returning permanently to his wife and two small children after his third tour in Iraq. He’s joined by buddies and platoon-mates Solo (Beulah Koale) and Will (Joe Cole).
Too earnest for its own good, Thank You for Your Service shadows these three servicemen as the responsibility for and repercussions from their actions overseas haunt their post-war lives. This is a film about PTSD, but more than that, it’s about a country both ill-equipped to serve those who served, and often disinterested in trying.
Hall’s storytelling can’t rise above cliché, but he manages to tell his painfully heartfelt tale without cloying manipulation or judgment. Though Thank You buzzes with impotent rage—that of the filmmaker as well as that of the protagonists—it never feels preachy or even pessimistic. Hall articulates these veterans’ helplessness and frustration in a way that is genuinely rare in our current glut of flag-waving dramas, big screen and small.
The flaws can’t go unseen, though, and Hall either needed a better writer or a director who could take some of the obviousness of this screenplay and find a fresher way to approach it.
Heathers meets Scream in the savvy horror comedy that mines social media culture to truly entertaining effect, Tragedy Girls.
Sadie (Brianna Hildebrand) and McKayla (Alexandra Shipp) are looking for more followers to improve their brand, and they have been doing a lot of research to make their content more compelling. The Tragedy Girls plumb their small Ohio town’s surprising death toll with more insight than the local police seem to have. Where do they get their knowledge?
Tyler MacIntyre directs a screenplay he co-wrote with Chris Lee Hill and Justin Olson. The trio wade into the horror of a social media generation with more success than anything we’ve seen to date. A great deal of their success has to do with casting.
Hildebrand and Shipp (both X-Men; Hildebrand was the moody Negasonic in Deadpool while Shipp plays young Storm in the franchise proper) nail their characters’ natural narcissism. Is it just the expectedly shallow, self-centeredness of the teenage years, or are they sociopaths?
Mrs. Kent (Nicky Whelan) would like to know. The spot-on teacher character offers the film’s most pointed piece of social (media) commentary when she points out the traits encouraged in a snapchat world, where shallowness and parasitic, even psychotic behavior is a plus.
The details are priceless (she lends him a copy of Martyrs! Dig that ringtone!), the performances impress and the whole thing is a hoot.
It’s a fitting tribute to the range of Harry Dean Stanton that his career could’ve ended with just about any role and you could decently argue, “Well, that makes sense.” But to give us Lucky at the end of a decades-long career is nothing short of one last cosmic joke at the non-religious character’s expense: God not only exists, but is a huge Harry Dean Stanton fan.
Lucky is the debut feature from John Carroll Lynch, who is, like Stanton, a gifted character actor probably used to being called “ohhh that guy!” And with Lucky (written by Logan Sparks and Drago Sumonja), the collaboration between Lynch and Stanton is pitch-perfect.
As Lucky, Stanton carries more weight than his brittle frame should bear. Lucky is a 90-year-old World War II veteran who has seemingly outlived everything save death. A minor fall and a visit with the town doctor (Ed Begley Jr.) prods the tequila-drinking, cigarette-smoking atheist Lucky to maybe, finally, reflect on his mortality, which he does begrudgingly through a series of interactions with local friends and strangers.
With little more than a light of his cigarette or a hoarse whisper of “bullshit,” Lucky makes it clear that he hasn’t the time or interest in what comfort God or religion has to offer in a world of horrors and loss. Yet the film is deeply—reverently—spiritual.
Lynch chooses to leave us with something hovering between resolution and reservation, as if Lucky is one long Zen koan. But knowing how things end doesn’t mean there’s nothing left to discover. Watching Stanton in any performance is to see flashes of some elusive truth buried within his characters. Watching him as Lucky is an untouchable capstone.
Charming is the first word that comes to mind while watching the Antonio Santini and Dan Sickles documentary, Dina.
We’re privy to Dina’s day-to-day routines, her fiancé, Scott, is introduced. In most ways, Scott and Dina are just like any other couple preparing for and anticipating their wedding day: there’s excitement, some trepidation, and a few hurdles to work through if they’re going to succeed in the long run.
But Scott has Asperger Syndrome and Dina has “a smörgåsbord” of mental disabilities (per her mother). Still, Santini and Sickles show us that Dina and Scott are a couple like any other.
It’s a testament to the filmmakers, who make the audience feel like they’re spending time with old friends. It’s also a testament to Dina herself. Her past is one of hardship. She’s a widow and a survivor of a terrible ordeal at the hands of a boyfriend. But she is full of optimism and warmth.
As a love story, Dina is exactly what the audience wants it to be.
Also opening in Columbus:
All I See is You (R)
Deliver Us (NR)
Let There Be Light (PG13)
Take Every Wave: The Life of Laird Hamilton (NR)
Reviews with help from George Wolf, Rachel Willis and Matt Weiner.