By Ray Pride
In “Mistress America,” Noah Baumbach turns muse-partner-fellow screenwriter Greta Gerwig into a delightful, deliquescent, never-defeated and never-deflated Jean Arthur for the twenty-first century, as another incarnation of her energy and off-kilter wit is unleashed upon a Manhattan-Brooklyn of the romantic mind. (You could see the legacy of the great dames like Carole Lombard and Judy Holliday, if you’re so inclined.) “Mistress America,” indeed.
For my money, or at least my mood the night I saw it, “Mistress America” landed like ten-thousand dollars of finely focused therapy. (So this is narcissism!) Gerwig’s Brooke is akin to many modern Manhattanites of the past fifty years: from somewhere else but born to the island. Or at least to the lure of the lore and the lingo. From a Times Square red-carpet entrance to late-night laughter in the warm embrace of the East Village’s Veselka Ukrainian restaurant, Brooke is many tributaries. Her finger’s in pie after pie, her identity known to all but herself, a regular whirla-Zelig-gig. She’s a perpetual-posture machine, who says things not to hear herself talk, but to offer the soft sizzle of a second’s affirmation to her listener, even if what she says is errant nonsense or rank absurdity. (How do they know this woman so well?) Read the rest of this entry »
With her fourth feature, the dreamy, low-key “Eden,” Mia Hansen-Løve continues to work in a different style that suits the subject at hand. Based on a screenplay she wrote with her brother, Sven Hansen-Løve, who is also a deejay, her film follows two decades in an unaging young deejay’s life in the Parisian electronic dance scene of the 1990s. Based partly on Sven’s experience, as well as those of Daft Punk, “Eden,” simmers in music and mood but the floppy-haired cipher of a male lead (Felix De Givry) is her least interesting protagonist yet, especially in light of the sharply drawn, nuanced figures of the middle-aged male protagonist of “Father of My Children” (2009) and the young girl center-screen in “Goodbye First Love” (2011). Read the rest of this entry »
A romantic comedy without kisses, Noah Baumbach’s “Frances Ha” (co-written with Greta Gerwig) is a vest-pocket “Manhattan,” a monochrome charmer about the mistakes a young striver makes at the elder age of twenty-seven, before her true, adult life begins, sometime shortly after the film’s “a-ha” of a final shot that illuminates the cryptic title. (And announces that all we have seen before is mere comic prelude.) Frances is getting past the proper time to be the dancer she intends to be, and the film neatly choreographs her progress toward her true and proper profession. But that’s not to say Frances, and Gerwig by extension, isn’t a creature of physicality. Gerwig’s her own Mabel Normand to her inner Mack Sennett: there’s good and proper slapstick throughout and she’s electric throughout. Read the rest of this entry »
Keanu Reeves, about to make his directorial debut with a China-set action movie, makes an engaging interlocutor in “Side By Side,” Chris Kenneally’s clear, brisk conversation of a documentary about the repercussions of the abrupt accomplishment of the handover from 35mm film as what we’ve known as “movies” for over a century to multiple permutations of digital production, distribution and exhibition. (Distributor Tribeca Film also has at least thirty short outtakes from the on-screen interviews at their YouTube channel; one with Lars von Trier in his office is below. It’s a genial mix, and a list of names alone suggests the quality of the exchanges: Steven Soderbergh, James Cameron, David Lynch, Martin Scorsese, Lana Wachowski, Andy Wachowski, Richard Linklater, Christopher Nolan, Wally Pfister, David Fincher, Greta Gerwig, Robert Rodriguez, cinematographers Vilmos Zsigmond, Michael Chapman, Vittorio Storaro, Michael Ballhaus and Anthony Dod Mantle, editorial eminence Walter Murch, Danny Boyle, Dick Pope and “Lawrence of Arabia” editor Anne V. Coates, and, wouldn’t you know, George Lucas. Postures, postulations and occasional apercus follow. Read the rest of this entry »
“With age comes wisdom,” a character says in “To Rome With Love.” “With age comes exhaustion,” Woody Allen answers, a touch weary-looking himself. Still, his first appearance at the packed screening where I saw the seventy-six-year-old director’s fortieth feature caused the room to ripple with pleasure: both that he’s still standing and in anticipation of spoken spleen to come. Allen’s said he doesn’t care for the title “To Rome With Love,” which supplanted “Decameron Bop” and “Nero Fiddled,” but my biggest curiosity about creative choices is at what moment he and editor Alisa Lepselter threw temporal unity to the wind and intercut the film’s four discrete episodes. Read the rest of this entry »
“Damsels in Distress” may be one of the most charming and memorable movies I’ve ever seen that also plays as if the filmmaker had no experience whatsoever in making feature films. Whit Stillman has littered the pages of an eager press with his tales of his time in the wilderness, writing ambitious scripts for films that were never made, set thousands of miles from the home turf of his first three films, “Metropolitan” (1990), “Barcelona” (1994) and “Last Days Of Disco,” which began his public silence as a filmmaker in 1998. Expatriate days. Failed romances. It’s a much more cleanly told story than “Damsels.” Read the rest of this entry »
By Ray Pride
The moment is past but the moment is now: In 2009 Williamsburg, Shelly, a woman of 23 or so, (Stella Schnabel) contends with intense desires, average expectations, quotidian disappointments. Shelly’s inner life is suggested by a voice-over that’s as much interior monologue as it is diary entry or recitation to a therapist, as well as a visual style fashioned in multiple bold formats. There’s an intermittent score by Will Bates as well that uses a percussive tattoo like an accelerated heartbeat, shared by Stella and the film itself, in the same fashion Jon Brion did with his music for “Punch-Drunk Love.” Ry Russo-Young’s second feature, “You Wont Miss Me” (sic), at first glance resembles other contemporary low-budget, digital video idioms, but in fact, it’s a quietly constructed, sharply observed, unsentimental of-the-minute “Alice in Wonderland.” Read the rest of this entry »
Ben Stiller plays Roger Greenberg as a jerk you might like, at times. Or you might like writer-director Noah Baumbach (“The Squid and the Whale,” “Margot at the Wedding”) for making Greenberg dislikable. What’s not to like about “Greenberg” is Baumbach’s way of satirizing his own bicoastal cohort in a story co-credited to wife Jennifer Jason Leigh (co-director of “The Anniversary Party”), who is also one of this film’s producers. Uninsightful self-pity spoons with toothless self-loathing. After a stint in a mental hospital for a nervous breakdown, Greenberg house-sits for three weeks in West Hollywood for his brother taking his family to Vietnam on a business trip to open a hotel. Left behind is their German Shepherd Mahler and their personal assistant Florence Marr (Greta Gerwig, “Hannah Takes the Stairs”). Greenberg builds a dog house for Mahler, who runs up a three-grand vet bill. The 42-year-old New York neurotic, a compulsive writer of complaint letters to American Airlines and Starbucks, also works on a relationship with 25-year-old Florence, a writer of alt-songs who gets an abortion. Greenberg tries to reconnect with a former girlfriend, played by Leigh, and a former bandmate (Rhys Ifans). Both have something like real lives. Baumbach’s lax irony works the song “It Never Rains In Southern California” into a cloudburst scene where panicky Greenberg asks, “Can the pool overflow?” He siphons off the rainwater. Greenberg is incompetent as a human being in banal ways. “Greenberg” is a minor comedy of manners about boundary issues. Feels like Woody Allen’s L.A. allergy and Steve Martin’s misanthropy pitched to a younger demographic, with throwaway nostalgia for cocaine and Duran Duran. With Chris Messina, Brie Larson, Juno Temple, Mark Duplass, Merritt Wever. 107m. (Bill Stamets)
“Greenberg” opens Friday at Landmark Century.