Someone in the audience during the Q&A asked Noah Baumbach, “why are you so fascinated by dysfunctional families?” In response, he simply asked, “Is there any other kind?” Baumbach has made love-ably dysfunctional people his expertise. Marriage Story is no different. A love story, a procedural about divorce and a musical, Baumbach’s film merges genre elements to create a divorce epic. Nicole (Scarlett Johannson) and Charlie (Adam Driver) have lived and worked together at their theatre company in New York for almost a decade. When a TV pilot is offered to Nicole in L.A., she sees it as a lifeline for her career and a way out of her suffering marriage. Charlie, an acclaimed theatre director, is a devout New Yorker who naively believes that Nicole and his son Henry (Azhy Robertson) will come back after shooting wraps. He and Nicole have also agreed to keep things amicable and avoid lawyers. When Nicole hires a ruthless divorce lawyer (Laura Dern) however, all good intentions go out the window and splatter onto the sidewalk.
Charlie flies back and forth to L.A., where the divorce has been filed, draining his bank account and patience in the process. It’s a love story about how good people can so quickly become hostile to one another and how intimate moments become weaponized in a legal battle. For instance, Nicole’s late-night admission to Charlie that she’s had too much wine is painted as alcoholism and bad parenting by his lawyer (Ray Liotta). It’s Baumbach’s most unhinged, castigating film to date, though there are scenes and monologues that feel overwritten to the point where they lose their impact. Yet poignant moments of tenderness between Nicole and Charlie as they battle their way through a divorce are heartfelt without feeling heavy-handed. Marriage Story is a searing depiction of how quickly love can clot and congeal into hate. They’re not opposites after all. (Sarah Foulkes)
Marriage Story hits Netflix on Nov. 6.
Robert Eggers follows up his breakout hit The Witch with another period piece that otherwise exists on an entire other plane of existence. If The Witch was austere, bordering on dusty, The Lighthouse is a bit of Grand Guignol lunacy that fires on all cylinders. Robert Pattinson plays Ephraim Winslow, an inexperienced man who takes a job as a lighthouse keeper alongside grizzled lifer Thomas Wake (Willem Dafoe). Wake is a drunk and a despot, constantly handing out tasks to Winslow and forbidding him from ever going up to the top of the lighthouse. Winslow refuses to drink with his co-worker, preferring to bide his time until the four-week contract is over and he can take his earnings and go on with his life, but a raging storm prevents the replacements from accessing the lighthouse, trapping Wake and Ephraim together with dwindling supplies of food, booze and mental health.
Shot in inky black-and-white and a boxy 1.19:1 ratio, The Lighthouse feels like a film out of time where its characters speak like a sea shanty and look like engravings from an old bottle of whiskey. Light on plot (you could even say that plot is more or less non-existent), it’s a two-handed character study that descends into inspired lunacy slowly but steadily until its two principals are covered in mud, soot, jizz and blood. Pattinson and Dafoe have rarely come so unhinged, succumbing to a cabin-fever paranoia that echoes early Polanski and an expressionist visual style that creates indelible images.
You could certainly argue that it’s unclear what (if anything) Eggers actually has to say here; it’s not a movie that has too many thematic concerns beyond the fact that it’s undeniable that spending all your days holed up drunk with a smelly sailor who’s sexually fixated on an inanimate object is not a great way to earn a living. Nevertheless, as a warped genre piece and aesthetic overdose, you could hardly do better. (Alex Rose)
The Lighthouse is set for release in October.
It’s safe to say that most Thanksgivings don’t end with your mother killing herself. Even less common are the ones where you already know that she’s going to kill herself before the turkey is cut. In Roger Michell’s drama Blackbird, a family gathers to celebrate the matriarch’s (Susan Sarandon) last few days alive. Dying of an unnamed illness, Lily has decided to take her life into her own hands and ends things her own way, with a glass of lethal poison and her family by her side. Euthanasia isn’t legal in Connecticut, where Blackbird takes place, but despite the film’s unconvincing plot logic (wouldn’t the police want to know how she got her hands on the stuff?) the fears and doubts have less to do with the potential legal repercussions and more with witnessing your mother’s final days.
Boasting a heavyweight cast comprised of Kate Winslet, Sam Neill and Mia Wasikowska, the film tries to get pack a lot into its 97 minutes, but ultimately feels unfocused and glib. Shot in a perfectly decorated secluded house, a varnish of detached calculation coats the film. Despite the subject matter, the film skirts around the heart of the issues. For a film about terminal illness and imminent death, it’s awfully polite. Not to say that the characters are. There is enough screaming and crying to feel appropriate for family drama, but these scenes are so calibrated as to feel mechanical. Indeed, the film feels like the result of an algorithm generated to create an Oscar-bait film. Or worse, like a glum IKEA commercial. In the end, it feels a bit lifeless. (SF)
Blackbird does not yet have a release date.
For her second feature film, director Gabriela Cowperthwaite adapts “The Friend”, an award-winning Esquire article by Brad Ingelsby of the same name about a family friend (Jason Segel) who helps a couple (Casey Affleck and Dakota Johnson) in need throughout the wife’s tumultuous battle with cancer.
While well-intended, the movie finds its flaws in its acting, or a lack thereof. From Casey Affleck’s passive performance (see also: his controversial Academy Award win for Manchester by the Sea), to Jason Segel playing a fictionalized version of what I imagine can’t be far-removed from his real-life persona (à la Seth Rogen), to Dakota Johnson simply not acting well (ironically so, her character’s profession is a theatre performer), a movie with a title that would suggest chemistry is key finds its leads with their better days behind them. This is particularly upsetting in the case of Segel, whose last theatrical lead role in 2015’s The End of the Tour proved he can work magic when stepping outside of his comfort zone.
TIFF finds a strong suit in offering a unique audience experience. Admittedly, I probably laughed and cried a lot harder during this movie’s festival screening than I would have otherwise seeing it during its regular release. The Friend is the type of movie that will be great to take your mother to on a “cheap Tuesday” down the line. A little too sappily executed to do justice for the source material it was based off of, the core of a good idea exists, though it feels as if most facets could have been better executed. (Mr Wavvy)
The Friend does not yet have a release date.
I know that the directorial duo of Benson & Moorhead (Spring, Resolution, The Endless) probably aren’t explicitly trying to make a cult movie for the Dave Matthews Band / pukka-shell necklace crowd, but it’s hard to see Synchronic as anything else. A thoroughly unoriginal mix of stoner ramblings and Inception-esque time travel, Synchronic focuses on two paramedics – one married and miserable (Jamie Dornan), the other single and miserable (Anthony Mackie) who consistently stumble upon mysterious overdoses in the course of their work. The culprit is Synchronic, a synthetic ayahuasca imitation sold in a few smoke shops across Louisiana that is not only causing overdoses but incredibly powerful hallucinations. When Dornan’s character’s teenage daughter disappears after allegedly tripping on Synchronic, it’s up to his best friend to find out what happened to her. There are several complications (a limited stock of Synchronic, rapidly metastasizing brain cancer) that make this a race against time in more than one way.
While not a bad idea off-hand, Synchronic does rely heavily on time-travel ideas that are also wildly conflated with Castaneda-lite stoner mysticisms and a generally familiar stew of clichés that never coalesce into anything resembling a personality. It’s rare to see a movie give itself such a wide berth to be whatever it wants, only to squander it in the most obvious ways possible. (Mackie’s time-travels put him in contact with the KKK, the Civil War and Conquistadors, all of which are used in the dullest and most boilerplate ways imaginable.)
There’s just has such an off-puttingly familiar vibe to the proceedings that it’s hard to fathom that filmmakers who have so often used the limitations (budgetary and otherwise) of their projects to their advantage would deliver something so generic. (Alex Rose)
Synchronic does not yet have a release date.