The one constant during times of grief is that no two people react in exactly the same way. One might break down in tears. Another might suppress emotion. One might hug and kiss the dead body of his or her loved one. Another might turn away immediately at the door. Manchester By The Sea understands the small differences that make us human and the messy, uncertain, and difficult swirl of emotions that follow the losses in our lives. It delves into the way that life goes on even if it seems like time stops, and it underscores the fact that putting one foot in front of the other can be one of the most difficult things to do every day.
There are a lot of things to like about this film. Portman is great, and her performance toes the line nicely between the artificial and the genuine. Mica Levi takes her haunting Under the Skin score and applies something similar here. Larrain and d.p. Stephane Fontaine succeed in creating a disorienting but intimate visual atmosphere. Essentially, this is a film that fights against being your run-of-the-mill biopic, and that’s an approach I can appreciate.
Paterson is set up like a poem of its own, its day-to-day structure providing a rhythm for a story without much of a well-defined plot or character arc. The film instead lives in the mundanity of everyday life, finding its story in the little moments and deviations from the normal rhythm. It’s not critical of mundanity like many films are; instead, it accepts that it’s a way of life for many, further highlighting the beauty and creativity that can be found in everyday moments. It’s a melancholy film driven by quiet hope.
Out of nowhere comes this movie to save 2016. This is a true charmer, an exploration of well-trodden film territory that still manages to feel more genuine than most. It’s funny, endearing, and touching without overdoing anything, and any sappier moments it features are most definitely earned. It’s one of the big surprises of the year in film, and I hope it gets the attention it deserves over the next few months.
Sleek, stylish, and quite a bit of fun, Nocturnal Animals is like a tamer version of The Neon Demon with some help from David Lynch. It’s structured around three different perspectives–past, present, and fiction–and it does a serviceable job of tying the three threads together. However, there are some limitations in the initial premise that play out as the story progresses, namely the fact that certain aspects of the narrative get shortchanged. Unfortunately, though Amy Adams gets ample screen time, her character never feels like it’s getting the substance that other characters get. Her character doesn’t really serve as as strong a link between the three perspectives as Ford believes it does. Nevertheless, it’s a wonderful performance given the material at hand, and Adams is able to work wonders out of very little from the script.
During a year curiously lacking in the “standout performance” department, here enters Isabelle Huppert. This is a fierce, complex portrayal of a character who rarely falls in line with our preconceived notions, and Huppert nails every single aspect of that complexity. As Michele Leblanc, she continually walks a tightrope of desire, control, and sexuality, and she and Verhoeven find moments of wild humor and biting satire in the midst of extremely dark scenarios. It’s a fun one to watch, and the fact that I label it “fun” when it involves the topics it does should tell you all you need to know about where Verhoeven’s mind is at.