Meewella | Critic

According to P

Tag: Benny Safdie

QuickView: Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret (2023)

Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret poster

“It gets tiring. Trying so hard all the time, doesn’t it?”

Barbara Simon

Having spent several years raving about writer-director Kelly Fremont Craig’s debut, The Edge of Seventeen, her name drew me to this film more than the Judy Bloom book on which it is based. The source material is evidently beloved by many and, whilst some consider it strange that it has taken 50 years to receive a film adaptation, the regrettable reason is likely its refreshingly frank approach to female puberty. Craig sets the film in the 1970s, when the novel was published, a move that serves to highlight the story’s lasting relevance. Margaret is dragged from New York to New Jersey, forced to find a new clique of friends who, on the cusp of adolescence, are desperate for their first period in order to be perceived by their peers as mature. The adult cast features a host of big names — particularly Rachel McAdams in an expanded, sympathetic portrayal of Margaret’s mother as a woman dealing with her own issues of identity — but Craig casts relative newcomers as the children. Abby Fortson and Elle Graham stand out, the former through wry comedic sensibility and the latter through bold charm and energy. Despite the title, religion plays a limited role — Margaret’s parents have sought to escape their Jewish and Christian heritage, resenting interference from the grandparents. In making another coming of age film, Are You There God? falls squarely within Craig’s proven abilities and she again writes a likeable but flawed protagonist and deftly examines the positive and negative aspects of the friendships and familial relationships around Margaret whilst limiting melodrama.


QuickView: Licorice Pizza (2021)

Licorice Pizza poster

“I’m not going to forget you. Just like you’re not going to forget me.”

Gary Valentine

Paul Thomas Anderson’s Licorice Pizza feels like a movie from a few decades past, reminiscent of Cameron Crowe’s Almost Famous with its journey of self discovery in a nostalgic 1970s setting. The ten year age gap between Alana and Gary is uncomfortable — even if Gary is the pursuer, he is just 15 at the outset. Alana’s initial reluctance gives way to jealousy when she sees Gary interested in girls his age, and the inverse would surely be unpalatable. The script is uncritical, seeing Alana as a late bloomer and the coming of age story is really hers, with less of an arc for Gary (who is based on Anderson’s friend, Gary Goetzman). Both leads are newcomers, but display aptitude — Alana Haim conveys much through subtle expressions, whilst Cooper Hoffman (son of the late Philip Seymour Hoffman, a regular Anderson collaborator) exudes a caged energy as the permanently hustling salesman. The storyline meanders, sporadically engaging and running a little too long, although it chooses the right moment to end. I can only assume that nostalgia has a great deal to do with the strength of Licorice Pizza‘s critical reception, not only for its setting but the style of filmmaking. I found myself unable to identify with the characters or to find any depth to their inconsequential journey.


QuickView: Uncut Gems (2019)

Uncut Gems

“This is how I win.”

Howard Ratner

Hinging on a revelatory dramatic performance from Adam Sandler (whose “comedic” antics I find more tedious than amusing), Uncut Gems is an intentional cacophony of a film that draws you directly into the mind of its protagonist, a New York jeweller with a gambling addiction. His powerful self-belief and perilously weak grip on the reality of his situation make it difficult for the audience to follow or relate. Uncut Gems is an exhausting experience, reminiscent of Birdman but with the incessant snare drum replaced by Howard’s constant chatter. Uncomfortable as it may be to watch, it is all constructed with clear intent by the Safdie brothers, the freewheeling nature serving to keep things unpredictable even as we know Howard is out out of his depth. The result is likely to be unwatchable for some, but it is ambitious and original.


"A film is a petrified fountain of thought."

(CC) BY-NC 2003-2023 Priyan Meewella

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