As a high-concept fable about time and aging, Old shows early promise with a group of strangers stranded on a beach where the flow of time means that they will age a full lifetime in the span of just one day. Sadly the writing never comes close to a coherent or thoughtful exploration of these ideas and dialogue is painfully stilted. Instead the premise gets old fast, which would be impressive were it deliberate. Although Shyamalan continues to attract talented actors, there is no depth to characters who are mere cyphers (an actuary worried about future risk married to a museum curator interested in the past) or fodder for the plot, all ultimately hapless victims as the film leans into temporal body horror. Shyamalan remains a victim of early success as — though this is not a film that relies on a grand twist — he does try to cram in narrative complexity at the end, which does little more than highlight an intriguing bioethics angle that might have been more engaging if it were more than an afterthought. Old is a tedious way to lose two hours of your life but at least it is never scary enough to age you prematurely.
“I suppose marriage has always been an economic proposition. Even in fiction.”
Greta Gerwig’s adaptation of Alcott’s classic novel blends a wonderful cast with modern feminist sensibilities. Where Gillian Armstrong’s 1994 version was a direct translation of the novel, Gerwig is more ambitious in her approach. The most obvious change is choosing to tell story out of order, creating a meta narrative in the way scenes are juxtaposed. Introducing the women as young adults also reduces the inclination to infantilise them as children. It works best for those already familiar with the material as the chronology can feel slightly disjointed. Hearing of Laurie’s failed proposal at the start also robs the scene of any power when it finally arrives late in the film, but it also alters the way one views his childhood relationship with the girls. The key casting is Soirse Ronan and Timothée Chalamet (both of whom starred in Gerwig’s Lady Bird). Ronan makes Jo’s proud wilfulness overtly dislikable in some scenes, trusting that we will come to understand her as the film proceeds. Meanwhile, Chalamet’s Laurie is both charming and brusque, with nuanced variation to his relationships with each of the sisters. The ambiguous ending, seemingly introduced by Gerwig as something of a critique, may offend purists, but it is entirely fitting for this adaptation.
“This is the worst possible parenting I can imagine.”
An idiosyncratic Australian indie, Babyteeth takes a familiar subgenre with a seriously ill teenage child, but treats the traditional formula with almost perverse contempt. Milla begins the film by bringing home a 23-year-old drug addict, leaving her parents with a dilemma between protecting and supporting their daughter. All four central characters are deeply flawed but we empathise with each of them (sometimes alternatingly) as they are trying desperately hard not to hurt one another. Ben Mendelsohn and Essie Davis are perfectly paired as parents faltering under the weight of their child’s illness, though it is Eliza Scanlen’s powerful performance as the chaotic Milla that carries the film. In a story filled with poor decisions, hers are ultimately the most understandable as — like any teen — she prioritises living over surviving. Shannon Murphy has delivered one of the most arresting directorial debuts in recent years, rich with emotion without becoming cloying, whilst the handheld camerawork provides an intimate perspective without becoming voyeuristic.