“I want to find a character who is difficult, on the surface, to understand.”
With an actress visiting a once-infamous family to learn details that will help her portray the mother, there is an argument for going into May December blind to the story. I won’t spoil anything that is not apparent within the first 20 minutes of the film. Gracie and Jae Yoo’s infamy arises from the fact he was a child when their relationship began but they have stayed together and raised a family. By approaching their relationship from the back — as their children are about to leave for university — rather than from the start, the script has a broader canvas and an ability to wrong-foot the audience. Our perspective is largely Elizabeth’s as she investigates and gradually develops a fuller perspective by speaking to more family and locals, the score matching this mysterious tone with insistent strings and enquiring piano. The central performances from Natalie Portman, Julianne Moore and Charles Melton are nuanced and emotionally compelling, particularly in the parallels drawn between the leading women — both are manipulative, Gracie in her desire to control the narrative and Elizabeth in her search for acting inspiration. There are missteps, like the late “revelation” of a lie that ought to have been clear, but overall Todd Haynes weaves an excellent tapestry of ambiguity that leaves the audience uncomfortable as we evaluate the relationship before us.
“We’re going to teach you a little about everything, so that you can lie about anything.”
Hollywood con artists are typically painted with a light tone and a glamorous sheen that is entirely absent from Sharper, a neo noir thriller set in a dark and clinical New York rather than the bright lights of Vegas. There is plenty of slick, moody cinematography (Charlotte Bruus Christensen also shot Molly’s Game) capturing these characters in cold hues that serves to reinforce a lack of chemistry or genuine emotion behind much of the melodrama. This datchment seems to be a directorial choice rather than a fault of the actors and Sharper is to be commended for forging its own path rather taking the easier derivative route, but the result is audience disengagement. Much of the winding plot is predictable, and the script commits the common sin of inserting one too many twists. For all its seriousness, beneath the surface Sharper manages to be just as soulless as some of the genre’s worst offenders.
“I don’t know whether to help you or euthanize you.”
Infuriating punctuation aside, this romantic comedy strives for greater quality and depth than its peers, even as it relies on familiar tropes. It is largely successful through acting talent and valuing thoughtful drama over laughs. Steve Carrell is allowed to make the newly single Cal sympathetic rather than a sad sack caricature. Where the comedy surfaces, it is typically wry rather than laugh-out-loud, with the best lines tending to have darker overtones. It is noteworthy that the central couple are a middle aged husband and wife who share remarkably little screen time. As is often the case with even the smarter rom coms, the movie struggles to find a conclusion and falls back on awkwardly saccharine displays, despite undermining the “grand gesture”.
“We’ve kind of got a bit of a “save the world” situation here.”
A bloated sequel that tries to recapture its anarchic satire of the Bond franchise’s excesses with muted success and decidedly less charisma from its leads, I actually enjoyed this far more than I feared from its critical reception. Arguably the story’s chief sin is swiftly to sideline its female cast, leaving once again a field of exclusively male agents. It makes the film’s direct references to equality and loyalty feel somewhat crass. Seeing the British Kingsmen working alongside their US counterparts, The Statesmen, is perhaps tailored to me (pun intended) but the creative design throughout both the Statesman HQ and the villain’s lair is wonderful. Whilst nothing matches the first film’s church brawl, there is still substantial creativity to the action set pieces.