This week’s big release in Hong Kong is MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE – FALLOUT but I’m not seeing it until Thursday night so I thought I’d continue my look at some recently released indie films that you should check out. They’re available on the various subscription services and on disc. As I’ve said in previous editions of this roundup, you actually don’t need to wait for a typhoon to watch these films. They’re good enough to watch anytime.
With the recent box office and critical successes of films directed by Ava DuVernay (SELMA), Patti Jenkins (WONDER WOMAN) and Greta Gerwig (LADY BIRD), the time for women to literally call the shots on a film set has finally arrived. And why not! The indie comedy, MR. ROOSEVELT, may be on a much smaller scale than these other films but it’s no less important because its director, 31-year-old Noël Wells, is also the film’s writer and star.
Here, Wells (perhaps best known for the first season of TV’s MASTER OF NONE) plays Emily Martin, a late-20-something improvisational comedian from Austin, Texas, who is struggling to make a name for herself in Los Angeles. Although she’s a bit of an Internet phenomenon thanks to a kooky video she made a few years earlier involving spaghetti and a bathtub, she hasn’t been able to capitalise on her fame much less monetise it. When she gets a call from her ex-boyfriend, Eric (Nick Thune), that a loved one is critically ill, she heads home after a two-year absence only to find that both Eric and Austin have grown up and moved on.
The saying goes that you can never go home again and that’s certainly the case here, although everything and everyone seems to have changed except for Emily. She’s too self-absorbed for that to happen. Like Austin, Eric has gentrified thanks to his new girlfriend, Celeste (Britt Lower), who represents the business school-educated Millennials who are reshaping the city. While Emily would like the world to stay as it was, Celeste, in her upbeat but subtly manipulative way, won’t allow it. To Wells’ credit, it would have been easy to write Celeste as a one-dimensional monster who gets her comeuppance in the film’s final act. Instead, both we and Emily find that although Celeste is a success-driven over-achiever, she’s actually not a bad person who may just be better for Eric than Emily was. That revelation gives Emily the kick in the pants that she probably needs.
I’m not sure how much of this story is based on Wells’ own experiences as she, too, hails from Austin and has moved out to LA to make her mark in comedy. Austinites will no doubt find humour in some scenes and images that the rest of us will find quirky. Who knew, for example, that Austin had a topless watering hole? (If you’re interested, the place is called Barton Springs. If you want full nudity though, you need to head to nearby Hippie Hollow, which is about 20 minutes away by car.)
To be honest, MR. ROOSEVELT is not a great movie but it is an enjoyable one. Some scenes seem undercooked, which may not be surprising as Wells shot the movie old-school style using Kodak film stock where every take costs money. Certainly, both in front of the camera and behind though, Wells has proven that she is worthy of our attention.
How long does it take for a marriage to fall apart? For retired school teacher Kate Mercer (Charlotte Rampling, RED SPARROW) and her now frail husband Geoff (Tom Courtenay, THE DRESSER; DR. ZHIVAGO), it’s less than a week but the reality is, as Kate discovers, their marriage was built on melting ice from Day One.
Five days before their big 45th wedding anniversary party, a letter arrives for Geoff at their modest home in the Norfolk Broads with news that the body of Katya, Geoff’s old flame, was found in a melting glacier in Switzerland. It seems she had been trapped there for 52 years after she fell into a crevasse while hiking to Italy with Geoff. For Geoff, the news rekindles old memories, most of which he’s never mentioned to Kate. At first, Kate accepts that what happened before she met Geoff is irrelevant but when Geoff’s behaviour starts to change, the alarm bells in her head start to ring. Is Kate a substitute for Katya? Even her name suggests that the possibility is real but many other things about their marriage indicate that Geoff’s motivations were always geared toward his love of Katya. As the clock ticks toward their big event, Kate is less sure about her relationship with Geoff and if their marriage will make it to the end of the week.
45 YEARS is the second film by British director Andrew Haigh (LEAN ON PETE is his third), who adapted the screenplay from the short story “In Another Country” by David Constantine. Like LEAN ON PETE, the film features understated performances by the two leads, who both took home Silver Bears (Best Actor/Actress) at the 65th Berlinale International Film Festival in 2015. Rampling also received an Oscar nomination for Best Actress in a Leading Role for her performance. (She lost to Brie Larson for ROOM.) As Hollywood continues to focus on youth and superheroes, thankfully the Brits and Europeans are continuing to produce heady stories involving older people.
The couple’s choice of song to dance to at their party becomes all the more poignant as the lyrics take on new meaning for Kate. As the words sink in, Rampling’s face masterfully displays a range of emotion as she assesses what her future with Geoff may be.
This is one powerful film that you should definitely check out! Between this film and LEAN ON PETE, I’m amazed that director Andrew Haigh hasn’t received more attention. (It was recently announced that Haigh will be directing a new five-part TV mini-series called THE NORTH WATER expected out in 2019.)
Watch the review recorded on Facebook Live in RTHK Radio 4’s studio on Thursday, July 26th at 8:30 am HK time!
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