Saturday, February 17, 2018

Classics: A Review of Blades of Glory By Lauren Ennis

The Olympic Games are an event that has become synonymous with excellence, team work, and overcoming the odds. Perhaps no Olympic team has defied expectations with the originality and sheer hilarity of male pair skaters Jimmy McElroy and Chaz Michael Michaels in the 2007 comedy Blades of Glory. At once an uproarious satire of Olympic sports and a valentine to sports films, Blades of Glory is a comedy that goes for the gold.

The story begins with judges’ darling Jimmy (John Heder) facing his rival, fan favorite Chaz (Will Ferrell) in the Olympics. Both skaters turn in flawless performances; leaving skating’s ‘little orphan awesome’ and ‘lone wolf’ in a tie for the gold. Outraged at the prospect of sharing the title, they begin bickering in the midst of the medal ceremony in what escalates to a brawl that leaves both permanently banned from male figure skating. Years later, both hit hard times as Jimmy struggles to make ends meet selling skate equipment, while Chaz battles alcoholism and sex addiction as he drifts between kiddie skating shows. When Jimmy’s former coach, Robert (Craig T Nelson) approaches them with the unorthodox plan of returning to skating as a pair team, Jimmy and Chaz scoff at the idea. The lure of the ice proves too strong for both skaters to resist, however, as they embark upon an Olympic journey that is easily one of the most outrageous in sports history.

Through its by turns slapstick and sentimental approach, the film captures figure skating at its most ridiculous, while simultaneously showcasing the skill, teamwork, and perseverance that have helped make it an Olympic fan favorite. The gags surrounding the extravagant costumes, dramatic music, and over-the-top artistic gestures that have becomes skating hallmarks will have even casual viewers laughing out loud. Similarly, the references to the incomprehensible scoring system, and skating greats past and present will have ice aficionados roaring with laughter. Even in the mist of its most outlandish shenanigans, however, the film’s humor avoids attacking the sport by also paying tribute to its most admirable qualities as well as those of its competitors. This homage to all things ice shines through in the film’s depiction of the grueling training that athletes undergo, the pressures that they face, and the devoted fans that they win over. The film’s highest tribute to the sport by far, however, is its surprisingly inspiring portrayal of the bond between Jimmy and Chaz. Through its unique approach, the film merges the very best in comedy and sports cinema for a viewing experience that is truly glorious.

While the film’s premise made its script ripe with comedic potential, it is the expert performances of the cast that brings its slapstick world of sports to riotous life. Craig T Nelson is excellent in his straight-man role as dedicated coach, Robert. Amy Poehler and Will Arnett are wonderfully wicked as Jimmy and Chaz’s greatest rivals, the creepily close Van Waldenberg siblings. Jenna Fischer turns in an impressive transition from television to film as the Van Waldenberg’s conflicted younger sister, Katie. Nick Swardson is endlessly entertaining in his role as the duo’s biggest fan/stalker, Hector. Even while surrounded by superb performances, the film belongs to Ferrell and Heder as ultimate odd couple Jimmy and Chaz. Heder’s wide-eyed innocence is a perfect complement to Ferrell’s bad-boy machismo. Together, the two make a comedy team that is unbeatable on or off the ice.

Through its hilarious send-up of all things figure skating, Blades of Glory is an Olympic level comedy. The film’s combination of an uproarious script and expertly comedic performances ensure that it has plenty to offer both comedy devotees and skating connoisseurs alike. For a winning comedy, hit the ice with Chaz and Jimmy in Blades of Glory.  

Saturday, February 3, 2018

Classics: A Valentine's Day for the Young and Young at Heart By Lauren Ennis

With the plethora of chocolates and teddy bears lining the store shelves there’s no doubt that its beginning to look a lot like Valentine’s Day once again. In keeping with the holiday’s celebration of all things romance, this week I’ll be turning the spotlight on three films that lent many a viewer their first glimpse of romantic love. While all of these films are geared towards young audiences, their exquisite animation, lilting tunes, and compelling storytelling capture the full sweep of romance at its most thrilling, transformative, and powerful in a way that will inspire both the young and young at heart. Tell us your favorite Valentine’s picks in the comments!

The days when carbs were still acceptable on dates
Lady and the Tramp: Easily one of the most iconic love stories in all of cinema, this 1955 Walt Disney film has come to define romance for several generations. The film tells the deceptively simple tale of a well-bred cocker spaniel and her whirlwind courtship with a mutt from the wrong side of the tracks in turn of the century middle-America. The film’s use of two dogs as protagonists allows the filmmakers to tell a surprisingly adult tale of romance against class lines, as affluent Lady pursues an unlikely romance with worldly rogue Tramp. When her human family push her aside in favor of their newborn son and leave her in the care of a borderline abusive aunt, Lady finds unexpected solace in the street-smart stray, Tramp. While she initially rejects him at the urging of her prejudiced fellow house pets, she begins to see him in a new light after he rescues her from an attack by a gang of vicious strays. When she learns that he has suffered similar rejection from his former human family the two eventually bond over their shared trauma, and she begins to appreciate the freedom of his life without a leash and collar.  The two then embark upon a journey across town in which each begins to see the world from the other's very different perspective . While the pair’s adventure includes some truly magic moments (particularly the famed spaghetti dinner), it takes a decidedly sober turn when the revelation of Tramp’s past as a womanizer and stints in the pound make Lady question his feelings. The film continues on this mature trajectory when Lady breaks off her relationship with Tramp only to face the full weight of her actions when she returns home to confront her ruined reputation. Even the plot’s final resolution is surprisingly gritty, as it is not until Tramp risks a fatal trip to the pound for the sake of Lady’s human family that the two are finally reunited. Rather than diminishing the film’s romantic sensibility, the script’s mature tone lends the film greater emotional resonance as the characters face all too real obstacles and consequences that set their relationship apart from the studio’s usual idyllic fairy tales. Beyond its emotional maturity, the film contains some of the most charming characters ever to grace the big-screen, and a date night that put’s many a real-life couple’s romance to shame. For a bella notte to remember look no further than Lady and the Tramp.

Let's see you top that, Pixar
Beauty and the Beast: Arguably Disney’s most ambitious effort, Beauty and the Beast remains one of the most successful animated films from any studio. While most animated films feature life-altering quests and evil villains, Beauty and the Beast maintains a firm focus upon the relationship between its characters, and is all the better for it. Even in the midst of enchantment spells, talking furniture, and a beastly hero, the film possesses a surprisingly human core as it chronicles the unlikely relationship between its leads. The film manages to move beyond its fantastic premise by revealing the ways in which the ahead of her time Belle and the Beast are able to relate to each other through their shared status as social outsiders, despite their obvious physical differences. The film also adds realism to its story by showing the ways in which their relationship progresses from mutual respect, to friendship, before finally blossoming into romance. The story further engages audience by making Belle and the Beast’s own inner demons a far greater obstacle to their happiness than any of rival suitor Gaston’s schemes. As a result, audiences are able to invest in both characters’ emotional development in a way that other animated films cannot. Perhaps the film’s greatest romantic draw is its portrayal of the ways in which love can ultimately change us for the better. While the Beast’s transformation into the handsome prince is indeed a sight to behold, it is the inner transformation that he undergoes earlier in the film that lends the script its greatest emotional resonance. In an act of self-sacrifice the Beast shows his love for Belle by putting her happiness above his own and finally letting her go. It is in that moment that the Beast undergoes his true metamorphosis and it becomes obvious that, regardless of his unchanged physical appearance, his love for Belle has helped the Beast to become a better man.  For a tale as old as time that remains truly timeless, hit the ballroom floor with Beauty and the Beast.

Proving that dogs can make the best wing-men
One-Hundred and One Dalmatians: Although this film is best remembered as a children’s take on the classic style crime caper, it is the love stories between two dogs and their owners that forms the heart of this Disney classic. When we first meet Pongo and his ‘pet’ (a/k/a owner), Roger, the two are living a less than swinging existence as London bachelors. Frustrated by their monotonous lifestyle, Pongo becomes determined to find a wife for Roger and a mate for himself. After a hilarious montage of Pongo’s search for woman and dog pairs that are reminiscent of a date search, Pongo finally locates the ideal pair in Anita and her Dalmatian, Perdita. In a fairly realistic representation Anita and Roger initially fail to notice each other, and even after Pongo intervenes by tangling his leash with Perdita’s the two nearly clash before bonding over the absurdity of the situation. The film breaks with most traditional love stories by placing its focus upon what happens after happily ever after through its depiction of the struggles of married life. While both couples truly love one another, their relationships are continually challenged by financial difficulties as Roger struggles to make ends meet as a songwriter, even as Pongo and Perdita begin their own large family.  In spite of their troubles, both couples’ bonds grow stronger in the face of adversity as Anita supports Roger’s artistic career, while Pongo and Perdita share the responsibilities of parenthood. When Anita’s fur-loving acquaintance, Cruella De Ville, arranges the dognapping of Pongo and Perdita’s puppies, both couples doggedly pursue the case until the puppies are safely returned. As Pongo and Perdita face one danger after another in pursuit of Cruella’s henchmen the two remain admirably united as they rely upon each other for support and refuse to give up hope. Even when faced with the challenge of what to do with the other eighty-four puppies Cruella’s held captive, the couple remain united and mutually agree to adopt and raise the other puppies as their own. Similarly, Roger and Anita rely upon one another as they grieve over the supposed loss of Pongo and Perdita and the puppies.  While it may not hold the full romantic sweep of its counterparts, One-Hundred and One Dalmatians offers viewers some of the best relationship role models in cinema and reminds us all that some of the greatest happiness comes after happily ever after.

Saturday, January 20, 2018

Classics: A Review of In a Lonely Place By Lauren Ennis

Moral ambiguity, suspicion, smoldering femme fatales, and the ever present threat of menace are just a few of the features that have become synonymous with film noir. The 1950 noir classic In a Lonely Place twists these familiar elements to create a unique entry in the genre that remains startlingly fresh nearly seventy years after its release. Equal parts 50’s kitchen sink drama and 40’s whodunit, the film takes noir off of the mean city streets and into the supposed comfort of the home as it explores the ways in which a murder upends a couple’s life. Easily one of the most haunting entries in the noir genre, In a Lonely Place turns genre and social conventions inside out in a way that will leave viewers questioning the darkness lurking within us all.

Love means never calling the homicide unit
The story begins with former hit screenwriter Dixon Steele (Humphrey Bogart) descending into alcoholism and depression as he struggles to revive his fading career. He reluctantly accepts an assignment to adapt a trashy bestseller, but refuses to read the book, opting instead to hire the hat-check girl at the local watering hole to summarize the plot for him. The girl, Mildred Atkinson (Martha Stewart), happily obliges and accompanies Dixon to his apartment, but is promptly sent on her way the moment that her summary is complete. When the police discover Mildred strangled to death on the side of the road the next morning, Dixon becomes the prime suspect in her murder. Fortunately for him, however, his sultry neighbor, Laurel Gray (Gloria Grahame) saw Mildred leave his apartment and provides him with an alibi. After meeting at the police station Dixon and Laurel strike up an acquaintance that quickly surpasses neighborly as she becomes his muse and consuming obsession. Even as the couple grow closer, however, Mildred’s unsolved murder remains an unspoken but palpable barrier between them. When continued pressure from the police causes Dixon’s notorious temper to resurface Laurel begins to question if the man she loves could be capable of murder.

In a Lonely Place stands out from its fellow noirs by subverting the conventions of its genre and era to reveal the dark side of post-war America. The film takes viewers on a twisted journey from almost its first frame as Humphrey Bogart appears on the screen in what appears to be another of his signature world-weary hero roles. As the film continues, however, it becomes apparent that the trademark Bogart cynicism is actually an indication of something far more disturbing, as Dixon careens through an evening marked by drunkenness, belligerent arguments, and bar fights. When Mildred Atkinson’s body is found just minutes into the film, audiences are already questioning if he might be the villain after all. As his character falls under the spell of Gloria Grahame’s captivating Laurel, however, Bogart’s familiar charm resurfaces, leading viewers to further question Dixon’s actions and motives. Through its warped portrayal of the persona that made Bogart a lasting cinematic icon the film calls into question not just viewers expectations, but also the cynicism and vigilantism consistently promoted in noir as a whole. Similarly, the film calls gender roles and sexual double standards of its era into question through its sympathetic portrayal of Laurel in spite of her checkered past. As the film progresses, Laurel evolves from the brassy moll role that Grahame was so often typecast as to something far more substantial; a complex and tormented woman. As the story’s focus shifts from Mildred’s murder to its effect upon Dixon and Laurel, the film toys with viewers yet again as the central question becomes not who committed the murder, but how vast a shadow can one crime cast over a community. By the time that the film reaches its emotionally shattering conclusion the notoriously warped film noir genre will look more distorted than it ever has before or since.

Does this mean I might not get the girl in the end?
Even with its superb script, the film easily could have become just another b-thriller if not for the brilliant work of its cast. Frank Lovejoy’s sympathetic portrayal of Dixon’s friend sergeant Nicolai highlights his character’s inner conflict. Ruth Gillette lends the film much needed comic relief in her role as the couple’s sassy housekeeper, Martha. Art Smith imbues his performance as Dixon’s agent and confidante with an essential warmth and good humor. Martha Stewart approaches her brief role as Mildred with an infectious enthusiasm which ensures that her character resonates as more than a mere plot device. Even while surrounded by apt supporting performances, Bogart and Grahame own every frame in which they appear. Bogart captures the nihilism beneath the surface of Dixon’s charisma in a brilliant inversion of the cynical brand of cool that he made famous. Grahame is every bit his match as she portrays Laurel’s outward confidence and inner vulnerability with equal skill. Together, the pair expertly bring their characters to life in a way that makes each fracture in their damaged souls achingly real.

In a Lonely Place captures the isolation and disillusionment concealed beneath the surface of post-war America with a poignancy that sets it apart from other noir films of its era. Through the combination of its intelligent script and raw performances the film more than earns its status as a classic. For a visit to the not so good old days, join Humphrey Bogart and Gloria Graham for a haunting journey In a Lonely Place.

Saturday, January 6, 2018

Classics: A Review of Diary of a Lost Girl By Lauren Ennis

Louise Brooks was an American actress who, while relatively unknown during the height of her career, has become synonymous with the glamour, decadence, and social change of the 1920’s. While the majority of her career was spent in Hollywood and on Broadway, today she is best remembered for three films that she made in Europe; German expressionist films Pandora’s Box and Diary of a Lost Girl and French production Prix de Beaute (a/k/a Miss Europe). This week the spotlight will be turned on one of the most unusual and daring of Brooks’ films, G.W. Pabst’s Weimar morality tale Diary of a Lost Girl. Acting in many ways an answer to Pandora’s Box’s noir-esque celebration of Berlin’s underworld at its most debauched, the film casts a critical eye upon the hypocrisy of German high society while exploring the desperation and hopelessness that was driving Weimar-era Germany onto the path of self-destruction.

Who are you callin' lost?!
The story begins with idealistic schoolgirl Thymian Henning (Louise Brooks) celebrating her confirmation, only for the festivities to be dampened by the dismissal of her beloved governess. Thymian’s girlhood ideals are soon shattered when she learns that her governess, Elisabeth (Sybille Schmitz), had been dismissed after she had become pregnant as a result of her affair with Thymian’s pharmacist father (Josef Rovensky). When it is revealed that Elisabeth drowned herself after losing her job, Thymian turns to her father’s drug store assistant (Fritz Rasp), who betrays her trust by using one of the drugs in her father’s store to drug and date-rape her. When her assault results in the birth of her illegitimate daughter she is presented with an ultimatum by her family; marry her rapist and legitimize her child or enter reform school. When she refuses to follow her parents’ plan she is disowned by her family (who seize custody of her daughter) and then forced into a brutal home for wayward girls. After reaching her breaking point she teams up with one of the girls at the home (Edith Meinhard) to plan an escape, which leads them into the sordid world of prostitution. In a stark break with social norms of the era, the film then reveals how entering the sex trade ultimately puts Thymian on the path to her salvation as she reclaims her sexuality, becomes a shrewd businesswoman, and even finds love with a fellow outcast (Andre Roanne).

A toast to Louise Brooks!
While the plot follows the melodramatic conventions common in silent film, Diary of a Lost Girl also contains valid social criticism of its era. In its portrayal of the double life of Thymian’s publicly moral but privately corrupt father, the film highlights the hypocrisy of society in Weimar Germany. Similarly, the film is careful to show that while Thymian routinely faces cruelty at the hands of supposedly respectable citizens such as her father and his assistant, she finds acceptance amongst her fellow outcasts in the city’s underworld. The film also calls women’s limited rights and restricted roles in society into question through its portrayal of its heroine’s journey. By portraying its heroine as a ‘fallen women’, albeit through no fault of her own, the film calls the sexual double standards of its era into question and calls for tolerance. The script further reinforces its call for women’s rights by showing that it is only when Thymian reclaims control over her finances and sexuality that she is able to move forward and lead a productive life of her own choosing. While the film does veer toward sentimental moralizing in its final act, its damning critique of Weimar society was nothing short of astounding for its time and foreshadowed the ways in which the Weimar Republic’s failure would ultimately lead to the rise of the Third Reich.

The film’s cast provide an adequate portrayal of the script, but much of the acting is limited by the excesses common in silent cinema. Josef Rovensky aptly captures the outward rigidity and private decadence of Thymian’s father. Fritz Rasp is appropriately sleazy in his portrayal of Thymian’s father’s predatory assistant, Meinert. Edith Menhard infuses her role as reform school student, Erika, with an endearing feistiness. Even while surrounded by apt performances, the film truly belongs to Louise Brooks, who portrays Thymian’s heartbreaking vulnerability as a betrayed young girl and guarded hardness as a world-weary woman with equal skill.

Far more than just a piece in the cinematic legend of Louise Brooks, Diary of a Lost Girl is an apt social critique of both the social excesses and constrictive social norms of the 1920’s. The film defied the censors of its era by not only sympathetically portraying an ordinary girl’s fall from grace, but also showing the ways in which, with a little tolerance and kindness, she and others just like her can still triumph. For a look into the dark side of the 1920’s, take a peek at Diary of a Lost Girl.



Friday, December 22, 2017

Classics: A Review of Elf By Lauren Ennis

The holidays are often referred to as the ‘season of believing’. As we grow older, however, the pressures of daily life and stresses of the holidays can make us forget the magic that once made the season so bright. In the 2003 holiday hit Elf, one jaded family rediscovers the Christmas spirit with the help of a new addition from the North Pole. Through the misadventures of ever optimistic elf Buddy, the film reminds us all that you’re never too old for Christmas cheer and that the greatest magic lies not at the North Pole but in the depths of the human heart.

The story begins with Santa visiting an orphanage during his annual around the world deliveries. When he returns to the North Pole, he is stunned to learn that one of the infants from the orphanage stowed away in his sack of toys. The child, dubbed Buddy, is then adopted and raised by a family of elves. Although he enthusiastically devotes himself to life as an elf, he never quite fits in with his adopted family. When he reaches adulthood he is shocked to learn of his true origins, and mortified when Santa informs him that his biological father is a cynical publisher who has earned a spot on the Naughty List. Determined to find his place in the human world, Buddy sets off for New York City to find his long-lost father and finds himself in plenty of hijinks along the way. Although his arrival in the Big Apple is a matter of culture shock for the cheery elf and those around him, Buddy’s goofy charm and child-like wonder eventually win over even his most cynical critics as he brings a touch of the North Pole to New York.

Through its wonderfully whimsical fish-out-of-water story, the film reminds us all of the magic of Christmas, while imparting lessons in tolerance and acceptance that will resonate throughout the year. Caught between his biological heritage and the culture he was raised in, Buddy finds himself unable to fit into either human or elf society. While both Santa’s elves and Buddy’s family in New York see his uniqueness as a burden, it is ultimately his ability to bridge New York and the North Pole that enables him to save Christmas. Much like his similarly misunderstood predecessor, Rudolph, Buddy serves as a positive role model by inspiring viewers to embrace who they are and highlighting the value of standing out, even as society demands that you fit in. Throughout his struggles to find his way in New York Buddy is aided by the kindness of his new family and co-workers, who in turn find themselves learning to see the world for the magical place that it could be. Through its emphasis upon everyday acts of kindness the film highlights the true meaning of Christmas and reminds us all that is the people around the tree rather than the presents under it that matter most.

The film casts a spell of holiday magic through the charm of tis cast. Bob Newhart infuses his role as Papa Elf with his signature dry wit, and serves as an ideal guide through the story’s zany adventures. Ed Asner captures all the jolliness and warmth of St. Nick in his role as Santa. Daniel Tay is believable and engaging as Buddy’s step brother, Michael. Mary Steenburgen conveys an essential sensitivity in her portrayal of the struggles of Buddy’s put-upon stepmother, Emily. Zooey Deschanel is a dead-pan delight in her role as Buddy’s co-worker turned love interest, Jovie. James Caan hits all the right notes in his turn as Buddy’s workaholic father, Walter, as he evolves from cold businessman to loving family man. In spite of its excellent cast, the film belongs to Will Ferrell, who inhabits the childlike Buddy with an enthusiasm that is nothing short of infectious.

As a heartwarming adventure that the whole family can enjoy, Elf has earned its status as a modern Christmas classic. The film’s by turns slapstick and sentimental script combined with the charms of its all-star cast make Elf a holiday film that will keep viewers coming back year after year. For a guaranteed holly jolly time join Buddy for a journey through the seven levels of the candy cane forest, through the sea of swirly twirly gum drops and through the Lincoln Tunnel for an adventure that you won’t soon forget.

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Classics: A Review of Finding Neverland By Lauren Ennis

Inspiration is something that many of us seek, but that is often difficult to recognize. For playwright J M Barry, however, inspiration was something that was found in the most surprising of places; within his own everyday life. Through its portrayal of the creative process that led to the creation of Barry’s Peter Pan, the 2004 drama Finding Neverland pays apt tribute to the creative spirit and reminds us all that inspiration lies around every corner if we only allow ourselves to see it. At once a biography, a behind the scenes peek at the making of a classic, and a heartfelt drama the film illustrates all the ways in which life fuels art while art in turn elevates life.

Amazing what a little pixie dust can do
The story begins in turn of the century London as struggling playwright Barry copes with the critical and commercial failure of his latest production. Dogged by pressure from skeptical producers and his wife’s nagging demands, Barry finds release in his budding friendship with the Llewelyn Davies family after making their acquaintance in a local park. When they first meet Barry the family, made up of widowed mother, Sylvia, and her three sons George, Peter, and Michael are still reeling from the recent loss of Sylvia’s husband and the boys’ father to cancer. Over time, however, they eventually welcome ‘Uncle Jim’ as a surrogate member of the family, much to the chagrin of Sylvia’s controlling mother and Barry’s neglected wife, Mary. The unusual relationship soon sparks controversy as the playwright’s motives along with his and Sylvia’s behavior are called into question. In spite of the rumors, however, the friendship continues to blossom as Barry reminds the grieving family of the joys of living while they in turn inspire his greatest work.

The film truly soars thanks to the exemplary performances of its talented cast. Rahda Mitchell captures the frustrations of Mary Barry in a way that ensures audiences will sympathize with her. Julie Christie is a force to be reckoned but infuses her role with underlying vulnerability as Sylvia’s domineering mother, Emma. Dustin Hoffman is engaging in his portrayal of cynical producer Charles Frohman. Nick Roud aptly captures George’s struggle to hold onto his childhood even as he takes on the role of ‘man of the house’. Luke Spill is charming in his sweet but never cloying performance as Michael. Freddie Highmore is brilliant in his portrait of grief as he conveys the inner torment of middle sibling Peter. Kate Winslet imbues her Sylvia with a warmth and quiet strength that leaves little wonder as to why Barry finds solace and inspiration in her company. Even while surrounded by an outstanding cast the film belongs to Depp who portrays the enigmatic Barry as a contagiously charming child at heart.

The moments that dreams are made of
The film’s portrait of the man behind the boy who never grew up serves as both a fascinating biography and an homage to the masterpiece that has captivated generations. The film deftly tells its story on two levels by showing how events unfolded in the real world while simultaneously providing insight into how these events found their way into Barry’s work. The film wisely maintains a firm focus upon the events leading up to the creation and successful production of Peter Pan which adds an immediacy and urgency to the script that many traditional biographical films lack. In this way, the story becomes an exploration of Barry’s relationship with the Llewelyn Davies family rather than a mere account of his life. This structure in turn allows the relationships between the characters time to develop in a way that most biographies, which chronicle a series of events over the course of several years cannot. As a result, the film is equally engaging as both a journey into the creation of a masterpiece and a tribute to the magic that still has us searching for Neverland.

Through its portrayal of the tragedy and triumph that lead to the creation of Peter Pan, Finding Neverland is an apt tribute to the creative spirit. With its superb script and excellent performances the firm brings the story behind the story of Peter Pan to vibrant life. One viewing of this film will leave viewers wanting to visit Neverland again and again.

Friday, November 24, 2017

Classics: A Review of The Glass Castle By Lauren Ennis

The holidays are a time in which we gather those near and dear to us to share reminisces and make memories. For all too many, however, the holidays mean the resurfacing of memories that we'd rather forget and the threat of continued conflict. While dysfunctional families are often played for quirks and laughs in cinema, the reality of true family dysfunction is far more complex than Hollywood would have us believe. 2017's The Glass Castle, however, depicts the bitter conflicts and struggles of the dysfunctional Walls family with an honesty and nuance that sets it apart from its glamorized counterparts.
A far cry from The Brady Bunch

Based upon journalist Jeannette Walls' memoir of the same name, the film depicts the by turns heartwarming and devastating experiences of Walls and her siblings as they come of age. The film closely follows its source material in its focus upon Walls' unconventional parents, Rex(Woody Harrelson) and Rosemary (Naomi Watts), and the couple's complicated relationship with their children. Although the children grow up worshipping and wishing to emulate their free spirited parents, it is obvious that the children suffer abuse and neglect in Rex and Rosemary's care. While both Rex and Rosemary are portrayed as capable and intelligent people, the couple's toxic relationship, which is built upon abuse, co-dependence, and shared delusions, makes them ill-suited to parenthood. The family is almost constantly on the move as Rex and Rosemary attempt to out run creditors and child protective services with their children in tow. This constant upheaval makes it impossible for the children to achieve any sense of stability as they are repeatedly forced to move just as they begin to adjust to each new town. The couple's unusual lifestyle and live and let live philosophy carries over into their haphazard parenting  as they consistently neglect their children, who are tasked with raising themselves. Beyond the blatant neglect that they are subjected to, the children also suffer abuse at the hands of alcoholic Rex and their sexual predator grandmother. In the midst of all of this trauma, however, Rex and Rosemary encourage their children's talents and teach them to see the world for what it could be rather than for what it is. As a result, when a grown and successful Jeannette reflects upon her tumultuous childhood she continues to be torn between understandable bitterness towards her parents and the unconditional love that she continues to feel for them.
Kodak moments with a twist

Through its nuanced portrayal of the Walls family The Glass Castle captures the instability and emotional conflict of life within a dysfunctional family. Through its faithfulness to Walls' memoir the film highlights the positive and negative aspects of her childhood in equal measure. This objective perspective creates a nuanced portrait of the family that shows the many shades of gray in what easily could have been a black and white tale of a broken home. As a result, viewers share in Jeannette's conflicted emotions as she watches her parents veer from their best to their worst without warning. This sense of conflict provides viewers with insight into Jeanette's evolving mindset, which in turn lends the entire viewing experience greater resonance. While the Walls' story is a unique one, its portrayal of family at its most complicated will speak to anyone who has ever wanted to outrun their past and perhaps even more so to those who have come to terms with it.

The film's cast aptly presents a portrait of the Walls family in all their outlandish complexity without ever drifting into stereotypes or caricature. Ella Anderson captures young Jeannette's youthful innocence and the maturity that she is forced to develop at an early age with equal skill. Brie Larson embodies grown Jeannette's practically perfect persona, while still conveying her hidden torment. Naomi Watts is all charisma as the enigmatic Rosemary. Woody Harrelson virtually steals the film in his heartbreaking portrayal of Rex. Sadie Sink, Charlie Stowell, and Shree Crooks turn in engaging performance as the Walls siblings and Sarah Snook, Josh Caras, and Brigette Lundy-Paine convincingly portray the adults that the children become.

At once a deeply personal true account and a universal tale of the trials and triumphs of family, The Glass Castle is a film that will continue to resonate long after its final credits fade. Through its unflinching script and superb performances the film brings Walls' memoir to vibrant life. This is a film for anyone who has ever wanted to avoid spending the holidays with their family, and for those who still long to.
Family, one thing that doesn't improve with age