Bob and Justin's Mad Movie Blog

My name is Bob. My friend Justin and I are aspiring filmmakers and we have pretty similar tastes in movies. This will include our take on what's going on in film and television today as well as updating you on the status of our own work.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

"Melancholia" and "Young Adult"

Melancholia - I had only seen one Lars von Trier movie before. It was the well made but monumentally depressing Bjork vehicle "Dancer in the Dark." Yes, I just used the words, "Bjork vehicle." And when I say monumentally depressing I don't mean it was sad or it bummed me out a little. I mean for the last hour of the movie I felt as though life was horrible and nothing would ever be good again. That's the effect it had.
My friend Justin meanwhile has also only seen one von Trier film, "Antichrist." His description of that made "The Human Centipede" sound like a feel good romp. So why would I want to see another movie directed by this bizarre Danish man? ...I don't know, "Melancholia" just looked interesting.
The film is the story of two sisters fighting their own battles with depression. Oh, and there's a giant planet that may or may not collide with earth. Which would be bad. The younger sister, Justine (Kirsten Dunst), has just married Michael (Alexander Skarsgard) and due in part to limo difficulties they are two hours late to their own reception. In these early moments we see Justine laugh and enjoying her big day. Upon their arrival however, the anger of her older sister Claire (Charlotte Gainsbourg) and the bile of their despicable mother (Charlotte Rampling) fuel the deep sadness that lurks under the surface. The rest of the night is a disaster and an embarrassment to Claire and her husband John (Kiefer Sutherland), who are hosting the event. It doesn't end well either. All of this takes place before it is known by the characters that the planet Melancholia is coming near earth.
"Melancholia" is a moody, atmospheric film that I just liked for some reason. I can't say why and I really couldn't tell you what von Trier is really trying to say. But despite it's subject matter and who made it I didn't find it to be nearly as bleak as "Dancer in the Dark." It's not a fun film but in its way it's entertaining and it features terrific performances all around, particularly from its two female leads.
What else can I say about "Melancholia"? I wouldn't recommend it to most people, not even most people who enjoy independent films, but if you like your movies brimming with atmosphere, this is one you don't want to miss. 8/10.

Young Adult - It's hard to believe that it was four years ago that Diablo Cody burst into the film world with her Oscar winning screenplay for "Juno." For a period in early 2008 she was the toast of Hollywood for writing a movie that while quite good, contained the words, "honest to blog," along with a few other clunkers. Its quirkiness (how I've come to loathe that word) prompted people who never watched independent movies to boast that they knew "indies" inside and out. This of course led to a backlash which for better or worse I was a part of. I don't think "Young Adult" is going to inspire that same kind of reaction but for me, that's a great thing.
Mavis Gary (Charlize Theron) is the ghost writer of a once popular series of young adult novels. She is also a deeply troubled 37 year old woman who can barely take care of herself or her little dog. She also guzzles Diet Coke as though it were the nectar of life.
Living alone in Minneapolis and attempting to write the final book of the "Waverly Prep" series (due to its waning popularity the publisher is cancelling it), Mavis receives an e-mail with a birth announcement. Her old boyfriend, Buddy Slade (Patrick Wilson) and his wife Beth (Elizabeth Reaser) are now proud parents. Mavis reacts to this news the way any rational adult would. She gets into her car and drives to the small town of Mercury, Minnesota to reclaim Buddy and take him away from his wife and child. "Babies are boring!" she declares.
Upon her arrival in Mercury she runs into someone she barely remembers from high school but who most definitely remembers her. Matt Freehauf's (Patton Oswalt) locker was next to her for four years but its only after a few drinks that Mavis remembers him. And as the victim of a hate crime. A group of jocks who had mistakenly believed Matt to be gay pummelled him within an inch of his life forcing him to walk with a cane. When Mavis opens up to Matt about her reason for being back in town he foresees disaster but nothing will deter her.
"Young Adult" could have been a very predictable and cliched dark comedy full of uncomfortable moments that the filmmakers "dared" you to laugh at. Instead it manages to surprise and while there are laughs to be had (and some are uncomfortable) there's a sense of reality here that is deeply sad. Most movies in this vein would have milked Matt's story for "edgy" laughs at his expense. But this movie acknowledges that his story is anything but funny. Matt laughs to keep from crying.
Mavis meanwhile, is not only unlikeable she's borderline horrific. Yet there is a severely broken heart there that the average dark indie comedy either wouldn't show us or would merely touch upon at the last minute to try to fool us into thinking the film had something to say when it actually didn't. Cody's outstanding script and Theron's marvelous performance provide Mavis with a wealth of depth. They allow us to recognize something of Mavis in someone we may know or even, yes, ourselves.
Director Jason Reitman ("Juno," "Up in the Air") always displays a light touch but it always seems to work. He never overwhelms the story or gets in the way of the dialogue or the performances. Cody, for my money anyway, has grown tremendously since "Juno." There are no cringe worthy lines or characters here. In addition to Theron, the rest of the cast is excellent. Wilson does a wonderful job as the very likeable Buddy, who is either ignoring Mavis' signals out of politeness or just isn't picking up on them. But Oswalt is pitch perfect in a role that deserves Oscar consideration. He's proving himself to be more than just a stand up comic turned actor. This is a man of enormous acting talent.
"Young Adult" is easily one of the best films of 2011 and it will almost certainly be passed over by the vast majority of people who fell in love with "Juno" back in 2007. So much the better. 9/10.

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