Category Archives: The A’s

The Oscars: Why Birdman’s More Deserving Than Imitation Game but Cumberbatch Might Just Edge Out Keaton

Birdman
Grade: A

The Imitation Game
Grade: B

The Imitation Game, like many good films, follows the filmic formula created by the slew of its predecessors. Take your ingredients—a clean script, well-written dialogue and ripe actors—toss them in the bowl with a handful of significant history, some heart, and a dash of humor and let your concoction stew. If you’re lucky, if this combination is cooked just perfectly, the blend of star-power and story-importance just right, your film will end up an Oscar contender.

Only, there’s a big difference between an Oscar-contender and an Oscar-winner, and The Imitation Game will not win the Academy Award for Best Picture. It will not. Iñárritu’s Birdman or Linklater’s Boyhood can and will claim the golden statue on February 22nd.

Or at least they should.

the-imitation-game-benedict-cumberbatch-2What it comes down to is longevity. Award shows, especially ones as well-regarded as the Academy Awards, owe it to film history to choose the films that will stand the test of time. Will we remember the film in five years? Will we recall the grin on our face and the thoughts racing through our head as we watched it? Will we still be talking about it, comparing it to other films, deeming it the model to which others can aspire to? We’d better. That’s what I want in my Best Picture winner and that’s precisely why The Imitation Game won’t win, but Birdman very well might.

The Imitation Game tells the untold story of Alan Turing (Benedict Cumberbatch)—master code breaker, mathematical genius and closeted homosexual during World War II tasked with the challenge of cracking Germany’s unbreakable code and helping the Allies win the war. Turing’s biggest obstacle is not Hitler, but other people’s ignorance, not only due to their inferior mental capacities, but also their inability to appreciate his contributions to the war effort while being blinded by the perceived-indecency of his illegal homosexuality.

Is The Imitation Game an important story? Yes. Does it deserve its telling? Of course. Sometimes, that is good enough. As a person who values stories, ones on the screen or otherwise, I appreciate moments that prove the necessity of storytelling and The Imitation Game is, arguably, a more necessary story than Birdman. The Imitation Game has the power to change people’s perspectives, make them approach history, diversity and humanity in a new way and that accomplishment is powerful. But Best Picture winners can’t simply be important. We’re not awarding the best “subject” or the best “topic” the golden statue. The award must also be about craft. The winner must push the boundaries. It must be a game-changer.

The Imitation Game did not twist the filmic-formula enough. It followed the rules. Birdman, on the other hand, pushed the boundaries of style, morphed the conventions of storytelling, and blurred the lines between truth and fiction in ways that engage its viewers beyond simply causing basic feelings of joy and anguish. Birdman follows Riggan’s (Michael Keaton) Hollywood comeback as he puts everything he has into a failing Broadway play to prove to himself, and the world, that he’s still relevant and not just the man in the bird costume from the blockbuster superhero flicks of his past. Shot in a way to look like one continuous take, peeking in on its cast of characters, sneaking up on them in their natural habitat, the camera doesn’t so much as highlight the action as it does chase it down. The result is interactive, involving the film’s viewers, begging them to analyze, urging them to change their mind, all the while playing with form in ways that support the film’s complexities. No two viewings will yield the same analysis. No two screenings will cause the viewer to reach the same conclusion at its completion. Birdman is art in the truest form, providing just enough to point you in a direction, but trusting you to fill in the blanks however you see fit.

Birdman doesn’t say too much. It doesn’t scream its meaning at you. It asks you to decipher for yourself. Its themes are vast and complex—truth versus reality, art versus commercialism, ego versus craft and at its center, the universal quest for validation. And what we come to see again and again and again, is that any attempts at validation don’t matter. Fame is not based on skill, or credence, or hard work, but entirely on chance. Riggan’s success and failure is not his own—it’s a result of critics, viral videos, and the shenanigans of his co-stars—it has nothing to do with talent. In an endless attempt to find truth, real truth, the curtain is simply raised on more and more illusion. What is real in show business? What is real in life? We’re all playing a role. The actors are simply playing a role of playing a role. We pretend to be chasing reality, but really we’re all just basking in illusion. “Truth is always interesting,” Mike (Edward Norton) tells Sam (Emma Stone) in one of their many games of Truth or Dare, but the film would say otherwise. Truth is only interesting because it’s unobtainable. We’re all meandering and chasing it down in endless loops and knots, just like Iñárritu’s camera, just like the maddening film industry, just like Riggan’s life. And for what? The struggle for validation never goes away. “You don’t matter,” Sam tells her father. No one does. The struggle is the only thing that does, it’s the only place where our story is truly authentic. Fame and recognition is a monster we can’t predict, a puzzle even Turing couldn’t solve.

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The Lies Our Memory Tells: A Review of “The Affair”

Grade: A

Showtime’s newest drama, The Affair premiered last night with a cast of deeply-complex characters and a riveting new format. The pilot episode tells the tale of Noah (Dominic West) and Alison (Ruth Wilson) as they meet for the first time and, as the show’s title gives away, will soon become entangled in a complicated love affair. The two meet when Noah, along with his wife and four children, head to Montauk for the summer where they’ll be staying with Noah’s well-off and forever-pompous Father-in-Law (John Doman). Stopping first for a bite to eat after just arriving in town, Alison is the waitress at the local diner blessed with the task of taking their order.

Affair1 The story starts off from Noah’s perspective. He’s recounting events to a man who is questioning him. We’re not sure who the man is, but it seems like a police interrogation and we get the feeling that a lot of time has passed. We know not what crime he’s being questioned for. As Noah recounts events we watch him interact with his wife, Helen (Maura Tierney), in a seemingly happy marriage, battle with his children of all differing ages and angst-levels, and try his hardest to calmly and coolly get his family all packed up and off to their grandfather’s.

Noah’s family is nothing if not chaotic. As if his son orchestrating a pretend suicide attempt before they leave the house, and his eldest daughter’s refusal to eat anything over 10 calories isn’t enough, the family-drama culminates at the diner when his youngest daughter begins to choke on a marble at the table as they place their breakfast orders. Amidst panic from the family and with Alison watching on in fear, Noah is able to beat on his daughter’s back and dislodge the item she was choking on.

The event has clearly traumatized Alison. Noah takes notice and does his best to comfort her and assure her his daughter is fine and there’s nothing to be upset about. But their interaction doesn’t stop here. Later, he runs into her again on the beach. She is flirtatious with him and asks him to walk her home where they take a look at her outdoor shower. There, Alison asks him if he’d like to try it out. When he declines and insists he should be getting home, she undresses in front of him and climbs in for a shower of her own. A bit rattled, he avoids the situation and heads for home, but not before witnessing Alison and a man who turns out to be her husband, Cole (Joshua Jackson), fighting with her in the driveway vehemently, violently dropping his pants, and forcibly bending her over the hood of his car.

Episode 101The screen goes black, and part two begins—Alison’s story. We start off at the morning of the same day. Immediately, the tone is much more somber and Alison seems considerably more damaged than she did in Noah’s recounting of events. Cole, on the other hand, is not the menacing man Noah has led us to believe either. He’s troubled by something, surely, but eager to please his wife which turns out to be a difficult task. We get the feeling that his attempts to win her over have been falling flat for quite some time. We soon learn that they lost a child recently and that today would’ve been the little boy’s birthday.

Alison, too, is recounting the events to some sort of detective and we can tell that much time has passed. Right away, as soon as Noah enters her story, we as viewers realize that their memories differ in complex ways. As an onlooker, this subtle reveal is riveting to watch. The table-chaos when Noah’s family places their order at the restaurant is different than it was in Noah’s recounting of events. When Noah’s daughter starts choking, it’s not Noah who heroically saves her, but Alison who beats her and dislodges the item she’s choking on. Noah, for the most part, idly stands by as Alison takes charge. The two continue to interact because Noah comes back to Alison again and again as a way to thank her for saving his daughter’s life. And later, on the beach, it’s Noah who is coming on to Alison. It’s Noah who asks to walk her home. It’s Noah who asks to see her outdoor shower, and it’s Noah who asks to try it out. Alison is taken aback by his behavior. Noah even goes so far as to kiss her on the cheek in a way that upsets Alison and she tells him to leave. The shirt he is wearing is different than in Noah’s retelling. The dress she remembers wearing is less revealing than he recalls. And the sex against the car that Noah witnesses between Cole and Alison is still violent, yes, but Alison asked for it be that way, preferred it that way, and the event followed an intimate conversation between Alison and Cole about the pain associated with the loss of their child.

Both Noah and Alison recall events in strikingly different ways. Who is right? How does that change things?

affair2The show is able to offer an enticing study on memory and the impermanence of our recall. It’s a study on the lies we unintentionally tell and how remembering wrong, even inadvertently, can forever change the tenor of events. Still, the ways in which we twist things in our minds often make sense. Of course Noah would perceive Cole as this awful, menacing, rapist of a husband. He’s going to have an affair with this man’s wife—anything to make that act seem better, to make it seem as if someone is benefiting in the seemingly selfish act is something he’d cling to. And of course Alison would remember herself as being hesitant to his coming-on, unwelcome even. She’d want to believe that it wasn’t her choice to start an affair, that she wasn’t looking for that. She wants to believe her innocence so she remembers it that way. Noah heroically recalls saving his daughter and defending his family—the ultimate protector. He’d like to think of himself as the one keeping everything together, as someone they’re dependent on, especially considering we know he’s certainly disrupted his family’s life with the affair he chose to have. By hearing both sides of the same story, the characters immediately become more complex and we learn more in the short one-hour we’re given than we would otherwise. It’s a refreshing and brilliant way to break down a character’s motivations, fears, and hesitations and the show’s creators, Sarah Treem and Hagai Levi, deserve a bevy of kudos for coming up with it.

This idea goes even beyond the characters on the screen. The defectiveness of memory is universal and it’s something the show forces us to acknowledge. Sometimes our memories fail. Do we admit our shortcomings ever? Of course, but we tell ourselves little unintentional lies. This idea is a fascinating concept in the context of something as complex and “he said/she said” as an affair. It’s a perfect move that the writers have made. There’s a police interrogation. Blame for some nameless crime is certainly being pointed somewhere. What better way to create intrigue in the audience than to make us wonder who of our narrators we can trust? Whose memory is most accurate? I’m curious to see what format the show will continue to follow. Will there continue to be such discord between sides of the story, or will Noah and Alison gradually find common ground as their lives become more entangled? Will their memories become “truer” as we get further in time and closer to the time of the interrogation? Will each episode be told in two parts like this or was this just the way to get the ball rolling? Can the showrunners keep it up without the format becoming cumbersome? And, better yet, what else is there left to reveal? Why are the police in the mix? Who is the father of the kid Alison tells the detective she must pick up? And what happens to all the other players involved?

A long list of lingering questions is a good sign of a successful pilot episode. They certainly have me hooked.

Time Heals All Wounds: A Review of The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby

Grade: A-

There are stories that need to be read and there are stories that need to be viewed. There are stories better told through written words on a page, and stories best suited for the screen. Of course, some overlap, some are appropriate for either medium, but there are certain stories that can reach a whole new depth when the creator chooses the correct canvas to paint it on.

The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby is a story built for the screen.

Eleanor1Why? I’ll tell you, but first, an example: Atonement is an outstanding film directed by Joe Wright and adapted for the screen from an equally-impressive novel by Ian McEwan. There’s a scene in both the novel and the film where the main character, Briony—a nurse during World War II—tends to a wounded soldier moments before his death. She has never met him before, but she’s keeping him company until he breathes his last breath. In the book, we are given the character’s inner thoughts. I remember reading the moment when the boy, confused and incoherent, asks if she loves him and she says yes with the accompanying explanation, “No other reply was possible. Besides, for that moment, she did. He was a lovely boy who was a long way from his family and he was about to die.” A simple, seeming inconsequential thought, but this passage stuck with me as a reader. It amplified the entire scene. It gave it even more weight than a scene with a dying soldier would on its own. And although the movie did employ the use of narration at times, there was no narration in this scene. We’re asked to watch Briony watching a man die and we, as viewers, are supposed to come up with our own ideas of what must be going through her mind. In the novel, we don’t have to ask—we just know. Would I have assumed she’d reach the same realization about his family at that moment on my own? Maybe not. Do I need it to appreciate the scene? No. But that moment alone was what made it memorable for me. This particular scene functioned better in the novel than it did on the screen because the event is so emotionally charged that the character is thinking multiple thoughts at once. We need and want to know Briony’s specific thoughts. We need to be steered in the right direction or else risk not imagining her thinking what the author intended us to.

Eleanor Rigby, on the other hand, is a character entirely shut off. Her “disappearance” is both literal and metaphoric. She is emotionally withdrawn. Film works best for her story because she doesn’t want to share what she’s thinking, she doesn’t even know what she’s thinking, she doesn’t even want to talk. She’s pure evasion. We’re better clued into her inner turmoil by watching her, not by hearing what’s in her head. Her thoughts are intentionally sparse which is why her story is so well suited for the screen. We gain more access to her by watching her because she’s unwilling and incapable of giving us anything more.

The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby (directed by Ned Benson) follows the lives of a married couple, Eleanor (Jessica Chastain) and Conor (James McAvoy), whose relationship has just lost the final thread it was hanging from. Once blissfully in love, things have taken a turn for the worst—Eleanor has disappeared and Conor is desperate to find her and fix the relationship in whatever way he can. We, as the audience, are intentionally kept in the dark. We know something major happened to propel the downward spiral, but we don’t know what—mostly because both characters refuse to talk (or think) about whatever it is that went horribly wrong.

Eleanor2jEleanor is all about avoiding. She moves back home to live with her parents following a failed suicide attempt and we learn very early in that she doesn’t want to talk about whatever it is that made her jump from that bridge. She wants to escape. She’s disappeared not only literally from her old life, but inside her head as well. The number one rule of storytelling is that each character has to change. They need to progress, they need to start at one place and end up somewhere else. The filmmakers know that in order for us, as the audience, to see Eleanor’s growth and progression we need to be treated just like everyone else in her life who try to help her but can’t. We need to be in the dark. We need to try to find clarity and fail. We need to feel we’re making headway and then hit a dead end. We need to feel just as helpless as she does in order to understand her journey. For that reason, the filmmakers intentionally and artistically keep us in the dark. We have no idea what Eleanor’s thinking. And it’s awesome.

This approach to storytelling is what makes this film fascinating. Eleanor won’t give us her interior thoughts, she refuses therapy sessions, she doesn’t want to talk, she avoids any situation that may make her discuss what happened. To heal, she needs to just exist. We have to feel aimless with her, but we also have to feel a slight progression. We have to feel her getting out of her hole. But she can’t tell us anything to give us any clues that she is progressing because that’s her whole problem—that she can’t pinpoint her pain or her recovery. We have to watch her struggle, but we also have to see her evolution. So we’re left to map her progress in different ways—in brilliant subtle cues. Slowly, we get more and more details. We learn that she lost a son and that this is what set her off, this is what she can’t recover from. We gain insight not from what she speaks, but from how she interacts with her nephew, the telling glance at a photograph she spots hidden away in a closet, what she chooses to tell her equally-damaged professor (Viola Davis), and what she does the few times she willingly pops back into Conor’s life. It’s slow and it’s calculated, but every small action she makes deftly shows us where she is at mentally.

The story is impeccably underwritten in the very best way. You feel smart when you watch this film, you feel like you’re in on the secret, like you solved the puzzle and it’s because the filmmakers trust that the audience is clever enough to read their subtle cues without needing Eleanor to have one major outburst, or one telling therapy session that will articulate everything we need to know. They force us to do the analytical work. We don’t need all the fluff. Eleanor isn’t about the fluff. She’s real. She’s passive, but she’s actively passive and we just need to wait it out with her.

The beautiful realization you come to when watching this film is that healing is not always about talking. It’s not always about doing. Sometimes, it’s just about time. Sometimes, it’s just about waiting it out. There is no recipe for grief. Eleanor never really comes right out and shares her story, her struggle. She talks to no one. She listens to Professor Friedman and that seems to help her more than anything, but Friedman has no idea what she’s actually going through. The only one she talks to is Conor and perhaps that’s because she doesn’t have to share much with him—he knows the details without her having to communicate because the loss was theirs together. She admits to her father when she refuses the therapy he’s set up for her, “I don’t want a reminder that something is wrong” and she tries constantly to avoid any such reminder. So she floats. She meanders. She doesn’t know how to fix herself. We don’t know what she needs either, but we watch as she gradually is able to pull herself out of her funk. She needed to disappear, she needed to just exist. And ever so slowly, ever so subtly, and ever so seamlessly we’re left with the feeling that maybe, just maybe, she’s through the worst of it.

And for the viewer, that progress is more than enough.

The Eternal Pairing of Music and Breakups: A Review of “Begin Again”

Grade: A-

Music and Breakups have been together since Samson and Delilah. It’s an amicable pairing. They complement each other perfectly— Mr. Music is the soothing savior to Ms. Breakup’s destructive rage. The duo are like two peas in a pod and nothing will break them apart. Pints of coffee ice-cream and rebound make-out sessions with strangers may briefly catch Ms. Breakup’s eye and distract her, but in the end she’ll always come back to her one true staple when she needs to feel better— music.

The louder the better, the greater the anthem. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.

begin againWho hasn’t, in the midst of relationship destruction, turned to Beyonce’s “Irreplaceble” as a pick me up? Or Alanis Morissette’s “You Oughta Know”, Adele’s “Someone Like You”, or Carly Simon’s “You’re So Vain”? Whatever your fancy, music and breakups go hand in hand. They always have. The music industry can thank relationship blunders for 90% of their songs and 90% of their profits. The two “just get each other.”

Director John Carney (Once) understood this eternal pairing of music and breakups very well, which is exactly why his latest film, Begin Again—a break-up movie/musical—manages to hit all the right notes.

In the film, Greta (Keira Knightley) has just broken up with her soon-to-be-famous boyfriend of five years, David Kohl (Adam Levine). The two were a talented writing duo, but David has chosen fame (and a hot assistant at his label) over her. After a friend drags Greta on stage to sing one of her own songs at an open mic night in NYC, she catches the eye of Dan (Mark Ruffalo), a “former” music exec equally down on his luck. Dan decides Greta is the next big thing and to get the attention of his label that has lost faith in him, the two begin work on an outdoor album recorded in myriad locations throughout the city. For Greta and Dan both, this opportunity is a much-needed fresh start sure to reap leagues and leagues of benefits.

Cue the folky/pop music.

Break-up movies are easy to mess up in the same way that romantic movies are. Too many feelings. Too many opportunities for cheesy lines. Too many opportunities for sappy tears, cliché “just dumped” boxes of his junk, and sloppy rebounds. But the biggest hurdle to cross is that romance and breakups are about feelings—the good, the bad, and the ugly—and depicting these emotions on film without simply telling the audience how the characters feel in a string of sappy clichés is the challenge. Movies need to show and not tell. We don’t want to see the characters whine, but we want to understand why they might be whining without having to sit through their blubbery tantrum.

Thankfully, with Begin Again, Carney has expertly found a way to have us perfectly understand what the characters are thinking and feeling without them having to tell us—he makes them tell us through song.

The characters are songwriters. It’s perfect! It’s fool-proof. All the things Greta would confide in a sappy monologue she can now perform—the words she sings are the truths she’s feeling. And it’s not melodramatic. And it’s not driven into us until we’re forced to get it—we just get it. We get what she’s feeling. We get what she’s thinking about. We get where she’s headed next. We understand because of the words she sings and the ways in which she sings them.

The most satisfying moment in the film where this happens is when Greta comes home to discover that David has just won some sort of “Best New Artist” award. His image is plastered all over youtube and he thanks his adoring fans for their support. Naturally, Greta reacts by throwing back some whiskey and writing a song. The next shot we see is of her iphone, duct-taped to a pole like a mic, and David Kohl’s name on the front of the iphone screen. And then she starts singing. She pours out her heart, telling him everything she’d wanted to say but didn’t get the chance to—in a simple, succinct ballad sent straight to his voicemail.

And we get it. We get exactly what she’s thinking, what she’s doing, and how far she’s come with this drunken act of defiance. It hits us like a gust of stale subway air blowing up our dress and exposing us— exposing us to the vulnerability and the truth of the act we’ve all lived before. Because we’ve all had times where we’d kill for this moment. The chance to say what you need to say to the one who did you wrong in a way that is neither dramatic, crazy, or desperate. We never have to shake our head at Greta’s behavior or slap ourselves on the wrist for having done the same thing ourselves. We’re neither embarrassed for her, or uncomfortable, or cringing at the cheesiness that other, lesser movies may have created. We just get it, without Greta having to speak a word.

In this way, the complicated situation of a breakup becomes simple, pure, manageable, and easy to deconstruct despite its apparent complexities. And the perfect pairing of music and breakups gets us there seamlessly.

 

 

 

Let the Moments Seize You: A Review of Richard Linklater’s “Boyhood”

Grade: A

Sometimes, we count on a movie to pull us out of something, out of ourselves, out of our rut, our emotional hole, or funk. Sometimes, we lean on the stories we hear and watch more than we should. We expect them to mirror our own lives perfectly so that the act of relating to the story makes us feel better. By relating to someone else’s tale, we feel normal. By seeing the characters come out of their low points, we know we can and will come out of them too. We see the bigger picture for what it is—bigger than the present.

BoyhoodRichard Linklater (Dazed and Confused, the Before Series) has teamed up with long-time collaborator Ethan Hawke (who plays Mason Sr. in the film) for a movie that’s the first of its kind. Filming a little each year over the course of twelve years, the film follows the actual growth of its characters and the physical evolution of its actors. The story centers around Mason (Ellar Coltrane) who starts out an adorable six-year-old boy in trouble for trying to make rocks into arrowheads using a pencil sharpener and spending too many hours gazing out the window at school. By the film’s completion, he’s evolved into a full-blown adult, just as contemplative as he was in the beginning of the film, but entering the next great phase in his life: College. We follow the family through all their ups and downs—all their moves, career changes, and new and failed marriages. Hawke’s Mason Sr. evolves from a wild, absentee, young dad to the tamed, mini-van driving father of a new baby. All the while, Mason’s mother, Olivia (Patricia Arguette) makes mistake after mistake in her oftentimes fruitless attempts to make life better for her two children. We get the family’s whole history and every physical transformation without the makeup, fat suits, or multiple actors often clumsily employed in a drama in order to depict the passing of time. No miscast younger versions of the title character. No caked on stage makeup. Linklater’s Boyhood is different. It’s special. His characters have grown and evolved as the actors have—every gained pound, grayed hair, and alternating style.

And we get to watch the transformation.

Despite the spectacle of this film being both ingenious and the first of its kind, my initial reaction after leaving the theater was of slight disappointment. I guess I was looking for a little something more relatable in Boyhood. Relatable to my experience. Thankfully, this feeling was only my initial reaction. After thinking it over, I changed my mind completely and my feelings of letdown were immediately replaced with awe. I wasn’t approaching the film in the right way. I wanted a film that was entirely my childhood experience with all its specificity, angst, and thrill. I wanted to leave the theater with a new perspective on my past from having watched someone else’s. I wanted this film, like many have in the past, to provide answers to my own questions. To boost my spirts. To offer clarity where there was none.

BoyhoodUnlike Mason, I was not born in the late 90s. I didn’t grow up with divorced parents. I never had to deal with alcohol or physical abuse in my family. I wasn’t ever lazy in school. I didn’t party as hard as the average teen. I didn’t have a cell phone before the age of 15. I didn’t ever live in Texas and have to state the Texas anthem after the Pledge of Allegiance each day in class (a scene in the film that got a lot of laughs from the audience). For a story about growing up, I was upset that Mason’s coming-of-age was so different from my own. I was upset that I couldn’t relate directly to his experience. But then I noticed something: Throughout the entire film, the movie audience knew just how to react—just when to laugh, just when to coo, just when to cringe, just when to sigh—and I realized that this audience was entirely relating to Mason’s story. The entire film, to them, was an inside joke they were thrilled to be let in on. And this was not an audience of all 18-year-old boys, like Mason. This was a mix of males and females, twenty-somethings and teeny-boppers, the middle-aged and the senior citizens. If they could laugh, if they could sigh, if they could identify with Mason’s story, why couldn’t I?

And that’s when I realized I was approaching the film all wrong. The film’s goal wasn’t to make you identify with the specific events that happened to Mason, but instead it sought to make you relate to the act of experiencing experiences. Your experiences. The string of experiences that make up a life. The moments. Yes, Mason’s coming-of-age story was not my story, but despite this, I did play trampoline games with my siblings when I was young, as Mason did. I did blow bubble-gum bubbles as big as my face and wait for my sister to pop it. I have cried over a bad haircut. I have bonded with my father over The Beatles. I have ordered queso at 3 am after a night on a college campus. I have moved far away from home. I have seen endings come and wondered why.

By filming one story over the span of twelve years, Linklater is expertly able to create a comprehensive study on human life. Specifically, the pace at which life flies by. What I came to realize is that Boyhood wasn’t so much about the things that did or didn’t happen to Mason in his life, the story was about how life, in general, is made up of these seemingly inconsequential memories. It’s about the timing of the events. The pace of life. The changes. The amount of changes. The speed of the changes. The footprint those changes leave. Linklater captures this unseen, abstract idea of growing-up. The actual feeling of it. And he does this by cramming twelve years into just under a three hour movie. This makes perfect sense. When we sit back and recall our life’s story, our major memories, we don’t list them all, we only have our key moments. And they’re the key moments that have made up a life that, in a blink of an eye, has come and gone.

And that’s something we all can identify with – the ever-morphing past, present and future. The string of events and memories and instances that make up a life and the complex ways in which those memories are plotted and sewn into the fabric of our lives. No two childhoods are the same, but despite what happens to us in our individual growth, the progression of life, the very act of growing up, is universal. We grow. We identify with the fluidity, the constant change, the inertia of life. Despite what happens, we’re always moving. And life and childhood and adulthood fly by and it’s only the key moments, the key glimpses into a life that may seem inconsequential (like bowling without bumpers, and drinking our first beer) that make up who we are and who we become. Our memories become an epic movie with fast cuts and holes and quick scenes. And we choose to remember the ones that explain who we are in the best way. As Mason and his new friend theorize at the end of the film (albeit a bit stoned in the mountains), it’s not the moments we seize that matter, but the moments that seize us. We all have a lifetime of moments. It’s what we make of them that shape us. It’s those individual moments, whatever they are and however they’re strung together, that make all of our coming-of-age tales one in the same.

An Unconventional Study of Human Relationships: A Review of Spike Jonze’s “Her”

Grade: A

Spike Jonze’s none-too-distant future is a world oozing in coral hues, baggy 70’s-esque fashion, rampant train travel, and technology “comfort food” that’ll soothe your broken heart better than mama’s mac and cheese ever could. Inventive video games, voice-activated email, minimalist (yet cozy) design…it’s a future that seems inviting, safe, and efficient. It’s a future we’d root for and hope to see into fruition. Still, despite the world’s gumdrop exterior, beneath the surface lurks a scentless plume of unsettling loneliness. Is the world itself to blame, or does it simply reflect human nature?

HERSpike Jonze’s beautifully fragile film Her tells the tale of Theodore (Joaquin Phoenix), a mopey employee of a personal letter writing service whose marriage with wife Catherine (Rooney Mara) has recently ended. Bored with his daily schedule of work, video games, phone sex, repeat, Theodore installs the new upgrade for his personal OS and his life is forever changed. His new Siri-esque assistant, Samantha (voiced by Scarlett Johansson), evolves the more he interacts with it, and before you know it, Theodore has fallen in love with the compassionate, supportive voice on the other end of his earbud.

Unlike Lars and the Real Girl and other non-human/human relationships in films in the past, there is nothing awkward about the relationship Jonze has created between Samantha and Theodore. Yes, Theodore’s in love with his computer, but she seems every bit as real as the next woman and offers him everything a relationship would—support, motivation, sex, conversation. The only thing she lacks is a body and while this deeply bothers Samantha, Theodore is hardly affected by it. He’s happy with her.

What is marveling about the world that Jonze’s has created is how he has shaped a setting where this relationship between Samantha and Theodore is not only plausible, but accepted by its audience. It’s not difficult to see our current technology evolving into something like Jonze’s OS, but when we imagine it ourselves, it’s disturbing and something reserved for the creepy man who lives by himself at the end of the cul-de-sac. Samantha and Theodore’s relationship is not creepy, it’s authentic, and its authenticity is exactly what draws the audience to it. Their relationship is as true as anything any of its viewers have experienced. Samantha’s insecurities about what she provides in the relationship, her bouts with jealousy as Theodore meets his ex-wife, as well as her urges to “talk it out”, ring true to any female’s romantic worries. The way she wakes him in the middle of the night just to hear his voice and say goodnight, and the way she checks in when she detects anything off in his voice, is perfectly reminiscent of the female role in a relationship. As the relationship takes a turn for the worse, and the audience can detect its unraveling, the film becomes more and more difficult to watch because of its relatability. When Samantha asks Theodore if they can talk but she wants to wait until after work when he’s home, we know what’s coming. We’ve all been there before. We sympathize with Theodore and Samantha not only because we know the feeling, but because we’re rooting for them too.

her-movie-2013-screenshot-laughingJonze’s world is striking, specific, and unique. The setting is mostly colorless except for beautiful pops of coral pastels throughout. The clothes aren’t gaudy or flashy, but simple. Los Angeles is more futuristic, but also cleaner, sharper and in some ways, plainer. The clothes reference 70’s fashion of the past but with a twist, and the décor features lots of warm woods and clean lines. Each and every frame is recognizable as Jonze’s Her and it’s this perfectly envisioned mise-en-scène that gives the viewers a space to place Samantha and Theodore’s story in their minds where it’ll haunt long after the credits roll.

This lasting world is familiar while being new. It’s cozy while being distant. It’s inviting while also being unsettling. The romantic relationship is simple despite its complex creation. Jonze’s film is a compilation of contrasting ideas which only aids in its truth. It’s this grey area that makes up our current world. It only makes sense that a similar, future world would also be masked in opposing elements.

Similarly, Jonze’s process of blowing up and complicating the idea of romantic relationships actually permits him to strip them down to their purest forms. A relationship between a lonely, yet functional, man with his computer is a complex idea, but the progression of this complicated relationship, in the end, allows the audience to contemplate why we need romantic relationships at all. What purpose do they serve? How do we benefit? What do we gain from the pairing? If not for procreation, can’t we obtain the same joy from any sort of relationship—human or otherwise? Isn’t joy all we’re really looking for and when we have it shouldn’t we hold onto it as long as we can? Or do we need something more?

Jonze’s Her gets closer to answering these questions than any film I’ve seen to date. The film is so much more than simply a movie about a man and his computer, and it’s exactly the type of complicated film we could use more of.

Unexpectedly Different, but Still “Woody Allen” at its Core: A Review of Blue Jasmine

Grade: A-

Judging by the sold out showings and the throngs of people lining up around the block to see Woody Allen’s new drama Blue Jasmine, I think it’s safe to say that the 77-year-old (and one of the few remaining true auteurs) still has it.

A crowd-pleaser that’s already generating early Oscar-buzz, Allen’s Blue Jasmine will likely join the ranks with his other critically-acclaimed classics. Still, this one has a unique flair all its own.

It’s no secret that Woody Allen is my favorite director, favorite screenwriter, favorite filmic-mind. I adore his unique style and storytelling perspective, and I’m continually spoiled by his one-film-a-year ritual that repeats like clockwork. I’m familiar with his style—his quirks, his film motifs—and what struck me the most while watching Blue Jasmine was how this film blatantly strays from Allen’s norm.

The film follows Jasmine (played expertly by Cate Blanchett) who must leave her NYC life of luxury and move in with her little sister (Sally Hawkins) after her husband (Alec Baldwin) swindles away their fortune and hangs himself in prison. In her new home in San Francisco, she aims to recreate herself in a much-less-lavish setting, all the while popping Xanax between panic attacks as frequently as she passes judgment on her sister’s less-than-optimal dating history.

Allen is known for making the settings in his films characters of their own. What would Midnight in Paris be without Paris’ cobblestone streets? What would Annie Hall be without Annie’s New York driving or Manhattan without shots of the Queensboro Bridge? The setting for each of Allen’s films has always been so pivotal that the same storyline couldn’t be set anywhere other than where it is. This is not the case for Blue Jasmine. San Francisco just happens to be where the characters eat and breathe (or pop pills as the case may be) and other than the passing comment, “If you can’t fall in love in San Francisco, you can’t fall in love anywhere,” we hardly even realize San Francisco is where the film takes place. This is strange for an Allen film.

Similarly, Blue Jasmine strays from the Allen canon with its lack of art and cultural references that usually ooze from the characters’ mouths. In Blue Jasmine, the only references to art are the high-fashion brands that Jasmine clings to from her past—her Louis Vuitton luggage and all her leftover designer duds from her previous life. A Woody Allen film without a scene in a movie theater or an art museum? A Woody Allen movie where you don’t have to laugh along with the crowd as you fake understanding of the reference he makes to some author or philosopher you’ve never heard of, or pat yourself on the back when you actually do understand? His characters always want to outdo each other with their knowledge of extraneous information, but in this film, Jasmine’s only real quest is to outdo everyone around her with her ability to choose an advantageous partner and to appear as if her high-status has never wavered.

Despite these major differences from Allen’s usual films, Blue Jasmine still has the complex characters that we’ve come to expect from him. Blue Jasmine may lack the humor and the multiple storylines of Allen’s other classics, but he is able to create characters, as always, who straddle the grey line between right and wrong in the same moment they teeter between likability and abhorrence. It’s this expert balancing-act that makes Allen’s characters complex while insuring the films themselves are a joy to watch.

As is the case with Chris (Jonathan Rhys Meyers) in Match Point who tries to get away with the murder of his mistress, Allen is able to surprise the audience by making them root for a person they’d normally despise. The pleasure of watching his films comes from our almost subconscious realization that he’s turned a switch in us, that despite a character with irredeemable qualities and chastisable actions, we find ourselves rooting for them. Suddenly, the audience discovers they’re crossing their fingers for an unfaithful murderer as is the case in Match Point, or supporting a creepy relationship between an older man and child (Manhattan and Whatever Works) despite never expecting we would before.

Allen’s themes and characters are never black and white and this couldn’t be truer than it is of Blanchett’s downward-spiraling portrayal of Jasmine. The characters may be unlikable, but we care for them. We may hate what they do, but we always understand why they do it. Often, as is the case with Jasmine, their actions are entirely based on their extreme level of desperation. For whatever reason, desperation is a quality we can identify with. It’s a quality we understand. Watching Blantchett in a mesmerizing performance as Jasmine splashes and flails in the metaphoric hole she’s dug and is drowning in, we can’t help but sympathize with her struggle. She knows of the mistakes she makes. She’s made the bed she lies in, but her mistakes are human ones.

Woody Allen achieves with Blue Jasmine what he does in all his films, he has the audience going in expecting to feel one way about a character or an action, builds that up like a sand castle, and then amazes us when he shifts everything and the castle still stands. He opens a new perspective, and as outlandish as the events may be, they’re still real, relatable and always keep us thinking.

Our intellect stays turned on. As always, Allen makes sure of it.

Lock Up Your Shamu Dolls and Proudly Boycott All Things SeaWorld: A Review of Blackfish

Grade: A

I was the little girl who at six or seven years old sat in the bleacher seats at SeaWorld with a neon pink fanny pack strapped to my waist, disposable camera in my hand (wind, wind, click. Wind, wind, click), sunburned shoulders, and a grin on my face almost as wide as the tails of the creatures I was gazing at. Wide-eyed and entranced, I’d watch the sea life in awe—the funny-faced beluga whales, the laughing dolphins, the clowning sea lions. I loved the splash, the spectacle, the enormity of the animals, but most of all I loved the killer whales.

Free Willy was my first favorite movie. In the film, the bad guys after Willy were cruel, diabolical, and villainous. Not like SeaWorld. SeaWorld was different. SeaWorld whales were happy, right?

One of those happy whales I saw as a seven-year-old at the Orlando SeaWorld clutching my Shamu doll was Tilikum. Tilikum—the biggest whale. Tilikum—the biggest splash. Little did I know that Tilikum was also a bullied, soon to be three-time murderer. That part was kept hidden. His smile, size, and tongue sticking out sold a lot of Shamu dolls and there in the spotlight Tilikum stayed.

Now, Tilikum has a new role to add to his résumé— unconventional star of the summer’s eeriest murder documentary, but in this case, the tables are turned. Tilikum, the murdering whale, is not the sinister villain cloaked in black dishing out poisonous apples. SeaWorld is. And instead of apples, they give out Shamu dolls, splashes, and smiles on seven-year-olds’ faces unaware of the horror that looms behind the curtain.

Luckily, we have Gabriela Cowperthwaite to do the unveiling. In her documentary, Blackfish, she tells the tale of Tilikum’s life in captivity—from baby, to bullied, to murderer—all the while condemning money-hungry SeaWorld for its total lack of ethics and value of life for both the whales they hunt, buy, and raise, as well as their trainers who blindly trust they’re doing what’s best for the beautiful creatures they love. What Cowperthwaite achieves with her film will take your breath away as it shocks you. Let’s just say if I knew where my Shamu doll was I’d lock it up out of shame for owning it, for giving SeaWorld a shred of my parent’s money, and for feeding the fire that SeaWorld has successfully swept under the rug again and again—until now.

Cowperthwaite’s argument is sound and well evidenced. Focusing on the trainers who’ve dedicated their lives to the killer whales, the film starts with them. For each, the story is the same—they were enthralled with the majesty of the whales at a young age, were determined to become whale trainers, and quickly found to their delight that the job required little education or training. A winning personality and the ability to swim fast being the only real requirements for the job.

For sympathy, and to immediately place the audience on the side of the trainers, Cowperthwaite pulls real emotion from the interviewees—lots of tears, lots of shock and awe at what they’d been manipulated to do, and lots of worry for the whales they’ve left behind.

This sympathy method is used throughout—countless instances of experts crying at what they saw and what they did for SeaWorld. It’s an effective ploy and for the most part Cowperthwaite doesn’t abuse the tactic—the events really are that emotional and that jarring. With or without a crying expert, it’s hard to see what was done to these whales and trainers without becoming emotionally invested yourself. Cowperthwaite piles on the facts and instances supporting her claim that SeaWorld has no value for life and will do anything for money and to maintain their shiny image. It just so happens that the majority of the people interviewed are sobbing through their walk down memory lane.

Rounding out her evidence, Cowperthwaite speaks to whale experts who insist that in nature killer whales live longer, gentler lives. Their dorsal fins stand tall in the wild. In the wild, they live the life spans of humans. In the wild, they can flee. Cowperthwaite juxtaposes these facts with images of bubbly SeaWorld trainers wrongly insisting again and again, to crowds of SeaWorld patrons, that 25-35 years is the average life span for the killer whales and that they live longer in captivity. Bold faced lies.

What Cowperthwaite gently is able to imply is why any whale might snap. Of course we can’t ask Tilikum what led him to kill, but we see his holding cell. We see the bleeding welts on his skin from the bullying whales. We see where the whales spend their nights and many hours of the day. Of course, a whale would snap. Each and every day doing redundant tricks for some dead fish only to be locked in a cell at night with a bunch of other misfit whales—not their kin, separated from their families like a bunch of orphans? Wouldn’t you snap? Cowperthwaite’s interviewees mention again and again that Tilikum was “frustrated”, one even suggests that he’s “psychotic” but Cowperthwaite knows she can’t prove these facts, so she simply shows us images of the conditions and allows the audience to infer for themselves.

For the assertions Cowperthwaite can prove, she layers on countless evidence like the cheese, sauce, noodle pattern when cooking lasagna. Cowperthwaite has court documents from the OSHA lawsuit following the death of SeaWorld trainer Dawn Brancheau, graphics, flow charts, ironic SeaWorld commercials, and varying news reports on each SeaWorld tragedy depicting how quickly and swiftly SeaWorld would scramble to cover up any incident.

Cowperthwaite’s claim? These accidents were not trainer error as reported. These accidents were not the whales’ faults either, but a result of the extreme conditions both the whales and the trainers were subjected to in order to make a buck.

This layering of evidence creates a reaction in the audience. Three times during the film, the audience in the theater I was in had audible reactions. Once with laughter at the ridiculous claim of one of the interviewees who insisted, passionately, that he couldn’t fathom a world without a SeaWorld-type park. Once with giggles and whispers when, in Cowperthwaite’s procreation section highlighting the monetary value of Tilikum’s sperm, a trainer clutches a whale’s penis like a fire hose. And finally with sighs and silent tears when a trainer recounts the reaction of a mother whale crying out in frequencies they had never heard, desperately trying to reach her baby for hours and hours that SeaWorld had just stolen from her and shipped to another park.

My only major fault with the film is when Cowperthwaite takes the emotion too far, when she loses confidence in the sound argument she has. Yes, we’re invested. Yes, we believe you that SeaWorld sucks. Yes, you got us with the crying mama whale. In an unnecessary aside, the film meanders to another venue—Loro Parque in Spain—SeaWorld’s backwash of a marine-park complete with a cheaper, dirtier grounds and less skilled trainers. There we are told Alexis Martinez’s story by his fiancé and his mother. Alexis is brutally killed by one of the whales shortly after becoming a trainer and quickly rising up the ranks. It’s a tragedy that shouldn’t be downplayed, but Cowperthwaite uses it to rattle the audience even more, make us more emotional, and therefore cause us to plunge deeper into hating SeaWorld. His fiancé and mother describe receiving calls that there was an accident at the park and recount being led into the room to view his body with extravagant adjectives and details between tears. Does the trauma of this event make the fact that a whale killed him and the park tried to make light of it any more true? Do we need the drawn out tale of walking towards his body, of the brutal condition of his chest and limbs? They’re trying to make us cry. We feel for the family of course, but making us feel sadder and therefore hate SeaWorld more is the film’s one cheap ploy. You already had us with the facts. We don’t need more sadness drilled into us to win us over.

Cowperthwaite wasn’t confident enough in what she had or she would have omitted that scene. She should trust what she has; her case is resolute. Still, there’s no arguing against her passion for the subject. Her documentary doesn’t do anything stylistically innovative. The infographs are strictly graphics plastered on the screen. There’s nothing too ground-breaking with the editing or even the format. We go from interview to interview to tears, interview to interview to tears, but the film doesn’t need all those bells and whistles in order to make a convincing argument. The subject is strong enough to carry this important film.

Cowperthwaite effectively guarantees that SeaWorld’s PR team is going to have to resort to extreme measures to win back the droves of patrons who will likely choose another park to go to this summer. Maybe the seven-year-olds won’t be amazed at the enormity of the animals they watch leaping into the air, maybe Cowperthwaite has ruined that experience for many of us, but she’s creating better lives for the trainers who love the animals and for the killer whales themselves whose lives can be so much bigger than a couple hundred square feet tank. Thanks to Cowperthwaite, we know when we clutch our tiny Shamu dolls exactly what we’re paying for. And the truth shouldn’t sit well with anyone by the time the credits roll.

Sacrificing Pace for Heavy-Hitting Themes: A Review of Star Trek Into Darkness

Grade: A-

Pace is what made 2009’s Star Trek a block buster movie wonder. Few movies have kept me that engaged and that enthralled from opening credits to close—the plot expertly-woven, the characters dynamically-charged, the action meticulously-timed and the drama perfectly-dosed. Not once, did I find my thoughts drifting elsewhere. Not once, did I wonder how close to the end we were. As a Trek newbie at the time, The Enterprise had me hooked. I said it then: “Star Trek is the best movie of 2009.”ap_Star_Trek_Into_Darkness_nt_130516_wblog

Its long-awaited follow-up, Star Trek Into Darkness, doesn’t pull back the reins. What J.J. Abrams and company aimed for in Kirk and Spock’s sequel is in many ways bigger, deeper and heavier than what came before. In a word, it’s ambitious. Unfortunately, in achieving that level of ambition, the film lacks the cleanliness of the first movie, losing some of the narrative-ease, impeccable-timing, and cohesion of our initial introduction to Abram’s re-envisioned Trek world.

Despite this, what Star Trek Into Darkness is able to achieve is worth applauding. Perhaps the plot isn’t quite as pristine or the pace as rapid-fire as it was in the first, but it aims for so much more with its complex, historically-relevant topics. Whereas the first film was about friendship, loyalty, and respect, the second takes it up a notch, swimming in a shark tank of heavy-hitting themes.

In the sequel, Captain Kirk (Chris Pine) leads his crew on a perilous journey in seek of a super-human terrorist, Khan (played by the very-crafty Benedict Cumberbatch), who not only threatens their way of life, but whose capture has the potential to ignite a full-on Klingon war. Khan must be stopped, but like a bomb ready to detonate at any second or with any wrong pull of a wire, every move they make is littered with high-tension and the potential for a detrimental ripple effect. A premise like this allows the film to take its narrative deeper, moving beyond the surface themes of friendship, loyalty, and logic versus passion, and delving into richer questions, more historically and politically-charged themes (like the original TV series was known for), and all around deeper, richer, and more chilling prose.

Star TrekFear. Terrorism. Honor. Morality. Revenge. Pride. All while mirroring the historical truth of American wars, American leaders, and American tension. How one man set on destruction and glory can start a war. How another man’s emotions can lead to illogical, immoral action. How often does emotion get in the way of these high-tension issues? What is right and wrong? Can a villain be a foe and a friend? And the most important: Who do we trust? What do we live for? How do we choose who should lead?

The wrong person in charge, the wrong answer to the question, the wrong emotion taking the forefront and an uncontrollable war can be unleashed. We’re all walking in a room filled with gas and one wrong flip of a switch can change everything we’ve ever known.

But, regardless, a switch must be flipped. Who do we trust with the task?

I don’t know about you, but Abrams has me convinced. I’d go with Captain James Tiberius Kirk.

Spock can help.

Take This Waltz: A “Show Don’t Tell” Gem

Grade: A

Take this Waltz, an indie from the brain of writer/director Sarah Polley that premiered at the Toronto Film Festival in 2011 and now streams on Netflix, is a stylized, pure, simple romantic-comedy. Michelle Williams plays Margot—a seemingly happily-married woman who falls for the mysterious artist (Luke Kirby) who lives across the street.  take-this-waltz-still2On the surface, the premise seems like nothing we haven’t heard before, just another struggling marriage dipping into the fetid waters of infidelity, but I was thrilled to discover that the film is decidedly unique in its storytelling. Most specifically, in it’s use of visual comparison.

There is very little talking in this film. When the characters do talk, it’s important and you notice it, when they don’t talk, you ask yourself why. And in a story where the lead character, Margot, is choosing between two paths—staying married to her loving best friend of a husband, Lou (Seth Rogen), of five years, or moving on to the shiny-and-new neighbor, Daniel, who is full of all the passion and mystery that her current relationship lacks, the constant comparison of how she is and how she talks to Lou alongside her interactions with Daniel is one of the major indicators of where her head is at.

Perhaps lacking the fire it assuredly did in its early days, Margot’s relationship with her husband is still full of recurring sweet and silly games that only they understand, ritualistic contentedness, and lots of his cooking (he’s writing a cookbook on chicken, and as a result, all they eat is chicken.) On the other hand, Margot’s relationship with Daniel is intriguing and new and sexy even though all they do is talk about what they might someday do. Both men are likeable, both have admirable qualities, and for the most part they’re on the same level but just on different pages with Margot. Still, the story is Margot’s. She’s the dynamic character, she’s the one who is restless, she’s the one on the verge of a major change.

“Show don’t tell.” They drill it into you in film classes, English classes, and really any “storytelling” class—make your audience understand without a long drawn out soliloquy of exposition.  If they gave out Oscars for the best use of “show don’t tell,” Sarah Polley would surely be a contender. Her skill comes into play in countless places throughout the film, but nowhere else is it as captivating as it is just before the end of the film, in a lengthy tracking shot sequence circling around Margot and Daniel and their new life together after she leaves her husband.

The sequence had me scooting to the edge of my seat waiting to see what the next 360 would reveal. There is no talking, just a tracking shot circling the couple as months pass between them, and the 2-3 minute shot describes their entire life together without having to say a word. The sequence starts with an empty, beautifully spacious loft. Light beams through half-circle windows as Daniel kisses Margot for the first time on-screen in deep silhouette.

And then the camera starts moving.

It circles them once and the couple transitions to sex on the bare floor, it circles them again and now a mattress is added. With another 360, the sexcapades grow—adding another woman to the mix, adding another man, but with another turn it’s just Daniel and Margot again but with more furniture. Each time more furniture, until the end when Margo and Daniel sit side-by-side on a living room couch watching the news. They are hardly touching. They are fully clothed. Their faces are expressionless to both the program they’re watching and each other.  They are content, sure, but bored. There’s a Christmas tree in the room and we see how far they’ve come. Margot breaks the silence to say, “I wuv you” in the way she once bantered with her husband. Daniel doesn’t hear or understand and she says, “I said, ‘I wuv you.’” Whereas before, Lou would mimic her tone and silliness as he said it back, making a game of it, Daniel simply whispers it in her ear so quietly we can hardly hear.

The sequence says it all; it sums up the entire movie. Margot married too young and although her marriage was comfortable and there was a common ease between them, she longed for the desire and intrigue that her current relationship lacked. But when she sought it out with Daniel, she had that passion for only a blip before the same lukewarm contentedness settled in.TakeThisWaltz-Still5 As Margot’s sister-in-law quipped earlier in the film, “Even the new things get old” and that’s what Margot found out the hard way. Yes, she’s happy with Daniel, but she was also happy with Lou.

In another telling scene, Margot and Daniel are brushing their teeth in the bathroom when Margot sits down on the toilet to pee. As soon as she does, Daniel leaves the room. Before, in Margot’s other life, Lou would walk in and strike up a conversation with her as she peed, completely unaffected by the private act. Margot and Lou where closer and warmer, and sure, who’s to say that Daniel and Margot won’t reach that same level of comfort in a few years, but we can’t help but see Margot question her choice. Did she give up a good thing and hurt someone deeply in exchange for the same good thing with a little less ease?

Margot longs for her old life.

She misses the chicken.

And the best part about Sarah Polley’s film is that we understand that all without Margot ever uttering a word on the subject.