Last Letter From Your Lover – Review

Rating: 12A Cast: Shailene Woodley, Joe Alwyn, Felicity Jones, Nabhaan Rizwan and Callum Turner. Directed by Augustine Frizzell Written by Nick Payne, Esta Spalding and Jojo Moyes (based on the book by) Length: 110mins

Last Letter From Your Lover, a 2021 release based on the book of the same name, promises a good old fashioned romance switching between two timelines which focusses on two different couples. Boasting an array of established young talent, it’s bound to attract the attention of any romance fans. 

The film begins in 1965 in London, as socialite Jennifer Stirling (Woodley) returns home from the hospital. It’s clear that there has been some sort of accident and that Jennifer has no memory from before. Her best friend informs her that she has ‘the perfect life’, but upon discovering a love letter from another man that she had hidden in a book, Jennifer sets about discovering the truth and searching for a love that she’s forgotten. Meanwhile, in the present time, Ellie (Jones) is introduced as a less than interested thirty-something, emerging from a one-night stand with a clear desire to avoid any sort of meaningful relationship. She’s a journalist working on a profile, who upon discovering a letter in the paper’s archive, begging “J” to run away with him, is absolutely determined to learn the romantic story of the mysterious ‘pen pals’ from the past. With the help of an eager archivist, Rory (Rizwan), Ellie begins to piece together the romance, presented to the audience through flashbacks, between Jennifer and Anthony O’Hare (Turner).

 The Last Letter from Your Lover is  definitely watchable. It’s an entertaining enough story which, while relatively predictable, holds the attention of it’s audience. The writing has moments that are beautifully poetic, particularly in the letters, which I assume are taken directly from the book. It helps the establish the differences between the two timelines and adds to the romance at the core of the story.  Having said this, it’s not quite the sweeping romance it feels like it should be. I can only attribute that to the lack of on screen passion, particularly in the flashback timeline. We aren’t given the opportunity to watch the relationship actually develop, we are presented with a hint of their true passion through the letters, but in the action we’re given limited dialogue, some nice montages and no real exploration of the story of their falling for each other.

The story gives us four characters who have had or are having unhappy experiences of relationships which creates drama. It immediately presents conflict which makes a romance more interesting, but the lack of exploration into three of the four backstories leaves its audience wanting. I quite enjoyed the modern day story; they didn’t push it too much or over romanticise a situation that was clearly just starting which makes it a little bit more authentic. The flashbacks are definitely romanticised but it fits the essence and world that is created in the flashbacks. You can see moments where the filmmakers clearly try to mirror the two stories. This works quite nicely as a link and to highlight the differences between the two times, but it feels like it could have been used to a greater level; to really show similarities in heart, frustration or hurt, particularly between the two female leads who had plenty of differences. 

While this review has been somewhat critical, I would still recommend watching it. It’s entertaining, has moments of romance and is led by a solid cast. My frustrations stem from a story that has so much potential. It just feels that the end result is lacking, and if we had been given more backstory and character development I think it could have been great. 

Sabrina (1954) – Review

Rating: U Cast: Audrey Hepburn, Humphrey Bogart, William Holden and John Williams Directed by Billy Wilder Written by Billy Wilder, Ernest Lehman and Samuel Taylor Length: 113mins

Sabrina is a somewhat archetypal romantic comedy. It tells the story of a young girl, the daughter of a chauffeur who has eyes for the youngest son of her fathers employer. While growing up on the extravagant grounds of the Larrabee family home, Sabrina (Hepburn) longs to gain the attention of  David Larrabee (Holden); the resident wild child and polar opposite of his older brother, Linus (Bogart), who’s focus is purely on maintaining and expanding the family business empire. Sabrina is sent to cookery school in Paris in the hopes that she’ll forget David, but returns an elegant young woman with the ability to turn heads and capture the attention she’s so longed for.

It is impossible to comment on this film without discussing the cast. Audrey Hepburn and Humphrey Bogart  are nothing short of phenomenal. Their characters are so wonderfully authentic, drifting through their story and switching between the more serious moments to the more comical  so smoothly. Holden’s portrayal of David matches up to his co-stars just as well, with the only slight blip being the staff at the Larrabee house were slightly heightened which distracts from the more naturalistic telling of the story.

One of the more understated wonders of this film is the script; based upon the play ‘Sabrina Fair’ written by Samuel Taylor in 1953 and adapted for screen by Billy Wilder, Samuel Taylor and Ernest Lehman. While eloquently telling the story there is a brilliant amount of dry humour – one liners woven into the script that I hadn’t noticed when watching the film a few years ago, it’s brilliantly funny without the actors making the humour loud or extravagant. A feat that, to me, shows how deeply Wilder trusted both his material and his actors to tell the story and allow the dialogue to land with its audiences. 

On the surface, I’m not sure it’s even possible to mix the likes of Billy Wilder, it’s cast and this script without creating a timeless classic. Everything about it is so watchable. I highly recommend ‘Sabrina’, especially if you would usually write off black and white films; this was the first film I ever saw that wasn’t in colour and it really changed my mind. I had a completely unfounded hesitancy to watch B+W films because I thought I would get bored – if anything, they have to do more to keep a modern audiences attention and in my experience, they do just that!

I would also just add that although this is certified ‘U’ – one of the early scenes is an attempted suicide and, although nothing shocking or graphic it’s worth bearing in mind if you are watching with younger children. 

Pieces of a Woman – Review

Rating: 15
Cast: Vanessa Kirby, Shia Labeouf, Ellen Burstyn, Iliza Shlesinger and Benny Safdie
Directed by Kornél Mundruczó
Written by Kata Wéber
Length: 127mins

Now that Netflix is most likely a lot of people’s first call when it comes to watching new releases, ‘Pieces of a Woman,’ seems to have been released at the perfect time. A film filled with incredible performances and an emotionally-charged story like this may before have been seen by some people as simply another Oscar-bait release, but now that there is a lot fewer choices when it comes to new releases, ‘Pieces of a Woman’ will hopefully get the wider reception it deserves.

After a traumatic home birth, Vanessa Kirby’s character Martha Weiss is left to deal with the emotional and physical fallout of what she has experienced as a mother. Friends and mainly family come and go throughout the film, but for a large part it’s the experiences of Martha and her partner Sean (Shia Labeouf) that the film focuses on. For anyone who feels hesitant about the drama of the film, and worries that it might be too slow for them, I would simply encourage you to just watch the first five minutes. The story grabs you immediately and I would struggle to picture anyone turning the film off during its opening scenes. The main title card doesn’t appear until nearly half an hour into the film, and I’m pretty sure I was holding my breath the entire time. What director Kornél Mundruczó manages to achieve in almost one continuous take during this time is not only gripping, but also establishes key character traits that will develop and unravel throughout the rest of the film. 

‘Pieces of a Woman’ has been widely praised for the performances that litter the film, and for good reason. Vanessa Kirby’s expressions of guilt, fear and anxiety remain consistently believable and impressive throughout. Shia Labeouf plays the broken father figure brilliantly too, but in a way that feels fresh compared to previously similar roles that he is taken up before, such as his performance in 2018’s ‘Honey Boy.’ Ellen Burstyn remains one of Hollywood’s greatest treasures, playing a role that I imagine will earn her a lot of attention throughout awards season, even with her character having fairly limited screen time. More than anything ‘Pieces of a Woman,’ feels like a showcase for great acting, and everything else in the film seems as if it’s focussing on allowing these performances to shine through. 

The problem with opening a film in such a strong way like ‘Pieces of a Woman’ does, is that you have to keep the momentum going for the rest of the runtime. The fallout of the film’s opening event is essentially what carries the story for the next hour and a half, and whilst this is a necessary element of the story to tell, there are definitely some parts which feel slightly unnecessary. It’s difficult to walk the line between realism and a narrative that will provide a satisfying or poignant end to the story, and whilst one character in particular does receive a satisfying conclusion, there are definitely some ]who seem to have a large influence on the film in the first and middle act, but simply fade out by the end. 

One of the key reasons why ‘Pieces of a Woman’ is an important story in some regards, is because it allows for discussion around the topics that play out on screen. Whilst intense and gut-wrenching at times, everything that occurs is human, and has a chance of affecting any of us in our lifetime. By creating films that cover these topics, a greater understanding and willingness to talk about these things will develop, and may provide some small relief to anyone who has experienced anything similar to what happens in the film.

It might not be the most light-hearted film in the world, but I would highly recommend giving ‘Pieces of a Woman,’ a watch. There are some great things to take away if you have a keen interest in performance, and it definitely has one of the most gripping opening acts I’ve seen in a long time.

Mulan – Review

Rating: 12A Cast: Yifei Liu, Li Gong, Jet Li, Jason Scott Lee, Chen Tang, Doua Moua and Jimmy Wong. Directed by Niki Caro Written by Rick Jaffa, Amanda Silver, Lauren Hynek and Elizabeth Martin Length: 115mins

Mulan is one of the cinematic victims of Covid:19, with it’s initial release set for March 2020 the film was postponed until the summer and then, much to the dismay of many cinema goers, released on Disney plus for a premium price. It follows the story of a young maiden who disguises herself as a male warrior to fight for the Imperial army in place of her ageing father.

When Disney announces a live action remake you can almost palpably hear the cries of half the audiences dismay at yet another remake, the fear of ‘ruining’ a classic whilst the rest of the audience celebrates at another reimagining of something magical that helped shape their childhood. When Mulan was announced it was very much the same. While it is perhaps a less popular animation, the original is filled with catchy songs, loveable sidekicks and a strong moral focus. With a live action remake that was poised to eliminate both the songs and the sidekicks, many were concerned that the remake would just be a waste of time. 

Niki Caro entrusted Yifei Liu with the titular role that comes with a quite a hefty responsibility. The character requires an authentic portrayal of strength, passion and heart without getting too headstrong or becoming a heroine of mythology that breaks the connection intended to inspire it’s focal audiences. Liu brilliantly takes Mulan through the process of rebellious and inexperienced through to a mature, commanding leader. I have heard some comment on the lack of heightened emotion but I think that this was a solid choice that lends itself to the action. 

Caro interweaves the story’s ancient poetic roots with nostalgic moments from the 1998 animation, but it’s very much its own artistic endeavour. You can tell Caro’s intention for this film through her choices, the focus being very much on female empowerment. The director highlights women standing up for themselves and each other and demanding that men hear and believe them. As family-friendly as it is,  the film also carries the unmistakable spirit of the #MeToo movement. This is so brilliantly done with lessons and reminders for every age group.

I’ve been really impressed with the Disney remakes so far and I surprised myself by finding Mulan topping the list as my favourite. It feels so important whilst being thoroughly entertaining, there’s a clear line between that which was included for the sake of the story and that which was included for the sake of humanity. Mulan couldn’t be more relevant, vital, and alive today. Mulan’s feminine strength was what made her an outcast in this male-dominated world, but one of the key lessons lies within the fact that Mulan can’t achieve her own full potential until she’s fully honest about her identity. It’s truly a shame that this film wasn’t able to release in cinemas, what a joy it would have been for a generation of young girls to watch and learn together. Covid:19 took away the chance for youngsters to look around a filled theatre, to see potential in the others around them as well as themselves. But hopefully the film will be seen, the lessons will be learnt and a spark of passion will be ignited with the help of this brilliant film.

“Loyal. Brave. True.”