The Holiday – Review

Rating: 12A Cast: Kate Winslet, Cameron Diaz, Jude Law, Jack Black and Rufus Sewell Directed by Nancy Meyers Written by Nancy Meyers  Length: 136mins

In 2006 Nancy Meyers, who previously directed What Women Want,  gave us ‘The Holiday’. Another light-hearted romantic comedy, telling the story of four people who are all dissatisfied with elements of their lives until some timely choices lead to a clash of lives which changes each of them for the better during the Christmas holidays. Amanda (Diaz), a movie-trailer maker from Los Angeles, breaks up with her cheating boyfriend (Ed Burns) and is obsessed with the fact that she can’t cry — and finds herself in need of a break. Over in London, Iris (Winslet) needs a break from old flame Jasper and his new engagement. So, after a very brief internet interaction, Amanda ends up in Iris’ picturesque cottage in Surrey, while the latter sets off for Amanda’s Beverly Hills mansion.

Though the plot isn’t particularly complex it is comfortable to watch. We see the issues for our two leading ladies laid out before us and can totally understand the need to escape and take some time for themselves. While the idea of a house and car swap being simple enough to organise in one evening ready to catch flights the following day is somewhat unbelievable, we as an audience are happily swept away with the romance and excitement of watching these women take control of their situation and find something fresh. What makes this film particularly interesting is that unlike most ‘Christmas’ movies, it encourages it’s viewer to take time for themselves, not just others. It highlights self care as a priority in a season that, quite rightly so, often focusses on kindness towards other people and reminds us that we need to look after ourselves as well as others.

What keeps this film moving is the multiple storylines. The main two, clearly between Amanda and Graham; the tug between a whirlwind romance and her high powered job and Iris trying to move past her feelings for Jasper. But throw in two children who have experienced loss at such a young age, a happy go lucky film composer who thinks he’s punching above his weight and a retired screenwriter and suddenly you have some layers that weave so wonderfully together. Whose arc the audience cares about more shifts depending on their own situation and experiences, it’s very clever really, it allows the film to remain relevant to it’s audiences over the years on one level, while continually giving that warm festive feel that brings it’s audiences back to re-watch year after year.

The Holiday is an appealing escapist rom-com that is actually about escaping one’s reality, a film where the core message is for women to learn to love themselves, with an added bonus of romantic happy endings for all. It’s a modern staple of the festive period, it’s familiar and easy to watch but with the opportunity to pull more from the underlying themes if you so chose. 

Crazy, Stupid, Love – Review

Rating: 12A
Cast: Steve Carell, Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone, Julianne Moore and Kevin Bacon
Directed by Glenn Ficarra and John Requa
Written by Dan Fogelman
Length: 118mins

In 2011 Glenn Ficarra and John Requa teamed up to create the three strand multi-generational romantic comedy ‘Crazy, Stupid, Love’. The lighthearted story follows Cal (Carell) and Emily (Moore) as they negotiate issues in their marriage, serial ‘player’ Jacob (Gosling) as he meets his match in Hannah (Stone) as well as Cal and Emily’s son, Robbie (Jonah Bobo) as he falls in love with his babysitter who, in turn, has her sights on another…

While not a particularly deep or powerful plot, what holds the audiences attention is the mix of all of the storylines. Dan Fogelman created a story that brilliantly captures all these different characters; allowing them their own lives and issues while cleverly connecting them. The only element of the story that I found to be a bit ‘too much’ was that of Jessica – the baby sitter. Though Analeigh Tipton does a good job I find her character so uncomfortable to watch. This, of course, could be fully intentional; her character is an awkward teenager who makes questionable choices but for me it detracts slightly from the other elements of the plot and feels like an unnecessary push at some extra comedy.

It’s been proven that Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone are a fantastic pairing; brilliant chemistry and the ability to provide deep, moving moments while bouncing off each other. The same has to be said for their roles in this film which are enhanced by the directors willingness to allow the pair to improvise some of the warmest, most authentic moments of the film. Steve Carell also side steps from his usual goofy comedic style and settles into ‘socially awkward dad mode’; not drastically different but the result is a character that triggers the empathy of the audiences and is a wonderful opposite to Goslings character making their relationship in the film both hilarious and endearing.

One of the interesting elements in this film, and what makes it stand out from other romantic comedies, is the balance of the two genres. Although it stars some powerhouse women, it’s main focus is on the male characters which is unusual in itself for this sort of film. It pushes a smooth blend of modern comic genres with a somewhat unexpected undercurrent of more dark, difficult emotions – all while sincerely contemplating the idea of soul mates and true love vs the limits of romanticism which is typically avoided in most romantic storylines.

This is not a perfect film and yet I can’t help but love it, I would suggest it’s one of the most brilliantly formed romantic comedies. It appeals to more than just teenage girls and has a real feeling of authenticity, lightly touching on some very real issues that some couples may face alongside a good splash of humour. More than anything it’s just an entertaining watch and I would highly recommend it.

Safe Haven – Review

Rating: 12a
Cast: Julianne Hough, Josh Duhamel, Cobie Smulders and David Lyons
Directed by Lasse Hallstrom
Written by Dana Stevens, Gage Lansky (Screenplay) and Nicholas Sparks (Novel)
Length: 115mins

Safe Haven tells the story of a mysterious woman who turns up in a small town. Nobody knows who she is or where she came from as she sets about creating secluded life without significant human contact. Our leading character, Katie (Hough), is soon drawn to the appeal of ‘small town life’, including a handsome widower (Duhamel) and finds herself starting to build a life. From the first moments of the film it is clear that there is something in Katie’s past that she is running from which, of course, comes to light just as her happiness starts to fall into place. The plot is relatively interesting for a film of this standard; it’s enjoyable but not earth moving. It lacks challenge or lesson but serves the purpose of entertainment should you enjoy a romantic story.

Nicholas Sparks, known for his romance novels, has had several of his stories translated to film. The mass following of the romance novelist presents an expectation of grand gesture, love surpassing all else and films that are easy to watch but perhaps, somewhat repetitive. Having grown up watching and enjoying several of these films it didn’t surprise me that I enjoyed Safe Haven; though the basis of the film has many similarities to other Sparks movies. Though I could happily find myself watching and re-watching films based upon the novels of Nicholas Sparks I cant help but notice that they are lazily formulaic. They follow a very precise structure which makes them easy to recognise, but it is a formula that sells to the romanticised audiences rather than creates an authentic connection between character and audience.

Safe Haven carries a reminiscent feel to that of ‘Sleeping With The Enemy’, a film which expertly tells its story. It doesn’t quite achieve the same level of tension or authenticity, however it is perhaps a bridge between a younger audience starting to experience storylines of this nature to that of a slightly darker representation. It is difficult to mention a key moment of this film which pulls it from entertaining and mildly interesting through to a bit ridiculous; without a significant spoiler. The ending throws a completely unnecessary curveball which, for me, detracts from the films strengths.

I wouldn’t recommend this film as an essential watch, as previously stated it doesn’t carry any importance or particularly mind blowing filmmaking. It is however a pleasant enough film with a very particular target audience – if you have enjoyed other Nicholas Sparks film adaptations then theres a good chance that this will satisfy for an entertaining evening.

La La Land – Review

Rating: 12A
Cast: Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone, John Legend, J.K Simmons
Directed by Damien Chazelle
Written by Damien Chazelle
Length: 128mins

In 2016 Damien Chazelle brought the highly anticipated ‘old Hollywood’ style musical, La La Land, to the big screen. The film itself seems to have split audiences into passionate opinions of ‘love it or hate it’ and for that response in itself I think its worthy of comment. I have found it so interesting to enter into conversations with people who disagree with my own views; I would confidently say that this is one of my absolute favourite films.

Our story follows two artists in Hollywood – Sebastian, a hot headed but passionate pianist with a deep love for Jazz music and Mia, an actress, taking on the industry one audition, one rejection at a time. Their paths cross a couple of times before their conjoined story begins, but what seems to be key is that they are connected – both young people, with big, possibly unrealistic dreams. This story has a very raw feel, assisted of course by the cinematography and directorial choices, our main characters have such a normal feel about them. I find both Mia and Sebastian very easy to relate to, sharing explicit moments of vulnerability; weakness, frustration and emotion. All performed beautifully by Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone, both of whom received high accolades for their work including multiple nominations and awards. I feel that what this film has done so brilliantly is create something that people relate to. Mia and Sebastian express so much of human nature making it almost impossible to not connect with the characters on some level. This makes me question the impact that this level of empathy instills within it’s audience, perhaps some dislike the outcome of the story because choices made aren’t the ones they would have made? Maybe not, but it’s an interesting idea to consider.

In comparison to one of Chazelle’s previous hits, ‘Whiplash’, La La Land was an opportunity to show a whole different side to his vision and creativity. Where Whiplash is said to have been a very ‘tight’ production – heavily relying on editing with lots of shots, focussed on exact, predestined moments. La La Land was a much more ‘free’ production, relying on less shots than Whiplash but allowing time for rehearsal and regular retakes (to assist in the practicalities of syncing actors to playback etc…) I understand that there was plenty of opportunity for improvisation within the script – though the visuals were predesigned the key relationship needed a real casual essence as its driving force and so the relaxed atmosphere of two professionals, totally in character, improvising gave new layers of truth while keeping the relationship and story telling light. In considering the visual presentation on a whole you cannot miss the sheer attention to detail. Everything is so deliberate from the colour schemes, camera angles to moments of quiet and a small glance.

I’m not sure you can discuss La La Land without commenting on the music, another element that divides people. I for one was slightly confused at some peoples outrage at the use of seemingly ‘normal’ vocals. These vocals, though of an extremely high standard, rarely sound polished or like recording artists and perhaps it’s just not to some peoples taste, but I feel that, firstly; it was a deliberate choice and therefore was selected to allow for the tone of the overall story and, secondly; it still sounds great, it just doesn’t necessarily fit with the framework of modern day ‘moive-musicals’. For me, the music and the lyrics provide extra layers to the storytelling, layers that are perhaps unreachable through alternative methods. I feel like Justin Hurwitz, the films composer, has outdone himself. In the films that he’s worked on I always find myself paying attention to the music, not as a distraction, rather as another thread of the canvas so to speak. As someone without much musical knowledge I wasn’t sure i’d ever really have a ‘favourite’ composer, but I certainly do admire and respect Hurwitz’s ability to tell story through music. Each piece of music, each song is so deliberate and powerful.

This film is truly a piece of art. By nature it wont be loved and adored by everyone, but it will speak to people in different ways. I encourage you to look at this film through a slightly different lens than just ‘popping something on the tv’. Consider the films intentions, the messages hiding in each detail, in each lyric. It might teach you something about yourself or encourage something in you that you had pushed aside.

“Here’s to the fools who dream”

Emma – Review

Rated: U
Cast: Anya Taylor-Joy, Johnny Flynn, Bill Nighy, Mia Goth, Josh O’Connor and Callum Turner
Directed by Autumn de Wilde
Written by Eleanor Catton (Screenplay) and Jane Austen (Novel)
Length: 125Mins

February 2020 saw Autumn de Wilde’s first feature length film hit the big screens, bringing a classic Austin Novel to life in a fresh, new remake. The task of producing yet another Jane Austin hit comes with the high pressure of competing with previous versions and some audience’s asking ‘why bother?’ but also paralleled with the reassurance that your story is a much loved classic that will ultimately draw in an audience.

This delightfully kooky retelling of Emma really brings forth the humour of the story. It doesn’t take itself too seriously and really allows the comedic text and situation to rise to the forefront. The jocular skills of Miranda Hart, Mia Goth and Bill Nighy bring laughs from start to finish while still creating characters that the audience warms to. The story is compelling, you fall into this wonderful, picturesque world and although I felt the first ten minutes a little disjointed, it doesn’t take long to be completely wrapped up in the wonderful world of Austin.

The story follows the titular character of Emma, known for her matchmaking ways, as she takes a young girl under her wing with hopes to set her up to marry a man of high esteem while sustaining her reputation and considering her own future. The story charmingly twists and turns giving the audience everything it could desire from the plot. I didn’t particularly warm to the character of Emma, but I love that within this story our leading lady makes mistakes. She messes up and as her character unravels, as demonstrated visually by her tight ringlet curls falling loose at climactic moments, we get to see a wonderful glimpse of the human condition. Someone making an error, having their behaviour questioned and then working to right their wrongs. Jane Austin herself wrote “I am going to take a heroine whom no one but myself will much like” which I just love – the very personal approach to writing this character, deliberately giving her a storyline and characteristics which readers might dislike, wrapped in a personality that the author so carefully constructed. I feel like this was honoured in this adaptation, we the audience like Emma just enough to stay interested but not so much as to be blind to her poor choices.

A large portion of Autumn de Wilde’s professional experience is in photography and I felt like that was obvious from the first frame of this film. Each scene was so visually pleasing, so much care taken on production design, costume and carefully selected shots that frame the actors, timeline and mood of the scene. This film is a true piece of art with careful consideration around the framing of her shots.

Overall this film is just lovely, you will know from the poster whether you’re going to enjoy it or not. It’s a quirky period drama intertwined with hilarious humanity and a good dashing of romance. I felt like for a debut feature film Autumn de Wilde has burst onto the scene with bright, bold choices and I’m really excited to see what she does next.

Little Women – Review

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Rated: U
Cast: Saoirse Ronan, Florence Pugh, Emma Watson, Timothée Chalamet, Eliza Scanlen, Laura Dern and Meryl Streep
Directed by Greta Gerwig Written by Louisa May Alcott and Greta Gerwig
Length: 134 mins

Adapted from the brilliant work of Louisa May Alcott, and directed by Greta Gerwig, ‘Little Women’ follows the story of four sisters who come-of-age in the USA in the 1860’s, a time when every household was affected by the civil war that divided the country. The story mainly follows how these four women adapt to this world, as they must quickly learn to support themselves and their own family.

‘Little Women’ has drawn much attention from the wide-array of successful actors within the feature, with the story led by Saoirse Ronan as Jo March, who provides a captivating performance. Attempting to balance a life of supporting her family whilst also making a successful career as a writer, Jo finds herself encountering romances, drawbacks from her writing and issues due to her gender. Ronan approaches all of these events in a way that truly embodies the character, and she appears on screen truly as Jo March. Though the clear lead of the narrative, Ronan’s time on-screen is well balanced between the rest of the characters, allowing for significant development between the sisters and those around them, whilst also leaving space for a satisfying conclusion that focuses on Jo’s own story.

Florence Pugh also delivers an excellent interpretation of Amy March, the youngest of the four sisters. With a narrative that frequently changes between the present and a previous series of events, the duality between Amy’s earlier adolescence and her later intelligence and maturity is brilliantly portrayed through not only the performance, but the film’s direction also. Her status as an aspiring artist puts her experiences into a similar vein as Jo March’s, and through often times nuanced and subtle mannerisms Pugh does an excellent job of expressing her struggles as someone who is often considered to be second-best.

The supporting roles within this film are also well-balanced and serve the narrative exactly as required. Timothée Chalamet performs as Theodore Laurence – the grandson of the March’s wealthy neighbour – dancing between all of the sister’s stories and influencing each in a unique way. Furthermore, the performances from Laura Dern, Meryl Streep and Chris Cooper all provide their own voice to the story through the small quirks and subtle expressions of their characters, and only further develop the relationships of the film’s little women.

This film is beautifully shot, and the idea that each frame should tell the story visually is one that Greta Gerwig is highly successful at throughout. The use of 35mm, each scene’s composition and framing, as well as the set and costume design all build to moments of cinema that eloquently display the narrative rather than tell it. The musical composition is light when necessary, but also further explores the emotions of the film without the need to be pronounced. There are also a few scenes of more-experimental direction, such as characters reading their letters and notes directly into the camera in a setting that is removed from any other scene. Reminiscent of Spike Lee’s ‘Do the Right Thing,’ these shots only further benefit the conversation that this film explores, with themes linking to gender and equality in equal measure.

Louisa May Alcott’s ‘Little Women’ is a powerful piece of feminist literature, and Greta Gerwig continues to tell the story with further exploration into the status that women have in our world, in both the story’s setting and present day. In the film, Amy March says that “I want to be great, or nothing.” For Gerwig the same appears to be true, and with ‘Little Women’ she has created something truly great.

Marriage Story – Review

Rated: 15
Cast: Adam Driver, Scarlett Johansson, Laura Dern, Alan Alda and Ray Liotta
Directed by Noah Baumbach
Written by Noah Baumbach
Length: 136 mins

A director known for his realistic dialogue and perceptive insights into true-to-life relationships, Noah Baumbach’s approach to a marriage that has led to divorce was also going to be interesting, but ‘Marriage Story’ is a truly brilliant work of cinema, and it is one which will stick with you for a long while after the credits close.

The performances within this film are incredible. Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson portray their characters in the most immersive way, and their on-screen relationship can travel from hopeful to entirely hopeless within a matter of seconds, through the most minimalist of actions. The development of their characters is brilliantly enhanced by the films pacing also, with long periods of Charlie’s (Driver) experiences with the divorce being portrayed, only for then a similar length to show Nicole’s (Johansson) own ordeal. It is impossible to not attempt to choose a side within the divorce, but it is even more difficult to maintain that viewpoint throughout the entire narrative.

Furthermore, the supporting roles within ‘Marriage Story’ are not only excellently brought to screen, but also feel as if they are used for the exact amount of appropriate time. Laura Dern’s fast-talking and bold performance as Nicole’s divorce attorney may at first appear as slightly over-dramatic, but you soon come to associate the importance her character has on the relationship with the stress that Charlie and Nicole are put through – the perfect status as a supporting role. Similarly, Alan Alda and Ray Liotta perform as lawyers which Charlie consults on separate occasions, and whilst they do successfully serve a clear narrative purpose, they also are more symbolic in demonstrating the type of attitude that Charlie has towards Nicole, depending on the time in which he approaches them. Whilst Alda’s ‘Bert Spitz’ is relatively introverted and more comforting, Liotta’s ‘Jay’ is far more harsh and upfront with Charlie, and it’s interesting to watch Baumbach delicately place such characters within the narrative when appropriate.

Baumbach’s direction within ‘Marriage Story’ is both delicate and subtle, whilst also allowing for moments of sudden breaks within the diegesis. His ability to allow a scene to flow smoothly until one small moment – a cupboard door hitting a character or simply a word out of place – can change the entire direction of the scene, is exacted perfectly, and allows for a balance between immersion within the narrative and the audiences own personal interactions being applied to the story that is told.

Such change within scenes can definitely be credited in part to the film’s editing and score. With the music by Randy Newman, who is forever immortalised for his contributions to the world of ‘Toy Story,’ the film maintains a touching and personal story within the sound that is brilliantly applied to moments of the film which require it. As well as this, ‘Marriage Story’ was edited by Jennifer Lame, who has previously worked on films such as ‘Hereditary’ and ‘Manchester by the Sea,’ which both feature editing that excellently furthers the complexion of the narrative. Therefore it is no surprise that Lame’s ability to convey emotion with such talent is also applied to ‘Marriage Story’, and the result is a film which draws in the viewer and tells its story in the most complete way possible.

There isn’t a single moment within Baumbach’s latest release that feels unnecessary, and ‘Marriage Story’ tells such a human story that it’s hard not to continue thinking about it days after the film has finished. Go and watch it on Netflix, and if you have the opportunity to see it a cinema near you then even better, but either way, make sure you find some time to experience the most compelling film of this year.