★ / ★★★★
The would-be thriller “Unforgettable,” written by Christina Hodson and directed by Denise Di Novi, proves to be a disappointing watch because it could have been a trashy, campy flick with lead performers who are game to do whatever it takes to deliver a good time. Instead, what we are provided is yet another painfully generic Lifetime-like picture that lacks energy, intelligence, and well-earned thrills. In the middle of its barrage of boredom, I wondered: Who is the movie for? Why was it made?
Rosario Dawson and Katherine Heigl deserve better material to work with. They play Julia and Tessa, the former the fiancée of the latter’s ex-husband (Geoff Stults). Both surprised me in different ways. With Dawson, she is such a charismatic person, but this film has a knack for sucking the appeal out of her. Perhaps it is the manner in which the character is written; it fails to show us Julia’s strength for so long that we end up wishing to yell at her to do something smart or resourceful. The dialogue brings up that Julia is this strong person. However, entertainment comes from showing rather than telling.
Heigl is a delight as a psycho Barbie ice queen. I enjoyed the way she is able to tap into different emotions of being a cold-hearted person with using only her eyes at times. Having seen her in so many pedestrian, forgettable romantic comedies, I was delighted that in here she has found a way to communicate how the character feels without using words, whether it be a flick of the hair, how she stands so rigidly, how the corner of her mouth tightens up just a little when Tessa is given news that makes her feel less than. Another performer might have relied on the icy blond look and beautiful but emotionless face. Clearly, Heigl is the stronger (and more interesting) of the two co-leads.
There is barely a detectable dramatic parabola in the plot. While events happen, they do not build on a consistent manner. It almost always goes like this: Tessa recognizes an opportunity to make Julia’s life worse, she acts upon it in front of a computer in the dark, Julia responds to the situation but doesn’t recognize that the all too unfortunate event is no accident. Rinse and repeat. And so when the inevitably violent final act rolls around, there is an air of indifference since we know exactly how it is going to turn out. And just when you think it doesn’t get any worse, the final scene is all wrong. It hints at a possible sequel when there is barely anything to show in this film in the first place.
“Unforgettable” could have taken a page from Onur Tukel’s surprisingly effective “Catfight.” In that film, we understand the two women—their psychology, what motivates them, their end goals—and why they must eventually clash. Here, Julia and Tessa must fight only because the plot demands that they do. And in Tukel’s dark comedy, the violence is on an entirely different level that it has to be seen to be believed.
Friend Request (2016)
★ / ★★★★
Decline at all costs because “Friend Request,” directed by Simon Verhoeven, is a most generic horror film, severely lacking in suspense, thrills, and common sense. Even its most utilized tactic to terrorize the viewer, jump scares, is not executed in such a way that one never sees it coming. When the lights go dark and the character detects something is terribly wrong, cue the countdown from fifteen to twenty seconds because the jump scare is coming. The picture does not know the idea of variation and restraint.
The first quarter of the picture shows it has potential to become a horror film that is relevant to its time. When the focus is on how social media is a part of every day life nowadays, it is both intriguing and relatable. It works two-fold. First, it familiarizes us with the lead protagonist’s social media feed and so we get to know Laura (Alycia Debnam-Carey), or a version of her that she wishes the world to know, simply through pictures, short videos, and status updates. Second, it gives the viewer the impression that the material is setting up to comment on how social media has changed our lifestyles, for better or worse.
However, screenwriters Verhoeven, Philip Koch, and Matthew Ballers prove incapable of putting their finger on the pulse of their subject and exploring it in such a way that is both damning, amusing, and true. For instance, the story takes place in a university setting and yet we do not meet characters who use social media in different ways. They are all rather flavorless and boring, simply waiting to be picked off by the spirit of a girl named Marina (Liesl Ahlers) who committed suicide by hanging and burning herself in front of a laptop because Laura unfriended her on Facebook.
Perhaps the material might have worked as a satire. Although unintentional, I was amused by the reaction of Laura’s best friends (Brit Morgan, Brooke Markham) once the spirit begins to go after them and their loved ones. They are rather quick to place the blame for something that Laura has proven she has no control over. One has to wonder at the possibility that maybe the material is making a statement about the fragility of friendship within the context of college and social media. But the screenplay requires depth, or an iota of intelligence, for this possibility to be fully fleshed out.
Initially visually impressive, particularly when showing Marina’s original but somber animations, “Friend Request” falls apart right before it hits the halfway point. Even its nightmare images involving wasps and faceless children eventually suffer from diminishing returns. By the final act, it is challenge to care about any of the characters, where the story is heading, and whether Laura and her friends would live to post another status update.
★★ / ★★★★
The title of this horror-thriller is a direct critique of its second half, a complete nosedive from an interesting premise that starts off having a certain level of energy with potential to genuinely entertain had the screenplay been more willing to remain one step ahead of its viewers. Instead, “Flatliners,” directed by Niels Arden Oplev, eventually relies on delivering the expected turns and predictable jolts that plague modern horror and supernatural thrillers. What results is a marginally passable, late-night cable movie.
When it touches upon the realities of being a student in medical school, the material commands intrigue. Perhaps the most engaging moments are instances where students must compete with one another. Just about every time a colleague provides an incorrect answer to a superior’s question, there is almost a sigh of relief from his or her peers. But when a correct answer is given, one can feel the dagger-like looks of jealousy or envy. The picture might have been stronger if there had been more scenes that anchored the more unbelievable aspects of the story.
The plot revolves around Courtney (Ellen Page), a medical student fixated on the possibility of an afterlife due to the death of her younger sister. To discover whether there really is an afterlife and experience how it is like, she decides to recruit two of her peers (Kiersey Clemons, James Norton) to help her with an experiment: stop her heart, wait for two minutes from the second she flatlines, and revive her. Naturally, things do not exactly go planned and so others (Diego Luna, Nina Dobrev) must learn about the macabre experiment. The setup is more intriguing than the positive and negative repercussions of crossing to the other side.
It does not leave much to the imagination. On one level, there is generous utilization of special and visual effects. While not overdone, it might have been better from a storytelling point of view for the characters to describe what they had seen instead of showing us every bit of white light, floating orbs, and stylized images of whatever is around the city. A character recalling a memory is another way for us to connect with him or her; we are not simply invested in what is being recalled but also how it is done.
On another level, take notice of the script. Every character is written to vocalize his or her every thought. This characteristic is television-like, particularly in sitcoms where this strategy is almost always used due to the limited running time of thirty minutes. But this is no sitcom. As a result, the level of mystery does not fully take off and, perhaps most importantly, the second half drags. It got boring to the point where one could simply cut and paste so-called scares from other mediocre supernatural horror-thrillers and it would not have made a difference.
Written by Ben Ripley, “Flatliners” might have been jolted to life with an injection of imagination. Many people are curious about the afterlife, or whether it exists in the first place, and so one would think that those in charge of the film would ensure that numerous possibilities are presented. One way to have done this is to have introduced different schools of philosophy, perhaps each character embodying one, and making the characterization cinematic. Instead, what results is a horror film without much flavor or ambition.
It Comes at Night (2017)
★★ / ★★★★
Viewers not experienced with the kind of horror that “It Comes at Night” offers are likely to paint the picture as an exercise in pointlessness. There is no jump scare, no last-minute “I should have seen it coming!” twist, and certainly no convenient explanation about a mysterious disease that has infected the world’s population. Instead, the focus is on a family (Joel Edgerton, Carmen Ejogo, Kelvin Harrison Jr.) living in isolation in the woods and their decision to help another family (Christopher Abbott, Riley Keough, Griffin Robert Faulkner) during their time of need.
The type of horror it offers is of a psychological breed. The approach is interesting in that in order to amplify tension, the tone is consistently flat, supported by pervasive grays and dark colors, how shadows remain just so in order to for us wonder what’s hidden in a particular corner of a room or whether the person confessing is telling the entire truth. Through its calculated slow pacing, the audience is given plenty of time and opportunity to doubt nearly everything, including whether our protagonists really are the protagonists.
While part of the point of the story is facing doubt and mistrust during a time of survival, the execution of an otherwise initially fascinating material is far from exciting. About halfway through, I found myself checking to see whether the film is nearly over because I felt as though the screenplay was struggling to maintain its level of intrigue. For instance, as someone who had lived in a household of two families, I felt the material had missed the opportunity to explore complex dynamics, the challenges of having to compromise to the point where one’s lifestyle, or at least an aspect of it, is altered until breaking point.
I admired its decision to have a bleak ending because it is loyal to the universe it has created. However, its attempt to deliver the final irony lacks a certain energy or sense of urgency. Thus, I found it largely unsatisfactory, a missed opportunity to remind the people watching why this particular story is worth telling. Viewers who have struggled to keep their eyes open throughout are likely to miss the punchline because it is so subtle, it is less of a punch than it is a delicate nudge.
Written and directed by Trey Edward Shults, “It Comes at Night” is a slow burn atmospheric horror that frustrates because it fails to capitalize upon its brimming potential. Those looking for entertainment are strongly advised to look elsewhere.
Summer Camp (2015)
★★ / ★★★★
“Summer Camp,” written by Alberto Marini and Danielle Schleif, might have been a stronger piece given that the screenplay and direction seem to be aware of the genre conventions and are willing to poke fun of them somewhat. For instance, the opening images hint that the material is a slasher flick with a crazed man observing unsuspecting females in the woods but it turns out to be something else entirely. It gives the impression that the filmmakers wish to have fun with their work but ultimately are unable to because of, perhaps, studio expectations or other external factors. What results is a film with great potential to produce both scares and laughter but ending up not as entertaining as it should have been.
The plot revolves around four camp counselors—three Americans and one Spaniard—in rural Spain getting acquainted and readying themselves for children to arrive the next day. Although the day before is uneventful for the most part, the groundskeeper (Xavier Capdet) claims that one of the dogs for the pet farm must be put down due to rabies. Will (Diego Boneta) claims he is “practically a vet” and so he decides to examine the animal up close, despite his fellow counselors’ disapproval (Jocelin Donahue, Maiara Walsh, Andrés Velencoso), since he has serious doubts that the animal is indeed rabid. While just a few inches away, however, the suspicious animal lunges at Will and breaks his skin.
Impressive is the way it takes its time to reveal the actual cause of the infection. But a great opportunity is missed when the writers neglect to include a scientific mind in the group, one who is designed to explain to laypeople what might be going on in a clear and concise way. Sometimes entertainment value comes in the form of setting up an easily understood experiment, observing what happens, and planning what to do next rather than providing a repetition of images involving infected people running, snarling, and attacking.
There is humor in the relationship among the counselors. We get the impression they do not like one another completely given that they do not know each other that well yet. Well, what better way is there to get to know someone’s humanity and core values than being thrusted in an increasingly desperate life-or-death situation? These men and women hold particular importance on “trust exercises” in the beginning of the film—their eventual predicament is exactly that but amplified to an extreme.
Chases are unimpressive for the most part. Since it is likely that audiences have seen numerous fast-running zombie pictures before, the camera work and editing designed to construct an intense chase experience are rather expected and standard. Several times I found myself outside of the action rather than involved in it. What a letdown because the camp takes place in a beautiful and massive mansion. Why not create a specific sense of place so that we, too, become familiarized with the rooms, corridors, and potential hiding spots? So, when the action comes around eventually, we have an idea, for example, where the characters might be running toward—or if such a hallway nearby is a dead end.
Directed by Alberto Marini, “Summer Camp” attempts to create a semblance of fun in the material by injecting humor—intended or otherwise— in the circumstances. However, it fails to capitalize on the creativity and curiosity of the infection and how it works. In addition, the characters could have been written smarter and more proactive. Seeing them crying and screaming after a while gets exhausting and annoying given the fact that eventually they come to anticipate what to expect as they learn more about what they’re up against.
Lost City of Z, The (2016)
★★★ / ★★★★
“The Lost City of Z,” written for the screen and directed by James Gray, would fit right in had it been released in the 1970s when movies of this type were still being made and seen by adventurous audiences or viewers who may temporarily crave for adventure. It is no surprise then that some, or many, modern audiences may be numb to its appeal. They are likely to cite pacing issues, a lack of a defined script, a standard dramatic parabola expected from more recent biographical works. I admired and enjoyed the film exactly for these reasons.
Here is a portrait of a man with an obsession that evolves over decades. Initially, his obsession is social mobility, his need to be regarded by other men wearing medals as an equal. Percy Fawcett (Charlie Hunnam) wishes to be respected. But travel changes a person. We observe how this man is changed every time he returns home from the jungles of South America as his family and peers function as mirrors, reflecting the image of the man he once was. There as interesting discussion to be had whether Percy is more or less of a person each time an expedition ends. I argue he becomes more than what he thought he could ever be; I related to his thirst for knowledge and the need to illuminate those unable to look past themselves.
The picture commands beauty through its use of calculated lighting. Never too bright nor dark, its grayish appearance gives the impression of looking into a memory. Images may be awash with dull colors but it is fascinating how emotions are consistently at the forefront, sharp, and confronting—whether it be a disagreement amongst fellow explorers on how to proceed with their travails or subtle expressions of deep regrets for having missed out on lost time with one’s wife and children. There is a point to every scene which may not always progress the plot but just about each one tells an interesting detail about the man whose body is never found after his journey in 1925.
Scenes that take place in the jungle reminded me of Werner Herzog’s excellent “Fitzcarraldo” and “Aguirre, the Wrath of God.” Although not as epic in scope as Herzog’s masterworks, this film captures the dangers and unpredictabilities of exploration. It takes its time to show us the river, how difficult it is to navigate through when everything is going right and how nearly impossible it is when every element is going wrong. Even humor can be found in the most dire and desperate situations. I enjoyed how we get a chance to meet different tribes, to infer what they value based on what can be found in their environment, the jewelries they wear, their treatment of strangers who dare set foot on their territories. Clearly, this is a picture for a patient audience. Those willing to look closely will be rewarded.
“The Lost City of Z” may not be for the general audience of today, but it is for me. Its elliptical storytelling technique communicates courage, its willingness to slow down so we have enough time to appreciate beauty and to dig inside ourselves suggests it values that we have a spiritual experience, its ability to present its subject as virtuous and flawed creates complexity worth a conversation. Here is a film that actively works to engage the viewer, possibly in ways that a viewer doesn’t expect from having decided to jump into a story about a man hoping to find proof of a mythical lost civilization.
Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017)
★★★ / ★★★★
The decision not to tell yet another origins story benefits Jon Watts’ “Spider-Man: Homecoming” immensely because it takes away significant portions of what we expect from a typical arc involving Peter Parker being bitten by a radioactive spider and having to discover his powers. Instead, the plot revolves around a tyro superhero so willing to be a part of The Avengers that he forgets he is still a kid just making his way through high school. Thus, an intriguing portrait of Spider-Man is created, one that is grounded in reality yet without sacrificing the required highly energetic and entertaining action pieces.
Two performers are cast perfectly in their respective roles. The first is Michael Keaton, playing a man named Adrian Toomes, owner of a salvage company who chooses to create weapons out of alien technology. Because Toomes is in fact the antagonist to our friendly neighborhood superhero, it is easy and convenient to label him as a villain. I believe he is more than that. I think Toomes represents the Average Joe, a businessman who is willing to do what it takes to provide for his family. So, to me, he is not a villain. And that is what makes the character fascinating. Keaton plays Toomes smart and with such humanity that when one looks into those eyes, one realizes he can be anybody’s uncle simply leading a business operation.
The second is Tom Holland, portraying a fifteen-year-old boy from Queens, New York who just so happens to be Spider-Man. I enjoyed and admired Holland’s decision to play the character as Peter Parker first and Spider-Man second—even though the plot revolves around an obsession to prove to Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) that he should be a part of the Avengers. Casting a performer who excels most in dramatic roles is the correct decision because pulling off both comedy and drama, sometimes simultaneously, can be very tricky. Notice how he sells the more serious scenes during the latter half, particularly one that unfolds in a tension-filled car on the way to the Homecoming dance. Holland fits the role like a glove. It will be difficult to imagine someone else in this role for years to come.
It offers memorable action scenes, whether it be atop great metropolitan heights in broad daylight or a night chase around the suburban New York neighborhood. These sequences not only command energy but also range. In action pictures, it is so important for each confrontation to look and feel different from one another. It prevents us from feeling bored. Superior actions films tend to have a commonality: the audience feeling the need to catch up to it rather than it struggling to catch up to our expectations. Clearly, this film falls in the former group with occasional surprises to spare.
Its weakness comes in the form of writing when it comes to Peter’s peers, with the exception of Ned (Jacob Batalon), Peter’s best friend and partner in crime. The romantic angle between Peter and Liz (Laura Harrier) is not as effective as it should have been since there is rarely opportunity for us to get to know Peter’s crush. In fact, I found Liz to be quite nondescript. Although it is obvious that Michelle (Zendaya) really likes Peter, even though she is pretty much invisible to him, aside from a few sarcastic one-liners, the screenplay fails to create at least a marginally well-rounded character, especially when it hints that Michelle will have a bigger role in the sequel.
Regardless, there is plenty to be enjoyed in “Spider-Man: Homecoming.” It is paced well, the central characters are worth exploring, the action sequences are impressive with the ability to surprise, and it knows how to have fun with (and make fun of) our protagonist with or without the Spidey suit. Imagine if it had taken more time and effort to iron out details regarding how different teenagers can be complex, difficult, and fascinating. I’d wager this installment could have been among the best in the series.
Kingsman: The Golden Circle (2017)
★★ / ★★★★
Although not short on energy and defiance of physics, director Matthew Vaughn’s sequel to the surprisingly enjoyable “Kingsman: The Secret Service” is mildly entertaining in parts but a deflating experience as a whole. Pay close attention during the first would-be breathless action sequence that unfolds in the busy streets of London. It is so exaggerated to the point where the cartoonish action looks and feels fake. The predecessor works exactly because it recognizes the line between hyperbole and camp. And, more importantly, when to cross that line to shock us into paying attention.
For an action film with a running time of well above two hours, it is jaw dropping that it offers only three major action scenes. Worse, not each of them engages in such a way that we are invested in what is about to happen. These scenes are beautifully shot, particularly one that takes place in the snowy mountains of Italy, and capably edited, but there is not one moment when we feel our protagonists are in any real danger, that any one of them can drop dead at any second. And if one did, would we really care?
Part of the problem is the screenplay by Jane Goldman and Matthew Vaughn. While it is too preoccupied setting up satirical moments, which occasionally land, that we do not learn anything new about the characters we are already familiar with, especially Eggsy (Taron Egerton), our conduit into this world of spies and gadgetries, or those we have just met. There is a lack of intrigue this time around—disappointing because the picture introduces the American version of the Kingsman. While the cameos inspire smiles, getting to know the characters behind such recognizable names (Channing Tatum, Pedro Pascal, Halle Berry, Jeff Bridges) would have been rewarding. What are the important similarities and differences between Kingsman and Statesman?
Julianne Moore plays the villainous 1950’s-obsessed Poppy, a pavonine performer of flawless camp, a set piece on her own, milking every moment for what it is worth. I admired that she calibrated her performance in such a way that it complements Samuel L. Jackson’s from the predecessor but not quite as boisterous. But, like her heroic counterparts, Poppy, too, is not given much dimension. We do not learn about how she got to where she is and why, on a deeper level, does she wish to enact her endgame. Yes, ego is a factor, but what separates her from other maniacal villains?
“Kingsman: The Golden Circle” is not required to deliver deep thoughts and emotions, but it must entertain on such a high level that we end up choosing to overlook—or forget completely—its shortcomings. But since the film does not manage to overcome such a bar, we thirst for something to chew on or hang onto. Those looking to see a spy-action picture that goes from one breathless piece to another would be advised to explore alternatives.
Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai (1999)
★★★ / ★★★★
A mercenary named Ghost Dog (Forest Whitaker) is sent by his boss, Louie (John Tormey), who once saved his life in an alley, to kill Handsome Frank (Richard Portnow) because he is sexually involved with the daughter of a head mobster. The problem is, everyone had assumed that the girl, Louise (Tricia Vassey), was not going to be with Handsome Frank at the time of the murder. She witnesses the cold-blooded killing and Mr. Vargo (Henry Silva) is livid. The head mobster demands Louie to give up the man he sent to do perform the job or risk being killed himself.
“Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai,” written and directed by Jim Jarmusch, combines two sub-genres found in the opposite spectrum: gangster pictures and samurai film. What is created is an original and inspired product about what it means to be a killer but a man of honor, a recluse who is capable of connecting with others in unexpected ways.
It can be argued that the material is influenced by Quentin Tarantino’s work in that the writer-director is not afraid to allow individual scenes to run longer than they should. This is best captured during the scene when Louie is summoned by his superiors to discuss his source’s mistake and why he has to be neutralized. Louie sits on one side of the table, nervous but trying not to show it, and the other three do not even crack a smile. It starts off scary, then awkward, and, finally, sort of amusing. The mobsters think Ghost Dog’s name is inspired by rappers on television and the radio.
And then there are scenes that one might think should not be in the movie at all. After all, it is supposed to be about the hunt for the title character and, eventually, his choice on whether to fight back against those who have pushed him into a corner.
Ghost Dog meeting his best friend (Isaach De Bankolé), an ice cream man who speaks only French and does not understand English (nor does Ghost Dog understand a word of French), and a little girl named Pearline (Camille Winbush) allows us to get a feel and explore the hidden depths and alleys of a complicated character. Especially touching is his relationship with Pearline. As avid readers, they talk about and recommend each other books. Through this common interest, they are able to understand each other even though they come from very different age groups. He does not talk down to her.
I appreciated that the material chooses not to put the child in danger for the sake of getting a reaction out of Ghost Dog and the audience. Under more typical hands, she would have been kidnapped by the gangsters eventually and he would have had to rescue her. Instead, Pearline talking about the books stored in her lunchbox is enough to establish how much the main character values his relationship with her. Like the great samurai movies, it understands the art of restraint.
The violence, coupled with a lack of score or soundtrack, is suspenseful and efficient. Even though our protagonist is up against older gentlemen, there is danger because we get a sense that the men in suits know exactly what they are doing. I flinched every time a gun silencer exhales and the bullet punctures the target’s forehead. It shows violence for what it is.
Ghost in the Shell (2017)
★★ / ★★★★
Rupert Sanders’ “Ghost in the Shell” offers the kind of entertainment that one can dive in and out of while doing laundry or some other chore around the house. This is a testament to the lack of depth in the writing—problematic because the material brings up questions about what makes us human, what it means to be alive, what it means to have an identity of our own, what we are in charge of in an increasingly automated world.
These are philosophical questions and yet, for some bizarre reason, the writing avoids rumination, as if the persons who helmed the screenplay—Jamie Moss, William Wheeler, and Ehren Kruger—were afraid of or did not know how to build intrigue. This is a picture more interested in external stimuli rather than what it could potentially make the audiences feel or think about long after the film is over.
Its special and visual effects look expensive, occasionally impressive but at times distracting. I enjoyed that every time a scene takes place outside, roads and skyscrapers are overcome by advertisements, overwhelming people to buy products or to upgrade themselves through “enhancements,” cosmetic surgeries, to become a better, stronger, faster, more intelligent version of themselves. In a way, this is a hyperbolic version of our society—which would have been an effective critique had the writing been more willing to delve into the rules and ethos of its universe.
Less effective are beautiful but boring action sequences. While it offers a certain moody look reminiscent of pictures like the classic but, in my eyes, overrated “Blade Runner,” the stylized shootouts and hand-to-hand combat do not come across gritty enough to be believable even within the context of a futuristic world where the line between man and machine is blurred. We are simply not immersed into the action. Rather, we stand right outside it as we struggle to feel for the characters, to care whether they lived or died, whether they walked away hurt or unscathed. For instance, certainly we are supposed to feel connected to Mira (Scarlett Johansson), a creation who has a brain of a human being but the body of a machine. And yet we do not until she begins to ask questions about who she is, where she came from, who she is working for.
The “ghost” in the title refers to the human soul, but there is nothing soulful about the film. Somewhat interesting is the friendship between Mira and Batou (Pilou Asbæk), both working for the government as anti-terrorist agents, but the screenplay actively avoids meaningful conversations that reveal about how they perceive and process the world, their goals as to how they could try to change it for the better. Isn’t a part of what makes us human the ability to relate with others in meaningful, messy, complicated ways?
“Ghost in the Shell” is a product of the desire to make a quick buck rather than to create a work that can potentially stand the test of time. A commonality among great science fiction pictures is that they strive to say something about the world of today and exploring that thesis like an excellent research paper. There is a balance between technical details and information that can be understood easily, a certain universal factor. Here, there is only pretty visuals and fast-paced action, pedestrian from flesh to wiring.
Ginger & Rosa (2012)
★★ / ★★★★
Londoners Ginger (Elle Fanning) and Rosa (Alice Englert) have been best friends since childhood, but little do they know that 1962 is the year that will put a dent in their friendship. As the Cold War escalates between the Soviet Union and the United States, coupled with radio announcements about atomic bombs and missiles, the girls worry about the possibility of the world coming to an end. Though they start in the same path, Rosa is able to find a distraction—her attraction toward a writer, Roland (Alessandro Nivola), who also happens to be Ginger’s father.
Deliberately slow-paced and covered with a veil of gloom, writer-director Sally Porter is able to establish a metaphor between war and a crumbling friendship. However, the picture is not loyal to its title. While we get to know a lot about how Ginger thinks, what she feels, her motivations, and values, Rosa, more or less, functions as decoration. She is shown entering a frame, saying a serious line or two, and then it is onto the next scene.
A more accurate title would be “Ginger & Roland” because the father and daughter are the most interesting characters and their relationship has depth. I enjoyed how my feelings toward what they have changed over time. Initially, I thought Roland is a good influence on his daughter because he encourages her to think for herself, whether the topic be the existence of a higher power or what it means to be young and making a stand. Fanning and Nivola have a way of connecting with their eyes. Though they look very different, there is a sense of family in the way they interact with one another.
After Ginger learns that her best friend is romantically drawn to her father, there are a lot of bold questions worth asking. Naturally, Ginger feels upset. Is she unhappy because she feels awkward seeing the two of them acting like a couple? Does she feel the need to make a choice between her father and her closest friend? Knowing Rosa’s personality a little bit, does she want to protect her father? Or is it that she is upset because, deep inside her subconscious, she also wants to have her father in that way? I imagine Sigmund Freud having a field day with this film.
There is one character with whom I felt had a bigger role prior to the film ending up in the editing room. Bella (Annette Bening) is an American militant who is staying with Ginger’s godfathers (Timothy Spall, Oliver Platt). The screenplay attempts to draw parallels between this woman and the red-haired girl, perhaps suggesting that Bella is Ginger’s future: strong, confident, well-spoken—qualities that Ginger does not yet possess. I was curious to learn more about Bella but, like Rosa, she appears on screen only when convenient—to say a would-be powerful line and then to be forgotten for fifteen to twenty minutes.
The two young women join a youth club where they are able to perform lawful protests against the bomb. The sequences that take place in the club are largely superficial, underwritten, and lacking in energy. As a result, we never really get the feeling either Ginger or Rosa is learning something new. The supposed moments of inspiration feel too phony, movie-like. And I believe the writer-director felt this, too. There is a tendency to go for the closeup on Fanning’s face, so beautiful and so rich with emotion, every time the words uttered by the club leader reach holes in logic.