My One and Only (2009)
★★★ / ★★★★
Anne Deveraux (Renée Zellweger) was used to living a wealthy lifestyle. But when she caught her husband (Kevin Bacon), the leading man of a popular band, cheating on her with a much younger woman, she took her two sons, sarcastic George (Logan Lerman) and feminine Robbie (Mark Rendall), on a road trip across America in a Cadillac Coupe de Ville convertible to find herself a new husband for financial support. Along the way, they met colorful characters such as a man stuck in a military mindset (Chris Noth), an old friend with a penchant for dating younger women (Eric McCormack), a real gentleman (Nick Stahl), and someone who appeared normal but quite far from it (David Koechner). From the minute the film began, I was instantly drawn to it. Perhaps it was because of the golden 1950s setting that I’m naturally drawn to or the strong acting particularly by Zellweger and Lerman. It was most likely both. The script was intelligent, nuanced in character development, and had just the right amount of sadness aimed to test how much we’ve invested in our trio. I loved the fact that Anne started off as weak and dependent. With each city they visited, she grew stronger only in small ways but somehow it was enough to make me care and keep rooting for her. Primarily, she wanted to provide for her kids. Living a lavish lifestyle was secondary but it didn’t lose importance. The comedy was often packaged in scenes when the family was running out of money yet Anne couldn’t help but spend. She had great pride in wearing expensive clothing and eating fancy food in the best restaurants. Eating TV dinners was almost a joke to her, a way to catch up with her family. Aside from the pressure of finding a husband for his money, tension grew at a steady rate because Anne looked forward but George kept looking back. We could clearly understand why both of the characters wanted to go in the direction they looked toward. It was nice to see that sometimes they felt chained to one another, but sometimes they were just happy to be together even if nothing seemed to be going right. George loved his father and he wanted his feelings to be reciprocated even in a microscopic way. But the father just seemed emotionally unavailable. Anne wanted to maintain her dignity. And she should. Written by Charlie Peters and directed by Richard Loncraine, “My One and Only” was a funny and touching story about what it meant to be a family. Cleverness was abound and I even caught myself smiling from ear to ear with how certain happenings came into place. The fact that it was inspired by George Hamilton’s actual life experiences was somewhat secondary.
★★★★ / ★★★★
Written and directed by Lance Hammer, “Ballast” was a powerful film about how three people who lived in Mississippi Delta began working toward a better future after a suicide. Lawrence (Micheal J. Smith Sr.) tried to kill himself after finding out about the death of his twin brother but a neighbor (Johnny McPhail) arrived just in time to call for help. Marlee (Tarra Riggs) was a hardworking mother who desperately wanted to provide for her son James (JimMyron Ross), unaware of his involvement in violence and drugs. As the film went on, Lawrence, Marlee and James had no choice but to be a family and help each other to move forward. I loved the bare bones look of this film because it really got me in the mood to look inside the characters–their motivations, feelings, thoughts and plans for the future. What’s brilliant about this picture is the fact that it’s not just about poor people being poor people and therefore we can’t help but feel sorry for them. It’s about people in poverty who constantly try to provide for themselves even though all hope seems absent. We also got to learn about a certain character’s history with drugs, why Lawrence and Marlee didn’t get along, and why Lawrence was very understanding with James. Even though the movie did not have any soundtrack and had minimal dialogue, when the characters did engage in conversation, the words struck me. I especially was touched by that scene when the mother got fired from her job because of the bruises on her face (and she didn’t have any more sick days so she could take a day off). She said that her appreance shouldn’t matter anyway because she was invisible to everyone else. She had such strength throughout and I couldn’t help but root for her. I’ve heard from people that they were frustrated with the abrupt ending. I had no problem with it at all because it implied that no matter what challenges faced the main characters, they would find a way to overcome them. For me, the picture ended at just the right moment. “Ballast” shows how powerful independent cinema can be. This is not for viewers expecting fast pacing, a defined story structure, or any of the Hollywood conventions. This film is all about the nuances and it was pretty much observing the painful realities that others have to go through from day to day.
Fils, Le (2002)
★★★ / ★★★★
“Le fils” or “The Son,” written and directed by Jean-Pierre Dardenne and Luc Dardenne, tells the story of a sixteen-year-old (Morgan Marinne) who is taken under the wing of a grieving carpenter named Olivier (Olivier Gourmet) who lost his son five years ago. As the film goes on, Olivier becomes more and more interested in the teenager and not until we meet Olivier’s wife (Isabella Soupart) do we find out exactly why he is so fixated on his new apprentice. This is probably one of the most bare-boned films I’ve ever seen but it has such a powerful emotional wallop. I can understand why a lot of people are immediately turned off by this movie because not a lot of things happen on the surface. The dialogue was minimal and the camera had a penchant for close-ups to really absorb the nuances in the facial expressions of the actors. I argue that the film is very eventful when it comes to the internal rage and depression that each character is going through. Yet they also want to not be angry anymore and to move on with life. Just looking in their eyes made me feel so sad because I felt as though they had a story that they were ashamed of and would do anything to keep hidden. Once that connection is made between the two leads and the audience, each movement was purposeful and had some kind of meaning. I was really curious about whether Olivier wanted to hurt the teenager in some way or if he has something else in mind. The silences that they shared were so painful and awkward to watch at times yet I thought it was very realistic. When I think about it, there are some days when I say less than ten words to another human being because either I’m so into my own thoughts that I don’t even notice or I actively choose not to speak to avoid some kind of collision. The directors really knew how they wanted their story to unfold and it’s a shame because the majority of less introspective viewers would most likely miss the point. There’s a lot to be said about “Le fils” but this is the kind of film worth discussing between two people who have seen it than between a reviewer and someone contemplating of seeing it. The organic manner in which the picture revealed itself to me touched me in a way that it was almost cathartic. If you’re feeling like watching something that doesn’t conform to Hollywood typicality, this is definitely a great choice. My advice is to be patient during the first twenty to thirty minutes. It will hook you in when you least expect it.