Writer/director Josh Boone hits a home run in his first at-bat with this touching, poignant, semi autobiographical tale about a dysfunctional family of writers. Greg Kinnear is a successful writer who is grooming his two children, Lily Collins and Nat Wolff, to be writers themselves. He is also mourning his divorce from his wife, Oscar-winner Jennifer Connelly.
This is a brilliant story of relationships. Everybody has a problem with somebody. It is also a frank look at today’s morality. Kinnear is a non-judgmental father who actually encourages his son to get out there and have more experiences (read have sex).
Collins is a Liz Taylor look-alike who is incredibly callous for her 19 years who has a big bone of contention with her mother, Connelly. Nat, on the other hand, seems more sheltered. Both have fractious relationships with their significant others, Logan Lerman for Collins and Liana Liberato for Nat. For his part, Kinnear is involved in a sex-without-commitment relationship with Kristen Bell who is married to someone else. So basically the film winks at traditional sexual morality.
The script couldn’t be better written and for a film that is basically all talk Boone keeps the pace driving throughout the entire 96 minutes. Adding to the quality of the film is fantastic music. While Wolff wrote one of the songs, the one that really drives the film is the 2009 Edward Sharpe song “Home” which Boone says was brought in as a temp track for the opening credits but, “…we fell in love with it and couldn’t live without it. It’s now the title track of the film.” I had heard it a few times but now feel the same way about it that Boone does. It is a terrific song.
The acting is spectacular throughout. Kinnear always gives a good performance. I don’t know whether it’s intentional or not, but you don’t see him in potboiler action or fantasy films. He has spent his time acting in high quality Indies, and that’s admirable. Last year his Thin Ice was one of the best films I saw. Collins steals every scene in which she appears. The others are of equally high quality.
This film has it all, some humor, some tears, and a lot of truth. As far as I’m concerned, this will stand as one of the best films of the year, regardless of what else comes out over the next eight months.
Writer/director Woody Allen went through a 40 year apprenticeship before he finally got it right. He had some movies I liked, like Annie Hall, but for me he was moviedom’s answer to Ernest Hemingway in that his mystique was his life and potential, but his work didn’t measure up. It seemed as if I always looked forward to his movies but generally came away disappointed.
However, a few years ago when he moved his locations to Europe, he seemed to bloom, producing one entertaining movie after another. He just seems to get better and better.
This one finds him returned from his European setting, relocated in San Francisco, with a story of a dysfunctional Cate Blanchett who finds her life turned topsy-turvy when her husband, Alec Baldwin, gets indicted and goes to jail.
Typically Allen, it’s a light-hearted, comedic look at serious problems as Blanchett goes to live with her sister, Sally Hawkins, at whom she looks down her nose after living the high life in The Hamptons with Alec. Blanchett is reflective and the movie shows her two lives, the one with Baldwin in constant flashbacks. Sally is just barely making ends meet and has a boyfriend, Bobby Cannavale, for whom Cate has even less respect than she does for Sally.
The film immediately brings to mind corrupt New York financial manager, Bernie Madoff, and his wife, but Allen denies that this is anything approaching a roman à clef. Rather, it’s a commentary on choices and living with those choices. Blanchett is blind-sided by what happens to her and we see her as she has a difficult time coping with her rapid comedown.
Allen knows how to get terrific performances out of his A-list cast, who generally work for him for scale. Blanchett and Baldwin are joined by Peter Sarsgaard and Andrew Dice Clay (in a brilliant bit of casting against type), who plays Sally’s husband, and rises above all the others. Clay, who made a reputation as a rough, foul-mouthed standup comedian was floored when he was approached for the role, but he gives a terrific, sensitive performance, which is a telling commentary on Allen’s judgment and talent as a director, even though he has the reputation of just letting everyone do their own thing. He’s been responsible for at least four acting Academy Awards for his actors, so he must have some influence on them.
At 37, Hawkins gets the biggest role of her career and makes the most of it. She takes this part and makes it her own. While Blanchett gives an award-quality performance, the screen really lights up when Hawkins appears. There are so many good performances in this film that it doesn’t seem fair to single out one over the other. Cannavale also gives an exceptional performance, as do Sarsgaard and Louis C.K., who hits on Sally near the end of the film.
The dialogue is as good as any Allen has written, and recently he’s written some very good scripts. The music is nothing short of fantastic. There is no credit for score or music supervisor. I contacted the production company to find out who was responsible for the music. The answer came back that there is no music credit. All I can figure is that Woody picked it and just didn’t give himself a credit. Whatever the reason, the music is a big part of the enjoyableness of the film.
Maybe this won’t be the huge hit that Midnight in Paris was, but it is one of Allen’s best.