Quirky is a dominant trait in the gene pool of indie comedy films. Natural Selection has no lack of quirky. While I rather enjoyed the odd couple pairing of Rachael Harris and Matt O’Leary I found the film dips a tad too far into unnecessarily exaggerated depictions of its Christians characters. The goofy religious targets just feels too easy. I am not defending the eccentricities of the devout, surely they are ripe for comedic fodder. However, the actual care that is expressed for the two leads does not extend to subsequent characters. To be laughed at is the only role of the faithful. I find that rather trite.
Exorcise the overblown, cartoonish depictions of the religious side-characters and you’d have a funny, sometimes touching portrait of two miss matched characters discovering each other and themselves. It’s nothing new in the world of indie comedies, but it is well told, minus a few wrong turns. Still, Harris and O’Leary with their one-on-one comedic scenes make up for any minor quibbles I had with the film.
Spoilers after the image.
A Descendent of Raising Arizona?
Sometimes a quirky comedy can be too well written, like when all the quirks neatly connect. The real oddity of our world lies in the fact that we can’t figure out how all the dots connect. So, when a woman who can’t get pregnant hooks up with a guy who warns us that he’s all too fertile, the twist at the ending should come as no surprise.
One more note: all films after The 400 Blows should avoid having characters escaping to large bodies of water.
This glass is definitely all empty.
No amount of beautiful imagery or poetic editing can make up for the fact that We Need to Talk About Kevin is a boneheaded, manipulative, hateful film frighteningly detached from reality. Try as I might to understand this film as either horror or black comedy, no genre or spin can excuse the shallow shock value of this picture. Director Lynne Ramasy creates a film hellbent on making you squirm, but it’s a cheap effect nearly synonymous with a favorite quote of mine from George Lucas – “If you want me to make you feel something, that’s not hard. I’ll choke a kitten in front of you, and you’ll feel something.”
What we are meant to feel in We Need to Talk About Kevin is Tilda Swinton’s grief and confusion. The film peels back layers of fragmented events as both Swinton and the audience try to figure out what caused her son to grow into a homicidal maniac. These questions of what drives a child to kill, what role do the parents play in such a tragedy, and how can a parent carry on or move on after such a tragedy are extremely interesting questions, but Ramasy shows little concern in addressing them. What she is going for is spine-tingling, edge-of-the-seat, nail-biting, with an art-house gloss. It’s the same old popcorn with a different spice.
Kevin is shown as a product of passion that leads to misery. His arrival brings about depression. He forces Swinton from her beloved New York apartment. He dampers her globe-trotting lifestyle. He cramps her career. He ultimately ruins everything. He destroys happiness. I find it confusing that a female character should be punished for having a career or enjoying sex. This seems far more like Lars von Trier territory. Then again, if you are going for shock and awe I suppose von Trier is the bar you need to measure yourself against.
Overall, I simply do not understand the behaviors or actions of the characters in this film. I ask, “How do they carry on?” Ramasy asks, “How much can I torture you?” She deploys characters and scenes like pawns just waiting to be capture or crushed. At the center of the game she is playing is Tilda Swinton a mother tormented and frightened by her son. Cinema has had other mothers scared by their offspring. Just look to The Omen, Rosemary’s Baby, The Bad Seed, even It’s Alive. The difference here is that Kevin is not supernatural. He is meant to be all too real. The typical child destined to shoot up his school. So, if Kevin is meant as normal, not supernatural, why is his parent’s actions and reactions do inhuman? They never react. They never get upset. They never push back in a way that makes any sense. They act like no one I know. They give me no reason to feel for them other then on the most basic level. They act like movie characters manipulated to spark a reaction in the audience. They are like Lucas’ cat.
Where the Sidewalk Ends is a mildly compelling noir about a loose cannon cop (Dana Andrews) with a violent streak that gets the best of him. After beating a suspect to death, in the hopes of securing a confession, Andrews works hard to cover his tracks and bring down a criminal kingpin at the same time. Matters only get worse when a dame enters the picture.
As much as I love noir films it often feels as if a large number of them center around our hero getting caught up in a web of troubles and then spending the entire picture trying to untangle their lives. Where the Sidewalk Ends follows this same model with only the slightest added flair.
Otto Preminger is no slouch as a director. Of his works, the ones that I’ve seen, Where the Sidewalk Ends rises high, ranking up there with Bunny Lake Is Missing, Anatomy of a Murder, The Man with the Golden Arm Laura. Crime or the criminal element is Preminger’s strong suit. Still his work has never impressed me as a master director. His films entertain me, but do little to inspire me with either their direction or their imagery. However, there is one shot three-fourths of the way into Where the Sidewalk Ends A car pulls into a parking garage, with the camera mounted inside the car’s back-seat, its gaze looking past the passengers in the front seat and out through the wind-shield. The car then pulls into a claustrophobic elevator and is lifted to a new floor. The shot continues and when the doors open. Suddenly, we are privy to an expansive space. This lengthy take with its shifting scale in space and depth is unlike anything we’ve seen to this point in the film and it will not be matched later in the film. It’s a beautiful anomaly.