Excerpted from Peter Debruge‘s 9.3 Variety review of Paul McGuigan‘s Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool: “[In this] lovingly crafted but tough-going biopic, one-time bombshell Gloria Grahame — a character Annette Bening dons like a pair of elegant opera gloves — disappears 40 minutes in, replaced by a slow-motion and rather standard-issue terminal illness victim, daintily coughing her way to her death bed for the rest of the movie. The first couple reels are golden [with] McGuigan truly giving us a gift, humanizing a figure whom most have only objectified. Though sniffles could be heard from every corner of the Telluride Film Festival screening where this drawn-out weepie premiered, you may well find yourself wishing the old gal would just go on and die in Liverpool already.”
Yesterday morning Toronto Star critic Peter Howell posted his annual Toronto Film Festival “Chasing the Buzz” piece. 25 critics, pundits and know-it-alls naming a special TIFF film that they really like or are especially looking forward to.
I chose Luca Guadagnino‘s Call Me By Your Name, as you might expect. If I’d been allowed to name five I would have added Dan Gilroy and Denzel Washington‘s Roman J. Israel, Esq., Ruben Ostlund‘s Palme d’Or-winning The Square, Martin McDonagh‘s Three Billlboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri and Matt Tyrnauer‘s Scotty and the Secret History of Hollywood (which I recently saw and can heartily recommend).
I read Howell’s article late last night, and was startled by the following quote from MCN’s David Poland about Angelina Jolie‘s First They Killed My Father: “A foreign-language film that could be a contender for Best Picture.” Is the Poland curse still potent? Time will soon tell. Here’s my opinion of the film.
During the just-concluded Telluride Film Festival, Tatyana and I stayed in a second-floor unit at the Mountainside Inn. The MI is a simple, clean, unpretentious operation, and not too pricey, at least by Telluride standards — just under a grand for four nights and a wake-up. For years it’s been known as the poor man’s solution to lodging during this excellent, world-class festival.
Our unit was fine. Okay, the shower nozzle wasn’t working very well but you can’t have everything. Well located (333 South Davis street), comfortable, no major concerns. The wifi was surprisingly excellent, and that obviously matters a lot.
I do think, however, that it was dishonest of the owner, a local attorney named Jerry, to not state in the Airbnb posting that he wasn’t subletting a presumably attractive stand-alone condo but a down-at-the-heels Mountainside Inn unit. There was no indication of this on the Airbnb profile page. Again, I wasn’t especially displeased by our stay, but Jerry should have laid his cards face-up.
A pretty local named Ilsa greeted us when we arrived. Pretty but, to be honest, a bit brittle and bitchy. After showing me the place and giving me a single room key (the MI manager graciously offered a second), Ilsa asked if I was happy with the place. I said I was feeling a bit underwhelmed, to be perfectly honest, as I’d been under an impression that the unit would be some kind of upscale condo. I said it would have to do, but that I wasn’t thrilled.
Ilsa didn’t care for the candor. Adopting an icy, officious tone, she said that if I felt that way maybe it would be a good idea if I stayed somewhere else. No fooling, she actually said that. My jaw dropped. I had just driven six hours from Albuquerque, I told her, and so I was rather tired and stressed. Plus I had paid for this unit a few months earlier and everything was set. And yet Ilsa actually suggested what she suggested.
Sensing danger, I pleaded with Ilsa not to be punitive. I all but dropped to my knees and begged. She finally took pity and agreed to honor the Airbnb contract. Thank you, I said. You’re so kind and considerate.
I am hereby nominating Ilsa for the Telluride Chamber of Commerce Hospitality award. But there’s no need to harp on this. I’ve stayed at the MI before. The sheets are clean and every unit has a little refrigerator and stove. The TV wasn’t of this era (probably made during the George W. Bush administration) but there was no time to watch it anyway.
Critic friend: “I’m a decided non-fan of The Shape of Water, which puts me squarely in the minority. Which is fine.
“But I was struck by this paragraph in your write-up: ‘Alas, Shape isn’t perfect. It’s a full emotional meal but saddled, I regret to say, with an implausible story, even by the measure of a fairy tale. It contains unlikely occurences, curious motives and logical roadblocks, all of which have to be elbowed aside by the viewer in order to stay within the flow of it. Which — don’t get me wrong — I was totally willing to do because I so loved the overall.’
“Frankly, the qualifications you have — implausible story (even by the standards of a fairy tale), curious motives, etc. — sound much more major than your reasons for liking it. Why on earth is this glorified piece of production design “a full emotional meal”? If you found it so, go with God, but please explain.
“It doesn’t sound like you were even bothered by my #1 reason for not responding to it: The gill-man is…a blank!! A rubbery body suit in search of a single character trait.”
HE response: “I liked that GDT was once again off in his realm, confidently occupying his own patch, indifferent to the expectations of someone like you or me. He’s NEVER cared that much, never given a hoot about anything but the purely visual, the ripely sensual, the monster mash, the phantasm, the fangoria, etc.
“Seriously, I just decided early on that once again here was another GDT film that I would have to accept or reject. So I chose ‘okay, mostly yes.’ I decided to throw up my hands, shrug and accept it. I kept pushing away the bothersome stuff…push away, push away…because I fell in love with Sally Hawkins and her journey. I should have been tougher, I suppose, but I just didn’t have the heart to start chipping away and complaining.
“Remember that I also wrote the following: ‘If you ask me Guillermo has adhered too strictly to a black-and-white moral scheme here. I for one am always looking to find a couple of minor smudges or failings in a good character, and a sympathetic or slightly redeeming quality or two in a villain, but this kind of complexity is not, I regret to say, in the Shape of Water cards.”
Greta Gerwig‘s Lady Bird (A24, 11.10), which I finally saw last night after absorbing all the buzz and praise for the previous two days, is by far the pizazziest, wisest, smartest, most emotionally resonant and complete film I’ve seen at Telluride ’17. And it’s going to keep happening after it opens two months hence, and by this I mean it will stir the award-season pot.
Lady Bird vibrates with pluck, wit and smartypants energy, but it’s not some indie outlier that will peak in terms of awards recognition with a Spirit trophy or two. It’s a Best Picture contender if I ever saw one, and Saoirse Ronan‘s lead performance — essentially a portrayal of the young, Sacramento-imprisoned Gerwig at age 18 or thereabouts — is a locked-down Best Actress contender.
Lady Bird star Saoirse Ronan, director-writer Greta Gerwig during filming in Sacramento.
A comically anguished piece of self-portraiture in which the 34 year-old Gerwig recalls and reconstructs (and to some extent re-invents) her life in ’02, when she was finishing high school and dying to get the hell out of Sacramento, Lady Bird is the only serious Telluride break-out, the only film that has really cast one of those spells…an amusing, touching, smallish knockout that truly glistens and scores and pushes that special massage button.
Lady Bird is Rushmore’s Daughter — a whipsmart, girl-centric indie that deals emotionally rounded cards, a Wes Anderson-type deal (sharply disciplined, nicely stylized, just-right music tracks, grainy film-like textures) but without the twee, and with polish and English and all kinds of exacting, soulful self-exposure from director-writer Gerwig.
She’s passing along a half-funny, half-turbulent saga of high-school-senior angst, lust, parental friction, friendship, frustration, existential ambition and social longing.
Ronan’s performance is the take-home, for sure — a pushy, achey and vulnerable teen thing, almost but not quite in the Max Fischer-Jason Schwartzman mode. She’s also, of course, portraying the young Gerwig. You could say that Ronan is inhabiting Gerwig as much as Jesse Eisenberg played a generic Woody Allen-like figure in Cafe Society, only with more energy. In my book this is Ronan’s best performance yet, and that ain’t hay.
But Laurie Metcalf, as Ronan’s prickly and emotionally frustrated mom, is a stand-out also, and a likely contender for Best Supporting Actress.