Beautiful Boy (2018)

Beautiful Boy isn’t the first movie made about addiction and is likely not the last either, but for a tale that is all too familiar for families all over the world, it is an introduction and an exploration of perspective. Nic, played by Timothée Chalamet, is raised in a loving household where a life of comfort provides a warm, supportive environment for him to grow up in. There are no alcoholic, abusive, or entirely absent parents, although his family isn’t perfect by any means. Neither is there a childhood of bullying and trauma that pushes him to rely on drugs. While difficult upbringings often guide people to find comfort in substances, it is not always the only reason for drugs to take control of our lives. In his journey towards discovering himself and what the world has to offer, Nic stumbles into the world of addiction and the movie follows his attempts to find his way back out of it.

We watch Nic and his father David, played by the usually comical Steve Carell, as they try to navigate the world, together and apart. David’s struggle to understand his son and stay strong for him is repeatedly heart-breaking as you watch him search for his son. More than just an attempt to bring him home physically, David reaches out to his boy to remind him there’s a place for him at home. His attempts to understand what Nic is going through is no small feat, the world of addiction appearing simplistic from the outside, but a lot more complicated than just saying no to the substance. The father’s measures to understand might seem extreme to some, and not enough to others, but those are choices only he can make and live with. His hopes for his son keep him pushing forward, his conviction that his son can come out strong and go back to college and live a fruitful life, but the plans we have for someone else are never carved in stone.

The journey goes beyond David’s attempt to understand his son; the story is Nic’s as well, as he tries to live by his father’s expectations and navigate his own acceptance of who he has become. In an ideal world, no one would choose to stay addicted to a substance that can limit their life. In reality, it is impossible to regulate what someone ‘should’ do, even if we believe it is for the best. Nic struggles with his addiction, but he also accepts his life as is. The choice to treat Nic as an independent entity with his own opinions is a crucial element of the film, where his decisions are treated as his own and not glorified but not necessarily vilified either. The diner conversation between father and son is painful but it is also terrifyingly real, as David realises that there is only so much you can do for another person.

The film does a beautiful job of balancing the flashback throughout, not packing it full of perfect memories, but adding in little, innocuous moments to let us know of the close bond between the characters. The conversations between them are natural; sometimes meanspirited, angry, or awkward, but natural for a relationship between two individuals who are trying to understand themselves and each other. The soundtrack sets the mood perfectly as well, joyful and sorrowful in equal amounts as we move between moments of clarity and a drug-induced haze when Nic gives in to the itch of withdrawal again.

The movie is filmed just as beautifully as it is written, earthy and warm despite the cold theme of the story. There is both movement and stillness in the shots, constantly shifting to give us perspective. The movie doesn’t shy away from closeups, and nothing prepares you for the range of emotions we get to witness, especially from Steve Carell, as we watch his sorrow, anger, joy, pride, guilt, and everything else he lives through, inches away from his experience of them. From reflections in rearview mirrors to those on diner walls, the cinematography in this movie is detailed and intentional.

A tough movie to watch, Beautiful Boy, directed by Felix van Groeningen, based on books by David and Nicolas Sheff, depicts a very realistic image of what it is like to grow up with and around addiction, and the tough decisions that are made every step of the way. Parenting is not easy, relationships are not simple, and independence comes with its own consequences, those are some of the thoughts that Beautiful Boy leaves us with.

Title: Beautiful Boy (2018)

Director: Felix van Groeningen

Language: English

Runtime: 120 min

The Blackcoat’s Daughter – Review

Labelled horror but more akin to a slow-paced psychological thriller instead, The Blackcoat’s Daughter, directed by Osgood Perkins, is a movie about two students, Kat (Kiernan Shipka) and Rose (Lucy Boynton), who are left behind at their boarding school, waiting for their parents who have failed to arrive to take them home for their break. We also follow another character, Joan (Emma Roberts), who is seen making her way towards Bramford with no explanation given of her relevance to the story, establishing an unnerving presence in the progression of the narration all the same. A simple tale with an exceeding potential to play out in multiple ways, the movie unfolds with abrupt leaps and with little happening through its 95-minute runtime.

The Blackcoat’s Daughter relies heavily on its eerie soundtrack and talented actors to elevate the movie up from its somewhat flat script. The majority of the film is made up of close, angled headshots that catch every shift in the actor’s expressions, with rarely more than two characters on screen at any given point, playing off each other to cause the tension to build and fold with ease. We see the characters in reflections, from backseats, and often observe them from behind others on screen, shifting our perspective with every adjustment of the camera, moving between well-crafted settings fashioned to allow for the discomfort of every conversation to settle in. It is this detail that develops the movie more than any other, where we are constantly left feeling like there might be something just out of our line of sight, some element we missed that the character experienced without us.

The movie’s non-linear structure is an interesting choice, but it does little for the film other than prolonging the suspense, creating a sense of confusion more than curiosity. Moving back and forth in time, we’re slowly exposed to details in measured doses, a creative attempt at keeping the viewer engaged despite the lack of too many nightmarish happenings. Even the moments of terror that do arise on occasion, spark a greater fear of innate insanity than they do the fear of the devil. The movie doesn’t invest too much in marking this distinction either, never lingering on the possible presence of something ‘evil’ for too long. The characters, while well-portrayed by those playing them, appear insufficiently developed and seem unable to leave any significant impact despite their misfortune. While the film ends its conclusively gruesome narration on a morose, lonely note, there is little emotion left to drive the impact of that loneliness home.

Having watched ‘I Am the Pretty Thing That Lives in this House’ before I watched this one, I was looking forward to the uneasy horror of minimal jumpscares paired with an optimal level of grief that the other movie had laid out, but as much as I wanted to like this film, other than appreciating the acting and aesthetic, I found myself left wanting more. A good study for those interested in well-placed cinematography and a necessary exploration of horror that is not necessarily about haunted homes, The Blackcoat’s Daughter is a well-made movie that while an engaging watch, could really have been so much more.

Title: The Blackcoat’s Daughter (2017)

Director: Osgood Perkins

Language: English

Runtime: 95 min

Happy Hour – Movie Review

Five hours of someone’s time is a lot to ask for, always implying a long wait while sitting down to watch a story play out as the subtitles skip by, with a silent hope to be rewarded by the experience.

Now, five hours and seventeen minutes later, I have a feeling that this is a movie that will ring in the back of my mind, as I continue into adulthood and grow to experience these things for myself. I don’t feel rewarded just yet, but the sense of understanding remains.

Starting with laughter and misleading simplicity, Happy Hour, directed by Ryusuke Hamaguchi, is a movie about the little moments that make up a lifetime of experiences, where no event is too insignificant to explore. With scenes that are exceedingly long and unpack a lot of complex ideas within those minutes, the Japanese movie is an amalgamation of normal people doing normal everyday things, and while that doesn’t sound like the recipe for a thrilling movie, it has the right ingredients for a mature retelling of the experiences of people just like us.

Aesthetically constructed, the movie is a perfect blend of extended stills and moving shots as it follows characters into rooms and out into open landscapes naturally, with little attention drawn to the magic of its complexity. Continuing the imagery into sound just as it does with words, the silence of an uncomfortable conversation or the echo of lonely footsteps carefully reminds us of the daily noise of our own lives.

Going off of the poster with no previous knowledge of the movie, at first, I thought this was a story of womanhood and friendship, one similar to the South Korean movie Sunny, but the story evolved to one that extended beyond the four women and explored the dimensions of countless relationships, including their relationship with themselves.

The movie grew more intricate almost immediately, shifting my sense of support for the character towards and, suddenly, away from them, as their relationships shifted as well. Despite the multitude of characters who have done ‘bad’ things, I was left with an uncomfortable feeling of understanding, a sense of acknowledgement for the things we often do to the people we love. A lot is said in the conversations that take place, where misunderstandings and secrets shade how much the characters reveal about themselves, the fear of rejection disguising words until they’re forced out in action.

From loud, extroverted Akari, to shy, timid Sakurako, each one of them struggles to acknowledge something about themselves while trying to lift those around them, speaking up in bursts and holding back just as often. Recognising the battles that the four women face while balancing different parts of their married lives, the movie picks apart the very essence of marriage, zooming in from every possible angle to analyse the dynamics of two people who come together and try to build a life in an already multifaceted world.

Symbolic details abound throughout the movie, as they stand, stumble, and often fall apart in their attempt to control the things happening around them. Closing doors and open windows threaten to lead their fall towards even greater despair. The movie is similarly littered with movement, whether on foot, by train, or shifting mentally as we accompany the characters on their journey.

Although often disagreeing with the decisions made in the course of the film, there was a distance I felt between myself and everything that happened, taking the judgement away to let me be a listener or a spectator, merely there to observe. I caught myself thinking, “not all women” or telling myself, “If this was a man I would feel differently”, but I do not believe it is a movie that requires interpretation or defence, but instead an open mind that keeps reminding us that things are not always one-sided.

Happy Hour fades to an end with lingering questions of love, fidelity, and intimacy left behind unanswered, and while that feels a little incomplete, abruptly cutting us off from the lives of these women, it also follows through with its own advice, reminding us that its best to speak for ourselves first, and answer the questions we want answered. It is not an easy story, nor one that justifies itself in the end, but it is a story of people who deserve to be heard once in a while. It isn’t a pleasant ending, but it does leave behind an unexpected, unprecedented taste for change.

Title: Happy Hour/ Happî awâ (2015)

Director: Ryusuke Hamaguchi

Language: Japanese

Runtime: 5h 17min

More than just somebody’s wife

I see perfection glancing past me

gentle knowing eyes placed too close together

a ghost of a smile silhouetted against uneven teeth

a dreamy air of elegance practiced,

chiselled by the dreams of many

she was perfection in its truest form.

Skilled hands meant for so much more,

greeting guests with chai and coffee

she worked her way through the gossiping crowd,

a nod here

a congratulatory whisper there

she played the gracious wife

born to play much more.

Carrying more than just refreshments for ‘her’ guests

her cracked dreams lay cradled within her

scratching, prodding, cutting her inside

she refused to set them down for anyone.

for now she would play the perfect wife

her glittering jewels no more than borrowed costume

but someday she’d play the queen reigning

dented armour, flawless courage.

her dreams would live to be whole

decorated, framed, glistening

from their shelves as awards

no more serving refreshments in someone else’s home.