Beautiful Boy

Posted on October 18, 2018 at 5:18 pm

B +
Lowest Recommended Age: High School
MPAA Rating: Rated R for drug content throughout, language, and brief sexual material
Profanity: Very strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Extended and explicit substance abuse
Violence/ Scariness: Tense family confrontations, peril, serious medical issues
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: October 19, 2018

Copyright Amazon Studios 2018
Timothee Chalamet gives one of the most sensitive and compelling performances of the year in “Beautiful Boy,” based on the books by journalist David Sheff (Beautiful Boy: A Father’s Journey Through His Son’s Addiction) and his son Nic Sheff (Tweak: Growing Up on Methamphetamines). The story is a conventional tale of a prodigal son almost lost to drugs, but Chalamet’s performance is extraordinary, more than fulfilling the promise he showed last year in “Call Me By Your Name.”

While both books formed the basis for the film, most of it is from the perspective of the father, David (Steve Carell), who lives in a dream of a home in Marin County with his artist/earth mother of a second wife (Maura Tierney, great as always) and two angelic small children. David lives a dream writer’s life, with profiles of the world’s most accomplished and interesting people in publications like Rolling Stone. He has a warm, loving relationship with his son from the first marriage, Nic (Chalamet). Perhaps because he likes to think of himself as young and does not want Nic to think of him as out of touch, perhaps because he and Nic’s mother are divorced and he wants to make sure his time with his son is pleasant, perhaps because he is too indulgent, when Nic offers him some weed, he laughs and takes a couple of hits. After all, Nic is doing so well in school and is so gifted and so, well, beautiful (even Chalamet’s stunning performance cannot distract us from the wonder of his hair), and it’s a beautiful day, so why not?

David does not know that Nic has gone past some recreational marijuana use. He is addicted to methamphetamines, and as we will learn from the expert David consults (Timothy Hutton), that drug changes the brain chemistry to make the addiction especially intractable. Apparently he has not been truthful about why he is there. The doctor thinks it is for a magazine story. But when David explains he is there for personal reasons, the doctor is sympathetic. David says he has just two questions: What is this doing to Nic and how can he help? Both answers are far from what he had hoped.

The movie goes back and forth in time, intended to show us David’s painful memories of happier times and his increasing understanding of how little he can do to fix this problem. But it gets discursive and distracting, making it difficult for the story to gain momentum.

And it never gets past the privileged, secular version of revival meeting testimony, another “was blind but now I see” story of a prodigal son who hit bottom, then went lower, then went even lower, and then found his way home, in part because he was born into a family that made it possible to treat his addiction as youthful folly and a medical problem and not a crime.

Carell is very good as the anxious, frustrated, and embarrassed father, who keeps trying to insist that he and Nic were closer than most fathers and sons, and that “this is now who we are” until he has to admit that this is exactly who they are. But it is Chalamet who takes this out of the category of just another Lifetime movie about heartbreak in suburbia. While the movie goes back and forth in time, Chalamet is always astonishingly precise about where Nic is on his slide to the bottom, whether he is strung out, in denial, trying to manipulate his family, terrified, or just whacked out of his head. It’s a dozen performances in one, each one a complex, beautifully observed portrait.

It is too bad it is not in a better movie. Perhaps because it tries to cover both books, it lacks focus. What is the lesson here? That parents have to accept that they cannot fix their children? That this country needs a better drug policy? Most likely it is that if you’re going to be a teenage drug addict, it’s better to be from a white family with money to pay for repeated stints in rehab.

Parents should know that this film focuses on drug addiction, with extensive and explicit substance abuse, strong language, medical issues, and sexual references and a situation.

Family discussion: Could Nic’s parents have done anything different to help him? How do the lyrics of the title song help to explain the movie’s themes?

If you like this, try: “thirteen,” “Ben is Back,” and “Augusta Gone”

Related Tags:

 

Based on a book Based on a true story Drama Family Issues Illness, Medicine, and Health Care movie review Movies Movies

An Actor Prepares

Posted on August 30, 2018 at 12:20 pm

B
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating: Not rated
Profanity: Very strong and crude language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Alcohol and drug abuse, psychedelics
Violence/ Scariness: Mild peril, medical issue
Diversity Issues: Discussion of feminism
Date Released to Theaters: August 31, 2018
Copyright 2018 Gravitas Ventures

The third movie this year with an acclaimed older actor playing a selfish, negligent father who must be driven across country by an angry, estranged adult child has some familiar tropes, but also some distinct pleasures. Following “Kodachrome” (Ed Harris, Jason Sudeikis), and “Boundaries” (Christopher Plummer, Vera Farmiga) we have “An Actor Prepares,” with Jeremy Irons and Jack Huston. The title comes from the legendary book by Constantin Stanislavski that is a core text for method actors. The joke here is that Jeremy Irons plays a three-time Oscar-winning, substance-abusing actor named Atticus Smith who seems to have no method to his madness and does not really prepare for anything.

Atticus is a mess. His agent (Ben Schwartz) is trying desperately to keep him together so he can literally play God in a movie. Atticus is looking forward to the wedding of his “favorite child” (Mamie Gummer). But both the movie and attending the wedding are in jeopardy when he has a heart attack and his doctor says he needs surgery. She reluctantly agrees to delay it for a week so he can go to the wedding, but he has to take his medicine, refrain from sex, drugs, and alcohol, and he cannot go by plane. That is how Adam (Jack Huston) ends up on a road trip with the father he despises, as a favor to the sister he loves.

The road trip is one of the oldest of all stories, going back to The Odyssey and before. It’s a lovely metaphor of life’s journey and provides opportunities for characters to have many seemingly random interactions, from happy to scary to moving, that help them resolve their differences by working together and learning about one another. This one involves bickering and recrimination, many opportunities for Atticus to do or say wildly inappropriate things and Adam to disapprove, a switch of vehicles/drivers, a cellphone tossed out a window, an old love, jail, and an campfire-lit trip on the hipster psychedelic ayahuasca.

So, no big surprises and at least one too many plot contrivances and at least one too few reasons to believe in the resolution. Irons and Huston make it work. Irons is clearly overjoyed to have a chance to break out of Serious Actor mode and perhaps have some fun at the expense of some of the master thespians he has had the chance to observe. He makes the most of the silly scarves, the cluelessly self-involved constant stream of free-association, and the endless series of hilarious fake movie titles for Atticus’ resume, from “Throwdown at Bitch River” to “Cops and Slobbers.” And Huston is marvelous in what could have been a thankless straight man role. I counted at least a dozen different ways of looking exasperated. His reaction to the ayahuasca is funny and very specific to the character. Mamie Gummer and Schwartz make the best of small roles, and Huston and Irons remind us why all these reconciliation road trips are worth taking.

Parents should know that this film includes extremely strong and crude language, substance abuse, psychedelic drugs, smoking, drinking, very explicit sexual references, medical issues, and tense family confrontations.

Family discussion: Why was the car meaningful to Adam? Why did Adam and his sister have different responses to their father?

If you like this, try: “Kodachrome” and “Boundaries”

Related Tags:

 

Drama Family Issues movie review Movies Movies

Like Father

Posted on August 4, 2018 at 12:04 pm

B-
Lowest Recommended Age: High School
MPAA Rating: Not rated
Profanity: Strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drinking and drunkenness including drinking to deal with stress and to bond
Violence/ Scariness: References to illness and sad deaths
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: August 3, 2018
Copyright Netflix 2018

My review of “Like Father,” the new Netflix film with Kristen Bell and Kelsey Grammer, is on rogerebert.com.

Bell and Grammer are consummate pros. They cannot make this material surprising, believable, or even particularly moving, but they do their considerable best to hold our attention and are always watchable. Their scenes together are high points, even when the big speeches are thinly conceived. If the discussions about whether Rachel really needs to be on her phone at a gorgeous secluded waterfall and whether Harry has really confessed everything Rachel should know get tedious, the evident enjoyment that Bell and Grammer have in being together, especially in their silly karaoke number, make us happy to come sail away with them for a little while.

Related Tags:

 

Comedy Drama Family Issues movie review Movies VOD and Streaming

Christopher Robin

Posted on August 2, 2018 at 5:50 pm

B +
Lowest Recommended Age: Kindergarten - 3rd Grade
MPAA Rating: Rated PG for some action
Profanity: None
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: Comic peril and mayhem, reference to sad death of a parent, brief wartime battle scenes
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: August 3, 2018
Copyright Disney 2018

You can’t become a child again. But you can reconnect to the child who still lives within you, and when you do, it means even more because you know how precious it is. That is not just the theme of “Christopher Robin.” It is the experience of watching it. Enchanting production design from Jennifer Williams and cinematography from Matthias Koenigswieser make the 100 Acre Wood the place anyone would love to do nothing in.

Last year year we had the very disappointing “Goodbye, Christopher Robin,” a sour and unfocused film about the Milne family, the traumatized father, the distant mother, and the unhappy child who inspired the classic Winnie the Pooh books. This fantasy is far truer to the spirit of those books, and a most welcome late-summer pleasure. Those who know and love the books will be happy with the fidelity to the stories and characters. Those who do not know them will enjoy the film and, I hope, be inspired to read the books as well, and check out the Disney animated stories.

For those new to A.A. Milne: there are four books, two chapter books and two of poetry, about the life of young Christopher Robin (Orton O’Brien), and his stuffed toys, especially his best friend, a “bear of little brain” and unquenchable thirst for honey, Winnie the (or ther) Pooh, known affectionately just as Pooh. With his friends, the anxious Piglet, the gloomy donkey Eeyore, the devoted kangaroo mother Kanga and the baby she carries in her pocket, Roo, the bossy Rabbit and the occasionally wise Owl, he lives in the Edenic Hundred Acre Wood, where there is always time to pleasantly do nothing at all.

But the sad fact is that children grow up. “The day finally comes as it does to all children, to say good-gye.”  Christopher Robin is being sent to boarding school. He has one last tea in the woods with his friends, and then he’s gone.

We follow his story with Ernest Shepard-like illustrations that match those in the books, but it is idyllic no more. Christopher Robin’s father dies. He grows up (now played by Ewan McGregor) and falls in love with Evelyn (Hayley Atwell), but he is at war when their daughter Madeline is born.

And then he is home, working as an efficiency expert in a luggage company that is feeling a post-war pinch, and he is under enormous pressure to cut costs. He is affectionate but distracted and neglectful. When Madeline (Bronte Carmichael) asks for a bedtime story he picks up the nearest book and ends up reading to her about the industrial revolution. Then he lets Evelyn and Madeline down again by telling them he cannot join them on a weekend in the country because he has to work.

And then Pooh shows up in London (voiced by Jim Cummings, who also provided the endearing slightly husky voice for the Disney animated Pooh). He needs to be taken back home to find his friends. Christopher Robin (called Christopher by his wife and Robin at work) packs his paperwork in his briefcase (and his brolly, of course), and takes the train, shushing Pooh and trying to find a way to cut twenty percent out of the company’s expenses.

But then he cannot help being beguiled by the charms of his old friends and their enchanted world.  Children will enjoy Pooh’s simple questions as a classic comic ploy of having a character whose innocence makes them feel superior. Adults will realize that Pooh’s questions and comments may sound ignorant of adult life, as a bear of very little brain whose only concern has been finding honey might be, but in fact the very simplicity of them is what makes them profound.  Christopher Robin tells his daughter that “nothing comes from nothing.” But “Doing nothing,” Pooh says, “often leads to the very best kind of something.” He asks Christopher Robin, “Is a briefcase more important than a balloon?”

Christopher Robin is split in two, like his name. He has lost touch with himself.  He tells his boss that nothing matters more to him than his work and he tells his daughter she means the world to him, but he does not act as though either is true.  He has delivered the message of efficiency so thoroughly that when Evelyn tells Madeline to go play, she solemnly assures her mother “I’m going to play better and harder than any child has before.”

Christopher Robin has to rediscover the pleasures of, well, pleasure before he can share it with his daughter, and it is pure pleasure to see McGregor’s face shine with the joy of remembering how to play.  For all of his worry about taking care of everyone at the office and at home, he was doing poorly at both. His stuffed friends teach him how to take care of those you love with patience, by listening to them to understand what they really need. If his solution at the office is half “Mary Poppins” and half slightly skewed Keynesian economics, by then we are so sweetly beguiled, that seems just right.

Parents should know that this film includes comic peril and mayhem, reference to death of a parent, and brief wartime battle scenes.

Family discussion: Which questions from Pooh made Christopher Robin change his mind? Ask everyone in the family to describe a toy that they loved.  What comes from nothing?  Try playing “Say What You See” and see how different people’s answers are.

If you like this, try: the books by A.A. Milne and the Disney animated Pooh films

Related Tags:

 

Based on a book Family Issues Fantasy For the Whole Family movie review Movies Movies

Far from the Tree

Posted on August 2, 2018 at 5:39 pm

B +
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating: Not rated
Profanity: Mild language
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: Reference to a brutal murder, tense family situations, sad offscreen death
Diversity Issues: A theme of the movie
Date Released to Theaters: August 3, 2018
Copyright Sundance Selects 2018

All parents at some point look at children and think, “Who is this and how did they get to be part of my family?” Children think that from time to time about their parents, too, especially when they get to their teens. “Far from the Tree,” based on the award-winning book by Andrew Solomon, is a documentary about the most extreme versions of that sense of disconnection. Solomon tells his own story about growing up gay and the incomprehension and rejection he experienced from his heterosexual parents, who exemplified the conventions of their era. But most of the focus of the film is on other families: Jason, a 41-year-old man with Down syndrome and the mother who worries about how he will manage when she is gone, a young woman and a married couple who are Little People, a teenager with autism who is finally able to communicate with his family, and the parents and siblings of a teenager who committed an unthinkable crime.

The movie raises questions about nature and nurture, about what “normal” means, and about the different but both vitally important feelings of connection and support we get from the families we are born into and the families we find because we understand each other. Loini Vivao, a Little Person in an affectionate but otherwise average-sized family, wonders, “Is there anybody out there like me?” When she attends her first annual Little People convention, her sense of wonder and acceptance is breathtaking. When she is invited to appear in the convention’s fashion show, she immediately demurs. She is too shy. But then we see her glowing as she owns the catwalk.  One of the other attendees explains why this gathering is so important: “They come to be seen.  And to disappear.”  No one looks away or stares. When everyone is little, everyone is the right size.

That makes a conference room discussion among the organization’s leaders especially poignant.  The topic is an experimental new drug that could “cure” some forms of dwarfism. Like the controversy over cochlear implants, this raises the question of whether dwarfism is something that needs to be “cured.”   “I don’t think I need to be fixed,” says Leah Smith, who, with her husband, Assistant Professor of Philosophy Joseph Stramando, show us just how “normal” their lives are, casually using various work-arounds, from a wheelchair to a flip-flop sandal to push a hotel light switch.

Jason Kingsley’s parents wanted to prove the experts wrong, and they were successful, to a point.  When Jason was born with Down syndrome, the doctor told the parents, “We send them away before attachment is formed.”  But “you don’t write off a person because of the label that he wears,” his mother explains. With a lot of support, Jason became a literal poster child for people with Down syndrome, appearing on television to show that he was keeping pace academically.  Jason has a job, delivering mail in an office. He lives with two other men with Down syndrome and they call themselves “The Three Musketeers.”  It is not what his mother envisioned for him and she is concerned about his fragile understanding of the difference between fantasy and reality.  He thinks if he can go to Norway, he can meet Elsa from “Frozen.”

The most astonishing moment in the film is when Jack Allnut, severely impaired with autism and seemingly unable to communicate or even understand what is being said to him, is given a chance to use an alphabet board. His first message is stunning. His mother says, “My God, he’s in there. It’s like I was meeting him for the first time.”  And the saddest moment is the family of the teenager who committed a terrible crime. In a way, it was like they were meeting him for the first time.  The family continues to love and support him, but his two siblings say they have decided never to have children.

They may change their minds.  This movie is not so much about the family differences we have to surmount as it is about the imperishable love that sustains us.  As Norman Mclean says in “The River Runs Through It,” “we can love completely without complete understanding.”  The true greatness of families — and of humanity — is that we choose to do so.

Parents should know that this unrated film includes discussion of a brutal murder, pregnancy and miscarriage, disabilities, sex, sad offscreen deaths, and family tensions.

Family discussion: What makes you most like the rest of your family?  What makes you different?  Who is your tribe?

If you like this, try: “A Kid Like Jake” and the book by Andrew Solomon

Related Tags:

 

Based on a book Documentary Family Issues movie review Movies Movies
THE MOVIE MOM® is a registered trademark of Nell Minow. Use of the mark without express consent from Nell Minow constitutes trademark infringement and unfair competition in violation of federal and state laws. All material © Nell Minow 1995-2018, all rights reserved, and no use or republication is permitted without explicit permission. This site hosts Nell Minow’s Movie Mom® archive, with material that originally appeared on Yahoo! Movies, Beliefnet, and other sources. Much of her new material can be found at Rogerebert.com, Huffington Post, and WheretoWatch. Her books include The Movie Mom’s Guide to Family Movies and 101 Must-See Movie Moments, and she can be heard each week on radio stations across the country.

Website Designed by Max LaZebnik