In just seven years Virginia’s Middleburg Film Festival, set in the fabulous Salamander Hotel, has become a great way to see the films we’ll be talking about all awards season and to talk to the people who created them. Sheila Johnson has made MFF one of the post prestigious and coveted places to premiere a film. Following a “hybrid” year with online access in 2020, the festival is back in person in gorgeous, gracious, Virginia hunt country, always spectacular in the fall.
I’ll be speaking in the “Talk Back to the Critics” panel again this year, with my friends Travis Hobson, Susan Wloszczyna, and Tim Gordon. And some of the films I’m most looking forward to are “Cyrano,” starring Peter Dinklage and two ready-for-stardom up-and-coming young actors, Hayley Bennett and Kelvin Harrion, Jr., Kenneth Branagh’s autobiographical “Belfast,” “Red Rocket” from “Florida Project’s” Sean Baker, and “C’mon, C’mon” with Joaquin Phoenix. Stay tuned for more!
Rated PG-13 for thematic content and brief strong language
Some strong language
Extended references to murder/suicide, school shooting, parental grief
Date Released to Theaters:
October 15, 2021
“Mass” takes its time letting us know what is happening and who we are watching. With his first film as writer and director, Franz Kranz begins by giving us a sense of place. We are in a church and a woman named Judy (Breeda Wool) is bustling around, a little anxious, a little apologetic, the kind of community-spirited, good-hearted soul that houses of worship rely on. A young man (Kagen Albright) is washing dishes, and we can see she is helping him by letting him help. Judy is preparing a room for some kind of event, fussing about what kind of refreshments should be provided and how the chairs should be arranged. Then Kendra (Michelle N. Carter) arrives. She is in some kind of official capacity, but it is still not clear what her role is.
And then two couples arrive. They are the ones the room has been prepared for. They greet each other cordially, but awkwardly. Linda (Ann Dowd) has brought a gift from her garden. She and Richard (Reed Birney) are somehow both together and not together. They exchange uncomfortable small talk about their children, indicating that there is some history between the four and yet they are not exactly friends and not exactly enemies.
The other couple is Gail (Martha Plimpton) and Jay (Jason Isaacs). We slowly realize that what has brought them together is an incident of unspeakably tragic (and yet perpetual) violence.
Kranz has created distinctive, believable, complicated characters and the cast is one of the best ensembles of the year. Everyone grieves differently, and those differences can drive a wedge between couples or family members who do not understand each other’s way of mourning. We see all of that here, delicately but heart-wrenchingly delineated as the various social, performative layers fall off and there is nothing left but truth and the rawest of emotion. One moment shines through like a beacon as Gail admits her fear that if she lets go of anger and resentment she will lose the connection with the son who died. The conversation ranges from the mundane to the clinical to the most viseral pain, echoing the great Auden poem Musee de Beaux Arts, and it never feels less than real and vital.
Parents should know that this is a movie about devastating pain and loss with references to the murder of children and a suicide in a school shooting and to mental illness and its impact on a family. There is brief strong language.
Family discussion: How many different ways of grief do we see in this film? How many different kinds of forgiveness?
If you like this, try: “Elephant” and “Amish Grace”
This new version of the play about the man who can only woo the woman he loves through letters signed by someone else looks gorgeous, and swooningly romantic. For earlier versions, see Jose Ferrar in “Cyrano de Bergerac” and Steve Martin’s modern update, “Roxanne.”) Peter Dinklage has all of the dash and world-weariness we want to see in the character and up-and-coming stars Hayley Bennett and Kelvin Harrison, Jr. look like they will cross over into well-deserved mega-stardom from this film. Can’t wait.
My only complaint about the very funny (and very accurate) documentary on Netflix called “Attack of the Movie Cliches” is that it should have been a series. There are so many other examples and variations of the movie conventions it covers, from the “meet cute” to the “Wilhelm scream.” I hope the other movie cliche it will salute is the sequel!
I can’t count how many times I’ve seen “That Thing You Do,” one of the most purely delightful films of all time. The key may be in one of the comments of writer/director Tom Hanks (who also appears in the film) in this oral history on Ringer: “No bad guys in my movie.” The behind-the scenes stories are wonderful and what really comes through is the appreciation of everyone involved in the movie for Hanks’ talent and his kindness.