May 02

“Maladies” Reviews: No Apparent Cure for this Widely Panned Film

Directed and written by one-named multimedia artist Carter and starring James Franco, the film Maladies is featured here today because mental illness is a main theme. Unfortunately, it’s received terrible reviews.

The Star

Leah Greenblatt, “If a super-pretentious tree falls in the James Franco ­forest, does it make a sound?”

Rex Reed, New York Observer: “Overrated, overexposed and overindulgent, James Franco is all over the place, like cow chips in the abandoned pasture of a derelict farm.”

The Plot

Described here by Andrew Pulver, The Guardian:

Ostensibly Maladies is about four people: Franco plays James, a deeply troubled one-time TV star, now ‘retired’; his virtually mute sister Patricia (Fallon Goodson); their painter housemate Catherine (Catherine Keener) with a natty line in cross-dressing; and closet-gay neighbour (David Strathairn), who has a fairly obvious crush on James. Each character has their own ‘malady’ to contend with, but it’s James’s that is the fulcrum to the film: struggling with a novel while responding to a voice (measured, ironic), prompting and questioning him.

Guy Lodge, Variety:  “…a household of variously dysfunctional creative types squabble and bond over matters of art, psychology and the advantageous properties of pencils.”

The Setting (Which Confuses Many)

Chris Klimek: “…Maladies seems to be set in the late 1950s or early 1960s, judging by the cars, clothes, and slang. But in one lengthy scene, Catherine watches a news report about the Jonestown Massacre, which occurred in 1978.”

The Portrayal of Mental Illness

Guy Lodge, Variety: “Much of the film, with its offscreen interjections and indeterminate milieu, seems to take place in James’ own addled headspace. Even with this level of inner access, however, it’s hard for the audience to invest in a protagonist this solipsistic.”

One Positive Element Highlighted by Some Critics

Sheila O’ “It is David Strathairn, as Delmar, the trio’s lonely neighbor, who gives us the film’s strongest moment. Delmar stops by often, to borrow sugar, and do the crossword, but really because he has a doomed crush on James.”

Some Final Words

Rex ReedNew York Observer: “In Maladies, pretentiousness reigns, substituting plot, reason and character development for pseudo-psychoanalysis.”

Sep 30

“Enough Said”: Romance with a Twist

If you’ve heard anything about the new film Enough Said by writer/director Nicole Holofcener, you’re probably aware of the poignant presence of James Gandolfini. And this isn’t even his last movie project to be released posthumously; one more will be coming eventually.

For me, Holofcener’s movies—which include Walking and TalkingLovely and Amazing, and Friends with Money—tend to hit on themes pertinent to women’s development and interpersonal relationships in a way that’s relatively low-key but nevertheless interesting and meaningful. This one’s no exception.

The basic plot of Enough Said, per IMDB: “A divorced woman who decides to pursue the man she’s interested in learns he’s her new friend’s ex-husband.” And, it must be added, she doesn’t reveal her discovery to either one of them. She continues, rather, to let her new friend unknowingly serve as a sort of negative “TripAdvisor” for this dating experience and to set her new beau up for eventual humiliation.

Julia Louis-Dreyfus plays the lead Eva, a massage therapist. Gandolfini is the romantic interest Albert. Each has anticipatory grief regarding his/her only child (daughters) preparing to leave the nest for college. Catherine Keener is the new friend Marianne, who’s also a client of Eva’s.

A.O. Scott, New York Times, on the way things unfold:

To Eva, Albert is a sweet, sexy, affable slob, but his ex remembers him as a bore and a loser, clumsy in bed and incapable of taking care of himself. Partly because she is dazzled by the friendship of someone who writes incomprehensible verse, serves exotic iced tea and hangs out with Joni Mitchell, Eva absorbs Marianne’s perspective and tries, with obnoxious good intentions, to correct Albert’s faults.

States Justin ChangVariety, about some of the issues raised by this situation:

Suffice to say that Eva’s ongoing assessment of Albert, compulsively rearranging his pros and cons, leads her into a moral gray zone that forces her to grapple with some difficult if hardly new questions: Why are some couples compatible and others are not? How can one woman’s ex be another’s soul mate? Is self-improvement possible, or is happiness more a matter of acceptance and compromise?

Eva’s good friend Sarah (Toni Collette) happens to be a therapist who tries to discourage Eva’s participation in deceptive behavior. She’s also seen, in non-Hollywood-type fashion, showing appropriate therapist boundaries. When Skyping with Eva from her office, for example, she always ends conversations when a client arrives (which Eva notices first from the special light that comes on behind Sarah). In addition, Sarah resists playful attempts from Eva to get her to tell stories about her patients that would break confidentiality.

As A.O. Scott concludes, however, about Sarah’s marriage to Will (Ben Falcone), they “exist in a state of easy, affectionate tolerance that is often hard to distinguish from seething contempt.”

And Susan Wloszczyna,, further notes that Sarah’s “a therapist who clearly might benefit from getting psychiatric help given her furniture-rearranging obsession and passive-aggressive relationship with her inept housekeeper.”

A.O. Scott, New York Times:

The final scenes have such impact because Ms. Holofcener has struck a buried nerve, uncovered a zone of anxiety, fear and hope that has rarely been explored with such empathy or precision. Eva, like many of us, lives in a world where the rules and roles are puzzling — where parental authority is negotiable, marriage vows are revocable and social boundaries are never clearly marked.

Even so, the primal values of right and wrong — the requirements of compassion, honesty and honorable action — still apply. It is easy to make mistakes and hard to correct them, easy to be funny and hard to be good.

Jun 18

“Peace, Love, and Misunderstanding”: Disappointing

Peace, Love, and Misunderstanding: a new movie that stars some great female actors and that has the sound of something right up my alley—something I actually want to want to see. (Note: That double want-to is not a typo. My first step is wanting to want. The next is checking it out before deciding.)

Its tagline:

 Life is a journey. Family is a trip.

A summary of the film’s premise: Lawyer Diane (Catherine Keener) takes her teenager Jake (Nat Wolff) and daughter Zoe (Elizabeth Olsen) to see their grandmother Grace (Jane Fonda) at her place in Woodstock. Neither kid has ever met Grace because Diane has been estranged from her for 20 years.

The Peace, Love, and Misunderstanding trailer:

So, the crisis that precipitates Diane’s trip to see her mom is that her marriage is ending. But why? She’s been estranged for 20 years and for good reasons.

And then there’s the more obvious. Amy BiancolliSan Francisco Chronicle: “The answer to everyone’s thorny psychological issues? Why, romance, of course! Trite, cloying romance with three supporting hotties who just happen to be standing around.”

But here’s a more positive perspective from critic Betsy Sharkey, Los Angeles Times: “The push and pull between mother and daughter provides many of the film’s better moments, but it is most moving when the camera catches Grace watching from a distance as Diane blossoms, a reminder of how Fonda can speak volumes with a look…”

Additionally, Sharkey throws out a reminder of a significant title element: “There is the matter of the ‘misunderstanding,’ a secret that slips out and seriously rocks the boat.”

That’s surely the thing that will provide some needed and compelling dramatic tension?! A big secret! So, the ending will be quite juicy, huh…?

Christy LemireAssociated Press: “For a movie that’s supposed to be about complicated issues of family and identity, it’s all very neat and tidy. And we haven’t even gotten to the cringe-inducing moment when Diane literally unties a balloon from a sandbag to represent her willingness to let go.”

Whereas most of the female critics are not impressed, interestingly, some of the top male critics are. Kind of. Here’s one:

Rex Reed, New York Observer: “Everyone learns something, in follow-the-dots movie predictability, but you like the characters so much you want them to smile and find peace in new beginnings and fresh family bonds. They bring their own hang-ups and learn to change gracefully.”

Well, okay. But, in the end, I’m simply not at peace seeing a movie no one can really love. That I could ever imagine I’d enjoy it was just one big misunderstanding after all.