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.

Jan 13

“Martha Marcy May Marlene”: Woman Flees Abusive Cult

A current and well-reviewed film from first-time director/screenwriter Sean Durkin is Martha Marcy May Marlene (2011). The plot according to IMDB: “Haunted by painful memories and increasing paranoia, a damaged woman struggles to re-assimilate with her family after fleeing an abusive cult.” Following her escape, she winds up staying with her sister (Sarah Paulson) and brother-in-law (Hugh Dancy).

Explanation of the title: Lead character “Martha” is given a cult name of “Marcy May” by the cult leader and is also dubbed “Marlene” by a fellow cult victim. She’s played by Elizabeth Olsen (sister to the more famous Olsen twins), who’s received stellar reviews.

Cult leader Patrick (John Hawkes) is described thusly by reviewer Anthony Lane (The New Yorker): “Like any good cult leader, he is a terrifying parody of a father figure, intent on making his kin feel at home. He has them fed, housed, and warmly encouraged—’You’re my favorite, and I won’t lose you,’ he says to Martha. He also rapes them.”

Selected Reviews

Lisa Kennedy, Denver Post: “Durkin depicts a horror that some among us actually live, where the search for family leads to something familiar and dangerous.”

Steven Rea, Philadelphia Inquirer: “Olsen inhabits Martha’s broken world completely. And at the movie’s end – a jarring, boldly ambiguous end – we’re in her head, too, not sure what is real, and what is not.”

Andrew O’Hehir, Salon: “…an utterly gripping ride that will keep you guessing until the last second about what is real and what imagined, and whether Martha has entirely snapped the tether of sanity.”

Peter Bradshaw, The Guardian: “It’s acted and directed like a sensitive drama, rather than a scary movie, and is all the scarier for it.”

A.O. Scott, New York Times: “[Martha] remains a blank space in the middle of a film that is an impressive piece of work without achieving quite the emotional impact it intends….Patrick periodically criticizes his disciples, including Martha, for failing to be open enough with him, and that is also a shortcoming of ‘Martha Marcy May Marlene,’ which is a bit too coy, too clever and too diffident to believe in.”