Dec 23

“Manchester by the Sea”: Parenting Unexpected

Manchester by the Sea, featuring the highly praised performance of Casey Affleck, is the “best movie of the year,” states Rex Reed, New York Observer. And as of this writing it’s a rarely seen 8.5 on IMDB and 97% on Rotten Tomatoes.

Although I found it to be longish, slowish, and above all utterly sad—the latter of which was repeatedly attested to by Affleck himself in his recent and humorous SNL monologue—it’s certainly worth seeing.

Basic info about Manchester by the Sea from A.A. Dowd, AVClub:

Casey Affleck, in the great internal performance of his career, plays Lee Chandler, a withdrawn handyman scraping by in Quincy, a suburb of Boston. Lee is the kind of miserable bastard who’d rather sucker-punch a stranger at the bar than go home with the beautiful woman trying to pick him up. Who is this broken man? What eats at his heart and swims behind his eyes? The questions hang like storm clouds over the early scenes, a solitary life told in odd jobs and punchlines: Lee shoveling snow, Lee screwing in a lightbulb, Lee unclogging a toilet for a tenant who has the hots for him. Frances Ha editor Jennifer Lame gives this opening passage a certain comic pop, until a phone call sends Lee racing to his hometown of Manchester By The Sea—but not fast enough to say goodbye to his older brother, Joe (Kyle Chandler), who’s just died of the degenerative heart condition he’s been afflicted with for years…

Lee becomes legal guardian to his 16-year-old nephew Patrick (Lucas Hedges). April Wolfe, Village Voice:

That prompts a string of flashback sequences, where Lee seems an altogether different man; he’s jovial, physically affectionate, has a wife (Michelle Williams) and three kids. The impact is immediate — we now understand that something has happened to make him so cold, and it certainly cannot be good…

Rex Reed, New York Observer, regarding Patrick:

It’s wrenching to observe the values of a boy too young for a driver’s license, sensitive, witty and highly intelligent enough to cope with his father’s death and the challenging alternative of living with a neurotic, estranged mother (Gretchen Mol) who lives in Connecticut with her emotionally blocked and religiously obsessed second husband (Matthew Broderick).

The Trailer for Manchester by the Sea

Various Themes

A.O. Scott, New York Times: “It’s a masculine melodrama that doubles as a fable of social catastrophe…”

Matt Zoller Seitzrogerebert.com:

It’s a story about the complexity of forgiveness—not just forgiving other people who’ve caused you pain, but forgiving yourself for inflicting pain on others. It’s a story about parenting, of the biological, foster and improvised kind. And it’s a portrait of a tightly knit community that depends mainly on one industry, fishing, and that has evolved certain ways of speaking, thinking, and feeling.

A.A. DowdAVClub: “Are there experiences so crushing that they ruin you forever? That’s the big question Lonergan asks, and we wait hopefully for a charitable answer.”

Selected Reviews

Kenneth Turan, Los Angeles Times: “…heartbreaking yet somehow heartening, a film that just wallops you with its honesty, its authenticity and its access to despair.”

Rex Reed, New York Observer: “…a triumphant exploration of the way real people think and feel about grief, loss, love and survival that will stick in your gut and cling to your heart long after the final frame fades to black.”

Andrew Lapin, NPR:

a sprawling work that revels in its messiness, because being uncertain and uncomfortable and not knowing whether to laugh or cry when something happens is the real grist of humanity. One of the film’s final lines is ‘Do we have to talk about this now?’ But that’s what Manchester captures so beautifully about life: it’s a series of difficult conversations we’d rather avoid, about death and family and responsibility, and the ones that matter are with the people we love, or once loved, or will learn to love someday…

Mar 04

“Facing Fear”: Documenting a Transformative Hate Crime Aftermath

Nominated for an Oscar this year in the Best Documentary Short Subject category was Facing Fear, directed by Jason Cohen. At a running time of 23 minutes, it’s about the victim of a hate crime who by chance meets up with his perpetrator 25 years later. Read the tagline and you’ll know the gist of what happens: A moment of hate. A lifetime of forgiveness.

Matthew Boger at age 13 was kicked out of his home for being gay. While living on the streets of Hollywood, a group of 14 neo-Nazi skinheads savagely beat him and left him for dead. Amazingly, he survived.

Tim Zaal was an angry, violent neo-Nazi skinhead in his younger years. He once finished off a group attack on a gay kid by kicking him in the forehead with his boot.

Can you guess who that boy was?

When Boger met Zaal 25 years after the attack at The Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles, where Zaal was scheduled to talk about his departure from the skinhead movement, they pretty quickly realized they already knew each other.

As stated on the Facing Fear film website about their process: “With their worlds turned upside down, the two embarked on a journey of forgiveness and reconciliation that challenged both to grapple with their own beliefs and fears. Neither could imagine that it would to lead to an improbable collaboration…and friendship.”

For about seven years now, Boger and Zaal have teamed up together to give their presentations to various enthralled audiences.

Watch the Facing Fear trailer below:

Emma Diab, GALO Magazine:

Their individual accounts are the core strength of the film, giving viewers the chance to experience the story of that same fateful night from both the cold floor of the parking lot as well as in the midst of a heated group of thugs. Apart from the ingenious narrative, the cinematography was a powerful ally in the retelling of this story, and especially poignant in setting the scene for Boger to recount his version of the events on location.

Forgiveness is obviously a key theme in this story. Is forgiveness necessary in such circumstances? Cohen tells Briege McGarrity, Independent Film Quarterly:

The power of forgiveness certainly jumps out although I don’t necessarily want people to take from the film that it is the only way or the right way to go. We just want people to watch this story and see how it might play out in their own lives. In addition, I think a big theme is that of transformation and how people can change and why they do. We wanted to explore how the backgrounds and events in these mens’ lives shaped how they were able to become allies after such a vicious past.

Jessica Zack, San Francisco Chronicle:

The filmmaker intentionally gave equal weight and screen to each man’s perspective on what drove them to make peace, in Boger’s case with his assailant and in Zaal’s his reckoning with his violent past.

‘When you hear ‘forgiveness story,’ most people assume it’s about the victim forgiving the perpetrator,’ Cohen says. ‘But we were very cognizant that this story is 50-50, with two people involved. Tim had to go through a lot in terms of forgiving himself for how he had lived his life and the decisions he made. The process of forgiveness is a two-way street.’

FYI, a Young Adult novel based on their experiences was written by Davida Wills Hurwin and came out a few years ago. It’s called Freaks and Revelations.

Dec 11

“Philomena”: The Difficult Search for Her Long-Lost Son

The Stephen Frears-directed Philomena is based on British journalist Martin Sixsmith‘s nonfiction book The Lost Child of Philomena Lee. Steve Coogan, who plays Sixsmith in the film, co-wrote the screenplay with Jeff Pope.

When the film opens, Philomena (Judi Dench) is about to admit a major secret to her adult daughter: about 50 years ago, as a young unmarried woman, she gave birth to a son in an Irish convent. At the age of four Anthony was then given by the nuns to an adoptive couple—with no regard for his mother’s wishes or feelings.

Sixsmith, who’s been bounced from his civil service position in the wake of a political scandal and who’s therefore in need of career redirection, agrees to help Philomena find her son—despite his distaste for writing “human interest” stories.

Watch the trailer below:

PHILOMENA

Claudia Puig, USA Today:

Philomena is still a devout woman, despite her cruel treatment from severe Irish nuns as a young girl (sensitively played in flashbacks by Sophie Kennedy Clarke). She was bound in a kind of indentured servitude at the convent — three years of labor in the convent laundry in exchange for the medical care she and her young son received.

Philomena Lee’s cheery strength and quiet determination is deeply moving. She will not be made into a victim, nor does she lose her abiding faith.

Inkoo KangVillage Voice“‘After the sex, I thought anything so lovely must be wrong,’ the vulnerable but unflappable Philomena confesses about her first time, lowering her head in pensive regret. Her slow journey toward finally feeling worthy enough to hold her head high is surprising, upsetting, and not to be missed.”

MARTIN AND “PHIL” 

Bob Mondello, NPR: “The two meet, and click — awkwardly — and there they are, a humor-challenged, working-class grandmother yearning for her long-lost son, and a snarky, upper-crust writer yearning for redemption. Matched recovery stories: How’s that for human interest?”

Inkoo Kang, Village Voice: “Since the film’s structure is based on a series of revelations — each one unexpected and unfailingly moving — they shouldn’t be recounted here. But it gives away nothing to say that their long trip together provides plenty of opportunities for the two characters to passionately debate religion and journalistic ethics, while the friction between their worldviews offers silent commentary on the perniciousness of British class inequality.”

Elizabeth Weitzman, New York Daily News: “Martin and Philomena articulate this balance literally: He questions religion, she defends it. He demands outrage, she expresses forgiveness. The movie wouldn’t stand for much of anything without such an effective team to represent the equivocating.”

MAIN THEMES

Claudia Puig, USA Today: “Director Stephen Frears compassionately chronicles an emotional personal odyssey and intelligently explores a larger socio-cultural issue. The shame that the Catholic Church imposed on unwed mothers is made palpable. The church in Ireland is also exposed for profiting from the adoptions of these babies.”

Mick LaSalle, San Francisco Chronicle: “What’s particularly shocking is the ability of some of these women to see the unwed mothers in their charge as almost subhuman, as outside the realm of normal consideration. The result was an epic distortion of Christianity, with people lobbing first and second stones who had no business even getting near a rock.”

Ann Hornaday, Washington Post: “…(A)t its core, this clever, wrenching, profound story underscores the tenacity of faith in the face of unfathomable cruelty. Evil may be good, story-wise. But virtue, at its most tested and tempered, is even better.”

OVERALL REVIEWS

Claudia Puig, USA Today: “Philomena makes a winning holiday movie, embodying the ideals of what the season is truly about: forgiveness, kindness and goodwill toward one’s fellow man.”

Inkoo Kang, Village Voice: “Given that grim premise, Philomena is remarkably funny, with stars Judi Dench and Steve Coogan amiably sharing the comic spotlight.”

Rex Reed, New York Observer: “It’s profoundly moving and thoroughly mind provoking, but despite the poignant subject matter, I promise you will not leave Philomena depressed. I’ve seen it twice and felt exhilarated, informed, enriched, absorbed and optimistic both times. This is filmmaking at its most refined. I will probably forget most of what happened at the movies in 2013, but I will never forget Philomena.”

Nov 13

“After the Affair”: Infidelity, Forgiveness, and Recovery

In the mid-90’s psychologist Janis Abrahms Spring, Ph.D., along with husband Michael Spring, wrote what may be the best book for couples, gay and straight, trying to recover from one partner’s affair. After the Affair: Healing the Pain and Rebuilding Trust When a Partner Has Been Unfaithful now has a revised edition, with a new section regarding cyber-affairs.

A review of After the Affair by Samantha Smithstein, another psychologist, describes the stages of recovery outlined in this book:

In the first stage, Reacting to the Affair, she empathizes with the likely feelings of the ‘hurt partner’ and the ‘unfaithful partner’ (her language), giving language to, and normalizing, their experiences. In the second stage, Deciding Whether or Recommit or Quit, she helps both members of the couple confront their ambivalence about the relationship and make a thoughtful decision about whether or not to stay. In the third stage, Rebuilding Your Relationship, she reviews strategies and tools to help the couple rebuild trust, intimacy, and get to forgiveness.

What about the issue of whether or not to confess an affair to begin with? From an interview with Spring in the New York Times

Some experts say you absolutely must reveal it in order to rebuild your relationship. When you reveal your affair, it deconstructs your relationship and allows for a new level of honesty.

Other experts say you absolutely must not reveal it. When you do, you destroy the spirit of the hurt partner. They never recover. Keep it to yourself.

I have found that people go on to build better bonds, better marriages, after telling and after not telling. What is essential is to understand the meaning of the affair, why they had the affair and to address those issues.

One of the dangers of not telling is that people give up the lover, return to the marriage, but they never face the problem and so they live in a prison. They come back to something stale or damaged and they never work to reinvent their relationship. That’s not good for anyone.

Let’s say confession has occurred, recovery has begun, but forgiveness is a sticking point. If so, she has another excellent resource, How Can I Forgive You?: The Courage to Forgive, the Freedom Not To (2004). Like After the Affair, this book presents original ideas that came from her many years of clinical experience. 

Not for issues of infidelity only, this book advises that you may or may not decide forgiveness is the choice for you.

As stated in the book description, Spring “…proposes a radical, life-affirming alternative that lets us overcome the corrosive effects of hate and get on with our lives—without forgiving. She also offers a powerful and unconventional model for genuine forgiveness—one that asks as much of the offender as it does of us.”