Nov 29

“The Holdovers”: New Holiday Film Is Special

If there’s a theater movie I’ve enjoyed more than The Holdovers this past year, I don’t remember it.  And I’m not the only one praising this story that on varying levels—but not heavy-handedly or without humor—involves issues of grief, loneliness, secrets, anxiety, depression, and alcoholism.  A sampling of critical reviews:

  • Johnny OleksinskiNew York Post :  “…the warmest cinematic experience you’ll have all year.”
  • Leonard Maltin: “…the year’s best movie to date.”
  • Jackson Weaver, CBC: “…best movie of the year.”
  • Peter Travers, ABC News: “…has all the makings of a new holiday classic.”
  • Maureen Lee Lenker, EW.com: “…the closest thing we’ve had to a new holiday classic in quite some time.”
  • Brian Truit, USA Today: eighth of 20 “best Christmas movies ever.”

Currently at 96% approval from Rotten Tomatoes critics, the following is the site’s description:

From acclaimed director Alexander Payne, THE HOLDOVERS follows a curmudgeonly instructor (Paul Giamatti) at a New England prep school who is forced to remain on campus during Christmas break to babysit the handful of students with nowhere to go. Eventually he forms an unlikely bond with one of them — a damaged, brainy troublemaker (newcomer Dominic Sessa) — and with the school’s head cook, who has just lost a son in Vietnam (Da’Vine Joy Randolph).

Here’s a preview:

THE THREE MAIN CHARACTERS

Maureen Lee Lenker, EW.com: “There is something so relatable, so deeply human about their pain and their circumstances — there’s a startling honesty in the kaleidoscope of emotions they all are experiencing at any given time.”

Oliver Jones, Observer: “None of these characters ask for sympathy, but command it nonetheless.”

Tomris Laffly, The Wrap: “…three broken misfits lifting each other up.”

THE STORY

Brian Tallerico, rogerebert.com:

Hollywood has a long history of stories of ‘makeshift families that learn something,’ but then why does ‘The Holdovers’ feel so fresh? It’s probably because it’s been so long since one of these stories felt this true. Payne and his team recognize the clichés of this life lesson, but they embed them with truths that will always be timeless. Everyone has that unexpected friendship or even mentorship with someone who forever altered their direction in life. And everyone has that young person who has shocked them out of their stasis, either through revealing what they have become or failed to be. ‘The Holdovers’ is a consistently smart, funny movie about people who are easy to root for and like the ones we know. Its greatest accomplishment is not how easy it is to see yourself in Paul, Angus, or Mary. It’s that you will in all three.

Nick Schager, The Daily Beast: “…a story about the lies we tell ourselves (for good and ill) and the reality of our not-so-dissimilar human conditions. Moreover, both looking forward and behind, it’s a film that grasps that everything has been done before and that absolutely nothing is set in stone, and that what bolsters and binds us most of all is compassion for ourselves, each other, and the histories we can never truly escape and are always free to leave behind.”

Stephen Farber, Hollywood Reporter: “Both teacher and student discover secrets about the other that prove traumatic and therapeutic at the same time.”

CONCLUSIONS

Oliver Jones, Observer: “When it’s over, the chill it leaves in your spine is destined to last nearly as long as the smile on your face.”

Max Weiss, Baltimore Magazine: “Wry, funny (with some zingers that will stay with you long after the film is over), and closely observed, The Holdovers is my kind of Christmas film.”

Moira Macdonald, Seattle Times: “…gets us there with honesty rather than sweetness.”

Jun 05

“Love and Mercy”: Beach Boy Brian Wilson’s Struggles

In essence, we get to study Brian’s break with sanity and his eventual healing, but by keeping the focus tight on these two moments, the film becomes emotionally exhilarating. This is a dark story at times, and there is an undercurrent of sadness that is hard to shake off, but it is also a story about just how incredibly important love can be to the overall well-being of any person. Drew McWeeny, HitFix, regarding film Love and Mercy

Love and Mercy, called by Michael Phillips (Chicago Tribune)”the best musical biopic in decades,” examines aspects of Beach Boy Brian Wilson‘s diagnosis with severe mental illness in the 1960’s. As IMDB adds, “In the 1980s, he is a broken, confused man under the 24-hour watch of shady therapist Dr. Eugene Landy.”

Structure of Love and Mercy

Andrew Barker, Variety:

Alternating back and forth in time, [director Bill] Pohlad and screenwriters Oren Moverman and Michael Alan Lerner eschew a long-winded biographical approach in favor of two temporally specific parallel narratives. In one, roughly covering the period from 1965-68, [Paul] Dano plays Wilson as he resigns from touring, masterminds one of rock ‘n’ roll’s greatest masterpieces, and finds his grip on reality slowly loosening. In the second, set in the 1980s, [John] Cusack shows us Wilson as a broken, confused man under the pharmacological and legal thrall of manipulative therapist Eugene Landy (Paul Giamatti), finding unlikely love with a Cadillac dealer named Melinda Ledbetter (Elizabeth Banks), who will later become his second wife.

You can watch the trailer here:

Some Psychological Background

Although Wilson was diagnosed as paranoid schizophrenic by Landy, in later years he was diagnosed elsewhere with bipolar schizoaffective disorder.

Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune: “In reductive psychological terms, Wilson endured a terrible, abusive father (Bill Camp), who became the boys’ manager. Wilson then swapped him out for Landy, a manipulator of a different stripe. ‘Love & Mercy’ puts the two father figures out there because the facts of Wilson’s life support it. The man who wrote the melody for the neediest pop classic ever, ‘God Only Knows,’ clearly knew pain and emotional desolation and knew how to seduce millions with the sound.”

Dano’s Wilson

Henry Barnes, The Guardian: “The songs in his head are coalescing into ‘Pet Sounds’. The voices in his head are only starting to get in the way…Bored of writing about ‘sun and summer and summer and sun’, he stays in California, dabbling with LSD, coveting ‘ego-death’, preparing an album that will change pop music forever.”

Cusack’s Wilson

Andrew Barker, Variety: “…Cusack’s fortysomething Brian dodders around his beachfront mansion under the ever-watchful eye of Landy and his ‘bodyguards,’ who have ordered Wilson to cut all contact with his family and even micromanage his diet. Heavily medicated to treat what Landy had diagnosed as paranoid schizophrenia, Wilson’s speech has been rendered into a series of seeming non sequiturs, yet Melinda seems to immediately understand him, recognizing a gentle soul desperate for connection, who retains a certain childlike trust despite years of exploitation.”

Giamatti’s Therapist Landy

Eric Kohn, Indiewire: “A delusional character himself, the domineering Landy could provide the focus of an entire movie in his own right, but Pohlad smartly keeps the story focused on Wilson’s talent and the way it confuses those around him.”