Monday, January 18, 2021

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That's Love, Baby: 2020, Day Twenty-Two

Our final week of 2020 reviews begins today!
Sylvie's Love
dir/scr: Eugene Ashe
pr: Eugene Ashe / Nnamdi Asomugha / Jonathan T. Baker / Gabrielle Glore / Matthew Thurm
cin: Declan Quinn

A man and a woman have a summer romance; years later, they are reunited. That's the most simplistic way to describe the plot, but it doesn't get into Sylvie's deep knowledge of music (she and her cousin make playlists), her refusal to sacrifice her dreams of being a television producer to play the role of wife, the reluctant and excited look on her face when she knows Robert is going to complicate her life. It doesn't get into Robert's ability to make music like his soul is controlling the breaths, his willingness to delay or defer out of love for Sylvie, the uncomplicated honesty when he first sees her and knows this is his future. It doesn't get into the woozy seduction of its photography and editing, its fan-yourself summer romance, a love that lasts forever because it seemed so finite. It doesn't get into Tessa Thompson and Nnamdi Asomugha's breathtaking energy, the exquisitely designed sets and costumes. Live in its bliss for two hours. On Amazon Prime.

dir: Roger Michell
pr: David Bernardi / Sherryl Clark / Rob Van Norden
scr: Christian Thorpe
cin: Mike Eley

A woman suffering from a debilitating illness gathers family and friends for her last weekend before she kills herself. It's almost a shame when it plays cliched tension! revelation! notes, because it's so sublime when it doesn't. All we know about this family is what we see; we get hints, but we do not know, and yet this is not a frustration. Some mannered choices aside, it's an intimate, warm portrait of a family coming together to celebrate and mourn, not wanting to say goodbye, but, I think, appreciative of being able to do so. I'd watch it again. And again. On Amazon Prime.

dir: Philippa Lowthorpe
pr: Suzanne Mackie / Sarah Jane Wheale
scr: Rebecca Frayn and Gaby Chiappe, story by Rebecca Frayn
cin: Zac Nicholson

History comes to a significant moment as the women's liberation movement clashes with the 1970 Miss World Competition in London. I thought of Pride often: like that 2014 masterpiece, Misbehaviour approaches a political story with a comic, colorful flair that doesn't trivialize the seriousness of its subject, embracing all the complexities, giving a fair amount of time to its sturdy ensemble. Keira Knightley, as a single mother and history student who strategizes a protest against the chauvinism of the Miss World Competition, is our clear protagonist, though remarkably, despite coming in almost halfway through, so is Gugu Mbatha-Raw as Miss Grenada, whose presence alongside Miss Africa, South (not to be confused with Miss South Africa) means an upending of beauty standards. Strikingly costumed by Charlotte Walter, cheekily scored by Dickon Hinchliffe, and with a "where are they now" capper so effective it moves the entire film up a full letter grade (and me to full-throated sobs). Don't sleep on this.

The Photograph
dir/scr: Stella Meghie
pr: James Packer / Will Packer
cin: Mark Schwartzbard

A journalist and a curator fall in love while learning about the curator's mother's past. There's a moving love story here, and it's not the one between our leads. It's about a daughter coming to understand her mother, the choices she made to maintain that most forbidden thing: independence. That story of connection and communication is the beating heart, the best thing about this movie. It's in the scenes where that is being explored that the film truly connects. Certainly better than the central romance set in the present day, which just doesn't click as well. He's not very interesting, and she's less interesting when she's with him. Robert Glasper's jazz score is exquisite, sexy, caressing the small of your back and making you shudder. On HBOMax.

Wonder Woman 1984
dir: Patty Jenkins
pr: Gal Gadot / Patty Jenkins / Stephen Jones / Charles Roven / Deborah Snyder / Zack Snyder
scr: Patty Jenkins & Geoff Johns & Dave Callaham, story by Patty Jenkins & Geoff Johns
cin: Matthew Jensen

It's the 80s now, and Diana's working for the Smithsonian and doing battle with a struggling megalomaniac in possession of a supernatural wishing stone, so, you know, complications. Far more exciting in its color scheme than the original, far more focused than the original - these superhero sequels often are, honestly, unburdened from having to shoehorn plot and conflict into an origin tale - especially in its exploration of accepting the things you cannot change, moving on. It's still too long and the action sequences are executed with the dutiful excitement of completing your tax return, but it's a step above the first film (oy, what a bar). On HBOMax.

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