Monday 17 June 2019

Film of the Week: Booksmart

Cert: 16. Now showing

Super smart and very funny ... Beanie Feldstein and Kaitlyn Dever in Booksmart
Super smart and very funny ... Beanie Feldstein and Kaitlyn Dever in Booksmart

A female-led comedy drama with an identity all its own that takes the feet from under you with its humour. Imagine such a thing in today's cinema landscape where acknowledging feminist ideals in scriptwriting either comes across as tokenistic (that ill-judged moment in Avengers: Endgame - you know the one) or forgets to pack the laughs (Ghostbusters).

In walks Booksmart, the directorial debut of Gaiety School alumnus Olivia Wilde, and suddenly everything feels different. Penned by Emily Halpern and Sarah Haskins, this is a joyous hour-and-three-quarters of high school shenanigans whose female prism is its very masterstroke.

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Molly (Beanie Feldstein) and Amy (Kaitlyn Dever) are inseparable, over-achieving best friends gearing up for life post-high school on the eve of graduation. The pair bathe in their academic prowess but are met with an existential crisis when it emerges that their abstention from partying has not necessarily given them an advantage over their peers, many of whom also appear to have secured Ivy League placements. There's only one thing for it - tonight, they'll make up for lost time and try to claw back some cool cred.

Several things strike you. Firstly, the quickfire momentum of the humour, which comes thick and fast. Then there's the outlandishly gorgeous cast of characters, from teachers (Jessica Williams, Wilde's partner Jason Sudeikis) to fellow high schoolers (Diana Silvers, Billie Lourd, Mason Gooding). The soundtrack is killer, and there are one or two moments of delirious cinematic beauty where Wilde shows a sensitivity and gumption that suggests a fruitful directing career ahead of her.

Perhaps most distinctly of all, Booksmart tells a mini-saga set during a tumultuous time in the lives of its two wonderful central characters (take a bow, Dever and Feldstein) without any need for meanness or persecution, and yet there is no icky sugar-coating on anything.

A breath of fresh air in more ways than one.

★★★★★ Hilary A White

 

Also showing...

Ma

Cert: 16

Writer-director Tate Taylor has often worked with Octavia Spencer, most famously perhaps in The Help, and casting her here as the lead in this thriller is a stroke of near genius. Not merely because it is so unusual to see a black female lead in this genre, but because she leads a cast that makes what becomes a slightly bonkers movie.

Sixteen-year-old Maggie (Diana Silvers) and her mother Erica (Juliette Lewis) move back to Ohio where Erica grew up. Befriended by a group of schoolmates, led by Haley (McKaley Miller), the teenagers meet Sue Ann (Spencer) when she agrees to buy them alcohol. The van the kids are driving and a social media stalker confirm to Sue Ann that these are the children of people she went to high school with. When they next ask her to buy alcohol, she suggests that they would be more comfortable drinking in her basement rather than outdoors.

Sue Ann becomes known as Ma, her home becomes party central and at first it seems as if she is simply enjoying being popular. But flashbacks and a few other red flags suggest Ma has more going on than merely reliving her youth. The descent into bonkers is quite 1990s horror but it is tongue in cheek, it doesn't take itself too seriously and there are plenty of flashes of humour. Spencer (below)struts through leading a really competent cast and it's great to see Lewis too. I enjoyed this far more than I expected to.

★★★★ Aine O'Connor

Godzilla: King of the Monsters

Cert: 12A

A film with giant monsters is either your box of popcorn or it isn't. If it is, you'll be keenly awaiting this sequel to 2014's Godzilla and kind of sequel to 2017's Kong: Skull Island. In terms of monsters, you will not be disappointed. In terms of plot, well, bar the limited character arc for your average prehistoric gigantor, there is so much going on with the film's plot, its origins' efforts and laying ground for films to come that some finer details get lost. Finer details like what is that? What is it doing? Where? And why?

Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Organism expert Dr Emma Russell (Vera Farmiga), her daughter and special MUTO communication device are kidnapped by eco-warrior Jonah Alan (Charles Dance). Her estranged husband Mark (Kyle Chandler) is called in to help Dr Serizawa (Ken Watanabe) and co. But the plot thickens. And thickens.

It feels OTT like a 1990s disaster blockbuster yet remains unaffecting. As a film it is rather flawed, but as a big monster film it is fine. Small children might be scared, bigger ones should enjoy it. There's one f word and the violence isn't graphic.

★★★ Aine O'Connor

Sunset 

Club Cert; Now showing IFI

The problem with a much-lauded debut is the pressure to follow it up. French-Hungarian filmmaker Laszlo Nemes's first film, Son of Saul, was a hard act to follow and for his second film, Sunset (Napszallta) Nemes has kept some themes and tones but in a very different context. It is a very self-aware piece of art which works better on some levels than on others.

Irisz (Juli Jakab, right) arrives in Budapest in the summer of 1914 to work in the high-end millinery that her parents owned before they died in a fire when she was a child. She, and we, initially think the store and the fire are the reason people recognise her surname, Leiter. But there are other reasons, too, namely an infamous brother. Beyond that, not an awful lot is made crystal clear. This is not a film where narrative is central, it's a character-driven piece with suggestions of plot woven between strands of history and social and gender politics. The camera tracks Irisz closely a lot of the time, from different angles. It makes for a physical closeness between protagonist and audience, as does the very designed sound design where certain noises are oddly loud. But her character and the deliberate ladenness of everything, words, looks, as well as the hard-to-be-certain-of-anything plot, make it difficult to get emotionally invested. And that is the intention.

I can't say I liked it, but it is certainly interesting and a film that fans of cinema as art will want to see. Even at the excessive 142-minute runtime.

★★★ Aine O'Connor

Sunday Independent

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