Tuesday 14 August 2018

Film of the week: My Friend Dahmer

Cert: 15A; Now showing

Ross Lynch was an inspired choice to play the young Jeffrey Dahmer
Ross Lynch was an inspired choice to play the young Jeffrey Dahmer
Big Edie and Little Edie in 'That Summer'
Diane Keaton, Candice Bergen, Jane Fonda and Mary Steenburgen in Book Club

It is easy to assume that serial killers are born evil - but there is a time before even the most notorious become active.

Jeffrey Dahmer is one of the most infamous serial killers in history, but as a child he went to school and had friends. One of those friends, John Backderf wrote a best-selling graphic novel about the last year of high school - the last year before Dahmer crossed the line of no return. That book is now a film which seeks to show how Dahmer was. It neither particularly blames or explains - for who, after all, can ever really explain?

Marc Meyers worked from Backderf's book to write and direct My Friend Dahmer. One of many film-makers to be interested in the story, he has proven the author's instinct in picking him correct keeping to the spirit of the book and creating a very atmospheric sense of middle America in 1978. His choice to cast Disney star Ross Lynch as Dahmer is inspired and Lynch really conveys isolation and creepiness.

For a brief time at the end of high school Dahmer became popular with a group of friends, among them Derf (Alex Wolff) who found his odd behaviour wacky and formed the Dahmer Fan Club.

As a younger child Dahmer had dissolved roadkill in jars of acid but as his parents' (Anne Heche and Dallas Roberts) marriage disintegrates his father's frustration leads him to destroy the shed in which Jeff does his experiments.

For a time the Fan Club fills the void and makes Dahmer feel like he belongs.

The film ends neatly when the distractions that held Dahmer in check end, and he changes from strange boy to monster. ★★★★ Aine O'Connor

Ismael's Ghosts

Cert: 15A; Now showing, IFI

The old rule of "write what you know" regularly results in texts about down-on-their luck writers coming unstuck (Adaptation, Wonder Boys), suffering bad writer's block (The Shining), or, well, embracing wine and women as frankly unfeasibly cool bon vivants (The Great Beauty, The Rum Diary).

Ismael's Ghosts goes for this last iteration - Mathieu Amalric as the Ismael of the title, a rakish, chain-smoking scribe and filmmaker - and pits the protagonist in a hellish existential vortex where Charlotte Gainsbourg and Marion Cotillard vie doggedly for his affections. The former plays partner Sylvia, while the latter is Carlotta, his long-missing wife who has miraculously turned up out of the blue after 20 years.

All the while, Ismael is trying to prepare to begin shooting his latest film, a biopic of his mysterious brother.

If this all sounds particularly self-indulgent (even for a film about a writer), bear in mind that it also takes place over two chaotic hours that lurch between poetic whimsy, vague flashback, Joycean references, and shrill, chaotic departures into the wild throes of romantic torment.

Put another way, Arnaud Desplechin's latest is hard work. With no discernible axis on which to see things turn and a refusal to ground the narrative in a place where characters behave slightly recognisably to the real world, there is nothing to hold on to throughout this preposterous, contrived outing. A waste of three mighty Gallic leading actors, too. ★★ Hilary A White

Book Club

Cert: 15A; Now showing

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Diane Keaton, Candice Bergen, Jane Fonda and Mary Steenburgen in Book Club

Post-menopausal women like sex. This amazing piece of information went public a few years ago, I suspect privately people may have known already, and Book Club is Hollywood acknowledging it. It is very womany, good fun with genuine laughs and the spirit is well-intentioned.

Whilst weirdly hackneyed in some respects, it is also enormously gratifying to see a film where the youngest star is all of 62.

Diane (Diane Keaton), Sharon (Candice Bergen), Carol (Mary Steenburgen) and Vivian (Jane Fonda) have been friends for almost half a century. Now in their 60s-ish, they are four different female archetypes/cliches - each of whom has to confront her current sexuality when Vivian presents the book club with Fifty Shades of Grey.

Diane is widowed but has just met a rich, available, ridey man (Andy Garcia, the cast baby at 62) in highly unlikely circumstances - but she is torn because she is not good at putting herself first. Carol's husband (Craig T Nelson) has lost his libido; Sharon has retired from sex since her divorce; Vivian gets loads of it and is entirely comfortable with her fear of intimacy - until old flame Don Johnson rocks up.

The character types and story arcs are familiar and predictable but the interactions between the women are good, Steenburgen and Bergen are the most convincing. It is occasionally saucy but it's not smutty - and whilst it won't change your life, it is fun.

★★★ Aine O'Connor

That Summer

Club Cert; Now Showing, IFI

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Big Edie and Little Edie in 'That Summer'

Grey Gardens, made in 1976, is one of the most highly regarded documentaries of all time.

Its makers, Albert and David Mayles, had been commissioned in 1973 by Lee Radziwill, the sister of Jackie Kennedy, to make a film about their family, the Bouviers - and during filming she introduced them to her aunt and cousin, Big Edie and Little Edie Bouvier, who were living in refined squalor in their once glorious Hamptons home.

Under threat of eviction and without electricity, running water or refuse collection, the Edies stuck to their manners and their makeup.

The planned Bouvier documentary was not finished and the footage lost for 45 years but now found, with an introduction from photographer Peter Beard who was present and with a voiceover from Radziwill whose younger self is all through the footage, it has been released as That Summer.

It serves as a kind of prequel to Grey Gardens and, while niche market, it is fascinating as a portrait of the two women, and as a snapshot of a time and a side of American royalty.

★★★★ Aine O'Connor

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