Monday 26 February 2018

Movie reviews: Home Again - 'It is grand but terribly bland'

Cert 12A; Now showing

Reese Witherspoon in head of the table in 'Home Again'
Reese Witherspoon in head of the table in 'Home Again'

On the one hand it seems unfair to compare Hallie Meyers-Shyer's first outing as writer/director to her parents' work, particularly her mother, Nancy Meyers's. On the other hand, it's inevitable, especially given that she has chosen to make her debut in the same genre: romantic comedy.

Home Again will make a light evening out for romcom fans, yet despite a ridiculous set up it could have been funnier and a good cast is wasted.

Meyers-Shyer has big romcom shoes to fill. Her parents worked together on films like Private Benjamin, while her mother made Something's Gotta Give and It's Complicated, and her father Charles Shyer delivered fare like Father of the Bride. All very successful films about comedic romantic mishaps.

Home Again is set in a similar milieu with Alice Kinney (Reese Witherspoon) amicably ending her marriage to Michael Sheen and moving from New York to her family home in LA. Out celebrating her 40th birthday she coincides with a group of three young aspiring filmmakers, Harry, (Pico Alexander), George (Jon Rudnitsjy) and Teddy (Nat Wolff). An out-of-character Alice ends up with Harry but circumstances mean that nothing major happens. And this sets the tone for the film. Every single time something slightly edgy could happen, it doesn't. Where a romance between a 40-year-old mother and a 27-year-old man could have sauce, Home Again smothers it with artificial sweetener. It was a little sauce that gave Nancy's films the edge and the lack of it damages this. So too do the easy solutions to problems which make for a strange tone because it is meant to be relatable. It is grand but terribly bland. ★★ Aine O'Connor

Daphne

Cert: 15A. Selected cinemas

With a troubled inception and delayed release, Kenneth Lonergan's Margaret (2011) was a multi-coloured character portrait that was well worth the wait. Comparisons are being drawn with this perceptive study of an untethered millennial sleepwalking through life until she is shaken out of inertia.

In such fare, a teak-strength central performance is required to anchor everything. Enter Emily Beecham, a somewhat familiar face from roles in Hail, Caesar! and 28 Weeks Later who, if there is any justice in the world, will springboard to bigger things on the back of this Edinburgh Film Festival winner.

Daphne works in a hipster London restaurant with will-they-won't-they boss Joe (Tom Vaughan-Lawlor). Outside of this, she faffs about from pub to nightclub to bedroom, boozing and snorting and cavorting without any larger meaning to her 31-year existence. When she is present at a convenience store stabbing incident, the trauma of it starts to worm its way into her carefree existence, forcing her to examine certain things.

Beecham and writer Nico Mensinga have crafted a marvellous character in Daphne, fully relatable in her banality and cynicism, yet elusively fascinating to watch as she negotiates her rudderless London odyssey.

There is lots of sharp humour in Peter Mackie Burns's film but also a low-level ache that swells in volume with masterful subtlety. ★★★★ Hilary A White

Goodbye Christopher Robin

Cert: PG. Now showing

There is little that is as quintessentially English as the Winnie-the-Pooh books, even if the character's identity was irrevocably Americanised by Walt Disney (the bizarre Russian version, Vinni Puh, never caught on with quite the same zeal).

It's thus a tad bemusing to see this lush biopic of creator AA Milne with a Dubliner (Domhnall Gleeson), a Scot (Kelly Macdonald) and an Aussie (Margot Robbie) leading its cast. The home side is ably represented, however, by unreasonably cute child actor Alex Lawther as the titular son who was both the inspiration and star of the vast franchise.

The thrusting of young Christopher Robin into the media spotlight is the hinge of Simon Curtis's film. Up until then, we see Milne and wife Daphne (Robbie, perhaps too modern and mannered for the part) swanning through society life where he is a celebrated playwright trying to manage the PTSD picked up in the trenches.

Sons and their fathers did not fraternise back then but when Daphne and beloved nanny Olive (Macdonald) are absent for a few days, Milne's stiff upper lip loosens as his charming boy sparkles up at him on strolls through the nearby woods. This stretch of Goodbye Christopher Robin is a sun-dappled delight that rings with an authentic register. Complications arise in the third act as magic gives way to emotional impotence, teen angst and OAP make-up, which spoils the party rather abruptly. ★★★ Hilary A White

Brimstone Club

Cert; Now showing, IFI

Dutch filmmaker Martin Koolhoven's first English language feature is a European co-production rather than a Hollywood funded one.

Brimstone has lots of interesting ideas and emotions, it's atmospheric and beautiful, the great cast are very good, but it gets too caught up in itself, it's way too long and there is a horror in it that gets jarring after a while.

Set in the late 19th century in the American Midwest it opens on two marks on the neck of mute midwife Liz (Dakota Fanning). Life is harsh but reasonable until The Reverend (Guy Pearce) arrives and makes Liz's life hell, as literally as he can. This is Chapter 1, Revelation. The next three chapters are called Exodus, Genesis and Retribution, pieces of a story told backwards until the denouement. It works, mostly, except it ends up begging the question why Retribution didn't happen in Chapter 1. It deals with religion and misogyny, control and sex, Pearce is tremendously creepy and Fanning silently great but it does drag everything out too much. Less would have been more. ★★★ Aine O'Connor

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