Five movies about women and a Johnny Depp dud
People often complain there aren’t many movies about women’s issues. This week there are five newly arrived in town, ranging from Oscar possibilities to potboiler nonsense. Meanwhile, Johnny Depp has another misfire and Turkish films get their own festival.
Here’s the list:
Two Days, One Night: 4 stars
Still Alice: 3 ½
The Boy Next Door: 2
Felix and Meira: 2 ½
Half of a Yellow Sun: 2 ½
Mortdecai: 1 ½
Turkish Film Festival: --
Strange Magic: --
TWO DAYS, ONE NIGHT: Working class dramas are rare enough in the movies; ones as truthful and affecting as this one are more than uncommon. And watching an actor as superb as Marion Cotillard give such a nuanced performance in one, well it’s almost unheard of. The Oscar winner has justifiably been nominated again for this portrait of a desperate woman trying to save her job and her self-esteem.
She’s an employee at a solar energy plant in Belgium where offshore competition is forcing some cost-cutting. Either she goes, or the others lose their annual bonus. They voted to send her away but the boss is allowing a re-vote and she has one weekend to convince some of them to change their mind. As she visits them one by one she encounters some support and even tears but a lot of self-interest and a bit of stonewalling. Each is a mini-drama in itself and tension builds. We also gradually come to understand why she was the target in the first place. Cotillard and the Dardenne Brothers directing her have fashioned a powerful portrait. No histrionics, but a predicament anybody who’s seen or been involved in downsizing can feel for. The ending is not what Hollywood would do but is satisfying anyway. (International Village) 4 out of 5
STILL ALICE: Julianne Moore also elevates her new drama with a subtle and nuanced performance and she’s also Oscar-nominated for it, having already won a Golden Globe. She makes us understand and actually feel what it must be like to struggle with Alzheimer’s Disease as it starts taking away identity. She plays a linguistics professor at Columbia University so what she’s losing is most everything through which she defined herself. At first it’s just small lapses of memory. Later on, in a very strong scene, it’s her dignity. She can’t find the bathroom door and wets herself as she stands there lost and confused.
The film doesn’t show all the effects of the disease. It’s not grim like Amour or even as moving as Julie Christie’s decline in Away From Her. But it shows enough and step by step tells us the facts, takes us along for the MRI and the Cat Scan and explains that the early-onset Alzheimer’s she has is rare but genetic. Her two daughters, one played by Kristen Stewart, may get it too. Her husband (Alec Baldwin) is supportive although in a soap-ish turn he is up for an out-of-town promotion. These melodramatic bits insert some TV disease-of-the-week flavor but for most of the way the focus is squarely where it belongs: on one woman’s fear at her mind slipping away. One plot turn pays off nicely. She records a video message to herself advising suicide and when she watches it much later with the disease far advanced, we see two dramatically different sides of her. It a small example of the brilliance of Moore’s acting. (5th Avenue) 3 ½ out of 5
THE BOY NEXT DOOR: This one is not at all on the same level. It’s the kind of silly junk about women we get too often from Hollywood. The fact that a woman wrote it and Jennifer Lopez co-produced it doesn’t excuse anything. She’s a victim in this story, increasingly in danger because she was sort of attracted to a hunky 19-year-old guy (Ryan Guzman) who moved in next door and succumbed when he came on to her with a no-stopping persistence. She’ll regret that.