Estranged siblings Jon and Wendy Savage (Philip Seymour Hoffman and Laura Linney) are forced to care for their aging and increasingly senile father when the woman he lives with dies, leaving him without a home. This is not a particularly exciting proposition to anyone involved – both siblings are playwrights (Jon much more successfully than Wendy, who has yet to get one of her plays produced), and both have based plays around their traumatic (or at least neglected) childhood. Neither has seen their father for years. But they make an effort, settling Dad into a nursing home. Writer/directer Tamara Jenkins treats Dad with a great deal of nuance despite his decidedly supporting role – he’s too far gone into dementia to be able to respond to Wendy’s attempts to pretend everything’s fine, but not so far gone that the hurt doesn’t creep into his face when Jon treats him as though he’s not even there. In addition to the parent-child issues, Wendy’s also dealing with her inability to get produced, to get out of a relationship with a married man, and to overcome her sense of inferiority in comparison with Jon – who is, meanwhile, figuring out what to do about his girlfriend returning Eastern Europe due to visa issues. So many strands of story and so many levels of (broken) relationships could easily lead to a sloppy and depressing film, especially since Jon and Wendy spend so much time angry at each other. But Jenkins holds everything together very well, with a smart screenplay and steady directorial hand bringing out the best that Linney and Hoffman have to offer. Which is quite a lot.
Well Above Average
USA 2007; dir: Tamara Jenkins; starring: Philip Seymour Hoffman, Laura Linney, Philip Bosco
Screened 27 June 2008 on DVD
IMDb | The Frame
Be Kind, Rewind
In a struggling New York-area city stands a dying building. It has been condemned, ready to be taken over by fancy apartment developers unless its owner Mr. Fletcher (Danny Glover) can turn a profit on his VHS rental store to make the necessary repairs. When he takes a research trip to find out how to improve business (leading to some nice jabs at Blockbuster-style megastores), he leaves his adopted son Mike (Mos Def) in charge, warning him to keep his hapless friend Jerry (Jack Black) out of the store. Of course, Jerry doesn’t stay out of the store, and having been temporarily magnetized in an accident (don’t ask), he erases all the tapes. Rather than admit defeat, the pair grab a camera and film short versions of the movies – Ghostbusters, RoboCop, even Driving Miss Daisy – which, incredibly, become more popular than the actual films among patrons soon willing to line up and pay $20 to have their favorite movies “sweded.” Anyone who’s ever made films in their backyard or known people who did will likely be charmed by the town coming together over the process of making and exhibiting homemade films. I was, though I do feel that Gondry’s ideas aren’t quite as good in execution as they are in his head. Thankfully, he does realize his concept much more fully and satisfactorily here than he did in The Science of Sleep. However, once home moviemaking rallies the town, the film just stops abruptly, a move likely to annoy any viewers who aren’t convinced by Gondry’s belief in the power of cinema – any cinema.
USA 2008; dir: Michel Gondry; starring: Jack Black, Mos Def, Danny Glover, Melonie Diaz, Mia Farrow
Screened 10 July 2008 on DVD
IMDb | The Frame