Beware spoilers as always.
What Maisie Knew
I think I come away from a lot of high-concept movies like this disappointed by the execution. I was not disappointed by this movie. The construction of the movie follows a pretty strict set of rules for what the audience sees, but if you’re not paying close attention, there doesn’t even seem to be a high concept at work. Credit the directors (there are two directors) for that. The whole story is told from the point of view of Maisie. The audience sees and hears only things that she sees and hears. That’s pretty radical when you think about it. Going in I thought it would be a boring showoffy “look at how clever we are” gimmick. I was very pleasantly surprised.
Onata Aprile, the girl who played Maisie was great. I think there’s been a run of really good acting performances by kids in the last couple years. Is it just me or are child actors a lot better now than they were ten or twenty years ago? Julianne Moore is one of my favorites and Steve Coogan is always delightful. They ended up being supporting players at best–Alexander Skarsgård and Joanna Vanderham really carried most of it. They were both good. I was especially impressed by Mr. Skarsgård. I’ve seen a couple episodes of True Blood, and he didn’t seem to be anything special there. And in his first scene or two in this I thought his character would be a one-dimensional buffoonish kind of afterthought. He has kind of a detached, almost vacant manner sometimes that he really used to good effect here. That kind of acting can come off as lazy or lacking craft, and it’s a pretty fine line, but he was measured and showed the right emotions in the right places and generally pulled it off very well.
I love love love the idea behind this series of movies. It’s a very similar idea to John Updike’s Rabbit Angstrom series, which I also love. I wish more creative types set out on this kind of long-term project. It takes a certain kind of ambition and arrogance, but who cares. Go for it everybody involved in telling narrative stories.
As much as I enjoy the fact that these movies exist, I think the appeal is so limited that it kind of surprises me that it was even made. But when I saw it the theater was full of old ladies. I wonder if the old ladies had seen the first two installments. I think you really do need to see the first two to have any context for this thing. Maybe context is overrated. I’d be interested in the opinion of someone who went into this cold.
For people who love to watch old Jesse and Céline talk, this movie is mostly terrific. I suppose other people will have learned by now to stay at home. I thought this installment was as good or better than the first two, except for the whole dinner party nonsense at the beginning. I’m just not interested in all of these other people and how Jesse and Céline relate to them and how they represent Jesse and Céline’s relationship in different stages or whatever. They should have cut it down about 75%. It didn’t feel as at-ease as the rest. The car scene at the beginning, the walk around town, etc. That’s what we came for. That’s my only real complaint. The hotel scene was downright gripping. On paper watching a married couple in a movie fight for 45 minutes sounds horrible. This was not horrible. The ending struck just the right note. I assume there’ll be another chapter in nine or ten years, and I’m looking forward to it.
I’m not a big Ethan Hawke fan. Other than these movies, I can’t think of another movie of his that I really like. Maybe it’s just that he’s so familiar here it’s hard to have any bad feelings. When I sat down to write this, I planned to include an anecdote from the recent David Foster Wallace biography about how once at a reading with Mr. Hawke in attendance DFW dissed Richard Linklater movies right after Before Sunrise came out and Mr. Hawke got all pissed off. Unfortunately now that’s as much as I remember of the anecdote. Oh well.
I do really like Julie Delpy. I haven’t seen a lot of her stuff, but her 2 Days in Paris and 2 Days in New York are both highly enjoyable.
I don’t quite know how to feel about Brit Marling. I was really surprised by Another Earth. I thought it was really creative and and the screenplay was well-thought-out and the characters were nuanced and compelling. So score one for Brit. Then I saw Sound of My Voice. It had so much potential. It was so close to being good. But it just felt…incomplete. Like it needed another 45 minutes. The story just sort of peters out and vanishes just when the really interesting things should have been happening. When I saw it I thought there must have been some editing shenanigans because the whole trajectory of the plot seemed so frustrating and baffling. Still, there were definite flashes of excellence, and I was looking forward to The East.
After seeing The East, I think I’m still sort of disappointed and frustrated, but I’ll definitely be seeing Ms. Marling’s next movie. A lot of plot points–major plot points–were downright implausible. Some of the characters were equally implausible. I thought the ending montage was hacky and didn’t really fit the tone of the rest of the movie. But still…I liked it. I liked it a lot. Ms. Marling is a good actress. She’s in just about every scene, and she held everything together, even when she overmatched her scene partners. Especially the guy who looked like he was wearing eyeliner in every scene. Terrorists don’t wear eyeliner. Maybe he just has naturally lined eyes or something. I don’t know. Alexander Skarsgård was the terrorist honcho. His demeanor that worked so well in What Maisie Knew didn’t translate as well here.
I wish there had been more emphasis on the Washington DC story. Sarah’s relationships with her boyfriend and boss seemed like strong points with room for interesting stuff to happen, but they were both glossed-over. Maybe that’s a necessity if you want to keep things at a reasonable length.
The twist with the breath strip packet and floss was clever. Loved it. Maybe I was supposed to have seen it coming. Whatever.
And a shoutout to fictionally-polluted Ambler PA which is like fifteen minutes from where I used to live in Conshohocken.
The Bling Ring
I was disappointed in The Bling Ring. Maybe I was expecting too much or something other than I should have been, but this didn’t hit the mark like it could have. It reminded me a lot of Spring Breakers, which I loved. But whereas indulging/wallowing/living in the world of Spring Breakers totally worked and made total narrative sense in that movie, it just didn’t here. Most of the movie was really boring, frankly. I kept hoping they would stop showing extended house break-ins and get to the actual story. Maybe you have to love the world of LA celebrity or fashion or whatever to get it, but it just lost me along the way. If I were directing we’d have seen one scene at Paris Hilton’s house, the Audrina Patridge robbery, and the Orlando Bloom robbery, all done quickly instead of excruciatingly slowly. No more. The actual robberies aren’t what’s interesting about the story. I wanted more or Emma Watson at home. More of all the kids at home. More of all the kids talking to each other or doing something, anything, other than burglarizing and clubbing.
I don’t know if Sofia Coppola was going for a satire or trying to make a statement or what. In the world of celebrity culture as it exists now, it seems almost self-defeating to moralize or condemn or make a movie that critics might call “a stunning indictment of our collective obsession with celebrities” or whatever. To try to make that statement is wholly unnecessary. We don’t need a movie to tell us that people who idolize Lindsay Lohan are likely to be shallow and uninteresting and generally terrible. There has to be more, especially since this movie has so little to hold the audience’s attention on a pure plot level.