Tuesday, February 16, 2021

52 Films By Women Challenge - The Love Witch and Love & Basketball

In 2015, the Los Angeles' Women in Film started a challenge to watch one film by a female director every week for a year. I've seen this floating around social media and movie blogs for a while, and always meant to join in. For 2021, I finally decided to try it out this year as one of my resolutions.

Every week I thought it'd be fun to do a quick round-up of the film(s) I've watched for the challenge. The films I chose for the challenge are on letterboxd - if you want to see the slate so far - but I'm not going in an particular order of alphabetical or chronological.

My next two films is The Love Witch (2016) and Love and Basketball (2000). I've been dealing with some health and personal stuff lately, so of course I'm falling behind posting these again. I might make this weekly catch-up into a bi-weekly routine instead to give me time to write and post my thoughts.

The Love Witch (2016)

Directed by: Anna Biller

Elaine (Samantha Robinson) seduces men with special spells and potions that leaves her with a string of hapless victim. When she meets the man of her dreams, her desperation to be loved drives her to the brink of murder.

Having grown up watching Classic Hollywood movies, I was truly excited to watch The Love Witch. The prospect of watching a film set in the 1960s, and directed as a film within that genre-era, gave me the same thrill I have when watching The Artist. There's something truly magical about contemporary filmmakers trying to achieve the exact science of a bygone-era. It wasn't very long to see why the film and the director/writer had earned so much praise - everything about the film aesthetically fits the time period it's tapping into. She recreates scenes of tedious exposition, frivolous fun, and lingering suspense with the most subtle edits and close-ups just like so many romantic-dramas or comedies I've seen. And the performances, especially Samantha Robinson as Elaine is delicious wicked. 

The film, also however, tapped into what I least like about many 1950s / 1960s, and that is the agonizing slow roll-out of the story. For far too long, it felt like the plot was at a stand still. I kept waiting for the pace to pick up or for there to be a captivating twist in the final act, but that never quite happened and left me feeling bored. Still, I love everything about the film, and Anna achieves - what I imagine - an agonizing job to curate the production, costume, etc. design to recreate such a visual spectacle. I just wish the script had more oomph to it.

Rating: ★★☆

Love & Basketball (2000)

Directed by: Gina Prince-Bythewood

Monica (Sanaa Lathan) and Quincy (Omar Epps) childhood friendship and deep love for basketball brings them together and threatens to pull them apart as they both dream to bring their aspirations of playing for major leagues come true.

I wish I had chosen this film for the recent Thursday Movie Picks theme of Friends to Lovers because would've been a perfect pick. And it's a perfect film. It's tough for me to remember the last time I enjoyed a romantic flick like this where the script and story truly delves into the characters and makes the relationship between the leads the main focus. Gina, who wrote and directed the film, establishes both characters early on - Monica as hot-headed and competitive, and Quincy as a natural born leader. Over the course of the film, and their journeys, she unravels layers to gender and character dynamics - what's expected of women and men, their emotions and vulnerability not just as sports players, but fatherhood and motherhood, femininity, vulnerability, etc. which weaves in more subplots for the family dynamics. Monica and Quincy essentially feel like they're growing up on screen over a two hour running time as their dreams of adulthood shift in parallel to falling in love, growing apart, etc. Sanaa and Omar carry most, if not all of the film, and give heartwarming and deeply emotional performances on their own and together. You truly care for both of them as they both take chances, make mistakes, hold onto their dreams, and each other. Gina has a steady command of the characters and story to make Love & Basketball an intimate romantic film as well as a hearty drama and fun sports flick.

Rating: ★★

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