Showing posts with label jennifer lawrence. Show all posts
Showing posts with label jennifer lawrence. Show all posts

Sunday, January 7, 2018

mother! (2017) sinks under its own ambition

Photo Credit: mother! / Paramount Pictures
It's difficult to have survived 2017 without hearing of mother!, a movie drawing critical acclaim as a masterpiece to Worst Movie of the Century. Often layered with symbolism and metaphors, director Darren Aronofsky doesn't err on the side of caution. Completely untamed, here he strives to weave a story about humanity, God, and mother nature (my interpretation at least) that's less worthy of the title's exclamation point and more of a question mark that fails makes waves.

mother (Jennifer Lawrence) is rebuilding a beautiful house as her poet husband Him (Javier Bardem) struggles to find his next big inspiration. As she strives to make a paradise for him and satiate his zapped creative energy, nothing seems to be good enough - her devotion, attention, love, and care. When strangers visit in the middle of the night inviting war, barbarism, and a cultlike devotion, Him and their unwanted guests bring with them the end of the world as she knows it.

Dubbed as a psychological thriller, even a horror film, Aronofsky threads a foreboding sense of genuine suspense in the beginning. Utilizing a script he wrote in five days, Aronofsky impressively packs in a lot of detail in a short amount of time. When the story strictly centered on mother's dynamics with the house, Him and his consuming attention he feeds off of their visitors, the story looms with confusion and anxiety: Who are these people? Why is Him so attracted to them so easily? What makes mother so apprehensive to their presence? But as the story moves further into the second and last act, Aronofsky adaptating the characters into bigger ideas (Him as God, mother as mother nature, the first two strangers as Adam and Eve) escalates to the point where you stop wondering what point he's trying to make and start questioning what the heck you're watching at all.

Blurring the line between interesting easter eggs, and plastering biblical references at every turn, Aronofsky succeeds better when he isn't trying so hard. mother, anthropomorphized by Jennifer Lawrence, dresses in fine, earthy clothes, and flints between being confused, horrified, or physically abused to the point of no return all in the name of her selflessness to provide for others. Him is obsessed with creation and validation by the masses, of which both will eventually become greedy and consumed by their own egos. In trying to mix the characters in with the setting, mother's house, aka Earth, polluted on, flooded, has blood spilt on it (to say the least), there isn't a specific focus with any one of the messages he's trying to tell: the muse and the arrogant artist, our unrealized fears about the environment and how we treat it before there's no going back, or the pain people inflict upon each other in the name of something higher. There's so little intrigue infused into the story at the halfway mark but so much going on on the surface, Aronofsky's ideas are actually rather thin.

mother! isn't meant to be a horror film in the sense of typical crime dramas or the supernatural haunting the living. The film is meant for us to consider climate change and how we treat mother nature as if she was a person. But Aronofsky throws so much at the wall, his real message doesn't necessarily stick, unless one wants to sink down into the allegorical rabbit hole. Throughout all of the chaos and heavy-handed symbolism, there's no real thrilling or lasting aspect to Aronofsky's or Him's madness. Which leaves the film with an unapologetic graphic violence without a consistent tone or message, so much so that its shock value loses any deeper meaning he started out with.

To helm his absolute rollercoaster, Lawrence's commitment to her director's vision is palpable, and it might be the best performance of her career since Winter's Bone, but even then, it's bothersome that her contrasting perspective and judgement of mother seeps into the role at times and loses the essential connection one needs to have because the film is from her point-of-view. Her supporting cast doesn't fare much better: Javier Bardem feels out of place as the other lead, while Michelle Pfieffer, Ed Harris, and the Gleeson brothers are in the most intriguing part of the movie, they are also unmemorable.

Technically, there are things about this that are a marvel. Its sound design by Jóhann Jóhannsson is brilliant, having no instrumental or lyrical soundtrack to set the pace. The camerawork focuses on its lead Jennifer Lawrence for a good 66 minutes of 121 minutes, of which the cinematography had to be in sync with the actress. It's also stunning how they staged the action inside the house with everything from raves and dinner parties to hostage situations, cults, and warzones.

Sometimes one movie is the culmination of everything a director has been building for their entire career. Usually, I'd feel excited about this kind of boldness, to take motifs, common plots, and techniques over the years to deliver something that beats out their previous work. Instead mother! feels wildly forgettable, perhaps something Aronofsky needed to get off of his shoulders, and only a select few are going to stand by what he wanted to say. His latest obsession is a mishmash of what makes him known as a controversial auteur, only this time if he wanted to go for shock value, he should've gone back to the drawing board too.

Have you seen mother! What did you think?

Monday, December 28, 2015

Joy (2015) wrings the American dream out

Photo Credit: Joy / 20th Century Fox
Joy Magnano has a great imagination and is encouraged by her grandmother to put it work. She can and she will change all of their lives from one of her inventions. One day, she gets an idea for a mop. It's not an ordinary mop; it has a plastic handle with hand-coiled cotton that self-wrings and can be put in the washer so it's reusable. But there's nothing like it on the market. Unfortunately, her dysfunctional family is a hindrance in taking her invention to the next level of a tangible successful business.

In this day and age, everyone of all ages is struggling to make ends meet. I thought Joy would be a refreshing rags-to-riches tale from the point of a view of a single mother to entrepreneur maven. Yet for all the potential this movie has, its many moving parts is sadly what makes it flop.

Director David O'Russell's tale comes across as a messy caricature about creativity, hard work, determination. He had great freedom with Joy Magnano's life story, of whom the film is based on. His version is told in retrospect by her grandmother, whose utmost conviction plays a major role in Joy's perseverance. We can never expect a linear cohesive film by O'Russell. Even if the story is told by one person's point of view, his chosen narrative is split between timelines, flashbacks, and even hallucinations. Everything about the production of pacing, editing, and music is all over the place. The film never feels like a singular piece of cinema, but a collage of vignettes that when meshed together aren't consistent. They don't feel as if they are told by one person but quite literally multiple personalities.

Considering how Silver Linings Playbook put then-unknown Jennifer Lawrence on the map, I thought this would be another fair vehicle for her. Joy had the potential to be her transformation into more adult roles, similar to what we witnessed to the Harry Potter stars moving away from their iconic roles. Some critics argued that Lawrence is too young to take on a role of this magnitude; a character aging over the span of thirty years. I wouldn't agree with that stance so much. The primary fault in her character and the performance is the lack of evolution.

Joy is fairly young and inexperienced. She's an accountant to her father's business, so she's not a complete newbie about finances and management. But her idea makes her open season to people trying to shake her down. Throughout most of the film, she is contending against the higher-ups at QVC and her own familial naysayers. The movie revolves around Lawrence but she doesn't have a firm grasp on the end goal. Most of her troubles are in her blind spot without tension raising the stakes. Then with a flip of a switch, in what's supposed to be her character aging twenty years, she is a persevering sass master in commerce. She doesn't really "age", just has a mature costume change. It doesn't work.

Additionally, anyone tied to Joy like her dysfunctional family doesn't truly have a genuine connection with each other or more so to her. Joy is saddled with her shut-in mother (Virginia Madsen) who lives vicariously through soap operas, a father (Robert DeNiro) who only looks out for the bottom line of his rich new wife (Isabella Rossellini), and an ex-husband (Edgard Ramirez) who comes and goes out of the picture of supporting their family. The supporting cast are an eclectic group of personalities. They should make for an interesting round of comedy or drama, but their constant quarreling feels forced and flat. Like Lawrence, they seem to be one step behind their director and without a clear vision of what he is aiming for. The camera and audiences already love these actors, yet it seems that O'Russell is failing them, or they are failing the director.

As imaginative as the title character is, it's hard to decipher what the film itself is trying to make out of its potentially compelling heroine. The 'esteemed' filmmaker is prone to taking a symbolic idea and wringing the heck out of it. O'Russell's most recent movie American Hustle recycled the notion that nothing is truly authentic; we remake ourselves to fit what we're hustling towards. Joy takes "hands" and matches it to the ideal that we all can make things. He shows every actor's hands in plenty of frames, trying to ignite that it's what you do with your hands and your ideas, how hard you work, you can make something of yourself. It's a great notion. But the story has such tunnel vision about the risk and reward of making something of value, it loses the true joy of actually succeeding.

Here's a matriarch planting the seeds for her granddaughter to embrace an ability to break the generational mold. And, Joy should go on to inspire her daughter and help out other women who are in a position similar to hers. Every movie goer, especially women, should be shouting from the rooftops at the bold and powerful statement O'Russell is attempting to express. But it doesn't feel all that exciting. Joy, as a character, comes from nothing to build an empire, and the finale of her achievement doesn't illicit euphoria or cheer. Joy, as a movie, doesn't provoke laughs or tears, or tension at all. Instead of soaking up this ambitious American dream, the possibilities are unfortunately hung out to dry.

Rating: ★☆☆
Have you seen Joy? What are your thoughts?

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

The Fandom Struggle is Real with The Hunger Games

The Hunger Games fandom struggle
The Hunger Games symbol
Franchises can be universally loved, hated, or a mix of in-between. No series wins the hearts of absolutely everyone. After the monumental success of Harry Potter, Hollywood started its crusade of the Next Big Young Adult Phenomenons. Many a teenage flick has tried to fill the void left by the Boy Who Lived. Only one has been the most successful: The Hunger Games.

A part of me is truly excited for the epic conclusion with Mockingjay Part 2. A three year journey will end. Another part is not so happy. It doesn't feel like the revolution I signed up for. My inner fangirl has a major love and hate relationship with this series.