Their Finest

April 21, 2017 by  
Filed under Cody, Reviews

Starring: Gemma Arterton, Sam Claflin, Bill Nighy
Directed by: Lone Scherfig (“An Education”)
Written by: Gaby Chiape (debut)

Recent history has shown that the entertainment industry really loves making films about the entertainment industry. We have seen a propensity for filmmakers and storytellers to make films about the production of film, music, or other art forms, especially throughout moments of history. In “Their Finest,” a movie that is based on a novel rather than a true story, a spin on this idea is presented, with mostly strong results.

During World War II, the British military, in an effort to keep up morale and volunteers in an increasingly difficult war effort, is churning out propaganda films. In an effort to give the films a more “womanly” touch, Tom Buckley (Sam Claflin) must pair up with writer Catrin Cole (Gemma Arterton) to create a film about the the Dunkirk evacuation. As they struggle to find the balance between providing what the military wants in a propaganda film and making the film good, personal relationships are strained and tested as they must fight to make the movie they want in the midst of war.

By far, the most impressive element of “Their Finest” is its performances. Arterton and Claflin have strong chemistry (even though their trajectory can be spotted from a mile away), with Arterton having delivering on a showcase role. The MVP of the cast, though, is international treasure Bill Nighy. Struggling with admitting that his leading man status is quickly waning, Nighy plays pompous perfectly, while nailing the nuances of a far-too-serious actor who is protecting his craft.

But while the strength of the movie lies upon its actors, there are a few things that aren’t quite up to snuff. One of the biggest problems facing “Their Finest” is the urge to tell, not show. There’s a lot of characters speaking about how great or talented someone is, talking about problems or elements of screenplays or work, but very little of it is happening on screen. Without that context, it is really hard to dig into the story and buy what they are selling. It also misses the mark when the script explains the differences between men and women in the workplace. Slight comments are made about wages, but it only seems to scratch the surface of true issues of inequality.

There are also some pretty predictable story beats, which feel as if most viewers will be able to, at the very least, figure out where the story is headed and how it’s going to get there. That isn’t to say that the narrative isn’t effective when it needs to be, it just all feels a little derivative, though performed in satisfactory ways.

The film misses a few opportunities to really make a statement about the advancement of women in the entertainment industry, though the themes of war-time fear and stress are nicely constructed. Though “Their Finest” isn’t quite the strong female-empowerment movie it wants to be, it is a well-performed, and at times well-written and well-told story.

One Day

August 19, 2011 by  
Filed under Cody, Reviews

Starring: Anne Hathaway, Jim Sturgess, Patricia Clarkson
Directed by: Lone Scherfig (“An Education”)
Written by: David Nicholls (“When Did You Last See Your Father?”)

There are moments in every person’s life that set change in motion and help shape his or her personality and view on the world. These moments are often blindsiding, unpredictable, and happen when least expected. In the case of “One Day,” all of these events occur on the same date throughout a span of two decades.  Implausibility aside, “One Day” is a lumbering mess of a film that forces us to spend 20 years with characters we wouldn’t waste 20 minutes on.

Adapting his own book, author and screenwriter David Nicholls tells the story of a score-long friendship through the events of July 15th, or St. Swithin’s Day. After a botched sexual encounter, the awkward Emma (Anne Hathaway) and the confident Dexter (Jim Sturgess) vow to stay close friends. As Emma works odd jobs and settles with a painfully unfunny comedian named Ian (Rafe Spall), Dexter becomes the host of several awful TV shows and is universally disliked by audiences and eventually by Emma herself. Over time, their roles and fortunes slowly start to reverse and Dexter and Emma find themselves questioning if a relationship is the right thing to do, or if they are just meant to be friends.

Both of the lead characters in “One Day” are charmless people that are flat out annoying to be around. Hathaway, who offers a distractingly bad British accent, brings no charisma to the role of Emma. Part of the problem here is that Nicholls mistakes dry British wit for bitter griping. In glimpses of a scornful Emma working at a Tex-Mex restaurant, her sarcastic attempts at humor are not endearing (or funny), and she instead comes off as a complaining curmudgeon. Sturgess is convincing as the media-proclaimed “most annoying man on television,” which could either be a compliment or an insult. Dexter is not only introduced as selfish, narcissistic, and vain, but these off-putting characteristics are exacerbated by numerous substance addictions. As a result, audiences are presented with a pessimistic woman who is settling in life and a paper-thin, detestable party-boy. Somehow, we are expected to root for their happily ever after.

Since the frustrating narrative structure of the film checks in with Dexter and Emma on the same day every year, only snapshots of their lives are seen and as a result, much of the character development is happening off screen. Although events that serve as life-altering catalysts are shown, moviegoers only get to see the end product of incidents that happened at least one year prior, completely leaving out the work put in to get to that point. The structure also works against the film by only giving the viewer small chunks of screen time to let the relationship develop. It is hard to buy into this couple’s longing for each other when you only see small snippets of annual contact.

After beautifully crafting the thrice Academy Award-nominated 2009 film “An Education,” it is unfortunate that Danish director Lone Scherfig returned with such a shallow piece of melodrama. With its miscalculated humor and nonexistent charm, the years cannot go by fast enough as the underwhelming relationship between Emma and Dexter unfolds.

An Education

November 20, 2009 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Carey Mulligan, Peter Sarsgaard, Alfred Molina
Directed by: Lone Scherfig (“Italian for Beginners”)
Written by: Nick Hornby (“About a Boy”)

More mature than any coming-of-age story in recent years, director Lone Scherfig’s “An Education” is a beautifully-written character study about a teenage girl blinded by the idea of love in 1960s London.

Adapted by Nick Hornby (“About a Boy”) from a memoir by British journalist Lynn Barber, the film follows Jenny Miller (newcomer Carey Mulligan who has often been compared to Audrey Hepburn), an intelligent 16-year old girl whose aspirations for her future surpass anything her boring little schoolgirl life is giving her at the moment.

Set to go to Oxford University to study English – partly because she wants to and partly because her father (Alfred Molina) has always hovered over her shoulder to make sure she doesn’t get off track – Jenny is prim and proper, independent, and never lets her inexperience direct her next step in life.

Things change, however, when she meets David (Peter Sarsgaard), an older, well-to-do man who quickly takes a liking to Jenny’s youthfulness. Jenny, too, is immediately charmed by David who isn’t anything like the fresh-faced boys smitten with her at school. None of them drive around in sleek sports cars like David does nor can any of them afford to take her to Paris, treat her to fine meals at posh night clubs, or outwit her doting father who allows the courting to continue despite some initial hesitancy.

As their relationship blossoms, the idea to attend Oxford becomes less and less important to Jenny. What woman really needs an education when there is a man in her life who will marry and provide for her? It’s the same type of traditional idealism encountered in 2003’s “Mona Lisa Smile.”

There is, however, a deeper sophistication to “An Education” brought in by screenwriter Hornby and director Lone Scherfig (“Italian for Beginners”) that magnifies these themes more than any films may have attempted before. Beneath David’s charismatic exterior, Hornby gives just enough of his menacing quality that you can’t be sure whether or not you saw it yourself. The always reliable Sarsgaard plays the part to perfection.

As the film slowly reveals itself, Mulligan continues to dominate the screen. As Jenny, she conveys everything a love-struck teenage girl would under the same circumstances of that era. From her vulnerability to her naivety, the layered role Mulligan has embarked on is career-defining and one that is sure to earn her an Oscar nomination.

As Jenny struggles through an emotionally-charged journey to womanhood, “An Education” allows us to feel the same exhilarating liberation and heartbreaking disappointment she is experiencing. While the film wraps up in a peculiarly ordinary fashion, the overly-cautious third act doesn’t hurt the movie much. By then, we’re devoted to Mulligan and the nearly flawless production Scherfig has created right before our eyes.