Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Princess Cyd, or: Is It Too Late to Say Soirée?

I’m sad to wrap up Feminist February…even though, let’s be real–in this Blog Collab, it’s always Feminist February.  We’re back in our indie groove yet again for a film centered around female relationships and the ways they shape our leading ladies.

The Film:

Princess Cyd

The Premise:

A teen visits her novelist aunt for a summer, leading to discoveries about herself and several of the women in her life.

The Ramble:

Cyd, a seemingly well-adjusted teen living in South Carolina with her father, is currently driving everyone up the wall.  Under the pretense of checking out Chicago’s colleges, Cyd goes to stay with her aunt Miranda for a few weeks in the summer.

Miranda, a successful novelist, lives a relatively quiet life in the house where she grew up with Cyd’s mother.  Since Cyd’s mother died violently nearly 10 years before, the family has drifted out of touch.

Though Cyd has a boyfriend at home, she is immediately attracted to a barista she meets after getting lost on a run around the neighborhood.  When the barista, Katie, invites Cyd out for a walk, they later have to slow dance on a balcony for art.

2.png

Meanwhile, Cyd has deep conversations with her aunt about life, religion, sex, and death.  You know, polite family small talk.  Cyd encourages her aunt, who frequently writes about single, divorced, or unhappily partnered people, to date a longterm friend.  However, Miranda seems pretty keen on maintaining her solitary but fulfilled life.

1.png
Sexual tension or awkwardly trying to get out of a conversation that just won’t end?

The two women get into the routine of sunbathing in Miranda’s garden, though initially Miranda claims she doesn’t even own a bathing suit.  Cyd, despite not being a reader, picks up Miranda’s books and starts to gain some insight into her aunt’s life.

7.png
Everyone in this film always looks at least this flawless.

If the film can be said to have a structured plot, it’s all about Miranda’s soirée, a word she repeats approximately 4,835 times.  Cyd decides to make a splash at the party by borrowing a tux from Katie–damn, grrrrrrrl.  She pulls off the look.  She really fucking pulls off the look.

5.png
If Idris Elba isn’t the next James Bond…Cyd?

After the party, Cyd and Miranda get into a fight about Cyd’s actions, but it quickly delves into deeper philosophical and spiritual realms.  They are snapped back to reality when Katie experiences a crisis with her brother’s friend, and Cyd and Miranda are there for her.  It is through Katie that we learn the meaning behind the film’s title, as well as discover what really happened to Cyd’s mother (spoiler alert:  it’s really sad).

Will Cyd and Miranda allow the summer to change them or is it better to keep the past in the past?

The Rating:

3.5/5 Pink Panther Heads

First off, the aesthetic of this film is beautiful.  Jessie Pinnick (Cyd) is gorgeous, so there are tons and tons and tons of close-ups on her face.  At times this gets uncomfortable and starts to feel voyeuristic to me.  I do like our main 3 ladies a lot and enjoy that they all have unique perspectives and approaches to life that complement each other rather than conflict.

The thing I really appreciate about the dynamic between Cyd and Miranda is that they influence each other and draw out the best rather than transforming.  Cyd is incredibly direct and unafraid to ask questions, but she learns to do so in a way that’s inquisitive without diminishing viewpoints different from her own.  Miranda, in the act of sunbathing in her backyard with Cyd, embraces some of her carefree attitude and confidence in her body.  If this were a generic rom-com, Cyd would set Miranda up with her friend.  But instead, Cyd learns to accept her aunt’s independent, aromantic life is not equivalent to an empty existence.

Confession time:  while I liked the ideas and themes here, I did find the plot very meandering.  There was something that didn’t quite click for me–maybe since my last pick was a Disney film I was expecting bigger drama and more sentimentality.

Would my blog wife attend a soirée with this one or annoy it with a series of overly personal questions?  Find out here!

Advertisements
Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Irreplaceable You, or: Christopher Bird Watchin’

What do you do with a terminal cancer diagnosis?  Get angry, despair, feel shock?  If your answer is to plan out your significant other’s romantic life without you, you may belong in this week’s film.  You may also want to reevaluate your choices, but hey–do what you want.

The Film:

Irreplaceable You

The Premise:

A young woman with a rare form of cancer decides to find a partner to care for her fiancé after her death.

The Ramble:

Pulling no punches, narrator Abbie immediately tells us she is no more; she has ceased to be; she has passed on; she is dead.  Sadly, Abbie was only in her 30s when she passed away.  Though she seems to be at peace, she worries about the future of her fiancé, Sam.

3.png
I am obsessed with Abbie’s button dress.

After growing up together, Abbie and Sam are finally ready to tie the knot when it seems that Abbie is pregnant.  However, the gods are such fucking assholes, and it turns out the growth in Abbie’s stomach is a malignant tumor.  The wedding plans are decidedly off, though initially the two try to carry on as usual.  Sam continues to teach in his role as a TA, while Abbie keeps working as something or other to do with children’s publishing?

Abbie does join a support group that crochets together, where she meets Christopher Walken, Kate McKinnon, and Steve Coogan.  I thought Kate and Steve were completely wasted here, as 90% of what they do is sit around in a circle and crochet.  Tami Sagher plays one of the supporting characters in the group, and I think she has much funnier lines here (though Kate does have a good one about Catholic yoga).

4.png
If it works for Kate, it’s good enough for me.

The dynamic between Abbie and Christopher Walken (Myron) is great as the two bond immediately, discussing life, rare birds, and ugly vests.  Myron tries to help Abbie accept things as they are and spend more time focusing on the present–advice that is largely ignored.

9.png
Birding or filming a low budget version of Rear Window?

While Abbie undergoes treatment, she doesn’t seem to be getting any better.  She begins to worry about what will happen to Sam when she’s no longer around to help him.  Will he be able to take care of himself?  Will he go through a “slut phase” as Christopher Walken predicts?  To ease her fears, Abbie begins scoping out women for Sam to date after she dies.  This is both incredibly morbid and cringingly anti-feminist as Abbie judgmentally dismisses cat ladies, sluts, and general weirdos.

Just when Abbie is ready to give up, she meets a waitress who really clicks with Sam.  However, Abbie isn’t as up for all of this as she thought she was and realizes getting what she wants may be the worst possible outcome.  After Sam finds out about Abbie’s plan, he’s upset about her scheming and attempts to control his life.  Will the couple make up before it’s too late?

The Rating:

2/5 Pink Panther Heads

My biggest problem with this one is the uneven tone–I never totally understood if this was supposed to be funny or tragic because it fell flat on both counts.  There was a moment between Abbie and her sassy nurse that felt genuine, but many of the other emotional moments felt empty to me.  It’s also confusing to see so many comedians in roles that aren’t that funny, though Christopher Walken is great, of course.  Gugu Mbatha-Raw as Abbie does well despite lack of interesting material–both leads are pretty bland.  Abbie is a bit of a nightmarish type A stereotype, while Sam is so devoid of personality he’s practically a blank canvas for Abbie.

There were a couple of other issues that occurred to me throughout the film.  For one, how are Abbie and Sam not concerned about money?  They seem to be existing on a TA’s income, paying for expensive treatments, and (spoiler) later planning a wedding.  The other thing that really bothered me was Abbie’s narration as a…ghost?  This is never explained, and Abbie does admit she’s having trouble leaving Sam behind, but this isn’t necessarily the focus of the film.  This part of the story feels like an aside and gives us a rather unsatisfying ending.

That being said, Abbie and Sam’s apartment is fucking perfect and what my filthy hipster dreams are made of.

8.png
Drooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooool.

Would my blog wife find a partner for this one or let it die alone (too soon)?  Find out here!

Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Queen of Katwe, or: The Chess Version of Billy Elliot

Feminist February may be in its 3rd year(?!?!?!), but that doesn’t mean it’s too late for firsts.  This week’s film is our first Disney feature on the Blog Collab, first set in Uganda, and first (and probably last) all about chess.  Definitely not the first to make me cry an embarrassing number of times.

The Film:

Queen of Katwe

The Premise:

The true story of Phiona Mutesi, a Ugandan girl who rose quickly to become a chess master.

The Ramble:

For those of you, like me, who always want to know what a title means–Katwe is a slum in Uganda’s capital, Kampala, where Phiona grows up.  One of four children, Phiona takes care of her younger siblings and sells maize to support the family.  Since her father died, Phiona’s single mother, Nakku (Lupita Nyong’o!!!), struggles to keep the family together and under a roof.  Phiona’s older sister, Night, has had enough and takes off with her scooter riding boyfriend.  After this act of rebellion, Night helps the family financially but is essentially dead to her mother.

1.png
You kids get off my lawn!

Meanwhile, Robert Katende (David Oyelowo!) is an engineer searching for a job in Kampala.  When he discovers all of the engineering jobs are completely about who you know rather than what you know, he must settle for a part-time gig as a coach with a small ministry.  Luckily, the family has a second string as his wife Sara is an elementary school teacher.

In Robert’s chest beats the tender heart of a chess nerd, and his passion project with the ministry is trying to get all the kids hooked on chess.  He hopes to develop the talents of his pupils in order to show the privileged what they can achieve.  No unresolved childhood issues there at all.

10.png
Yeah, you’ve already lost me, dude.

Enter Phiona, stage right.  When she stumbles upon the chess club in action (and gets free food–possibly the only reason I’d ever stick around for chess), Phiona decides to try playing despite some of the kids being little assholes who tease her for being dirty.  Though initially confused by the many rules of the game (I’m there with you, girl), with practice Phiona learns to master the game–even winning against the group’s current champion.  In a scenario that feels way too real, Phiona actually feels bad about winning and apologizes for it.

Soon, Robert figures out a way around the snobby prep school’s efforts to exclude the team from a chess championship.  However, it turns out stuck-up rich kids are the least of his problems when Phiona’s mother finds out what she and her brother have been up to.  Suspecting ulterior motives and fearing her children will be unable to earn money for the family, Nakku forbids them from playing chess again.  That is, until Robert promises he will find a way to get them into school if they’re allowed to play.

I think it’s no spoiler to tell you that the rich kids are absolute douches and Phiona wins against the smug little assholes.  Still, she doubts her abilities and believes she only won because her opponent let her.

4.png
NERDS.

Nevertheless, things seem to be falling into place until Phiona’s brother is in a terrible accident, the family is left without money, and they are evicted from their home.  Phiona also starts to realize the injustice of the chess world.  Though she has beaten players with the world-class mentors, she goes back to a dissatisfying existence where mundane chores take precedence over the exciting(?) game of chess.  Despairing of her life, Phiona belongs neither in Katwe nor among the wealthy.

6.png
If the prize for winning a chess championship were fries and ketchup, I might be a bit more inclined to make an effort.

After a series of wins, Phiona is determined to continue playing chess–and, vitally, to make money from it.  She and Robert travel to Russia to compete professionally, which may help her earn a stipend to support her family.  However, things do not go as planned, and a disappointed Phiona is ready to give up.  When the rainy season washes away their home, the fraught relationship between Nakku and Night reaches a boiling point, and Robert faces a difficult career decision, does this mean the end of Phiona’s dreams?

Clearly not or it wouldn’t be a Disney film.

The Rating:

4/5 Pink Panther Heads

I wouldn’t call this a new favorite, but it has a stellar cast, a fairly action-packed plot (for a film about chess), and a genuine heart holding it all together.  Thematically, this has a lot in common with Billy Elliot, though the PG rating and Phiona’s set of challenges take a different angle (and there are significantly fewer songs by the Jam in this one).  I am ridiculously susceptible to crying at inspirational speeches, and David Oyelowo has more than his share.  Damnit, dude.

Phiona (and Madina Nalwanga in her first film role?!??!) in particular is a wonderful character to watch, with a quiet determination tempered with a realistic amount of self-doubt, commitment to duty, and frustration.  We are of course rooting for her the whole time, but the film doesn’t gloss over the limitations that poverty, gender, and geography place on her ability to succeed.  Nakku is also incredibly sympathetic as a mother whose concern is the survival of her family–even if that means settling for a less than ideal future.  As a single mother with no interest in remarrying, Nakku is fucking fierce and a genius at survival.

I want Lupita Nyong’o to adopt me and David Oyelowo to be my life coach.  Or I could just bring them coffee, whatever.

Was this a checkmate for my blog wife or did she enjoy it about as much as a game of chess IRL?  Find out here!

Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Frances Ha, or: Things That Look Like Mistakes

This month is one of the most fun on the Collab, returning for its third year!  Welcome to Feminist February 3:  The Revenge.

The Film:

Frances Ha

The Premise:

A young woman seeks a place to live and a direction for her life after moving out of her best friend’s apartment.

The Ramble:

In her late 20s, unattached, and easily gliding past responsibilities, Frances is living happily with her bff in Brooklyn and quite content to keep things as they are.  (As a side note, bless people who name their movies after their lead protagonist because it’s the only way I ever remember character names.)

Anyway, you know a change is coming.  After breaking up with her boyfriend when she doesn’t want to move in with him, Frances gets the bombshell that her roommate, Sophie, is buying an amazing apartment in trendy Tribeca.  A struggling dancer with a talent for choreography, Frances couldn’t even afford one square foot in the apartment and must quickly find a new place to live.

2.png
Friends who smoke together…are broke together?

When she goes on a date with Adam Driver, Frances unknowingly meets her new roommate.  Frances moves in with Adam Driver (whose character name I will never remember) and Benji.  Though AD is basically a walking, talking sex drive and Benji constantly reminds Frances that she’s hopelessly undateable, she gets along well with her roommates.  Benji and Frances bond over music and movie nights, while AD brings ladies back to the apartment and walks around in a towel.

Frances is eager to show off her new place to Sophie, who comes across as overly critical and perhaps a bit jealous.  Throw in the added drama of Frances’ disdain for Sophie’s boyfriend, and it’s clear there are some tensions rising beneath the surface of their friendship.

5.png
Of course we’re all having a wonderful time and not secretly hating each other!  Why do you ask?

After heading home to Sacramento for the holidays, Frances returns to New York and moves in with one of the dancers in her troupe/I don’t really understand how dance works.  While she pretends nothing is wrong, Frances has actually been cut from the Christmas show and is too proud to accept a secretarial role open at the…dance office?  Again, not something I’ve ever been even remotely interested in.

During a horrible dinner party, Frances learns that Sophie is moving to Japan with her boyfriend.  Impulsively, she decides to spend the weekend in Paris, though absolutely nothing works out while she’s there.

8.png
On the bright side, doesn’t actually fall into the Seine?

Upon returning to the States, Frances works for her alma mater in Poughkeepsie over the summer as a server during donor events.  Sophie, who met Frances while in college, is attending one of the events with her boyfriend and reveals she is engaged.  Unable to contain her shock, Frances catches Sophie’s attention and the two bond in a dorm room just like the good ol’ days.  When Sophie confesses her reluctance to stay in Japan with her fiancé, Frances jumps on the chance to persuade her to return to NYC.  Will the two be reunited for good or settle for always having Poughkeepsie?

The Rating:

3.5/5 Pink Panther Heads

Like Frances herself, this film lends itself to meandering.  Gerwig is great in this and I see some strong parallels to themes and characterizations in Lady Bird.  However, it’s a bit loose and unstructured for me–more of a slice of life film than one with a dramatically unfolding plot.  The relationship between Frances and Sophie is central here and, though strong, is evolving in ways that are bittersweet and uncertain.  It’s rough to see the contrast between their life stages and maturity taking a toll on their friendship.

There is some really excellent, funny dialogue, though.  The entire argument between Frances and her boyfriend surrounding moving in together and adopting hairless cats is great.  I also love the opening scene of the film depicting Frances and Sophie roughhousing in a public park.

My favorite of Frances’ lines is the deceptively simple “I like things that look like mistakes.”  While there are perhaps flaws in this one, the search for direction and challenge of growing yet holding on to close relationships ring true.  Just maybe with a teensy bit more of a structured plot next time.

Would my blog wife let this one crash on the couch or send it packing from her glam apartment?  Find out here!