More coming of age movies. Films reviewed: Kajillionaire, Summerland, Nadia, Butterfly

Posted in Canada, comedy, Coming of Age, Crime, drugs, Family, Japan, LGBT, Quebec, Road Movie, Sports by CulturalMining.com on September 25, 2020

Hi, this is Daniel Garber at the Movies for culturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM.

TIFF is over but Toronto’s fall film festival Season has just begun, but with a difference this year. Many of the festivals, here and abroad, that were cancelled in the spring are now popping up in the fall. Look out for Inside Out, The Cannes film fest, SXSW, Toronto’s Japanese film fest, Toronto Jewish Film Festival, Planet in Focus, Rendezvous with Madness, ReelAsian, ImagineNative, Toronto Palestine Film Fest – which is on right now – and many more.

This week, though, I’m looking at three new indie coming-of-age movies. There’s an Olympic athlete who swims the butterfly; a gay virgin playing catfish with a guy he meets online; and a young woman born under the net of a family of grifters.

Kajillionaire

Wri/Dir: Miranda July

Old Dolio (Evan Rachel Wood) is a young woman born into a family of scammers. With her mom and dad (Debra Winger, Richard Jenkins) they plan low-level cons and split the proceeds three ways. Most of it goes to pay for food and rent: they live in an office located directly beneath a bubble factory that extrudes pink foam into their home twice a day. They’re always working; no time wasted on frivolities like holidays, presents or birthday dinners. No phoney-baloney words like “dear” or “hon”. Even her name is a scam: they called her Old Dolio after an elderly homeless guy who won a lottery, in the hope that he would leave her all his money when he died. (He didn’t.)

So Old Dolio grows up emotionally stunted and starved for affection. Now she’s in her early twenties living a loveless and strangely sheltered existence. She’s nervous and introverted. But everything changes when Melanie (Gina Rodriguez) – a voluptuous young woman her parents meet on a plane – says she wants to join their gang and pull off a big con. She’s Dolio’s exact opposite: self-confident, sexy and talkative. Someone she can spend time with. But is she a friend? A rival? A mark? Or something else entirely?

Kajillionaire is a weird and wonderful dark comedy, laden with odd, quirky characters. Evan Rachel Wood is fantastically deadpan as the awkward, stilted Dolio. It’s told in a series of linked tableaus about a strange family of socially inept, but inoffensive, criminals. It’s also a coming-of-age drama about a 26-year-old woman experiencing life away from her domineering parents for the first first time. Great film.

Summerland

Dir: Lankyboy

Bray (Chris Ball) is a naïve gay virgin in love. He met a guy named Shawn on an online, Christian dating site, and now they’re going to meet in person. The planned meeting is at a music festival called Summerland in a southwestern desert. Bray wants to go there with his best friend Oliver (Rory J Saper) – a young guy from London in America on a student visa. They share a house together. Oliver’s dating a beautiful young woman named Stacy (Maddie Phillips) who lives in a mansion but wants to leave it and move in with Oliver. She can’t stand her stepfather. There are three problems: Oliver’s visa has expired so he has to move back to England (but Stacy doesn’t know). Bray has been texting Shawn using Stacy’s selfies. Shawn thinks he’s been communicating with a girl, not a gay guy named Bray. And the car they plan to use has broken down. So Tracy decides to join their road trip to Summerland using her stepdad’s RV.

They set off on a journey down the west coast, passing through Seattle, Portland, San Francisco, and Las Vegas. Stacy wants to listen to audio books on an ancient Sony Walkman to improve her mind. But Oliver has other plans. He has a briefcase full of strange, new psychedelic drugs for them to sample on their way. Oliver and Stacy are constantly having noisy sex in the RV, while Bray is holding out for his one true love. Will they make it to Summerland? Will Oliver tell Stacy he’s moving back to England? Will Bray ever meet Shawn? And if he does will he admit he’s the one who’s been catfishing him – pretending he’s a woman online – all this time?

Summerland is a simple, endearing road comedy. It’s full of interesting characters they meet on the way, like Oliver’s honey-badger drug dealer, an existential new age philosopher, and a gay black wizard named Khephra who enters Bray’s brain.

Summerland is a funny movie, easy to watch.

Nadia, Butterfly

Wri/Dir: Pascale Plante (Fake Tattoos)

It’s the 2020 Summer Olympic games in Tokyo, Japan. Nadia (Katerine Savard) is an Olympic swimmer from Québec. She’s been training since the age of ten and now, in her early twenties, is one of the fastest butterfly swimmers in the world. She lives a highly regimented life: home schooling, intense training, and a restricted diet. She’s massaged, prodded, tested and poked all day long – her body is a communal effort. But this will be her last competition – she’s retiring from competitive swimming to go back to school. And she leaves on a high note, winning a bronze medal in medley with the other three on her team: bilingual Karen (back stroke), newby Jess (breast), and her best friend Marie Pierre (Ariane Mainville) on freestyle. The two have been training together for a decade; Marie — she’s in her early thirties — is like a big sister to Nadia. And now that their races – and drug tests – are finished, she vows to take Nadia on a blow-out weekend inside the Olympic Village and out and about on the streets of Tokyo. Nadia’s been around the world, but only seen its swimming pools. It’s her first chance to explore on her own, to buy junk food from vending machines, get drunk… and maybe have sex. She meets a Lebanese fencer at a dance party and takes MDMA for the first time. But will she really leave competitive sports in her prime?

Nadia, Butterfly is a coming-of-age drama about a young athlete on the verge of leaving the only life she’s ever known. It covers a three-day period as she struggles over her decision. The film is immersed in the world of competitive sports, both the public side – its anthems, mascots and medals – and its hidden life. The film is saturated with the four colours of flags and uniforms: red, aqua, black and white. It’s a realistic, behind-the-scenes look at the Olympics, from the athletes’ perspectives. While I’m not really an Olympic fan (the movie was shot in Tokyo last summer) it still kept me constantly interested, if not deeply moved. But it’s the great performances of Savard and Mainville (as Nadia and Marie-Pierre) that really make the movie work.

Nadia, Butterfly is now playing in Toronto; check your local listings. Kajillionaire and Summerland open today.

This is Daniel Garber at the Movies each Friday morning on CIUT 89.5 FM and on my website culturalmining.com.

Lost Boys. Films reviewed: Stage Mother, Summerland

Posted in 1940s, Adoption, Canada, comedy, Gay, Lesbian, LGBT, Music, Romance, UK, WWII by CulturalMining.com on August 21, 2020

Hi, this is Daniel Garber at the Movies for culturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM.

This week I’m looking at two new movies – a comedy and an historical drama. There’s a Texas mom who inherits a San Francisco drag bar from her late son; and a reclusive Englishwoman during WWII dragged out of isolation to care for someone else’s son.

Stage Mother

Dir: Thom Fitzgerald (Cloudburst)

It’s a conservative small town in Texas. Maybelline (Jacki Weaver: Animal Kingdom) is a woman in her 70s who lives with her husband Jeb, a good ol’ boy. She spends most of her time as the choirmaster at a local Baptist church, or sharing gossip with her sister Babette. One day, her quiet life is disrupted by a phone call from San Francisco. Their adult son Ricky is dead. So she hops on a plane to attend the funeral and sort out his affairs. They’ve been estranged for many years but she’s still the next of kin. But when she visits his apartment an angry man named Nathan (Adrian Grenier: Entourage) slams the door in her face. And the funeral service itself is full of salacious double-entendres and drag queens vamping on the church stage. What’s going on?

Luckily, she meets Sienna (Lucy Liu: Kill Bill) a bleach-blonde single mom with a cute little baby who was Ricky’s friend (the baby was named after him) She explains it all to Maybelline: Ricky was not just gay, but also a drag performer who owned a bar in the Castro district called Pandora’s Box. Nathan was his lover, and the club’s manager, but since they weren’t married he’s left high and dry. Hence his anger and bitterness. So she visits the club to see what’s what. It’s a sad, depressing place with few patrons. And the lipsynch act is tired. She decides to turn the business around as a tribute to her late son.

She’s used to dealing with divas and wigs at her Baptist church choir; how different can this be? So she takes the three drag queens – Joan of Arkansas (Alister MacDonald), Cherry (Mya Taylor: she was amazing in Tangerine), and Tequila Mockingbird (Oscar Moreno) under her wing to teach them how to sing for real. Turns out they all have great voices. But each has baggage to sort out. Joan has a drug problem, Cherry is dealing with her transition, and Tequila has been rejected by his family. Meanwhile, Maybelline meets a man in a hotel who is everything her husband Jeb is not – kind, elegant and sophisticated. What should she do? Can she save the bar and turn her own life around? Or will she just give it all up and move back to Texas?

Stage Mother is a musical/comedy about an older woman who finds her new mission in a San Francisco drag bar. It’s a very camp romp, cute but not so funny, and extremely predictable. About a third of the film consists of the traditional drag performances themselves, with all the songs, dances, and lipsynching, as well as the elaborate costumes and makeup, the torch songs and jokes… everything you want if you’re into drag. Australian actress Jacki Weaver makes for a great Texas mom, Lucy Liu is almost unrecognizable as Sienna, and the drag trio – Cherry, Joan and Tequila – are totally believable as performers. Drag is very popular these days, with lots of TV shows devoted to it, so if that’s your thing and you can’t get enough of it, you’ll probably like Stage Mother.

But it didn’t do much for me.

Summerland

Wri/Dir: Jessica Swale

It’s WWII in Kent County, England. German bombs are falling on the big cities, but it’s peaceful in the countryside. Alice Lamb (Gemma Arterton: Byzantium; Hansel and Gretel Witch Hunters) is a recluse who lives alone in a cliffside house. Locals call her a witch and schoolkids torment her with practical jokes. She’s a writer, not a witch, and earns her living researching folktales and magic from a scientific bias. She’s currently obsessed with Fata Morgana – mirages of ships or castles that sometimes appear over the ocean. She’s been living on her own since a painful breakup in university.

But her solitude is broken when a boy is left at her door. Frank (Lucas Bond) is an evacuee, the child of an unnamed airforce pilot and a government bureaucrat sent to the town to escape the Blitz. He’s a sociable boy who likes playing and asking questions. It’s hate at first sight. She rejects him categorically, but is forced to take care of him for a week, until they find somewhere else to place him. Can Alice and Frank somehow learn to get along?

Summerland is an elegantly constructed and touching film about people forced to live together in extreme times. The main storyline alternates with flashbacks to Alice’s passionate love affair with a woman (Gugu Mbatha-Raw: Free State of Jones) that left her with a broken heart. It also looks at Frank’s growing friendship at school with a free-spirited girl (Dixie Egerickx: The Secret Garden) who lives with her grandmother in the town. The backstories of all these characters are gradually revealed, along with a few unexpected, exciting twists. There have been so many movies about life in WWII that references here can be reduced to quick tropes – a toy airplane, a burning building – without seeming clichéd. The acting is good, the characters endearing, and the beautiful scenery and wardrobe make it a pleasure to watch. I cried at least twice over the course of the movie.

So if you’re looking for a romantic historical drama, artfully told, this is one for you.

Summerland and Stage Mother both open today digitally and VOD.

This is Daniel Garber at the Movies each Friday morning on CIUT 89.5 FM and on my website culturalmining.com.

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