Sundance Review: “Get Out”

LOUISA: 1.5 STARS


LOUISA SAYS:

The classic ‘meet the parents’ weekend is turned on its head in “Get Out,” the directorial debut from comedian Jordan Peele. Peele has created a wannabe thriller about unsettling race relations in the U.S., but overall it’s a “Stepford Wives” style disappointment that lacks any suspense and has very little humor. I predict many critics will proclaim this movie as being a true original, but it’s not. An important social issue doesn’t make it a good movie, and I think some will be afraid to criticize the film and its many flaws because of it.

When white girl Rose (Allison Williams) invites her black boyfriend Chris (Daniel Kaluuya) to go home and meet her mom (Catherine Keener) and dad (Bradley Whitford), something is definitely rotten. Her parents are the perfect picture of the ideal in-laws: accepting, intelligent and kind. Chris gets more than a little spooked when he spots strange and bizarre behavior from several of the household servants, which leads to more disturbing discoveries, a few jump scares, and a forced hypnosis from mom. Of course this turns out to be some kooky white people cult conspiracy that involves kidnapping African-American men (to avoid giving spoilers that’s all I’m going to say).

LilRel Howery plays the “stereotypical black friend” and as is the norm in most mainstream films, his character is the only one who has any funny one-liners. He’s the comic relief that keeps the engine running through this mess (although there’s an unfunny running TSA joke that outstays its welcome after the second crack). Stephen Root as a blind art dealer was enough to elicit a few polite, mild chuckles, but I found little else in the movie funny. It’s not that I expected a straight-up comedy film, but a bit more humor would’ve made the film work better.

It’s clear this race-based film was meant as a criticism of the liberal elite, those folks who think they are above any type of racism, but the film fails miserably across the board. In fact, I’m not sure if this movie aspires to be a parody, a satirical comedy, or conventional horror because it succeeds at none of the above. While trying to find its footing, the film comes across as more divisive and biased rather than clever, and it’s not the best message to be sending out into our post-Obama world and current heated political environment. (And please don’t tell me that I don’t “get” this movie because I’m white: for a movie with substantial and ambitious themes like this, there’s an even greater burden on the writer / director to make it appealing and relatable to everyone).

The film has an unappealing cast of actors, the overall story is lifeless, and it doesn’t help matters that it’s painfully slow to set up. Slow isn’t the correct word — it’s more of a draggy, tedious, exercise that tried my patience throughout the first 3/4 of the movie. I contemplated taking a nap through the majority of the screening because it was such a yawner, but thankfully things picked up a bit (albeit far too late) in the third act.

There’s no doubt “Get Out” was heavily influenced by horror genre conventions, and most of the bloody violence is on point. Peele has a good eye as a director and probably has a bright future behind the lens, but it’s the writing that he just can’t seem to pull together. This movie could’ve been a blazingly original commentary on race relations but instead, there’s no cohesiveness to his intended message. It’s a good idea, but it’s poorly executed.

This film was screened and reviewed at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival.

“Other People”

LOUISA:    3.5 STARS      MATT:  2.5 STARS


LOUISA SAYS:

“Other People” is obviously a deeply personal film, which makes it a little difficult to review. Writer-director Chris Kelly’s screenplay is what shines here, as he has a tremendous grasp of reality in his dialogue. The grocery store scene is so painfully grounded in truth that it becomes even more profound if you have dealt with a parent battling cancer.

The strength of this movie lies not only in the skillful prose but in the raw and honest performances from Molly Shannon and Jesse Plemons, both immersing themselves in their roles as mother and son. Sadly, I found the direction very pedestrian and at times distracting and clunky (many scenes, like the oddball adopted child’s dance routine for his father’s birthday party, just didn’t work within the framework of the story). Despite its flaws, I found the movie to be deeply moving and touching with just the right amount of humor thrown in to give you permission to laugh through the tears.

The best way to write is to write what you know and what you’ve been through, and I feel Kelly has succeeded here. “Other People” reminds you of the importance of family because in the end, that’s all that matters.

MATT SAYS:

“Other People” is a well-written, but not particularly well-directed, comedy/drama about death, family, and relationships. There are some strong performances here — particularly from Jesse Plemons (Todd from “Breaking Bad”), who plays the lead (David) — but the movie as a whole doesn’t gel as it should.

In “Other People,” writer/director Chris Kelly tells an extremely personal, semi-autobiographical story about his mother’s diagnosis and death from cancer. What works about the movie are his deeply personal, funny and touching observations of his experiences leading up to his mother’s death. What doesn’t work, however, is the film’s too-dark tone, which would have been better-served with a script that had a more complete balance between the comic and the tragic. Nevertheless, there are some valuable and touching insights into the importance of family and those relationships that were particularly effective.

“Other People” isn’t for everyone; that said, those who are going through experienced similar to David’s may find some comfort here.

“I Saw the Light”

LOUISA:    3.5 STARS


LOUISA SAYS:

All musical biopics are roughly the same: they attempt to paint a portrait of a tortured genius who either has problems with past demons, alcohol, drugs, women, violence (or a deadly combination of all of the above), which leads to a tragic, untimely demise. Even those unfamiliar with musician Hank Williams will probably know what to expect in “I Saw the Light,” a very simplistic and sparse retelling of the life of the country crooner. The main problem with the film is that main subject’s life was, well, pretty boring.

Unexpectedly strong performances from the stellar cast (including Tom Hiddleston as Williams, Elizabeth Olsen as his first wife Audrey, Bradley Whitford as the legendary Fred Rose, Cherry Jones as his protective yet overbearing mother Lillie, and an all too short cameo from David Krumholtz as a newspaper reporter), keep the film afloat. Who knew Hiddleston could sing and play guitar? He more than simply pulls it off here: he is completely believable in all respects, right down to the cowboy strut and the flawless Southern accent (he even pronounces ‘pecan’ in the correct way)!

Not only is this film well acted, I thought it was incredibly well directed by Marc Abraham. The film looks and feels gorgeous, full of creative shots and staging. Abraham successfully constructs a style that never becomes tiresome or stale (how many other biopics can you say that about)? The scenes are creatively staged in a way to make the audience feel like they are right there in the heart of the action, watching music history being made. It’s one of the best directed biopics I’ve ever seen, which makes it even more of a shame that no big awards are likely in this film’s future.

As someone who loves all genres of music (yes, even classic country), I was hoping for more from this film. It’s good but it could’ve been so much better. Instead of briefly presenting numerous snapshot moments in Hank’s life, I would’ve rather seen a more focused storyline. This overly long movie meanders all over the place, with scene after scene of hard drinkin’, heartache cryin’, hollerin’ and fightin’, and let’s not forget the holy grail in the life of a country music icon: lots and lots of cheatin’.

Thankfully there are musical interludes thrown in for good measure (once Williams gets to perform at the Grand Ole Opry, the movie picks up steam — only to quickly lose all the momentum it gained). The final moments of Williams’ life are beautifully handled, as is the reaction to his tragic death at the age of 29.

The film gets you into the heart of the characters, but the characters are just too dull to make any lasting impact.


Matt was unavailable for review.