The eleventh installment of our column in which a few of our critics discuss the films they’re most looking forward to being released in theaters or for the first time on Blu-ray during the coming month.
Kevin Jones: As awards season is in full-swing, it is no surprise that November is slated to be another busy month of films being positioned to compete for nominations. One such film is Lady Bird. The story of a young girl’s adventures in Northern California over the course of a year, Lady Bird marks the first solo directing credit for Greta Gerwig. Known for playing quirk young women who have no idea where to turn in their lives in mumblecore films, it is no surprise to see Gerwig opt to focus on a young girl’s coming-of-age story as her first solo effort. It has drawn a lot of comparisons to last year’s The Edge of Seventeen already, but I’m not sure I’m inclined to agree beyond them both being about young women. Gerwig’s written work and acting credits may come largely in comedy-dramas like The Edge of Seventeen, but they are more eccentric and dark at their core in spite of their light beginnings. I would imagine Lady Bird will embody that far more as it delves into this girl’s life and her relationship with her mother. Honestly, it likely has a lot more in common with 20th Century Women in its style, characterizations, and its thematic focus on the relationship between parents and their children, than a film such as The Edge of Seventeen.
Starring Saoirse Ronan (her first big role after Brooklyn), Laurie Metcalf, Tracy Letts, Lucas Hedges, and Timothee Chalamet, the film has a great mix of under-recognized veteran actors and young stars who have just recently broken out into the mainstream over the past few year, which should be a compelling mix to watch.
Ben McDonald: I admittedly haven’t seen 20th Century Women or The Edge of Seventeen yet, but I’m definitely a fan of the coming-of-age genre when done right. It appears that Lady Bird will go more down the route of a comedy-drama, so its success will largely depend on how well its comedic aspects land. Humor in movies dealing with adolescence can be tough to pull off since there’s a very characteristic dialect and behavior that children and teenagers exhibit. I find in general that the way young characters simply speak is one of the easiest ways to make or break these type of films. One of my favorite coming-of-age movies is 2007’s Superbad, and I think a great deal of its charm is owed to the immature and vulgar way its adolescent male characters speak. The recent adaptation of Stephen King‘s IT also comes to mind on this note, though its characters are admittedly much younger.
Saoirse Ronan’s role in the film also stands out to me. After her innocent character in the period piece Brooklyn (also a kind of coming-of-age film in its own right), this looks like a much louder and more active performance, and I’m looking forward to seeing what she brings to the table as a frustrated teen.
One film I’m particularly looking forward to is Martin McDonagh‘s Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. Set in America, this is McDonagh’s third feature film and features the always-exceptional Frances McDormand in what appears to be a unique role for the veteran actress. McDormand is often associated with the strong women she plays (as in Fargo, Almost Famous, etc.), but this looks like a much darker spin on her character-type. Judging from the trailer alone, it looks like her character will actually be quite profane and violent.
The film is about a mother (McDormand) who aggressively confronts the local police to solve her daughter’s murder, and appears to keep in line thematically with the director’s previous efforts in making dark comedies. One thing I’ve really enjoyed from McDonagh is the emotional seriousness he brings to his black comedies. Similar directors in the genre like Tarantino seem to often ignore the repercussions of their violent content, while McDonagh soberly faces them. Tonally, this makes the director’s works quite memorable, and somehow makes the comedy funnier.
Kevin: Totally agree about both coming-of-age films and Ronan. For the former, it is why Gerwig seems to be such a perfect match for this material. With her roots in mumblecore, Gerwig knows naturalistic dialogue like few other filmmakers working today and young characters are at their best when given honest, natural dialogue. She knows how young people talk and can lend a great deal of her own experience growing up in recent years to this film, making it one that promises that be one of those rare Hollywood or independent films to truly grasp who young people are and how they behave. Agreed regarding Ronan as well. Lady Bird feels like a 180 compared to her stoic and reserved turn in Brooklyn, which will provide her a great chance to demonstrate her range.
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri has certainly garnered a lot of buzz and, like you, I cannot wait to finally check it out. Definitely seems to be a lot darker of a role for McDormand as you say, but I’m personally very excited to see Sam Rockwell in this one. He is one of those actors who never seems to get enough work, but when he is in a film, he always knocks the role out of the park. I am very curious to see what he can do in teaming up with McDonagh again previously working with him on Seven Psychopaths.
However, in the premise of the film, it will be interesting to see how McDonagh works with the idea of McDormand’s character seeking out who killed her daughter. Obviously, In Bruges was similarly incredibly dark and, yet, he handled it with incredible grace and somehow managed to make the film funny in spite of that pitch black darkness. How he is able to weave that same darkness with comedy again in this film will be a particular point of interest.
One of the more intriguing releases in November has to be Mudbound. Directed by Dee Rees, the film is about a family in Mississippi coping with racism and the return of a relative from World War II. Critically acclaimed when it premiered back in January at Sundance, the film is of particular note for being a likely Oscar candidate from Netflix. Whether or not Netflix will be able to actually break into the awards show remains to be seen.
What is certain, however, is that Mudbound seems incredibly promising on the surface. Featuring a fantastic cast led by Carey Mulligan, Garrett Hedlund, Jason Clarke, Jason Mitchell, and Mary J. Blige, the film’s inclusion of many of my favorite young actors makes it impossible to pass up. In particular, Mulligan’s role will be one of my main focuses. She is one of those actresses that always puts in fantastic and passionate performances, but is incredibly selective in the roles she accepts. Always playing these strong female characters, Mulligan is one of those rare talents that truly just grabs your attention the second she enters the frame, no matter the role. She just has a fantastic screen presence that should hopefully shine through in this film.
Ben: Definitely agree on the quality of the cast. I’ve only seen Mulligan in Drive (I’ve been meaning to watch Shame for a while), but she definitely seems like a versatile actress. I’m especially looking forward to Jonathan Banks‘s performance here. Famous recently for his likable character Mike in Breaking Bad and now Better Call Saul, it’ll be interesting to see how he will tackle playing a racist Southerner.
Like you said as well, it’s really great to see Netflix breaking into the spotlight with more feature films. Along with Amazon, it looks like a lot more online streaming services might start producing their own films. Whether they win awards or not, It’s certainly an exciting prospect of having full-budget, feature-length films being released online instead of in theaters. As much as I enjoy the theater experience, it’s often too expensive to go more than once or twice a month at most. I’m looking forward to continuing to see how the film industry changes as a result of these breakthroughs.
Moving forward into November is Joe Wright‘s Darkest Hour, a WWII drama centering around Winston Churchill in the early days of the war. Darkest Hour features a much more seasoned cast than Mudbound, with the legendary Gary Oldman playing Churchill, along with Ben Mendelsohn, Kristin Scott Thomas, and Stephen Dillane. Gary Oldman is certainly an unconventional choice to play the famous prime minister, but he certainly looks up to the challenge, and I’ve never been disappointed by a performance of his before.
This also isn’t the first time Joe Wright has tackled WWII. The British director previously adapted the novel Atonement in 2007, a well-crafted romantic drama with a devastating narrative and cinematography. From the looks of it, this film will tackle the other side of the war, from the perspective of the politicians and generals trying to survive the early days of the war, when defeat seemed imminent.
Kevin: Joe Wright certainly seems to be most at home when doing period dramas, such as Atonement as you mention or Pride & Prejudice prior to that one. He has certainly been a bit more hit-and-miss since Atonement with four films, two of which got bad reviews. However, any director that could pull off that long tracking shot in Atonement during the Dunkirk evacuation will always get my attention.
Given that Darkest Hour is very much in wheelhouse, it will be very interesting to see if it can all come together or if it will feel a bit too close to any number of cliche, by-the-numbers, biopics that come out in a given years. As you mention, the cast is really something to behold and, hopefully, this is finally Gary Oldman’s time for some Oscar gold. He is absolutely one of the best working actors, yet has been continuously overlooked. If his performance lives up to the hype, I would not be surprised to see that change finally.
Another film to keep an eye out for in November is I Love You, Daddy. Directed by comedian Louis C.K., the film is certain to be controversial as it focuses on a father grappling with the fact that his 17-year old daughter is dating a 68-year old director. Starring himself with Chloë Grace Moretz as his daughter and John Malkovich as her alleged boyfriend, the film also includes appearances from frequent Louis C.K. collaborator Pamela Adlon and more household names such as Edie Falco, Charlie Day, Helen Hunt, and Rose Byrne.
Shot in black-and-white, the film has already drawn comparisons to the work of Woody Allen, namely Manhattan. As a big fan of Louis C.K. from his stand-up and his television work, as well as Allen, I Love You, Daddy is an incredibly intriguing work that may be about some touchy social areas, but should be quite a strong introspective work. In Louie, Louis C.K. often looks at his life, his ex-wife, and his daughters, wondering if he is doing things right, what he should do, or how he should raise them. I Love You, Daddy seems to be very much in line with this with a father in conflict over wanting to protect his daughter from this much older man, but realizing that he cannot protect her from everything and she must learn this relationship is wrong in her own time.
Ben: It could definitely be a major source of controversy if it gets any widespread media coverage. With all the sexual harassment allegations coming out every day against famous Hollywood figures, including C.K. himself, I can’t think of a worse time for this film to come out. That being said, I’m still interested in seeing it and I’ve never been disappointed by anything Louis C.K. has put out yet. The film is shot in black-and-white, like you said, and that’s always a choice to watch for nowadays because of how rare it is. No one shoots in black-and-white today without a good reason to, whether to evoke the aesthetic of classic Hollywood (like The Artist) or to convey a certain tone (like Schindler’s List). From the trailer, which features some dated swipe transitions, I’m sensing that the reason is the latter.
Overall, November looks to be a very promising month for indie releases, and I look forward to catching them in theaters and online. Hopefully with the changing film distribution landscape, more of these smaller films will gain more attention.