Kevin Jones: November is shaping up to be one of the best months for releases this year. Offering a few more potential awards candidates, the month will see many of the fall’s most talked about festival releases finally hit theaters. One such film is Noah Baumbach‘s Marriage Story, which is a Netflix release but will begin its limited theatrical run this month.
Portraying a director and actress struggling through their divorce, the film stars Adam Driver, Scarlett Johansson, Alan Alda, Laura Dern, and Ray Liotta. Since its debut, it has seemed to strike a chord with many married viewers while both Driver and Johansson have begun to earn some Oscars buzz, as well. Baumbach has certainly excelled in telling deeply human stories, whether in The Squid and the Whale, Frances Ha, or The Meyerowitz Stories, finding truth in pain and life in general. Between the praise and his filmography, Marriage Story has become of my most anticipated releases of the year, even though I am not married.
Alex Sitaras: Marriage Story looks to be a film that can resonate deeply with just about anyone. Its matter-of-fact title suggests an intimate, no barriers look at a failing marriage which I’d imagine won’t be unlike Blue Valentine in effect. I really enjoyed the decision to make dual teaser trailers for this film. Each trailer used voiceover from Nicole (Johansson) and Charlie (Driver) sharing what they love and admire about the other. At just a minute each, we’re able to learn a fair amount about each character, drawing us into their story and making their lives relatable. And the trailers also show a crushing fact: even if there is respect, admiration, and affection present in a marriage, it still might not work out. In a time where just about each and every one of us has been impacted by divorce or known someone who has, Marriage Story prays on our concerns, insecurities, and inhibitions about falling in love and being in love for a lifetime.
A film that I’d like to bring up, also a family drama, is Honey Boy directed by Alma Har’el. The film is Har’el’s feature film debut. She had previously directed television commercials and music videos, including one for Sigur Rós that starred Shia LaBeouf, likely the way the two became introduced to each other. Honey Boy is written by LaBeouf, inspired by the relationship that LaBeouf had with his father throughout his childhood as a young actor and later as an adult. Though the film is said to be highly autobiographical, the character meant to represent LaBeouf bears the surname Lort rather than LaBeouf, suggesting at least some degree of separation between fact and fiction. LaBeouf also stars in Honey Boy as the character meant to represent his father, likely providing insight into LaBeouf’s relationship with his father given that LaBeouf states in the trailer “my dad is not the reason I drink- he’s the reason I work”.
LaBeouf wrote Honey Boy during a period of rehabilitation, the screenplay undoubtedly being cathartic to write. Whether the overall message he expresses in Honey Boy is one of forgiveness, self-acceptance, or revisionism, it seems that LaBeouf has found some peace in his life and has a firmer grasp on the choices he makes off-set. This film as well as his LA benefit concert, MTV News Interview, and press appearances for The Peanut Butter Falcon suggest a more mature and content LaBeouf, which is always something I like to see when I know someone has been struggling.
Kevin: Agreed, Alex. It is nice to see the changes LaBeouf has seemingly undergone in recent years with Honey Boy standing as, what appears to be, his personal reckoning with his past. Upon hearing about this film initially, its premise is so unconventional that it was hard to not be curious how it would turn out. If reviews are any indicator, it has turned out quite well with LaBeouf’s daring decision to play his own father paying off. I do like that he had someone else direct – I am quite curious how Har’el will translate to film from the commercial realm, as well – as it will likely provide some outside perspective on such a personal relationship and role for him. Beyond LaBeouf, seeing Lucas Hedges in another emotionally raw role is something I am looking forward to, considering my affinity for his recent performances. It will especially be interesting to see how he plays a LaBeouf-type character opposite LaBeouf himself. I am sure the set had quite the interesting dynamic.
Between these two films we’ve started this discussion on, it definitely seems like November is the month for poignant takes on the key relationships in life. How the two will differ in their approach will certainly be something to keep an eye on. Also coming this month is the latest film from legendary filmmaker Martin Scorsese, The Irishman. Beginning development as long ago as 2007, Scorsese initially struggled to find funding for the film before ending up at Netflix. Its production process garnered headlines for its extensive de-aging of its cast, while its festival debut brought on critical acclaim. Starring Robert De Niro, Joe Pesci, Al Pacino, Jesse Plemons, Bobby Cannavale, Anna Paquin, and Harvey Keitel, this loaded cast is already being called one of Scorsese’s absolute finest.
Finding him in familiar thematic territory, the over three-hour long film focuses on a mob hitman who recounts his possible involvement in killing Jimmy Hoffa. In a vein similar to the first two we have discussed, there is a mournful and contemplative side of The Irishman that examines the very nature of a gangster’s life, one’s aging, and even Scorsese’s own work. It seems to have the potential to act as a fitting summation of ideas that Scorsese has showcased throughout his career, while dealing analytically with the often violent and abhorrent behavior some of his most well-known films portray. I really cannot wait to see this one, especially after waiting to see it for so long.
Alex: The Irishman has definitely also piqued my interest not only because it’s a gangster film and no one does those better than Scorsese, but also because of the de-aging technology. There’s always value in seeing a film that is experimental, and in today’s day and age it seems it’s been more so the push of seasoned directors to be unconventional (Scorsese, Lee, and Malick) rather than younger up-and-coming directors. I jokingly liken The Irishman to Boyhood… but without the patience, given Scorsese’s decision to not cast multiple actors for roles that span over the course of a character’s life. From the trailer of The Irishman I also pick up on a good amount of humor, and I’m curious if the trailer’s comedic elements reflect the film as a whole or are only a minor part of the 3+ hour runtime.
The next film on the docket is Todd Haynes‘s Dark Waters. The film is a thriller (unusual for Haynes) acting as a cautionary tale about capitalism (unusual for a Haynes film to have such cut-and-dry subject matter) that has seemingly been swept under the rug (unusual for Haynes) by Focus Features. It stars Mark Ruffalo as an attorney in a small town who discovers that a number of farm animal and human deaths could be caused by a large corporation poisoning the water. Because Dark Waters has went so far under the radar, I didn’t realize Haynes had a film out so soon until you brought it to my attention. I’m not the most knowledgeable about Haynes’s films, but I know he’s a favorite of yours. What do you make of this film and its subject matter?
Kevin: I’m really not sure what to make of it, Alex. The trailer makes it seems like a rather straightforward 1990s-style courtroom drama with films like A Civil Action where a lawyer fights to correct an injustice. It is no surprise to see Mark Ruffalo in an environmentally-themed film such as this, considering his outspokenness on issues related to climate change. However, the material landing with Todd Haynes is definitely odd. I keep thinking about Haynes’ 1995 film, Safe. That film features a 1980s housewife (Julianne Moore) who begins to suffer from an apparent environmental illness. It is a harrowing look at the deterioration suffered by this woman, interlaced with classic Haynes themes about suburbia, heteronormativity, and ostracization. That said, it is a far more reserved work, slowly building its sense of terror and never wearing its heart on its sleeves.
In stark contrast, Dark Waters appears to be the exact opposite. Now, I am still excited to see it, as I would be for any new Todd Haynes film, but I’m incredibly curious (and hopeful) to see how it breaks away from the film the trailer makes it out to be. Plus, the cast – also featuring Anne Hathaway, Tim Robbins, Bill Camp, and Bill Pullman – is excellent, so it is impossible to resist.
Alex: Like you mentioned in regards to Safe, Haynes was able to hone in on the theme of suburbia to enhance his study of Moore’s character. In that same vein, I hope that the small town aspect of Dark Waters is something that Haynes can use as a means to further develop Ruffalo’s character and the story of the townspeople.
The last film featured as part of our Most Anticipated column this month is Rian Johnson‘s Knives Out. After a polarizing turn to franchise filmmaking with The Last Jedi, Johnson seems to have returned to his roots in the thriller genre for Knives Out. The film, also written by him, is a murder mystery with an ensemble cast of Daniel Craig, Ana de Armas, Jamie Lee Curtis, Michael Shannon, Toni Collette, Lakeith Stanfield, and more. Reviews have been almost unbelievably positive- last year’s Bad Times at the El Royale seems to have a similar quality of cast and alternative take on genre filmmaking but was not met with the same praise. For that reason, I’m curious to see what Johnson does with Knives Out and if it will be a crowdpleaser or if its praise will be predominantly awarded by critics.
Kevin: Not really sure what to make of Knives Out. I found the initial trailer to be unbelievably bad, which knocked the wind out of some of my anticipation. However, as a lover of murder mysteries and Agatha Christie-type whodunnits, Knives Out is definitely in my wheelhouse. Plus, the great reviews make it hard to turn down. Of the entire cast, I am especially intrigued by Daniel Craig here, considering how funny he was as an off-beat character in Steven Soderbergh‘s Logan Lucky. It is great to see him turn to far goofier roles in contrast to his suave turns as James Bond, demonstrating his range in acting beyond being an action star. How Johnson utilizes that range will be interesting to see.
Overall, an impressive month. From heartwrenching dramas to light-hearted genre fare, it seems like November has it all and should be a great, varied month for film lovers going to the theater.