Film Reviews: New Releases for May 26 | Buzz Blog

Thursday, May 25, 2023

Film Reviews: New Releases for May 26

The Little Mermaid, You Hurt My Feelings, About My Father, The Starling Girl and more

Posted By on May 25, 2023, 8:21 AM

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click to enlarge Tobias Menzies and Julia Louis-Dreyfus in You Hurt My Feelings - FOCUS FEATURES
  • Focus Features
  • Tobias Menzies and Julia Louis-Dreyfus in You Hurt My Feelings
About My Father **1/2
Comedian Sebastian Maniscalco may not be literally playing himself—his character, though also named “Sebastian Maniscalco,” is a hotel manager rather than an entertainer—but it’s clear enough that he means this as a love letter to his actual father. That’s a sweet, earnest notion, so it’s a shame the movie itself isn’t funnier. The premise revolves around Sebastian’s plans to finally propose to his longtime girlfriend, Ellie (Leslie Bibb), so it’s time for the respective families to meet—which means a July 4th holiday get-together including Ellie’s D.C. power-couple parents (Kim Cattrall and David Rasche) and Sebastian’s Sicilian immigrant dad, Salvo (Robert DeNiro). That’s the set-up for some fish-out-of-water shenanigans, though it’s less a “slobs vs. snobs” comedy than it is a spiritual cousin to Wedding Crashers, including an artsy oddball sibling for the female lead. Indeed, About My Father generally applies romantic-comedy conventions to a father-son relationship, like the familiar “race to stop someone from getting on a plane.” The emotions feel honestly earned, despite Maniscalco’s limited acting chops; the only real problem is that there aren’t enough actual punch lines, and the ones we do get needed to land a bit harder. While Maniscalco’s heart is squarely in the right place, it could have been more effectively fused to his sense of humor. Available May 26 in theaters. (PG-13)

The Eight Mountains ***
Stories about powerful male friendships are relatively rare, so this epic adaptation of Paolo Cognetti’s 2018 novel from filmmakers Felix van Groeningen and Charlotte Vandermeersch (The Broken Circle Breakdown) effectively fills a notable gap. It opens in 1984, when 11-year-old city boy Pietro (Lupo Barbiero) meets 11-year-old Bruno (Cristiano Sassella) on a summer vacation to a small town in the Italian Alps. After many years apart, Pietro (Luca Marinelli) and Bruno (Alessandro Borghi) reconnect as adults, maintaining a strong connection even when mostly separated by distance. Van Groeningen and Vandermmersch begin with a bold artistic gambit, shooting their expansive mountain vistas in the tight box of Academy ratio, helping to emphasize the way in which the setting becomes a kind of trap—emotionally for Pietro as he’s pulled back to memories with his estranged dad, physically for Bruno as he struggles to continue a family tradition. The two central performances are solid if not spectacular, forced to cover a lot of thematic and narrative ground as Pietro and Bruno deal with their respective romantic relationships, conflicts with their fathers and career pursuits. But mostly, it’s an effective look at the way men and boys form bonds—side by side, often in manual labor, and too often avoiding talking about some of the most important things they’re dealing with. Available May 26 at Broadway Centre Cinemas. (NR)

The Little Mermaid **
See feature review. Available May 26 in theaters. (PG)

Monica ***
There’s a specific word that’s notably never spoken in Monica—“transgender”—but that seems perfectly in keeping for a story that’s entirely about things remaining unsaid. The Monica of the title (Trace Lysette) is a transgender woman in California who unexpectedly receives a call from the sister-in-law (Emily Browning) she’s never met, informing her that her mother Eugenia (Patricia Clarkson), from whom she’s long been estranged, is dying of cancer. Co-writer/director Andrea Pallaoro follows the tentative reconnection between Monica and her family, including her brother Paul (Joshua Close), allowing the extended silences and tight Academy ratio to suggest the challenging awkwardness of the situation. Yet this isn’t at all a story about dramatic confrontations; it’s about whether it’s possible, or maybe even desirable, for people to heal emotional wounds without ever actually speaking out loud what those wounds were. Pallaoro adds layers to the story as Monica begins identifying with her possibly-gender-nonconforming nephew, offering the possibility that some of that healing occurs through helping make sure patterns don’t repeat. Lysette’s performance is at times almost too internalized to fully flesh out the character, but it’s serving a story full of gentle humanity, and which realizes that it’s not necessary to underline only one part of Monica’s existence. Available May 26 in theaters. (NR)

click to enlarge Eliza Scanlen in The Starling Girl - BLEECKER STREET
  • Bleecker Street
  • Eliza Scanlen in The Starling Girl
The Starling Girl **1/2
After attending Sundance for 20 years, I can identify the exact moment in certain movies about certain subjects when viewers would groan and cluck their tongues in unison over how much more enlightened they are than certain characters. That phenomenon isn’t writer/director Laurel Parmet’s fault, but her feature falls into a Sundance sub-genre that relies a bit too much on viewers’ likely socio-political leanings. In a rural Kentucky community, Jem Starling (Eliza Scanlen)—a 17-year-old in a conservative Christian family—begins an affair with Owen (Lewis Pullman), her church’s married youth pastor and the son of the church’s minister. Parmet builds solid material out of the cultural specifics of a church community where girls are effectively paired off to “court” a likely future husband, and Scanlen has the acting chops to show the struggles of a young woman trying to reconcile her desires with her faith. The screenplay just seems too enamored of pointing out hypocrisies and family secrets—like the alcoholism of Jem’s father—rather than grappling honestly with adolescents who truly want to be “good” in the way they’re raised, but don’t know how. Most disappointing, it feels like a story where we’re all just waiting for the moments when some authority figure says something sexist, patriarchal, ignorant, etc. You can want for a girl like Jem to live a less constrained life, and still feel like it’s shooting Jesus fish in a barrel. Available May 26 in theaters. (R)

Victim/Suspect ***1/2
Sometimes you can’t separate how angry a movie makes you feel from whether it’s a great piece of filmmaking—and maybe, in some cases, that’s okay. The fury that emerges is profound as director Nancy Schwartzman follows the work of Rae de Leon, a reporter for California-based Center for Investigative Reporting, as she digs into nationwide examples of women who have reported sexual assault to police being accused of—and arrested for—making false statements. Schwartzman and de Leon are meticulous in chronicling the police behavior responsible for these “flipped” cases, as they make use of video interviews that show investigators lying to these women about evidence proving that they’re liars, while further exposing how this is kind of just standard practice in order to make a case go away. They also wisely focus on a few individual cases, and the victims whose lives were devastated not once but twice, letting them tell their stories and confront the reality of how they were manipulated. It’s a debatable choice to make de Leon the hero of the story, giving as much focus to the process of exposing these actions as to the actions themselves. Then again, maybe it’s important to emphasize that the investigative legwork done by journalists on this subject should have been done by law enforcement, to emphasize that it’s not that they couldn’t have made this same effort, but they were simply too lazy and callous to do it. Available May 23 via Netflix. (NR)

You Hurt My Feelings ***1/2
On the surface, it’s a relationship comedy-drama about honesty, but scratch a little deeper, and writer/director Nicole Holofcener’s latest is also a wonderfully perceptive piece about the way we perceive ourselves. New York-based writer Beth Mitchell (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) is on the verge of finishing her second book, but faces a crisis when she overhears her beloved husband Don (Tobias Menzies) tell her brother-in-law Mark (Arian Moayed) that he doesn’t like it. And she’s not alone in suddenly facing a turning point regarding her work, as therapist Don starts to wonder if he’s doing his patients any good, Mark wrestles with his career as a struggling actor, and Beth’s sister/Mark’s wife Sarah (Michaela Watkins) wonders if her job as a high-end interior designer has any real value. Holofcener probes and pokes with wonderful wit at the ways in which people find their employment defining them, and suddenly finding themselves adrift when they’re faced with the possibility that they might not be good enough at it. Yes, it’s also about when and why the little white lies we tell our loved ones are appropriate, and when they’re not, and the performances are uniformly terrific at capturing people who are basically decent despite their various insecurities. It just feels most interesting when Holofcener shows how much she understands the way people internalize the answer to “So, what do you do?” as “So, who are you?” Available May 26 in theaters. (R)

About The Author

Scott Renshaw

Scott Renshaw

Bio:
Scott Renshaw has been a City Weekly staff member since 1999, including assuming the role of primary film critic in 2001 and Arts & Entertainment Editor in 2003. Scott has covered the Sundance Film Festival for 25 years, and provided coverage of local arts including theater, pop-culture conventions, comedy, literature,... more

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