Half the picture – Amy Adrion
Half the Picture is an essential documentary from Amy Adrion that perfectly exemplifies the spirit of #TimesUp in Hollywood. Hearing female film and television directors from a huge array of backgrounds speak on their experiences in the industry shines a new light on the issues that plague it.
Harassment and assault are a small part of this documentary that encompasses the numerous and multifaceted challenges women directors face, from not being given opportunities and funding, to being undermined on set, to the pressures of motherhood.
The documentary features only women — from directors to gender-parity experts, representatives from the ACLU, Sundance, Vanity Fair — even behind the camera as we see behind-the-scenes shots of the interviews, the crew is seemingly all-female too. It adds a startling power to the film — when was the last time you saw so many women on screen, and such a notable absence of men?
It also does the job of proving the very point that every single woman in the film reiterates: that women are just as capable, just as good at filmmaking as men are in every single role — they are simply granted less opportunity to prove themselves.
The stories are simultaneously disheartening and inspiring. The likes of Ava DuVernay, Gina Prince-Blythewood, and Jill Soloway explain how despite the doors slammed in their faces, the jobs given to less qualified white male directors, the constant disrespect, it is their perseverance, skill, and love for the craft that has pushed them to endure. The logical happy ending for that story is “… and look where they are now!” but unfortunately, in reality, the payoff isn’t nearly as large as it should be. Or should I say, isn’t as large as their male counterparts’ is, for much less work.
DuVernay incredulously relates how post Selma (), the film that took the film world by storm, she expected job opportunities to if not come flying in, then at least be easier to come by. The industry proved her wrong, and she still had to face rejection after rejection from execs not wanting to hire her.
This is one story among many, and the evidence is made abundantly clear that the issue lies with those in power giving opportunities to people who look like them — a cycle of straight white men’s style and ideas appealing to straight white male executive’s sensibilities, resulting in that being the only perspective reflected in our culture on screen.
The documentary does a brilliant job of letting these women tell their own stories. They speak not only about their work, but how their families and identities have impacted upon it — from husbands and wives, race, and children. Mexican director Patricia Riggen speaks on how as “a small, brown woman” she was disregarded on set in favour of her (white, male) first AD. Miranda July gets emotional about how hard it is balancing work with caring for her son … and then promptly berates herself, because both being over emotional and a mother are two reasons often thrown in the face of women in the workplace.
This web of women are interwoven, and you see them namedrop each other as inspirations, as the people who first gave them a break, as friends and colleagues and contemporaries. It isn’t simply a documentary to highlight issues in the industry, but solutions too. The ultimate message is one of hope, and of real, tangible progress in the industry.
The Tale- Jennifer Fox
Jennifer Fox’s harrowing autobiographical film is by no means an easy watch, but it’s an essential one.
The film tells the true story of writer-director Jennifer Fox, played by the brilliant Laura Dern, whose mother discovers a story she had written as a child detailing a disturbing relationship between herself and her running coach. A grown woman and successful journalist, Dern’s character initially brushes off her mother’s concern, but can’t help reliving the memories of that formative time in her life.
The narrative is so cleverly crafted around Jenny’s memories being an unreliable narrator of past events to her present self as well as to the audience, who have to work with her to contextualise a child’s understanding of the events in our adult minds.
The young Jenny, played terrifyingly well by Isabelle Nélisse, is one of five siblings, often overlooked by her parents, and so is grateful for the attention granted her by her glamorous horse riding teacher Mrs G. (Elizabeth Debicki). There, she’s introduced to running coach Bill (Jason Ritter), whose cult-like mantra that pain leads to success sets off alarm bells instantly. Though a sense of dread permeates the entire film, his presence is sickeningly sinister right from the start.
Despite knowing the conclusion of events, we relive the journey with Jennifer, who must unpack her own subconscious, and it is difficult not to be taken in by the child’s perspective. The young Jenny, so eager for love and acceptance, felt like she was fully grown at age 13, and Nélisse does a phenomenal job of encapsulating that in her performance.
There’s a nuanced conflict between the young Jenny, who wishes to hold on to her romanticised version of events, where she is an agent not a victim, and the present day Jenny who slowly realises that what happened to her was so so wrong.
The journeys unfold simultaneously, and through a mixture of narration and time jumps, we see the same events multiple times with key differences as the reality of the matter becomes less and less clouded. The scenes of abuse themselves are awful to watch, but the way in which they are filmed and fed to the audience does a disturbingly good job at showing how easy it is for children like Jenny to be taken in by abusers.
The parallel horror is watching Laura Dern’s older Jennifer vehemently denying that anything out of the ordinary happened to her — insisting that she just had an older boyfriend that she hid from her parents. Dern delivers the broken-record denial and slow realisation well, and the final moments of the film are a triumph, but her scenes are more clunky with exposition and contrived boyfriend drama. The strongest parts of the film are without a doubt the free flowing flashbacks that embody the young Jenny’s perspective in every frame.
While Common plays a pretty generic boyfriend, Ellen Burstyn is brilliant as Jennifer’s mother. Her concern for her daughter — which comes much too late — comes from a place of real love that makes it difficult for even the most cynical of audiences to lay the blame firmly at the feet of Jenny’s parents. She too has told herself stories about what happened in order to live with her regret, and it’s plain in every shot she’s in.
The entire film is at its core concerned with storytelling and the mutability of truth, and it does a disturbingly good job at making its audience feel gaslighted. Alongside the flashbacks, the two timelines start to blur into one another to great effect, and the older Jenny’s documentary filmmaking career influences how she interrogates her own memories, literally interrogating the characters, as well as her younger self. It’s a genius touch that allows the complex motivations and emotions space to be explored on screen.
As awful and scary as the subject of this film is, it’s a respectful and important story of trauma and recovery, told in a universally powerful fashion. This is a perfect example of the kind of films that can exist in a world where women writers and directors are given the space to helm their own projects and tell their own stories — a brilliant, complex, real, female story that sensitively handles difficult subject matter.
Beverly Luff Linn – Jim Hoskin
Starring Aubrey Plaza, writer-director Jim Hoskins’ second feature An Evening with Beverly Luff Lin is exactly as weird as it seems.Plaza plays the dissatisfied LuLu, fired from her coffee-shop job by her manager/husband Shane Danger (Emile Hirsch), inspired to go on an adventure when she sees an old flame in an advert on TV for ‘An Evening With Beverly Luff Linn; For One Magical Night Only.’
She teams up with unassuming hitman-for-hire Colin (Jemaine Clement – Thor: Ragnarok director Taika Waititi’s partner in crime in creating What We Do in the Shadows) as her protection as she sets off to find her lost love. Seems like a fairly standard rom-com plot, but it’s anything but.
Distinctively set in the seventies, crazy and brilliant costuming and hair styles add to the bizarre caricatures that populate the film. All comically over-exaggerated yet straight-faced, the humour is of a very particular style that might not really hit the mark for most. Styling-wise, it’s particularly uncomfortable that a few too many of the female side characters are played by men in wigs for comedic effect – a transphobic “joke” as old as time that definitely shouldn’t fly in 2018.
It takes a little while for the audience to commit to the style – it’s almost like a Yorgos Lanthimos film, but full of toilet jokes. Toilet jokes and people coughing for a long time, stopping, then starting to cough again just when you think they’re done. That’s definitely as unfunny as it sounds, and happens a few times too many.
The main portion of the action takes place at a creepy hotel, where this magical evening is set to take place. “Who the fuck is Beverly Luff Lin?” you might ask. Colin too is equally as baffled and frustrated. Clement’s character is the audience substitute, taken along for the ride and caught up in the madness, and he plays the role well. His burgeoning love for Lulu is predictable, but manages to be actually quite sweet at the end of a film with no real climax.
The build up to the show, which gets postponed again and again, is colossal, and the payoff can never live up to it. I don’t want to spoil the secrets of Mr. Luff Linn, but Craig Robinson (yeah, the Pontiac Bandit from Brooklyn Nine Nine) is criminally underused for the sake of one joke that, though funny, hardly justifies not letting him show off his comedy talent.
Matt Berry plays his platonic partner Rodney Von Donkensteiger, whose name encapsulates the level of humour we’re dealing with. The drama of the piece with everyone operating at absurdly high stress levels throughout the film without much exposition and with a whole lot of miscommunication and withheld information that’s more of a frustration to the audience than anything else. People yelling at each other about stuff that you have no context to understand might be funny if you’re in a certain kind of mood, but generally speaking it’s not all that great.
That being said, there are some laugh-out-loud moments that more than hit the mark, and each actor’s absolute commitment to their role is certainly admirable. Plaza embodies Lulu’s boredom, desperation, and manipulations perfectly, but it doesn’t make her less of a 2 dimensional character. Where it works well to have flat one-note side characters as a running joke, with the lead it’s a little off-putting.
The film comes to a wildly anticlimactic conclusion with a few surprisingly sweet moments along the way, and it’s hard to pin down whether it was funny at all, looking back.
by Sneh Rupra