Movie review: Love, Simon

Movie reviews

Hello!

Welcome to a review of a gay teen romance that made a straight adult believe in love again. I’m kidding. But also, not really. Anyways, this is Love, Simon!

IMDb summary: Simon Spier keeps a huge secret from his family, his friends, and all of his classmates: he’s gay. When that secret is threatened, Simon must face everyone and come to terms with his identity.

Writing

Love, Simon was written by Isaac Aptaker and Elizabeth Berger (the showrunners of This is Us), based on the book ‘Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda’ (amazing title, tbh) by Becky Albertalli. I like to think (and pretend) that with me getting older, my tastes are changing and maturing. While that is true to some extent, I’m also very prone to living in the past, so, even though I’m close to finishing university, nothing pleases me more than a trip down memory lane into my high-school years. Thus, I’ll take a high school teen movie any day of the week. From that whole nonsensical babble, you can probably guess that I loved (pun, very much, intended) Love, Simon. Also, I haven’t read the book prior to seeing the movie, so I can’t comment on any plot or character changes. I will say this: the movie definitely made me want to read the book.

So, to begin with, I loved the mix of old teen movie tropes and new contemporary ideas in the writing of the movie. I absolutely loved the message concerning identity – whether related to sexuality or not – and how the reveal of one’s identity is always a scary thing, even when it will probably be accepted. Still, I wish the movie underscored a bit more the fact that the reaction to Simon’s coming out was a borderline, best case scenario. And yet, this movie was more focused on an individual story rather than on broader social issues, so maybe it should not be penalized for not addressing the bigger problems? Maybe its goal was to just tell a love story rather than to make a political statement (let’s leave political statements for Moonlight or Call Me By Your Name?).

And that love story was great. It felt real and heartfelt, but also quite sappy. And why shouldn’t it be sappy? Why hetero-normative stories can be allowed to be so sickly sweet romantic and gay ones not? Everyone deserves a great love story and the movie not only tells that but does it too. Still, while that whole love story was all cute and escapist on screen, please be careful when meeting people online. Catfish situations are plentiful in the real world.

Anyways, going back to talking about the treatment of identity in the movie, this time in relation to the specific identity of a gay teen – I loved how the movie both played into the stereotype but also subverted it. Love, Simon was great at showcasing that one’s sexuality need not be the defining factor of one’s identity and, let alone, whole life. I highly appreciated the film’s underlying focus on the fact that nothing has to change just because somebody comes out as gay. I also really liked the fact that, while the script made the viewers relate to and understand the lead Simon, it also did not over-idealize him. Simon still had flaws and hurt other people and his actions should not be excused just because he had a secret. They should be excused because he was human, like all of us.

Lastly, while Love, Simon had some nice messages about identity and some adorable romantic moments, it also had some great instances of humor. A lot of the jokes and situation were cringe-y and awkward (and very teen appropriate). However, an equal amount of jokes were genuinely laugh-out-loud funny.

Directing

Love, Simon was directed by Greg Berlanti – the master of the DC TV’s Arrowverse as well as the writer/producer of the beloved teen shows like Dawson’s Creek and, more recently, Riverdale. I thought that he did quite a good job with his 3rd feature film that he directed (it has been 8 years since the last one). Berlanti himself is gay but I don’t want to assume that his personal experiences anyway impacted his decision to direct this film.

No matter the reasons, he did a great job. Love, Simon was a well-paced dramedy, with a good mix of lighter comedic moments and deeper emotional scenes. The cinematography and camera work were also both good – typical of a mainstream drama, though some overhead shots were pretty neat and unique. The production/set design was great too. I loved the design of Simon’s room as well as that whole dream sequence about him being gay in college. The soundtrack was lovely too. I loved the final song ‘Wild heart’ by Bleachers.

Acting

Love, Simon’s cast consisted of up-and-coming talent that you might have seen in other films/TV shows aimed at younger (and not only) audiences. The lead was played by Nick Robinson (who was absolutely amazing in this film – real and relatable) who you might remember from Jurassic World but also another YA adaptation Everything, Everything. His friend group consisted of 13 Reasons Why Katherine Langford, X-Men: Apocalypse’s Alexandra Shipp, and Jorge Lendeborg Jr. (who had a tiny role in Spider-Man: Homecoming). Keiynan Lonsdale (known by a lot of fans of Berlanti’s work as the Kid Flash on The Flash) and Miles Heizer (also of 13 Reason Why but Nerve too – another modern teen movie) also had small roles in the film.

On the adult front, Josh Duhamel (Transformers 5) and Jennifer Garner played Simon’s parents and had a couple of heartfelt and a couple of funny scenes concerning modern parenting. Tony Hale (weirdly, also from Transformers, but also Veep which I really need to watch) and Natasha Rothwell played the vice-principal and the drama teacher, respectively, and were sort of cartoonish. Their jokes went too far at times but they still somehow worked in the context of the movie.

In short, Love, Simon was a great teen dramedy that had the timeless appeal of a John Hughes’ film and the representation of the modern times!

Rate: 4.5/5

Trailer: Love, Simon trailer

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5 ideas about a movie: To The Bone

Movie reviews

Hello!

To The Bone is the latest Netflix original film (previous ones being Okja, War Machine, and Sand Castle), that similarly to another streaming platform’s project – 13 Reasons Why – tackles a controversial issue head on. Both of these pieces of entertainment have been accused of glorifying their respective analyzed problems but, to my mind, the viewers/critics that are saying that have completely missed the point. The depiction of problems forces a conversation and, even though the conversation might be uncomfortable, it is necessary, both on the personal and societal levels. And if Netflix’s TV shows/movie are the only ones willing to kickstart it, they should be praised rather than condemned.

IMDb summary: A young woman is dealing with anorexia. She meets an unconventional doctor who challenges her to face her condition and embrace life.

  1. To The Bone has been written and directed by Marti Noxon, who was a writer and executive producer on Buffy the Vampire Slayer. The script was, arguably, the strongest part of the film. To The Bone presented anorexia from a variety of angles and through the perspectives of a diverse range of characters. And what was even greater was the fact that this varied portrayal was realistic and detailed but the ultimate message was one of hope.
  2. The main character’s family was given as a very toxic example of what not to do. All of the mother figures in the film were far from supportive: the stepmother raised questions of beauty instead of health, while the mother and her partner were distant. All of them were more focused on their own problems. And that nicely corresponded to the message of the film which was, to my mind, the fact that the patients have to heal for themselves. It’s about choosing life for themselves. Nevertheless, it’s also important for them to understand that they deserve the support of others. Even though they are reduce to it, they are not just a nameless burden or somebody’s else problem, they are a person.
  3. I also really appreciated a lot of contemporray approaches to the portrayl of the eating disorder. The tumblr aspect was fasnicating and so true to life. While the blogging site is an amazing creative hub it’s also a cesspool that both perpetuates and fights of a lot of mental disorders. The strict and relentless doctor character was a very interesting inclusion as well. His ‘let’s cut to the core’ attitude was very eye opening. The clinic house and the challenging boding remimded me of a depiction of a group home on The Fosters TV show. Lastly, the feeding scene was heatbreaking and the mother-daughter connection on display in the said scene kinda made up for the earlier negative portrayal of the female authorty figures.
  4. Having touched upon Noxon’s writing, I’d like to now turn my attention to her direction of To The Bone. I thought that the movie’s slow pace was good amd fitting, while the visuals – a classic example of a narrative film/drama. Even though the film has been primarly released on a streaming platform/small screen, the art show and the main character’s night stroll/dream at the end of the movie added a cinematic quality to the picture. The dead body shot at the end of the film was also a very striking image just on its own. Noxon’s portrayl of eating – as a ritualised or sexualised action – was also very interesting.
  5. The main character of the film has been played by Lily Collins, who after starring in some B-level pictures (Mirror Mirror, Love, Rosie) has really blossomed into a wonderful actress in these past few years, with roles in Rules Don’t Apply, Okja, and this film. Her physical transformation for the role was also praisewrothy career-wise but defintely not health-wise. Keanu Reeves was also good. While action movies are still more in his wheelhouse (like John Wick), lately, he has been getting pretty good at drama (like here or in The Neon Demon). Liana Liberato, who I first saw in the film Trust about the dangers of social media, was also very good in this movie, playing the only supportive family member. Lastly, a Tony-award winning actor Alex Sharp was an absolute scene stealer. His character had an aura of theatricality that must have fit perfectly with the talents of a Boradway/theatre actor.

In brief, To The Bone variedly and realistically portrayed the taboo isue of anorexia. The screenplay was informative but not gloryfying, while the acting was stark and emotional rather than inviting of any kind of copycat behaviour.

Rate: 4/5

Trailer: To The Bone trailer

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Movie review: Girls Trip

Movie reviews

Hello!

It seems that nowadays, more and more Hollywood films break the boundaries of disposable entertainment and start to provide commentary on or revelations about the modern society. Girls Trip has accidentally become one of those kinds of films too. Let’s review it!

IMDb summary: When four lifelong friends travel to New Orleans for the annual Essence Festival, sisterhoods are rekindled, wild sides are rediscovered, and there’s enough dancing, drinking, brawling, and romancing to make the Big Easy blush.

For those not understanding my cryptic intro: Girls Trip is a female centric comedy about a group of friends reuniting after years of separation. Sounds familiar? That’s because you have already seen that movie this summer and I have also reviewed it for you. It was called Rough Night and it wasn’t that good. Things get interesting when you realize what is the difference between the two films. Rough Night had a predominantly ‘white’ cast, while Girls Trip has cast mostly ‘black’ actors. What surprised Hollywood the most was the fact that the ‘black’ version of the film did much better at the box office and with critics. I don’t even want to get into what this means for the business and for society. Is it a coincidence? A one time deal? A plea for more diversity? Or maybe Girls Trip is just a better and more entertaining film than Rough Night? Cause at the end of the day, Hollywood movies are still, first and foremost, pieces of entertainment, despite the extra baggage that they now carry.

Writing

Girls Trip was written by Kenya Barris (the creator of Black-ish who has also worked on ANTM), Tracy Oliver (a TV writer), and Erica Rivinoja (also a TV writer but she also penned the story for Trolls).

The initial opening and the set up for the story was short but effective. It quickly (but not in a rushed way) setup all 4 ladies as, more or less, 4 equal leads. The archetypes of a girl group were there (the mommy, the crazy one, the career-focused, the leader) but were also expanded upon as well as subverted. The script also had a lot of fun with the different pairings of the girls.

The script treatment of the concept of friendship was amazing because of how realistically this relationship was portrayed. There were moments of genuine sweetness (the inside jokes felt real as well as the majority of the dialogue) and fearless confrontation. While I really liked the relatably exaggerated moments of comedy (something along the lines of memes or FB post you would tag your bestie on), the heated scenes full of arguing were where the screenplay (and the actresses) shined the most. I loved how these disputes touched upon the influence of social media as well as the career v friendship discussion. These moments really added some drama and elevated the whole film from just being a comedy. Additionally, these scenes helped to bring home the message about true friends, who aren’t afraid to confront you for your own good. The second dual message of the movie was also wonderful. Both the surface idea that one can have it all was uplifting, as well as the deeper idea about being okay with not having it all. The final speech about discovering one’s own voice and embracing the loneliness was very lovely too.

Directing 

Girls Trip was directed by Malcolm D. Lee. I thought that he did a very good job realizing the modern setting of the film and pacing this story. The snappy moments of humor (like the tripping sequence and the dance off) were paired with slower sequences of the character (and the friendship) development, which were believably emotional. The style of filming was good too: varied but familiar.

Acting

The 4 actresses in the lead – Regina HallQueen LatifahJada Pinkett Smith, and Tiffany Haddish – did a wonderful job bringing these characters to life. They seemed like they had a lot of actual fun on the set – the chemistry was real. I really wish I knew more about their previous work, especially Hall’s and Haddish’s. Speaking about Haddish – she was really close to being too much (going into cartoon territory) and yet still, her antics somehow worked. What I loved even more was the other actresses’ reaction faces – they were priceless. Lastly, Hall’s and Queen Latifah’s characters’ competitive yet loving relationship was also very well portrayed, while it was fun to see Jada Pinkett Smith in a much more comedic and tonally lighter role than her the one she used to play on Gotham. She was also recently in two other comedies – Magic Mike XXL and Bad Moms.

The supporting cast, in addition to having a plethora of celebrity cameos, also included a few familiar faces from Netflix. Luke Cage’s Mike Colter had a small role, while Kate Walsh, from 13 Reasons Why, also starred.

In short, Girls Trip is an entertaining and relatable comedy. And yes, it is better than Rough Night cause it knows what it is and what it has to deliver.

Rate: 4/5

Trailer: Girls Trip trailer

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5 ideas about a movie: Sand Castle

Movie reviews

Hello!

Since no new movies that interest me are premiering this week in the UK, I decided to seek out other new films that did not reach cinemas. The first one that I could find was Sand Castle.

IMDb summary: Set during the occupation of Iraq, a squad of U.S. soldiers try to protect a small village.

  1. Sand Castle is a Netflix original film. While the beloved streaming platform is known for having amazing TV shows (Orange is the New Black, Stranger Things, House of Cards, 13 Reason Why just to name a few), their movie game has not been that strong. Some of the pictures received more attention than others, but the majority of them did not leave a lasting impact. A few of the Netflix movies that I’ve seen were perfectly fine, including Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Sword of DestinyThe Fundamentals of Caring, XOXO, ARQ, The Siege of Jadotville. Let’s see whether Sand Castle is the film that turns things around and is more than just fine.
  2. The movie’s screenplay was written by Chris Roessner and this was his first feature length script. For a debut work, it’s certainly not bad. I appreciated all the thematic concepts that the picture attempted to explore, like masculinity, patriotism (or even chauvinism) and the American culture in general. The moral questions, including why does an individual choose to join the military, were appropriately asked as well. However, although the various ideas were introduced, they didn’t go anywhere and were basically forgotten by the 2nd act, which was the weakest part of the film. The third act and the conclusion were fine, even though an attempt to go back to the film’s message in the last few scenes seemed like an afterthought.
  3. Sand Castle was directed by a Brazilian filmmaker Fernando Coimbra. He succeeded at crafting gorgeous visuals of the surroundings and the long continuous shots during the action sequences were impressive. However, the random jumps in time and the uneven pacing did damage the final product. I also thought that the idea to always keep the camera on the American soldiers, rather than to go back and forth between them and the terrorists, was an interesting, even if a bit one-sided, decision.
  4. The lead of the movie was played by Nicholas Hoult and he did a good job portraying a soldier, affected by the horrors of the war. Hoult is one of my favorite actors, so I try to follow his career pretty closely. Most people know him from the X-Men movies or Mad Max: Fury Road. I’d also suggest you check out his smaller films: Dark Places, Equals, and especially Kill Your Friends.
  5. The supporting cast included Henry Cavill (The Man from U.N.C.L.E.), Logan Marshall-Green (soon will appear in Spider-Man: Homecoming), and Glen Powell (Everybody Wants Some!!, Hidden Figures). Cavill had a pretty small role but he seemed to have more fun with it than he ever had with the role of Superman. It’s quite sad to see that his involvement with the DCEU did not result in more high-brow roles. Well, he is appearing in Mission Impossible 6, so that’s something. Marshall-Green and Powell also delivered fine performances.

In short, Sand Castle was an okay war drama that could have been so much better if it just explored the themes it introduced. It’s not the most original film about war and I probably would not have gone to see it at the cinema, but if you already have a Netflix account, it is definitely worth a watch.

Rate: 3/5

Trailer: Sand Castle trailer

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