Film review – Like Crazy (2011)

10 March 2012
Like Crazy: Jacob (Anton Yelchin) and Anna (Felicity Jones)

Jacob (Anton Yelchin) and Anna (Felicity Jones)

Two people madly in love with each other are kept apart; it’s a classic bitter-sweet romantic drama scenario. In this case the couple are Los Angeles-based Jacob (Anton Yelchin) and London-based Anna (Felicity Jones). After an intense summer romance the pair begin a long distance relationship, hoping to be reunited and to overcome all the resulting communication difficulties, jealousies, temptations and doubts that they may not be the soul mates they thought they were.

Initially Like Crazy successfully conveys the rush and then crash of an intense short-term relationship. However, the stakes aren’t high enough for it to sustain the desired emotional anguish. The situation is too privileged to be truly tragic – Anna naively overstaying her student visa is the cause of the estrangement and their lives are otherwise kind of fantastic since they both achieve success and fulfilment in the professions of their choosing very quickly. Nevertheless, this likeable low budget American indi is kept fresh by Yelchin and Jones who are endearing as the star-crossed lovers.

Originally appeared in The Big Issue, No. 401, 2012

Thomas Caldwell, 2012

Film review – The Beaver (2011)

4 August 2011
The Beaver: Walter Black (Mel Gibson)

Walter Black (Mel Gibson)

The Beaver is one of the strangest and most inconsistent dramas in recent years. The core idea of having Mel Gibson play a middle-aged man who attempts to self manage his depression by communicating through a beaver hand puppet sounds absurd but it’s the element of this odd film that works best. From Max Mad to Lethal Weapon even to Hamlet, Gibson has had a long career of playing ‘crazy’, but his performance as Walter Black in The Beaver is one of restraint, suggesting a genuine understanding of how depression makes people completely shut down.

Directed by Jodie Foster, who also plays Walter’s wife Meredith, The Beaver is most successful when focused on the smaller details concerning the nature of depression, the effect Walter’s depression has on his family and its hereditary nature. In this regard, it’s a sensitive and non-judgemental film that neither romanticises Walter’s condition nor indulges it. Walter is going through hell for reasons beyond his control, but the film recognises that his suffering also affects those around him and that his family’s anger and pain is understandable. By assigning himself a ‘prescription puppet’ rather than seeking legitimate professional help, Walter finds a short-term solution that is certainly portrayed in the film as something amusing and fun, but not without ever fully removing the suggestion that something about this is not quite right.

The Beaver: Meredith Black (Jodie Foster)

Meredith Black (Jodie Foster)

It’s when the film moves into the extremities of Walter’s mood swings that it becomes unhinged. A frequently misunderstood aspect of depression is that sufferers always remain miserable and lethargic for the whole time, when in fact they tend to oscillate with moments of high energy and euphoria. In The Beaver the full extent of Walter’s upward swings manifest in a rather over-the-top Hollywood professional comeback narrative that takes too much focus away from the more tangible and interesting storyline about Walter’s relationship with Meredith and their children. While the film is savvy enough to ultimately not condone Walter’s maverick self diagnosis, its critique comes in the form of too literally representing the beaver puppet as Walter’s id, taking the film into the realm of hysterical pop-psychology, which for the most part it had avoided.

The other major failing is the secondary story about Walter’s son Porter (Anton Yelchin) who’s filled with anger and resentment towards his father as he begins to notice similar symptoms of depression within himself. What could have been a very strong component of this film is instead reduced to a rather trite and angst ridden American Beauty-light subplot involving Porter falling in love with Norah (Jennifer Lawrence), a popular girl with a secret passion for street art and her own repressed feelings of grief. Yelchin and Lawrence do their best to rise above the material, but their mawkish and contrived dialogue doesn’t give them a lot of room to move. Compared to the main story between Walter and Meredith, the Porter and Norah scenes feel indulgent and superficial.

The Beaver: Porter Black (Anton Yelchin)

Porter Black (Anton Yelchin)

There is a serious drama about depression, a coming-of-age teen indi film, a Hollywood triumph against the odds film and even a psychological thriller all mixed up in The Beaver. Overall, the mix doesn’t gel, however, the isolated elements that do work – namely Gibson’s performance – make The Beaver oddly compelling viewing. Somewhere in all this is a film of integrity and compassion, but you will have to work through the dross to find it.

Thomas Caldwell, 2011

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Film review – Terminator Salvation (2009)

31 May 2009
John Connor (Christian Bale)

John Connor (Christian Bale)

Set in a post-apocalyptic future, the latest instalment in The Terminator series follows on from where audiences last saw John Connor at the end of Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines when the war with Skynet and the machines began. However, it also feels like a prequel, covering the back-story that leads to Connor’s decision to find and then send resistance fighter Kyle Reese back in time to protect his mother, Sarah Connor, as depicted in the original 1984 Terminator film. The other key character in this fourth instalment is Marcus Wright. Wright is a character who was supposedly executed in 2003 but finds himself very much alive in 2018 and helping Reese to stay one step ahead of the homicidal machines.

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