Tag Archives: elle fanning

20th Century Women (2017)

2 Feb

What exactly does it mean to please a women? This is one of many questions Jaime (Lucas Zumann) asks his mother in the sharply-detailed period drama 20th Century Women Jaime, as we first see him, is caught at a bit of a crossroads, and is trying to find his natural place in the world. Growing up solely under the care of his mother Dorothea (Annette Bening) in late 70’s Santa Barbara California, the world is a confusing place. Especially so during adolescence, when punk rock, feminism, drugs, and pregnancy scares become guiding forces in Jaime’s life. “He needs a strong male influence” Dorothea says, “We need another man in this house..” Enter William (Billy Crudup), a friend and occasional lover of Dorothea who works on renovating the house in exchange for free rent. Then there is Julie (Elle Fanning), Jaime’s best friend who sleeps with (but never sleeps with) him some nights and Abbie (Greta Gerwig), the art school tennant who is recovering from cancer. These five characters (and the house they share together, their interactions with American culture and counterculture, and their experiences with love and sexuality) are what make up the backbone for 20th Century Women. 

Written and directed by Mike Mills (Beginners, Thumbsucker), 20th Century Women tells a breezy, patchwork narrative that feels authentically lifted straight from someone’s personal photo album of 40 years. The film is a pure snapshot of American 70’s culture, given to us through our eclectic set of characters – each with their own set of internal and external struggles. Formally, things get slightly experimental at times, fusing documentary footage from various historical events interspersed with dramatic scenes shot at higher or lower framerates or with blaring psychedelic colors. The plot jumps around from moment to moment and character to character so frequently which creates more of a specific aesthetic of time and place than any sort of dramatic tension.  At every opportunity, a different cultural beat is featured – though they are often simply given to us straight from a character’s retrospective voiceover. “We didn’t know that the Reagan era was just around the corner, or that AIDS would soon be a scary word…”  Dorothea explains near the end of the film, over a montage of B-roll news footage. All this culminates to form a nostalgic tribute to the value of shared American cultural experiences.

Bottom Line: When taken as a whole, 20th Century Women might miss the dramatic heights it was aiming for, but the many detailed, smaller moments of this film feel intensely relatable, excitingly alive, and sharply authentic. 

Rating: 7/10

Film Recipe: Boyhood + Diary of a Teenage Girl + A touch of Dazed and Confused

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The Neon Demon (2016)

24 Jul

In the world of modern auteurs, few have made a name for themselves quite like Nicolas Winding Refn. Aesthetically engaging at his best and pretentiously dull at his worse, he is man whose distinctive flavor of violence and storytelling has its fair share of both fans and detractors. His latest work, The Neon Demon fits nicely enough into his filmography but still offers up something new.

The film follows Jesse (Elle fanning), a 17-year-old who is looking to break into LA’s infamous fashion industry. She arrives, innocent and puppy-eyed, though not without ambition or a constant drive to be successful. Completely naive, she is obviously out of her element and desperate for some chance to show her seemingly natural capacity for modeling. She soon crosses paths with Ruby (Jenna Malone), a makeup artist who becomes sexually infatuated with Jesse and who also acts as a mentor of sorts. It’s through Ruby that Jesse finds her entry into the ultra-competitive industry, and the two form a bond with each other in order to survive the ruthless and narcissistic competition who become dangerously involved with Jesse’s quick rise to fame.

There is no doubt about it – The Neon Demon is a thing of beauty. The film perfectly captures the cattiness and falsity of the industry and more importantly – those who make a living selling their image. Featuring bold cinematography, Refn’s DP Natasha Braier (The Rover) creates a daring world of stark color and shadow through her lens. The result is a colorful candy store on overdrive. In almost every frame, Braier extracts and magnifies notions of plastic-ness and vanity from the industry’s glitzy and glamorous reputation. Refn just doesn’t just simply exploit this idea of a sexy falseness towards to fashion – he revels in it to an extreme, self-indulgent degree.

Never a fan of subtlety, things get pretty extreme in Refn’s surreal and dark universe (especially during the film’s bizarre WTF-did-I-just-see final act) but it takes its time getting there and viewers with little patience will be turned off within the first 20 minutes. Still, the film is stylistically unique enough to be redeeming, and the way Neon Demon’s visuals are used to tell the narrative becomes intensely mesmerizing over time.

There is a lot of underlying ideas Refn is trying to say here, but there is even more Refn wants you to think he trying to say; most attempts at any underlying themes often turn up empty handed. Like Refn’s view of the industry itself, there is little meaning to be found beneath the film’s polished external shell. But yet, Neon Demon is perplexingly impossible to look away from.

Bottom Line: It might be an excessive work of placing style over substance, but with a little patience the self-indulgent Neon Demon can also become a deeply hypnotic and tantalizingly fun experience.

 

Rating: 7/10

Film Recipe: Only God Forgives + Black Swan + Upstream Color + lots of synths