The Morning After: Dec. 16, 2019

Welcome to The Morning After, where I share with you what movies I’ve seen over the past week. Below, you will find short reviews of those movies along with a star rating. Full length reviews may come at a later date.

So, here is what I watched this past week:

Parasite


Bong Joon-ho is a director who has something to say. The most vital voice that’s ever emerged from Korean cinema has made his most accessible film to date. Parasite tackles poverty and wealth in his new movie, a riveting social drama for a modern age.

Ki-taek (Song Kang-ho) and his family live in a half-basement apartment struggling to make ends meet. When the opportunity presents itself, he, his son, daughter, and wife each take on jobs for a wealth family in an effort to bring in as much money as possible. As is always the case in such affairs, the grift eventually goes wrong when a surprise rain storm threatens to upend all of their carefully curated plans.

While Bong has been working tirelessly as a well respected genre director, his films have always tackled unusual topics that are easily accessible. The Host was a popular horror project while Snowpiercer was a startling sci-fi take on the climate change crisis. Both were well regarded by American audiences who were fans of the genres they represented. This film lays bare not only his unique perspective on freedom, wealth inequality, and other heady topics, but it presents a rather straight forward tale of a family of con artists who cannot predict every unforeseen circumstance that might bring their house of cards tumbling down.

With strong performances and a compelling narrative, even those who haven’t previously been impressed by Bong’s work should finally stand up and take notice of one of modern cinema’s most vital voices.

Marriage Story


Anchored by stirring performances from Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson, Marriage Story is a fascinating exploration of divorce in a modern framework where spouses want desperately to remain friends, but also want to solidify custody of their deeply-loved young child.

Marriage Story opens as Charlie (Driver) narrates a letter about all the wonderful things he has to say about Nicole (Johansson). We then get the same letter read from Nicole’s perspective. These letters are part of an attempt to fix their crumbling marriage. The attempt fails and Nicole moves back to Los Angeles to pursue her career as a television actress. As the two begin digging deeper into the things they want out of their marriage when their divorce lawyers get involved, the animosity builds until neither is left unscarred.

Divorce has figured prominently in numerous films, but Marriage Story feels like a modern version of Kramer vs. Kramer by way of Woody Allen. It’s an acerbic tale of jaded creative types who want nothing but the best for their son and never want to give up on him. Driver and Johansson are stellar in their roles as is Laura Dern as Nicole’s lawyer. The rest of the cast is solid, but they hold no candles to these three.

Booksmart


In the 1980s teen comedies were lighthearted John Hughes films about fabulous teens with lovable quirks finding safety and comfort in each other against aggressive authority figures who want them to fall into non-threatening molds. Booksmart takes a more modern approach to the teen comedy and does so with drop-dead funny segments and genuine heart-provoking situations.

Molly (Beanie Feldstein) and Amy (Kaitlyn Dever) are seniors ready to move on to Ivy League Colleges having spent their High School tenure studying hard to make it in to the schools they wanted while the rest of their classmates screwed around and had fun. As they are about to graduate, a stark revelation about how their efforts haven’t gotten them ahead of their partying fellow students, the pair decide they will make the last days their best and let loose for a change.

Feldstein and Dever are painfully awkward in their interactions, a throwback to the nerds of 1980s comedies. They are socially inept and disdainful of their fun-loving peers. As each begins to understand themselves and each other better, a rift emerges that threatens to destroy their friendship.

Olivia Wilde’s directorial debut is a whip-smart comedy that holds no punches as it explores the expectations and realities of High School life. With surprising truths about life and the people around them, Feldstein and Dever not only have fun with the material, they make characters that are utterly relatable.

Downton Abbey


Like a well-oiled machine, the vaunted television series about the Crawley family and their English countryside estate Downton Abbey makes a successful foray onto the big screen with a two-hour cinematic special that tries to open up the narrative to a wider audience, but remains intimately connected with the entire family.

Everyone is back again for the new excursion into 1920s English history giving each of your favorite characters some small storyline to follow as Downton Abbey hosts King George V and his queen on a tour of the area. There are dramatic twists and turns throughout, but the end result is something that might have been more stimulating had it been a new season of the wonderful television series. Always a bit more progressive than the era itself, but trying to tie in the hardships of those in residence as well as it can, the film looks at the slow slide of the nobility, the hazards of finding fulfillment as a homosexual, and the need to feel pride for one’s country as part of an event that will light up the lives for everyone involved.

The performances are as we would expect them with everyone giving it their level best and with no one standing out as particularly deserving of specific praise. This is a well-oiled cast that has fallen back into lockstep with one another as if it hadn’t been four years hadn’t passed since they last worked together. For fans of the series, this movie is a nice apéritif, but if you don’t know who or what these people are, there is no way you will be able to understand the core dynamics and interpersonal interplay going on and that’s probably for the best. Trying to reintroduce everyone would have been a cumbersome chore.

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