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:
Trey Edward Shults steps behind the camera for his third feature film, a daring, unvarnished look at a middle class black family on the edge of collapse. Made from his own screenplay, Waves is a haunting and unrelenting picture that slowly unravels as the family collapses from its own internal struggles.
Choosing to explore the internal relationship between the four members of the Williams family, Shults slowly maneuvers through the quietly fracturing quartet as they crumble under the weight of perceived expectations. Kelvin Harrison Jr. is a high school senior whose wrestling career he hopes to take him places, but a torn shoulder threatens to destroy his career. Sterling K. Brown is Tyler’s domineering father, a man who recognizes that blacks aren’t allowed to be ordinary, and pushes Tyler harder than he should, creating a rift between the two and leading to Tyler’s lashing out at his girlfriend Alexis (Alexa Demie).
Renee Elise Goldsberry plays Tyler’s stepmother who seems to have a strong relationship him and his sister Emily (Taylor Russell), but whose own insecurity about her insertion into an existing family dynamic and replacement of their late mother, leads her to push hard for acceptance. Emily is the last of the four and lies in her brother’s shadow, self-consciously staying out of the limelight as her father dotes on her brother. The film ultimately becomes hers and being marginalized to the background gives her a surprising resilience that pushes the film to its conclusion.
The slow burn technique of family dramas is used to great effect thanks to the terrific performances of Russell, Harrison Jr., Brown, Goldsberry, and Lucas Hedges as Emily’s late-film boyfriend. The film moves very slowly, but the pacing enables the audience to relate to and experience the ups and downs the family must go through. The film is never exactly what you expect it will be, but is every bit of realistic as you could hope or imagine.
Taika Waititi’s brazen satire explores Nazism from the perspective of a ten-year-old member of Hitler’s Youth who must confront the realities of the war, which has taken his father away from him and turned his mother into a resistance sympathizer. What could easily have been a proper Holocaust drama instead delves deep into the deplorable psyche of a German youth, asking them to understand and perhaps sympathize with his plight.
Roman Griffin Davis delivers a solid performance as Jojo, the aforementioned Nazi youth who spends all of his time thinking about how he will one day meet his best friend Adolf Hitler, personified by his imaginary friend Adolf (Waititi himself). Earning his nickname Jojo Rabbit after an incident at a Hitler’s Youth camp, he slowly begins to unravel secrets his mother is keeping from him, including her hiding of a young Jewish girl in a crawl space within their own house. As Jojo comes to know Elsa (Thomasin McKenzie), he begins to question all of the lies and propaganda he’s been fed about Jews.
Waititi effortlessly blends satire and sorrow as his terrific cast maneuver a politically-charged historical period while drawing shocking parallels between modern American political dynamics and those of Nazi Germany of the 1930s and 1940s. Davis is an amazing find and McKenzie does the kind of terrific work she’s been recognized for. The best performances, however, come from Johansson as Jojo’s mother and Sam Rockwell as the bumbling Nazi captain who takes Jojo under his wing after a separate incident at the youth camp. Rebel Wilson has some of the funniest lines in a role that’s difficult to explain other than as a Nazi enabler with the likes of Stephen Merchant, Alfie Allen, and Archie Yates each giving strong performances in smaller roles.
This is the kind of film that could have come off as crass and self-serving, a kind of Life Is Beautiful for a new generation; however, Waititi manages to find both the humor and the pathos in a subject matter that has been intensely scrutinized and endlessly explored over the decades. He makes something that is an utterly unique vision of a terrifying period of world history with an ounce of hope squeezed out of a deplorable historical era.