Widows (2018)

Widows

The best thing we have going for us is being who we are… no one thinks we have the balls to pull this off.  When Harry Rawlings (Liam Neeson) and his crew of criminals are engulfed in flames during a botched job in Chicago, Harry’s wife, Veronica (Viola Davis) finds herself owing hustler-turned-politician Jamal Manning (Brian Tyree Henry) a couple of million dollars. Armed only with a notebook in which Harry detailed his past and future plans, Veronica teams up with the gang’s other widows – Linda (Michelle Rodriquez), Alice (Elizabeth Debicki) and single mom Belle (Cynthia Erivo) to mount a robbery her husband was planning that could clear their debt and give them a new start. Meanwhile, an increasingly brutal election battle featuring Irish-American career politician Jack Mulligan (Colin Farrell) and his father Tom (Robert Duvall) emphasises the social problems of Chicago, raising the stakes for this ramshackle group’s first foray into crime…  I’m the only thing standing between you and a bullet in the head. Steve McQueen won the Academy Award for 12 Years a Slave, a relentlessly gruesome account of black American history, an astonishing achievement for a British visual artist never mind a black director. His genre impetus has hardly been on anyone’s radar but he was a fan of Lynda La Plante’s feisty women from the 1983 British TV series (set in London) and brings a lot of artistry to this slick feminist outing concerning itself as much with issues of poverty, domestic abuse and childcare as the unlikeliness of a heist led by women trying to pay back their criminal husbands’ debts following the conflagration that killed the men in a botched heist.  The backdrop which exists in the narrative courtesy of Farrell’s role is given huge expressivity through Sean Bobbitt’s widescreen camerawork, the issues of money and race and class and the sewer of Chicago politicking right there for all to see but of course that deflects from the main story even as it serves to amplify a theme of difficult intergenerational relationships.  This detailed texture is an expansive approach in an established genre which usually has a narrow focus but if ultimately it doesn’t fully engage in the manner which you’d wish, it’s probably due to the underwhelming adaptation by McQueen and Gillian (Gone Girl) Flynn which doesn’t give the principals a lot to work with – a shame in the case of Davis, who works at it and has some great scenes with Neeson. Debicki comes off best because she has a character who goes through real development and lots of emotions as the narrative progresses – from abuse by mother and husband, through sugar baby, to independence. Good, but should have been a lot better, especially with that twist 75 minutes in. Criminals and cops are the same. They never bring their shit home

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One Fine Day (1996)

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Let’s do this right. Let me freshen up so I’ll feel a little more like a woman and less like a dead mommy.  Melanie Parker (Michelle Pfeiffer) is a divorced mom and architect who needs to give a very important presentation. Jack Taylor (George Clooney) is a divorced father and newspaper columnist looking to land a big scoop for his story about the mob. Both are single parents whose children, Sammy (Alex D. Linz) and Maggie (Mae Whitman), respectively, miss the bus for a field trip. They wind up left with their kids on  a hectic day. They decide to put aside their bickering and juggle baby-sitting duties, but the children don’t make it easy as they dislike each other and disappear while their parents’ identical mobile phones complicate the situation … This somewhat tiresome romcom spin on screwballs past is saved by two wonderful performances – Pfeiffer in particular makes this fun instead of the rather formulaic single-parent family downer comedy it is at is heart. The kids are good characters but the situations from Terrel Seltzer and Ellen Simon’s screenplay are pat and predictable although NYC gets a great showcase. Pfeiffer produced this so it was a conscious beefing up of her brand.  Clooney is quite impressive as the love interest but it was before he refined his look and skill and he doesn’t make the kind of impact you’d expect although they pair have undoubted chemistry. There are some bright spitballing exchanges: Men like you have made me the woman I am/All the women I know like you have made me think all women are like you. They’re delivered with relish and enliven a less than classic romcom. Directed by Michael Hoffman.

Legally Blonde (2001)

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Years before the feel-good musical! Elle Woods (Reese Witherspoon) is the beyond blonde Californian sorority queen who just wants to settle down with her boyfriend Warner Huntington III (Matthew Davis) after graduation from college and on the night she thinks he’s going to propose he dumps her  – for a brunette swot Vivian Kensington (Selma Blair) who’s going to Harvard Law with him.  Elle decides to follow him and crams for the Law School Admission Test – and winds up at Harvard too, pretty in pink with her beloved chihuahua in tow. She’s laughed out of class and takes refuge at a hair salon owned by Paulette (Jennifer Coolidge) and gets real, hits the books and winds up being romanced by her tutor Luke Wilson and getting on the team to defend a wealthy widow who’s accused of murdering her much older husband. Very funny outing with the redoubtable Witherspoon giving a barnstorming performance in a smart satire with a big princess heart at its centre.  The concluding courtroom scene is a doozy. With a slew of nice supporting cast including Ali Larter, Oz Perkins, Victor Garber and Raquel Welch, this is nicely shot by Anthony B. Richmond, and directed by Robert Luketic from a screenplay by Karen McCullah Lutz and Kirsten Smith, adapting Amanda Brown’s novel (the first in a series).

Steel Magnolias (1989)

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Robert Harling wrote a one-set play about the death of his sister but when he adapted it for the screen under the direction of Herbert Ross it was opened out, as they say, and from the beauty parlour to the hearth and the hospital we get involved in the lives of a cross-generational community of women. Shelby (Julia Roberts) is the diabetic daughter of M’Lynn (Sally Field) who’s been warned not to have children. Her collapse at the beauty shop run by Truvy (Dolly Parton) and assisted by new addition Annelle (Daryl Hannah) triggers the revelation to family frenemies Ouiser (Shirley MacLaine) and Clairee (Olympia Dukakis) and we catch up a couple of years after Shelby’s marriage when M’Lynn is donating her kidney to Shelby to avert kidney failure following childbirth … This sounds mawkish but it’s fast, sharp-witted and filled with so many funny lines it’s breathtaking. Parton, MacLaine and Dukakis get the lion’s share with the latter pair serving as (wicked) fairy godmothers but it turns on Sally Field’s fabulous performance as a mother going from despair to grief and back again in the most life-affirming way possible. Roberts is very good in what could be a thankless and difficult role, Field is paired here opposite Tom Skerrit and they would be reunited years later for the wonderful TV show Brothers and Sisters (please bring it back) and MacLaine was working once again with Ross  (The Turning Point – now that’s something I really want to see again too!) but really Field is the whole show. Dialogue to die for (and they do…)

Sisters (2015)

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Unresolved Sisterly Tension is a pretty good motif for any movie … then comes the thorny issue of plot. ‘How can one person have two colonoscopy stories?’ asks Tina Fey of sister Amy Poehler (I have three, but that’s for another kind of blog.) That’s what happens when you have a house party to commemorate the end of your life in the house where you grew up … twenty-five years later and you’re in your forties and you’ve lost your job (Tina), you’re divorced (Amy) and the folks (Dianne Wiest and James Brolin) are finally downsizing to somewhere smaller in the Orlando area. So it’s time to clear out their rooms. Unfair! The ladies go back and read their vastly differing old diaries, get on ‘social’ media and call up their fellow loser buds to PARTY! Waster Tina agrees to be Sober Party Mom so busybody divorcee Amy can have the kind of night she couldn’t allow herself to have as the good sister and get laid by the handyman James selling his dead folks’ house next door. The moms and dads show up, the saddos show up, the Koreans show up, the drug dealers show up but it takes the Lesbians to play big choons for everyone to let loose and there’s foam and paint and chimney-climbing and sex … while James is impaled on a ballerina music box (see, that colonoscopy idea never goes far from writer Paula Pell’s references). The plot twist happens when drunken Tina (she succumbs) finds Amy’s phone and realises her daughter has been hiding in Amy’s house for months and the climax is catalysed …  There’s some astonishingly lazy writing here by Pell (who wrote for SNL) and some scenes just seem like improv central – yet we love these ladies don’t we?! Hell yeah!