Mini-Reviews: Mud, To The Wonder, Like Someone in Love
Few young filmmakers excite me like Jeff Nichols. His newest feature, Mud, is an earnest and immensely likable coming-of-age tale set in the South. Two young teenagers (Tye Sheridan from Tree of Life as the lead) find a boat in a tree on an abandoned island… only to find out the island isn’t so abandoned. A mysterious man named Mud (Matthew McConaughey) is squatting in their boat, biding his time until he can be reunited with his love (Reese Witherspoon). Nichols is an outstanding world-builder: much like how Take Shelter expertly crafted the rural Midwest, here you can smell the catfish in the air. Nichols is taking on the basic human instinct to idealize love, its joys and downfalls. At first the depiction of the female characters felt too fickle, but then it becomes clear that the women aren’t poorly drawn– they’re merely human, with emotions that wax and wane, and if a man expects perfection out of love, he’s the fool for clinging to unrealistic expectations. McConaughey has absolutely never been better, Sam Shepard is a welcome presence, and Sheridan anchors the lead nicely. The ending feels a bit too tidy, but perhaps the letdown I feel at the end was inevitable after the first 110 minutes were so masterfully handled. Mud is delightful, a great family film with maturity, heart, and top-drawer craftsmanship.
To The Wonder:
I never would have guessed that my first near-walkout of the year would’ve been a Terrence Malick film, but here we are. As lovely as Emmanuel Lubezki’s cinematography is, To The Wonder is a pretty dreadful mess of a film. Its characters are stripped of all complexity, tangential plotlines take up baffling amounts of screen time while culminating in a total absence of meaning, female characters are insultingly pathetic, and Ben Affleck is woefully miscast as the silent leading man. While Malick’s free-form approach to cinema is certainly different than most auteurs approach their projects, they have always been meticulously crafted in the editing room to create an obvious through-line and characters with complexity and real human emotion. With To The Wonder, it looks like a Malick and it sounds like a Malick… but it never once achieves the feeling that a Malick film usually inspires within me. As a result, its run time feels utterly endless, as I watch actors listlessly stare off into the middle distance and long for anything resembling a flesh-and-blood character with something to do. As a Malick fan, this film is absolutely everything that any Malick hater has accused his previous films of being. All pretty pictures, zero substance, zero forethought, and pretty damn close to zero storytelling. The occasional image strikes a chord, but such moments are far too rare. To The Wonder made me want to head To The Exit.
Like Someone in Love:
As someone who swooned over Certified Copy, I confess I found Like Someone in Love, Abbas Kiarostami’s latest film, underwhelming in comparison. We follow Akiko (Rin Takanashi), a young Japanese prostitute forced to tag along with an elderly widower (Tadashi Okuno), as the two learn from each other and eventually connect, despite the looming threat that her boyfriend (Ryo Kase) will eventually discover the widower is not, as he is told, her grandfather. Despite feeling a lack of connection to our main characters– I found the boyfriend to be the most charismatic screen presence– Kiarostami has some absolutely killer visual sequences, in particular when Akiko is driving in circles trying to spot her grandmother at a train station. His framing and camera movement had a larger impact on me than anything spoken by the characters. Thematically, there’s plenty to chew on regarding gender roles and the looming threat a male-dominated society poses towards women. Everything is treated with subtlety and intelligence, as one would expect in a Kiarostami film. However, the deliberate pacing feels slower than normal if you aren’t deeply invested in our main couple– it’s more engaging after the fact to try to work through your frustrations than during its runtime to experience said frustrations. Those interested in Kiarostami or intelligent foreign cinema will find enough reward here to merit giving it a spin, although Like Someone in Love left me closer to being like someone in cool respectful admiration.