Films I Neglected To Review: Dazed And Very ConfusedBy Peter Sobczynski
Posted 08/17/19 01:09:17
Please enjoy short reviews of "Driven," "Gwen" and "Where'd You Go Bernadette."
Because it is not constantly switching back and forth between genres, "Driven" is clearly a smoother cinematic ride than "Framing John DeLorean" but it still proves to be a meandering and ultimately unsatisfying trip in the end. This is a saga of greed, envy, power and self-serving behavior writ extra-large but the resulting film feels curiously small and underwhelming. Director Nick Hamm has gone to no small lengths to recreate the coke and money-mad era of the early 80s but once you get past the surface details, there is nothing else there that gives you any sense of the mad and messy reality of the situation. The screenplay also makes a key narrative mistake by structuring the story as a series of flashbacks triggered by a framing device showing Jim testifying at DeLorean's trial--these scenes disrupt the flow of the story and only seem to have been included as a way of making absolutely sure that the slower viewers are able to keep up with everyone else. The three lead actors all deliver technically fine performances but they are showing viewers anything that they haven’t already seen before from them. Frankly, the biggest point of comparison between this film and "Framing John DeLorean" is that, like that earlier effort, it is just interesting enough to suggest that there is a great movie to be made about DeLorean and his legacy, even if this one misses that mark by a mile.
This is the question that drives the film from debuting director William McGregor and for a while, he keeps this decidedly slow-burning work moving along thanks to his sure hand with creating a palpable sense of atmosphere and giving viewers a central character who is determined not to succumb to the despair and casual sexism she experiences on a daily basis. Worthington-Cox is quite good in the role.) The problem with the film is that while it constantly flirts with genre expectations through out--for much of the running time, there is the real possibility that it is going to transform into a full-on horror presentation--the story begins to sputter out in the last third and the final scenes don’t come close to living up to the promise of the earlier ones. Essentially a less interesting and less successful version of the great "The Witch," "Gwen" is a film that has been made with no small amount of skill and has interesting individual elements that unfortunately never come together into a fully satisfying whole. Still. it is not entirely without interest, I suppose, and those who have found any of my description of "Gwen" to be interesting might want to give it a chance for themselves.
Since making his breakthrough in 1990 with the indie cult favorite "Slacker," Richard Linklater has gone on to become one of the most reliably excellent filmmakers of the era--his best films (including "Dazed and Confused," "Boyhood" and the trilogy consisting of "Before Sunrise," "Before Sunset" and "Before Midnight," to name just a few) have been among the finest films of their time and even his lesser efforts (such as "Fast Food Nation" and his "Bad News Bears" remake) have proven to be more interesting and ambitious than the best works of most directors that you and I could mention. Alas, that impressive extended artistic streak comes to a crashing halt with "Where’d You Go Bernadette," an adaptation of Maria Semple's 2012 best-seller that is such a colossal mess that when it finally came to a merciful conclusion, I was at a total loss of how to process what I had just witnessed.
There is the germ of an interesting idea at the center of "Where’d You Go Bernadette"--what happens to the creative mind when it no longer has the opportunity to create?--but while the film is constantly restating that notion so that everyone in the audience gets it, it never actually gets around to exploring it in any meaningful way. One of the biggest problems with the film is that while Bernadette is, quite frankly, a bit of a monster. She is just as vain, annoying and self-absorbed as everyone else that she criticizes and if you were standing behind her in line at a coffee shop, you would not only leave, you would swear off drinking coffee for good. If the movie had some real insight into her behavior--it is clear that she has some unacknowledged mental issues that have just been overlooked or excused--she might have come across in a more sympathetic manner but thanks to a rare off-key performance from Blanchett, she comes across more along the lines of a hideous synthesis of Auntie Mame, Bartleby the Scrivner and the similarly strident character that she played in "Blue Jasmine." As for Linklater, he is just the wrong filmmaker for this material--the comedic and emotional beats are way too broad for his normally subtle touch and his open-minded and humanistic approach to storytelling clashes with the half-hearted stabs at social satire. (I found myself feeling more sympathetic throughout towards Bernadette’s scolding neighbor than towards Bernadette herself.) Having not read the original book, I cannot say for certain whether another fine book was wrecked on the journey to the silver screen or if it was just as cloying and irritating when it was on the page. All I know is that when future scholars make up their lists ranking the films of Richard Linklater, the lowest rung is now a lot easier to name than it was before.
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