Kings of the Cinema
By Carl Kozlowski
With theaters packed with car-crashing, planet-saving and comically crass blockbusters, fans of smaller, more thoughtful movies must feel neglected during summertime. Surprisingly, this month there are actually a few cinematic alternatives that are smart, witty and touching all at once.
First off, Frances Ha features the latest in a string of what should be star-making performances by indie-film It Girl of the moment Greta Gerwig (Greenberg, Lola Versus). Gerwig is a knockout beauty with a brilliant wit and a vibrant energy whose blazing onscreen presence has often outshone screenplays that placed her in downer situations.
But here, as a 27-year-old New Yorker who is cut adrift from her comfort zones when her best friend moves out to live with her boyfriend and her dance company head tells her she’s no longer wanted, Gerwig uses her glowing charisma to earn the audience’s embrace as she undertakes the universal quest to find her meaning in life and place in the world. There’s plenty of freshly funny dialogue shared between her and an array of colorful supporting characters, but a spectacular sequence in which she runs, leaps and dances through the Big Apple’s streets to David Bowie’s timeless “Modern Love” is guaranteed to put a smile on your face and make your spirit soar.
The other ace quality of Frances Ha lies in its crisp black and white vision of the city, an approach that director Noah Baumbach (who co-wrote with Gerwig) uses as a strong homage to Woody Allen’s urban valentine Manhattan. While the new movie’s script isn’t as complex as that Oscar-winning classic, it sets the stage for a thoroughly entertaining time at the movies.
Secondly, in a summer filled with movies like Iron Man 3 and Fast & Furious 6, Before Midnight shows that art-house audiences can have their own small-scale sequels as well. Reuniting stars Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy in an acting-writing collaboration with director Richard Linklater, Midnight is the third in a series of films that follow the ongoing long-term romance of Jesse and Celine.
Before Sunrise kicked things off back in 1995, as Hawke and Delpy played young tourists—an American and a Frenchwoman, respectively—who met and fell in love during one star-crossed night in Vienna. In 2004, they returned in Before Sunset, with Jesse married to another woman yet tempted to cross the line when he seeks out Celine for an evening while on a Parisian business trip.
Sunset ended with a fantastic cliffhanger, as audiences gasped aloud when the abrupt but tantalizing ending left them wondering which woman Hawke would ultimately choose. Nine years later, Midnight answers that question by showing that they are indeed a couple with twins now, but Hawke had the consequence of losing his marriage and being a constant presence in his now-teen son’s life.
With the guilt of shipping his son back to his ex in America after a summer vacationing in Greece weighing on him, Jesse starts to analyze his relationship with Celine. This leads to all manner of discussions about life, love and relationships between the pair, who seem to spar more as the bloom of young romance fades into middle-aged reality.
This time around, the balance between Jesse and Celine seems somewhat tilted to make Celine an annoying harpy, with the result being more stressful and less romantic than its two predecessors. But some viewers may appreciate seeing a filmmaking trio display the courage to show that relationships don’t just rely on romance to sustain themselves, and that sometimes the struggles can prove to be a source of strength. Before Midnight is not quite as fun as its two prior films, but those seeking powerhouse performances and smart conversation will go home happy.
But the best of the bunch (and my choice as the best film of the year so far) is the ultra-indie coming-of-age tale The Kings of Summer, which opens at the Arclight Hollywood and West LA’s Landmark Theatre this weekend. It follows the story of two teenage boys, Joe and Patrick, who are living in an Ohio town and become fed up with their overbearing parents when they decide to build their own house deep in the woods.
They are joined by the town’s most oddball kid, Biaggio, as they hustle scrap wood and supplies and sneak into construction sites for ideas. When they finish their dream home — complete with a slide from the sleeping loft to the ground floor — they are determined to hunt their own food and prove themselves as men.
But when Joe invites a girl to their secret spot and Patrick winds up winning her heart, harsh realities start to intrude on their often-hilarious banter and innocent joy. They find that being a man doesn’t come from running away from their problems, but in facing them head on.
Kings features a trio of perfect performances by Nick Robinson, Gabriel Basso and Moises Arias as the lead boys, with Arias certain to become a breakout star for his utterly unique take on Biaggio. They are surrounded by an ace cast of veterans, including Nick Offerman, Megan Mullaly and Mary Lynn Rajskub, who keep the adults funny and sympathetic as well.
Director Jordan Vogt-Roberts has said he wanted to make “a funny Terence Malick movie,” and with his rich cinematography and elegiac emotions mixed with laugh-out-loud comedy in Chris Galletta’s debut script backing him up, he pulls it off. The Kings of Summer deserves to be a king at the box office, so make the drive to support it.