Last weekend at the cinema was a strong one, headlined by a trio of movies that had their UK premieres – and at one case their world premiere – at the London Film Festival last year. There’s a lovable comedy biopic and a tale of political scandal, but the pick of the bunch is a period drama that isn’t afraid to land its punches hard…
** FILM OF THE WEEK **
When I saw Colette on the programme at LFF, I was pretty sure I knew what to expect. It’s Keira Knightley in a period drama, which conjures very clear memories of her stuffy early work. But that’s not what Wash Westmoreland‘s movie is at all. It’s a fierce tale of female agency, in which Knightley’s title character learns her own self-worth.
She’s terrific as an initially timid writer, who is recruited by her boyfriend Willy (Dominic West, hammier than a pro-Brexit rally but five times as fun) to write for his publishing house, where everything is sold under his brand name. When Colette’s books become literary blockbusters, a push and pull for control begins, with Colette determined to get her own name on the cover.
This is a film that allows Knightley to shed the narrative corseting that has become a hallmark of her period work for something that’s more freeing. The script is sharp and biting, sniping at the power structures of turn of the century France. It’s also a movie that embraces female sexual pleasure and allows for LGBTQ exploration that feels brave within these period trappings. Every decision lands, telling an important story and allowing its female protagonist to be the undisputed star.
VERDICT: My expectations for Colette were very low, but the film smashes through all of them with its angry and salacious tale. Knightley and West rise to the occasion with ace performances and, even though West is louder, it’s Knightley whose voice breaks through. It feels appropriate.
(Dir: Wash Westmoreland, 112 mins, Cert: 15) [MY FULL REVIEW FROM LFF]
Stan & Ollie
The notion of a Laurel and Hardy biopic seems like a no-brainer. The notion of a Laurel and Hardy biopic directed by the dude behind Filth is a little more of a hard sell. Despite his previous oeuvre, though, Jon S Baird looks very much at home at the helm of Stan & Ollie – a delightfully pleasant biopic that glows with warm nostalgia.
Steve Coogan, John C Reilly and John C Reilly’s prosthetics make for a compelling triple act. Coogan, in particular, does a terrific job of snapping between Laurel’s onstage and offstage personas. Reilly’s performance is broader and more simple on the surface, but he is able to find the heart of Hardy that made him so beloved by everyone.
The film is not a comedy by any stretch, but its recreations of Laurel and Hardy routines cannot help but bring laughs and the spiky chemistry between Shirley Henderson and Nina Arianda as the duo’s wives provides a consistent supply of prickly zingers.
It’s perhaps a little too broad and friendly to be truly excellent but, as a love letter to two greats of the entertainment business, it’s as reverent and charming as it probably ought to be.
VERDICT: With two terrific performers embodying one of the most iconic double acts in comedy history, Stan & Ollie was already halfway there. Thankfully, the film is able to pratfall its way over the line with a healthy dose of heart.
(Dir: Jon S Baird, 98 mins, Cert: PG) [MY FULL REVIEW FROM LFF]
The Front Runner
There’s something rather quaint about the political scandal that sits at the heart of Jason Reitman‘s historical drama The Front Runner. Given the current resident of the White House, it seems bizarre to see a charismatic and morally reasonable candidate brought down by something as comparatively small as an affair. That, however, is the fate that befell Gary Hart (Hugh Jackman) in 1988.
Reitman’s movie is certainly lightweight and emerges as a little soft on Hart, who was almost certainly a philanderer. But the movie’s take on Hart is so charming that it’s tough not to get behind his moral crusade to dismiss the tabloid journalism contributing to his political demise. The best moments of the movie feature Sara Paxton as Donna Rice, with whom Hart is alleged to have had an affair, but she is not given the screentime she deserves as the movie spends a lot of time trying to be The Post. Spielberg’s energetic, urgent style is absent though.
The Front Runner is a breezy political drama that gets by largely on its charismatic leading man, who has the showmanship to keep the action moving, even as the film seems to run out of story once it has made its central point about the media.
VERDICT: There’s not a great deal of political heft to The Front Runner, but it’s a slick and engaging drama that passes two hours pretty easily. Hugh Jackman’s charisma deserves a lot of the plaudits for that success.
(Dir: Jason Reitman, 113 mins, Cert: 15) [MY FULL REVIEW FROM LFF]
Like any successful movie made in a language other than English, it seemed very likely that French film The Intouchables was eventually going to be remade for subtitle-phobic audiences in the Anglophone world. That has now happened with The Upside, in which Bryan Cranston plays the wealthy quadriplegic who takes on Kevin Hart‘s ex-con as a full-time carer.
Fortunately, the performances here do a lot of the heavy lifting. Cranston was born to play curmudgeonly old fellas and Kevin Hart excels with a role that enables him to flex dramatic chops he has never really displayed on the big screen before.
It’s fluffy and silly, though, and won’t live long in the memory. It also never manages to land a proper ending, just stopping abruptly when it runs out of ideas.
VERDICT: Given the fact there’s already a successful version of this story, The Upside has a lot of work to do in order to justify its existence. It just about manages to emerge as a worthwhile movie, but it struggles to find an ending and emerges as a little bereft of purpose, despite a pleasant sense of humour.
(Dir: Neil Burger, 126 mins, Cert: 12A) [MY FULL REVIEW AT FLICKERING MYTH]
What did you think of this week’s film releases? Let me know in the comments section and also take a look at last week’s review round-up.