For all appearances, a vanity project for Robert Duvall, who played a character we’ve seen him play many times before, interesting as a sideshow but not the main feature. Bill Murray’s character was the only one with any hint of complexity, but the highly superficial story hardly let him develop it. The story itself made no sense, so I wasn’t surprised to see in the credits that it was based on real events. Why did old man Bush want a funeral at which he could hear people’s stories about himself? Why was it even called a “funeral”? Why should we believe that Sissy Spacek and Robert Duvall were of similar ages? How did Bush make his money? Why was the Rev. Jackson such an intimate? The film offered two scenes to justify Bush’s reputation as a mean old codger, but Duvall never came across as scary – viz., his “Beware of Mule” sign. Part of the problem was how this movie compared to Winter’s Bone, where life was truly primitive and people in the woods were indeed frightening. By contrast, Get Low was just a Hollywood storyboard.
Are foreign films more “realistic” because a) they stick to more realistic plots – e.g., no gratuitous car-chase scenes; or b) because they use actors I’ve never seen before? If Matt Damon had played the young prison guard and Bruce Willis the tough-guy prisoner, would I have reacted as I did to Julianne Moore and Annette Bening in The Kids Are All Right? Instead, I had no doubt that everyone in this Spanish flick, from the scrungiest prisoner to the federal negotiator, was exactly whom they were portraying. Beyond that, the setup was brilliant: the day before he is to start working, Juan Oliver is caught in a prison riot. To avoid certain death, he pretends to be a new prisoner and because of his quick wit and courage becomes an adviser to Malamadre, the head thug, in negotiations with the authorities. You can see his mind working as he weighs the consequences of every word and action, and it is the finest of lines he walks. But everyone on both sides of this standoff is faced with excruciating life-or-death decisions, and most often with two masters to serve. Nothing turns out as expected, but we don’t feel cheated. We feel we have witnessed a scintillating story, expertly played.
The kids may be all right, but this movie was about their parents, and the relationship between Julianne Moore and Annette Bening left me cold. Maybe my unfamiliarity with lesbian couples, in person or onscreen, influenced my lack of understanding; but the director’s obsession with showing us a lesbian couple bothered me, especially when these actresses are so familiar for straight roles, and one is even married to Warren Beatty, for goshsakes. Every line of dialogue between them was punctuated with a “dear” or “babe,” and how often do you see a straight married couple in a movie having routine sex? For awhile I thought there would be a nice dramatic arc, with the sperm-donor-father Mark Ruffalo bringing about character growth in each member of the family, but that idea sort of petered out, and the movie ended, to no apparent point at all, with the daughter’s departure for college. By the end, the family saga – and that’s about all there was to the film – resembled Toy Story 3 more than Squid and the Whale.
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