Book Club

Movie Review by Joan Ellis –

Book Club

Odds are about 50/50 as to whether the public will like or not like Book Club. Four strong, independent women have enjoyed becoming a book club together. When the selections become too boring for Vivian (Jane Fonda), she suggests they read 50 Shades of Gray which they do with a combination of reluctance and interest that moves them back into being interested in the dating world.

The fun of it is watching four actresses we have enjoyed in movies for years and seeing them again in their 70s. The not so fun part is that directors Bill Holderman and Erin Simms have pretended that when a woman that age returns to the dating game, she becomes a giddy teenager. Thinking of a judge (Candice Bergen), a successful founder of a luxury hotel (Jane Fonda), a strong, independent wife (Mary Steenburgen), and the fluttery widow (Diane Keaton) as reinventing themselves as mindless dates is wacky.

That probably wouldn’t be true if the writers hadn’t planted the whole story in a culture resembling the 1950s. But they did. Result? These smart, fine actors look silly most of the time as they meet new men or reunite with old ones. Mary Steenburgen and Candice Bergen manage to hold on to their professional dignity and win our support while Jane Fonda seems just silly as the successful rich hotel owner who sleeps around town with whoever catches her eye.

As much as we may love Diane Keaton – and who doesn’t? – the role of a widow convincing her children she is not moving west for them to take care of her is a long, drawn out ordeal without much charm. Our good old pal falls into the trap of playing her silly younger self as opposed to the woman she now is.

Judge Candice Bergen plays her age well, reluctant to join in her friends’ newly devised dating game. She holds her dignity as she wonders whether to reenter the man/woman culture. It is Mary Steenburgen who carries the movie. As she tries to reignite life with her dour husband (Craig T. Nelson) she remains an adult while her friends suddenly seem like teenagers. And when she breaks into a superb dance routine she shows that the good life at 70 doesn’t have to mean reverting to childhood. She pulls smiles and even a tear from the audience.

Andy Garcia, Craig T. Nelson, Richard Dreyfuss, and Don Johnson are fine because they act their age as they fall for these women. Not one of them becomes childish. Result? We like all of them. Why do women have to become silly at seventy? It would have worked if they had approached the guys with their adult selves.

Question: how old are the writers of the script? Too young, I suspect, to understand that after writing strong contemporary scenes for these fine women, they then dropped them into the rather inane culture they had inhabited fifty years earlier.

Film Critic : Joan Ellis
Film Title : Book Club
Word Count : 496
Running Time : 1:44
Rating : PG-13
Date : May 20, 2018

This review was posted on May 21, 2018, in Comedy.

Disobedience

Movie Review by Joan Ellis –

Disobedience

Disobedience is a quiet, strong movie that pierces convention in many ways. The risks it takes are delivered with subtle use of gestures and voice. Director Sebastian Lelio, his team, and a fine cast have delivered an unusually complex story in a provocative way.

Ronit, a professional photographer in New York, has returned to London’s orthodox Jewish community to attend the funeral of her father Rav Kruschka (Anton Kesser). She is greeted with widespread disdain by those who believe she deserted him. Two old friends welcome this woman they once knew so well. It is the three of them who will deliver the complicated emotions of the movie with quiet skill that holds our attention.

Ronit (Rachel Weisz) and Esti (Rachel McAdams) had experienced attraction to each other as teenagers and Ronit is astonished to find that Esti has married their old friend Dovid (Alessandro Nivola). The two women find their mutual attraction very much alive and it unfolds against the anger of the orthodox community. Confusion engulfs the three of them.

That confusion is born of the anger of the tightly knit religious community, of Dovid’s understandable distress, and of the deep honesty of each of the women who love each other despite the rigidity that surrounds them. As their physical affair unfolds, they show us the confines of the community that Ronit once ran from and Esti has accepted. We watch three adults work toward a decision in a culture with strict rules for thinking and behavior.

Each of the women delivers her prevailing philosophy of life. Ronit, who couldn’t stand the conformity of the orthodox community, fled to New York to escape her resentment. The anger resurfaces as soon as she returns to London. Esti, who shares so much of Ronit’s bright spirit, falls into deep confusion – to stay in loyalty to husband and orthodoxy or to flee with her friend.

Esti, after all, is married, in a restrained and acceptable kind of way, to Dovid who is a rising power in the consuming culture of the orthodox faith. It is all heightened by the affair, both emotional and physical that unfolds between Esti and Ronit. In lesser hands, all this could easily have been a genuine misfire. Delivery without histrionics by Rachel Weisz, Rachel McAdams, and Alessandro Nivola, leaves us free to sink into their dilemma with genuine curiosity.

What is the role of a deeply strict religious culture in a modern society that celebrates personal freedom? What happens when smart young adults who grew up in that culture are lured by the new flexibility of the modern world? The absence of villains here is what makes this movie provocative. Because the acting is so good, we are free to explore all the questions they are asking. Do I stay, or do I go? Which rules: loyalty or freedom? Three exceptional actors lead us in that search while remaining honorable and kind.

Film Critic : Joan Ellis
Film Title : Disobedience
Word Count : 494
Running Time : 1:54
Rating : R
Date : May 13, 2018

This review was posted on May 13, 2018, in Drama, Romance.