Movie Review by Joan Ellis –


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.

Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool

Movie Review by Joan Ellis –

Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool

The Hollywood culture of the 1950s is on full display in Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool. Wrapped in the calculated mannerisms of the era, sexpot actress Gloria Grahame won a supporting actress Oscar in ‘52. For women, twenty-five was retirement time. There were legends who were exceptions, but most young women, like Grahame, fell into sudden oblivion. Women were scripted additions to male stars whose age, of course, didn’t matter.

We watch Annette Benning create Gloria Grahame in her golden days, followed by her affair with the much younger Peter Turner. Eventually, she leaves him for another man, dabbles in all kinds of ludicrous adventures, becomes sick and dies at fifty-five. All this is based on Peter Turner’s memoir of his affair with Grahame after the culture of the era forced her off the screen. His sensitive book about a woman who remained a creature of her time has been filmed with dignity by everyone involved.

The operative word here is atmosphere. When Grahame moves in with Turner in 1979 and says “It’s a long way back to Sunset Boulevard,” we realize that we are in for a mixture of both sadness and appreciation. We watch snatches of her old movies, hear her memories – and watch her decline. The story unfolds in diminished natural colors as director Paul McGuigan and screenwriter Matt Greenhalgh turn Peter Turner’s memories into a groundbreaking look at what can happen when stardom ends. Theirs is a groundbreaking look behind the scenes in Hollywood’s glory days. They have done it with delicacy and respect.

Annette Benning becomes Gloria Grahame without ever once trying to soften the tough reality that growing older bestowed on Hollywood women. Benning at fifty-five, has known continual success as an actress and as a wife with a husband and four children. As she steps into this part, she leaves behind any of the fakery she might have used in a role that is often unflattering to her. It is a tribute to the culture of today that women of her talent can command the screen at any age.

Jamie Bell creates Peter Turner, the aspiring young English actor who was smitten with Grahame and helped her through her last days after she had left him for another man. Peter and his mother Jeanne (Vanessa Redgrave) become Grahame’s custodians while she is dying. Grahame’s last words, “How do I look?” are the perfect summary of what we have seen.

The acting conveys it all. Annette Benning creates a brave older woman who is living in pretense, caught in her own flawed imagining of who she really is. Jamie Bell does a beautiful job as the younger lover, resisting any temptation to overdo his part. Add to these Julie Walters and Kenneth Cranham as Peter’s parents and Vanessa Redgrave as Grahame’s mother. This is a cast who understood the delicacy of bringing Peter Turner’s book to the screen and they do it with great sensitivity. It’s original. It’s good.

Film Critic: JOAN ELLIS
Film Title : Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool
Word Count: 497
Running Time: 1:45
Rating: R
Date: 25 February 2018