Tuesday, November 07, 2017

IFFBoston 2017.183: Thoroughbreds & Thelma

Kind of disappointed in myself in only getting to two days of IFFBoston's Fall Focus, but not beating myself up over it too much - I'd already seen one and most of the rest will likely play a fair number of theaters in coming weeks. These two seem the most likely to get lost in the shuffle, so it's nice that my schedule worked out best with them.

Thoroughbreds, kind of amazingly, isn't set to come out until next year, which wouldn't be bad if it just got finished recently, but co-star Anton Yelchin died in 2016. Stars Anya Taylor-Joy and Olivia Cooke won't quite have aged out of playing teenagers by then, but it's not a ridiculous possibility. It's far-enough away that Focus may opt to send it straight to VOD, or Universal could even decide that they don't need a boutique label by then. It's an odd enough movie that this sort of thing wouldn't surprise me.

As for Thelma, it's listed as being released this weekend, but the Boston showtimes haven't updated at this point, so who knows if we'll get it this week or next, or at all? It's worth remembering that for one of director Joachim Trier's previous films, critics basically had to beg theaters to get it to play in the area. I missed it, later catching it on video, and I'm kind of not sure where this one plays - it's just genre enough to not play the Kendall, but foreign enough not to play Boston Common. Maybe it gets a 9:30pm-in-the-Goldscreen-plus-midnights week at the Coolidge, but who knows?

Anyway, as much as I wish I could have gone to more than three movies, I caught three of the right ones. Both halves of this dangerous-young-women double feature had some issues, but they're good enough that I'm glad I got to see them on a big screen and that Brian, Nancy, and the rest of the IFFBoston/Brattle crew helped me prioritize them.


* * * (out of four)
Seen 25 October 2017 in the Brattle Theatre (Independent Film Festival Boston Fall Focus 2017, DCP)

The teenage girls in Thoroughbreads watch an old movie or three over the course of their own film, and, boy, would Anya Taylor-Joy be looking at a heck of a line in femmes fatales if there were still the same sort of regular demand for them. Her performance as a potentially-monstrous teenager is delicious, begging to be inserted into a film that has higher stakes or which gives her someone to pull down from a much higher pedestal.

She's playing Lily, who used to hang out with Amanda (Olivia Cooke) before transferring to boarding school a year and a half ago. Nobody is talking to Amanda these days, but Amanda doesn't mind - indeed, she says she can't, that she's unable to feel emotion but can fake it well enough to get by, and she that knows Lily's just tutoring her for the SATs because her mom is paying. As much as this confession initially freaks Lily out, she quickly comes to like having a friend for whom she doesn't have to keep up a sweet, placid exterior - at least, until Amanda picks up on the enmity between Lily and her stepfather (Paul Sparks) and bluntly raises the option of killing him.

Writer/director Cory Finley has Amanda spill that she's not capable of feeling emotion early, and there are times when it makes what Olivia Cooke does a little less interesting; she can be flat in her delivery and the audience will basically take it as given, with any display of emotion immediately recognized as a technical exercise even when the script doesn't have her actually giving an explanation on how she fakes crying. Amanda's stated lack of feeling distances the audience from her in the same way it distances her from other people, something the film perhaps waits too long to address, especially since it serves to camouflage the little things Cooke does right, principal among them being flat but never really cold. Finley is careful never to describe her as selfish or a sociopath in hiding, and Cooke is often quite good at finding the delivery that's neither robotic nor obviously inflected.

Full review on EFC.


* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 25 October 2017 in the Brattle Theatre (Independent Film Festival Boston Fall Focus 2017, DCP)

I love the themes that director Joachim Trier eventually gets around to really poking at, the idea of institutions and even family holding determined women back by any means necessary. There are times when it gets well out of the filmmaker's hands, like he's got this idea but doesn't really know how to pull it together as a story and ultimately decides to just go with what feels right (or horrible, depending on the scene), but mostly this movie seems to be on the right track.

After a brief prelude, the audience meets present-day Thelma (Eili Harboe), a bright girl who grew up in a small town but has come to the city for college. She and her parents (Henrik Rafaelsen & Ellen Dorrit Petersen) appear to be close, but maybe not quite so close as they first appear: Thelma isn't exactly actively rebelling against her religious upbringing, but she fibs about which courses she's taking and sees a pretty big difference between believing in God and believing the world is 6000 years old. Given this, it's almost a given that she won't tell her parents how close she is getting with her classmate Anja (Okay Kaya), but not telling them when she starts having seizures - and the doctors can't find any signs of epilepsy or similar neurological disorders - is something else.

It would be one kind of movie if the seizures stayed in her head, but from the way that all those birds were crashing into the window the first time, that's not going to be the case, and when that happens, a story can either go in the Carrie or X-Men directions, and both are kind of minefields. The second almost inevitably makes the character's abilities the focus of the story, making it a question of practical application rather than the internal struggles that the storyteller wants to tell on a larger-than-life scale. Enlarging it to that scale, though, tends to break the metaphor, making the girl with great potential inherently dangerous, not just something that makes people uncomfortable or nervous. Trier and co-writer Eskil Vogt don't really have a solution for that, story-wise, and to be fair, they don't need one, though their film would likely be a bit more compelling if there were a little more evidence offered that Thelma could change the world in a positive way.

Full review on EFC.

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