What to Watch, Gravy Boat Edition
"The Fabelmans," "White Noise," "Hold Me Tight," and other dark meat for the holidays.
A few quick pre-Thanksgiving viewing recommendations, in case the family wants to go sit in the dark of a neighborhood cineplex looking at a screen OR after you’ve fully digested the turkey (or tofurkey, or turducken) and can stay awake long enough to stream something at home together. Ironically (or perhaps not), almost all of the movies debuting this week are in one way or another about family, and about the comedy-drama of defining yourself amidst a group of people who, with all the love and guilt in the world, want you to be just like them.
The big theatrical event of the holiday weekend is “The Fabelmans” (⭐ ⭐ ⭐), and how wonderfully perverse that Steven Spielberg’s memory film about growing up obsessed with movies as a way to ignore his parents’ failing marriage is going wide on this most fractious of family holidays. I wrote about the movie after seeing it at the Toronto International Film Festival, and while I still feel that “Mitzi Fabelman – meaning Leah Spielberg – is a more mercurial and problematic figure than the movie seems willing to confront,” I can’t argue with the empathy and skill with which Michelle Williams (above, with Mateo Zoryon Francis-DeFord) fills in the outlines of Spielberg’s Manic Pixie Dream Mom. It’s as smooth and emotionally plangent a trip down Freud Street as can be imagined, with a revelation of infidelity that’s a tip of the hat to the darkroom sequence in “Blow-Up,” a moment of prize-winning ham courtesy of Judd Hirsch, and a late-inning cameo by one of our greatest filmmaking mavericks, cast as a Studio Era legend. And, sure, everybody deserves to have their family traumas brought to dramatic life via a Tony Kushner screenplay, but Spielberg’s the first to actually do it. Attention must be paid, and attention is rewarded.
“Hold Me Tight” (⭐ ⭐ ⭐ 1/2, available as a $4.99 rental on Vudu and KinoNow) is a moodier and more oblique tale of a seemingly errant mother, but as the pieces of Mathieu Almaric’s remarkable film come together, they gather into an emotional wallop as devastating as anything I’ve seen this year. Plus, the movie stars Vicky Krieps (above), who a lot of us fell in love with in “Phantom Thread” and who only recently has been well-served with follow-up roles. Krieps plays a woman who, in the opening scenes, abandons her husband and children and heads out on a journey of self-discovery (or self-absorption, take your pick). Almaric, a familiar French actor turned (excellent) director, keeps looping back to the family waiting patiently at home, and as the road turns beneath his heroine’s tires, an alternate narrative begins to suggest itself, hinting that her fantasy of escape may be just that. “Hold Me Tight” is a puzzle film, in other words, but one drawn with such delicacy and heartbreak that you lean in to solve the puzzle, sorting and re-sorting the film’s emotions as they slowly piece together. Krieps also stars in this season in “Corsage,” a period film opening in a few weeks that I am apparently alone in not warming up to – I’ll give it another shot, I swear – but this is this movie that makes good on the promise of Alma in “Phantom Thread” and that honors the deceptively placid façade Krieps maintains as an actress. Here she plays a woman, a wife, and a mother coping with the unimaginable, and only gradually does we see the stress fractures rise up through the bones of her face.
“White Noise” (⭐ ⭐ 1/2) arrives in theaters this week ahead of its Netflix premiere on December 30; I’ll have more to say about it then, but for now this adaptation of Don DeLillo’s 1985 novel of suburban apocalypse is a thing of shreds and patches, strongest in its high-flying satire of academia – a scene of professors Adam Driver and Don Cheadle delivering dueling lectures on Hitler and Elvis is as marvelous as it was in the book – and in the panicky evacuation sequence of the movie’s centerpiece, the Airborne Toxic Event. The weakest bits concern the talky, rambling marital drama that slowly sinks the movie’s second half. (I feel compelled to report that Mrs. Movie Critic, who attended the screening with me, had the exact opposite reaction; your mileage or your marriage may vary.) Director Noah Baumbach (“A Marriage Story”) hasn’t solved the problem of turning a celebrated literary work into a cohesive cinematic experience, but, in fairness, who has? (Feel free to comment below.) The best things in “White Noise” are the kids played by Raffey Cassidy, Sam Nivola, and May Nivola, the latter two the talented spawn of actors Alessandro Nivola and Emily Mortimer. It’s the children who turn out to surf the film’s tsunamis of disaster more capably than their parents and who seem unsentimentally prepared for the coming wreck that is their future. In this as in other ways, Baumbach’s “White Noise” is as much a work for our times as DeLillo’s was for his.
“The Swimmers” (⭐ ⭐ ⭐) lands on Netflix as a crowd-pleasing true-life drama of sisterly endurance; a good one to watch with older kids and/or grandparents and/or just by yourself. From my Toronto report in September: “The 2022 TIFF opening night film is the inspirational story of Yusra and Sara Mardini, sisters who fled the disastrous war in their home country of Syria and made it all the way to the 2016 Olympics in Rio, where Yusra swam for the Refugee Olympic Team. Real-life sisters Nathalie and Manal Issa (above) are dynamic in the leads – one anxious and determined, the other reckless and pissed-off – and Sally El Hosaini’s film is at its strongest in the details of the refugees’ road, familiar to Americans from news footage but brought to life here in all its gnawing suspense. The rest of the movie is familiar underdog sports-movie stuff, but you’ll probably be so invested in the characters that you’ll still get a lift.” And if you have multiple daughters at home, prepare for the film’s themes of sibling rivalry and individuation to strike a chord and maybe result in a teary hug or two.
I can’t let the holiday go without mentioning the ultimate Thanksgiving family nightmare movie: “Krisha” (⭐ ⭐ ⭐ 1/2, for rent on multiple platforms), from 2016, in which writer-director Trey Edward Shults proves that not only can you go home again but you can cast all your relatives in a psychodrama based on the alcoholic train wreck of an aunt who didn’t live to see the movie get made. (I always say there’s one real handful in every family and if you think yours doesn’t have one, well … it’s probably you.) With a lead performance of absolute fearlessness from Krisha Fairchild (above) – the filmmaker’s aunt, playing a fictional version of her own late sister – “Krisha” is audacious, nerve-rattling, and truer to the fraught dynamic of more family gatherings than many of us would care to admit. Show it to your own extended clan when you’re ready to clear them out of the house.
Kidding! Have a happy holiday, all. Drive safely and treat each other with the love and forbearance every person deserves.
Thoughts? Comments? Don’t hesitate to share the cranberry sauce.
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