Thursday, July 17, 2014

Under the Radar Movies

Since prime time TV is pretty nil in the summer time, I usually like to catch up with movies and TV series I missed.  Below are three movies that came out relatively recently (in the last year or so), that didn't receive much buzz at the time, but are definitely worth seeking out.

Short Term 12 (2013):
Find in the catalog!

Initially I put off watching this movie, because the subject matter sounded rather depressing.  It's about a foster care home for neglected and troubled teens.  The film does have its dark moments, but there is enough humor and lightness to keep the movie from being downbeat.  Brie Lawson plays Grace, the lead councilor in charge of looking after the foster care home.  She's tough, but also very caring towards the teens staying under her care.  Her long term boyfriend Mason (a very bearded John Gallagher Jr.) also works as a counselor at the facility.   Marcus (Keith Stanfield) is on the verge and turning 18 and "graduating" out of foster care.  He is understandably apprehensive at the prospect of being returned to the streets where he grew up.  Meanwhile, a new teen, Jayden (Kaitlyn Dever), arrives at the facility.  Jayden is a troublemaker, but comes from a slightly more privileged background than the other children.  However, she has some problems below the surface which Grace seems to be the only person who understands.

Even though the subject matter is somewhat bleak, I really enjoyed this movie.  Brie Lawson gives a standout performance as Grace.  It was also interesting to see John Gallagher Jr. play a character who is a world away from his preppy and somewhat wimpy Newsroom character.  He gives a really likeable performance here. I never quite knew where the plot was going and there were quite a few surprises.  However, the characters are drawn emphatically, so you wind up rooting for them in spite of their circumstances. 

Drinking Buddies (2013):
Find it in the catalog!

I'll admit I've always thought of Olivia Wilde as being an actress somewhat in the same category as Megan Fox:  very pretty, but not a whole lot of substance there.  Thankfully, I was wrong about Ms. Wilde, who gives a wonderful performance as the tomboyish Kate in this Joe Swanberg directed comedy.  Shot in Chicago (at Revolution Brewing Company, no less), this movie follows the friendship between two brewery employees, brewer Luke (Jake Johnston of New Girl) and the head of PR Kate.  Luke and Kate flirt like crazy and have a ton in common, but both are in relationships with other people.  Luke has a long term live-in girlfriend, Jill (Anna Kendrick).  And Kate has an older music producer beau, Chris (Ron Livingston). After the couples travel together for a long weekend, Chris decides to break up with Kate.  Afterwards, Kate's new found singleness causes some uneasiness with her friendship with Luke.

As a huge fan of craft beer and things set in Chicago, I was preordained to like this movie.  Drinking Buddies has a plot that is pretty true to life for a certain set of late 20/ early 30 somethings.  Johnston, Kendrick and Wilde all give pretty funny and nuanced performances.  I was particularly impressed by Wilde's take on Kate, a character who on paper seems like the perfect girl.  She's funny, smart, pretty, and can drink her weight in beer.  Yet she also has some intimacy and maturity issues underneath her bubbly exterior.

Frances Ha (2012):  
Find it in the catalog!

Out of the movies on the list, this was the only one I really anticipated before watching.  Partly because of the director (Noah Baumbach) and the star (Greta Gerwig).  And partly because I will watch anything about an awkward, late 20-something girl trying to figure out her life.  I tried to catch the movie in theaters, but the run was so short that I missed it.  Frances (Gerwig) is a 27 year-old wannabe dancer, who decides to break up with her boyfriend to spend more time with her best friend and roommate, Sophie (Mickey Sumner).  Unfortunately for Frances, Sophie gets serious with her stock broker beau, Patch, and moves out of their apartment.  Without Sophie, Frances becomes increasing lost and struggles to find a place to rent in NYC that she can afford.  Throughout the movie, we follow Frances as she moves into several different apartments and attempts (feebly) to become a grown up.

This movie is immensely relatable for late boomers to adulthood.  As someone who had her fair share of addresses in her twenties, I could see myself in Frances immediately.  Still that makes it all that much harder to watch her struggle, fail, and occasionally make a huge fool out of herself.  Frances has somewhat limited social skills and sometimes she does or says things incredibly stupid or inappropriate.  I found myself covering my eyes to avoid the awkwardness occasionally while watching this movie.  That being said, overall this is quite an enjoyable movie.  I especially enjoyed Frances's friendship with one of her roommates Benji (Michael Zegen); a trust-fund kid who's equally lost and unrealistic about life as Frances.  Benji jokes frequently that they are both "undateable."  The movie is shot beautifully in black and white, so it's a pleasure to look at as well.