Posted in: by Kathleen Murphy, by Richard T. Jameson, by Sean Axmaker, capsules, Contributors, Film Festivals

SIFFtings 2015 – Opening Weekend

A few short takes on SIFF offerings on the debut weekend of the biggest, longest film festival in the United States.

SPY (Paul Feig, USA, 2015; 120 minutes)
Feig (Bridesmaids, The Heat) parlays Melissa McCarthy’s sly likeability and pratfalling genius into a dumb, feel-good spoof of the secret agent genre. When the jolly fat lady—an underappreciated computer-surveillance whiz, deskbound in a rodent-infested CIA basement—is suddenly thrust into the field, she sows useful, sporadically funny mayhem wherever she goes. Hailed by some folks as “feminist” comedy, Spy tickles our funny bone by targeting a heroine so armored up—by poundage and sweet denial—she’s proof against any humiliation. (With Jude Law, Jason Statham, Rose Byrne, Bobby Cannavale) – KAM
SIFF Opening Night, Thursday, May 14, 7pm, Marion Oliver McCaw Hall

Paul Dano, ‘Love & Mercy’

LOVE & MERCY (Bill Pohlad, USA, 2014; 119 minutes)
Capturing the life of Brian Wilson, the troubled genius who pushed the surf sound of The Beach Boys into psychedelic pop symphonies as he slid into depression, in just a few key years is a tricky proposition. Love & Mercy presents two Brians: Paul Dano plays the young sixties visionary as a big kid still seeking approval and John Cusack is the frail, unstable older Brian 20 years later, lost in the pharmaceutical haze overprescribed by the controlling, abusive Dr. Eugene Landy (Paul Giamatti in sleazy, medical huckster mode) until Melinda Ledbetter (Elizabeth Banks) offers him a lifeline. There’s a lot of history packed in here but Pohald is just as interested in exploring Wilson’s creative process and those scenes, with Dano in a state of near bliss as Wilson creating what will be “Pet Sounds” in a studio he treats as an artistic playroom, are the film’s highlights. – SAx
Friday, May 15, 6:30pm, Egyptian
Saturday, May 16, 12:30pm, Pacific Place

WATERLINE (Michal Otlowski, Poland, 2014, 94 minutes)
Is the air in Poland really that bad? Exterior and interior sequences alike suggest that Waterline was filmed on location in the nation of Miasma. The effect is undeniably atmospheric, and entirely apt to the social, political, and emotional realities the film doggedly brings to light. Our setting is a small backwater community, yet catastrophes and contretemps fairly tumble over one another within minutes of the film’s start: two members of the local constabulary gone missing, the several-days-ripe corpse of a young woman turned up at lakeside, another cop shot in the foot by a whacked-out hermit, and wait, is there yet one more dead woman to be discovered out there? The doughty policewoman (Jowita Budnik) charged with protagonist duties chases all these mysteries even though she’s close to giving birth—and the father is one of the missing troopers. Waterline, a first film from Michal Otlowski, plays it procedurally straight and relentlessly glamourless; the late, lamented AMC series The Killing almost looks like romantic melodrama by comparison—though as a matter of fact there are moments when Budnik and her new-to-the-force partner Sebastian Fabijalski seem close to channeling Linden and Holder from that show. Budnik does yeoman work in a challenging part, neither sinking into generic drear nor reaching for specious histrionics, and the surrounding ensemble likewise succeeds in putting us in touch with a community spirit. This is a competent film, and maybe—as last year’s SIFF selection and Oscar winner Ida suggests—Poland experiences no shortage of buried guilt to work through. Still, the ultimate extent of the corruption and culpability suggests thematic overkill. – RTJ
Friday, May 15, 9pm, Uptown
Wednesday, May 20, 4:30pm, Uptown
Friday, May 22, 8:30pm, Lincoln Square

ME AND EARL AND THE DYING GIRL (Alfonso Gomez-Rejon, USA, 2015, 104 minutes)
As a narrative strategy, whimsy is fraught with peril. Care to witness a film that risks it, embraces it, and triumphs? In Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, a high-schooler who’s made an art of glancing off life is dragooned by his mother into visiting a fellow senior stricken with leukemia. Classmate’s a she—cute, smart; killer sense of irony. Alfonso Gomez-Rejon’s film, after screenwriter Jesse Andrews’s novel, has myriad opportunities to go icky, feel-good, sappy, tearjerky, triumph-of-the-human-spirit, and of course tragic-teen-lovey. It declines them all, often while pointing out that it’s doing so. Thomas Mann (an avatar of the young Robert Horton?) and Olivia Cooke are tone perfect, and there’s ace support from RJ Cyler (Earl), Connie Britton, Nick Offerman, and Molly Shannon. Setting’s inspired: an insanely hilly, outlying Pittsburgh neighborhood of the sort where George Romero’s Martin also found adolescence challenging. —RTJ
Saturday, May 16, 6:30pm, Pacific Place
Sunday, May 17, 2:30pm, Uptown

‘The New Girlfriend’

THE NEW GIRLFRIEND (François Ozon, France, 2014, 107 minutes)
Ozon’s fairy tale about gender roles, gay identity, cross-dressing, love and repression is deliciously fluid, filled with tenderness toward human sexual foibles, laced with Hitchcockian edginess about the danger of coloring outside the lines. Both Claire (Anaïs Demoustier) and her best friend’s husband (Romain Duris) adored Laura; after her death the object of their desire continues to shape their shattered lives in strange and powerful ways. (Ozon pays sly homage to Laura.) Demoustier and Duris are superb, Hansel and Gretel lost in thickets of sexual confusion, questing bravely for a way home. – KAM
Saturday, May 16, 9:30pm, SIFF Cinema Egyptian
Sunday, May 17, 11:30am, SIFF Cinema Uptown

CORN ISLAND (George Ovashvili, Georgia, 2014; 100 minutes)
An old man stakes his claim on a transient island of silt washed down a river that marks the border between Georgia and Kazakhstan. He plants crops, builds a shack, and maintains a non-committal détente with the soldiers from both countries who patrol the river, careful to protect his granddaughter from the lustful gaze of men with machine guns and his crops from the inevitable storms of the changing seasons. It’s the cycle of life with a side helping of politics played out as a lovingly made allegory. Even the weather embodies the elemental drama. It’s “life” in quotation marks rather than anything actually lived, which is perfectly fine and often quite lovely, a cycle of life and death and rebirth as a kind of modern folk tale. – SAx
Sunday, May 17, 12N, Uptown
Monday, May 18, 7pm, Harvard Exit
Tuesday, May 19, 3:30pm, Lincoln Square

I’LL SEE YOU IN MY DREAMS (Brett Haley, USA, 2015, 95 minutes)
Longtime widow Carol’s self-sufficiency is shaken by the death of her beloved dog. The lady (Blythe Danner) fills her time playing bridge with old friends (June Squibb, Mary Kay Place, Rhea Perlman), enjoying long, wine-fueled conversations with the congenial sad-sack who cleans her pool (Martin Starr), and, promisingly, falling for dreamboat Sam Elliott. Not to be mistaken for a fully fleshed film, Dreams is an unabashed celebration of the radiant, lived-in beauty of 72-year-old Danner, whose face is a movie unto itself. – KAM
Sunday, May 17, 5:30pm, SIFF Cinema Uptown
Monday, May 18, 4:15pm, Harvard Exit