Monday, December 5, 2016

Jackie, The Comedian, Things to Come

The Comedian

Things to Come (L'Avenir)

Capsules on a light but truly terrible December week of movies:

A “low 1.5” for Pablo Larraín’s “Jackie,” featuring Natalie Portman as the iconic First Lady in a performance timed for maximum Oscar impact that left me totally cold. Impersonations are rarely among my favorite performances – the best, such as Eddie Redmayne’s Stephen Hawking in “The Theory of Everything,” transcend apery to get at universal human truths – and this one feels starch-stiff with stylization. Larraín’s bizarre decision to focus exclusively on the week following JFK’s assassination takes 99% of the fascinating aspects of this woman’s amazing life off the table. Even the remaining scraps aren’t exploited, as in the true nature of her relationship with the Johnsons. “They’ve been so wonderful to me,” the movie’s Jackie tells a TV crew, at which point a friend leaned over and whispered, “Oh, bullshit.” Larraín’s structure, too, beggars belief: the framing device is an interview with a reporter (Billy Crudup) of exactly the sort Jackie O wouldn’t have given on pain of death. This “Jackie” is odd, stilted, and almost entirely airless. I could not wait to get out of the theater. And Mica Levi’s droning score – mostly two death-knell notes repeated ad infinitum – could make you tear your hair out. In the end, what is the point? How much longer are we to indulge the Democrat mythologizing of a “Camelot” that never was?

A “low 1” for Taylor Hackford’s mawkish “The Comedian,” featuring Robert De Niro in a role that proves the onetime screen icon will now do absolutely anything for a buck. As former sitcom star Jackie Burke, De Niro looks miserable, as if he’s just returned empty-handed from a quest for an iota of his lost talent. Painfully unfunny comic material is one thing. That I can handle. I’m used to it. Painfully unfunny comic material, followed by cutaway reaction shots of laughing, nodding audience members – no can do. Leslie Mann, who in “This is 40” and especially “The Other Woman” proved she can be side-splittingly funny, is saddled with the thankless part of Harmony, De Niro’s reluctant love interest (at this point, is there any other kind?), who meets Jackie at the church where they’re both doing court-ordered community service. On what planet does this old, unattractive has-been give Leslie Mann the irrepressible urge to kiss him? Among a way-too-good-for-the-material supporting cast that includes Danny DeVito, Edie Falco, Charles Grodin, Harvey Keitel and Patti LuPone, Cloris Leachman comes closest to scoring laughs as a Phyllis Diller type who croaks while Jackie’s roasting her on a Friars Club type TV special. It’s the one and only time De Niro kills.

Finally, thumbs down for Mia Hansen-Løve’s boooring French import “Things to Come” (“L’Avenir”), with the currently spread-thin Isabelle Huppert as a philosophy teacher whose comfortable marriage abruptly ends when her husband moves in with a younger woman. Nathalie also has to deal with her valetudinarian mother, Yvette (Edith Scob), and the obese black cat, Pandora, that ex Heinz (André Marcon) leaves with her. She retreats to the mountain commune where hunky anarchist (and favorite former student) Fabien (Roman Kolinka), his girlfriend and assorted fellow travelers churn butter and toss around philosophical concepts. I’m not going to call their conversations bullshit, but I’m also not going to pretend they made any impact on me - a statement I can also make of this director's films, having now seen three of them. Here’s another one my friend and I couldn’t wait to walk out of. Nothing happens!

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