|A Woman's Life
|Paris Can Wait
|The Wedding Plan
|Get Me Roger Stone
A pair of European imports highlights an otherwise mostly middling May:
Stéphane Brizé follows up his brilliantly naturalistic, contemporary "The Measure of a Man" (which cracked the top half of my 2016 top-ten list) with the 19th-century character study "A Woman's Life," featuring a deeply felt performance by Judith Chemla as Jeanne, whose youthful marriage to a viscount proves to be a trap from which she struggles all her life to extricate herself. Her husband Julien, whose nobility does not come with a commensurate fortune, cheats on her and saddles her with responsibility for a profligate son who bleeds her dry financially and emotionally. Brizé is perhaps the current director best attuned to the outsize importance of money matters. "A Woman's Life," the title a slight mistranslation perhaps intended to bookend his last film, is as elegantly mounted as any Merchant/Ivory and more poignant than most.
Paolo Virzi's Italian "Like Crazy" (no relation to the 2011 Drake Doremus film featuring the late Anton Yelchin) stars Valeria Bruni Tedeschi (whom I singled out for praise in Virzi's 2015 "Human Capital") in a hilarious, nomination-worthy performance as Beatrice, a patient at a laughably "progressive" psychiatric clinic who claims to be a mega-rich aristocrat on a first-name basis with the president. When Donatella (Micaela Ramazzotti), an inked-up and head-down troubled case joins the community, Beatrice snaps her up and the two hijack the clinic's van into town for a series of amusing adventures. The Italians can do psychiatric comedy like nobody else; if you haven't seen Roberto Benigni's 1996 "The Monster," do yourself a favor. Virzi sustains the comic tone through "Like Crazy," making it one of the year's sweet surprises.
Eleanor Coppola's trifling "Paris Can Wait" leaves you gasping at its willful inconsequentiality. This is the kind of movie that's so light and fizzy, with nothing more on its mind than to enchant the eye and whet the palate, that a version of it could play to a packed house of senior citizens at the Landmark every weekend of the year. The adorable Diane Lane makes the movie as Anne, the wife of a hotshot director (Alec Baldwin), who, suffering from an earache that a flight to Bucharest would exacerbate, agrees to allow his associate Jacques (full-figured Arnaud Viard), a charming French rogue, to drive her back to Paris. Of course, Jacques' idea of going from Point A to Point B involves Points C-Z, so she (and we) are treated to a gastronomic and sightseeing tour of the best of France. Will romance ensue? Hop into Jacques' Peugeot convertible and see.
A mild thumbs-up for Rama Burshtein's "The Wedding Plan," with Noa Koler as Michal, a thirtysomething Orthodox woman whose fiancé informs her a month before their wedding that he's not in love with her. Michal decides to keep the wedding hall and count on God to find her a groom in the next 30 days. Although Michal's behavior with a surprising number of suitors (most notably cute Oz Zehavi as a famous singer) can be exasperatingly passive-aggressive, the movie works (barely) as an at best obliquely funny Israeli take on the rom-com… Mild recommendations also for the biodocs "Burden," about the pioneering 1970's performance artist Chris Burden (probably best known today for the streetlights outside LACMA), and Netflix's "Get Me Roger Stone," about the Republican "dirty tricks" specialist with a Zelig-like knack for turning up at (and influencing) the seminal political events of our time.
Finally, five discommendations: "Violet," Bas Devos' artsy-fartsy Belgian tone poem of grief, about a 15-year-old boy whose best friend is killed in a random attack while the two are browsing a shopping mall. Devos could take lessons from similar works by Gus Van Sant, "Elephant" and "Paranoid Park," both of which pack a more potent emotional punch; "The Commune," Danish director Thomas Vinterberg's unconvincing childhood remembrance about a couple, she a television anchor (Trine Dyrholm, so delightful opposite Pierce Brosnan in 2013's "Love is All You Need') and he an architecture professor, who open their oversized home to a deeply dislikable and thoroughly pretentious retinue of free spirits during the 1970s; "Wakefield," Robin Swicord's misbegotten adaptation of a minor E.L. Doctorow short story about a suburban exec (Bryan Cranston) who comes home late from work and spends the night in the cottage next door, where he decides to stay, without telling anyone, for the next several years (and no adult ever thinks to look!). What might have worked as an interior monologue on the page becomes ludicrously contrived on the big screen, and inevitably a lead character who spends the movie talking to himself comes off as a big dip. Jennifer Garner has nothing to do but pose as the wife he withdraws from (their age and beauty gap itself an insult to her), and by leaving his kids without a father Howard Wakefield is an incomprehensible object of our contempt from the start; and two similar would-be thrillers, Cate Shortland's "Berlin Syndrome," about a young Australian woman holidaying in Berlin who hooks up with a high-school teacher (Max Riemelt) at his place and quickly realizes he has no intention of ever letting her leave; and Brian Goodman's "Black Butterfly," with Antonio Banderas as a blocked author living in Colorado and Jonathan Rhys Meyers as the drifter who saves Banderas' ass in a fight at a diner and ends up staying at his house, soon pulling a Kathy Bates and locking him in at gunpoint to finish his next novel. Both films fall off the rails early, the former devolving into artsy torture porn and the latter an exercise in bad acting with a howler of a final twist that renders even the wild twist before it meaningless.