2022 Movie Reviews: Parallel Mothers / Boiling Point / Novice

Everything was delicious this week.

Parallel Mothers

It’s been said countless times before, but here goes – no one does melodrama like Pedro Almodovar. He’s a filmmaker of such emotional intelligence it drives me wild. Basically, for the newbs out there, what the Spanish auteur does is take a ridiculously twisty plot, of what would be a telenovela, and fills it with characters so authentic and lovable that you completely buy into the camp. He has such compassion and unironic love for his protagonists that it’s often jarring for cynical American audiences. But while everyone else seems to be hyperfocused on the more mechanic elements of storytelling, like plot/story logic, Almodovar basically says “Fuck that! It’s not as important as a character’s emotional journey.” What a goddamn mensch.

His latest effort, Parallel Mothers, takes place in present-day Spain and follows a photographer, Janis (Penelope Cruz), who is the descendant of a Franco regime victim. This means her grandfather was tortured and murdered by fascist assholes. After photographing a forensic pathologist turned novelist (Israel Elejalde) for his new book’s jacket cover, she enlists his help to get Spain to allow her to excavate and reclaim the body of her grandfather, so her family can give him a proper burial. It’s an Almodovar movie, so of course, they end up fucking each other’s brains out. Janis gets pregnant and decides to have the baby. In the hospital, she befriends a pregnant teenager (Milena Smit) who enters her orbit and forever changes her life. That’s all I’ll tell you about the plot, it goes in some wild and twisty directions from there but never for a second seems disingenuous or far-fetched. There’s definitely a bit of a disconnect from the baby A-plot and the Franco Regime stuff, but upon reflection, I think what Almodovar was going for was to tell a story about how moving forward (baby A-plot) is impossible without first reckoning/healing from the past (Franco regime stuff). It just could have been tied together a little neater, but at the same time, it’s hard to fault him for focusing more on the character relationships.

Penelope Cruz‘s best work, inarguably, has been in Pedro Almodovar’s films and Parallel Mothers might just be her finest performance. Like the most emotionally devastating film performances, it seems pointless to attempt to put into words. Basically, it’s like a turtle dove on ice skates, gliding on a rainbow made out of mini sweet tarts. It’s perhaps the best acting I’ve seen all year and as the spunky teen mama, Milena Smit isn’t far behind. It’s a beautiful two-hander, their chemistry together is absolutely undeniable. As is the tried and true chemistry between Almodovar and Cruz, a working relationship for the ages. Grade: A- (In Theaters)

Boiling Point

I’ve never worked in the foodservice industry but like any working actor, I’ve known countless people who have, including some of my closest friends. They all describe it as this sort of high-octane disaster – a three-ring-circus of asshole customers, cocaine and whiskey-fueled colleagues, and actual flames from piping hot stovetops. Philip Barantini‘s 90-minute, single-take adaptation of his short film of the same name, follows a celebrated but struggling chef, Andy (a never better Stephen Graham), during the busiest dinner service of his life, in real-time. A couple of folks have criticized Barantini‘s decision to present the movie as one never-ending take, saying it reduces a great premise into something one-note, but I wholeheartedly disagree. I think a single-take film is an overused gimmick, but here it works better than just about anything I’ve ever seen. It really reinforces the idea that this chaos is neverending and inescapable, much like busy dinner service, and it also gives you a firm idea of what the layout of the entire restaurant is. The problems of the movie lie in the underdevelopment (or underutilization) of some of the characters as well as the slightly inauthentic feel of every bad thing that can ever happen in a restaurant happening on the same night at the same time. Boiling Point feels like, as most workplace thrillers do, a composite of a bunch of things that happen over the course of years, all happening in the same stretch of time. I didn’t get too hung up on this because everything that is happening, while incredibly stressful, is super interesting. There’s never a second I fell out of engagement with this and it’s thanks primarily to the amazing group of actors the film deploys. Vinette Robinson is riveting as Andy’s sous chef, Carly, who is approaching the end of her rope with a front-of-house manager who doesn’t know how to do her job. Jason Flemyng is typically excellent as Alistair Skye, an old friend/colleague/rival of Andy’s, turned famous Gordon Ramsay stand-in, but the performance of the movie belongs to Stephen Graham who matches the intensity of the material note for note while feeding us morsels of how damaged and fragile he truly is. Comparisons to Uncut Gems or the Safdie Brothers‘ work, in general, are inevitable, but this exists as something completely its own. Grade: B+ ($6.99 rental on Amazon)

Novice

Novice is basically Whiplash but for college women’s rowing and without an aggressively villainous warped father figure character that pushes the protagonist to greatness/madness/sadness. That’s because the Miles Teller character in this, Orphan’s Isabelle Fuhrman, is her own abuser. Riddled with natural inability, she pushes herself into a sweaty and bloody mess, all while making enemies with her teammates. She’s a real Salieri, a bitter mediocrity nearly killing herself to deliver B+ work. Claiming to be from a disenfranchised background, but actually quite privileged, she’s actually a tragically unlikeable character. Someone you pity but could never bring yourself to love. Isabelle Fuhrman plays her wonderfully, it’s a nuanced and intense performance that outdoes the movie that houses it. The Novice is your typical low-budget, cerebral Sundance thriller, filled with some really good sequences but ultimately failing to be memorable. Like its protagonist, it tries so hard but only reminds you of similar, better movies. Grade: B ($6.99 rental on Amazon)

Also Streaming or In Theaters…

Being the Ricardos (Amazon Prime)

The Lost Daughter (Netflix)

Mass ($4.99 rental on Amazon)

Don’t Look Up (Netflix)

Licorice Pizza (Theaters)

Nightmare Alley (Theaters)

Red Rocket (Theaters; Streaming 2/08)

West Side Story (Theaters)

Spider-Man: Far From Home (Theaters)

The Matrix Resurrections (HBOMax and Theaters)

The Tragedy of Macbeth (Theaters; AppleTV January 14th)

Pig (Hulu)

The Power of the Dog (Netflix)

Benedetta ($6.99 rental)

Titane ($4.99 rental)

Shiva Baby (HBOMax)

Belfast ($19.99 rental)

Spencer ($4.99 rental)

Passing (Netflix)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: