This is an under-seen gem that I will be recommending to anyone who will listen. Across-the-board strong, naturalistic performances coupled with a screenplay by Joe Swanberg (also serving as director) that trusts the intelligence of the audience makes this one of the year's best movies, period.
The movie focuses on friends Kate (Olivia Wilde) and Luke (Jake Johnson) as they work at an independent brewery, go out drinking afterwords, and interact with their respective partners (Ron Livingston's Chris paired with Kate, and Anna Kendrick's Jill with Luke). What follows is a realistic look at a platonic friendship that faces a challenge when one of the two (in this case, Kate) ends up single.
Of the four principals, it is hard to single one out as best in show, as all are hitting their scenes with refreshingly realistic portrayals of actual people (as opposed to the quippy RomCom dialogue - not that this is any form of a RomCom). Wilde might be best for so believably playing Kate's bad qualities without making the character unlikeable, or maybe Johnson for his irrational irritation (and Luke's understanding that it is that) with Kate for hooking up with a coworker. Livingston and Kendrick both provide great support in their scenes, never coming across as standard RomCom villains (maybe this is a RomCom and I just don't accept it?). And the final scene, played between Wilde and Johnson, is a beauty of wordless dialogue that gives us the ending we need, as opposed to the ending we want.
Between this and Frances Ha, I'm wondering if I am becoming a mumblecore fan. 9.0 out of 10.
Speaking of, here is another great, naturalistic movie about a 27-year-old having an early-life crises.
Shot in black in white and starring Greta Gerwig (who shares writing credit with director Noah Baumbach), Frances Ha follows dancer Frances (Gerwig) who faces a bit of a crises when her best friend and roommate Sophie (Mickey Summer) decides to move out. Frances moves from place to place while struggling to stay connected with Sophie, find a job that involves dancing, and figure out what she wants to do with her life in general.
This movie is really the Greta Gerwig show, and she gives one of the best leading performances of the year in it (he says, despite the pitifully low number of movies he has seen). Frances is at times incredibly frustrating, hypocritical, selfish, and confusing and Gerwig never once lets her be irredeemably unlikeable. Michael Zegen provides charming support as Benji, one of Frances' roommates early on, and Summer has a good report with Gerwig, making their scenes as best friends utterly believable.
Director Baumbach keeps a spontaneous energy throughout the proceedings, and every shot feels right, with interesting angles highlighting various encounters between Gerwig and whomever is sharing the screen with her at that time. I've seen the complaint that the narrative drifts, but that is a credit to Baumbach, as Frances herself is drifting through her life trying to figure out what to hold onto.
The only real complaint I had was an odd music choice during one of Frances' wordless scenes walking New York. And that is rather small compared to the film as a whole.
Easily amongst the best movies I have seen in recent years. 9.5 out of 10.
The Place Beyond the Pines
A moody ensemble piece that follows two men and how their lives affect their sons, The Place Beyond the Pines is a great drama with solid performances.
Following a 3 act structure where each act focuses on a different character, this movie ties together well and moves at slow, deliberate pace that may turn off some expecting a more action-packed movie.
Act one follows Luke (Ryan Gosling) as he tries to get involved in his son's life, eventually turning to bank robbery to get money for him. This leads to a confrontation with police officer Avery (Bradley Cooper), who the second act follows.
The third act follows the friendship between the sons of Luke and Avery, Jason (Dane DeHaan) and AJ (Emory Cohen) and the inevitable confrontation that follows.
The movie feels like a modern-day Greek tragedy, as the sins of the father fall on the sons, with gut choices in what turn out to be life-defining moments shape the structure of the film. Tonally, the movie has the feel of inevitable sadness, which works well with the screenplay.
Performances are strong across the board, with special mention to Emory Cohen as Avery's son AJ. His performance as a spoiled rich kid who thinks he is hardcore will annoy some, but the character is supposed to grate on the nerves, which makes Cohen's performance somewhat brave in that he doesn't try to be likeable, just charming enough to get people to do what he wants.
Dane DeHaan also deserves mention for so believably playing an introverted, slightly damaged high school kid (DeHaan himself is 26 years old) who longs to know about his father.
Throughout the film, various well-known actors play what amount to bit parts (though the interactions with said character carry repercussion felt throughout the film). Harris Yulin, Ray Liotta, and Rose Byrne are my particular favorites, but the richness of all the characters makes picking favorites an enjoyable exercise where there isn't really a bad choice.
All in all, a heavy drama that holds your attention with its strong performances. 8.0 out of 10.