On Day 5 of the 70th Cannes Film Festival, the first casualties in the official selection have begun to reveal themselves. To be fair, it’s been an even stronger than usual lineup so far. The Godard biopic LE REDOUBTABLE, widely pegged to be THE LAST FACE of 2017, is an innocuously charming thing that goes overboard from time to time with its zany directorial flourishes. The worst reviewed competition entry so far, at least according to the daily jury grid – JUPITER’S MOON – bites off more than it can chew by taking on religious, political and humanitarian subjects all at once, but when it concentrates on being the badass refugee-turned-Jesus genre flick it is, what you see on the screen will knock your socks off (think SON OF SAUL getting the MATRIX treatment. In fact, if judging only by the number of times one goes “Holy shit that’s cool” during a movie, it would probably win the damn thing.
As for the biggest disappointment so far – and I say this as a huge fan of FORCE MAJEURE – Swedish director Ruben Östlund’s THE SQUARE does feature a juicy premise and undeniably brilliant scenes born of Östlund’s now trademarked brand of acidic humor. It’s a work of dazzling but unfocused genius that will get everyone’s attention but not necessarily satisfy all. The biggest surprise, meanwhile, arrived in the form of French AIDS-crisis drama BPM (BEATS PER MINUTE). Eloquent, intimate, unapologetically carnal, it dissects the psychology of a minority group beautifully and makes politics personal in a way that really hit home.
Then of course we got the new Adam Sandler movie.
Written and directed by Noah Baumbach, THE MEYEROWITZ STORIES (NEW AND SELECTED), provides a resounding counterargument to Netflix’s contribution to advancing the cinematic arts just two days after OKJA screened. At its center is the predictably dysfunctional Meyerowitz family surrounding aging patriarch Harold (Dustin Hoffman), a sculptor who’s turned resentful believing the world has conspired against him to reach greater success. His three children from two marriages (played by Sandler, Ben Stiller and Elizabeth Marvel) reunite under strained circumstances and everybody talks for two straight hours.
Baumbach is a hit-and-miss kind of filmmaker in this guy’s books. His strong writer/director sensibilities can work wonders indeed (see THE SQUID AND THE WHALE, MARGOT AT THE WEDDING and – I realize I’m in the minority here – WHILE WE’RE YOUNG) but sometimes his work as director can also be so completely hijacked by his writer self that nothing but a sea of rambling words survives (most recently in MISTRESS AMERICA). The latest ensemble dramedy offers previous little in terms of originality or insights as a group of uninspiredly quirky characters banter their way through sibling rivalry and father-child neglect issues. There are a handful of scenes where the combination of obsessive neuroticism and nifty comedic timing makes it work, but on the whole, this loud but vapid, distinctly petty has no business being shown on the sacred silver screen, let along competing for the Palme d’Or.
The out-of-competition title HOW TO TALK TO GIRLS AT PARTIES is fittingly no competition material but it does make for a giggly good time courtesy of John Cameron Mitchell. More SHORTBUS than RABBIT HOLE (quite remarkable the same guy made these two films) in vibe, it’s about three teenage wannabe punksters living in the suburban town of Croydon who stumble upon six “colonies” of extraterrestrial travelers making a short stop on Earth. The human boy Enn (Alex Sharp) befriends alien girl of x incarnation Zan (Elle Fanning), takes her out to experience an ordinary weekend in 70’s England, before subjecting her to a difficult choice.
Adapted from a short story by Neil Gaiman, the film retains a youthful delicacy despite its ostensibly hardcore aesthetics and scenarios: screaming cross-dressing performers bringing down the house HEDWIG AND THE ANGRY INCH-style while aliens in full latex get-up enact suggestive dance routines and some WTF three-handed sexual initiation. All this is done on a clearly modest budget so things don’t look refined, often evoking the impression of a particularly imaginative high school theater production. This doesn’t necessarily work to the film’s disfavor as Mitchell knows how to milk the comedic potential of jarring visual backdrops and situations. A couple of memorably funny scenes that come to mind include an exchange between the boys and Zan where they try to test if this strange girl is really just “an American” and a delicious face-off between punk prima donna Boadicea as embodied by Nicole Kidman and an alien dominatrix played by Ruth Wilson.
As the 70th Cannes Film Festival nears its significant midpoint, where few things we’ve seen outright bombed and such expected heavyweights as the Haneke, the Lanthimos and the Coppola are yet to be unveiled, this much is probably certain: we’ll be looking at a heated race for that Palme by the end of next week.