Mad (2016)


Madness is often preceded by a smile.

Madness is often preceded by a smile.

(2016) Dramedy (Caterpillar Event) Jennifer Lafleur, Maryann Plunkett, Eilis Cahill, Mark Reeb, Conor Casey, Chris Doubek, Nathan Harlan, Shaun Weiss, Robert G. Putka, Claire McNulty, David Sullivan, Ty Gebler, Avery Gebler, Ern Gerardo, Spencer Tuckerman, Lyndon Casey, Lori Allen, Debbie Scarletta. Directed by Robert G. Putka

Florida Film Festival 2016

A lot of us, at one time or another, are convinced that our parents are crazy. Once in awhile, it turns out to be true.

Mel (Plunkett) has lost it a little. Freshly divorced, she has become more than a handful that her adult daughters Connie (Lafleur) and Casey (Cahill) just can’t handle. Connie is the “responsible” one, an executive for a financial firm with a husband and child, not to mention a kind of shrewish demeanor. She interrogates her mother more than converses with her. Casey, on the other hand, is the “artistic” one, who has floated through life without really settling on a career or a relationship. She’s sweet natured but she is often bullied by her older sister.

So the two daughters, basically unable or unwilling to take care of their mother who has some emotional issues, have her committed to a care facility where she can get the help she needs but before you think “right thing to do,” their motivations might not necessarily be pure; it may be the right thing to do in many ways but it’s also the convenient thing to do for both of them.

So the two daughters go on their merry while mom goes through bouts of intense loneliness and feelings of abandonment while enduring group therapy and living among people who are in far more dire straits emotionally/mentally speaking than she is. While this is going on, both girls are undergoing radical changes in their lives; one is becoming much more level-headed and mature, the other ready to face the music for her own indiscretions. How does mom fit into their equations now?

This isn’t one of those movies that are a comfortable viewing. It pushes you and challenges you. Connie is a flat-out bitch at times while Casey will drive you crazy with her mousy behaviors. Even Mel, who sometimes seems befuddled, isn’t always the nicest and most identifiable character ever. How much you like this movie is going to depend a lot on your tolerance for spending time with people who aren’t always likable.

Now that’s not something I mind per se; I’ve had wonderful experiences with plenty of movies whose characters were people I wouldn’t want to spend ten minutes interacting with in real life. I don’t mind imperfect. What I do mind is predictable. The movie’s plot twists aren’t all that much of a stretch and the big one involving Connie is the only one I really didn’t see coming, but even that one was, once it hit, fairly pedestrian in its outcome. For movies like this to work, I need an element of surprise.

Another bone to pick is that I don’t think the writers did their research very well. The crime they described, for one thing, is not called trade rigging; it is called insider trading and it is not an anti-trust issue, which it is depicted as in the film. Any financial professional could have told them that insider trading is a securities fraud issue.

While a few scenes (particularly those showing Connie at home with her family) seemed a bit padded, overall the pacing is handled well and the transitions from one portion of the film to the next are handled with some finesse. What stands out about the movie is that it really drills down into the complex nature of mother-daughter relationships and creates some real, organic ties between Mel and her two daughters. Unfortunately the situations seem a little bit contrived and I would have preferred the characters to be a bit more realistic.

There are people I respect who found this to be one of the better films presented at this year’s Florida Film Festival and I can kind of see where they’re coming from, but the flaws I perceived were too much for the movie’s strengths to overcome. I think that there are some good films in Putka, but for me, this one will act more as a stepping stone to better movies in his career.

REASONS TO GO: Really captures the complicated nature of mother-daughter relationships. The transitions from scene to scene work nicely.
REASONS TO STAY: Some of the scenes of domestic bliss are a bit long. A bit on the predictable side and occasionally seems a bit emotionally flat.
FAMILY VALUES: There is some sexuality including sexual references as well as some profanity.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: This is the feature film debut of Putka whose prior seven short films had all been rejected by Slamdance before the feature was accepted.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 4/15/16: Rotten Tomatoes: No score yet. Metacritic: No score yet.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Parenthood
FINAL RATING: 5.5/10
NEXT: The Babushkas of Chernobyl

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Molly


Molly

Take me out to the ball game…

(1999) Drama (MGM) Elisabeth Shue, Aaron Eckhart, Thomas Jane, Lucy Liu, Jill Hennessy, D.W. Moffett, Elizabeth Mitchell, Robert Harper, Elaine Hendrix, Michael Paul Chan, Jon Pennell, Sarah Wynter, Lauren Richter, Tanner Lee Prairie, Musetta Vander. Directed by John Dulgan

 

When we look at the disabled, often all we truly see is their disability. The hardest thing for us so-called normal folk is to look beyond and see the person within. This is often true of those who love the disabled, as well.

Buck McKay (Eckhart) has a good job, a great loft in trendy Venice (California, not Italy) and a busy social calendar. He’s restoring a vintage sailboat. He is leading a quietly fulfilling, productive life. Then, he gets a letter from the state of California.

The care facility at Bellevue is being shut down due to funding constraints. What does this have to do with McKay? That’s where his sister, Molly (Shue) has been staying for a number of years, ever since both their parents died in a car crash. She’s autistic, with the emotional and mental state of a three-year-old.

Immediately, Buck’s life is thrown into chaos. He loses his job when Molly prances into an important meeting naked because she’s too warm although if Elisabeth Shue pranced into one of my meetings naked, I’d probably give her brother a promotion. Maybe that’s just me, though. In any case, the constant attention that his sister requires has emptied his social calendar. Yes, it’s true: The Buck stopped there.

A lifeline is thrown when Sam (Jane), a learning-disabled orderly who had developed a rapport with Molly at Bellevue, gets a new job at a new clinic. Doctors at this clinic are looking to perform experimental surgery that would activate the portion of her brain that isn’t functioning. Molly is an exceptional candidate for the surgery. The result would be the mental and emotional flowering of a young woman her self-absorbed brother has never taken the trouble to get to know. But what science giveth, capricious fate often taketh away.

If this sounds familiar, there’s a good reason for it. The plot is very similar to Daniel Keyes’ classic novella Flowers for Algernon, which later was made into the gripping Cliff Robertson movie Charly. Both of those versions are far superior to this distaff version, but Molly is not without its charm.

Shue, once an Oscar nominee for Leaving Las Vegas, had by this point without much fanfare become an impressive acting talent. In this film she plays a woman buffeted by a world she scarcely understands. Alternately full-of-life joyous and angry and frightened, she displays her emotions vividly and without reservation. The supporting cast was mostly unknown at the time, although many of them have gone on to good careers. Here, most of them are pretty solid.

The problem with the movie is predictability. The story is just too close to Charly for my own personal comfort. While it does raise the important issue of considering the person behind the disability, Molly often flails and wallows in maudlin sentiment, like a pig in a mud hole. During those periods, the movie drags, big time.

Molly didn’t really get a lot of theatrical play in its day and is probably difficult to find although I understand Netflix carries it, but is worth checking out if you either run into it or seek it out, if for no other reason to enjoy Shue’s performance, which is definitely superior.

WHY RENT THIS: An excellent performance by Elizabeth Shue.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Kind of by-the-numbers. Solid but unspectacular performances after Shue.

FAMILY MATTERS: A little bit of sexuality and a little bit of nudity.

TRIVIAL PURSUITS: The film was unusual in that it premiered on airplane flights before its theatrical release.

NOTABLE HOME VIDEO FEATURES: None listed.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $17,650 on a $21M production budget; the film was a huge flop.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Charly

FINAL RATING: 5/10

NEXT: The Last Mistress

Win Win


Win Win

This could be a poster for the generational gap

(2011) Dramedy (Fox Searchlight) Paul Giamatti, Amy Ryan, Melanie Lynskey, Bobby Cannavale, Jeffrey Tambor, Alex Shaffer, Burt Young, Margo Martindale, David Thompson, Mike Diliello, Nina Arianda, Marcia Haufrecht, Sharon Wilkins. Directed by Thomas McCarthy

 

We sometimes find ourselves at an ethical crossroads and find ourselves pushing the line out a little bit in order to make things work. Those kinds of boundary pushing have consequences, albeit sometimes unintended ones.

Mike Flaherty (Giamatti) is a genuinely good man who is enduring an especially rough patch. His elder law practice is crashing and burning and the financial fall-out from that is severe, leading to anxiety attacks while out jogging with his best friend Terry Delfino (Cannavale). Mike is the coach of the local high school wrestling team and a more woeful bunch of athletes you are unlikely to meet; their season is going down in flames and although Mike is a decent coach, the writing is most definitely on the wall. Of course, his assistants are Delfino and Stephen Vigman (Tambor) who is a CPA who shares the dilapidated office building with Mike which should tell you something about his good-guy-making-bad-decisions persona.

Mike is representing Leo Poplar (Young), who is in the early stages of Alzheimer’s. The state wants to put him in a care facility but Leo wants to stay home. Mike discovers that Leo’s living will allows for a guardian in the event that Leo becomes unable to make decisions on his own and that the guardianship will pay $1500 a month to cover expenses. Mike petitions the judge (Wilkins) to allow him to be Leo’s guardian since they’ve been unable to locate Leo’s daughter. The judge allows this and Mike then turns Leo over to the facility anyway so he can pocket the expense money which will keep him somewhat solvent.

Then Kyle (Shaffer) shows up. Kyle is Leo’s grandson and came to town hoping Leo could put him up. Mike, feeling a little guilty, takes Kyle in which Mike’s wife Jackie (Ryan) whole-heartedly supports. It turns out that Kyle’s mom, Leo’s daughter Cindy (Lynskey) is in rehab, a drug addict who has been an unreliable caregiver. This sets Jackie’s dander up, but what floats Mike’s boat is that Kyle is also an Ohio wrestling state champion. Mike arranges for Kyle to be enrolled in his high school and adds Kyle to his team, instantly turning the program around. Seems to be a win-win situation for everyone, right?

Wrong. Cindy shows up and she wants to take Kyle back to Ohio. Worse still, she wants guardianship of her father, not so much the responsibility (which she would be unlikely to be able to handle anyway) but the money that goes with it. Of course this turns everything upside-down; Kyle is happy being part of a stable family and he mistrusts and despises his mother but he also wants Leo out of the facility and back in his home where he belongs. Mike’s web is quickly unraveling.

McCarthy has previously directed The Station Agent and The Visitor which are both very fine films, and you can add this to his filmography of movies that will stay with you long after the final credits roll. The characters aren’t indie film archetypes who appear in movie after movie; they are people with their own unique set of characteristics and who behave realistically in realistic situations. Most of us will relate to Mike’s financial predicament because most of us have been there or are there now.

Giamatti is one of those actors who almost always gives a terrific performance and along with his work in Barney’s Version of late seems to be at the top of his game, impressive at every turn. He’s become one of my favorite actors, one who can get my butt into a theater seat just because he’s in the movie. He makes Mike not just an everyman, but a believable one; a basically decent man pushed to the wall to make decisions that aren’t necessarily good ones but expedient ones. I think we all have done that at least once in our lives.

Ryan is also wonderful, playing Jackie as equally good-hearted and supportive but strong – she takes no crap but at the same time her heart goes out to a boy who has had a rough go. She’s like a she-bear whose cubs are threatened when her family – which includes Kyle – is threatened and why Mike leaves her in the dark about what’s really going on is understandable in that he wants to spare her the anxiety he is feeling, but also not in that his wife would be a solid rock. Ryan makes you wish you had a wife like her if you don’t have one, and if you do have one, count your blessings.

Shaffer has been receiving a lot of attention with his performance and for good reason. He is a natural and has great screen presence. You’d never know this was his first feature film, so natural is he before the camera. Like any first-timer there are some rough patches but this kid has some amazing potential and if he chooses to go this road, he certainly is going to be someone to keep an eye on.

The ending was a bit sitcom-ish for my tastes but that’s really one of the few bumps in the road that this movie takes us on. There are some wonderful supporting performances, particularly from Tambor, Young and Cannavale as well as Lynskey who has a pretty thankless role but does it well.

McCarthy is developing an impressive library of movies with his name on them and is a director that is rapidly becoming one who I’ll go out of my way to see sight unseen. He certainly has made another film here that is one of those quiet gems that you don’t hear much about but turns out to be well worth checking out. This is one worth finding at your local video or streaming emporium.

WHY RENT THIS: Giamatti and Ryan are terrific with some good support performances. A sweet film that doesn’t sugarcoat the hard choices. 

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: A bit formulaic in the ending.

FAMILY VALUES: The language gets pretty rough in places and there are some allusions to drug use.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: This is Shaffer’s feature film debut; he was a New Jersey State wrestling champion in 2010 as a sophomore in high school but his wrestling career came to a close when he broke an L-5 vertebra.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: The DVD edition has a music video from The National for their closing credits song “Think You Can Wait.” The Blu-Ray edition adds a Sundance tour by actor David Thompson and a brief interview of McCarthy and Giamatti, also from Sundance.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $10.8M on an unreported production budget; it is likely that the movie made a good chunk of change relatively speaking.

FINAL RATING: 8/10

TOMORROW: Client 9: The Rise and Fall of Elliot Spitzer