The Lavender Scare


Before the rainbow.

(2017) Documentary (Full Exposure) Frank Kameny Glenn Close (narrator), Zachary Quinto, David Hyde Pierce, T.R. Knight, Cynthia Nixon, David K. Johnson, John D’Emilio, Lillian Federman, John W. Hanes, Carl Rizzi, Peter Szluk, Jen Totka, Vince Ferrence, Rev. Bruce Forbes, Joan Cassidy. Directed by Josh Howard

Most of us are aware of the strides that the LGBTQ community have made in recent years in asserting their rights and gaining mainstream acceptance. To truly appreciate how far they’ve come, however, it is important to note where they came from.

During the so-called “Red Scare” during the late Forties and Fifties, Americans became convinced that every echelon of our society had been infiltrated by communists and that our way of life was under immediate threat. That belief was amplified when the Russians detonated their own atom bomb in 1949, much sooner than most experts thought they should be able to. It was (correctly, as it turned out) assumed that the Russians had gotten help – from spies or traitors smuggling nuclear secrets to the Soviet Union.

This gave rise to one of the most shameful periods in our history, when constitutional rights were routinely violated in the name of national security, when scum like Senator Joseph McCarthy and Roy Cohn both rose to power. Most remember how the McCarthy hearings went after communists in Hollywood as well as in government service. Few remember what happened to the gay community.

President Eisenhower, in one of his first acts after taking office, signed an executive order banning homosexuals from working for the government. The thinking went that those with socially unacceptable sexual preferences were vulnerable to blackmail (although there is no evidence that this ever occurred in America). This led to investigations of people who would be accused of being gay or lesbian.

During the Thirties and Forties, many gay men and lesbians came to Washington to get government jobs which were plentiful. There was tolerance for their lifestyle and there were plenty of bars that catered to that clientele. They were cautiously uncloseted but this very freedom would be worked savagely against them as regular attendance at a gay bar would be enough to get you fired; most went quietly, not wanting to let their secret get out. Most were aware that they would have a hard time getting employment for the rest of their lives.

People would be brought into a room by a pair of federal ages without any legal representation. Their accusers would never be identified; they would be badgered and humiliated, and left little choice but to resign otherwise their secret would come out. Most went meekly into the night.

Not Dr. Franklin Kameny, though. An astronomer for the Army Map-making Corps, he was unceremoniously fired from the job he loved. Not about to take this lying down, he became an activist fighting for the rights of homosexuals; his chapter of the Mattachine Society (an early gay rights organization) was the most in-your-face chapter of the society, with Kameny organizing picketing, demonstrations and marches. In 1963, he became the first openly gay man to testify before Congress and he brought lawsuit after lawsuit trying to overturn the unjust laws which he was remarkably unsuccessful at, although nobody could doubt his intelligence and bulldog tenacity. However, Eisenhower’s executive orders banning gays from government jobs were  finally overturned by President Clinton in 1995.

Director Josh Howard seems to subscribe to the Ken Burns school of documentary filmmaking, using actors (including Hyde Pierce as a young Frank Kameny) reading letters and journal entries of those affected by the persecution of that era, supplemented by interviews with historians as well as those who still survive from that era. There’s also a lot of archival footage, both of pre-Stonewall gay life and anti-Gay propaganda pieces popularizing the myth that gay men are child molesters. The narration of Glenn Close brings everything together nicely, offering up context.

Some of the interviews are heartbreaking, such as Joan Cassidy who aspired to be the first female admiral in the United States Navy but who didn’t dare look for advancement lest her sexuality be discovered. Some are hilarious such as postal employee Carl Rizzi offering smarmy federal agents a better picture of himself in drag for their files. Some are reprehensible, such as the audio interview with investigator Peter Szluk who takes great delight in his accomplishment of ruining lives.

If there is anything that the film gets wrong is that it tends to be repetitive, making a lot of the same points over and over again despite a fairly short 1 hour and 14 minute length. That’s okay to a degree but repetition gets amplified the shorter a film is.

Kameny, who is interviewed here late in life, didn’t live to see the Defense of Marriage Act overturned in 2013 (he died in 2011) but chances are he would have growled “We still have a long way to go” before tilting at another windmill and he’s absolutely correct on that account. Gay rights remain very tenuous and fragile; already there is legislation that seeks to undo all that is done, particularly in red states. There is still plenty of anti-gay behavior out there and the struggle to end repression for our gay brothers and sisters is ongoing. It behooves us to take heart however, in that the cause has come a long way. The efforts of men like Frank Kameny are important to note, if just to remind us that we need more people like him in our society even now.

REASONS TO SEE: The celebration of a largely forgotten but important figure in early gay activism. Lots of nifty archival footage.
REASONS TO AVOID: Despite the compact length the film is repetitious in places.
FAMILY VALUES: There is some profanity as sell as adult thematic material.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The movie was based on and inspired by the book of the same name by historian David K. Johnson
CRITICAL MASS: As of 6/11/19: Rotten Tomatoes: 100% positive reviews: Metacritic: 72/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Before Stonewall
FINAL RATING: 7.5/10
NEXT:
Oceans 8

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The Only Living Boy in New York


Reflections in my mind.

(2017) Drama (Roadside Attractions/Amazon) Callum Turner, Jeff Bridges, Kate Beckinsale, Pierce Brosnan, Cynthia Nixon, Kiersey Clemons, Tate Donovan, Wallace Shawn, Anh Duong, Debi Mazar, Ben Hollandsworth, John Bolger, Bill Camp, Richard Bekins, Ryan Speakman, Oliver Thornton, Alexander Sokovikov, Ed Jewett, Amy Hohn. Directed by Marc Webb

 

It is not uncommon for young people to finish college or drop out of college and end up feeling adrift. Okay, I’m done with school; now what? It’s an exciting and frightening concept at the same time.

Thomas Webb (Turner) – and to be sure, it’s Thomas and not Tommy or Tom – is in just such a pickle. He is the son of successful publisher Ethan (Brosnan) and artist Judith (Nixon) and has not quite moved back in with them but has taken an apartment on the Lower East Side, not far from his parents on the Upper East Side (and true New Yorkers will know that they might be not far away but they are worlds apart).

He’s not sure what to do with his life. He wants to be a writer but his publisher dad dismissed his work as “serviceable.” His mom is fragile emotionally and seems on the verge of falling apart. He is very much in love with Mimi (Clemons) who is more interested in a platonic relationship with him and to make matters worse, is headed for an internship in Slovakia. Thomas is trying to make some sense out of his life; fortunately, he meets W.F. Gerald (Bridges), a writer who lives in apartment 2B of his building (by extension meaning that Thomas lives in not 2B – think about it).. W.F. is kind of rough around the edges but he takes a fatherly interest in Thomas, which suits Thomas just fine since his own dad is distant to say the least.

But Thomas’ world begins to spin completely out of control when he discovers that his dad is having an affair. He becomes obsessed with the mystery lady and discovers that her name is Johanna (Beckinsale) and that she works as a contractor in Ethan’s office. Thomas confronts Johanna and tells her to stop seeing his dad; the cool and collected Johanna responds that what Thomas is really saying is that he wants to sleep with Johanna himself. As it turns out, she’s right.

Thomas is caught up in a dilemma and he doesn’t know how to get out of it. The hypocrisy of his situation isn’t lost on him and so he decides to tell his dad that he knows about Johanna and furthermore, he’s sleeping with her himself. However, this revelation threatens to destroy Thomas’ family altogether leading the way for another stunning revelation that changes Thomas’ life forever.

The critics have been pretty much panning this which is a bit of a shame; it’s not a flawless film but I ended up liking it. Bridges is absolutely wonderful as W.F. and Beckinsale is sexy as all get out as the Other Woman. The dialogue has also been called tin-eared but I found it pretty sharp most of the time. I know, this isn’t the way real people talk – but it’s the way sophisticated New York literary sorts talk. Make of that what you will.

The main trouble here is Turner. His character is wishy-washy, vindictive and fully self-involved. There’s nothing mature about him – and yet the sophisticated literary type ends up sleeping with him and later in the film, another woman falls in love with him. ‘Course, I’m not a woman but I find it absolutely flabbergasting that any woman would see him as the object of love. He offers nothing but immaturity and leaps to conclusion that rival Evel Knieval flying over Snake River Gorge.

And yet they do. Then again, there’s a bit of a literati soap opera feel to the whole thing. It doesn’t have to make sense; it just has to create drama. This is very Noo Yawk which may put some folks off on it – there are certain parts of the country where being from the Big Apple is a hanging offense. Some have compared this to the Woody Allen of the 90s which is not Allen’s best creative period; I can see the Allen comparison but I would push it back a decade.

The soundtrack is a bit eclectic but in a good way; you get Simon and Garfunkel (including the title song) and Dylan, both of whom evoke New York City in a certain era although this is set in modern day. The cast also overcomes some of the script’s flaws, particularly Bridges, Beckinsale and Nixon who does fragile about as well as anybody. There is some charm here, enough to make it a worthwhile alternative to late August film programming. This won’t be for everyone but it might just be for you.

REASONS TO GO: Bridges is absolutely delightful. The dialogue is sharp. There’s some strong music on the soundtrack.
REASONS TO STAY: Turner is completely unconvincing in the lead role. Could be a little too New York literati for most
FAMILY VALUES: There is profanity and a bit of drug-related material.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: This is the second 2017 film with a title shared with a Simon and Garfunkel song (Baby Driver was the first).
CRITICAL MASS: As of 8/26/17: Rotten Tomatoes: 30% positive reviews. Metacritic: 34/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Graduate
FINAL RATING: 7/10
NEXT: Everything, Everything

A Quiet Passion


Sisters are doing it for themselves.

(2016) Biographical Drama (Music Box) Cynthia Nixon, Jennifer Ehle, Keith Carradine, Duncan Duff, Jodhi May, Catherine Bailey, Emma Bell, Benjamin Wainwright, Joanna Bacon, Annette Badland, Rose Williams, Noémie Schellens, Miles Richardson, Eric Loren, Simone Milsdochter, Stefan Menaul, Maurice Cassiers, Yasmin Dewilde, Marieke Bresseleers, Barney Glover, Verona Berbakel. Directed by Terence Davies

 

Emily Dickinson remains, more than a century after her death, one of the giants of American literature. Little-known in her own time (only a dozen of her poems were published in her lifetime, most of them heavily edited), she lived much of her life as a virtual recluse in her home, rarely coming out of her home and in fact rarely emerging from her bedroom. It was only after she passed away that her sister discovered a treasure trove of her poems and made it her life’s work to see them published and even then she didn’t get the acclaim she deserved until well into the 20th century.

So who was Emily Dickinson? As a young woman (Bell), she was dismissed from Mount Holyoke Academy (nowadays Mount Holyoke College) for her lack of piety. Rather than capitulate to the demands of the headmistress, she stood up for herself much to the bemusement of her father (Carradine). Emily returned home to live with him and her mother (Bacon) as well as her brother Austin (Duff) and most importantly her sister Lavinnia (Ehle), known to one and all as Vinnie.

Now grown into full womanhood, Emily (Nixon) asks and receives permission from her father to use the early morning hours when all else in the household are asleep to write. It is permission, she later explains, she would never get from a husband. Emily remains outspoken about the place of women in the society of the day and she finds a fellow traveler in Vryling Buffam (Bailey) with whom she exchanges barbs at the institutions of church, marriage and society in general. Twirling their parasols like nunchuks, the two make a formidable pair.

As the years pass, Emily maintains an increasingly faint hope of writing something important. She begins to get discouraged and as loss piles upon loss, she grows embittered and more withdrawn from the society in Amherst. Her brother’s infidelity causes a family schism that creates tension in the household, a tension that Vinnie tries in vain to mediate. Emily does get at least one persistent suitor (Menaul) but she is so cruel to him that at last he takes his leave of her. She develops a passion for the married Reverend Wadsworth (Loren) but when he is transferred to San Francisco she is devastated. Thinking herself too plain for marriage, she changes her wardrobe from nearly all black, as was common in the day to all white. As those closest to her die or get married (which Emily likens one to the other), she increasingly withdraws from life.

This is not the Emily Dickinson I had pictured in my head, which shows you how much I know about the great poet. I had always thought her shy and retiring but in fact it was not shyness that made her reclusive. She was forthright and blunt in conversation almost to the point of cruelty. She was an independent thinker as well which was not attractive to men of the era but Emily didn’t need a husband to feel complete in life.

Nixon gives a performance that may be the high water mark of her career, which is saying something. She’s one of those actresses who rarely gets much acclaim but has over the years quietly accumulated a resumé of distinction, one that would be the envy of any actress. Best-known for her work in Sex and the City, she really inhabits the role of Emily Dickinson, reading her poetry in voice-overs to help put context into the events onscreen. It is a forceful performance that only grows more powerful as the movie goes on.

She gets plenty of support, particularly from Ehle who is a marvelous actress in her own right and like Nixon doesn’t always get the acclaim she deserves. As Vinnie, Ehle is the embodiment of compassion and loyalty. Carradine also excels as the somewhat stiff-necked father, and Bailey almost steals the movie as the ebullient and outgoing Vryling who it is a shame is a fictional composite. I would very much like to believe that such a woman existed at that time – and perhaps she did – just not in Emily Dickinson’s world.

There is a definite Merchant-Ivory vibe her in the sense that we get a lush visual experience with mannered performances and dialogue that reflect the era. Especially early on in the film, the actors seem to struggle with the language and the overall effect is a little awkward but as the movie goes on it feels a little bit more organic, although the delivery is still somewhat deadpan.

This is definitely a movie for adults with adult attention spans. It might seem a little long (and definitely younger audiences will find it so) but in the end this is a movie to be experienced, to be allowed to envelop the viewer and bring them into the world of Emily Dickinson in mid-19th century Amherst. I can’t honestly recommend this movie to everybody – hence the somewhat middling rating – but for cinema buffs, lovers of history, lovers of poetry and those who have cinematic patience, this is a movie that will transcend its score and reel you in.

REASONS TO GO: Nixon gives a superb performance. Davies uses Dickinson’s own poetry to accentuate the various scenes.
REASONS TO STAY: Some of the actors sound uncomfortable with the language and style of 19th century New England. The movie is a bit on the long side and younger audiences may find it tough sledding.
FAMILY VALUES: There is one scene of sexual material, a disturbing image and some thematic material inappropriate for children.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Davies used six different biographies of Dickinson as source material in order to get her character right. He believes that she was a legitimate genius.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 5/11/17: Rotten Tomatoes: 93% positive reviews. Metacritic: 78/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Hours
FINAL RATING: 6.5/10
NEXT: The Wall

New Releases for the Week of May 12, 2017


KING ARTHUR: LEGEND OF THE SWORD

(Warner Brothers) Charlie Hunnam, Jude Law, Djimon Hounsou, Eric Bana, Aidan Gillen, Freddie Fox, Astrid Bergés-Frisbey, Annabelle Wallis. Directed by Guy Ritchie

A new take on the Arthurian legend from iconoclastic director Guy Ritchie. When Arthur’s father, the King, is murdered his power-mad brother seizes the throne. Arthur is forced to flee and live a life in the alleys and streets of the capital, but all that changes when he pulls a sword from the stone. Now he must face his history and seize his legacy. The trouble is that Arthur isn’t all that eager to do either.

See the trailer, clips, interviews, a promo and B-roll video here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard, 3D
Genre: Fantasy Action
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: PG-13 (for sequences of violence and action, some suggestive content and brief strong language)

A Quiet Passion

(Music Box) Cynthia Nixon, Jennifer Ehle, Keith Carradine, Duncan Duff. Emily Dickinson is one of the most beloved and acclaimed poets in American history, but few know all that much about the reclusive woman who passed away in 1886. What was she like? What prompted her to write such beautiful poetry? Why did she never marry? Legendary director Terence Davies takes on the story of one of the most revered figures in American literature.

See the trailer here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Biographical Drama
Now Playing: Regal Winter Park Village

Rating: PG-13 (for thematic elements, disturbing images and brief suggestive material)

Absolutely Anything

(Atlas) Simon Pegg, Kate Beckinsale, Robin Williams (voice), Monty Python. A group of eccentric aliens bestow an ordinary man with virtually unlimited power – the ability to make anything he wishes come true. As he struggles to control his power, observed from space by the aliens, he starts to rely more and more heavily on his loyal dog. Now, however, with a beautiful woman literally in the palm of his hands, he finds himself forced to choose between the girl and the dog. The movie is notable as for being the last film in which the late Robin Williams appears (he is the voice of the dog) and as a reunion for the surviving members of Monty Python, whose Terry Jones directed the film.

See the trailer here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Sci-Fi Comedy
Now Playing: Premiere Fashion Square

Rating: R (for language including sexual references, and brief nudity)

Lowriders

(BH Tilt/Telemundo) Gabriel Chavarria, Demian Bichir, Eva Longoria, Melissa Benoist. East L.A. is a world unto its own. Danny is a talented street artist who has his own goals and dreams; his father and brother are part of the car culture of East LA, fabled Lowriders who have built a street rep over the years. Danny gets caught between their world and his own and must choose between family and future.

See the trailer and clips here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Drama
Now Playing: AMC Altamonte Mall, AMC Disney Springs

Rating: PG-13 (for language, some violence, sensuality, thematic elements and brief drug use)

Snatched

(20th Century Fox) Amy Schumer, Goldie Hawn, Wanda Sykes, Joan Cusack. A young woman is getting ready to go on the vacation of a lifetime when her boyfriend abruptly dumps her just before they are due to leave. With her options limited and not wanting to give up her vacation, she reluctantly invites her uptight mom with her. When they are kidnapped, the two polar opposites realize they must work out their differences and lean on each other if they are to escape from their captors.

See the trailer, clips, interviews and B-roll video here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Comedy
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: R (for crude sexual content, brief nudity, and language throughout)

The Wall

(Roadside Attractions/Amazon) Aaron Taylor-Johnson, John Cena, Laith Nakli. Two Marines are investigating a construction crew’s ambush by a sniper. Convinced that the sniper has left the area, they prepare to be evacuated from the area when the sniper, who has patiently out-waited them, opens fire, wounding both of them and pinning one behind a crumbling wall. It becomes a game of cat and mouse as the sniper talks to them over their radios and with food and water running out and no way to communicate with their base to get help, forces the Americans into a desperate act. Doug Liman, who directed The Bourne Identity and Edge of Tomorrow, is the man behind the camera here.

See the trailer and a clip here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: War Drama
Now Playing: AMC Altamonte Mall, AMC Disney Springs, Cinemark Artegon Marketplace, Regal Waterford Lakes, Regal Winter Park Village

Rating: R (for language throughout and some war violence)

5 Flights Up


All they want is a room with a view.

All they want is a room with a view.

(2014) Dramedy (Focus) Morgan Freeman, Diane Keaton, Alysia Reiner, Carrie Preston, Sterling Jerins, Cynthia Nixon, Claire van den Broom, Korey Jackson, Josh Pais, Maddie Corman, Miriam Shor, Nadia Gan, Katrina E. Perkins, Joanna Adler, Hannah Dunne, Liza J. Bennett, Jackie Hoffman, Marcia DeBonis, Jimmy Palumbo, Jordan Baker, Maury Ginsberg, Grace Rex. Directed by Richard Loncraine

What makes a house – or an apartment – a home? It isn’t the things that you’ve accumulated over the years, although that’s a part of it. It isn’t the location, although that’s a part of it too. It’s mainly the people that live in it and the memories you make together.

Alex (Freeman) and Ruth (Keaton) Carver have lived in the same Brooklyn fifth-floor walk-up for the 40 years of their marriage. Now Alex, a moderately successful painter, and Ruth, a retired teacher, are both getting on in years and that five flights of stairs is likely to only get harder on them. They’ve decided to sell and find themselves an apartment that at least has an elevator for them.

Lily (Nixon), their high-strung niece who is also a realtor, is getting them ready for their open house. The neighborhood they live in has undergone gentrification and Lily is confident that they can get north of a million for the apartment. Alex is unsure about this move; he is fully aware that they’re unlikely to get an apartment that has the same charm as the one they own and certainly none of the memories. Ruth realizes this too, but she tends to be more optimistic that they’ll find a new place to fall in love with.

But there are some complications. Their beloved dog Dorothy has gotten to be very sick and requires an expensive operation. The open house itself, which brings quirky and shark-like New Yorkers to the apartment to try and snatch up the property before someone else can, is hindered by an ongoing news story about the driver of a fuel tanker abandoned on the Williamsburg Bridge who may or may not be a terrorist. The media being what it is these days opts for the former.

Alex’s misgivings grow as they find an apartment in Manhattan that they both like, which sounds a little strange. Sure it’s a nice apartment. Sure it’s got an elevator. But can it be a home? Doesn’t sound so strange now, eh?

Loncraine, who has produced some pretty solid romantic comedies and feel-good movies on his resume (Wimbledon, My One and Only) continues to mine that territory here. Much of the movie’s success resides in its casting; Keaton and Freeman both banter with each other so well and show each other the kind of affection that only couples that have been married for decades can really get right that it’s hard to believe the two haven’t been a married couple for as long as Alex and Ruth have been. The two are both such screen pros in any case that they know how to work well with just about anyone, and here they both make each other shine.

This is a very New York-centric movie and New Yorkers are going to get it more readily than those who live outside the Big Apple. For them, the soaring cost of housing is of no great surprise; the rest of us might be nonplussed at what a million dollar listing is in Brooklyn. Then again, if I had to walk up five flights of stairs every time I came home, I’d either be a lot thinner than I am now or dead of a heart attack.

There is also a whole lot of dialogue about open houses, listings, market values and real estate in general. Fortunately, great actors like Freeman and Keaton can make even that dry kind of conversation sparkle, but only so much. The movie could have focused less on the sale of the house and more on how the concept of that sale was affecting Ruth and Alex, although they do spend a fair amount of time on that.

Clearly this is a paean to the dwelling. Not as a physical space mind you, but as a concept and more importantly, as an emotional touchstone. Using flashbacks to act as memories that were on the minds of the couple (played as newlyweds by van der Bloom and Jackson who channel Keaton and Freeman respectively very satisfactorily) enhances the idea of residence being more than four walls but a place where memories reside as well as people. Long after the physical layout is forgotten, the memories of a lazy Sunday afternoon, a rainy day movie, or a Christmas morning will linger in the heart and mind.

Loncraine has crafted a winner of a movie that sadly got shuffled off to the side during the onslaught of early summer blockbusters. I think that the suits at Focus felt that the material would appeal only to older audiences and in that sense they’d be correct, but I think that that same demographic that made The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel a hit could have made this one a hit too. In any case, this is definitely a feel-good movie that left me with the warm fuzzies and is going to appeal to anyone who has ever lived in a home that they’ve loved. Although it got anemic box office during its limited theatrical run, I think that viewing this at home is the best possible place to see it.

WHY RENT THIS: Wonderfully effective performances by Freeman and Keaton. A celebration of home and hearth. A slice of New York life.
WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: A little more real estate chatter than I might have liked.
FAMILY VALUES: A smattering of curse words here and there, and some artistic nude images.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: During the open house sequence, the book that Alex is trying to read in the corner is A War Against Truth by Paul William Roberts.
NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: None listed.
BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $1M on an unreported production budget.
SITES TO SEE: Netflix (DVD rental only), Amazon, iTunes
COMPARISON SHOPPING: On Golden Pond
FINAL RATING: 8/10
NEXT: Southpaw

Lymelife


Rory Culkin and Emma Roberts discuss the pitfalls of having relatives more famous than themselves.

Rory Culkin and Emma Roberts discuss the pitfalls of having relatives more famous than themselves.

(Screen Media) Alec Baldwin, Timothy Hutton, Rory Culkin, Emma Roberts, Jill Hennessy, Cynthia Nixon, Kieran Culkin, Adam Scarimbolo, Logan Huffman, Brandon Thane Wilson, Phillip Pennestri, Isabella David. Directed by Derick Martini.

As a species, we tend to show a different face to the public than we wear in private. Beneath the façade of even the most tranquil and affluent lives there is often a turbulent miasma of a different life, one not easy to spot from the surface. Sometimes that other life can rear its ugly head and take over every facet of our lives.

Long Island in 1979 was an idyllic place to grow up, especially if your father is a successful developer. For Scott Bartlett (Rory Culkin), his father Mickey (Baldwin) is just that. Scott idolizes his dad, but has little more than contempt for his mom (Hennessy), whom he considers a whining lunatic who doesn’t appreciate the things she has, constantly obsesses over their former life in Queens where she was happier. They are pleasantly surprised when his hotheaded older brother Jimmy (Kieran Culkin) arrives home a week early on leave from the army reserves, awaiting deployment to the Falkland Islands or some other hot spot. Jimmy is closer to his mother, and has some serious issues with his dad.

In school, Scott is picked on by the school bully (Scarimbolo) but has eyes for his childhood friend Adrianna (Roberts) whom he’s had a crush on since he was eight years only. Her family is close to his, but they’re nearly as dysfunctional as the Bartletts. Her dad Charlie (Hutton) has contracted Lyme’s Disease on a deer hunting trip with Mickey and Scott. Her mom Melissa (Nixon) has by necessity become the breadwinner, working for Mickey as a sales associate.

Conditions become more volatile as Scott and Adrianna begin to get closer, but secrets that the adults are hiding soon begin to bubble to the surface, and threaten the world they’ve carefully built for themselves and their children.

Director Martini co-wrote the script with his brother Steven, basing it on their own experiences growing up on El Lie. This is definitely a slice of life motion picture, and it’s an honest one. That slice tastes great at times and tastes funky at others, but it always is an honest taste, for better or for worse. Martini re-creates the world of the ‘70s adequately; he depicts the drug use and sexual promiscuity that was part and parcel of that era. He nicely utilizes news footage of the day. In all honesty, I have to say that I didn’t feel immersed in the period, but that’s okay because this is a movie more about the story than the setting.

Part of what makes this movie work, besides the authentic-feeling writing, is the performances of the leads. Hutton and Baldwin are two pros who are as dependable as they come. They ring true every moment they are onscreen. Both characters are highly flawed individuals but Hutton and Baldwin make them both sympathetic. Same goes for Hennessy and Nixon, who have roles that are mostly thankless but are believable nonetheless.

The real revelation here from a performance standpoint is the Culkin brothers. Honestly, I expected them to be mediocre at best, but in point of fact they do outstanding jobs here. Rory’s interaction with Roberts leads to one of the most awkward sex scenes ever. It’s also one of the most realistic depictions of first time sex I’ve ever seen. However, given the use of drugs and sex by the character, one must wonder what her famous Auntie Julia thinks of it all. It is certainly the most adult role the teenaged Roberts, a Disney Channel mainstay, has ever tackled.

This is an intelligently written film that profiles troubled marriages, troubled teens and troubled times. There is an authenticity here that can only come from personal experience. It feels less like a movie and more like a voyeur looking in on actual lives, observing close at hand what goes on behind closed doors. The warts-and-all performances overcome the movie’s not-quite-successful evocation of era.

I’ve always been exceptionally fond of movies that give you a sense of looking in on lives as opposed to watching performances that approximate reality. That helps give you insight on your own life in my opinion. Granted, most lives aren’t as convoluted and chaotic as the lives of the Bartletts and the Braggs, but by following their example – or rather, learning from their mistakes – perhaps we won’t have to.

WHY RENT THIS: Written with the kind of authenticity that comes from personal experience. Extremely competent performances, particularly from the Culkin brothers, Baldwin and Hutton, give a sense of real people with plenty of flaws living real lives.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: The era of 1970’s Long Island isn’t as immersive as it could be, although the superior writing overcomes this.

FAMILY VALUES: Very adult storyline, with much drug use and two semi-explicit sex scenes, including one between teens. While these are consistent with the era, they may not be appropriate for younger viewers.

TRIVIAL PURSUITS: Kirean Culkin was initially cast in the role of Scott, but by the time financing was secured to make the film, he had grown too old for the role and was instead cast as older brother Jimmy with his brother Rory getting the role of Scott.

NOTABLE DVD FEATURES: An alternate ending and several revealing extra scenes are included.

 FINAL RATING: 8/10

TOMORROW: Battle for Terra