Nancy, Please


Nancy is all smoke and mirrors.

Nancy is all smoke and mirrors.

(2012) Drama (Small Coup) Will Rogers, Eleonore Hendricks, Rebecca Lawrence, Santino Fontana, Novella Nelson, Wally Dunn, Timothy Chastain, Ellis Cahill, Steph Holmbo, Claire Molloy, Elizabeth Ansell, Peter Coleman, Alice Kemelberg, Alex Robles, Alexis Rose, Hilary Shar, Matthew Taylor. Directed by Andrew Semans   

 Florida Film Festival 2013

It doesn’t take much to annoy most of us. Petty little cruelties can prey on our minds. Most of the time we just brush it off and simply classify the perpetrator as a jerk and move on. Once in awhile however something just captures our brains and we get obsessed by the injustice, determined to exact our measure of triumph out of a situation in which we feel wronged.

Paul (Rogers) is a doctoral candidate at Yale, working on a thesis that follows the description of the English political process described by Charles Dickens in his classic novel Little Dorrit. To that end he has his own hardcover in which he has written notes covering the subject.

Life is actually pretty good for Paul. He’s just moved in with his beautiful girlfriend Jen (Lawrence) who is supporting him while he works on his thesis, which he is finally ready to start writing. However as he’s unpacking, he discovers to his chagrin that the crucial copy of the book has been left behind at his old apartment. Therefore he calls his old roommate Nancy (Hendricks) to see if he can drop by and pick up the book.

Days go by and he hears nothing. He is beginning to get frantic. His best friend Charlie (Fontana), a fellow doctoral candidate, urges him to simply drive over to his apartment and knock on the door. s they do, Paul is certain he glimpses Nancy inside but she doesn’t answer the door. The door turns out to be unlocked but Paul feels awkward about going in so he continues to wait.

The cat and mouse game between Paul and Nancy continues, escalating. Nancy does return his call a couple of times but always when Paul is unavailable. Paul is becoming obsessed, certain that Nancy has some sort of vendetta against him. Jen is becoming irritated because Paul is neglecting to do things around their house that he’d promised to do, forcing Jen who is supporting them to have to take care of things that Paul has more time to deal with.

However Paul is too busy dealing with Nancy to really focus on anything else. His faculty advisor, Dr. Bannister (Nelson) is growing impatient; it has been two years since Paul began his doctoral work and he has shown little or no movement in getting his thesis done. She is threatening to have him removed from the program. Paul’s stress is turning to desperation; he needs that book. So finally after a good deal of prodding from both Charlie and Jen, he decides to go in using a spare key Jen had when she used to come by the apartment to visit him and just get the book himself. This plan turns out to be disastrous.

Humiliated and physically injured, Paul’s paranoia about Nancy is reaching the boiling point. Jen, seeing that things have gone far out of control, finally takes matters into her own hands and in her mind (and in any other reasonable person’s mind) resolves the situation. But in Paul’s mind things are far from over…

This isn’t an easy film to sit through. I think that this is best described as a horror film that is going on only in the lead character’s mind. The innovative thing here is that it’s not actually a horror movie to anyone but Paul. Paul sees Nancy as some sort of cruel monster and she’s a vindictive bitch to be sure but Paul is about as passive a character as you’re likely to meet. He is so aggravating that Da Queen, not normally given to such hyperbole, proclaimed him the biggest pussy in the history of movies. She may have a point.

But so many male indie film leads could be described using that pejorative and you wouldn’t be far wrong and I think that part of the filmmaker’s intent is to satirize the somewhat cliché indie  saw of a passive male lead whose life is resolved either by a strong female presence or through some sort of external motivation. As someone who has seen his life transformed by the love of a good woman, I can’t argue that a man can’t find self-confidence and an improved sense of self-worth through that process. I can say though that it is used far too often in indie films of late.

The focus of the movie is on the antagonists Nancy and Paul and somewhat refreshingly it is more vital for those two to have chemistry than for Paul and Jen to have it and in fact that is the case. Hendricks gives a strong performance in a role that is pretty thankless; Nancy really doesn’t have any reason not to give Paul the book other than to inflict punishment for some sort of transgression – I assume it’s because he had the gall to move out on her. Given her actions it’s not surprising that he’d want to.

Even more thankless is the role of Paul. He’s the nominal “hero” of the piece but he’s far from heroic. In fact, the danger here is that Rogers might be too good in the role – he certainly makes Paul an unlikable lead, to the point where Da Queen really didn’t like this movie once. While my wife and I have nearly identical taste in movies, this is one instance where we disagreed somewhat significantly. I liked the movie precisely for the reason that she didn’t – because the filmmakers have the courage to present a lot of unlikable people in a situation that could easily be resolved but isn’t. Real life is often that way.

Maybe I can see a little bit of myself in Paul. I certainly am the sort who avoids conflicts whenever possible and I tend to let life walk all over me. My ambitions tend to be overridden by my shyness and I tend to need a bit of nagging to get moving on things I know have to get done. However I’m nowhere near as bad as Paul is in that regard – I can self-motivate and even if I do procrastinate on some things they do get done in a timely manner, just not in an instantaneous manner most of the time.

Personal identification aside, I can heartily recommend this movie because it is different and the filmmakers are showing how a simple situation can get complicated in a hurry. I admit that the movie has grown more on me than it did make an immediate positive impression and that may well be the case for you, but if you want to try something outside of the usual kind of movie this is a good place to start.

REASONS TO GO: Love the juxtaposition between the paranoid fantasy going on in Paul’s mind and the mundane reality.

REASONS TO STAY: Possibly one of the most frustratingly passive lead characters ever.

FAMILY VALUES:  There’s some brief violence, adult situations, a bit of sexuality and a modicum of expletives.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: While the film is set in New Haven, it was mostly filmed in Brooklyn and other New York City locations.

CRITICAL MASS: There have been no reviews published for the film for either Rotten Tomatoes or Metacritic.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Dark Matter

FINAL RATING: 8/10

NEXT: Be Good and more 2013 Florida Film Festival coverage

Flight


Flight

It rains on the just and the unjust equally.

(2012) Drama (Paramount) Denzel Washington, Kelly Reilly,  Don Cheadle, Bruce Greenwood, John Goodman, Brian Geraghty, Melissa Leo, Tamara Tunie, Nadine Velazquez, Charlie E. Schmidt, Peter Gerety, Boni Yanagisawa, Garcelle Beauvais, Justin Martin, Rhoda Griffis. Directed by Robert Zemeckis

 

We take flying for granted. You are far more likely to be killed in a car wreck than you are in the friendly skies. We trust our pilots to be sharp and skilled, highly trained to handle any situation and get us to our destination in one piece.

Whip Whitaker (Washington) is such a pilot. He is cool calm and in command on the outside, his aviator shades and uniform inspiring confidence. He is piloting a short flight from Orlando to Atlanta. The weather is frightful; a severe storm making the take-off anything but routine. But that’s not the worst of it; mid-flight, the plane goes inexplicably into a nosedive and nothing the crew can do can pull them out. Whitaker pulls off an incredible maneuver involving lying the plane upside down and manages to set down in a field. There is loss of life (four passengers and two crew die in the incident) but compared to what might have happened the landing was nothing short of miraculous.

Whip wakes up in the hospital barely remembering what happened. He’s being hailed as a hero and the press is in a frenzy, eager to get an interview with him. His good friend Charlie Anderson (Greenwood), a fellow pilot and head of the pilot’s union, flies to Atlanta to navigate him through the NTSB and other procedures that occur after a crash with fatalities.

Then everything falls apart. It turns out that the blood drawn from him routinely after the crash showed that he had alcohol and cocaine in his system. Which, in fact, he did – the night before the crash he had partied all night with a sexy stewardess (Velazquez) who had somewhat conveniently been one of the fatalities. They’d drank like fish, snorted coke and had lots of sex. In fact, Whip had even mixed himself a little cocktail of orange juice and vodka during the fatal flight.

In fact Whip has quite a problem; he could face jail time and lawsuits. A lawyer is hired for him by the union, the whip-smart (couldn’t resist the pun) Hugh Lang (Cheadle) who is charged with getting Whip off the hook because should he be found liable, so would the airline that hired him which would effectively put it out of business and put a good many pilots in the unemployment line, which the union decidedly doesn’t want.

But Whip’s biggest problem is his own demons. He can’t seem to stop drinking, although he tells everyone around him he can quit on his own, no problem. He resents even the thought of being called an alcoholic and yet his binges seem to come at the worst possible times as if he himself is crashing far worse than the jet he had previously piloted.

His estranged wife (Beauvais) and son (Martin) want nothing to do with him, but all isn’t hopeless – he has taken up with the recovering addict Nicole (Reilly) who seems to be serious about her recovery. Maybe this hook-up which was a result of his own kindness might turn out to be his salvation. With an NTSB hearing which will determine his future approaching, Whip is most assuredly his own worst enemy.

Despite all appearances to the contrary, this isn’t a movie about a plane crash although the crash sequence, which lasts twelve minutes at the beginning of the movie, is flat-out amazing and horrifying at once – so much so that if you’re planning to travel by air anytime soon, you may want to hold off on seeing this until after you’ve fulfilled your travel plans.

What this really is about is addiction and as harrowing as the plane crash sequence is, the rest of the movie following Whip’s fall from grace is far more so. It really isn’t very easy to watch as Whip gulps down liquor as if it were Kool-Aid and he continues to deny that there is a problem.

Very few actors could pull this part off properly – we need to be repelled by Whip’s actions even as we are compelled by his compassion. Washington is so likable and charismatic that we root for him throughout even though his character’s self-destructive streak is so profound that deep down we know he’s going to let us down. I imagine it’s much the same living with an alcoholic in real life.

The supporting cast is pretty stellar as one. Reilly, an Irish accent, is pixie-like and has an odd vulnerability that is laced with gravitas. Cheadle, one of my favorite actors, comes through again as a competent professional who is nevertheless out of his depth with Whip and the frustration becomes very apparent soon. Goodman, as a party animal who is Whip’s supplier, is marvelous and Tunie as a stewardess is amazing.

But it is Denzel who steals the show and simply put, this is one of the best performances of his storied career. He has to be considered an early front-runner for the Best Actor Oscar race, and I almost guarantee that he’ll nab a nomination early next year. It would be a major miscarriage of justice if he did not.

There are plenty of movies that show the horrors of alcoholism but few have captured it this well. This might be a good primer for those who suspect someone they care about is an alcoholic, but for those who already know someone they love is this might be a little too close to home. Just fair warning.

REASONS TO GO: Nothing like what you think it’s going to be. Oscar-caliber performance from Denzel.

REASONS TO STAY: Those expecting an action film might be put off by the drama. May be too close to home for those who are alcoholics or have someone in the family who is.

FAMILY VALUES:  The depiction of alcohol and drug abuse is pretty graphic; so too is the crash scene that opens the film. There is also plenty of bad language, a good deal of sexuality and nudity.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: This is only the second R-rated film Zemeckis has directed (the first was Used Cars in 1980.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 11/23/12: Rotten Tomatoes: 77% positive reviews. Metacritic: 76/100. The reviews are solidly strong.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Days of Wine and Roses

AIRPLANE LOVERS: A very realistic look inside the cockpit of a jetliner, and you get a real sense of what it’s like to fly a commercial airplane.

FINAL RATING: 7/10

NEXT: Mission to Mars