As fall dawns, the three-or-so-month release window dictates late spring and early summer flicks are starting to hit your home screens. So titles like Cinderella and Furious 7 dominate this week’s new-release shelves — alongside a few alternatives with a bit more on their minds.
About Elly : Writer/director Asghar Farhadi’s gripping Iranian drama played the festival circuit all the way back in 2009 to great acclaim, but rights issues prevented American distribution, even after the tremendous stateside success of his 2011 Oscar winner A Separation and 2013’s The Past. It finally hit US screens this spring, and better late than never, I suppose — since it’s just as remarkable as the works that followed it. A sort of Middle Eastern L’avventura, Farhadi’s film follows a good-natured group of friends and friends of friends on a weekend seaside getaway that goes horribly awry when an averted tragedy leads, quite possibly, to a real one. As usual, Farhadi shows a remarkable talent for harnessing situational uncertainty and making it over as dramatic tension, expertly capturing how his protagonists, in trying to make sense of their own actions, can turn on each other (and themselves). A haunting, difficult, powerful work.
The Overnight : Once you reach a certain age, it’s just much more difficult to “make friends,” which is the dilemma faced by recent LA transplants Alex (Adam Scott) and Emily (Taylor Schilling) when they’re invited to a dinner party with the parents (Jason Schwartzman and Judith Godrèche) of their young son’s playmate. Throw in the kind of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf-ish psychosexual tension that’s just under the surface of many long-term relationships, couple it with the explicit bicuriosity that’s increasingly visible in mainstream comedy, and the table is set for a playful, funny, and sometimes shockingly candid effort from writer/director Brice, who turns his small cast and (basically) single location from an indie standby into something that retains the power to surprise.
Love and Mercy : It would be easy to praise director Bill Pohlad’s Brian Wilson film as much for what it isn’t as for what it is — since it isn’t the kind of cradle-to-grave shallow dip that so many other musical genius biopics are content to be. Instead of trying to smash Wilson’s entire, eventful life into their 122 minutes, Pohlad (and writers Oren Moverman and Michael Alan Lerner, the later of whom, unsurprisingly, co-wrote the similarly boundary-breaking I’m Not There) grabs snapshots of two key moments in his life, casts a different actor to play him in each period (Paul Dano circa Pet Sounds, John Cusack in the mid-‘80s wilderness years), and lets those hinge periods tell the story. He comes up with something miraculous: a music movie that’s innovative, moving, intelligent, and (gasp) unpredictable. (Includes deleted scenes, featurettes, and audio commentary.)
Heaven Knows What : Josh and Benny Safdie’s portrait of homelessness in modern-day New York — based on Arielle Holmes’ memoir Mad Love in New York City — is a harrowing, ground-level drama in the mold of Panic in Needle Park and Born to Win, making brilliant use of its documentary-style aesthetics, stolen locations, and performances by non-actors. Chief among them is Holmes herself, who dramatizes the day-to-day, minute-to-minute realities of her life: hustling, “spanging,” begging for MetroCard swipes, mail-lifting, shoplifting and reselling. The filmmakers capture the routines, patterns, and cycles that repeat themselves, over and over, with an outlook on their protagonist that’s refreshing: they’re not gonna make you like her, they’re not going to fix her, and they’re not going to redeem her. They’ll merely present her, as she is, and — as on the street — you can deal with her, or you can look away. (Includes deleted scenes, featurette, Ariel Pink music video.)
Reality : Quentin Dupieux (Rubber, Wrong) does not inspire casual fandom: you are either all in with his bizarre, absurdist storytelling sensibility, or you’re just not feeling him. His latest is a particularly bizarre intermingling of strange characters and peculiar situations, constantly reframing itself as Dupieux toggles between dream, reality, nightmare, and fiction within fiction, intermingling his planes and characters. Dream movies are usually annoying because they end up obliterating their own narrative credibility; no such worries here, because he’s less telling a story than creating a cinematic Russian nesting doll, an Inception by way of Buñuel. I found myself giggling at its audacity and nonsense logic; your mileage, to say the least, may vary.