Saturday 16 December 2017

Damaged goods

Having won the screenwriting Oscar in 2007 for the witty if wildly overpraised Juno, it made sense for Diablo Cody to team up again with that movie's director, the increasingly impressive Jason Reitman, for another journey into the dark heart of smalltown America. Charlize Theron also bagged a statuette from the Academy in the past decade when she donned the ugly make-up to play a serial killer in Monster and while she's in full-on glam mode at times here her character is extremely unattractive and, at times, downright repellent.

Theron plays Mavis, a heavy-drinking ghost writer of young adult novels who lives in Minneapolis but heads back to the small Minnesota town where she grew up for the birth party of former boyfriend Buddy's first child. What Buddy (Patrick Wilson) and his wife (Elizabeth Reaser) don't realise is that Mavis, a delusional former Prom Queen and Queen Bitch of the highest order, is intending to win him back.

A nasty, if clearly damaged, piece of work, Mavis reveals her plans to another former schoolmate Matt (Patton Oswalt), who befriends her during her short stay in town. Oswalt's Matt is the film's conscience and he brings a genuine depth to the, at times, tonally confused story.

Certainly there are several excellent, scathingly funny lines here and Theron is wonderful as the self-destructive central character but Young Adult doesn't really pull all its various strings together. HHHII

MARTHA MARCY MAY MARLENE (Drama. Starring Elizabeth Olsen, Sarah Poulson, Hugh Dancy. Directed by Sean Durkin. Cert 16)

There's no shortage of damaged characters in this week's releases and Elizabeth Olsen gives an arguably better performance than Theron's as the title character in this disorientating and at times disturbing debut from writer/director Sean Durkin.

We first meet Martha (Olsen) as she works alongside other women at a farm/commune before making her way to the nearest town. Contacting her sister Lucy (Sarah Poulson) for the first time in two years she appears confused, and is taken into the summer home of Lucy and her husband Ted (Hugh Dancy).

Through flashbacks which tantalisingly hint at a deeper backstory, we discover that Martha had joined a cult. Led by the charming but thoroughly sinister Patrick (John Hawkes), the commune has more females than males, sexual submission is taken as a given and there are dark suggestions of Manson Family-like activities. The young woman is effectively brainwashed, a state which she occasionally reverts to when she's with her sister and her husband, causing a growing rift between them.

It's a challenging and at times frustrating film, albeit one dominated by an incredible performance from Elizabeth Olsen and a confident helming by Sean Durkin, which leaves plenty of blanks for the viewer's imagination to fill in. HHHII

CARNAGE (Drama/comedy. Starring Jodie Foster, Kate Winslet, John C Reilly. Directed by Roman Polanski. Cert 15A)

Roman Polanski's adaptation of Yazmina Reza's play The God of Carnage involves little more than pointing a camera at his cast and letting them get on with it, but when you have a cast like this that's a pleasure in itself to begin with. Essentially a comedy-drama about how easy it is for the veneer of civil behaviour to slip, the set-up is that the parents of two boys meet up after one has whacked the other with a stick. So, world-aware Penelope (Jodie Foster) and her blue-collar husband Michael (John C Reilly) invite over the aloof Nancy (Kate Winslet) and BlackBerry-addicted lawyer Alan (Christoph Waltz) to discuss the incident, only for the afternoon to descend into recriminations by all concerned. The staginess of the proceedings is offset by fine performances and the best screen barf seen since Mr Creosote coated the set of Monty Python's The Meaning of Life. HHHII

MAN ON A LEDGE (Action. Starring Sam Worthington, Elizabeth Banks, Jamie Bell, Ed Harris. Directed by Asger Leth. Cert 12A)

A high-concept movie in which an ex-cop (Sam Worthington) stands on the ledge of a New York hotel while we try to guess his motives quickly descends into a daft, sub-Mission: Impossible caper movie. HHIII

CHRONICLE (Sci-Fi. Starring Dane DeHaan, Alex Russell, Michael B Jordan. Directed by Josh Trank. Cert 12A)

Debut director Josh Trank adds to the 'found footage' genre with this interesting story of three teenagers who develop powers of telekinesis and flight after touching a mysterious alien object. The finale owes way too much to Carrie but other than that this is a solid and very promising debut. HHHII

JACK AND JILL (Comedy. Starring Adam Sandler, Katie Holmes, Al Pacino. Directed by Dennis Dugan. Cert 12A)

Adam Sandler plays male and female twins in this appalling 'comedy' which is arguably the worst of his career and features a bizarre and baffling performance from Al Pacino as himself.


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