Tag Archives: Toni Collette

APOCRYPHA CANDIDATE: I’M THINKING OF ENDING THINGS (2020)

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DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: Jessie Buckley, Jesse Plemons, , , Guy Boyd

PLOT: A young woman goes on a trip to meet her new boyfriend’s parents at their farmhouse on a night when a blizzard is brewing; the night grows increasingly strange and unsettling as it becomes unclear what is real and what is imaginary.

Still from I'm Thinking of Ending Things
I’m Thinking of Ending Things. Guy Boyd as Janitor in I’m Thinking of Ending Things. Cr. Mary Cybulski/NETFLIX © 2020

WHY IT MIGHT JOIN THE APOCRYPHA: By the time the pig shows up at Jake’s old high school, it becomes apparent that this maze of awkward interactions, faulty memories, and uncertain identities may just be Charlie Kaufman’s most surreal film.

COMMENTS: The first inkling that something is not quite right in I’m Thinking of Ending Things comes when the young woman (who is first introduced as “Lucy,” although it turns out that may not be her real name) thinks to herself, “I’m thinking of ending things.” “Huh?,” says Jake (that is his real name), from the driver’s seat. Can he hear her thoughts? She denies speaking. “Weird,” says Jake. “Yeah,” she answers.

Things will get weirder. She’s unsure why she wants to break up with him. Her backstory doesn’t add up. And she’s getting a lot of phone calls, which she’s not answering. When they arrive to meet Jake’s parents at their remote farmhouse, things get even stranger. As it turns out, Jake’s parents would creep out Henry Spencer‘s in-laws. Dinner is uncomfortable, full of small talk that often sounds like hidden accusations, and—once more—competing backstories that contradict each other. Jake’s parents age, almost before her eyes… Nothing explicitly supernatural or menacing happens, but the creaky farmhouse emanates a horror movie vibe, intensified by Jake’s passive-aggressive insistence that his girlfriend stay out of the basement. Meanwhile, Lucy—or whatever her name is—anxiously suggests that Jake take her home before the coming blizzard snows them in and traps her there.

Charlie Kaufman‘s latest mind-massager is another intensely subjective and literate tour of the lonely corridors of the mind, where nothing is as it seems. It’s one of his strangest offerings— particularly when it reaches an irrational finale that departs from the source novel—but perhaps what distinguishes it the most is the exceptional ensemble acting, best seen in the four-way sparring at the dinner table. Their expressions are priceless: Collette smiling to herself at private jokes only she can hear, Thewlis aggressively incredulous at the idea that a landscape could appear sad, Plemmons understandably embarrassed by his parent’s odd behavior, and trying to coax his girlfriend into revealing the correct details about how they met. We expect accomplished performances from those three celebrated actors, but relative newcomer Jessie Buckley is a revelation. She mutates throughout the film, portraying everything from a nervous recalcitrant girlfriend to an angry feminist to an apparent victim of very early-onset Alzheimer’s. She even slips into a Pauline Kael impression. Remarkable.

As with all the best trips, it’s the journey that’s most memorable, not the destination. There is a reveal at the end, but the twist, while satisfying, is hardly the point. Each scene is structured as an individually confounding moment: on the long ride there and back, Jake and his girlfriend discuss everything from the human experience of time, bad movies as viruses, with citations to Wordsworth, David Foster Wallace, Guy Debord, and musical theater (familiarity with “Oklahoma!” will enrich your experience). Jake says he like road trips because “it’s good to remind yourself that the world’s larger than the inside of your own head”—but does the movie believe this thesis? As they travel, the couple learn less about each other, and more about the slipperiness of human memory, fantasy, and identity.  It’s Kaufman’s favorite theme: the loneliness of our inherent interiority. The paradox is that our inescapable subjectivity is the one thing we all share and bond over.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“If that sounds confusing, or even downright hostile to the audience, well, that describes the Charlie Kaufman experience… There’s a weird thrill to getting lost inside this movie, only so you can study every odd detail from new angles, over and over again.”–David Sims, The Atlantic (contemporaneous)

LIST CANDIDATE: HEREDITARY (2018)

Must See

DIRECTED BY: Ari Aster

FEATURING: , Alex Wolff , Milly Shapiro,

PLOT: Disturbing events unfold after the death of a family matriarch, culminating in a bizarrely violent pagan ritual infused with supernatural occurrences.

Still from Hereditary (2018)

WHY IT MIGHT MAKE THE LIST: Hereditary equals or surpasses already Certified Weird films The Wicker Man, Repulsion, and Don’t Look Now with creepy cult imagery, tightly wound drama, and an effective and disturbing finale. The heavily-researched occult details makes the material surrounding guilt and loss linger. The exceptional effectiveness of Hereditary‘s unique brand of personal tragedy transformed into cult devilry means it should be considered for the list.

COMMENTS: Like a coffin descending into a fresh grave, Hereditary sinks into a subconscious nightmare that feels extremely real. The supernatural mystery at the core of the story (derived from a host of influences) is amplified by raw emotions surrounding bereavement and guilt. Hereditary doesn’t hold back when the catharsis comes. While Colin Stetson’s score highlights the creepy occult details to an oppressive effect, the characters mechanize into functional roles of which they are unaware. Represented in miniature models built by lead character Annie (Toni Collette), they ultimately fall prey to a bizarre set of spiritual encounters which, given the slow drip of small clues along the way, makes for an affecting, unforgettable experience.

Cluck

The anxious and paranoid plot structure is highlighted by a web of sensory mechanics, like clicks and shimmers. It’s not surprising that theatergoers already engage in “clucking” during viewings, embracing the sensory details of the plot in real time. Much like ‘s Repulsion, which is also laden with sensory triggers and sharp invasions, Hereditary is often dour and unpleasant; but this allows more fun to be had with its exciting plot development focusing on the invocation of an ancient pagan lord. Hereditary doesn’t merely bludgeon the audience with pop-psychology myths; it amplifies its plot revelations with painstakingly researched detail and pitch-perfect acting. The haunting images, abrupt sounds, and Toni Collette’s riveting acting combine with the sensory flourishes to create a seamless whole with an unusually oppressive mood.

Feels/Mechanics

The audience shares Annie’s emotions. Her retreat and avoidance of pain explodes into violent death and disorientation, kick-started in an early scenes when Annie asks her husband, “Should I be sadder?” after her mother’s funeral. Her focus on crafting miniature replicas grounds and distracts her, but perhaps only furthers her destructive tendencies.

The mechanics of the wider plot make the atmosphere even more compelling. Words in a bizarre language—“Satony,” “Zazam,” “Liftoach Pandemonium”—scribbled onto a bedroom wall neatly divide the narrative. Meant as invocations, the words (Aster did some Continue reading LIST CANDIDATE: HEREDITARY (2018)

CAPSULE: MARY AND MAX (2009)

Recommended

DIRECTED BY: Adam Elliot

FEATURING: Voices of Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Barry Humphries,

PLOT: A lonely 8-year old girl in Australia picks a random address out of the New York Cityp hone book so she can ask where babies come from in America and begins a lifelong pen-pal relationship with Max, a middle-aged New Yorker with Asperger’s syndrome.

Still from Mary and Max (2009)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST:  It’s very good for a sentimental drama, but the crazy, damaged characters and intriguing stylized look still won’t rank it any higher than “offbeat” on the weird spectrum.

COMMENTS: The first figure you see in Mary and Max is a depressed, distressed carved koala bear clinging to a mailbox post; it sets the tone of solemn whimsy and announces Adam Elliot’s art style, a heaping dollop of cute cut with a tablespoon of the grotesque.  (When the action shifts from Australia to New York, the first figure you see is a glum and manly Statue of Liberty).  Mary, the little girl, is dowdy, with glasses and a “poo” colored birthmark, but Max is an ogre: a husky pinhead with ears on stalks, a dingy gray Shreck, magnificently voiced in a weary monotone by Hoffman.  The two main characters rarely speak, except in monologues when they read the missives they exchange; the tale is mostly narrated in a child’s storybook style, which gives the movie a literary flavor and a frequent undercurrent of irony (the narrator explains that Mary wishes she too had a friend to play piggyback with, as the lonely girl gazes out the window at a pair of dogs preparing to mate).  The story is sad—Mary’s ugly existence is particularly bleak, and made even worse by bursts of false hope—but the relationship between the two misfits is legitimately heartwarming.  The main characters are almost novelistically complex, and the first act, the most rewarding, is devoted to getting to know the Aussie girl and the overweight New Yorker who always wanted a friend who was not imaginary, a pet, or a figurine.  Quirky secondary characters include a Mary’s agoraphobic neighbor (who Mary thinks suffers from “home-a-phobia”), her “wobbly” sherry drinking mom, and Max’s half-blind neighbor Ivy, who smells like urine and cough drops.  Tiny details and running jokes are embedded in the claymation designs, like the series of rhyming epitaphs and the homeless man in front of Max’s tenement with a sign that changes over the years of the friends’ correspondence.  The Australian scenes are colored in a drab, rustic sepia, while New York is a noirish black and white; both locations have brilliant splashes of red representing the rare intrusion of joy into the character’s dim lives.  Humor—from the wry to the laugh-out-loud hilarious, as when Max explains where babies come from—is a near constant companion, at least for the first two thirds of the film.  The movie is intoxicating while it takes its time introducing the pen-pals, but once their characters are established, the plot hurtles through incidents as Mary grows up, loses her parents, goes to university, finds love and a career and many setbacks, and finally travels to New York to meet Max.  Ironically, the more that happens in the story, the more momentum it loses; it was more fascinating as a series of leisurely, anecdotal correspondences.  Further, as the story heads towards its climax, the humor drains out, as a series of personal disasters pile up on poor Mary and drive her to the psychic breaking point.  Although it scarcely ruins a great film, Elliot overplays the pathos in the climax, ending the story depressingly; the final ray of sunlight, though it brings a tear to the eye, can’t relieve the heavy, heavy clouds that cast the final act into darkness. This bittersweet animated feature isn’t kids’ stuff, or really weird stuff, but it’s worth your time if you have a sentimental old softie buried somewhere inside you, and he likes to laugh.

Mary and Max is the feature length culmination of a theme Elliot had worked on in a series of short films: the relationship between a “normal” person and an eccentric, disabled outcast (the cousin in “Cousin” suffers from cerebral palsy; the title character in the Oscar-winning short “Harvie Crumpet” is afflicted with Tourette’s syndrome). Having finally explored this terrain for a full ninety minutes, it will be interesting to see if the talented director tries something different next.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“I can’t remember seeing an animated feature so dark and funny and bizarre and sad, all at the same time.”–James Plath, DVD Town (DVD)

(This movie was nominated for review by reader “Irene.” Suggest a weird movie of your own here.)