The Internship (2013)

Imagine that you are an unsuccessful, uneducated, 40-something man-child who doesn’t know a thing about technology. And you were just let go from your job – from the only thing you were ever really good at. On top of all that the economy is bad, there are hardly any jobs available and even where they are, no one wants to hire a man in their 40’s. Sounds bad, right? Not really, no. In a world of Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson you have every chance of getting an internship – not just anywhere, but at Google! – and eventually even a job. Yes, let’s keep the American Dream alive, people!

I could go on forever about this ridiculous script. Another thing (besides the obvious message the film tries to deliver) that really bothered me was that almost all supporting characters were painfully stereotypic. We have an arrogant and pretentious British guy, so mean that he could easily be a long lost brother of Draco Malfoy. Then there’s an Asian geek/mathematic genius with very strict and conservative parents who only care about his professional success and don’t allow him any social life. There’s also a gloomy, “I’m so above you all” hipster guy, because let’s face it – it’s 2013 and it’s hip to have a character like that (or at least that’s probably what Vince Vaughn thought when he wrote this brilliant screenplay). And finally, there’s a character of 30-something career woman who needs to find a man to complete her self-realization. And this man is, of course, no other than infantile, incompetent Owen Wilson.

Anyhow, the main point of the film, hidden behind this badly written »comedy«, is to maintain the illusion of American Dream. There’s one scene where the younger members of the Wilson/Vaughn team are worrying about their future – because no matter what schools you attend and how much time and effort you put into education, it is not guaranteed that you’ll land a good job. American Dream is dead. But is it really? Wilson and Vaughn try to comfort the audience and show them that the American Dream is still very much alive. You don’t need any education, any experience, you don’t even have to know how to work with a computer to land a job at Google (or anywhere for that matter) and to turn your life around and start from scratch. No matter how old you are – everything is possible! If you’re a middle-aged white male from a middle-class family, of course.

The Basics:
Directed by: Shawn Levy
Written by: Vince Vaughn and Jared Stern
Starring: Vince Vaughn, Owen Wilson, Rose Byrne
Running Time: 119 minutes
Year: 2013
Rating: 1

Obvious Child (2014)

The film opens with Donna Stern (played by Jenny Slate from Saturday Night Live and Parks and Recreation) doing a stand-up routine in a club in Brooklyn. And then, right after her spontaneous, funny, honest and confessional (although somewhat preoccupied with bodily functions) performance, she gets dumped by her cheating boyfriend in the club’s unisex bathroom. She’s heartbroken and as if that’s not enough – she finds out that the bookstore where she works during daytime (brilliantly named Unoppressive Non-Imperialist Bargain Books) is about to close. But because she is the obvious child of the film, she handles her situation in the most mature way – she gets wasted, has a painfully bad performance at the club, gets even more wasted, meets a guy, has a rebound one-night stand – and then goes on living her life, without ever imagining seeing Max (a somewhat square but nice guy that she took advantage of) again. But things don’t go as planned – she soon finds out that she got pregnant during that drunken night. Does she tells him about the pregnancy? She doesn’t even know the guy. And she also doesn’t plan to keep the baby. She’s still far from being a grown-up (even though she’s pushing thirty) and not at all ready to be a mother. Not to mention that she doesn’t have a job. She can barely afford to get an abortion – how could she ever afford to support a child?

I admit, I expected another comedy similar to Judd Apatow’s Knocked Up (that hardly even mentions a possibility of abortion – the only implication of it is in the following cowardly sentence: “I won’t say it, but it rhymes with shmashmortion.“) or Jason Reitman’s Juno (where the option of abortion is considered for exactly 5 minutes – Ellen Page quickly changes her mind after being verbally attacked by Christian Asian girl and decides that giving the child up for adoption is the right (moral) thing to do). But Obvious Child is nothing like that. Abortion is not considered as amoral, wrong or as a bad word that should be avoided. Instead, Robespierre takes a very clear pro-choice side by making a film (wrongfully accused of being an “abortion comedy”) that’s simply trying to say that if a woman doesn’t feel ready (emotionally, financially or both) to have a child, it is her right to choose not to give birth. It’s about time that we got a film like that – that doesn’t moralize, but deals with this serious topic realistically and with a great deal of brilliant and intelligent wit. It is also about time that this issue got presented from a woman’s point of view. Both Knocked Up and Juno dealt with unwanted pregnancy, but both times the view on pregnancy was presented from a man’s perspective  – as it usually is in Hollywood, where female directors and writers are still terribly rare and underrepresented (even Sex and the City, one of the most popular TV shows for female audiences was entirely written and directed by males!).

This film is funny, witty, intelligent and above all – it has this fresh approach to women’s issues that only a female writer/director could provide. Obvious Child is Gillian Robespierre’s film debut starring Jenny Slate who will make you fall in love with Donna even when her sense of humour is on a verge of disgusting (seriously, all that talk about peeing and farting?). The supporting cast is also great, but I especially have to point out Gaby Hoffmann who plays Donna’s feminist best friend Nellie:

Why do you care whether he needs to know or not? You are the one who has to get this procedure and pay for it, okay? You think if he was pregnant, he would be worrying about you right now? No. You guys, we already live in a patriarchal society where a bunch of weird old white men in robes get to legislate our cunts. You just need to be worrying about yourself.

I didn’t believe – until the very end – that Donna will go through with it. I saw so many Hollywood films with pregnant protagonists who considered having an abortion, but who always change their mind at the very last minute, that I found it hard to believe this film will manage to break the pattern. But it did. This is one of the first American films with a really clear pro-choice message; a film that is not afraid to speak about the problem that almost every woman eventually deals with, but is still mainly considered a taboo. And even though the story is mainly about abortion (that happens on a Valentine’s Day, I may add), this doesn’t mean that Obvious Child is in any way unromantic. On the contrary – it is in many aspects a very romantic, as well as entertaining story, that also manages to deliver a very strong message to the viewers: firstly, if I put it in Donna’s own words: “Don’t play Russian roulette with your vagina.“; and secondly, if you by any (drunken) chance do and you get pregnant, it is okay to decide for whatever option you want.

The Basics:
Directed by: Gillian Robespierre
Written by: Gillian Robespierre, Karen Maine and Elisabeth Holm
Starring: Jenny Slate, Jake Lacy, Gaby Hoffmann
Running Time: 84 minutes
Year: 2014
Rating: 7.5

Sailing to Paradise (2014)

I’ve been working as a volunteer at the Festival of Slovenian Film for the past week and Sailing to Paradise (with original title Pot v raj) was sadly just one of two films that I managed to see there. But since it won the Audience Award and because a lot of people asked me what I thought about it during the festival when I was too tired to adequately form my thoughts, I decided to write a short review now that I’m rested and able to think properly.

Sailing to Paradise was directed by Blaž Završnik, who was also one of film’s co-writers, together with its main stars, Klemen Janežič and Ajda Smrekar. Janežič plays physics student Žak who suddenly loses both of his parents in a car crash and embarks on a sailing trip in search of peace and solitude. But his trip is interrupted by Lučka who desperately wants a travel companion and manages to convince him to take her sailing.

The first part of the film, where Žak’s travelling on foot from his home to Slovenian seaside, is very similar to Sean Penn’s Into the Wild, while later, when Lučka comes by and disturbs his trip to nowhere, film starts to look like a Slovenian remake of Linklater’s Before Sunrise – although none of the characters is even remotely as well written as Celeste and Jesse in Linklater’s masterpiece. On the contrary, the screenplay is probably the film’s weakest point and the characters are somehow hard to connect to. For the first half of the film, Lučka is nothing but annoying – she seems more like a caricature of some spoiled girl from the city than a real person. Everything about her is exaggerated to the point that her dialogues seem unbelievable and disruptive. But in the second half her character suddenly turns out to be a complex person, full of unexpected depth. Her monologue towards the end is definitely the highlight of the film – it is one of it’s most real, raw and emotional moments, since probably everyone of us knows a person (or two) with the same controlling parents who suffocate their children with high expectations and with making life decisions in their name long into their adult life. And then there’s Žak who doesn’t really speak for the first half of the film. But when he finally starts opening up, when he confides in Lučka about his recent tragic loss, there is no emotional connection with the character whatsoever – he leaves us cold and indifferent.

I already mentioned the similarities with Into the Wild and Before Sunrise – but there is also this one scene (just look at the picture above) that was almost identical to Polanski’s Knife in the Water. I usually don’t mind if the film uses references to other, older films (like Frances Ha did with it’s dancing sequence that was a reference to Denise Lavant’s dancing in Carax’s Mauvais sang) – but I am sure that this particular scene was not meant as a reference. There was also a lot of forced “comic” moments that seemed unnecessary and out of place, as if a film didn’t want to end up being “too serious” and threw a few jokes in to lighten up the mood.

While I have quite a few reservations about the film, there are still some things that stood out. The cinematography was beautiful – there was quite a lot of breathtaking shots of Croatian seaside and Lev Predan Kowarski really did a wonderful job as a director of photography. The soundtrack is also outstanding. But film as a whole lacks something – it has almost no depth and the characters, at least for the most part of the film, seem shallow. This film had every chance to be a deep character study, but ended up being a light drama/romantic comedy, probably because they wanted to please the widest audience possible. As a result, this ended up being a film that will probably have a great commercial success, but it (justifiably) didn’t impress this year’s Jury at the Festival of Slovenian Film. They completely overlooked this crowd-pleaser and chose to give the Film of the Year award to a (political) documentary Boj za by Siniša Gačić for which I loudly applaud them.

The Basics:
Directed by: Blaž Završnik
Written by: Blaž Završnik, Klemen Janežič and Ajda Smrekar
Starring: Klemen Janežič, Ajda Smrekar
Running Time: 80 minutes
Year: 2014
Rating: 6

God Help the Girl (2014)

This was one painful watch. I’m really getting sick of all these quirky indie films, where the most interesting and exciting things on screen are the clothes/cute vintage looks of the protagonists. God Help the Girl is no exception. Stuart Murdoch (a lead singer and songwritter of the Scottish indie pop band Belle & Sebastian) should get back to writing music and leave screenwriting and directing alone. This film is one long (too long!) overly-stylized music video, with some completely unnecessary dialogues in-between. It would probably worked better if the whole film was sung, like Demy’s Les parapluies de Cherbourg. Or maybe not, since none of the characters except Emily Browning could really sing (and even she is no Catherine Deneuve).

Every character is also unbelievably plain, which makes it really hard to connect or care about any of them. I’m saying this as someone who otherwise likes to listen to Belle & Sabastian – this is a film that should be avoided. If you’re looking for some light film entertainment with good music, John Carney’s Begin Again is a much better choice.

The Basics:
Directed by: Stuart Murdoch
Written by: Stuart Murdoch
Starring: Emily Browning, Olly Alexander, Hannah Murray
Running Time: 111 minutes
Year: 2014
Rating: 2