Dispatches from the CCFF Part 1

CCFF_Header3Pictured: Leslie Knope and Bobby Newport finally burying the hatchet.

(The Kelly Affair is proud to be attending and participating in this year’s Chicago Critics Film Festival from May 9-15. Sponsored by the Chicago Film Critics Association, and presented at the Music Box Theatre, there’s a lot of cool stuff to see this year. This is part one of a handful of pieces detailing flicks that Dom and Blake have been able to catch. This past weekend, Blake saw a bunch of stuff. Dom, meanwhile, was in the southwest suburbs.)

The Festival’s opening movie, They Came Together, was a ridiculously accomplished spoof. Utilizing You’ve Got Mail and recent rom-coms of that cutesy ilk as the template, They Came Together pairs Amy Poehler and Paul Rudd as Molly and Joel in this enthusiastic send-up. Molly’s a cute, klutzy, single lady in New York City that runs a homegrown candy store. Joel is a big, corporate candy executive trying to shut down Molly’s little shop. Molly is a single mother with ex-lovers and husbands. Joel is in a loveless relationship and wants something real. They may just be perfect for each other. If that sounds like a ridiculously familiar synopsis, then you’re already well in on the joke.

They Came Together is a contemporary Dadaist zing-fest and love letter to mediocre love stories that just can’t overcome their own sickly sweet and generic qualities. It’s an heir to Brooks and Landis and the Zucker brothers. From awkward moments to painfully predictable plot beats to Pythonesque wordplay to old women’s butts and bugshit crazy people brandishing swords, They Came Together is machine-gun comedy. Director David Wain mocks rom-coms with perfect disdain for genre tropes as well as a guilty affinity for the genre. Nora Ephron isn’t spinning in her grave, but rather is given a lovingly sarcastic “thank you” here. Rudd and Poehler and a host of comedy names sell the hell out of the premise.

Speaking of relationships, The One I Love inventively depicts one in decline. Ethan (Mark Duplass) and Sophie (Elizabeth Moss) are a couple whose relationship is devolving right before their eyes. They’re in couples’ therapy and their therapist (Ted Danson) recommends a getaway trip at a romantically picturesque Californian cottage. Ethan and Sophie are having a nice time, but as the weekend progresses, the couple get put into a highly unusual scenario. Ethan and Sophie meet Ethan and Sophie. Literally. The house is some sort of experimental grounds where the couple is forced to engage with idealized versions of themselves.

What begins as earthy melodrama becomes a science fiction fantasy interested in exploring and reflecting on relationships as Sophie and Ethan must figure out what to make of their doppelgangers.

The dramatic conceit of the scenario is fascinating, and Moss and Duplass carry the movie with four unique and engaging performances. They are the best and worst of themselves with compelling sincerity. However, the film ultimately cuts itself a little too short and gets bored. The One I Love starts off so well and maintains its nifty premise, until it becomes interested in twists and forced vagaries which undercut reflective potency.

On the blunter side, Calvary was a white-hot, black humored character piece about an Irish priest’s last days in a sleepy seaside town. In a bold and wholly humane performance, Brendan Gleeson is Father James Lavelle, with a whole town of misfits and sinners to tend to.

In its opening moments, the Father is informed in a confessional booth that he will be killed in a week’s time – on a Sunday no less, for maximum cruel irony. The veracity of the claim is up for debate, and Lavelle is allowed to inform the authorities, but it becomes an opportunity for the priest.

LaVelle takes the death threat to heart, and uses the following week to make amends, reach out to his parish, and not necessarily tie up loose ends but seriously look on his life, work, and relationship with God. Brendan Gleeson carries this thing like Gary Cooper in a stoic Western. He is a flawed Father, alone to think on his sins, but he braves the week knowing he could be crucified at any moment.

While it may be arguably riddled with clichés, jarring tone shifts, and heavy-handed sermonizing about faith (go figure in an Irish film with this sort of subject matter) Calvary burns deep and true. It has a lot of rage toward the current state of Catholicism, while undertones of unabashed reverence emerge.

Interestingly enough, The Overnighters provided another kind of film centered on a man of the cloth.

In 2008 hydraulic fracturing technology (fracking) enabled a boom in business in the upper northwest, and thousands of Americans migrated to places like North Dakota with hats in hands looking for work, hoping to cash in on a modern American dream. Fracking was going to presumably make everyone that got in at the ground floor millionaires. That’s the initial subject of The Overnighters, but director Jesse Moss focuses in on North Dakotan transplants in the microscopic town of Williston, and Lutheran Pastor Jay Weinke.

Weinke oversees the “Overnighters” program at his church. When people come to town with no place to go, they sleep at Weinke’s church, either in cots or in their cars in the lot. With these isolated newcomers comes excess baggage like criminal records, deep traumas, and families left behind. The town doesn’t know how to respond either as it views the frackers as disruptions to a tight and small community. In the middle of this is Pastor Weinke trying to soothe and lessen the worries of the town, while assaying and helping new people in need with not just his church, but every last drop of empathy he has. It’s a riveting canvas of what’s happening in the plains. Moss allows the movie to shift its focus neatly and gradually.

What starts as a fracking documentary evolves into a rich and contemplative consideration of empathy, guilt, groupthink, and feeling isolated in modern society. The Overnighters is a stellar and revealing American documentary. It’s zeitgeisty required viewing.

– Blake Goble

Stay tuned for more coverage from Dom and Blake. 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *