A Look at Inside Llewyn Davis

Odd.

Inside Llewyn Davis Poster

That was the one word that came to mind when I walked out of the cinema.  Not bad, not horrible, just odd.  For me, that’s strange to say, considering a lot of Coen Brothers’ films either are odd, yet enjoyable, or have very quirky characters.  This one falls into the same situation, but with a main character that just isn’t having any luck at all.  Let’s dive in.

Inside Llewyn Davis- Llewyn Playing Hang Me

The film begins in the Gaslight Café in 1961, where folk singer Llewyn Davis, played by Oscar Isaac, sings a rendition of “Hang Me, Oh Hang Me.”  It goes well with the crowd, but just as Oscar leaves the stage, the club owner, Pappi, played by Max Casella, tells Oscar that there’s a man in a suit waiting for Oscar in the alley.  Out in the alley, a man obscured by shadow calls Llewyn a funny man before punching him in the face because he heckled a performer at the Café on the previous night.

Our hero stays at the Upper West Side with the Gorgeins, some friends of his.  As Llewyn is leaving the apartment one day, the Gorfeins’ orange tabby cat rushes out with him and Llewyn is unable to return it since the Gorfeins are out.  Unfortunately, he can’t leave it with the elevator operator.  I mean, after all, he’s gotta stay there and run the elevator.

Inside Llewyn Davis- Llewyn with cat, making phone call

So Llewyn takes the cat to the West Village apartment of his two friends: his ex-girlfriend, Jean, played by Carey Mulligan, and Jean’s current boyfriend, Jim, played by Justin Timberlake.

Llewyn visits his manager, Mel, played by Jerry Garrison, at Legacy Records about the status of his record, Inside Llewyn Davis, but it’s not taking off.  The manager insists that Llewyn focus on being known for his solo work- Llewyn’s previous musical partner, Mike, committed suicide.  However, the manger does tell Llewyn that he sent a copy of his album to a producer in Chicago named Bud Grossman.

When Llewyn gets some alone time with Jean, she informs him that she is pregnant and is unsure of the father.  She’d like it to be Jim, because everything that Llewyn touches turns to shit.  On the chance that Llewyn could be the father, she wants him to pay for an abortion.  Good luck, since Llewyn is already in need of money.

Inside Llewyn Davis- Jim, Jean and Troy perform Five Hundred Miles

At the Gaslight Café that evening, Jim and Jean perform “Five Hundred Miles” with the help of their guest, Troy Nelson, played by Stark Sands, who was stationed at Fort Dixon.

Next morning, Llewyn makes the mistake of opening the window just as the cat scurries through it.  Whoops.

Llewyn pays a visit to his sister, Joy, played by Jeanine Serralles, and wants to pick up all of his practice materials.  Joy suggests that Llewyn go back to being a merchant marine, but Llewyn isn’t keen on the suggestion.  However, after getting what he needs for the moment, he asks Joy to throw out a box of his papers.

Inside Llewyn Davis- Llewyn meets Al Cody

A bit of good news for a change.  Llewyn gets a phone call from Jim, who wants him to come help him record a song.  Of course, as Llewyn is at a train station, trains happen to pass by just as he receives this news.  Soon enough, Llewyn joins Jim to record with his group: the John Glenn Singers.  The third singer, Al Cody, played by Adam Driver, provides backup vocals and his occasional sound effects for their rendition of “Please, Mr. Kennedy.”  Once the song is completed, as Llewyn needs money now, he asks if he can receive the $200 upfront, no royalties.  After this, he takes it upon himself to room with Al Cody until…well, until he finds another place to stay.

True to his word, Llewyn meets with a doctor, played by Steve Routman, to set an appointment for the abortion.  There’s no charge for it, though, because of last time.  Last time?  As it turns out, Llewyn paid in advance for a different woman who later decided to keep the baby before she moved to Akron.  This is all new to Llewyn, who appears visibly hurt by this revelation.

Inside Llewyn Davis- Jean and Llewyn in cafe

He later meets with Jean and the two clash.  Llewyn says Jean is too busy trying to blueprint her life rather than living in the now.  He calls her a careerist, but she counters by claiming he has little to no direction in life.  That tends to happen when you sleep in different homes every night.  In the middle of all of this, Llewyn comes across the cat, so all is well with the universe!

Inside Llewyn Davis- Llewyn performs Fare Thee Well for the Gorfeins' at dinner

Except the movie’s not over.  Llewyn returns the cat to its Gorfeins: Mitch, played by Ethan Phillips, and Lillian, played by Robin Bartlett.  No hard feelings, so they invite him in for dinner.  All goes well until they ask him to play for them.  Reluctant, he begins to play “Fare Thee Well.”  Sounds fine until Mrs. Gorfein joins in with the harmony, which was Mike’s part.  He lashes out at the Gorfeins and their guests, telling them that he sings and plays for a living, not parlor games.  This upsets Mrs. Gorfein, who leaves, but then quickly returns and notes that the cat Llewyn found is not theirs.  How does she know this?  Well, where’s its scrotum?

Where, indeed?

Inside Llewyn Davis- Johnny Five and Roland Turner in cafe

Anyway, Llewyn, with his trusted cat companion, needs to head to Chicago, so he hitches a ride with two musicians: Johnny Five, played by Garrett Hedlund, and jazz musician Roland Turner, played by John Goodman.  Turner connects with Llewyn right from the start, wondering why a grown man named Lou N. Davis travels around the world with a cat.  Also, he regales us with a story about someone who committed suicide not by jumping off the Brooklyn Bridge, but the George Washington Bridge.  I mean, who does such a thing?

After a rest stop when Turner wounds up face down in the bathroom due to a heroin overdose, the three continue but, due to the snow, decide to stop the car and rest for awhile.  Big mistake, as a police officer soon arrives and tells them to move along.  When Johnny Five refuses and resists arrest, he’s…well, arrested.  Turner, however, is still asleep, and Llewyn, still needing to get to Chicago, leaves the cat with Turner.  Hey, it wasn’t his cat.

And we’ll leave the plot there.

Again, I hesitate to use the word ‘odd’ to describe my overall feelings on this film, but it’s what came to mind as I exited the cinema.  If there’s one thing the Coen Brothers manage to do in many of their films, it’s put their characters through miserable and unfortunate circumstances, such as Everett in O Brother, Where Art Thou? and Llewelyn Moss in No Country for Old Men, just to name two.  Inside Llewyn Davis is not a bad film.  I’m not saying that.  What I’m saying is that this is a film where its central character just cannot catch a break.  He’s not very likable, he always has to have a response and he’s not an optimistic character.  Would your average movie-going audience gravitate toward such a protagonist?  I doubt it, but it’s not impossible.

Though Llewyn himself may not be the most likable of main characters, I do appreciate his drive.  As mentioned, he sings and plays music for a living, not as an act.  He’s not out to change or revolutionize the music scene, just to make something for himself.  This proves challenging since he now works solo and, right now, there really isn’t a market for folk music.

This leads into an interesting question I’ve read from others concerning the film and one I wonder myself: who is this film marketed toward?  With musicals, which this film isn’t, you can be broad in your approach and tailor the music for all audiences.  Here, the focus is very narrow: folk music in 1960s New York.  Bob Dylan isn’t a household name yet.  I’d be hard pressed to say there’s a giant market for such a film.  Also, by the end of the film, I certainly didn’t learn more about folk music, but that’s unfair because the focus of the film isn’t on the origins of folk music.  Also, I recognize that it’s unfair to ask about a film’s targeted audience because this could apply to many movies.

Yet I found myself interested not just because of the subject matter, but because of Llewyn’s journey to gain recognition.  His actions feel consistent with his overall character arc as he travels to Chicago.

Inside Llewyn Davis- Llewyn depressed

But I’m focusing too much on the character for the moment and less on the film’s presentation, so since I suck at transitions, let’s move to that.  The cinematography can be subdued at times, with muted colors throughout.  There’s no real life or vibrancy to the film and that’s fine with me because it just added to the unending misery that is Llewyn’s life.  Aside from the cat’s bright orange fur, nothing pops out or is striking to the eyes.  This movie isn’t about the visual or the spectacle.  Much like Llewyn’s dry attitude toward many, that mood is reflected in the film’s downbeat look.

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The film is paced well.  Nothing ever moves too quickly or is difficult to understand, but at the same time, few of the subplots add to the overall plot.  While the film’s focus is primarily on Llewyn’s life, scattered throughout the film are moments that don’t have any payoff, but are there to showcase Llewyn outside of his music life.  Similar to how Clerks took place during one day in Dante and Randall’s life, Inside Llewyn Davis is just a look at Llewyn’s career, or lack thereof, with bits of the rest of his life sprinkled elsewhere in the film.

Inside Llewyn Davis- Oscar Isaac leaning on car

I’ve argued against filler moments that add nothing a movie’s storyline, but I make a slight exception here if only because the moments flesh out Llewyn’s character: why he’s so unlikable, how his tone and demeanor deteriorates the friendships and relationships he has and the many steps he takes in order to receive payment and, ultimately, reach Chicago.  Llewyn never knows what to expect, such as when the Gorfeins ask him to play, but we as an audience go along with him because it’s the randomness of his life that made it so entertaining, to me at least.  The filler moments are speed bumps in Llewyn’s otherwise bad week.  Having said that, Llewyn doesn’t just sit down and accept when fate throws a speed bump in his way- he finds a way around it, which I appreciate.  It shows he’s at least a fighter- albeit, with some attitude to him- and isn’t content with just staying in one place.  Though that could also have to do with the fact that he realistically couldn’t be allowed to stay at one person’s home without eventually chipping in with money he doesn’t have.

Inside Llewyn Davis- John Goodman as Roland Turner

The performances from the supporting cast help flesh out the film, but also provide some much needed humor.  John Goodman as Roland Turner, for example, is a loud talking jazz musician who makes the Llewyn’s road trip hell, though his speculation on which bridges people should jump off of did make me laugh.  He’s brash and brute, but has great power.  It’s a performance that’s very reminiscent of Big Dan Teague, a character that Goodman played in O Brother, Where Art Thou?  Also, Goodman, and by extension, Johnny Five, aren’t used that much, but just enough that their episode creates another inconvenience in Llewyn’s week.  To me, that’s how it should be.  Don’t saturate the film with so many performances and take focus away from the main character’s story.

Inside Llewyn Davis- Jim and Llewyn in Gaslight Cafe

I don’t have anything bad to say about Justin Timberlake’s performance here.  He’s the nice guy in a sweater and beard.  He plays it straight and isn’t out to mug for the camera, which one would expect if a director got a big name to appear in their film.  Sure, Timberlake’s Jim is a bit more integral due to his relationship with Jean, but there’s never any rivalry or tension between him and Llewyn.  He’s just there as the nice, charming guy who happens to be very good on the guitar and vocals.  I’m glad to see that if Timberlake is indeed set on slowly making the cross from music to film, he’s making more good decisions, at least of the films I’ve seen where he played a role. Be it this, Bad Teacher or The Social Network, I’ve seen him do more good than bad, such as The Love Guru.  Seriously, why’d he agree to that?

Inside Llewyn Davis- Carey Mulligan as Jean

Carey Mulligan is very sharp as Jean and has a lot of ferocity in her performance, but it’s not overbearing and doesn’t verge on becoming filled with rage.  Jean carries a lot of baggage and anger toward Llewyn because she’s carrying his baby.  I really felt the venom in her tone when she told Llewyn that everything he touches turns to shit, but at the same time, she has a tender side.  Mulligan and Timberlake’s rendition of “Five Hundred Miles” is still stuck in my head.

By the way, it’s worth mentioning that the music in the film is quite good.  I might not know much about folk music, but the numbers in the movie are very catchy and help craft the film’s tone, similar to the songs in O Brother Where Art Thou?, and I don’t know why I keep comparing the two films.

But back to Mulligan, there’s just as much warmness in her performance as there is rage.  Jean speaks with fondness when talking about how much she misses Mike, yet this is just after she suggested that Llewyn use double condoms before they had sex.  However, in hindsight, Jean isn’t exactly blameless in this ordeal, as she wasn’t and, to my knowledge, never did take birth control and she absolves herself of any real responsibility aside from the decision to pursue an abortion.  So while I enjoy Mulligan’s performance, she’s not given much to do outside of trade barbs with Llewyn or sing with Jim.

Inside Llewyn Davis- Llewyn playing

Then there’s Oscar Isaac as Llewyn Davis himself.  Isaac’s performance drew me in from the start due to how well I thought he sang.  When he performs, it’s almost as if the audience is an intrusion, similar to when he lashed out as Mrs. Gorfein when she joined in his performance of “Fare Thee Well.”

Again, Llewyn is by no means a likable character: he’s short-tempered and can be an absolute prick to almost everyone he comes in contact with.  He doesn’t have a home to stay in, isn’t the most attentive when it comes to cats, always feels the need to have a comeback and doesn’t seem to have a lot of passion or vigor in his life.

Inside Llewyn Davis- Llewyn with cat

In the traditional sense, Llewyn Davis isn’t a character we’d gravitate toward because there’s little to like about him, yet it’s his dark sense of humor in this dreary world, coupled by his perseverance to make a name for himself, that kept me interested.  Here’s a man who is in constant sorrow and has seen trouble all his days.  He bid farewell to his partner and now must make it all on his own since, aside from couch space and holding onto his stuff, Llewyn isn’t in the habit of relying on other people all that often.

More than that, success is always outside of his reach.  He’s living in the moment and just trying to make it to the next day, not thinking down the line.  That, I suppose, would give weight to him calling out Jean for wanting to blueprint out her entire life, but the difference is that Jean and Jim are, commercially, fine.  When they perform at the Gaslight Café, the audience joins in, much to Llewyn’s surprise.  It makes sense that he’d want to cut Jean down a peg not just for thinking of the future, but even for gaining the success he so desires.  So in addition to being a jealous character, Llewyn is self-absorbed and concerned with his own well-being, with the rare exception when he thinks about the child he didn’t know existed.

Inside Llewyn Davis- Llewyn, Jim and Al prepare to perform Please, Mr. Kennedy

And yet his passion for being a musician is believable.  He sounds very soulful when he strums his guitar and I enjoyed each of his performances, though credit for that rightly goes to the great job I found Oscar Isaac did playing this character.  His mood fits well within the film’s near lifeless color palette.  I kept wondering to myself whether Llewyn would ever catch a break or find some semblance of happiness, but rarely does it come for him.

Inside Llewyn Davis is not an uplifting film that will leave you with a sense of optimism and drive for adventure when you leave the cinema.  It’s an interesting character study about a man who plays music for the love of the art, but exists in a time where his particular brand of music has not caught on yet.  It’s a film about perseverance and pushing through every impossible situation.  Again, ‘odd’ is a strange word to use when describing my initial reaction to this film, but as with other films they’ve directed, the Coen Brothers manage to inject their own brand of dry, sardonic humor that lighten the otherwise gray mood of this movie.  For me, this film was reminiscent of Blue Jasmine: the movie focuses on a not so likable character who we as an audience should detest, but something about them makes us root for them to push on despite the adversity they face.

The strength of Inside Llewyn Davis comes from its strong acting performances and the plot centered around the week of an unlucky son of a gun.  In the traditional sense, it’s not a film that many would gravitate toward due to its muted tones, smart-alecky protagonist, somewhat absurd plot twists and a lack of overall optimism.  From that, it has the potential to alienate a lot of casual moviegoers who just want to sit back and have a good time, but for those interested in a well done character study with quirky characters filled with the black humor the Coen Brothers are known for, Inside Llewyn Davis may just be for you.

A Look at House of Lies- Season 3, Episode 2: “Power”

And this is why you don’t piss off your employees.

“Power” is an aptly named episode.  It focuses on, as have past episodes, the struggle to attain power by any means, how to screw over other people in order to hold onto it, and how it can be taken away from you.

Power- Sandra Joy's Lecture on Power

The episode begins with Marty attending a seminar by Sandra Joy, played by Salli-Richardson Whitfield, who lectures an audience about power.  She didn’t persevere due to the egg, but the power of the ostrich, or something.  She corrals the audience into chanting “The power is in me.”  Even Marty almost joins in.  Almost.

Power- Sandra and Marty in Bed

And then cut to Marty and Sandra in bed, with Sandra taking control of the situation, even grasping Marty’s neck.  Marty admits to finding her speech inspiring, but she laughs.  To her, people believe what they want to believe, but it’s all horseshit.  We’re all just passengers on God’s kamikaze rocket ship.

Power- Jeannie and Marty's Dream

Then Marty awakens to find himself in a post-apocalyptic future.  He spots Roscoe busting a move before a car lands right on top of him.  But before he can even register that, he spots Jeannie standing atop some wreckage and pointing a gun at him.  Too bad she doesn’t pay attention to the wrecking ball behind her.

Well, that was another dream.

Power- Roscoe Throws Down a Challenge to Marty, Reveals About Lex

Back at home, Roscoe managed to get the makeshift basketball court he wanted last episode and tests it out in a little one-on-one with Jeremiah.  When Marty arrives, Roscoe gives him the good news that he made point guard, but even better: he’s met someone on the team named Lex.  And guess what?   Lex got game.

Power- Jeannie and Doug observe Col. Selby from afar

At Galweather Stearn, Doug and Jeannie watch a group of men from afar.  Jeannie tells Doug that they need to get on their account, but Doug is hesitant.  After all, he pooped next to one of the men and saw that he has an ankle holster.  Because that’s what you pay attention to in the bathroom.  Jeannie has been looking at the account roadmap in the Department of Defense project and has a restructuring idea.

Power- Jeannie Meets Col Selby

Even though the DOD has been data mining for years, Jeannie is sure that her idea will help increase profit margin, and she makes that case known to one of the men: Col. Gil Selby, played by John Carroll Lynch.  However, he has no response, leading Jeannie to retreat for the moment.

Power- Monica reveals solution to pod about Colossal Foods fiasco

Over at Kinsley Johnson Partners, Monica is in a rage over the Colossal Foods issue.  Rather than being in Phoenix to bill Colossal Foods, they’re stuck coming up with a solution.  They need a deck to end all decks.  How?  Simple: someone in the pod other than Monica will take the blame for the Power Point fiasco.  Oh, and Christy is still convinced that Clyde is a rapist, so there’s still that.

Power- Julianne Demands Jeannie Tell Her Who Hates Her

At Galweather, Jeannie meets up with Julianne and butters her by talking up her self-confidence and expertise as a mentor.  Despite keeping people on after Galweather Stearn’s fallout, it’s good to know that she’s in good company, even when there are a lot of people working there who don’t like Julianne.

Whoops.  Did Jeannie say too much?  Well, who dislikes Julianne?  She presses Jeannie for an answer and she gives it: Gil.  Yup.  He’s leaving money on the table during the DOD project when, in fact, there could be much more to help the company.  So about that idea Jeannie had for Gil earlier…

Power- Sarah tells Doug she's stopped using birth control

To my delight, Jenny Slate is back as Sarah, who breaks the news to Doug that she stopped taking birth control because she wants to have a baby.  Doug is both surprised and nervous about the surprise announcement, which Sarah thinks is him wanting to back out of having a baby.  Hey, you sprung the news on him.

But they’ll talk later.  Doug tries to relay his issue to Jeannie, but she’s having none of it.  Benita, however, looked at the DOD models.  Gil has been using a statistical methodology that’s been outmoded for years.  If they ran an industry standard data mining application, they could lower head count and bill two, maybe three times as much.  It sounds simple, but they would need to run a beta first.

Power- Lex. Just Lex

Out on the courts, Marty and Roscoe shoot some hoops before we’re introduced to Ethan, played by Emmett Carnahan, and then Lex, played by Ben Taylor-Klaus.  To be frank, Lex is a wigger in a Kobe Bryant jersey, but he can ball.  He and Roscoe play against Marty and Ethan and come out victorious, though Marty can’t even tell if Lex is a boy or girl. Roscoe tells him that Lex is a ‘boi’ and a ‘grrl:’ born a girl, identifies as a boy.  Marty is thrown.  Quite frankly, so am I.

Power- Jeannie and Jeremiah bond over Scotch

Jeannie, successful in having Gil thrown off the DOD project and now having to watch her back, unwinds by sharing some scotch with Jeremiah.  He manages to get into her head by having her talk about her past: she denies her own greatness.  Growing up, she heard that her father wasn’t a criminal, her brother was an all star athlete, and she was roadkill.  Roscoe’s just glad that she’s alive.

Power- Clyde rants at Bar while Doug tries to calm him down

At a bar, Doug calls Clyde again when he finally arrives.  More frantic than usual, Clyde orders a drink but is in no mood to wait.  He rants on and on about Monica and how she’s driving him up the wall, but then he takes his anger out on the bartender.  Clyde just wants out and has an interview with Booz Allen, but before the rampage can continue, he receives a phone call from Monica, informing him to be back at Kinsley Johnson.  Like a neutered man, Clyde complies without argument.

Power- Monica on the war path again

And at Kinsley Johnson, Monica is still on the war path, but she has a plan: the pod will pull an all nighter.  No, not the normal all nighter that consists of takeout food and blowjobs.  This one will include after work hours on existing accounts and spec proposals for businesses they’ve analyzed.  By 10 a.m., they should have a new account.

But Clyde isn’t having it and makes it known, countering everything that Monica throws at him.

Power- Christy on the edge

Christy, however, still taking verbal abuse from Monica, begins whispering and then stating very loudly that she is strong and in charge.  Monica gets right in her face, against Clyde’s warning, and so, the unhinged Christy, screaming “Sic Semper Tyrannis,” makes the most logical move to retaliate against a fire-breathing bully.

Power- Monica Stabbed

She stabs Monica in the thigh!

Now I’ll touch on this moment later, but for now, Monica lets out a blood curling scream, Everett faints and Christy is taken away in cuffs.

Still ranting while on a gurney, Monica thinks Clyde conspired for this to happen.  Clyde, at this point, is practically begging to be fired, but no.  Monica is going to keep him there for the rest of his mediocre career.  Again, poor Clyde.

Power- Marty and Jeannie unwind

Jeannie and Marty discuss their plan to screw over Colossal Foods and Free Range Foods.  Jeannie isn’t in favor of a scare tactic that would clue Colossal onto the fact that she’s not working fair for them.  Marty congratulates Jeannie on her work with the DOD contract, as she’s led folks at Galweather to believing she has true power.

Then Jeannie asks Marty about his new pod.  He says he’s glad to be on his own, but that it would be worth it if for one thing.

This episode centered about the gain or loss of control.  With the pod splintered, they have to fend for themselves and use what they’ve already learned in the world of management consulting to get ahead.  But because they’re not together, they all lack something that they once had as a group.  It’s actually an interesting way to see just how well they can all fend now that they’re on their own.

Marty, while still given a great performance by Don Cheadle, isn’t all that integral this week, as most of the bigger events involve other people in his life.  Aside from his family life, he’s a background character this time around and we don’t even see the other members of his pod in this episode.

Power- Marty's Dream

So this is the second dream sequence Marty has had and it’s just as odd as the first.  At least with the first, he was back with his pod.  Here, he’s in some futuristic world and is unable to protect Roscoe and Jeannie from being killed.  Though I find these moments visually interesting, I wonder if they speak to the lack of control and power Marty may have in his life.  This feels like a natural progression based on the fallout of last season where the pod fell apart.  However, it’s too soon to tell where all this will take Marty.

He hasn’t lost his confident strut, certainly not.  Marty is still as calculating as ever, but because he’s playing on his own terms, he has to be more careful.  Otherwise, he’ll find himself in bed with a motivational speaker that has her hands firmly grasped around his neck.  Though Sandra Joy’s seminar didn’t add anything to the plot, it did have that one moment in bed where she tells Marty that people want to believe they have power, but they don’t.  We’re all on the same crash course for destruction, so we may as well just go with the flow of things.

Well, if we aren’t dealing with Marty and his pod this week, I am glad the episode put focus on his family life, particularly his relationship with Roscoe.  Given how the two were on thin ice last season, I’m happy to see them getting along and making jokes.  Definitely feels like Roscoe is happier here than he would have been, had he lived with Monica.

Power- Marty is REALLY Confused about Lex

Marty’s reaction to Lex being a ‘boi’ is as funny as it is awkward.  And it doesn’t seem strange for Roscoe to be attracted to someone like this.  Heck, Roscoe’s introduction had him trotting out into the kitchen in purple tights in a skirt.  It’s not a stretch that he’d fall for someone who was born a girl but identifies as a boy, strange as it is.  That said, Lex is a wigger.  He talks like he came straight out of Compton and could maybe play well against some Blacks.  I’m stereotyping, yes, he might as well start dropping beats.

Power- Marty is Just Confused about Lex

And I can’t help but laugh at Marty’s facial expressions as he tries to figure out just who Lex is.  These scenes are much calmer and filled with less tension than the executive business scenes, so it helps strike a good balance between the drama and comedy of the episode.  However, it does speak to Ms. Joy’s comment about people believing they have power when they really don’t.  As the show has progressed, Marty has less and less control over Roscoe.  Before, if he wanted a situation involving Roscoe resolved, he could just pay the school a visit and hash it out that way.  Now Roscoe is into a girl turned boy and calling Marty a “dumb shit” without an inch of remorse, indicating that power over Roscoe will soon be out of his grasp.

Power- Doug and Sarah discuss baby possibility

Then there’s Doug, who lacks any control in anything.  It’s understandable that Sarah dropping the baby bomb on him would be shocking, even more so considering he never knew she stopped taking her birth control.  Oh, by the way, Sarah saying she stopped using birth control through the use of a goalie metaphor was pretty good in my opinion.  Or, at least, it was a metaphor I hadn’t heard before.

But anyway, Sarah is one of the best things to happen to Doug in a long time.  He’d be hard pressed to screw that up, so what he ought to do is man up to her instead of being hesitant and afraid.  If he was so protective of Sarah and confronted Clyde, who hit on her, you’d think he would do what it took to preserve their relationship.  Now that doesn’t excuse Sarah revealing her secret out of nowhere, but it does mean that Doug needs to be more assertive in this relationship.

This at least gave Doug something new to do, since at work he’s either a. trying to get Jeannie to reminisce about the old days or b. hating on the new pod.  Yes, Benita and JC are odd, but I doubt Doug is in a position to judge anything that’s seen as weird or strange considering he found out a man had an ankle holster because he noticed it while in a bathroom stall.

Power- Clyde gets a phone call from Monica

And poor Clyde yet again.  It’s unfortunate to just watch him and the rest of the pod crumble under Monica’s heel.  Sure, Clyde may be used to dishing out and receiving a bit of verbal abuse, but Monica pulls no punches at all.  This definitely isn’t the cool and confident Clyde we’re used to seeing because Monica is able to put him in his place.

The scene with Doug and Clyde at the bar, while embarrassing for Clyde, was fun to watch not just for the banter, but I get the feeling that Clyde was just happy to be anywhere that didn’t involve work or Monica.  Talking with Doug was a relief and he could be his usual, jokey self, even if he was on edge.  He could be comfortable, yet rude, but when he receives a phone call and the volume in his voice becomes more subdued and subservient, we know right away that he’s on a short leash.

Power- Clyde begs Monica to fire him

And it’s not as if Clyde can’t grow a pair and call Monica out on her crap.  He threatens to walk out of the all nighter.  After Monica has been stabbed, he just wants to be fired, but Monica declares that she will keep him around.  It makes me wonder why Clyde doesn’t just quit, but remember that he only sought out Monica at the end of Season 2 because he thought it would be better than working for Marty, and now he sees how wrong he is.  For me, watching Clyde plead with Monica just to fire him shows that he’s at a low point and just wants an out.  But Monica has his balls in a vice, so as of now, he’s trapped.

Power- Dawn Olivieri as Monica, tempting fate

As for Monica, however, yes, it was a glorious moment to see her get stabbed after so much of her crap, but this speaks more to Dawn Olivieri’s performance and how much hatred one can have just watching Monica rant.  However, just as Marty tells Jeannie, despite Monica’s nicked artery, she will be back in force.

Power- Christy unhinged and about to stab Monica

The problem I have with the scene is that Christy’s attack on Monica felt a bit too soon.  We’ve only had two episodes and very few scenes to get to know Christy and she’s already performed this violent act.  This is something I would expect to happen later on in the season, but this came out of nowhere, as if the episode needed some big, dramatic moment.  Again, while Monica may have it coming, the scene would have felt more natural had we gotten to know Christy more.  Sure, there’s probably more off-screen moments of Monica abusing the pod, but we as an audience have gotten to know Christy for a grand total of less than a full hour.  So the scene, while humorous, didn’t have the weight it could have had if we’d spent more time with Christy and seen her interact more with Monica.

Power- Col Selby confronts Jeannie

Then there’s Jeannie, who I save for last because she had the most to do this week.  In a way, Jeannie is becoming more like Marty in that she’ll say and do what she needs in order to get ahead.  Unlike Doug, Jeannie isn’t interested in dwelling on the past or getting the pod back together.  She wants to make a name for herself and will have what she wants.  She’s coming into her own and Kristen Bell plays her with such sophistication that it’s always a treat to see her on-screen.

Getting Col. Selby thrown off the DOD project is an example of Jeannie doing what Marty has done well for two seasons: say what you need to and watch everything play out.  The student has become the instructor, as Jeannie, Clyde and Doug were practically Marty’s kids throughout the first two seasons.  Now that Jeannie has her own pod, she’s putting her skills to the test and she succeeds.  This may make her a prime target for Selby and the Pentagon later on, but for now she can rest in the fact that she scored a victory in gaining the DOD contract.

Power- Jeannie and Jeremiah

I think Jeannie’s scene with Jeremiah may be one my favorite moments with her in the show so far not just because we learn about her backstory, but because Jeremiah is more approachable and personable with Jeannie.  With Marty, it’s mostly business.  Roscoe sees Jeannie almost as a mother or sister figure, but Jeremiah can get into Jeannie’s head in ways that Marty can’t because he doesn’t try to put a work or business spin on things.

Jeannie admitting to Jeremiah that she doesn’t buy her own greatness also goes back to Ms. Joy’s point about people believing they have power when they don’t.  Jeannie may have convinced the people around her that she has great influence, but it’s all a façade.  That said, it’s clear that she has untapped potential.  Giving her control of her own pod could have been one of the better things to happen for her character because, like Marty, she gets to operate on her own rules.  Even better, she’s good friends with Julianne, who is much higher on the management consulting food chain, so she has access to great power.  Now I just wonder how this will affect the temporary partnership she’s forged with Marty.

“Power” was another fun episode that showcased the old pod trying to get on with their lives, but someone, in the case of Sarah or Monica, or something manages to throw a wrench into their otherwise not so normal careers.  It illustrated what happens when they come across great influence and strength, but also how that can be taken away.  Good laughs, one big surprise, and more setup for later in the season.  Good episode.

A Look at House of Lies- Season 3 Premiere: “Wreckage”

At the end of last season, the Pod went its separate ways.  Now we see how they operate without working together.

Wreckage- Jeannie on Marty's Desk in Dream Sequence

The season begins with Marty entering the brand spanking new offices of Kaan and Associates.  The mood is cheery and full of excitement as the company has really taken off.  And hey, Doug and Clyde are there!  Even Jeannie is there, too!  How?  She’s got connections, despite not responding to any of Marty’s calls.  The two share a kiss and life looks good for Marty Kaan.

Except not really, as the world begins crumbling around them and Marty awakens on a plane, learning from new pod member Caitlin that the ride just experienced some turbulence.

Well, crud.
Wreckage- Marty and New Pod with Robert Tretorn in China

So anyway, in Qingdao, China, Marty and his new pod, consisting of: Caitlin, played by Genevieve Angelson, Jeffrey, played by Rob Gleeson and Will, played by Ryan Gaul, try to keep up with their prospective client.  Well, the new pod maybe tries too hard, as Caitlin breaks a heel.

The client is Free Range Foods CEO Robert Tretorn, played by Daniel Stern.  Tretorn speaks about the advantages of heirloom seaweed before sticking some right into Marty’s mouth.  Yum.

Time freezes as Marty lets us know that the food tastes like the ass of a sick fish, but, also, more importantly, why he’s pursuing Tretorn: the economy is on an upswing.  Jobs are falling out of the sky and no one wants for anything.  Free Range Foods is an organic chain that’s coming up fast.  Tretorn assimilated it in the 1970s, as one small shop grew to 1200.  Having traveled 6,000 miles just to pitch an idea to him, Marty won’t leave empty handed.  That’s part of the job- running around just to find someone who will even consider you, never mind accepting what you throw at them.

As time resumes, Marty tells Robert about the possibility of crushing his competition: Colossal Foods.  Robert says he’s doing fine for now, but only because the economy is flat, which equates to death for businesses.  Robert’s 20 year expansion is good for 20 years down the road, but he needs to come up with something for now.

Wreckage- Doug and Jeannie with New Pod, JC and Benita

Back in the States at Galweather Stearn, Jeannie is head of her own pod alongside Doug and two new members: JC, played by Brad Schmidt, and Benita, played by Lauren Lapkus.  And Doug is not happy about the new pod at all, as he reminisces about the good old days of Season 1 and 2 with Marty and Clyde.  Jeannie informs the pod about a dinner being held that evening by a group called Days of Hope, though Benita is the only one interested in wanting to know for what the group raises money.  We get snippets of character information regarding the two new members: Benita is a great analyst and JC has decided to wait to have sex with his girlfriend until they’re married.  Doesn’t mean they haven’t tried anything else, though.

Wreckage- Caitlin, Jeffrey and Jason discuss Marty's reputation

On the plane ride back to the States, Marty’s new pod express their displeasure about working for him.  It’s not the fun filled ride they expected, given Marty’s legendary reputation.  Heck, Will, who used to work for Monica, notes that Monica used to speak of Marty like he was Voldemort.

Oh, and Marty’s not asleep and can hear every single word.  They scatter.

When Marty arrives at home, Roscoe lets him know that he plans to try out for the basketball team, which excites Marty.  The two, along with Jeremiah, fool around a bit with some air ball, though the mood drops when Roscoe and Jeremiah continually ask Marty about his old pod and how much he misses them.  He scatters.

Wreckage- Clyde and Christy at Kinsley Johnson Partners

Then we catch up with Clyde, who is now working for Monica at Kinsley Johnson Partners.  Rounding out the pod are Christy, played by Milana Vayntrub, and Everett, played by Eugene Cordero.  As expected, Clyde tries to put the moves on Christy, but to no avail.

Wreckage- Marty and James discuss Monica's Methods about Colossal Foods

Back with Marty, he tasks his team up with certain assignments in regards to Free Range Foods: Caitlin is to push on legal, Jeff is to make it appear that the pod will save Free Range from bankruptcy and Will is needed for intel.  After working for Monica, he must have learned a thing or two about how she operates.  And though she was secretive and threatened to kill him, Marty is right there and could kill him right now, so he spills: she did, in fact, reuse Power Point presentations and just changed the names.  No one ever knew about it.  Except now.

Wreckage- Clyde and Doug reconnect

Clyde pays Galweather a visit and reconnects with Doug and Jeannie, saying that he’s not really challenged while working for Monica.  He has a brief visit with the new pod before having to head back to Kinsley.

Wreckage- Monica Chews Out Pod

And at Kinsley, Monica has become a fire-breathing dragon and makes it known to the team.  Colossal Foods wants to meet her on a supposed rumor that she gave them bogus information, meaning they could be counseled out.  She blames Clyde even though he claims to have known nothing about it, but she then lashes out at Christy and Everett as well.  She wants ten new ideas to save the account by the evening.  Oh, and there’s the chance that she may have told Christy that Clyde is a rapist, so there’s that.

Wreckage- Marty's Peace Offering to Jeannie

Jeannie exits her home for the dinner and finds Marty waiting with a limousine.  He tells her that there’s still a place for her at his association, but Jeannie tries to blow him off.  Her intention is to make a move on the CEO of Coke, noting that she got liquored up in the kitchen as opposed to doing it at the dinner.  Marty is disappointed.  He thought Jeannie was smarter than that.  Turns out that the CEO of Coke threatens to fire DeMarque every three years, but never does it because the account manager is his brother in law.

Marty offers something her better: Colossal Foods.  He’ll hold onto Free Range Foods, but they’ll be able to share intel and play the companies forever.  That part isn’t illegal.  At least, not the way Marty plans to do it, anyway.  Jeannie insists that this doesn’t change anything, but Marty lets her know that if she’s not on board, he’ll just kill her and put her carcass in the truck.  Lovely.

As with any season opener, this episode was about setup.  Given the falling out at the end of last season, the episode’s job was to show how the gang adjusts to not working together.  While they may be getting on fine so far, except for Clyde, there are clear signs that they long to be reunited, even if they don’t want to come out and say it.

The key focus here is on Monica’s account with Colossal Foods, which Marty can only take down by working with Jeannie at Galweather Stearn.  As with most other situations, Marty is looking three steps ahead of everyone else and knows the outcome of Coke’s CEO threatening to fire DeMarque, which is nothing.  He plays into not just his own cunning, but Jeannie’s desire to one-up a client.  Sure, it doesn’t automatically make them friends again, as Jeannie notes that the temporary partnership won’t change anything.  However, it does get them back on speaking terms and sets up the two, and I assume Doug and Clyde as well, reuniting.

Wreckage- Marty and Jeannie

Don Cheadle is in great form this episode, still retaining the confident strut he had in the previous two seasons.  The stakes are higher for Marty because he’s operating on his own terms.  Whereas before his pod worked for someone higher up the management consulting food chain, now Marty goes by his own rules.  This is made evident when he breaks the fourth wall and discusses having to travel to the ends of the Earth just to find a client who will consider you, and if not them, you keep on going until someone hires you.  Marty knows this game.  We’ve watched him play it for two seasons, but he’s his own boss now, so now it’s time to put into play everything he’s learned if he’s to get this new business off the ground.

Wreckage- Marty's New Pod discusses economy

We aren’t told specifically how much time has passed between Season 2 and 3, given how Marty’s pod still seems fresh to the business.  I like the idea of Marty’s previous pod being legendary, as it helps open up the world here and show just how well of a reputation Marty’s pod has in the consulting world.  It also gives this new pod something to look forward to since they came in with high expectations, but they came at a time when Marty is in adjustment mode.  He’s still trying to get on with his life without Doug, Clyde and Jeannie and it’s evident that the fallout still bothers him.  There’s not much to say about the new pod yet since this was their introduction.  The characters play the part well, but I don’t have much of a connection to them at this point. However, Will may be more integral, as he did use to work for Monica.

The same applies for the others and their respective pods.  Until the end of the episode, Jeannie appears to want to move past the fallout and get on with business as usual, though between her meet with Marty at the end and Doug reminiscing about the gang, the bond is still there for her as well.  We learn a bit more about Galweather Stearn’s new pod in that JC is very religious and Benita may care too much about things that don’t ultimately concern her.  From the way JC looked at Jeannie’s butt, however, you wonder how much he can really hold onto abstinence until marriage.

Wreckage- Doug reminiscing to Jeannie about the old pod

Doug coming off as hostile toward the new pod was a bit strange, but it didn’t feel out of character.  Remember, it was Sarah last year who clued him onto the fact that the pod didn’t, as he thought, appreciate his intellect.  Then he found out about Clyde hitting on her.  Last season, Doug came to terms with the fact that, on a personal level, Marty, Jeannie and Clyde probably don’t like him that much.  Respect, maybe, even though he was the group’s punching bag.  Regardless of that, he still managed to get along with the group and become part of a team dynamic that is now fractured.  Obviously he’ll have some hostility toward the new pod members because they aren’t Marty and Clyde.  There’s nothing interesting about them and the usual kind Doug, as of now, isn’t interested in connecting with this new pod.

Wreckage- Poor Clyde dealing with Monica

Clyde, however, is in literal hell while working for Monica, who he thought would respect him.  Whether she’s trying to poison the pod by telling Christy that Clyde is a rapist or antagonizing Christy for not coming onto CEOs, Monica is on a power trip.  I imagine she’s like most First Ladies once the cameras are off, but I digress.  It’s one of the few moments that you feel bad for Clyde because he’s in such a terrible position.  His visit to Galweather seemed like a breath of fresh air.  While he tried to pick on Doug again, failing to lower his enthusiasm, it was clear from their interaction that they both miss their old pod.

Wreckage- Daniel Stern as Robert

I’ll admit that I didn’t even recognize Daniel Stern, but he does a good job with the material he’s given.  Nothing noteworthy yet, but hopefully he doesn’t turn out as oblivious to social activity as Michael McDonald’s character did.  Also, I guess the Sticky Bandits idea never took off since now Marv is into organic food chains.  Who knew?

Wreckage- Jeannie considers Marty's proposal

So Marty wants to take down Monica, but he’ll need Jeannie’s help.  From the dream sequence at the beginning, we see that Marty’s world is crashing around him and he has himself to blame.  Whether he can keep it stable is unknown now, but at least he’s taking slow, but steady steps to repair the shattered bonds from last season.  Though he didn’t flat out apologize to Jeannie for what he did last season, their partnership is at least a small step in the right direction.

Wreckage- Marty and Roscoe Play Air Ball

There was still plenty of fun to be had with this episode.  As mentioned, the air ball scene between Marty, Roscoe and Jeremiah was fun to watch and it was a light moment between all the drama of the pod trying to move on with their lives.  Monica gets one fantastic, but evil line aimed at Christy about females in management consulting that very much fits with her character.

This episode was about setting the stage to reunite the band, so to speak.  It’s odd to see the pod in separate places and not have them exchange barbs, but there was still a lot to enjoy and I’m interested to see where House of Lies goes this season.

A Look at Dallas Buyers Club

In which Matthew McConaughey is a man who contracts HIV in the 1980s.  “Dazed and Confused” took place in the 1970s, so this is clearly penance for messing around with those high school girls.

Pretty boy Matthew McConaughey this is not.  In a very transformative performance, McConaughey becomes a Southern party boy who has distaste for certain types of people.

Matthew McConaughey in A Time to Kill

No, not A Time to Kill, but close enough.

“Dallas Buyers Club” is about a man whose life is put on a clock and all odds are against him.  When he manages to get the best of those odds, at a time when treatment for his disease is still new and not fully recognized, he makes the most of his situation and decides to better not just himself, but others who are also afflicted.  Even more so when you consider that this man was convinced that these others were the only ones capable of contracting the HIV virus.

Dallas Buyers Club Poster

The film promptly begins during sex in a stable and we’re introduced to the man of the hour: rodeo cowboy and electrician Ron Woodroff, played by Matthew McConaughey.  Right from the start we see that Woodroff is somewhat of a stud, as he has his way with two women, drinks and punches a police officer in the face just to avoid being beaten up by other men.

One day at work, an illegal gets caught in some machinery and Ron attempts to shut down the machine, only to get zapped by a jolt of electricity.

Denis O'Hare in Dallas Buyers Club

At the hospital, we’re introduced to Dr. Eve Saks, played by Jennifer Garner, and Dr. Sevard, played by Denis O’Hare, who inform Ron that they ran some blood tests on him and it turns out he tested positive for HIV.  How he got HIV is something the film never explains.

Dallas Buyers Club- Ron Woodroff Learning He Has HIV

But HIV?  The virus that only gay people get?  No, not Ron Woodroff.  When just asked if he ever engaged in homosexual intercourse, Ron balks at the suggestion.  This is a good old Texas boy who loves women and loves drugs that are “purer than a preacher daughter’s pussy.”

Anyway, despite being told that he only has 30 days left to live, Ron goes about partying with his friend, T.J., played by Kevin Rankin, and two strippers.  Ron’s still in a party mood with his cocaine binges, but he’s unable to join when T.J. and the girls decide to take the party elsewhere.  Just not in the mood. A quick glances at the calendar and 30 circled in red indicate the news beginning to settle in.

Rather than just sit on this news and accept his fate, Ron heads to the library to do some research on HIV and AIDS.  He then heads back to the hospital to meet with Dr. Saks, who informs him that doctors are running trials on a drug called AZT, which is supposed to prolong the lives of those with AIDS.  It also helps that said drug has been approved by the Food and Drug Administration.  Only half of the patients receive the drug, though.  The other half will receive a placebo.

While Ron may have some support from Dr. Saks, he doesn’t receive any from his friends when word spreads about Ron’s HIV.  In fact, they avoid him as if he’s poisonous to the touch.  And the brief support offered toward Ron from a support group is rebuffed when Woodroff reminds the men there that he’s not gay.

While at a stripper club, Ron spots one of the hospital workers he briefly saw while meeting with Dr. Saks.  Through arrangements, the orderly brings Ron AZT.  Over time, Ron pops the AZT pills like they’re Skittles, but he finds his condition worsening as a result.  Granted, this is also a result of his cocaine usage, but we see that the drug isn’t all that Dr. Saks made it out to be.

Dallas Buyers Club- Jared Leto as Rayon

We then meet Ron’s hospital roommate: an AIDS positive transgender woman named Rayon, played by Jared Leto.  Rayon is here for the AZT trial and plans to split it with a friend of his.  Ron, again, is antagonistic, but you get the sense early on that he can at least be calm enough to have a conversation with Rayon.

Ron, however, in no mood to wait, signs himself out of the hospital, preferring to die with his boots on.  The hospital orderly, however, is no longer able to provide Ron with AZT because it’s all been locked up.  He does provide Ron with the name of a doctor in Mexico who can help him.

When Ron heads home, he finds his trailer has been spray painted with the words “Faggot Blood” and a Notice to Vacate sign on his door.  Lashing out at whoever is within earshot, Ron blows open his door, scrambles for what cash he has hidden away and heads for the border.

In Mexico, Ron meets with Dr. Vaas, played by Griffin Dunne, a man who had his medical license revoked three years ago.  He tells Ron that his immune system is weak and he needs to build it back up.  He then further explains that AZT is poisonous to the system.

Three months after all of this, Ron finds he is still positive with HIV, but alive and his health has managed to improve.  However, he has chronic pneumonia and a host of other issues.  If it sucks, he’s got it.

There is hope, though, as Dr. Vaas prescribes him with DDC and the protein Peptide T, both of which are less toxic but unapproved in the United States.  Ron takes a moment and observes his surroundings: a not so great hospital with a small staff, and patients who may not be in the best of conditions, but are alive.  Ron notes that Dr. Vaas could make a fortune off of his medicine, given the amount of people who need it.  However, Dr. Vaas is comfortable right where he is.  And with no medical license to practice, he’s in no position to do anything.

Dallas Buyers Club- Woodroff with Barkley

But Ron Woodroff is.  The drugs aren’t illegal, just unapproved.  He takes as much as he can fit into his car and heads back for the States.  En route, Ron masquerades as a priest.  It fails and he’s arrested, but while in custody, he makes his case to FDA official Richard Barkley, played by Michael O’Neill.  Barkley informs that Woodroff that he’s only allowed to bring in 90 days worth of drugs across the border.  Woodroff states that it’s all for his use and his use alone.  Barkley lets him through on the condition that he does not sell it.

Back in the States, Dr. Saks notes to Dr. Sevard that the AZT test is not working, but Sevard insists that the test continue.

Dallas Buyers Club- Ron and Rayon try selling

Ron tries his luck selling the drugs, but he gets nowhere.  He has no ‘in’ with the gay community, so he seeks out Rayon, who eventually does join in for the price of 25 percent of the profits.

After getting an idea from some folks in New York City, Ron and Rayon set up a business that charges $400 per month for membership in exchange for the drugs.  The condition?  No AZT at all.

Welcome to the Dallas Buyers Club.

This film is about redemption.  It’s about a man who is handed a death sentence, but rather than be resigned to his fate and await his expiration, he takes matters into his own hands not just for himself, but others.  He’s given a second chance at life that, in effect, changes his outlook and makes him a beneficiary for the very people he once despised.  When backed into a corner or facing an obstacle, Ron will take any way he can to progress with helping others.

The biggest obstacle in this film is the Food and Drug Administration, who take all the stops to hamper Ron’s progress, even to the point of changing regulations to make any unapproved drug illegal.  The idea of the government being in bed with big business in an effort to screw over the little man isn’t an original idea by any means.  We’ve seen many a times in many mediums where the common man must rise up against his government oppressor.  It’s a bit refreshing here by having the challenger be a swearing, homophobic man who delights in drugs, sex with multiple partners and masquerades as a priest in order to smuggle drugs across the border.

Dallas Buyers Club- Ron Woodroff and Stash

Ron isn’t entirely a sympathetic character in that it’s difficult to relate to him, but he’s made very real through his efforts to help bring life-saving drugs to those who need them the most, even when it means screwing the rules.  This would still make him an antihero, but one with very twisted morals and values.  The government, by contrast, is seen as evil, unflinching and unwilling to compromise.  Better that those HIV-positive individuals continue to use AZT, even if it’s poisonous to their system.  Again, however, in real life context, this all fits.  During the 1980s, HIV and AIDS weren’t as well known as they are today.  Though Ron is stepping on the toes of big government and businesses, he’s doing so without entirely understanding the full scope of the situation himself.

Dallas Buyers Club- Dr. Eve Saks

The medicine industry is portrayed as cold, heartless and poisonous, save for Dr. Eve Saks, who seems to exist here as the one voice of reason in a sea of hardcore establishment bad-guy doctors.  She wants to change, while the doctors are less interested in helping patients and more worried about maintaining control.

At its core, I find “Dallas Buyers Club” to be about one man’s fight against the system, the very system that both gave him 30 days to live and inadvertently continued to poison his body through drugs he believed would help him. His motivation is desperation, but also hope when he realizes just how many people he can help.

This falls in line with the film’s tone, which leans more toward dark and serious than light hearted humor.  For example, on day 29 of his original 30 day run, Woodroff pulls out a gun, as if to contemplate shooting himself.  When he’s unable to go through with it, he instead lets out a hard wail.  There’s no sappy music accompanying the scene.  Just a man realizing his life is on a clock as he considers ending it by pulling the trigger.  Whenever Ron faints due to the disease, it happens out of nowhere, even to the point of inconveniencing his business.  The stark tone gives weight to the performances and makes their efforts feel real as opposed to contrived.

The editing is mixed to me.  We jump from one point to another with on-screen text telling us what day it is since Ron was given his 30 day death sentence.  It stood out to me, but it wasn’t really distracting.  Plus, aside from McConaughey saying something like “28 days later,” which would have been kind of funny, I can’t think of a way right now of how the director could have transitioned from one period to the next.  Plus, we get enough detail in between each jump that we’re not just dropped into a scene and lost about what’s happening.  There’s no cheesy narration or.  The film lets scenes play out and allows the actors to put on a full range of emotions, rather than the movie doing it for us.

Ron Woodroff Trying to Sell

That’s not to say this entire film is all super serious and no fun whatsoever.  For a movie dealing with a serious subject matter, there’s plenty of comedy.  Despite being told he has HIV, Ron goes on having sex and doing drugs.  When operating his Dallas Buyers Club, he has sex with the one female client who also has HIV just because, hey, she’s the best looking and probably one of the few women to actually stop by the club.  After Ron and Rayon begin working together, they have a run-in with T.J. at the supermarket.  When T.J. refuses to shake Rayon’s hand, Ron, in his own friendly way, forces him to.  And, of course, most of the scenes with Ron and Rayon add some needed humor to the film, with Rayon sweet talking Ron, much to Ron’s aggravation.

The two lead performances are both visceral, though McConaughey’s performance is a bit more layered than Leto’s, and the actors add depth to their characters.  Jared Leto was completely unrecognizable to me as Rayon, although much of that has to do with the fact that I can’t recall many films with Jared Leto that I’ve seen.  But he makes for a great partner with Ron and he’s not just here to spout off gay one-liners.

Dallas Buyers Club- Rayon in Gay Club

All right, he’s kind of here to spout off gay one-liners, but it’s clear from the start that this partnership is strictly that: partners.  There’s no romantic angle between the two, though, as mentioned, Ron does begin to respect Rayon despite losing to him in poker when they first met, not to mention representing the type of people Ron once despised.  Rayon makes a great foil for Ron, but he’s not above calling out Ron on his crap, as he once refused to pay Ron for the drugs from Mexico, believing someone as homophobic as him didn’t deserve it.  Rayon is better than Ron gives him credit for.  Leto manages to make Rayon funny, but crafty at the same time, refusing to join Ron unless he received one-fourth of the profits.  I also got a laugh out of him placing photos of men on Ron’s wall, which ends up distracting Ron when he’s trying to masturbate and accidentally glimpses at one of the men.

At the same time, Leto’s performance shines through Rayon’s more dramatic turns and twists.  He’s a self-destructing character who also knows that he’s on a clock.  Like Ron, he gives into temptation and goes for a quick drug fix, even after being scolded for not straightening up his act.  Rayon’s pain is masked through his discrete drug use and confident demeanor, but beneath that is a man who is trying to cling to life, even though the very attempts at clinging are what drain the life from him.

Dallas Buyers Club- Ron and Rayon sit on bench

Rayon is integral to the plot in that he provides the ‘in’ to the gay community, but he needs Ron just as much as Ron needs him.  Rayon could easily have probably won the drugs from Ron in a game of poker, but I think he finds Ron too much fun.  Also, while Ron has access through his long distance travels, we’re not told to what extent Rayon would go.  After all, on each travel overseas, it’s just Ron that travels, not Ron and Rayon.

Director Jean-Marc Vallee, as well as screenwriters Craig Borten and Melissa Wallack crafted a character whose fun to be around, but also an absolute wreck, and it shows in Leto’s performance.  Rayon’s life is crashing around him and he continues to use drugs that give him a quick fix, but could also possibly kill him.  We see his disillusionment with life and coping with pain, both of which not only harm him, but his relationship with Ron.

We aren’t told much about Rayon’s personal life and while there are attempts to include his past and family, for me, they come too late into the film to really add anything to an already well crafted character.

Ron Woodroff

And just as gripping in his performance is Matthew McConaughey, who gives one of my favorite performances by an actor this year.  Though a brute and jerk, McConaughey somehow managed to still make Ron likable.  He goes through life without a worry in the world, but once handed a death sentence, his view on life changes.  His actions are consistent with his character arc: the film opens on him having sex, but later on, hardcore sex and drugs just aren’t as addictive as they used to be.  It’s a gradual change, but accepted, as Ron doesn’t just change overnight.  Once he first learns about HIV, he pretty much says “Screw the doctors” and goes back to partying.  Slowly, but steady, the reality of the situation sinks in.

Dallas Buyers Club- Ron Woodroff Traveling

What I like about Ron’s efforts more than a lot of protagonists is that he’s very proactive in his efforts to combat HIV.  As opposed to just sitting around and going through the AZT trial, he does his homework and researches the growing AIDS epidemic.  He travels to Mexico, Japan, Israel, and Amsterdam, just to name a few, in an effort to find any and every drug he can get his hands on.  Each time an obstacle stands in Ron’s way, he tunnels under and around it to find an alternate route.  It shows the level of devotion he’s putting into the club and McConaughey shows great range in his performance.  We see Ron’s curiosity during research and growing rage not just when he’s stopped by the FDA, but how many of the country’s doctors don’t care that they’re poisoning patients with drugs that they’re told will help them.

What also makes Ron an effective character is how unflinching he is.  At first.  When one man comes with insufficient funding, Ron tells him and other waiting customers that if you don’t have the $400, you won’t get into the Dallas Buyers Club.  Period.  For each time the FDA raids his club, he’s ready to combat it through any legal means.  As opposed to simply going “Come on man” as his stash is slowly depleted it, Ron combats big medicine head on, even when it’s an uphill battle.  He even tells Dr. Sevard, who not only handed him the 30 day death sentence, but warned him to stop selling, that he planned to continue.  After all, Sevard told him that he only had 30 days to live, yet he’s alive and kicking, so clearly the problem isn’t with him: it’s with the hospitals that are meant to care for you.

Ron Woodroff at Customs

Given how hateful and spiteful Ron can be at times, in the traditional sense, he should be a character we don’t want to root for because he’s not all that likable, but his efforts are believable- his passion for helping others is proven when he begins pulling out the stops to keep his business afloat by any means.  More importantly, Ron knows that any victory he achieves is only temporary before the government finds a way, through legal and bullying tactics, to stop him.  Like Rayon, Ron is self-destructive, but as the club grows and legal battles continue, Ron gains more control over his life and stamps out his drug addiction.  Not too shabby when the audience’s first impression is based on you finding a way to penetrate two women in a stable.

McConaughey’s presence commands many of the scenes he’s in.  Like Christian Bale did for “The Fighter,” McConaughey lost a considerable amount of weight for the role and it shows through how emaciated he looks.  Again, like Bale, and even Leto- who also went through much for this role- it shows the level of commitment the actor will go through for the art of acting.  It’s a performance that really should be seen.

All that said, I’ll get a few complaints out of the way.

As mentioned, the government and drug companies are portrayed as evil.  Fine.  However, Richard Barkley seems to be the only person in the FDA with the desire to tail Ron Woodroff because he’s the primary agent that interacts with Ron.  I just figured, given how many loopholes Ron is jumping through to build up his club, that more government pressure would be put on him.  Yet it’s all given to Barkley, who we don’t learn much about and just dislike because he’s the evil FDA man trying to stop the antihero from helping out other people.  Whatever.  I just feel that his character wasn’t fully realized and that, outside of him, the FDA didn’t have much of a presence.

Dallas Buyers Club- Dr. Saks with other doctors

In the middle of all this big government talk is Jennifer Garner’s character, Dr. Eve Saks.  I personally have no problem with Garner’s performance, but the character itself is a bit of a waste.  As mentioned, she’s mostly here to be the conscience of the doctors that are fixated on using AZT, but she’s not as proactive and doesn’t really get that involved with Ron’s club.  Naturally.  After all, she’d be putting her job on the line for something that she, Ron, none of the people around her fully understands yet.  She’s here as the doctor who thinks outside the box and gives the finger to the establishment in a scene I assume is meant to elicit cheers and applause from the audience, but it didn’t get that reaction from me.

She’s also here just to give Ron a sort of romantic interest, but they’re not in the same scenes all that often and the supposed love story doesn’t go anywhere.  I do like the scenes they have together, as McConaughey and Garner do have very good chemistry, but I just wish we’d gotten to learn more about Dr. Saks earlier than we do.  It’d also have been better if she were more essential to the plot, because as is, she’s really just a bystander and occasional cheerleader on the sidelines.

There’s much to like about “Dallas Buyers Club,” but the strength of the film comes through its powerful performances by Matthew McConaughey and Jared Leto, who make their characters and efforts feel real.  It’s about standing up to a powerful entity at a time when there was no clear answer or solution to the growing AIDS epidemic of the 1980s.  It’s about a man whose life is put on the clock and has a change of heart when he realizes the good he can do not just for himself, but those afflicted all around him.  When handed a death sentence, Ron Woodroff doesn’t just kick back and throw dollar bills at strippers.  He travels far and wide to find answers, take chances and put his life and the lives of others at risk, but for a worthy cause.  Again, while the premise of the people versus the government is nothing new, McConaughey’s performance of a lowdown Southern man who fights for his life while making a difference for those around him was great to watch and kept me entertained from start to finish.

A Look at Lee Daniels ‘The Butler’

Another port of a film I wrote up as a Facebook post that I’m moving here. Laziness, I know, but there you have it.

“We have no tolerance for politics at the White House.”

Sounds like a great place to work.

The Butler

Lee Daniels’ “The Butler” is one of the more interesting films about the Civil Rights Movement in that a lot of time and focus is spent with the Black characters rather than their White saviors, as was the case with a movie like “Mississippi Burning,” where a lot of time and focus went to Willem Dafoe and Gene Hackman while the plight of Blacks in Mississippi felt shoved into the film.

Inspired by the life of Eugene Allen, who worked at the White House for 34 years, “The Butler” follows the life of Cecil Gaines, played by Forest Whitaker, who goes from working on a Georgia plantation to serving Whites until he finds himself at the White House as a butler.  He witnesses conversations on key events that will affect not just him, but his family and the people around him, which creates tension at home when his son, Louis, played by David Oyelowo, goes South to attend Fisk University and becomes involved in some of the those same events of the Civil Rights Movement.  Things also come to a head when his wife, Gloria, played by Oprah Winfrey, at times grows restless with his long hours at the White House while she remains at home.

Around the time that the trailer for “The Butler” debuted, there were many, including myself, who saw the film as nothing more than Oscar-baiting, given Lee Daniels’ previous work on “Precious,” the ensemble cast of well known actors with some taking on the roles of previous United States presidents, that the film deals with the Civil Rights Movement and that the film would be released around the same time as the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington.  The film’s writer, Danny Strong, also had a hand in writing films dealing with past events- albeit, more recent- with “Recount” and “Game Change.”

Also, given the fact that this would be told from the point of view from Black characters affected by the Movement gave the movie, at first sight, this added layer of emotional resonance that just screamed “Oscar.”  Therein lies a potential issue with the film without trying to put words into anyone’s mouth: viewers expected a lot from the film or for it to be very heavy-handed based on the trailer with its dramatic music and lineup of A-list actors.  Those expectations can hamper the viewing experience.  And while the film is clearly targeted toward those who were involved, affected or played a part in the Civil Rights Movement, for the most part, the movie does a good job explaining most events for newcomers unfamiliar with the Movement.

For me, “The Butler” is a well made period piece that puts focus on the family, while also showcasing some tense moments when Gaines’ son gets involved with events like the lunch counter sit-ins and Freedom Rides.  It’s an interesting examination of generational clashes, the masks we wear in order to make a good impression, what changes us and who refuses to change.

From the onset and through most of the film, “The Butler” does a good job at pacing its storyline and letting the audience see and feel what happens on screen rather than have it spelled out.  I repeat, most of the time.  A movie covering this much ground in such a short amount of time would require patience in its storytelling and for a lot of the film, Daniels succeeds.  From his days as a boy on a plantation in Macon, Georgia, Cecil is told by his father that, no matter how much he doesn’t like it, he lives in the White man’s world and take what’s thrown at him, even if that involves the rape of his mother, played by a silent Mariah Carey, and the subsequent shooting of his father, whose only protest to his wife’s rape is a feeble “Hey.”

From the point when Vanessa Redgrave’s character trains Cecil to be a ‘house nigger’ and throughout the film, Cecil is told about the importance of anticipation: see what Whites want and know how to meet them halfway.  Having two faces, the one a butler shows to other Blacks versus the one he shows to Whites, is what keeps the butler employed.  And, of course, it’s what leads Cecil all the way to the White House when he overhears and is asked to give his opinion on school integration during 1957.

“The Butler” could also be summed as a ‘Who’s who’ and ‘What’s what’ of the Civil Rights Movement, though given the context of most situations, it does not feel forced that certain events or people are referenced for the sake of fitting them into the film.  Whether it’s Brown v. Board or Emmett Till’s death, the film takes time to establish the racial climate while telling the story.

The Butler- Robin Williams as Dwight Eisenhower

Robin Williams as President Eisenhower struck me as odd and it still does because he doesn’t really bury himself in the role.  His scenes with Cecil seem to serve more as character interaction and exposition for the role Eisenhower will play in aiding civil rights- a trend that would follow with future Presidents as the film progresses.  These scenes with the Presidents are played against scenes with Cecil at home with his family and friends, and this is where the difference in opinions, and contrasting performances, play well.

While Cecil’s wife and friends are elated with Cecil’s job, his son is more outspoken and reads up on the growing movement.  He’s not as enthused about the butler position, nor is he looking forward to staying in the city, which leads him to Fisk University and kicks off his role in the civil rights struggle.  As Louis is new to what risks he will take, the film follows him through training and takes time explaining what he and other young Blacks and Whites will endure when they begin their protests, beginning with the lunch counter sit-in at Woolworth’s.

The Butler- Louis arrested after Lunch Counter Sit-In at Woolworth's

I’ll come out and say that I don’t normally get uncomfortable at tense moments in films, but the lunch counter sit-in scene is one where I did have to sit back and take a deep breath when it ended.  It’s one thing to read about something that happened and you know what’s coming, but then it does and you realize that while it’s a recreation, this did happen and then some.  Played alongside this scene is the moment where the students receive their training- they’re taught to expect violence, taunted and, above all, death.  Soon enough, the students sit at a Whites Only section of a counter, refuse to leave and do their homework.  Of course, it’s only a matter of time before a mob storms in, calling the kids names, spitting and throwing condiments, and beating the hell out of them in an attempt to get them to move.  It captures the time well.  For me, it was a difficult scene to watch.

When confronted, Cecil focuses on how Louis broke the law and was arrested rather than on his desire to make a statement.  Their inability to agree highlights the divide between the old guard versus proactive students of the 1950s and 60s.  Parents shielding their children from the dangers of challenging sanctioned segregation is not a new concept with these types of films, though it carries a bit more resonance here, given Cecil’s position.  Here he is, working for the President who is responsible for making decisions that affect not just him, but his son and everyone around him.  Whereas his son refuses to remain silent and puts himself in harm’s way to make his point.

The Butler- James Marsden as John F. Kennedy, meeting the Butlers

The Eisenhower administration is all setup for John F. Kennedy, played by James Marsden.  Marsden brings some of Kennedy’s signature humor, as well as his reluctance to move forward all at once on civil rights for fear of losing voters.  In another good use of juxtaposition and character development, Cecil reads to Caroline Kennedy at the same time we see Louis on a bus headed to Birmingham.  At night.  I immediately thought of the scene in Mississippi Burning where Goodman, Cheney and Schwerner are driving into the Mississippi night, only for the viewer to see moments later that they are being pursued.  Wouldn’t you know it?  Off in the distance, a Freedom Rider spots a car driving toward them and Louis realizes the lit cross atop the car can mean one thing.

The Butler- Klan cross headlights

I mean, if I saw that coming my way in the middle of the night, I’d probably freak out.

National attitudes begin to change during the Kennedy administration, and it shows through his national address on civil rights.  Through the fire in his eyes, one could think that Kennedy could be the President to fully embrace equality for all people.  Then you remember how this all played out.

The Butler- Liev Schreiber as Lyndon Johnson

Suddenly Liev Schreiber enters as Lyndon Johnson and the film’s pacing starts to waver.  While the performances hold up well, the film has a few moments where people are conveniently in the right place through convoluted circumstances.  Given the liberties this film has taken with accuracy, it felt odd to suddenly see Louis pop up in places with little to no explanation of why he’s there.  His radical transformation into a Black Panther plays alongside Cecil becoming more outspoken about Black butlers being paid less than Whites despite working longer.  Their attitudes slowly begin to sync, but then fall apart when they’re put in the same room and Louis’ talk of self-defense and new lifestyle doesn’t gel with his parents.

By the time the film gets to John Cusack as President Richard Nixon, sanctioned segregation is a relic, yet there are still matters such as jobs, unemployment, scandals and the Black Panther Party.  Though at this point, more focus is spent with Cecil and his family, as both Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter are relegated to archival footage.  Around this time, the film must have realized it only had a little bit of time and few presidents left to cover, so it enters montage mode as  it flashes forward to the 1980s.  This leaves us with the odd choice of Alan Rickman as Ronald Reagan, and it’s as strange as it sounds.  Nothing is memorable outside of the hair they gave Rickman for the role.  Yes, it’s nice to see him interact with Cecil and make a case for equal pay between Blacks and Whites, but that’s about it.  At least Jane Fonda makes for a convincing Nancy Reagan…

To go forward would venture into spoiler and ending territory, so let’s leave it there and get to the film’s structure.  Considering how much time has to be covered in the span of movie, I appreciate the film taking time with its pacing.  For the most part, we’re given plenty of information about events, whether as a refresher for the familiar or an introduction for the unfamiliar, before they occur so we’re not in the dark.  I repeat, for the most part.  While “The Butler” knows how to pace itself, there are times where the audience is expected to know how certain real life events played out.  I’d say around the time we get halfway through Kennedy’s term that the film becomes loose with its storytelling.

For example, we’re given enough background information on school integration and events like the lunch counter sit-ins before they occur, but when Kennedy is assassinated, it’s presumed that the audience is familiar with Walter Cronkite’s announcement of his death.  It’s also implied that Kennedy’s assassination was in direct relation to his address on civil rights.

Nixon asks Cecil if he’s going to pull through, but those unfamiliar with Watergate won’t know exactly what Nixon is talking about.  It’s as if the film is fine with holding the audience’s hand sometimes, then leaving them to figure it out at other moments.  Better if the film had decided to do one rather than try and do both.

The direction can also be quite heavy handed and leads to very predictable moments.  Kennedy’s anger about violence toward civil rights protesters followed up by his impassioned speech complete with dramatic music in the background shows that he’s hit his high point.  Same goes with Cecil’s other son, but more on him later.  He can only go down from there, and he does.  Now part of this has to do with being a film based on real events, but there are few surprises for a movie that plays up the tense moments with unnecessarily dramatic music.  Again, I refer to the scene in Mississippi Burning where the civil rights workers are pursued by Klansmen.  No over the top score- just a simple drum that plays at a low beat.  The scene is allowed to play out by the characters’ fear shown on screen and the persistence of their attackers as opposed to a big score.

And then there are the conveniences.  Now I won’t harp on the film for having Cecil be the butler who’s around Presidents when key civil rights conversations happen since that’s the film’s goal, but I will chalk it up to too much convenience when it comes to Louis’ involvement.  I’ll buy his role during the sit-ins and Freedom Rides since we saw the establishing scenes that set up those moments.  What I don’t buy is how he just happens to be at so many key events without explanation.  I’ve come to the conclusion that Louis is one of three things:

  1. A very lucky person to be involved in so many historic events.
  2. A very unlucky person to be involved in so many historic events.
  3. A very fortunate person to not be involved in every historic event.

Option C sounds good.  Otherwise, the missing boys in Mississippi would have been Goodman, Cheney, Schwerner and Gaines.  It’s too coincidental that he happens to be in Birmingham during the riots, in the hotel room with Martin Luther King Jr. in Memphis, that he’s leaving a building one night, talking about how he doesn’t know about this Malcolm X guy.  It’s too easy to just strategically place him in one huge event after another when it’s unnecessary.  I understand that what happens to him runs parallel to his father’s job serving different Presidents, but I found it to be lazy storytelling.  Particularly when the scene with King is only there to discuss the importance of Black domestics in the role of Black history, Louis did not need to be everywhere.  His character seems to be based off of Congressman John Lewis, to the point that he’s wearing a bandage on his head at one point, not unlike Lewis, but then John Lewis is actually mentioned IN the film.  What, did he decide to eat at a different Woolworth’s?  Was he in the bathroom while Louis and everyone else spoke with Dr. King?  Was he too busy looking for his raincoat while his everyone else endured fire hoses in Birmingham?

The Butler- Mob attacks Freedom Riders Greyhound Bus in Anniston

And given how much this film stresses that it’s based on real events, I want to get one glowing error.  All right, the scene involving the Freedom Riders Greyhound bus being ambushed by the Ku Klux Klan is clearly taken from the actual bus attack in Anniston, Alabama.  In the film, the scene is at night, probably to make it more tense and dangerous.  The actual attack, however, took place on a Sunday in broad daylight.  I know, it’s an extremely minor nitpick, but if we’re to believe the movie version of these events are accurate, then this means that the Freedom Riders departed the bus after it had been firebombed, got the living hell beaten out of them by this mob and then the mob suddenly dispersed.  The mob didn’t kill the Freedom Riders, but left them long enough for a photographer to come by the next morning to take a picture.  Really?

More than that, when Cecil and Gloria watch the footage of the aftermath, we hear audio of a man talking about how he’d been hit with a baseball bat.  The man speaking is Hank Thomas, who was a Freedom Rider, but this audio comes from Freedom Riders, a PBS documentary that didn’t come out until 2010!  So Lee Daniels is recreating an attack on the Freedom Riders and uses audio from a film that hadn’t even been released?  Seriously?  How lazy is that?  It couldn’t much time to just have one of the actors in the film say those very lines and make it feel authentic as opposed to lazy here.

The Butler- Cecil and Louis confrontation after sit-in protest

I’m not here to trash “The Butler.”  As I said, it’s a very interesting film and comes with some very powerful performances.  Forest Whitaker brings a great level of depth and humility to his role.  His facial expressions upon hearing actions taken by Presidents, the anger he takes out on his son juxtaposed with the rage built up over years of servitude give the character this extra dimension.  After Louis’ first arrest for participating in the sit-ins, rather than focus on how the walls of segregation are beginning to crumble and how he’s standing up for himself, Cecil just sees that Louis broke the law.  Their argument turns confrontational and almost physical.  Later on, after Louis has become a Black Panther, instead of embracing or even trying to understand it, Cecil explodes and demands that Louis leave the house.  As if years of disappointment and frustration at his son’s involvement have been building to this point, the tension between Cecil and Louis reaches its zenith.  And the direction allows the actors to dictate the scene rather than music to do it for them.

The Butler- Oprah Winfrey and Forest Whitaker as Gloria and Cecil Gaines

In fact, some of the better scenes come from the moments at home.  Winfrey and Whitaker are excellent in their scenes together.  Winfrey does come off as a concerned mother who wants to protect her son from the ugly segregationist American South, but she’s still a loving mother.  There are quiet moments where she just examines her son’s empty room.  No dialogue, just slow camera movement, pained facial expressions and the feeling that she has a lot of pent-up emotion.  She also holds a lot of resentment toward Cecil due to his long hours at the White House and less time spent with his family.  She badgers Cecil to tell him how many pairs of shoes Jackie O has, she finds herself in the arms of neighbor Howard, played by Terrence Howard, and finds solace in alcohol.

Speaking of Terrence Howard, he and Adriane Lenox as Gina feel like a couple whose dealt with each other’s crap for years, as they both have a smart retort each time the other makes some off-handed comment.  Howard runs numbers, fools around with women, tries to put the moves on Gloria and orders Gina to get him drinks.  Yet the women don’t lay down easily and have their own sharp words, which make for good banter after tense moments.

The Butler- Lenny Kravitz and Cuba Gooding Jr.

I was unsure at first on what to think of Lenny Kravitz and Cuba Gooding Jr. as the White House co-workers, but shut my mouth, these guys turned in great performances.  Again, their banter gives the vibe that these two have been friends for a long time.  Gooding Jr. in particular turns in one of his better performances in a long time, whether he’s making inappropriate jokes about being intimate with women, dressing up as James Brown or getting Louis out of prison, he’s great to watch on screen and interact with other characters.

The standout performance has to be Elijah Kelly as Charles Gaines, Cecil and Gloria’s other son.  He brings some much needed comic relief to the film and it doesn’t feel forced.  At one point, the family discusses the film ‘Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner’ and when Louis and his girlfriend leave, Charles points out that she came to dinner.  Anytime he appeared on screen, the scene became more enjoyable.  Side-note, on the subject of humor, I can’t help but feel that Oprah’s critique of a girl named Shaquanda is some social commentary on the way parents pick names for their children.

The Butler- James Marsden as John F. Kennedy

This brings us to the Commanders in Chief.  As mentioned, Williams, Marsden and Schreiber play their roles well and it’s nice that Cecil is given some one-on-one interactions so we see these men as more than just President of the United States, even though most never bury themselves into the performance.

The Butler- LBJ

Schreiber is a standout due to the film literally allowing us to be with him as he advises during one of his more intimate moments.

The Butler- John Cusack as Richard Nixon

Oddly enough, the actor who seemed to receive the least amount of make-up turned in one of the better performance.  John Cusack looks nothing like Richard Nixon at all, yet through his paranoia about a fly on the wall, occasional sweating and his attempts to barter the Black vote, I bought Cusack as Nixon and wish he’d been given more time to interact with Cecil during his administration.  However, it could be argued that Nixon had one of his moments with Cecil and the other Black butlers when he’s first introduced as Eisenhower’s Vice President, trying to gain the Negro vote.

The Butler- Alan Rickman and Jane Fonda as Ronald and Nancy Reagan

Again, Alan Rickman received the most amount of work done to him, but I could not buy him as Ronald Reagan.  Same goes with Minka Kelly as Jackie Kennedy.  Given Jackie’s prominence during her husband’s administration, Kelly is not given much to do other than try and emulate Jackie O and wear the pink dress that she wore in Dallas.  Heck, the girl who plays Caroline Kennedy was more memorable than her.

My biggest issue with the film is the way the story is presented.  There’s an adage called ‘Show, don’t tell.’  With that, as opposed to flat out saying something, you let it happen on screen, naturally.  The story progress through character action and the scene is described through imagery, dialogue and emotion.  “The Butler” does a good job of this at times, but there’s a thread that lingers throughout where this adage does not apply.  Cecil narrates throughout most of the film and while narration is nothing new in cinema, it gets to the point of patronizing when Cecil narrates things that we as an audience can see for ourselves on screen.  After certain events occur, we see him have a change of heart about the Vietnam War, but this is backed up by having Cecil narrate this when he does not have to.  At times, the screenwriters don’t seem to give the audience much credit, so they spoon feed us information that we can interpret for ourselves and this is my biggest problem with the film.  The film gets quite heavy handed with the over the top music and the unnecessary narration took me out of the movie because it felt like the film had to hold my hand.

Deacons for Defense

For a moment, I’d like to compare Whitaker’s role here to the one he played in my favorite civil rights related film so far: Deacons for Defense.  There, he works at a segregated plant in Bogalusa, Louisiana, which has a large Klan presence.  When two Whites from up North come in and try to get the Black community organized, Whitaker’s character, Marcus, is hesitant, given how he feels buckling to the White man has earned him their respect.  However, his daughter becomes involved and is later injured when she is clubbed by a police officer.  Marcus, in response, chokes the officer and punches another who tries to stop him.  Following this, Marcus and his daughter face off before police enter their home, take Marcus away and beat him.  Only following these events does Marcus have a change of heart about sitting by and doing nothing in regards to combating sanctioned segregation.  I bring this film up because, like “The Butler,” Whitaker has well proven he’s capable of having tender moments and can show rage when necessary.

And it’s those human moments that make “The Butler” such a good film.  Good, not great.  What sells this film are the amazing performances by most of the cast, Whitaker and Winfrey in particular.  For a very tense film, there are light hearted moments that put the audience at ease in a movie that could have been all seriousness and no laughs.  There are flaws, but nothing too major to make me dislike the film.  Is it a necessary film?  No.  However, the focus on the family and their bond through some enduring moments make for a well done story that I think people should consider seeing.

A Look at La Vie d’Adèle: Chapitres 1 et 2

La Vie d’Adèle: Chapitres 1 et 2, or “Blue is the Warmest Color,” is your coming of age story with some variations to the formula.  This isn’t some glorified American love-fest with two random 20-somethings who discover each other by chance, have a falling out, awkward dinner with the parents, and then, after a series of montages and long panning shots, the happy ending where the two have their happy moment before beginning the rest of their happy lives.

The film, directed by Abdellatif Kechiche, has some of the conventions of a coming of age love story, but trims the fat on some filler.  It also doesn’t politicize or make this grandiose message about this film centering on a relationship between two women….er, girls…young adults.  Yes, that’s better.  This movie is also an adaptation of the 2010 French graphic novel Le bleu est une couleur chaude, by Julie Maroh, a graphic novel that I have never read and, as such, plan to make no comparison to when talking about this film.

This movie has garnered controversy due to the behind the scenes rumblings between the director and lead actresses, as well as the intimate moments between the two lead female actresses.  Scenes that, in my opinion, could make the love scene between Natalie Portman and Mila Kunis in Black Swan look like amateur softcore pornography by comparison.  These intimate moments may explain the reason for the film’s NC-17 rating, but really, the moments didn’t make me turn away or uncomfortable.  They serve a purpose, but they’re also part of a larger story and help show the development of relationships.

With this movie coming just shy of three hours, when it ended, there were aspects that I enjoyed, moments that I liked for how visceral and real they felt, and parts that I did not like.  Is this film really as controversial as some critics have made it out to be?  Was France really that gay during the 1990s?

This is La Vie d’Adèle: Chapitres 1 et 2.

Blue is the Warmest Color cover

The film begins with and focuses on a high school student named Adèle, played by Adèle Exarchopoulos.  Adèle has a passion for reading, but passions for other aspects are not displayed on her face.  Through much of the film’s opening, Adèle sort of looks lost, almost as if she’s just coasting from scene to scene.  Only when with her friends and gossiping about boys do we get any semblance of Adèle showing an emotion.  I’ll give the director credit for having us get up close and in Adèle’s face as she journeys from scene to scene, giving us many close-ups of what feelings she may be conveying, but I just wish there was more to what she felt early on.

Blue is the Warmest Color- Adele in Class

However, as this is a coming of age film, I feel there could and is a purpose to Adèle conveying little emotion compared to later in the film.  Early on, Adèle and her friends talk about the cute guys in school, one in particular named Thomas, played by Jérémie Laheurte.  He’s made passing glances at her for awhile and when the two end up sitting next to each other on the bus the next day, they pry into each other’s lives.  We learn that Thomas is good at math, but not a huge fan of reading.  In fact, the last book he enjoyed was Dangerous Liaisons.  This goes at odds with Adèle, who, along with her class, is currently reading Pierre de Marivaux’s unfinished novel, La vie de Marianne.  No.  Thomas is more into music and wants to be a producer.  He manages to get a laugh out of Adèle when he fools her into thinking he likes hard rock.

Blue is the Warmest Color- First Appearance of Emma

In the middle of all of this, when Adèle is crossing the street one day, she spots a pair of women walking in the opposite direction.  One of them grabs Adèle’s attention: a young woman with short, blue hair.  The two exchange glances for a moment and, though just for a second, share a connection.

When Thomas and Adèle go to the cinema, we see Thomas try to put the moves on Adèle, but not forcefully.  A simple kiss is a simple kiss, but Adèle is just not into it.

What she is into is the woman with blue hair, as demonstrated when she furiously masturbates in her sleep to visions of the woman kissing and touching her.

I wonder if that will play out at all, later in the film.

The next day, Adèle’s friends, whom she dubs the sex cops, ask question after question about whether she and Thomas screwed.  When they ask one question too many, Adèle flees, Thomas soon following her and wondering if he did something wrong.

Soon enough, Thomas and Adèle have sex.  While it appears that Adele may be into it, when it’s all said and done, Adèle just stares lifelessly, as if just going through the motions of it all.  She tells Thomas that the sex was great, but it doesn’t feel authentic at all.

Blue is the Warmest Color- Adele and Thomas

With female friends asking her questions left and right, Adèle confides in one of her male friends, Valentin, played by Sandor Funtek, that things just aren’t going to go well with her and Thomas.  While Thomas’ intentions are honest, Adèle is not reciprocating.  As such, the break-up is unfortunate for Thomas, who wanted nothing more than to get to know Adèle better, not take advantage of her.

Later on at school, Adèle smokes a cigarette before being joined by another classmate, Beatrice, played by Alma Jodorowsky.  Beatrice notes that another girl passing by, Alice, has a nice ass.  When Adèle doesn’t play along, Beatrice compliments Adèle’s mysterious side.  After the two share a brief kiss, Adèle blushes, indicating that she is feeling something possibly stronger than what she failed to feel with Thomas.

Adèle capitalizes on this emotion the next day when she finds Beatrice in the bathroom.  With complete confidence, she goes for the plunge and plants a kiss square on Beatrice’s lips.  However, Beatrice is surprised.  She tells Adèle that yesterday’s kiss was a spur of the moment move.  She didn’t expect Adèle to get hooked and make anything of the kiss.  Devastated at the loss of what felt like a stronger connection than previously experienced, Adèle leaves in tears.

To get Adèle’s mind off of things, Valentin and a group of his friends take her to a gay bar and it’s here we’re introduced to French night life in the 1990s: bright, flashy and lots of love going around.  As Adèle watches gay men kiss and dance, her eyes wander toward some women who are leaving the club.

Feeling adventurous, and maybe still a little scared, Adèle decides to tag along and go further into France’s night life.  Soon enough, she winds up at their destination which happens to be filled with nothing but women.  Young women, older women, women with short haircuts, women with long hair, and women with tattoos, there are many different flavors and varieties.  They also enjoy tasting each other’s flavors.

Adèle soon realizes she has wandered into a lesbian bar.  And whether it’s from how young she looks or that she’s alone and as vulnerable as she would be in a tiger’s den, Adèle is outside of her element.  Some of the woman show apparent interest in the fresh fish and put the moves on her.  Looking down from an alcove above is the woman with blue hair.

Adèle orders a drink and a nearby woman hits on her.  Before the woman can get far, the blue haired woman appears and, after convincing the other woman that Adèle is her cousin, manages to get Adèle to herself.

Blue Is the Warmest Color- Emma and Adele in Lesbian Bar

We finally learn the name of the blue haired woman, Emma, played by Léa Seydoux.  She correctly points out that Adèle is in unfamiliar territory based on her ordering a Bulldog, which Emma calls a bull dyke beer.  She then also notes that Adèle is underage just based on appearance, and such types don’t come to this bar that often.  That mysteriousness about Adèle that Beatrice noted earlier intrigues Emma.

As the two talk, we learn more about Emma, who is in her fourth year of studying Fine Arts.  Adèle talks about her passion to teach and love of American movies and directors like Martin Scorsese and Stanley Kubrick, but the two also talk up their love of philosophy, a running theme in the film.  Emma’s desire is to learn English, so maybe Adèle could teach her a thing or two.  Before Adèle leaves, she gives Emma the name of her high school.

The high school that Emma shows up at the very next day.  Adèle whisks to her side, completely blowing off her friends to join Emma for a drink.  At a park, Emma decides to sketch Adèle, who is a bit embarrassed since it’s not every day a random woman you meet decides to sketch you.  The sketch ultimately needs more work, but Emma has to go meet her girlfriend, Sabine.  She does give Adèle her phone number and promises to squeeze her in for a phone call later.  The two share a long stare and when it looks like they’re about to kiss, Emma kisses Adèle on the cheek and leaves.

When Adèle gets home, her mother, played by Catherine Salée, lets her know that Emma is on the phone.  Like a horny schoolgirl with a crush, Adèle hurries to talk to her.

Blue is the Warmest Color- Adele confrontation at school with classmates

At school the next day, Adèle is grilled by her friends who want to know about the mysterious girl with blue hair that caught Adèle’s attention.  Where did she come from?  Is she Adèle’s girlfriend?  They ask about whether she did go to a gay club with Valentin, which she denies, but Valentin, who is only a few feet away, confirms it when asked.

Whoops.

Beatrice, of all people, lays it on thick, saying that she and Adèle once slept in the same bed and wants to know if Adèle wanted her, too.  Because, you know, all gay people must love anyone of the same gender, right?  Soon enough, Beatrice asks if Adèle likes the blue pussy, which sets her off and leads into a minor scuffle until Valentin pulls Adèle away.

The girls continue to scream at Adèle, but they soon turn their attention to Beatrice, noting that they only wanted to politely question Adèle, not interrogate her.

This has an effect on Adèle, who soon cannot focus on her studies.

Blue is the Warmest Color- Emma and Adele at Art Gallery

Later, she and Emma visit an art gallery and admire the artwork.  Again, I really like the direction in scenes like this: little noise or dialogue, just letting the emotions be read through the actresses’ facial expressions.  The two continue with a picnic in the park, where they discuss art, their lives and vices.  We learn that Adèle isn’t a fan of oysters due to their texture, but Emma considers them a delicacy.

Then Adèle asks when Emma first kissed a girl: when Emma was 14, she attended a party and brought a guy friend, but soon caught the attention of a girl named Louise.  They left together and ended up kissing after that.  Emma’s tried both, but she just prefers women.

The two share another long gaze before they kiss.  Not a peck on the cheek, but a full blown kiss.

Then probably the film’s most infamous scene takes place as Emma and Adèle have sex in a long, single sequence that is close to, but does not reach, ten minutes long.

An undisclosed amount of time passes and the two grow closer.  Where do their lives take them?  Well, find out for yourself by seeing the film.

La Vie d’Adèle works on many levels.  For a film that’s a little under three hours long, the pacing held my interest and never felt too rushed just to get to another scene.  We follow Adèle from an inexperienced high school to a full blown woman when she pursues her teaching interest and has her own class.  The direction has been called voyeuristic by some, but I disagree.  The direction really allows the viewer to see every single emotion on Adèle’s face as she moves from scene to scene.  We see her confusion, anguish and admiration, all at different moments.

For a film where the primary focus is on the relationship between two women, I’m glad that, in this day and age, the movie never dwells on that fact.  Aside from a pride parade at one point in the movie, the film avoids any attempts to pander or push any sort of political message.  There’s no big, dramatic coming-out scene, Adèle and Emma don’t talk about a day when the whole world accepts the possibility of two women falling in love and we aren’t hit over the head with messages about peace, love and equality.  No.  La Vie d’Adèle avoids becoming preachy or spouting off some political narrative, and for that I applaud it.  The focus here is on the discovery and relationship, not the real world ramifications of it.

That said, it’s sort of a double standard that Adèle’s friends take issue with the possibility of her being a lesbian and going to gay bars, but they all seem to accept Valentin being gay without question.

Speaking of that scene, it’s a little too convenient that the one bar Adèle happens to visit is the one where Emma would be that night.  Though, Adèle never even expected to end up in a lesbian bar to begin with.  As the direction stays close on Adèle, we see her venture into unchartered territory.  The gay clubs she visits are bright and flashy, a far cry from the quietness of her home.  Up until Adèle meets Emma, she’s practically sleepwalking through the film with a look of uncertainty pretty much plastered on her face.  For much of the earlier part of the film, it’s as if Adèle is wearing a mask just to get through the day.  I got the impression that Adèle can be sociable, but not as outgoing as her classmates.

I’ll focus more on Adèle later, but I do want to commend Sofian El Fani’s great cinematography that, when it comes to characters, puts a lot of focus on facial expressions and little details.  Almost every single contortion or muscle moved on a character’s face, we witness it.  It can get a little out of hand at times.  For example, when Adèle eats dinner, we really don’t need to get up close and in her face as she chomps every single morsel of spaghetti, but the filming provides an intimate look at the characters.

The same goes for the shots of France itself.  As mentioned, the night clubs are vibrant and filled with life.  We watch Adèle and other characters lose themselves in another world.  When Adèle and Emma admire each other in the park, everything is quiet and still, allowing the characters to dictate their own emotions, rather than unnecessary music doing it for them.

Emma and Adèle’s relationship is filled with passion, but also strained at times, and it’s shown not just through their actions and dialogue, but through how scenes are directed.  The first time they have sex, we as the viewer see almost every single motion, every grab, every time the bodies move, and each time they change positions.  We become spectators through the close filming and it puts you front and center as Adèle experiences actual love for the first time.

Blue is the Warmest Color- In Bed

But the sex isn’t there as eye candy, nor is it all shot in super tight close-ups.  At one point, Emma and Adèle have sex in Adèle’s bed, having tricked Adèle’s parents that Emma is there to help with philosophy.  Here, the direction focuses on their faces, instead of their bodies, as they try to keep quiet.  We don’t get to fully see and experience their lovemaking because they can’t fully experience it.

Blue is the Warmest Color- Adele and her family

Speaking of Adèle’s parents, the relationship between the three of them seems very normal, given how we don’t learn much about them.  I got the impression that both her mother and father, played by Aurélien Recoing, are old fashioned and traditional.  When Emma talks about working on graphic arts for a living, Adèle’s father mentions that while art is a great skill to have, it’s not the job that will bring in the most money for sustaining yourself.  Therefore, it makes sense how relieved he is when Emma mentions that her ‘boyfriend’ has a profession in business.

While I wish we got to know Adèle’s parents more, I never got the vibe that they would treat her any different if they knew she was in a relationship with Emma.  But this could say more about Adèle wanting to keep this newfound life of hers a secret.  I don’t understand Adèle’s need to keep the relationship a secret, but part of that is because we never learn enough about the parents to know how they’d react.  It could be embarrassment or a variety of reasons, but as is, I don’t understand her motivation.
Blue is the Warmest Color- Adele with Emma's Family

By comparison, Emma’s stepparents feel more liberated and open.  Emma’s mother, Catherine, played by Anne Loiret, trades barbs with Emma’s stepfather, Vincent, played by Benoît Pilot and joke around when Adèle tries oysters for the first time.  Both families feel functional and familial, but they’re background characters and never integral to the plot.

Blue is the Warmest Color- Emma

As far as the leads themselves go, I’ll start with Emma, who Léa Seydoux plays with complete confidence.  Emma has great poise in many of her scenes, whether she’s sketching a nude Adèle or defending her art and lifestyle from critics who want to display her work.  We’re told that Emma isn’t into fads or justifying her life decisions, she just does her art for the love of it.  It’s what drives her passion and it’s that same drive that she tries to bring out in Adèle.  When Emma suggests that Adèle write, it’s because she knows that Adèle has untapped potential that’s being squandered as a teacher.  She’s not being demanding, but she knows that Adèle is capable of doing more and tries to ease her in that direction, as any supportive friend or lover would.

But more than that, Emma is a free spirit, unrestrained by any need to hide her sexuality, the way Adèle does.  During a party scene later in the film, Emma fits in comfortably amongst her friends not just because of the conversations they have about philosophy and art, but because they have nothing to hide.  Emma isn’t wearing a mask or trying to hide who she is.  At the same time, she doesn’t try and push Adèle into ‘coming out’ or embracing lesbianism.  In fact, it’d be difficult for me to even identify Adèle as a lesbian.  We know Emma sampled both pools and settled on women, but Adèle is a bit more uncertain.  Again, this is why I’m glad the film doesn’t make a point of there being some sort of big ‘come out’ moment.  It’d be very easy for Emma to tell Adèle to be who she really is, but when Adèle herself isn’t even sure, for Emma to try and push her would be forcing her to be someone that, at heart, she isn’t.

Blue is the Warmest Color- Rage

A lot of details about Emma’s past are left in mystery and that’s fine because she wouldn’t be as intriguing if we knew every single minute detail about her.  We know about what drove her to love women, her first time and what fuels her passion.  We learn a little about her past and current relationships and friendships with women, including a woman named Lise, played by Mona Walravens, but just enough that her entire life isn’t shrouded in fog.  The relationship between her and her parents is very cordial and friendly, almost as if the three were siblings.  There’s a lot I’d like to say about Léa Seydoux’s performance and how passionate she is at times, including a very raw and visceral scene late in the film, but I don’t want to spoil it.  It’s the type of scene better seen than read.

What I do appreciate is the film giving Emma motivation for her artwork: she loves to sketch.  She looks entranced by the artwork she and Adèle view in the art museum and she gets into long debates with her friends over art and philosophers.  While Adèle’s friends may have written off Emma as a ‘dyke,’ it’s clear that she’s a very intelligent woman with clear motive for her career path and where she wants her life to go.

Less so with Adèle.  As mentioned, Adèle spends a lot of the film drifting, uncertain about her identity.  She breaks up with Thomas because she has to, nothing long-lasting would come from their short fling and she knows it.  It’s written all over her face after they have sex that there’s no passion.  The first move she made that seemed to have any passion in it was the second kiss with Beatrice, but as mentioned, Beatrice didn’t expect her to make much of their first kiss.  However, the kiss with Beatrice is a big point for Adèle’s character, as it opens her to the possibility of liking women.  Once Adèle goes down that path, it would be hard for her to go back, which makes the lesbian bar scene more telling because she’s literally wandering into unknown territory.  However, given how she wandered here on her own volition, it’s another step made that steers her further down the path of fostering a romantic interest in women.

Blue is the Warmest Color- Adele Stares at Emma

Adèle Exarchopoulos delivers a very good performance of a young woman uncertain about her future: what she’ll do and with whom she’ll spend it.  Adèle seems to be looking for a place where she fits in.  She doesn’t mesh well with her friends who talk endlessly about boys and sex, but when she begins her relationship with Emma, it’s even harder for her to fit in amongst Emma’s friends.  During a dinner scene later on, Adèle spends a great amount of time preparing and serving food, but never conversing unless someone makes the first move.  I don’t have an issue with Adèle being socially awkward, as it helps illustrate how she and Emma exist in two very different worlds.  Adèle seems to be very sheltered and quiet, while Emma is more outgoing and sociable.

Blue is the Warmest Color- Pride Parade

It could be argued that Emma helped bring out a more light-hearted side of Adèle throughout the course of their relationship.  She wears a beaming smile rather than a face filled with indecision, she giggles like a schoolgirl when she’s fooled her parents into thinking Emma is there to tutor her, and the long stares into Emma’s eyes show that Adèle is making decisions with actual clarity rather than on a hunch.

But even that clarity is questioned when we see Adèle as a teacher.  Sure, it’s established that she wanted to teach, but from how passionately we see Adèle talk of philosophy and literature, it’s clear that what Emma said about her untapped potential rings true: she can do so much more than she allows herself.  I can’t help but agree.  Adèle seems to enjoy teaching, but I also felt that it could have been a stepping stone for something else down the road.

Blue is the Warmest Color- Adele and Emma

Adèle’s relationship with Emma is the best thing that’s happened to her in a long time.  At one point, she even tells Emma that she feels fulfilled being with her.  While it’s nice to see Adèle happy, she doesn’t seem to have a long term plan beyond the relationship.  For her, if she’s with Emma, she would like it to be between the sheets.  That’s not out of character.  This is a discovery for her and she wants to explore the depths of her feelings for Emma.  If the dream masturbation scene early on is an indication, it’s that when it comes to Emma, she’s thinking very clear as opposed to wavering indecisively.

But it’s evident that Adèle has so much that she wants to do in her lifetime.  During a dinner party, Adèle speaks with one of Emma’s friends, Samir, played by Salim Kechiouche, who is an actor.  During his work, he had the chance to visit New York City, a place Adèle has always wanted to visit, but never had the chance to.  Samir tells her that such a visit would change her life, and I agree.  Again, Adèle feels like someone with a lot of unrealized potential that she just needs to recognize.  Nothing wrong with being a teacher, but from her conversations, it’s clear that she has the know-how for more.  But then, I’d be rewriting the film and my writing is already crap, so let’s not go and ruin a good movie.

Abdellatif Kechiche’s direction really puts you in Adèle’s head as we watch her every move.  When she gets lost in the moment at a party, we see the slow relief on her face as she unwinds and becomes comfortable with those around her.  During one low moment for Adèle, the camera remains tight on her face and the audience watches the tears and snot just stream down her face, almost as if the director is begging us to reach up and hand her a tissue.  I never found the close-ups intrusive since this is ultimately Adèle’s story.  And it’s a story that I enjoyed.  I though the protest scene over privatization and demanding more money for education were a bit out of place since it’s not brought up again.  In fact, I thought I was watching Sarafina, but hey, it gave Adèle something to do to take her mind off of her problems.

There’s a lot that can be said about this film in regards to its commentary on portrayals of women in art, philosophy and the progression of Adèle and Emma’s relationship, but this film is better seen than discussed, in my opinion.  I get that some people aren’t into foreign films and having to read subtitles, even more so when the movie clocks in just shy of three hours.  I get that those two factors would turn people away from the movie, but it never bothered me and I enjoyed watching these two women grow closer.

La Vie d’Adèle: Chapitres 1 et 2 is not about the sex.  It’s not about politicizing or making a huge deal out of two women falling in love.  It’s about the ups and downs of a genuine, sometimes fun and sometimes raw relationship that experiences its share of ups, downs and all-arounds.  It’s about facing who you are, who you might be and whether you choose to accept that.  It’s about finding your niche and knowing when to quit when you realize what you thought was love wasn’t real.  The decisions Emma and Adèle make are relatable to ones we make: do we settle for complacency and become the tortured artist, or strive for something better?  Is that something better really what you wanted, or just temporary satisfaction?  Do we step out of our comfort zone and take a risk or settle for what we have?

In my opinion, the work of Adèle Exarchopoulos, Léa Seydoux and director Abdellatif Kechiche merited them the Palme d’Or they earned at the Cannes Film Festival.  A shame all the behind the scenes rumblings and controversy over the sex scenes may have hampered opinions, but for me, this is a well made movie. If you have the opportunity, do so and you should have a lengthy, but entertaining time.