A Look at Carol

Carol- Poster

Carol.  It’s a film that’s been stuck in my head since seeing it.  The story is well presented, the leads are great, and it’s a well-directed picture.  There’s little bad I have to say about it, but what sells it is the lead performances of Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara as two women who find love at a time when such passion between two women would be forbidden.  They both experience turmoil and a case of heartbreak, but try to maintain their bond.  Will their love endure?  Let’s jump right in.

The film begins in New York, 1952.  A man named Jack Taft, played by Trent Rowland, enters a bar and gets himself a drink on particularly busy night.  As he drinks, though, he spots a familiar face across the room.

Carol- Jack Taft, played by Trent Rowland, finds Therese Belivet, played by Rooney Mara, having dinner with Carol Aird, played by Cate Blanchett

He heads over and does indeed spot a friend of his: Therese Belivet, played by Rooney Mara.  Therese, it turns out, is in the middle of a dinner with her acquaintance, Carol Aird, played by Cate Blanchett.  Jack, who hasn’t seen Therese in some time, invites her to a party he’s about to attend.  Though Therese seems reluctant to leave, Carol insists that she go, as she herself has an upcoming engagement anyway.

Carol- Carol talks with Therese about trains, dolls, and Santa hats

Following the departure, we cut to Therese waking up and preparing for the day.  She works in the toy section of a Frankenberg’s department store and has a fascination with train models.  This interest alone makes me like Therese.  When the store opens and people begin their holiday shopping, one woman in particular gets Therese’s attention, and that’s Carol.  She’s searching for a specific doll for her daughter, but said doll is currently unavailable at the store.

Carol makes small talk by asking what Therese’s favorite toy was from her youth.  Therese didn’t have many, though.  She’s always wanted a train set and knows quite a lot about them through reading.  Therese informs Carol that while the particular doll may not be in stock, it can be shipped to her.  With that, Carol leaves her address and heads out, but not before complimenting Therese on her Santa hat.  It’s brief, but Therese appears touched by this.  She also notices that Carol left her gloves behind.

Later, Therese, her boyfriend Richard, played by Jake Lacy, and some friends head to a bar after seeing a film at the cinema.  Therese brings her camera along with her, as she has a keen interest in photography.  As it so happens, one member of the group, Dannie, played by John Magaro, works for The New York Times and can probably make some connections for Therese.  It’s nice to know people who know people, you know?

Carol- Carol spends time with her daughter, Rindy, played by Sadie Heim

We then go to Carol’s home as she has some alone time with her daughter, Rindy, played by Sadie Heim, before the arrival of Carol’s husband, Harge, played by Kyle Chandler.  Harge and Carol have a tense relationship with about as much chemistry as fire and ice.  Harge wants Carol to attend a dinner that a friend of theirs wants her to attend, even though she’d rather do anything else.  However, she does agree to go.

Back at Frankenberg’s, Therese learns that Carol’s package has been delivered.  She then receives a phone call from Carol, who thanks her for returning the gloves.  As a token of her gratitude, she offers to take Therese to lunch.

Carol- Carol and Therese have lunch

At said lunch, as the two enjoy their smokes, Carol finds Therese’s name quite original and captivating, as if Therese had been flung out of space.  Therese, by comparison, is nervous during this outing and finds it difficult to maintain eye contact with Carol.  On the subject of relationship issues, neither is doing so well right now.  Carol is soon to be divorced, while Therese isn’t exactly rushing to marry Richard.  Going forward, the two women don’t have plans this Sunday, so Therese offers to visit Carol.

Carol- Carol and her husband, Harge, played by Kyle Chandler, dance at the party

After lunch, Carol receives a ride from a friend, Abby, played by Sarah Paulson, who looks far cheerier than she did in 12 Years a Slave.  The two then head to the aforementioned party and Carol has a less than pleasant time.  One of the hosts even invites Carol over for the holiday, but she may do her own thing.

At the New York Times office, Dannie shows Therese around and explains that he’s a writer and focuses on people, similar to Therese with her photography.  However, Therese feels weird taking pictures of people.  There’s a level of attraction to some people, and Dannie tells her that it’s like physics, or rather, two pinballs bouncing off of each other.  When the two get close, Dannie goes in for the kiss.  Ballsy, but foolish, in my opinion.  Therese isn’t bothered, but she does use this kiss as her cue to exit, stage left.

Carol- Harge and Carol argue

Sometime after the party, Harge and Carol talk, with Harge thinking that Carol has something going on with Abby.  Carol, though, says that what went on between the two of them is already over.  It’s not supposed to be like this for them, and Carol knows this, but it’s what they have right now.

Carol- Therese plays piano song while Carol observes

Carol heads into town to pick up Therese, who snaps a few shots of Carol while she buys a Christmas tree.  Carol and Rindy later put up the three at their home before Carol asks Therese whether the pictures she took were of her.  As Therese then plays the piano, Carol asks Therese if she wants to be a photographer.  After all, people let you know that you have talent and Carol likes the pictures.

But then Harge makes an unexpected visit because he wants to take Rindy with him for the holidays.  Surprised to see this random woman, Harge asks her how she knows his wife.  Harge and Carol clash outside, with Harge calling Carol cruel, while Therese listens.  When the argument ends and Carol heads back in, she immediately decides to take Therese into the city.  It’s an abrupt end to a nice visit as Therese finds herself in tears on the train back home.

However, when Therese arrives home, she receives a call from Carol, who apologizes for being horrible.  Therese has so much that she wants to ask Carol, who wants to be asked.

Carol’s bad news with her marriage gets worse.  Fred Haymes, played by Kevin Crowley, informs Carol that Harge is seeking an injunction and wants sole custody of Rindy.  How?  With a morality clause and evidence of a pattern of lewd behavior.  However, the hearing isn’t until March, so until then, Carol should avoid attracting any sort of scrutiny, despite her disbelief at what’s happened.

Carol- Richard and Therese talk about homosexuality

Back in the city, Therese purchases an album.  She talks with Richard that she’s thinking of creating a portfolio, but Richard is all-consumed with his hopes that Therese will come with him to live in Europe.  Therese switches the conversation to love and asks how often Richard has experienced it.  There were two women he slept with before Therese, but that was it.

Therese then asks the important question of whether Richard ever loved a boy.  Obviously not.  But there’s a reason that Therese asked that question, so Richard flips it around and asks if she likes a particular girl.  I can’t say I buy whether people in the 1950s talked like this, but whatever.  Therese tells Richard that she’s not ready for the kind of big commitment that he wants.

Carol- Carol talks with Abby, played by Sarah Paulson

Carol meets with Abby to discuss the morality clause.  Abby is aghast, but Carol almost blames herself for it coming to this point.  She plans to go west for some time, but no one can know about it.

She then delivers a gift to Therese: a brand new camera and film.  On the rooftop, Carol thinks that it’s futile to fight this injunction.  However, she doesn’t blame Therese for anything that’s happened.  In fact, she invites her to join her on the road.  Well, Therese is certainly pleased to hear this.

But Richard isn’t, and he lets Carol know as much when the two talk later.  His mind is still on Europe and he believes that Therese’s infatuation with Carol amounts to nothing more than a silly little crush.  More than that, he believes that despite what’s happening now, eventually Carol will get tired of Therese.  He storms off, saying that in two weeks, Therese will come begging for him.

Carol- Carol and Therese go on a road trip

Sounds bad, but when Therese and Carol hit the road, Therese presents Carol with a Christmas gift, a Teddy Wilson/Billie Holiday album, to Carol, she remarks that she hadn’t even thought about Richard since the argument.

Carol- Abby tells off Harge

Harge, though, hasn’t been able to get Carol off of his mind to the point that he confronts Abby in a rage, thinking that she’s hiding his wife.  But Abby isn’t putting up with any of Harge’s bullshit and says that he’s got some fucking nerve to act the way that he is, injunction and all.  The two clash and Harge does eventually soften, telling Abby that Carol is still his wife.  True as that is, Abby can’t help him with that.

Back on the road, the two ladies stop at a hotel.  As Carol showers, she calls out for Therese to find her sweater.  She does indeed find it in her suitcase, but also spots a gun as well.  If movies are any indication, that firearm will become important later.  On the subsequent car ride, Therese asks Carol if she feels safe with her.  Carol responds that she’s not frightened at all.

Carol- Carol and Therese speak with Tommy Tucker, played by Cory Michael Smith

At the next hotel, Carol wants a modest room, but Therese, living life to the fullest, suggests the presidential suite.  While Carol settles in, Therese collects some ice from outside and meets Tommy Tucker, played by Gotham’s Edward Nygma himself, Cory Michael Smith.  Tommy is a salesman, but not just any salesman.  He sells notions, despite not knowing what those even are.  He tries and fails to make a sale to both Carol and Therese, but it’s a decent attempt.

Carol and Therese’s road trip will eventually take them to Chicago, same place where Tommy is headed.  That’s no coincidence, I’m betting.  He shows them a shortcut on their map.  During the trip, Therese receives some mail, even though no one should know where she is.  Carol, meanwhile, makes a brief phone call, but tells Therese that she just visited the ladies room.  They’re the same place, really.

Carol- Therese and Carol laugh while having some drinks

Eventually, the two arrive in Waterloo, Iowa.  Interesting name.  The New Year is upon them and it’s a pretty big moment for Carol, as she and Harge never spent the New Year together.  Business always came up.  Therese has been in big groups before, but she always felt alone in the crowd.

Carol- Therese and Carol in bed

As the two talk in their hotel room, they grow closer and take each other to bed.  As they slowly begin to explore one another, Carol reiterates her point about Therese: she’s a girl flung right out of space.

And freeze!

Brooklyn

There were two films I saw in 2015 that presented a young, female protagonist in New York that’s on a journey to find herself and finds love in the process.  But while Brooklyn had Eilis also go through a case of culture shock between Ireland and New York, Therese, I feel, is more about self-discovery.

Carol- Therese and Carol kiss

Carol is a tale of forbidden love, and it hurts to say something so cliché, but we’re talking about two women who fall in love in 1950s New York.  Even the mere idea would be taboo.  We live in a time where such a conversation or relationship is considered normal.  Or close to normal, I suppose.

Carol- Therese spots Carol at the end

But while Carol does present a relationship involving two women, I appreciate that this film didn’t try to hit the audience over the head with that.  It would be easy for the writer and director to force the message that, yes, we’re dealing with a same-sex relationship, as if that’s a big deal.  Films like Grandma and Blue is the Warmest Colour both had lesbian couples, but the fact that they were lesbians wasn’t the point.  The strength of the relationships came from the writing, performances, and the fact that their bonds felt natural.

Carol- Carol and Richard, played by Jack Lacy, talk about whether it's possible to fall in love with someone of the same gender

With Carol, the topic of homosexuality is touched upon, but not shoved in your face.  It’s played up as a foreign or alien concept, but not 100 percent impossible.  Therese and Richard talk about whether it’s possible to like someone of the same gender.  For them, it’s not, but nothing that someone would ever consider.  It’s just so unnatural in their eyes.  We’re at a period in history where many believe science can cure homosexuality, similar to what we’ve seen in Showtime’s Masters of Sex.  A relationship between two people of the same gender just means something is wrong with the two people involved.

Carol- Carol admires Therese

Adding to the abnormality of it all, Carol twice remarks that Therese was flung out of space.  Sure, we know that Carol has engaged in a sexual relationship with women in the past, but even that comes off as other worldly to society as a whole.  To the world, homosexuals have some kind of deformity, as if they were indeed flung out of space.  But that makes it all the more unique and special for Carol and especially Therese as she explores these feelings for the first time.

Carol- Therese takes a picture of Carol from afar

And that has a lot to do with the film’s focus on personal identity.  Again, going back to Brooklyn for a bit, Eilis and Therese come off as very normal to the average person.  Nothing about them really sticks out and Therese doesn’t really see herself as special.  She doesn’t believe she’s the best photographer in the world or think she’s extraordinary.  Hell, she appears to be just going through the motions of her relationship with Richard.

Carol- Therese touched by Carol's words about her hat

But the smallest of compliments from Carol about her hat, which is no different from what the other employees wore that day, was enough to make her feel desirable in someone else’s eyes.  Therese isn’t out to be a people pleaser or the center of attention.  It’s only when she receives compliments from the likes of Carol and Dannie that she becomes more outspoken in what she wants.

She expressed a desire early on that she wanted to create a portfolio, but never followed through on it.  Once Carol complements her work, she actively works to take more photos and build out her portfolio in order to pursue an actual career.  What seemed far off or impossible became a reality.

Carol- Carol and Therese at a mirror

This extends the reality of her relationship with Carol, and I like how the film doesn’t force the two together very fast.  We see them develop over time in increments.  They begin with Therese as the employee and Carol the customer, that extends to a phone call to lunch to gift exchanges to visiting each other’s homes- director Todd Haynes and writer Phyllis Nagy took care to make sure we saw Carol and Therese grow.

Carol- Therese and Carol go for a drive

Rather than being told about exploits off-screen, the audience gets to see Therese and Carol change, as real people would.  But despite how close the two grow, there’s still a generational divide.  Carol is seasoned and experienced in romantic affairs, while Therese found it difficult at first to discuss the idea of loving another woman.  Carol lives in affluence and embodies the life of the rich and famous: large home, fancy ride, and a child.

Carol- Therese with coworkers

Therese lives in an apartment that she needs to paint, works in customer service, and isn’t captivated by her boyfriend.  She’s humble and isn’t one seeking a glamorous lifestyle.  I get the sense that if she weren’t working at the department store, she’d be perfectly happy in photography because that’s her passion.  If there was any sort of falling out, I don’t think she’d lose much, particularly when she’s not invested in Richard for the long run.

Carol- Harge tells Carol that it wasn't supposed to be like this

By comparison, Carol has much to lose: her reputation, the remnants of her crumbling relationship with Harge, and most important, her daughter.  As evidenced by her past fling with Abby, Carol has been down this path before, but this sort of tryst, no matter how much she wants it, will end with someone being hurt.  Her plate is fuller and what she’s enduring is something that Therese can’t understand quite yet.  It’s like the old adage, “You’ll understand when you’re older.”

Carol- Carol's hand on Therese's shoulder

What I like about Carol and Therese’s relationship is that there’s no guarantee that this will last forever.  This is no fairy tale romance.  Carol may have gone through an affair before, but to Therese, this is brand new.  And as the two grow, Therese becomes more grown up as opposed to the timid girl Carol first met.  Carol, for fear of being exposed or getting in too deep, has to be a few steps ahead of Therese, but even she can’t account for everything, which gets her into trouble a few times.

Carol- Carol and Abby talk

While Carol isn’t what I’d call a role model for women, she’s not made unsympathetic because of her infidelity.  Sure, there’s something to be said about a person who is unfaithful in their marriage and could damage the relationship with their family, but she’s not doing it out of spite.

Carol- Carol does Rindy's hair

She’s not happy in her marriage, but she does love Rindy enough to try and find a middle ground so she can still see her, even if it means losing custody.  That doesn’t turn her into a saint overnight, but we see that she doesn’t want the family to crumble into complete disarray.  At one point during a custody hearing, she tells Harge that they aren’t ugly people, as in she doesn’t want this battle to change them for the worse.  Carol may not have feelings for Harge, but she’s not going to let this paint both him and her as villains.

Carol- Carol and Therese at dinner

Cate Blanchett plays this role effortlessly as a conflicted New York socialite.  It’s not as layered or complex as the socialite that Blanchett portrayed in Blue Jasmine, in my opinion, but it’s a great performance nonetheless.  And so much of the performance is told through little subtleties: the lightest touch of the hand, a slight smile, and longing gazes- it’s a great example of a film showing us chemistry between two people instead of spelling it out.

Carol- Carol at the custody hearing

What’s more, Blanchett doesn’t give Carol this air of superiority.  She doesn’t flaunt her wealth or treat Therese like some second class citizen because of the differences between them.  She just happens to have money, but she’s not unlikable because of that.  It’d be easy to portray Carol as cold, distant, and antisocial because of her wealth, but Blanchett plays her with such vulnerability that I sympathize with her at times.

Carol- Carol points her guy at Tommy

Carol carries a gun with her because she’s unsure who may try to threaten her life, despite the fact that she’s a well-off White woman in 1950s America.  She wants out of her crumbling marriage so she can be on her own, but she’s unwilling to fully lose her daughter- the one thing that still unites her and Harge.  But around Therese, all that hardness vanishes and she lowers her defenses because Therese gives her a sense of happiness I’m guessing Harge hasn’t made her feel in a long time.  It’s a great performance from Blanchett.

Carol- Therese about to cry

And just as strong in her performance is Rooney Mara.  There’s this unassuming innocence to Therese because she’s not a showoff, she doesn’t come from wealth or fame, and she works in a department store.  But from how she talks about her love of trains, the skill in which she takes photos and plays the piano, we see that this is a woman with untapped potential.  And she’s not one to stay confined to gender roles.

Carol- Therese smokes

She doesn’t care about Richard’s plan to go to Europe because she’s making a life for herself.  And she refuses to accept his notion that she made him change.  Therese may be soft-spoken, but she’s a fighter.  Her relationship with Carol seemed to reveal a new, more assertive side to her.

Carol- Therese enjoys the car ride

Therese starts off unsure of her feelings, but even when she does gain more clarity in what she wants from a relationship, she’s also much more focused on her professional life than when the film started.  By film’s end, she’s not the shy clerk we first met.

Carol- Carol and Therese find love

Now, I don’t have any major gripes with the film, but I would like to gripe about the sex scene between Therese and Carol for one reason: the score.  This is common for films and televisions, but I hate when some big musical score plays during a sexual encounter, intimate or otherwise.  It makes the moment feel more Hollywood than intimate.

Blue is the Warmest Color- Sex Scene 2

For comparison’s sake, in Blue is the Warmest Colour, the first time Emma and Adele have sex, there’s proper build to it, but there’s no score played against the scene.  It’s stark and feels both real and more authentic because we’re watching two people express and act out on their feelings for one another.  It feels less like a scene from a movie and more like we’re peering in on this cherished moment.  We don’t need to be told it’s a big deal because we can see that for ourselves.

But in this instance, the score overplays the fact that this is a big step forward for Therese and Carol.  The film was building to this and had already established their bond, so I don’t need music playing in the background to highlight something I can figure out for myself.  I know, it’s a minor quibble that’s inconsequential to the film as a whole, but it’s something I wish films and television shows would move pass.  This is a film with a same-sex couple.  If Brokeback Mountain and Blue is the Warmest Colour can make sexual encounters feel more authentic by having those scenes play without music, then this film has no excuse.

Again, though, it’s a minor qualm on what’s still an outstanding film about discovery and personal growth as two women embark upon a forbidden romance.  The biggest strength of Carol comes from the strong performances and chemistry of Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara, as they make their characters and bond feel real.  It’s not about the fact that the relationship involves two women: it’s about taking that step into dangerous, yet intriguing and unchartered territory.

While Therese and Carol may have much to lose from the others around them, when they’re around each other, there’s a sense of belonging and peace that they don’t get from the other people in their lives.  And despite the odds they face, dangers they encounter, and how their lives change, their desire to be together won’t fade away.

A Look at Suffragette

Suffragette- Poster

I think one thing that keeps a film relevant is its message.  You can have a strong cast, director, writer, and crew, but when the lights come up and the movie has ended, you hope it leaves a strong enough impression that keeps you thinking about it.  It also helps if the film’s message coincides with something going on in society at the time, and that’s what we get here with Suffragette.

It works on many levels by giving us relatable characters who go through good character arcs and make many sacrifices in the name of earning a right they feel is theirs.  It shows the importance of being a proactive part of a growing movement and lets us see what happens when half the world’s population decide that if the powers that be won’t listen to reason, the women will make them listen by any and all means necessary.  This is Suffragette.

The film begins in London, 1912.  Women haven’t had the best of days.  As are the commonly accepted beliefs, they aren’t represented in many, if any, facets of society.  Instead, they’re represented by their husbands, because that’s fair, right?  They have an inadequate work and home balance.  But above all else, they don’t have the right to vote.  There are few outlets to vent, as of now, but we hear rumblings that a certain Emmeline Pankhurst, who is wanted by the authorities, advocates civil disobedience.

Suffragette- Maud Watts, played by Carey Mulligan, window shops

Many of the women in the area work at a local factory and are made to scrub, clean, iron- the whole nine yards, minus being in the household.  One of the employees is our protagonist, Maud Watts, played by Carey Mulligan.  We follow Maud as she heads home, but stops to admire some nice looking dolls in a store.  It’s such a calm moment.

Suffragette- Throwing rocks through a store window

So let’s ruin it.  Another woman nearby, who we’ll meet again in a second, takes some rocks out of her stroller and hurls them through the glass, creating a frenzy as other women also throw rocks.  All the while, she shouts out ‘Votes for women’ as she’s subdued.  Well, she succeeded in getting everyone’s attention.  I’ll give her that much.  When Maud returns home, she tells her husband, Sonny, played by Ben Whishaw, what happened while he patches up her hand.

Suffragette- Violet Miller, played by Anne-Marie Duff, tells Maud about an upcoming meeting

Next day at the factory, the man running the ship, Norman Taylor, played by Geoff Bell, berates one of the employees- our rock throwing hero, Violet Miller, played by Anne-Marie Duff.  Violet has been late to work one day too many times.  Well, it’s not like she’s got obligations at home, including caring for her coworker daughter Maggie, played by Grace Stottor.  Violet does share news with Maud about an upcoming hearing at Parliament regarding the vote.  Violet plans to attend.

Suffragette- Woman speaks in favor of women gaining the right to vote

Even outside, a woman talks in favor of her fellow ladies getting the right long denied to them.  It’s not hard to get that it’s tough for women right now.  Sure, they could just play the game and respect the law, but instead of women respecting the law, they argue, how about making the law respectable?  A fair argument, I will admit.

Suffragette- Maud takes her son, George, to visit the Dr. Edith Ellyn, played by Helena Bonham Carter

Back at home, Maud tells Sonny that she plans to accompany Violet to Parliament and discuss their desire for increased wages.  Sonny is less than enthused about this.  She then takes her son George, played by Adam Michael Dodd, for a checkup at the doctor’s office.  The doctor in question is Edith Ellyn, played by Helena Bonham Carter.  Looking around the office and seeing the newspaper clippings and articles related to suffrage, Maud figures Edith for a soldier.

Rather, Edith may be a suffrage supporter, but as opposed to standing on the sidelines, she’s more interested in actions, not words.

Suffragette- Arthur Steed, played by Brendan Gleeson, and other inspectors talk about the women identified as suffragists

As Maud leaves, someone snaps a photo.  We cut to an investigation office where a group of men go over the photos of suspected suffragists.  Some of these women, like Maud, don’t have to be suffragists, but for the investigators, it’s guilt by association.  Leading this investigation is Inspector Arthur Steed, played by Brendan Gleeson.  The plan is to arrest the agitators.  But Maud is a woman that none of the men have seen before.

We return to the factor, where Maud spots Mr. Taylor trying to put the moves on one of the women.  She makes a noise to distract him before getting back to work.  Soon after, Violet tells Maud that she’s been selected to speak at Parliament.  Maud decides to accompany her.

Suffragette- Violet shows up to Parliament with fresh bruises

But when the day finally comes, Violet arrives with fresh bruises on her face.  In light of this, one of the women suggests that Violet back out of her testimony.  However, none of the men could identify Violet by her face, so it’s suggested that Maud deliver the testimony.  Maud is reluctant, but she eventually relents and decides to speak on Violet’s behalf.

Suffragette- Maud testifies before Parliament

Inside, Maud initially prepares to deliver Violet’s words, but she drops the act and tells her story instead.  She’s worked at the factory for many years, just as her mother did before her.  The work is and always has been hard, and you don’t need schooling for this kind of repetitive manual labor.  And in this line of work, as a woman, you’re sure to live a very short life.  It also doesn’t help that women earn just 12 schillings to every man’s 19.

The men, appearing sympathetic to Maud’s case, ask her what the right to vote would mean to her.  Maud is caught off guard by this question, as she honestly never thought of that before.  So, the men ask, why is she here?  Her response is simple: there has to be another way of living.  Indeed, an amendment could help with that.  It all sounds promising and Maud even tells Sonny later that David Lloyd George could be supportive.

Maud later meets Edith for tea.  We learn a bit more about Edith: she’s very much into chemistry and has the educational background to account for her love of it and her job.  Her husband, though, inherited his business.

Suffragette- Women await feedback from Parliament

Following this, Maud and Violet join a joyous crowd of women awaiting to hear Parliament’s judgment.  The members soon arrive for the moment of truth…and they learn that, according to the Prime Minister’s verdict, there is not sufficient enough evidence to support a suffrage bill.  As expected, the women are livid.  They yell ‘Sham’ and ‘lie’ as the officials retreat.  The crowd grows rowdy, so the officers get to work as a riot breaks out.  Blood is shed, women are clubbed and fall to the ground, and all hell breaks loose.

So Maud is jailed along with other women.  One woman is bailed out by her husband and she begs him to bail out the others, but he refuses.

Inspector Steed speaks with Maud privately.  Maud, of course, is not a suffragette, but that doesn’t mean she can’t see where the other women are coming from.  Steed suggests that Maud serve her time and then go home.  Maud argues that Parliament promised women the right to vote, but Steed counters that, at the end of the day, Parliament promised nothing and delivered nothing.

While Sonny is left to endure taunts by coworkers at the plant and Edith’s store has been vandalized, Maud and the other women serve out their time.  It’s here that Maud learns about some of the women who take matters into their own hands.  A few refuse to eat and go on hunger strikes, for example.

Maud is eventually released and receives a consolation prize: a medal that commemorates her first incarceration.  I’m not sure if that’s meant to be endearing or if the women just decided to be dicks, but hey, a medal is a medal.  Maud is dropped off at home, where a furious Sonny can’t even bear to look at her.  He demands that she never shame him like that again.  Right, buddy, you’re the one who is suffering right now.

We head back to the factory and Violet has good news for Maud.  There will be a gathering on Friday and she will be speaking.  Maud later tells Sonny that she’ll be working late as her cover story.  At the same time, Steed and the rest of the investigators also learn that a certain someone will be making an appearance very soon.

Suffragette- Emmeline Pankhurst, played by, who else, Meryl Streep, addresses the crowd of women

Indeed, Friday night approaches.  Tons of women line the streets to hear the voice of their leader.  Tensions are high as the officers wait for any opportunity to subdue her.  With great fanfare and the support of many women behind her, the speaker and woman of the hour emerges: Emmeline Pankhurst, played by, who else, Meryl Streep.

Miss Pankhurst tells her legion that they are in the midst of a battle that has raged for 50 years.  Young girls, daughters, mothers, women alike must soldier on in this ongoing clash against the establishment.  Words alone will not do.  It takes deeds and sacrifices to prove that you’re willing to fight for an equal future for you and your children.  The women don’t want to be lawbreakers, but lawmakers.  Defy the government and incite rebellion by any and all means, even if it means violence.

Well, gird your loins, ladies and gentlemen, because it looks like the women are headed to battle.

I don’t think anyone can predict the immediate or how much impact a film will have before its release if it unintentionally ends up coming out alongside a social or political movement.  Once it’s in theaters, though, the implications are there and make a film feel even more relevant because it’s telling us a story that we’re living through right now.

Milk

For example, I think Milk is a well-made and well-acted film.  I don’t think Sean Penn should have won over Mickey Rourke for Best Actor, but that’s beside the point.

Prop 8

The point is that its release held even more importance and relevance for people in California who were tangled with Proposition 8.

Selma- Walking

Selma

Same goes with 2014’s Selma.  Another great film in its own right, but holds more significance with the ongoing ‘Black Lives Matter’ movement and public discussions of racial issues.

Sally Field talks about war

Films often make us look at ourselves and life around us and wonder just how much or real life is being imitated on the silver screen.  At the same time, actors, who somehow wield a great amount of influence, use their experiences both in and out of film to speak out and be advocates on social issues.  Not too long ago, someone like Sally Field would be cut off on some networks for speaking out against war.

Patricia Arquette calls for equal pay

Meanwhile, Patricia Arquette can win an Oscar and, in addition to thanking the Academy, advocate for equal pay between men and women- a conversation that seems to be growing.

Suffragette- Inspector Steed speaks with Maud

And Suffragette, I feel, holds a bit more prominence because it presents a familiar picture of women fighting for the right to vote.  Not even equal rights across the board- just access to the ballot box.  This is a story we’re all too familiar with in all cultures: a group that feels denied its basic right to something takes to the streets and advocates for change.

Now I’m just one heartless cynic, but I’m of the belief that we’ll never get to a time where there will be 100 percent equality across all creeds, colors, or groups in general.  There will always be someone that strives to be the alpha.  I think back to a line from the film Ghosts of Mississippi, where one character remarked that America, for instance, may be legally integrated, but emotionally, the people would always be segregated.  I tend to agree.

The very ideas and concepts that make us focus on our differences instead of our similarities still run deep in many facets of life.  The struggle to overcome them is not and may never be over.  You may think I sound pessimistic, and you’re right, though I prefer realistic.  What I’m saying is that the battle for one right doesn’t equate to acceptance from your peers.  That’s just reaching one tier while preparing to top the next.

Suffragette- Give women the right to vote

Much like Selma, Suffragette has the advantage of telling a focused story.  This isn’t about the global suffrage movement and it doesn’t try to put this story in a larger context.  It’s about a group of women in London who just wanted more from life.  People can become too complacent in their lot if they feel that they’re getting along just fine.  If you have a modest living, then sure, you may not live the life of the rich and famous, but there’s no reason to be disappointed with what you have.  To some, the idea of bettering yourself may not even occur to you if there’s no need or desire.

Great Debaters- Civil disobedience

When you have social movements like this, you’re bound to have two types: the ones who want to push for change, no matter what the consequences, and those who would prefer to be cautious.  It’s similar to the final point made in the last debate of The Great Debaters: an unjust law is no law at all.  How is a person to resist?  With violence or civil disobedience?

Suffragette- Maud is asked what the vote would mean to her

For some, like Maud, the idea of gaining the right to vote never occurred to them because they saw nothing wrong with how they lived, even if they were second class citizens.  However, as more tend to speak out, you become aware of the disadvantages you face and that pushes you to action.  But the execution is the challenge.  How do you change minds and hearts?

Suffragette- Maud argues that war is a language men understand

Through simple protest and possibly becoming a martyr, or trying to work within the system?  Suffragette gives us women who, at first, don’t necessarily seek the right to vote, but would like their ideas and voices to be heard.  And as Maud mentions, war is a language people understand.

Victoria Woodhull

I think back to Victoria Woodhull, first female candidate for President, way back in 1872.  Despite the fact that women would not have the right to vote for almost another 40-50 years, in some countries, she took a risk that she knew could earn her scrutiny not just from men, but women who thought she took her actions too far.  The same could be said for some of the women in Suffragette who are just bystanders.  Sure, they might want better lives, but they aren’t willing to upset the established order.

Suffragette- Maud talks about her hard labor

Maud is one of those women, and not just because she’s a fictional character in a universe filled with some actual, real-life figures.  She represents the common woman who accepts that she makes and is treated less than a man, but endures this treatment because it’s all she knows.  As evidenced by her testimony to Parliament- probably one of my favorite scenes, the more I think about it- she never considered more because it never occurred to her.  But despite that, she acknowledges that there are better ways to live beyond her current situation.

Suffragette- Demonstration

What unites the women as a whole is their common cause to be seen as equals with their male counterparts.  Maud even points out to Inspector Steed that women make up half the world’s population, so they can’t all be silenced.  At the same time, many of the women are content aren’t willing to drop everything, give up their families, children, or jeopardize their lives for a basic right.

Suffragette- Inspector Steed tells Maud that he intends to enforce the law

Again, there are those who don’t want to become militant because they feel that they’ve too much to lose.  Work within the system, obey the law, keep your head down, always respond in the affirmative, do what your superiors demand, and always keep on a happy face.  Do all of those things and the establishment will notice and reward your diligence.  At least, that’s what some hope.  But if you’re not a lawmaker or someone who enforces the rules, all you can do is dream.

Suffragette- Blowing up a home

So when the government or higher-ups in society don’t or won’t meet you halfway after you’ve appeased them, what option is there but violent activism?  The women humble themselves, don’t cause a fuss, and make a rational case as to why they should have the right to vote, but their efforts prove fruitless.  In that case, as Pankhurst tells her followers, words alone won’t do.  You have to shake up the way things are and force people to pay attention to you, no matter the cost.

Protest

It’s a tactic we’ve seen employed by protesters many times, even today, whether in regards to voting rights, worker’s rights- if you fight back with force against an oppressive regime, you’re sometimes seen as uncontrollable, radical, savage, and every other negative association that would make your effort all for naught.  But if you’re mostly nonviolent, then you garner sympathy from those who don’t like seeing people assaulted.

Suffragette- Rocks through windows

And while I don’t endorse tactics like shattering windows or blowing up homes as a means to get a point across, I do understand the frustration of wanting something you feel is yours by right.  Breaking the law is still a crime, but for some, including the women, that’s the best way to get your cause some attention.  Dramatic action does tend to do a better job of shaking people out of apathy.

Suffragette- Police break up protest

Suffragette may have a dreary look that mirrors the complacent mindset of some women at the time, but that makes the more violent scenes stand out when they happen.  There’s not a ton of violence in this film.  In fact, I think I can count the number of intense confrontations with law enforcement on one hand.  It’s not just violence for the sake of violence.  It’s showing that the women are ready to put everything on the line and more to make a point.

Suffragette- Officer about to strike suffragist

I can tell already that some people aren’t going to be comfortable with seeing scenes of women being beaten by police.  There’s even an instance of a character being force-fed after going on a self-imposed hunger strike.  That scene alone was uncomfortable, but I see this making people angry.  Hell, when watching this in the cinema, there was a woman in the row behind me that kept kicking the seat in front of her out of anger.  The audience experience here was very similar to that of The Hunting Ground.

Suffragette- Maud hugs Violet

Though Suffragette tells the story of one battle in a long, ongoing struggle that women face to this day, I do think the film does a good job at making these characters feel sympathetic.  These aren’t antagonistic women- they’re just fed up with the way things are and want something different, even when they know it will be an uphill battle.

Suffragette- Maud harassed at work

And it doesn’t help that the women realize that they have just as much to gain as they have to lose.  Even being seen as a supporter opens them up to criticism and harassment from male coworkers, superiors, and their husbands.  Not to mention so much time devoted to helping the movement means less time helping yourself and being there for your family, as Maud learns the hard way, but I won’t spoil that entire plot.

While all of the women of Suffragette may not be on board with the more extremist tactics, they at least appear open to the concept of more rights and how they can make a better life for themselves.  If you’re stuck in your ways and don’t have a problem, there’d be no need to consider supporting a movement other than through your words, but words aren’t enough.

Slack

This is my problem with what we call armchair activism today.  People announce their support and solidarity for some sort of tragedy, but their backing dwindles down to nothing than a hashtag or a photo filter change.  Hell, we have this going on right now with the Paris situation, but consider- marriage equality, Bring Back Our Girls, Kony, there have been many instances of people considering themselves part of a bigger movement without actually doing anything.  It’s like wanting the smug satisfaction of thinking that your few clicks make a difference when they don’t.

But that’s another story.  If the women in London just said they would back Pankhurst’s efforts, but didn’t do anything, they’d be just as ineffective as our keyboard justice warriors of today: all talk and no action.

Suffragette- Edith about to blow up a post office box

The film doesn’t take a lot of time to stop and discuss the implications of the protesters committing violent acts, which is a bit of a letdown, if only so there could be more potential conflict within the group.  Even if the women want more in life, they’re not all going to agree on the proper tactics.  I just wish the movie explored that avenue a bit more.

Also, I do wish that there was more inner conflict among the women, though.  There are glimpses of it when some remark that Pankhurst asks too much and I wish we had more of that.  At the end of the day, these women are being asked to do things that endanger their personal lives, so it would have been nice for the film to explore this avenue.

Suffragette- Edith tells Maud that she considers herself a soldier

Maud, as someone who happens to be in the right place when pivotal things happen, at least gets a decent amount of development when it comes to her feelings on suffrage.  Though she could have easily been based on a real figure, I’m not completely against having a fish out of water character because we get to learn and understand the journey along with them.

She’s open to discussing suffrage at first and hopes that Parliament will come through, but when that doesn’t happen, she realizes that the militant efforts made by other women have a point: make some noise and get people’s attention.  You have a better job that way than by gathering to hear speeches.

Suffragette- Maud about to lose her son

She sacrifices a lot in the process: her health, her relationship with her husband and son, her very name is associated with other women viewed as radicals, and she’s putting her very life on the line.  Again, going back to the Parliament, she realizes that there has to be a better way to live than how she does now.

Suffragette- Maud argues with her husband

As she’s proven many times before, and even earlier this year with Far From the Madding Crowd, Carey Mulligan is excellent at expressing a range of emotions.  I felt the loss on her face when she slowly realized she couldn’t spend as much time with her son, or her sudden anger after Parliament let her down by not approving suffrage.  Though she’s not the bomb thrower some of the more militant women are, the film takes time to show her natural progression to going from bystander to outspoken suffragist.

Suffragette- Meryl Streep is in this movie

I don’t know how Meryl Streep ended up having so much prominence in the trailers and promotions for this film, given how she’s not in it very long.  She’s fine as Pankhurst, but it does feel like a cameo.  This could have been anyone, but it seems like having Streep play the role gives it more weight.  But if you’re going to have a big name actress like Meryl Streep in a role, do more with her.  If you’re not, don’t make it seem like she has a bigger role than she really does.

If I had a minor qualm, it’s that the film goes into real life footage and on-screen descriptions of what happened later in history, as if to sum up the future for the audience that may already know this.  Pawn Sacrifice did something similar and I wasn’t a fan of that, either.  If the events of your film are done, I don’t think it’s necessary to spell out what happens later.  I also don’t think this film needed to rely on archival footage at one point when we were pretty much getting those events on-screen already.  This is really minor and not even an issue, but it’s something I can’t help but notice with some films.

Suffragette is a very strong film.  Though not all of its characters are as fleshed out as Maud, the movie makes their struggle and anger feel believable as it reminds us of how far we’ve come since then.  And, as some would say, how much further need to go for certain rights.  It doesn’t feel preachy and takes time to show the benefits and dangers of what comes when you stand up for what you feel you deserve.

It’s backed by strong performances from Anne-Marie Duff, Helena Bonham Carter, and especially Carey Mulligan as they take us to a time where women were willing to put all they had on the line to get access to the ballot box.  On its own merits and release date, the film is impressive, but it’s sure to hold more importance when we’re talking about the pay wage gap.  It shows how far we’ve come as a world, but there’s more to be done.

A Look at Sleeping with Other People

Sleeping with Other People- Poster

Sleeping with Other People. That’s a thing you do after you’re done sleeping with another person, right?  Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: boy and girl meet, boy and girl have moment together, boy and girl fight every natural instinct to get together, but we know how this can and will end.  This film isn’t out to change the romantic comedy genre so much as put a spin on it.

The director, Lesley Headland, assembles a pretty strong cast of talented people that are on their a game in this well-written tale.  There’s a lot of buildup to what we know will be the film’s conclusion, and even though it may be predictable, in this case, the movie’s ending is unearned, in my opinion.  But one step at a time.  This is Sleeping with Other People.

The film begins in the year 2000.  There’s a lot of commotion going on in this particular college dorm hallway.  Banging on one of the doors is Lainey, played by Alison Brie, who doesn’t look any more like a college student here than she did on Community, but that’s neither here nor there.

Anyway, Lainey here is trying to get the attention of the person in the dorm, but to no avail.  She’s nearly hauled off, but saved by one of the students that covers for her.  The savior is our other protagonist, Jake, played by Jason Sudeikis, who also doesn’t look any more convincing as a college student than Brie.  Okay, I’m off this for now.  I could spend all day here.

Jake brings Lainey to his dorm room.  We learn that Lainey, dressed in quite the skimpy outfit, is currently involved with one of Teacher’s Assistants.  In fact, she’s been failing a class on purpose just to get some solo lessons.  Jake finds it funny, but he’s also a tad disgusted since he believes that Lainey deserves better.

On the roof, the two talk of sex.  College students have that on the brain a lot, don’t you know?  Lainey asks Jake what sex is like, and Jake describes it as kissing with your entire body or shooting heroin into a moist environment.  Yeah, Jake hasn’t had sex at all yet, but I applaud his creativity.  A warm moment ends up going south a bit with poor choice of words, but things turn around when the two consummate the moment.

Sleeping with Other People- Jake, played by Jason Sudeikis, argues with Hannah, played by Margarita Levieva

We cut to the present day.  A woman named Hannah, played by Margarita Levieva, storms out of Jake’s place.  She’s furious because she was interested in a casual relationship, but Jake went and screwed Hannah’s best friend, Sarah.  Margarita isn’t the best of liars and it’s here where Jake showcases his use of logic.  Nothing was set in stone about their thing and she’s only incensed because the other woman happens to be her best friend.

Jake gets her to calm down and just when it looks like the two are headed back to his place, she pushes him into traffic.  Always look both ways before being pushed into the street.

Sleeping with Other People- Lainey, played by Alison Brie, tells Sam, played by Adam Brody, that she cheated on him

Lainey’s dinner with her date, Sam, played by Adam Brody, goes south fast.  Sam is very talkative and into Lainey for honest reasons.  He’s even talking about their possible future together.  However, Lainey needs to present a letter to Sam and she’d prefer to read it aloud and uninterrupted.  She mentions that, at the advice of a therapist, she’s been attending a program for…let’s call them love addicts.

Oh, and she cheated on Sam.  We don’t learn who, but Sam makes a scene and assumes that the other guy is his brother.  Lainey blames herself for this, as she should, but Sam is sure to be easy on her.  She’s not an addict, he says.  She’s just a whore.  When Sam leaves, Lainey heads to the ladies and texts a man named Matthew Sovochek.

Sleeping with Other People- Lainey at sex addicts meeting

Following this, Lainey sits in on a meeting of sex addicts.  She leaves during one particularly colorful tale from a man who liked having things stuffed in his ass and had both male and female partners.  It’s unfortunate that we don’t get to hear more of this tale because it’s being told by Billy Eichner, better known as Craig Middlebrooks on Parks and Recreation, and he’s as expressive here as he is on that show.

Sleeping with Other People- Jake and Lainey reunite

But the point of this scene is to reunite Lainey with Jake, who also happened to be attending the meeting.  The two catch up, with Jake learning that Lainey teaches kindergarten kids.  They plan to reconnect.  Jake even mentions that he’s on Facebook, but only after does he realize how odd it is to say that out loud.

We then see Jake hard at work.  He and his associate, Xander, played by Jason Mantzoukas, are about to have their work dissolved through a powerful executive named Paula, played by Amanda Peet.  Xander wants this signed right now, and while Jake wants to talk terms and conditions, he soon signs.  He’s also very forward and asks Paula on a date, despite her being recently divorced and having a kid.  She’s confused.  Jake could have anyone in the world, so to pick her is odd.

Sleeping with Other People- Lainey meets with Matthew Sovochek, played by Adam Scott

Lainey arrives at a gynecologist’s office for her appointment.  Said doctor performing on her is the aforementioned Matthew Sovochek, played by Ben Wyatt himself, Adam Scott.  An almost unrecognizable Adam Scott, at that.  Lainey tells Matthew that she can’t see him anymore, and he actually agrees.  In fact, he recently proposed to his now-fiancé, Emma.

The last thing Lainey needs is for Matthew to delete his number from her phone because she can’t bring herself to do it, but one thing leads to another and the two end up having sex on Matthew’s desk.

Sleeping with Other People- Lainey speaks with Kara

Later, Lainey rants to her lesbian friend, Kara, played by Natasha Lyonne, that she needs to stop having sex.  Kara tells Lainey that she may fall under having sexual anorexia.  That’s a thing, I suppose.

Sleeping with Other People- Xander, played by Jason Mantzoukas, and his wife, Naomi, played by Andrea Savage, drink with Jake and Lainey at the bar

Jake, Xander, and Xander’s wife, Naomi, played by Andrea Savage, have drinks at a bar.  Lainey joins in on the fun just as the four toast to virginity- the married couple knowing that Jake and Lainey lost their virginity to each other.  Lainey, a bit embarrassed by this, leaves, but Xander convinces Jake to pursue her.

There’s no push into traffic this time.  Lainey tells Jake that when the two met up for this tonight, she had hoped it would be a proper date.  Jake did not see it that way at first, but he’s fine with making a date out of this.  However, a change of scenery is necessary.

Sleeping with Other People- Jake and Lainey eat at a Chinese restaurant

And here, we get the first of many Jake and Lainey visits to a local Chinese restaurant.  Jake asks why Lainey was ever interested in Matt.  She explains that she thought he would choose her, even though she is psychotic and is going to meetings for sex addicts.  But, she points out, Jake is attending these meetings as well.

His reason for going is because his girlfriend gave him an ultimatum: go to the meetings or their relationship is over.  He went, but she dumped him anyway.  Jake doesn’t know how to end relationships and he doesn’t want to say that he can’t commit to someone because he’d come off like an asshole.  But being a bad guy is better than being honest.

Sleeping with Other People- Jake and Lainey come up with a safe word

When the date ends, Jake realizes that he has the urge to fuck Lainey.  How could anyone not want to fuck Alison Brie?  But realizing that this thing between them can’t progress to physical contact, and that they’ve ruined all of their past relationships, Jake and Lainey come to an agreement that this friendship can go no further than that.  They establish a system that includes a safe word to say whenever there’s great sexual tension.  Jake shoots down avocado, Guam, and noodle salad, but since he cringes when Lainey then suggests Dick in a Mousetrap, the safe word is henceforth mousetrap.

And I’m sure they’ll never get together by film’s end.

Sleeping with Other People is, at its core, a romantic comedy.  It has traits and tropes of your typical boy and girl will inevitably get together tale, but it’s much more than that.  This is a story not just about love, not just what it means to be in love or our perception of love, but also trying to maintain their friendship above all else.  Many critics have compared this film to When Harry Met Sally.  I’ve yet to see that film, despite how long it’s been out, so I can’t speak to the similarities.

Director and writer Leslye Headland knows what makes for a good romantic comedy and how to interject drama into the lives of characters that feel real. A lot of that has to do with their blemishes.  Jake and Lainey are not perfect at all.  They’re addicted to sex, they don’t know how commit to people, they aren’t the nicest of people, and their lives aren’t where they’d want them to be.  I’d argue that Jake appears to be in a better position than Lainey at times, but I’ll get to that later.

Sleeping with Other People- Lainey and Jake go shopping

This film asks what we want most in a relationship.  Do we want someone who’s just a quick fix, or something long lasting?  If you just want to get your rocks off, the quick fix may sound preferable, but it won’t mean much in the long term.  To quote from Hitch, “falling in love is so goddamn hard.”  Some people, like Jake, can find a match in no time, but if the connection doesn’t go beyond the physical and you’re not interested beyond that, there’s no reason to commit.

Sleeping with Other People- Jake after sex

And that’s something that neither of the main characters can do: commit.  Jake goes from one woman to the next, but instead of owning up and saying that he doesn’t want a relationship, he takes the coward’s way by cheating or giving a woman reason to leave.  He’s too afraid to say that he can’t commit.

Sleeping with Other People- Lainey admits that she cheated with another man

At the same time, Lainey can’t commit to anyone because she’s too hung up on the one that got away and isn’t interested in her beyond sex.  As such, she ends up burning bridges with any man who wants to have a connection with her because she’s stuck in the past.  She can’t move on and accept that there are more men beyond college flings.

Sleeping with Other People- Jake and Lainey are assumed to be a couple

So we have two characters that want happiness, but no idea of how to find it.  Logic and typical movie plots dictate that these two should get together.  First off, while they lost their virginity to one another, they’ve also been friends for a long time and don’t have that sexual urgency that they have towards others.  They just want to remain friends.  Right.

Sleeping with Other People- Quiet moment between Jake and Lainey

As someone who’s never been in love, I find that to be a pretty bullshit premise because it’s inevitable that two people of equal attraction will fall in love, despite every attempt to mask their feelings.  It’s the only issue I have with this film’s otherwise simple premise.  You can’t expect characters with a bond as deep as Jake and Lainey’s to stay friends forever and the audience is smart enough to think beyond ‘Will they, won’t they’ because we know they will.  Audiences have come to expect that happy ending, so what matters is making the journey interesting.

Equally Dead Inside- Gretchen unable to talk to Jimmy

This is one of the reasons I hold a show like You’re the Worst in high regard.  There, we know that Jimmy and Gretchen will, against their better judgment, become a couple, but the show is more on how they navigate the tricky waters instead of where the journey ends.  And creator Stephen Falk took the romantic comedy genre and turned it on its head with that show.  But enough about that.  I could talk all day about that show.

Sleeping with Other People- Lainey and Jake eat

But sometimes, the solution to your romantic issues may be right in you.  “The one” may not always be out there in the distance so much as right in front of you.  But you can’t just go for them from the start.  That would be too easy and the movie would be far too short.  But Jake and Lainey have that chemistry already.

After all, they lost their virginity to one another after realizing neither of them had crossed that line.  They already have a connection binding them, and then later in life, they still act like the best of friends.  What I think this film is saying is that in order to have a strong relationship, you need to start with an even stronger friendship.  Sure, that’s obvious, but too often do films have characters fall in love at first sight without any sort of conflict.  That’s too easy.

Sleeping with Other People- Jake and Lainey say their goodbyes

It’s thanks to Headland’s script, as well as the chemistry between Jason Sudeikis and Alison Brie, that the slow build to Jake and Lainey becoming an actual item feels real.  They shoot the shit at restaurants and text one another about their flings like they’re still in high school.

Sleeping with Other People- Jake and Lainey are not a couple

In addition, there’s a bit of self-awareness and meta humor at play here with the characters making sure that they’re not getting too attached since they’ve seen this scenario play out many times before.  That and both Jake and Lainey acknowledge that they do and act like a genuine couple, but deny that they are one.  They try to resist the urge to fall back into old habits to show that they’ve grown up, as hard as that is.  At one point, Lainey receives an unexpected phone call from Matthew.

Jake takes the phone away from Lainey, telling her that she has to move on, and Lainey gets upset about it because there was a missed opportunity for a quick romp.  In a moment of weakness, she almost succumbed to the urge for that gratification she so desperately sought, even though she doesn’t need it.  The problem is that she doesn’t realize that she doesn’t need it.  And at the same time, Jake doesn’t need to go from woman to woman and doesn’t see yet that his relationship problems would go away if he was more honest and didn’t try to talk his way out of his screw-ups.

Sleeping with Other People- Jake and Lainey in bed

But it’s because Jake and Lainey fit like a glove that keeps them away from each other for so long and drives them together.  One of the film’s central main points is about people being in a potentially damaging relationship with someone they like, versus a happy relationship with someone they don’t like.  It’s a risky move to take.  Instead of giving ourselves to someone who comes off as nice and wants to be with us, we turn our attention to the one we can’t have because we feel whole with them.

This means giving up the chance to be with a person who does want to be with you, leaving them to the sidelines when they’ve done nothing wrong, as Jake and Lainey do several times in the film.  This makes them feel a tad unlikable in my book, though part of that could be due to the writing, because they blow off decent people since the plot demands that these two get together.

Sleeping with Other People- Jake and Lainey show up at a birthday party on drugs

Despite the contrivances of the film and what it’s asking you to accept, I still enjoyed much of Sleeping with Other People.  There’s some great humor throughout, with two particular memorable moments of Jake and Lainey showing up at a children’s birthday party on ecstasy.

Sleeping with Other People- Jake teaches Lainey how to masturbate

Or another memorable scene where Jake uses a bottle and his fingers to show Lainey how to masturbate because she’s never done it before.  And she’s a woman, so I can believe that.

Sleeping with Other People- Xander and Naomi note the chemistry between Jake and Lainey

I also really enjoyed the chemistry between Jason Mantzoukas and Andrea Savage as Xander and Naomi.  When you put older, married couples alongside younger protagonists, there’s the fear that they’ll just be stuck-up, bitter, and resentful of their friends for living the lives they once wanted.  Not so here.  Xander and Naomi do want to relive their youth, but they’re not an angry couple.  They’re fine where they are and still find time to fool around like they’re college kids.

It’s a nice way to show that there is life beyond marriage and it can contain happy moments.  In addition, they also serve as mentors to Jake and Lainey with advice that benefits in their favor instead of just trying to push them together.  Also, stay for the credits, as Xander and Naomi have one of the film’s best and extended comedic moments.

Sleeping with Other People- Lainey speaks to Jake outside the meeting

The leads are just as entertaining.  Alison Brie makes for a great, damaged woman that somehow manages to put a smile on despite her less than great situation.  As the film progresses, Lainey learns to have respect for herself, as she spends most of the movie carrying a torch for Matthew.

Sleeping with Other People- Lainey teaches the kids how to dance

Again, she’s not perfect and I appreciate that she both has a lighter side and learns life lessons as the movie progresses.  She admits her flaws and insincerity, but she also strives to better herself by applying to medical school.  So she may be in a rut, but she’s sure as hell not going to remain there.

Sleeping with Other People- Jake shoots down Lainey's code words

Most of what I’ve seen Jason Sudeikis in has been comedy, whether it’s the Horrible Bosses films, Saturday Night Live, or It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia.  But here, he’s still funny, but he’s given some range with a slightly more serious character.  Jake is charming and quick with witty lines, but when it comes to Lainey, he knows his boundaries.  When he gives her advice or encouragement, it’s not done with the intent of getting into her pants.

Sleeping with Other People- Jake and Lainey text

And like Lainey, he goes through a character arc when he lays off his womanizing and tries to find something stable.  In addition, he’s not immune to Lainey’s beauty.  He shows obvious jealousy when Lainey dates some, but not all, guys because she discusses things that he thought were private.  There were no terms established as far as that goes and he does come off as petty, but better that he show some form of emotion, rather than act as if he’s unable to be turned on by Lainey.

With all this said, it might seem like I don’t have any issues with the movie, but I have one major qualm: this movie’s ending is completely unearned.  Again, it’s clear that Jake and Lainey will get together by film’s end, but the way in which the film wraps up and shows total disregards for some characters just to pair Jake and Lainey is unbelievable and makes the two of them look very unlikable in my book.  I won’t spoil it, but the actions Jake and Lainey take cannot and should not be excused just because they’re the main characters and we want to see them become an item.  It left a sour taste in my mouth and when the film ended, it was all I could think about as opposed to all of the good that came before it.

So Sleeping with Other People is still a good movie regardless.  It’s a different approach to the romantic comedy genre that does a lot of things to set it apart from typical films of that category.  It’s helped by a fun script and great performances from the cast.  At the end of the day, do we want to fail with someone we like or succeed with someone who we don’t like as much?  It’s interesting to think about, but it’s just too bad about that ending.  It put a damper on an otherwise contrived, but enjoyable film.

A Look at The Diary of a Teenage Girl

Diary of a Teenage Girl- Poster

Coming-of-age stories can be challenging. You want an interesting protagonist, a storyline viewers can relate to, and if you’re going for realism, it helps if everything feels grounded.  I’m no filmmaker or professional critic- this is just based off of viewing experiences.

The Diary of a Teenage Girl is very much a grounded film that deals with the complex issue of a sexual relationship between a teenager and a grown man, but this movie isn’t here to comment on that.  Rather, we’re here to watch a young girl’s journey as her eyes are opened to a new world and she learns about control, her passions, the notion of being loved, wanted, and, at the end of the day, what makes her happy.  It’s an enjoyable viewing from start to finish.  Let’s dive into The Diary of a Teenage Girl.

Diary of a Teenage Girl- Minnie Goetze, played by Bel Powley, strides after having sex

The film begins in San Francisco, 1976, and it’s a wonderful time to be alive.  Someone just had sex for the first time.  Holy shit.  As she checks out the folks around her living in the moment, our hero races home to one of her closest friends: her tape recorder.  She turns it on and recounts her life and the events that led to this sexual awakening, so let’s flash back for a moment.

This is 15-year-old Minnie Goetze, played by Bel Powley.  Young Minnie here doesn’t remember the details of her birth- just that it was ugly.  We learn that Minnie’s mother married her intelligent ex-stepfather, but he’s not around for the moment.  We’ll meet him later.

In the meantime, Minnie’s mother, Charlotte, played by Kristen Wiig, is currently with her boyfriend, Monroe, played by Alexander Skarsgård.  One night, Minnie joins them on the couch for some television. Charlotte heads to bed, leaving Minnie and Monroe alone.  They get comfortable and close, Minnie even notices that Monroe, whether intentional or by accident, placed a hand on her tit.  Minnie wonders if her boobs are small.  For a 15-year-old girl, they’re not.

I don’t have a good eye- it’s just a guess.

Diary of a Teenage Girl- Monroe speaks to Minnie

Minnie, I should mention, is a cartoonist with a knack for art.  She loves to draw and is quite imaginative.  She speaks to a drawing of Monroe, who says that her tits are perfect.  It’s always nice to have your cup size validated by art.

Next day, Monroe is still on Minnie’s mind.  She thinks that he is thinking of her.  When she arrives home, she finds Charlotte and Monroe making plans visit a bar, but Charlotte is reluctant to join.  Instead, Charlotte suggests that Monroe take Minnie with him to the bar.  It never hurts to start early.  Plus, hey, it’s the 1970s, underage drinking probably isn’t discouraged in some circles.

Diary of a Teenage Girl- Minnie and Monroe at the bar

Anyway, at the bar, Minnie flirts a bit with Monroe.  She tries biting him, but then she takes his finger in her mouth and begins to work it.  In response, Monroe realizes that he’s got a boner.  To prove it, Monroe has her feel it.  It’s an interesting feel to Minnie, but she still thinks that it’s skin.  Then she comes right out and tells Monroe that she wants him to fuck her.  Disbelief is written all over his face.

However, Monroe decides that he can’t have sex that night.  Next day, though, he swings by her school and picks her up, because cutting school was cool in the 1970s.

The two head to Monroe’s pad and, slowly but surely, Minnie experiences her first sexual experience.  When it’s all said and done, the two stare at the ceiling.  Minnie marks a bloody X on Monroe- conquest conquered.  Minnie decides that she wants a picture of herself, so Monroe obliges and takes one that she can keep.  But none of him, though.  And no telling anyone about this.

At home, Minnie finds her mother and sister, Gretel, played by Abigail Wait, watching television.  But no time for family bonding.  Minnie heads for her recorder and shares that, one hour ago, she had sex, which officially makes her an adult.

Diary of a Teenage Girl- Minnie calls her friend, Kimmie, played by Madeleine Waters

Minnie then calls her friend, Kimmie, played by Madeleine Waters, to share the good news.  Well, sort of, as she makes Kimmie guess.  When Kimmie learns that Minnie had sex with Monroe, she’s taken aback.  After all, Monroe is in his 30s and Minnie…well, is not.

Diary of a Teenage Girl- Minnie observes herself in the mirror

After Monroe stops by to see Charlotte, Minnie reflects.  This awakening has brought about feelings within her, as she wants to be loved by a person who feels they would die without her.  While staring at naked body in the mirror, she yearns to have a body pressed against hers.  The girl is just exuding sexuality, isn’t she?

Diary of a Teenage Girl- Minnie reflects while on the bus

In fact, Minnie is so open to discussing these adventures of hers that she shares to her recorder that she and Monroe have had sex seven times.  All while on a bus with other passengers.  You know, what normal people do.  At least she’s normal enough to pass notes in class.

Back at home, Charlotte and Monroe follow the news regarding the ongoing kidnapping of Patty Hearst.  Minnie and Kimmie, meanwhile, discuss the possibility of Minnie’s mother learning about her daughter’s activities.

Diary of a Teenage Girl-Charlotte gives Minnie advice

Charlotte, though, isn’t a fan of Kimmie and lets Minnie know as such when the two have a moment together.  She thinks Kimmie is white trash, but hey, the boys seem to like the way she dresses.  Charlotte, it turns out, was quite the piece when she was Kimmie’s age.

It’s Kristen Wiig- I’m sure she’s always had a banging look.  Anyway, Charlotte asks her daughter if she likes anyone.  She knows that Kimmie is attractive.  If she puts her body out there to get attention, she’ll realize that she great power over the boys.

And that, my friends, is the moral of the story.  The end.

Nah, let’s keep going.  After another sex session between Minnie and Monroe, Minnie pops the question to him: is she fat?  This is already one of those trap questions for guys, but to ask it right after sex is odd, but par for the course with this film.  Monroe realizes how odd this arrangement is and wants to stop, but admits that Minnie has a hold on him.  Women do tend to have that power.

Diary of a Teenage Girl- Minnie in the comic book store

We follow Minnie to a comic shop, where she still has sex on the brain.  To the point, she likes being fucked and wants to have sex right now.  She picks up a copy of Aline Kominsky’s comic, Twisted Sister, and gets the inspiration to start working on her own comic.

Later, Minnie later receives a call from her stepfather, Pascal, played by Christopher Meloni, who is interested in having his daughters join him in New York.

Diary of a Teenage Girl- Minnie walks in on Monroe's birthday celebration

That evening, as Minnie waxes on about her feelings, she hears a commotion.  Charlotte, Monroe, and their friends drunkenly stumble into the apartment, having had a great time celebrating Monroe’s 35th birthday.  Upon spotting her, Monroe leads the adults in a toast to Minnie.  For what, I don’t know.  It’s not her birthday.

Diary of a Teenage Girl- Minnie has sex with Chuck, played by Quinn Nagle

When Monroe isn’t around, Minnie has sex with a school mate, Chuck, played by Quinn Nagle.  And it’s clear on the floor of the pool house that Minnie is the dominant.  She urges Chuck to take things slow, and then she takes control by getting on top.  It’s fine, but Chuck is intimidated by Minnie’s fiery spirit.

Diary of a Teenage Girl- Monroe picks Minnie up from school

When Minnie heads home, Monroe, notices the hickey on her neck.  He later swings by the school to pick her up so the two can go look at boats.  Monroe, seeing how interested Minnie is in sex, rightly accuses her of being a nymphomaniac.  Well, someone had to say it.

Diary of a Teenage Girl- Minnie and Monroe on the boat

Inside one of the boats, Monroe tells Minnie about his future plans.  He wants to buy a boat so he can travel and become the captain of his own destiny.  Minnie, randy as ever, wants sex right now.  As the two fool around, though, Minnie jokingly yells out ‘Rape.’  Now you do not fuck around with that word in a casual way, and Monroe knows this.  He hushes her.

After some consensual sex, Minnie shows her artwork to Monroe, who is fine with it, but advises against showing it to people that may find it weird.  Monroe is ready to move on, but Minnie doesn’t want to leave the boat.  She threatens to run out of the boat naked, but Monroe keeps her there.  And after trying to get Monroe to talk about his parents goes nowhere, Minnie decides that it’s time the two had a serious talk about their relationship.

I know.  It’s as weird as it sounds.  When Minnie, as a joke again, threatens to tell her mother about them, Monroe loses his cool.  Minnie is just a child, he says.  If anything, he’s the one who should be telling her mother, but he feels manipulated by Minnie.  Minnie’s upset by this and begins to cry while telling Monroe that she hates him.  Monroe, though, still likes her.

Diary of a Teenage Girl- Kimmie and Minnie party

Later, Minnie and Kimmie party in Minnie’s room and lick her Iggy Pop poster.  Kimmie shares a tale about her blowing a Black father and how much she enjoyed it, but she’s scared of crossing that line into sex.

Know who else is scared?  The boy from before, who is scared off by the intensity of the sex between him and Minnie.

Diary of a Teenage Girl- Minnie and Kimmie at the bar

Okay, that’s fine.  Minnie has other ways.  After learning that her mother lost her job, Minnie and Kimmie head into town to see the Rocky Horror Picture Show.  At a bar, the girls discuss the power they have over boys, particularly if they pretend that they’re hookers.  Minnie shows off her hooker walk to Minnie and two boys at the other end of the bar.  When she returns, Minnie shares with Kimmie that she promised that the two of them would blow the boys if they gave them money.

And the very next shot is of the two of them on their knees in the bathroom, doing just that.  And the girls even join hands while doing so, as if their powers combined will enhance their fellatio.

So…yeah.  We then cut to the two girls laying in Minnie’s bed.  Both feel weird, and for a damn good reason.  The two vow to never do something like that again.

Sheesh, is female adolescence this complicated across the board?  Let’s stop here.

For the past few years, we’ve seen a number of films like Bridesmaids and, more recently, Trainwreck, with female leads that don’t conform to what we’d expect.  Rather than giving us a pristine woman who is the jewel of everyone’s eyes, we see them as more flawed and down to Earth.  The best example I can think of would be Obvious Child.

Superbad

But more than that, a lot of- but not all- the coming-of-age films have focused on the male perspective.  This doesn’t mean that there aren’t frank films with female leads and I’m not calling for a sudden explosion of movies that explore the female libido.  What I’m saying is that, like Obvious Child, I welcome this sort of film, especially when done by a confident director who takes the material seriously, and that’s what Marielle Heller managed to accomplish here.

Diary of a Teenage Girl- Charlotte, Minnie, and Monroe on the couch

The Diary of a Teenage Girl is, in fact, a coming-of-age film with a focus on female adolescence and sexuality.  That mere premise alone would ward people off, which is unfortunate because this is a very honest movie that is unapologetic about the way it presents its main character and conflict from the very start.

Diary of a Teenage Girl- Minnie talks with art

I think a challenge of a film like this is the target audience.  There’s a lot to take from Diary, in particular if you’re a teenage girl, because a movie with this subject matter isn’t accessible to certain groups of people.  Despite starring a young protagonist, Diary has an “R” rating from the MPAA.

This, in effect, limits who can view the film while it’s in theaters.  I understand the reason for the rating.  We are talking about a movie with a bit of nudity and its main storyline involving a teenager in a sexual relationship with a man in his 30s.

A117_C002_0418MH

Similar to Obvious Child, Diary sticks out because it breaks the mold of what’s conventional and standard for movies with young, female leads.  While this is a story about a young girl going through a sexual awakening, there’s a much deeper tale here about control and sexual liberation.  It’s about discovering your inner abilities and tasting power for the first time.

Diary of a Teenage Girl- Minnie and Kimmie go out

The film explores self-worth by giving us a protagonist who, for the longest time, thought that she wasn’t desirable.  Minnie is by no means a role model, but she’s also not a character you despise.  She’s experiencing the first taste of adulthood well before most would say she should, but this is Minnie’s decision to make.  We’re seeing the film through her eyes.

Diary of a Teenage Girl- Monroe and Minnie in bed

The Diary of a Teenage Girl isn’t here to pick sides or hit you over the head with the morality hammer.  It’s not here to question whether it’s acceptable for a girl to have sex with a man much older than her.  It isn’t out to make Minnie, Monroe, or Charlotte out to be villains.

Diary of a Teenage Girl- Charlotte and Minnie hang out

There isn’t a moral of the story here so much as there are lessons learned.  Minnie goes through an arc and we’re left to come to our own conclusions about her decisions.  To me, that’s how it should be.  It would be easy to take a movie like this and beat you over the head with a message about the dangers of premarital and underage sex.  If you want that, watch a PSA.

Diary of a Teenage Girl- Kimmie and Minnie at the bar

In addition, if the film spent more time having you question Minnie’s decisions, we would judge her instead of just embracing her going through the motions of adolescence.  This movie, despite its premise, takes a serious examination of what it means to be a girl growing into a woman.

Diary of a Teenage Girl- Minnie walks with confidence

It respects Minnie’s decisions rather, than make a big fuss about them.  After Minnie’s first experience, she takes notice of how much people around her are into sex and what kind of body she has.  The scene of her examining her own nude body in the mirror is a surprise moment, but it’s important because she’s now paying attention to the body she downplayed for years.

Diary of a Teenage Girl- Minnie takes a bath

One of the central themes of Diary is acceptance.  Minnie wonders aloud whether others are thinking about her and she longs to feel contact with another human body.  I remember having similar feelings when I was a teenage girl.  Before, Minnie didn’t think much of herself, but now, she feels that she needs to have sex in order to be happy.  Again, the film isn’t here to pick one side or the other.  Even though Minnie enjoys sex, she realizes that having a man in her life isn’t what will make her happy.

Diary of a Teenage Girl- Minnie draws

So in addition to watching a girl go through life after sex, we’re seeing her consider what makes her happy in life.  That comes across best illustrated in her art.  If there’s one thing Minnie is passionate about, it’s her art, and I’m glad that the film takes time to establish her love for the craft and how it’s interwoven into the film.

Big Eyes- Dream sequence

It’s surreal at times watching her interact with art and almost reminded me of Big Eyes, specifically the scene where Margaret goes shopping and sees other customers with the same big eyes in her paintings.

In addition to acceptance, Diary talks a lot about control.  Though Minnie may be a teenager, she’s more than capable of dominating her partner during sexual encounters.  She marks Monroe after she’s had sex for the first time, as if she’d just marked her prey.  And Chuck fears her fiery spirit when she gets on top of him.

It can be scary, but also liberating to jump headfirst into a situation where you have little experience, but that’s where Minnie’s rush comes from: taking control of a situation and running it not because she wants to dominate her partners, but because she can.

Diary of a Teenage Girl- Minnie talks with her mother

It takes a bit of encouragement from her mother to call attention to the fact that, as a woman, her body can get men to do whatever a woman asks.  That’s not the most motherly advice to give, but it’s important because it backs up her reasoning for forcing sex with Monroe and sets up what she’ll do to entice both men and women as she puts her body to good use.

Diary of a Teenage Girl- Minnie examines her own breasts

For the first time in her life, Minnie realizes what it’s like to have power and it’s an intoxicating feeling.  She’s not setting herself up to be a dominatrix.  But because she’s still young, she goes through this power rush with a childlike wonder.  Monroe doesn’t force her to have sex- she makes a conscious decision to seek him out.

Patty Hearst

Having this film take place around the time of Patty Hearst’s kidnapping was a good way to tie that real life event into Minnie’s character arc.  Just as Charlotte wonders whether Hearst was forced into committing crimes or if she chose to do wrong, we could ask the same of Minnie.  Even though she isn’t, it’s not unlikely that someone will question the consent factor between Monroe and Minnie.  Is she a victim?  She never makes herself out to be one.

Hell, Monroe may speak for a lot of audience goers when he calls attention to the fact that he is a grown man having sex with a teenager.  Minnie jokingly screams rape and threatens to tell her mother about their encounters.  While she’s just having fun, Monroe understands the seriousness of what could happen if word got out.  It may be the free-loving 1970s, but this is still a man involved in a sexual relationship with an underage girl.

Diary of a Teenage Girl- Minnie with a classmate

Again, though, Minnie is fine with this and is willing to take the risks, despite any consequences or backlash she’ll receive.  To a point.  I prefer this film taking place in the 1970s as opposed to now.  Had this occurred in 2015, Minnie would go through what people call ‘slut-shaming’ and the movie would become more about making her a victim or whore instead of letting her make her decisions and dealing with the consequences.  She’d be too obsessed with what others think of her.

Diary of a Teenage Girl- Schoolmate calls Minnie a slut

That’s not the case here.  After having sex, Minnie walks with confidence in her stride.  At one point, she leaves school and walks past a classmate who calls her a slut under her breath.  Rather than acknowledge that, Minnie shrugs and goes on about her business.  She’s not bothered by being demonized.  In this day and age, though, with how quick people are to criticize someone on social media, I don’t think this film would have worked as well if it took place in the present.

Diary of a Teenage Girl- Minnie and her mother, Charlotte, played by Kristen Wiig

This extends to the portrayal of Minnie’s mother.  Sure, there’s something to be said about a somewhat absent mother who engages in drugs, alcohol, and doesn’t pay much attention to her daughter’s sexual activities, but that’s looking at things from an outsider’s perspective.  True, Charlotte isn’t the best of mothers.

Diary of a Teenage Girl- Monroe and Charlotte discuss how to handle Minnie

We know that she’s had a difficult life and needs to get her shit together, but she is trying.  The problem is that, as the adult, she should show more responsibility instead of turning to drugs for solace.  Despite how damaged she is, Charlotte does still try to encourage Minnie.  In hindsight, she might have held out giving that advice if she knew that her daughter was having sex with her boyfriend.

Diary of a Teenage Girl- Charlotte speaks with Minnie

As far as the acting goes, it’s an impressive performance from Kristen Wiig.  I’ve gotta say, I’m continually impressed by the roles she’s picked since leaving Saturday Night Live.  She’s still funny, but her roles on The Skeleton Twins, Welcome to Me, and now this show that she has range well beyond comedic performances.

Diary of a Teenage Girl- Alexander Skarsgård as Monroe

Alexander Skarsgård is also great as Monroe.  He’s got the right kind for this character and the film doesn’t try to paint him as a pedophile or criminal because he’s having sex with a teenager.  Is it questionable?  Sure, but Monroe isn’t in this to take advantage of Minnie.  Hell, he’s just along for the ride and recognizes that Minnie enjoys the attention as much as she does the sex.

In addition, again, he’s not blind to the fact that he is having sex with a teenager who is also his girlfriend’s daughter.  That’s just seven kinds of fucked up and I’m glad the film has Monroe speak for the audience when he points out how wrong this is.  He could walk away any moment, but he enjoys Minnie’s companionship.

Monroe may not be a creeper, but he is a damaged man.  He engages in drinking and drugs just as much as Charlotte and just dreams of sailing the seas.  Monroe doesn’t have a clear goal in life for himself.  He lives in the moment.  That’s not bad, but it does paint him as a tad lazy, in my opinion.

Diary of a Teenage Girl- Minnie flustered while in class

But the star of the show is Minnie.  Again, it’s been years since I was a teenage girl, but Minnie feels authentic.  She’s not made out to be perfect at all.  She isn’t the most attractive girl in her class, doesn’t try to make herself stick out, and doesn’t make desperate pleas for attention.  Her passions are sex and her art.  Yeah, we’re still dealing with a teenager here, but something about the way Minnie goes about her sexual adventures feel authentic.

Diary of a Teenage Girl- Minnie stradles Monroe

She isn’t just there to jump Monroe’s bones.  She’s still wondering about her body image and, after sex, asks him the random question about her weight.  This is as much a journey for her as it is her own rite of passage.  Since crossing that line, she sees the world in a new light.  It’s like giving sugar to a kid for the first time and letting them see what all the fuss is about.  Minnie is that kid tasting the forbidden substance and wants more.

Diary of a Teenage Girl- Minnie does her makeup

Again, though, Minnie isn’t perfect- just naïve, and that’s fine because she still has a lot of growing up to do.  Why does she have sex with her mother’s boyfriend?  Why does she get deep into drugs at such a young age?  Why does she decide to have female partners?  Because she can and chooses to.  This film has Minnie making one questionable decision after another- decisions that parents would balk at for many reasons.  But not Charlotte, at least, not until a certain point in the film…

Diary of a Teenage Girl- Minnie making out in the car

I think it’s fair to say that many of us long for a genuine connection with someone: be it a spouse, friend, parent, lover, or all of the above.  Until she has sex, all those feelings Minnie had were buried underneath the surface, just waiting for an outlet.  Granted, her art also is also a way for her to express her true feelings, but having sex with Monroe was a game-changer for Minnie.  She can’t go back to being that mild-mannered, unassuming girl.  She can only go forward and try to make sense of her life.

Diary of a Teenage Girl- Minnie records an entry

Like Monroe, Minnie wants to be the captain of her own destiny.  The difference is, of course, experience.  Minnie hasn’t been around as long as Monroe to seriously make adult decisions and she pays for some of her choices.  Despite how much she puts into this relationship, she is still, at heart, a kid.  She cries when Monroe calls her out for taking advantage of him.  And even though she feels on top of the world, she still has trouble fitting in at school.

Diary of a Teenage Girl- Minnie thinks

But there’s no trouble at all with the performance.  Bel Powley is amazing in this role and I was surprised to learn that she’s actually British because she pulls off an American accent quite well.  But then, that seems to be pretty easy for non-American actors.  She feels like an authentic American teenage girl and can play both fun-loving and mature at the same time when her arc comes to an end.  And the writing never makes her try to sound older than she is.

Juno

The difference between this film and something like Juno is that I can buy Minnie saying things like she needs to have a serious talk about her relationship with a man in his 30s.  She’s caught up in the moment and feels like she’s more mature than she is, but she isn’t.  Whereas in Juno, a lot of the dialogue felt like it was written for someone much older than Juno herself.

If I had an issue with the film, it’s not about a teenager being involved with a man in his 30s, but that the ones that notice them close together don’t seem to pay much notice.  There’s a scene early on where Minnie and Monroe are a bit too close for comfort, and I get that the moment is about them, but come on, it doesn’t take much for one person to look over and notice something off about that situation.  And to the film’s credit, Charlotte does become suspicious before thinking nothing of it, so it’s not as if the film ignores this altogether.

Diary of a Teenage Girl- Minnie thinks on the school steps

All that said, The Diary of a Teenage Girl is an amazing film and a great coming-of-age tale.  It takes a break from the testosterone filled movies about boys being boys and lets us see things from the female perspective.  It presents us with a flawed individual who is exposed to a whole new world through her first sexual encounter.  From there, each decision she makes is her own and the film doesn’t feel the need to make the audience pick a side.  It presents the situation and conflict, the character’s motive and actions, and lets you come to your own conclusion.

To me, especially for a film like this, that’s how it should be.  What will one person do to feel loved?  Is it better to be loved first, or to love yourself?  The film presents the questions and allows us to see Minnie find the answers as she makes her journey.  Though Kristen Wiig and Alexander Skarsgård are great in their performances, this is Bel Powley’s film.  With some strong acting, an interesting protagonist, and a refreshing change of pace from your typical coming-of-age story, The Diary of a Teenage Girl is a film that I would very much recommend.

It’s not for everyone, let me make that clear, but I think it’s one worth seeing.

A Look at Infinitely Polar Bear

Infinitely Polar Bear- Poster

They may not have it all together, but together, they may have it all.  Such is the tale of Maya Forbes’ Infinitely Polar Bear which, like Still Alice and Silver Linings Playbook, gives us a look at mental illnesses, but this one with a bit more of a personal touch.  The strength comes through it’s warm tone and likable cast that all manage to connect and make their bonds feel real and believable.

Now like the aforementioned films, Infinitely Polar Bear isn’t here to teach you about manic depression, but to show how one family may not have it all, but whatever they come up against, they will face it together.

The film begins with some expository narration about dad, who we’ll meet in a bit.  He was diagnosed as manic depressive in 1967.  Apparently he’d been going around in a fake beard in Cambridge and calling himself Jesus John Harvard.  He met mom in Boston and told her of his breakdowns, but she didn’t care.  Soon enough, the two got married and had two daughters, one of whom is narrating the beginning of our tale.

Infinitely Polar Bear- Cam Stuart, played by Mark Ruffalo, photographs his daughters, Amelia, played by Imogene Wolodarsky, and Faith, played by Ashley Aufderheide

The year is 1978.  We meet the father of the hour, Cam Stuart, played by Mark Ruffalo.  Despite it being time for school, Cam has great news: he just got fired!  Workplace politics, you know.  Anyway, his two daughters- Amelia, played by Imogene Wolodarsky, and the younger one, Faith, played by Ashley Aufderheide- don’t think this will be good news for their mother, but Cam thinks otherwise.

Infinitely Polar Bear- Maggie, played by Zoe Saldana, comes to take the girls

After spending a bit of time in the woods, the girls head back home.  Waiting with the car to take the kids to school is Maggie Stuart, played by Gamora herself, Zoe Saldana.

Well, the Marvel Cinematic Universe now has two of its characters stepping away from the action for a little bit.

Infinitely Polar Bear- Cam shows up in a speedo

Anyway, Maggie shows up for the girls, but then Cam shows up on a bike and wearing nothing but a speedo.  He rants and raves about hunting in an enraged fit and manages to scare both Maggie and the girls.  He even ends up taking out part of the car, so they’re not going anywhere.

Infinitely Polar Bear- Cam mellows out

Sometime later when Cam has mellowed out, he sits by himself while Maggie explains to the Amelia and Faith that their father is sick.  When the police show up to haul Cam off, Maggie asks the girls to not tell their friends at school that their father got arrested.

Infinitely Polar Bear- Cam in a facility

Instead, the girls write letters to their father about how Mom is moving them to an apartment.  The three then visit Cam in a medical facility.  He tells them that he’s feeling much better thanks to his medication.  More than that, he wants to go home.

Infinitely Polar Bear- Maggie with the girls

Six weeks later, Maggie and the girls have settled into their new apartment, but things aren’t going so well.  For one, Faith carves into the dinner table to pass the time, while Amelia isn’t a fan of the light.  Maggie, though, is stressed out enough with her job and could do without her children’s whining.

Infinitely Polar Bear- Amelia visits her father

Fair enough.  So Amelia takes it upon herself to visit the halfway house where Cam now lives.  Though it’s unexpected, Cam welcomes Amelia in and tells her of his plan to eventually leave the halfway house and get an apartment and job.  After that, maybe Maggie will let him move back in with her and the girls.  He says that he’s stopped drinking, so hopefully that’s a plus for him. Cam calls Maggie at her job- no personal calls allowed, mind you- to let her know about Amelia’s unannounced visit.

Back at Maggie’s, while Cam and Maggie talk, the girls get their laundry from downstairs.  In a moment I can’t help but smile at because of how odd it is, the two run into other kids living in the apartment.  These kids go Peabody, but the girls go to Lincoln, which is apparently a bad school.  Amelia, who doesn’t want to lie, tells her father, who promises to teach the girls how to fight so they won’t get their asses kicked.  It’s important that kids don’t get their asses kicked.

The kids do wonder why they don’t go to school in the Peabody district.  After all, dad’s family is rich.  This is a minor qualm I have, but let’s come back to that later.

Infinitely Polar Bear- Maggie applies to business school

Maggie, though, is making plans for her next move.  She’s applied to business school received a scholarship to attend Columbia University.  As such, she’ll need Cam to take care of the girls while she’s away.  She’s taken precautions to make sure she’s around as often as possible.  If she takes summer sessions as well, she can finish in 18 months.  Plus, she’ll be able to visit on some weekends as well.

Cam feels that he’s completely unprepared move in and take care of the girls, but it’s good to have purpose and a routine in his life, so this could benefit everyone.  Maggie reminds him that the two of them had a good education, so their daughters should have the same opportunity.

Infinitely Polar Bear- Cam and Maggie talk with Cam's parents- Murray, played by Keir Dullea, and Pauline, played by Beth Dixon

Following this, we get a brief scene of Cam and Maggie meeting Cam’s parents: Murray, played by Keir Dullea, and Pauline, played by Beth Dixon.  Murray and Pauline are well off and affluent.  And they refuse to lend a hand.  That’s tough news for Cam and Maggie.

Infinitely Polar Bear- Maggie leaves for New York

But soon enough, Maggie is all packed up and ready to head for New York.  After some goodbyes and a quick family photo, she parts ways with the three.  However, Cam can’t help but chase after the van to offer driving directions.  It’s always important to be aware of potential alternate routes, you know?

Infinitely Polar Bear- Cam shows the girls his great grandparents former home

So what does Cam do to entertain the girls?  He takes them to the home of one of their great grandparents…which they no longer own.  It’s a fancy location, courtesy of Cam’s family becoming wealthy through the railroad way back when.  As such, they became one of the richest families in Boston.  There is a trust, but only great grandma has access.  It’s hard to explain.  Again, I’ll get back to this.

Cam just takes the girls inside the home.  Apparently because this is Boston, people practically expect you to walk into their homes.  I’ll keep that in mind in the off-chance I ever visit Boston.  However, the homeowner soon tells this stranger that, no, he’s not giving house tours.

On the drive back, Amelia and Faith let their father know just how much he embarrassed them.  I mean, it wasn’t that bad, girls.  This guy didn’t even know you.  Cam is more angry than embarrassed, really.  Back at the apartment, the girls call their mother and demand she come home right now, but she’s busy with registration.

Infinitely Polar Bear- Cam drops the girls off at school

Next day, the girls are almost late for school.  Though Cam manages to drop them off, neither of them wants him to pick them up that afternoon.

Actually, he doesn’t get to pick them up because he runs into car trouble and spends the day working on fixing it.  Heading home, Cam and the girls help a neighbor with her groceries, though Cam introduces himself to both her and every single person that they pass on the way to the elevator.  After arriving at her door, Cam overstays his welcome and wants to help with her load, maybe with putting the groceries away too, but she has to cook dinner.  Cam is the only one who doesn’t get that the neighbor just wanted to be rid of him.

That evening, as the girls get ready for bed, Cam shares a tale of his time at Harvard.  Well, sort of two tales.  The first involves a brawl with a musician who had his music interrupted by Cam’s singing.  When the man jumped him, Cam shit his pants.  How sweet.  But that’s not what got him kicked out of Harvard.  That came during the next semester when he registered for 75 classes.  Why?

Cam gets to work around the house, as there are dishes to be done, clothes to wash, and boxes to move.  However, he soon leaves and tells the sleeping girls that he’ll be back after midnight.  Where does he go?  To the bar for some brews.

When he returns, he finds the door locked.  Amelia soon lets him in, but he warns her that a simple chain on the door won’t keep people from entering.  Not for long, anyway, and especially not when you’re Bruce Banner.

Next morning, an angry Cam wishes his daughters a nice fucking day as they head to school.  A real loving father, this guy.

Luckily, things go a lot smoother later on as Cam and the girls sing while they get the house in shape just in time for Maggie to arrive for her visit.  The girls want to learn about their father, and Maggie reveals that Cam used to have a great job as a designer, but the pressure was too much for him.  Maggie didn’t know he was manic depressive, but she’s not sorry that she married him either way because she still loves him.

This, I feel, is an appropriate point to stop with the plot.  The movie isn’t very long as is and I don’t want to talk too much, as there are moments moving forward that I want to address while discussing the film.

Much like Still Alice and even other recent films like Silver Linings Playbook, tackling mental illness on film can be tricky.  You want to shed light on the subject matter and inform viewers who may be unfamiliar about issues such as manic depression.  At the same time, this is still a film, so you need to make sure that the audience is still engaged enough in the material to actually care about the characters and their situations.

Infinitely Polar Bear- Maya Forbes and Zoe Saldana

Infinitely Polar Bear manages to do both, but also includes a personal touch.  The director and writer, Maya Forbes, based this off of her father’s bout with manic depression.  As such, I feel that there’s a bit more heart put into this film and while it doesn’t give as much information regarding manic depression as I would have liked, I think this is a strong first attempt for Forbes’ directorial debut.

Infinitely Polar Bear- Home Movies

And to talk about cinematography for a second, I did enjoy how a lot of the film is presented through home movies.  It felt very evocative of the decade and never felt gimmicky to me.

Infinitely Polar Bear- Maggie and the girls watch Cam

There’s a lot of focus on the importance of family and how much, despite all odds, people try to make the most of a bad situation and weather the storm.

Infinitely Polar Bear- Maggie and the girls fear Cam

Instead of an actual storm, we’ve got Cam’s random fits of rage that Maggie and the girls endure as the man they love becomes someone else.  But despite everything that Cam does, everyone sticks by him because they know that, ultimately, he has good intentions and their best interests at heart.  Yes, it’s scary at times not knowing what Cam will do or what may trigger an episode, but the daughters are brave enough to withstand anything thrown their way.  In a way, they’re more adult than he is.

Infinitely Polar Bear- Cam, Maggie, Amelia, and Faith

And this goes hand in hand with the film’s theme of accepting responsibility.  Cam in particular has to accept that he’s being tasked with taking care of two girls when he can’t even take care of himself.

Infinitely Polar Bear- Faith refuses to clean with a dirty sponge

By contrast, Amelia and Faith, despite being young, at least have an idea of how to handle their father’s episodes.  They aren’t by any means old enough to care for themselves, as they still worry and even lock the door when their father leaves in the middle of the night, but they’re smart enough to know the world around them.

Infinitely Polar Bear- Cam serves dinner

Each family member experiences growth, in a way.  Cam, in spite of his episodes, comes to embrace his responsibility as a father taking care of two girls on his own.  The girls grow more mature and keep Cam in check whenever he starts flaking on his duties, not to mention helping around the house when it gets messy.

Infinitely Polar Bear- Maggie and the girls visit Cam

And Maggie, though she’s not in the film as often as the others, learns that she needs to let her family go at times so she can grow on her own and better herself while pursuing her education.  She wants what’s best for her family, but she also wants Cam to prove that he has what it takes to be a good father if the two of them really want to be a united family again.

Infinitely Polar Bear- Maggie and Cam talk

Both Cam and Maggie talk of wanting a better future for their kids.  They had opportunities ready and available for them, but Amelia and Faith attend a school that they don’t like and the family isn’t overflowing with wealth.  Parents want to make sure that the world they leave behind for their kids is better than the one they grew up in, so Cam and Maggie are willing to make sacrifices to make sure the girls are better equipped to handle the world than they were.

Infinitely Polar Bear- Faith and Amelia's friends come to their apartment

There’s some discussion on race, class, and social stature that demonstrates this.  At one point, for example, Maggie tells Cam that a single White father making it with two girls is a bit more appealing than the idea of a Black family barely staying above the poverty level.  Maggie can’t secure a high level job not because she’s a Black woman, but because she has kids, which executives find could distract from her job.

Infinitely Polar Bear- Cam and the girls visit Gaga, played by Muriel Gould

However, I do have one issue with the talk of class.  So we know that Cam comes from a wealthy family and there is a trust fund.  There’s even a scene where he’s offered a Bentley by great-grandmother Gaga, played by Muriel Gould, who lives in a lavish mansion.  Gaga already helps Cam’s family by paying their rent.  He turns down the car because he feels he won’t be able to pay for gas, even though Gaga only wants to help.  Some of Cam’s history with his family is necessary here.

Why does Cam not have access to his family’s money?  We aren’t told that he’s a bad or negligent son and he seems to be on at least decent terms with his parents, so why can’t he just ask them for money?  My guess is pride.  Perhaps Cam wants to downplay the wealthy side of his family so he can prove he’s capable of handling himself, but then there’d be no need to show off a home that his family owned.

During this same scene, Cam tells the girls that only Gaga has access to the trust fund. He says that it’s hard to explain, but is it?  One or two sentences would have done the job.  And even if Cam is on good terms with his parents, we don’t know why they refuse to lend a hand.  Since this movie is all about Maggie and Cam’s struggles, it would be nice to know how they ended up in this situation.  I get it, it’s 1970s America and not everyone could afford to live in a penthouse- hell, not everyone can afford to do that in 2015, either- but if Cam comes from wealth, I would at least like some explanation of why he can’t touch any of it.

Infinitely Polar Bear- Cam versus the dishes

Cam himself, despite his flaws, is a very likable man.  Watching him when he’s calm is the equivalent of watching a ticking time bomb with a slow fuse.  Sure, there’s no imminent danger, but you know that things can and will get explosive later.  We do see the aftermath of his episodes, both from his and the girls’ reactions to his behavior, and I could have stood for more scenes where he dealt with the consequences of his actions.  But this movie isn’t about showing the real dark side of manic depression and bipolar behavior.

Infinitely Polar Bear- Cam makes Faith a flamenco dress

Yes, Cam has his flaws, but this is a wounded man that just wants to be a good father.  At one point, Faith tells him that she needs a flamenco dress for a talent show.  Rather than just brush it off, he immediately gets to work and spends the entire night working on a half-assed, not at all flamenco looking dress.  The point isn’t that the dress doesn’t look authentic, it’s that he devoted so much time and energy into helping his daughter.  When Cam gets to work, he can be very inventive, which comes from his past as a designer.

Infinitely Polar Bear- Cam waves

And Mark Ruffalo is well-cast for this type of role.  He’s good at letting Cam’s inner rage stew and then explode, leading to some very tense situations where you’re just unsure what he’ll do next.  Through his drinking and binge smoking, Cam is a man who is self-destructing as a half-accomplished man, but he refuses to let his disease and negativity get the best of him.  Ruffalo manages to channel both the positive and negative aspects of Cam’s life very well and it’s hard to come down hard against Cam when he’s trying his best.

Infinitely Polar Bear- Amelia and Faith talk with their father

He feels unable to take care of the girls, but gives it his best anyway.  He leaves them alone at night so he can drink, but upon seeing their faces when he returns, he knows that he’s made a major screw-up.  And even when he tries to socialize with Amelia and Faith’s friends, it’s not done in a way that makes him look creepy- he wants the girls to socialize.  And when they all go exploring in the woods, Cam manages to be both warm and entertaining.

Infinitely Polar Bear- Maggie hugs the girls

Zoe Saldana is fine as Maggie, but I wish she appeared a lot more in the film.  But then, the whole point of her character leaving is to further her education.  Saldana is great with the material she’s given, though, as she wears exhaustion on her face from her job, the stress of taking care of her daughters, dealing with Cam’s mental problems, and the family’s socioeconomic status.  Not to mention she’s a woman of color, which isn’t a problem in the film, but it is implied that it’s still a hindrance versus how people would view a White man in less than pleasant housing.

Infinitely Polar Bear- Maggie and Cam in intimate talks

Saldana and Ruffalo do have great chemistry together, as they talk and bicker like they’ve been down this path hundreds of times, but will keep moving forward together in order to make it work.  They really come alive as a struggling pair doing all they can not just to stay afloat, but make a better life for their daughters.

Infinitely Polar Bear- Faith and Amelia watch their father get arrested

These girls, in my opinion, are the heart of this movie and the main things that keep Cam moving.  Amelia and Faith are not your typical children in films that do nothing but whine or end up in situations where they need help or have to be saved or coddled.  They aren’t here just to give Cam something to do.

Infinitely Polar Bear- Cam does Amelia's hair

No, Amelia and Faith have actual personalities.  Unlike most kids who are just stuck between their parents’ conflicts, Amelia and Faith are mature and responsible when it comes to dealing with their father’s episodes.  They call him out when he’s not keeping the apartment clean, they don’t always want or seek his attention, and instead of just going along when he has his breakdowns, they challenge him if he starts to act like an asshole.

Infinitely Polar Bear- Amelia pushes Cam and Maggie together

In addition, Amelia and Faith do what they can to make sure the home remains stable.  There’s a nice little moment where they push their parents together when they’re talking, as if that alone would literally bring them together.

Infinitely Polar Bear- Smoking sign

And even though their father can be explosive at times, the girls at least want him around.  Cam is a chain smoker and that pays off later when the girls put nothing but anti-smoking signs around the house, even on Cam himself.

Infinitely Polar Bear- Cam, Amelia, and Faith asleep

Not once did I ever find them annoying.  In fact, were it not for them, I wonder what Cam would have done for himself.  Both Imogene Wolodarsky- Maya Forbes’ actual daughter- and Ashley Aufderheide both have play off of Ruffalo well and the three feel like an authentic family, such as when they sing while cleaning the house or arguing about whether Cam has his own social life when he decides that he wants to hang out with his daughter’s friends.

Again, if I had any gripes, it’s that I wish we got more of the history with Cam’s relationship with his family, but that’s fairly minor.  Infinitely Polar Bear is very much a feel good movie.  Maya Forbes’ first directorial outing gave us a look at a damaged man who tries his damndest to be a good father and provide for his kids.  Through some great chemistry from the four main leads and a lot of heart put into this film, Infinitely Polar Bear is a very warm film that I very much recommend.

And now we know what would happen if Bruce Banner and Gamora ever decided to settle down and have a family.

A Look at Testament of Youth

Testamenet of Youth- Poster

The Great War.  It will be over in no time, they said.  If all the other boys are going to serve their country, how will you look if you remain behind?  Well, chances are you have a better chance of keeping your life, but if you’re young and haven’t experienced war, it’s easy to think that the war won’t take very long.

Enter “Testament of Youth,” an adaptation of Vera Brittain’s memoir about the impact of World War I on the lives of women and Great Britain as a whole.  With a cast led by Alicia Vikander’s performance as Vera Brittain, the film shows that, yes, war is hell.

Testament of Youth- Vera Brittain, played by Alicia Vikander, walks through the crowd on Armistice Day

The film begins on Armistice Day- November 1918.  As British citizens fill the streets throughout and celebrate the end of the war, one woman in particular is too busy trying to make her way through the crowd.  She reaches a chapel and finds herself drawn to a particular of people being washed into the sea.

We then flash back to four years earlier where we see the same woman swimming in a lake.  This is Vera Brittain, played by Alicia Vikander.  She’s still having some fun in the water while her brother, Edward, played by Taron Egerton, and friend Victor, played by Colin Morgan, get dressed.  Edward teases Vera again about the possibility of her and Victor getting together, but Vera thinks nothing of that.

Testament of Youth- Vera tells her parents that she doesn't want a piano, she wants to go to Oxford

At home, Vera receives the surprise of her life when she sees a piano being delivered to her parents’ home.  Her father, played by Dominic West, and mother, played by Emily Watson, would like Vera to play something for their guests, and she does…briefly.  But she then stops and then storms off.  Now why is there a bee in Vera’s bonnet?  The money spent on this piano could have paid for a year of education at Oxford, which is what Vera wants.  But not Mr. Brittain.  He doesn’t want to waste, not spend, money on that.

Testament of Youth- Roland Leighton, played by Kit Harington, enters

Vera tosses all of her books out the window in protest.  She has no plans of getting married- just pursuing her education to further herself.  Just as Vera heads back downstairs, in enters another guest: Roland Leighton, played by Jon Snow himself, Kit Harington.  Roland joins Vera in retrieving her books and is personally concerned about the literature.  Vera thinks that Roland is already working on his anecdote to tell his friends at school…Vera, don’t be an asshole to someone you just met.

Anyway, Roland finds a note in one of Vera’s books.  He doesn’t tell her about it, though.

That night, Roland stops by Vera’s room and finds her studying for the Oxford entrance exam, which he himself has already taken.  It’s all about technique, he says.  Roland offers to help, as he learned better on his own than from his teachers.  He worked it all out on himself.  Vera promises to do the same.

The next morning, Edward tries to persuade his father to let Vera enter Oxford.  After all, it’s what Vera has her mind on.  Edward even offers to pitch in and share his allowance with Vera.  Dad points out that you still need tuition for the entrance exam, but Edward wouldn’t feel right going about this by himself if Vera didn’t have the chance.  The two overhear a noise and it’s clear that Vera is with close by.  Dad begrudgingly allows her to give the exam a shot.

Testament of Youth- Vera and the boys go for a walk

Later, Vera and the boys relax outside and talk of suffrage, of which Roland is a supporter.  As is his mother, who is a novelist that also writes for the paper.  Roland takes out the poem he found, but Vera snatches it from him before he can read it.

Roland didn’t know that Vera kept it a secret.  The only reason he held onto it was because it moved him.  He found it quite beautiful, knowing that Vera is an impossible person to say that to.  Vera says otherwise and asks Roland what he would think if she wanted to earn a living as a writer.  Actually, Roland wants to as well, but he lives in his mother’s shadow.  Roland tells Vera that she must write- something no one has ever told her before.

That evening, Roland slips a poem of his own under Vera’s door.  She gives him her assessment the next day before he and the boys leave: it’s well-crafted, but a bit dry, as if he was holding back.  She couldn’t find him in it, despite Roland’s word that it is his writing.  Before Vera can apologize for her unintentional slight, Roland and the boys head off.

Vera writes to Edward by letter- remember those?- and asks for news of Roland, thinking that she offended him.  Roland responds directly with his own poem.

Testament of Youth- Vera with Aunt Belle, played by Joanna Scanlan, to take her entrance exam

Next thing we know, Vera is on a train to Hogwarts- I mean to take the entrance exam.  She’s joined by her Aunt Belle, played by Joanna Scanlan.  Aunt Belle, you see, has promised to keep a proper eye on Vera.  She even made her an extra nightie.  That’s pretty considerate of you, Aunt Belle.

Testament of Youth- Oxford entrance exam

Inside, Vera overhears a bit of conversation regarding an essay portion on the entrance exam- something she did not know about.  Whoops.  Exam time comes and Vera gives it her damndest.  Afterward, she tells the instructor that she didn’t know an essay was required.  After all, she did prepare for this on her own.  The instructor notes that Vera was busily writing away, which is true, but Vera was writing in German, not Latin.

Side-note: while it would be easy to dismiss this as a simple mishap, the fact that Vera knows German does become a big plot point later on, so keep this little moment in mind.

But back to the film- Vera feels that the instructor has judged her already frivolous, but the instructor just thinks that Vera is keen to stand out.

Vera writes to Edward, thinking that her time so far has been a disaster.  Even more than that, Roland has not written back to her yet.

Later, as Vera and Aunt Belle prepare for school speech day, Vera receives some mail, including a letter from Oxford.  Just don’t tell Father.

Testament of Youth- Graduation ceremony

During the address, Vera and the rest of the family watch as the headmaster wishes the men well as they head to university and prepare to serve the glory of the Empire.

Testament of Youth- Vera learns that she was accepted into Oxford

When the speeches are all said and done, Vera catches up with Roland so he can read her Oxford results to her.  After a long bit of waiting, Roland shares the news that Vera got in!  Also, Vera, work on your Latin.

Testament of Youth- Vera learns why Roland has been so busy

Following an awkward introduction to Roland’s parents, the two head off on their own to catch up, since Roland never wrote back.  If it’s friendship that Roland wants, that’s fine with Vera, but she wants clarity.  In Roland’s defense, it has been a very busy term.  Exams and ending school can be quite time consuming.  Roland also did hold onto Vera’s letters and only didn’t write back since he’s not so great with words.

One day, when they’re both at Oxford, they can see each other every day.  Though Vera will be concentrating on her studies, Roland points out that she will need an escort.

Testament of Youth- Roland and Vera meet at the theatre

And then Aunt Belle shows up and sees the two holding hands.  She points out that this isn’t the way to go about it!  And how!  Roland asks Aunt Belle’s permission to see Vera again, and she grants it, but it will be fully supervised.

Testament of Youth- Roland and Vera have some alone time for a little bit

Indeed, Aunt Belle does chaperone the two and gives them little to no time alone.  She even goes as far as sitting in between the two during a play.  Now that is a cock block.  They go to an art museum and just when it seems like they have a moment to themselves, Aunt Belle is watching from above.

In between this, the three learn from the papers and train passengers about the approaching war and Germany’s ultimatum.  Some of the women figure that their boys will be the first to sign up, as there isn’t a lad in this country who doesn’t want to crush the Kaiser.  The women decide that this war will be over in no time.  Ha.

Testament of Youth- Edward, played by Taron Egerton, asks Vera to persuade Father to let him enlist

Edward wants Vera to talk to their father about Edward joining the war.  He’s an officer cadet and this is what he’s been training for, but father said he’d rather put a gun to his own head than let his son join.  All the other boys in town have joined and Edward wonders how it will look if he’s not among them.  Well, for my money, I think Edward will have a greater chance of living a long life.

So Vera talks to father, telling that, according to the papers, this war should be short and fast.  Again, the naïveté of these people.  Hell, Edward may not even see any fighting.  She argues that father should let Edward be a man, as Edward may not forgive him if he doesn’t allow him to sign up.  Why do people always make these things personal?

Vera writes to Roland.  Though the idea of war may be terrifying, she’s way too excited about her upcoming time at Oxford.  When the two meet up when Vera arrives on the 2:20 train, she finds that Roland doesn’t have any luggage.  He’s signed up for the war and will be joining a commission with the fourth Norfolks…starting tomorrow.  Roland’s uncle, Theo, is a military man who managed to pull some strings.

And Roland wasn’t pushed into this- he asked for it.  After all, how many generations get to serve in something like this?  He can’t ask others to do his duty for him.  He’ll be in Norwich- not even active service.  It’ll just be months of training.  At that point, the war could be over, so he and Edward could join Vera in the new year.

So it was, Vera begins her studies at Oxford.  She writes to Roland to inform him that Victor was turned down because of poor eyesight, but Edward’s joining the Sherwood Foresters.  At least Vera has the comforting knowledge that Roland is on English soil.  In response, Roland writes to Vera to let her know that he’ll be leaving for France on Thursday.

One of the headmasters disapproves of Vera gallivanting off to see her male friend since the women have to work twice as hard and be twice as good.  After all, what’s the point of fighting so hard to prove that they’re worthy of degrees?  When Vera explains that she’s going to say goodbye to somebody going to the front, the headmaster understands, as her brother is also involved with the war.

When Roland and Vera meet, Vera learns that Roland asked for a transfer.  He’s a bit under the weather.  Hopefully not that Spanish flu that’s ripping through the troops.

Testament of Youth- Roland and Vera say their goodbyes

It’s time for the train to depart.  Roland and Vera say their goodbyes and the two promise to keep in touch.  As the train pulls further and further away, Vera and the other women watch as the boys head off to war.

When Vera catches up with Victor, she tells him that she can’t stay there- she needs to do something.  Victor casually suggests becoming a nurse.  It makes sense, though, as there is a call for them.  The headmaster isn’t pleased with Vera’s sudden decision.  After all, not every person, let alone woman, gets the opportunity to embark on a promising career at Oxford.  Even if Vera is giving up a golden opportunity, her mind is made up.  She’s about to become a nurse for the war.

And that’s how Jon Snow and Vera Brittain went off to war.

While we’ve had war films that focus on the carnage and what goes through the mind of a soldier, I personally haven’t seen many that focus on those opposed to it.  I’m sure there are films out there like it, so I can’t exactly call Testament of Youth original in that regard, but it’s interesting to see a different perspective on war taken…eventually, which is one of my minor issues with the film that I’ll get into later.

Testament of Youth- Vera's father weeps

For now, though, the film does a good job at focusing on the naiveté of youth and people in general who feel that the war will be over in no time at all.  Not everyone, though.  At one point, Vera’s father tells her that he knows war and that it won’t just end before it begins.  And I can’t get too up in arms about how uninformed most people are.  They haven’t seen much, if any, war and are too focused on the obligation of serving your country.

Testament of Youth- Men prepared to serve

At several points in the film, men talk about the potential ramifications of what could happen if they aren’t on the front line alongside their buds.  It’s their duty and they can’t have others doing that for them.  If they aren’t allowed to serve, they’ll never forgive the ones who kept them from realizing their potential.  Vera even decides to give up her hard earned education just so she can be a nurse, even though she also has never seen combat.

To be frank, these people know nothing, and obviously I’m just saying this because Kit Harington is in this film, yes.  Hell, even when watching this in the cinema, a man said next to me of Roland, “He knows nothing.”  That’s cool.

Before war breaks out, we know it’s looming in the background just because of the film starting with Armistice Day.  There had to be a lot of death and destruction leading up to this point, but Vera and her friends are in a false of security.  They swim in a tranquil little lake and the boys look forward to doing their duties as men, never mind that there’s nothing saying that they’ll be safe from combat.

Testament of Youth- Germany's ultimatum to war

As the film slowly builds, we get snippets through the newspaper of the impending Great War.  Headlines about the Archduke of Ferdinand being assassinated and Germany’s ultimatum to war show that the once quiet world our British citizens live in is about to be shattered by war.

Testament of Youth- Vera gets a paper to learn about the war

Once war breaks out, though, we stick with Vera’s perspective.  I know that this is her story and she can only speculate as to what’s happening on the battlefield, but this is one of my minor issues with how the war is presented onscreen.  Here and then again, we get flashes of Roland and others in combat or stuck in trenches.  Luckily, there’s no obligatory trigger for these brief scenes, but I would have liked more of them and that they be a tad longer.

Testament of Youth- Roland in trenches

Vera learns a lot about the war, but one or two extended scenes from the perspective of the men would have been nice to help add more weight to their conflict.  Since Vera isn’t there, these scenes could be her speculating what she thinks is happening, and while it’s probably more valid that these flashes are what happened during the war, I just wanted to see these combat moments from the perspective of the soldiers.

Testament of Youth- Roland struggles to open up about the war

In fact, we get a scene just like that when Roland and the boys briefly get some time away to spend with Vera and the family.  After his brief time away, Roland is much colder and reserved to Vera compared to the cheerful man before he leaves.  War isn’t easy to talk about and you don’t want to appear soft or too much of a pacifist.

Testament of Youth- Receiving bad news

But if you don’t have an emotional outlet, all those raw feelings get buried underneath.  I personally see no issue with that, but for the purposes of this film, talking about the war allows the men to retain who they are instead of losing their minds and souls to combat.  It also allows the women to grieve instead of continuing as if nothing bad will come of the war.

Testament of Youth- Vera tries to persuade her father to let Edward enlist for the war

Though I’m talking a lot about the war portion of this film, there’s a lot of discussion of gender roles and assumed responsibilities that men and women fall into.  Vera’s father doesn’t want to waste his money on her education, even if Vera has devoted so much time to her studies.

Testament of Youth- Vera decides that she wants to be a war nurse

Once she gets to Oxford, one of the headmasters reminds Vera that the women have to work twice as hard and put in twice the effort just to prove to themselves and the world that they’re worthy of degrees.  Vera wants to run off to war, which many women would see as an insult to the amount of females who would gladly attend Oxford if it meant receiving a quality education.  While Vera never allows herself to be restrained by her gender, she decides that she’s destined for more than an education.

Testament of Youth- Women wave goodbye to the men going off to war

One of the most telling scenes detailing the divide between the genders is when Vera wishes Roland farewell as his train heads off.  While all the men ride off to war, the train platform is flooded with nothing but women wishing their sons, husbands, friends and so on farewell.  Unlike World War II, there’s none of that desire for women to take up a large effort in the war- they just go back to their designated matriarchal roles and await the men to return, unaware that many of them will not.

Testament of Youth- Tons of injured soldiers

Two scenes highlight this: there’s a moment where Vera looks through the newspaper and sees the many full page spreads naming the number of dead soldiers.  Coupled with this is a sweeping scene later on in the film where Vera and other nurses help injured soldiers and the camera pans further and further back, as if the number of injured soldiers was endless.

Testament of Youth- Vera on Armistice Day

The character herself is a rebel from the start, a character trait I appreciate.  Alicia Vikander is great at embodying this woman who constantly challenges authority figures around her because she knows that she’s destined for greatness and her performance is the best part of the film, in my opinion.  She’s a bit of a prat at the start, as Roland points out that she’s difficult to please, but she does soften to others who are trying to be genuinely nice to her.

Once she has her mind set on something, she commits to it.  Well, sort of, since she skimps out on Oxford after fighting for it, but she does still commit to volunteering her time as a nurse and seeing some of the bloodiest parts that the war leaves.  She’s horrified by the carnage she witnesses when tending to the wounded and unprepared at first on how to handle this.  This isn’t the simple war that would be over in no time.  This is real hell and she’s responsible for stitching up the men that barely managed to return.  Even though she’s doing beyond what’s expected of her, it’s a decision she’s willing to stick by, no matter what and who she loses.

Testament of Youth- Roland and Vera

Everyone else is fine in their roles, but it’s disappointing that you have actors like Kit Harington, Miranda Richardson, and Emily Watson, just to name a few, that aren’t fully utilized that much, though Harington does appear a bit more and I do like his chemistry with Vikander.  In addition, Hayley Atwell, one of my current favorite actresses, appears briefly, but I wish she’d been here for longer, if only because I enjoy seeing her on screen.

Testament of Youth- Vera wants peace

My issue with the film is that Vera’s pacifism comes too late into the film. At the same time, she has to experience the pain of loss in order for her opinion to change.  Plus, because she’s been pushing so hard for her brother to join the war, when she loses people close to her, she learns that she’s partially responsible for pushing others to go to war.

Before, many figured that the Great War would take no time at all.  As time progressed, opinions began to change.  This was no longer just about sending off boys to fight- it was about realizing that many of them were being sent to their deaths.  Testament of Youth, though it doesn’t go as far with its pacifism as it wants to towards the end, is still a very good movie that shows how quickly the naiveté of war can vanish once the horror hits you back home.  There’s a massive difference between the idealism and patriotism of war versus the reality of death.

A Look at Far from the Madding Crowd

Far from the Madding Crowd- Poster

How often nowadays are we told that this it’s the year of the woman?  Where are the strong female protagonists?  I’d argue that we have films like that, but there’s been a lot of discussion about assertive female characters on screen.  We get a look here at one with Thomas Vinterberg’s “Far from the Madding Crowd,” an adaptation of Thomas Hardy’s 1874 novel and the third time, to my knowledge, that this story has been turned into a film.

It’s a strong film and it’s biggest advantage is Carey Mulligan’s leading performance as a woman who abides by no one’s rules by her own and is too independent to be tamed.  I’m all for that.

The film begins in Dorset, England, 1870.  We get some opening- nay, expository- narration from our main character, Bathsheba Everdene, played by Carey Mulligan.  Ms. Everdene’s parents died when she was very young and, as such, is used to being on her own.

Far from the Madding Crowd- Bathsheba Everdeen, played by Carey Mulligan, rides her horse

One day, Ms. Everdene goes on a ride for her horse, but loses her scarf in the process.  Managing to spot, retrieve, and return said scarf to Ms. Everdene is a farmer, Gabriel Oak, played by Matthias Schoenaerts.

Far from the Madding Crowd- Bathsheba Everdeen, played by Carey Mulligan, with Gabriel Oak, played by Matthias Schoenaerts

Oak then visits a farm owned by Bathsheba’s aunt.  With him is a newborn lamb that he gives to Everdene.  However, he’s really here to ask for Everdene’s hand in marriage.  Everdene isn’t a fan of this approach, but that doesn’t mean she’s saying no.  However, just because she doesn’t have a husband doesn’t mean that she’ll accept his proposal.  Oak makes his case: he has land and once he pays it off, it can be hers as well.

Everdene has no need of land or a husband, though.  What she has is an education.  She’s too independent to be tamed by anyone and feels that Oak would despise her, but Oak denies this.

Far from the Madding Crowd- Gabriel chases after his flock

That night, Gabriel wakes up in the middle of the night to the sound of one of his dogs, Old George, whining.  The sheep are chased away by Gabriel’s other dog, George- very original names, this guy- and they break through their pen.  Though Gabriel gives pursuit, he’s too late as the dog chases the sheep off of a cliff, where the sheep fall to their deaths.  No seriously, what the living hell was that?

Far from the Madding Crowd- Gabriel shoots George

Anyway, Gabriel fixes this by shooting George.  With little left to his name, Gabriel sells Old George and goes on his way.

Far from the Madding Crowd- Bathsheba learns of her inheritance

Ms. Everdene, meanwhile, receives word that her uncle has died and left everything he owned to her.  She packs up with all of her things and leaves.

Far from the Madding Crowd- Gabriel and Fanny, played by Juno Temple, watch as soldiers recruit men

Oak, though, wanders upon a group of soldiers recruiting.  One soldier in particular receives a blown kiss from his sweetheart, Fanny Robbin, played by Juno Temple from The Dark Knight Rises.  I mean, she’s been in more, but that’s what I remember her from recently.  Anyway,  Fanny plans to marry this soldier soon and suggests that Gabriel try a farm at Weatherbury.

Instead, Gabriel continues to traverse by himself.  He ends up at the very farm that Fanny spoke of, but finds it going up in flames.  Men and women rush to save what they can salvage.  Gabriel takes some extra initiative by dousing himself in water and heading atop one building to put out the fire on one roof, thus saving the farm tons of wool.  The workers take notice of this stranger making an effort to help them.

Next day, Gabriel meets the owner of said farm: Ms. Bathsheba herself.  She gives him a job as a shepherd and explains not just how she inherited the land, but that she intends to fix it up.  Their reversal of circumstances does not bring Gabriel any sort of embarrassment.

Far from the Madding Crowd- Bathsheba addresses and pays her employees

Indeed, Ms. Everdene is a very busy and effective leader.  In the following scene, she interviews and pays her employees in schillings.  One employee, Fanny Robbin, is missing.  Turns out that she ran off with some sergeant.  No matter.  Ms. Bathsheba ends up relieving Bailiff Pennyways, played by Victor McGuire, of his duties, as he was nowhere to be seen during the fire.  As Pennyways leaves, Bathsheba appoints Oak as the new shepherd.  She announces to her employees that she is the mistress, not master.  Though she may not know what her talents are, she will work and astonish them all.

Far from the Madding Crowd- Bathsheba and Liddy, played by Jessica Barden, go into town to sell grain

Later on, Bathsheba and her faithful sidekick, Liddy, played by Jessica Barden, go into town to sell grain.  She’s the only woman around and many of the men pass her up.  Liddy wants to leave, but Bathsheba manages to negotiate with a man who is a friend of her uncle’s.  The man tries to haggle for a lower price, but the two eventually reach an agreement.

Far from the Madding Crowd- William Boldwood watches Bathsheba in church

During this, we’re introduced to another character, William Boldwood, played by Michael Sheen.  Mr. Boldwood is a wealthy individual and Liddy thinks that he would be a perfect match for Bathsheeba.  In fact, the two conspire to send Boldwood a Valentine’s Day as a joke.  Of course, how many guys do you know that would receive a Valentine’s Day card from a woman they like and treat it as a joke?

Elsewhere, Sergeant Francis Troy, played by Tom Sturridge, the soldier we saw before, is at a church, ready to marry Fanny Robbin.  Not much longer now.  The priest and everyone else in the congregation wait and wait, but no sign of Fanny.

Far from the Madding Crowd- Fanny heads to the wrong church

It’s not intentional, though.  It turns out that Fanny was dressed in her wedding gown and ready for this day, but she went to the wrong church.  It happens.  The priest cannot wait any longer and a devastated Troy leaves.

Far from the Madding Crowd- Bathsheba helps the men wash sheep

Meanwhile, back at the farm, Gabriel and the others wash sheep while Ms. Everdene watches.  Gabriel doesn’t think that Ms. Everdene would join in but, to everyone’s surprise and applause, Bathsheba does indeed get in the water and lends a hand.

As this happens, Mr. Boldwood walks up to the farm and watches.  Liddy alerts Bathsheba to this.  The two head to Mr. Boldwood’s place and discuss his property.  Boldwood makes a…well, bold move and asks for Bathsheba’s hand in marriage, promising her a great future.  She is surprised and does not feel justified to accept the offer.  Boldwood has known disappointment before, but given the Valentine’s Day card, which Bathsheba admits she should not have sent, he thought there was something mutual between the two.  It was a wicked move, and Bathsheba eventually asks for more time to consider this position.

Far from the Madding Crowd- Gabriel teaches Bathsheba how to cut

Bathsheba returns to the farm and spots Gabriel sharpening some tools.  She wants to learn, so he teaches her a few things.  He also reveals that some of the men have been gossiping about her possibly marrying Mr. Boldwood by year’s end.  Bathsheba wants Gabriel to contradict that, but he won’t lie just to please her.  She doesn’t want his opinion on the matter, but then she asks for it.  Fine.  He says that she’s to blame for leading on Mr. Boldwood.  That sort of thing is beneath her.  She won’t have this criticism.  Bathsheba wants him gone by the end of the week, but Gabriel does her one better: he’ll leave right now.

However, Gabriel leaves at the worst possible time.  Bathsheba learns that her sheep are dying from swollen stomachs.  They must be pierced in the side with a tool, but it’s a very delicate process.  If done improperly, the sheep will die.  And guess who happens to be the one man that knows how to help?

At first, one of Bathsheba’s workers goes after Gabriel and does catch up to him, but the man returns alone.  Turns out that Gabriel wants Bathsheba to ask him herself.  Beggars mustn’t be choosers, after all.  Bear in mind that Bathsheba is in a higher position of authority than Gabriel, but you know what?  Bathsheba eventually rides after Gabriel and asks him to not desert her.  She needs his help.

Fortunately, Gabriel returns to the farm and manages to save the sheep.

Far from the Madding Crowd- Dinner and singing

That evening, Bathsheba and her workers gather for a festive dinner.  Bathsheba and Gabriel sneak a few glances each other’s way, but then Boldwood arrives.  Soon, it’s time for music.  Bathsheba sings Let No Man Steal Your Thyme.  Everyone is enthralled and Boldwood himself eventually joins in with the singing.

Far from the Madding Crowd- Troy runs into Bathsheba in the dark

After dinner, the two talk together for a bit.  Bathsheba thanks Boldwood for not bringing up the proposal, which was not easy for him.  However, she prefers to walk back alone.  On the way, though, she trips and runs into Sergeant Troy.  The two end up intertwined and tangled.  Troy finds Everdene to be a beautiful woman and can’t help but stare, but Everdene eventually frees herself and leaves.

Next day, however, Troy is working in the fields.  Everdene wants Troy gone, but he won’t leave.  Instead, he wants to meet her tomorrow at eight.

Far from the Madding Crowd- Troy and Bathsheba meet

Indeed, Everdene finds Troy waiting in the woods, fully dressed in uniform.  He gives his word that he won’t hurt her and begins to slash at the air with his sword.  He ends up cutting off a lock of her hair.  The sword was, to Everdene’s surprise, was sharp, but hey, Troy did promise that Everdene would be safe.  He then kisses her and heads off, leaving Everdene absolutely stunned.

And that’s how Bathsheba Everdene got her very first kiss.

What makes Far from the Madding Crowd work is how it presents its main character.  From the start, we see that Everdene is no pushover and doesn’t just swoon over male suitors.  She’s more than capable of standing on her own two feet and will prove herself to the world not because she’s a woman, but because she’s capable.  Some have called Bathsheba Everdene a proto-feminist, and I can see that.

I’ll admit that I’ve never read Thomas Hardy’s 1874 original novel or either of the previous two film adaptations of the book, but Thomas Vinterberg’s interpretation does a good job establishing its tone from the start.  Though we’re placed in a world where women won’t have the right vote for more than 40 years from now, Everdene herself isn’t about to let that ruin her disposition.

Self-reliance and independence are two big themes in this film.  Everdene makes a point early on of telling Gabriel that she has no interest in a husband or becoming someone’s property.  No, that’s not her priority because she has an education.  Society did and still today does have certain expectations of women for whatever reason.  They’re expected to stay at home, get chores done, give birth, you know the routine.  That’s not Everdene’s future, though.

Far from the Madding Crowd- Bathsheba and Liddy watch the men wash sheep

We want to live out our lives the way we want them to go, but that’s difficult if the world around you is dead-set on fitting you into certain roles and categories.  And we can either be complacent and go along for the ride, or grab life by the horns and carve out your own legacy.  That’s exactly what Everdene plans to do without hitching her wagon to a man.

Far from the Madding Crowd- Troy and Bathsheba in bed

Each of the suitors offers something different to Everdene.  Troy is a soldier: full of energy and vigor.  Through giving Everdene her first kiss, he opens her up to a world of sexual desires and pleasure that she never once experienced.  The problem with Troy is that he’s a scoundrel.  His initial charm is forgotten by the time we see the more despicable side of him displayed towards both Everdene and Fanny Robbin, but that’s spoiler territory, so I’ll leave that alone.

Far from the Madding Crowd- Bathsheba asks Troy to leave

And yet, he’s beaming with confidence, flaunts his authority, and demands to be taken seriously.  Such self-reliance would give the impression that this man knows how to care for himself, as well as a woman, but as the film progresses, we see a more sinister side to him.

Far from the Madding Crowd- William Boldwood, played by Michael Sheen, speaks with Bathsheba

Mr. Boldwood isn’t dripping with swagger or youth, and that’s fine because he brings a wealth of experience and stability.  Despite being deceived by a Valentine’s card, why does he want to marry Everdene?  Because he wants to be a provider.  He doesn’t see her as a subordinate or second-class citizen, but he does want to make sure that she’s taken care of for the rest of her life.

During his initial proposal, Boldwood tells Everdene that not only can he protect her, but he can give her luxuries like dresses and a piano.  But Everdene responds that she already has a piano and a farm.  She has no need for Boldwood’s protection or wealth, despite his good intentions.  There’s a quiet dignity to Michael Sheen’s performance as Boldwood, as he comes off as a man who has dealt with rejection before, but hasn’t allowed it to defeat him.  Even if the spark came through a ruse, he may have feelings for Everdene, but he’s not going to force her hand.

Far from the Madding Crowd- Gabriel smiles with Bathsheba

Finally, there’s Gabriel Oak, the loyal friend and advisor.  Fate switches his and Bathsheba’s circumstances in Bathsheba’s favor, but despite that, he doesn’t think any different of her.  In addition, the man needs a job, so it wouldn’t do him any favors to demean the woman who hands him his paycheck.

Far from the Madding Crowd- Gabriel gets frank with Bathsheba

What sets Gabriel apart from both Troy and Boldwood is his willingness to challenge Bathsheba when she’s wrong.  When she asks him about Boldwood, rather than saying that she should just go with her heart, he calls her out for sending a card to deceive a man because such behavior is beneath her.  That’s the uncomfortable truth that you want someone to tell you instead of having them coddle you with falsehoods.

Far from the Madding Crowd- Bathsheba and Gabriel in the rain

And more than that, he knows that Everdene is prideful…perhaps a bit too prideful.  She sends him away after he gives his honest opinion, but it’s not until she needs his help that she realizes it’s time to swallow humble pie.  But even then, she does it by proxy through sending one of her workers. Oak is smarter than that and wants Everdene to apologize in person, as it would show she is serious about requiring his services again.  She can send as many workers as she wants, but it’s not the same as admitting to yourself that you need help, even when you think you’ve been slighted.

Far from the Madding Crowd- Bathsheba and Gabriel talk

But the film takes great time to establish their friendship- they talk like they’ve been old friends for years and even when their lives change and Oak has to work for Everdene, nothing changes.  For most of the film, Oak is like that guy who sees himself in the friend zone: he likes the girl, is willing to give advice, but can’t have her because he feels that she’s better suited for someone else.

Far from the Madding Crowd- Bathsheba in blue

The strength of the performances makes the two fit like a glove, but Carey Mulligan above all is excellent in her portrayal of Bathsheba Everdene.  She carries Everdene with authority and makes her feel real, but at the same time, she’s not perfect or unwilling to do hard work.  From the beginning, we see Everdene portrayed as a hard worker who intends to make it on her own steam.

Far from the Madding Crowd- Bathsheba tells the workers that she intends to astonish them all

Even after coming across an inheritance, she’s not going to just walk into wealth and let life take over.  She’s going to keep working hard and astonish not just her coworkers, but the men who may think little of her because she’s a woman.  Her gender is not a handicap.  We’re told that Everdene is used to being on her own- which may explain why she’s not drawn to any suitors- but for my money, I wouldn’t have minded if we got some more explanation for her hard work ethic.

Far from the Madding Crowd- Bathsheba with men as she sells her product

Everdene does feel ahead of her time or at least contrary to expectations held towards women during this period.  Her independence and education are all that she need since she cannot be tamed.  And there’s not even a hint of arrogance to her- she’s just that confident in herself and her abilities, which I like.  Had she been meek or timid, I’d wonder how she got to the point where she is now without someone trying to boss her around.  No.  Here, Bathsheba is her own boss.  As much as people talk about a lack of strong, independent female characters in films- I don’t necessarily agree with that, but whatever- Everdene is a change of pace from what we expect from female protagonists.

Now Far from the Madding Crowd isn’t a perfect film.  It’s a good movie, a great movie, but my biggest issue is how it ends.  Throughout the entire movie, Bathsheba has been willing to put her emotions aside and focus on bettering herself.  She isn’t interested in love.  At one point, Gabriel considers leaving because he wants to find a new life for himself in America.  He even tells Bathsheba that it’s time for her to fight and win her own battles, which is what she’s been doing.

I don’t know whether Thomas Hardy just wanted a happy ending, but for me, a more realistic and believable event would be Bathsheba going on with her life altogether and letting Gabriel walk his own path.  Now I won’t spoil his final decision, but really, Bathsheba should maintain the same work ethic we’ve seen throughout the film and not have a change of heart when Gabriel decides to leave.

And because it’s so close to the end of the film, this moment took me out of an otherwise good story.  It’s not bad enough to ruin the movie, but it definitely wasn’t a move I liked.  Even still, Far from the Madding Crowd is a good movie about independence and the will to prove yourself to others around you.  Carey Mulligan is great in the lead role as a woman not distracted by affairs of the heart, but prefers to focus on carving out her destiny not by society’s expectations, but by her own.