JWR Articles: Film/DVD - Standing Up, Falling Down | The Prom | Night of the Kings | Shirley (Directors: Matt Ratner, Philippe Lacôte, Ryan Murphy, Josephine Decker) - January 30, 2021
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Standing Up, Falling Down | The Prom | Night of the Kings | Shirley

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The fine arts of comedy, storytelling, forbidden love and horror

Standing Up, Falling Down
2020 91 minutes
Matt Ratner
Four stars

“Can we un-fuck this?”

It is so good to see Billy Crystal, playing Marty, back on the big screen in a major role that pays homage to his comedic skills while never truly unleashing them.

At the centre of it all (the narrative from Peter Hoare) is stand-up, thirtysomething comedian wannabe, Scott (played with vigour and pizzazz by Ben Schwarz). After a failed attempt mining yuks in LA, the fuzzy chinned sort of funny man retreats back home (Long Island, with his parents no less), to lick his punchline wounds, moan the loss of his former girlfriend (Eloise Mumford) only to meet alcoholic/dermatologist Marty and discover a kindred spirit who also has relationship regrets along with a love of marijuana and copious amounts of Jägerbomb.

Ratner convincingly cobbles everything together, but it is the virtual two-hander between Crystal and Schwarz that gives this film viewer appeal.

Ironically, not surprisingly, it is Scott’s real-life dramas that provide the yuks—reminding one and all that the best comedians don’t make up jokes, they share their life experiences. JWR


Night of the Kings (La Nuit des Rois)
2020, 93 minutes
Philippe Lacôte
Three and one half stars

Stories to tell

How timely to see this film just as I am halfway through Volume 5 of the engaging, but miserably racist The Arabian Nights. Storytelling to save a life is key to both.

In this instance, set in the La Maca prison of the Ivory Coast, petty pickpocket Roman (played with grit and distinction by newcomer Bakary Koné) must weave a story into the hearts and minds of his co-prisoners by dawn, or face … (no spoilers here).

His inventiveness, depiction of the trials and tribulations of King Zama, is as captivating as Tobie Marier-Robataille’s cinematography, alongside Olivier Alary’s vibrant score.

In these days of political “storytelling”, the film is worth a look both to understand what any of us would do to stay alive and how being “generous” with the truth can affect lives. JWR


The Prom
2020, 130 minutes
Ryan Murphy
Three stars

Quite possibly the cheesiest gay musical ever

It seemed absolutely appropriate to view this lesbian-themed musical on the eve of Joe Biden’s inauguration. With all the grief, lies and intrigues of the past four years, a little bit of silliness along with song and dance seemed to be just the ticket—watching virtually or not. 

Like many musicals, the plot takes a backseat to the songs (written by David Klotz and Matthew Skylar) and dance (Casey Nichola, choreographer). The music is more fun than memorable, while the movement lacks the “showstopper” excitement that is the hallmark of Stratford’s Donna Feore (cross-reference below). 

The all-star cast (including Meryl Streep, Nicole Kidman, a not especially queer James Comden, Kerry Washington and Keegan-Michael Key—the most convincing of the lot), gamely usher in big-screen newcomer Jo Ellen Pellman as she struggles to make sense of the ramifications of openly loving a girl. 

Still, with intolerance rearing its ugly head in many violent and pathetic ways in the “land of the free”, a viewing is recommended in order to begin to wash away a one-term presidency that was all about me—never, never we! JWR


Shirley
2020, 107 minutes
Josephine Decker
Three and one half stars

How I got my ending

Based on the 2014 novel of the same name by Susan Scarf Merrell, Sarah Gubbins’ finely crafted screenplay along with Decker’s vision of real-life horror writer, Shirley Jackson (played with evil grit and conniving manipulation by Elizabeth Moss), is a very dark film that blurs the lines of fact and fiction.

The alcoholic writer of tales from the very dark side, latches onto a newlywed couple—notably pregnant Rose Nesmer (Odessa Young serves up a masterful take on the abused, unfortunate woman who morphs from house slave to prose inspirer) and her academia-bound husband, Fred (Logan Lerman). Binding them all together is Fred’s boss at Bennington College. Michael Stuhlbarg is entirely believable as the manipulator in chief, Stanley Hyman, Shirley’s womanizing, unforgiving spouse.

In some ways, Rose becomes the living surrogate for the mysteriously dead Paula—one of Hyman’s students. Once the Nesmers move in with Shirley and Michael, the misery only worsens—even after the baby is born.

The climax is a literal cliffhanger that will affect everyone’s life or possible death no matter what its outcome.

By journey’s end, it can only be hoped that the lengths a “genius” writer and her pushy husband will go to produce a bestseller, have been more invented than true. Take a look, then decide for yourself. JWR

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