Phyllis Nagy’s “Call Jane” tells the story of a woman with an unwanted pregnancy during the pre-Roe V. Wade era, who finds help from others in her same position. Who together, known as the Janes will help other women. This is certainly a well-crafted film and Nagy’s direction captures a blend of human emotion, historical events, and levity. There’s an irresistible sincerity in the story’s exploration of this subject matter that can easily lure your imagination.
It’s also well acted. Elizabeth Banks shines in the lead, and both Weaver and Mosaku surround her with two multi-dimensional characters. It was intriguing to see the desperation, the bravery, and the determination of these women that when the system offered them no help, took matters into their own hands. So, for that aspect the flow of this story weaves compellingly between story progression and character development. The musical scoring was fantastic as well and serves as the pulse of the entire film.
The production design was immaculately detailed to effectively pull the viewer back into the era and for that aspect this was an immersive movie. Overall “Call Jane” is a very good biopic. However, being shoehorned into the structure of many other current day films in the genre prevents it from being great. The organization of the story elements, and the characters felt familiar to other biopics. But without question the performances and the importance of the subject matter, certainly overcompensate for it to result in a movie to put on your radar.
Lena Dunham’s “Sharp Stick” is the coming-of-age tale of Sarah Jo a girl in her mid-twenties who after losing her virginity to her older boss, begins a journey of sexual enlightenment and empowerment. Kristine Froseth gives her all to this performance and I will give her credit for bringing some human qualities to the character. Because on paper there isn’t much about this girl to connect with. Thus her sex-fueled mission of awakening doesn’t connect to the emotional cords as much as it feels routinely awkward, and cringe.
Other than simple adolescence, and some brief exposition, there isn’t much to grab onto in terms of motivation. Sarah Jo has her sister and mother, they live in an LA apartment building and their routine conversations also fail to move the narrative forward. Where a film like “Booksmart” a few years back captured a charisma, character sincerity, and most importantly reasoning, this one failed for the most part. With the result being a string of jumbled scenes that lack a smooth flow and fails to cement a true message.
“Sharp Stick” would have benefited from fleshing out its main characters. Froseth was good, but not enough to carry the intrigue. Paige, and Jason Leigh both had the potential to do more for this film as well, but despite many scenes, the dynamics between these characters really go nowhere and ultimately serve no purpose. Bernthal was capable as you would expect but he, and really none of the characters popped, and none were overly likable or appealing. Making this journey of sexual discovery ultimately forgettable.
Kogonada’s “After Yang” certainly will be a film that comes down to preference. This tells the story of a family in the future that deals with grief, loss, and humanity when their A.I. house helper suddenly breaks down and is unrepairable. Admittedly there are quality elements to gravitate to with this film. The futuristic aesthetic is appealing, and visually striking but in the most unassuming of ways. The performances from Farrell, Turner-Smith, and Min were all more than adequate as well.
But the story progression was uneven and in the end this felt like a movie that lasted longer than the story it was attempting to tell. There are concepts explored about human life, living, and dealing with loss, that without question provoke thought. Sadly though, the art-house style to the direction, cinematography, and editing do hinder at times the ability to fully consume the material. Lingering shots of the sun hitting the wall, leaves blowing in the wind, characters staring out the window, Farrell wiping counters down, and so much more litter this progression to create silent imagery that doesn’t help tell the story, as much as it seems to fragment it.
As I said, there is an audience for this film that will love pining over the meaningful nuances and symbolism of its pieces. But from a general audience perspective this one meanders around too much and by the closing scene, has all but killed the compelling momentum created by the opening act. I wouldn’t go as far as to say this was a case of style over substance, because there is some meat to chew on here. But some people may not like the taste.
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