Review: ‘The Souvenir Part II,’ starring Honor Swinton Byrne, Tilda Swinton and Richard Ayoade

November 2, 2021

by Carla Hay

Honor Swinton Byrne in “The Souvenir Part II” (Photo by Josh Barrett/A24)

“The Souvenir Part II”

Directed by Joanna Hogg

Culture Representation: Taking place in the mid-1980s in England (primarily in London and briefly in Norfolk), the dramatic film “The Souvenir Part II” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with a few black people) representing the middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: In this sequel to “The Souvenir,” a film student struggles with completing her first short film while trying to mend her broken heart after a relationship with a former boyfriend ended badly in “The Souvenir.”

Culture Audience: “The Souvenir Part II” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of filmmaker Joanna Hogg and arthouse British coming-of-age films that have keen observations and dry wit.

Honor Swinton Byrne and Tilda Swinton in “The Souvenir Part II” (Photo by Sandro Kopp/A24)

If filmmaker Joanna Hogg’s semi-autobiographical “The Souvenir” depicted a dark storm in her life, then “The Souvenir Part II” is like the sun peeking more optimistically through the clouds. It’s a rare sequel that’s better than the original movie. “The Souvenir” (released in 2019) was a dour and depressing story of a young film student caught up in a toxic relationship with a heroin-addicted older man. “The Souvenir Part II” shows with imaginative charm how the young protagonist picks up the pieces of her broken heart and finds her identity as a beginner filmmaker.

British filmmaker Hogg wrote and directed both movies with a combination of a sharply objective viewpoint and an intimate subjective perspective. That hard-to-achieve mix makes “The Souvenir Part II” a universally relatable tale for anyone who decides to pursue a passion, and yet it’s a deeply personal reminsicence of a specific era and place for Hogg. “The Souvenir Part II” picks up not long after “The Souvenir” ended. “The Souvenir” was about depression and degradation, while “The Souvenir” is about recovery from this type of damage and emerging stronger than before.

In “The Souvenir Part II,” it’s still the mid-1980s, and film student Julie Harte (played by Honor Swinton Byrne) is trying to recover from the destructive romance that she had with a heroin addict named Anthony (played by Tom Burke), a charismatic, intelligent but ultimately disturbed con artist/thief from a vaguely privileged background. The end of “The Souvenir” showed how Julie and Anthony’s relationship was destroyed to the point of no return. It was an exhausting relationship in which Anthony (who was about 10 years older than Julie) used her, emotionally manipulated her, betrayed her, and ultimately broke her heart.

But it was also the first time that Julie fell deeply in love. And she’s still trying to get over Anthony. In the meantime, Julie has been focusing on her school studies. She attends the fictional Raynham Film and Television School in London. As a requirement for her upcoming graduation, she has to complete a short film that she’s writing and directing. Julie is also getting “real world” experience as a part-time production assistant on a film set.

Julie comes from a well-to-do family. Her mother Rosalind Harte (played by Tilda Swinton, who is Swinton Byrne’s real life-mother) supports Julie in her quest to become a filmmaker. Julie’s father William Harte (played by James Spencer Ashworth) is much more skeptical of Julie’s filmmaker goals. Swinton and Ashworth were also in “The Souvenir” as Julie’s parents. In “The Souvenir Part II,” Julie still seeks their approval and needs their financial support, but she has become more independent and determined not to let naysayers distract her from her artistic vision and her ambition.

When Julie visits her parents at their home in Norfolk, England, she gripes to them about getting criticism from a film instructor, who thinks that Julie’s student film thesis is too unfocused. William gives this unsympathetic response: “Sounds typical for art school.” In the same conversation, William asks Julie if she would consider working on the family farm instead of pursuing what he thinks is a foolish dream of becoming a filmmaker. Based on these family dynamics, it should come as no surprise that Julie asks her mother, not her father, for the money that Julie needs to finish her student film.

Julie’s part-time production assistant job is essentially an internship. She’s doing PA work for a lavish period musical about young people in their 20s. The movie’s leading man is Jim (played by Charlie Heaton), a roguish actor who suggestively gives Julie the eye when they’re working on the film set. The movie’s director is egotistical and demanding Patrick (played by Richard Ayoade, in a hilarious, scene-stealing performance), who reprises his role as Julie’s friend from “The Souvenir.”

It’s Patrick who suggests to Julie that she make her student film a tribute to Anthony to help her through her grieving process. (Mild spoiler alert: Anthony died of a heroin overdose at the end of “The Souvenir.” Anthony’s death is mentioned in “The Souvenir Part II” trailer, so it’s not really spoiler information.) Julie takes Patrick’s advice and ends up doing a very artsy/avant-garde movie version of her relationship with Anthony. The title of Julie’s movie is revealed toward the end of “The Souvenir Part II.” (The title is exactly what you might think it is.)

In “The Souvenir Part II,” Julie has a group of peers (some film students, some not) whom she bounces ideas off of for her student film, even if they give her advice that she doesn’t think is compatible with what she has in mind. What they all have in common is a passion for movies. These supporting characters include Jaygann Ayeh as Marland; Alice McMillan as Elisa; Harris Dickinson as Pete (who plays the Anthony-inspired character in Julie’s film); and Joe Alwyn as the unnamed editor of Julie’s film.

It’s not much of a surprise when Jim shows up unannounced at Julie’s door one day. She lets him in, and they hook up. But in an effort to make this movie very much from a female perpsective, viewers find out more than maybe some people might want to know about Julie’s menstrual cycle. In an early scene in “The Souvenir Part II,” Julie announces that her menstrual period is late. When she and Jim have their sexual tryst, let’s just say that her time of the month arrives, and he doesn’t mind it one bit.

Jim is just a fling because Julie (even though she doesn’t really want to admit it to a lot of people) is still somewhat in love with Anthony. There’s a very realistic scene of her secretly meeting with someone from Anthony’s druggie past in order to try and get some answers on what kind of life he was leading when he would disappear on his drug binges. This “investigation” is a big sign that Julie is having a difficult time moving on from Anthony.

In the production notes for “The Souvenir Part II,” Hogg says that she wanted the movie to be about Julie’s expressions of the five stages of grief. (These five stages are denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance.) In “The Souvenir,” Julia’s life, energy and spirit revolved around Anthony. In “The Souvenir Part II,” she experiences the five stages of grief. The end result is that her life, energy and spirit begin to blossom into who she is as an artist and as a person.

It’s not an easy journey, because there are pitfalls (some self-made, others created by other people) along the way. However, Julie’s emotional scars end up becoming her armor when things get tough for her. Swinton Byrne gives a thoroughly believable and captivating performance as Julie, while Hogg’s attention to 1980s-era details manages to feel both retro and timeless.

Truth be told, “The Souvenir” is a movie that’s a little too enamored with its own mopiness, just like a pouty teenager who thinks it’s uncool to smile. “The Souvenir Part II” is a triumphant “coming into adulthood” film that finds a more emotionally mature Julie finally understanding that happiness isn’t always guaranteed in life, but that doesn’t mean you can’t find joy in discovering who you are and not be afraid to show it.

A24 released “The Souvenir Part II” in select U.S. cinemas on October 29, 2021. Picturehouse will release “The Souvenir Part II” in U.K. cinemas on January 21, 2022.

Review: ‘The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard,’ starring Ryan Reynolds, Samuel L. Jackson, Salma Hayek, Antonio Banderas and Morgan Freeman

June 10, 2021

by Carla Hay

Samuel L. Jackson, Antonio Banderas, Salma Hayek and Ryan Reynolds in “The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard” (Photo by David Appleby/Lionsgate)

“The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard”

Directed by Patrick Hughes

Culture Representation: Taking place in Italy, Greece, the United Kingdom, Luxembourg and Croatia, the action flick “The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with some African Americans, Latinos and Asians) representing the middle-class, law enforcement and the criminal underground.

Culture Clash: A disgraced bodyguard is hired to protect the wife of the hitman who clashed with the bodyguard in the 2017 movie “The Hitman’s Bodyguard.”

Culture Audience: “The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard” will appeal primarily to people who want to see a silly action flick that is horribly made and frequently sexist.

Salma Hayek in “The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard” (Photo by David Appleby/Lionsgate)

Outdated and idiotic, “The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard” looks like it was made by people whose minds are stuck in the 20th century, when it was more acceptable for American action movies to portray non-white people as less-intelligent caricatures and for women to be treated as nothing more than sex objects. An all-white-male team of principal filmmakers (director, producers, writers) decided to dump this stupid sequel into the world. And like most sequels, it’s far inferior to the original.

Directed by Patrick Hughes, “The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard” was written by Tom O’Connor, Phillip Murphy and Brandon Murphy. The movie is the sequel to 2017’s “The Hitman’s Bodyguard,” a formulaic and occasionally funny action flick, starring Ryan Reynolds as neurotic bodyguard Michael Bryce and Samuel L. Jackson as gruff hitman Darius Kincaid who are (cliché alert) complete opposites, who don’t get along with each other but are forced to work together. Hughes directed and O’Connor wrote “The Hitman’s Bodyguard,” which was a mediocre movie but not as aggressively dumb and offensive as “The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard.”

It’s hard to know if the addition of brother screenwriters Phillip Murphy (who has a background as a graffiti artist) and Brandon Murphy (who has a background as a stand-up comedian) had anything to do with lowering the quality of this sequel, but enough people signed off on this crappy film that the blame can’t be put on just two people. “The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard” is supposed to be an action comedy, but there’s almost nothing funny or exciting about this dreck that’s a brain-dead ode to toxic masculinity.

In “The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard,” the addition of Salma Hayek in a co-starring role could have been an opportunity to showcase her like Halle Berry was showcased as a badass equal to her male co-stars in the 2019 action hit “John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum.” But no. The filmmakers of “The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard” wouldn’t allow this woman of color to have her own powerful worth in this story. Instead, Hayek (who is capable of doing better-quality work) is reduced to being objectified and depicted in the worst negative stereotypes that Hollywood has for Latinas.

Hayek had a small role in “The Hitman’s Bodyguard” as Sonia Kincaid, the con-artist wife of hitman Darius Kincaid. It’s easy to speculate that Hayek reprised this role in this sequel because she wants to prove that she’s still sexy at an age when many actresses over the age of 50 get less opportunities because of ageism or they usually have to play safe “wife and mother” roles. Whatever she was paid to do “The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard” (and it was probably a lot less than what Reynolds and Jackson were paid), it wasn’t worth the cost to her dignity for perpetuating Hollywood’s negative stereotyping that Latinas are nothing more than hot-tempered sexpots.

“The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard” was also clearly an excuse to spend millions at different glamorous locations around the world. It’s all such a waste, because no amount of picture-perfect locations or flashy stunts can fool people into thinking that this is a good movie. Messy trash wrapped up in a shiny box is still messy trash.

The incoherent story that’s masquerading as a plot in “The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard” is that Michael is now a disgraced bodyguard who has lost his license because he couldn’t prevent his most important client (a political leader) from being assassinated. He’s gone from winning Bodyguard of the Year at the Executive Protection Awards to being unlicensed and facing an upcoming tribunal that will decide if he can get his bodyguard license back. Michael spends a lot of time feeling sorry for himself because he’s not the respected bodyguard that he used to be.

Meanwhile, at European Union (E.U.) headquarters in Luxembourg, E.U. chief Walter Fiscer (played by Brian Caspe) has announced that the E.U. has issued sanctions on Greece. Greek billionaire tycoon Aristotle Papadopolous (played by Antonio Banderas) is enraged by these sanctions, so he has some of his goons kidnap Walter. While in captivity, where he is tortured, Walter is told that he has four days to reverse the E.U.’s decision about the sanctions.

Michael has been in therapy, but even his female therapist has gotten sick of him and tells Michael that he has now “graduated” from therapy. Taking his therapist’s advice to go on a vacation, Michael is relaxing at a beach resort, as he reads the self-help book “The Secret” and listens to whatever he’s listening to on his headphones. All of sudden, mayhem breaks out in the resort.

Several armed terrorists invade the place and start shooting everywhere. This movie’s slapstick comedy is so witless that viewers are supposed to believe that Michael doesn’t hear the chaos because he’s got headphones on and he doesn’t see anything because he’s wearing sunglasses.

But someone comes to Michael’s rescue during this terrorist attack: Sonia, who grabs Michael and tells him that her husband Darius told her to find Michael so that Michael could be her bodyguard. Michael and Sonia escape by motor scooter and then jump off of a cliff. Darius eventually joins them for more shenanigans where there’s a lot of pointless arguing and more stunts.

Somewhere in this muddled mess of a story, there’s a Croatian computer hacker named Gunther (played by Blake Ritson), who’s hired by Aristotle to set off bombs at whatever places that Aristotle wants to be blown up. There’s an Interpol informant named Carlo (who’s never seen in the movie), who gets murdered. And there’s a sexist, xenophobic and arrogant Interpol agent from the U.S. named Bobby O’Neill (played by Frank Grillo, doing a dubious Boston accent), who’s determined to find out and capture who’s responsible for Carlo’s death and these revenge acts against the E.U.

At various points in the story, these things happen: Darius is kidnapped; Sonia disguises herself as Carlo’s blonde British mistress; and one of Michael’s rich former clients named Seifert (played by Richard E. Grant, in a cameo) almost blows Michael’s cover at a nightclub. There’s also a lot of predictable shootouts and explosions.

Michael reunites with someone from his past who currently lives in Italy. Morgan Freeman portrays that person from Michael’s past, and how his character knows Michael is supposed to be a surprise. This person’s connection to Michael is really just a way for the filmmakers to exploit racial stereotypes for badly written jokes.

Speaking of exploitation, this loathsome movie is unrelenting in objectifying Hayek and making her into a shrill, nasty and jealous shrew who shows off as many of her body parts as possible while fully clothed. There’s a lot of very “male gaze” close-up camera shots of her breasts and rear end. And at one point, during one of these rear-end angles, Darius says of Sonia in a terrible pun: “I’m just protecting my assets,” where he puts an emphasis on saying “ass.” Yes, it’s that kind of movie.

It isn’t just the men who talk about Sonia’s body parts in crude and demeaning ways. There’s a subplot about Sonia and Darius wanting to start a family, but they haven’t had any luck conceiving. Sonia comments out loud to Michael on why she thinks she can’t get pregnant: “My pussy’s just too tight.”

In this very male-dominated film, the only female star who shares top billing is reduced to saying a line like that, which is no better than bad dialogue from a porn movie. That tells you all you need to know about how these filmmakers feel about how about a female star deserves to be treated in their movies. Meanwhile, the male stars in “The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard” have dumb lines too, but nothing that makes them talk like low-level porn actors. It’s sexism that’s unnecessary and frankly disgusting.

And don’t be fooled into thinking that this move isn’t sexist, just because Interpol agent Bobby has a female supervisor, because her role is nothing but being a cranky battle-axe, while Bobby gets all the glory of being the star Interpol agent in this story. Not surprisingly, Bobby resents having to report to a woman. Bobby’s supervisor is an older British woman named Crowley (played by Caroline Goodall), who is stereotypically stern and uptight in the way that American male filmmakers tend to portray older British women.

And the ethnic stereotyping doesn’t end there. The filmmakers make Sonia (who’s Mexican, just like Hayek is in real life) look so ignorant that she can’t pronounce Michael’s last name correctly in English. She repeatedly pronounces Bryce (rhymes with “rice”) as “breece” (rhymes with “fleece”). It’s yet another negative stereotype that makes it look like anyone whose original language is Spanish can’t possibly master the English language. There are racist undertones to this stereotyping, since Hayek is a woman of color.

The movie overall perpetuates negative and racist stereotypes because the three non-Anglo actors with the most screen time (Jackson, Hayek and Banderas) all portray characters who are criminals. The people who don’t notice these negative stereotypes are usually the same type of people who think this type of racist stereotyping should be normal in movies and television. But the reality is that what people see on screen, when it comes to representation of certain demographics, has an effect on how people perceive those demographics in real life. It’s part of the vicious cycle of bigotry that instills the false idea that certain races are “inferior” to others.

The male-female relationships in this movie are either about sex or resentment that a woman might be smarter than a man. Bobby is assigned a translator named Ailso (played by Alice McMillan), a Scot whose only role in the film is to be eye candy, based on the bland lines that she’s given. Instead of being impressed that Ailso knows multiple languages, Bobby just belittles her for her Scottish name, and she’s sidelined for most of the movie.

Sonia and Darius are portrayed as a horny couple, so there are repetitive scenes of them talking about their sex life or having sex, while a mortified Michael is nearby. It’s just more racist stereotyping that depicts African Americans and Latinos as hypersexual. Viewers won’t be surprised when it’s revealed that Sonia used to be Aristotle’s lover too.

There’s a flashback scene of Sonia and Aristotle’s past relatonship, where she comes across as a scheming gold digger. Hayek and Banderas previously co-starred in 1995’s “Desperado” and 2003’s “Once Upon a Time in Mexico,” action films that were both written, produced and directed by Robert Rodriguez. Although fans of those two movies might be thrilled that Hayek and Banderas are in another film together, “The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard” is a cringeworthy reunion for both of these talented actors.

All of the stars of this movie are doing versions of other characters they’ve played in other films. Reynolds has made a career out of playing emotionally insecure and sarcastic characters in comedies. Jackson does his usual schtick as a quick-tempered loose cannon. Banderas, who is originally from Spain, has played a cold-blooded villain before, but in this movie he doesn’t even try to get into character because he sounds Spanish, not Greek. Freeman is doing his usual “I’m wiser than you are” persona.

But the most problematic way that a character is written and portrayed in the movie is with Hayek’s Sonia. Hayek is not a starlet who’s desperate to get a big break. She’s an Oscar-nominated actress who’s also an experienced movie producer. It’s kind of sad that she’s sunk to this level to be in such a horrendous and embarrassing dud. The next time she lectures people about Hispanic representation in Hollywood movies, she needs to check herself and think about why she allowed herself to be used in this degrading movie that’s the epitome of why there’s a culture of damaging discrimination against women and people of color.

“The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard” doesn’t even have action scenes that are thrilling or imaginative. The scenes with fire and explosions have cheap-looking CGI effects. Watch any “John Wick” or “Mission: Impossible” movie to see how action scenes are done right and how action scenes can be innovative. Everything in “The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard” is like garbage that should’ve been thrown out a long time ago: It’s awful, it’s worthless, and it’s got a lingering stench that no amount of exotic locations can cover up.

Lionsgate will release “Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard” in U.S. cinemas on June 16, 2021, with sneak preview screenings on June 11 and June 12, 2021.

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