Review: ‘Drive-Away Dolls,’ starring Margaret Qualley, Geraldine Viswanathan, Beanie Feldstein, Colman Domingo, Pedro Pascal, Bill Camp and Matt Damon

February 23, 2024

by Carla Hay

Geraldine Viswanathan and Margaret Qualley in “Drive-Away Dolls” (Photo by Wilson Webb/Working Title/Focus Features)

“Drive-Away Dolls”

Directed by Ethan Coen

Culture Representation: Taking place in December 1999, in various states on the East Coast of the United States, the comedy film “Drive-Away Dolls” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with some Asians, African Americans and Latinos) representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: Two lesbian best friends go on a road trip from Philadelphia to Tallahassee, Florida, and find out that they are being chased by criminals who want some things that are in the two friends’ rental car. 

Culture Audience: “Drive-Away Dolls” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of the movie’s headliners, filmmaker Ethan Coen and comedies about road trips or lesbians.

Colman Domingo, C.J. Wilson and Joey Slotnick in “Drive-Away Dolls” (Photo by Wilson Webb/Working Title/Focus Features)

Neither terrible nor great, “Drive-Away Dolls” can have some appeal to viewers who are open to raunchy road-trip comedies that have lesbians as the central characters. The wacky tone is off-kilter, but the dialogue and characters are snappy and memorable. The “Drive-Away Dolls” filmmakers have said that it’s intended to be a B-movie (in other words, kind of trashy and kind of goofy), so people won’t have any expectations that “Drive-Away Dolls” is aspiring to be award-winning art.

Directed by Ethan Coen, “Drive-Away Dolls” is his first movie as a solo director since he ended his filmmaking partnership with his older brother Joel Coen. Together, the Coen Brothers’ specialty was making often-violent movies about offbeat characters, with their most-lauded achievement being the 2007 Oscar-winning drama “No Country for Old Men.” Other well-known movies in the Coen Brothers’ filmography include 1996’s crime drama “Fargo,” 1998’s stoner comedy “The Big Lebowski,” 2000’s prisoner escapee thriller “O Brother, Where Are Thou?” and the 2010 remake of the Western “True Grit.”

“Drive-Away Dolls” isn’t nearly as good as the above-named films, but it does have some quirky charm. (The word “quirky” is an over-used description for a Coen movie simply because it describes so many Coen movies.) The trick is how in how much quirkiness can be put into a movie before it becomes very irritating. “Drive-Away Dolls” comes dangerously close to being a constant barrage of quirkiness for the sake of trying to look unconventional. However, the movie takes a turn toward the end that is very conventional, so don’t expect any major plot twists.

Ethan Coen and his wife Tricia Cooke co-wrote the “Drive-Away Dolls” screenplay and are two of the movie’s producers. Cooke identifies as openly queer (as she says in the movie’s production notes and in many interviews), but the movie sometimes looks like it’s treating its lesbian characters (who are all young, under the age of 30) as caricatures. How would “Drive-Away Dolls” be if it had been written by young lesbians instead of a middle-aged husband and wife? We’ll never know, but some of the scenes with sexual activities just seem to be in the movie in a self-conscious way, as if to say: “Look at how progressive we are with these lesbian scenes.”

The racy sexual content can’t quite cover up the obvious: “Drive-Away Dolls” is essentially using the same formula that many road-trip movies have with two people as the central characters: The two people, who usually have opposite personalities, bicker with each other and bond with each other, as they face various obstacles on the way to their destination. If there’s a possibility of romance between the two people, one of the people in this relationship denies or resists the attraction.

In “Drive-Away Dolls,” the two argumentative travel partners are lesbian best friends in Philadelphia—brash and horny Jamie Dobbs (played by Margaret Qualley) and uptight and prudish Marian Pulabi (played by Geraldine Viswanathan)—who go on a road trip together to visit Marian’s aunt in Tallahassee, Florida. Jamie wasn’t officially invited by this aunt, but Jamie persuaded Marian to let Jamie go on this trip. Marian tries to dissuade Jamie from going by saying the visit will probably be boring because Marian’s aunt is a birder who is very conservative. Viewers soon learn that once Jamie has put her mind to getting something, she goes after it with gusto.

Jamie is what some people might call a “sexual free spirit” and what other people might call “promiscuous.” It’s the reason why Jamie’s most recent heartbroken girlfriend Suzanne “Sukie” Singelman, a Philadelphia police officer, has broken up with live-in lover Jamie, who admittedly has a hard time with being monogamous. Early on in the movie is a sex scene between Jamie and a woman named Carla (played by Annie Gonzalez) that has partial nudity but leaves very little doubt about what’s going on in the bed.

Jamie is so well-known at a local lesbian nightclub called Sugar’n’Spice, there’s a scene where she gets in front of a cheering audience to show off some souvenirs of her sexual exploits. Also in the crowd are Marian and Carla, who mildly scolds Marian for being at the club in a business suit. Marian’s excuse is that she just came from her office job and she’s not interested in “peddling her wares” at this pickup joint. Meanwhile, Sukie is so incensed at Jamie’s bragging antics on stage, Sukie storms up to Jamie and punches her.

Sukie has ordered Jamie to move out of the apartment. When Jamie arrives with Marian to pick up Jamie’s belongings, Sukie is trying to unfasten the bolts of a dildo that has been bolted to the lower half of a wall. This sex toy was a gift from Jamie, but Sukie angrily says that she doesn’t want it anymore. It’s intended to be a funny scene in “Drive-Away Dolls,” but if this type of thing doesn’t make you laugh, then “Drive-Away Dolls” is not the movie for you.

Sukie and Jamie also have a pet Chihuahua named Alice that Sukie doesn’t like, but Jamie is reluctant to take the dog because Jamie knows how irresponsible Jamie is. This dog isn’t used for a comedy gimmick as much as you might think it could be. Feeling some break-up blues, Jamie convinces Marian to let Jamie go on this road trip with Marian to Tallahassee.

The very first scene of “Drive-Away Dolls” shows something that is the catalyst for the danger that Jamie and Marian encounter on this trip. A man calling himself Santos (played by Pedro Pascal), but who is listed in the movie’s end credits as The Collector, is sitting by himself at a darkly lit Italian restaurant called Cicero’s and is waiting nervously for someone who doesn’t show up. Santos is clutching a silver metal briefcase. As he leaves the restaurant, he finds out too late that his waiter (played by Gordon MacDonald) was really an assassin, who followed Santos into an alley and killed him in a very gruesome way.

What happened to Santos’ body and the briefcase? And what’s in that briefcase? Those questions are answered in the movie. It’s enough to say that Marian and Jamie go to a car rental place owned by a shifty-looking man named Curlie (played by Bill Camp), who hears that two women are going to Tallahassee. Curlie knows exactly what car he’s going to give them: an aquamarine blue Dodge Aries.

Not long after Marian and Jamie drive off, three criminals show up expecting to rent this Dodge Aries, and “Tallahassee” was their code word to get the car. There are certain things in the car’s trunk that these thugs want. After Curlie tells them all he knows about the travelers who rented the car, Curlie gets savagely assaulted for the mistake of renting the car to these unsuspecting women.

The three criminals who are on the hunt for Jamie and Marian are a cold and calculating killer called The Chief (played by Colman Domingo), an impatient hothead named Flint (played by C.J. Wilson) and a dorky henchman named Arliss (played by Joey Slotnick), who all work for a mysterious boss who is later revealed in the movie. The Chief, Flint and Arliss start their chase by going to the apartment of Sukie, who was listed as the emergency contact person for Jamie and Marian’s car rental.

“Drive-Away Dolls” stretches out the “opposites attract” schtick between Marian and Jamie for as far as it can go. Marian is horrified when Jamie immediately defaces the car with this graffiti message on the trunk: “Love is a sleigh ride to hell.” Jamie is horrified when Marian admits that she’s been celibate for three years, ever since Marian’s breakup from her ex-girlfriend Donna. During their road trip, Jamie wants to have fun at lesbian bars and pick up sex partners, while Marian would rather sit in bed at night and read a book. The movie makes a big deal out of the fact that Marian is reading Henry James’ “The Europeans” during this trip.

“Drive-Away Dolls” also has psychedelic-looking interludes that feature brief, uncredited appearances by Miley Cyrus as a hippie woman from the 1960s. Her character’s name is later revealed in the movie. The name has a connection to a famous real-life 1960s groupie who died in 2022. If you watch all of the movie’s end credits, you’ll see at the very end, “Drive-Away Dolls” has a caption that shows the movie is dedicated to this real-life groupie.

Fans of Matt Damon (who plays a politically conservative U.S. senator from Florida named Gary Channel) and fans of Pascal should know that the screen time for Pascal and Damon in “Drive-Away Dolls” is limited to less than 10 minutes each, even though Pascal and Damon share top billing in the movie. It’s a “bait and switch” that will turn off some viewers who might be fooled into thinking that Pascal and Damon have a lot of screen time in the movie.

“Drive-Away Dolls” has fun with being campy, but some scenes are kind of useless. For example, Jamie and Marian encounter a traveling all-female soccer team whose members look like they’re in their late teens. Jamie and Marian end up in a hotel room with the team and their young coach, while they all take turns making out with each other.

Everyone on the soccer team is queer? Really? It looks so unrealistic and gratutitous, just for the sake of having a scene showing young women making out with each other in the same room. And what happened to Marian being so uptight? (She’s not drunk in this scene, so intoxication isn’t an excuse.) This is the type of scene that could have been edited out of the movie, and it would have made no difference to the overall story.

Qualley’s acting in “Drive-Away Dolls” looks like she’s trying to mimic the blunt-talking, verbose style of Mattie Ross, the precocious teen character played by Hailee Steinfeld in 2010’s “True Grit.” There’s a clipped, galloping pace to the way they talk that is not unlike the pace of a Kentucky Derby race horse and comes complete with a Southern twang. Jamie is originally from Texas, but her thick Southern accent (which doesn’t sound completely convincing in Qualley’s performance) and Jamie’s personal history with the South aren’t fully explained, considering that the movie makes insulting comments about Florida.

Qualley looks like she’s trying too hard to be funny as Jamie, while Viswanathan has a more naturalistic (and better) comedic style as Marian, who can say more with a few cynical eye rolls than Jamie can say with any of her motormouth rambling. Jamie’s dialogue can be hilarious at times, but it’s very stagy, much like a lot of the comedy in “Drive-Away Dolls.” All the movie’s supporting characters are not developed enough to have full personalities. Just like a slightly rusty car, “Drive-Away Dolls” is a comedy that spurts and lurches and takes a while to rev up, but it eventually can take you on a path that goes where it’s expected to go.

Focus Features released “Drive-Away Dolls” in U.S. cinemas on February 23, 2024. The movie will be released on digital and VOD on March 12, 2024. “Drive-Away Dolls” will be released on Peaock on April 12, 2024, and on Blu-ray on April 23, 2024.

Review: ‘The Humans’ (2021), starring Richard Jenkins, Amy Schumer, Steven Yeun, Beanie Feldstein, June Squibb and Jayne Houdyshell

November 23, 2021

by Carla Hay

Pictured clockwise, from bottom left: Steven Yeun, Beanie Feldstein, June Squibb, Richard Jenkins, Jayne Houdyshell and Amy Schumer in “The Humans” (Photo courtesy of A24)

“The Humans” (2021)

Directed by Stephen Karam

Culture Representation: Taking place in New York City, the dramatic film “The Humans” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with one Asian person) representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: A Thanksgiving family gathering in a creaky New York City apartment brings out various levels of tension and secrets. 

Culture Audience: “The Humans” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in watching movies adapted from stage plays and movies about family gatherings that show realistic conversations.

Amy Schumer in “The Humans” (Photo courtesy of A24)

“The Humans” will keep viewers guessing on what terrible things might happen at an often-uncomfortable family reunion during Thanksgiving. It’s not a horror movie, but it’s a well-acted study of psychological turmoil. “The Humans” movie is the feature-film directorial debut of Stephen Karam, who adapted the movie from his Tony-winning play of the same name. Don’t expect any major plot twists to happen. This dialogue-heavy movie puts more emphasis on the characters’ interactions and creating an uneasy mood.

If watching “The Humans” makes some viewers feel slightly claustrophobic, that’s clearly the intention. The entire film takes place in one location: a drab New York City duplex apartment in a shabby building. It’s the type of apartment that’s probably overpriced just because it’s in Manhattan’s Chinatown, which has undergone various degrees of gentrification. The apartment has several rooms but still seems cramped and unsettling when the Blake family (the clan at the center of the story) gathers for this Thanksgiving dinner.

The two residents of the apartment are Brigid Blake (played by Beanie Feldstein) and her boyfriend Richard (played by Steven Yeun), who have recently moved into this duplex. Their move is so recent, their new home is still mostly unfurnished. Brigid, who is in her late 20s, is an unemployed classical musician/composer who is looking for work in her chosen profession. Richard, who is 35, is studying to be a social worker.

The other family members who are at this Thanksgiving gathering have all traveled from Pennsylvania. Brigid’s older sister Aimee (played by Amy Schumer) lives in Philadelphia. Brigid and Aimee’s parents are Erik Blake (played by Richard Jenkins) and Deirdre Blake (played by Jayne Houdyshell), who both still live in Scranton, where they raised Brigid and Aimee. Erik’s mother, who’s nicknamed Momo (played by June Squibb), uses a wheelchair and has dementia.

Momo lives with Erik and Deirdre, who is Momo’s primary caretaker while also holding down a job as an office manager. Later on in the movie, Deirdre mentions that she’s been at the same company for 40 years and started working there not long after she graduated from high school. Deirdre expresses some resentment that she’s been passed over for promotions. She complains that she now reports to two guys in their 20s who make a lot more money than she does, just because they have fancy college degrees.

Erik has also been a longtime staffer at his place of employment. For the past 28 years, he’s been working as a maintenance custodian at a Catholic school. As one of the perks of the job, when Aimee and Brigid were children, he was able to enroll them in the school without having to pay tuition. Erik and Deirdre are planning to build a lake house for their retirement. Construction on the house has been stalled due to various issues, but Erik tells the family that things are back on track to finish building the house.

Aimee, who is openly a lesbian or a queer woman, is experiencing some setbacks in her career and personal life. She’s heartbroken over a recent breakup with a girlfriend named Carol, who is not seen in the movie, but who talks to Aimee on the phone during one of the movie’s heart-wrenching scenes. Aimee also tells the family that she’s being ousted from her corporate job because she took too much personal time off from work.

Aimee needed the time off to deal with her medical issues: Aimee has kidney dysplasia and colitis. She hasn’t told her parents yet that she has to make a decision on whether or not to get surgery. Aimee confides in Brigid that she’s afraid that no one will want to date her after the surgery. Brigid gives Aimee a pep talk and tells her that Aimee is attractive and a great catch.

“The Humans” moves along at a slow pace where not much happens except people talking. However, throughout the movie, there are things that literally go bump in the night—specifically, loud thumps that can be heard from the apartment upstairs. The noise unnerves Erik the most. Several times during the movie, Brigid has to assure him that the noise is coming from a harmless elderly woman who lives upstairs.

Out of all the family members gathered for this Thanksgiving, Erik is the one who seems to be the most restless and on edge. He sometimes goes to the windows (which do not have drapes or blinds) to look out, as if he’s certain that people might be looking in on them. This old, creaky building also has problems with its electricity and plumbing. You can easily predict what will happen at one point with the electricity.

“The Humans” might give the impression that it’s going to turn into a haunted house movie. “The Humans” has some “jump scares,” but it’s best if people know in advance not to expect “The Humans” to be a horror film. There’s a feeling of foreboding and dread throughout the film, but it’s mainly from these family members dealing with and confronting their insecurities and secrets.

For example, there are various resentments that certain family members have toward each other. Brigid feels that her mother Deirdre is overly critical of her, while Deirdre resents that bossy Brigid always acts like talkative Deirdre is an embarrassment to the family. Erik and Deirdre are very religious, so they’d prefer that Richard and Brigid live together as a married couple. Brigid seems to want to eventually get married, but it’s a sensitive topic for her because she thinks that she and Richard should be more financially stable before thinking about marriage.

Erik and Deirdre accept Aimee’s sexuality, but they don’t discuss Aimee’s love life at length in the way that they talk about Brigid’s love life. These parents don’t really come right out and say it, but they show through their words and actions that they’re more invested in who Brigid’s life partner will be because they think that because Brigid is heterosexual, she’s more likely to get married and have children.

Erik is more judgmental than Deirdre, when it comes to what other people experience in life. For example, Erik believes that therapy is self-indulgent, and he thinks that he personally never needs therapy in his life. At one point during the dinner, when someone reveals getting treatment in the past for depression, Erik insensitively says that religion has been his own “anti-depressant.”

How religious is Erik? He has a figurine of the Virgin Mary that he has carried with him for this Thanksgiving dinner. And it should come as no surprise that he’s the one who leads the prayer before they begin their Thanksgiving meal. Erik believes in having a traditional patriarchal role for his family. And usually, when someone is this self-righteous in a movie, that person is probably the one who has the biggest secrets to hide.

This is Richard’s first Thanksgiving with the family, so he has the “outsider” role in the movie. He tries to keep the peace when certain family members start to bicker with each other. Richard has some secrets too that eventually come out in the dinner conversation.

As an example of how cheerful Richard wants this family gathering to be, he has a device that can project visual images onto any wall. He chooses to project the image of a cozy, burning fireplace. When it’s projected on the wall, it looks like a real fireplace, and it gives the drab and nearly empty room a warmer ambience.

Brigid, who is somewhat of a control freak, turns off the device because she thinks that having a fake fireplace looks tacky. Richard disagrees and wants to keep some kind of ambience projection image going in the room, to make the room look lived-in and not so barren. Observant viewers will notice that this back-and-forth between Brigid and Richard about whether or not to use this device in the room is not just about any power struggles in their relationship. It’s also about Brigid showing defiance about Erik’s expressed disapproval of the shabby condition of the apartment building.

Erik isn’t shy about telling Brigid that he thinks her choice to live in New York City is somewhat foolish, when she can have bigger and better living space in Scranton for a fraction of the cost of living expenses in New York City. It’s implied that Erik and Brigid have had ongoing disagreements about where she lives. She lives in New York City because she loves it and knows that she will have better career opportunities in New York, but Erik sees it as Brigid turning her back on her Scranton roots. Erik also doesn’t understand why Aimee wants to live in a big city like Philadelphia, although Erik is much more disapproving of Brigid living in New York City.

At first, Richard and Erik have some unspoken awkwardness between them, because Erik doesn’t know Richard very well and isn’t quite sure how much Richard might be a threat to Erik’s influence over the family. However, Richard is very mild-mannered and a people pleaser. Erik starts to warm up to Richard when he sees that Richard has no intention of being the most dominant person in this family.

But some things are really bothering Erik. And little, by little, he begins to reveal what those things are. Erik starts off by telling everyone that he’s been having nightmares of being chased in a tunnel. Richard then confesses that he’s also had a recurring nightmare: falling through an ice cream cone made of grass. Richard is also a sci-fi enthusiast, so he shares a theory of what outer-space aliens must think about human beings on Earth. This theory ties into the main theme of this movie.

Every movie about a family Thanksgiving dinner seems to have it share of family squabbles. “The Humans” is no exception. Much of this discord has to do with family members not feeling respected or heard. For example, an emotional blow-up happens after Brigid shares her disappointment over getting constant rejections for a grant and because her job search hasn’t been going well. Erik replies flippantly, “Well, you can always work in retail.” That comment sets off an argument between certain members of the family.

And what is Momo doing during all of this family drama? She doesn’t say much, but there’s a moment during the dinner when her memory seems very sharp. It gives the other family members some hope that maybe her dementia hasn’t gotten worse. How long that hope lasts is shown in the movie.

Because “The Humans” is more of a “slice of life” film instead of an event-filled movie, some viewers might feel disappointed that the movie isn’t a mystery thriller. The film’s music, cinematography and editing certainly give the impression that something terrifying and possibly supernatural could happen at any moment. However, viewers should know in advance that this movie has several scenes that show mundane activities, such as family members trying to navigate Momo’s wheelchair in narrow doorways, or people making small talk about repairs that need to be done in the apartment.

The main reason to see “The Humans” is for noteworthy performances by the cast members, who bring a lot of authenticity to their roles. The conversations between these family members are at their best when they’re about showing their vulnerabilities and not trying to put up a façade that life is perfect. And that seems to be the point of this movie: It’s easy to blame others for causing misery. It’s a lot harder to admit that people are sometimes their own worst enemies.

A24 will release “The Humans” in select U.S. cinemas and on Showtime on November 24, 2021.

Review: ‘How to Build a Girl,’ starring Beanie Feldstein, Alfie Allen, Paddy Considine, Chris O’Dowd and Emma Thompson

May 11, 2020

by Carla Hay

Beanie Feldstein in “How to Build a Girl” (Photo courtesy of IFC Films)

“How to Build a Girl”

Directed by Coky Giedroyc 

Culture Representation: Taking place in early 1990s England (and briefly in Dublin), the comedy film “How to Build a Girl” has a predominantly white cast (with some representation of black people and Indian people) representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: A 16-year-old girl who’s a misfit in school reinvents herself as a hotshot music journalist and becomes the type of bully she used to hate.

Culture Audience: “How to Build a Girl” will appeal mostly to people who like coming-of-age films about teenagers or movies about entertainment journalism, but viewers should not expect this film to have a realistic portrayal of what it’s like to be a beginner journalist.

Alfie Allen and Beanie Feldstein in “How to Build a Girl” (Photo courtesy of IFC Films)

“How to Build a Girl” tries very hard to be a charming, coming-of-age comedy with a heavy dose of nostalgia (in ways that writer/director Cameron Crowe’s 2000 Oscar-winning dramedy “Almost Famous” did so well), but “How to Build a Girl” suffers from presenting too many unrealistic fantasies about magazine journalism, in order to serve the movie’s cutesy plot. The results are mixed.

Beanie Feldstein gives a winning performance as the main character, and there’s solid direction from Coky Giedroyc in this movie that ultimately has a feel-good feminist message. But that message is cheapened by Caitlin Moran’s screenplay, which overloads the story with an abundance of “too good to be true” moments that gloss over the harsh realities of showbiz and journalism.

Moran adapted the “How to Build a Girl” screenplay from her 2014 semi-autobiographical novel of the same title, which was based on Moran’s real-life experiences of being a teenage journalist in the early 1990s for the now-defunct British music magazine Melody Maker. Moran also had some ’90s fame in her native Great Britain, as the host of the short-lived Channel 4 music show “Naked City.” She went on to write for several publications and became the author of multiple books.

In the “How to Build a Girl” movie, Feldstein plays Johanna Morrigan, a moody and bookish 16-year-old who comes from a working-class family in Wolverhampton, England. Johanna is the oldest of five children, and all of her siblings are brothers, including newborn twins. Her father Pat (played by Paddy Considine) is a frustrated drummer/wannabe rock star who’s been waiting for his “big break” for decades. Her disheveled mother Angie (played by Sarah Solemani) is overwhelmed with taking care of a large family and suffers from post-partum depression.

Angie is a homemaker and Pat can’t keep a steady job, so the family mainly lives off of government assistance and whatever questionable “get rich quick” schemes cooked up by Pat. (At one point in the movie, Pat gets busted for fraudulently claiming disability benefits, while he breeds Border Collies for extra money.) At school, Johanna is an outcast who has no friends. Her closest companions are her dog Bianca and her gay teenage brother Krissi (played by Laurie Kynaston), who confides in Johanna about his boy crushes and tentative first steps in dating.

Johanna has an eclectic myriad of historical figures whom she admires and whose pictures she keeps plastered on her wall. They include Sigmund Freud; Elizabeth Taylor; Karl Marx; Sylvia Plath; Donna Summer; Cleopatra; the fictional Jo March from “Little Women”; Maria von Trapp of “The Sound of Music” fame; and writer sisters Emily Bronte and Charlotte Bronte. Johanna has a vivid imagination, so one of the memorable aspects of the film is that it sometimes brings these pictures to life, as they speak to Johanna and give her advice. Several well-known entertainers have cameos with these roles, such as Michael Sheen as Freud, pop star Lily Allen as Taylor, Jameela Jamil as Cleopatra, Gemma Arterton as von Trapp and Lucy Punch as Plath.

In fact, the most whimsical moments of “How to Build a Girl” come from Johanna’s numerous fantasies that are depicted on screen of what’s going on inside her head. For the most part, they work well in boosting the comedy level when the movie tackles some dark subjects, such as Johanna’s anxiety and depression that lead to suicidal thoughts. What doesn’t work well in the movie is the unbelievable way that she skyrockets from being an unknown teenage student to being a famous writer at a major rock magazine without any experience or knowledge of rock music.

Johanna has dreams of being a writer, but she hasn’t quite figured out what type of writer she wants to be. She enters a poetry contest with a poem titled “My Best Friend,” about her beloved dog Bianca. To her surprise, she ends up winning the contest. So, Johanna is invited to recite the poem on a local news/talk show called “Today in the Midlands,” hosted by a slick TV personality type named Alan “Wilko” Wilkinson (played by Chris O’Dowd, in a cameo).

Unfortunately, Johanna is extremely nervous when she gets to the TV studio, so she ends up embarrassing herself by being overly touchy-feely with the host and rambling on about how she and Bianca are a lot like the famous cartoon characters Shaggy and Scooby Doo. Needless to say, Wilko can’t get her off the air fast enough.

Back at school, Johanna gets the expected teasing and bullying from her classmates for her disastrous TV appearance. She sinks even further into her emotional shell and starts having thoughts about killing herself. (Johanna’s imaginary friends on her wall try to cheer her up, but notoriously depressive poet Plath whispers that she can give Johanna some tips on suicide.)

Meanwhile, Johanna’s family falls further into a financial hole, as the family’s TV (which is the center of their household’s social activities) gets repossessed. But wouldn’t you know, here comes another contest. This time, it’s from the London-based rock music magazine Disc & Music Echo (D&ME), which is having a Young Gunslinger competition for aspiring young writers. The winner will get to write for the magazine on a part-time basis.

Johanna knows almost nothing about rock music (even though her dad is a rock musician, albeit an unsuccessful one), but she enters the contest anyway. She writes a sincere essay praising one of her favorite songs: “The Sun Will Come Out Tomorrow” from the musical “Annie.” And in yet another unrealistic plot point, she gets a call that she’s won that contest too.

So off she goes to London to D&ME headquarters, with excited dreams of becoming a glamorous music journalist. (D&ME is the movie’s obvious parody of real-life British music magazine NME.) However, Johanna gets a rude awakening when she discovers that the congratulatory call that she received was just a cruel prank from the sexist managing editor Derby (played by Ziggy Heath), who leads an all-male team of writers and editors.

Derby and his D&ME co-workers are skeptical that someone of the female gender can be taken seriously as a music journalist. One of the writers on the staff is the lecherous Tony Rich (played by Frank Dillane), who eyes Johanna in a way that makes it obvious that he sees her as “fresh meat.” (The age of consent in the United Kingdom is 16.)

When Johanna finds out that the D&ME editors think her writing submission was a joke and that they had no intention of hiring her, she refuses to leave. She begs, pleads and talks her way into being hired on the spot for an intern-type of position. It’s one of many unrealistic things that happen in the movie.

And she immediately gets a plum assignment: a concert review of Manic Street Preachers, who were one of the hottest bands in England at the time. So off Johanna goes to the club in Birmingham to see the band play. She’s accompanied by her father Pat, since Johanna doesn’t have her driver’s license. It’s Johanna’s first time at a rock concert, and she’s blown away by the experience.

Meanwhile, her father thinks that he can use Johanna’s new position at D&ME to pass on a demo tape to her to hopefully get it reviewed in the magazine. He even starts to sit in as a drummer for a young local band called the Strange Cases that come over to the Morrigan house to rehearse. As Pat Morrigan tells Johanna, he was raised to believe that the three best ways to get rich are by being a “boxer, a footballer or a pop star.”

Johanna doesn’t think her real name is cool enough for the magazine, so she comes up with the alias Dolly Wilde for her articles. She also changes her image, by ditching her mousy brown hair and dyeing it scarlet red. Johanna also stops wearing schoolgirl clothes and starts wearing outfits that look like shopping-mall versions of Victorian Goth, complete with black top hats and fishnet stockings.

When she hands in the concert review, which naturally gushes about the band in the review, Derby tells her that it sounds like a review written by a teenage girl. She’s crushed by the criticism because she was expecting to get a bigger assignment. However, Derby refuses because he thinks she’s an annoying girl who doesn’t know anything about the music she’s supposed to cover.

And then Derby does something very creepy in full view of several staffers: He tells Johanna to sit on his lap. Even though it’s obvious sexual harassment, Johanna uses it to her advantage, by playfully moving heavily around his lap and putting Derby in a headlock until a red-faced Darby relents and gives her another assignment, in yet another very unrealistic movie moment. This time, Johanna gets to fly to Dublin to do an interview with a British rock star on the rise named John Kite (played by Alfie Allen), even though she has absolutely no experience doing interviews and doesn’t know anything about John’s music.

Although “How to Build a Girl” tries to have a teachable moment with the sexual-harassment scene, it’s almost offensive how the movie brushes it aside with a slapstick response that pokes fun at the body size of the female target of the harassment. Would that scene have been done that way if Feldstein were a thin actress? Probably not, because the gimmick of the scene was that she was “too big” for Derby’s lap, and therefore caused him physical pain when she moved around on his lap. And he gave Johanna the assignment not because he thought she deserved it but because he just wanted her to get off of his lap and go away.

Johanna is woefully unprepared for the interview (how unprofessional), and she admits to John that she doesn’t know what she’s doing. She’s lucky that John is such a gentleman that not only does he give her a good interview, but he also shows her around Dublin. At the concert, she gets a backstage pass, so she watches the show from the side of the stage. Predictably, she’s transfixed and star-struck.

And when Johanna gets too tipsy from alcohol, John takes her back to his hotel room and lets her sleep on his bed, while he sleeps in the bathtub. And not once does he sexually harass her or try to take advantage of this obviously unworldly and gullible teenager. By the end of the trip, Johanna thinks she’s “in love” with John.

“How to Build a Girl” has the same problem that the 2019 comedy “Late Night” (starring Mindy Kaling) had in portraying a spunky heroine who’s chosen as the “token” female writer/co-worker in a male-dominated media job, even though she has no experience and is clueless about what it takes to do the job. Both movies make the mistake of having the main character fall into a bunch of “dumb luck” situations that lead to rapid career advancements that an inexperienced beginner would never get in real life, unless they have inside connections.

The heroines in both movies have neither experience nor inside connections, since each story relies on the premise that these newcomers are naïve outsiders when they get their dream jobs in showbiz. They were hired as “tokens” to be pitied or ridiculed, not to be respected. It panders to the worst negative stereotypes about affirmative action—that “token” people really aren’t qualified, and a “token” is getting a spot that should’ve gone to someone who is qualified. Affirmative action, when done right, is supposed to give qualified people a chance. (Coincidentally, both movies have Emma Thompson playing a boss, although her role in “How to Build a Girl” is essentially a cameo.)

It’s a disservice to feminism to portray these female protagonists as very ignorant, unqualified tokens who easily get a dream job that they didn’t work hard to get. It’s why “Late Night,” in its blatant and cynical pandering to forced diversity, flopped with audiences. And it’s why “How to Build a Girl” won’t win over a large audience either. Having a “cute” personality without working hard doesn’t entitle someone to great opportunities, even if you try to cloak it in a “feminist” message.

People in the real world don’t like it when filmmakers have a smug attitude that a female lead character with a plucky personality should be enough for audiences to root for that character. Audiences want a character who also has substance, starting with the character showing genuine appreciation for all the dumb luck that comes her way when she has her unrealistic, quick career ascension. It’s probably why “How to Build a Girl,” just like “Late Night,” isn’t going to find a wide audience, or even a cult audience that will enthusiastically recommend this movie to other people.

“How to Build a Girl” takes the protagonist’s dumb luck to new levels of “only in a movie” stupidity. While she’s still working part-time for the magazine, Johanna makes enough money to support her family, and she becomes very arrogant about it. This movie apparently doesn’t want the audience to know the reality that no magazine in the Western world pays a part-time beginner enough money to support a family of seven.

Johanna becoming the family’s breadwinner is an extreme plot development that’s unnecessary and undermines this movie’s potential to make this story relatable to a lot of people. It’s an insult to the audience’s intelligence for the movie to try to make people believe that an underage teenager who’s basically on the level of a magazine intern can suddenly support a large family with what everyone knows would be a very low salary in real life. A better-written screenplay would’ve kept it more realistic, by having Johanna make enough money to have more disposable income for just herself, not her entire family.

Johanna gets a minor setback when she’s about to be fired for writing articles that fawn too much over the artists. Derby and the other editors think she’s too immature and “girly” for the job. Tony is somewhat willing to defend Johanna, but it’s only because he has sleazy ulterior motives. He privately tells Derby, “There’s never been an organization that wasn’t improved from hiring jailbait.”

Once again, in an unrealistic way, Derby changes his mind about getting rid of Johanna, after she alters her Dolly Wilde persona to become a cruelly derogatory critic who uses over-the-top insults to get attention. Johanna’s change in writing style from star-struck fangirl to angry cynic was the result of a conversation that Johanna had with her smarmy co-worker Tony. “In order to get ahead, you have to get a hate,” Johanna says in an “a-ha” moment. In a voiceover, Johanna says, “Nice girls get nowhere, but a bitch can make a comeback.”

And in yet another unrealistic aspect of the story, Johanna actually becomes famous. She gets fan mail and is recognized in public by adoring admirers, all because of her writing in the magazine. Keep in mind, the movie takes place years before social media existed. Music journalists in the ’90s didn’t get the level of attention that Johanna gets in this movie, unless the journalists were on TV a lot. And in the movie, Johanna is a print journalist only, not a TV personality.

The rest of the movie shows what happens after Johanna’s “fame” goes to her head and she becomes everything she used to hate about people who bullied her. “How to Build a Girl” also explores Johanna’s sexual liberation (she loses her virginity and has various sex partners), and how it affects her attitude about herself and other people. The movie shows how she handles the issue of female journalists getting sexually involved with people they interview or co-workers, and how those choices can affect the reputation of a woman differently than a man who makes the same choices.

Issues about social classes are also addressed, since most of Johanna’s co-workers at the magazine are privileged young men who went to prestigious universities, while Johanna comes from a very different background. Although Johanna tries her best to fit in with the guys, there are a few scenes in the movie that effectively show how her elitist co-workers really feel about the gender/social barriers that keep someone like Johanna from truly being a part of their clique. Johanna also faces some ethical dilemmas that demonstrate how much she’s willing to “sell her soul” to impress her co-workers.

Feldstein (who’s an American) does an admirable but not outstanding job in portraying the Wolverhampton accent and the transformative character arc that Johanna goes through in the story. However, it’s time for Feldstein to move on to a better variety of roles, because she’s in danger of being typecast as the “awkward misfit.” So far, most audiences know her for playing awkward, misfit teens in films such as “Lady Bird,” “Booksmart” and “How to Build a Girl.”

And for a movie about music journalism, it’s a huge letdown that the soundtrack to “How to Build a Girl” is very forgettable. There isn’t one single scene in the movie that will make people remember a particular song, so don’t expect this movie’s soundtrack to be an award-winning hit, like the Grammy-winning “Almost Famous” soundtrack.

It’s also disappointing that Moran couldn’t use her real-life experiences as a music journalist to write a more realistic screenplay. This movie was clearly intended for adults (based on the adult language and sex in the film), but “How to Build a Girl” is also like a children’s movie in the way that it removes a lot of showbiz realities and replaces them with wide-eyed, unrealistic fantasies about how the business works. You can’t really have it both ways, because the end result is a movie with an uneven tone. “How to Build a Girl” wants to be edgy, but it’s as edgy as a melted popsicle.

IFC Films released “How to Build a Girl” on digital and VOD on May 8, 2020. The film’s U.K. release is on July 20, 2020.

2020 Athena Film Festival: movie reviews and recaps

March 5, 2020

by Carla Hay

Athena Film Festival

Pictured  from left to right at the 2020 Athena Film Festival Awards, held February 26 at Barnard College in New York City: filmmaker Effie T. Brown, Athena Film Festival co-founder/artistic director Melissa Silverstein, filmmaker Unjoo Moon, actress Beanie Feldstein, Athena Film Festival co-founder Kathryn Kolbert and Barnard College president Sian Beilock. (Photo by Lars Niki/Getty Images for the Athena Film Awards)

The 10th annual Athena Film Festival—which took place at New York City’s Barnard College from February 27 to March 1, 2020—once again had an impressive presentation of female-oriented movies, panels and networking events.

The festival was preceded on February 26 by the annual Athena Film Festival Awards, which honored actress Beanie Feldstein, filmmaker Jennifer Kaytin Robinson and producer Effie T. Brown with Athena Awards, while filmmaker Unjoo Moon received the event’s first Breakthrough Award. Moon’s Helen Reddy biopic “I Am Woman” was the opening-night film at the festival, where the movie had its New York premiere. Gloria Steinem, filmmaker Greta Gerwig (a 2006 Barnard graduate), director Paul Feig (“Bridesmaids”), actress Lorraine Toussaint and Oscar-winning filmmaker Dan Cogan (“Icarus”) were among the presenters at the award show, while singer Arianna Afsar performed at the event. Also in attendance were actress Andrea Riseborough, filmmaker Liz Garbus (“What Happened, Miss Simone?”) and author/public speaker Verna Myers.

One of the changes to Athena Film Festival this year was that it became more environmentally conscious by not having pamphlets, which were provided at previous Athena Film Festivals. (People who still needed to see a schedule on paper could go to the information area, which had a paper schedule on display.) Saving paper by not having pamphlets and encouraging people to go online for information are steps in the right direction for helping the environment. Kudos to the Athena Film Festival producers for being forward-thinking about this important issue.

Almost all of the movies had their world premieres at other festivals, but there were several that had their New York premieres at the Athena Film Festival. (Full reviews will be posted later and can be found at Culture Mix’s Movie & TV Reviews section.)

The New York premieres at the Athena Film Festival included these movies:

The narrative centerpiece film was “Lost Girls,” a mystery thriller directed by Liz Garbus and starring Amy Ryan as a mother searching for her missing 24-year-old daughter. The movie is based on the true story of Mari Gilbert’s quest to find justice for her daughter Shannan Gilbert, who was among the victims of the Gilbo Beach Murders on New York’s Long Island. The story includes how Mari and other family members of the murder victims joined forces to try find out who murdered their loved ones. Netflix will begin streaming “Lost Girls” on March 13, 2020.

If you liked Netflix’s 2019 “Unbelievable” limited series (which was based on a true crime story about the hunt for a serial rapist), you’ll also like “Lost Girls.” The movie’s screenplay, written by Michael Werwie, is based on Robert Kolker’s book “Lost Girls: An Unsolved American Mystery.”

“Lost Girls” team members at the Athena Film Festival premiere of the movie at Barnard College in New York City on February 29, 2020. Pictured from left to right: producer Anne Carey, actress Molly Brown, actress Amy Ryan, actress Miriam Shor, actress Lola Kirke, actress Oona Laurence and director Liz Garbus. (Photo by Carla Hay)

At the Q&A after the “Lost Girls” screening, which was attended by many of the real-life people who are portrayed in the film, Garbus said that she wanted to direct this movie: “I fell in love with the story. I felt if I could be part of telling and elevate the story again and appreciating the incredible work by these women in keeping their loved ones’ stories alive, then it would be a great honor.”

Ryan, who plays Mari Gilbert in “Lost Girls,” was visibly moved when she spoke to Mari’s daughter Sherre Gilbert, who was in the front row of the audience.  “I am so grateful to use my voice to help to keep this story going …This story matters. it was really an honor to play your mom.” Ryan added that the actresses who portrayed the grieving allies shared a real-life friendship on the movie set. “Our connection to each other was an amazing reflection of that … I just think when you get a group of women together in a room, it can be very powerful.”

“Never Rarely Sometimes Always” was another standout film at the Athena Film Festival. This drama, written and directed by Eliza Hittman, follows the emotionally harrowing journey of a 17-year-old named Autumn Gallagher (played by Sidney Flanigan), who has to travel from her hometown in rural Pennsylvania to New York City to get an abortion for an unplanned and unwanted pregnancy. The movie realistically shows the obstacles she faces, as well as the toll that her abortion decision takes on her physically and psychologically. Hittman had been scheduled to do a post-premiere Q&A at the Athena Film Festival, but she had to bow out to attend the Berlin International Film Festival, where “Never Rarely Sometimes Always” won the Silver Bear Award (second-place prize). Focus Features will release “Never Rarely Sometimes Always” in select U.S. cinemas on March 13, 2020.

The dramatic film “The Perfect Candidate,” directed and co-written by Haifaa al-Mansour, is about a woman named Maryam (played by Mila Al Zahrani), who’s facing a different type of obstacle. She’s a Saudi Arabian female doctor who running for her local city council, in a culture where women rarely try to be political leaders because it’s considered unladylike and almost taboo. Not surprisingly, she faces a lot of sexism and degrading reactions to her campaign. It’s a well-acted film that provides further insight into how far some countries need to go before they won’t place a stigma on gender-equality opportunities that women in other countries take for granted. Music Box Films will release “The Perfect Candidate” in U.S. cinemas, on a date to be announced. The movie was already released in Saudi Arabia, which selected “The Perfect Candidate” as the country’s official 2019 Academy Awards submission for Best International Feature Film.

Perhaps the best underrated gem of the festival was the Canadian drama “Kuessipan,” directed and co-written by Myriam Verreault and Naomi Fontaine, based on Fontaine’s novel of the same time. The mostly French-language movie tells the story of two teenage girls in Québec who’ve been best friends since childhood, but their lives are going in different directions. Mikuan (played by Sharon Ishpatao Fontaine) comes from a stable family and is headed to college, while Shaniss (played by Yamie Grégoire) comes from a troubled broken home and is an unwed teenage mother who’s dropped out of school. What makes this story different from others with a similar concept is that the girls happen to be from the Innu tribe. Their racial identity and issues related to their culture are rarely seen in movies, so it’s refreshing that this film does it in a very authentic way. The movie is engaging and very well-made, from beginning to end. “Kuessipan” is highly recommended for anyone who likes coming-of-age stories that ring true.

The only feature film to have its world premiere at the festival was the documentary “Dying Doesn’t Feel Like What I’m Doing,” directed by Paula Weiman-Kelman, about female rabbi/activist Rachel Cowan and how she lived with terminal brain cancer before her death in 2018. The movie played to a sold-out audience. It’s an intimate and starkly made film that treats Cowan with dignity and respect. At the Q&A that was held after the screening, Weiman-Kelman said that she started filming the documentary before Cowan was diagnosed with brain cancer, but Cowan graciously wanted her to keep filming after the diagnosis.

The inspiring documentary “Woman in Motion” (directed by Todd Thompson) tells the story of “Star Trek” actress Nichelle Nicholas’ 1970s campaign to recruit more women and people of color to join NASA and become astronauts. This movie would make a great companion piece to the 2016 Oscar-nominated hit drama “Hidden Figures,” which told the story of three African American women who were underappreciated pioneers at NASA in the 1960s. “Woman in Motion” also takes a look at how “Star Trek” also played a role in opening up people’s minds to the idea that a diverse group of people could be in outer space.

The Irish horror flick “Sea Fever” (written and directed by Neasa Hardiman) is definitely influenced by the 1979 classic film “Alien,” since it’s about a group of people trapped on board with a parasitic creature that can multiply easily, infect humans, and then kill them. And the smartest one in the group is a scientific-minded woman, who’s the best chance that they have of survival. But instead of being a gun-toting warrior like Sigourney Weaver’s “Alien” character Ripley, the heroine of “Sea Fever” is a marine-biology student Siobhán (played by Hermione Corfield), who’s the youngest person on an isolated ship that’s under attack by a mysterious sea creature. Even though the movie has some predictable tropes, what makes “Sea Fever” different from other horror films of this type is that Siobhán has to deal with ageism, as well as the expected sexism. For most of the story, the other people on board don’t take her seriously. And there are dire consequences when her warnings go unheeded. Gunpowder & Sky will release “Sea Fever” in U.S. cinemas on a date to be announced.

“Rocks,” a drama directed by Sarah Gavron, was the festival’s closing-night film. “The movie (written by Theresa Ikoko and Claire Wilson) is about a London teenager nicknamed Rocks (played by Bukky Bakray), who comes home to find her single mother missing, and she has to take care of her younger brother Emmanuel (played by D’angelou Osei Kissiedu) by herself. With the help of her female friends, Rocks tries to hide her situation from child protective services, which would separate the siblings in foster care. Overall, the movie is good, although some people might have an issue with one aspect of the movie’s conclusion that ends up being vague and open to interpretation. (It has to do with a decision that Rocks makes about Emmanuel.) However, the movie’s greatest strength is that it doesn’t sugarcoat the problems that Rocks encounters as an unexpected underage guardian of her brother.  Film4 will release “Rocks” in the U.K. and Ireland on April 24 , 2020. The movie’s U.S. release date is undetermined, as of this writing.

Other movies that had their New York City premieres at the festival included the Marie Curie biopic “Radioactive”; the lesbian cop drama “The Long Shadow”; the Papua New Guinea women’s rugby documentary “Power Meri”; the British drama “Military Wives”; the Israeli political documentary “Objector”; the French coming-of-age drama “Stars by the Pound”; the Spanish lesbian drama “Carmen & Lola”; and the Italian female boxing documentary “Butterfly.”

The festival had some movies that were originally released in 2019 and have won prizes and Oscar nominations. They included the Syrian war documentary “For Sama” (co-directed by and starring Waad al-Kateab); Greta Gerwig’s Oscar-nominated version of “Little Women,” based on the classic Louisa May Alcott novel; the Disney animated sequel “Frozen 2” (co-directed by Jennifer Lee); and the Harriet Tubman biopic “Harriet,” directed by Kasi Lemmons.

There were also networking events (most were invitation-only), discussion panels and creative workshops.

The Athena Film Festival’s “The Silence Breakers” panel at Barnard College in New York City on February 29, 2020. Pictured from left to right: Sarah Anne Masse, Jasmine Lobe, Drew Dixon and Sheri Sher. (Photo Carla Hay)

The most-talked about panel, which also packed the room with about 250 people, was “The Silence Breakers,” featuring #MeToo accusers of disgraced entertainment moguls Harvey Weinstein and Russell Simmons. The panel, which took place on February 29, was moderated by The Hollywood Reporter executive film editor Tatiana Siegel, who has covered several #MeToo stories in the entertainment industry. The panelists shared their thoughts on the February 24 verdict that convicted Weinstein of a first-degree criminal sexual act and a third-degree count of rape. A New York City jury of seven men and five women delivered the verdict, which acquitted Weinstein of the most serious charges: two counts of predatory sexual assault and one count of first-degree rape.

The panelists shared their thoughts on the verdict. “I was really relieved. It felt like a weight I’d been carrying on my shoulders for 12 years had been lifted,” commented actress Sarah Ann Masse, who claims that Weinstein sexually harassed her during a job interview in 2008. “I was expecting him to get away with it, like he had for decades.”

Jasmine Lobe, an writer/actress who says that Weinstein sexually assaulted her in 2006, had this to say about Weinstein being convicted of sex crimes: “There was a tremendous sense of victory. We were all preparing for the worst.” Weinstein continues to deny all sexual-misconduct allegations against him. He will receive his prison sentence on March 11, 2020.

Drew Dixon (a former A&R executive at Def Jam Records and Arista Records) and Sheri Sher (a founding member of the all-female hip-hop group Mercedes Ladies) each claim that they were raped by Simmons, who founded the companies Def Jam and Rush Communications. He stepped down from his businesses in 2017, after several women went public with similar allegations. Dixon says her assault happened in 1995, while Sher claims that Simmons sexually violated her in 1983. Simmons has denied all the accusations against him. As of this writing, he has not been arrested for any alleged sex crimes that still fall under the statute of limitations, but he’s being sued in California by an unnamed woman who claims he raped her in 1988.

“It is a game-changer, a watershed moment,” Dixon said of the Weinstein rape conviction. “Also, the fact that a majority-male jury understood the nuance of remaining in touch with your perpetrator.” Simmons accuser Sher added that since the resurgence of the #Me Too movement and now that Weinstein has been convicted of rape, there’s a “sense that it’s a new era. It’s time to change. It’s real.”

Dixon and Sher are among the Simmons accusers featured in the documentary “On the Record,” directed by Amy Ziering and Kirby Dick. The movie was publicly protested by Simmons and some of his supporters. Executive producer Oprah Winfrey and Apple TV+ then dropped out of the project. HBO Max then picked up the documentary, which will begin streaming on a date to be announced. Dixon mentioned that when black women accuse black men of abuse, the situation is more complicated because of the racial injustices that black men face in the legal system.

Meanwhile, the panelists said that although organizations such as Time’s Up have been helpful for many #MeToo survivors, a lot more progress needs to be made in order to change the culture where sexual harassers and predators can still thrive. The panelists advocate for laws that extend or suspend statutes of limitations for sex crimes. They also think there should be more policies that won’t allow non-disclosure agreements for settlements involving sexual misconduct.

Masse and Dixon also noted that more industry people in power who say they care about this issue need to practice what they preach and hire #MeToo silence breakers who’ve been victims of career retaliation. Because the #MeToo issue is not limited to the entertainment industry, Dixon commented that it’s everyone’s responsibility to do their part to stop the cycle of abuse: “If you see something, say something. You call it out. You don’t laugh it off.”

2019 CinemaCon: What to expect at this year’s event

April 1, 2019

by Carla Hay

CinemaCon

CinemaCon, the annual convention for the National Association of Theatre Owners (NATO), will be held April 1 to April 4, 2019, at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas. About 5,000 people attend the event, which gives movie studios the chance to showcase what they expect to be their biggest hits of the year.

A major change to this year’s event is that Sony Pictures Entertainment and 20th Century Fox will not be giving presentations. Movie studios scheduled to give their presentations at the event are STX Films and Warner Bros. Pictures on April 2; Universal Pictures and Walt Disney Pictures on April 3; and Paramount Pictures and Lionsgate on April 4.

Independent film studio Neon will promote its music-based drama “Wild Rose” with a screening of the movie on April 1 and a “Wild Rose” party on April 2. Other movies that will be screened in their entirety at CinemaCon 2019 will be Warner Bros. Pictures’ “Blinded by the Light” on April 2, Amazon’s “Late Night” on April 3 and Lionsgate’s “Long Shot” on April 4.

CinemaCon culminates with the CinemaCon Big Screen Achievement Awards ceremony, which will take place April 4.

Here are the announced winners of the awards:

CinemaCon Icon Award
Steve Buscemi

Steve Buscemi (Photo by Kristina Bumphrey/Starpix)

One of the most respected actors in the entertainment industry, Emmy-winning “Boardwalk Empire” star Steve Buscemi has played a wide range of characters in movies and television. His most memorable films include 1992’s “Reservoir Dogs,” 1996’s “Fargo” and 2001’s “Ghost World.” He has also voiced several roles in hit animated movies such as 2017’s “The Boss Baby,” and the “Hotel Transylvania” films. Buscemi’s 2019 film is the horror comedy, co-starring Adam Driver, Chloë Sevigny, Bill Murray and Tilda Swinton.

CinemaCon Vanguard Award
Jamie Lee Curtis

Jamie Lee Curtis (Photo by Andrew Eccles/Universal Pictures)

In a career spanning more than 40 years, Jamie Lee Curtis has made her mark in the film industry, beginning with her starring role in her movie debut: the 1978 horror classic “Halloween.” She has starred in multiple “Halloween” sequels, most notably 2018’s “Halloween,” which made her the first woman over the age of 60 to star in a movie that debuted at No. 1 in the United States. Curtis’ other well-known movies include the 1980 horror flick “Prom Night,” the 1988 comedy “A Fish Called Wanda,” the 1994 action film “True Lies” and the 2003 remake of the comedy “Freaky Friday.” Curtis has two films due out in 2019: the crime drama “Knives Out” and the comedy “Senior Entourage.”

CinemaCon International Star of the Year
Kevin Hart

Kevin Hart (Photo by David Lee)

Kevin Hart is one of the busiest people in showbiz, with starring roles in movies, TV and Web series, in addition to headlining successful arena tours. The year 2019 started out with the dramedy “The Upside” (starring Hart and Bryan Cranston) debuting at No. 1 in the United States. His 2018 comedy film “Night School” was also a hit.

CinemaCon Ensemble Award: The Cast of “Terminator: Dark Fate” – Linda Hamilton, Natalia Reyes, Mackenzie Davis and Gabriel Luna

Natalie Reyes, Mackenzie Davis and Linda Hamilton of “Terminator: Dark Fate” (Photo by Kerry Brown)

“Terminator: Dark Fate” is the 2019 entry in the longtime “Terminator” film series. “Terminator: Dark Fate” stands out from the rest of the films in the series because the cast is led by women: Linda Hamilton (who starred in the first two “Terminator” movies), Natalie Reyes and Mackenzie Davis. The movie’s cast also includes Gabriel Luna. Original “Terminator” star Arnold Schwarzenegger is reportedly making a cameo appearance.

CinemaCon Directors of the Year
Anthony Russo and Joe Russo

Joe Russo and Anthony Russo (Photo by Gareth Cattermole/Getty Images)

Director brothers Joe Russo and Anthony Russo helmed the superhero movie “Avengers: Endgame,” which is expected to be the biggest box-office blockbuster of 2019. The Russo brothers also directed several other Marvel movie blockbusters, including 2018’s “Avengers: Infinity War,” 2016’s “Captain America: Civil War” and 2014’s “Captain America: The Winter Soldier.”

CinemaCon Action Star of the Year
David Harbour

David Harbour (Photo by Marion Curtis/ StarPix for Summit Entertainment)

David Harbour might be best-known as a co-star of Netflix’s horror series “Stranger Things,” but he’s aiming to make a big splash in movies by starring as the title character in the 2019 superhero flick “Hellboy.” Harbour takes over the role that was originated by Ron Perlman.

Cinema Spotlight Award
Octavia Spencer

Octavia Spencer  (Photo by Todd Williamson/Getty Images for Fox Searchlight Pictures)

Octavia Spencer won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress for her breakthrough role in 2011’s “The Help.” She has also has Oscar nominations for her supporting roles in 2016’s “Hidden Figures” and 2017’s “The Shape of Water.” Spencer has branched out into producing films, including the 2019 horror flick “Ma,” where she has a starring role.

CinemaCon Male Star of Tomorrow
Henry Golding

Henry Golding (Photo by Kelsey McNeal/ABC)

Henry Golding made his feature-film debut with a starring role in the 2018 blockbuster romantic comedy “Crazy Rich Asians.” He was also in the 2018 crime thriller “A Simple Favor,” co-starring Anna Kendrick and Blake Lively. Golding has re-teamed with “A Simple Favor” director Paul Feig for the 2019 romantic comedy “Last Christmas,” co-starring Emilia Clarke, Emma Thompson (who wrote the movie’s screenplay) and “Crazy Rich Asians” co-star Michelle Yeoh.

CinemaCon Female Stars of Tomorrow
Beanie Feldstein and Kaitlyn Dever

Beanie Feldstein and Kaitlyn Dever (Photo by Francois Duhamel)

Beanie Feldstein and Kaitlyn Dever co-star in the 2019 comedy “Booksmart,” about two straight-laced best friends who decide to go wild on the day before their high-school graduation. Feldstein is also known for her supporting roles in the 2018 Oscar-nominated comedy film “Lady Bird” and the 2016 comedy film “Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising,” while Dever is a co-star of the comedy series “Last Man Standing.” Dever’s other recent film roles include the 2018 dramas “Beautiful Boy” and “The Front Runner.”

CinemaCon Breakthrough Director of the Year
Olivia Wilde

Olivia Wilde (Photo by Vivien Killilea/Getty Images)

Olivia Wilde made her directorial feature-film debut with the 2019 comedy film “Booksmart,” which got rave reviews when it had its world premiere at the SXSW Film Festival. Wilde is an accomplished actress who has starred in such films as 2018’s “Life Itself” and 2010’s “Tron: Legacy.” She is also known for her past TV roles in the medical drama “House” and the nighttime soap opera “The O.C.”

CinemaCon Comedy Stars of the Year
Seth Rogen and Charlize Theron

Seth Rogen and Charlize Theron (Photo by Philippe Bossé)

Seth Rogen and Charlize Theron play unlikely love interests in the 2019 political comedy film “Long Shot.” Rogen is best known for his comedic roles in movies (such as 2007’s “Knocked Up,” 2008’s “Pineapple Express” and the “Neighbors” films), while Theron does mostly dramatic and action movies, including 2005’s “Monster” (for which she won an Oscar for Best Actress), 2015’s “Mad Max: Fury Road” and 2017’s “Atomic Blonde.”

Other awards that will be given at the ceremony:

  • CinemaCon International Filmmaker of the Year Award: Graham King, producer of 2018’s “Bohemian Rhapsody”
  • CinemaCon Passpartout Award: Helen Moss, Paramount Pictures senior vice president of international distribution
  • NATO Marquee Award: John D. Loeks, Studio C chairman
  • Career Achievement in Exhibition Award: Jérôme Seydoux, Pathé co-chairman/CEO and Les Cinémas Gaumont Pathé chairman/CEO
  • Lifetime Achievement Award: Anthony Bloom, Cineworld Group chairman

Saoirse Ronan and Greta Gerwig soar with the coming-of-age film ‘Lady Bird’

November 3, 2017

by Carla Hay

Saoirse Ronan and Greta Gerwig on the set of "Lady Bird" (Photo by Merie Wallace)
Saoirse Ronan and Greta Gerwig on the set of “Lady Bird” (Photo by Merie Wallace)

In “Lady Bird,” actress/screenwriter Greta Gerwig reveals herself to be a bold new cinematic voice with her directorial debut, excavating both the humor and pathos in the turbulent bond between a mother and her teenage daughter. Christine “Lady Bird” McPherson (played by Saoirse Ronan) fights against but is exactly like her wildly loving, deeply opinionated and strong-willed mom (played by Laurie Metcalf), a nurse working tirelessly to keep her family afloat after Lady Bird’s father (played by Tracy Letts) loses his job. Set in Sacramento, California in 2002, amidst a rapidly shifting American economic landscape, “Lady Bird” is an affecting look at the relationships that shape us, the beliefs that define us, and the unmatched beauty of a place called home. “Lady Bird” also stars  Lucas Hedges, Timothée Chalamet, Beanie Feldstein, Stephen McKinley Henderson, and Lois Smith.

Greta Gerwig at the 2017 New York Film Festival press conference for “Lady Bird” (Photo by Carla Hay)

“Lady Bird,” which is generating considerable Oscar buzz,” had its New York premiere at the 2017 New York Film Festival, where Gerwig sat down for a Q&A a press conference after a press screening and also did a Q&A as part of the main festival program.

Here are videos and photos from “Lady Bird”:

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