Review: ‘Griffin in Summer,’ starring Everett Blunck, Melanie Lynskey, Owen Teague, Abby Ryder Fortson and Kathryn Newton

June 24, 2024

by Carla Hay

Everett Blunck in “Griffin in Summer” (Photo courtesy of Coveside Films)

“Griffin in Summer”

Directed by Nicholas Colia

Culture Representation: Taking place in the fictional city of Borwood, Virginia, the comedy/drama film “Griffin in Summer” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with a few Latin people) representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: A 14-year-old boy is obsessed with having a professional production of his latest play that he’s written, and he unexpectedly gets distracted by his attraction to a young handyman who has been hired to do work at his house. 

Culture Audience: “Griffin in Summer” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of the movie’s headliners and movie about queer young people discovering their sexual identities.

Owen Teague and Everett Blunck in “Griffin in Summer” (Photo courtesy of Coveside Films)

“Griffin in Summer” capably handles the nuances of telling the story of a teenage boy’s sexuality awakening without veering into lurid exploitation. The performances in this comedy/drama are memorable, even when the plot occasionally gets one-note. The movie’s protagonist is believable because he’s not a caricature and has very realistic personality flaws.

Written and directed by Nicholas Colia, “Griffin in Summer” had its world premiere at the 2024 Tribeca Festival, where it won two prizes: Best U.S. Narrative Feature and Best Screenplay (U.S. Narrative Feature). In addition, Colia received a special jury mention (the equivalent of second place) for the Best New Narrative Director Award. “Griffin in Summer” takes place in the fictional city of Borwood, Virginia. The movie was filmed on location in Virginia.

“Griffin in Summer” is a movie about a 14-year-old boy who gets a clear understanding that he’s gay or queer, even though he doesn’t have any sexual encounters in the movie. “Griffin in Summer” handles this sensitive subject with a tone that is frank without being explicit. For example, there are no sex scenes in the film or even discussions of homosexuality or queerness. The words “gay” and “queer” aren’t even said in this film to describe the teenage protagonist. Everything is presented in a matter-of-fact way, without any big, dramatic “coming out” moments.

“Griffin in Summer” begins by showing a student talent show at Borwood Middle School. This talent show takes place shortly before the school will be on a summer break. A boy named Mark (played by Ian Hernandez-Oropeza) and an unnamed girl (played by Aurora Richards) on stage are singing an off-key duet of Chicago’s 1984 hit “You’re the Inspiration.” Even though it’s a horrible performance, the audience politely claps.

Next up is 14-year-old Griffin Nafly (played by Everett Blunck), whose personality can best be described as precocious and prickly. Griffin is an aspiring playwright and has chosen to act out a scene from his play “Regrets in Autumn.” In this play excerpt, Griffin acts out the roles of an unhappily married couple named Harriet (a homemaker in her 50s) and her husband Walter, who’s a Wall Street banker.

Harriet accuses Walter of cheating on her. Walter accuses Harriet of abusing alcohol. It leads to a shouting match where Harriet blurts out: “Oh, and another thing, Walter: Those weren’t miscarriages. They were abortions!”

Needless to say, the audience of mostly students are taken aback by this intense drama and are stunned into mostly silence. Griffin doesn’t seem to care that only a small percentage of people are clapping with tentative applause. His performance got the desired effect of making everyone in the room pay attention to Griffin and his work. Griffin has big plans for this play, which he’s determined to make a reality before he starts high school after his summer break.

At home, Griffin’s supportive mother Helen (played by Melanie Lynskey), who works as a real-estate agent, asks Griffin (who is an only child) if he has any plans to “do anything else” for the summer. Griffin curtly tells her no. That’s because for this summer, Griffin has a single-minded goal to stage his first play in a real theater, which will be the first time any of his plays will be in a legitimate performing arts space instead of the basement of his parents’ home. The play, of course, is “Regrets of Autumn,” which Griffin describes as “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” meets “American Beauty.”

Griffin plans to rent a small performance theater space “somewhere outside of Borwood” for the production. He has already decided who in his small circle of friends will be on his team for this production. Tyler Smoot-Rigsby (played by Gordon Rocks) will have the role of Walter, whom Griffin describes a “serial adulterer.” Winnie Hernandez (played by Johanna Colón) will have the role of Harriet, whom Griffin describes as an “alcoholic.” Pam Vanderworm (played by Alivia Bellamy) has the role of Scarlett, who is Walter’s “social-climbing mistress.”

Kara Pointer (played by Abby Ryder Fortson), who seems to be Griffin’s best friend, has been given the task of directing the play. However, it soon becomes very apparent that Kara has this title of “director” in name only because Griffin is the real director of the play, based on how he acts and the decisions that he makes. It would not be an exaggeration to describe Griffin’s bossy attitude toward his teammates as tyrannical and difficult.

Griffin wants intensive rehearsals that would require 60 hours week. It’s a lot to ask from anyone—let alone an underage teen—to give up that much of their time for an amateur, unpaid play. When Kara speaks on behalf of the castmates about this demanding work schedule and asks for them to rehearse for less hours per week, Griffin has this hostile reaction: “It’s the Equity standard!” (Griffin conveniently forgets that the Actors Equity Association standard also includes union-approved payments and insurance benefits, which obviously Griffin cannot offer.)

In the meantime, Griffin has been frantically putting the finishing touches of the play. He expects to work on the play in quiet solitude in his room. But those plans are disrupted when Griffin finds out that his mother has hired the young adult son of a neighbor named Mrs. Rizzo (played by Francine Berk) to do some handyman work inside and outside the Nafly family home. This handyman work inevitably involves using equipment noises that irritate Griffin.

The name of this handyman is Brad Rizzo (played by Owen Teague), who is an aspiring performance artist. Brad is not intellectual but he’s good-looking in a “lanky and laid-back” type of way. The first time Brad makes his noisy presence known, he’s doing some work on the front lawn, Griffin haughtily orders Brad to stop making noise because Griffin is working on writing a play. “Art comes from a quiet place,” Griffin tells Brad in a snooty tone.

Griffin wants Helen to fire Brad. She refuses. As Brad spends more time at the house, it soon becomes obvious that Griffin is attracted to Brad in a way that makes Griffin feel excited, confused and fearful at the same time. Griffin’s attraction to Brad becomes even stronger when he finds out that Brad is an aspiring performance artist who is only in Virginia to make enough money so Brad can go back to New York City and pursue his real goals of being a professional performance artist.

The rest of “Griffin in Summer” is how Griffin handles his feelings toward Brad while still juggling the stress of launching his “Regrets in Autumn” play. Things get complicated for Griffin when he finds out that Brad has a possessive and insecure girlfriend named Chloe (played by Kathryn Newton), who has known Brad since she and Brad were in high school. Without giving away too much information, it’s enough to say that “Griffin in Summer” pokes some fun at how power dynamics and decision making can change when sexual attraction is part of the mix.

“Griffin in Summer” also has a subplot about how the somewhat troubled marriage of Griffin’s parents affects Griffin’s outlook on life. Griffin’s father Bill (played by Michael Esper) is frequently away from home because of his job. This absence has taken a toll on his marriage to Helen. At one point, Griffin hints that Helen has a substance abuse problem when he tells someone that Helen is “only into Chardonnay and Klonopin.”

As a character, Griffin has a few predictable stereotypes that are often given to queer male characters in movies. Griffin is sassy, fussy and has more than his share of “drama queen” meltdowns. However, the dialogue in the movie rarely strays from sounding authentic. If stereotypes exist for a reason, at least Griffin embodies those stereotypes in a believable way that don’t make him look like a caricature.

What’s special about “Griffin in Summer” is that it does the opposite of what many movies often do that are about underage teens discovering their sexuality: It doesn’t make any of the teens in the film in a rush to lose their virginities. And these teens aren’t fixated on sex and don’t make constant crude jokes about sex, which are other predictable clichés in teen-oriented movies with sexuality as a major theme. Griffin and his friends are still in their early teens and don’t have to be portrayed as if they’re horny 17-year-olds.

Blunck gives a very expressive performance where his face and body language show a lot of what Griffin is really thinking. Meanwhile, Teague gives a credible performance as Brad, who doesn’t initially pick up on the queer signals that Griffin is giving. Brad mistakenly thinks that Griffin is growing attached to Brad because Griffin sees Brad as being like an older brother.

Lynskey gives a solid performance as a harried mother trying to keep her family together, Helen seems to know that Griffin is gay or queer, but it doesn’t seem to be something she wants to discuss with Griffin until he’s ready to talk about it. Newton’s portrayal of ditsy Chloe is intentionally campy. The other supporting cast members give good performances in their very limited roles.

Doing a movie about teenage sexual identity is a tricky thing to do in a movie when the protagonist is under the legal age of sexual consent and the protagonist has a crush on an adult. “Griffin in Summer” isn’t just about sexuality; it’s also about self-acceptance. Through ways that are comedic and often poignant, “Griffin in Summer” shows that it’s much easier to put a label on a sexual identity than it is to have the self-confidence to live authentically, no matter how much it might hurt.

Review: ‘Kinds of Kindness,’ starring Emma Stone, Jesse Plemons, Willem Dafoe, Margaret Qualley, Hong Chau, Joe Alwyn, Mamoudou Athie and Hunter Schafer

June 20, 2024

by Carla Hay

Emma Stone and Joe Alwyn in “Kinds of Kindness” (Photo by Atsushi Nishijima/Searchlight Pictures)

“Kinds of Kindness”

Directed by Yorgos Lanthimos

Culture Representation: Taking place in various parts of Louisiana, the comedy/drama film “Kinds of Kindness” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with a few African Americans and Asians) representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: Various people seek satisfaction in their lives but experience conflicts in this offbeat, three-story anthology. 

Culture Audience: “Kinds of Kindness” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of the movie’s headliners, filmmaker Yorgos Lanthimos and movies that are often strange but are well-acted.

Margaret Qualley, Jesse Plemons and Willem Dafoe in “Kinds of Kindness” (Photo by Atsushi Nishijima/Searchlight Pictures)

It’s weird and not always wonderful, but “Kinds of Kindness” has committed performances from the cast members in this unpredictable anthology film. This acerbic comedy/drama cuttingly explores the dark sides of power, control and manipulation. Several scenes in “Kinds of Kindness” are deliberately off-putting and intended to make people squirm with discomfort.

For example, there’s a scene where a woman is drugged without her knowledge and consent, and then she is raped while she’s unconscious. (The sexual assault is not shown in graphic detail.) There’s another scene that shows animal cruelty. (A disclaimer in the movie’s end credits says that no animals were harmed while making the film.) In other words, “Kinds of Kindness” is not a family-oriented film that’s supposed to have mass appeal.

Directed by Yorgos Lanthimos (who co-wrote “Kinds of Kindness” with Efthimis Filippou), “Kinds of Kindness” had its world premiere at the 2024 Cannes Film Festival, where “Kinds of Kindness” co-star Jesse Plemons won the award for Best Actor. This anthology movie is told as three different stories, all taking place in Louisiana, where “Kinds of Kindness” was filmed on location. Lanthimos is known for making offbeat movies about people doing very unpleasant things to each other. Most of his movies also depict polyamory and/or sexual fluidity. “Kinds of Kindness” is more extreme and less straightforward than Lanthimos’ Oscar-winning films “The Favourite” and “Poor Things.” Some cast members from “The Favourite” and “Poor Things” are also in “Kinds of Kindness.”

In “Kinds of Kindness,” the three stories have these titles, shown in this order: “The Death of R.M.F.,” “R.M.F. Is Flying” and “R.M.F. Eats a Sandwich.” (R.M.F. is a mysterious character played by Yorgos Stefanakos in all three stories.) All three stories feature the other main actors portraying different characters in each story. Emma Stone, Plemons, Willem Dafoe, Margaret Qualley, Hong Chau, Joe Alwyn and Mamoudou Athie are the rotating star cast members in each story. Stone and Plemons get the most screen time. Hunter Schafer has a small role in “R.M.F. Eats a Sandwich.”

Each story takes its time to reveal the motives of the central protagonists. Keeping the viewers guessing in this way has benefits and limitations. Viewers who have short attention spans will quickly grow tired of “Kinds of Kindness” because of all the guessing games that the movie has in revealing bits and pieces of each story. Many times, viewers will be asking themselves, “Where is this story going?” If you dislike how the first story plays out, then chances are you won’t like the rest of the movie either.

“The Death of R.M.F.”

Hong Chau and Jesse Plemons in “Kinds of Kindness” (Photo by Atsushi Nishijima/Searchlight Pictures)

In “The Death of R.M.F.,” Robert Fletcher (played by Plemons) and his wife Sarah (played by Chau) are a seemingly regular middle-class couple. Sarah and Robert have no children, but they have been trying to start a family. Sarah has gotten pregnant several times but lost all of the pregnancies.

Robert works for a company in an unnamed industry. It’s an office job where Robert is expected to wear business attire. Robert’s boss is Raymond (played by Dafoe), who is a demanding tyrant. Robert and Raymond have been in each other’s lives for about 10 years.

It soon becomes apparent that Raymond wants complete control over certain people in his life. For example, Raymond dictates what Robert and Sarah can eat and when the couple can have sex. Raymond also tells Robert that Robert needs to gain a few more pounds. Raymond expects Robert to confirm every day that Robert has followed Raymond’s orders. Robert willingly complies.

However, there’s one demand from Raymond that Robert has a problem carrying out: Raymond has ordered Robert to kill someone by crashing Robert’s car into the other person’s car. Raymond insists that this car crash has been arranged by a suicidal person whose car will be hit by Robert’s car. Robert is supposed to get a description of the car and the crash victim in advance.

Robert is very reluctant to follow this order from Raymond. Near the beginning of the movie, R.M.F. is shown as someone who’s in another car that Robert crashes into with his car. The fate of R.M.F. is shown in this story. Meanwhile, Raymond’s willing accomplice in these bizarre suicide arrangements is his lover Vivian (played by Qualley), who has been put in charge of meeting with the future car crash victims and asking them to pose for photos that she sends to Raymond for his approval.

It’s soon revealed that Robert is also sexually involved with Raymond, who expects to have complete control over Robert, Vivian and other people. Raymond sometimes gives rare collectibles to manipulate people into thinking that he likes them. In the beginning of the story, Raymond has gifted to Robert and Sarah a tennis racket that was smashed by John McEnroe in 1984.

Alwyn has a cameo as a collectibles appraiser who meets with Raymond. Athie is briefly seen in this story as a character named Will, who also works for Raymond. Stone has the role of a lonely bachelorette named Rita, whom Robert asks on a date after Robert sees that Raymond is also dating Rita.

“R.M.F. Is Flying”

Emma Stone and Jesse Plemons in in “Kinds of Kindness” (Photo by Atsushi Nishijima/Searchlight Pictures)

In “R.M.F. Is Flying,” Daniel (played by Plemons) and Neil (played by Athie) are best friends and police officers who work together. Daniel and his wife Liz (played by Stone) are very close to Neil and his wife Martha (played by Qualley) and spend a lot of time at each other’s houses. The two couples are so close, it’s eventually revealed that they are swingers who have foursome orgies with each other that they record on video.

In the beginning of this story, Liz (who is a marine biologist explorer) has been missing during a deep-sea exploration trip. However, Liz has been found on a remote island and has been rescued by helicopter. When she arrives home after a brief stay in a hospital, Daniel notices that Liz has a hard time putting on her shoes, because her feet seem slightly bigger than her shoes. Liz says her feet must be swollen.

Other things happen (as shown in the story) that convince Daniel that the person who was rescued and claims to be his wife Liz is an imposter. Is Daniel imagining things or is he correct? Liz’s father George (played by Dafoe) disapproves of how Daniel has been acting cold and distant to Liz, ever since the rescue. Chao has the role of George’s supportive wife Sharon. Alywn appears in the movie in a brief role as a defiant and intoxicated passenger in a car that gets pulled over by Daniel for reckless driving.

“R.M.F. Eats a Sandwich”

Emma Stone in “Kinds of Kindness” (Photo by Yorgos Lanthimos/Searchlight Pictures)

In “R.M.F. Eats a Sandwich,” Emily (played by Stone) and Andrew (played by Plemons) are on an intense search for a woman who saved Emily’s life when Emily almost drowned in a swimming pool. At first, Emily and Andrew seem like they’re a couple. But it’s eventually revealed they’re in some kind of polyamorous sex cult led by a domineering guru named Omi (played by Dafoe), who decides which people in the cult will have sex with Omi and when. A mother named AKA (played by Chau) has a certain “tastemaker” role in the cult.

Emily is literally a hard-driving person: She speeds, careens and skids around in a dark purple Dodge Challenger, as if she’s in a demolition derby race. Emily is rude and impatient in her obsessive search. The reason for the search has to do with special powers that she thinks her rescuer has.

Qualley portrays identical twins Rebecca and Ruth in this story. Schafer has a small role as a woman named Anna, who is examined by Emily in a hospital and is quickly rejected as not being the woman whom Emily is seeking. Alwyn portrays Joseph, Emily’s estranged husband, who has custody of their unnamed daughter (played by Merah Benoit), who’s about 7 or 8 years old. Athie has the role of an unnamed morgue nurse.

Of these three stories, “R.M.F. Eats a Sandwich” is the most memorable and the most disturbing. It’s also sure to be the most divisive part of “Kinds of Kindness” because of the way it depicts spiritual beliefs and sex in the context of a cult. The main reason to keep watching is to find out what happens in the story’s mystery.

Because “Kinds of Kindness” has two stories in this movie where Dafoe portrays a leader who controls other people’s sex lives, “Kinds of Kindness” seems to be repeating itself in this way, which is to the movie’s detriment. Some of the movie’s bizarre scenes can be amusing, while other weirdness is just plain irritating and serves no other purpose but to show something weird. The cinematography (by Robbie Ryan) gives “Kinds of Kindness” a compelling modern noir tone.

The cast members’ performances make much of the movie more interesting. Stone excels in portraying three very different characters. The other cast members also capably handle their roles. Plemons’ three characters (Robert, Daniel and Andrew) all have loss of control as a major part of their stories, so his “Kinds of Kindness” characters are not as varied as Stone’s characters in this movie.

Viewers of “Kinds of Kindness” should not go into this movie expecting to see charming characters who are easy to like. The movie goes out of its way to have characters who are unlikable or are sometimes difficult to watch. “Kinds of Kindness” is like sushi smothered in wasabi. Many people won’t be able to tolerate the parts that sting, but there are other parts that go down easier and have more substance if people are curious to see how everything ends.

Searchlight Pictures will release “Kinds of Kindness” in select U.S. cinemas on June 21, 2024.

Review: ‘Diane von Furstenberg: Woman in Charge,’ starring Diane von Furstenberg

June 7, 2024

by Carla Hay

Diane von Furstenberg in “Diane von Furstenberg: Woman in Charge” (Photo courtesy of Hulu/Disney)

“Diane von Furstenberg: Woman in Charge”

Directed by Trish Dalton and Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy

Some language in French with subtitles

Culture Representation: The documentary film “Diane von Furstenberg: Woman in Charge” features a predominantly white group of people (with a few black people and Asians) from the fashion and entertainment industries discussing the life and career of fashion designer/mogul Diane von Furstenberg.

Culture Clash: Diane von Furstenberg battled against sexism and antisemitism and became one of the few female owners of a major fashion company in the 1970s, but her complicated personal life has had a lot of chaos and heartbreak.

Culture Audience: Besides appealing to the obvious target audience of Diane von Furstenberg fans, “Diane von Furstenberg: Woman in Charge” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in watching documentaries about the fashion industry, celebrities and feminists who conquered a male-dominated field.

Diane von Furstenberg, Talita von Furstenberg and Morgan Hill in “Diane von Furstenberg: Woman in Charge” (Photo courtesy of Hulu/Disney)

“Diane von Furstenberg: Woman in Charge” is a definitive visual biography about the trailblazing fashion designer/mogul Diane von Furstenberg, who is candid about her personal life and career. Her charisma and unconventionality make this very conventionally formatted documentary shine. Because she’s been open about many aspects of her life over the years (including her 2014 memoir “The Woman I Wanted to a Be”), there isn’t too much revealed about von Furstenberg in this movie that she hasn’t already revealed about herself. However, von Furstenberg’s hindsight gives the documentary a richer perspective of her life, as she is equally comfortable discussing her past and her present, while looking ahead to her future.

Directed by Trish Dalton and Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy, “Diane von Furstenberg: Woman in Charge” had its world premiere at the 2024 Tribeca Festival. “Diane von Furstenberg: Woman in Charge” is also the name of an installation that went on display in New York City in June 2024. The installation could be considered an extension of the documentary and vice versa,

The documentary begins by showing a 1980s clip from an interview that von Furstenberg did with David Letterman. In the interview, he’s somewhat condescending, as he tries to make it sound like von Furstenberg was a “one-hit wonder,” whose claim to fame was inventing the wrap dress and being previously married to a prince (Egon von Furstenberg). The rest of the the documentary shows that Diane was far from a one-hit wonder but has actually been a master of reinvention and staying relevant in fickle industries. And even though she was married to a prince, her life has been far from being like a fairy tale.

Born to Jewish parents on December 31, 1946, in Brussels, Belgium, her birth name was Diane Simone Michele Halfin. Her mother Liliane, also known as Lily, is discussed a lot in the documentary as Diane’s biggest life mentor, but von Furstenberg barely mentions her father. As a child of Holocaust survivors (Lily survived the notorious Auschwitz death camp), von Furstenberg said the Holocaust wasn’t discussed in her family, but she learned from her mother what would become a lifelong motto about survival: “Fear is not an option.”

In the documentary, von Furstenberg (who is an only child) talks about how her mother was told by doctors that her child wouldn’t live. In a sense, von Furstenberg’s entire life snce birth has been about beating the odds and defying people’s expectations. She says in the documentary that her mother taught her to be fearless and independent. “She wanted to equip me, in case I needed to live the way that she lived.” And that meant growing up fast.

Here parents’ marriage fell apart when Lily left the family to be with another man. Diane, who was a teenager at the time, was sent to live in a boarding school. In the documentary, Diane doesn’t express any bitterness about this family turmoil and says that being sent to boarding school was probably the best thing that could have happened to her during this time. It was at boarding school where Diane (who describes herself as sexually fluid) says she fell in love for the first time with a man and with a woman and had affairs with both sexes.

A recurring theme in the documentary is that Diane is someone who doesn’t like restrictions placed on her, whether these restrictions are traditional gender roles, monogamy or whatever she wants to do with her life. She has gotten pushback and criticism from some people for how she has lived. However, even with her constant battle to retain these personal freedoms, she has a tendency to want to escape or be in denial when life gets too difficult for her, by her own admission.

In the documentary, Diane describes her first husband Egon (a German prince), whom she married in 1969, as a magnetic charmer who swept her off of her feet in a passionate love affair. At the time, it was considered somewhat scandalous for this German prince to marry a middle-class Jewish woman. Diane also describes the antisemitism of Egon’s father, who would refer to Diane’s and Egon’s two children—Alexander (born in 1970) and Tatiana (born in 1971)—as the “little Jews.” Diane says when she was pregnant with Alexander, also known as Alex, she told her unborn child, “We’ll show them.”

Alex and Tatiana are both interviewed in the documentary. They describe their mother as not beng very attentive when they were children, but she taught them to be more independent than most kids their age. Tatiana says that Diane’s style of parenting can ether be considered “neglectful” or “free.” Diane admits that she was a very non-traditional mother whose was busy running a business and having a very active social life where her children were not necessarily her biggest priority, even though her love for them always existed. Lily has the main child caretaker of Alex and Tatiana. Diane also shares painful memories about Lily having a mental breakdown.

In the early 1970s, Diane says she and Egon (who was also openly bisexual) were living in New York City and were fully immersed in a celebrity lifestyle of parties and swinging in their open marriage. Diane describes Egon as being more promiscuous than she was and the reason why they separated in 1972 eventually got divorced in 1983. Egon died of AIDS in 2004, at age 57. In the documentary, the family’s devastation over his death is discussed by Diane, Egon and Tatiana.

Alex says in the documentary that it wasn’t unusual to see famous people spend the night. Diane doesn’t name drop a lot about who her famous lovers were, but she mentions that she slept with Ryan O’Neal and Warren Beatty separately on the same weekend. And she says that Mick Jagger and David Bowie propositioned her to have a threesome with them, but she turned down this offer.

Diane says of the end of her first marriage: “Divorce, for me, was freedom … I became the woman I wanted to be … I was the woman in charge.” Her split from Egon also coincided with the rise of Diane as a designer and a business mogul in the fashion industry during a period of time when it was highly unusual for a woman to be either or both.

The documentary retells the well-known stories behind the wrap dress (which Diane invented in 1974) and Diane’s meteoric rise in the fashion industry with her self-titled fashion brand, also known as DVF. Diane says she initially got the inspiration for the wrap dress from wrap blouses that ballerinas would wear. When Diane saw Richard Nixon’s daughter Tricia Nixon wear a DVF wrap blouse over a skirt during the 1973 Watergate scandal, Diane got the idea to make a wrap dress. It became worldwide sensation and was popular because it looked like high fashion but was affordable.

And for someone who considers herself a fiercely independent feminist, a few close friends (such as writer Fran Lebowitz) say in the documentary that there have been periods in Diane’s life when Diane transformed herself to be more compatible with whichever man she was in a serious relationship with at the time. When Diane was married to Egon, she was the jetset and glamorous princess wife that she was expected to be.

Later, her photographer friend Peter Arnell says that when Diane was having problems with her business and her love life in the 1980s, she escaped from her problems by doing a lot of traveling. Her love affair with Italian writer Alain Elkann resulted in Diane dressing differently, by changing her wardrobe from her signature bright prints to more toned-down and conservative clothes that university intellectuals tend to wear. In her current phase, she has been part of a power couple since her love affair with billionaire entertainment mogul Barry Diller, who is interviewed in the documentary and whom Diane describes as her “soul mate.” Diane and Diller (who also identifies as sexually fluid) eloped in 2001, after meeting in the mid-1970s and being in an on-again/off-again romance since the 1980s.

Even though Diane preaches having a fearless attitude, she also expresses some vulnerability when she says that she doesn’t like going back to Brussels. “I feel really sad in Brussels,” she says. “Every time I come back, I feel small again.” She is vague about how she overcame business difficulties. (The closure of DVF stores in 2020 is not mentioned at all in the documentary.) However, she gives credit to good timing that wrap dresses became popular again in the 2000s.

“Diane von Furstenberg: Woman in Charge” has an eclectic mix of people interviewed. They include media mogul Oprah Winfrey, former U.S. first lady/politician Hillary Rodham Clinton, artist Anh Duong, model Karlie Kloss, Diane’s friend Olivier Gelbsman, former British Vogue editor-in-chief Edward Enninful, makeup artist Gigi Williams, former Interview editor Bob Colacello, fashion designer Christian Louboutin, former DV creative director Nathan Jenden, author Linda Bird Franke, New York Times fashion writer Vanessa Friedman, “Diane von Furstenberg: Woman in Charge” installation curator Nicolas Lor, “Diane von Furstenberg: A Life Unwrapped” author Gioia Diliberto, Nobel Prize winner Nadia Murad, George Washington University international affairs professor Muqaddesa Yourish, spritual guru Deepak Chopra, TV host Seth Meyers, and Diane’s grandchildren Talita von Furstenberg, Tassilo von Furstenberg and Antonia Stenberg.

At an age when most people have retired, Diane says she has no intention of retiring anytime soon. In the documentary Close friends and family members describe her as having more energy than most people who are decades younger than Diane is. Unlike many people in the fashion/beauty industry, Diane also says she’s not afraid of being old.

There’s a scene early on in the movie where Diane climbs into a bathroom sink while she does her own makeup. She declares, “I do not understand why people do not embrace age. You shouldn’t say how old you are. You should say how long you have lived. If you take away wrinkles, you take away the map of your life. I don’t want to erase anything from life.”

in the documentary, Diane also says that her decision to sell her products on QVC, as of 1996, was one of the best business decisions she could’ve made—even though she got a lot of criticism for it by many people at the time who thought this QVC association would ruin the DVF brand. Nowadays, it’s not unusual for a designer with haute couture experience to partner with a low-priced retailer for business ventures. Diane’s ability to be relatable to the “1%” in high society and the rest of the “99%” of society has a lot to do with her longevity and popularity. “Diane von Furstenberg: Woman in Charge” is a reflection of this wide appeal, since it’s a documentary that can be enjoyed for its celebration of the human spirit—regardless of how much or how little viewers care about fashion.

Hulu will premiere “Diane von Furstenberg: Woman in Charge” on June 25, 2024.

Review: ‘Strictly Confidential’ (2024), starring Elizabeth Hurley, Georgia Lock, Lauren McQueen, Freddie Thorp, Genevieve Gaunt, Pear Chiravara, Max Parker and Llyrio Boateng

April 30, 2024

by Carla Hay

Pear Chiravara, Max Parker, Elizabeth Hurley, Genevieve Gaunt and Freddie Thorp in “Strictly Confidential” (Photo courtesy of Lionsgate)

“Strictly Confidential”

Directed by Damian Hurley

Culture Representation: Taking place in 2022, on an unnamed Caribbean island, the dramatic film “Strictly Confidential” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with a few black people and one Asian person) representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: A wealthy widow summons the friends of her presumed-dead daughter for a reunion on an exotic island, and scandalous secrets are revealed during this gathering. 

Culture Audience: “Strictly Confidential” will appeal primarily to people who don’t mind watching tacky movies with horrible acting and a stupid plot.

Elizabeth Hurley in “Strictly Confidential” (Photo courtesy of Lionsgate)

“Strictly Confidential” looks like a parody of a bad movie, but it’s unfortunately no joke. This horrendous drama, which has a tawdry plot about privileged people with sordid secrets, is a time-wasting failure for everyone involved. Perhaps the only saving grace for this train-wreck film is that the movie’s exotic island locations are attractive. The cast members are all good-looking people, but those good looks mean nothing when there’s a lack of talent or personality in their performances.

Written and directed by Damian Hurley, “Strictly Confidential” (his feature-film directorial debut) was literally paid for by his mother, Elizabeth Hurley, who is one of the movie’s producers and is the biggest star of this garbage film. If not for nepotism, it’s very unlikely that “Strictly Confidential” would have ever been made. “Strictly Confidential” is not a “so bad it’s funny” movie. It’s a “so bad it’s torturous to watch” movie.

In “Strictly Confidential” (which takes place in 2022), Elizabeth Hurley portrays Lily Lowell, a wealthy widow who has had a very rough past year. In 2021, her husband Thomas died, at the age of 51. Within months of his death, her daughter Rebecca (played by Lauren McQueen, seen in flashbacks), who was 21 or 22, disappeared into an ocean at their Caribbean island home and is presumed dead. Rebecca left behind an apparent suicide note. Her body was never found.

Lily lives in a mansion on this island, which is not named in the movie. (“Strictly Confidential” was filmed in St. Kitts and Nevis.) It’s implied that this mansion is one of the homes that Lily has. Lily’s other child is Rebecca’s older sister Jemma (played by Genevieve Gaunt), also in her 20s, who had a rivalry with Rebecca and seems jealous that Rebecca got more attention from their parents.

Even in death, Rebecca is still getting more attention than Jemma. Lily has decided to summon all of Rebecca’s friends who were on the island during the summer that Rebecca apparently drowned in the ocean. Lily has invited these friends to stay at the mansion for one week to pay tribute to Rebecca. Jemma tells Lily that this reunion isn’t a good idea.

Lily replies, “It’s been a year. After next week, you never have to see them again. Maybe it’ll give us some closure. God knows, we can all use some.”

Lily has enlisted Rebecca’s best friend Mia (played by Georgia Lock) to track down everyone and tell them to go to the mansion. Mia is seen in the beginning of the movie having a nightmare about Rebecca—one of several of Mia’s bad dreams depicted in the movie—because Mia witnessed Rebecca disappear in the ocean. Mia has a lot of unresolved issues about Rebecca because Mia firmly believes that Rebecca did not commit suicide. During her time on the island, Mia conducts her own “investigation” to find out what happened to Rebecca.

One by one, the people in Rebecca’s social circle gather at the mansion. Natasha (played by Pear Chiravara) is an exotic dancer who reluctantly agreed to this reunion after Mia showed up at Natasha’s nightclub workplace to invite her. Will (played by Max Parker) is the boyfriend Rebecca had when Rebecca disappeared. James (played by Freddie Thorp) is Mia’s ex-boyfriend, who is described by Will as an “intense, weird psycho.”

There are also some locals on the island who seem to be there as “tokens” in small, supporting roles. Sebastian (played by Llyrio Boateng), who likes to walk around in a Speedo, is literally only in the movie to be a “rescuer” to “damsels in distress.” During Mia’s “investigation,” Mia meets a psychotherapist named Catherine Isaac (played by Agi Nanjosi), who had Rebecca as a client. You can easily guess what happens when Catherine gets a visit from Mia at Catherine’s home office, and Catherine briefly leaves Mia alone in a room with unlocked file cabinets.

“Strictly Confidential” is ostensibly a mystery thriller about what happened to Rebecca, but the movie spends most of its time stringing together a bunch of terribly acted scenes where the characters in the main ensemble have sex-related secrets revealed about them. For example, Lily has been having a torrid affair with one of the invited guests, and this affair was going on before Lily’s husband Thomas died. (The “Strictly Confidential” trailer reveals who this person is.) The movie’s sex and kissing scenes for this secret affair look very fake and awkward.

Lily’s adulterous affair is supposed to make viewers wonder if Thomas died of natural causes or if he was murdered. After all, Lily inherited everything from Thomas. There are other betrayals and lies that get exposed in the story. There’s even a badly staged showdown taking place on a cliff, where at least one person inevitably falls off of the cliff.

“Strictly Confidential” tries to have a retro tone that’s partly like “Dynasty” (scheming wealthy people) and partly like “Red Shoe Diaries” (softcore erotica), but it’s all just a weak imitation that falls flat. “Strictly Confidential” is very muddled and nonsensical, while the characters are completely hollow and boring. And just when you think things couldn’t get any worse in “Strictly Confidential,” the ending of the movie has a poorly conceived “reveal” that raises more questions that are never answered. That’s assuming most viewers who have the patience to watch all of this trashy movie will still care by the time the “Strictly Confidential” stumbles to its uninspired and idiotic ending.

Lionsgate released “Strictly Confidential” in select U.S. cinemas, on digital and on VOD on April 5, 2024.

Review: ‘Stress Positions,’ starring John Early, Theda Hammel, Qaher Harhash, Amy Zimmer, Faheem Ali, Rebecca F. Wright, Davidson Obennebo and John Roberts

April 26, 2024

by Carla Hay

Theda Hammel in “Stress Positions” (Photo courtesy of Neon)

“Stress Positions”

Directed by Theda Hammel

Culture Representation: Taking place in New York City in the summer of 2020, the comedy film “Stress Positions” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with a few black people, Middle Eastern people and Latin people) representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: A gay man, who’s in the midst of a bitter divorce, is visited by his young adult nephew, who temporarily stays with him, as the nephew’s presence becomes a source of gossip and intrigue with the man’s best friend and other people in his social circle. 

Culture Audience: “Stress Positions” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in movies about the middle-class queer community in 2020s New York City, but this movie has a lot of unrealistic and silly dialogue.

Qaher Harhash in “Stress Positions” (Photo courtesy of Neon)

“Stress Positions” is the type of aimless and smug indie comedy that exists so the movie’s characters can aggravate each other and annoy viewers. The movie’s diverse LGBTQ representation deserves better than this incoherent story. It isn’t until the last 15 minutes that “Stress Positions” finally gets around to a part of the story that should have happened earlier. But by then, it’s too late to save this pretentious mess.

Written and directed by Theda Hammel, “Stress Positions” is Hammel’s feature-film directorial debut. She is also a co-star in the movie, where she portrays a gossipy and demanding transgender woman, who starts off as a supporting character and then turns into a co-lead character. (Hammel is a transgender woman in real life.) “Stress Positions” had its world premiere at the 2024 Sundance Film Festival.

The movie is unfocused and confused about which character’s perspective has the story’s main point of view. One person narrates the first half of the movie, while another person narrates the second half of the movie. It gives the impression that Hammel’s screenplay writing was such a jumbled process, she didn’t bother to make the screenplay more cohesive because she also directed the movie. Maybe another writer/director could have salvaged this story into something that was more entertaining to watch, because the movie’s concept had potential to be made into a much better film than “Stress Positions.”

“Stress Positions” takes place in New York City’s Brooklyn borough in the summer of 2020, the period of time when COVID-19 infection rates were among the city’s highest of that year. The narrrator for the first half of the film is a transgender woman named Karla (played by Hammel), who says in the beginning of the movie that Terry Goon (played by John Early), who also lives in Brooklyn, is her best friend from college. Karla explains that Terry is a homemaker who’s in the middle of a bitter divorce from his husband Leo, who used to be Terry’s boss when Terry was an intern. (Leo’s occupation is not mentioned.)

Leo left Terry for another man and has been encouraging Terry to also find a new love. In the meantime, because Terry can’t afford his own place, he’s been staying in the former spouses’ apartment until the divorce is final. Karla also mentions in the voiceover that Terry has very limited work experience, because he quit his internship to become a homemaker in the longtime relationship that Terry had with Leo.

Terry is very high-strung, but the COVID-19 pandemic and the divorce have made him even more stressed-out and jumpy. Terry is so paranoid about getting infected with COVID-19, he sometimes wears a gas mask inside his house if he’s around people he doesn’t know are infected or not. Terry also makes an unexpected house guest wear a gas mask sometimes.

Terry’s unexpected house guest is his nephew Bahlul (played by Qaher Harhash), who has an American mother (Terry’s sister) and a Moroccan father. Bahlul was born in the United States but was raised in Morocco. Bahlul has done work as a model. He has arrived at Terry’s place with a broken left leg that was injured in a scooter accident. Therefore, Bahlul is mostly seen recovering in a bed, on a sofa or in a wheelchair.

Bahlul says his mother sent Bahlul to Terry’s place for a very good reason. As soon as Bahlul says this, you know exactly where this movie is going to go, since almost everyone in Terry’s socal circle is a member of the LGBTQ community. The only neighbors shown in this somewhat shabby walk-up apartment building are also queer. When Karla first meets Bahlul, he doesn’t say what his sexuality is, but she asks him if he’s ever dressed as a woman because he would make an attractive-looking woman.

Karla identifies as a transgender female lesbian. Her live-in girlfriend is a sarcastic and jaded author named Vanessa Ravel (played by Amy Zimmer), who is a politically active progressive feminist. Vanessa is somewhat self-conscious about originally being from suburban Larchmont, New York, because this suburb doesn’t fit her current image of being an urban hipster. Vanessa is also frustrated because she hasn’t been able to finish her second book. Vanessa’s first book is a novel called “Paulette,” whose title character was mainly inspired by Karla.

Karla has mixed feelings about the book. One the one hand, Karla brags to people that Vanessa wrote a book about her, and Karla sometimes autographs copies of “Paulette.” On the other hand, Karla feels resentment that Vanessa used her as the basis of the book, which apparently depicts Paulette as an unlikable character. Maybe the truth is a little to close for Karla’s comfort because Karla really is unlikable.

Karla is overly intrusive, rude, racist and xenophobic. Before Karla meets Bahlul and finds out that he is Terry’s nephew, she describes Bahlul as a “little brown kid” to Leo and wrongfully assumes that Bahlul is Terry’s lover. Whenever Karla meets people who aren’t white, Karla asks where they are from, because she expects them to give an answer that describes what their ethnicity is. If the person says that they are from somewhere in the United States, she asks the person where their family is from, to find out the family’s ethnicity or country of origin.

Karla does this type of interrogation when she meets a Grubhub delivery guy named Ronald (played by Faheem Ali), who delivers some Greek food to Karla one evening. Karla and Ronald strike up a flirtation. And it soon becomes clear that maybe Karla isn’t quite the “lesbian” that she says she is. Ronald’s bicycle becomes a pointless subplot in the movie.

The big “event” in “Stress Positions” is a Fourth of July barbecue party hosted by Terry in the apartment building’s tiny back courtyard. The movie doesn’t really explain how Terry goes from being so fearful of getting infected with COVID-19 that he wears a gas masks to Terry hosting an intimate gathering when COVID-19 infection rates are high, there’s no COVID-19 vaccine available at this point in time, and people won’t be wearing masks at this party. Two of the party guests are Terry’s obnoxious, cocaine-snorting, soon-to-be-ex-husband Leo (played by John Roberts) and Leo’s fiancé Hamadou (played by Davidson Obennebo), who politely asks Terry to sign the divorce papers so that they can all get on with their lives.

Terry (who has some slapstick scenes where he falls down more than once in the kitchen) is a stereotypical neurotic New Yorker. However, Terry’s story arc fades into the background as Karla and Bahlul (who is the narrator in the second half of the movie) have storylines that take over and dominate the movie. As Terry, Early clearly has the best comedic skills in the “Stress Positions” cast, so it’s a mistake that his talents are somewhat sidelined in the movie.

Bahlul talks mostly about his childhood in his tedious voiceovers, in which he comments on his mother almost as much as he talks about himself. (Bahlul is obviously a “mama’s boy.”) Even with all this talk, very little is revealed about who Bahlul is as a person, except when he tells Karla he’d like to write a book. Karla advises Bahlul to have more life experiences that he could put in a book.

“Stress Positions” has an irritating attitude that seems to say, “Showing a bunch of eccentric New York characters will be enough to make a good movie.” One of these eccentrics is Coco (played by Rebecca F. Wright), a mute upstairs neighbor who lives alone and appears to be a drag queen. Terry tells Ronald at one point in the story: “Coco’s not trans. She’s mentally ill.” Coco has only one pivotal scene in the film. Otherwise, she’s just in the movie to so a catty snob like Terry can make snide remarks about her.

“Stress Positions” will probably find a certain number of fans who automatically want to gush over anything that can be described as “quirky indie filmmaking,” while ignoring huge flaws in the filmmaking. (A lot of the movie has amateurish dialogue and unimpressive technical production.) The truth is that if you take away the underrepresented “diversity” in “Stress Positions,” it’s just another poorly made beginner film that is often dull. The identities of the characters are not reasons enough to care when their personalities and the story are so hollow.

Neon released “Stress Positions” in New York City on April 19, 2024, with an expansion to more U.S. cinemas on April 26, 2024.

Review: ‘Housekeeping for Beginners,’ starring Anamaria Marinca, Alina Șerban, Samson Selim, Vladimir Tintor, Mia Mustafi and Dżada Selim

April 2, 2024

by Carla Hay

Samson Selim, Vladimir Tintor, Anamaria Marinca and Sara Klimoska in “Housekeeping for Beginners” (Photo by Viktor Irvin Ivanov/Focus Features)

“Housekeeping for Beginners”

Directed by Goran Stolevski

Macedonian, Albanian and Romani with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in Skopje, North Macedonia, the dramatic film “Housekeeping for Beginners” features a white and Romani cast of characters representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: A social worker, who is a closeted lesbian and is the head of a household of other LGBTQ adults, tries to find a way to keep her “found family” together after she has to raise the two underage daughters of her deceased lover.

Culture Audience: “Housekeeping for Beginners” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in watching well-acted dramas about “found families” with mostly LGBTQ people as the main characters.

Mia Mustafa in “Housekeeping for Beginners” (Photo courtesy of Focus Features)

“Housekeeping for Beginners” is a “slice of life” film that doesn’t pretend to have all the answers about family life. Filled with emotions that are raw, tender and often repressed, this unusual drama offers a realistic look at a “found family” of LGBTQ people in North Macedonia. The mostly improvised acting performances are stellar, even when the story sometimes wanders.

Written and directed by Goran Stolevski (a filmmaker who is originally from North Macedonia and currently lives in Australia), “Housekeeping for Beginners” had its world premiere at the 2023 Venice International Film Festival, where it won the Queer Lion Award, a prize for LGBTQ movies. “Housekeeping for Beginners” was also North Macedonia’s offical selection for the Best International Feature Film category for the 2024 Academy Awards.

In “Housekeeping for Beginners” (which takes place in Skopje, North Macedonia), a social worker named Dita (played by Anamaria Marinca) is the head of her household. Dita is also a closeted lesbian to almost everyone outside of her household, which has become a safe haven for other LGBTQ people who have been rejected by their biological families. Dita is generous enough to not charge rent to any of the adults in her household.

In the beginning of the movie, there are eight people living in the household, and they will soon be joined by a ninth person. Dita (who is usually calm and level-headed) is living with her lover Suada (played by Alina Șerban), who has an acerbic and sometimes volatile personality. Suada has two daughters from two different deadbeat dads: daughter Vanesa (played by Mia Mustafi) is about 16 or 17 years old, while daughter Mia (played by Dżada Selim) is about 5 or 6 years old.

It’s later mentioned in the movie that the father of Vanesa was a drug addict who died of an overdose. Mia’s father is a drug dealer with a prison record and has not been involved in Mia’s life at all. Dita (whose father is a member of North Macedonia’s Parliament) met Suada because Suada was part of a social worker case that Dita had. Dita (who is originally from the low-income Shutka neighborhood) and her children are Roma. These differences in ethnicities and social classes are often issues in their family.

Also in the household is Dita’s longtime friend Toni (played by Vladimir Tintor), who is openly gay and who works as a medical assistant in a hospital. There are also three queer young women living in the household: Elena (played by Sara Klimoska), Teuta (played by Ajshe Useini) and Flora (played by Rozafë Çelaj), whose personalities are somewhat vague in this movie. It’s a house filled with camaraderie, love and the usual family tensions. But within a short period of time, things will drastically change.

The household gets an unexpected addition in the beginning of the movie: a 19 year-old gay Roma man named Ali (played by Samson Selim, who is Dżada Selim’s father in real life), who spent the night with Toni and doesn’t want to leave. Toni and Ali met on a gay dating app. Mia takes an instant liking to Ali. However, Dita and Suada are very wary of Ali because they meet him under awkward circumstances when Toni left Ali to look after Suada’s daughters.

Suada has pancreatic cancer, which has reached the terminal stage. Dita doesn’t see herself as a maternal type, but Suada insists that Dita take care of Vanesa and Mia after Suada dies. Suada’s death (which is already revealed in the “Housekeeping for Beginners” trailer) happens about 35 minutes into this 107-minute movie.

Complicating matters, North Macedonia does not have laws that allow same-sex marriages or openly gay people to adopt children . Dita is determined to keep her promise to Suada to have the family stay together, so Dita goes to extreme lengths to do it, including coming up with the idea to have Toni marry her. Meanwhile, Vanesa starts to rebel and threatens to run away from home.

“Housekeeping for Beginners” shows the emotional fallout of this pressure-cooker situation, as various family members experience grief and discontent over their lives. The movie doesn’t get preachy about discrimination against LGBTQ people, but it shows in unflinching ways how this discrimination can damage people and relationships. “Housekeeping for Beginners” is at its best when it demonstrates how family plays an important role in shaping people’s identities and loyalties, but family does not have to be defined by biology.

Focus Features will release “Housekeeping for Beginners” in select U.S. cinemas on April 5, 2024.

Review: ‘Love Lies Bleeding’ (2024), starring Kristen Stewart, Katy O’Brian, Jena Malone, Anna Baryshnikov, Dave Franco and Ed Harris

March 16, 2024

by Carla Hay

Katy O’Brian and Kristen Stewart in “Love Lies Bleeding” (Photo courtesy of A24)

“Love Lies Bleeding” (2024)

Directed by Rose Glass

Culture Representation: Taking place in an unnamed city in New Mexico (and briefly in Las Vegas), the dramatic film “Love Lies Bleeding” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with a few Latin people and African Americans) representing the working-class, middle-class and criminal underground.

Culture Clash: A gym employee and an aspiring professional bodybuilder meet, fall in love, and get involve in deadly criminal activities. 

Culture Audience: “Love Lies Bleeding” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of star Kristen Stewart and intense movies about outlaw lovers.

Ed Harris in “Love Lies Bleeding” (Photo courtesy of A24)

Gritty and suspenseful, “Love Lies Bleeding” is a rollercoaster ride of a crime drama that has unexpected moments of fantasy and horror, along with a co-dependent love story between two women. The outcome of this love story is intended to be as impactful as the results of all the murder and mayhem that take place in this intense thriller. It’s a well-acted and artfully made film about desperation, revenge and the lengths that people will go to in order to fulfill ambitions or protect loved ones.

Directed by Rose Glass, “Love Lies Bleeding” was co-written by Glass and Weronika Tofilska. The movie had its world premiere at the 2024 Sundance Film Festival. “Love Lies Bleeding” is the second feature film from Glass, who made her feature-film directorial debut with the 2020 horror movie “Saint Maud,” a story about a fanatically religious and mentally ill woman.

There are some elements in “Love Lies Bleeding” that are similar to “Saint Maud,” particularly when twisted horror-like hallucinations of a main character seem to come to life. However, both movies are very different from each other overall. “Love Lies Bleeding” is not for people who are easily offended by bloody gore or explicit sexual content. “Love Lies Bleeding” is an above-average noir thriller that brings some unique twists to what’s usually seen in movies about outlaw lovers.

“Love Lies Bleeding” takes place in 1988, mostly in an unnamed small city in New Mexico, where the movie was filmed. The movie’s opening scene is at a grungy local fitness studio called Crater Gym, where gym employee Louise “Lou” Langston (played by Kristen Stewart) does menial tasks, such as attending to customers and doing janitorial duties. A co-worker named Daisy (played by Anna Baryshnikov) has an obvious crush on Lou and tries to get Lou to go on a date with her, but Lou politely rejects Daisy’s advances.

Lou, who is in her early 30s, is an introverted loner who is a chronic smoker and lives with a cat. She’s the type of person who will listen to anti-smoking audio recordings, perhaps as a way to try to quit smoking or as an ironic way of rebelling against what the recordings are saying. During the course of the movie, more of Lou’s background and her family are revealed.

Lou’s father Lou Langston (played by Ed Harris), also known as Lou Sr., is a scummy and ruthless crime lord who lives in a mansion and owns a gun club as a way to launder money. Lou’s mother has been missing for the past 12 years. Lou won’t come right out and admit it, but she’s pretty sure that her mother is dead, and she suspects her father had something to do with this disappearance. Lou is estranged from her father for this reason and many other reasons.

Lou is closest to her older sister Beth (played by Jena Malone), a married mother of three sons. Lou despises Beth’s husband JJ (played by Dave Franco), because JJ is very abusive (physically and emotionally) to Beth, who won’t get help for this problem out of fear and loyalty to JJ. JJ works at Lou Sr.’s gun club and is involved in Lou Sr.’s criminal activities.

One day, a stranger comes to town who will capture Lou’s attention and Lou’s heart. Her name is Jackie (played by Katy O’Brian), an aspiring professional bodybuilder, who has arrived from Oklahoma. Jackie, who is also in her 30s, is passing through New Mexico on the way to a bodybuilder competition in Las Vegas. She visits Crater Gym to work out. And it’s at Crater Gym where Lou first sees Jackie and has an instant attraction to her.

Before Lou and Jackie meet, Jackie has a sexual hookup with JJ in his car because she heard that JJ works at a gun club and hopes that he can help her get a job there. Sure enough, after their sexual encounter, when Jackie asks JJ if there are any job openings where he works, he gives her a business card and says yes and tells her that he’ll put in a good word for her. At the gun club, JJ introduces Jackie to Lou Sr., who hires her as a waitress, because she says she doesn’t like being around guns.

Shortly after Lou and Jackie meet and flirt with each other at the gym, they become lovers. Jackie soon shows herself to be a skilled hustler, because she charms Lou into letting Jackie temporarily live with Lou until Jackie goes to Las Vegas. Lou is not happy at all when she finds out that Jackie is working at the gun club. She comes right out and tells Lou that Lou’s father is a “psycho,” but she says that Jackie is free to work wherever she wants.

Jackie tells Lou a little bit about her background. Jackie says she was adopted at age 13, and she used to be a “fat kid,” who was bullied. Jackie also hints that she is estranged from her family when she says she doesn’t really have anyone who supports her bodybuilder dreams—a fact confirmed in a later scene when Jackie calls her adoptive mother. More details eventually emerge about Jackie’s troubled past.

Lou finds out that Jackie and JJ hooked up after JJ tells Lou about it during an argument that he has with Lou. When Lou angrily confronts Jackie about it, Jackie (who says she is bisexual) admits to hooking up with JJ. Jackie is able to smooth things over with Lou, because Jackie says that the sex with JJ was meaningless and only happened because she used JJ to get a job. Jackie also reminds Lou that she hooked up with JJ before Jackie met Lou.

Even though Lou is a quiet introvert and Jackie is a talkative extrovert, they both know without saying it out loud that they are both emotionally damaged from family problems. It’s a big reason why they are attracted to each other but also why they develop a dangerous co-dependent relationship. Soon after they become lovers, Lou offers Jackie free steroids, which Jackie is reluctant to take, but she gives in to Lou’s pressure to let Lou inject Jackie with the steroids. Jackie then becomes hooked on using steroids.

It’s hinted that Jackie’s steroid abuse could be the cause of Jackie’s hallucinations where her muscles become abnormally enlarged and she sees herself as turning into the size of the Incredible Hulk. There are other hallucinations she has that are pure grotesque horror. But observant viewers will notice that Jackie’s steroid abuse might not be the only reason for her delusions, as she appears to have some type of undiagnosed mental illness.

It’s enough to say that Jackie and Lou get caught up in murder and desperate cover-ups. Even before this happened, Lou was already on edge because two FBI agents working together—one named William O’Riley (played by Orion Carrington) and one named Dave (played by Matthew Blood-Smyth)—have her under surveillance. FBI agent O’Riley approaches Lou at the gym to question her about her father and her mother. Lou says she no longer speaks to her father and has no information about where her mother is.

“Love Lies Bleeding” has a lot of familiar storytelling about crime, betrayals and revenge. However, it’s not very often that these stories are told in movies from the perspectives of queer women characters, one of whom happens to be a bodybuilder. Lou and Jackie go to many extremes out of an underlying desperation and unhappiness that they have about their lives. There are clues about this discontent throughout the movie, such as when Lou seems to enviously admire Jackie for traveling to Las Vegas by herself, because Lou has never been anywhere outside of her small city. Jackie has convinced herself that becoming a rich and famous bodybuilder will make her own life happy and fulfilled.

Stewart has made a career out of playing fidgety and insecure characters. She gives one of her better performances as this type of character in “Love Lies Bleeding.” O’Brian has the harder and more complex role as Jackie, who will keep viewers guessing about how “good” or “bad” Jackie really is. Harris, Franco and Malone handle their roles capably, although their respective characters in “Love Lies Bleeding” are not very well-developed. Baryshnikov doesn’t have a lot of screen time, but she skillfully portrays Daisy, who is not as ditsy as she first appears to be.

“Love Lies Bleeding” has a few things that require suspension of disbelief. For example, if Lou Sr. is such a powerful crime lord, then there would be more than just two FBI agents snooping around. But this factual flaw can be overlooked because “Love Lies Bleeding” is a low-budget movie and the story is focused more on the relationship between Lou and Jackie than on any law enforcement investigating any crimes. “Love Lies Bleeding” doesn’t pass judgment on all the awful and cruel things that happen in the movie, but instead invites viewers to ponder if all of this destruction is worth it in the name of love.

A24 released “Love Lies Bleeding” in select U.S. cinemas on March 8, 2024, with an expansion to more U.S. cinemas on March 15, 2024.

Review: ‘Problemista,’ starring Tilda Swinton, Julio Torres, RZA, Greta Lee, Catalina Saavedra, James Scully and the voice of Isabella Rossellini

March 1, 2024

by Carla Hay

Julio Torres and Tilda Swinton in “Problemista” (Photo by Jon Pack/A24)


Directed by Julia Torres

Culture Representation: Taking place in New York City and in Maine, the comedy/drama film “Problemista” features a racially diverse cast of characters (Latin, white, African American and Asian) representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: Cartisano, who died of a heart attack in 2019, at the age of 63, was sued several times and had many allegations that his camps illegally abused the children who were forced to be there. 

Culture Audience: “Hell Camp: Teen Nightmare” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in documentaries that show how abuse and exploitation are excused or covered up, but some questions remain unanswered by the end of the movie.

RZA and Greta Lee in “Problemista” (Photo by Jon Pack/A24)

“Problemista” has enough quirky charm to keep most viewers interested in what will happen next. It’s a unique comedy/drama about an aspiring toy designer from El Salvador, his immigration issues in New York City, and his eccentric artist boss. It’s not a spectacularly great movie, but it has entertaining and memorable moments for viewers who are interested in watching slightly weird independent films about artistic people. “Problemista” has some sci-fi elements that come to the forefront near the end of the movie.

Written and directed by Julio Torres, “Problemista” had its world premiere at the 2023 SXSW Film & TV Festival. Torres also stars in the movie as protagonist Alejandro Martinez, who was born and raised in El Salvador, by his single mother Dolores (played by Catalina Saavedra). Now in his 20s, Alejandro has been living in New York City, and working at low-paying jobs while trying to fulfill his goal of becoming a toy designer. His dream job would be to work at Hasbro, the company known for numerous popular toy brands, including G.I. Joe, Transformers, My Little Pony and Mr. Potato Head.

Isabella Rossellini is the movie’s unnamed voiceover narrator, who explains in the beginning of the film: “This is the story of Alejandro. His mother was an artist. And he was a project. She gave him everything, so he wished for everything. “Problemista” has occasional flashbacks to Alejandro’s childhood in El Salvador, with the flashbacks looking like Alejandro lived in a whimsical, playground-like fantasy land. In these flashbacks, Logan J. Alarcon-Poucel has the role of Alejandro as a boy.

Alejandro’s fantastical childhood memories are in stark contrast to his current realities: He lives in a small, drab apartment and is struggling to pay his bills with a job he doesn’t like. In the beginning of the movie, Alejandro gets a low-level job at a company called Freeze Corp., which is in the business of freezing the bodies of people who want to be unfrozen and resurrected in the future. Alejandro soon gets fired from Freeze Corp. for accidentally unplugging a backup generator.

Alejando is in the United States on a work visa, which means he can legally stay in the U.S. if he has an employer as a sponsor. He seeks guidance from an immigration attorney named Khalil (played by Laith Nakli), who has his own law practice. Khalil has some grim news for Alejandro: If Alejandro doesn’t find a work sponsor in one month, then Alejandro will be in danger of being deported. In the meantime, Alejandro has to find a way to make some fast cash because his rent and other bills are due.

It just so happens that a demanding, fast-talking and quick-tempered artist named Elizabeth Ascencio (played by Tilda Swinton) is looking for a freelance assistant. Elizabeth crossed paths with Alejandro because her husband Bobby (who is a painter artist) is a customer of Freeze Corp., a company that Elizabeth does not like. And so, when she hears that Alejandro was fired from Freeze Corp., Elizabeth hires Alejandro to be her assistant.

Elizabeth is unpleasantly neurotic, argumentative and difficult. A great deal of the movie is about the uneasy work relationship that Alejandro and Elizabeth have with each other. Alejandro has a “fake it ’til you make it” attitude about the job, such as when he pretends to Elizabeth that he knows how to use FileMaker Pro software on a computer, and he has to go to certain lengths to cover up this lie.

Bobby (who makes paintings of eggs) wants to do a gallery exhibit called “13 Eggs.” Elizabeth tells Alejando that she will be Alejandro’s work sponsor if Alejandro successfully helps her pitch this exhibit to a gallery. And so, there’s a long stretch of the movie where Alejandro has to track down all of Bobby’s paintings (some of which were given away or sold) for this exhibit.

Elizabeth and Bobby (who have homes in New York City and Maine) have an unconventional marriage, not just because of their age difference (she’s about 10 years older than he is) but also because they also have an open marriage and they don’t spend a lot of time together. She tells Alejandro that she and Bobby fell in love with each other because they are both people “who feel misunderstood.” Even though Bobby and Elizabeth have an open marriage, there are still jealousy issues. Elizabeth doesn’t like that Bobby has gotten very close to a woman named Dalia Park (played by Greta Lee), who is one of Bobby’s most promising students.

“Problemista” also shows some of Alejandro’s life when he’s not working. He gets a roommate named Bingham (played by James Scully), who likes to party. Alejandro doesn’t have a love interest in the movie, but it’s shown that he is gay or queer. Alejandro can’t get paid for his assistant job until Elizabeth officially becomes his work sponsor. When he runs low on money, he resorts to a desperate way to make some cash.

One of the movie’s quirks is showing fantasy sequences involving a character named Craigslist (played by Larry Owens), who appears to Alejandro in hallucinations that make Craigslist look like he’s in a disco nightclub or drag-queen ballroom. Craigslist gives advice and pep talks to Alejandro when Alejandro is feeling doubt and fear. Even though Alejandro is in his 20s, Alejandro often looks and acts like an insecure teenager. He has tendency to dress like a high school student, including wearing a backpack. He shuffles when he walks, and he often stammers in conversations with people.

“Problemista” has some pacing and tonal issues when the movie has an awkward balance of comedy and drama. The story also gets a little repetitive in showing Elizabeth’s negative outbursts and ranting. However, the performances in the movie (especially from Torres and Swinton) are compelling. And “Problemista” shows with compassion and some grittiness what it looks like to be a lonely immigrant with visa problems in America. It’s a life that is often lived in quiet desperation but gets to live out loud in a movie like “Problemista.”

A24 released “Problemista” in select U.S. cinemas on March 1, 2024, with an expansion to more U.S. cinemas on March 8, 2024.

Review: ‘Fitting In’ (2024), starring Maddie Ziegler, Emily Hampshire, Djouliet Amara and D’Pharaoh Woon-A-Tai

February 24, 2024

by Carla Hay

D’Pharaoh Woon-A-Tai and Maddie Ziegler in “Fitting In” (Photo courtesy of Blue Fox Entertainment)

“Fitting In” (2024)

Directed by Molly McGlynn

Culture Representation: Taking place in an unnamed city in Canada, the comedy/drama film “Fitting In” (which is semi-autobiographical story from writer/director Molly McGlynn) features a predominantly white cast of characters (with some African Americans and Latinos) representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: A 16-year-old girl finds out that she has a rare gynecological condition called MRKH syndrome, where she can’t menstruate or conceive children, and she struggles with how to tell people who might be friends or intimate partners. 

Culture Audience: “Fitting In” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of star Maddie Ziegler and movies that take an empathetic look at reproductive issues that are rarely depicted in movies.

Maddie Ziegler and Ki Griffin in “Fitting In” (Photo courtesy of Blue Fox Entertainment)

The narrative of “Fitting In” occasionally wanders, but this comedy/drama has convincing performances in this coming-of-age story of a 16-year-old girl with a rare gynecological condition. It’s a unique movie with familiar views of teenage life. Because the movie’s story is based partially on the real-life experiences of “Fitting In” writer/director Molly McGlynn, “Fitting In” has a tone of authenticity that is complemented by the movie’s talented cast members.

“Fitting In” had its world premiere at the 2023 Toronto International Film Festival. McGlynn is a Canadian filmmaker. “Fitting In” takes place in an unnamed Canadian city and was actually filmed in Sudbury, Ontario. Although the movie takes place in Canada, it has situations and themes that are relatable to many cultures and the growing pains that teenagers experience.

“Fitting In” begins and ends with a scene of 16-year-old girl named Lindy (played by Maddie Ziegler) masturbating on her bed in her bedroom. By the end of the movie, she’s not quite the same person that she was in the beginning of the movie. That’s because by the end of the movie, she has already gotten the life-changing news that she has MRKH syndrome, a rare gynecological condition. Lindy has ovaries but no uterus, no cervix, and her vaginal canal is very stunted. She was born this way.

In the beginning of the movie, Lindy (who is an only child living with he divorced mother) thinks that she’s a typical teenager with typical teenage issues. She has a crush on a charismatic classmate named Adam (played by D’Pharaoh Woon-A-Tai), who is a popular athlete at their high school. Lindy, who is a virgin when the story begins, isn’t quite sure how much Adam likes her or is attracted to her, but he has definitely noticed her. In fact, when Lindy is first seen masturbating in the movie, she’s having a fantasy that she and Adam are having sex.

Lindy has a talkative best friend named Vivian (played by Djouliet Amara), who is gossipy about what other students are doing in their love lives. One day, Lindy and Vivian are talking about Adam and his most recent ex-girlfriend, who is another student named Karina. Lindy wonders out loud if Adam and Karina had sex when they were a couple. Vivian days that Adam and Karnina most likely had sex and Karina “does anal.”

Vivian and Lindy are both rising-star athletes on their school’s track team. Lindy has a harmless crush on their track coach, whose name is Coach Mike (played by Dennis Andres), a tattooed guy in his 30s. Lindy’s identity at school is wrapped up in being on the track team, but her outlook on life and who she is will change after she finds out that she has MRKH syndrome

Lindy hasn’t begun menstruating yet, but she thinks it’s because she’s late bloomer. She’s still embarrassed about not getting her menstrual period when it seems like all of her teenage girl peers have already developed in this way. Lindy pretends to Vivian and anyone else who might notice that Lindy has a menstrual cycle.

Lindy and Vivian happen to be in a drugstore together when they meet a classmate named Jax (played by Ki Griffin), who identifies as non-binary and uses the pronouns “they” and “them.” Jax is androgynous-looking and happens to be intersex, which means that Jax was born with male and female genital characteristics. Over time, Lindy and Jax get to know each other better. The movies shows whether or not Lindy and Jax confide in each other about their unusual biological conditions.

Meanwhile, a large part of “Fitting In” is about the sometimes-tense relationship between Lindy and her mother Rita (played by Emily Hampshire), a therapist who works from home and often does sessions with her clients through online videoconferencing. When Lindy and Rita argue, it’s usually because Lindy thinks Rita is being too meddling, while Rita thinks Lindy is being too standoffish with Rita. Lindy’s father abandoned Rita and Lindy when Lindy was very young, and he is no longer in their lives. Rita is neurotic and insecure about a lot of things: dating as a single mother, being rejected, and dealing with past trauma from her childhood.

Rita mentions that her own mother was difficult and “crazy,” which is why Rita tries so hard to have a good relationship with Lindy. Rita is in a situation that many mothers of teenage girls experience: As the teenage daughter approaches adulthood, the mother wants to have a balance of being an authoritative parent and being an understanding friend. It’s a balance that is often uneasy and often comes with misunderstandings and conflicts, as the teenage daughter wants more independence from a parent.

When Lindy tells Rita that Lindy still hasn’t developed a menstrual cycle, Rita immediately arranges for Lindy to go to a gynecologist named Dr. Aranda (played by Rhoslynne Bugay), who is professional and informative. Lindy and Rita find out at the same time in the doctor’s office that Lindy has MRKH syndrome. Rita bursts into tears. Lindy is in shock and is initially confused, until the knowledge starts to sink in that Lindy can never get pregnant or give birth.

“Fitting In” shows the fluidity of Lindy’s dating experiences, as three people end up getting sexually close to Lindy in various ways: Adam; a mild-mannered, fast-food worker named Chad (played by Dale Whibley); and Jax. “Fitting In” is mostly about Lindy’s journey in the weeks after she finds out about having MRKH syndrome. She goes through a myriad of emotions that Ziegler expresses realisitically. The supporting cast members, especially Hampshire, Woon-A-Tai and Griffin also handle their roles with aplomb.

Aside from issues about her reproductive health, Lindy’s diagnosis MRKH syndrome also affects her sexual health. She is given medical dildos by a nurse named Lisa (played by Emma Hunter), who tells Lindy that it will take about three to 18 months of using these dildos to create a vaginal opening that looks “normal.” Lisa tactlessly tells Lindy about using these dildos to make Lindy’s vagina bigger: “You’re an athlete, right? Think of it like training or vagina boot camp.” Lindy also has visits with another gynecologist named Dr. Doheny (played by Michael Therriault), who is less compassionate than Lisa.

“Fitting In” has typical scenes of teenage parties, where some of the drama happens in Lindy’s love life. She also has an awkward experience when her gynecologist recommends that she go to a support-group meeting for people who identify as LGBTQIA2S+ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer/questioning, intersex, asexual, or two-spirit), where Jax is a regular attendee. Lindy grapples with shame, defiance, anger and acceptance about her condition. Ultimately, “Fitting In” tells a sometimes-serious, sometimes-amusing story that allows viewers to think about how much or if reproductive organs should define the essence of who people are.

Blue Fox Entertainment released “Fitting In” in select U.S. cinemas on February 2, 2024.

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 the 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 a caption that shows “Drive-Away Dolls” 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.

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