Review: ‘See How They Run’ (2022), starring Sam Rockwell, Saoirse Ronan, Adrien Brody, Ruth Wilson, Harris Dickinson, Reece Shearsmith and David Oyelowo

September 14, 2022

by Carla Hay

Sam Rockwell and Saoirse Ronan in “See How They Run” (Photo by Parisa Taghizadeh/Searchlight Pictures)

“See How They Run” (2022)

Directed by John Patton Ford

Culture Representation: Taking place in London, mostly in 1953, the comedy/drama film “See How They Run” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with some black people and Asian people) representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: A jaded police inspector and his rookie partner, who have opposite personalities and contrasting styles of working, investigate serial murders that appear to be linked to the planned-for movie adaptation of Agatha Christie’s murder mystery play “The Mousetrap.” 

Culture Audience: “See How They Run” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in movies that are inspired by Agatha Christie mystery novels.

Ruth Wilson, Reece Shearsmith, Harris Dickinson, Sian Clifford, Pearl Chanda, Jacob Fortune Lloyd, David Oyelowo and Ania Marson in “See How They Run” (Photo by Parisa Taghizadeh/Searchlight Pictures)

“See How They Run” doesn’t quite reach the classic heights of Agatha Christie murder mysteries, which are this comedy/drama movie’s admitted inspirations. However, it’s worth watching for the entertaining performances and clever observations of showbiz. The last third of “See How They Run” stumbles a bit in how the mystery is revealed, but it doesn’t take away from the movie’s overall appeal to viewers who are interested in British movies that poke fun at the entertainment industry in a story about solving crimes.

“See How They Run” is the feature-film directorial debut of Tom George, who is known for directing in British television. His TV credits include his BAFTA-winning work directing the BBC comedy show “The Country,” as well as the BBC comedy “Defending the Guilty.” His keen sense of comedic timing serves “See How They Run” very well, since most Agatha Christie-styled movies definitely do not have the screwball comedy qualities that are in “See How They Run.” Mark Chappell wrote the “See How They Run” screenplay, which is better at crafting characters than it is as explaining some of the unanswered questions in this murder mystery.

Every movie inspired by Agatha Christie’s writing has a fairly large ensemble of characters who are considered suspects or persons of interests in the murder case until the real killer or killers can eventually be revealed. The body count in “See How They Run” is a lot lower than a typical story of this ilk, but that just makes it more intriguing to guess who’s behind the murders. Fortunately, the movie isn’t cluttered with too many chararacters, so it’s easy to keep track of who everyone is.

“See How They Run,” which is set primarily in 1953 London, also balances multiple layers, because it’s a story with several flashbacks, as well as a whodunit that’s directly tied to the real-life, long-running West End production of Christie’s “The Mousetrap.” Although most of the characters in “See How They Run” are fictional, some of the characters are based on real people, including Christie herself. The movie does a better job at handling the flashbacks than it does in trying to show parallels between “The Mousetrap” and the original screenplay for “See How They Run.”

“See How They Run” opens with a scene that is later referred to in flashbacks. In 1953, on London’s West End, several people have gathered for a nighttime party at the Dominion Theatre, to celebrate the 100th performance of “The Mousetrap.” Among the partiers are members of the cast and some people who are involved in making a feature film version of “The Mousetrap,” including American director Leo Köpernick (played by Adrien Brody), who has been blacklisted in Hollywood, due to the Red Scare targeting suspected Communists.

The night of this party will also be the last night of Leo’s life, since he will be murdered in a backstage costume shop by a mystery person wearing a trench coat, a mask and a fedora. The murderer definitely looks like a man, but with these mystery stories, the killer’s gender can’t always be presumed. At first, Leo is attacked by the murderer trying to strangle Leo with a wire. Leo breaks free, but is killed when the murderer beats him to with a fire extinguisher.

A now-dead Leo then provides intermittent narration for the rest of the movie. Not everyone who watches this movie will like this “voice from the dead” narration. However, it’s a director choice that’s quite unconventional and provides a perspective that doesn’t make things easy for viewers, because Leo is eventually exposed as a sleazy character who might be an unreliable narrator.

The two cops who end up being the primary investigators for Leo’s murder are two very opposite people: Inspector Stoppard (played by Inspector Sam Rockwell) is a world-weary alcoholic, who approaches the investigation with a skepticism where he doesn’t come to any conclusions until he sees indisputable evidence. Constable Stalker (played by Saiorse Ronan) is an eager-to-please rookie who’s an Irish immigrant with a tendency to jump to conclusions without hard evidence.

Predictably, Stoppard and Stalker often clash, with Stoppard embodying the cliché of an older cop who’s forced to work with a younger cop and is frequently annoyed by the younger cop in the process. It doesn’t help that Stoppard is very sexist and doesn’t believe that police detective work is a job that women can do as well as men. The supervisor for Stoppard and Stalker is a police commissioner named Harrold Scott (played by Tim Key), who is more concerned about his own public-relations image and career ambitions than he is about getting justice for the crimes investigated by his department.

It isn’t long before Stoppard and Stalker have a group of people to interview and investigate. They include:

  • Petula “Choo” Spencer (played by Ruth Wilson), the no-nonsense producer/chief investor of “The Mousetrap” play. It’s later revealed that she has a motive to prevent the movie version of “The Mousetrap” from getting made.
  • Mignon Saunders (played by Ania Marson), Petula’s eccentric mother. Mignon doesn’t say much, but does that mean she knows more than she’s telling?
  • John Woolf (played by Reece Shearsmith), the wealthy film producer of “The Mousetrap” movie. (This character is based on the real John Woolf.) John is the person who decided to hire Leo, because of Leo’s talent and track record of making award-winning films.
  • Ann Saville (played by Pippa Bennett Warner), John’s administrative assistant and his mistress. Ann is every much in love with John and expects him to eventually divorce his wife and marry Ann.
  • Edana Romney (played by Sian Clifford), John’s wife, who considers herself to be an amateur psychic. It’s revealed in the movie if she knows about John’s affair with Ann.
  • Mervyn “Merv” Cocker-Norris (played by David Oyelowo), the pompous screenwriter for “The Mousetrap” movie. Mervyn and Leo were feuding because Leo didn’t like Mervyn’s script, but Mervyn refused to do a rewrite. Not long before Leo was murdered, Leo and Mervyn had a very public argument where Mervyn threatened to kill Leo.
  • Giovanni “Gio” Bigotti (played by Jacob Fortune-Lloyd), Mervyn’s Italian lover, who is fairly quiet and very supportive of Mervyn. Giovanni and Mervyn are a gay couple in a “don’t ask, don’t tell way,” where they don’t make it obvious but they don’t try to hide the nature of their relationship either.
  • Dennis (played by Charlie Cooper), a Dominion Theatre usher who reported that he saw a “suspicious”-looking man lurking in the area where Leo’s murdered body was found.
  • Richard “Dickie” Attenborough (played by Harris Dickinson), the hotshot actor who’s the star of “The Mousetrap” play. Based on the real Attenborough, this character wants to do everything possible to keep the play going
  • Sheila Sim (played by Pearl Chanda), Dickie’s actress wife (based on the real Sheila Sim), whose career has become overshadowed by Dickie’s. Sheila and Dickie, who are co-stars in “The Mousetrap” play, have been experiencing some problems in their marriage, and their relationship has become somewhat strained.

World-renowned mystery writer Christie (played by Shirley Henderson) makes an appearance in the last third of the movie and does something awkward that isn’t handled very well or is made believable, considering that she is a crime aficionado. This tricky scene is played for laughs, but it could have been thought out in a much better way. Her devoted husband Max Mallowan (played by Lucian Msamati) and her prickly butler Fellowes (played by Paul Chahidi) also make appearances toward the end of the movie.

Constable Stalker is often a bundle of nervous energy when she’s with Inspector Stoddard. She talks quickly and is eager to share her knowledge of movies (she’s a big fan) and crime novels, but he shows disdain for this fiction entertainment influencing her thoughts as police investigator. Later, when Constable Stalker and Inspector Stoddard spend some time alone together, they open up to each other about their personal lives. She’s a widow with a son and a daughter. He’s divorced (his wife left him) with no children. Constable Stalker eventually finds out about Inspector Stoddard’s alcoholism and sees how vulnerable his alcoholism makes him.

Of course, every murder mystery reveals secrets about the people who are being investigated. Leo is not a sympathetic victim. The police find out that he has a long history of sexually harassing and possibly sexually assaulting women. Leo kept meticulous records of the women he encountered.

As an example of Leo being a sexual predator, he was staying at the luxury Savoy Hotel (in a suite paid for by John), where the maids eventually refused to go in Leo’s suite because of how badly he was sexually harassing them. On the night that Leo was murdered, he and Dickie got into a huge physical brawl in front of the party crowd. The fight happened because Leo sexually propositioned Sheila, by implying that Leo would cast her in “The Mousetrap” movie if she had sex with him.

“See How They Run” is filmed and performed much like how this movie would look if it really were filmed in 1953. This type of retro filmmaking won’t appeal to everyone, but the movie does a competent job of recreating the British culture, fashion and production design of that era. There are signs and not-so-subtle indications that Constable Stalker is an outsider not just because she’s a woman in a very male-dominated field but also because she’s an Irish immigrant living in the England.

Rockwell and Ronan, who are both talented in whatever they do, have a crackling chemistry as Stoppard and Stalker that intentionally starts off as uncomfortable to watch but becomes somewhat endearing as Stoppard and Stalker begin to trust each other in this “odd couple” police partnership. Oyelowo is also a standout because he looks like he’s having fun playing the pretentious and flamboyant Mervyn, who has some of the best lines in the movie.a

“See How They Run” falters with a few murky plot developments that raise questions that aren’t really answered. One of them involves the identity of Stoppard’s ex-wife. However, the movie does effectively lampoon a lot of the stereotypes of murder mystery movies, such as the use of flashbacks and using the most obvious suspects as red herrings. There are also many satirical moments about what showbiz people say and do in pursuit of fame, fortune and power.

Are there much better murder mystery movies in the world? Of course. “See How They Run” isn’t among the cream of the crop. However, for people who are inclined to like this genre and like watching talented cast members who give capable performances, this movie can offer some enjoyable escapism.

Searchlight Pictures will release “See How They Run” in U.S. cinemas on September 16, 2022. The movie was released in the United Kingdom on September 9, 2022.

 

Review: ‘The French Dispatch,’ starring Bill Murray, Tilda Swinton, Owen Wilson, Benicio del Toro, Léa Seydoux, Frances McDormand, Timothée Chalamet and Jeffrey Wright

October 22, 2021

by Carla Hay

Elisabeth Moss, Owen Wilson, Tilda Swinton Fisher Stevens and Griffin Dunne in “The French Dispatch” (Photo courtesy of Searchlight Pictures)

“The French Dispatch”

Directed by Wes Anderson

Some language in French with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in the fictional city of Ennui-sur-Blasé, France, the comedy film “The French Dispatch” features predominantly white cast of characters (with a few black people, Latinos and Asians) representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: After the American editor of The French Dispatch magazine dies, his staffers gather to put together the magazine’s final issues, with four stories coming to life in the movie.

Culture Audience: “The French Dispatch” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of filmmaker Wes Anderson and of arthouse movies that have well-known actors doing quirky comedy.

Lyna Khoudri, Frances McDormand and Timothée Chalamet in “The French Dispatch” (Photo courtesy of Searchlight Pictures)

At times, “The French Dispatch” seems like an overstuffed clown car where filmmaker Wes Anderson tried to fit in as many famous actors as possible in this movie. This star-studded cast elevates the material, which is good but not outstanding. Anderson’s style of filmmaking is an acquired taste that isn’t meant to be for all moviegoers. He fills his movies with retro-looking set designs, vibrant cinematography and snappy dialogue from eccentric characters. “The French Dispatch,” written and directed by Anderson, takes an anthology approach that doesn’t always work well, but the fascinating parts make up for the parts that are downright boring.

The movie revolves around a fictional magazine called The French Dispatch of the Liberty, Kansas Evening Sun (also known as The French Dispatch), which is a widely circulated American magazine based in the fictional city of Ennui-sur-Blasé, France. The French Dispatch was founded in 1925. The movie opens in 1975, when the French Dispatch editor/owner Arthur Howitzer Jr. (played by Bill Murray), an American originally from Kansas, has died in the magazine’s offices. The employees have gathered to work on his obituary and reminisce about him and the magazine’s history.

Arthur appears in flashbacks throughout the movie. In one of the flashbacks, Arthur has told his top-ranking staffers that he has put a clause in his will which requires that The French Dispatch will stop publishing after he dies. The staffers are melancholy and a bit disturbed when they hear about this decision. Arthur is loved and respected by his employees, so they oblige his request. Therefore, they know that the French Dispatch issue that will have Arthur’s obituary will also be the magazine’s final issue.

The French Dispatch is a magazine that is known for its collection of stories. In “The French Dispatch” movie, four of these stories come to life and are told in anthology form, with each story told by someone from the magazine’s staff. Some scenes are in color, and other scenes in black and white. Anderson says in the movie’s production notes that The French Dispatch was inspired by his love for The New Yorker magazine. That’s all you need to know to predict if you think this movie will be delightful or pretentious.

The French Dispatch staffers are mostly Americans. They including copy editor Alumna (played by Elisabeth Moss), cartoonist Hermès Jones (played by Jason Schwartzman), an unnamed story editor (played by Fisher Stevens), an unnamed legal advisor (played by Griffin Dunne), an unnamed proofreader (Anjelica Bette Fellini) and an unnamed writer (played by Wally Wolodarsky). All of these aforementioned staffers don’t have in-depth personalities as much as they have the type of quirky reaction conversations and stagy facial expressions that people have come to expect from characters in a Wes Anderson movie. A running joke in “The French Dispatch” is how obsessive Alumna and proofreader are about things such as comma placement.

The staffers who get more screen time and more insight into their personalities are the four staffers who tell their stories. The first story is told in travelogue form by Herbsaint Sazerac (played by Owen Wilson), whose title is cycling reporter. Herbsaint travels by bicycle to various parts of the city. He has a penchant for going to the seedier neighborhoods to report what’s going on there and the history of how certain locations have changed over the years. During his travels, he visits three other French Dispatch writers who tell their stories. They are J.K.L. Berensen (played by Tilda Swinton), who is the magazine’s flamboyant art critic; Lucinda Krementz (played by Frances McDormand), a secretive essayist who likes to work alone; and Roebuck Wright (played by Jeffrey Wright), a lonely and brilliant writer with a typographic memory.

J.K.L.’s story is “The Concrete Masterpiece,” which is about the how a “criminally insane” painter named Moses Rosenthaler (played by Benicio del Toro as a middle-aged man and by Tony Revolori as a young man) is discovered and exploited while Moses is in prison for murder. One of the paintings that first gets attention for Moses is a nude portrait of a prison guard named Simone (played by Léa Seydoux), who is his muse and his lover. Moses has a makeshift art studio in prison for these intimate painting sessions, which he is able to do because Simone gives him a lot of leeway and protection from being punished.

An unscrupulous art dealer named Julian Cadazio (played by Adrien Brody), along with his equally corrupt and greedy uncles Nick (played by Bob Balaban) and Joe (played by Henry Winkler), find out about Moses’ talent and are eager to make huge profits off of Moses’ work. These art vultures figure that they can take advantage of Moses because he’s in prison. Julian, Nick and Joe get a tizzy over how much money they can make off of Moses, who is a mercurial and unpredictable artist. Imagine these art dealers’ panic when Moses decides he’s going to stop painting until he feels like painting again. There’s also a Kansas art collector named Upshur “Maw” Clampette (played by Lois Smith) who comes into the mix as a potential buyer.

“The Concrete Masterpiece” is the movie’s highlight because it adeptly weaves the absurd with harsh realism. Swinton is a hilarious standout in her scenes, because J.K.L. is quite the raconteur. She delivers her story as a speaking engagement in front of an auditorium filled with unnamed art people. It’s like a pompous lecture and bawdy stand-up comedy routine rolled into one. You almost wish that Anderson would make an entire movie about J.K.L. Berensen.

Lucinda’s story is “Revisions to a Manifesto,” which chronicles a youthful uprising in the French town of Ennui, when young people stage a labor strike that shuts down the entire country. At the center of this youthful rebellion are two lovers named Zeffirelli (played by Timothée Chalamet) and Juliette (played by Lyna Khoudri). Zefferelli (a college student) is the sensitive and romantic one in this relationship, while Juliette has a tendency to be aloof and no-nonsense. Although “Revisions to a Manifesto” has some visually compelling scenes depicting the strikes and protests, the overall tone of this story falls a little flat. Chalamet’s performance is very affected, while McDormand is doing what she usually does when she portrays a repressed character.

Roebuck’s story “The Private Dining Room of the Police Commissioner,” which is a tale of kidnapping and other criminal activities. The story starts off being about a famous chef named Nescaffier (played by Stephen Park), who is hired to serve Ennui-sur-Blasé’s police commissioner (played by Mathieu Amalric), who is just named The Commissaire in the story. But then, the story becomes about The Comissaire’s son/crime-solving protégé Gigi (played by Winsen Ait Hellal), who gets kidnapped by some thugs, led by someone named The Chauffeur (played by Edward Norton). The kidnappers say that Gigi will be murdered unless a recently arrested accountant named Albert (played by Willem Dafoe), nicknamed The Abacus, is set free from jail.

“The Private Dining Room of the Police Commissioner” ends up being too convoluted and somewhat sloppily executed. Liev Schreiber has a small role as a Dick Cavett-type TV talk show host who interviews Roebuck on the show. There’s some whimsical animation in this part of the movie. But ultimately, “The Private Dining Room of the Police Commissioner” is a story about a lot of people running around and making threats with no real sense of danger.

Although it’s admirable that Anderson was able to attract so many famous actors in this movie, after a while it seems like stunt casting that can become distracting. Viewers who watch “The French Dispatch” will wonder which famous person is going to show up next. Some well-known actors who make cameos in “The French Dispatch” include Christoph Waltz, Saoirse Ronan and Rupert Friend. Anjelica Huston is the movie’s voiceover narrator.

“The French Dispatch” can almost become a game of Spot the Celebrities, since there are so many of them in this movie. That being said, there isn’t a bad performance in the bunch. However, the movie would’ve benefited from taking a chance on casting lesser-known but talented actors in some of the prominent speaking roles, in order to make the film a more immersive viewing experience instead of it coming across as an all-star parade.

Despite its flaws, there’s no doubt that “The French Dispatch” is a highly creative film that has Anderson’s unique vision and artistic flair. He has a love of language and a knack for keeping viewers guessing on what will happen next in his movies. And these bold risks in filmmaking are better than not taking any risks at all.

Searchlight Pictures released “The French Dispatch” in U.S. cinemas on October 22, 2021.

Review: ‘Ammonite,’ starring Kate Winslet and Saoirse Ronan

November 15, 2020

by Carla Hay

Kate Winslet and Saoirse Ronan in “Ammonite” (Photo courtesy of Neon)

“Ammonite”

Directed by Francis Lee

Culture Representation: Taking place in primarily in 1840s England, the drama “Ammonite” features an all-white cast of characters representing the working-class and the upper-middle-class.

Culture Clash: Two women—one who’s a working-class fossil hunter and one who’s a pampered socialite—have a secret love affair, even though one of them is married to a man.

Culture Audience: “Ammonite” will appeal primarily to people who like period dramas that place more emphasis on mood and atmosphere than on wordy dialogues and fast-paced action.

Kate Winslet and Saoirse Ronan in “Ammonite” (Photo by Agatha A. Nitecka/RÅN Studio/Neon)

The British film “Ammonite” (written and directed by Francis Lee) is going to get inevitable comparisons to writer/director Céline Sciamma’s 2019 French film “Portrait of a Lady on Fire.” Released just one year apart, both are period European films that are about two women from different classes (one upper-class, the other working-class) in a secret and passionate love affair. “Portrait of a Lady on Fire” takes place in 1790s France, while “Ammonite” takes place in 1840s England.

In each movie’s secret romance, one woman is a never-married bachelorette who is strongly implied to be a lesbian. The other woman is in a very public, committed relationship with a man. (The man in this love triangle is a fiancé in “Portrait of a Lady on Fire” and a husband in “Ammonite.”) The lesbian bachelorette likes to make sketches and drawings of her lover. Both movies have a beach as a backdrop for the secret affair. And both movies were released in the U.S. by independent film company Neon.

“Portrait of a Lady on Fire” is an overall better film if people want to see a sensual European movie about two women from a past century who fall in love with each other. But that doesn’t mean that “Ammonite” isn’t worth watching, because the acting performances in both films have their unique merits. The sumptuous “Portrait of a Lady on Fire” (with its stunning cinematography and brightly lit hues) is the equivalent of a macaron, while the much grayer and blander “Ammonite” is the equivalent of plain English muffin.

The unfussiness of “Ammonite” is a reflection of the story’s no-nonsense but emotionally repressed protagonist: Mary Anning (played by Kate Winslet), a fossil hunter who lives with her ailing mother Molly Anning (played by Gemma Jones) in a modest home on the coastline of Lyme Regis in southern England. (Jones and Winslet also played mother and daughter in the 1995 film “Sense and Sensibility.”) “Ammonite” is a biographical interpretation of the real-life paleontologist Anning.

Mary and Molly’s home also doubles as a shop where Mary can sell these artifacts. Mary’s work is rough (digging in hardened terrain) and dangerous (climbing treacherous cliffs), but her work is the only thing that brings her the closest thing to joy in her life. Her outdoor work also makes her vulnerable to getting weather-related illnesses, since it’s often cold and rainy in Lyme Regis.

Mary was once a promising and well-respected paleontologist, but sexism and other society restrictions prevented her from getting the type of recognition and career that she would have gotten if she were a man. Mary is now middle-aged, bitter, and trying to earn enough money to support herself and her mother, who seems to be showing early signs of dementia. Mary still has some fame with fossil aficionados, but she’s been living in relative obscurity. The title of the movie comes from an ammonite that Mary has found that ends up in the British Museum.

One day, a society gentleman named Roderick Murchison (played by James McArdle) shows up at Mary’s place and explains that he’s visiting from London and he’s been a longtime admirer of her work. Roderick practically begs Mary to give him a private tour of her job that day, and he offers to pay her well for it. Mary says no at first, and then reluctantly agrees because she and her mother need the money.

On this trip, Roderick is accompanied by his wife Charlotte Murchison (played by Saoirse Ronan) for this visit. Charlotte gives the impression that she is quiet and withdrawn. She shows no interest in Mary’s work and stays behind while Mary takes Roderick on the private tour so he can see how she works.

When Roderick and Charlotte are back in their home, it’s shown that their marriage is strained. Roderick resists Charlotte’s advances to have sex, and he tells her: “Now’s not the time to make a baby.” It’s later revealed that Charlotte gave birth to a stillborn child and is very depressed about it. It’s unknown if Charlotte and Roderick were having problems in their marriage before this tragedy, but the death of their child and their inability to communicate with each other about it have caused the couple to be emotionally distant from each other.

Charlotte is so depressed that she finds it hard to get out of bed. Roderick grows impatient with her sadness and decides that while he goes away on another trip, Charlotte should spend time with Mary. Roderick thinks that Mary might be able to cheer up Charlotte and he thinks a change of scenery would do Charlotte some good. He tells Mary that he’ll be away for about four to six weeks.

Mary, who likes her quiet and isolated life, is once again resistant to having her work interrupted so that she can be a diversion for a stranger. But the payment that Roderick offers is too good for Mary to pass up, and she agrees to be Charlotte’s activity companion. However, Mary thinks Charlotte is a spoiled brat. (Mary doesn’t know at the time that Charlotte is depressed over the death of her child.) And once Roderick is gone, Mary is openly hostile to Charlotte.

The first time that Charlotte accompanies Mary to the beach, Charlotte is dressed in clothes that are too fancy and she wears makeup. It’s in stark contrast to Mary, who doesn’t wear makeup and is so unconcerned about appearing feminine and mannered that when she wants to urinate on the beach, Mary just lifts up her skirt and does so in plain view with no attempt to go somewhere discreet. Despite being opposite in many ways, Charlotte and Mary slowly become intrigued with each other.

Charlotte’s “hotel” living quarters in Lyme Regis are way outside of her comfort zone: She essentially lives in a tiny, unadorned shack on the beach. And one day, she gets caught in the wind and rain and comes down with a serious fever. She collapses at Mary’s door, and a doctor is called to attend to Charlotte.

The general practitioner who shows up is Dr. Lieberson (played by Alec Secareanu), a handsome bachelor in his 30s who advises Mary to take care of Charlotte in Mary’s home. Mary resents having to be a medical caretaker on top of everything else she has to do for Charlotte. But as Charlotte is bed-ridden, Mary sees Charlotte’s vulnerability, which starts to awaken feelings in Mary that she might not have known she had. And if Mary did know that she had these feelings before, she kept them buried underneath her gruff exterior.

One of the few other people whom Mary interacts with in this story is an older neighbor named Elizabeth Philpot (played by Fiona Shaw), who gives Mary some medicinal herbs for Charlotte when Mary goes over to Elizabeth’s house to get the herbs. Mary is very abrupt with Elizabeth, and it’s an obvious sign that something happened in their past to cause Mary to be angry and uncomfortable with Elizabeth. Whatever happened, Elizabeth seems to have moved on from it, but Mary hasn’t.

After Charlotte recovers from her fever, Charlotte senses that Mary’s untrusting attitude toward her is softening. Charlotte starts to make it clear to Mary that she might be interested in more than a platonic relationship with Mary. It’s an interesting power dynamic, because although Charlotte is about half the age of Mary and she’s a guest in Mary’s home, Charlotte (through her husband) has more money and a higher social ranking than Mary does. It’s also implied that Charlotte is more sexually experienced and more sexually adventurous than Mary is.

During this slowly simmering love affair between Mary and Charlotte, Dr. Lieberson shows a romantic interest in Mary, but the feeling isn’t mutual. Mary and Charlotte eventually become lovers and hide their affair from everyone else in their lives. When Dr. Lieberson asks Mary on a date to an evening recital, Mary insists that Charlotte accompany them, and he reluctantly agrees.

At the recital (which is a small gathering of about 30 people in someone’s home), Charlotte is immediately accepted and fawned over by the local neighbor ladies, including Elizabeth, and they invite Charlotte to sit in the front row with them. Meanwhile, Mary is seated near the back of the room. And the look on Mary’s face is clear: She’s very jealous of the attention that Charlotte is getting. Mary eventually can’t take it anymore and she leaves the recital early without saying goodbye to anyone.

This recital is somewhat of a turning point in the relationship because Mary sees for the first time how differently she’s treated in society, compared to how Charlotte is treated. As if the taboo nature of having a same-sex affair with a married woman weren’t enough, Mary gets a rude awakening that the class divide between herself and Charlotte is also one that might be too much to overcome.

“Ammonite” has many scenes with little to no dialogue, and the pace of the movie might be too slow for some people. The film puts a lot of emphasis on Mary’s tendencies to be a loner. Even when Charlotte is in the same house, Mary instinctively retreats in her work. There are numerous scenes of Mary by herself, working on her fossils or drawing sketches. Winslet gives a very restrained but still admirable performance in showing Mary’s resistance to and eventual acceptance of her romantic feelings for Charlotte.

Charlotte is the more complicated character, because she starts out one way in the movie and ends up another way. Whereas viewers can easily see that Mary has lived a routine and isolated life for many years, Charlotte’s previous life before her marriage remains a mystery. However, Ronan is able to strike an interesting balance between Charlotte having innocent girlish charm and calculating seduction techniques.

“Ammonite” writer/director Lee says in the movie’s production notes that although there is no historical information about the real-life Mary Anning’s sexual orientation, “it didn’t feel right to give her a relationship with a man” for this movie. It’s implied in the movie that Mary has never had a romance with a man. Because if she had, Mary’s mother Molly and some of their nosy neighbors are the type of people who would’ve mentioned it.

The movie doesn’t try to put a label on Charlotte’s sexuality, which can be left open to interpretation. Ronan gives an impressively nuanced and complex performance that might might result in people watching “Ammonite” having different answers to this question: Are Charlotte and Mary truly compatible and is their relationship meant to last?

Above all, “Ammonite” is about two people who are lonely in different ways and who find love with each other, but are in an unenviable situation of being forced to keep their romance a secret. How they deal with this issue can best be described this way: “Portrait of a Lady on Fire” wants to break your heart. “Ammonite,” which might end too abruptly for some viewers, wants to give you a reality check.

Neon released “Ammonite” in select U.S. cinemas on November 13, 2020. The movie’s VOD release date is December 4, 2020.

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

November 3, 2017

by Carla Hay

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

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

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

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

Here are videos and photos from “Lady Bird”:

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