Review: ‘Ailey,’ starring Alvin Ailey

July 31, 2021

by Carla Hay

Alvin Ailey in “Ailey” (Photo courtesy of Neon)

“Ailey”

Directed by Jamila Wignot

Culture Representation: Taking place primarily in New York City, the biographical documentary “Ailey” features a group of white and African American people (and one Asian person) discussing the life and career of pioneering dance troupe founder/choreographer Alvin Ailey, who became one of the first African Americans to launch a world-renowned dance troupe and dance school.

Culture Clash: Ailey, who died of AIDS in 1989 at the age of 58, struggled with the idea of going public about his HIV diagnosis, and he experienced problems throughout his life, due to racism, homophobia and his issues with mental illness.

Culture Audience: Besides the obvious target audience of Alvin Ailey fans, “Ailey” will appeal primarily to people who interested in the art of fusion dance and stories about entrepreneurial artists who succeeded despite obstacles being put in their way.

Alvin Ailey in “Ailey” (Photo by Jack Mitchell)

The documentary “Ailey” is a very traditionally made biography of a very non-traditional artist. Although the movie can be at times be slow-paced and dry, it’s greatly boosted by having modern dance pioneer Alvin Ailey as a very fascinating subject. Ardent fans of Ailey will get further insight into his inner thoughts, thanks to the documentary’s previously unreleased audio recordings that he made as a personal journal. The movie also does a very good job at putting into context how Ailey’s influence can be seen in many of today’s dancers and choreographers.

Directed by Jamila Wignot, “Ailey” had its world premiere at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival and its New York premiere at the 2021 Tribeca Film Festival. New York City was Ailey’s last hometown, where he found fame as one of the first prominent dancers/choreographers to blend jazz, ballet, theater and Afro-centric culture. His work broke racial barriers in an industry where U.S.-based touring dance troupes were almost exclusively owned and staffed by white people.

Born in the rural town of Rogers, Texas, in 1931, Ailey says in audio recordings that his earliest memories were “being glued to my mother’s hips … while she worked in the fields.” Ailey’s father abandoned the family when Ailey was a baby, so Ailey was raised by his single mother Lula, who was a domestic worker. She supported him in his dream to become a professional dancer.

Ailey’s childhood experiences were shaped by growing up poor in the racially segregated South. In the documentary, he mentions through audio recordings that some of his fondest childhood memories were being at house parties with dancing people and going to the Dew Drop Inn, a famous hotel chain that welcomed people who weren’t allowed in “whites only” hotels and other racially segregated places. Another formative experience in his childhood was being saved from drowning by his good friend Chauncey Green.

By 1942, Ailey and his mother were living in Los Angeles, where she hoped to find better job opportunities in a less racially segregated state. It was in Los Angeles that Ailey first discovered his love of dance and theater, when he became involved in school productions. A life-changing moment happened for him happened at age 15, in 1946, when he saw the Katherine Dunham Dance Company and Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo perform at the Los Angeles Philharmonic Auditorium. It sparked a passion to make dance his career. And that passion never went away, despite all the ups and downs that he encountered.

In the documentary, Ailey has this to say about watching the Katherine Dunham Dance Company for the first time: “I was taken into another realm … And the male dancers were just superb. The jumps, the agility, the sensuality of what they did blew me away … Dance had started to pull at me.”

But his interest in becoming a dancer was considered somewhat dangerous at the time, because ballet dancing was something that boys could be and still are viciously bullied over as something that’s considered “too effeminate.” Carmen de Lavallade, a longtime friend of Ailey’s, comments in the documentary on what she remembers of a young Ailey before he found fame: “He was beautiful! He didn’t dare let anyone know he wanted to be a dancer, because he would be teased or humiliated.”

But at this pivotal moment in Ailey’s life, it just so happened that Lester Horton opened the Lester Horton Dance Theater in Los Angeles in 1946. Don Martin, a longtime dancer and Ailey friend, says in the documentary that their mutual love of dance prompted Ailey to join Horton’s dance school, where Ailey thrived. Horton became an early mentor to Ailey.

The documentary doesn’t go into great detail over Ailey’s experiences as a student at the University of California at Los Angeles or when he briefly lived in San Francisco, where he worked with then-unknown poet Maya Angelou in a nightclub act called Al and Rita. Instead, the “Ailey” documentary skips right to the 1954, when Ailey moved to New York City to pursue being a professional dancer. In 1958, he founded the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater (AAADT), which also has an affiliated school.

George Faison, an AAADT dancer/choreographer from 1966 to 1970, comments: “Alvin entertained thoughts and dreams that a black boy could actually dance” in a prominent dance troupe. Ailey shares his thoughts in his personal audio recordings: “It was a universe I could escape into, so that it would allow me to do anything I wanted to do.”

Ailey’s breakthrough work was 1960’s “Revelations,” which was a then-unprecedented modern ballet about uniquely African American experiences steeped in church traditions. The piece was revolutionary not just because it had a majority-black group of dancers and touched on sensitive racial issues but also because it used blues, jazz and gospel instead of traditional classical music. “Revelations” remains Ailey’s most famous performance work.

Mary Barnett, an AAADT rehearsal director from 1975 to 1979, remembers the impact that “Revelations” had on her: “I was moved to tears seeing ‘Revelations’ … I was studying ballet, I was studying dance. This was more of a re-enactment of life.”

Judith Jamsion—an AAADT dancer from 1964 to 1988 and AAADT artistic director from 1989 to 2011—has this to say about what “Revelations” means to her: “What took me away was the prowess and the technique and the fluidity and the excellence in the dance.” Jamison is often credited with being the person who was perhaps the most instrumental in keeping AAADT alive after Ailey’s death.

A turning point for “Revelations” was when the production went on a U.S.-government sponsored tour of Southeast Asia. It’s one thing to be a privately funded dance troupe. But getting the U.S. government’s seal of approval, especially for a tour that could be viewed as a cultural ambassador for American dance, gave AAADT an extra layer of prestige.

However, “Ailey” does not gloss over the some of the racism that Ailey encountered, including tokenism and cultural appropriation. Bill T. Jones, a choreographer who co-founded the Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company, has this to say about what it’s like to be an African American in an industry that is dominated by white people: “Oftentimes, black creators are used. Everybody used him [Ailey] as, ‘See, this is the progress we’re making. And see, we’re not racist, we have Alvin Ailey.'”

AAADT movement choreographer Rennie Harris (who created 2019’s “Lazarus” for AAADT) comments on Ailey’s mindset in wanting an African American social consciousness to be intrinsic to his work: “You came here to be entertained, but I have to tell my truth.” Harris adds that this way of thinkng influences his own work: “I’m still feeling the same way, as anyone would feel if you’re feeling unwanted by the [dominant] culture.”

Throughout the documentary, Harris and AAADT artistic director Robert Battle can be seen in rehearsals with AAADT dancers to show how Ailey’s legacy currently lives on with other generations of dancers. This back and forth between telling Ailey’s life story and showing present-day AAADT dancers could have been distracting, but it works well for the most part because of the seamless film editing by Annukka Lilja and Cory Jordan Wayne. The documentary has expected archival footage of Ailey interviews and past AAADT performances of Ailey’s work, such as 1969’s “Maskela Language,” 1970’s “The River”; 1971’s “Cry” and “Mary Lou’s Mass”; 1972’s “Love Songs” and 1975’s “Night Creature.”

The “Ailey” documentary includes analysis of some of Ailey’s biggest influences. It’s mentioned that “Cry” was a tribute to hard-working and supportive black women, such as his mother Lula. “Maskela Language” was inspired by the death of Ailey’s early mentor Hampton. Santa Allen, who was an AAADT dancer from 1973 to 1983, comments: “Choreography really was his catharsis.” As for his genre-defying work, Ailey says in archival footage, “I don’t like pinning myself down.”

The documentary has some commentary, but not a lot, on Ailey’s love life. He was openly gay to his close friends, family members and many of colleagues, but he avoided talking about his love life to the media. Ailey was apparently so secretive about his love life that the only serious boyfriend who’s mentioned in the documentary is a man named Abdullah (no last name mentioned), whom Ailey met in Paris and brought to New York City to live with him.

According to what’s said in the documentary, Abdullah left Ailey by climbing out of the apartment’s fire escape. The movie doesn’t mention why they broke up, but Ailey seems to have channeled his heartbreak into his work. Another aspect of Ailey’s personal life that he didn’t easily share with others was his battle with depression and suicidal thoughts. Only people in his inner circle knew about these struggles, according to what some people in the documentary say.

AAADT stage manager Bill Hammond says that by the 1970s, Ailey was a full-blown workaholic. “I think he took on too much,” Hammond comments. Other people interviewed in the “Ailey” documentary include “Lazarus” composer Darrin Ross; Linda Kent, an AAADT dancer from 1968 to 1974; Hope Clark, an AAADT dancer from 1965 to 1966; and Masazumi Chaya, an AAADT dancer from 1972 to 1966 and AAADT associate director from 1991 to 2019.

Ailey’s determination to keep his personal life as private as possible also extended to when he found out that he was HIV-positive. Several people in “Ailey” claimed that even when it was obvious that he was looking very unhealthy, he denied having AIDS to many of his closest friends, out of fear of being shunned. It was not uncommon for many people with AIDS to try to hide that they had the disease, especially back in the 1980s, when it was mistakenly labeled as a “gay disease,” and the U.S. government was slow to respond to this public health crisis.

Because dance requires a certain athleticism, having a physically degenerative disease such as AIDS was not something that Ailey wanted to be part of his legacy. According to Jones, many gay men at the time wanted to edit themselves out of the AIDS narrative. “He was part of the editing,” Jones says of Ailey.

And that shame caused Ailey to isolate himself from many of his loved ones. “He was alone,” adds Jones of Ailey not sharing much of his suffering with several people he knew. (On a side note, Jones is the subject of his own documentary: “Can You Bring It: Bill T. Jones and D-Man in the Waters,” which was released in the U.S. a week before the “Ailey” documentary.)

But toward the end of Ailey’s life, it was impossible for him to continue to hide the truth, even though he refused to go public with having AIDS. One of the most emotionally moving parts of the documentary is when Jamison describes being with Ailey on his death bed at the moment that he died: “He breathed in, and he never breathed out. We [the people he left behind] are his breath out.”

“Ailey” is an example of documentary that’s a touching reminder that how someone lives is more important than how someone dies. The storytelling style of this documentary doesn’t really break any new ground. However, people who have an appreciation for highly creative artists will find “Ailey” a worthy portrait of someone whose life might have been cut short, but he has an influential legacy that will continue for generations.

Neon released “Ailey” in New York City on July 23, 2021, and in Los Angeles on July 30, 2021, with an expansion to more U.S. cinemas on August 6, 2021.

Review: ‘Ballad of a White Cow,’ starring Maryam Moghadam, Alireza Sani Far, Avin Poor Raoufi, Farid Ghobadi, Lili Farhadpour and Pouria Rahimi

July 6, 2021

by Carla Hay

Avin Poor Raoufi and Maryam Moghadam in “Ballad of a White Cow” (Photo courtesy of Totem FIlms)

“Ballad of a White Cow”

Directed by Maryam Moghadam and Behtash Sanaeeha

Persian (Farsi) with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in in Tehran, Iran, the dramatic film “Ballad of a White Cow” features an all-Middle-Eastern cast of characters representing the working-class, middle-class and upper-middle class.

Culture Clash: A widowed mother, whose wrongly imprisoned husband was executed for murder, gets unexpected financial help from a man whom the widow does not know was directly involved in the outcome of her husband’s murder case.

Culture Audience: “Ballad of a White Cow” will appeal primarily to people interested in movies about Iranian culture, injustice in a criminal court system and the toll that big secrets can take on a relationship.

Alireza Sani Far in “Ballad of a White Cow” (Photo courtesy of Totem FIlms)

“Ballad of a White Cow” delivers a quietly devastating portrait of what happens in the aftermath of a wrongly convicted prisoner’s execution and how good intentions can be poisonous if they’re based in deceit. Maryam Moghadam is the star, co-director and co-writer of this impactful drama that takes place in Iran, but its themes are universal and have no national boundaries. It’s far from an upbeat film, but it has glimmers of hope that the people in this tragic story might one day find a way to heal.

Moghadam and Behtash Sanaeeha directed “Ballad of a White Cow,” whose screenplay was written by Moghadam, Sanaeeha and Mehrdad Kouroshniya. The movie had its European premiere at the 2021 Berlin International Film Festival and its North American premiere at the 2021 Tribeca Film Festival in New York City. Viewers of this movie get glimpses into the Iranian criminal justice system and how it shrouds in secrecy from the public the identities of judges who decide the fates of defendants.

“Ballad of a White Cow” opens with a distraught Mina Parsa (played by Moghadam) spending time with her imprisoned husband Eghbali “Babak” Parsa for the last time before he’s executed for murdering a man during a fight. Babak confessed to the murder, but it was a false confession because, unbeknownst to Babak, the victim (whose name was Rashedi) was still alive when Barak ran away, and another man came along and murdered Rashedi. (There are no flashbacks to the crime.) Mina has always believed that Babak was innocent.

After the execution (which is not shown in the movie), Mina is so grief-stricken that she seems somewhat detached from reality. She still goes to her job working on an assembly line at a milk bottling factory, but her demeanor is of someone whose emotions are numb and her mind is elsewhere. She’s still able to take care of her loving 7-year-old daughter Bita (played by Avin Poor Raoufi), who happens to be deaf. But Mina doesn’t have the energy to do things (such as go to the movies) with her daughter that Mina used to have before Babak died.

Babak’s imprisonment and execution has brought such shame on Mina that she can’t bring herself to tell Bita the truth. Instead, Mina lies and tells Bita that Babak is on a trip somewhere far away and she doesn’t know when Babak will come back home. Bita can sense her mother’s sadness and asks her one day, “Why are you frowning?” Mina tells Bita, “I’m just tired.”

Meanwhile, Bita has been struggling in school. She tells her mother that she doesn’t like the people there, and Bita says that her teacher is mean to her. Bita doesn’t want to go back to school and doesn’t want to do any schoolwork. It’s later revealed that Bita’s problems in school mostly have to do with people at the school knowing what happened to her father, but Bita (because she was lied to) insists to everyone that her father is still alive and traveling somewhere.

A year after Babak’s death, Mina is in dire financial straits because Babak had no pension or life insurance, and her factory job doesn’t pay enough to cover all of her expenses. Mina applies for government assistance and is told that she’s entitled to 200,000 tomans a month (which is about $47.50 in 2021 U.S. dollars), including any benefits because Bita is a special-needs child. Mina’s apartment manager (played by Lili Farhadpour) is understanding about Mina being late with the rent, because she feels sympathy for Mina being a widow with a young child to raise on her own.

One person who doesn’t believe that Mina is financially struggling is Babak’s aggressive brother (played by Pouria Rahimi, also known as Pouria Rahimi Sam), who doesn’t have a name in the movie. Babak’s brother visits Mina one day and tells her that Babak’s father believes that Babak secretly left a stash of money for Mina and Bita. Mina vehemently denies it. Babak’s brother has power of attorney over his father, who is in ill health, and so Babak wants this imaginary stash of money to take control of it.

While Mina is grieving over the loss of her husband, something unexpected happens. The real murderer confesses to the crime, and it’s proven that he was the real culprit. A government official meets with Mina and makes a private apology to Mina about Babak’s execution. The government gives Mina a settlement of 270 million tomas (or a little more than $64,000 in 2021 U.S. dollars) for the execution mistake.

But that’s not enough for Mina. After she reacts with shock and horror that her husband was wrongfully executed, she gets angry. She tries to find a way to get the government to make a public apology, but she encounters many roadblocks. She also wants some type of justice for slander, because she believes the government ruined Babak’s reputation.

It’s during this time that Mina gets a surprise visit at home from a stranger, who identifies himself as Reza Esfandiari (played by Alireza Sani Far) and who says that he was a friend of Babak’s. Reza tells Mina that he owed 10 million tomans (or about $2,375 in 2021 U.S. dollars) to Babak. Mina says she doesn’t want the money, but Reza insists on writing her a check for that amount. Reza also tells Mina that if there’s anything else she might need, she shouldn’t hesitate to ask for his help.

Shortly after Reza’s visit, Mina’s apartment manager tells Mina that Mina has been evicted, because the manager saw this male stranger visit Reza in her home. In Muslim culture, it’s taboo for a single woman to have an unrelated man in her home. Mina has a limited amount of time to find a new place for herself and Bita to live before the eviction goes into effect. And it’s very difficult for Mina to find a new place to live because many apartment buildings will not rent to widows or other unmarried women.

Just when it looks like Mina and Bita will become homeless, Reza comes to the rescue. He happens to own an apartment that he isn’t using. And he offers to let Mina and Bita live there rent-free, as long as they keep the apartment in good shape. Why is Reza being so generous to Mina and Bita?

It’s because his real name is Reza Shallal, and he was on the judging panel that decided that Babak would be sentenced to death. It’s a panel of judges whose identities are kept secret from the public, out of concerns that the judges will be retaliated against. Reza feels an enormous amount of guilt over the wrongful execution of Babak, so he wants to make amends. However, Reza is afraid of telling Mina his true identity. Reza’s secret isn’t spoiler information to viewers, because it’s in the movie trailer for “Ballad of a White Cow.”

Reza’s first experience in judging a death-sentence case was Babak’s case. It’s revealed in the movie that Reza had previously worked in the civil courts system and had recently transferred to the criminal courts system when Babak’s case came his way. Reza deeply regrets becoming a criminal court judge, and he wants to quit. “Ballad of a White Cow” has tension-filled scenes of Reza discussing his disillusionment with a colleague (played by Farid Ghobadi), who advises Reza not to resign from his position.

Adding to Reza’s personal turmoil, he has a son in his late teens or early 20s (Reza’s only child) named Maysam, who despises Reza. Maysam has been living with Reza, who is either divorced or widowed. Reza and Maysam’s scenes together have a lot of unspoken backstory, but based on what they say to each other, it seems as if Maysam has a lot of resentment toward Reza because Maysam feels that Reza was a neglectful father. It’s implied that Reza was a workaholic for most of Maysam’s life, and now Reza regrets it, especially when Maysam abruptly tells Reza one day that he’s moving away to join the military.

There’s more tragedy in this story, which will keep viewers guessing on how long Reza can keep his secret from Mina and how long Mina can keep her secret from Bita. Over time, Reza befriends Mina, who thinks it’s a little odd that Reza is going out of her way to help her. She takes his word for it that Reza was a friend of Babak. When she asks Reza questions about Babak to see how how well Reza knew him, Reza is able to give vague answers that sound convincing.

Mina is also a little suspicious of Reza at first because she thinks he might have ulterior sexual motives for being so generous to her. But when she sees that he really wants nothing in return, she relaxes around him and even lets Reza get close to Bita, almost as if he’s a surrogate uncle to Bita. Because Mina trusts Reza to be around her child, it adds an extra layer of burden to Reza’s lies.

“Ballad of a White Cow” never really shakes the feeling of heartbreak, because even though Mina’s problem about her living situation has been resolved, it’s under deceptive circumstances on Reza’s part. Even though Reza seems to be a kind and caring new friend to Reza, at a time when she really needs a friend, he can never reveal his true identity to her or he would lose the friendship. And when Mina is dishonest to Bita about what happened to Babak, it’s another betrayal that might have had good intentions but is ultimately damaging.

All of the acting in “Ballad of a White Cow” is convincing and nuanced, but the movie’s biggest strength is in making viewers think about what they would do if they were Mina or Reza. There’s also a level of suspense over how or if Mina and Reza will be able to continue their deceptions. It might be easy to judge and say they made bad choices, but both Mina and Reza are both emotonally hurting in different ways that could certainly cloud their judgment.

The movie’s writing, acting and direction are solid for this type of movie, which makes good use of its low budget. As for why the movie is called “Ballad of a White Cow,” it has to do with a memorable image in the film of a white cow standing in the middle of a courtyard, as men stand on one side of the courtyard, and women stand on the other. Is this cow about to be milked or will it be slaughtered? The same question could be posed about the complicated friendship of the two lonely people at the center of this melancholy story.

Review: ‘Catch the Fair One,’ starring Kali Reis

June 27, 2021

by Carla Hay

Kali Reis in “Catch the Fair One” (Photo by Ross Giardina)

“Catch the Fair One”

Directed by Josef Kubota Wladyka

Culture Representation: Taking place in an unnamed U.S. state, the dramatic film “Catch the Fair One” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with some Native Americans, African Americans and Asian Americans) representing the middle-class and working-class.

Culture Clash: A former boxing champ goes on a dangerous vendetta to find out what happened to her missing younger sister.

Culture Audience: “Catch the Fair One” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in suspenseful thrillers that explore issues of human trafficking, race and social class.

Kali Reis and Michael Drayer in “Catch the Fair One” (Photo by Ross Giardina)

How far would you go to search for a missing loved one? It’s question that viewers will think about when watching the dramatic film “Catch the Fair One,” which is about a tough boxer who goes on a difficult and often-violent journey to look for her missing younger sister, whom she believes has been kidnapped by human traffickers. Anchored by a memorable performance by Kali Reis, “Catch the Fair One” is more than just a crime vendetta story. It’s also about inequalities in race and social class, told from a Native American perspective that’s rarely shown on screen.

“Catch the Fair One,” written and directed by Josef Kubota Wladyka, had its world premiere at the 2021 Tribeca Film Festival in New York City. And it’s easy to see why the movie won the festival’s Audience Award for Best Narrative Feature. What could have been a very formulaic and predictable story is really a taut thriller that takes a few unexpected twists and turns along the way while letting viewers see the world through the viewpoint of a very unique character.

Some viewers might have a hard time believing that Reis’ Kaylee Uppeshaw character can be capable of doing some of the extreme things that she does in the movie and still keep going. But viewers who might be put off by any seemingly improbable moments have to remember that Kaylee is someone who’s desperate and feels like she’s got nothing left to lose. It goes a long way in explaining many of her reckless actions.

Kaylee, whose nickname is K.O., used to be a boxer until a back injury essentially ended her boxing career. The movie doesn’t mention where in the U.S. that this story takes place, but “Catch the Fair One” was actually filmed in New York state. Kaylee now lives in a women’s shelter and works as a waitress at a small diner. And she’s apparently so financially desperate that she steals food from the diner’s kitchen. The diner’s manager Missy (played by Faye Lone) is aware of this theft, so she discreetly tells Kaylee that if Kaylee ever needs food, she can tell the kitchen workers before her shift, and they will set aside food for her.

Kaylee used to be an International Boxing Association middleweight champ (just like Reis in real life), but was never super-famous. Kaylee did well-enough in boxing that she became a local hero of sorts. (There are flahsback scenes of Kaylee boxing, so viewers can see how talented she is.) While working at the diner one day, a teenage boy approaches Kaylee and asks to take a selfie photo with her. She politely obliges. When the fan asks Kaylee why she doesn’t box anymore, she says it’s because of her bad back.

There’s a lot more than an abbreviated boxing career or her back injury that bothers Kaylee. She’s haunted by the disappearance of her younger teenage half-sister Weeta Uppeshaw, who has been missing since November 23, 2017. (Weeta, who is shown in photos and flashbacks, is played by Mainaku Borrero.) Kaylee attends a support group for loved ones of missing and murdered children, but it doesn’t really ease much of her pain.

Kaylee is biracial: Her mother Jaya (played by Kimberly Guerrero) is Native American, while her father (who is not seen or mentioned in the movie) is of Cape Verdean heritage. Although she is biracial, Kaylee identifies as Native American, and almost everyone in her social circle is Native American, including her closest friend/trainer Brick (played by Shelly Vincent), a very butch-looking lesbian. However, Kaylee has a strained relationship with her mother.

There are several different reasons why mother and daughter could be estranged from each other, but one of the main reasons seems to be that Jaya might blame Kaylee for Weeta’s disappearance. It’s assumed that Weeta has been kidnapped, because she’s described as a good and obedient teenager who wouldn’t run away. The question that haunts Weeta’s family and other loved ones is: Is Weeta dead or alive?

Kaylee also happens to be a lesbian or queer woman, and there are hints that Kaylee’s mother doesn’t approve of Kaylee’s sexual identity. There’s a scene in the movie where Kaylee meets with her mother to reluctantly ask to for some money. Kaylee mentions that she broke up with a girlfriend named Megan two years ago, while her mother doesn’t seem to care to discuss Kaylee’s love life.

And there’s another reason why Kaylee and her mother have tension in their relationship: Kaylee is a recovering opioid addict (heroin was her drug of choice), so when she asks her mother for money, Jaya responds by saying that she won’t give Kaylee any money unless she’s certain that Kayla is really clean and sober. It’s an emotionally charged scene, filled with simmering resentments that partially come to the surface. Kaylee angrily blurts out to her mother to admit that Jaya wishes that Kaylee, not Weeta, should be been the daughter who went missing. Jaya never admits it, but this outburst is an example of how, even before Weeta’s disappearance, Kaylee felt like her mother treated her as inferior to Weeta.

Early on in the movie, a private investigator tells Kaylee that he has reason to believe that Weeta has been kidnapped by sex traffickers. Brick knows some shady characters, and one of them is a blonde prostitute named Lisa (played by Isabelle Chester), who secretly meets with Brick and Kaylee because the word is out that Kaylee is desperate to find Weeta. Lisa says that she recruits prostitutes for a thug named Danny (played by Michael Drayer), who uses the nickname The Bird. Lisa shows Kayla a picture of a teen prostitute who looks like Weeta, and she tells Lisa that this teenager currently works for a pimp named Bobby (played by Daniel Henshall), who is Danny’s boss.

This information sets Kaylee off on quest by herself to find Bobby, because she figures that once she finds Bobby, she might find Weeta or at least information on where Weeta could be. The rest of the movie shows what happens on this treacherous journey, which also involves Bobby’s other family members: his wife Linda (played by Tiffany Chu); their underage son Bobby Jr. (played by Wesley Leung); Bobby’s father Willie (played by Kevin Dunn); and Bobby’s mother Debra (played by Lisa Emery).

Danny and Jeremiah (played by Sam Seward) are among the henchmen who come up against Kaylee, who is a formidable opponent. One of Kaylee’s quirks is that she keeps a razor blade hidden in her mouth, even when she’s sleeping. There’s a lot of brutal violence in the movie, including a home invasion that involves kidnapping, torture and murder. However, no matter what Kaylee does that can be considered heinous, Reis never loses humanity in her portrayal of Kaylee, who feels that she has run out of options. Kaylee might seem to be gritty and stoic, but her vulnerability is never far from the surface.

Kaylee does not have any plan except to find her sister, so she gets caught up in extreme situations that she does not anticipate. Although it’s not said outright in the movie, the context of her desperate search is that Kaylee has taken the law into her own hands because the police don’t care about finding a Native American girl, even a “good girl” like Weeta. If you consider that countless Native American females go missing, but their disappearances are rarely covered by the media, it’s easy to see why Kaylee feels that she’s not going to sit around and hope that law enforcement or the media will help in her search for Kaylee.

The 2017 crime thriller “Wind River” touched on this problem of U.S. law enforcement often sidelining Native American female crime victims, compared to white females who are victims of the same crimes. There’s no political preaching in “Catch the Fair One,” but the overtones about race and social class are there when it’s shown who are the men in charge of this human trafficking ring and why they feel so emboldened. “Catch the Fair One” does not offer any simple solutions to this systemic problem, because simple solutions realistically and tragically often don’t exist.

UPDATE: IFC Films will release “Catch the Fair One” in 2022, on a date to be announced.

Review: ‘The Novice’ (2021), starring Isabelle Fuhrman

June 27, 2021

by Carla Hay

Isabelle Fuhrman in “The Novice” (Photo by Todd Martin)

“The Novice” (2021)

Directed by Lauren Hadaway

Culture Representation: Taking place in an unnamed U.S. city, the dramatic film “The Novice” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with a few African Americans) representing the middle-class and working-class and who are connected in some way to a well-known university.

Culture Clash: A newcomer to a prestigious university’s women’s rowing team pushes herself to her physical, emotional and mental limits.

Culture Audience: “The Novice” will appeal mainly to people who are interested in movies about blind ambition, self-esteem and how women interact in traditionally male-dominated sports.

Isabelle Fuhrman in “The Novice” (Photo by Todd Martin)

“The Novice” takes a harrowing and effective look at the dark side of being an overachiever. Isabelle Fuhrman gives a noteworthy performance as a college student who finds out the hard way that winning isn’t worth it if you lose yourself in the process. At times, “The Novice” (which takes place over the course of one academic year) can be a bit too repetitive in hammering this point into the movie’s plot. But through some striking cinematography and sound design, “The Novice” succeeds in building a very specific world, told from the protagonist’s point of view, where the protagonist’s raw emotions and single-minded ambition can be felt by viewers on a visceral level.

Written and directed by Lauren Hadaway, “The Novice” is Hadaway’s feature-film directorial debut, after several years of experience working in film sound. Her extensive background in sound can be experienced all over “The Novice,” which often uses a technique that depicts how someone often tunes out sound around them because they are focused on something else. “The Novice” had its world premiere at the 2021 Tribeca Film Festival in New York City. The movie won three prizes at the festival: Best U.S. Narrative Feature Film; Best Actress in a U.S. Narrative Feature Film (for Fuhrman); and Best Cinematography in a U.S. Narrative Feature Film (for Todd Martin).

If there’s a lot of “tune out” sound techniques in “The Novice,” that’s because Furhman’s Alex Dall character in “The Novice” does a lot of tuning out in her life, so that she can have a single-minded focus on whatever goal is her current obsession. Alex is in her second or third year of an unnamed East Coast university in the U.S. (the movie was actually filmed in Peterborough, New Hampshire), where she is a physics major. When she joins the university’s Ravens rowing team for women as a novice, it sets her down a self-destructive path where she becomes consumed with the goal to be the best rower on the team, no matter what happens.

Just to give you an idea of what type of person Alex is, at one point in the movie, a physics teaching assistant named Dani (played by Dilone) points out to Alex that physics is Alex’s worst subject in school. However, Alex has chosen physics as her major. Why? Because Alex is the type of person who likes being an underdog and who can prove skeptics and naysayers wrong when they underestimate her.

Alex also believes that the people who deserve the greatest rewards in life are the ones who work the hardest, not necessarily those who are the most naturally gifted, the smartest, or those with the best personalities. It’s why she continues to push herself in her physics classes and won’t switch majors, even though she’s struggling with mediocre grades in physics.

Whereas most university students would choose a major in a subject that they truly enjoy, that’s not Alex’s way of doing things. After a while, observant viewers will notice that Alex doesn’t have a passion for physics. However, she won’t change her major because she’s the type of person who thinks that once she chooses to do something, she has to be the best at it. If she changed her major, she would consider it a “failure” in judgment and “failure” in persistence.

Alex has the same mentality when she joins the novice crew of the university’s women’s rowing team. The novices train with the knowledge that only a select few will be chosen for the university’s varsity rowing team, which is the team that competes in the official rowing matches. It’s mentioned early on in the movie that this unnamed university is an elite institution, where most of the students were top achievers in high school and probably for most of their lives.

Even though Alex has no previous experience in rowing as a sport, she approaches her training with the same “I have to be the best no matter what” attitude. For someone like Alex, she doesn’t just want to win and be the best. She wants to break records.

The trainer of the novices is an easygoing and friendly leader named Coach Pete (played by Jonathan Cherry), while the trainer of the varsity team members is Coach Edwards (played by Kate Drummond), who is more aloof and rigid than Coach Pete. A woman named Erin (played by Charlotte Ubben) is an assistant coach who works directly with Coach Edwards. Erin has a similar no-nonsense attitude as Coach Edwards, but Erin is more approachable to the students on the team than Coach Edwards is.

Alex’s best friend at school is fun-loving Winona (played by Jeni Ross), who seems as content with her life as Alex is restless with her own life. There are a few scenes where Alex and Winona hang out together, but their friendship eventually fades into the background as Alex becomes more obsessed with being the best on the rowing team. Alex does take time to have a social life, but nothing is more important to Alex than being considered a success at whatever she does.

There’s a scene early on in the film where Alex and Winona go to a party, Alex meets a guy there, and they have sex that ends too quickly because of his “performance issues.” Alex cringes and half-jokes about it when she and Winona talk about it the next day. Dating is not a major priority for Alex, and she doesn’t put a label on her sexuality.

Later on in the movie, Alex and Dani, who’ve been having a mild flirtation with each other, become lovers around the same time that Dani has moved on from being Alex’s teaching assistant because Dani got accepted into another graduate program. Dani is very sarcastic with Alex in the beginning of their relationship. But as they grow closer, Dani shows a more sensitive and caring side, and she becomes the closest thing that Alex has to a therapist.

Dani also moonlights as a singer. She and her band perform moody, somewhat experimental pop/rock music. The only reason why this aspect of Dani’s life is shown in the movie is because Dani invited Alex to see her perform at a nightclub. It’s during this date that Dani and Alex acknowledge their sexual attraction to each other, and they sleep together for the first time as as a result of that date.

Alex stands out from the other novices because she’s the one who works the hardest. And so by October, which viewers can assume is just a month or two after Alex joined the team of novice rowers, Alex is selected to be on the varsity team. The varsity team will be doing a regatta in the following week. It’s not a lot of time to prepare, but Alex is up for the challenge.

In every sports team, there’s rivalry among the team members. And for Alex, her biggest team rival is Jamie Brill (played by Amy Forsyth), another novice who was selected to be on the varsity team. Jamie has an athletic scholarship to attend the university, and her participation and achievements in the row crew are a condition of keeping her scholarship. Therefore, the stakes are very high for Jamie on how well she does in these rowing competitions.

Early on in the movie, Jamie confidently accepts Alex’s praise that Jamie is the best novice on the team. Jamie is also so self-assured that she defiantly ignores the attempts of the varsity team members to haze and belittle the novices. For example, during a bus ride, she refuses some varsity team members’ orders that novices have to sit at the back of the bus. When Jamie notices that Alex wants to outshine everyone, their relationship becomes a lot less cordial.

Jamie openly expresses her resentment of the rowing team’s most privileged students, whom she calls “silver spoon bitches,” because they don’t have to worry about how they’re going to pay for the school’s tuition. Because of the way that Alex guns so hard to be the top person on the team, Jamie assumes that Alex is driven by the same motivation that Jamie has: to keep an athletic scholarship. When Jamie finds out how Alex’s tuition is being paid, it leads to an explosive confrontation between Jamie and Alex that’s one of the best scenes in the movie.

“The Novice” shows plenty of ways that Alex pushes herself to be the best on this rowing team. During the first meeting of the novices, she’s the only one to take notes. She continues to take notes throughout her entire training. And she repeats mantras to herself, sometimes out loud. Her obsessiveness eventually alienates her from the other team members, a few of whom openly call Alex a “psycho.”

Her über-competitiveness takes a toll on her physically. Like any intense sports movie, there’s plenty of blood, sweat and tears. And whether queasy viewers like it or not, there’s urine. Alex pushes herself so hard during a training session, that when she collapses out of physical exhaustion, she’s so tired that she can’t get up, and she urinates on herself. In this scene, the camera pans up so that viewers can see Alex sprawled on her back, on a locker room floor, as some her teammates watch uncomfortably when Alex’s urine starts to form in a puddle around her.

The movie makes the point over and over that no one is harder on Alex than Alex herself. She doesn’t have a sadistic or overly demanding coach. She doesn’t have parents who are pressuring her to be number one in everything she does. (Alex’s parents aren’t even seen or mentioned in the movie.) And she doesn’t have a bullying rival (who’s usually the chief villain in a lot of sports movies) on another team or on her own team.

“The Novice” depicts Alex’s single-mindedness in many of the scenes where the loudest sounds are of her heavy breathing, even when she’s surrounded by other people. In the rowing competition scenes, the cinematography and Alex Weston’s musical score often have a frantic and jagged intensity, similar to a horror movie, in order to take viewers inside Alex’s increasingly disturbed mind.

Alex’s training scenes often evoke a sense of grimness and gloom. And yes, there are predictable scenes of Alex screaming at the top of her lungs when she’s by herself, just to make sure that viewers see the anguish that she’s feeling inside of herself. A pivotal scene toward the end of the movie is an example of the deep fear of failing that drives Alex to put her own safety at risk.

The movie also has several scenes of her running to get to certain places on time, as if her schedule is so packed that she barely has time to go where she needs to go. Meanwhile, there are other scenes where people such as Coach Pete or Dani gently and tactfully tell Alex that she shouldn’t be so hard on herself. She ignores any and all advice to “lighten up” and have some fun with her rowing activities. This repetition all makes it very obvious that Alex is headed for some kind of meltdown.

“The Novice” will be best appreciated if viewers know before seeing the movie that it’s more of a psychological drama than a sports drama. Whether or not Alex and her team become champions is not the point. It’s a story about what can happen to someone who thinks failure is not an option because that person wants to shut out the harsh reality that failure is a part of life.

UPDATE: IFC Films will release “The Novice” in select U.S. cinemas, on digital and VOD on December 17, 2021.

Review: ‘Ascension’ (2021), a cinéma vérité documentary of the different layers of consumerism in China

June 24, 2021

by Carla Hay

A livestreamer for Yiwu Siwen Shoe Company in “Ascension” (Photo by Jessica Kingdon)

“Ascension” (2021)

Directed by Jessica Kingdon

Mandarin with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in various parts of China, the cinéma vérité-styled documentary film “Ascension” features an all-Asian group of people at work and at leisure in this examination of how capitalistic consumerism works in Communist China.

Culture Clash: In a culture where the government enforces Communism/socialism and consumers embrace capitalism, the Chinese Dream is presented as an aspirational lifestyle of attaining wealth through hard work, but the dream remains out of reach for most people and is accessible to a small, elite percentage of the population.

Culture Audience: “Ascension” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in minimalist, “slice of life” documentaries about contemporary China, with no interviews, narration and analysis.

A worker at a WM Doll factory in Zhongshan, China, in “Ascension” (Photo by Jessica Kingdon)

How does a system of capitalistic consumerism work in China, a country controlled by a Communist government? The cinéma vérité-styled “Ascension” shows different layers of this system and lets viewers make up their own minds about it. It’s a documentary that’s more than just a compilation of “slice of life” footage, because the movie is presented as a mosaic of a culture.

People in the movie are rarely identified by name and absolutely no one is interviewed for the film. Therefore, don’t expect any deep analysis or commentary about what’s in the movie. However, just like a mosaic, it’s up to viewers to look at all the different segments that are presented and see what the big picture is.

“Ascension” had its world premiere at the 2021 Tribeca Film Festival in New York City. It won the Tribeca Film Festival jury prizes for Best Documentary Feature, while “Ascension” director Jessica Kingdon received the festival’s 2021 Albert Maysles Award for Best New Documentary Director. It’s a documentary whose storytelling style is not going to be everyone’s liking, especially for people who prefer documentaries to tell as much as show. showing. “Ascension” take a more subtle “show” approach and doesn’t try to make anyone a star of the movie with manipulative editing.

In order to fully appreciate “Ascension” (directed by Jessica Kingdon), it helps to have this synopsis from the movie’s production notes: “‘Ascension’ is an impressionistic portrait of China’s industrial supply chain that reveals the country’s growing class divide through staggering observations of labor, consumerism and wealth. The documentary portrays capitalism in China across the levels of its operation, from the crudest mine to the most rarefied forms of leisure.

“Accordingly, the film is structured in three parts, ascending through the levels of the capitalist structure: workers running factory production, the middle class training for and selling to aspirational consumers, and the elites reveling in a new level of hedonistic enjoyment. In traveling up the rungs of China’s social ladder, we see how each level supports and makes possible the next while recognizing the contemporary Chinese Dream remains an elusive fantasy for most.”

Once viewers know that “Ascension” has a specific structure, it gives a better context to watching the documentary. Otherwise, for people not really paying attention, the movie might just come across as a bunch of random footage of contemporary life in China. The movie filmed in 51 locations across China, according to the “Ascension” production notes.

Kingdon and Nathan Truesdell provided the movie’s often-stunning cinematography. (The visually majestic outdoor scenes are the documentary’s cinematography highlights.) And the music by Dan Deacon is very atmospheric—sometimes dreamlike, sometimes jarring, sometimes haunting.

“Ascension” begins with a prologue quote from a poem titled “Ascension,” written in 1912 by Kingdon’s great-grandfather Zheng Ze: “I ascend and look far into my heart, only to find everywhere already razed.” It’s perhaps the only clue in the movie about what Kingdon feels is being presented in this documentary’s view of contemporary China: The constant hope of the Chinese Dream (the aspiration to reach the heights of luxury through hard work) is often crushed under the weight of dead-end jobs.

The “factory worker” level of “Ascension” begins with a montage of company recruiters trying to entice people on commercial streets to work at low-paying factory jobs. They use microphones so that their voices can be heard above the noises of the crowds. The places looking for employees can be anything from well-known corporate companies to small businesses.

In this documentary, a phone manufacturing company and a pen factory were among those with recruiters on the streets. A big selling point used by many recruiters is telling potential employees that people can sit while doing the job, since many other blue-collar jobs involve standing for long hours. The salaries mentioned are, on average, 16 yuan (or about $2) per hour.

Also on these streets are large electronic signs with a variety of slogans that read, “Sense of Worth,” “Chinese Dream” and Work Hard. And All Wishes Come True.” But do these wishes really come true? It depends on what those wishes are and who has those wishes.

“Ascension” then gives viewers glimpse in to the types of factory jobs that are the backbone of China’s economy. It’s why so many people around the world have at least one item with the label “Made in China.” The factory locations filmed in this segment of the documentary include a garment factory in Shenzhen; WM Doll (a sex doll company) in Zhongshan; a factory that processes cooked chicken; and a factory that makes pill bottles.

At the WM Doll factory, two female workers focus on how to repair the shoulder of a mannequin. At the garment factory, workers make pants and go through a quality assessment process. Workers at another factory are seen having a cafeteria-styled lunch.

The “middle-class” level of the documentary is the one where people have the liveliest personalities. Rather than having jobs where they’re expected to be “worker bees” and “drones,” there’s a lot more emphasis on being successful entrepreneurs. It’s at this level that the Chinese Dream seems more attainable, and that optimistic hope is more evident in the workforce.

One of the more memorable highlights of this middle-class segment is footage from Star Boss Entrepreneurial Camp, a two-day workshop where the motto is “Monetize Your Personal Brand.” The female leader of the workshop is energetic and enthusiastic in her pep talks and advice on personal sales: “Buying is a choice, one we don’t have to make,” she says. “Why should people buy from you? Because you’re a brand.”

She further notes that people will buy from those whom they like and trust. “We’re in a fan economy era. If you have a large fan base, you have everything.” At the conclusion of Star Boss Entrepreneurial Camp, participants have a “graduation” ceremony, where they get framed completion certificates, go in front of the room, and say their company name and profit goals. The goals are predictably high, with people saying that they want to make millions within the next five years.

“Ascension” also shows how China is part of the boom of entrepreneurs who want to get rich through social media. Just as it is in Western countries, “influencer culture” is huge in China. A woman is shown livestreaming a product demonstration for Yiwu Siwen Shoe Company, so that she can sell athletic shoes. Another woman, who’s a beauty influencer, takes selfies and does a makeup tutorial.

At a flight attendant training program (where all of the participants are women, except for one man), the emphasis is on etiquette and physical attractiveness. Someone who’s not shown on camera says in a micophone to the class: “There’s a saying that every Chinese woman is a pretty Chinese business card. So every Chinese woman, let’s present the prettiest image of China!” When the class completes the training, the graduates pose for a group photo.

The documentary also shows training sessions for jobs that usually attract men. There’s footage of International Butler Academy in Chengdu, where potential butlers are shown how to do proper housekeeping duties, such as bedsheet preparation. Waiters are also shown training at Windows of the World, an upscale restaruant in Shenzhen.

At Genghis Security Academy in Bejing, training looks very similar to a police academy, since the trainees are armed with guns. In a military-styled line of standing trainees, one man makes a mistake, and the instructor shouts at him and kicks him. As further punishment, this trainee is ordered to do push-ups in front of the other trainees.

A documentary about consumerism wouldn’t be complete without footage of people spending money. “Ascension” includes scenes from New South China Mall in Dongguan and New Century Global Center in Chengdu. People are shown gathered at a water park in New Century Global Center. There’s also footage of a computer video game arcade, populated almost entirely by males in their teens and 20s.

The “elite” segment toward the end of the documentary is also the shortest segment. There’s footage of a dinner at Windows of the World, with three men and two women, who are in the late 20s or early 30s. They are all presumably wealthy. One of the women says, “I like the U.S. … because of the freedom.” One of the men says in response, “Personally speaking, I’m a patriot [of China] … China is a global player now.”

This confidence in China’s economy is also expressed at JALA’s annual conference in 2020. (JALA Group is a leading cosmetics enterprise in China.) “Ascension’s” footage of this conference includes a speaker who tells the large audience of hundreds who are gathered for the speech: “Chinese brands must win!”

As much as “Ascension” shows about the Chinese economy and workforce, the documentary can get viewers to think about what’s missing from the movie that would be in a documentary about the American economy and work force. An American documentary would have complaints of employee burnout or exploitation; the minimum wage as it relates to being a “living wage”; employee contracts; taxes and tarriffs; labor laws, etc. The point is that the American Dream and the Chinese Dream might have many things in common, but the freedom to speak out against flaws in the system is another story.

UPDATE: MTV Documentary Films will release “Ascension” in select U.S. cinemas on October 8, 2021.

Review: ‘As of Yet,’ starring Taylor Garron

June 23, 2021

by Carla Hay

Taylor Garron in “As of Yet” (Photo by Jamal Solomon)

“As of Yet”

Directed by Taylor Garron and Chanel James

Culture Representation: Taking place over two days in June 2020, mainly in New York City, as as well as in Florida, Los Angeles, and the United Kingdom, the comedy/drama film “As of Yet” (or “as of yet,” as the movie’s title is sometimes styled) features a predominantly African American cast of characters (with two white people and one Asian), representing the middle-class.

Culture Clash: During her COVID-19 pandemic quarantine, a woman in her 20s has dilemmas about two people in her life: her overly possessive roommate (who’s been her best friend since college) and a potential new love interest, who would be the first in-person date she’s had since the quarantine began.

Culture Audience: “As of Yet” will appeal mainly to people who are interested in watching a realistic and minimalist quarantine comedy/drama that explores issues related to dating, friendships and family.

There have been several scripted movies that take place during the COVID-19 pandemic that have attempted to depict authentic quarantine experiences. The comedy/drama “As of Yet” is one of the few that gets it right. It’s a witty, warm and relatable film that doesn’t try to scare people into thinking that someone is going to die at any moment in the movie. Instead, the only fear that’s portrayed in the movie is the fear of letting go of a co-dependent but toxic best friend, as well as how dating a potential new love interest might affect the friendship. It’s a movie that’s filled with various conversations held over Zoom and FaceTime, but the story will connect on a deeper level with audiences who understand that’s it’s really about reflecting on life priorities.

Taylor Garron is the star, writer, co-director and one of the producers of “As of Yet,” which is the feature-film directorial debut of Garron, who co-directed with Chanel James. “As of Yet” is an impressive directorial debut, even if it didn’t have a COVID-19 pandemic setting. Garron’s writing is emotionally intelligent and appealing to anyone who wants to see people in scripted movies act and talk like how college-educated people in the real world talk. The fact that most of the cast members are black is a bonus for the film. “As of Yet” had its world premiere at the 2021 Tribeca Film Festival in New York City. Garron and James won the 2021 Tribeca Film Festival’s Nora Ephron Award, a prize given to emerging female filmmakers.

“As of Yet” admirably and skillfully shows a very real and vibrant part of black culture that rarely gets showcased in movies and doesn’t fall into the same, over-used negative sterotypes that movies have of black people. Nowhere in this movie is anyone portrayed as a criminal, poor or a struggling single parent. Portraying black people as second-class citizens is too often the narrative for a movie where the central character is black and living in a big city, even though most black people in America are not criminals, poor or struggling single parents. A movie starring a black woman usually centers the story on either pain or anger, but Garron refuses to go down that road that often leads to exploitation.

Instead, Garron’s Naomi Parson character (the movie’s protagonist, who’s in her mid-20s), is a relatively happy person who’s got a pretty great life, all things considered. She’s an actress who has loving and supportive family members and friends. She’s healthy. She’s college-educated. And she lives in a comfortable apartment in a quiet, tree-lined street in New York City’s Brooklyn borough. She’s staying safe in the middle of a deadly pandemic, but don’t expect this movie to kill her off or for her to get bad medical news—two other over-used negative tropes for black people with prominent roles in movies.

“As of Yet,” which takes place over two days and two nights, begins on Day 83 of Naomi’s quarantine. There are two types of videos in the movie: Naomi’s private video diaries and the video conversations that she has on Zoom and FaceTime. Naomi is an actress on an unnamed TV series that is currently on hiatus due to the pandemic. She’s been receiving unemployment benefits in the meantime. And she’s proud to have a reached a milestone in her finances: She now has about $10,000 in personal savings.

The movie doesn’t mention what college Naomi went to, but it’s mentioned that it was a four-year university in Amherst, Massachusetts. It’s where she met her white best friend/roommate Sara (played by Eva Victor), who is currently and temporarily staying with Sara’s parents in Florida. The movie never mentions what Sara does for a living, but she’s very spoiled, and she talks in that snotty tone of voice that sounds like she watches too much of “Keeping Up With the Kardashians” and “The Real Housewives.” In fact, after watching Sara and her manipulations in this movie, Sara seems like someone who would fit right in on a reality show about self-centered, catty women.

The first 10 minutes of “As of Yet” could be a little bit of turnoff to viewers who might think this is a movie that looks like any of the millions of social media video conversations made by young people who babble on about potential love interests or what their party plans are. But the movie gets much better as it goes along. It becomes a riveting character study of a woman finding her way through her post-college identity.

The COVID-19 pandemic is a big conversation topic in “As of Yet,” but it’s not the movie’s only focus. Many of the issues brought forth are issues that were going on in Naomi’s life before the pandemic. The pandemic is often used as a reason for certain people’s words and actions. But the pandemic can also force people to evaluate certain things in their lives.

Naomi faces that type of personal reckoning when it to comes to her friendship with Sara. The main dilemma that Naomi has is deciding if her friendship with Sara is worth keeping. It’s a very co-dependent, lopsided relationship where Naomi does a lot of the giving, and Sara does a lot of the taking.

As Naomi says in her video diary near the beginning of the movie: “I really miss Sara.” Sara’s quarantine with her parents is the longest that Naomi and Sara have been apart. This period of time apart has given Naomi some room to relax and some room to worry about what her life would be like without her best friend.

During a video chat, where Sara drones on mostly about herself, she comes up with the idea of hosting a “welcome back” dinner party for herself and Naomi when Sara comes back to New York. Sara describes the party as a way to “celebrate our friendship, but it’s also about me a little bit.” Sara mentions that she can steal some of her mother’s inferior wine and bring it to the party. She also laughs when she pictures her mother finding the wine missing and how it will be fun to think about how annoyed her mother would be if her mother knew what happened to the wine.

One of the ways that the movie shows how different (and incompatible) Sara and Naomi are is when they talk about the Black Lives Matter protests over the deaths of George Floyd and other black people who were victims of police brutality. Naomi has been participating in these protests on the streets of New York City. She mentions that she always wears masks when she’s out in public.

Sara has a slightly disgusted and annoyed expression on her face when the Black Lives Matter protests are brought up in the conversation. She asks Naomi if it’s scary to be part of the protests. Naomi says it’s not scary. But later, in another conversation with two of her black female friends who are protesters in Los Angeles, they candidly discuss witnessing police brutality at the protests.

Naomi and Sara talk about the difference between peaceful protesting and rioting. Sara is inclined to think that rioters are part of the protest movement, while Naomi says that most rioters are not part of Black Lives Matter and other activist movements. Naomi does concede that when it comes to activism, she thinks, “You have to be a little violent to get things done.” The awkward silence and expression on Sara’s face say a lot after Naomi makes that comment.

During Naomi and Sara’s conversation, they also talk about a man in hs 20s named Reed, whom Naomi has been talking to online for the past four months. Because of the quarantine, Naomi and Reed haven’t been able to meet in person for a date yet, but they hope to do so in the near future. It would be Naomi’s first in-person date since the pandemic lockdown began. Instead of being happy for Naomi and telling her to be safe, Sara acts as if Naomi is going to put Sara’s life in serious jeopardy by being in contact with someone who doesn’t live in their household.

Sara puts up such a fuss about it that it unnerves Naomi. The rest of the movie shows Naomi debating with herself and other people if she should meet Reed for a date in person and if she should tell Sara about it. It’s not a problem that’s as superficial as it sounds. Viewers will see that how Naomi handles this date dilemma is a manifestation of how she’s been handling a lot of the control issues going in her friendship with Sara and how Naomi feels about herself.

“As of Yet” has a very small number of people in its cast, which will make this movie very easy to follow. Besides Sara, the other people Naomi talk to about Sara and Reed are:

  • Reed (played by Amir Khan), a geeky, long-haired “nice guy” who works in some kind of computer tech job. Since the quarantine, he’s been working from home and rewatching “Survivor” reruns.
  • Sadie (played by Paula Akpan), Naomi’s British cousin who’s openly queer, very outspoken and someone who definitely doesn’t approve of Sara.
  • Naomi’s parents, who are unnamed in the movie but are played by Taylor Garron’s real-life parents Colleen Pina Garron and Christopher Garron. Naomi talks to her mother longer in their conversation (her dad briefly pops into the conversation), and Sara’s close and loving relationship with her parents is very evident.
  • Lyssa (played by Quinta Brunson) and Khadijah (played by Ayo Edebiri), two of Naomi’s friends in Los Angeles. They both don’t like Sara because they think she makes Naomi feel insecure and anxious. Khadijah is more blunt and forthcoming than Lyssa in giving advice to Naomi on what to do about Sara.
  • An unnamed neighbor (played by Anthony Allman), who Naomi talks to randomly when he pokes her head out of her apartment window and sees him walking down the street.

During these conversations, viewers find out more things about Naomi. Her family has origins in Cape Verde. Her parents are passionate about social causes, and Naomi got her interest in being a civil rights activist from her parents. She’s a very loyal, funny and caring person. Her willingness to put the needs of others before her own needs is a virtue, but it can also be a fault because people like Sara have taken advantage of it. Naomi hints at past romances and heartbreaks because she made the mistake of trusting the wrong people.

Naomi loves to talk and has a very quick-witted, self-deprecating sense of humor. Reed is quieter and more laid-back. Reed and Naomi both like watching TV and they appreciate each other’s off-beat geekiness over TV shows. Naomi has an interesting quirk of having only watched one movie in her life: the 1995 comedy “Heavyweights,” starring Ben Stiller and Kenan Thompson, about a group of overweight teens sent to a weight-loss camp that’s run by a psycho fitness instructor.

Naomi and Reed’s conversations in the movie show that they have a comfortable rapport with each other, and they can make each other laugh. However, viewers will wonder how well Naomi really knows Reed. Have they had meaningful conversations that go deeper than joking around and talking about what TV shows they like to watch? Are they compatible, in terms of lifestyles and life goals? This movie offers no real answers to those questions, because it’s just a glimpse into Naomi’s life over a two-day period.

One of the most outstanding things about “As of Yet” is how all the conversations look authentic, almost like a documentary. It’s one thing for the screenplay to be well-written (and it is), but the cast members should also get credit for delivering the lines in a very naturalistic and convincing way. There isn’t one moment in this movie that looks overly staged and overly rehearsed.

And there are many details that add to the authenticity. Naomi isn’t afraid to be shown from some unflattering camera angles. At one point in the movie, her armpit hair is showing (but not during her conversations with Reed), and her mother reminds Naomi to shave her armpits before she meets Reed in person.

The movie also doesn’t shy away from the topic of race. When Naomi tells her family members and black friends about Reed, one of the first questions they ask is if Reed is black. Naomi talks about the Black Lives Matter protests in a different and more unguarded way with her black friends than she does with Sara. Naomi’s mother also tells her a great anecdote about her childhood experiences with the Black Panthers.

The movie’s one detail about race that might raise questions with viewers is why Naomi hasn’t asked Reed yet what race he is. (He’s American and his family’s ethnicity appears to be South Asian or possibly from the Middle East.) If you’ve been chatting with someone for several months and plan to go on a date with each other, it’s not unreasonable to ask that person what their racial/ethnic heritage is, as part of the “getting to know you” process.

Naomi says she hasn’t asked Reed because she thinks it would be rude to ask. But it kind of contradicts how Naomi keeps bragging to her loved ones about how she knows Reed well enough that she thinks he’s a good guy who would be safe to date. The fact that she’s afraid to ask Reed what race he is will make people wonder what other basic and reasonable questions Naomi hasn’t asked him.

It’s another layer to the story in “As of Yet,” which shows how in the early months of the pandemic, single people were trying to adjust to how dating was affected by the pandemic quarantine. Naomi has to grapple with these questions: What’s the proper etiquette of a first date, when it comes to mask wearing and social distancing? Is it really a good idea to date somene new during a lockdown quarantine?

How do you know who’s really safe and not infected, when COVID-19 test results are only valid for a very limited time? (And keep in mind, this movie takes place before any COVID-19 vaccines were available.) It’s a question that Naomi can’t really answer about Reed, but she makes several comments in her conversations that she’s sure that Reed is “safe,” just because he told her so.

Actually, she doesn’t know for sure if Reed has COVID-19 or not. Taking people’s word for it without proof is one of the main reasons why a lot of people got infected with COVID-19. And lot of people who infected others didn’t know they had COVID-19 because they didn’t show any symptoms at the time.

Naomi’s blind trust in Reed’s COVID-19 status is an example of her trusting nature, just like Sara’s over-reaction to Naomi possibly dating someone new during the quarantine is an example of her jealous and controlling nature. Viewers will find out how much of a loathsome hypocrite Sara is when it comes to COVID-19 safety. (It’s slight spoiler information that won’t be revealed in this review.)

Because “As of Yet” is a movie that takes place mostly on computer screens in people’s middle-class homes, there’s no flashy cinematography, elaborate set designs or fancy costumes. The movie, which is more suspenseful than people might think it would be, excels mainly because of the screenwriting and how well the cast members bring their characters to life. The movie might not satisfy people who want a predictable conclusion, but “As of Yet” will keep viewers entertained with some lively conversations along the way.

Review: ‘Mark, Mary & Some Other People,’ starring Hayley Law and Ben Rosenfield

June 22, 2021

by Carla Hay

Hayley Law and Ben Rosenfield in “Mark, Mary & Some Other People” (Photo by Casey Stolberg)

“Mark, Mary & Some Other People”

Directed by Hannah Marks

Culture Representation: Taking place mainly in the Los Angeles area, the sex comedy “Mark, Mary & Some Other People” features a predominantly white cast (with a few African Americans, Latinos and Asians) representing the middle-class.

Culture Clash: A newlywed interracial couple decide to have an open marriage and have to deal with the jealousy and complications that ensue.

Culture Audience: “Mark, Mary & Some Other People” will appeal mainly to people who like watching self-conscious hipster comedies with characters who are foul-mouthed, shallow, and have an annoying tendency to act as if their lifestyles are better than anyone else’s.

Ben Rosenfield and Hayley Law in “Mark, Mary & Some Other People” (Photo by Casey Stolberg)

“Mark, Mary & Some Other People” is an occasionally funny but very flawed swinger sex comedy made by and for people who want a movie where interracial spouses don’t talk about race, and Hispanics in Los Angeles are underrepresented and don’t speak. The movie is a clumsy mismatch of being very woke and very tone-deaf. The cast members who portray the swinger married couple in the film’s title are talented in their performances, and the movie does have some genuine charm here and there. (The final scene is a highlight.) But ultimately, it’s a movie that comes across as a little too smug for its own good. When it comes right down to it, this is a story about immature people who are so obsessed with appearing to be “open-minded” that they don’t see how self-absorbed they really are.

The word “woke” is often used as an insulting way for conservatives to describe people they think are too politically correct. But in “Mark, Mary & Some Other People” (which is set mainly in the Los Angeles area and takes place over a two-year period), even the “woke” characters call themselves “woke,” and they love to announce how politically progressive they are, every chance they get. But it’s the type of “wokeness” where people, who identify as progressive liberals and live in a racially diverse city, can’t be bothered to have any close friends who are black or Hispanic. To fill their “diverse friendship” quota, they might have one or two Asians in their social circle. That’s exactly what’s going on in “Mark, Mary & Some Other People,” which was written and directed by Hannah Marks. The movie had its world premiere at the 2021 Tribeca Film Festival in New York City.

In this movie, no one is guiltier of this self-congratulatory virtue signaling than Mary Lewis (played by Hayley Law), a motormouth in her mid-20s, who has to spew something politically correct every five minutes to prove how “enlightened” she is. She’s more about platitude posturing than being a well-rounded person. Mary also happens to be African American/bi-racial. One of her parents is white, and one is black, although the movie never reveals which parent is which race. Mary’s mother is dead, and her father is not mentioned at all.

Mary plays bass guitar in an all-female rock trio that keeps changing its name to things that Mary thinks will make the band sound like edgy feminists. It’s a running joke in the movie. One of the band’s names is Butter Cunt, which tells you right there what this movie thinks is funny. Because the band has no talent and can’t get any paying gigs, Mary works at various part-time menial jobs during the course of the movie. She does some speaking-voice work for places that need recordings for outgoing phone messages and PA system announcements. She also works as a housecleaner and a food server.

Mary’s husband is Mark Kenneth Sampson (played by Ben Rosenfield), also in his mid-20s, who is a “beta male” man-child that has become the stereotypical male lead character in mumblecore movies where everyone tries to outdo each other in looking like trendy, progressive hipsters. Mark is the type of person who identifies as a male feminist, which is basically a mumblecore movie way of depicting a man who is whiny, insecure, and so afraid of appearing sexist that he lets his domineering female partner treat him like crap. Mark works with his father in a vague “plastics manufacturing” job, but Mark’s father is never shown in the movie. Mark is never actually shown working at his “plastics manufacturing” job, but he is shown doing his other job as a dog walker. The movie doesn’t give any mention of Mark’s mother.

Mark is white, but the movie unrealistically shuts out any conversations that interracial couples would have about being in an interracial relationship. It’s one of the many flaws about “Mark, Mary & Some Other People,” which goes out of its way to be frank and detailed (often to the point of monotonous vulgarity) about many other aspects of sexual attraction, dating and marriage, except for race. It’s almost as if writer/director Marks and the other filmmakers thought that having an interracial couple as the main characters would be enough to fulfill their racial diversity checklist, and they want to pretend that racism and discussions about race simply don’t exist in a world that they decided to center on an interracial couple.

Mary will lecture people all day long about sexuality and gender politics, but her refusal to talk about race actually makes her look very phony and willfully ignorant. What kind of progressive liberal who’s supposed to care about social justice doesn’t want to talk about race? A hypocrite like Mary, who wants to live in a delusional bubble where she floats through life and doesn’t want to deal with a messy topic such as racism, even though she’s someone who has inevitably experienced racism. It should come as no surprise that Mary doesn’t have any black friends. (Sex partners who are treated like disposable sex toys don’t count as real friends.)

Women of color who are written this way in movies and TV shows are usually written by people who have no idea what it’s like to be a woman of color. And so, in this movie where one of the two main characters is black, “black culture” is avoided, ignored or sidelined. That’s probably why “Mark, Mary & Some Other People” is the type of movie where the only African American people who have speaking roles in the movie (two women) are light-skinned, bi-racial people. There are less than a handful of Hispanic/Latino and dark-complexioned African Americans who get listed actor credits in the movie, and they’re really just extras: They don’t speak, they’re nameless characters in the movie’s many hookup scenes, and they’re on screen for less than 30 seconds each.

And it’s why this movie that tries so hard to look progressive and “woke”—as these swingers accumulate sexual conquests throughout Los Angeles County—is shamefully out-of-touch and backwards when it comes to representing what the population of Los Angeles County actually looks like. This movie is set in Los Angeles County, where 48.6% of the population identify as Hispanic/Latino, according the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2010 statistics. That number is expected to be higher when the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2020 statistics are announced.

But the filmmakers of “Mark, Mary & Some Other People”—who probably want the world to think they’re open-minded and progressive, based on how the movie’s characters talk—couldn’t be bothered to give any Hispanic/Latino actors any speaking lines in this movie that takes place in a county where nearly half the population is Hispanic/Latino. When people say that Hispanics/Latinos are underrepresented in American-made movies, “Mark, Mary & Some Other People” is an example of this problem. Filmmakers who act like they’re progressive liberals need to do better in practicing what they preach.

It isn’t nitpicking to bring up the races/ethnicities of this movie’s cast members, because this entire movie is relentlessly “in your face” about the characters (especially the main characters) being progressive liberals. Therefore, it would be foolish and (quite frankly) irresponsible not to point out this movie’s hypocrisy, flaws and blind spots when it comes to the very same issues. People who live in certain “bubbles” probably won’t notice these flaws, because they’ll be too enamored with the self-approving hipster dialogue and titillation of seeing a swinger lifestyle depicted in a movie.

But “Mark, Mary & Some Other People” has a lot of flaws, such as showing how obvious it is that Mark and Mary are very mismatched from the start. For a movie like this to succeed in resonating with adults (this movie’s intended audience), audiences should be rooting for the couple to be happy and supportive of each other—not spending most of the movie cringing and hoping that the couple will break up, so the couple won’t keep wallowing in the misery of jealousy, power struggles and incompatibility that are all over this relationship.

Every movie about a couple with an “open relationship” ends up being about how they handle jealousy over other sex partners. The trick is in keeping people guessing on whether or not the couple will stay together. Unfortunately, “Mark, Mary & Some Other People” telegraphs very early on how immature and messy Mark and Mary are in relationships, because Mark and Mary don’t even seem to like themselves very much. People with enough life experience will notice this low self-esteem right away, while people with less life experience might have more of a fairy-tale perspective of love and sex.

“Mark, Mary & Some Other People” doesn’t waste time with Mark and Mary’s “meet cute” moment because it’s the very first scene in the movie. Actually, it’s more like a “re-meet cute” moment, because it’s not the first time that they’ve met, although only one of them immediately remembers where they previously met. Mark and Mary, who both live in the city of Los Angeles, see each other at a convenience store. Mark shows an instant interest in her, while it takes Mary a little longer to show she’s attracted to him.

Mark and Mary met before when they attended the same college (which is unnamed in the movie), but Mary doesn’t remember Mark at first because he was a lot heavier in college than he is now. The movie doesn’t have flashbacks. Anything that happened before this story takes place is described in conversations.

At the convenience store, Mark notices that Mary is buying a pregnancy test, but she hastily tells him that the pregnancy test isn’t for her. (It’s an obvious lie.) After Mark checks out Mary’s rear end, he immediately asks her to go to a smoothie place with him on a date.

She says yes, and during their conversation at the smoothie place, Mary admits that the pregnancy test is for her. Mark expresses disappointment that Mary might already be in a committed relationship, but she assures him that she’s very single and available. She also tells him up front that she’s sexually interested in men and women, because she mentions a woman whom she describes as a former lover of hers.

“Mark, Mary & Some Other People” then takes an “only in a movie” turn when Mark tells Mary that it just so happens that he’s working with his father on an invention where pregnancy test results can come from saliva, not urine. It’s a very far-fetched part of the movie that will have viewers rolling their eyes in disbelief if they know anything about human biology. The movie wants us to believe that human salivary glands are somehow connected to the urethra, but it’s just an example of how dumb the filmmakers expect this movie’s audience to be.

Unfortunately, this salivary pregnancy test isn’t a random joke. It’s depicted as very real in this movie, and it becomes a big part of one of the movie’s pivotal scenes. A salivary pregnancy test is actually an unnecessary medical invention for this story, and it’s a bizarre twist to Mark’s “plastics manufacturing” job. Maybe the filmmakers were inspired by Elizabeth Holmes and Theranos, because there’s a concerted and almost laughable effort to make this salivary pregnancy test look convincing.

Mark is very nerdy and eager to impress. Mary is very manipulative and notices these personality traits in Mark, so immediately she figures she can have the upper hand in the relationship. When Mark asks her if he can have her phone number, she plays hard to get. Then, she tests Marks boundaries by telling him that he can have her phone number if he goes in the smoothie place’s public restroom with her while she takes the pregnancy test. He hesitates at first, but then obliges. Yes, that it’s that kind of movie.

It should be noted that there’s no nudity in “Mark, Mary & Some Other People,” which might be director Marks’ way of avoiding criticism of being exploitative in a movie filled with sex. However, no filmmaker should get extra praise for not having nudity in a sex-oriented movie. The movie should be judged on other things, such as the quality of directing, writing and acting.

When Mark and Mary go into the public restroom, he shows that he’s a gentleman by not looking at her while she urinates. It should come as no surprise to the audience when Mary finds out that she’s not pregnant, because having a pregnancy would get in the way of the swinger antics that this movie is using as a hook to get an audience. And it’s also not surprising that Mary—who manipulates a guy on a first date to go in a public restroom with her while she urinates for a pregnancy test, just so he can get her phone number—is someone who’s kind of nasty and very insecure.

It sets the tone for the relationship though: Mary is the one who comes up with the ideas that make Mark uncomfortable, and she makes him think he’s too uptight if doesn’t say yes to the ideas. She’s not bossy about it, but she’s very skilled at knowing people’s weaknesses and pushing those buttons. And she’s one of these people who gives off a conceited attitude of “I’m better than you because I’m so woke and trendy.”

It will ultimately turn a lot of viewers off from Mary, who is not a genuine free spirit who will let people be who they are. She won’t back off when Mark expresses discomfort with what she wants to do. She acts like she really won’t approve of someone and that person will make her unhappy unless they conform to what she wants at all times. And for someone like Mark, who’s obviously less experienced at dating than Mary is and desperate for someone to love him, he’s an easy target.

Case in point: When the movie fast-forwards about a year after Mark and Mary’s first date, Mark and Mary are getting married, and Mary has to be the “woke police,” even during their elopement wedding. Mark and Mary are at a cheap-looking wedding chapel in an unnamed city, where they are getting married. In another example of how this movie stumbles on realistic details, the only people at this wedding ceremony are Mark, Mary and the guy who’s marrying them. There are no other witnesses, even though witnesses other than the married couple and wedding officiator would be required to make the ceremony legal.

After Mark and Mary say their wedding vows, the wedding officiator says, “You may now kiss the bride.” Mary starts complaining and asks why that statement is male-centric because it gives the man the power to initiate the kiss. Mary begins ranting that no one ever says, “You many now kiss the groom” at wedding ceremonies where a man and woman get married. The wedding officiator says he doesn’t know the answers, but “You may now kiss the bride” is in his wedding script, and he’s just doing his job. But that answer doesn’t make Mary happy. (Almost nothing seems to make her happy, which is why Mary is so insufferable.)

Mary nags at the wedding officiator to change the wording to “You may now kiss the groom,” or else she won’t kiss Mark. Just to get this miserable shrew off of his back, the wedding officiator obliges, and probably feels relieved when these newlyweds leave so he doesn’t have to deal with her again. Mary and Mark spend their honeymoon at the Madonna Inn (a famously kitschy lodging in San Luis Obispo, California), where they take psychedelic mushrooms, with a typical mumblecore movie montage of them having drug-induced hallucinations during their honeymoon bliss.

If it was the filmmakers’ intention to make feminism look cool, the end result is just the opposite in this movie. Mary is supposed to embody modern feminism in this movie, but she’s just a pretentious brat who makes real feminists (and women in general) look bad. The only genuinely feminist thing about this movie is that it shows how women can be just as sexually active as men and shouldn’t have to make any apologies for it.

Mark isn’t going to win any Personality of the Year awards either. And he comes across as less-than-smart. After knowing that Mary is the type of person who thinks it’s unrealistic to be monogamous, and he married her anyway, he’s shocked and angry when she brings up the idea that they should have an open marriage. Did he honestly think she would suddenly want to be monogamous, just because they got married? A lot of people make this mistake of thinking a spouse will change fundamental things about their character, just because of a marriage certificate.

Mary pretentiously describes having an open relationship, or swinging, as “ethical non-monogamy.” Perhaps Mark and Mary can contact Chris Martin and Gwyneth Paltrow (who famously called their divorce a “conscious uncoupling”) to come up with some more self-important and pompous-sounding names for relationship situations that can turn messy. And it does get messy, as it always does when couples bring other lovers into their lives.

This is the type of conversation that Mary and Mark have when Mark gets angry at Mary for suggesting that they try an open marriage. As Mark sulks, Mary says, “You’re being immature.” Mark replies, “Well, you’re being a whore.” 

Mary wonders out loud if it was the wrong time to bring up the subject of open marriage. Mark tells Mary why he’s so offended that Mary wants to have sex with other people during their marriage: “It’s not about you bringing it up. It’s that you’re thinking about it at all.” Apparently, Mark was under the delusion that Mary would change her “monogamy doesn’t work for me” mindset after they got married.

Mary has, in fact, chosen the wrong time to ask Mark to be swingers, because it’s shortly before they go to a costume party, where a furious Mark decides to show Mary that he’s going to immediately find a new lover. He gets drunk, picks up a pretty blonde named Bunny (played by Kelly Berglund), and goes back to her place. The sexual encounter is awkward because Mark starts crying out of guilt and has some “performance issues.”

At the same party, a jealous Mary sees that Mark is trying to seduce Bunny, so she picks up a willing man, and spends the night with him. That encounter is never seen in the movie, but Mary is shown waking up the next morning in a messy van and getting dressed by herself. She’s crying, with a look of regret and misery on her face.

When Mark and Mary see each other again, they burst into tears and tell each other how sorry they are for what happened. (There will be more tears later in the story.) And they decide to set the rules of this new arrangement in their marriage.

After some hemming and hawing during rules negotiations, Mark and Mary agree on some fundamental rules: (1) No sex with an ex-lover; (2) No oral sex with anyone outside the marriage; (3) Always practice safe sex; and (4) If anyone in the marriage wants to stop having an open marriage, they will stop.

Mark tells Mary that this last rule is the most important one to him. He says of this “open marriage” arrangement: “This is a trial run. This is not forever thing. This is a ‘see if we like it’ thing. And if one of us doesn’t like it, we can go back to being us.”

Easier said than done. There are a few other rule negotiations that aren’t as firmly resolved. Mark and Mary make a tentative agreement to limit their sexual ecounters with other people to four sexual encounters per person, although Mary seems to want to leave it up to negotiation in the future to increase it to five.

Mark and Mary don’t agree on how much they should tell each other about their sexual encounters outside the marriage. Mark doesn’t want to hear details (such as the names of the lovers and what kind of sex they had), while Mary says she wouldn’t mind hearing details. They agree to disagree on that subject.

When the subject of threesomes comes up, Mary refuses to consider having a threesome with Mark, unless there’s gender equality with the third partner. Mary insists that if she and Mark have a threesome with another woman, then at another time, Mark and Mary need to have a threesome with another man. Mark is very reluctant to agree to a threesome involving another man, because he says he’s not comfortable with having any type of sex with a man.

However, Mary shames Mark into thinking that he’s homophobic if he doesn’t agree to these terms. He gives in to her demands and promises her that if they have a threesome, it will be with a man and a woman on separate occasions. In this particular negotiation, Mary isn’t thinking about what will make her and Mark happy. She’s only thinking about herself and getting her way.

This type of sexual manipulation is an example of how annoying and aggressive Mary can be with her “wokeness.” She doesn’t understand that just because someone doesn’t feel like ever having sexual relations with someone of the same gender, it doesn’t automatically make that person homophobic. Mary’s view on this matter is very narrow-minded and ignorant.

It’s simple courtesy and respect among sex partners: Don’t pressure people into doing something they don’t feel comfortable doing. Mary doesn’t have a grasp of that concept when she tries to make her husband feel “old-fashioned” and “uptight” if he doesn’t agree to what she wants.

Viewers won’t feel too sorry for Mary when her plan to show “old-fashioned” and “uptight” Mark how an open relationship works ends up backfiring on her when he starts to like polyamory a little too much for her comfort level. There are some very predictable things that happen regarding pregnancy and STD concerns. And there’s the inevitable jealousy and partner mistrust that a lot of swingers think they’ll be immune to, but it’s a lifestyle hazard of being a swinger that some people are more honest about than others.

One of the ways that the movie shows that Mark and Mary aren’t entirely comfortable with this open marriage arrangement is that they almost always get drunk and/or high to have sexual encounters with other people. Mary brought up the idea of open marriage to Mark only after her band’s lead singer/guitarist Lana (played by Odessa A’zion), who is by far the most obnoxious character in the movie, called Mary a “crusty married person.” Lana made this comment during a conversation where Mary confessed to a fear of being perceived as old and boring, now that she’s married.

The implication is that Mary is so caught up in projecting an image of being a progressive hipster that she lets a stupid comment like being called “a crusty married person” affect her self-esteem. Observant viewers will see that Mary doesn’t genuinely know if she’s ready for a swinger lifestyle. And this is where the movie does have some authenticity: A lot of people don’t have their lives figured out yet in their mid-20s, and this movie isn’t trying to pass judgment. Most of the characters in this movie are in their early-to-mid-20s, which goes a long way in explaining why many of them are so emotionally immature. 

The open marriage arrangement has its ups and downs in Mark and Mary’s relationship. As time goes on, it’s pretty clear that this couple’s biggest problem is how ineffectively they communicate. They argue about things that they obviously didn’t talk about before getting married. It’s one of many examples that this couple is a train wreck.

And in one of the screenplay’s big flaws, it never gives any indication that Mary was ever interested in meeting Mark’s father or anyone else in his family, even though Mark works with his father, who presumably lives nearby. Viewers will have to assume that Mary is just too self-absorbed to bother with meeting any of Mark’s loved ones. And based on her actions throughout this entire story, that assessment is accurate.

By contrast, Mark has met the two relatives of Mary who are shown in the movie: Mary’s younger sister Tori (played by Sofia Bryant), who is the drummer in Mary’s band, and Mary’s aunt Carol (played by Lea Thompson, in a cameo), who is depicted as a cynical, eccentric, queer woman with years of experiences as a swinger. Unlike Mary, Tori is down-to-earth and isn’t caught up in trying to look like she’s the queen of the progessive hipsters. Mark admits that Carol intimidates him, but he gets along with Tori just fine.

Tori and Mary briefly discuss their mother in one scene that gives no insight into how long their mother has been dead or her cause of death. It’s hinted that their mother was also a progressive liberal, but Tori and Mary believe that their mother probably would have hated Mark and his unflattering moustache. Maybe this conversation is this movie’s way of saying that even Mary and Tori’s dead mother would know what a mistake it was for Mark and Mary to get married.

Tori and Mary are such a part of each other’s small social circle that Tori ends up dating one of Mark’s two best friends who are shown in the movie. Tori’s boyfriend is AJ (played by Matt Shively), who’s kind of a stereotypical meathead. AJ identifies as straight. Mark’s other best friend is Kyle (played by Nik Dodani), who’s kind of a stereotypical sassy queer guy. Kyle identifies as bisexual. And apparently, Mary’s social circle consists of her husband, her band and her husband’s two best friends.

And that’s why Mark and Mary use a dating app called Crush’d to meet potential new sex partners. They even take photos of each other for their online profile pics, in a photo session montage that’s supposed to make Mark and Mary look adorable. It comes across as trying too hard.

Mark suggests this photo session after he’s alarmed to see the original profile pic that Mary wanted for herself: Mary licking a large knife that appears to have blood on it. Mary thinks she looks hot and unique in that pose. Lindsay Lohan did that whole “look at me, I’m licking a large knife” gimmick back in 2007. Get over yourself.

For a comedy film about a married couple navigating a swinger lifestyle, it’s somewhat ironic that the funniest scenes in the movie aren’t even about Mark and Mary as a couple. Some of the best comedic scenes in the movie are with AJ and Kyle, as they have bickering banter when they’re by themselves. Sometimes AJ and Kyle act more like a married couple than Mark and Mary do.

Fair warning to anyone who hates hearing the derogatory slur that’s used the most against gay/queer men: There’s a scene where Kyle says that “f” word several times, and he says he’s allowed because he’s part of the LGBTQ community. It’s not the best scene between AJ and Kyle. And frankly, hearing that word used so gratiutously is not funny. There are other scenes with AJ and Kyle that are much better-written and should get big laughs. 

Someone who’s a lot less endearing is Lana, who identifies as queer and has the maturity of a 12-year-old. There’s a scene that’s a comedic dud where Lana gets into an argument with a next-door neighbor named Chris (played by Joe Lo Truglio), who’s upset because the band is rehearsing too loudly. It’s a valid complaint, especially since this band is terrible. Instead of being reasonable about it, Lana just shouts, “Fuck you!” It turns into a shouting match where Chris and Lana yell “Fuck you” back and forth for way too long. It’s tedious and lazy screenwriting.

The movie is divided into chapters introduced by cutesy and colorful graphics that look like something from a 1990s mumblecore movie that was influenced by the 1970s. It’s all so self-consciously twee. But it’s overly staged when so much of this movie is just gutter-mouthed and raunchy. There’s nothing inherently wrong with wanting to be romantic and vulgar, but not many films can successfully achieve a balance of being both.

Gillian Jacobs has a cameo, as Mary’s gynecologist Dr. Jacobs, that’s also amusing, but a little one-note in the gag. The sex partners/dates whom Mark and Mary meet on the dating app aren’t given enough screen time to show any real personalities, except for the movie’s final scene that involves two people named Alexandra (played by Haley Ramm) and Aaron (played by Pete Williams). Most of the movie is about the neurotic reactions of Mark and Mary when they find out that having a swinger lifestyle creates more chaos in their marriage than they thought it would.

The movie also falls into the same predictable tropes of swinger sex comedies about a man and a woman who decide to have an open relationship: Any queerness almost always has to be from the woman, so the man can get his girl-on-girl sexual needs fulfilled. But when it comes to the man possibly being queer or willing to have a sexual experience with a man, there’s a lot of cringing and hesitation from the man about having sexual relations with another man.

“Mark, Mary & Some Other People” follows this trope too, although one mid-credits scene is a half-hearted and very tame attempt to distance the movie from that trope. Let’s put it this way: The movie spends a lot more screen time making it clear that Mary has sex with other women, while making it very ambiguous if Mark actually goes through with his promise to have sex with a man during a threesome.

People who’ve watched enough of these types of movies can see that the filmmakers seem afraid of alienating the privileged, cisgender, heterosexual male audience that they want to attract to give this movie “indie cred” praise. And that’s why there’s no actual sex between men that’s depicted in the movie. However, the movie’s “woke” characters, such as Mary, sure love to vilify cisgender, heterosexual men as society’s biggest “oppressors.”

Rosenfield and Law show some very good comedic timing in their roles as Mark and Mary. It’s too bad that their characters are such a horrendous mismatch of personalities, it’s kind of repugnant to watch Mark and Mary’s imcompatibility. It also gets tedious to watch two people in a marriage when their relationship becomes a competition to see who can outdo each other in being the more sexually adventurous partner. 

Except for sexual attraction, there’s not much that Mark and Mary see in each other, because they sure don’t talk about anything substantial that shows they’re in this marriage for the long haul. Mary is hard to take with her politically correct preaching over the most trivial of things. Mark is just a hypocritical whiner who lacks common sense. Anyone who thinks that Mark and Mary are a great couple probably has a distorted view of what a healthy relationship is.

Here’s an example of how Mark and Mary are terrible at communicating: There’s a scene where, after Mark and Mary have agreed to have an open marriage, Mark notices that the bedsheet on their bed has been stained with sexual activity from Mary and an unknown lover. He rips the sheet off in disgust, as if he’s shocked that Mary could possibly have sex with someone else in their bed. 

It turns out that in their first time doing “ethical non-monogamy” rule negotiations, Mark and Mary never discussed where they would be allowed to have sex with other people. And this is after Mark said he didn’t want to know the details of Mary’s sexual encounters outside the marriage. If he had any common sense, it should have led to him to say that they couldn’t bring any lovers to their home, because of the very real likelihood that he’d see things he doesn’t want to see.

Mark finding the stained bedsheet was really just a means to create another cutesy titled chapter about Part 2 of Mark and Mary’s rules negotiations. Yes, Mark and Mary are young, but they’re not children. However, watching “Mark, Mary & Some Other People” feels like you’re watching people who are stuck in a selfish teenage mentality and who are pretending to be emotionally mature adults. No thank you.

Vertical Entertainment will release “Mark, Mary & Some Other People” in select U.S. cinemas, on digital and VOD on November 5, 2021.

Review: ’12 Mighty Orphans,’ starring Luke Wilson, Vinessa Shaw, Wayne Knight, Jake Austin Walker, Robert Duvall and Martin Sheen

June 18, 2021

by Carla Hay

“12 Mighty Orphans” Pictured in back row, from left to right: Preston Porter, Woodrow Luttrell, Sampley Barinaga and Jacob Lofland. Pictured in middle row, from left to right: Levi Dylan, Luke Wilson, Martin Sheen, Manuel Tapia, Austin Shook and Michael Gohlke. Pictured in front tow, from left to right: Slade Monroe, Jake Austin Walker, Bailey Roberts and Tyler Silva. (Photo by Laura Wilson/Sony Pictures Classics)

“12 Mighty Orphans”

Directed by Ty Roberts

Culture Representation: Taking place in 1938, mainly in Fort Worth, Texas, the dramatic film “12 Mighty Orphans” (based on a true story) features a predominantly white cast of characters (with a few Latinos) representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: A high school football coach begins working at an orphanage, where he assembles a ragtag team of teenage football players, who must fight for respect and overcome several obstacles in football and in life.

Culture Audience: “12 Mighty Orphans” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in traditionally made “against all odds” sports movies.

Luke Wilson and Jake Austin Walker in “12 Mighty Orphans” (Photo by David McFarland/Sony Pictures Classics)

Unapologetically sentimental and earnest, the dramatic film “12 Mighty Orphans” is the type of movie that embraces its hokey tropes and ends up being a charming story. Most of the movie is utterly predictable, because there are so many underdog sports movies that have covered the same territory in a similar way. Somehow, it all works well for “12 Mighty Orphans,” which tells the true story of the Mighty Mites, a Texas orphanage football team that defied low expectations to go all the way to the Texas state championships.

People who already know this story probably won’t learn anything new, but this dramatic depiction is still compelling, thanks to commendable performances from the cast members. Directed by Ty Roberts (who co-wrote the “12 Mighty Orphans” screenplay with Lane Garrison and Kevin Meyer), “12 Mighty Orphans” is based on Jim Dent’s 2008 non-fiction book “Twelve Mighty Orphans: The Inspiring True Story of the Mighty Mites Who Ruled Texas Football.” The movie (which had its world premiere at the 2021 Tribeca Film Festival in New York City) hits a lot of the same beats as other inspirational sports movies about underdogs.

There’s the coach who ignores the naysayers, motivates his team, and turns them into winners. There’s the talented but hotheaded team member who lets his temper get in the way of his sportsmanship. There’s the sneering coach from another team who can’t believe these ragamuffins could possibly be better than his team.

The movie, which takes place in 1938 during the Great Depression, begins with the introduction of Harvey Nual “Rusty” Russell (played by Luke Wilson), who has left a comfortable teaching position at a high school to take a teaching/coaching job at the Masonic Home, an orphanage in Fort Worth, Texas, that has about 150 children in residence. Rusty has moved with his loyal wife Juanita Russell (played by Vinessa Shaw) and their two children: Betty Russell (played by Josie Fink and Lillie Fink), who’s about 4 or 5 years old, and another unnamed daughter, who’s about 6 or 7 years old.

Juanita, who will be teaching English at the orphanage, isn’t happy about this move because Rusty took this job without even discussing it with her. Rusty will be teaching math at the orphanage, but his true passion is coaching football. The orphanage’s doctor A.P. “Doc” Hall (played by Martin Sheen) recommended Rusty for the job, but Doc and Rusty don’t meet in person until Rusty and his family arrive on the premises. Doc is also a football enthusiast, and he becomes Rusty’s biggest ally at the orphanage. Doc also serves as the movie’s voiceover narrator.

To his shock and dismay, Rusty finds out that not only does the orphanage not have a formal football team but the orphanage also don’t have football uniforms. Doc also says that when the orphans do play footbal, they play during two seasons: One season where they can wear shoes, and they other where they don’t wear shoes. The orphanage is so financially strapped that there aren’t enough athletic shoes to last an entire year. Despite these obstacles, Rusty is determined to put a football team together and have the team compete with high school football teams in the league.

Rusty gets resistence from the orphanage’s corrupt chief administrator Frank Wynn (played by Wayne Knight), who physically and verbally abuses the male orphans. (Frank has a large paddle named Bertha, and he doesn’t hesitate to use it.) Frank also forces the male teenagers to work in an orphanage sweatshop to make garments and shoes that he sells for his own personal profit. Needless to say, the sweatshop work violates all types of child labor laws.

Frank thinks that the male teens in the orphanage shouldn’t be playing competitive football because he thinks the time spent on practice and games should be used for his grueling sweatshop work. However, Frank is overruled by his boss, who tells Rusty that Rusty can put together a football team, under one condition: “It’s very important that it does not interfere with the day-to-day [activities] of the home.”

Through a process of elimination (some of the boys don’t qualify for the team because of low grades), 12 teens (whose average age is 16 to 17) join the football team. They call themselves the Mighty Mites. The 12 members of the team are:

  • Hardy Brown (played by Jake Austin Walker), an angry young man who becomes the team’s star linebacker
  • Wheatie “C.D.” Sealey (played by Slade Monroe), who comes out of his bashful shell to become the team quarterback
  • Douglass “Fairbank” Lord (played by Levi Dylan), the pretty boy of the team
  • Leonard “Snoggs” Roach (played by Jacob Lofland), a foul-mouthed jokester
  • Leon Pickett (played by Woodrow Luttrell), an introvert
  • Miller Moseley (played by Bailey Roberts), the smallest player on the team
  • Cecil “Crazy” Moseley (played by Michael Gohlke), Miller’s brother who happens to be mute
  • Amarante Pete “A.P.” Torres (played by Tler Silva), who doesn’t say much in the movie
  • Gonzolo “Carlos” Torres (played by Manuel Tapia), who is A.P.’s brother
  • DeWitt “Tex” Coulter (played by Preston Porter), the tallest person on the team
  • Ray Coulter (played by Austin Shook), Tex’s brother
  • Clyde “Chicken” Roberts (played by Sampley Barinaga), a redhead who overcomes his fears to become a solid team player

Abusive orphanage administrator Wayne is the story’s biggest villain, but the movie also has other antagonists. Luther (played by Lane Garrison) is a cigar-chewing, arrogant businessman who has invested in a rival football team. He’s dead-set against letting the Mighty Mites play in the high school football league because he thinks the orphanage isn’t a legitimate school. “Orphan football,” Luther sasy to himself disgust. “That’s as dumb as letting women vote.”

During a football league hearing to decide whether or not the Mighty Mites can compete against other high school football teams, Luther objects because of the rule that a competing school must have at least 500 students. However, Rusty has found a clause in the rulebook that can make an exception for a team if the coaches of the other high schools give a majority vote to allow the team. Rodney Kidd (played by Scott Haze), who happens to be Luther’s brother-in-law, is presiding over the hearing.

Luther thinks that his family connection will give him an easy advantage in this battle. But to Luther’s anger and disappointment, the coaches of the other high schools vote by a majority to let the Mighty Mites compete in the league. It can be presumed that these other coaches probably thought that these orphans would be easy to defeat in football games, so that’s why they readily allowed the Mighty Mites into the league.

But as what happens in underdog stories like this one, the Mighty Mites were severely underestimated. They start winning games and become folk heroes. The team attracts the attention of businessman Mason Hawk (played by Robert Duvall, in a small role), who invests in the Mighty Mites. (“Apocalypse Now” co-stars Sheen and Duvall have a scene together in “12 Mighty Orphans.”) Later in the story, President Franklin Roosevelt (played by Larry Pine) becomes a Mighty Mites fan. Treat Williams has a small role as Amon Carter, founder/publisher of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.

And every underdog story seems to have emotional baggage and trauma. Hardy is a very talented football player, but he has an explosive temper that can get him into trouble. Why is he so angry? Before he came to the orphanage, he was found lying next to his dead father (who was murdered), and Hardy’s mother didn’t want to take care of Hardy, so she sent him to live in the orphanage.

C.D. also has a mother who abandoned him at the orphanage, when he was 7 years old, after C.D.’s father left the family. C.D. hasn’t seen his mother in the 10 years since then. When C.D. mother’s Wanda (played by Lucy Faust) unexpectedly shows up at the orphanage with her current husband, it leads to an emotionally raw confrontation that’s very melodramatic, but it fits well in this often-melodramatic movie.

Doc, who is a widower, has his own personal demons: He’s an alcoholic. And he confides in Rusty that his wife died during childbirth. Based on his tone of voice, Doc is still haunted by his wife’s tragic death. As for Rusty, he tells his football team during an emotional moment that he can relate to them because he’s an orphan too.

“12 Mighty Orphans” is the type of movie where Doc says in a voiceover about Rusty: “He knew that football would inevitably bring self-respect to the boys.” And there are plenty of “pep talk” scenes that are exactly what you would expect. As formulaic as this movie is, there’s still a level of suspense in the movie’s best game scene: the Texas state championship. Viewers who already know the game’s outcome can still be drawn in by the thrilling way that this game is filmed for the movie.

Rusty is portrayed by Wilson as an almost saintly mentor who never loses his temper, even when some of the boys on his team rudely insult him and each other. By contrast, Knight’s depiction of the loathsome Frank is almost a caricature of a villain. Out of all Mighty Mites, Walker (as Hardy), Monroe (as C.D.) and Lofland (as Snoggs) get the most screen time to showcase the characters’ personalities. All of the acting is believable, but sometimes hampered by corny dialogue.

“12 Mighty Orphans” was filmed on location in Texas, in the cities of Fort Worth, Weatherford and Cleburne. That authenticity goes a long way in this movie’s appeal, since so much of the film comes across as a made-for-TV movie. Is this movie going to be nominated for any awards? No, but it’s not a bad way to be entertained. And people don’t even have to be fans of American football to enjoy “12 Mighty Orphans.”

Sony Pictures Classics released “12 Mighty Orphans” in select U.S. cinemas on June 11, 2021, with an expansion to more cinemas on June 18, 2021.

2021 Tribeca Film Festival: complete list of winners

June 17, 2021

Tribeca Film Festival - white logo

The following is a press release from the Tribeca Film Festival:

 The 20th annual Tribeca Festival, presented by AT&T, announced the winning storytellers in its competition categories at this year’s awards ceremony today at Spring Studios. Awards were given in the following competition categories: U.S. Narrative, International Narrative, Documentary; Short Films, Immersive, the Nora Ephron Award, and the first-ever Podcast and Games categories. For the first time ever, Italian eyewear brand, Persol, presented the award to the 2021 Best Actor, U.S. Narrative recipient.

The awards ceremony honored the most diverse line-up of creators in Tribeca’s 20 year history and awarded $165,000 in cash prizes. The Festival, which had the honor of welcoming back in-person audiences, concludes on June 20th.

The top honors for feature films went to The Novice, Brighton 4th, and Ascension.

Chanel James and Taylor Garron won the Nora Ephron Award and a $25,000 prize for As of Yet. The award, created nine years ago, honors excellence in storytelling by a female writer or director embodying the spirit and boldness of the late filmmaker.

Tribeca honored innovation in storytelling with its Storyscapes Award, which went to Felix Gaedtke and Gayatri Parameswaran for Kusunda.

The inaugural Tribeca Podcast honors for the Non-Fiction Narrative Award went to Guardians of the River, and the Fiction Narrative Award went to Vermont Ave.

In the Games category, the first-ever Tribeca Games Award was given to Norco, created by Geography of Robots and published by Raw Fury.

“It’s been a challenging time for filmmakers, storytellers, and actors, and we’re so proud to honor the perseverance and dedication many of them displayed while working through the many obstacles that arose as a result of COVID-19,” said Cara Cusumano, Festival Director and Vice President of Programming. “Each of these recipients truly embody the spirit of our creative community.”

A special Virtual Award Winner Screenings series will be available for U.S. audiences via Tribeca at Home on Saturday, June 19 and Sunday, June 20. Tickets can be purchased at tribecafilm.com/festival/tickets

In addition to cash awards and in-kind services provided by sponsors, some award winners received the unique Tribeca Festival Art Award. Supported by CHANEL, the world-class artists donated work to honored filmmakers.

The winners of the Audience Awards, powered by AT&T, which are determined by audience votes throughout the Festival, will be announced next week.

The winners, awards, and comments from the jury who selected the recipients are as follows:

U.S. NARRATIVE COMPETITION

The Jurors for the 2021 U.S. Narrative Competition were Ana Lily Amirpour, Derek Cianfrance, Bryan Cranston, Andre Holland, and Erica Huggins.

Dilone and Isabelle Fuhrman in “The Novice” (Photo by Todd Martin)

The Founders Award for Best U.S. Narrative Feature Film: The Novice, directed and written by Lauren Hadaway. Produced by Ryan Hawkins, Kari Hollend, Steven Sims, Zack Zucker.

Art Award: Meghan Boody’s Opening Night, 2019 C Print Face Mounted to Mat Plexiglass and Back Mounted to White Plexiglass ⅖

Isabelle Fuhrman in “The Novice” (Photo by Todd Martin)

Best Actress in a U.S. Narrative Feature Film: Isabelle Furman, The Novice, directed and written by Lauren Hadaway. Produced by Ryan Hawkins, Kari Hollend, Steven Sims, Zack Zucker.
Special Jury Mention: Kali Reis, for her magnetic performance in Catch The Fair One. She kept audiences on the edge of their seats with her strength and vulnerability in a performance that always felt deeply honest.

Matthew Leone and Nisalda Gonzalez in “God’s Waiting Room” (Photo by Mack Fisher)

Best Actor in a U.S. Narrative Feature Film: Matthew Leone, God’s Waiting Room, directed and written by Tyler Riggs. Produced by Tyler Riggs, Suvi Riggs.

Isabelle Fuhrman in “The Novice” (Photo by Todd Martin)

Best Cinematography in a U.S. Narrative Feature Film: Todd Martin, The Novice, directed and written by Lauren Hadaway. Produced by Ryan Hawkins, Kari Hollend, Steven Sims, Zack Zucker.

Hayley Law and Ben Rosenfield in “Mark, Mary + Some Other People” (Photo by Casey Stolberg)

Best Screenplay in a U.S. Narrative Feature Film: Hannah Marks, Mark, Mary, and Some Other People, directed and written by Hannah Marks. Produced by Hannah Marks, Pete Williams, Jon Lullo, Brendan Walter, Jonathan Duffy, Kelly Williams, Stephen Braun.

Nana Mensah in “Queen of Glory” (Photo by Anthony Thompson)

Special Jury Prize for Artistic Expression: Director Nana Mensah, Queen of Glory, for opening audiences up to an intimate and personal story, exploring cultural identity and family, with delicate nuance and humor and heart.

INTERNATIONAL NARRATIVE COMPETITION

The Jurors for the 2021 International Narrative Competition were Lesli Klainberg, Melissa Leo, Delroy Lindo, Alexander Payne, and Peter Scarlet.

Levan Tediashvili and Giorgi Tabidze in “Brighton 4th” (Photo courtesy of Kino Iberica)

Best International Narrative Feature Film: Brighton 4th, directed by Levan Koguashvili, written by Boris Frumin. Produced by Irakli Rodonaya, Olena Yershova, Michel Merkt, Kateryna Merkt.
Art Award: Gus Van Sant’s Devil in Hell, 2021 Encaustic on Paper

Best Actress in an International Narrative Feature Film: Bassant Ahmed & Basmala Elghaiesh, Souad, directed by Ayten Amin, written by Mahmoud Ezzat, Ayten Amin. Produced by Sameh Awad.

Levan Tediashvili in “Brighton 4th” (Photo courtesy of Kino Iberica)

Best Actor in an International Narrative Feature Film: Levan Tediashvili, Brighton 4th, directed by Levan Koguashvili, written by Boris Frumin, Levan Koguashvili. Produced by Irakli Rodonaya, Olena Yershova, Michel Merkt, Kateryna Merkt.

“Roaring 20s”

Best Cinematography in an International Narrative Feature Film: Elisabeth Vogler, Roaring 20s, directed by Elisabeth Vogler, written by François Mark, Elisabeth Vogler, Noémie Schmidt, Joris Avodo. Produced by Laurent Rochette.

Nadezhda Mikhalkova and Giorgi Tabidze in “Brighton 4th” (Photo courtesy of Kino Iberica)

Best Screenplay in an International Narrative Feature Film: Boris Frumin, Brighton 4th, directed by Levan Koguashvili, written by Boris Frumin, Levan Koguashvili. Produced by Irakli Rodonaya, Olena Yershova, Michel Merkt, Kateryna Merkt.

Special Jury Mention: Cast ensemble of Roaring 20s, for their characters and dialogue both written and improvised seamlessly that provide a portrait timeless and true.

The Jurors for the Best New Narrative Director Competition were Aya Cash, Sanaa Lathan, and Chris Weitz.

Nana Mensah in “Queen of Glory” (Photo by Anthony Thompson)

Best New Narrative Director: Nana Mensah, Queen of Glory, directed and written by Nana Mensah. Produced by Jamund Washington, Kelley Robins Hicks, Baff Akoto, Nana Mensah, Anya Migdal.
Art Award: Will Ryman’s Flag, 2021 Wood, Foam, Paint

Special Jury Mention: Mack Fisher, Cinematographer of God’s Waiting Room, for his beautiful cinematography that captures the heaven/hellscape of central Florida.

DOCUMENTARY COMPETITION

The Jurors for the 2021 Best New Documentary Feature Competition were Kirby Dick, Matt Tyrnauer, and Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi.

A livestreamer at shoe factory in Yiwu, China, in “Ascenscion” (Photo by Jessica Kingdon)

Best Documentary Feature: Ascension, directed by Jessica Kingdon. Produced by Kira Simon-Kennedy, Jessica Kingdon, Nathan Truesdell.
Art Award: Clifford Ross’s Waterline VI, 2020 Pigment Ink on Rag Paper

“The Kids”

Best Editing, Documentary Feature: Shannon Swan, The Kids, directed by Eddie Martin. Produced by Shannon Swan.

“All These Sons” (Photo by Bing Liu and Joshua Altman)

Best Cinematography, Documentary Feature: Bing Liu & Joshua Altman, All These Sons, directed by Bing Liu, Joshua Altman. Produced by Zak Piper, Kelsey Carr, Bing Liu, Joshua Altman.

The Jurors for the Documentary Director Competition were Iyabo Boyd, Sabrina Schmidt Gordon, and Omar Metwally.

Chimelong Waterpark in Guangzhou, China in “Ascension” (Photo by Jessica Kingdon)

The 2021 Albert Maysles Award for Best New Documentary Director: Jessica Kingdon, Ascension, directed by Jessica Kingdon. Produced by Kira Simon-Kennedy, Jessica Kingdon, Nathan Truesdell.

Art Award: Jeff Chie-Hsing Liao’s View from Tribeca, 2018 Archival Ink Print

Special Jury MentionThe Neutral Ground directed by CJ Hunt, for the way their use of humor brought audiences into a difficult subject, with vulnerability, authenticity, and at great personal risk.

THE NORA EPHRON AWARD

Taylor Garron in “As of Yet” (Photo by Jamal Solomon)

The Jurors for the Nora Ephron award were Patricia Arquette, Mollye Asher, Leslie Dixon, Judith Godreche, and Sharon Stone. The 2021 Nora Ephron Award: Chanel James & Taylor Garron, As of Yet, directed by Chanel James, Taylor Garron. Produced by Ashley Edouard, Taylor Garron.

Art Award: Sheila Berger’s In Between, 2014 Pencil on Paper

Special Jury Mention: cast of The Justice of Bunny King: Thomasin Mckenzie and Essie Davis, for their outstanding achievement in acting.

SHORT CATEGORIES

The Jurors for the 2021 Narrative Short Competition were Justin Bartha, Elegance Bratton, Margaret Cho, Hari Nef, and Sheila Nevins.

“Girl With a Thermal Gun” (Photo by Cecile Zhang)

Best Narrative Short Award: Rongfei Guo, Girl With a Thermal Gun, directed and written by Rongfei Guo. Produced by Du Yating.
Art Award: Stephen Hannock’s Art Museums Take a Breath, 2021 Charcoal and Chalk on pape

Special Jury Mention: Leylak

“Navozande, the Musician”

Best Animated Short Award: Reza Riahi, Navozande, The Musician, directed and written by Reza Riahi. Produced by Eleanor Coleman, Stéphanie Carreras, Philippe Pujo.
Art Award: Curtis Kulig’s A Stern Foe of Snobbishness, 2020 Oil on Canvas

Special Jury Mention: Whoopi Goldberg was deeply impacted by the films Dirty Little Secret, directed by Jeff Scher, and Try To Fly, directed by The Affolter Brothers.

The Jurors for the 2021 Short Documentary and Student Visionary Competition section were Rashid Johnson, Tig Notaro, and Adria Petty.

J.C. Leyendecker in “Coded” (Photo courtesy of The Haggin Museum)

Short Documentary Award: Ryan White, Coded, directed by Ryan White. Produced by Christopher Leggett, Jessica Hargrave, Conor Fetting-Smith, Rafael Marmor, Marc Gilbar.
Art Award: Laurie Simmons’ How We See/Ajak (Violet), 2015

Daniel Ruiz in “Six Nights” (Photo by Dylan Krause)

The 2021 Student Visionary Award: Robert Brogden, Six Nights, directed and written by Robert Brogden. Produced by Robert Brogden, Kelley Zincone, Izrael Lopez.
Art Award: Deborah Kass’s Being Alive, 2021 Medium: 9-color Silkscreen and Color Blend on 2-ply Museum Board

PODCAST AWARD 

The Jurors for the 2021 Best Podcast Non-Fiction Award were N’Jeri Eaton, Rachel Ghiazza, and Latif Nasser. Podcast Non-Fiction Award: House of Pod and Wild Bird Trust, Guardians of the River

The Jurors for the 2021 Best Podcast Fiction Award were Neil Drumming, Lauren Shippen, and Mimi O’Donnell.

Podcast Fiction Award: James Kim and Brooke Iskra, Vermont Ave.

Special Jury Mention: Brooklyn Santa

TRIBECA X AWARD

The Jurors for the Tribeca X Award were Justine Armour, David Bornoff, Morgan Cooper, Senain Kheshgi, and Emily Oberman.

Tribeca X Award: Best Feature: Dear Santa, Director: Dana Nachman; Brand: The United States Postal Service

Tribeca X Award: Best Episodic: Black Owned, Director: Rodney Lucas; Brand: Square

Tribeca X Award: Best Short: Chinese New Year-Nian, Director: Lulu Wang; Brand: Apple

Tribeca X Immersive Award: Current, Creator: Annie Saunders; Brand: Brookfield Properties

GAMES

The Jurors for Games were Elijah Wood, Neill Blomkamp, Tanya DePass, Jen Zee, and Reggie Fils-Aimé.

The 2021 Games Award: Norco, from Geography of Robots, published by Raw Fury

IMMERSIVE COMPETITION CATEGORIES

The Jurors for the 2021 Best Immersive Narrative Competition were Warrington Hudlin, Laura Mingail, and Jake Sally.

Best Immersive Narrative Competition Award: Michèle Stephenson, Joe Brewster, Yasmin Elayat, The Changing Same: Episode 1

The Jurors for the 2021 Best Creative Nonfiction Competition section were Diliana Alexander, Jimmy Chang, and Gabo Arora.

Best Creative Nonfiction Competition: Annie Saunders, Current

Storyscapes Award: Felix Gaedtke, Gayatri Parameswaran, Kusunda

About the Tribeca Festival:
The Tribeca Festival, presented by AT&T, brings artists and diverse audiences together to celebrate storytelling in all its forms, including film, TV, VR, gaming, music, and online work. With strong roots in independent film, Tribeca is a platform for creative expression and immersive entertainment. Tribeca champions emerging and established voices; discovers award-winning filmmakers and creators; curates innovative experiences; and introduces new technology and ideas through premieres, exhibitions, talks, and live performances.

The Festival was founded by Robert De Niro, Jane Rosenthal, and Craig Hatkoff in 2001 to spur the economic and cultural revitalization of lower Manhattan following the attacks on the World Trade Center. Tribeca will celebrate its 20th year June 9 – 20, 2021.  www.tribecafilm.com/festival

In 2019, James Murdoch’s Lupa Systems, a private investment company with locations in New York and Mumbai, bought a majority stake in Tribeca Enterprises, bringing together Rosenthal, De Niro, and Murdoch to grow the enterprise.

About the 2021 Tribeca Festival Partners
The 2021 Tribeca Festival is presented by AT&T and with the support of our corporate partners: A&E, Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, Audible, Bloomberg Philanthropies, CHANEL, City National Bank, CNN Films, Diageo, DoorDash, Fresh Direct, Hudson Yards, Indeed, Montefiore-Einstein, Neutrogena, NYC Mayor’s Office of Media and Entertainment, Persol, P&G, PwC, Roku, Spring Studios New York, United Airlines, and Unreal Engine.

June 24, 2021 UPDATE: The 20th annual Tribeca Festival, presented by AT&T, announced the winners of its 2021 Audience Awards for Best Narrative Feature, Best Documentary Feature and the first-ever Best Online Premiere. The first place winners of Best Narrative Feature and Best Documentary Feature each received a cash prize of $10,000, sponsored by AT&T. 

Audiences were able to vote in person and online for their favorite films from the Festival, which just wrapped its 20th edition featuring 250 in-person events inside and out, and close to 100,000 attendees in all five New York City boroughs and via the Tribeca at Home online viewing portal. 

Kali Reis in “Catch the Fair One”

The Audience Award for Best Narrative Feature went to Catch the Fair One, directed and written by Josef Kubota Wladyka and produced by Mollye Asher, Kimberly Parker, Josef Kubota Wladyka (United States). In this absorbing revenge thriller executive produced by Darren Aronofsky, a Native American boxer embarks on the fight of her life when she goes in search of her missing sister. 

“Blind Amibition” (Photo by Warwick Ross)

The Audience Award for Best Documentary Feature went to Blind Ambition, directed by Robert Coe and Warwick Ross, written by Warwick Ross, Robert Coe, Paul Murphy, Madeleine Ross and produced by Warwick Ross and Robert Coe (Australia). The inspiring story of four Zimbabwean men who form their country’s first Wine Tasting Olympics team and the mission that drives them to compete.

The Audience Award for Best Online Premiere went to Ferguson Rises, directed by Mobolaji Olambiwonnu, written by Mobolaji Olambiwonnu, Bradinn French, Jeff Strik-er, Kai Bowe, Daisy Moand produced by Mobolaji Olambiwonnu, Daisy Mo, Tanayi Seabrook, TJ Ode-bunmi, Lisa Smithline, David Oyelowo, Jessica Oyelowo, Nick Moon and Tamika Lamison (United States). Before George Floyd, before Breonna Taylor, before America knew about Black Lives Matter, there was Michael Brown, Jr. Six years after the fatal shooting of an unarmed Brown by a white police officer, and the subsequent days of protest, filmmaker Mobolaji Olamb-iwonnu brings a new portrait of the community of Ferguson, including Dorian Johnson, and a narrative from within the city of hope, love and renewal. 

Second Place for Best Narrative Feature went to Last Film Show,  written and directed by Pan Nalin. Second Place for Best Documentary Feature went to A-ha the Movie, directed and written by Thomas Robsahm. Second Place for Best Online Premieres went to Venus as a Boy, directed and written by Ty Hodges. 

The Tribeca Festival is curated by Festival Director and VP of Programming Cara Cusumano; Artistic Director Frédéric Boyer; VP of Filmmaker Relations & Shorts Programming Sharon Badal; Senior Programmer and VP of Immersive Loren Hammonds; VP of Games Casey Baltes; Senior Programmers Liza Domnitz (features, TV, and NOW), and Lucy Mukerjee (features); Programmers Ben Thompson (shorts), José F. Rodriguez (features); Karen McMullen (features), Leah Sarbib (podcasts); and program advisor Paula Weinstein, along with a team of associate programmers.

Review: ‘7 Days’ (2021), starring Karan Soni and Geraldine Viswanathan

June 14, 2021

by Carla Hay

Geraldine Viswanathan and Karan Soni in “7 Days” (Photo by Eduardo Fierro)

“7 Days” (2021)

Directed by Roshan Sethi

Culture Representation: Taking place in Thermal, California, the romantic comedy film “7 Days” features a predominantly Indian and Indian American cast of characters (with a few white people who speak off camera) representing the middle-class.

Culture Clash: Two Indian Americans, whose parents are eager for them to find a spouse, meet on a blind date at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, and find out that instead of having many things in common, they are complete opposites.

Culture Audience: “7 Days” will appeal primarily to people who like quirky romantic comedies with an “opposites attract” or COVID-19 pandemic angle, but the movie is often sluggishly paced and relies too much on stereotypes seen in many other romantic comedies.

It’s a little tiresome when American-made movies and TV programs stereotype men of Indian heritage as socially awkward, sometimes emasculated nerds. This over-used ethnic cliché is shoved in viewers’ faces to annoying levels in the romantic comedy “7 Days,” co-starring Karan Soni as a lovelorn Indian American who’s desperately looking for a wife. Geraldine Viswanathan plays his would-be love interest in the movie, but the story is told from the man’s perspective. “7 Days” had its world premiere at the 2021 Tribeca Film Festival.

Directed by Roshan Sethi (who co-wrote the “7 Days” screenplay with Soni), “7 Days” is essentially a dull mumblecore movie with a COVID-19 gimmick. The movie is also Sethi’s feature-film directorial debut. And it just so happens that all of the people who appear on camera in the movie are of Indian heritage. This type of representation is rare for an American-made feature film, but it’s not enough to automatically guarantee that the movie will be great.

Unfortunately, “7 Days” has too many scenes that drag with dialogue that falls flat because of the clumsy comedic timing. Viswanathan seems to be more talented at believable facial expressions than Soni is, but there is no convincing romantic chemistry between these two actors at all. Whatever is going on between the characters that Soni and Viswanathan portray in the movie, viewers will get the impression that this isn’t a romance to root for but it’s going to be strictly a “friend zone” platonic relationship. The filmmakers want to make it look like a romance, but it’s all so phony and passionless.

The beginning of “7 Days” starts off with four real-life, middle-aged, happily married Indian couples talking about how they met, which was usually through arrangements by their families. (Soni’s parents are among the couples.) It’s an adorable introduction, but then the movie gets right to the fictional part of the story and the clichés. The next sequence is straight out of a Bollywood rom-com. Viewers find out that two unmarried young people have mothers who are scheming to find each of them a suitable spouse.

The bachelor and bachelorette are American children of Indian immigrants. The would-be couple are 31-year-old Ravi (played by Soni) and 28-year-old Rita (played by Viswanathan), who both live in California, but not in cities that are near each other. In voiceover narration, Ravi’s mother (played by Gita Reddy) and Rita’s mother (played by Zenobia Shroff) extol the attractive qualities of their respective children, as if they’re creating profiles for them on Indian matchmatching sites. (The mothers in this story do not have names.)

According to Ravi’s mother, Ravi is the youngest and her favorite of her three sons because he’s the most emotionally mature. Ravi works as a researcher at a local university. His mother describes him as kind and responsible. And he loves to cook vegetarian food.

According to Rita’s mother, Rita is a “free-spirit girl with strict moral values” whose hobbies include “caring for her future in-laws.” As for Rita’s food preferences, her mother says that Rita is a pescatarian, but she’s willing to be a vegetarian for the right family. Rita seems to be an only child, since there’s no mention of her having siblings.

In addition to having family members who play matchmaker, Ravi and Rita belong to several Indian-oriented dating sites. Ravi and Rita’s first date (a blind date) takes place in March 2020, during the first week of the COVID-19 pandemic shutdowns in the United States. Ravi has traveled to Thermal, California, where Rita lives. And their first uncomfortable date is a picnic in an empty reservoir. Rita and Ravi are both wearing masks, while Ravi also has on latex gloves.

Ravi is the epitome of an insecure, neurotic dork who has lived a very sheltered life. He says things that he thinks people want to hear so that they will like and accept him. And he often over-apologizes to the point that it gets irritating. In other words, he’s a typical sensitive male protagonist in a mumblecore movie.

Rita is more self-assured than Ravi, but she also has her insecurity issues. One of them is that she lives a double life. She presents herself as a straight-laced person to her parents, who don’t live near her, but she’s very different in real life. Rita is an unemployed slob whose parents are paying for her living expenses.

The conversation during Ravi and Rita’s picnic date doesn’t go very well. Ravi is nervous and sweaty. He tells a dumb joke about how he’s sweating just like he would in India. Rita seems unimpressed by Ravi. He’s also very conscious of following social distancing guidelines of staying at least six feet apart. At one point, he says to Rita with a forced laugh: “You’re so funny. We have great banter. Can you move back a few inches?”

Ravi likes to eat healthy food, and he doesn’t drink alcohol. He’s under the impression that Rita is also a teetotaler. When he brings out some lemonade in aluminum cans, Ravi is mortified to see that it’s hard lemonade.

He thinks he might have offended Rita for bringing alcoholic beverages on this date. He makes a profuse apology by saying that when he got the lemonade from the store, he didn’t look closely at the cans to see what type of lemonade it was. Rita tells him not to worry about it, but Ravi is the type of person who will worry about it.

This picnic date at the reservoir isn’t fun at all, so Rita suggests that they go back to her place. She lives in a middle-class house that looks tidy on the outside, but it’s very cluttered and unkempt on the inside. Rita is the type of person who will leave food wrappers, empty beer bottles and other garbage on tables and on the floor. It’s the first clue that Ravi and viewers have that Rita’s life, just like her house, is messy.

When they arrive at the house, Rita and Ravi both call their respective mothers to give them a summary of how the date is going so far. Even though there are no romantic sparks between Ravi and Rita, they both tell their mothers that this date has potential. Ravi is more invested because he’s traveled a long distance to meet Rita. And he’s the one who wants to get married in the near future.

Ravi doesn’t waste time in telling Rita what his life goals are: He’s soon going to buy a house, he wants to get married that year, and he wants to start a family the following year. He also plans to have three kids. Because Rita and Ravi met as a result of their mothers’ matchmaking efforts, it’s not considered too forward for Ravi to already be talking marriage on the first date. In fact, by traditional Indian custom, it’s not unusual at all.

As can happen in a very unrealistically contrived movie like “7 Days,” Ravi finds out that his rental car won’t be available until the next morning, so he won’t be able to drive back home that night. Rita recommends a hotel nearby where he can stay for the night. Ravi calls the hotel and finds out it will be closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Ravi doesn’t do what most people would do: Make a reservation at another hotel.

In reality (not in this movie), during the pandemic lockdown period, most hotels were still open and desperate for business. Hotels had plenty of vacancies because they experienced an enormous number of reservation cancellations during the lockdown period. But that reality is not in “7 Days,” because the entire movie is based on the contrivance of Ravi staying at Rita’s place so that the story can go exactly where you know it’s going to go.

At first, Ravi says he’s only going to stay until his rental car is ready. But the title of the movie already telegraphs how many days he’s really going to stay at Rita’s place. And in a formulaic rom-com like this one, that means he’s supposed to go through several uncomfortable moments because he and Rita are opposites.

The unrealistic plot developments continue. Ravi finds out that his rental car won’t be ready for three days, which is really the movie’s way of extending the time that Ravi has to stay at Rita’s house. And because there’s a “shelter in place” quarantine mandate in California, Ravi and Rita don’t go outside for most of the movie.

The “uptight nerd having awkward moments with the uninhibited love interest” is an angle that’s been done in many other rom-coms, and it’s played up to repetitive and ultimately tedious levels in “7 Days.” After Rita agrees to let Ravi temporarily stay at her house, he goes in the bathroom and is horrified to see a dildo on the sink. “Oh, this can’t be happening,” Ravi says to himself, as if he’s just seen a real body part.

Soon after Ravi finds out that he’s going to be staying at Rita’s place, he starts to really regret it. It’s because he overhears Rita on the phone, having raunchy sex talk with someone she calls “Daddy.” At first, Ravi thinks that Rita is talking to her father in an incestuous way. Ravi is naturally shocked and disgusted, but he made a wrong assumption.

Rita is actually talking to her older married lover who’s separated from his wife, but this married lover is vague with Rita on when he’s going to divorce is wife. He seems to be leading Rita on with an excuse that things are complicated for him in his marriage. “Daddy” never appears on camera in the movie and his real name is never revealed. He’s voiced by Mark Duplass, one of the executive producers of “7 Days,” who’s an actor/filmmaker with a lot of mumblecore movies in his filmography.

Most of Ravi and Rita’s interactions consist of more painfully unfunny banter. It isn’t long before Ravi finds out that Rita is almost everything that he doesn’t want in a woman: Rita says she never wants to get married. She drinks a lot of alcohol. And she loves junk food. There’s a scene where Rita enthusiastically eats fried chicken, even though her online profile says that she’s a pescatarian.

Ravi’s and Rita’s lifestyle differences also extend to the type of movies that they like to watch. Ravi is a big fan of Bollywood movies, but Rita doesn’t care for this type of entertainment. She’s a lot more into American culture overall than Ravi is. And she seems to be faking to her parents that she’s interested in the Indian tradition of arranged marriages, because she doesn’t want to lose her parents’ financial support.

Issues of gender roles inevitably come up, as they tend to do in rom-coms. Ravi makes an offhand remark that Rita’s voice sounds like the instructional service app Siri. Rita immediately gets defensive and says, “You mean I sound subservient.” Ravi tells Rita that he identifies as a “male feminist.” Still, Ravi is slightly alarmed and surprised that Rita doesn’t like to cook. And he ends up cooking for both of them.

Rita has this to say to Ravi about why she doesn’t see marriage in her future: “It’s just someone else to fight and disappoint and hate. It’s exhausting.” And when fidgety Ravi gets restless in the house, Rita suggests that they just sit around and do nothing. “The less you do, the less you do,” she says.

This type of boring and witless dialogue goes on for much of the movie. Predictably, Rita spikes Ravi’s drink with alcohol to loosen him up. He gets angry that she spiked his drink, but then he gets drunk and does an atrocious standup comedy routine for Rita. While under the influence of alcohol, Ravi opens up about feeling vulnerable and self-conscious that his parents are divorced.

And then, someone in this mismatched duo starts having a persistent cough and develops a fever. And you know what that means in a rom-com with a COVID-19 gimmick. This plot development isn’t handled very well in the movie. “7 Days” essentially dismisses all the deaths and tragedies that people have experienced because of this pandemic and treats this harsh reality as something that would get in the way of a cutesy rom-com plot. If anyone dies of COVID-19 in this movie, it’s a tragedy that this movie brushes off as trivial.

Even in March 2020, during the early part of the pandemic when this movie takes place, people were aware of how quickly large numbers of people were dying from COVID-19. But in this movie, Ravi and Rita are depicted as being in a self-absorbed (and irresponsible) “bubble” where they don’t care to be informed about what’s happening in the news about the pandemic. They’re more concerned about doing things like a virtual exercise workout routine using Rita’s laptop computer.

Viswanathan and Soni are very talented and have had more appealing roles elsewhere. In “7 Days,” they both play characters that just aren’t credible as a romantic couple. Ravi’s neuroses are on full display, but Rita is an underwritten and underdeveloped character. She’s supposed to be the “wacky one” in the relationship, but her personality is ultimately hollow.

Viewers never find out why Rita wants to live an aimless, unemployed life. Her hopes and dreams are never mentioned. How she was raised by her parents, her work history and her social life (other than her affair with “Daddy”) remain a mystery. By the end of the movie, viewers still won’t know much about Rita.

And when you have a romantic comedy where one of the people in the would-be couple remains an enigma, the dialogue is wretchedly monotonous, and there’s no realistic chemistry between the two main actors who are supposed to be this couple, the end result is a disappointing and off-kilter rom-com that isn’t funny or romantic.