Review: ‘Lady Chatterley’s Lover’ (2022), starring Emma Corrin and Jack O’Connell

November 28, 2022

by Carla Hay

Jack O’Connell and Emma Corrin in “Lady Chatterley’s Lover” (Photo by Parisa Taghizadeh/Netflix)

“Lady Chatterley’s Lover” (2022)

Directed by Laure de Clermont-Tonnerre

Culture Representation: Taking place from 1918 to 1919, in the United Kingdom, the dramatic film “Lady Chatterley’s Lover” features an all-white cast of characters representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: Lady Constance Chatterley’s sex life with her husband comes to an abrupt end after his World War I injuries leave him with paraplegia, and he encourages her to get pregnant by another man because he wants an heir, but the two spouses are not prepared when she unexpectedly falls in love with her secret lover, who is the couple’s gamekeeper employee.

Culture Audience: “Lady Chatterley’s Lover” will appeal mainly to people who are fans of the D.H. Lawrence novel on which the movie is based, as well as people who are interested in erotic love stories that are set in the early 20th century.

Emma Corrin and Matthew Duckett in “Lady Chatterley’s Lover” (Photo by Seamus Ryan/Netflix)

Gorgeously filmed and terrifically acted, this version of “Lady Chatterley’s Lover” is the best movie adaptation of the book so far. Emma Corrin and Jack O’Connell give sensuous and romantic performances as the secret lovers who are the story’s main characters. Everything about the movie is authentically detailed to the story’s setting of the United Kingdom in 1918 and 1919, even though the movie’s pace tends to drag in some areas. This movie version of “Lady Chatterley’s Lover” should please fans of D.H. Lawrence’s 1928 novel of the same name (on which this movie is based), as well as viewers who might not have read the book but are interested in early 20th century stories about torrid love affairs and women who unapologetically live their truths. “Lady Chatterley’s Lover” had its world premiere at the 2022 Telluride Film Festival in Colorado and then made the rounds at other film festivals in 2022, including the BFI London Film Festival and AFI Fest in Los Angeles.

Directed by Laure de Clermont-Tonnerre, “Lady Chatterley’s Lover” is the fourth movie adaptation of the D.H. Lawrence book. The first “Lady Chatterley’s Lover” movie is director Just Jaeckin’s 1981 drama, starring Sylvia Kristel as Lady Chatterley and Nicholas Clay as Oliver Mellors, who becomes Lady Chatterley’s lover. Then came director Pascale Ferran’s 2006 French-language film “Lady Chatterley,” starring Marina Hands and Jean-Louis Coullo’ch as the two illicit lovers. There’s also the 2015 BBC TV-movie “Lady Chatterley’s Lover,” directed by Jed Mercurio, and starring Holliday Grainger and Richard Madden as the lady and her lover.

The 2022 movie version of “Lady Chatterley’s Lover” directed by de Clermont-Tonnerre is a cut above the rest, in terms of overall quality on all levels. This movie is also faithful to the plot and tone of the book. As the non-conformist Lady Chatterley, Corrin’s wonderfully expressive performance skillfully conveys the inner turmoil and outer frustrations of an aristocratic wife who is often emotionally stifled in an environment where her husband and society dictate how she must live her life. As the movie’s title character O’Connell is pitch-perfect as the working-class employee who is acutely aware of the social-class minefield he is entering by having an affair with his wealthy employer’s wife.

“Lady Chatterley’s Lover” begins with the 1918 wedding of Constance “Connie” Reid to Clifford Chatterley (played by Matthew Duckett), a wealthy heir to a fortune made from mining. Because Clifford has the title of lord, Connie will have the title of lady when she becomes his wife. The wedding is a happy occasion, because Connie and Clifford seem to genuinely be in love.

But there are some clues about possible trouble in this marriage. On Connie and Clifford’s wedding day, Connie’s older sister Hilda (played by Faye Marsay) has a private conversation with Connie, who had her heart broken by a German ex-boyfriend. It’s implied that Clifford is a rebound relationship for Connie, and they had a whirlwind courtship. This courtship is never seen in the movie.

Hilda tells Connie with concern in her voice, “I don’t want you to get hurt again.” Connie assures Hilda that she made the right decision to choose Clifford as a husband: “He’s kind and thoughtful, and he makes me feel safe.” But is there romantic passion between Connie and Clifford? Connie is about to find out that her marriage to Clifford will come up very short in that area.

At the wedding reception, Clifford’s widower father Sir Geoffrey Chatterley (played by Alistair Findlay) gives a toast to the assembled guests. Observant viewers will notice that behind Geoffrey’s cheerful smile and pleasant mannerisms are a few signs of discontent. One of the signs is when Geoffrey has thanked many of the guests who donated their butter and sugar rations “to help us celebrate.” It’s an indication that although the Chatterley family is wealthy, World I has taken a toll on the family’s finances.

Before making the toast, Geoffrey also makes a snide remark about Connie marrying Clifford (who has no siblings) for the Chatterley family’s sprawling and rural Wragby estate, located in the Midlands of England. Connie laughs off this possible insult and tells Geoffrey and the rest of the crowd that she and Clifford have married for love. Geoffrey’s comment is also an indication that Connie was into a lower-ranking artisocratic family. Connie’s father is Sir Malcolm Reid (played by Anthony Brophy), who approves of the marriage and is briefly shown in the wedding scene. Geoffrey’s toast includes this statement: “To the next heir of Chatterley.”

After the wedding, Connie and Clifford live in London. In their bedroom, she asks him, “Do you want children, Clifford?” He answers, “Yeah, someday. I’m assuming you would.” Connie replies, “I think so, yeah.” The movie doesn’t ever show Connie and Clifford having sex, but it’s implied that they had a healthy sex life before Clifford went off to serve in the military for World War I.

Clifford goes away to war soon after the wedding. “I’ll write to you every day,” he promises Connie at the train station. But when Clifford comes back from the war, after it ends in November 1918, the marriage will be changed considerably. Clifford was wounded in the war and has paralysis from the waist down. He has to use a wheelchair to move around. Clifford’s widower father Geoffrey died during the war, and Clifford has inherited the Ragby estate.

Clifford and Connie both seem to take his paraplegia in stride and agree that he needs to be in a less hectic environment than in a city. They move from London to the Ragby estate, which had largely been unoccupied since the death of Clifford’s father. “I think he died of chagrin,” Clifford says of his father not living long enough to have a grandchild.

At the Ragby estate, Connie and Clifford promptly hire several new employees, now that Clifford and Connie will be living there full-time. One of the people they hire is Oliver Mellors (played by O’Connell), who served as an army lieutenant in the war and has been hired to live and work on the Ragby estate as a gamekeeper. When Connie and Oliver first meet, there’s no attraction between the. It’s strictly an employer/employee relationship.

At first, Clifford seems to be good spirits in adjusting to his post-war physical condition. He’s a writer who decides to expand a short story that he started while attending Cambridge University into a novel. The novel gets published, but Clifford goes into a state of self-criticism and despair after he reads a newspaper article that has a negative review of the book. Connie tries to cheer him up, but this negative review has seemingly damaged Clifford’s self-esteem and confidence as a writer.

Clifford is also feeling insecure because his paraplegia has made him sexually impotent. Connie is as understanding as possible when her attempts to have sex with him end with Clifford stopping and saying, “I can’t.” But this lack of a sex life eventually has serious repercussions on their marriage.

Clifford expects Connie to be his nursemaid because he doesn’t want to pay to hire someone to do this work. (it’s one of many signs that Clifford is a cheapskate.) But the strain of taking care of him has left Connie in poor health. She lost an alarming amount of weight, which has lowered her energy level and immune system.

Hilda comes to visit and is so horrified by Connie’s physical condition, she insists that Clifford hire a nursemaid. Hilda thinks the best choice is a middle-aged widow named Mrs. Bolton (played by Joely Richardson), who was Clifford’s nanny when Clifford was a child. Hilda is strong-willed and very opinionated. Hilda lets it be known that she thinks Clifford could be a more considerate husband to Connie.

With Connie now having more free time without the stress of being Clifford’s nursemaid, her health starts to improve, even if the couple’s sex life hasn’t. But then, Clifford drops a bombshell proposal on Connie: He tells her more than anything, he wants to have an heir (preferably a son), so asks her how she would feel about getting pregnant by another man.

Connie is completely shocked and says she can’t do have sex with another man because she and Clifford are married. However, Clifford cheerfully tells her that he will have her blessing to have an extramarital affair, as long as she’s discreet about it. He also tells Connie that she can choose who her lover will be, but he doesn’t want to know who it is or any other details about the affair. He also compares this arrangement of having sex with a man who’ll impregnate her to “like taking a trip to the dentist.”

At this point in the marriage, Connie just wants to make Clifford happy. And although she’s uncomfortable with this plan, she goes along with it because she also wants to become a parent. Connie takes a mild interest in Oliver, who is a polite and reserved employee who lives in a cottage with his dog Flossie. Connie asks a schoolteacher acquaintance named Mrs. Flint (played by Ella Hunt) what Oliver’s story is.

And that’s how Connie finds out that Oliver is married but separated from his wife Bertha. According to Mrs. Flint, Bertha cheated on Oliver with several men when he was serving in the war. And now, Bertha is living with another man, but she won’t give Oliver a divorce. Connie’s German ex-boyfriend also cheated on her, so she immediately feels empathy for Oliver.

Connie comes up with excuses to visit Oliver or walk near his cottage. The first time she shows up at his place, she’s impressed that he’s reading a James Joyce novel. Over time, Connie discovers that Oliver is a caring and emotionally intelligent person, but he’s very wary about what Connie wants from him and how risky it would be for his employment status if they had an affair.

Of course, it should be no secret to viewers that Connie and Oliver eventually become lovers. When they begin their affair, she doesn’t tell him that Clifford gave her permission to have a lover so that she could get pregnant. She doesn’t tell Oliver because she doesn’t want to hurt his feelings by making him feel like he’s being used like a stud.

However, what Connie thought would be a “no strings attached” sexual relationship turns out to be much more complicated when she and Oliver start to fall in love with each other. Just as Clifford requested, Connie keeps the relationship a secret from him and other people. But the more emotionally distant Clifford gets, the more emotionally intimate Connie and Oliver get with each other.

Clifford seems to care more about writing, listening to the radio, and spending time with Mrs. Bolton (whom he sees as a mother figure/confidante) than he cares about spending time and paying attention to Connie. The movie has more than one scene of Connie being in a room with Clifford, and he acts as if she’s not really there. Feeling neglected and unappreciated just fuels Connie’s passion for Oliver even more because he’s completely present and attentive to her every time that they are together.

When the novel “Lady Chatterley’s Lover” was first published in 1928, it was controversial because its erotic content was considered too risqué, which resulted in the book being banned in some places. The Connie/Oliver sex scenes in 2022’s “Lady Chatterley’s Lover” gradually get more explicit as they fall deeper in love with each other. The lover scenes include occasional full-frontal nudity (male and female), but the nudity and sex scenes are artfully filmed and never look exploitative.

One of the most striking aspects of this version of “Lady Chatterley’s Lover” is Benoît Delhomme’s immersive and beautiful cinematography, whose use of certain palettes (especially blue and green) give the movie a rich vibrancy that is perfectly suited for this type of movie. Also impressive are the production design led by Karen Wakefield and the costume design by Emma Fryer. The attention to detail is impeccable.

All of these technical aspects of the movie just complement how well all of the cast members play their roles. Oliver and Connie might come from different social classes, but they are both an emotionally wounded in their own ways and find unexpected love with each other. The question is how far their loyalty to each other will go.

Connie also begins to understand that the true definition of “class” should not be defined by how much money someone has but what type of character that person has. Clifford is spoiled, self-centered snob who believes that aristocrats should treat non-aristocrats as inferior. Connie feels the exact opposite way and thinks that people should be treated fairly and equally.

It’s later revealed that Clifford exploits his workers by paying them well below a living wage. The movie doesn’t go too much into these worker exploitation issues, although there are indications that Connie becomes more aware as time goes on of the Chatterley family’s role in worker exploitation of the miners in the community. For example, when Connie first meets Mrs. Flint on the street during May Day, Connie is disturbed by the sight of a miner strike/labor protest that briefly becomes volatile. Mrs. Flint tells Connie that these miners have come from out of town, but Connie finds out that the miner’s problems actually hit much closer to home than she originally thought.

One of the main reasons why the “Lady Chatterley’s Lover” novel was so controversial at the time it was published is because it’s about a woman in search of autonomy over her sexuality. The right to control and the freedom to express sexuality have gender double standards that haven’t completely gone away just because there’s been progress made in female empowerment issues since 1928. People can certainly debate the morals of marital infidelity (especially if a spouse gives permission for the other spouse to have sex outside the marriage) and how marital infidelity is presented in this story. However, what this movie demonstrates so well is that the real morality issue in “Lady Chatterley’s Lover” is whether or not Connie can truthfully live according to how she really feels.

Netflix released “Lady Chatterley’s Lover” in select U.S. cinemas on November 23, 2022. The movie will premiere on Netflix on December 2, 2022.

Review: ‘The Silent Twins,’ starring Letitia Wright and Tamara Lawrance

September 16, 2022

by Carla Hay

Tamara Lawrance and Letitia Wright in “The Silent Twins” (Photo by Lukasz Bak/Focus Features)

“The Silent Twins”

Directed by Agnieszka Smoczynska

Culture Representation: Taking place in the United Kingdom from 1973 to 1993, the dramatic film “The Silent Twins” features a cast of white and black characters representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: Based on a true story, twin sisters with a co-dependent relationship speak to each other in their own secret language, and they refuse to talk to most other people in their lives, which are affected by the twins’ stints in mental health facilities and involvement with crime and drug abuse.

Culture Audience: “The Silent Twins” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in watching well-acted, cinematic versions of “strange but true” stories, but viewers should not expect “The Silent Twins” to be a traditional biopic.

Leah Mondesir Simmons and Eva-Arianna Baxter in “The Silent Twins” (Photo by Jakub Kijowski/Focus Features)

Whenever a movie is based on a true story, the filmmakers have a choice of which perspectives to focus on the most in the film. For “The Silent Twins,” the intention is to immerse viewers completely into the psyches of the real-life Jennifer Gibbons and June Gibbons, identical twins of Barbadian British heritage, who refused to speak to most people they met in their lives. Jennifer and June—who were born in 1963, and who spent most of their lives in Wales—have a tragic and bizarre story that is already familiar to many people, due to a lot of media attention, including news articles and TV documentaries.

Directed by Agnieszka Smoczynska and written by Andrea Seigel, “The Silent Twins” is based on journalist Marjorie Wallace’s 1986 non-fiction book of the same name. It’s not a conventional biopic about these real-life twins who refused to talk to most people they encountered. This uneven drama is a psychological kaleidoscope that’s worth watching for the fascinating performances by Letitia Wright and Tamara Lawrance. Wright has the role of the adult June (the more passive twin), and Lawrance has the role of the adult Jennifer (the more dominant twin).

“The Silent Twins” begins in 1973, by showing the twins at 10 years old. The childhood June (played by Leah Mondesir-Simmonds) and Jennifer (played by Eva-Arianna Baxter) are together in their bedroom while pretending to be radio broadcasters who are hosting their own talk show. It’s soon revealed that Jennifer and June have not spoken to their family members and most other people in years. The twins communicate with their family through handwritten notes and letters.

However, June and Jennifer speak to each other. In the movie, they talk quickly, often in hushed tones, and with unusual linguistic quirks, such as pronouncing the letter “s” as “sh.” In real life, the twins created their own patois way of communicating, which obviously would not work as well in a movie. In the movie, they speak English with a thick British-Caribbean accent, although some viewers might have a hard time understanding some of what is being said.

When June and Jennifer are together, they live in a fantasy world that they created. The twins have concocted imaginary characters with elaborate stories, which were often about fractured families, emotional pain and death. When they become teenagers, they write down and type out these stories, in efforts to become published authors. The movie shows that the twins continued to write into their 20s, but most of their work remained unpublished. Many of the twins’ real-life stories are incorporated into the movie as voiceover narration from the actresses portraying the twins, with stop-motion animation re-enacting the stories

The movie mentions that June and Jennifer are daughters of immigrants from the Barbados. Because the twins’ military father Aubrey (played by Treva Etienne) was an air traffic controller for the Royal Air Force, the family immigrated to England and then later moved to Wales. Aubrey’s homemaker wife Gloria (played by Nadine Marshall) is the parent who is depicted in the movie as being more disturbed than her spouse by the twins’ silence.

Jennifer and June were born in Yemen, because their father was stationed on a British military base in Yemen at the time. June and Jennifer have three siblings: older sister Greta (played by Amarah-Jae St. Aubyn), born in 1957; older brother David (played by Hubert Sylla), born in 1959; and younger sister Rosie (played by Lara Nieradzik-Vasconcelos), born in 1967. (The movie makes Rosie look a lot younger than 6 years old in the 1973 scenes.)

As pre-teen children, Jennifer and June go to a school where they are the only black students. They are bullied mercilessly and treated like outcasts and freaks. For example, there’s a scene where a boy pins down Jennifer in the school yard, spits on her, and demands that she swallow his spit. This type of bullying just makes June and Jennifer even more withdrawn from everyone else.

The school’s teachers don’t know what to do with June and Jennifer, who are intelligent, but they refuse to speak to anyone in the school. The school’s administrators are thinking about transferring June and Jennifer to a special education school if the twins’ muteness continues. The twins’ parents don’t want that to happen because they know that June and Jennifer do not have any learning disabilities.

The family is referred to child psychologist Tim Thomas (played by Michael Smiley), who makes several efforts to have a communication breakthrough with June and Jennifer. For example, he leaves two tape recorders in a room when the twins are alone together. On one tape recorder that he leaves in play mode, he asks simple pre-recorded questions that he hopes the twin will answer. (The questions include “Do you have any hobbies?,” “How would you describe your personalities?” and “What’s your favorite subject?) The other tape recorder is in recording mode, in case the twins respond to the questions.

Not surprisingly, the twins don’t respond. And things get more strained in their family, as a frustrated, angry and hurt Greta tells the twins that she done with trying to communicate with them. She also yells at the twins that they’re an embarrassment to the family. At this point in 1973, Greta is married with a child and says that the twins’ deliberate silence is so upsetting, Greta doesn’t want to come to the parents’ house anymore when the twins are there. The twins act like they don’t really care.

The biggest question that the movie doesn’t really answer is why the twins stopped talking to other people at such a young age. (News coverage and books about June and Jennifer go into more details. June and Jennifer decided to stop talking to most other people because the twins made a secret pact to become deliberately mute.) In meetings with teachers, school administrators and therapists, Aubrey and Gloria insist that all of their children were raised with love and support and were never abused. And if the twins experienced something that triggered their muteness, well, they’re not talking about it.

When they become teenagers, Jennifer and June’s antisocial behavior turns into criminal activities. They both have a crush on a troublemaking American teen named Wayne (played by Jack Bandeira), whose family lives on the same military base. Jennifer and June break into Wayne’s house when no one is there and snoop through his things in his bedroom and eat some of the family’s food.

Wayne’s parents come home and find the twins. Instead of having the twins punished for this break-in, Wayne’s parents feel sorry for June and Jennifer because they think the twins are lonely and looking for friends. Wayne’s parents let the twins hang out with Wayne, who introduces them to smoking marijuana and sniffing glue. As depicted in the movie, Wayne is one of the few people who has conversations with June and Jennifer.

Wayne also gets sexually involved with June and Jennifer (they lose their virginity to him), but it’s not a romance. He’s using them both for sex and mind games, knowing that the twins are emotionally vulnerable and are falling in love with him. In real life, June and Jennifer did have this real-life relationship. But what the movie doesn’t show is that Wayne had three brothers—Lance, Jerry and Carl—and June and Jennifer were intimately involved with Wayne, Jerry and Carl at various times.

In the movie, June and Jennifer’s involvement with Wayne leads them down a more destructive path of drug abuse and violent crime. However, the movie makes it clear that Wayne cannot be completely blamed for the twins’ bad choices, because the twins were already very troubled by the time they met Wayne. As close as June and Jennifer were, they also had a love/hate relationship with each other that would result in them getting into brutal physical fights with each other.

At the same time, June and Jennifer were so co-dependent that they couldn’t function without each other. The movie shows that when the twins are forced to separate by psychiatrists, June and Jennifer essentially have nervous breakdowns. But when the twins reunite and start living together again, their downward spiral continues for other reasons that are public knowledge but won’t be revealed in this review, so as not to give away spoiler information for people who don’t know.

Because the “The Silent Twins” movie is told only from the perspectives of June and Jennifer, the movie offers fragments of June’s and Jennifer’s lives, to replicate the fragments of memories that these twins had during their strange and traumatic existence. At one point, when the twins are at their most obsessive with each other, it’s as if their family just fades away. In the early 1980s, June and Jennifer eventually meet Sunday Times journalist Marjorie Wallace (played by Jodhi May), who has a communications breakthrough with the twins.

The tone of “The Silent Twins” is meant to keep viewers slightly off-balance, as if to replicate how the twins probably felt out of sync with most people they encountered in life. This approach to telling Jennifer and June’s story might be less interesting to watch if not for the performances of Wright and Lawrance. Aside from their skillful use of facial expressions and body language to portray these silent sisters, Wright and Lawrence (who obviously don’t look like identical twins) are also convincing in portraying twins who become so delusional, they began to think that they are the same person.

However, the twins show definite personality traits that set them apart from each other. Jennifer is the more mean-spirited of the twins, but she’s also the more talented and more prolific writer. The twins seem to be at their happiest when they’re creating stories. When they get a typewriter and are later accepted into a mail-in creative writing program, they’re ecstatic.

But the happiness in the twins’ lives turns out to be fleeting. Their drug abuse and continued muteness get in the way of the twins becoming healthy, fully functioning adults. What the movie accomplishes is showing that although the twins’ silence seemed like they were at war with the outside world, the twins were really at war with themselves and felt trapped together to the point of no return.

Focus Features released “The Silent Twins” in select U.S. cinemas on September 16, 2022.

Review: ‘Together’ (2021), starring James McAvoy and Sharon Horgan

August 28, 2021

by Carla Hay

James McAvoy and Sharon Horgan in “Together” (Photo by Peter Mountain/Bleecker Street)

“Together” (2021) 

Directed by Stephen Daldry

Culture Representation: Taking place from March 2020 to March 2021, in an unnamed city in the United Kingdom, the comedy/drama “Together” features an all-white cast of characters representing the middle-class.

Culture Clash: An unmarried couple, who are opposites in many ways, confront issues in their love/hate relationship when they have to quarantine together during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Culture Audience: “Together” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in well-acted movies about love relationships during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Sharon Horgan and James McAvoy in “Together” (Photo by Peter Mountain/Bleecker Street)

The comedy/drama “Together” is a very talkative relationship movie that could easily have been a stage play because the entire story takes place at one house. The movie’s appeal is largely dependent on the talent of co-stars James McAvoy and Sharon Horgan. They are two of the movie’s three cast members who speak. McAvoy and Horgan also have about 99% of the screen time and speaking lines in the movie. And much of it consists of conversations and monologues that are funny, rude, angry and sometimes poignant.

Fortunately, McAvoy and Horgan succeed in making their very flawed characters sizzle with a wide range of emotions that are realistic for a troubled couple navigating their way through a quarantine together during the COVID-19 pandemic. “Together” (directed by Stephen Daldry and written Dennis Kelly) takes place from March 24, 2020, to March 22, 2021, in an unnamed city in the United Kingdom. By the end of the movie, the unnamed, unmarried couple portrayed by McAvoy and Horgan have a reckoning about where their relationship is headed, and they decide if they are going to stay together or not.

The couple at the center of the story are only identified as He and She in the film’s credits. They are both opposites in many ways. He is a businessman who used to be a high-ranking corporate executive and has started his own tech consulting business that is failing when this story begins. He’s politically conservative and hates the idea of government welfare because he thinks people on welfare are lazy. He has a very arrogant and condescending view of people who are working-class and poor, even though he comes from a working-class background in Scotland.

She’s from England and politically liberal—someone whom a conservative would call a “bleeding heart” liberal, although she likes to think of herself as a moderate liberal. She comes from an upper-middle-class background (her late father was a dentist), and she believes that the government and society in general should do more to help poor and disenfranchised people. It’s why she works as a refugee coordinator.

This often-bickering couple has a son together named Arthur, nicknamed Artie (played by Samuel Logan), who’s about 11 or 12 years old. Artie stays in the background for most of the movie. Artie also doesn’t speak until the last third of the film, when the quarantine lockdown has lifted and the COVID-19 vaccination has become available. This family trio lives in a cluttered, upper-middle-class two-story house.

There are two scenes where Artie is briefly shown on a backyard trampoline. The movie quickly shows only person outside of the household: a boy who’s around the same age as Artie and who lives next door. This unnamed boy doesn’t speak in the movie, but he also has a backyard trampoline that he’s seen jumping on at the same time as Artie. Viewers will get the impression that even without a quarantine, Artie is a loner anyway because he and his parents never mention Artie not being able to hang out with any friends during the lockdown.

The beginning of “Together” doesn’t waste time in showing the volatile relationship between these on-again/off-again lovers. It’s the first day of the quarantine lockdown, and they’ve just come back from stocking up on food from a grocery store, where a lot of panic buying was going on. This argumentative couple—who talk to the camera, as if they’re filming video diaries for an audience—can’t even agree on the name their son should be called. He thinks their son should be called Artie, while she prefers Arthur.

He says to the camera, “The only thing keeping us together is our child.” He then says to her about how during quarantine, he’ll miss the routine of leaving the house. “Just saying goodbye to you [to go to work] is the best part of my day!” She snaps back and says to the camera, “Just being in the same room as him is like a sadness and a soul stink both mixed together.”

The insults don’t end there. He says to her, “I hate your face.” She replies, “When I look at you, I get the exact same feeling as my dead dad’s cancer.” They both trade these types of verbal barbs while looking at each other or acting as if the other person isn’t there and talking directly to the camera.

How did these two miserable people end up together? They tell their “love story” in bits and pieces, during their conversations and monologues. Like many romances that turn sour, things started out wonderfully. They had an “opposites attract” relationship where their differences seemed charming to each other in the beginning. And they definitely fell in love.

However, even early on in their relationship, they disagreed and argued over fundamental things. A turning point in their courtship happened when a hipster friend of theirs named Nathan convinced the couple to go on a New Age type of rustic retreat with Nathan and some other people. During this retreat, the participants were required to get up early one morning to harvest mushrooms.

The male partner in the couple got food poisoning from eating the mushrooms. His food poisoning was so severe that he needed hospital treatment. And describing it all these years later, he says it felt like a near-death experience. Because of this health scare, the couple decided to have a child together.

Artie or Arthur is a fairly quiet child who can occasionally be seen eavesdropping on some of his parents’ arguments. They seem to be aware that he listens in on them talking because they sometimes lower their voice when they say things they don’t want their son to hear. And the man in the couple thinks that Artie is a little strange, but when he talks about it with his partner, this father often over-compensates by raising his voice to praise Artie in case the child can hear nearby.

In the beginning of the movie, the man tells his partner about a recent trip to a grocery store, where he wanted to buy aubergines to cook for their son. He saw a grocery store employee with a large stock of aubergines and asked her if any were available to buy. She says no, because another employee who recently got infected with COVID-19 could have handled this produce, and the store is investigating to find out if the aubergines would be safe to sell.

The man in the relationship practically brags with glee about how he verbally abused this grocery store employee when she declined to take £1,000 that he offered to get her to give him one of the aubergines. He says that he called this employee a “big-nosed prick” and a “fucking loser.” And to further demean her, he also said: “This is the reason why you’re stuck in this shitty job, and I’ve got an E-Class [Mercedes] Benz waiting for me outside!” He also said that he dropped all of his groceries on the floor and then walked out.

The man’s partner is so horrified and disgusted by hearing this story that she walks away. It’s meant to demonstrate how callous and condescending he can be. But over time, things happen during the pandemic that teach him some humility and appreciation for people and things that he took for granted. The man in this relationship has a more transformative arc than the woman during the pandemic lockdown.

Throughout this one-year period that’s depicted in “Together,” the couple experiences more ups and downs, including news that a few people they know have been infected with COVID-19. They argue some more, make up, and then argue again. It seems to be a pattern in their relationship that gives them a lot of stress, but it’s something that they’re oddly comfortable with because that’s all they know in how to communicate with each other.

Artie has only one grandparent: his mother’s widowed mother. The parents of Artie’s father are deceased. Artie is very close to his maternal grandmother, who needs nursing care and cannot visit during the quarantine lockdown. Artie’s mother is very worried about what will happen to her mother, who has another daughter who also lives in the United Kingdom. A decision is made on whether or not the grandmother should continue to receive care at home or should be moved to a nursing care facility.

Although none of this couple’s relatives is seen in the movie, the types of relationships that Artie’s mother has with her sister and mother have a deep emotional effect on her. It’s not stated if the man in the relationship has any living relatives. This movie’s lack of a family background for the male protagonsist is a minor screenplay flaw that can easily be forgiven because his character’s personality is so vivid (as unlikable as he can be) and very realistic to how a lot of insecure people behave.

The woman in the relationship isn’t a saint either, since she and her partner say some awful, hateful things to each other. Her main personality flaw is that she doesn’t like to show vulnerabilities and puts up a front that she can handle anything at any time. And that “stiff upper lip” façade might come crashing down on her.

One of the criticisms that “Together” might get is how the couple’s son is mostly in the background during this story of a family that’s supposed to be in lockdown together. The parents do seem self-absorbed, but they are not neglectful, since there are scenes where they interact lovingly with their son. However, it’s easy to see why the filmmakers didn’t want Artie/Arthur to say or do much in this story, because the movie’s focus is on how these squabbling parents are dealing with their own issues that have nothing to do with their son.

Because these two adult characters are front and center for the entire movie, viewer enjoyment of “Together” will be affected by how much someone is willing to spend 92 minutes going on a talkative roller coaster ride of a couple whose relationship always seems on the verge of collapse. Fortunately, Kelly’s witty screenplay gives McAvoy and Horgan an ideal platform to showcase their considerable acting chops. It’s a ride that is sometimes uncomfortable, sometimes amusing, but it’s definitely not boring.

Bleecker Street released “Together” in select U.S. cinemas on August 27, 2021. The movie is set for release on digital and VOD on September 17, 2021. BBC iPlayer premiered the movie in the United Kingdom on June 17, 2021.

Review: ‘Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga,’ starring Will Ferrell and Rachel McAdams

June 26, 2020

by Carla Hay

Will Ferrell and Rachel McAdams in “Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga” (Photo by John Wilson/Netflix)

Culture Representation: Taking place in Iceland and Scotland, the musical comedy “Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga” has a predominantly white cast (with some black people, Asians and Latinos) representing the middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: An Icelandic male/female pop-music duo called Fire Saga aspire to on the annual Eurovision Song Contest, but they come up against naysayers in their home country as well as competitors from other countries.

Culture Audience: “Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga” will appeal primarily to fans of stars Will Ferrell and Rachel McAdams, as well as to people who like good-natured satires of fame seekers and hokey TV talent contests.

Dan Stevens in “Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga” (Photo by John Wilson/Netflix)

“Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga” is an entertaining parody of the famous annual Eurovision Song Contest that feels retro and contemporary at the same time. The contest, which began in 1956 and is televised in numerous countries, has singers (usually performing pop music) competing from different countries around the world, as a sort of an Olympics for aspiring music stars. Will Ferrell and Rachel McAdams portray the earnest but naïve Lars Erickssong and Sigrit Ericksdottir, a musical duo from Iceland who perform under the stage name Fire Saga. Ferrell, who co-wrote the original screenplay with Andrew Steele, is one of the producers of this comedy. And it’s one of Ferrell’s best movies in years.

Although “Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga” (directed by David Dobkin) takes place in the present day, a lot of the musical sensibilities and costumes seem to be stuck in a previous decade, especially the 1980s or 1990s. The movie’s running joke, although not explicitly stated, is that certain parts of Europe are “behind the times” in pop music, because these countries rarely produce groundbreaking pop superstars on a worldwide level. Therefore, the performers who represent these countries at Eurovision are often ridiculed by Eurovision haters for looking and sounding outdated.

The trailer for “Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga” already shows that Fire Saga made it to the contest. Therefore, the first third of this 123-minute movie has no suspense, since it’s all about the obstacles that Fire Saga encounters in the quest to make it to Eurovision. Iceland has never had a Eurovision winner, so that immediately makes Fire Saga the ultimate underdog act.

The movie begins in Húsavík, Iceland, on April 6, 1974, when a pre-teen Lars (played by Alfie Melia), his stern widower father Erick (played by Pierce Brosnan) and other members of the family are watching Eurovision in the living room. The Swedish pop group ABBA is performing “Waterloo,” and Lars is transfixed. (ABBA won Eurovision that year and has remained Eurovision’s most famous winning act.)

As Lars dances along to ABBA performing on TV, he announces to his family that someday, he’s going to be a contestant on Eurovision. Several people scoff at the idea, including Erick, who says he’d rather be dead than to have his son sing and dance on Eurovision. Well, you know what that means.

About 45 years later, Lars is still living with his father, who makes a living as a fisherman, while Lars has a job giving parking tickets. Lars and his musical partner Sigrit (who is a music teacher) are longtime friends. They are singers and multi-instrumentalists, but they’ve been floundering in the dead-end local music scene. Fire Saga’s music “career” consists of rehearsing in the basement of Erick’s house and performing at a small local bar.

A running joke in the movie is that the patrons of this bar don’t want to hear any Fire Saga original songs (such as the trash-tastic “Volcano Man”) and would rather hear Fire Saga perform a very childish, nonsensical tune called “Jaja Ding Dong.” The audience is so fanatical about “Jaja Ding Dong” that they will often demand that Fire Saga perform it more than once in a single set. Is it any wonder that Lars and Sigrit think Eurovision will be their ticket out of this backwards town?

Erick isn’t the only one who thinks Lars is a loser and that it’s a delusional lost cause for Fire Saga to be on Eurovision. Sigrit’s single mother Helka (played by Elin Petersdottir) vehemently disapproves of Sigrit chasing this dream and tells Sigrit that she’s wasting her time with Lars. Although it’s not shown in the movie, it’s mentioned that Sigrit used to be mute as a child, until she met Lars and he helped her find her voice through music. And Lars and Sigrit have been friends ever since.

But now that they’re adults, Sigrit wants to be more than friends with Lars, because she’s secretly in love with him. Lars has the maturity level of a teenager (like most characters Farrell tends to play), so Lars is completely oblivious to Sigrit’s true feelings for him. As if to make the point that Lars and Sigrit don’t exude sexual chemistry with each other, throughout the movie, people who meet Lars and Sigrit for the first time mistakenly assume that Lars and Sigrit are brother and sister. Later in the story, when Sigrit and Lars almost kiss romantically, he stops it from happening because he says they can’t ruin their work relationship with a romance, and they have to stay focused on winning Eurovision.

But getting to Eurovision won’t be so easy. First, Fire Saga has to win the Icelandic Song Contest. Neils Brongus (played by Ólafur Darri Ólafsson), the president of Icelandic Public Television, leads a committee in charge of deciding who will be contestants in the Icelandic Song Contest. And he already has a favorite to win: Katiana Lindsdottir (played by Demi Lovato), from Kefalvik, a ready-made pop star with a powerful singing voice.

Neils tells his assembled team after watching Katiana’s audition video: “Without being dramatic, I think it might be the best audition tape we ever had in the history of the Icelandic Song Contest.”  (In the movie, Lovato sings the original song “In the Mirror.”) Compared to Katiana, Fire Saga looks like a bad joke.

Meanwhile, Victor Karlsson (played by Mikael Persbrandt), governor of Central Bank of Iceland, is worried about a contestant from Iceland winning Eurovision, which has a tradition of the winning contestant’s country hosting the contest in the following year. Victor fears that Iceland doesn’t have the infrastructure to accommodate the hundreds of thousands of people who would come to Iceland for Eurovision. And  he thinks that all those visitors during a short period of time could bankrupt Iceland.

Therefore, Victor is not enthusiastic about Katiana or anyone from Iceland winning Eurovision. When Victor expresses his concerns to Neils and the team at Icelandic Public Television, the rest of the group immediately shoots down Victor’s pessimistic prediction, because they think Eurovision coming to Iceland would be great for the Icelandic economy.

Lars’ dream of wining Eurovision becomes even more desperate when he finds himself homeless. His father Erick is having serious financial problems and has a choice to sell his house or sell his boat. Since Erick needs his boat for his fisherman income, he decides to sell the house.

Meanwhile, Sigrit has a quirk that Lars finds a little irritating: She believes in elves and thinks that elves can grant wishes. A recurring joke in the movie is that she visits a group of tiny houses built for elves and offers food and other gifts to the unseen creatures, as a way to entice them to grant her wishes. Two of her biggest wishes are to win Eurovision and to get together with Lars and start a family with him.

Through a series of unpredictable events, Fire Saga ends up representing Iceland at Eurovision, which is being held in Edinburgh, Scotland. How the usually hapless Fire Saga got to Eurovision wasn’t necessarily because Fire Saga was voted the best act, so Iceland’s support is lukewarm at best. Still, Iceland has given Fire Saga enough support that the country has hired a creative team to help Fire Saga win with Fire Saga’s chosen song “Double Trouble.”

The artistic director of this creative team is the very fussy and flamboyant Kevin Swain (played by Jamie Demetriou, in a scene-stealing performance), who sometimes clashes with the creative vision that Lars and Sigrit have for Fire Saga. During Eurovision rehearsals, Lars and Sirgit also meet another flamboyant character: Russian contestant Alexander Lemtov (played by Dan Stevens), a singer who flaunts his wealth and gives the impression that he will sleep with anyone to get them to do what he wants. Alexander’s Eurovision song is called “Lion of Love,” and his bombastic performance of the song includes a homoerotic choreography with male backup dancers wearing skintight gold lamé pants.

Alexander (whose frosted 1980s hairdo is reminiscent of George Michael in his Wham! days) immediately sets his sights on Sigrit to target as a sexual conquest. Meanwhile, Lars attracts the amorous attention of Greek contestant Mita Xenakis (played by Melissanthi Mahut), a singer who’s like a cross between Ariana Grande and Cher. Not surprisingly, some jealousy situations ensue.

In between all of the backstage drama and hilariously tacky performances, the movie has a standout musical ensemble number that takes place at a contestant party thrown by Alexander. In this scene, numerous contestants (including Lars, Sigrit, Alexander and Mita) do an extravagant medley of Cher’s “Believe,” Madonna’s “Ray of Light,” ABBA’s “Waterloo” and the Black Eyed Peas’ “I Gotta Feeling.”

Savan Kotecha, the musical director for this movie, assembled the team that wrote the film’s original songs that were deliberately kitschy. His background in writing and producing hits for real-life pop stars serves this movie very well. Among the hits that Kotecha co-written and co-produced include The Weeknd’s “Can’t Feel My Face,” Grande’s “God Is a Woman,” One Direction’s “What Makes You Beautiful” and Lovato’s “Confident.” The musical score by Atli Örvarsson complements the pop tunes without being overbearing.

The movie’s Eurovision performance scenes, which includes footage from real Eurovision arena shows, are among the comedic highlights of the film. Just when you think an act couldn’t get campier or more pompous, another one comes along to surpass it. Graham Norton (portraying himself) adds an element of satirical realism with his cameo as the sardonic TV commentator for Eurovision.

For “Eurovision Song Contest,” McAdams and Ferrell have reunited with their “Wedding Crashers” director Dobkin, whose previous experience as a music-video director is an asset for this musical movie. As for the singing in the movie, Lovato and Mahut are professional singers in real life, so they did their own vocals. Adams’ vocals were either her own or a combination of McAdams and those of Swedish singer Molly Sandé. Alexander’s operatic singing vocals were provided by Erik Mjönes.

“Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga” has plenty of lowbrow jokes that are actually laugh-out-loud funny. For example, there are several penis jokes and jokes about naked men in the movie. The jokes are crude but not offensive. In one scene, Lars comments: “I think of my penis like a Volvo—solid, sturdy, dependable, but not going to turn any heads.” Comedy is all about delivery, and Ferrell delivers the line in such a good natured, self-deprecating way, that it will make people laugh.

The movie doesn’t just poke fun at tacky aspiring pop stars from Europe. Americans are also the butt of many jokes in the film. During the course of the movie, Lars and Sigrit keep encountering the same group of college-age American tourists. Lars makes it known that he dislikes Americans, by taunting the tourists with the worst “ugly American” stereotypes. His insults aren’t too far off from how many non-Americans perceive Americans.

Make no mistake: “Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga” is by no means an Oscar-worthy movie. (Ferrell has never starred in that type of movie anyway.) But it is a cut above some of the stinkers that Ferrell has been headlining in recent years. At its heart, “Eurovision Song Contest” has a sentimentality to it that just might win people over in the way that Fire Saga earnestly tries to charm audiences—not by being the most talented but by being their unapologetically corny selves.

Netflix premiered “Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga” on June 26, 2020.

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