The existence of the romcom as a genre is often considered formulaic and vapid. Many people love to hate, and a trashy romcom is the supposedly lowest ranking of cinema. And yet, for others, the romcom is actually one of the most celebrated genres in cinema, where people live for the magical moments, the predictable tropes and the happy endings of it all. However, it is not what it is without its many critiques; whether it’s not diverse enough, or it’s too heteronormative, or it doesn’t cater to the reality of the world. In Todd Strauss-Schulson’s Isn’t it Romantic, the argument is laid out that anyone could have the life of a protagonist in a romantic comedy, no matter how silly or hopeless this actually looks like.
Some of life’s biggest questions can only be answered within yourself. Sometimes these questions are best left answered through a journey of self discovery that attempts to arrange the chaotic unknown. But, that journey is never easy, from struggles at home to alienating yourself from those that could offer help or support. Jeremiah Zagar’s directorial debut We the Animals offers us a comprehensive—sometimes exhaustive— window into a young boy’s own journey of self discovery, how he navigates these big questions, and how they inhabit his deepest sense of self.
The films opens on three brothers —Manny, Joel, Jonah— looking out their bedroom window. Their existence is the center of the film, captivating the audience with an unrelenting view of their reality. These brothers do everything together: they entertain each other, they look out for each other, they look for food in their house together, they steal food at the mini-market together. The film is initially an outlook of poverty, dysfunctional family, sexuality, and the way they all come together to influence one’s growth. Manny, Joel, and Jonah are the kids of Ma and Pa, played by Sheila Vand and Raúl Castillo, respectively. As we watch their parents unravel, the film shifts to the youngest brother, Jonah; he becomes the heart of We the Animals. In inhabiting Jonah’s perspective, we are able to gain a look into his world, his differences within his own family, and how those differences lead to alienation from his family.
The erraticism of Ma and Pa’s relationship is white noise for all the brothers, especially Jonah; it is a common, yet vicious, cycle where the parents quarrel and then Pa leaves. The constant turbulence between Ma and Pa reaches a point where it instead becomes foundational for the toxic masculinity of Jonah’s other two brothers, Manny and Joel. In a pivotal scene where Pa returns after a prolonged absence, the boy’s play turns violent as they hit and scream at their father. The two older boys have grown to possess a Herculean attitude of harshness and viciousness, much like their Pa. Whereas Jonah, who is the only one attentive to their Ma, is gifted her softness and meek demeanour, keeping his feelings to himself. These contrasting attitudes are shown when the family goes swimming in the lake. Jonah and Ma share the inability to swim, but they are still swayed into the lake by Pa. Despite trusting him, Pa lets them go and teaches them how to swim by leaving them in the middle of the lake. A lesson in survival, one would argue, but not for them. This scene is the culmination of Ma and Pa’s erratic relationship.
From Yorgos Lanthimos’ highly-anticipated The Favourite to Greta Gerwig’s star-studded interpretation of Little Women, 2018 will be the year of period pieces. In anticipation of these films, the Much Ado crew has put our heads together and shared some of our favorite period pieces. They span genres, directors, and countries, but one thing is for sure: We are a group who loves a good period piece.
Atonement (2007) dir. Joe Wright
I’m not here to introduce you to a hidden gem of historical fiction about a marginalized population or oft-ignored perspective – I’m here to talk about Atonement. Yes, the Ian McEwan adaptation starring Keira Knightley and directed by Joe Wright. The combination of those three names yields a period piece so period piece-y, it’s quintessential genre viewing.
This movie’s got everything: war-torn lovers, smoking parlors, sexual tension, an evil chocolatier played by Benedict Cumberbatch, family secrets, precocious Saoirse Ronan, dramatic deaths, and betrayal. Set against the backdrop of the First World War, Atonement follows the sweeping love story of beautiful, snobbish Cecilia and working class Robbie, played by Keira Knightley with a jaw so sharp it could kill a man and boy-next-door James McAvoy, respectively. Saoirse received her first Oscar nomination for her role as Cecilia’s incredibly annoying theater kid sister Briony (or at least that’s how I viewed her when I first saw the film as a preteen). But most of the gooey, decadent drama of the film draws itself from everything but the acting.