Thursday, April 3, 2014

This 'n That Thursdays: Two New Favorite Movies

Actress Diane Keaton with a darling companion
(from Screen Daily)

Our cable channel often gives us limited free access to some of the channels to which we do not subscribe, presumably in the hope that we will be motivated to sign up for them (sorry Dish, it's not going to happen).  A couple of weeks ago we got a free weekend of movie channels.  One of the channels, and of course I do not remember which one it was, aired a pair of movies that I found absolutely enchanting, so much so that I ordered DVDs of both.

From DVDs Release Dates

The first movie was one I had read about and vaguely remembered called "Darling Companion" (2012).  Directed by Lawrence Kasdan (who also directed "The Big Chill" (1983), one of my all-time favorite films), this movie centers around the efforts of a family to find their dog, lost in the wilderness just after their daughter's wedding, as well as their efforts to reconnect as a family.  Kevin Kline, Diane Keaton, Dianne Wiest, and an especially noteworthy Richard Jenkins play the main characters.  While I enjoyed all of the actors, I found Lewis, who is probably the least known of the four, to be exceptionally good, at least in part because his character is an outsider to the family and is the one who must find approval within their circle.

This film is not as remarkable as "The Big Chill", but I disagree with many critics who did not care for the movie.  They found the lost dog plot weak, the character interactions tepid, and the psychic gypsy story line farfetched.  I agree to some extent, but the fact that the search for the dog was not emphasized in the film did not bother me, as it is really the characters' search for a way to repair damaged relationships that is the focus in this movie.  One reviewer called the character interactions banal, but to me that was part of the point.  This is not a dramatic action movie with larger-than-life characters, but rather a more focused film following ordinary people attempting to understand and deal with problems that have been part of their lives for some time.  Explosive dialogue would have been unrealistic, but the rather plodding, and sometimes reluctant, discussion of relationship issues seems more believable.  Even though the clairvoyant gypsy character was a bit much, in the movie it is not her psychic abilities but her keen insight into human nature that was important in keeping these people together to explore their troubling issues rather than ignoring them as they had always done in the past.  Some movies are just not meant to be plot-driven, and this is one of them.  Since I happen to love character-driven movies, I have added this one to my list of favorites.

From IMP Awards

The second movie was even better, in my opinion, and it was one I had never even heard of before.  "Another Year" (2010) is set in England and revolves around the four seasons of a year in the life of an older couple, a geologist (played by the always excellent Jim Broadbent) and his social worker wife (Ruth Sheen, also excellent but unknown to me before I saw this film).  The couple have a solid, loving relationship, a son they adore, and a comfortable home.  They share an interest in gardening and cooking, and frequently invite guests to their home for meals.

The friends and acquaintances of this couple provide a stark contrast to their pleasant, contented life.  We learn about the problems in the life of one friend in particular, an attractive but no longer young woman (played by Lesley Manville) who works as a receptionist for the same organization as the wife.  Other friends and relatives have issues as well, and the interesting aspect to me in this film is that, while the couple maintain their friendships and are supportive, they take no active role in helping these friends solve their problems.  If this film had been made in the United States, I have no doubt that the couple would have attempted to change the lives of those in their circle, with varying degrees of success.  Also, as a good friend of mine pointed out when I described the movie to her, in the US version the happy couple would probably end up getting divorced.  Instead, in this movie they only let their troubled friends enter their lives within limits, realizing that their own happiness might be in jeopardy if they allow such needy people to lean on them too much.  They walk a fine line between caring intervention and careful withdrawal, and seem to have found the ideal balance for their lives.  It is fascinating to watch these intricate relationships, although I have to admit that it was also just a little frustrating for this American viewer, who kept thinking that "something must be done" every time a character made a poor choice or engaged in self-destructive behavior.  (For a more thorough review of the movie, read this one by Eric Hynes.)

Like "Darling Companion", this is not an action movie, and the focus is on character rather than plot.  The couple in this movie are not extraordinary in any way other than the fact that they are content with their lives, but in this movie I think one of the messages is that this contentment means more than fame, money, and/or power, and these two people are fortunate to realize that.  I watched this movie twice while it was available over the weekend, straight through to the end both times.  This is rare for me, as I usually end up going off to do chores while watching a movie, so this is a good indication of how enthralled I was with the film!  I am not familiar with the director, Mike Leigh, but now that I have seen this movie I am eager to seek out others he has made.

If you are someone who loves a good character-driven movie, watch these two films when you get the chance.  I don't think you will be sorry, and you may just decide to add them to your collection like I did!

The happy family in "Another Year"
(from Reverse Shot)

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