#52FilmsbyWomen

REVIEW: Good Luck to You, Leo Grande (2022)

Two years after her husband’s death, Nancy Stokes (Emma Thompson), a 55-year-old retired religious studies teacher, makes a plan. She books a hotel room and hires young sex worker Leo Grande (Daryl McCormack) in the hope to finally experience some good sex.

This is one of those films I went into blind and wanted to watch it purely because there was an actor I liked in it. In this case that’s Emma Thompson but I have to say I’ll be checking out Daryl McCormack’s filmography after this because he was utterly charming and charismatic. Thompson though is a tour deforce. Emma Thompson is generally great, she’s funny and quick and nails those dramatic moments, but in Good Luck to You, Leo Grande it’s like you get to see another new side to her. Nancy is scared and vulnerable while also being incredibly opinionated and sure about the things she does know about. Sex is something she’s unsure about having only slept with one man her entire life and having never had any pleasure from it. But her life and her thoughts on society are things she is sure about as she’s a planner and thinks through every possible scenario.

The conflicts that arise in Good Luck to You, Leo Grande are often personal and internal ones. Nancy is conflicted by what she’s doing. Hiring a sex worker is so out of her realm of normality that she second guesses herself almost constantly. Then there’s the boundaries both she and Leo put for their own peace of mind and how things deteriorate when those boundaries are crossed.

The fact that Good Luck to You, Leo Grande is pretty much just set in a hotel room is great too as I’m a big fan of single-location films. How Leo and Nancy move around the space is interesting and when tensions boil over, they feel so far apart even though they’re in the same room and are still as physically close to one another as they have been before.

The discussions Nancy and Leo have before, during and after sex are both funny and interesting. Their ideas of what sex work is and its value differ greatly and some of that can be put down to a generational divide. To begin with Nancy thinks there must be “something wrong” with Leo or he must have some huge trauma to do what he does but for him it’s a job he enjoys doing. He enjoys giving others pleasure and there’s the clients that don’t want anything from him but some company. Good Luck to You, Leo Grande is probably one of the most nuanced and positive depictions of sex work I’ve seen in a film. Leo is never guilty about his job and he is kind enough to explain to Nancy what he gets out of it.

Good Luck to You, Leo Grande is funny, cringey, sexy, and a touching film about human connection – sexual or otherwise. The fact that it’s pretty much just set in a hotel room is great too as I’m a big fan of single-location films. The humour cannot be overstated and with a clever script and brilliant performances Good Luck to You, Leo Grande is a delight! 4/5.

REVIEW: I Could Never Be Your Woman (2007)

Forty-year-old single mum Rosie (Michelle Pfeiffer) produces doomed TV show until she casts twenty-nine-year-old Adam (Paul Rudd). As the show gets a new lease of life, so does she as they start to date but her insecurities about their age difference threatens to compromise their relationship.

I have a soft spot for films/shows that are about films/shows being made (Singin’ in the Rain and Hail, Caesar! for example) so for me, Rosie’s job was just as interesting as the family and romance stuff she has going on in her life. She’s a writer and producer of “You Go Girl” – a teen comedy show where all the teenagers are played by twenty-somethings – and there’s some great referential humour in that concept with interfering network heads, censors, and trying to make the cast look younger. Even though I Could Never Be Your Woman is fifteen years old, many of the problems Rosie faces in trying to put together the best show she can on a tiny budget are still applicable to TV shows nowadays.

Something else I very much enjoyed in I Could Never Be Your Woman is all the random British and Irish actors that are in this. Saoirse Ronan plays Izzie, Rosie’s thirteen-year-old daughter, Yasmin Paige (of The Sarah Jane Adventures fame plays Melanie, Izzie’s best friend, while Sarah Alexander plays Rosie’s catty assistant. Then there’s Graham Norton who works in the “You Go Girl” costume department, David Mitchell is a co-writer on the show, Tracey Ullman plays Mother Nature (that’s a bit of a weird one), and Mackenzie Crook and Steve Pemberton also make brief appearances. I’d be somewhat fascinated to learn how all these people ended up on this film as it really is an eclectic bunch.

But I Could Never Be Your Woman has more going for it than just a cool job for the female lead and a load of British and Irish comedy actors making brief appearances, it is actually pretty funny and is a sweet romance. Rudd and Pfeiffer have great chemistry and while Rosie’s worries about their age difference is understandable, they do actually work well together. It probably helps that Paul Rudd looks ageless so me watching this for the first time now didn’t really see much difference between the two of the age-wise.

Rosie and Izzie’s relationship was also great. While Rosie is obviously the adult and her mum, she talks to Izzie in a mature way and they both give each other advice on their love lives with mixed results. I also liked Rosie’s relationship with her ex-husband and Izzie’s father Nathan (Jon Lovitz). They clearly are great co-parents and I always like to see examples of the non-“traditional” family done well.

I Could Never Be Your Woman is a good fun, 90-minute romcom. In some ways it feels a bit dated and very 2000s with the fashion and slang but it’s still a fun story and the various relationship dynamics really make the film work. 4/5.

Y is for The Year of Spectacular Men (2017)

After graduating and kind of breaking up with her boyfriend, Izzy Klein (Madelyn Deutch) decides to move back to LA from New York and move in with her successful younger sister Sabrina (Zoey Deutch). As Izzy tries to figure out what she wants from life she makes the most of her freedom and binge watches The X-Files and meets many guys who could possibly be “the one”.

I feel after I highlighted the potential nepotism in Quincy, I have to give The Year of Spectacular Men equal treatment. It’s directed by Lea Thompson (who also plays Izzy and Sabrina’s mother) and stars her real-life daughters and while they both have acting experience prior to this film, it’s interesting to think if some of the scenes between the daughters and mother would have the same natural and comforting vibe as these three do.

The Year of Spectacular Men is kind of a combination of coming-of-age story, rom-com, and family drama and as it tries to be so many things at once, it doesn’t always nail each one. I think the aspect that works best is the coming-of-age one as Izzy is at a crossroads in her life, trying to figure out what she wants to do after university. She’s had many different ideas or interests that she’s picked up and then dropped and she is sort of in limbo when it comes to romance. She seems to simultaneously get really attached to a guy while also doing what she can to push them away. It’s as if because she’s so unsure of herself, she’s unsure of any relationship in her life.

Perhaps it’s a given as they are real life sisters but the scenes with Izzy and Sabrina are the highlight of tis film. Their relationship is the heart of the film and it’s interesting how though Sabrina is the younger one, she seems to have her life more together as she has a home, a boyfriend, and a blossoming career as an actress/model. It’d be easy to have Izzy be resentful of her little sister but instead she admires her, helps her and always wants to protect her – even from things that she really shouldn’t. it’s still an interesting dynamic as Sabrina is the one encouraging Izzy to find a job, helps her make connections, and just try and get her out of her spare room.

The humour in The Year of Spectacular Men is more of the quirky and sometimes absurd kind rather than huge laughs. Izzy see things in an unusual way at times and how she acts around other people is sometimes awkward as she’s not totally comfortable in herself.

The Year of Spectacular Men is a pretty breezy rom-com/drama. The familial dynamics are the best and it’s always nice seeing films about messy twentysomething women who don’t have everything figured out. 3/5.

V is for Vita & Virginia (2018)

The love affair between socialite and popular author Vita Sackville-West (Gemma Arterton) and literary icon Virginia Woolf (Elizabeth Debicki).

Vita & Virginia is one of those films I chose to watch for two reasons and neither of them was because I thought I’d really enjoy the film. Those two reasons were one; it had an actor I liked a lot in it (in this case, Gemma Arterton) and two; it’s directed by a woman so can count towards my 52 Films by Women challenge. I didn’t go into Vita & Virginia thinking I’d hate it (and I didn’t) but equally, it wasn’t a story I was particularly interested in.

Based upon their real letters Vita & Virginia tells the story of how these two women met and became entangled in each other’s lives. There are many times where the letters are just read out by the actresses and the camera lingers on the face of the recipient as they register the words. This was an interesting way to show how they kept in touch and felt about one another to begin with, but the repetition soon got old.

It’s unfortunate that while the two leads do a decent job with what they’re given, it’s their relationships with their husbands that is far more touching and interesting than their forbidden love affair. Arterton and Debicki don’t have great chemistry whereas the support and care both Harold Nicolson (Rupert Penry-Jones) and Leonard Woolf (Peter Ferdinando) show their respected wives feels more real. Both couple’s marriages are unconventional in different ways and it’s a shame that’s what interested me more than what was happening between the titular characters.

The cast is good, it’s just how the film is put together (and a sometimes-dry script) that lets them down. How Vita & Virginia is edited feels weird. Some scenes or moments are cut too short so any intended emotional impact is lost while others meander or build to something that never happens. It makes this one hour and 50 minutes film often feel a lot longer than that. The music is also a bit strange at times, with almost techno, dance music playing during a party. It kind of feels it was going for the Sofia Coppola’s Marie Antoinette anachronistic vibe of clashing the historical and the modern but as it wasn’t consistent in Vita & Virginia, it’s just more jarring and feels out of place.

Overall, while the cast does what they can with what they’re given, the lack of chemistry between the leads and its slow-pace makes Vita & Virginia feel far longer and duller than what it probably was. 2/5.

Q is for Quincy (2018)

Documentary about the life and career of music legend Quincy Jones.

This documentary is a bit of a mixed to negative bag. For me personally, Quincy Jones was a person I was aware of but definitely didn’t know a lot about. So, Quincy is a good overview of all the musicians he’s been involved with, his work through the decades and his personal life, however it never really delves deep into any of it so if you were a Quincy Jones fan who knew a lot about him already, I doubt you’d get anything from this doc.

The documentary goes between the present and Quincy Jones’ whirlwind work schedule even though he’s in his mid-80s and the past, starting at his childhood to how he got into music and made a career out of it. The segments in the past are narrated by Jones, making them feel less genuine in a way and also pretty unoriginal. You never really get an insight into his creative process and how working with various other artists might’ve made it different. Instead, it is just a man, telling his life story and the various anecdotes about the musical legends he worked with like Frank Sinatra and Ray Charles are nice to hear it all feels like a rehash of his Wikipedia page.

The moments where something surprising does happen, like the two times Jones has a medical emergency and ends up in hospital, are glossed over pretty quickly. While he is told he needs to do more exercise and work and travel less, what you see on screen doesn’t make you think he took the doctors warnings that seriously.

Quincy is co-directed by his daughter, actress Rashida Jones, and the whole production does feel very much like an outcome of nepotism. One of the first scenes is of Rashida Jones trying to learn how to use the camera and it feels a bit awkward. She’s often with her father, asking him pretty leading questions so it feels staged and like she gets the answers she was aiming for.

As a documentary it’s pretty standard and while it does give a decent overview of Quincy Jones’ career, if you knew his major career milestones like becoming a film composer, working with Michael Jackson on “Thriller”, becoming a producer and “discovering” Oprah Winfrey, then you don’t need to watch Quincy. It’s like the greatest hits of his life and features a load of famous people singing Jones’ praises. It feels a bit shallow and maybe it’s because the documentary was made by his daughter that there aren’t any huge surprises or much depth. She may not want to probe deeper into her father’s life out of respect for him and Quincy Jones has the power to just make the documentary what he wants. 2/5.

O is for One for the Money (2012)

Stephanie Plum (Katherine Heigl) is down on her luck when she gets a job at her cousin’s bail-bond business. Her first assignment is to bring in wanted local cop and guy from her past Joseph Morelli (Jason O’Mara), but as she chases him, she finds herself attempting to unravel the crime he’s accused of.

Based on a book series, One for the Money attempts to combine a chick flick with an action film to mixed results. It is perhaps more of the former than the later but thanks to Heigl’s easy charm and decent chemistry with O’Mara, their characters’ game of cat and mouse is an entertaining one.

There’s everything you’d expect from a film about a character who’s almost a wannabe detective. Stephanie goes around asking questions, makes friends with the local prostitutes including Lula (Sherri Shepherd) who helps her out and is funny, and has help from hot and experienced bounty hunter Ranger (Daniel Sunjata). It’s always nice to see a character who is fed up with their mother trying to find them a husband and who feels a bit aimless, actually find something she’s good at and enjoys.

One for the Money does lack a bit of threat and excitement though. While it does appear that Stephanie is being targeted due to her line of questioning, there’s no chases or particularly tense moments. The times where Stephanie is threatened by a big dude are resolved very quickly, not really allowing you to feel that she is truly in danger.

With a 90-minute runtime, One for the Money is a fun, breezy kind of film. Heigl is pretty great as Stephanie, though her voice over narration in the likes of noir thrillers doesn’t always work. However, Debbie Reynolds as Stephanie’s grandmother is a hoot and steals every scene she’s in. 3/5.

N is for Never Rarely Sometimes Always (2020)

Seventeen-year-old Autumn (Sidney Flanigan) is pregnant and can’t get an abortion in rural Pennsylvania where she’s from without parental consent. In order to get the procedure, she and her cousin Skylar (Talia Ryder) travel to New York and end up staying there days and nights longer than they anticipated.

Never Rarely Sometimes Always is one of those quiet, almost contemplative films that says so much with so little. The relationship between Autumn and Skylar is great. They are quite different, Autumn is more reserved while Skylar is a bit more confident, but there’s so many moments where they communicate with just a look or a gesture. As the audience too, you don’t need the characters to say things like “I feel like this because X happened” because you can tell the history of these characters through how they act. Autumn and Skylar don’t actually talk to one another much, at least not about big important things, but you can still see how they care for one another and how supportive Skylar is of Autumn’s decision through their actions.

This is a sign of a great script, great directing, and great performances from these two young actors. Flanigan especially is incredible. She can convey so much with just a look and her fear, frustration and sometimes desperation is clear to see. Likewise, when it looks like she will be able to have an abortion, her relief is almost palpable. There’s a scene in the clinic where a counsellor is asking Autumn a series of questions and it’s pretty much one long take focused on Autumn’s face as we hear the councillors voice off screen and Flanigan’s performance is just stunning. It’s not just what she says and the answers she gives, it’s what she doesn’t say in the pauses and hesitation as she is forced to relive her experiences and realise that some of what’s happened to her was not OK.

So often in teen shows or movies the teenage characters are played by actors who are in their mid-twenties and look far older than what their characters are supposed to be. In Never Rarely Sometimes Always, Flanigan and Ryder do look like a couple of seventeen-year-olds who are out of their depth. This is probably a combination of their natural looks but also the making up and costumes as Skylar especially sometimes looks like she’s trying to be older than she is.

Never Rarely Sometimes Always is such an important and timely film. It shows the lengths women, including teenagers, go to in order to get the healthcare they need and to make the choices that are right for them. It does all this without being overtly political or preachy which is to its benefit. Some will say that Never Rarely Sometimes Always is political purely by the nature of its subject matter but women’s healthcare and the right to choose what happens to their bodies shouldn’t be political. 5/5.

K is for King Leopold’s Ghost (2006)

Documentary about the history of the Congo and how the greedy and incredibly ruthless King Leopold II of Belgium turned a vast country into his private estate from 1885-1908. How he plundered the land and caused countless victims; and how his lasting impact is still felt in the country as international powers and corporations fight to take and profit from the Congo’s many resources.

I knew little of the history of the Congo before watching King Leopold’s Ghost, all I really knew was that King Leopold II wasn’t a good person but what his crimes actually were, I had no idea. I presumed it was to do with slavery and taking the country’s resources (like most European nations did with countries in Africa) but the extent to which he took over the country and had the people enslaved – while running a PR campaign saying he was doing no such thing – was incredible. What’s also shocking is that King Leopold II never even went to the Congo but still caused so much damage that had a knock-on effect for decades.

King Leopold’s Ghost is a really interesting but hard-hitting documentary that doesn’t shy away from the horrors of colonial rule. It’s narrated by Don Cheadle which was an excellent choice as you can often hear the barely contained anger and disgust over what he’s explaining. It includes photos, videos, interviews with historians, and extracts from various people’s diaries and letters including King Leopold II, explorer Henry Morton Stanley, and writer Joseph Conrad.

I liked how King Leopold’s Ghost incorporated what other nations were doing at the same time as what was happening in the Congo. I find it difficult to understand how close certain historic events were to one another so this added extra context. For example, by the time King Leopold was getting involved in the Congo and stealing the land off its people and forcing them to work for him, Britain had stopped being involved with the slave trade. While Britain obviously has its own terrible colonial history, I found it interesting that it had moved away from the slave trade while Belgium was only just getting started.

One of the stats that really shocked me, is that it was estimated that in 40 years from the start of King Leopold’s influence in the Congo, half the population had died – which was 10 million people. And that’s just an estimate. Records of the hangings and killings weren’t kept by the Belgium people who were working out there and some weren’t even really aware of what they were out there for. King Leopold and Belgium’s atrocities have been covered up so that it’s only fairly recently that both Belgians and the Congolese have been taught about these things in schools. In school textbooks in the 1940s-1960s, King Leopold and his involvement in the Congo is framed as a good thing and he helped the people.

King Leopold’s Ghost goes from the nineteenth century to the early 2000s and shows how even when the Congo is supposed to be independent and has elected someone the people want, the Belgian and American secret services will protect their interests, to the detriment of the Congolese.

It’s disappointing but not surprising that still today so many other countries and international corporations have a vested interest in the Congo due to all of its resources. Uranium, ivory, gold, diamonds, coffee, and more are valuable commodities but few Congolese people actual benefit from the sale of it.

King Leopold’s Ghost is a really interesting and comprehensive guide to the history of the Congo and how what King Leopold put in place in the late 1800s, is still having a negative affect on the country and its people today. It’s a great documentary if you have little to know knowledge of the country and its history as it explains everything clearly and draws the links between various people, countries and events without being condescending to the audience. 5/5.

J is for Jenny’s Wedding (2015)

Jenny’s (Katherine Heigl) parents and siblings are always trying to set her up but little do they know she’s already met the right person – her “roommate” Kitty (Alexis Bledel). When Jenny finally feels ready to come out to her family as she and Jenny want to get married, it shakes everything her traditional parents know.

Jenny’s Wedding is one of those films that’s technically about gay characters but is more about their family and how (straight) audiences would relate to the family’s confusion and hurt at being lied to and their general misunderstanding when it comes to their daughter and her relationship. That’s not to say Jenny’s Wedding is bad, just that going into it you’ve got to know it’s not a lesbian romcom and is more a family drama with a dash of gay on the side.

Heigl and Bledel don’t really have any chemistry and not enough time is spent on them to really believe in their relationship, or even believe that they’re more than the roommates they’ve been saying they were for the past five years. Katherine Heigl though did give a great performance whenever she was with her family. She really sells the hurt and fear she had about coming out and how once she feels in a place to be truthful, because of her mother’s (Linda Emond) fear of being judged by her friends and neighbours, is forced to continue lying to keep her happy. How she’s pushed to almost breaking point by her parents continuing to act like everything’s the same while also ignoring huge part of her life and identity is tough to watch.

There’s a side plot with Jenny’s sister Anne (Grace Gunner) who by seeing how happy Jenny is with Kitty, comes to reassess her own marriage and happiness. That was a sweet moment and how Anne and Jenny worked through some of their sibling issues once everything was in the open was good too.

While the overall plot is a bit cliché, the dialogue between various feels authentic and the cast all give good performances. As long as you know it won’t be a romcom and is in fact quite sad and painful at times, Jenny’s Wedding is a decent watch. 3/5.

E is for Enough Said (2013)

Divorced masseuse Eva (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) is slowly coming to terms with her daughter leaving to go to college when she meets Albert (James Gandolfini). As they’re getting to know one another she discovers that he’s her new friend and client Marianne’s (Catherine Keener) ex-husband.

Enough Said is one of those wonderfully simple but effective films that feels very real and rather cosy. With its ninety-minute runtime it develops its main characters (and its side characters) very well and shows their messy sides as well as their good sides. Enough Said could’ve been a bit trite but thanks to the performance from Louis-Dreyfus and Gandolfini and a script that knows how to balance the absurd with heartfelt moments, it really works.

Eva is a nice woman but she’s in need of connections. While it’s clear she loves her daughter and is sad about her moving away, she’s so caring that she also takes her daughter’s best friend under her wing. This causes tension between the friends, and the mothers and daughters, but Eva is a bit too oblivious to see that to begin with.

While the focus of Enough Said is the blossoming romance between Eva and Albert and how she then learns about all his negative traits from his ex-wife, it’s good that her daughter still plays a big part in her life, as does her friends (played by Toni Collette and Ben Falcone). It makes Eva feel like more of a real person with a real, lived-in life.

It’s also nice to see a story about post-divorce life and dating and all the things that come with that. Co-parenting and having to still talk to your ex even if you don’t like them anymore because of your child, and having to deal with new stepparents too. Plus, these characters have all lived a life and are at an age where romantic partners might not be the idealised versions one might dream of but that’s OK.

There’s a seen in Enough Said that reminded me of the big reveal in Crazy Stupid Love though only in the fact that a bunch of characters were finally together and secrets were revealed. In Enough Said it’s awkward and uncomfortable as they are finally on the same page and some characters are justifiably hurt. It’s not the hysterical farce of Crazy Stupid Love (which I do love and think is one of the funniest scenes on film ever) but this more understated dramatic reveal works brilliantly here.

Enough Said is the best kind of movie for grownups. It’s funny, sweet and realistic and it’s just a lovely film where the relationships are believable and the chemistry is suitably awkward yet nice. 4/5.