Tag Archives: divorce

TWO CHARACTERS ON THE EDGE OF A NERVOUS BREAKDOWN – FILM REVIEW DOUBLE BILL – HORSE GIRL (2020) + THUNDER ROAD (2018)

HORSE GIRL (2020) + THUNDER ROAD (2018) FILM REVIEWS

Having seen both these fascinating character studies, Horse Girl (2020) and Thunder Road (2018) recently, I was compelled to write a double bill review because similarly they feature: lower budgeted production values, a singularly powerful lead acting performance, characters who have recently lost their mothers, very uncomfortable emotionally charged scenes; as well as both exploring themes relating to mental illness. Thus, I thought it interesting to review the films with these elements in mind.

In regard to mental health, it is quite rightly being addressed more and more in society in a respectful manner. The barriers and prejudices of the past are being eroded and people are talking about it more openly. I have first-hand family experience of someone who has suffered with mental illness. Plus, I have experienced the loss of a close friend to suicide due to debilitating anxiety and have other friends on anti-depressants. I have tried to be of assistance to those people, but it is incredibly difficult to help anyone. Likewise, medical professionals seek various ways of attempting to assist, treat and counsel individuals with mental health problems.

Ultimately, it so tough to deal with such illnesses as they are powerful and invisible. I have utmost empathy for anyone suffering from anxiety, depression and serious mental health problems. It’s such a shame that I feel kind of helpless when it comes to helping people I am close to. It is not always enough to listen and understand, thus professional medical help should be sought and sometimes even that is not enough. It is not surprising therefore that cinema is also exploring such stories and themes.

With Joker (2019), mental illness was examined in a comic book genre setting in a powerful way for me. Some critics felt it trivialised mental illness. I felt that it was, while stylised and theatrical, actually accurate in the disturbing disintegration of Arthur Fleck’s downward mental spiral. Horse Girl (2020) and Thunder Road (2018) are two very different films in terms of genre, but with similar thematic trajectories as Joker (2019). Indeed, while they are independently produced and smaller in scale, they feature two frightening renditions of characters on the verge of a mental breakdown.

***THESE REVIEWS CONTAIN SPOILERS***



HORSE GIRL (2020)

Directed by: Jeff Baena

Written by: Jeff Baena and Alison Brie

Cast: Alison Brie, Molly Shannon, John Reynolds, John Ortiz etc.

Depicting mental illness accurately is a very tricky thing on film in my view. Obviously, we have over the years had all manner of psychotics and mad people chasing and killing others in horror films and thrillers. There have also been many films centred around characters in mental institutions. Some are respectful examinations, but many more could be seen as exploitation films. Horse Girl (2020) is not exploitational, but rather an oddity that falls somewhere between the gaps of arthouse drama and weird character study. Such films are difficult to assess as, however impressive the technical aspects of the production are, the strange events of the film could alienate an audience in terms of entertainment.

Despite Alison Brie’s exceptionally brave performance as Sarah, the narrative consistently disengages you emotionally, taking you to very dark and weird places. Sometimes you have to wonder whether the actor is holidaying in weirdness for the sake of it, or is genuinely drawn to characters who exist with mental issues. Given Brie is an intelligent and highly talented actor, plus she co-wrote the script, you cannot help but feel this is a very personal project. Her portrayal of a shy loner dealing with the suicide of her mother, sleepwalking, day delusions, fragmented time loss and nightmares makes Horse Girl (2020) a disorientating experience. However, in conveying the chaos and frightening nature of mental illness, the film is commendable but tough to recommend.

Mark: 7 out of 11



Thunder Road Jim Cummings

THUNDER ROAD (2018)

Written and directed by: Jim Cummings

Cast: Jim Cummings, Kendal Farr, Nican Robinson, Macon Blair etc.

Talking of films that are difficult to recommend, Jim Cummings self-produced, written, directed and acted film Thunder Road (2018) is another. Rather than giving us, like Horse Girl (2020), an unreliable narrator and escalating series of surreal events seemingly separated from reality, Cummings film deliver very real feelings of embarrassment and anxiety to the audience. Advertised on certain film sites as a comedy-drama, neither the comedy nor drama are conventionally enacted. The film is based around a series of hysterical monologues and stream of consciousness dialogues from Cummings grieving and soon-to-be-divorced troubled cop, Jim Arnaud.

Arnaud’s mental issue is not psychosis, but rather a circumstantial and emotional nervous breakdown precipitated by grief and a personality disorder. The opening scene at a funeral for Arnaud’s mother, is a case in point. Based on his original short film of the same name, Cummings produces a tour-de-force acting exercise in both awkward comedy and distanciation. Subsequently, the film’s narrative events find Arnaud attempting to be a good father, friend and police officer, however, he is constantly on the edge of an angry outburst or outpouring of emotional honesty. His character makes us empathise as he is in grief, but at the same time he’s very difficult to like due to his extreme reactions. Ultimately, as a low budget feature for Jim Cummings acting abilities, Thunder Road (2018) is a compelling character study. However, it’s tough to watch and the slightly misogynistic ending left a sour taste in what was a fascinating emotional exploration of grief and mental instability.

Mark: 7.5 out of 11



MARRIAGE STORY (2019) – NETFLIX FILM REVIEW

MARRIAGE STORY (2019) – NETFLIX FILM REVIEW

Written and Directed by: Noah Baumbach

Produced by: David Heyman, Noah Baumbach

Cast: Scarlett Johansson, Adam Driver, Laura Dern, Alan Alda, Ray Liotta, Julie Hagerty, Azhy Robertson, Merrit Weaver etc.

Cinematography: Robbie Ryan

Distributed by: Netflix

**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**



I think one of the trickiest things that can hinder a writer, is that doubt whether it is worth telling one’s story. This is especially true of privileged or first world narratives involving wealthy characters or those deemed not having to struggle daily. For me the way to beat such doubt is to write the hell out of your story. Moreover, you’ve got to make the story relevant to all audiences by concentrating on universal themes and creating empathetic characters. Noah Baumbach achieves this by writing and directing the hell out of Marriage Story (2019); a moving drama that focuses on something we can all relate to — a relationship break-up.

The film centres on a couple of creatives, Nicole and Charlie Barber, portrayed by Scarlett Johansson and Adam Driver. Charlie is a New York theatre director; Nicole is a Los Angeles actress. They have both been committed to forging successful careers. The film opens brilliantly as they attend relationship mediation, attempting to divorce amicably without the use of lawyers. Baumbach’s superb script starts strongly with each character delivering bittersweet monologues that describe what attracts them most to each other. Sadly, for them and their young son, Henry (Azhy Robertson), mediation fails and it’s not long before they are drawn into the Kafkaesque, manipulative and financially draining American legal system.



This is a gem of a film which finds a seemingly suited couple learning that their differences have slowly been driving a wedge between them. Charlie is a controlled and respected director who has worked his way up from nothing. Nicole is a more privileged, but equally talented actress; however, her free-spirited nature is locked in his shadows. Geographically too they are very different. While he is originally from Indiana, he has made New York his home. Moreover, while his avant garde plays have gained him critical acclaim, she yearns for the sunlight of Los Angeles and the offer of TV work. Thus, through sheer brilliance of the writing we, in a short period of time, understand and empathise with both characters’ situations.

As the narrative develops Baumbach’s script is brought to life with two incredible central performances by Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson. They imbue Nicole and Charlie with a humanity and warmth, that even when we do not agree with their actions, we are still with them. As the story was inspired by his own divorce, Baumbach cares very much about these people. Indeed, he gives each actor the chance to shine during a number of fine monologues, bitter exchanges and heartfelt scenes of acceptance and potential reconciliation. Further, the supporting cast members are also really great too. Ray Liotta as a bitter shark of a lawyer and Laura Dern, as his legal adversary, have some wonderfully biting lines of dialogue. Meanwhile, Alan Alda, as Charlie’s other legal representative, is arguably too nice and avuncular for this cutthroat business. Together these collective legal minds, while shining a plausibly negative light on divorce proceedings, added strong energy to the comedy and drama of the film.

Ultimately, I have always respected Noah Baumbach’s films because he is a very solid independent writer and director. However, with Marriage Story (2019), he has matured beyond belief to create a compelling and funny relationship drama. It is full of standout scenes, with Adam Driver ever impressing and Scarlett Johansson delivering the best performance of her career. Lastly, as someone who has experienced a very difficult break-up involving a child, I felt every moment of grief, heartache, humour, love and relief on the screen. Yet, it’s worth reliving those moments because you know you survived; and so will Charlie, Nicole and their son, Henry.

Mark: 9.5 out of 11