They Shall Not Grow Old

Posted May 19, 2019 by Rob Gonsalves
Categories: documentary, one of the year's best, war

theyshall Near the end of the immersive World War I documentary They Shall Not Grow Old, director/assembler Peter Jackson gives us perhaps the most breathtaking sound in the whole film: silence. Before that, we have heard the staccato of rifle fire, the grunts and creaks of tank treads, the death-dealing bass of artillery shells. But here, Jackson lets us hear something close to what Kurt Vonnegut described as the voice of God. “When I was a boy,” Vonnegut wrote in Breakfast of Champions, “all the people of all the nations which had fought in the First World War were silent during the eleventh minute of the eleventh hour of Armistice Day, which was the eleventh day of the eleventh month. It was during that minute in nineteen hundred and eighteen, that millions upon millions of human beings stopped butchering one another. I have talked to old men who were on battlefields during that minute. They have told me in one way or another that the sudden silence was the Voice of God. So we still have among us some men who can remember when God spoke clearly to mankind.”

We don’t have them any more, of course — veterans of the War to End All Wars are long dead now, and those of WWII and Korea aren’t far behind. What Jackson has done, aided by firsthand accounts on the soundtrack from men who fought in the trenches, is to capture and modernize a period when Satan walked the earth, when weapons of mass destruction — machine guns, mustard gas, flame throwers, shrapnel — came into wide use. World War I was a bloody, filthy, diseased, maggot-ridden experience, repulsive in almost every way, and Jackson does his best to make it vivid for current audiences, using technology to slow and smooth the stuttery, farcical Keystone Kops effect you always get from early-20th-century newsreels, so that the filmed record of these muddy, exhausted men takes its place alongside footage of later wars.

They Shall Not Grow Old is probably the finest thing Peter Jackson has had his hand in since Heavenly Creatures. In both, he kicks off with deceptive old-timey footage; here, it goes on for about 25 minutes, at which point we arrive at the front and the film opens out to widescreen and blossoms into (subdued) color. After the war has ended, Jackson constricts the image back to squarish black-and-white. In a way, the film is something of a cheeky riposte to Christopher Nolan’s you-are-there WWII epic Dunkirk; Jackson could be saying “Good job, mate, but you had the luxury of stars and re-enactment, didn’t you?” As the (disembodied) voices continue on the soundtrack, our imaginations fill in a lot, and, as with many WWI accounts, we may wonder how anyone could have survived. A plague seems to have descended among men; Satan walks and God, until 11/11/18, is conspicuous in His absence.

We see many bodies reduced to ghostless meat, pale and torn apart, consigned to the mud and becoming part of the muck that drowned other soldiers who unluckily fell into it. Hell on Earth! Some of the voices are chipper or matter-of-fact — that incomparable British get-on-with-it attitude — others haunted or choked with trauma. Jackson takes his cue from the veterans’ accounts, indulging in neither rabble-rousing nor the modern privilege of hindsight. These were men who were born around the turn of the 20th century, and were not our idea of enlightened. (Jackson plays a popular bawdy song of the period, “Mademoiselle from Armentières,” under the end credits.) Still, though, there is room for compassion and even kinship between the English and the Germans. They have been trained to slaughter each other without hesitation, but near the finish, when it looks as though more killing would be beside the point, the adversaries sit and talk and eat together.            

Until then, though, the mood is dread-ridden — when it doesn’t give way to nervous giggles. They Shall Not Grow Old is as much about how men function under fire as about the fire itself. Many weren’t even men yet; many died still boys. WWI birthed the concept of “shell shock,” which became “combat stress reaction,” which became “post-traumatic stress disorder.” The constant of war — the thousand-yard stare coveted by an unwise combat photographer in Full Metal Jacket — is everywhere present in this film. In that first half hour or so, voice after voice tells us he joined because it was the thing to do, you stood up and fought for your country, et cetera. They had no idea of the infernal meat grinder they were signing up for, which would pulverize them into machinery or into parts.

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Wine Country

Posted May 12, 2019 by Rob Gonsalves
Categories: comedy

wine-country2-780x520 The women in Wine Country are such good company that I hate to complain that the script is a little underdone. So mostly I won’t. The movie is really just an excuse to get Amy Poehler, Rachel Dratch, Maya Rudolph and Ana Gasteyer in the same room, as well as fellow Saturday Night Live writing veterans Paula Pell and Emily Spivey, and also Tina Fey for a few scenes, and other funny women of newer or elder vintage. Essentially, if you were female and responsible for some laughs on SNL in the early ‘00s, Wine Country is your class reunion. And like class reunions, this occasion elicits some looking inward; the plot has Abby (Poehler) throwing a 50th-birthday trip for Rebecca (Dratch), and they and the four other friends who come along face various fears connected to being a woman of a certain age.

To be honest, though, Wine Country contends more with generational conflict than with gender conflict. Other than Jason Schwartzman as a house boy providing food and sex when needed, a barely glimpsed husband, a doctor who quickly gets hooted out of the room, and a couple others, males pretty much don’t exist in this movie, or are irrelevant. On the other hand, Generation X resentment towards millennials is all over Wine Country, which may limit its audience a bit. As I’m Gen-X myself, this shouldn’t bother me, but along about the second hour the millennial-bashing wears a bit thin. By the time we get to the empty-headed thirtysomething waitress/artist with a show devoted to Fran Drescher on The Nanny, the fear and anger of one generation towards its youngers are unmistakable.

Maybe it’s nothing personal, though — the general beef these ladies have is not younger women but no longer being younger women. Fear of the future manifests as taking comfort in the past (see the ladies’ “DUI” guilty-pleasure ‘80s playlist; the movie is also scored by former Prince revolutionaries Wendy & Lisa). What these women all have in common is that, decades ago, they worked at a pizza place and became friends; they’re not all the same age, but they share pop-culture experiences and similar trajectories. One works in an office, one’s a therapist, one’s a TV star on the wane, etc. They’re all fairly well-to-do; nobody’s struggling like Kristen Wiig in Bridesmaids, a movie with a more finely tuned script than this one. A lot of the funnier parts sound improvised, no shock considering improv master Poehler was also the director.

The writing isn’t bad, really; it just feels at times like a collection of sequences governed by a checklist. Mortality, check. Disappointing hubby, check. Job security threatened by the kids today, check twice. (Is Amy Poehler that nervous about aging out of Baby Mama-type roles?) Fortunately this cast is full of entertainers, and they treat the script (credited to Emily Spivey, who perhaps modestly keeps her own character largely sidelined, and Liz Cackowski) as a blueprint to bounce riffs off each other. For instance, I know a raccoon was in the script because someone on the film crew took the time to put a pawprint on a glass door, but the exchange between Dratch and Rudolph about how you can tell it’s a father raccoon sounds gloriously off-the-cuff. There are probably hours of great outtakes we’ll never see on DVD because this is a Netflix movie.

For millennial readers bristling at yet another piece of entertainment that shames them, I would also point out that Wine Country brings in a ringer — Cherry Jones, of the late-Boomer period, as a Tarot reader who hilariously puts the ladies in their place with bleak, accurate assessments of their present and future. (Take that, you Gen-X whiners!) The Tarot works according to archetype, and so does the movie; the characters are full of quirks and whimsical devils, so they seem fresh and individualized. The cast are all smart, snarky women who would get bored playing stereotypes, not archetypes. (Tina Fey’s character, the wildly rich owner of the house where the women are staying, is agreeably hard to pin down; she contains multitudes, like everyone else here.) It’s a real comfort-food movie, and that’s apparently all Poehler and her team wanted to make. Don’t they deserve to? Don’t we deserve to have one?

Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile

Posted May 5, 2019 by Rob Gonsalves
Categories: biopic, drama

extremely-wicked-shockingly-evil-and-vile-movie It’s an old ping-pong witticism: “So-and-so has a lot of charm.” “Yeah, so did Ted Bundy.” The new Bundy film Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile, the second Bundy project for Netflix by director Joe Berlinger (after January’s Conversations with a Killer series), might overplay the monster’s charisma a bit. Some have charged the movie makes Bundy look better as a lawyer (he was a law student) acting as his own defense than he really was, and that’s true. What Berlinger is after here, I think, is a collective portrait of a society taken in by Bundy — and, by extension, taken in by smiling evil that makes them feel good. To come to terms with his guilt was to admit one’s own dangerous credulity in the face of Satan.

Some saw Bundy for what he was. Others did not, because Bundy had an interest in focusing all his skills at imposture onto them. Extremely Wicked is based on a memoir by Liz Kendall, the woman with whom Bundy had a live-in relationship for years, during which time he kept diabolically busy out of the house. Liz, like many in her situation, believes Bundy when he insists on his innocence. If she’s wrong, it means she endangered not only herself by being with him but her daughter. After a while, as the movie’s emphasis shifts from Liz to Bundy’s trial and escapes from custody, we begin to suspect that Bundy himself, or the part of himself that can convincingly participate in society, doesn’t want to believe he could have murdered all those women.

Berlinger spent four hours with Conversations with a Killer going over all the evidence, tapes, cold forensics. My feeling is that he then jumped into Extremely Wicked (from a Black List script by Michael Werwie) because it turns the camera 180 degrees and focuses not on Bundy but on his impact on those around him. (The classic in the genre is probably still Ann Rule’s The Stranger Beside Me, the true-crime author’s account of her friendship with Bundy before his arrest.) I also imagine Berlinger wanted to make the movie just for the scene near the end, when Bundy (Zac Efron) is about to go to the electric chair and Liz (Lily Collins) demands that he admit at least some guilt. I suspect Berlinger waded hip-deep in the sewer slime of Bundy’s case and then wanted to pull something redeeming out of it, some closure. It didn’t happen that way in life (if you want unalloyed fact, stick to the records), but dramatically and metaphorically it feels right; the entire movie leads up to this moment, and Efron and Collins don’t falter.

Indeed, Efron nails the insecure lunges at compassion as well as the glowering menace that define Bundy. We see the real Bundy during the end credits, delivering the same dialogue Efron did; Bundy shows us something Efron, to his soul’s credit, can’t show — a grotesque moral void. Efron does pack in enough ominous bits of business to give us the creeps, and Collins gives us a woman who isn’t stupid so much as self-hating. Liz needs a guy as nice as Bundy seems to be, and Bundy needs to be needed in that way — whether because being in a relationship is good cover for being Jack the Ripper, or because a small part of him legitimately wants sane love, who’s to say? Later, of course, there are giggling Bundy groupies in the courthouse and one former coworker who falls in love with him and even has his baby. Some women will always be attracted to the monster.

Extremely Wicked has a murderers’ row of terrific performers (John Malkovich, Dylan Baker, Terry Kinney, Jim Parsons, Haley Joel Osment, Kaya Scodelario, Jeffrey Donovan) keeping the courtroom cat-and-mouse games lively. It sets the tone with a Goethe quote (“Few people have the imagination for reality”) that, coming from a director with extensive cred in the true-crime documentary field, is both funny and not funny. Berlinger spent a lot of years making not one but three films about the Memphis Three and how they got railroaded for the murder of three boys, and they proclaimed their innocence as vehemently as Bundy did his. As it happens, they deserved to be believed. Bundy did not, but many believed anyway. They couldn’t imagine the reality.

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See also: Ted Bundy, a far pulpier and pugnaciously contemptuous take.

Serenity (2019)

Posted April 28, 2019 by Rob Gonsalves
Categories: film noir, thriller

serenity When a thriller becomes, after a calamitous theatrical release, a cult favorite, it’s usually because of some outlandish twists or, more likely, plot elements that shove it into a whole other genre. You thought you were watching a film noir about an unlucky fellow playing the sap for a femme fatale? Ha, it’s actually a western! So Serenity has earned a reputation for being loopy and oblivious to reason, and stuff like this can be fun as hell; you used to get them a lot in the ‘90s, when films like Dead Again, Shattered, and Romeo Is Bleeding inspired hoots and awe in roughly equal measure. I truly wish I could say Serenity took its rightful place alongside those others, but it just isn’t as fun — its weirdness seems to come not from a desire to give juicy pleasure but to provoke deep philosophical thought, and I’m afraid a thriller can commit no greater sin.

The world that writer/director Steven Knight establishes in the first reel or so keeps us hooked for a long time with convincing details and personality quirks. The first scene has more in common with Jaws than we’re expecting it to. Our hero, Baker Dill (Matthew McConaughey), takes paying customers out on his boat to catch big fish. Baker has his own big fish, a tuna he calls Justice and is obsessed with catching. We settle in for a Hemingwayesque tale, then, but then the genre shifts. Baker is approached by his ex-wife Karen (Anne Hathaway), now married to a rich abuser (Jason Clarke) who beats her and threatens young Patrick, the son Baker and Karen had together. Karen wants Baker to take her hubby out for a fishing trip and then come back without him. She offers $10 million. Will Baker take it? Or will he agree to the task only to rescue his son?

Film noir anti-heroes usually paint themselves into corners. And they were always going to do so; it was fate, and nothing they can do will change that. Serenity takes the determinism of noir about as far as it can go. Maybe the true engine of noir, the thing that keeps us watching, is to explain why a person is trapped. We know Baker is probably going to at least set out to knock evil hubby off the chessboard, but why? What elements conspire to make sure he has no choice? Some of the more recent thrillers answer this by reading from the book of the supernatural. Serenity does something similar, but again, it seems like a cheat. Generally, we in the audience know the events in a fiction movie are not literally happening. We would like to pretend, for a couple of hours, that they are happening, and we would like to care about people who don’t exist, doing things that are not really being done. Serenity frustrates that basic narrative need, and sort of looks down on it. Sometimes I like cold anti-audience experiments like that, but in this case, no.

I’ll tell you why. McConaughey and Hathaway, and in supporting roles Clarke and Djimon Hounsou and Diane Lane, create characters worth caring about, identifying with or hating. The film is beautifully made, shot in luscious tones of gold and blue and gray by Jess Hall, ominously scored by Benjamin Wallfisch. Thrillers can be second only to science fiction in their potential to show off style. I believed in what Steven Knight was telling and showing me. He had created a world worth engaging with. And there are clues throughout — by the time the third character refers to the fish in Baker’s head, we figure it can’t be coincidence. And what of the little feller (Jeremy Strong) who keeps trying to talk to Baker, and who seems to know more than he should? But, knowing of the story what I know now, I can’t come up with any reason why Diane Lane’s character should exist. I mean, I’m happy to see Diane Lane, anyone is, but the movie takes away whatever context her character had. And if you, as a movie, cannot come up with a reason Diane Lane should exist, I cannot come up with a reason you should exist.

The Man Who Killed Don Quixote

Posted April 22, 2019 by Rob Gonsalves
Categories: comedy, fantasy

donquixote It’s well-nigh impossible to assess Terry Gilliam’s long-gestating, oft-foiled The Man Who Killed Don Quixote as just, you know, a movie. It became, in the thirty years since Gilliam first wanted to make it, the ultimate unrealized project and the ultimate Gilliam project — the two seem synonymous at this point. (Some of Gilliam’s aborted films — the list includes The Defective Detective and Theseus and the Minotaur — play better in our heads than some of his actual films of recent years play in reality.) And, oh, would that it had stayed unmade, to shine and thunder in our imaginations forevermore. But, alas, after several false starts and story changes, a film by Terry Gilliam called The Man Who Killed Don Quixote now stands before us. I feel a bit fond of it, because the whole thing understandably expresses a certain happy relief that’s been absent from Gilliam’s work for a while. But I don’t think I want to see it again.

The story now involves Toby (Adam Driver), a jaded director of TV commercials who started out as an artsy, idealistic filmmaker. Toby is in Spain shooting an ad that involves Don Quixote tilting at a windmill; after hours, he encounters, on a bootleg DVD, a short film he made in a nearby village years ago about … Don Quixote. I doubt this is meant as a coincidence, and indeed as Toby the spoiled Hollywood player becomes Toby the soiled squire, the fantasy world of delusion begins to seem here like a virus, highly contagious and fast-acting, spread by the combustible machine of a film set. In part, Gilliam wants to tie filmmaking back into its origins as a series of suggestive images that don’t quite cohere into a sustained narrative. In other words, The Man Who Killed Don Quixote — brilliant and scattered — is the same film Gilliam has been making for fifty years now.

Toby is drawn back to the village where he first animated Don Quixote, and finds the same non-actor — Javier (Jonathan Pryce), the shoemaker Toby cast as his Quixote — who now believes he is Quixote. He, of course, thinks Toby is Sancho Panza, and together they go on “adventures” that seem to drift in and out of reality, through various layers of representation. This may sound terrific, and you may spend some time feeling that Gilliam was somehow meant to be thwarted so many times in making the film, so that he could age into it. And indeed, there are some small threads of pathos that were probably easier for Gilliam to access as a 77-year-old man than they would have been at age 47. But though the plot feels busy, not much really happens other than the narrative eating itself. It gets repetitive; people are always unmasking, revealing their or others’ true selves. After a while we don’t care. I checked the time, aghast to discover there was more than an hour of this to go.

My fondness for the enterprise begins with Jonathan Pryce’s warm, surefooted portrait of Quixote as a man happy and fulfilled in his delusions. Pryce, of course, more or less played Quixote, tilting at the impersonal windmills of bureaucracy, in Gilliam’s ur-masterpiece Brazil, and here he is again, confident on his steed, driven by visions of the pure Dulcinea much as Sam Lowry was goosed out of his drone-tedium by the woman of his dreams. The picaresque, rambling narratives that so attract Gilliam are remarkably consistent. They’re also filled with two-dimensional people, like his honking, muttering animations for Monty Python’s Flying Circus back in the day. Gilliam actually can make a movie with real, complex people — flip back to 1991’s The Fisher King, Gilliam’s second masterpiece (a textbook example of a film made by a man who just turned fifty, I now realize). But this fantasist prefers to paint in bold, hyperbolic colors and thick lines.

The Man Who Killed Don Quixote is almost unavoidably a disappointment. If it had come out in the early ‘90s, or even in the early ‘00s, as just the next Gilliam movie, it wouldn’t have gathered the weight of our speculation, hope, frustration, and anticipation, which this movie simply cannot support (no movie could). Its effect on anyone who still cares enough to see it will have nothing to do with the mild, disjointed film itself and everything to do with all the ironies and mishaps surrounding its history. And yet here it is, Gilliam’s triumph — not really an artistic triumph so much as a triumph over all the obstacles and metaphorical floods and giants that kept it frozen in a curse of stasis, like a princess in a fairy tale, for three decades.

Glass

Posted April 14, 2019 by Rob Gonsalves
Categories: drama, sequel, thriller

glass When last we saw the almost-invulnerable hero David Dunn (Bruce Willis), he was sitting in a diner at the end of 2016’s Split, in a surprise appearance that linked the movie with David’s own movie, 2000’s Unbreakable. Both those films were written and directed by M. Night Shyamalan, who returns to wrap up the trilogy with Glass. Shyamalan doesn’t really stick the landing, but I’m not sure he was supposed to, or was trying to. Taken in sum, the three movies are a morose meditation on comic-book tropes, and somewhat a critique of them; after all, the villains are both disabled in some way, and that’s part of the critique, that those whose minds or bodies are not “normal” are destined to turn to evil. (It’s a very Victorian notion, and the history of comics is lousy with it.)

David’s power of insight (he can tell what you’re guilty of by bumping into you) leads him to track down the serial killer Kevin Wendell Crumb (James McAvoy), the mercurial antagonist of Split, who contends with dissociative identity disorder and currently has four cheerleaders stashed away in his rusty abandoned-factory hideout. When we meet Kevin here, he’s letting nine-year-old Hedwig take the wheel, but when David arrives, Hedwig tags in the Beast, who roars and bellows and has unearthly strength. Regardless, David almost defeats him, until some cops led by psychiatrist Dr. Ellie Staple (Sarah Paulson) capture them both and lock them away in a featureless asylum — along with Elijah Price (Samuel L. Jackson), aka “Mr. Glass,” who resides in a wheelchair because his osteogenesis imperfecta renders his bones brittle. Dr. Staple’s goal is to get the three men to admit their views of themselves as exceptional — superhuman — are delusions.

Currently Elijah the mastermind is zoning out in his chair, seemingly doped up to his eyeballs, but you don’t hire Samuel L. Jackson and then not let him hold forth (although the cheeky Shyamalan denies Elijah speech for over an hour of screen time). There are times when Glass appears to fall victim to the same superhero clichés it’s tweaking — there are plans, master plans, counter-plans. Everyone in the movie seems to be plotting, except for sweet Casey (Anya Taylor-Joy), a survivor of an earlier Kevin/Beast incident in Split, who feels a connection to Kevin, the only reachable and reasonable personality of “the Horde.” There’s also David’s now-grown son Joseph (Spencer Treat Clark) and Elijah’s loving mother (Charlayne Woodard), who must be, what, ninety years old by now? We see that Kevin was abused as a child by his mother, whereas Elijah wasn’t, but they both turned out bad; Shyamalan seems to be saying that in some cases, it’s pain that makes the difference between a villain and a hero.

We’re told in the movie that this is real life, and Shyamalan as usual grounds everything in the gray, glum streets and hallways of Philadelphia. But he also all but promises us a climactic face-off between David and the Beast atop a new skyscraper in the city, while Elijah plans to … but why spoil it? The twist addict in Shyamalan’s own screenwriting Horde breaks free and indulges himself, tying things together with a geeky abandon that’s part sneer at and part appreciation of comic-book plotting. In brief, what we get just raises more questions, especially as regards Dr. Staple, whose name may refer to the things that hold together comic books. Shyamalan finishes on a note of half-hearted optimism that, again, is either critical or symptomatic of comic-book endings, which never really end.

Shyamalan as writer has been erratic almost from the beginning; even the now-lauded Unbreakable struck me at the time as anticlimactic, though now, like Glass, it reads more as metacommentary. It’s as a director, a filmmaker with a natural command of mood and dread, that Shyamalan excels. Glass, which cost a pittance by today’s Hollywood metric ($20 million), spends a lot more time in quiet talking-heads passages than in superhuman beatdowns. Shyamalan still, two decades later, trusts the audience to sit still and be told a story. But they wouldn’t sit still if his control over tone and pace weren’t so appealingly rock-solid — there’s something about a self-assured director that makes an audience feel secure that they’re in competent hands. That’s what happens here. Glass is the conclusion of a lumpy and weird trilogy, the cumulative effect of which inspires respect. This series is unconventional and therefore not satisfying in a conventional sense. Its strengths, and goals, lie elsewhere.

Diane

Posted April 8, 2019 by Rob Gonsalves
Categories: drama, one of the year's best

diane Some independent movies wear their miserablism as a badge of perverse pride. “We will make you look at despair, poverty, sickness, the fragility of existence,” they promise us, “for your own good. Eat your spinach and recognize our noble intentions.” These movies think being a depression delivery system is enough to qualify as art. Then there are films like First Reformed and now Diane that forge life’s intractable aspects into something greater, but quieter, than the sum of its parts. Diane devotes itself to the inner life, guilt and disappointments of Diane (Mary Kay Place), a 70-year-old woman drifting through bleak, snowy rural Massachusetts, trudging through altruistic activities in order to make up for … something. A bit of selfishness in her past, which may or may not be relevant to the pains and problems she faces now.

The literal-minded may look askance at Diane — why punish this basically good woman for a lapse decades ago? But Diane doesn’t punish Diane; Diane herself does. Mary Kay Place, a reliable and often inspired character actor for some 40 years, fills out a role written for her by director Kent Jones (in his fictional debut, after some documentaries). Place makes Diane gentle and thoughtful but with a strong prickly streak — Diane is no angel. Neither is she a devil, nor is her troublesome addict son Brian (Jake Lacy), who morphs from foul-mouthed and resentful to annoyingly pious once he gets Jesus. There are no villains here, just humans ground down a bit by the world. Even Brian’s journey isn’t as simple as it sounds. Nobody’s is.

Diane is not strictly a work of entertainment, but its level of craft and insight makes it enjoyable; the way it lingers on the subtle, the quiet, the unspoken human moment, and trusts us to be patient and adult, is refreshing. Diane sits at the hospital bedside of her dying cousin (Deirdre O’Connell), or sits across from an old friend (Andrea Martin) at a buffet. She has a support system of sorts, even if she may not feel she deserves one. As far as she’s concerned, her job is to serve and to submerge her own emotions (which bubble up unbidden anyway). Diane was executive-produced by Martin Scorsese, and in a way it’s as much about faith and its discontents as any of his own serious works about religion (Last Temptation of Christ, Kundun, Silence). Diane nails herself to a cross every day for that one time she decided to feed her hungry ghost in a big way at the expense of those who trusted her. Kent Jones feeds this to us bit by bit, in naturalistic exchanges and undramatic (or undramatically presented) incidents. Here and there we find beauty, such as the warm smile of an older fellow Diane regularly feeds at the local food pantry. Played by Charles Weldon, a journeyman actor who died last December at age 78, this fellow drops in to offer Diane some perspective on her sorrow.

One other valuable thing Diane does is to center on a woman entering her eighth decade, and to fill the frame with friends and family mostly around her age or older (such as 91-year-old Estelle Parsons, who seemingly hasn’t lost a step). These women may be closer to death than to birth but they still have some arrows left in their quivers. These characters were young and stupid once, and they regret it (or they don’t). As loneliness starts closing in on Diane, she vents about it in her journal, in short lines that structurally resemble some teenager’s emo poetry, and that’s when the full concept snapped into focus for me. David Cronenberg is worth quoting at length here: “There’s no such thing as an old person. There’s a person who has been broken on the rack of pain and infirmity, but there’s really no old person. When someone dies at eighty, it’s the death of a young person. I see that.” Diane sees it, too.