Archive for the ‘Maggie Gyllenhaal’ Category

Donnie Darko

27 Apr

Donny Darko – directed By Richard Kelly. SpookyDrama. 133 minutes Color 2001.


The Story: A teenage boy sleepwalks his way into a unlived life.


The Gyllenhaal kids are in this one, she the easy one, he the difficult one. Which is not to say he is the bad guy and she is the good girl, she nice, he nasty. No, they do not exist in these realms at all. One day fifteen years or so from now, when they are pushing fifty, they may play the brother and sister in Chekov’s The Cherry Orchard, but until that time we shall simply have to wait. Nice and nasty doesn’t apply to them. Her face is raised to the world, his face is hang-dog. There’s mystery enough in that.

If she delights to have fun, and he is reluctant to have fun, well then, there lurks in him a smile withheld for a more honest and more understanding gathering. Drew Barrymore as his English teacher offers it. So does Katharine Ross as his therapist. But the only one giving him the quality of attention his frown demands is his girlfriend, nicely played by Jena Malone.

The film is one of those messes written by the man who directed it. Will people never learn? Do not direct what you have written, because you will invariably direct everyone but the writer. But another reason prevails for its being a mess.

The director is by nature conventional and to try to be unconventional makes a movie about time-travel – not realizing, time-travel is a thing conventional directors conventionally try.

So what is a conventional persona supposed to do?

What they had better do is don’t try to be unconventional, but to adhere rather to the gift of conventionality they have been given, and, if they are no brighter than this director, what that means is to honor the strength of a strong story line, and seek out a strong story line to honor. That would set the matter of conventionality and unconventionality aside with an iron hand.

As it is, we have a foolish film about an oddball adolescent, played when Jake Gyllenhaal was 20 and just the right age. Gyllenhaal’s personal recalcitrance carries the picture. The picture does not carry the picture. It simply presents weirdness pretending to significance.

Inside this is cocooned an interested personality biding his time for a role more generous to his gifts, as, say, in Nightcrawlers.

He is well supported by Drew Barrymore, Mary McDonnell, Katharine Ross, and Maggie Gyllenhaal, all women you will note. Females rush to protect Jake Gyllenhaal. Men steer clear of him, you will note. It is the abiding subtext of many a Gyllenhaal film, most pronounce in his most renowned one, Brokeback Mountain.



23 Aug

Frank— directed by Lenny Abrahamson. Serious Satire. 95 minutes Color 2014


The Story: A gormeless wannabe songwriter is accepted into a band so far out they’re out to lunch.


I love the way this story was told. I felt I was in good hands with the director, that I was given no more and no less than I need. My curiosity was sustained.

It wasn’t sustained because of the young man. For the young wannabe is entirely without talent, and he always will be. So there is nothing in him to latch onto. He’s just a slice of bread. He could be anyone. But still one wants to see where this poor sap will end up.

The overall thrust of the movie, which is a satire without laughs, is a take on the solemnity of musicians who wish to express a music so rare it must only be played to the corner wallpaper. It would be sullied if anyone heard it, much less sounded its content. For behind this itch to musicalize is a bent that has nothing to do with music at all. It is agoraphobia, which is the refusal to be seen in the marketplace.

Consequently Frank (Michael Fassbender) — the leader of the troupe and the being to whom all its members have mesmerized themselves because none of them are interested in communicating either — this very Frank has ensconced himself in a huge round Keane-eyed false head.

He is never not in it. He never takes it off. He even puts Band-aides on it as though he were nicking himself shaving it. As a sort of Amazon guarding this leader, the inestimable Maggie Gyllenhall makes of her role a masterwork of sustained contempt. For her a dime in a tin cup would be selling out. Even the tin cup without a dime would be.

A female drummer groomed like the bride of Dracula and a guitarist who never deigns to learn English make up the quintet. The music they make insults the word banal.

The thing about artists is simple. They sit down and they throw their pots, which they love to do, and some of them just naturally make things folks find fetching. There is no mystery to it. It’s called a calling. There is mastery to it, of course, but that is called craft, and there the mystery lies — an entirely different matter.

The world is full of saloons with microphones in them, oh, so that must mean one is a musician! This movie is about such people making music for the deaf who are never present, or not listening if they are, and about their insanity of refusing to entertain to begin with. Particularly when there is no soul in them that can entertain anyone anyhow, at least with music. One learns from this film that the thing to do when people say, “I want to be a musician,” is to walk the other way just as soon as one can.

I liked the movie. I thought it was sweet. I thought it was just right. I was entertained. Let me know.

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Posted in Maggie Gyllenhaal, Michael Fassbender, SATIRE


Mona Lisa Smile

31 Dec

Mona Lisa Smile – directed by Mike Newell. Chickflick. A new art instructor at Wellesely College for women finds herself up against unquestioned traditions. 117 minutes Color 2003.
Julia Roberts as an academician is beautifully miscast on the grounds that her popular consistency won’t know the difference. After all, how many of them went to Wellesely to begin with or have even heard of it? The marble-like conservative nature of the institution is sufficiently pigeoned-on to have closed it, and it is a wonder the filmers were not sued. Or maybe they were.

But our Julia prevails. She soldiers through a role for which she has not the slightest cultural depth. She reminds one of Joan Crawford with her broad mouth incapable of a subtlety and her big staring eyes. And inwardly you can see how much she enjoys being a star. Their instruments are quite different, however. Both are calculating performers. But Roberts is more at ease in her work; her assurance arises not out of her ego, but out of a sense of fun and of absurdity. She can play comedy at the drop of a hat, and Crawford could not play it at all. She is neither a masochist nor a sadist and Crawford was both. Roberts is an actress of seventeen smiles, Crawford of two. They are both wonderful. And they were both sometimes miscast.

But the script provides various resorts for Roberts, such as the fact that she expects perfection from everybody, or rather that she expects everybody to be an already finished work of art. She gets her come-uppance, thank goodness.

And in this she is helped by three typical students, Kirsten Dunst who plays a controlling marriage-aimed student, Julia Stiles who plays a young woman on the fence between marriage and a career, and Maggie Gyllenhaal who plays a free-loving girl, co-dependent to unavailable men.

The film has many nice touches and a real feeling of a small New England campus in the 1950s. It is interesting to revisit those times and consider how true or false the film is to them. It is a feminist screed on one level, which is just fine by me, since it is a blatant exposure of the small and very commercial expectations young women were steered toward in those days – and little did I know. I went to Columbia: Barnard was different.

And I wonder at the casting of the picture. It’s been ten years since it was made, and looking at the three leads, Dunst, Stiles, and Gyllenhaal, it is clear what their destinies as actors would be. The first two would go on; maybe they had some talent; Stiles certainly had a beautifully placed voice. But only Maggie Gyllenhaal would go on to be a star. For there she shines, with her sexiness, her intelligence, her deep humor, her wisdom, her flexibility, her charming happy face, and her big heart: the paramount soubrette. Talented as all get out. The first two I would not avoid seeing; they have not wronged me; the third I would make my way to see with relish. And I do.

John Slattery and Marcia Gay Harden and Marian Seldes and Juliet Stephenson are fine in supporting roles. And the picture is not pat. It wisely turns on itself in a way that is helpful to one once it is over.


Won’t Back Down

07 Oct

Won’t Back Down — directed by Danil Barnz. Docudrama. To create a better school for their children two women take on entrenched forces and win through. 121 minutes Color 2012.
Backed by the great Rosie Perez and the great Holly Hunter, Viola Davis and Maggie Gyllenhaal effort womanfully to pump the gas to keep this story aloft. But it’s the way with “inspirational” films, a genre in which the effort it takes the actors to move the Jews to the Holy Land is actually greater than the move of the Jews to the Holy Land. For, boy, do they bend their shoulders to the task. It’s a horribly difficult genre to act, write, and direct, because it forbids everyone to work with anything but the broad strokes of finger paints. Subtlety is not in view. And the poor extras who have to raise their fists in the air and cry, “Down with the emperor!” with the conviction of storm troopers. The tendency of such films is to look patented. But the real problem lies in the shrug of the audience once the film is over, for the characters having given their all to the cause, we, the audience, have no room to give anything. We are as good as not-present before the difficulties and successes which are routine in such a genre. Maggie Gyllenhaal, she-of-the-frantic-locks, gives a cyclonic performance of a character who has no character defects, of course, because all that is in her is The Right, and it is a tribute to her wit and her valor and her inherent recalcitrance that she works the part so well. She never appears righteous. She’s an entrancing personality, with huge impressible eyes and the Gyllenhaal smile carved at the corner of her lips, so it is easy to look upon her with favor. She’s all heartstrings. All give. She is so slight of figure that you imagine she could not push the load she sets in motion, and she is so costumed that you think no one would take her seriously. The actress cast, that is to say, would be in dramatic conflict with the part she is asked to play, and that is the wonder of the outcome of this war, not the war itself, which is based on actual events. Viola Davis’ body, on the other hand, is one of elegance and groundedness. So she’s the anchor to Gyllenhaal’s tossing dinghy. She herself does have a character defect, which is to pressurize her young son to excel as a student past his natural speed. A late exposition scene relieves both of them of this burden, and it’s very well played indeed. Davis’ large eyes convey a beautiful reluctance to go along with the Gyllenhall torrent. And both these actresses are worth seeing as they energize this civics lesson into immediate life, every scene of which is a resuscitation. Which makes it different from Norma Rae, say, as the story takes us to battle with the school bureaucracy, the parents, the teachers, and the teachers union itself, for the battle is not against adult slavery which we can see for ourselves in its effects on rural lives, but against children’s inferior education which we, of course, can witness in children but briefly. So do these two women shine through? Yes. That’s the habit of such stories. Do they shine through to the audience? When Maggie Gyllenhall says to Viola Davis, “Beautiful new nails you’ve got there,” Davis answers, “Cheaper than therapy.” No. There’s too much enamel on the story. A little more depth and a little less polish might have better served.



10 Jun

Hysteria – directed by Tanya Wexler. Women Lib Drama. Two daughters become the objects of the attention of a doctor with an unusual therapeutic practice for women in the 1890s.100 minutes Color 2012.


Oh, Maggie Gyllenhaal. Maggie Gyllenhaal. Maggie Gyllenhaal. Repeat that word over and over for as long as this page is long and for as long as you like, and consider it an hosanna. The picture is a women’s lib version of a subject, 19th Century medical masturbation as a placebo for female ailments, also dealt with concurrently by the play In The Next Room: The Vibrator Play, which I have seen and which, like this, is unworthy to witness as a subject for a cause so great as equality of gender. The orgasms we see on screen are cartooned by the actresses and by the director; they are never taken as real, deep,and important. They are executed by actresses chosen because they are funny looking: either fat or thin or blousy, and when we see ordinary women being treated, they and their orgasms are mocked by the actresses themselves. The male doctors engage in this treatment with reverence. They take it they are engaging in a medical breakthrough. Jonathan Pryce is the senior physician in a part written only one way, so we know how he and the movie will end. As we know how it will end with his two daughters, the one proper, the other a Shavian modern woman running a settlement house, played by the great Maggie G. Watch how she stands at the trial scene. She never stands foursquare, but, like Garbo, always at an angle. Her whole performance is like that, except once. See if you notice it and how telling that is! Anyhow, the script is routine, and the performance by the leading actor is  – well, let’s say he is not such as to carry a film. But with a film this flimsy, that would take Atlas. The spectacular, even scandalous subject is not sufficient to make a good story of it. It simply plays like an oddity out of an old Sears Roebuck catalogue. It presumes to find itself important. One thing it seems to be blaring out is, “Tut tut, Men don’t understand female sexuality or even consider it to exist!” So you see, it’s really mean-spirited and as dated as a zombie.  It presumes to look down on male ignorance. Everything about it presumes, except for M.G, who simply vibrates with life. She, and she alone is the vibrator.



15 Feb

Waterworld – directed by Stephen Gyllenhaal – Drama. A high school teacher regales his history class with his youthful sexual history. 94 minutes Color 1992

* * *

Some actors are hired for their ability to perform a character. Others for their ability to perform themselves. Jeremy Irons is of the latter category but this film requires someone of the first category. Irons can carry a film as himself very nicely, but this knack has disastrous consequences on what might have been an interesting and comprehensible picture. Irons’ character is supposed to be that of a grownup version of an English peasant boy from The Fens on the North Sea, but he proceeds in the part with his upper class airs and charms in full swing, a person who would no more end up teaching English in Pittsburgh PA high school than The Prince of Wales would. With Irons is Sinead Cusack as his wife, and she has clearly based her performance on the character of the teenage girl she was once supposed to be, even using prosthetic teeth to duplicate the young girl’s gat-teeth. She is a character; Irons is not a character. Her scenes with Irons are professional to the max, but it must have been like playing Ophelia opposite Donald Duck. And it discombobulates the film out of reason. The two teenagers, Lena Headey and Grant Warnock are just fine as the kids. And David Morrissey, who plays the retarded older teenager, is super, and is perhaps the only person one cares about in this misguided movie. His Insolence Ethan Hawke floats through the show to no purpose in a part that probably should have been cut. Whereas Pete Postlethwaite right-sizes his small role as the father and is particularly effective in the remarkable and moving denouement. We also have John Heard, wasted again, in a supporting role, in which, however, he is excellent. And the high-spirited, laughing face of Maggie Gyllenhall in her first screen appearance flashes by. Another difficulty, and again it is a big one, is that the set decorations are completely at odds with the setting. Houses in Pittsburg didn’t have that furniture and didn’t have wallpaper and if they did it wasn’t like that. The result is that we never believe where we are watching. And because of Irons we never believe whom we are watching. See it. It is interesting to watch all this collapse the film.


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