Deneuve and Binoche discover THE TRUTH

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LA+VERITE+1An icon plays an icon as Catherine Deneuve steps into the role of a French cinema legend who reunites for a rocky reunion with her screenwriter daughter (Juliette Binoche) in Hirokazu Kore-eda’s elegant drama The Truth. The Japanese master delivers his first film made outside his home country, in French and English – two languages not his own, and loses not a step in an intimate drama that unfolds between the family home and a Paris soundstage.

What brings Lumir (Binoche) back into her screen star mother Fabienne’s (Deneuve) orbit is the publication of Fabienne’s memoir. Arriving with her American TV actor husband Hank (a delightfully rakish Ethan Hawke) and young daughter Charlotte (Clémentine Grenier) at her childhood home (which somehow abuts a prison – no heavy-handed symbolism there!), Lumir has her back up, ready for battle with her difficult parent. The memoir full of Fabienne’s selective memories doesn’t help. Luc (Alain Libolt), the manager who has seen to all the little details of Fabienne’s life, is never mentioned in the book. More enraging for Lumir, neither is Suzanne, her mother’s late friend and fellow actress, and a woman with a warmer maternal instinct toward Lumir than self-absorbed Fabienne.

The fact that Fabienne’s latest role opposite rising star Manon (Manon Clavel) is a mother-daughter sci-fi drama only underlines the tensions in the real-life relationship. Nevertheless, even as Fabienne’s familiar brusqueness, selfishness, and lack of filter grate on Lumir, the daughter stays, going so far as becoming a kind of assistant, accompanying her mom to the set every day.

Fabienne is a monster mother, a narcissist who is at an age where she cannot even be bothered with social niceties, yet she is not lacking in self-awareness. Deneuve plays her brilliantly. Fabienne can be cruel – she does not hesitate to insult her son-in-law’s acting talent, for example – but on a certain level she understands what her egotism has cost her. She loves and needs her daughter. She understands how she hurt Luc in leaving him out of her book. She even grasps that her catty attitude toward Manon has less to do with an upstart taking her role in the spotlight than how the young woman reminds her and Lumir of Suzanne.

The film-within-a-film spins the tale of an astronaut, returned to Earth after a long voyage and untouched by age, communing with a daughter now older than she, and symbolizes the relathionship between Fabienne and Lumir. One has the impression, Lumir was the more emotionally mature one from a young age, and Fabienne is now just beginning to catch up.

Kore-eda begins his story in summer, ending his story as winter descends on Paris. It’s a delightful irony for a tale that begins with a seemingly insurmountable emotional iceberg between mother and daughter only to unexpectedly thaw. An exploration of love and anger, of a parent’s mistakes and a child’s resentment gradually transforms into something warmer and more generous, an acknowledgement that at least some of the time, it is possible to move past the hurt and forge a stronger bond. The performances by Deneuve and Binoche, these giants of French cinema, are spectacular, as they explore the tension and the love between two complicated women searching for, as the film’s title suggests, a kind of truth.  – Pam Grady

The Truth is playing in selected theaters and is available on VOD platforms.

WELCOME TO CHECHNYA paints devastating portrait of state-sanctioned brutality

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chechnya05The situation for gays and lesbians in Chechnya is beyond harrowing. They face arrest, torture, and sometimes execution. If they survive that, they are delivered back to their families with the suggestion that their kin finish the job of killing them. Some have joined the ranks of the world’s disappeared. This special project of strongman president Ramzan Kadyrov “to cleanse the blood” of the country’s LGBTQ population has been under way since 2016 with barely any notice from the rest of the world. Oscar-nominated filmmaker David France’s (How to Survive a Plague) tense, devastating documentary reveals the depth of an ongoing genocide and the efforts of Russian activists to rescue the victims of the atrocities.

Grisha, a 30-year-old Russian event planner who had the misfortune to be working in Chechnya, and Anya, in danger of being outed to her government official father, are among the people Crisis Response Coordinator David Isteev and his colleagues at the Russian LGBT Network try to help during the course of Welcome to Chechnya. It is a fraught operation as Isteev others travel back and forth to Chechnya, spiriting people out of the country and into Russian safehouses until visas can be secured and lives can begin anew as refugees in safer countries.

It is perilous work, not the least because Russia itself is a profoundly homophobic nation, and it is a little bit like trying to sop up an ocean with paper towels. At the point where Welcome to Chechnya ends, Isteev and his colleagues had aided 151 people – with 40,000 more still at risk. The film itself would not have been possible without new technology that allowed France to mask the identities of his subjects by digitally replacing their visages with others acting as “face doubles.” Voice doubles were also used to further ensure that the documentary would not endanger lives.

France and his small crew used consumer-grade cameras, cell phones, and GoPro and to blend in as tourists in order to follow Isteev and his associates on missions and the journeys of several people they smuggle out of Chechnya. The rescue scenes are intense, the knowledge that one wrong move can lead to exposure and arrest making the terror palpable. At safe houses, there is sometimes euphoria but also frustration and fear as men and women wait for word on the visas that will allow them to leave Russia and settle elsewhere as refugees. “Safe” is also a relative term in a country like Russia that has its own outbursts of anti-LGBTQ violence, making anxiety a constant companion.

France finds unassuming heroes in Isteev and Olga Baranova, founding director of the Moscow Community Center for LGBT+ Initiatives, as they quietly risk their own lives and freedom in the service of others.

Among the refugees, Grisha emerges as an extraordinary individual. Because he is Russian, the Chechnyan authorities realize belatedly that he could make trouble for them in a way that everyday Chechnyans cannot. There is a target on his back and that of his partner and family. How he responds to that threat makes for some of Welcome to Chechnya‘s most riveting scenes.

The documentary, which is airing on HBO, can make for rough viewing, particularly in footage France discovered and includes of the brutality inflicted on the victims by the Chechnyan authorities and sometimes their families. It is also necessary viewing, a wakeup call to the world of state-sanctioned violence that has gone on unabated for five long years. Welcome to Chechnya starkly makes clear the terrible price LGBTQ people have paid for the international community’s inattention and willful ignorance –Pam Grady

 

 

HAMILTON dazzles in stream debut

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Hamilton_Miranda_Odom_2Theater geeks everywhere will rejoice and many who would consider themselves impervious to the charms of a Broadway musical will find themselves seduced as Hamilton drops on Disney+ on July 3. Filmed four years while the original cast was still intact, but not intended for a theatrical release until the fall of 2021, with COVID-19 putting pause to the Broadway and road companies, the decision to push the date up by over a year and put it on the streaming service is a welcome one. No doubt there is a business calculation involved. Disney+ can expect to gain X number of subscribers through this shrewd move. But ultimately, who cares about the company’s motivation? Hamilton is here.

But does it live up to the hype? Emphatically, yes. The show that opened to big box office and multiple awards off-Broadway in 2015 before moving onto Broadway later that year, garnering a record-setting 16 Tony nominations and 11 awards, and eventually winning playwright-lyricist-composer Lin-Manuel Miranda a Pulitzer Prize deserves all of its accolades. The United States’ first Treasury Secretary’s life unfolds through 46 songs, ranging from traditional musical theater showstoppers to hip hop and nearly all of them earworms. The cast – led by Miranda as Hamilton, Leslie Odom, Jr. as his rival Aaron Burr, Daveed Diggs in the dual roles of the Marquis de Lafayette and Thomas Jefferson,  Christopher Jackson as George Washington, Jonathan Groff as King George, Phillipa Soo as Eliza Hamilton, and Renée Elise Goldsberry as Angelica Schuyler – is perfection. And while some historians have groused about the accuracy of the events portrayed, Hamilton accomplishes what all the best fiction spun from historical events does – it piques audience interest in discovering the real story.Hamilton_DiggsTo adapt the play to the screen, director Thomas Kail filmed several actual live performances along with performances staged strictly for award-winning cinematographer Declan Quinn’s cameras, a set-up that included a Steadicam. This is not a Hamilton that even its most ardent fans have seen before. Close-ups reveal nuances to the performances lost to distance from the stage and provides a privileged vantage point from which to view Andy Blankenbuehler’s Tony-winning choreography. Jonah Moran’s editing injects a burst of new energy into an already adrenalin-fueled musical. Every performer, from Miranda and Odom to the ensemble, brings their A-game.

In the midst of a seemingly never-ending pandemic, Hamilton offers a ray of light. Despite the eventual tragedy of Alexander Hamilton’s life, this musical is a burst of joy, something in far too short supply these days. To borrow the title from one of the show’s songs, the filmed Hamilton gives audiences the opportunity to see the show in “The Room Where It Happened.” Take it. –Pam Grady

 

Pixar drops SOUL sneak peak

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SOULDisney and Pixar’s SOUL is not scheduled for release Nov. 20, 2020, but there is a brand new sneak peek of the animated fantasy about a middle-school music teacher and pianist (Jamie Foxx) who gets the golden opportunity to play with a renowned jazz musician’s (Angela Bassett) quartet. But that plan goes awry when he finds himself in The Great Before – the place where souls go to get their, well, soul before they join their human hosts on Earth.

The sneak premiered June 27 as part of the Essence Festival of Culture when Soul director Pete Docter, co-director and screenwriter Kemp Powers,  and producer Dana Murray joined culture consultants to the film, anthropologist/educator Dr. Johnetta Cole and jazz pianist Jon Batiste (who also arranged and composed music for the film) for a virtual panel, “Finding Soul.” Included in the clip is Cody ChesnuTT performing his song “Parting Ways.”

ELLA FITZGERAD: JUST ONE OF THOSE THINGS evokes a legend

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ella 2In 1934, a 17-year-old girl with skinny legs and a stained dress ascended to the stage of Harlem’s Apollo Theater for Amateur Night. She wanted to be dancer, but as she watched Apollo stars the Edwards Sisters’ agile footwork during the pro part of the evening, she knew she could not follow that. So, she switched gears, opened her mouth to sing and Ella Fitzgerald began her legend. Leslie Woodhead, who began his documentary directing career in 1969 with The Stones in the Park and has made films on everything from the Polish Solidarity movement to the post-9/11 manhunt for Osama bin Laden to Princess Diana, pays glorious homage to the First Lady of Song with this spellbinding documentary.

Ella Fitzgerald: Just One of Those Things is tailormade for Fitzgerald’s fans with its wealth of archival performances but it is also a splendid introduction to the artist. The doc fills in the biographical details of her life, while also offering a scintillating picture of a singular career in which she became known for her scat singing, novelty hits, and mastery of the Great American Songbook. There are plenty of interviews with performers ranging from those who knew Fitzgerald like Tony Bennett and Cleo Laine to a new generation in awe of her talent like Laura Mvula and Jamie Cullum. Fitzgerald’s son, musician Ray Brown Jr., writer and critic Margo Jefferson, and Fitzgerald biographer Judith Tick add further details to the portrait.

Nonagenarian dancer Norma Miller sets the stage for the documentary as she recalls being a 14-year-old in the balcony of the Apollo during that first performance, she and her friends laughing at the bedraggled teen – laughter that stopped when Ella started to sing. By 1935, Fitzgerad was the vocalist for bandleader Chick Webb. At 21 in 1938, she had her first number one hit with “A-Tisket-A-Tasket.”

From hardscrabble beginnings, Fitzgerald rose to worldwide stardom despite the racism that dogged her throughout her career. Segregated facilities and top nightclubs that would not book her despite her fame were only the tip of the iceberg. A frequent guest on TV variety shows, she longed for a series of her own, but could only get one TV special. Ella Fitzgerald: Just One of Those Things contains excerpts from a radio interview she did in the early 1960s in which a singer who rarely talked about politics or social issues frankly discussed racism. The interview never aired.

Twenty-four years after her death, Ella Fitzgerald: Just One of Those Things pays fitting tribute to one of the 20th century’s greatest performers. Among the songs to which she put her signature was George and Ira Gershwin’s “Nice Work If You Can Get It.” The title is an understatement when describing Fitzgerald’s brilliant career, as this documentary so fascinatingly reveals. –Pam Grady

Ella Fitzgerald: Just One of Those Things is available at the Roxie and other virtual cinemas through July 10.

On Sunday, June 28, 7pm ET/4pm PT, the Roxie hosts a Q&A with producer Reggie Nadelson, author and critic Margo Jefferson, singer and musician Camille Thurman, and journalist Will Friedwald. To RSVP: https://watch.eventive.org/ellamovie/play/5ececfe4999499004e6045a4

 

 

 

 

 

IRRESISTIBLE: Simply too resistible

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IRRESISTIBLE

Chris Cooper is always a welcome sight, and he certainly is in Irresistible. Casting him is one of the few things writer/director Jon Stewart gets right in a political satire that is all too easy to resist. In our politically polarized times, all Americans might just agree for once: The movie is a fail.

What Stewart clearly wants is to make a modern-day The Great McGinty, Preston Sturges’ antic and deliriously funny 1940 screwball comedy lampooning corruption in American politics. An admirable ambition to be sure, but Stewart lacks Sturges’ wit and he is hamstrung trying to satirize an era in which a game show host is the president of the United States. The satire, such as it is, is modern American history

Stewart casts Steve Carell as Gary Zimmer, the Democratic Party’s top strategist and spin doctor. Living with the ignominy of watching all his work go for naught when Hillary Clinton lost to Donald Trump, he is a man in desperate need of a win. When he sees a viral video of retired Marine Colonel and dairy farmer Jack Hastings (Cooper) at a Deerlaken, Wisconsin, town council meeting passionately speaking up on behalf of undocumented workers, Gary has a brainstorm. Looking for his own redemption after the 2016 debacle, he wants to run Hastings in Deerlaken’s mayoral contest, a first step toward proving the Democrats can win in the America’s heartland.

From that set-up, Irresistible misfires in all directions. The My Fair Lady-like plot with Hastings as a political Eliza Doolittle to Gary’s Henry Higgins defies belief. Why would an apparently moral and ethical man go along with Gary’s scheming? Cooper also appears to be in an entirely different movie than that of the rest of the cast, particularly Carell and Rose Byrne as Gary’s Republican counterpart Faith Brewster, who comes to Deerlaken to work on the incumbent mayor’s campaign. Cooper is such a confident and truthful actor that he convinces even as he plays an underwritten character. But Carell and Byrne flail in cartoonish roles, mugging helplessly for the camera.

Irresistible‘s worst sin is that it is not funny. Not a bit. Stewart, the man who used to so nimbly navigate political satire as a writer as well as the host of The Daily Show, has penned a screenplay shockingly laugh free. In a way, Stewart is like his main character, someone dispirited and poleaxed by Hillary Clinton’s defeat and the Trump presidency. Irresistible is his attempt to grapple with these last long four years, but not only is this an era that defies satire, Stewart’s sense of humor has fled under the onslaught. Under those conditions, the failure of Irresistible is only too predictable. –Pam Grady

Ailing teen seeks prescription in bad boy in Australian BABYTEETH

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babyteeth 3Moses (Toby Wallace, Boys in Trees) is every parent’s worst nightmare: A feral, homeless, and heavily tattooed drug dealer with sticky fingers and a terrible mullet. At 23, he is also far too old for 15-year-old Milla (Eliza Scanlen, Little Women‘s Beth). But the heart wants what it wants and Milla wants Moses and she is seriously ill, leaving psychiatrist Henry (Ben Mendelsohn, Animal Kingdom) and classical musician Anna (Essie Davis, The Babadook) to feel they have little choice but to let the ebullient felon into their lives. In the world of Shannon Murphy’s Babyteeth that accommodation to a situation neither parent wants is a moment of clarity: Henry and Anna cannot fix what is wrong with Milla, but they can allow her a small bit of control in a situation in which she otherwise has none.

The word “cancer” is never uttered in Rita Kalnejais’ script adapted from her own play. Nor are there any scenes in hospital. When Milla is first introduced on a Sydney train platform, only a nosebleed suggests she is any different than any other schoolgirl. But it is not long before her golden tresses are only a wig covering a bald pate. She still goes to school and takes her violin lessons in a bid for a sense of normalcy, but her alliance with Moses is not simply a crush on a bad boy. He is freedom and escape from everyday routine and from illness. Moses’ vivacious nature also appeals, a marked contrast from her parents’ obsessive worry. Besides, in a weird way, Moses fits right in with the dysfunctional family dynamic, everyone sharing a certain bent for chemical relief, whether through pot or pharmaceuticals.

Given the heaviness of the subject matter, Babyteeth is often surprisingly light. It is a story not without humor. The four leads are outstanding, particularly Wallace, winner of the Marcello Mastroianni Award for Best Young Actor at the Venice Film Festival. Moses is a tricky character, as changeable as the weather, sometimes appearing to be the warmhearted boy Milla needs him to be, while other times showing a manipulative side that lives down to Henry and Anna’s low expectations. That his own mother will not allow him in her home speaks to trouble he appears to accumulate. Wallace nails all those many shadings.

Babyteeth is not a complete success. The film is broken into chapters, each with a name coyly hinting at what is about to unfold. It is a convention that grates, irritatingly twee. The same can also be said of some unfortunate soundtrack choices. Climactic scenes create an abrupt tonal shift that widens the focus from the family to incorporate others in their orbit. Rather than create a feeling of community around Milla, those scenes simply create questions. Babyteeth is an evocation of family, those we are born into and those we create, but that works best in the context of the four central characters.

The film never turns into a tearjerker and that is among its strengths. Milla cuts a vibrant figure. Whether she lives or dies, she wants to set the terms of the time she has, pulling her parents and Moses along for the ride. Her lack of sentimentality sets the tone for her story. That Babyteeth a most unusual cancer kid movie. That is refreshing. – Pam Grady

Babyteeth is playing at select theaters and is available on VOD platforms.

Pageant brings mother-daughter relationship into focus in engaging MISS JUNETEENTH

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Miss Juneteenth42‘s Nicole Beharie and newcomer Alexis Chikaeze deliver incandescent turns as mother and daughter in writer/director Channing Godfrey Peoples’ arresting feature debut. Using a small Texas town’s Miss Juneteenth pageant as the lens from which to view a complicated parent-and-child relationship and a mom’s attempt to secure her progeny’s future, Peoples limns an indelible portrait of family and community life.

Once upon a time Turquoise Jones (Beharie) was Miss Juneteenth. The scholarship pageant was supposed to be her ticket to a bright future. Other Miss Juneteenths went on to great personal and professional success. But that was not Turquoise’s fate. Oh, she still has the drive of a Miss Juneteenth. That is evident in everything she does as she manages a bar and BBQ joint, works on call as an aesthetician for a funeral home, does what can for her alcoholic mother (Lori Hayes), and raises daughter Kai (Chikaeze) with only unreliable support from Ronnie (Kendrick Sampson), her on-again/off-again partner and Kai’s dad.

Now, Turquoise’s ambition is burning again at the idea that Kai could be the next pageant winner. Her intention is not to relive her own youth through her daughter, only that Kai should have the future Turquoise was denied. Fourteen-year-old Kai is not so enthusiastic. She resents that her mother does not support her passion for dance and actively shoos away the boy she likes. Pageant-mandated etiquette lessons Kai finds humiliating when a vicious former competitor of her mom’s—now a pageant bigwig—delights in calling her out when the teenager makes mistakes. Turquoise means well, but she is also overly controlling, right down to insisting that Kai recite Maya Angelou’s “Phenomenal Woman” during the pageant’s talent competition, the same poem Turquoise performed in her day.

The mother-daughter relationship is beautifully expressed in all its messiness. Kai is at an age where she wants to start claiming her own place in the world, while Turquoise is afraid of where that measure of independence might lead. There is a generation gap to negotiate and a refusal on both sides to acknowledge the other’s position. Yet there is no doubting the bond between parent and child. Perhaps learning from her difficult relationship with her own mother, Turquoise has built a connection with her daughter that is built to withstand arguments and tension.

Among Miss Juneteenth‘s strengths is its depiction of the community around Turquoise and Kai. The film offers a nearly tactile portrayal of life in a small town where the Juneteenth parade is a celebration not just of history but of the town, pride expressed in marching bands, floats, and local horsemen showing off their steeds. It is the type of place where people help one another out in times of trouble. And while the ladies at the Miss Juneteenth pageant may look down at Turquoise for not fulfilling the promise of her reign, she is, in fact, one of the town leading citizens by dint of her always doing for others despite her own troubles.

With this first feature, Peoples, an award-winning maker of short films, establishes her mastery of place and mood. Gorgeously shot, beautifully acted, Miss Juneteenth won the Louis Black/Lone Star Award for Best Texan Film at SXSW, that spring pageant for independent movies. It deserved that tiara. Like Turquoise Jones, Miss Juneteenth is all heart and that heart is most definitely in the right place. –Pam Grady

Miss Juneteenth is available at the Roxie Virtual Cinema and other on-demand platforms.

Gordon-Levitt soars in high-flying thriller 7500

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7500There is a sizeable cast in director/co-writer Patrick Vollrath’s breathtaking feature debut, set on a flight from Berlin to Paris in mostly real time, but only one actor who really counts: Joseph Gordon-Levitt as the flight’s co-pilot Tobias, an ordinary man thrust into extraordinary circumstances. Hijacking dramas are nothing new but this is not the stuff of a Steven Seagal or Kurt Russell movie. 7500 is not an action picture, but rather a slow-burn psychological thriller in which the hero’s defining trait is an ability to hold fear at bay on the worst day of his life.

Vollrath sets the stage from the opening frames, introducing the flight’s passengers as they pass through security and lounge at the gate. The angle is overhead, the view that of surveillance cameras, establishing an uneasy tone from the start. Moving into the plane, Tobias and the pilot Michael (Carlo Kitzlinger) do their pre-flight checks while flight attendants Nathalie (Aurélie Thépaut) and Gökce (Aylin Tezel) get ready to greet passengers. It is all very routine, prosaic and a little dull, a far cry from the mood established in the terminal.

That banal calm shatters not long after takeoff as hijackers emerge among the passengers, determined to breach the locked cockpit door and commandeer the aircraft. Sporadic action gives way to a sharp focus on Tobias, struggling with limited options. A video feed allows him a tiny view of the area right outside the cockpit door. He has radio communication with air traffic control. But mostly what Tobias has are his wits. He thinks fast on feet, which when coupled with his Herculean effort to keep his rising panic down, gives him a fighting chance against an existential threat.

7500 is a modest endeavor that serves as a calling card for its director as Vollrath extracts maximum suspense out of a story that plays out within the confines of the claustrophobic cockpit. Masterfully edited by Hansjörg Weißbrich, the film’s pacing is superb, the flight’s horrors emerging bit by bit during its slim 92-minute running time.

Austrian actor Omid Memar lends strong support as the one hijacker with whom Tobias finds some rapport, but this is Gordon-Levitt’s movie. With the camera trained on him in nearly every scene, often in closeup and only rarely with another actor to play against, the one-time child star gives a master class in performance. Tobias’ fear, grief, and sense of helplessness are only too real, pulsing always just below the surface as he works to extricate himself and everyone else on the plane out of a dire situation.

7500 is no sweeping epic. It is a small story, but one that is masterfully told and magnificently acted. –Pam Grady

7500 is available on Amazon Prime.

 

Fathers, Sons, Scrabble: SOMETIMES ALWAYS NEVER

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Sometimes Always Never 3Family, syn., blood, clan, kin, linage, tribe. Disappearance, syn., loss, concealment, hiding. Eccentric, syn., bizarre, erratic, off-kilter, off-the-wall, peculiar. Family, disappearance, and eccentric and their synonyms are words at the heart of this offbeat British melodrama in which an online Scrabble game reenergizes a father’s search for a long-lost son even as it stirs resentment in the child who remained home. Sometimes Always Never flirts with being twee (syn., cutesy, cloying, gooey), but never quite crosses that line, thanks to welcome doses of humor and assured performances form stars Bill Nighy and Sam Riley.

Nighy plays Alan, the oddball tailor and Scrabble hustler at the center of the story. Years before during a heated family contest of the word game (or a version of it, anyway), 17-year-old Michael walked off in a huff, never to be heard from again. Alan’s conviction that he has found his son in an anonymous online opponent in Scrabble pushes him toward imposing on son Peter (Riley) and his family, wife Sue (Alice Lowe) and teenage son Jack (Louis Healy). A short visit one evening turns into an extended stay, with Alan scarcely noticing Peter’s frustration and resentment while he schools his grandson on the importance of sartorial style and Scrabble strategy.

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The script by Frank Cottrell Boyce tonally resembles that of his screenplay for Danny Boyle’s Millions, a certain fairytale quality butting up against darker, more realistic notes. The fantasy aspects are further amped by the film’s production design, which would not be out of place in a Wes Anderson movie (granted, one on a far smaller scale than the typical Wes Anderson film). Even a road trip Alan and Peter undertake takes on a magical quality through director Carl Hunter’s liberal use of back projection. Locations in Yorkshire and the shore in Merseyside add to the air of enchantment.

Even one key grudge that Peter holds against Alan adds to the fanciful quality as the now middle-aged son rails against his widowed, single dad who would never buy him or Michael normal toys. Scrabble was not Scrabble. Legos were not Legos, and so on.  The family was not poor, but Alan was not – and is not – quite part of this world. It is a quality that has apparently only worsened in the intervening years as Alan obsesses over the absent child at the expense of the one who is present. At its most heavy-handed, Sometimes Always Never touches on the Biblical story of the prodigal son, a flourish that is a little too on the nose.

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This is a souffle of a movie and one in constant peril of falling flat. What keeps it buoyant is Nighy, playing Alan with a measure of sadness that grounds the character in reality, and Riley as the frustrated Peter, whose exasperation with a difficult parent is palpable. Alan has let Michael’s memory loom so large that it has crowded out the reality of Peter in his mind. The central question that Something Always Never seeks to answer in its own oddball way is which son Alan really needs to find. –Pam Grady

Sometimes Always Never is currently playing virtual cinemas, including Rafael@home and will be available on VOD platforms on July 10.