Tag Archives: Margarita Levieva

For Ellen (2012, So Yong Kim)

I’m not sure what’s more incredulous, director Kim thinking she’s Bob Rafelson or her thinking her For Ellen lead is Jack Nicholson.

Besides the inept, predictable rip-off (or homage) of one of Nicholson and Rafelson’s more famous moments, the only thing distinctive about For Ellen–besides some great photography and location shooting–is Shaylena Mandigo as the title character. Kim gets an exceptional performance out of Mandigo, who’s seven or so. In her scenes with Dano, Mandigo acts circles around him. It’s embarrassing for Dano.

Other than those scenes, Dano is the whole show in Ellen. One has to assume Kim has him ad-libbing some of the more inane exchanges. He’s a struggling musician (it’s never clear if he’s any good, doesn’t seem like it), who travels from Chicago to an undisclosed small midwestern town to sign his divorce papers. There he mets his daughter (Mandigo) for the first time.

But for the first hour, the film’s mostly Dano wandering around. He hangs out with his weird, small town lawyer (Jon Heder in a thankless role). Dano’s not just unlikable, he’s boring. Director Kim must have really thought he was giving a better performance than the one she put on film. Or video. You get the idea.

As for Kim… her composition is great. Her dialogue’s awful, but her direction of talky scenes is good. She tries to be very cute with the exposition, which flops.

Ellen’s got nothing to offer except Mandigo and cinematographer Reed Morano.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Written and directed by So Yong Kim; director of photography, Reed Morano; edited by Bradley Rust Gray and Kim; music by Jóhann Jóhannsson; production designer, Ryan Warren Smith; produced by Gray, Kim and Jen Gatien; released by Tribeca Film.

Starring Paul Dano (Joby), Jon Heder (Mr. Butler), Jena Malone (Susan), Margarita Levieva (Claire Taylor), Julian Gamble (Mr. Hamilton), Dakota Johnson (Cindy) and Shaylena Mandigo (Ellen).


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Adventureland (2009, Greg Mottola)

I hate Adventureland. I mean, it’s a rather good film, but I’m going to have to say nice things about Ryan Reynolds now and so I hate it. Reynolds has a small but significant role in the film and he’s fantastic, bringing humanity to what should be a common character. I cringed at his name in the credits then proceeded to love his performance. So I hate Adventureland.

Greg Mottola’s film isn’t revolutionary. It’s a coming of age story. But there’s a lot of nice nuance to it. It’s a post-college coming of age story, set in 1987, but nothing like a movie from 1987. Then there’s the whole undercurrent of anti-semiticism, which gets a specific scene, but not a lot of notice–the film’s primary three characters are Jewish (I’m just guessing with Jesse Eisenberg’s character, as it wouldn’t make much sense if he wasn’t) and they have this awkward relationship with the Catholics they work with. Mottola doesn’t establish it, he just later refers to it–it’s part of the ground situation, something everyone knows about and the viewer has to get caught up on immediately. It’s beautiful. Or Eisenberg being the youngest guy drinking at the bar. It just goes on and on.

But what Adventureland is all about, what makes it singular, is Kristen Stewart. I’ve been a fan since Speak–though I’ve never gotten around to seeing any of her films–and Adventureland is something of a showcase for her talent. Mottola seems to realize Eisenberg’s problems can’t carry an entire film, so he juxtaposes it with Stewart and her situation. Her situation is slightly more singular than Eisenberg’s and, even if it weren’t, it’s clear Stewart would be amazing in more pat scenes. Fingers crossed Stewart doesn’t let the paychecks of Twilight-like malarky sway her from doing good films.

So what about Eisenberg, the film’s ostensible lead? He’s great too. He’s nothing compared to Stewart, but he’s great. He’s got a great way of delivering Mottola’s dialogue–there’s always this thoughtful pause. It’s impossible to imagine the film without this cast.

Martin Starr’s solid as Eisenberg’s sort-of friend, Matt Bush hilarious as the childhood friend Eisenberg has outgrown (another one of Adventureland and Mottola’s lovely moves). Bill Hader has what would be the most traditional comedy role and he’s funny. It works.

Mottola’s direction is excellent. His strengths as a filmmaker more than make up for the film running about five minutes too long, maybe seven.

But I still hate Adventureland for making me say nice things about Ryan Reynolds.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Written and directed by Greg Mottola; director of photography, Terry Stacey; edited by Anne McCabe; music by Yo La Tengo; production designer, Stephen Beatrice; produced by Ted Hope, Anne Carey and Sidney Kimmel; released by Miramax Films.

Starring Jesse Eisenberg (James Brennan), Kristen Stewart (Em Lewin), Martin Starr (Joel Schiffman), Bill Hader (Bobby), Kristen Wiig (Paulette), Margarita Levieva (Lisa P.), Jack Gilpin (Mr. Brennan), Wendie Malick (Mrs. Brennan) and Ryan Reynolds (Mike Connell).


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