Sunday, September 27, 2015

New movie review: Black Mass

Johnny Depp stares down Joel Edgerton in director Scott Cooper's Black Mass.

The gangster movie is a hallowed tradition in American cinema. Popular since the start of the sound era, movies about lowlifes and criminals have never really gone out of fashion as other genres have waxed and waned – think westerns or musicals. Audiences have always craved stories about the darker side of life, and filmmakers have never been shy about making those stories. The template was set by William Wellman’s excellent The Public Enemy (1931), starring James Cagney, and little has changed since.

The last all-time classic gangster movie was probably Martin Scorsese’s Goodfellas, and that celebrated its 25th anniversary this year. Cinemas have seen hundreds of crime movies since then, most of them heavily inspired either by Scorsese or Quentin Tarantino, but few of those films have had anything new to say about the genre. Eight decades on, directors still struggle to leave a mark on the form Wellman perfected.

Now we have director Scott Cooper’s foray into the genre, Black Mass, based on the true story of Boston mob boss James “Whitey” Bulger (Johnny Depp) and his tyrannical reign over the city’s underworld. Bulger, whose story was repurposed and fictionalized for Jack Nicholson’s character in The Departed, was a low-level crime figure with friends at the FBI. His law-enforcement connections – in particular his friendship with FBI agent Jack Connolly (Joel Edgerton) – allowed him to rise to prominence with the Irish gangs and take out the competition in the Italian mafia.

Depp plays Bulger as a cold psychopath whose mood can change from congenial to confrontational in an instant, and it is startling to watch as a compliment over dinner suddenly becomes a threat. To portray Bulger, Depp is hidden behind layers of makeup and prosthetics, as well as colored contacts that never stop being distracting. Still, underneath all that, Depp is able to find the core of Bulger and delivers a nuanced performance that ranks among the actor’s best work. It is first time in years Depp has played a character worthy of his talents, which is refreshing, but the same cannot be said for the movie.

Depp and Edgerton in Black Mass.
While Depp is able to dig below the surface and find substance in Bulger, Cooper and co-writers Mark Mallouk and Jez Butterworth fail to find any deeper meaning in the story overall. The great gangster pictures such as Goodfellas or The Godfather or Little Caesar have great themes tying their stories together, usually something about greed, corruption, power, or all three. Black Mass features those elements, but the filmmakers seem uninterested in exploring them. They are there for the illusion of depth but offer little tangible value.

The true tale of a federally sanctioned mob boss is inherently interesting, but the film never comments on the implications of all this collusion and corruption. There is no consideration of what it says about our culture that the government was willing to let a pack of psychopaths roam the streets just for the chance to take a different set of psychopaths off the streets. There is a cautionary tale in the Bulger-Connolly story that speaks to the pitfalls of loyalty and trying to choose the lesser of two evils, but the film never gets there, buried as it is beneath the artifice of genre.

None of this would be unforgivable if the film worked as an entertaining thriller, but in most regards, it is not that either. Depp infuses his scenes as Bulger with a go-for-broke, anything-can-happen energy that is sorely lacking from the rest of the film, which starts to drag anytime Bulger is not on screen. Because Bulger succeeds to the extent he does only with Connolly’s help, the filmmakers are right to split time between the two men’s stories. However, the character of Connolly is so dramatically inert that his half of the film is bereft of intrigue.

Edgerton is game, as always, but Connolly is treated as nothing more than another Bulger henchman, albeit one with a badge. His fate is so tied up in what happens to Bulger that the audience is never given the chance to relate to Connolly as an individual, though at least Connolly is given a semblance of personality. The rest of the cast mostly exists just to orbit around the black mass at the center of the story, there either to be killed by Bulger or inform on him to the U.S. Justice Department.

And inform they do in what turns out to be the film’s biggest misstep. Black Mass is a structural mess as the writers attempt to frame the story as flashbacks told to the government by former Bulger associates. There is nothing wrong with this style, per se, but the film drops it and picks it back up almost at random. We get flashbacks directly related to the informers, but we also see Bulger and Connolly engage in actions no one else would be privy to, begging the question of how the informers would know what happened. It is distracting and unnecessary, and it interrupts whatever rhythm the film is able to find.

Cooper is a fine director, and his 2013 sophomore feature Out of the Furnace still has the power to stun, but all the personality he showed in that film is missing from this effort. There is nothing about Black Mass to distinguish it from similar films that have come before or that will come after. It is one of the perils of genre filmmaking to get lost in the genre and come out feeling generic.

See it? No.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

New movie review: Everest

Director Baltasar Kormakur's stunning new film Everest is a gripping exploration of the folly of man and the power of nature.

Hubris and boredom are really two sides of the same coin. Humanity has come a long way since it came down from the trees, and the evidence of that journey is obvious if we take even a second to consider the world around us. The seemingly never-ending advancement of technology gives the impression we can do pretty much anything, but by the same token, it means we rarely have to do anything. A vast majority of us will never till the land or hunt wild game in any meaningful way. By virtue of living in a mostly successful society, our needs are met.

These twin experiences of believing we can accomplish anything and having too much time on our hands mean feats such as scaling Mount Everest hold a strange place in our collective psyche. Nobody needs to climb Everest, but we applaud those who do. We stand in awe of the men and women who risk their lives to reach the highest peak on our planet. It is foolhardy at best and suicidal at worst, but every year, more and more people head to the top of the world, and the best explanation anyone seems to have comes from a British explorer who died trying: “Because it’s there.”

Jason Clarke plays Rob Hall in Everest.
The new film Everest explores the varying motivations of a group of climbers that participated in the 1996 expedition that proved the deadliest ever at the time – it was surpassed just last year in a tragic avalanche that killed 16 and this year in a series of avalanches that killed at least 19. If you are familiar with the popular Jon Krakauer book Into Thin Air, then you will be familiar with the basics of the story. However, director Baltasar Kormákur and screenwriters William Nicholson and Simon Beaufoy smartly cull their material from multiple sources, giving a broader view of the tragedy.

While the film is a true ensemble piece, the screenplay goes to great lengths to examine the individuals that make up that ensemble. There is Rob Hall (Jason Clarke), a professional climber and the leader of the expedition who has a pregnant wife, Jan (Keira Knightly), at home. There is Doug Hansen (John Hawkes), a mailman out to prove to the schoolchildren back home what a regular guy can accomplish. Beck Weathers (Josh Brolin) is a wealthy Texan who feels most alive when he is climbing.

Yasuko Namba (Naoko Mori) is a Japanese woman who has reached six of the seven highest peaks in the world, and Everest is the seventh. Scott Fischer (Jake Gyllenhaal) is another professional climber who loves the thrill of it all. Even Krakauer (Michael Kelly) appears in the film. All these characters and more are carefully detailed early in the story, which gives later developments more emotional impact than most big action-adventure movies. Because we care about the individuals, we care about the group.

Clarke is essentially the lead of the film, and he does fantastic work in a harrowing role that is both physically demanding and emotionally exhausting. Hall states repeatedly through the film it is his job to take his clients to the top of Everest and bring them back down safely. He takes his work seriously, and when disaster strikes, he takes the ensuing tragedy personally. Clarke is careful not to play Hall as heroic but as a regular guy – albeit eminently skilled and incredibly brave – who makes his living in extraordinary circumstances, and the movie benefits from this portrayal.

Josh Brolin plays Beck Weathers in Everest.
In contrast to Hall, there is Weathers, who is full of Texas swagger and the kind of bravado that money seems to buy. Early in the film, after almost dying on an ice ladder, Weathers complains to Hall he did not pay $65,000 to wait in line for the ladder. His transformation on the mountain is the clearest in the film, and Brolin is expert at showing Weathers as simultaneously full of confidence and full of fear. The moment he realizes the price of feeling alive may be to die on the mountain is beautiful, and Brolin plays it perfectly.

Everest is unusual and refreshing in its dedication to character work. Many adventure and disaster films of this type hide behind spectacle, backgrounding the story and foregrounding impressive, if narratively empty, visuals. In the rare instance a film does try to examine character, it often comes across as clunky (Gravity) or undercooked (Interstellar). Everest manages both feats, telling a compelling story with grace and subtlety and wowing the audience with a stunning visual landscape.

In fact, stunning may be too light a word. I know many people who are happy with their home-theater systems – a high-definition, big-screen television and a great surround-sound system in the comfort of home. That is fine. Even as a proponent of going to the cinema, I am willing to admit there are certain movies that play well enough at home. This is not one of them. There is nothing in the movie-watching universe that will match the majesty of seeing Everest on the big screen – in IMAX (real IMAX), if possible.

Kormákur does not have an extensive resume, and if you know him from anything, it is probably one of his collaborations with Mark Wahlberg, either Contraband or 2 Guns, but his craftsmanship here is masterful. Mount Everest is an alien world right here on Earth, and Kormákur deftly evokes that feeling, giving us endless expanses of broken, jagged rock, impossibly deep crevices, and blinding snow whipping around constantly. Wide shots of distant figures trudging up the mountainside help emphasize humanity’s insignificance against the awe-inspiring power of nature.

Everest was here long before us, and it will remain long after we are gone. Humanity can cure disease, make art, and build flying machines that take us to outer space, and yes, we can even summit Everest, but we could never create it. Everest is a testament to something beyond human achievement. It is a tribute to the unconquerable state of the natural world. If the film reminds us of anything, it is this: We may stand on the mountain’s peak, but we will never reach its heights.

See it? Yes.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

New movie review: The Second Mother

Regina Case and Camila Mardila star in the excellent Brazilian drama The Second Mother.

We are not born with much, just a few basic survival instincts to get us safely from one moment to the next. The rest pretty much has to be picked up along the way. Sure, we come into this world with the capacity to learn, but the education is up to family, friends, teachers, experience, and to a greater-than-reasonable extent, television and the Internet. Who sits at what lunch table, what jobs we do, and who our friends can be – we figure these things out, but we certainly are not born knowing.

Class difference is so culturally ingrained, though, it feels like something determined at birth. Make no mistake. The social standing of a child’s parents will go a long way toward predicting the child’s future outcomes, but it is not the only factor, which is why we spend so much time talking about upward mobility. In this country, we ethnocentrically call it the American Dream, but it is really a human dream. All good parents want their children to do better and have more, but first, the parents must recognize that more is possible.

In the excellent new Brazilian drama The Second Mother, writer-director Anna Muylaert and star Regina Casé, who also worked on the script, introduce us to a world in which social stratification is simply a way of life. Casé plays Val, a live-in maid and nanny employed for more than a decade by a wealthy São Paulo family. Val is a part of every aspect of the family’s life, including serving as the primary caregiver for the son Fabinho (Michel Joelsas).

Case and Michel Joelsas in The Second Mother.
She cooks meals, clears the table, vacuums the home, works in the yard, does the laundry, and cares for Fabinho as she would her own child. In the middle of the night, when he cannot sleep, he goes to Val rather than his parents. Val, however, has no delusions about her place, and in an early exchange with the woman of the house, Barbara (Karine Teles), she is told pointedly: “You are almost like family.” Notice the two layers of remove. Not only is Val not family, but she is not quite like family either.

Their world is a stagnant pond, and into the water, both literally and figuratively, jumps Jéssica (Camila Márdila), Val’s long-estranged daughter. Jéssica was left behind to be raised by her grandmother as Val went to São Paulo to earn money to provide for her daughter, a scenario that will sound all too familiar to millions of immigrants in the U.S. and the world over. Jéssica asks to stay with her mother, and by extension with her mother’s employers, while she prepares for her university entrance exam. Her arrival throws everyone’s life into chaos.

The screenplay creates an interesting parallel between Val and Barbara, who have both allowed other women to raise their children. Yet where Val acted out of necessity, Barbara decided to step aside, and when her son goes to Val for comfort instead of her, she must deal with the ramifications of her choice. In this way, Barbara, who could be a cardboard villain, is given depth, and the audience is left to interpret the emotional toll her decision has taken.

Ideas of motherhood and parent-child relationships are important to the film, but its central theme revolves around class. Val and her employers embrace the structure of their lives, but Jéssica cannot. She was neither born into this nor raised this way. She refuses to subjugate herself, and when her mother accuses her of acting superior to everyone, she demurs. She does not think of herself as better than anyone, she says, but she also does not think she is worse.

The performances all around are stellar, but Casé and Márdila are particularly stunning. Casé is a veteran with four decades of stage and screen work to her credit, and in Val, she crafts a nuanced portrait of a woman who is terrified that the structure she has devoted her life to is crumbling. In contrast, this is just Márdila’s second feature film, but she brings a perfect mix of naïveté and anger to the portrayal of a young woman who resents her mother for leaving her but may be more embittered by what her mother left her for – a class structure that makes little sense.

Mardila in The Second Mother.
The family patriarch Carlos (Lourenço Mutarelli) does not help matters when he develops a crush on Jéssica and invites her to his shed to look at his artwork and share a bowl of his son’s ice cream. Both Val and Barbara, in their own ways, are appalled by these displays of familiarity, and everything comes to a head when Fabinho and his friend playfully pull Jéssica into the family pool.

When she breaks the surface of the water, an invisible barrier is being broken. Muylaert chooses to emphasize this moment by shifting into slow motion, an intriguing directorial flourish in an otherwise austere drama. We are meant to understand nothing can be the same after this.

It is significant that Fabinho is the one to bring Jéssica into the pool as it implies class differences may be more illusory for younger generations. Later, when Jéssica sarcastically asks her mother if there is some kind of handbook with all these rules, Val says, “Nobody has to explain that. You’re born knowing what you can and cannot do.” As much as it might comfort Val to believe the system she adheres to is innate, Fabinho and Jéssica’s actions argue otherwise.

Val struggles to force her daughter to conform to her world because it is all she knows. The university-bound Jéssica is beyond this, though, as she sees what her mother has and already knows a different, better life is possible. It is up to Val to realize it is possible for her as well. To do so, she must first accept that she was not born this way. Nobody is.

See it? Yes.

Monday, September 7, 2015

How far can you go? All the way in Addicted to Fresno

Left to right, Lea DeLaria, Natasha Lyonne, Judy Greer, Jamie Babbit, and Karey Dornetto at the premiere of Addicted to Fresno.

How far can you go without completely offending everybody?
– Audience member at the Addicted to Fresno premiere

Comedy is interesting when it comes to storytelling. In the service of a joke, comedy need not be beholden to plot or character development. As long as it is funny, anything goes. Breakneck pacing is essential to this approach. If a punchline falls flat, no worries. There is another one right around the corner. Keep the laughter coming, and your audience will generally stick with you. Add in a strong story about relatable or intriguing people, and viewers will follow anywhere you want to lead them.

Director Jamie Babbit’s new film, Addicted to Fresno, from writer Karey Dornetto, has it both ways with a deep, emotional core hidden beneath layers of sex jokes. The film stars Natasha Lyonne and Judy Greer as co-dependent sisters working as maids in a Fresno, Calif., hotel. Greer plays Shannon, a sex addict who is just out of prison, and Lyonne is Martha, the put-upon sister who has her life together before Shannon comes back.

Addicted to Fresno was part of the 26th annual NewFest.
Babbit, Dornetto, Greer, and Lyonne were all in attendance last week for the premiere of Addicted to Fresno, as well as a question-and-answer session moderated by Lea DeLaria, Lyonne’s co-star on the Netflix series Orange Is the New Black. The event was part of the 26th annual NewFest, New York City’s LGBT film festival. A sold-out crowd packed into the SVA Theatre in Chelsea to listen to the cast and filmmakers talk about co-dependency, the importance of having gay characters on screen, and getting a bunch of nuns to watch South Park.

“I am open to directing a lot of different things – and I have directed a lot of different things – but when I’m doing an independent film and it’s a personal three years of my life, I like to do something that has gay content in it, especially lesbian content, because I am a lesbian, and I don’t see a lot of lesbian movies out there,” said Babbit, who is married to Dornetto. “So I just feel like I’m a filmmaker, and I should give back to the community and write stuff, be a part of stuff that is written about our community.”

Babbit received a hearty round of applause for her comments from an audience clearly appreciative of the sentiment. However, despite the film being written and directed by lesbians, about a lesbian main character, and debuting at an LGBT film festival, it would be wrong to pigeonhole Addicted to Fresno as a queer movie. It certainly is that, but it is about more.

The director added she was attracted to Dornetto’s script not because of the gay characters but because of its exploration of co-dependent relationships, saying she knows a lot of people obsessed with relationships that are not the best for them at the expense of relationships that might be better. Dornetto said she shares that viewpoint, but her connection to the material is more personal.

“My mom is an ex-nun, and my dad is a military professor, so they fucked me up pretty good,” said Dornetto. “The story is based sort of loosely on the relationship with me and my sister. She’s kind of fucked up. I’m kind of fucked up, and I feel like comedy’s a good way to work through those things. So that’s really where it all comes from, I think.”

While the movie deals with heavy themes of addiction and whether family ties should trump personal growth, it is also a raunchy, laugh-out-loud sex comedy that includes an extended sequence of the main characters selling ill-gotten sex toys to a women’s softball convention. That scene, however, is predicated upon Shannon’s desperate need for money and Martha’s incessant need to help her sister, so in this way, the film gets to have its cake and eat it, too.

Lyonne and Greer in Addicted to Fresno.
What sells the whole enterprise is the gameness of the two leads. The movie gets away with a few character shortcuts because Greer and Lyonne share a natural chemistry that makes any shorthand the script uses feel organic to the relationship between the sisters. As DeLaria pointed out during the Q-and-A, the movie casts both actresses against type with Lyonne, known for out-there roles in movies such as American Pie and Babbit’s But I’m a Cheerleader, as the more conservative sister and Greer, perpetually the female lead’s friend in romantic comedies, as the sex addicted narcissist.

It is a wonderful choice by the filmmakers and was one of the things that attracted Greer to the role in the first place, in addition to the opportunity to work with the very group of women she shared the stage with at the premiere.

“I usually audition for movies,” said Greer. “This one came to me from Jamie because Jamie and I worked together on the first season of my TV show, Married, and so when we wrapped the first season, she sent me the script and asked me to play this role, and Natasha was already attached to it. So it was Jamie. It was Karey’s script, whom I’d met. It was Natasha, whom I’d always wanted to work with. And then, it was this role … no one really offers me roles in movies, and this one was, I hope you know, against type.”

For her part, Lyonne just seemed excited to be in a room full of people who appreciated the film and to be onstage with a group of women she respects and admires.

“On a human level, just to be sitting onstage with this group of ladies, it’s pretty heavy-duty, the idea that what we do can be like this,” said Lyonne. “DeLaria and Greer and Dornetto, they’re real, real heavy hitters, and really getting to feel like you can work in an environment where you can be yourself and you’re excited to promote the thing – it’s just such a good feeling to feel buoyed by the people you work with.”

That excitement carried over into a crowd that laughed and cheered throughout both the film and the Q-and-A. After asking a few questions of her own, DeLaria headed into the aisles to field questions from the audience. One person asked Dornetto how far she felt she could go without offending everybody. Addicted to Fresno has jokes about rape, murder, religion, sex, and masturbation and never pulls punches on any of these topics, so it seemed a fair question to pose to Dornetto, whose answer was simple: “I don’t think there’s a limit,” she said to ecstatic applause.

At this, Babbit shared a story about Dornetto’s ex-nun mother gathering her nun friends to watch her daughter’s work on a little cartoon show – South Park – and the whole group coming away utterly disturbed. So maybe that was not the audience for boundary-pushing humor, but good on Dornetto, Babbit, and the rest of the cast and crew of Addicted to Fresno for continuing to work without limits. Judging by the rapturous response their film received at the premiere, it seems safe to say they have found their audience.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Aim high: Patricia Clarkson and Learning to Drive

Patricia Clarkson stars in director Isabel Coixet's Learning to Drive.

I wrote last week about the need for more stories about women, preferably told by women. Well, sometimes, the universe delivers – and handsomely at that. The demographic of middle-aged women is rarely represented on screen, and when it is, it hardly ever comes in a lead role – unless that woman is Meryl Streep. Usually, they are sage advisers, supportive wives and mothers, or shrewish bosses. At least one woman not named Streep, however, seems to have been able to buck that trend: Patricia Clarkson.

Now, you probably do recognize Clarkson as a wife, mother, or sage adviser from movies such as The Untouchables, The Green Mile, and Vicky Cristina Barcelona. In the independent film world, though, she is a leading lady in little gems such as The Station Agent and Cairo Time. Last week saw the release of Clarkson’s latest starring vehicle – pun intended – Learning to Drive, in which she plays a recently divorced New Yorker who finally decides to get her driver’s license.

Clarkson was in New York City last Friday for a screening of the movie at the Angelika Film Center and a question-and-answer session afterward with Melissa Silverstein, founder and editor of Women and Hollywood. The conversation covered a wide range of topics such as the difficulties of getting a film made about an older woman, appearing nude on screen in your 50s, and how driving over the Queensboro Bridge is scary no matter who is in the car but especially nerve-wracking if your passenger is Sir Ben Kingsley.

“The proudest moment I’ve had since this film began was the night of the premiere,” said Clarkson. “I have a photo … This photo is Katha Pollitt, the essayist. It’s Sarah Kernochan, the screenwriter. It’s Isabel Coixet, the director. It’s Dana Friedman, the producer. It’s myself, and it’s Thelma Schoonmaker, the great editor. It’s that, and none of us are 25. None of us are 35. None of us are 45 – I’m gonna stop there.

“So, it is a remarkable movie, and it is something that I value and something I am so proud of, and that’s just the beginning. There are many other women. We had a female set designer. It was a powerhouse of women on this film … We have to aim high. We have to keep hoping that women’s voices [are heard] and that women are in front of and behind the camera as often as we can.”

In Learning to Drive, Clarkson plays Wendy, who is devastated when her husband, Ted (Jake Weber), leaves her for another woman. She determines to get back out in the world by signing up for driving lessons with Darwan (Kingsley), a Sikh immigrant from India who has received political asylum in the U.S. The film follows Wendy and Darwan’s growing friendship as she navigates her newly single life and as he adjusts to his arranged marriage.

“That’s what I love about this story,” said Clarkson. “I think this story is not a woman’s story. It is a story about beautiful and profound adult friendship, about people coming together from across cultures, but at the end of the day, they’re just two people.”

Clarkson, with Sir Ben Kingsley
The screenplay has issues with characters often stating outright the movie’s message and themes, but the chemistry between Clarkson and Kingsley, as well as their individual magnetism, is enough to overcome some clunky dialogue and rote plotting. Clarkson and Kingsley previously starred together in the well received drama Elegy, also directed by Coixet. While they were making that movie around 2008, Clarkson approached Coixet about working on this project together with Kingsley, whom Clarkson affectionately referred to as “Sir Ben.”

Learning to Drive became a passion project for Clarkson after she first read Pollitt’s essay, on which the film is based, in The New Yorker nearly 10 years ago. She then learned Friedman had gotten ahold of the movie rights and tracked down the script by Kernochan.

“I read it, and I thought that she had captured the heart of Katha in this adaptation,” said Clarkson. “I came on board, not realizing how long it would be before we actually rolled a camera, but it was such a beautiful and powerful story – a story that I felt was uniquely New York but the themes of it were larger and were universal. The combination, the humor and the pathos – and in surprising ways – I found alluring.”

Surprising is an oddly apt descriptor. Though the plot rarely takes a left turn off its predetermined path, Kernochan and Coixet are able to create an affecting portrait of middle-aged loneliness through a number of small, emotionally raw moments. The film’s opening scene is just such a moment, picking up after a disastrous dinner at which Ted has announced his intentions. They hail a cab – which is driven by Darwan, setting up his later meeting with Wendy after she leaves a bag in his car – and Ted and Wendy air out all their emotional baggage in an excruciating sequence in which neither pulls any punches.

Clarkson, with Jake Weber
Weber and Clarkson, who had worked together previously on the thriller Wendigo, immediately establish a broken relationship that has a long, painful history. Clarkson, in particular, lets everything hang out as she spits, swears, and sobs her way through the scene. Wendy is not prepared to accept that she shares the responsibility for her failed marriage, and she will spend the rest of the film coming to terms with the kind of person she is, warts and all.

“This is one of the reasons I wanted to make this film,” said Clarkson. “I love the character of Wendy. I like playing women who are flawed. I think that is a big step forward for women. We don’t always have to be heroic and great. It’s nice to be heroic and to play great historical figures, but it’s also nice to play just an ordinary woman, a woman who is flawed and complicated and angry and hopefully also sexy – a fully formed person and not sympathetic in ways that I find valid and valuable on film.”

The beauty of a film about women, by women, is that the filmmakers have the license and insight to be honest about the real experiences of middle-aged women. Where male producers and directors might shy away from putting the 55-year-old Clarkson on screen naked, Learning to Drive dives into the territory with gusto. In one of the film’s most hilarious and authentic scenes, Wendy ends up in bed with a man she has been set up with, and they practice tantric lovemaking. On its own, the scene is frank and funny and features a brave performance from Clarkson, but it is simply an extension of the film’s larger commitment to truth.

“They’re never easy, all of those emotional scenes, but when you have great New York actors or Sir Ben Kingsley by your side and Isabel Coixet behind the camera, it always makes it better,” said Clarkson. “What I love about the tantric sex scene – I can’t wait for my father to see this film; I warned my mother an ambulance must be standing by. It’s lovely that we have naked younger people on film, but you know, I think it’s incredibly important that we have people of a certain age naked, older people naked, because when you’re older, we all are still naked. We do get naked, don’t we? … I just think it’s an important part of cinema that we continue to see all people.”

Whether those people are naked or not, the mission to see all people on screen is an important one, and it will take passionate filmmakers such as Clarkson, Coixet, Friedman, and Kernochan to see that mission through to its end. Hopefully that end includes a world in which stories about real women, told by women, are not the exception but simply another part of the cinematic landscape.