One of the stand-bys for black comics is scary movies and the idiocy of white people who insist on staying in a haunted house that says “Get out!” so it is a clever reverse when our black protagonist (Daniel Kaluuya) stays on at the weekend house of his white girlfriend (Allison Williams) when every white person there is race inquisitive, if not obsessed beyond any concept of reason, as well as Stepford creepy, and every black person there is, well, a Stepford wife.
Writer director Jordan Peele makes a significant mistake, however, with an opening scene that reveals the ultimate danger. All that is left is the how, and it’s a credit to his script and his taut direction that the film remains interesting.
Also, in 1975’s The Stepford Wives, substituting the perfect sexpot obedient wives for the opinionated and very liberated Katherine Ross and Paula Prentiss made diabolical sense, as the feminist movement threatened man’s control over his suburban environment. Here, the question “why black people?” is asked directly and the answer is not only insufficient, it’s bewilderingly casual.
Still, the film is very clever in parts and the broad comic relief (best pal Lil Rev Howrey) is hilarious.
An unsettling and very smart film, writer-director Tom Ford (A Single Man) autopsies the relationship of Susan and Tony (Amy Adams and Jake Gyllenhaal) while recounting a murder story. The former is seen in flashback, as Adams, a successful, chic but deeply unhappy art dealer, is presented with her ex-husband’s novel as a prelude to their meeting after a long separation. That relationship blooms as most do – with fire, unwavering support and the feel of having found a soulmate. It is eventually undercut by Gyllenhaal’s lack of sophistication, emotional instability and the fact that, as Adams’ patrician mother (Laura Linney) wickedly tells her, “he’s too weak for you.” As Linney deliciously explains, “Come on, Susan. I know you think that we don’t care about the same things, but you’re wrong. In a few years, all these bourgeois things, as you so like to call them, are going to be very important to you, and Edward’s not going to be able to give them to you. He has no money, he’s not driven, he’s not ambitious. And I can promise you, if you marry Edward, your father’s not going to give them to you either.” As Adams sits in her classy LA house, a living embodiment of her mother’s prediction, she awaits her reconnection with Tony and starts to read his book, an engrossing tale which ends in a chilling act of brutality that seems directed right at Adams.
The performances are astounding. Since Zodiac and through Nightcrawler, Gyllenhaal exudes a compelling mix of sincerity and if not menace, danger, it’s hard to take your eyes off of him. Adams is properly fragile and haunted, with a lacquered face that evokes a cracking shell. Linney’s one-scene turn is for the ages, and the contributions of Michael Shannon as a taciturn Texas lawman and Aaron Taylor-Johnson as his frightening quarry are riveting.
Ford has crafted an original, intricate form of noir that is unnerving and unmannered. Likely not everyone’s cup of tea, but I can’t remember a film I’ve concentrated on as much as this one for some time. It was one of the best from last year.
My family took me to this yesterday, and while it lacks the fresh inventive feel of the original, quintessential summer flick, it is still a treat. The sense of humor is intact, the characters remain winning, Dave Bautista’s hilariously literal Drax again steals the picture, and Groot is now Baby Groot, so darling that the most vicious murderers in the galaxy cannot do him in because, as their leader freely admits, “it is too adorable to kill.” The story is a bit ragged – Peter Quill’s father (Kurt Russell) is introduced and his plan is both overly apocalyptic and not necessarily reliant on the involvement of the Guardians. The sentiment is also a bit heavy; a lot of pain is expressed within the theme of family interrupted, creating one too many lumps in the throat for a damn Marvel movie. Still, a lot of fun.