The Australian director Gillian Armstrong—lady directors are nearly a casual occurrence here, it’s great—presents an odd hybrid of documentary with Women He’s Undressed, about the openly gay costume designer Orry-Kelly, who won multiple Oscars in the Golden Age (including for Some Like it Hot and An American in Paris) and banged Cary Grant when he was still Archie Nobody in New York in the 20s. Armstrong marries talking heads, re-enactment and actor Darren Gilshenan, playing Kelly, addressing the audience directly. It’s curious, not a little cheesy and quite wonderful, especially when you consider we’re running out of these types of stories.
The line for Freeheld is surprisingly short, considering the buzz it’s built as—after Carol, where are you Carol?—one of the most anticipated gay movies in recent memory. Starring actual gay Ellen Page as Stacie, the much younger lover of closeted cop Laurel (Julianne Moore, who’s everywhere), Freeheld is about Stacie’s fight to receive Laurel’s pension after her death from cancer. (It’s based on a true story.) Directed by Peter Sollett, who made the wonderful Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist, it’s a disappointment on nearly every level—once the courtship happens it turns into a Cancer Movie and then, thuddingly, into a courtroom drama once the women take their fight to the freeholders in an attempt to have their marriage recognized as equal. Then Steve Carell shows up and drags the whole movie off-course in an astonishingly miscalculated performance as gay activist Steven Goldstein, an outsized and over-the-top bit of comedy that does not land even once (and having the character say he has fought to flame does not make it better). Julianne Fuckin’ Moore is dying in front of you and you don’t even care! It’s clear everyone means well but this is a movie that gives its big final speech not to a woman or a gay character but to Michael Shannon as Laurel’s straight cop partner. It’s all too bad.
Sollett’s writer on Nick and Norah, Lorene Scafaria, one-ups him with style via her terrific directorial debut The Meddler, starring Susan Sarandon as the title buttinski. When her husband dies she moves to California to be closer to her screenwriter daughter (Rose Byrne) and ends up striking up a gentle romance with JK Simmons. An intergenerational love story/coming-of-age tale/star turn, it’s fresh and funny and heartfelt, a lovely buoy to the lead-weight of Freeheld. More on this when it makes it to town next year.
Monday brings a pair of very different military-themed films: Michael Moore’s Where to Invade Next and Eye in the Sky, a drama starring Helen Mirren and Aaron Paul. Moore, whose brand is oft-putting to some (me), builds his latest doc around a hokey premise: he’ll travel the world and claim various countries’ policies and ways for America. (He plants an American flag in every place he visits. It’s dumb.) Moore’s Everyman thing wore out its welcome many films ago, but he gets results. Overseas he learns about standard eight-week vacation periods, free university, prisons that look like vacation chalets, people who don’t know what debt is and gourmet school lunches which he contrasts with America’s recent and continuing problems of police violence, citizen protests, poverty and skyrocketing debt loads. If you can handle Moore, the documentary underneath is bracing and eye-opening.
Eye in the Sky is a very good adult drama with a very simple plot: A Kenyan girl decides to sell bread outside a house harbouring a terrorist cell. Both the US and the UK are working together to bomb it before the cell can carry out an attack—is this innocent’s life worth the collateral damage? For a movie about phone calls and computer screens—they’ve got Barkhad Abdi (from Captain Phillips) on the ground, so it’s not all indoors—it’s surprisingly kinetic and funny in parts. Directed by Gavin Hood, it’s a completely buzz-free, well-made adult drama that military nerds and Mirren stans will be pleasantly surprised by on Netflix in a year.
There are a pair of huge journalism movies here this year (I’ll see Spotlight on my way out of town), and tonight features the first. Truth is the story of how Dan Rather was fired by CBS in 2006 for running with a story that called then-president Bush’s military service into question. An unseen casualty of that incident was Mary Mapes, played here by a never-better Cate Blanchett as a workaholic, inattentive wife and mother. (Rather, as portrayed by Robert Redford, gets to be stoic and respected.) Though an internal investigation never found any unethical activity on her part, Mapes was fired and Rather resigned in disgrace. Also in the cast are Topher Grace as the obligatory bulldog reporter, Dennis Quaid and a very underused Elisabeth Moss. The directorial debut of screenwriter James Vanderbilt—who has a couple Spider-Mans to his credit, if that’s not a warning to be heeded—Truth is almost more disappointing than Freeheld, stranding a pair of terrific actors in an overblown movie full of bullshit newsroom speeches and cringe worthy slow-mo shots. It’s a great story, and Blanchett is great, but this movie does not deserve her.