Tag Archives: Elsie Fisher

The Power of Boy George Compels You

My Best Friend’s Exorcism

by George Wolf

It’s the late 1980s in South Carolina, where Abby (Elsie Fisher, Eighth Grade) and Gretchen (Amiah Miller, War for the Planet of the Apes) are BFFs. Even though Abby’s family is a bit more hardscrabble while Gretchen’s “hamburgers don’t need help,” the girls have been inseparable since waaay back in the early 80s.

Now they’re sophomores at a Catholic high school, facing a bummer of an upcoming summer. Gretchen and her family will be moving away.

But there’s lots of fun to be had before that day, and it starts with joining their other friends Margaret (Rachel Ogechi Kanu) and Glee (Cathy Ang) for a girl’s getaway at a secluded cabin by the lake.

Oh, great, Margaret’s boyfriend Wallace (Clayton Royal Johnson) shows up, too, which means plenty of PDA and sex talk. But scary talk soon takes over, as the gang heads off to investigate a creepy old building where a girl was supposedly sacrificed in a satanic ritual.

Once inside, Gretchen gets separated from the group, and by the time she catches back up, Abby’s best friend has changed.

Director Damon Thomas and writer Jenna Lamia adapt Grady Hendrix’s novel with charm and zest, bringing together a variety of tropes for a mashup just out for some fun.

And they have it. From 80s music to religion to possession movie staples, the barbs keep coming, delivered with an alternating mix of sarcasm, satire, raunch and projectile vomiting.

Fisher and Miller are wonderful together, cementing the film in a friendship that rings with the authenticity needed to effectively raise the stakes of survival. The insecurities about zits, weight, sex and peer pressure are sweetly heartfelt, and Abby’s uncertainty about the best way to help her friend brings a nice balance of humanity to the inhuman.

And for awhile, it does seem Thomas and Lamia are on the way to making a big metaphorical statement about leaving childhood behind, repression, and chasing imagined demons while evil is right in front of you.

But by the time Christopher Lowell is stealing scenes as one third of a hilariously lame “faith and fitness show” who also fancies himself a demonologist, the nuttiness has won out for good.

And that’s okay. My Best Friend’s Exorcism is the teenage sex comedy religious satire devil flick we didn’t expect. No need to aim higher when it pretty much nails the bullseye.

More Spooky, Less Ooky

The Addams Family

by Hope Madden

Has anything ever embraced the outcast narrative with as much macabre panache as Charles Addams’s single-panel cartoons, The Addams Family?

Their pride in themselves and obliviousness to the reaction of those around them continue to offer opportunity to pick at society’s weakness for sameness. Rooting a story of individuality versus conformity with the two pre-adolescent characters (Addams children Wednesday and Pugsley) makes good sense.

This should totally have worked.

The voice talent ensemble is a thing of envy: Charlize Theron, Oscar Isaac, Chloe Grace Moretz, Bette Midler, Allison Janney, Finn Wolfhard, Nick Kroll, Elsie Fisher, Martin Short, Catherine O’Hara and Snoop Dogg. That’s two Oscars, three nominations and one Snoop.

The standouts here are Janney and Moretz, each the funhouse mirror opposite image of the other. Janney’s zealous believer in conformity, Margaux Needler, is a home improvement guru with a reality TV show and a motto: “Why be yourself when you can be like everyone else?”

Moretz delightfully counters that energy with an entirely deadpan Wednesday. Moretz’s every line is delivered with the emotion of a month old corpse. She’s perfect.

Wednesday chooses public middle school, Pugsley (Wolfhard) preps for a family ritual of manhood, Margaux plots to rid her perfect neighborhood of that eyesore mansion on the hill in time for her TV show’s big season finale. The collision of those three stories bogs and slogs, though, each of the subplots championing individuality.

Which is fine. And that’s what this film is. It’s fine.

Kroll gets a funny bit about where his Fester is and is not allowed to travel. Lurch is reading Little Women. Thing has a foot fetish—that bit’s kind of priceless, actually. But on the whole, the film just kind of lays there. Like a cadaver, but not in a good way.

Co-directors Greg Tiernan and Conrad Vernon (who also lends his voice) proved they could envision a highly irreverent cartoon with 2016’s Sausage Party, but have trouble finding solid ground between fornicating lunch meats and Thomas the Tank Engine (Tiernan’s claim to fame).

Co-writer Pamela Pettler (writing here with The Christmas Chronicles’ Matt Lieberman) offers a resume more in line with the concept: The Corpse Bride, Monster House, 9. Yes, she has her goth bona fides. But she struggles to give the story any bite.

The Addams Family is unlikely to charm longstanding fans and will likely bore young moviegoers. It might entertain a slim swath of tweens, but this family deserves better than that.

Super Eight

Eighth Grade

by Hope Madden

You can’t be brave without being scared.

That is an insightful comment, but when it’s delivered earnestly by a lonely, introverted 13-year-old determined to come out of her shell in the meanest of all worlds—middle school—it is a gut punch.

Who would have thought that the most truthful, painful, lovely, unflinching and adorable tween dramedy in eons would have sprung from the mind of 28-year-old comic Bo Burnham? Or that the first-time feature director could so compassionately and honestly depict the inner life of a cripplingly shy adolescent girl?

But there you have it.

Elsie Fisher’s flawless performance doesn’t hurt.

Fisher (Despicable Me‘s Agnes, “It’s so fluffy!”) is Kayla, and we are with her, immersed in her world, for the last week of the eighth grade. God help us.

In Fisher, Burnham has certainly found the ideal vehicle for his story, but his own skill in putting the pieces together is equally impressive. Burnham’s as keen to the strangulating social anxieties of middle school as he is to the shape-shifting effects of technology.

This is the least self-conscious and most accurate portrayal of the generational impact of social media yet presented, and not just as part of the narrative. He uses social media as a storytelling device, whether the way the screen lights up the isolated face of a lonely teen, or the way the sound of the same girl’s YouTube videos narrate the very advice she wishes she were hearing from somebody.

It’s equal parts heartbreaking and sweet, and it miraculously never hits a false note.

He depicts both the normal that we all must tragically know, of being wildly out of your element even in your own skin, and the new normal that feels beyond bizarre. If your greatest ineptitude is human contact, how much harder to hone that skill when your only practice is in a virtual world?

Mercifully, Eighth Grade is not a cautionary tale about the dehumanizing dangers of an online world. It simply accepts that this is the world in which Kayla lives, depicting it as authentically and insightfully as he does a random lunch with the cool kids at the mall, or an unbearably awkward situation with a boy in a car.

Still, the best scene in the film—one that’s as uplifting as it is genuine—casts aside the glow of the phone for starlight and bonfire as Kayla and her dad, beautifully brought to life by Josh Hamilton, share a moment that will just fucking kill you.

Seriously, Burnham was never a 13-year-old girl nor has he ever been father to one. How the hell did he get all of this so insanely right?

I don’t know, man, but good for him. Good for all of us.