Tag Archives: Margaret Qualley

Attention Getter

Seberg

by George Wolf

Another film on the blonde 60s starlet who died far too young, and under mysterious circumstances? Yes, a starlet, but not Monroe.

She may not have been the icon Marilyn was, but Jean Seberg’s celebrity life and tragic death had its own “Candle in the Wind” comparisons, all embodied with beguiling grace by Kristen Stewart even when Seberg falls back on superficiality.

Seberg’s breakout in 1960’s Breathless made her a darling of the French New Wave, but Jean was an Iowa native. As the winds of change in her homeland began raging, Seberg took an interest in the counter-culture that was strong enough to make her a target of the FBI.

Director Benedict Andrews anchors the film in Seberg’s involvement with the civil rights movement, and her relationship with activist Hakim Jamal (Anthony Mackie). Two FBI agents (Vince Vaughn and Jack O’Connell) report Seberg’s status as a “sympathizer,” and the increasing surveillance throws her life into turmoil.

Andrews, a veteran stage director, seems most at ease recreating Seberg’s glamorous life, enveloping the film in an effective old Hollywood gloss and Stewart in consistently loving framing. She responds with what may be her finest performance to date.

We meet Seberg when she is already a star, and Stewart conveys a mix of restlessness, conviction, selfishness and naivete that is never less than compelling. In just over an hour and a half, Stewart takes Seberg from confident fame to paranoid breakdown, and the arc always feels true.

O’Connell leads the strong supporting cast (also including Stephen Root, Margaret Qualley and Zazie Beets) with a nuanced performance as the young agent with a nagging conscience. But while the script from Joe Shrapnel and Anna Waterhouse (The Aftermath, Race) wants to draw comparisons with more recent government overreach, Andrews has trouble meshing the FBI thriller with the introspective biography.

Too much of the spying agenda (“This comes from above!”) seems paint by numbers, but it never sinks the film thanks to Stewart’s command of character. Much like her Twilight co-star Robert Pattinson, Stewart has followed her blockbuster fame with a string of challenging projects and impressive performances.

In case you’ve missed any, Seberg is a good place to start catching up.

The Great Outdoor Fight

Donnybrook

by Matt Weiner

Go into Donnybrook expecting an action movie about bare knuckle fighting and you’re going to be sorely disappointed: there’s more road movie than Rocky. But director Tim Sutton’s dissection of American desperation is out to expose the underbelly of more than just backyard brawling.

Sutton adapts Frank Bill’s novel with unrelenting sparseness. The movie centers on the intertwined lives of Jarhead Earl (Jamie Bell) and Chainsaw and Delia Angus (Frank Grillo and Margaret Qualley) as they pursue the limited versions of the American dream available to them in rural, addiction-ravaged Ohio.

Earl wants to win the Donnybrook, a legendary underground fight whose winnings will allow him to give his family a better life. Delia just wants to sell a bunch of meth so she can escape dead-end life with her abusive brother. And Chainsaw Angus just wants all that meth back that his sister stole. (You know a situation is dire anytime someone steals drugs from a person named Chainsaw.)

Donnybrook is violent but not gratuitous. As the characters’ lives converge on the road to the fight, the flashes of violence that build toward the climax serve mostly as a reminder of the pervasive despair everyone is running away from.

Grillo plays Chainsaw Angus as a relentless force that blows right through anyone and everyone he comes in contact with—men, women and children alike. There’s more than a touch of Coens-meet-McCarthy to Sutton’s adaptation, and not just in Angus’s almost elemental pursuit.

Earl’s milieu echoes the Appalachian noir of Winter’s Bone, but with a contemporary urgency all its own. Unfortunately, the film’s singular devotion to its economically downtrodden message leads to some shortcuts for the characters.

Delia doesn’t get the space to expand beyond her tragic archetype, but the movie is at least an equal opportunity offender when it comes to dispensing with supporting stereotypes: James Badge Dale’s alcoholic cop could be removed entirely and the story wouldn’t miss a beat.

The degree to which Sutton’s languid, dream-like depictions of this world succeed in amounting to a whole greater than their parts will probably come down to how much you think we need another Fight Club-style examination of a narrow (and uniformly white) male anger.

Giving that perspective such lyric treatment is certainly a choice. Even when the blows don’t connect, there’s something to be said for action with ambition.

 

 





Preparing the Bride

Novitiate

by Rachel Willis

When Cathleen Harris (Margaret Qualley) is seven years old, her mother, out of a sense of duty and more than a little boredom, takes her daughter to church. So begins Cathleen’s love affair with God.

And it is a love affair, as Novitiate seeks to show its audience as it follows Cathleen from that first encounter to her time as a novitiate seeking to become a bride of Christ.

As a postulant (the first step in becoming a nun), Cathleen meets the Reverend Mother (Melissa Leo), a woman who joined the convent 40 years earlier and has not left the convent in those 40 years. With the introduction of the Reverend Mother, the film branches into two narratives. We see the convent through both Cathleen and the Reverend Mother on the eve of monumental changes to the Catholic Church.

If writer/director Margaret Betts had kept her story limited to these two perspectives, we would be treated to a tighter film. Cathleen is a mostly silent observer, her few words devoted to her devotion to God, but we see a great deal through her. When the film branches off to follow other postulants in the convent, as well as a sister questioning her faith, we lose the intimacy established in the beginning with Cathleen.

Betts is aware that many in the audience will not understand what it takes to become a nun, nor will they be familiar with the Church in the early 1960’s, so there are a few moments of exposition. However, they never feel heavy-handed or forced. It feels as if we’re entering as a postulant, then a novitiate, with Cathleen.

As our eyes into this world, Qualley is phenomenal as Cathleen. She brings an intensity to the role that is needed to understand the level of commitment to Christ it takes to become a nun.

Leo as the Reverend Mother brings a different level of intensity, one that not only explains her devotion to Christ, but her faith in the perfection of the Church as Vatican II seeks to alter the world to which she’s given her entire life.

There are moments when the film sinks into melodrama, and some scenes feel unnecessary to the story, but it’s a captivating glimpse into a world few of us witness.