Tag Archives: Olivia Williams

Role Playing

The Father

by George Wolf

How much you’re moved by The Father will likely depend on how you see the central narrative device employed by director/co-writer Florian Zeller.

Is it a gimmick that cheapens the very subject he’s digging into, or is it an effective – even logical – new frame for a familiar picture?

Anthony Hopkins and Olivia Colman star as father and daughter Anthony and Anne. Now, with these Oscar winners as your leads, your device could be the mail-in offer from the back of a cereal box and it would most likely be riveting, but Zeller has more lofty ambitions.

Anthony’s memory is fading fast, forcing Anne to navigate his mood swings and growing combativeness while she looks for an in-home caregiver who can handle him. Young Laura (Imogen Poots) looks promising, but Anthony’s initial charm at their meeting gives way to insults and accusations about a plan to force him from his well-appointed flat.

But is it his flat? And who is the man in the living room (Mark Gatiss) who says he lives there?

Is Anne really planning to move to Paris with a new boyfriend, or is she still married to the impatient and angry Paul (Rufus Sewell)? And just who is that other woman who looks like Anne (Olivia Williams)? Zeller adapts his own stage play with a profound intimacy that feeds the intentional confusion.

In the last several years, movies such as Away From Her and Amour have mined their greatness through the effect of dementia on the longtime spouse of the afflicted.

But here, not only does Zeller make a sympathetic pivot to the adult child of an ailing parent, but his chamber piece finds its greatest resonance through the heartbreaking empathy that comes from giving us Anthony’s point of view.

And even if the whole affair does strike you as gimmicky, the transcendent heights hit by Hopkins and Colman (and indeed, the entire ensemble) make spending time with The Father more than worthwhile.

As artistic as it is nuanced, as lyrical as it is devastating, it’s a film with not only something to say, but a welcome new approach to saying it.

Hatin’ on Hollywood

Maps to the Stars

by Hope Madden

Who but David Cronenberg could take the bubbling Hollywood cesspool that is Maps to the Stars and create from it a chilly but fascinating snapshot of industry dysfunction?

The truth is that Bruce Wagner’s screenplay requires Cronenberg’s anthropological approach and perverse sense of humor. Without it, he’s written a vulgar soap opera. With it, he’s written a revoltingly compelling, oddly austere essay on the self-indulgent, self-congratulatory, fraudulent, repugnant, insecure insanity that is Hollywood.

The story itself couldn’t be more lurid, which is why Cronenberg’s peculiarly distant style is so effective. Some elements of his direction have changed little since he was bursting heads in Scanners.

What has changed over the decades is his ability to draw talent to his projects, and few of his casts have been as stocked as this one. The great (and finally Academy-acknowledged) Julianne Moore steals every scene as the prototypical damaged, aging starlet. Needy, vulnerable, charming and venomous – Moore hits every note on time and in tune.

The versatile Mia Wasikowska – who played Moore’s daughter in The Kids are All Right – here plays her newly hired personal assistant, or “chore whore” as she so delightfully puts it. Wasikowska’s Agatha is the vehicle for chaos in the film, although given the temperament and predilections of the characters involved, chaos is probably never far away.

Agatha wants to make amends for something she did to her family (Olivia Williams, Evan Bird and a gleefully toxic John Cusack) – something related, we assume, to the scarring on her face and neck. Meanwhile, she falls for a sweet but opportunistic limo driver (Cronenberg favorite Robert Pattinson).

Though the actions, reactions and eventualities are never entirely clear, there’s nothing convoluted about this film. Behaviors and reactions feel insane but never ridiculous, as if every self-serving act – no matter how vile – feels natural in this hotbed.

Maps to the Stars is unforgiving, yet somehow weirdly watchable. Cronenberg’s films can be a challenge – not that they’re necessarily tough to understand, just sometimes tough to stomach. Maps to the Stars is certainly not his most violent, although the violence here is tough and surprising. What makes his latest so startling is that, though these characters are as horrid as those found in his best horror and SciFi, they belong right here in our own world.

No wonder he makes independent films.