Tag Archives: Peter Sarsgaard

Don’t Look Back


by Hope Madden

“I remember…”

These are the first words uttered in Michel Franco’s deceptively spare drama, Memory. Sylvia (Jessica Chastain) is celebrating 13 years of sobriety at an AA meeting. She’s brought her daughter, and those around her are remembering her impact on them.

For the next 140 minutes, Franco examines what’s true and what’s faulty in the human memory, and what he finds is sometimes harsh and unpleasant, but just often, profoundly tender.

Chastain’s performance is brittle but with complexity and depth. Sylvia’s life, and her hard-edged wall, are built from the years of being denied her truth. She knows who she is and she’s doing what she can with that.

Saul (Peter Sarsgaard, astonishing) does not always know who he is, but when he does the film shimmers with life and humanity. Saul follows Sylvia home from a high school reunion of sorts. The catalyst is provocative in that it makes Sylvie reconsider her own memory, which allows those around her to reignite their assault on its veracity.

A razor-sharp ensemble lends remarkable support to Chastain and Sarsgaard. Jessica Harper, in particular, is picture perfect, her sly and cheery manipulation leading to an emotional climax blistered by authenticity.

Memory is a bit of a departure for Franco, who’s films often keep audiences at arm’s length from the emotional turmoil beneath a character’s enigmatic surface. Not so here. Chastain’s slowly melting wall of ice creates real intimacy, and what she reveals beneath is raw.

She and Sarsgaard are veteran talents reveling in an opportunity to discard artifice and create something untidy. Their work, particularly in scenes together, testifies again to each actor’s remarkable skill.

Franco’s films rarely answer all the questions they ask, and can feel almost shapeless and often hopeless. Memory is a departure here as well. Though it’s far less rigidly structured than many Hollywood films, there’s a comforting structure to it and, more comforting, an undeniable spark of hope.

Tell Me More, Tell Me More

Best Summer Ever

by George Wolf

Bad Mood? Tough week?

If Best Summer Ever doesn’t turn your frown upside down, I’ll eat a bug.

Two high schoolers not named Danny and Sandy enjoy some sweetly romantic summer nights, then go their separate ways…until fate brings them back together for a musical teenage dream filled with a wonderfully diverse cast of actors.

Anthony (Rickey Wilson, Jr., showing easy charisma) and Sage, a charmer in a wheelchair (Shannon DeVido – who effortlessly steals this film), meet at a summer dance camp in Vermont. Anthony tells Sage he attends a dance academy in NYC – but’s he’s really a football star in Pennsylvania who relishes the chance to indulge his secret love of dance. Sage has a secret of her own – the illegal pot business her two moms (Eileen Grubba and Holly Palmer) operate that keeps the family constantly on the move.

But at summer’s end, an unexpected complication leads to Sage’s family landing in Pa. – and Sage enrolling at the very same high school Anthony attends! Oooh, this is delicious, especially for Queen Bee Beth (a terrific Madeline Rhodes, aka MuMu, also part of the songwriting team), the evil cheerleader who hatches a devious plan to become Homecoming Queen and take Anthony as her King!

Directors/co-writers Michael Parks Randa and Lauren Smitelli craft an irresistible take on the high school musical, populated by just as many physically and/or developmentally challenged actors as not. The joyful representation in this film will swell your heart, especially when you realize – early on – that none of the characters’ perceived disabilities are treated as anything less than ordinary.

And more than that, there isn’t an ounce of condescension to be found, as Randa and Smitelli find some big laughs skewering high school stereotypes. Beth casually drops surprise dick jokes, and two Statler and Waldorf-type booth announcers (Eric Folan and Phil Lussier) bring some hearty sarcasm to the big Homecoming game. See, Anthony is the team’s kicker – and he’s the star because the rest of the team sucks so badly (which causes the resentful quarterback [Jacob Waltuck] to hilariously cuss out the crowd).

Yes, the songs are often cheesy and sung over what sounds like weak karaoke backing tracks, but the title tune’s been stuck in my head for days now.

You’ll see some big names in the film’s list of producers, and some (Maggie Gyllenhaal, Peter Sarsgaard) even pop up in cameos. But the most important may be the members of Zeno Mountain Farm – a Vermont retreat committed to a world where “all can thrive, feel connected, and be empowered.”

For 72 minutes, Best Summer Ever gives us a glimpse of what that world might look like, and it’s inspiring, exhilarating and fun.

But watch out for that Beth – she’s so mean!

Best Summer Ever is available to stream starting Tuesday, April 27th

Liar, Liar

The Lie

by Hope Madden

Kids are stupid.

There may be no more universally accurate sentence. But parents? Dumb and dumber.

Writer/director Veena Sud retools the 2015 German film Wir Monster with a great cast, compelling complications, and that same awful truth.

Kayla (Joey King) is not very popular, not very happy about her parents’ separation, and not at all excited for this weekend-long ballet retreat. When she sees her bestie Brittany (Devery Jacobs) at the bus stop and convinces Dad (Peter Sarsgaard) to pick her up, things turn ugly.

There are any number of “how far would you go to protect your potentially evil kid?” movies—some great (Luce), some less so (Prodigy). What sets this one apart is mainly the cast, plus a somewhat sly delivery.

Sarsgaard is wonderful, as always. He’s one of the most reliable actors working today, and he finds a way to humanize every character, add a bit of depth and some curious moral complexity. He certainly does that here, and with Mireille Enos (playing Kayla’s mom) as sparring partner, a great deal of backstory is communicated without being overtly detailed.

King, a veteran weepy horror protagonist, delivers a clever performance as someone you’re honestly never certain about. Unlike trainwrecks such as Brahms: The Boy II, The Lie knows why the character should be so hard to pin down, and that reason is not a gimmick. It’s integral to the story.

That story is sharply told, even if there are moments that leave you scratching your head. The police presence is something out of a TV drama, and not a very good one. But when all eyes are on this family dynamic, The Lie is often riveting stuff.

The film is far more family drama/thriller than horror, but Blumhouse could do worse than introduce its Welcome to Blumhouse program on Amazon with this solidly crafted, impressively acted film.