Tag Archives: Sebastian Silva

The Privilege of Confidence


by George Wolf

“Hey, Tyrone.”

“It’s Tyler, actually.”

“Oh, my bad.”

The subtle discomforts start early in Tyrel, writer/director Sebastian Silva’s perceptive and slyly intense slice of racially tinged mumblecore, a film that benefits greatly from yet another standout turn from Jason Mitchell.

Mitchell stars as Tyler, an African-American man who is grateful to escape a houseful of in-laws by joining his friend John (Christopher Abbott) on a birthday getaway in the Catskills.

But it’s not John’s birthday. It’s John’s friend Pete’s (Caleb Landry Jones) birthday, and it isn’t long before Tyler is meeting plenty of new faces and realizing his is the only one that isn’t white.

Plus, it just happens to be the weekend of Trump’s inauguration. Perfect.

Amid heavy dialog that’s fast and free-flowing with an improvisational feel, the crowded mountain home becomes a nerve-wracking metaphor for the state of race relations. Silva, the unconventional Chilean filmmaker who mined social anxieties effectively in Nasty Baby and The Maid, continues to subvert expectations through intimate, thoughtful characterizations.

After a long stream of memorable supporting roles (Straight Outta Compton, Mudbound, Detroit, Kong: Skull Island), Mitchell carries this film with a performance that is sympathetic from the start, a key factor Silva leans on to turn our insecurities against us. With each slight, appropriation and assurance that “he didn’t mean anything by that,” Tyler’s feelings become more conflicted, raising the level of concern we have for what might happen.

As is his wont, Silva steers clear of expected plot turns and veers in surprising directions, one of them concerning a friendly Catskills neighbor down the road (Ann Dowd).

Though it’s understandably easy to compare this film to Get Out (especially with Jones in the cast), that comparison itself may be one of the scabs Silva is picking. Why did Jordan Peele’s horror story resonate so brilliantly?

With a focus on casual affronts to identity and the privileged confidence that everything is fine, Tyrel‘s Catskills weekend offers some clues.

Michael Cera Says No to Dirty Hippies, Yes to Drugs

Crystal Fairy & The Magic Cactus

by Hope Madden

One of this summer’s brightest surprises comes by way of Michael Cera’s drug-fueled road trip picture Crystal Fairy & The Magical Cactus.  Loosely scripted and casually filmed, the flick follows the journey of a group of youngsters in search of some mind expansion in Chile. What evolves is a quietly, subversively brilliant character study.

Cera plays Jamie, a displaced American anxious for the experiences available in drug use. He’s insecure, adopts a handful of pseudo-hippie-isms, and looks to really experience life through mind alteration. He meets his match in Crystal Fairy – a modern day freak Jamie invites on the trip.

Crystal Fairy is played by a positively fearless Gaby Hoffman. “Fearless” being the film critic vernacular for “willing to do full frontal.” There is a true fearlessness in that act, particularly if the shocking display of vulnerability it is used properly, as it so definitely is in this work.

Road trips offer such undiluted community experiences that we all want to mock, smack, maybe even abandon one or two co-travelers every now and then. At least that’s the memory I have of Madden family trips.

A little mescaline might have helped, actually.

Regardless, writer/director Sebastian Silva plumbs the situation for touching, comic, and strangely familiar moments. Those who saw his magnificently naturalistic The Maid will recognize the filmmaker’s contagious fascination with common moments. Silva’s screenplay – handled with grace and humanity by the ensemble – never stoops to easy jokes, although the entire picture beams with humor. Characters develop multiple dimensions, and the mostly improvised conversations take charmingly human paths.

The portrayal is deceptively well structured, though. It may feel for all the world like one profoundly uncomfortable journey meandering for a couple of hours, showcasing two pushy Americans who embarrass themselves in front of three lovely Chilean brothers. But Silva has a more satisfying and definite aim than that.

You should give it a try.

I mean the movie, not the mescaline.