Looking back at the major movies of 2016, one theme stays constant: finding yourself.
Films about young people overcoming obstacles and choosing their paths flooded American cinema. Here are my reviews of five of these unique stories.
LA LA LAND Unlikely Romance In the City Of Stars
“La La Land” has the quiet dignity and the presentation of a film masterpiece, but it lacks the storytelling to truly be one. It’s an ambitious concept: an original movie musical set in L.A., the city of dreams. The movie follows Mia (Emma Stone), an undiscovered actress living in an apartment with her friends and auditioning for every role that comes her way, and her unlikely romance with stubborn jazz musician Sebastian (Ryan Gosling).
“La La Land” tries to hit a lot of different notes. It has romance, musical numbers, and meta-physical, dreamlike cinematography all in one movie. The attempt at making a movie musical, the one element that could push “La La Land” over the edge into classic film territory, was a bit half-hearted, much to my disappointment. They often use quiet, breathy voices, a deliberate choice that feels hesitant. Overall, the movie relies too heavily on abstract cinematography and Emma Stone’s stunning screen presence.
The romance plotline, however, is flawless. Not only do Stone and Gosling embody their characters perfectly, but their chemistry on camera is fantastic to watch. Mia’s barista-turned-star story and Sebastian’s commitment to old fashioned jazz music show us the sacrifices we make when we choose to grow up. “La La Land,” while bittersweet at the end, was satisfying, but the plot felt incomplete outside of Mia and Sebastian’s relationship.
Director Damien Chazelle
Writer Damien Chazelle
DON’T THINK TWICE: You’ll Never See Saturday Night Live Stars the Same Way Again
In “Don’t Think Twice,” Samantha tells Jack, her boyfriend and fellow improvisation actor, that the day their improv troupe asked her to join was the best day of her life. That moment sums up this bittersweet comedy about the tight-knit members of “The Commune,” a New York City improv group. Samantha, unwilling to leave the “lily pad” she’s on for television fame with Jack, chooses her own path despite what other people might think of it.
“Don’t Think Twice” is more than a movie about improv. It’s a movie about every dream, every disappointment, every relationship, and every hard decision in the lives of young artists following their dreams. I enjoyed every second of the quirky, funny film. Not only was the cast brilliant, but they gave me the sense that I was watching a real improv show each time their characters went onstage.
Director Mike Birbiglia
Writer Mike Birbiglia
CAPTAIN FANTASTIC: Loss, Frustration, Crime, Injury, and Hunting Wild Animals: The Perfect Coming-Of-Age Story You Never Saw Coming
Matt Ross’s unconventional film about a father raising his six children isolated from society, with intense physical training and rebellious ideologies, is an absolute masterpiece from start to finish. Viggo Mortensen plays the eccentric father, who takes his children on a road trip from their home in the deep woods of the Pacific Northwest to New Mexico for the funeral of their mother, who committed suicide.
Despite some darker underlying themes, “Captain Fantastic” is bright and funny, and, despite their unusual lifestyle, the characters are relatable and often admirable. On their journey, the family comes face-to-face with the world they’ve been sheltered from and question the philosophies they’ve centered their lives around and finally, move on.
Director Matt Ross
Writer Matt Ross
EDGE OF SEVENTEEN: Hopefully, Our Generation Is Better Than This In Real Life
“The Edge Of Seventeen” could have been our generation’s classic high school movie. It was clearly intended to go down in movie history with hits like “Sixteen Candles,” “The Breakfast Club,” “Mean Girls,” and “Clueless.” Instead, it was depressing and unpleasant, with occasional moments of sexism.
The movie’s one true success was Hailee Steinfeld as Nadine. No one else could have made such an unlikable, unrelatable character watchable. Steinfeld showed serious acting brilliance, but most of the script was a series of bad things happening to a mean, creepy teenage girl. Nadine’s best and only friend Krista starts dating Nadine’s popular brother who introduces Krista to the popular group, leaving Nadine alone and bitter. In the end, Nadine finally shows romantic interest in the boy who’s had a crush on her for the entire film, and he introduces her to his friends, implying that they will be her friends too. “The Edge Of Seventeen” left me with a lingering question: “Is the point of this movie that girls are completely defined by their boyfriends and that the boy they date determines who their friends are? And why isn’t a friendship with a girl as important as dating?” I was disappointed and disheartened by “The Edge Of Seventeen.”
Director Kelly Fremon Craig
Writer Kelly Fremon Craig
20th CENTURY WOMEN: Generations Collide. Rock Music Transforms. Meanwhile, a Young Boy Grows Up
“20th Century Women” is a deep and dreamy coming-of-age story set at the end of the 1970s. It resembles Jonathan Mark Sherman’s play “Women And Wallace” (1989) because it tells the story of a teenage boy using the women in his life and his relationships with them to define his character. In the movie’s case, the women include 15-year-old Jamie’s single mother, a quirky, rebellious young woman renting a room in their home, and Julie, the teenage girl who Jamie’s in love with. Jamie’s mother is defined by the fact that she was born during the Great Depression and lived through World War II, while Jamie and the two younger women conflict with her over their modern ideals and love of punk music. The captivating film succeeds in documenting the wonder of human life from every perspective it can and shows how generation gaps and different time periods can affect the lives, personalities, and relationships of a group of ordinary people.
Director Mike Mills
Writer Mike Mills