TCMFF Recap (2): The Apartment (1960)

Well search me. As a self proclaimed Billy Wilder have I have absolutely no idea why it has taken me so long to see The Apartment.

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This is a really enjoyable film (understatement). I mean it hits all the right notes – acerbic wit interwoven with a very attainable romantic through point, thanks to the remarkable chemistry and comedic timing of its lead actors, Jack Lemmon and TCM Film Festival honoree Shirley MacLaine (who introduced the film to a packed house at the TCL Chinese Theatre).

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It is clear, and has been said many times over, that Billy Wilder was a cynical man. While I have no doubt as to the veracity of this statement, I personally do not feel that this excludes him from also being a rank sentimentalist in some ways, as I personally feel The Apartment proves.

A brief synopsis: Bud Baxter (Lemmon) is just another administrative cog in the wheel of a large Midtown Manhattan insurance company who has found the key to success in climbing the corporate ladder (see what I did there) – which involves the loaning out of his apartment key to his very married superiors. The purposes of which can only be politely described as private entertaining. As a quid quo pro, they Baxter receives top marks for his ‘hard work.’ This, in turn, gets the attention of personnel director Sheldrake (Fred MacMurray), who decides to get in on the scheme. To add layer upon layer, Baxter has a romantic pursuit of his own in the person of elevator operator Fran Kubelik (MacLaine). At this point I feel if I say any more, I will be giving the game (nay movie) away. Sure, the statute of limitations on ‘spoilers’ has certainly passed, but for my money, the story is too rich and enjoyable to give away too many details.

I will leave you with this final observation/experience from – the ending of the film (the last line, Wilder was great at last lines) was so well earned, that it left me with more than a couple of tears in my eye.

From what little I have watched of Mad Men over the years, I can tell that at a minimum The Apartment was a great influence on the show, specifically in terms of the aesthetics, sexual politics and other related thematic elements. Not to say there is anything wrong with that – but for some of my contemporary followers who may not know about the Wilder film, this note will hopefully serve as a good reference point.

 

Photo credit: Stefanie Keenan – WireImage (TCM Classic Film Festival)

Tribeca Film Festival ’15 Preview

I sure as heck do not know where the time goes nowadays. No sooner was I decompressing from my trip out to Los Angeles for the TCM Film Festival, were my sights set again to my hometown (-ish) festival, Tribeca!

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It’s the day before the official start, early screenings down and schedules sorted, so here is a quick list of what I am looking forward to ….

 

For Your Consideration

Slow West - Saw this Sundance award winner in January and am still recommending it her; check out my review on FlixChatter. Narrative

 

On My ‘Plan to See’ List

As I Am: The Life and Times of DJ AM - Often told in his own voice, the story of Adam Goldstein (known professionally as DJ AM), chronicles the musician’s meteoric rise onto the L.A. party scene to his equally precipitous and very tragic fall. Documentary

Indian Point – This one hits a little close to home (as I live in the Greater Hudson Valley); I am almost afraid to find out the status of this nuclear facility, the safety of which has been a constant presence in our local news in recent years. Documentary

A Ballerina’s Tale - A profile of Misty Copeland, the first African American soloist at the American Ballet Theatre® in decades. Note: this special screening scheduled for this Sunday (4/19) will be followed by a Q&A with Copeland and a dance performance. Documentary

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Mary J Blige: The London Sessions – A behind the scenes look at the recording of the R&B stalwart’s 13th studio album which takes place in … you guessed it – London. Note #2: this screening on Thursday (4/16) will be followed by a performance by the woman herself. Documentary

Monty Python’s The Meaning of Live – Part of TFF’s celebration of the legendary British comedy troupe, The Meaning of Live inter-cuts archival footage with a behind the scenes look at the team as they prepare for their final live show in 2014. Documentary

Far From Men (Loin Des Hommes) – A French language film set in mountainous Algeria starring Viggo Mortensen and scored by Nick Cave and Warren Ellis. C’mon, now. Narrative

The Emperor’s New Clothes  – A documentary from award-winning director Michael Winterbottom (Jude, 24 Hour Party People) features comedian/social justice warrior Russell Brand in a no-holds-barred look at the worldwide financial crisis and its consequences. Documentary

Prescription Thugs -I am guessing this film will deliver what is exactly on the tin – a look inside the commerce and personal conflicts that have arisen from the alarming epidemic of prescription drug addiction. Also of note – filmmaker Chris Bell’s (Bigger Stronger Faster) own family suffered a personal loss directly related to this problem. Documentary

 

Of Interest

Franny – I am curious about this one because a couple of years ago, I attended to a Sundance Institute’s writing workshop/table read for this ‘work in progress.’ Now, it is finished and stars Richard Gere, Dakota Fanning and Theo James (Insurgent film series). Gere portrays an eccentric man who inserts himself into the lives of a newlywed couple (Fanning and James). It would be cool to see the final product. Narrative

The Armor of Light – Abigail Disney’s directorial debut looks at Reverend Rob Schneck, an evangelical minister who, likely going against many with whom he shares a common religious affiliation, is spreading a message criticizing the blight gun violence is having on our society. Documentary

Down in the Valley - A sports documentary by way of Emmy award winning Jason Hehir (The Fab Five) about the city of Sacramento’s efforts to prevent their NBA franchise (The Sacramento Kings) from leaving for greener (kaching!) pastures. Documentary

Tumbledown – With a cast headlined by Rebecca Hall and Jason Sudekis and a synopsis that put a smile on my face, I am more than a little curious. Narrative

Hannah (Rebecca Hall) and Andrew (Jason Sudeikis).Photography by Seacia Pavao

 

And Time Permitting …

There are a bunch of Tribeca Talks® and Short Programs (support the shorts!) that I am interested in attending as well, but I will take these in stride and attend as I am able to fit them into my schedule.

I am probably missing something but as you can see, there is a lot going on in Lower Manhattan over the next eleven days.

 

Anyone attending this year’s festival? What are you most looking forward to?

 

* Film synopses’ source: the official Tribeca Film Festival‘s Film Guide; photo credits: Tribeca Film Institute.

TCMFF Recap: Limelight (1952)

As I posted to my tumblr account, I indeed did have a lot of fun at the annual meetup of #OldMovieWeirdos, also known as the TCM Film Festival.

Over the next week or so, my plan is to post recaps of some of my favorite films, in addition to a couple of other film-related highlights from the weekend in the heart of Hollywood, USA. Hope you are thoroughly entertained!

I start with Charlie Chaplin’s Limelight. Some of you may be immediately thinking, I thought he was a silent film star that essentially went away with the advent of the talkies? Well, while Chaplin’s persona is indelibly etched into our cultural zeitgeist as the loveable “Little Tramp,” a quick study of his life and career will show that he was so much more – writer, director and composer. And at the time of Limelight‘s release in 1952, Chaplin’s alleged Communist affiliation and essential banishment from the Hollywood establishment meant that for some time, this film, received less notoriety and attention than it probably deserved.

In any regard, time has passed and it is clear that his talent is on full display in this melancholic yet lovely tale of a washed-up, alcoholic comedian Calvero (Chaplin) and his relationship with a young, emotionally crippled ballerina Terry (Claire Bloom).

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Set in London, it is a May-December tale that is also a lyrical meditation on life and love. The denouement is one, which if I am to be frank, left me in tears – in only the way an evocative piece of cinema can.

Before we come to this end, however, we are treated a fabulous two-man act featuring Chaplin and fellow silent screen legend Buster Keaton.

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The experience of seeing Limelight on the big screen was made all the more memorable by the appearance of 100-year old cast member Norman Lloyd, who not only introduced the film (and regaled us with tales of his friendship with Chaplin), but also stayed to watch the film with the captive/captivated audience.

If you consider yourself the least bit curious about the cinematic legacy of Chaplin, certainly add this one to your list.

Respire (Breathe): Coming (Apart) of Age Story …

Breathe (Respire, French title) is an interesting film. I will get to the details in a little bit, but felt the need to expound on this initial, visceral response. It is a film that, in one point of Charlie and Sarah’s intense (and at times) troubling friendship, I really, really want something to happen (sorry, no spoilers). Then just when I think the inevitable will not happen, director/actor Mélanie Laurent, in her second time in director’s chair, pulls out a (un)expected twist in a manner that manages to still maintain the requisite shock values, while also being equally satisfying and tragic. In fact, I was left catching my own breath.

But I digress – let me backtrack and offer you some exposition. Breathe is set in provincial France (i.e. outside of Paris). Charlie (Joséphine Japy), by all appearances, a run of the mill teenager, is mesmerized by the new girl in school, Sarah (Lou de Laâge). Everything about Sarah lends points to her being bohemian, free spirit sort. She is a force of nature and Charlie soon finds herself drawn into Sarah’s orb; she abandons all of her friends and other vestiges of her previously ordered way of life. By now, I am sure many in the audience have an inkling of where this might be headed [Danger, Will Robinson].

And so it goes there in a manner of speaking. As the relationship intensifies, it almost immediately begins to fall in on itself. The authenticity of Charlie and Sarah’s relationship are tested to their outermost limits, with Charlie seeming to come out the worse for it. But let me stop right here or else I divulge too much of the rising action and conclusion.

And so, that conclusion – it really did feel earned in spite of its sense of inevitability. Because of the quality of the converging aspects of the production (acting, writing and directing) Laurent and company did pull it off. Well done.

Respire was co-adapted for the screen by Laurent and Julien Lambroschini, based on the very successful novel by author Anne-Sophie Brasme, who was 17 at the time to novel was published.

If you are looking forward to seeing this (I recommend it), New York-based film distributor Film Movement has acquired U.S. rights. Stay tuned for release information there.

 

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Editor’s Note: There was going to be a third part to my coverage of the Rendezvous with French Cinema, in which I was going to do a crossover review with William Friedkin‘s The French Connection (which played at this year’s TCM Film Festival) and the Jean Dujardin-led companion piece The Connection. However, I will delay that post until closer to the film’s United States release of May 15th. Stay Tuned!

Jumping Ahead a Little …. Cannes 2015

Yeah of course I have a few more French film write-ups, my fully fleshed out TCM festival recap (check out my quick synopsis here) and my Tribeca preview due in the coming days, but let’s pause a moment and look ahead to May for the 2015 Cannes Film Festival, namely the poster for this year’s celebration of film on the French Riviera.

In recent years, I have really taken an interest in the artwork the festival organizers use to promote it. My personal fave was the Marilyn Monroe poster (Canned 65).

Well it is that time of year again, and here is the poster featuring and honoring legendary actress Ingrid Bergman –

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Follow this link to find out more about the history of the photo used and why they have decided to celebrate her now.

I personally like it and look forward to adding it to my poster collect, but what do you think?

Let me know what you think by visiting the Comments section below.

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Rendez-Vous, Part Une: 3 Cœurs

Well, my “Rendezvous with French Cinema, 2015″ is now over and done. So for the next few days, I will be regaling you all with a few reviews of the films I saw (unfortunately, time constraints prevented me from attending any panels or Q&As.

Let’s start things off with the opening night feature, 3 Coeurs (Three Hearts), directed by Benoît Jacquot (co-written with co-written with Julien Boivent); the notable all star cast includes Benoît Poelvoorde, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Chiara Mastroianni and Catherine Deneuve.

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Tax inspector Marc (Poelvoorde) and antiques dealer Sylvie (Gainsbourg) meet by chance one night when Marc misses his train to Paris. It turns out to be a magical night indeed (on the eve of his 47th birthday no less), over the course of which, the two form a connection. Determined not to let this moment pass, they schedule a second meeting, at the Tuileries Gardens in central Paris; really, it is the perfect meeting place.

With echoes of Leo McCarey classic Love Affair (and its more popular remake, An Affair to Remember), our lovers’ stars are not aligned, leading to a missed encounter.

What follows is the aftermath of this lost opportunity. In fact, fate is not finished playing with our “coulda-shoulda-woulda” lovers. There is more in store – albeit rather unfortunate (for them), meaning their lives will be intertwined in the most inconvenient of ways.

Sure, this description is vague, but I am afraid any greater detail will take away from your potential enjoyment of the story. For some, the twists and turns will feel a little too predictable; I guess that is generally how I felt. But this film is worth the price of admission if for no other reason than to see the performances of the above-listed talent on display. In addition, the locations are a sight to behold. As much as I love seeing Paris on the big screen, I equally appreciate when we are taken outside of the city center and given a flavor for locales that are a bit more provincial.

Check out the trailer:

Is this something that you would be interested in seeing? Hit me up in the Comments section below.

Three Hearts was released in the United States last Friday (March 15th); check listings for theaters and showtimes.

 

Photo credit: Cohen Media Group

Sundance 2015 Review: I am Michael

To say that I am Michael is entering somewhat controversial and polarizing waters given its subject – the story of Michael Glatze, once an ardent gay rights activist, who shocked all of those around him when he declares himself no longer homosexual and becomes an anti-gay Christian pastor.

The film, based on a New York Times article “My Ex-Gay Friend” by Benoit Denizet Lewis, is the first-time feature of screenwriter/director Justin Kelly.

Spanning over a decade, we first see Michael (James Franco), as an outspoken gay rights activist who uses his voice to reach out to the gay youth.

Actually, this statement above is not wholly true, because when the film starts, we see the Michael of the present. How does that work, you may ask? Well you see, the film is very fluid with the linearity of the narrative. We start in the present, then shift to the past, eventually catching up with the present and moving forward to a very interesting denouement, with, if you can imagine, a bit of a “cliffhanger” – I really cannot think of a better word for it.

But I digress – back to the story …

After a health scare, Michael begins to question the role of faith in his life. He then goes on a spiritual quest, which for him, ends (or begins?) with his renunciation of his homosexuality. The rest of the film deals with the fallout of his declaration has on himself and those around him.

I Am Michael does try in earnest to play the story straight down the middle, leaving its protagonists to present both sides of the argument – fair enough. And I would say that if there is a shortcoming of the film it is just that – the presentation does not feel the most organic. In some ways, while the story is very compelling, the way it is presented here makes it sometimes feel like it would be better served in the documentary format. In fact, in preparation for the film, director Kelly spent time with Glatze. How much that contributed to the final product I am not too sure, but I would be a bit interested to know.

The film holds interest for me because of its handling of the role and influence faith and religion in each of our lives.

For me, the film’s accessibility hangs on James Franco’s performance, which I feel is certainly worthy of your attention here. The supporting cast, notably Zachary Quinto as Michael’s ex-boyfriend Bennett deliver solid performances, when they are given something to do.

I Am Michael is executive produced by Gus Van Sant. In addition to Sundance, the film screened most recently at the Berlin Film Festival.

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Image Credit: JAZO PR

Sundance 2015 Review: Coming of Age Stories

For my last double-bill recap for Sundance 2015 (one more singular review tomorrow), I would like to focus on a couple of dramas about young women, coming of age in two separate time periods: 1950s post-war Brooklyn, New York and 1970’s swinging San Francisco. These also have the honor of being a couple of my favorite films of the festival.

 

Brooklyn

Adapted by author Nick Hornby (based on the novel of the same name by Colm Tóibín), Brooklyn stars Saoirse Ronan as Eilis Lacey, a young woman from Ireland sent across the sea to find a new life in the land of opportunity. Under the patronage of a fellow transplant, a priest played by the always delightful Jim Broadbent she finds work and a place to stay. But is it enough to make a life? We witness Eilis’ struggles to make this new place her home; the residents and matron (the ebullient Julie Waters) of the all-female boarding house where she resides help her along the way. It also doesn’t hurt that she meets a young man (AWWW).

As all of this is going on, we catch glimpses of her family’s (mother and sister) life back in Ireland. And at the point where these two threads converge, like Eilis, we are caught in having to make a very harrowing decision.

If it sounds like I am being a bit vague – well yeah, I am. I don’t want to spoil anything for you because for me it was so lovely to watch the layers fall away on this film.

It has been said before, but I will say it again – Ronan is a talent to be reckoned with. Her face is so expressive, especially in the quieter moments – you feel what she is feeling because she makes it seem so real.

She is supported of course by an awesome cast including the aforementioned Broadbent and Waters, as well as Domhnall Gleeson and Emory Cohen.

Brooklyn is directed by John Crowley (Boy A). Since its debut at Sundance, Fox Searchlight has acquired distribution rights to the film; wide theatrical release dates TBD.

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The Diary of a Teenage Girl

Sourced from the graphic novel by Phoebe Gloeckner, The Diary of a Teenage Girl regales us the always-relatable growing pains and misadventures of a teenager – here in the form of aspiring comic book artist Minnie Goetze (played by newcomer Bel Powley). While these aspirations do play a role in our story, the “main event” centers on the relationship she has with her mother (Kristen Wiig – the coolest librarian EVER) and Monroe, her mom’s latest boyfriend (Alexander Skarsgård). Christopher Meloni makes an appearance as her professorial ex-stepdad who still serves as a father figure in her life.

When I found out that this was the feature film debut for director/screenwriter Marielle Heller, I was equally surprised and pleased. This was an imaginative, inventive and overall fun journey through Minnie’s world, even as it dealt with some of the darker elements that lie therein. And be warned, her world, especially for that of a young woman, does have decidedly twisted and unfortunate turns. It is again (in my opinion) a marvel that Heller was able to extract from this the lightness that many of the moments deserved.

This of course is bolstered by the strength of the performances of her cast. They all were able to successfully balance the material and modulate between the hilarious moments to the more serious matters when they present themselves.

The film also has a great sense of time and location, and not necessarily in a postcard sense either. The Diary of a Teenage Girl does well in capturing the spirit and vibe of that San Francisco counterculture era.

Not sure about the distribution/release date on this one, but rest assured, it is one to look out for.

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* The Diary of a Teenage Girl was the winner of the US Dramatic Special Jury Award for Excellence in Cinematography.

Images credit: The Sundance Institute

Sundance 2015 Review: Portraits of Artists

Happy Friday all! Thank the cinematic gods, but my Sundance reviews are finally winding down. Today, I am featuring a couple of artist-related biographies I had the pleasure of watching last month. Unlike some of the narrative features I have covered, these docs are soon to be available to a wide audience.

Enjoy and let me know what you think!

 

Introduction

I may have mentioned this before, but big screen or small, I really like biographical documentaries. This year at Sundance provided me with a double bill of portraits of talented, yet enigmatic in many ways, personalities from the world of music and film.

 

Listen to Me Marlon (directed by Stevan Riley)

As much as I like the work of Marlon Brando, the man himself has equally fascinated me. I mean there is so much there to wonder about and discover. And love him or hate him, he left a legacy for fans such as me to chew on.

For me, it all started while I was in the summer of 1996. In school and with limited entertainment options, I was forced to find other means of passing my down time. It is then that I picked up his 1994 autobiography, Songs My Mother Taught Me (collaborated with Robert Lindsey). I loved this voluminous, VERY descriptive account of the span of his life. That said, one does end up wondering how much of what he is telling us is actual, concrete fact and how much is an invention or embellishment of what was. Either way, it is a thoroughly enjoyable read.

Ever since then, I have been hooked, as evidenced nearly a decade later, when I attended a panel discussion where the likes of Arthur Penn and Eli Wallach discussed Brando’s work and impact on the world. It was certainly a night to remember.

Fast forward to the present day and here we are with a documentary that literally speaks for itself. Hundreds of hours of audio tapes and personal home videos and photographs have been condensed into a 95-minute personal and professional scrapbook of sorts.

Overall, the film works, save for what can only be best described as “Max Headroom” moments – a digitized rendering of Brando’s head narrating. At times, this really took me out of the story.

Listen to Me Marlon will air on the Showtime network (coming soon).

Marlon Brando

 

What Happened, Miss Simone? (directed by Liz Garbus)

A very intimate and informative profile of the iconic singer/pianist, What Happened, Miss Simone? traces Simone’s life from the backwoods of North Carolina to dimming lights of Paris.

What happens in between is a revealing and sometimes shocking play of triumphs, tragedies and controversies. I never considered myself super knowledgeable about the woman, but I am familiar with a fair portion of her musical catalog. So believe me when I tell you that this film was a real revelation for me. The depths of what I did not know about her was astonishing – from her prodigious beginnings through to her successes and her ardent political activism. I think my favorite fun fact is that for several of her halcyon years, she lived in my hometown of Mount Vernon (NY).

While there is a sampling of her music and performances littered throughout the 102-minute film, it is the roller coaster of her life that captures you as a viewer. Through archived audio and video footage, interviews with family and friends and passages taken straight out of her private diary, this is a rare glimpse at the eccentricities and personal demons that would ultimately for a time, consume this one of a kind talent.

Also to the film’s credit, Simone’s daughter, Lisa Simone Kelly as an Executive Producer. I’ll leave it at that.

What Happened, Miss Simone? is scheduled for release on Netflix this spring.

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Image credit: The Sundance Institute

Sundance 2015 Review: A Gerwig 2-fer

Yeah – I am cheating by mashing these two films together. Because quite frankly, they are very different in tone, location and theme. The only thing in common among these pieces is they both feature the talents of one Greta Gerwig.

So, without further ado, here are my thoughts and impressions of the film she has an extended cameo in (Eden) and her latest writer-director collaboration with filmmaker Noah Baumbach, Mistress America.

Eden (2014)
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Eden is filmmaker Mia Hansen-Løve’s sprawling look with at the 90’s-00’s underground music scene in Paris, featuring a central performance by Félix de Givry as Paul, based on Hansen-Løve’s brother Sven (he shares screenwriting credit). The film chronicles his life as a garage-music DJ and is the story of a passion that seems to find a purpose and measured level of success until it no longer does.

If you are a fan of the music of the era, you are in for a treat as many of the artists from that era (including some very self-aware scenes involving the award-winning duo Daft Punk, Sven’s musical contemporaries). Another appearance of note is the ever delightful (to me anyways) Greta Gerwig as Paul’s American girlfriend who pops in and out of his life on a couple of occasions.

de Givry really stands out in his performance because, at the ripe old age of 20, he is tasked with portraying Paul at various ages, many that are unfamiliar to him, with him being so young and all.

The film accomplishes something else – while I am not a fan of this particular brand of music, Eden was able to keep my attention over its 131 minute running time – a running time that covers twenty years – seeing Paul go from an eager and ebullient teenager to a burnt out, seemingly lost man trying to find meaning in it all.

After its screening in Sundance (also played in Toronto, AFI and NYFF in 2014), Eden will be released this spring in cinemas.

French/English with subtitles

 

Mistress America (2014)
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In the (very recent) past I have been a little less-than-effusive in my response to Noah Baumbach’s work – but for some reason the combination of Noah Baumbach and Greta Gerwig is really working for me. Their 2012 effort, Frances Ha was a delight to watch. So I was really looking forward to seeing their latest collaboration Mistress America - and I was not disappointed.

Brooke’s (Gerwig) soon-to-be stepsister Tracy (played by newcomer Lola Kirke), is a Barnard College freshman and aspiring writer looking for a place to connect and belong vastness of the city. Brooke is a constant and determined dreamer who has her hand in a myriad of business schemes and creative pursuits. Almost instantly, she takes Tracy under her wing and welcomes her into her kaleidoscopic world.

What ensues is a somewhat Seinfeld-ian, dare I say surreal journey through New York City, showing them on parallel (and intersecting) journeys as they each seek to capture their own brass ring.

If you will feel a bit “meh” about what I just described – trust me, especially if you are a fan of Gerwig’s previous work, Mistress America is well worth checking out. There is something in Gerwig’s writing that makes the most absurd accessible, relatable and entertaining.

Mistress America will be distributed by Fox Searchlight Pictures (actual release date TBD).

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Image Credits: Sundance Institute, Fox Searchlight Pictures