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.
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.
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.
* 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