Short Term 12
I am not alone in musing over what, exactly, constitutes an independent film these days. I discussed this in my round-up of 2011's films, and it may be the case that the term has become obsolete. More and more I am seeing reviews in which a film is said to have an "indie feel." These three films share that.
Filmed in black and white, directed by Noah Baumbach, starring Greta Gerwig, and co-written by them, Frances Ha is a Bildungsroman about a 27-year-old. Yes, she's a late bloomer though characteristic of her generation. Without an actor of Ms. Gerwig's talent and a director of Mr. Baumbach's skill, Frances Ha could easily have gone off the rails. This young woman at first seems thoroughly self-absorbed, but she is self-effacing, too. She seems to want to remain forever young, while wanting to be taken seriously as an adult. She can be irritatingly irresponsible but charmingly likable. Her sometimes boyfriend repeatedly tells her she is "undateable," and though her best friend, whom she still thinks of as her soul mate, may be making the wrong choice for a possible husband, at least she's moved out of the perpetual adolescence in which Frances is stuck. Yet we feel for Frances as we watch reality nipping at her heels and telling her, "It's time to grow up."
NYT Critics' Pick
In 2011, Brit Marling co-wrote and played the cult leader in Zal Batmanglij's Sound of My Voice. They team up again in The East, in which Ms. Marling plays an undercover agent for a private intelligence firm who infiltrates an underground group of subversives, itself teetering on a cult-like reverence for Benji, the charismatic man at its center (Alexander Skarsgard). Their mission is to make corporate players victims of their own dirty dealings -- big pharma, petrochemical corps. For anyone who has ever harbored anarchist fantasies about making willful polluters, union busters, agri-business, et al. pay, there is a certain satisfaction in the premise, but the film falls a little short in its attempt to examine the ethical questions involved in means versus ends, questions Robert Redford's The Company You Keep also explores, and in which Ms. Marling also has a part. (Ms. Marling co-starred in and had input into the script of the compelling 2011 Another Earth, which Mike Cahill directed, a far more reflective narrative than Lars von Trier's heavy-handed Melancholia that same year.)
Destin Daniel Cretton spent time working in a facility that took in kids who were being relocated to foster care. He brings his experience to bear in his beautifully wrought, cinéma vérité film Short Term 12 about Grace and Mason, who head up such a facility, and their wards. When Jayden arrives she seems to hold herself above the rest, until we come to understand her situation. The only way she can reveal anything about herself is to read Grace a story she has written about a shark who befriends an octopus who has never had a friend and therefore does not know what real friendship is. The shark exploits this ignorance until the octopus is no more. When Mason asks Marcus, another resident, to recite a rap he's just finished composing, the ensuing chant builds into a powerful dirge-like primal scream. Not only in moments like these does Cretton's cast touchingly capture the pain that is borne of abuse and the meaning of unconditional love.
The Film Prospector blog's review is here.
David Edelstein's NPR review is here.