MVFF37 Day 9: St. Vincent, Foxcatcher, & Two Days, One Night
Three of our most anticipated films at the Mill Valley Film Festival played on Day 9 in the 11-day stretch, and they didn’t disappoint. From Bill Murray’s performance as the grumpy titular character in St. Vincent; to Steve Carell’s long-awaited dramatic turn in Foxcatcher; to Marion Cotillard’s incredibly vulnerable performance in the Dardenne brothers’ Two Days, One Night, the festival is still going strong as we approach the final days. Stay with us through the weekend as we continue to bring you more coverage from Mill Valley!
Patron Saint of Despicability
Opening today in New York and Los Angeles, Theodore Melfi’s St. Vincent is almost as quirky as the story behind its main star signing on. In a Q & A after the Mill Valley Film Festival screening, Melfi described what exactly is involved in getting Bill Murray to agree to do your movie. First you call his 800 number, leave a lot of messages, and hope he calls you back. Then you snail mail him a description of the film to a PO box provided by his attorney. If you’re lucky, like Melfi, he might just call you out of the blue, tell you to meet him in an hour at LAX and proceed to drive you around for 6 hours into the desert to discuss the project, at the end of which a handshake seals the deal. And while Melfi has plenty of fun stories about Bill Murray — he demands avocados, chocolate, and Mexican coke in his trailer — anyone who has seen the movie will say whatever it took to get Murray, it was worth it.
Acting opposite Jaeden Lieberher as small-for-his-age Oliver, Murray plays Vincent, a curmudgeonly old alcoholic in Brooklyn with a load of debt, a gambling addiction, and a “professional” relationship with a pregnant Russian prostitute, Daka (Naomi Watts). Oliver and his mother Maggie (Melissa McCarthy) move in next door to Vincent, and due to her late working hours (necessary because of the custody battle she’s in) Maggie is forced to ask Vincent for help as Oliver’s babysitter. Only ever concerned with earning a spare buck, Vincent thinks very little of his duties, shlepping Oliver to bars, the race track, and to visit his alzheimer-consumed wife in the home she lives in. The film is funny, due in major part to Murray’s delivery, but much of the true cleverness is given to Lieberher, who holds his own with a skill much larger than his age. Somehow the film manages to avoid the typical conventions of the reverse parenting gimmick, focusing less on transformation and instead on forgiveness.
St. Vincent is warm and well-told, but it’s the excellent chemistry between Murray and Lieberher that makes it worth watching.
Gold Medal In Crazy
We’ve seen some truly impressive performances this week. In fact our Oscar prediction list is getting so long that narrowing things down later in the year is going to be a serious challenge. But having seen many of our most anticipated films of the fall now, I think I can say with confidence one performance that will undoubtedly surpass any cut to that list is Steve Carell in Foxcatcher. Whether you know anything about the true story of Mark and David Schultz, the Olympic gold winning sibling wrestlers representing the U.S. in the ’80s, or whether you enter into a screening of Foxcatcher completely unaware of the history behind it, I guarantee the film will have you hanging onto every scene transition, wondering when it’s all going to cave in.
The Schultz brothers were two successful wrestlers in the ’80s, and after both winning gold in the ’84 olympics they went on to coach. In the film, Mark (Channing Tatum), the younger brother, was practically raised by his brother David (Mark Ruffalo), and, since David was the more sought after wrestler, Mark often interpreted his success as having some connection to his older brother. So when billionaire John E. du Pont (Steve Carell and a foreboding fake nose) reaches out to Mark wanting to hire him to help build an award winning wrestling team, Mark finally finds the attention he has been craving. Carell as du Pont is disturbing from the get go. While the transformation of his face is distracting at first, the perfect awkwardness of Carell’s delivery quickly becomes the focus. His shuffling gait, his too big smile, his lack of eye contact at times, all paint du Pont as a man whose subtle madness hovers just below his surface at all times. Whether by wealth, loneliness, bad parenting, or an innate mania, du Pont is a slow building volcanic eruption waiting to happen. And with the physicality of wrestling, it seems an obvious choice of obsession for a depraved and disconnected man. Just as compelling is the chemistry between Ruffalo and Tatum. As brothers, their connection is ever-present, driving the film forward, each each other’s motivation in life.
Bennett Miller seems to have followed a direct path from Capote to Moneyball to Foxcatcher. The first dealing in a murderous mind, the second in a competitive sport, and the third throwing the two together. While undoubtedly grim, Foxcatcher is historically-based filmmaking at its best. Providing a speculative insight into the lives and minds of people who have lived events so bizarre and tragic that no similar Hollywood fiction could be remotely plausible. It’s a hard watch, but the kind that reminds viewers that every person is a story unto themselves.
On Her Hands and Knees
Like Vittorio de Sica’s Italian Neorealist classics Umberto D and Bicycle Theives, Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne’s Two Days, One Night (one of my favorite films at Mill Valley) is so relevant, so aware of the socio-economic climate of its time that it’s hard not to surrender yourself to it completely. This is a film for those who struggle; it understands how money—or more specifically, the lack thereof—can trick us into becoming lesser people than we ought to be, forgetting that self-worth is the most invaluable treasure we own.
Marion Cotillard plays Sandra, a factory worker who’s been dismissed from work due to issues with depression. On a Friday, her 16 co-workers have voted to keep their bonuses rather than let Sandra keep her job. There will be a second vote on Monday, however, giving our heroine the weekend to convince her colleagues to forego their much-needed bonuses for the sake of she and her family.
Cotillard is the biggest star the Dardennes have worked with yet, and she gifts them with one of the best performances of her career. She can be anything—glamorous, dangerous, sultry—but here, she bares her soul for all to see. Tremendously vulnerable and earnest, Cotillard has our vote from the beginning. As with the Dardenne’s other work, the plot and camerawork is elegant and simple, giving the actors all the room they need to tell their story. A bracingly truthful film.