mini-film reviews: Hysteria, Lee Daniels' The Butler, and The Spectacular Now

Hysteria by Tanya Wexler

I really wanted to love this film. Hugh Dancy and Maggie Gyllenhaal in a historic feminist comedy? It should be right up my alley. The tone of the film overall is somewhat bizarre. At times it feels like a comedy, but at times it was much more serious. The actors often seemed as though they were acting in different films. Ultimately, I don't think the film's direction was clear enough. I've seen Sarah Ruhl's fabulous play In the Next Room, which also focuses on the invention of the vibrator, and perhaps the excellence of that play negatively impacted my enjoyment of Hysteria. There were some wonderful moments in this film, but overall, I was pretty disappointed this story and this cast only made a mediocre film.
Rating: 3 out of 5
Availability: dvd

Lee Daniels' The Butler by Lee Daniels

Based very loosely on the true story of an African-American butler who served from Eisenhower to Reagan and lived to see Obama's presidency. The story is a fascinating one, and Forest Whitaker's performance is extraordinary. There is a lot of good in this film, but it also veers into being schmaltzy for trying to do too much. It attempts to tell of Cecil Gaines life, beginning with his boyhood as a slave on a Georgia cotton farm. Because the film tells so many stories, most of them are given pretty short shrift. The combination of Cecil's service with his sons' involvement in so many hot button issues also felt forced at times. It's as though by telling the story of one family, Daniels wanted them to experience everything any black family experienced in the second half of the twentieth century. As a viewer, I found some of these stories more powerful than others, and while I cried many times, I also rolled my eyes many times. It's a good film, but it could have been a great one.
Rating: 4 out of 5
Availability: dvd

The Spectacular Now by James Ponsoldt

Although I often think I've outgrown my fondness for coming of age teen love stories, I still have a soft spot for the really good ones, or the unique ones, and The Spectacular Now is both. Miles Teller, who is outstanding, plays Cutter, a hard-drinking cool kid who befriends Aimee, played with beautifully believable vulnerability by Shailene Woodley. Their friendship is unlikely at the surface level, but its evolution is purely organic. I quickly realized this film must be based on a book because books played a large part (it's based on the novel by Tim Tharp.) The film isn't perfect, but much of it is. It's refreshing to see a teen film with intellect, heart, and mostly filled with reality.
Rating: 4.5 out of 5
Availability: dvd

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  1. I've heard such bummed reviews about Hysteria -- sadness! I wanted it to be so awesome!


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