Sunday, July 25, 2010

"Cyrus" and "Winter's Bone" The Ties that Bind

"Winter's Bone" and "Cyrus" are two very different films about the bonds of family.

Director Debra Granik 
In "Winter's Bone,"17 year-old Ree Dolly (Oscar nominated Jennifer Lawrence) is bound by family responsibility. When her daddy goes missing, Ree must take care of her siblings and her mentally ill mother. She has an innate gift for parenting. She teaches the youngins' how to survive in a way they can understand and they show her due respect. But she soon finds that she is way over her head when the sheriff comes by to inform them that they are about to lose their house and farm because Pa put it up for his bail bond, then disappeared. Danger mounts as she is forced to defy her deadly clan's code of silence to find her Pa and bring him home. In authentic "slice of life" style, the filmmaker (Debra Granik) gives us a rare glimpse of the gritty mountain people, customs, and code of conduct of the Ozarks. You can just feel the sticks cracking under Ree's feet as she traverses the backwoods country and tastes the squirrel meat. "Winter's Bone" is about family ties that bind and gag; and finding the strength to survive in the hardest times.

"Cyrus," explores the bond between a mother and son and how much bonding is healthy. John's ex-wife (Catherine Keener) tells him she's getting married then proceeds to invite him to a party to meet other women. John (John Reilly) gets totally sloshed at the party, yet miraculously manages to pick up the most understanding woman, Molly, (the vivacious Marisa Tomei) with his clumsy attempt at honesty. John can't help but be drawn to Molly's kind heart. The relationship gets off to a great start. Then John meets Molly's 21 year-old, home-schooled, new age musician son, Cyrus (Jonas Hill). Suffice it to say that it is a very close family. Single mom Molly is so protective of her boy that she can't see the battle he is waging with John over her affections. "Cryus," has a different tone than most comedies. It is quirky and original, yet it somehow feels real. "Cyrus," is about the ties that blind, eh, bind between mother and son; and whether a mere man should get between them. Can love win out in the end?

It is more than the theme that binds this thriller and comedy. They also share truly original, honest writing and great performances. These are two of the best films I've seen for a while.

Movie blessings!
Jana Segal

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

"Mother and Child"

"Mother and Child" is a drama about three women connected by their roles in an adoption. Adoption has had a deep impact on each of their lives.

Karen (Annette Bening) is a bitter, fifty-year-old, health care professional who takes care of her distant, defeatist mother. Karen has never gotten over the loss of the baby girl that her mother forced her give up when she was a teen. She writes letters to the daughter she never knew. She is jealous of any attention her mother gives their housekeeper and her little girl. The girl is a painful reminder of what she has lost. Karen's heart has been closed off for so long that she doesn't know how to respond to the attention from the new physical therapist (Jimmy Smits) at work. Her mother encourages her to be careful so she doesn't "fall" again.

Elizabeth (Naomi Watts) was adopted by an uncaring couple. Shrouded in protective armor, she has grown up to be a cold, steely lawyer in complete control of her life. When she is hired at a new firm, she uses sex to control her bewildered, delighted boss and keep him at safe distance.

Lucy, (Kerry Washington) a successful baker and loving wife, has failed to conceive with her husband. She is bound and determined to adopt a baby - even if that includes anxiously jumping through the hoops created by the baby's birth mother (Shareeka Epps) or raising a child on her own.

This film shows the filial longing and feeling of loss caused by breaking the natural bond between mother and child: how the child doesn't feel complete without her mother and the mother feels that a part of her is missing. There is a deep seated emptiness. The wounds are passed down from generation to generation. These women must find the strength to open their hearts in order to end the cycle of loss.

Motherhood is hard even with the support of a traditional family. Some young women can't find the strength to meet that challenge alone. They make the difficult decision to give their baby up for adoption - in hopes that it will have a better life. This film suggests that the struggles of single motherhood may be less traumatic then severing the maternal bond.

What makes this film special are some painfully authentic scenes. While there are some TVmovie-like conversations about the trials of adoption, there are also silent moments where the action does the talking. It is in these silences that the audience ponders the meaning. In a sense, the experience is enhanced by what the audience brings to it - their memories and experiences allow them to relate. It is those silences that make this a powerful work that leaves you thinking as the credits roll.

Of course, there are some viewers who will not relate to this at all - some will be offended by the inherit subtext that adoption is an unnatural state. Some may complain that the fathers are conspicuously absent. Indeed, the male characters are relegated to supporting roles in the world of, "Mother and Child."

This is film for single mothers who made the difficult decision to put their baby up for adoption, the children they lost, and the people who love them.

Movie blessings!
Jana Segal