More Than Godzilla At Cinemas This Weekend
Check out ‘Rocketman’ and ‘The Souvenir’
Friday, May 31, 2019
This weekend you have plenty of selections with Godzilla, an Elton John biopic and a new indie film with Tilda Swinton’s daughter to choose from.
My review for “Godzilla: King of the Monsters is already up but there are two other very different films also opening this weekend of a smaller scale: “Rocketman,” about Elton John,” and “The Souvenir,” which stars Honor Swinton Byrne and her mother Tilda Swinton.
‘Rocketman’ looks to the life of Elton John and was produced by the rock star. Dexter Flecther directed the film and he was also the man who came to the rescue of “Bohemian Rhapsody” when Bryan Singer had to be replaced. Both films serve up biopics of rock stars but the two films couldn’t be more different. That makes me wonder if the experience of working on “Bohemian Rhapsody” (about the life of Queen’s Freddie Mercury) had any impact on how Fletcher ultimately decided to tackle “Rocketman.”
Much of the film’s form would have had to have been laid out in the script and not merely improvised at the last minute but working on two rock and roll biographies in such close proximity must have had some impact on the filmmaker, and from the end results, it was a positive impact. From its opening scene "Rocketman" makes clear that it will not be a realistically rendered narrative with lip-synched performances of Elton’s music. In contrast, “Bohemian Rhapsody” delivered something that played like a recreated concert film with occasional dramatic scenes sprinkled in.
“Rocketman” wants to be more over-the-top to match its flamboyant star. So dramatic scenes burst into song and elaborate production numbers as the film tries to get to how Elton’s music reflected his real life. It’s a film that wants to get to both his inner life and the inner lives of the songs so we hear these familiar hits in new ways. Plus Taron Egerton sings the songs rather than just lip-synching to them. So they may not sound exactly as we remember them but the performance feels more alive.
The film still hits a number of bio-pic tropes in the second half as Elton's personal life takes a downward turn and Bryce Dallas Howard seems miscast as Elton’s mum. But for the most part "Rocketman" is entertaining and inventive, and provides some insight into the rock star.
“The Souvenir” is an indie film starring Honor Swinton Byrne, Tilda’s talented daughter. The film is masterfully crafted by director Joanna Hogg, who has said the film has autobiographical elements. The story involves a young woman, Julie (Byrne) and a friend, Anthony (Tom Burke), with whom she becomes romantically involved. Julie is also a film student struggling to make her first film. She exudes a certain confidence when initially pitching her project but seems more insecure in her personal life as she lets Anthony abuse her kindness and love.
Hogg has a marvelously elliptical and seductive visual style. She often leaves the characters out of frame or only seen as a reflection. She refuses to spell things out and lets the film’s exquisite visuals tell the story if you are willing to pay attention.
Fortunately, she is blessed with a gifted cast in Swinton Byre, Burke and Tilda Swinton playing Julie’s mother. These performers have faces that the camera adores and can convey volumes with a look or a pause or a barely raised eyebrow. The film is thoroughly engrossing as a work of cinema yet some may grow frustrated with the character of Julie who lets Anthony walk all over her and keeps returning to him. I must confess that I found it difficult to understand her attachment to him.
But this also feels like one of the challenges the film is presenting to the audience. In an era when many are demanding stronger female roles on screen and women characters with more agency, are we still willing to empathize with a woman who doesn’t always stand up for herself? But this is a film made by a woman who is trying to sort through both personal and professional themes.
The film is complex because it is also looking at how Julie’s life impacts her as a filmmaker. We are seeing Julie grow and change in her relationship with Anthony but also as an artist who is trying to figure out what her art will be and how it will reflect her life and what she wants to say. She starts by discussing a film set in a world far removed from her affluent one but she displays a compassion and intelligence that suggests to us that she would tackle the subject with integrity if also with some naiveté.
I must admit I grew impatient with the character of Julie. But as soon as the film was over I wanted to see it again because the filmmaking itself was so riveting and layered. The conflicting emotions are one reason the film burrowed into my brain and still has me thinking about it.
“The Souvenir” is the perfect film for the cinephile who wants to be challenged and rewarded by a beautifully crafted work of art.
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