Thursday, September 26, 2013

The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane

It's been more than a decade, at least, since I've seen The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane (1976)—but, from what I do recall, it's the kind of movie best recommended from a position of uncertainty and in dim recollection. I'm fond of noting the dreamlike quality of many films—of even the act of movie-watching itself—but that may well be a flaw on my part, too willing as I am to fall in love with any bright thing that catches my eye, no matter how dimly.

But this movie is perfectly suited to the oneiric trance-state: I'm certain that even as you watch it, as it lies right there brand-new on the surface of your eyeballs, it will fall into dreams. Jodie Foster is Taxi Driver-young, but already older than you'd think—or maybe like. And Martin Sheen is in that first surprising period of his career when you're never quite sure what he might do next. The two of them are Dreamers, and this movie is suited to their nodding heads—and your own, if you're willing to peer into the fuzzy spaces this movie jams everyone into, the clammy situations—pedophilia, Oedipal glee, blank loneliness, false magic, all kinds of desperate secrecy and everyday weirdness—that the '70s perfected. The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane was released a year before Eraserhead; David Lynch's picture, though, was four years in the making; he must've exhaled some strange juju across the middle of that decade to encourage all kinds of dank blossoms to bloom, including this one.

NOTE: This title is no longer available on Instant Play; disc only. Curses!

Thursday, September 5, 2013


I can't decide whether Mike Leigh's Happy-Go-Lucky is assertively optimistic or aggressively pessimistic—and I could certainly surrender and write that it's both, and not be dismissed too quickly. After all, while those who set themselves against happy-go-lucky "Poppy" (Sally Hawkins in total immersion mode) are damaged at the least and pure creeps at the worst, they do not necessarily prevail: She continues to be herself, and continues to remold the world as a good place. On the other hand, her attempts to do so often seem painfully naive. In particular, the driving instructor she must deal with because her bike had been stolen is a dangerous lunatic—and not a comic one, not a Danny McBride galoot you can't find yourself able to hate, despite his self-absorbed brutishness.  No, Poppy is saddled with a deeply disturbed man (played by the ever-tightly-wound Eddie Marsan, one of the many gems in the British character actor crown). But: She takes to him, she plugs away, she insists that she can be happy—and that he can, too.

I'll leave this inkblot of a movie up to you. If I must commit to some position, I'd offer that it may be a movie that wants you to reject Poppy's worldview—and then reveals exactly the world you're left with. Whether she's a fool or not, Poppy's paradise seems better than the hell she so doggedly attempts to ignore. Whether she can survive her handmade heaven is another matter.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Safety Not Guaranteed (2012)

There's a little joke in Safety Not Guaranteed (or it's one I'm imagining) that anyone who's into "hip" network sitcoms and also was into animation in its 1990s-TV heyday might get: The female lead is named "Darius," and to top it off she's played by Aubrey Plaza, who in Parks and Recreation over the past few years has been honing her almost-Goth-but-mostly-bored post-millennial version of the kind of post-adolescent scorn we know so well from Ghost World—and (the point of the little joke) from Daria, the Beavis and Butt-Head MTV spinoff in the late '90s that featured an Aubrey-Plaza-like dark-haired, monotone-voiced young woman who's long been Over It. What "it," you might ask? Well, like Brando's rebel in The Wild Ones, whatever you got.*

Here, she's ready to have nothing to do with a Silly Season news story that may not be there at all, about a classified ad from someone seeking a time-travel companion who "must bring your own weapons." Let me pause and note that the past decade has seen what may be the Great Time-Travel Movie Renaissance—and not just big-budget near-hits and definite-misses like Hot Tub Time Machine and The Lake House; just scout around, and there's Time Crimes, the ineffable Donnie Darko, and the big-budget, clever-plus-morose Looper—not to mention the mysterious and dense king of the indie time-travel pics, Primer.  Even Woody Allen has fun with time-travel as regressive escape in Midnight in ParisSafety Not Guaranteed actually has more in common with Allen's picture than the others, in that the movie is mostly about states of mind and relationships than it is the usual (and, when done correctly, compelling) paradoxes of tinkering with time.

The tone of the movie is pure indie-quirky, with equal measures world-weary irony and exasperated risk-taking.  Again, let me stress that the fun of the usual time-travel movie is nicely subsumed here into a consideration of the personalities who would indulge in it—and of those who find themselves attracted to such indulgence. Above all, the ongoing skepticism of the reporter and accompanying interns allows the movie its punchline: Is it real? Will someone travel in time? No spoilers here, just a reassurance that things get clear enough at the end to justify Darius' growing conviction that the existence of time travel is not as important as the decision to believe in it.

*And just to lean on the cute-hip-o-meter a little more, Plaza's co-star is Jake Johnson from The New Girl, a show that may be the epitome of postmodern screwball, and I mean that as a big fan.