Tag Archives: Sheila Kelley

The Guest (2014, Adam Wingard)

For most of The Guest, the script doesn’t matter. Either the acting or the filmmaking carry the scene. The first act is this fairly standard, fairly obvious—albeit beautifully produced—drama about an all American family in crisis after the death of the oldest son, a soldier, killed in action in the Middle East. Dad Leland Orser is a verbally abusive drunk who also feels inadequate for not making enough money (in rural New Mexico). Mom Sheila Kelley is just sad. And dealing with Orser. High schooler Brendan Meyer is super-smart and mercilessly bullied. Daughter Maika Monroe works at the diner to save for college and has to hide pot-head boyfriend Chase Williamson from the fam. Then Dan Stevens knocks on the door—actually, Dan Stevens knocks on the door first and then the film establishes the family and really quickly, really efficiently. The strangest thing about The Guest having script problems is the plotting flows perfectly; writer Simon Barrett basically just doesn’t have any ending and he doesn’t have enough character development. Otherwise, the script’s good.

Anyway—Stevens. He’s the dead son’s comrade and he promised to tell each family member how much the dead son loved them. Stevens is just a good, nice guy, which is apparently exactly what the family needs. Kelley doesn’t have a son back so much as a pal. Kelley’s a missed opportunity. She’s a narrative prop, moved around for effective, but her performance is great. The film really doesn’t do enough with her. She’s around a lot but she doesn’t get any character development. She’s just sad about dead son and worried about her family. She also doesn’t have a clothes dryer, which is important later on. She and Stevens are really good together. Actually, Stevens is really good with everyone—Orser, Meyer, love interest Tabatha Shaun—except the one person it turns out he needs to be really good with—Monroe.

And it’s both Stevens and Monroe’s fault, but maybe more director Wingard and writer Barrett’s. Because eventually they at least need to have some spark and they never do, which seems almost intentional and a really wrong-headed move on the film’s part. So, eventually weird things start happening—like Stevens helping Meyer with his bully problem and Shaun with a pushy ex-boyfriend—and Monroe overhears Stevens on a mysterious cellphone call and just has to start investigating. Everything about that plot development is bad—anal-retentive Stevens having his super-shady but not super-shady at all phone call in hearing distance, Monroe immediately going Nancy Drew (the character’s written differently in each act), even the direction is forced (in the wrong way). Because first act Monroe is supposed to be crushing on Stevens, whereas second act Monroe is convinced he’s the devil and then third act Monroe is aware he’s the devil but operating indifferently to that belief. It’s not a good part for Monroe, especially not in the third act; the writing is just too thin. Also the film kind of dumps Monroe in the second act as she’s Nancy Drewing to follow everyone else. Well, the guys, not Kelley.

But it’s always an engrossing thriller. Wingard, who also edits, which seems right, knows how to present Stevens for maximum effect and Stevens is the whole point. Again, why Nancy Drew Monroe if she’s not going to take point but whatever; Barrett’s script has a lot of issues. Wingard’s got a tone he’s going for and hits it; making the film around any narrative issues for most of its hundred minutes. Steve Moore’s music and Robby Baumgartner’s photography are both excellent and enable that tone. If Wingard had been able to succeed with The Guest, it would’ve been something. But not failing is something too. Though having Stevens helps. And Monroe and Meyer and Kelley and Orser. The cast is right, the script is just a little wrong.

Also, Lance Reddick as Stevens’s former CO needs to be great and then isn’t. Reddick’s the third act surprise and it’s a flop.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Edited and directed by Adam Wingard; written by Simon Barrett; director of photography, Robby Baumgartner; music by Steve Moore; production designer, Tom Hammock; costume designer, Kathleen Detoro; produced by Jessica Calder and Keith Calder; released by Picturehouse.

Starring Dan Stevens (David), Maika Monroe (Anna), Brendan Meyer (Luke), Sheila Kelley (Laura), Leland Orser (Spencer), Tabatha Shaun (Kristen), Chase Williamson (Zeke), Joel David Moore (Craig), and Lance Reddick (Major Carver).


Mozart and the Whale (2005, Petter Næss)

I’ve only been looking forward to this damn movie for two years. It missed its theatrical release date, but there’s probably a DVD on the way (which would have been the source of my illicit copy). It’s perfectly understandable why the film missed the date… it lacks any relatable center. My fiancée just said she wants a movie that shows the real difficulties of autism–Mozart doesn’t, because you can’t center a movie around someone operating on such a different level. The result, for Mozart and the Whale, is that Josh Hartnett isn’t really that bad… neither’s Rahda Mitchell. Their problems aren’t autism problems, they’re romantic drama-lite problems….

Mozart and the Whale was going to be the comeback of Ron Bass, who got a lot of work from the late 1980s through the late 1990s, when people finally got sick of him. He probably shouldn’t have staked it all on a Demi Moore vehicle (Passion of the Mind). It’s a shallow film, weighing in at ninety minutes. Many of these minutes are filled with music montages (not score, unfamiliar, but pleasant, songs). I spent the first half of it waiting for something to happen (hoping that Gary Cole was going to be Hartnett’s father and there’d be some more meat to the conflict)… but no. There’s no real conflict in Mozart, which would have been fine, it’s just that there was an attempt at it. A weighty attempt at it. Bass is famous for empty, dramatic endings and Mozart is no different.

It’s too bad, because Næss is an interesting director. Mozart doesn’t look like anything except itself, which is a lovely thing to be able to say about a newish director. He’s from Norway, so maybe that played a part… Oddly, for a film without a US theatrical release and a ninety minute running time, Mozart actually shot in the US. You can tell it throughout (I didn’t know where the location was–it’s Spokane) and the film has a nice feel.

The acting in the film is difficult to discuss–my fiancée gleefully pointed out I’d no longer be able to say Hartnett’s his generation’s finest actor, but he gives a great supporting performance in Mozart. If Mozart and the Whale had been about Billy Crudup banging his autistic brother’s girlfriend or something, Hartnett’s performance would have been extraordinary. It’s a character part in the lead… Mitchell (who I was really looking forward to seeing after Melinda and Melinda) ranges. The film misses her character’s best opportunity.

I wonder if there is a longer, better version of the film out there–there are a few moments, jumps in visual continuity, that certainly suggest it. But I’m not sure it would make much of a difference.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Petter Næss; written by Ronald Bass; director of photography, Svein Krøvel; edited by Lisa Zeno Churgin and Miklos Wright; music by Deborah Lurie; production designer, Jon Gary Steele; produced by James Acheson, Bass, Boaz Davidson, Frank DeMartini and Robert Lawrence; released by Millennium Films.

Starring Josh Hartnett (Donald Morton), Radha Mitchell (Isabelle Sorenson), Gary Cole (Wallace), Sheila Kelley (Janice), Erica Leerhsen (Bronwin), John Carroll Lynch (Gregory), Nate Mooney (Roger), Rusty Schwimmer (Gracie), Robert Wisdom (Blume), Allen Evangelista (Skeets), Kelly B. Eviston (Dr. Trask) and Jhon Goodwin (Rodney).