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Films I Neglected To Review: Beep Beep'M Beep Beep Yeah
by Peter Sobczynski

Please enjoy short reviews of "Drive My Car," "France" and "The Hating Game."

"Drive My Car" opens with a series of scenes depicting the impossibly happy and glamorous existence of Kafuku (Nishijima Hidetoshi), a successful actor and director, and his wife Oto (Kirishima Reika), an equally accomplished screenwriter. They are so perfect for each other--he helps her retain ideas for screenplays that she mumbles in her sleep and forgets while she records herself reading plays he is working on so that he can practice his lines during long driving commutes--that when he comes home unexpectedly and discovers that she is having an affair, he does not raise a scene but simply leaves. Things change when he returns home and finds her lying dead on the floor. When the story picks up two years later, he has been hired to direct a production of "Uncle Vanya" in Hiroshima and is using a recording of Oto to relearn the play during the long drive to the rehearsal space but there is a snag when he is barred from doing his own driving for insurance reasons. Instead, Misaki (Toko Miura), a mysterious and introverted young woman with a scar on her face, is employed to chauffeur him around in his prized red Saab with the voice of Oto now serving as a ghostly counterpoint, and over the course of the next few weeks, both the course of their relationship and the play unfold in unexpected ways.

The film is based on a short story by Haruki Murakami that runs about 40 pages, which might strike some as a bit odd considering the fact that the movie clocks in at a hair under three hours. However, this is not one of those situations where a short narrative has been stretched to the breaking point and beyond akin to what Peter Jackson did to "The Hobbit." Instead, Hamaguchi (who also released the quite wonderful "Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy" this year) uses the extended running time as a way to approximate the spare and contemplative nature of Murakami's prose style, albeit in a somewhat more straightforward narrative style, for this meditation on grief, loss and the healing process. This description may make the film sound like a pretentious bore--the kind that you pretend to like so that you don't come across like an uncultured boor--but I promise you that watching this film provided me with three of the most spellbinding hours that I spent watching movies this year. From the gorgeous visual style to the strong and quietly powerful performances from Hidetoshi and Miura to the ways that the story manages to confound expectations as to where it was going, this is a quiet stunner from start to finish. Now I recognize that this may not sound like the kind of film that many may be willing to invest the time and effort to watch, especially amidst the onslaught of heavily hyped Hollywood hits but those who pass up on "Drive My Car" run the risk of missing one of the very best films of the year.

The title of Bruno Dumont's latest film, "France," specifically returns not to the country where it is set but to its central character, France de Meurs (Lea Seydoux), a glamorous and popular celebrity journalist who glibly trades jibes with Emmanuel Macron and manages to look salon-perfect even while reporting from a war zone. Her life may seem perfect but her entire existence takes a downward turn one day when she accidentally hits a motorcycle courier named Baptiste (Jawad Zemmar) with her car during a moment of inattention. The accident is decidedly minor in theory--Baptiste receives only minor injuries and when France comes to visit him, his mother is agog that the great woman from television has come to see them. However, the accident makes France herself the story for once and she prove unable to handle it. In between ducking paparazzi and fighting with her equally self-absorbed poet husband, she finds that she cannot get back on track to where she once was. In her efforts to find herself, she leaves her job and family behind to go to a remote spa retreat where she finds romance with a new man who seems to offer her the simple reality that she desires but even he proves to have a secret agenda.

Dumont is an undeniable audacious filmmaker who swings for the fences every time he comes out with a new film--some, like his ambitious films chronicling the lives of Joan of Arc and Camille Claudel, he knocks out of he park while others, such as the mystifying "Slack Bay" and "Coincoin and the Extra-Humans" see him striking out but at least find him going down swinging. Therefore, it is strange to watch "France" and realize that it is more mediocre than anything else. Although there are a few amusing moments here and there, it has one key problem in the fact that I could never quite figure out what was that Dumont was trying to say or who he was aiming it at. It comes billed as a satire but it is hard to tell whether the satire is aimed at things like the shallowness of the media and the insatiable 24-hour news cycle that reduces the most tragic events to a quick news clip or if it is meant to take on well-meaning films about cynical media types who finally begin to recognize the vapid nature of their lives and struggle to become "good" people. The results move back and forth from comedy to serious drama but they never quite gel into a satisfying whole and at 133 minutes, watching it become a bit of a chore after a while. The one element of "France" that does work is the performance by Seydoux in the title role. Over the last few years, she has been great in a number of films but her work here ranks among her finest performances to date--even though the character as written is not always entirely believable, she invests her with enough humanity to make her worth following even at her most vapid and self-pitying. Her work may not ultimately be enough to recommend "France" to anyone but Seydoux aficionados but it does serve as proof positive of both her considerable acting talents and her even more considerable star power.

"The Hating Game" is a film based upon the 2016 best-selling romance novel by Sally Thorne that is unread by me and, if the ensuing screen adaptation is indicative of its qualities, will continue to be for quite some time. Lucy (Lucy Hale) and Joshua (Austin Stowell) play two assistants at publishing firms who are thrown together when their respective firms merge. She's homey, friendly and has a pronounced passion for literature while he is cold, businesslike and appears to have never cracked open a book for the sheer pleasure of reading in decades. The already high level of tension between them kicks into overdrive when the two begin to vie for a big promotion but as they each try to outwit the other and gain the upper hand, they begin to realize that they may be more into each other than they are willing to admit. You can probably fill in the blanks from there and probably in a more interesting manner than director Peter Hutchings and screenwriter Christina Mengert are able to muster.

While I concede that I may not be exactly the target audience for a film like this, I do not necessarily object to two hours of frothy romantic frivolity if it is done well. My problem with this particular example of the genre is as basic as can be--I did not like either of the characters and I never bought their alleged romantic chemistry for a moment. While I am an unabashed fan of Hale--still my favorite Pretty Little Liar--her character here is an aggressively quirky bore (she comes across at times like a factory-reject Zooey Deschanel) and crosses over into borderline cruelty when she coaxes a goofball co-worker who is totally into her into dating her simply to make Joshua jealous and then dumps him the moment that her ploy works. (Don't worry--the third wheel suddenly turns into the best pal lending a sympathetic ear in an instant with zero complaint.) Meanwhile, Stowell portrays Joshua as if he is trying to be the next Patrick Bateman and the efforts to try to humanize him (such as a meandering subplot involving his mild estrangement from his father, who resents him for going into publishing instead of being a doctor like everyone else in the family) fall flat. Perhaps fans of the book will get more out of "The Hating Game" than I did but unless you are looking for visual confirmation that Corbin Bernsen is still alive and working, this is nothing more than a Hallmark Channel-style programmer (yes, it does take place during the holidays and there is even a wedding as a plot point) with slightly more profanity thrown into the mix.

link directly to this feature at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/feature.php?feature=4326
originally posted: 12/10/21 07:35:57
last updated: 12/10/21 08:18:37
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