By David Elliott
APPETIZER (reviews of The Fits and Microbe and Gasoline)
From over 40 years of reviewing, it’s the bold surprises that best hold memory. Some were anticipated (like The Long Goodbye, Last Tango in Paris, Capote), many others were sneak-ups that zapped me (like American Graffiti, The Whole Wide World, Mike’s Murder, Oblomov, The Cruise, The Straight Story). Into that second bunch I pleasurably add Anna Rose Holmer’s debut feature The Fits, which in 72 minutes is among the most vivid, lyrical and feminist movies you will see in 2016.
It happens in Cincinnati, at a sleek recreation center where pre-teen Toni (finely named Royalty Hightower) dabbles in boxing while her older brother trains. Facing puberty, the future beauty can’t quite grasp or fit the male milieu, and she envies the fiercely energized, mostly older girls who practice nearby as the Lincoln Lionesses, an acrobatic dance team. She loves their flash, style, teen talk and show-bizzy costumes. Though Toni bonds with a funny little scamp, Beezi (Alexis Neblett), whose hair is cut like Mouseketeer ears, she’s facing a big growth surge. Soon she attempts the hot steps, and pierces her earlobes to insert her first rings. She smiles more, and her plank body, in motion, seems to predict emerging curves.
Then one girl falls down, in what seems like a swooning or spasmic collapse. And later another, and another. Discipline falters, and officials (barely seen) try to blame the water (hints of Flint). Breezy little Beezi has a keen intuition: “Some kind of boyfriend disease?” Without turning clinical or creepy, writer and director Holmer has found a shape-shifting metaphor for pubescent fire, for the shock wave of natural and social chemisty that can send girls into giggle storms, or into depression, anorexia, bulimia, panic. She does not preach or teach, nor lose her clear-eyed fascination with young, still faces and expressive, kinetic bodies, and life-shifting moods.
Shot almost entirely in the rec spaces, where clean, spare lines supportively frame every motion and emotion, Paul Yee’s imagery beautifully uses long takes and varied focal effects. The Fits risks showing much more than it says. There is lucid enigma here, on the divide between fiction and documentation. Hightower is an ace find, no flirty poser. Holmer, for sure, needs to keep making movies.
Microbe and GasolineDirector Michel Gondry rang the bell with Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, went flat with The Green Hornet, hit a sweet spot of Gallic whimsy with The Science of Sleep. His delight in textures, colors, dreams and the ability of film to pull rabbits from invisible hats has a wit that signatures his addition to a French movie tradition going back to Lumiere, Tati, Louis Malle’s gag-driven whirligig Zazie dans le Métro and the odd, provocative buddy comedies of Bertrand Blier. In Microbe and Gasoline he examines the new friendship of pubescent schoolboys Daniel (Ange Dargent) and Théo (Theophile Baquet), the first called Microbe because of his pre-growth size, the second Gasoline because of his gassy, gimmick-laden motor bike.
Microbe, still beardless and (he thinks) sperm-less, develops a shy crush on a bemused girl. Impudent Gasoline contrives a small car disguised as a shed on wheels. Their Tom & Huck journey of escape includes a soulful lament for Gypsies, a funny diss of cellphones, an art contest, an oddly porny hair salon run by Koreans, and many bewildered adults. Don’t take it seriously, except in its genuine feeling for adolescent aches and confusions, and the young actors will show you a good time. If not, blame the French.
SALAD (A List)My choices of 12 Top Movies About Adolescents (and their directors): The Last Picture Show (Peter Bogdanovich), Murmur of the Heart (Louis Malle), The Member of the Wedding (Fred Zinnemann), American Graffiti (George Lucas/Francis Coppola), Rebel Without a Cause (Nicholas Ray), Zebrahead (Anthony Drazan), Les Enfants Terribles (J-P Melville, Jean Cocteau), Catarina in the Big City (Paolo Virzi), Romeo and Juliet (Franco Zeffirelli), Election (Alexander Payne), Dazed and Confused (Richard Linklater) and Heavenly Creatures (Peter Jackson).
WINE (Vin Orsonaire de Chateau Welles)
Citizen Welles admired John Ford, but not so piously as Peter Bogdanovich did: “I was in Peter’s house one night, he ran some John Ford pictures. During the first reel I said, ‘Isn’t it funny how incapable even Ford, and all American directors, are of making women look in period?’ I said, ‘Look at those two girls who are supposed to be in the covered wagon. Their hairdos and costumes are really what the actresses in the Fifties thought was good taste.’ … Peter flew into a rage, turned off the projector and wouldn’t let us see the rest of the movie because I didn’t have enough respect for Ford.” (From My Lunches With Orson by Henry Jaglom, with Peter Biskind).
ENTRÉE (Starlight Rising)No other writer-director so provocatively employs the “n-word” in his dialog like Quentin Tarantino, who “exploits and exposes the word with Elizabethan succulence. He delves, said Stanley Crouch, into ‘the artistic challenges of the many misceginations that shape the goulash of American culture,’ and by his skill ‘the human nuances and surprises in the writing provide fresh alterations of meaning.” (From the Pam Grier/Jackie Brown chapter of my book Starlight Rising: Acting Up in Movies, available on Amazon, Nook and Kindle).
DESSERT (An Image)A great movie image is more than a still, it’s a distillation.
Paulette Dubost and Nora Gregor in The Rules of the Game (France, 1939; director Jean Renoir, cinematographers Jean Bachelet and J.P. Alphen)
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