Tag Archives: Jennifer Lawrence

tv + film by Philbert Dy

‘Red Sparrow’ Fails to Sense its Own Silliness

Jennifer Lawrence plays a Russian spy in a ridiculous thriller

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Red Sparrow follows Dominika (Jennifer Lawrence, speaking English with a faux-Russian accent), a ballerina at the Bolshoi with an uncle that works in Russia’s intelligence services. She suffers a career-ending injury, and faces the prospect of losing the modest apartment that she and her mother live in. That’s when her uncle makes her an offer, which eventually leads to her training as a Sparrow, an intelligence agent specifically trained in the arts of seduction. She’s sent to Budapest to connect with CIA agent Nate Nash (Joel Edgerton), who is key to discovering a mole deep inside the KGB.

This is an adaptation of the novel of the same name by Jason Matthews, and it’s pretty lurid stuff. At one point, Dominika tells her uncle, “you sent me to whore school,” and it’s a completely accurate assessment. Amazingly, in spite of how central sex is to this story, the movie itself isn’t very sexy. Nor does it really have anything interesting to say about sex and the power games that it might entail. Instead, it’s a movie that becomes mostly about poor spycraft, the plot built almost entirely on supposedly elite agents making bad choices.

The film seems ready-made for high camp, with its Russian-accented artificiality and lurid sex-as-a-weapon premise. But the movie seems to mainly treat this stuff seriously, even as things get decidedly silly. It’s really strange to say, but very little in this picture could be called “fun.” It’s ploddingly paced, its runtime extending beyond an unreasonable two hours. There’s very little action, its scenes overly focused on concealing a big twist that isn’t really much of a twist at all. The sex in the movie feels listless and perfunctory, as though everyone involved was just uncomfortable with the content.

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It makes for a very strange conceptual dichotomy, as the film’s mostly stoic tone seems to suggest that they are trying to say something real about Russia or women or sexual power. The script takes great pains to avoid referencing current events, but it openly speaks of Russia as an abstract symbol of general oppression. And inasmuch as Russia and its president factor into the conversation about a lot of nefarious things going on today, to have the film play this pulpy material as plainly as it does feels a little squicky.

The role does fit the strengths of Jennifer Lawrence, whose visible intensity and determination are used to pretty great effect. On the other hand, the choice to have her speak English in a Russian accent creates moments of pure goofiness that detract from her performance. A supporting cast made up of some pretty big names suffers from the same problem. Joel Edgerton displays precious little chemistry with Lawrence, and is never able to make his character work. The standout in this film is Mary-Louise Parker, who seems to be the only person in the cast that embraces the goofiness of the material.

Red Sparrow is a film that doesn’t seem to know what it is. The lurid material calls for something more out there than the workmanlike, professional direction of Francis Lawrence. And it might call for a star without the status of someone like Jennifer Lawrence. There’s so much silliness in it that the gravity and talent of the actress actually works against it. But Hollywood doesn’t really make the kind of full-on trashy cinema that would better suit this kind of source material. And so, we get it all dressed up in weirdly serious trappings, making everyone look kind of ridiculous in the process.

RED SPARROW IS NOW SHOWING IN CINEMAS.
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Philbert Dy
Philbert Ortiz Dy has been reviewing movies professionally since 2007, and has thus dedicated his life to being yelled at by fans of literally everyone. He is currently the Online Editor of Rogue.ph. Yell at him on Twitter at @philbertdy.
tv + film by Philbert Dy

‘Mother!’ Goes for Broke

Darren Aronofsky’s latest film is completely committed to its wacky metaphors

NBHD movie 4 ticketsMother! stars Jennifer Lawrence as the wife of a poet played by Javier Bardem. They live alone in a pretty remote house in the middle of the country, and she spends a lot of her time restoring the home while her husband struggles to start writing again. Then one night he allows a guest (Ed Harris) into the house. The guest is a doctor who says he thought the house was a bed and breakfast, and her husband inexplicably just allows him to stay. The doctor proves to be a pretty awful houseguest, and it only gets worse when his family shows up.Screen Shot 2017-09-21 at 5.29.08 PMThe less said about what happens next, the better. Suffice it to say that this isn’t quite the conventional thriller that the trailer might be suggesting. It is far crazier than that, the entire film a rather bananas metaphor that reframes some very familiar stories as the inexplicable, increasingly absurd struggles of a housewife with a famous husband. One’s tolerance for weirdness and clumsy symbolism will likely determine one’s enjoyment of this picture. But given that, it is easy enough to admire the film’s utter commitment to its own insanity.Screen Shot 2017-09-21 at 5.29.18 PMThe movie doesn’t bother being subtle. Anyone with a passing familiarity with the bible will likely pick up what a lot of these scenes are alluding to, and by the end, Aronofsky gets startlingly literal with the meaning of his movie, basically having its characters explain the whole thing out loud. Given that, it’s all still pretty compelling. There is just enough wiggle room in all of this allegory to leave a lot of it open to interpretation. The movie may be pointing directly at the bible, but its maximalist approach to its own symbolism offers many other avenues for critical examination.Screen Shot 2017-09-21 at 5.29.40 PMIt can come off as clumsy and inelegant, but the movie manages to be oddly entertaining through all of it. The last act of this film is a series of escalations that compresses centuries of violent history into one grueling sequence. It is beautiful and audacious while still being a little bit juvenile. It just doesn’t quite have the sophistication of some of the best films tackling the same kind of material. It is too blunt, and at time too scattershot to really build to a compelling theme. And yet the film is compelling all the same. Aronofsky seems to be wearing his heart on his sleeve, and as clumsy as the film is, it can be a real hoot to witness.Screen Shot 2017-09-21 at 5.30.12 PMAt the center of all this chaos is Jennifer Lawrence, in a rather unusual role for the actress. She is at this point most known for playing characters with a palpable inner strength that translates into forceful agency. In this film, she is mainly reactive and unassertive, unable to control anything that happens. But she pulls it off with aplomb, and the film benefits from keeping the focus solely on her. The camera often moves with her, as if attached to the actress herself. It’s a marvelous performance with a delightful payoff. Javier Bardem, Ed Harris and Michelle Pfeiffer all seem to relish their outsized roles, and make the best out of even the clumsiest allusions.Screen Shot 2017-09-21 at 5.35.18 PMWhether one ends up liking it or not, one has to admit that Mother! is a rich cinematic experience. It is a decadent chocolate cake of symbolism and religious allusion, a densely caloric meal of the director’s personal obsessions. It’s certainly delicious, but it’s probably too much. If nothing else, though, the film will likely leave audiences with much to talk about. And that’s a net good. And one must give the film credit for achieving its maximalist visual and thematic ambitions, whether one agrees with those ambitions or not. One must admire its willingness to go for broke.

MOTHER! IS NOW SHOWING IN CINEMAS NATIONWIDE
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Philbert Dy
Philbert Ortiz Dy has been reviewing movies professionally since 2007, and has thus dedicated his life to being yelled at by fans of literally everyone. He is currently the Online Editor of Rogue.ph. Yell at him on Twitter at @philbertdy.