Tag Archives: laura dern

Review: ‘The Son,’ Chronicles of Unhappiness

Hugh Jackman, Laura Dern, Vanessa Kirby, Zen McGrath, and Anthony Hopkins star in an agonizing drama.

By all appearances, it’s a tragedy in the making. 

Unhappy Nicholas (Zen McGrath) lives unhappily with his unhappy mother, Kate (Laura Dern), and wants very much to live with his happy father, Peter (Hugh Jackman), nevermind that Peter entered into an adulterous affair with happy Beth (Vanessa Kirby), thereby ruining his marriage and breaking up the household. Peter now lives happily with Beth and their newborn infant, but upon hearing Nicholas’ plea, he quickly caves, overruling Beth’s natural concerns. 

Very soon, everyone is unhappy. 

Two years ago, Anthony Hopkins starred in The Father, an adaptation of an acclaimed French-language play by novelist Florian Zellner that was then translated into English by Christopher Hampton (Les Liaisons Dangereuses). Hampton wrote the screen version, helmed by Zellner in his feature directorial debut, and I was very much impressed by the film, which staged the lead character’s splintering existence “as a horrifying reality.” I could relate to it on a personal level, too. 

The film raised my expectations for The Son, which is adapted from Zellner’s stage play of the same name, which, like The Father, was translated into English by Christopher Hampton and staged in London. (In between the stage versions of The Father and The Son, The Mother premiered, but that’s not yet been adapted.) The script for the screen version is credited to both Zellner and Hampton, with Zellner once again directing. 

Unlike The Father, though, The Son is a forthright melodrama, and suffers from any comparison. Its narrative proceeds, inexorably depicting the slow self-strangulation of a teenager who is not merely unhappy, but is clinically depressed. Unable and unwilling to address Nicholas’ serious mental-health issue, Peter continues on his merry, busy way, leaving Nicholas in the hands of Beth, who is consumed with caring for their newborn child, and is already stressed out herself. 

Acting more out of guilt over his adulterous affair, which clearly destabilized the unsteady Nicholas in the first place, Peter steadfastly pursues his own career goals, while throwing money at Nicholas and pretending that he has any idea how to raise or help him. He thinks he is acting differently than his own father did, but in truth, he is acting just as horribly, though perhaps in a more dignified manner. 

It’s agonizing to watch the slow decline in Nicholas, whose simmering anger and seething resentment gradually becomes manifest, mostly expressed against the long-suffering Beth, who is trapped at home, while Peter skips above the fray. With a self-confidence born of his upbringing and professional success, Peter thinks he knows how to “fix” Nicholas, yet in truth, he hasn’t a clue. 

The actors all bring their anguished characters to life, which only makes watching them all dance toward doom all the more difficult to watch. It’s like watching a slow-motion automobile accident, frame by frame, without being able to do a thing to stop it. 

What made The Father freshly disturbing to watch was that it developed empathy for its characters in an unexpected, cinematic fashion. What makes The Son difficult to watch is that it evinces no sympathy for its beleaguered characters, and does so in a profoundly straightforward fashion. 

The film opens Friday, January 20, in Dallas, Frisco, Fort Worth, Garland, Grapevine, and Plano via Sony Pictures Classics. Get tickets here. For more information about the film, visit the official site

Review: ‘Certain Women’

dfn-certain-women-720The sky reaches forever, the distant mountains beckon, and the roads stretch ever onward. This is Montana, as presented in Kelly Reichardt’s Certain Women, and it’s as much a character as the women who populate it.

Reichardt sets loose her characters like intelligent wind-up dolls, which makes them immediately familiar. Like everyone else on the planet, Reichardt’s women cope the best they can with their lives, imperfect as they may be. They are the the type of women we rarely see on the big screen: women who are willing to take risks and accept the consequences.

They are, in essence, just like Montana, defined as skies and mountains and roads that will not be easily defeated nor call attention to themselves.

Laura Wells (Laura Dern) is a lawyer vainly trying to help her client Fuller (Jared Harris), a power lineman who suffered a calamitous fall but naively signed away his rights to sue. Gina Lewis (Michelle Williams) is a business owner working to build a new home for her family while also navigating the emotional minefield of her husband Ryan (James Le Gros) and teenage daughter Guthrie (Sara Rodier). Jamie (Lily Gladstone) is an extremely shy ranch hand who is attracted to preoccupied new evening-class teacher Beth (Kristen Stewart).

I’ve seen four films by Reichardt over the past 10 years — Old Joy, Wendy and Lucy, Meek’s Cutoff and Night Moves — and what they hold in common is a reliance on the characters to tell the story quietly through their personalities. Despite the restraint they exercise, their individual strengths always bleed through and inform what happens.

Certain Women reminded me quite a bit of Old Joy, which followed two old friends on a camping trip and somehow managed to detail both their past and future lives merely by the power of casual conversation. The contrast between the beautiful yet restrictive forest in rural Oregon where the men traveled and the wide open spaces of Montana where Certain Women unfolds is striking.

The lead characters will not allow others to limit them. Laura Wells wants to help Fuller but she will not let him dictate her actions. Gina Lewis wants her family to be happy, but she will not let them restrict her movements. Jamie wants Beth to respond to her, but she will not force her to do so.

The performances are marvels of minimalism, with no one overplaying their hand. Only small touches are needed to flesh out the words that Reichardt has written, based on stories by Maile Meloy. The unhurried approach is complemented by Chris Blauvelt’s artistry as director of photography and Reichardt’s own talents as film editor.

Certain Women establishes its leisurely pace early, but it’s simultaneous with the introduction of people of interest who compel attention. The film lingers in the mind, not so much as a collection of stories but as a reminder of individual faces; there’s nothing so beautiful as someone who is determined to make the best out of life.

The film opens on Friday, October 28 at the Angelika Film Centers in Dallas and Plano.