As the end of the Summer gives way to Oscar season, more and more quality films will hit theaters and beckon us to malls and AMC multiplexes across the country. But we're not really there yet. This week, M. Night Shyamalan's latest, The Visit, and a reverse Fatal Attraction thriller The Perfect Guy are the two wide releases to consider. Slim pickings. But there are other options too:
Sleeping with Other People
Have you ever wanted to hear Alison Brie talk dirty? Okay, it's not anything new. But, in Leslye Headland's new romantic comedy, Sleeping with Other People, Brie does take things to filthy new levels. She's busy trying to keep up with co-star Jason Sudeikis, who has no qualms about living in the blue area. Headland, the woman behind 2012's Bachelorette, isn't shy with her sexual language (she writes as well as directs), but she could use some help reigning it in.
Sleeping with Other People is another Annie Hall-inspired rom-com that follows two people who become best friends, but are destined to be together. From the outset, the ending is never in doubt so getting there better be pretty fun.
The results are mixed. Headland's script is full. The dialogue in the film comes rapid-fire and, while I'm sure some scenes were improvised, most of the movie feels very written. For the romance to work, the love must feel natural and it just doesn't here. The graphic sex talk feels like overcompensation. Amy Schumer should not be worried, although a collaboration with Headland would be interesting. This is a movie that talks about sex, but has no idea how to convey real romance or sensuality.
The story opens at college where Lainey (Brie, in a schoolgirl skirt) and Jake (Sudeikis, with moppy hair) are supposed to be students. They're also supposed to be virgins and they have sex with each other only to never hear from one another again. Years later, they reunite at a sex addiction group (of all places) and strike up a friendship based on their unique history. Jake is a rich womanizer and Lainey is a hopeless romantic still in love with a now-married, college ex-boyfriend (Adam Scott). Their relatively unhappy lives are made much better when they're together. Everyone else can see they love each other, but the film plays out the friendship for maximum dramatic effect.
The problem is little of the drama feels real. Sudeikis especially struggles trying to handle the dramatic work. He's a chatterbox in most of his roles, but it comes off forced in this one. Brie, on the other hand, is much more natural with Headland's dialogue and proves to be authentic as the spunky teacher she plays. You want the film to be about her, and not them. Also, in typical indie fashion, the supporting cast is joyous: Jason Mantzoukas, Adam Brody, Natasha Lyonne, and Amanda Peet all show up in well-placed roles. This is a modern romantic comedy that uses a great cast to tell a well-worn story. I'd like to see something deeper from Headland at some point. Both Bachelorette and Sleeping with Other People have very funny moments. The trouble is the actual storytelling.
Time Out of Mind
Oren Moverman is a filmmaker of purpose. When you go into one of his movies, you can expect a taut dramatic journey. He gave us harrowing drama in both The Messenger and Rampart, and his latest, Time Out of Mind, is a similarly effective character study of one man in a dire circumstance. This is a story with specific goals in mind and, although getting there is no picnic - the movie is deliberate in its sluggishness, we need movies like this. There's certainly something to be said for the sober drama, a lost art in today's world of stylized, showy cinema.
Another worthwhile reason to get interested in Time Out of Mind is the performance of Richard Gere, who strips down to almost unrecognizable proportion to play George, a drunk now living on the streets who holds out hope of reconciling with his estranged daughter Maggie (Jena Malone). He follows her, unseen, around the city, keeping his distance, and Moverman keeps his with the camera. George is always in the background. The director focuses on Maggie, her conversation with her boyfriend, a stranger's phone conversation, but not the father - the invisible man. We see him in the foreground of shots, or outside a window, or between buildings in the bustling noise of New York City. It's a challenge. Watching these scenes will test your attention, but there's no doubt the method has sincere purpose, as well as an obvious message.
The homeless are invisible in every city, but in New York, things are heightened. Indifference is a way of life and Time Out of Mind is a visual portrait of that notion. The star of the film is, literally, background scenery. To use a character this way is something bold and wonderful. Even George himself cannot find himself. "10 years just happened!" He declares at one point. He's even in the background of his own life.
While the film meanders, and has no real plot to speak of, it also feels real. You should know the existential nature of an invisible man's life in the big city reveals little on the surface. Time Out of Mind is more of an experience, a fever dream without the fever. Characters enter and leave George's life and all the while Gere is there. His performance is staggering and unlike anything we've seen from him. Nearly Oscar nominated two years ago for his excellent work in Arbitrage, the veteran actor will likely be ignored once again this year. But he's deserving of consideration, if not from the Academy, then from us.