DownStream – Globetrotting

If you’ve ever read this blog during Awards Season, there is probably one theme above all others that you could key in on, and that is the fact that I utterly despise the Golden Globe Awards. I hate the way they try to one-up the Academy even though they only care about celebrities rather than the craft of filmmaking. I hate that several movies and TV shows get nominated weeks ahead of their premieres, so that the nominations in and of themselves can be used for marketing. And most of all, I hate that the Hollywood Foreign Press Association is so easily bribed by studios, networks, and production companies to get those ad-friendly nods. It’s a dirty, corrupt process only occasionally redeemed by Ricky Gervais hosting the ceremony and roasting the famous people who willingly participate.

Suffice to say, I’m not a fan. It’s gotten to the point where I won’t even post the nominees or winners on this blog anymore, because I don’t even want my limited sphere of influence to acknowledge them beyond the absolute minimum. That said, the constant bad form does pay off, as many Academy voters and members of the various trade guilds do see the Globes as a bellwether, being one of the first awards shows of the season, and will occasionally cast their own ballots by taking cues from the HFPA rather than watching the actual movies up for consideration.

As such, the actions of the approximately 100 people in the organization (I literally have more subscribers on this piddly little blog) cannot be fully written off or ignored. When the nominations were announced just over two weeks ago, I found that I had already covered most of the hopefuls. Of the films I hadn’t seen, most would be released later in December (again, announcing that something is among the year’s best before anyone can see it is shady as fuck), but there were four that had already been released that I missed for one reason or another. All of them were available on streaming services, so I figured, what the hell? It requires almost no effort on my part to watch them, in at least three cases I had planned to anyway but they fell by the wayside, and on the off chance any of these movies wind up with Oscar nominations, then they’re already cleared off my docket before I begin the Blitz properly.

So, for the first time ever, not that I care, I have all but inadvertently cleared the entire field for the 80th Golden Globe Awards (at least on the film side, I have never given a crap about the TV side of the equation). With that dubious accomplishment under my belt, let’s take a quick look at four films likely banking on momentum from the HFPA to get the Academy’s attention!

Good Luck to You, Leo Grande – Hulu

This was initially deemed ineligible for Academy consideration because it did not have a qualifying theatrical run and debuted on Hulu after AMPAS reverted back to pre-COVID requirements. This caused a wee bit of controversy, partly because there was almost no grace period for studios and distributors to adjust their release schedules, and partly because Emma Thompson intended to campaign hard for Best Actress. After an appeal, the film was allowed, and now Thompson is up for a Globe. The question is, does she deserve it?

Honestly, I’d say yes. In one of the better examples of pandemic filmmaking, Thompson and her co-star Daryl McCormack both deserve consideration for this very smart, very funny, and very endearing look at sexual awakening. It handles its sensitive subject matter with grace and good humor, a sort of exercise in exposure therapy to all of our collective hang-ups about sex work and repression, all accomplished inside a single hotel room (and a café later on). It’s minimalist, but effective.

Thompson plays Nancy, a retired schoolteacher – ironically in religious education – who has hired an escort named Leo (McCormack) because she’s been widowed and has never had an orgasm. Her late husband is the only sexual partner she’s ever had, and she faked it every time because it was only standard missionary with no foreplay (he considered oral sex degrading). Taking place over the course of four “sessions,” it’s fascinating to watch Nancy come out of her shell and truly experience sexuality for the first time in her life.

Meanwhile, Leo is an amazing character, pragmatic about his work, meticulous in his desire to give pleasure, and incredibly patient and caring. He acts as confidante and mentor, helping to ease Nancy through her insecurities, keying on body language and words to tailor his approach, while also setting firm boundaries and guiding Nancy with an assertive hand. It’s one of the film’s finer distinctions that he makes clear that he delivers a fantasy to his clients, but will not let them succumb to any illusions about their business relationship.

Both sides of this dynamic work wonders because each one is eminently relatable. Nancy represents the desires we dare not speak aloud for fear of judgment, while Leo operates without reservation, but not without shame for his circumstances when he’s off the clock. It’s the world’s oldest profession for a reason, because sex is a human need and can be rendered as an essential service, but it’s also considered taboo due to restrictive laws, religious doctrine, or simply the stigma of admitting you need release but don’t have an outlet for it.

At its core, the film is about understanding, whether it relates to Leo’s work, our basic impulses, or just having an appreciation and affection for your own life and body. So many things in this world get in the way of that understanding, and it’s refreshing when people can just sit down and speak frankly about something we all experience. And if you can have a mind-blowing orgasm in the process, so much the better.

Grade: A-

The Good Nurse – Netflix

Eddie Redmayne is nominated for Supporting Actor here as serial killer Charlie Cullen, a nurse who was convicted of murdering 29 patients in Pennsylvania and New Jersey over a period of several years (those are only the confirmed cases, the real number could be in the hundreds) by dosing IV bags with insulin and digoxin. The overall film is about the investigation into Cullen spearheaded by local police and Cullen’s colleague, Amy Loughren (Jessica Chastain).

I’m not the biggest fan of Redmayne, but for the most part, I think he does a good job. He’s not nearly as meek or reserved as he is in other roles, nor is he over-the-top villainous like in Jupiter Ascending. He adopts more of a “devil you know” persona, occasionally saying something awkward or off-putting, particularly when talking about previous jobs or his ex-wife, but for the most part he presents as a caring, decent person who’s genuinely concerned for the well-being of his patients and for Amy’s family (she has two daughters who think of Charlie as an uncle).

The opening scene of the film is a perfect example of his characterization. As the camera slowly zooms in on a hospital room, a code blue is sounded and doctors rush in. Meanwhile, Redmayne as Cullen simply steps back, ostensibly to give the doctors space, and just stands against the back wall watching the patient die, their spasming legs visible through the doorframe. It’s an absolutely brilliant establishment, and it informs the very methodical ways in which Cullen takes out his victims by essentially hiding in plain sight.

Where the film falls a bit short is with all the stuff on the periphery. The script gets too far into the weeds when it comes to things like Amy’s heart condition (she needs a transplant but has no insurance for her first year on the job) or the hospital where Amy and Charlie work doing their best to cover up one of the deaths for fear of malpractice liability. Because there’s no real mystery in the proceedings, opting for a more procedural approach as evidence is discovered with Charlie being the only suspect, the momentum of the story is brought to a dead stop whenever we shift gears to this stuff. I understand why these tangents exist; in the former it’s because Chastain has top billing so she has to have screen time and story arcs to justify it, and in both cases the film is making a statement about the state of our healthcare system, where money rules all and corrupts everything. In a vacuum, these are ideas worth exploring, but within the context of this particular story, they’re little more than distractions.

Grade: B-

Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris – Peacock

Lesley Manville was previously nominated for an Oscar in Phantom Thread, a movie about a dressmaker, so it’s only natural that her next potential nomination is for a film where she herself gets to buy a dress! That’s how this whole process works, right? No? Okay, then, it’ll just have to be because she’s fantastic in this film.

I had planned to see this when it came out over the summer, as it’s yet another entry in the unofficial Daft Middle-Aged British Disruptors Cinematic Universe that played over the course of the year (along with The Duke, Brian and Charles, and The Phantom of the Open). Based on the 1958 novel by Paul Gallico, the film sees Manville as a cleaning lady and war widow, who in the course of her work comes across a dress that a client bought from the House of Dior. Never having even a taste of luxury in her life, she saves up her money and flies to France to buy one of her own, challenging the elitism of haute couture in the process.

This plucky little adventure is chock full of humor and heart, led by Manville in a fairly simple role where she plainly asks to be treated as an equal, one whose money is just as good as anyone else’s. Her innate kindness opens doors for her, while her sense of fairness and justice turn a small sector of the fashion world on its ear. A game supporting cast led by Jason Isaacs, Isabelle Huppert, Rose Williams, and Lambert Wilson give Manville plenty of opportunities to shine, and a subplot featuring Alba Baptista and Lucas Bravo feels like a delightful redux of Roman Holiday.

But really what makes this film special, like all the others in the DMABDCU is in how small the scale and stakes are. There’s something oh so satisfying about looking your best, even if it’s just for a little while. I’m a t-shirt and jeans kind of guy, always have been. Fashion has literally never mattered to me. But I do clean up nice when the occasion calls for it. The first time I felt like I had accomplished something in my career was over 15 years ago when I got my first ever bonus check and used it to buy a tailored suit. I had never had my own suit before as I grew up poor, and whatever sport jackets were on the rack at the thrift store either didn’t fit or didn’t match anything else I had. So when I finally got to wear that suit, I felt like a different person, like the best version of myself. I still have it, though I haven’t worn it in years. I haven’t had a new suit since, but maybe next year I’ll be able to afford to treat myself. If nothing else, my measurements have definitely changed in the intervening years, and it’d be nice to update the wardrobe ever so slightly.

That’s the whole point of Mrs. Harris and all the other films of its accidental ilk in 2022. The vast majority of people don’t have delusions or aspirations of fame and fortune. We all just want to live our lives in peace, be able to pay our bills, and occasionally have a little something that’s just for us, a mark of our progress through life. That’s it. The fact that there are people with the power, means, and (for some reason) desire to stop us having these small victory laps is why it’s so important for stories like this to get told, whether they’re real or fictitious. The more that people in high positions try to stymie the dignity of those they deem beneath them, the more crucial it is that we fight back to assert ourselves and demand our share.

Grade: B+

Where the Crawdads Sing – Netflix

Of all the films on this list, this is the most likely to get an Oscar nomination, specifically for Original Song. Taylor Swift wrote and recorded “Carolina” for the credits, and it has already garnered nods with the Hollywood Music in Media Awards, the People’s Choice Awards (both losses), the Golden Globes, the Satellite Awards, the Critics’ Choice Awards, and the Grammys. It was shortlisted by the Academy last week. I’d say its odds are good. And while I am very much a hater who’s gonna hate hate hate hate hate, I will admit the song isn’t bad. It’s not nearly as offensive as her normal “blame everyone but me” schlock, the simple guitar melody is nice, and Swift actually stretches her range a bit, singing in a much lower register than normal. I wouldn’t vote for it, but I also wouldn’t rage at anyone who did.

As for the movie itself, well, I think I need to institute a new rule for future entries, perhaps as a guideline for “This Film is Not Yet Watchable.” It goes like this: If the advertising mentions something along the lines of “Based on the best-selling novel,” I will immediately consider that a red flag, because, pointedly, the phrase is “best-selling” novel, not “critically-acclaimed” or even “good” novel. I don’t care how much money a book, movie, song, or whatever makes. If it’s crap, it’s crap, and this is crap. Quantity does not equal quality, people!

You can tell that we’re in for something bad just from the opening credits. As soon as the title hits the screen and the names of the various cast members are revealed, guess what comes next. Is it the casting director? Is it the writer? Is it the adaptation credit? The costuming, the cinematography, the editing, the fucking director? None of the above. As soon as the cast is shown, the very next credit is for… the goddamn Taylor Swift song. Either T-Swizzle put an insane rider into her contract to get that high of billing despite not a single note of the track playing during the actual film, or the producers knew this was the best possible selling point they had. “Hey, everyone, we know this is gonna suck, but please pay $20 in the theatre to hear one Taylor song!” Yikes.

Delia Owens’ 2018 book of the same name has done gangbusters, selling 15 million copies in only four years. Good for her, I guess. The story is still nothing to speak of. It’s half courtroom drama, half romance novel, and entirely boring. In 1969, in the fictional coastal marsh town of Barkley Cove, NC, a young woman named Kya Clark (Daisy Edgar-Jones) is on trial for the murder of her ex-boyfriend, Chase Andrews (Harris Dickinson), who was the star of the high school football team. Dubbed “Marsh Girl,” Kya has lived her entire life in a shack along the marsh, abandoned by her mother and siblings who fled her abusive father (Garret Dillahunt), who then also left.

As she grew up alone, she was mocked for being different (particularly because she was poor and illiterate), until she eventually became friends with a fisherman named Tate Walker (Taylor John Smith). He teaches her to read and write, and they form a romantic relationship (with all the PG-13 implied nudity you can handle!). Noticing that Kya can draw very well and identify different species of shells and birds, he encourages her to submit her sketches to a publisher and become a naturalist author. Those ambitions are put on hold when Tate leaves for college and doesn’t come back to her later on as promised. An eventual second relationship with Chase begins innocently enough, but soon devolves into violence and rape before his death. As Kya’s lawyer (David Straithairn) points out, there’s no proof Chase’s death wasn’t an accident, and it certainly shouldn’t be tried as a capital offense against this poor girl who’s been an outcast all her life.

So, long story short, it’s your standard love triangle with sprinkles of a murder mystery where there is no actual mystery, because even in 1969 a case so flimsy would never be allowed in court, at least not against a white defendant. In fact, this story has a lot of weird whitewash coding in it, particularly the part where “Marsh Girl” is hurled around as if it’s the n-word when slandering Kya, even though the movie itself goes to great lengths to make sure she’s the prettiest, purest girl in creation. I cringe the more I think about it. Edgar-Jones does a fine enough job in the lead role, but I didn’t buy one second of anything that was going on.

It’s all way too basic while trying to sound profound, and it certainly doesn’t help that the characters are so paper-thin in their motivations. Tate’s last name is “Walker,” and he walks away from Kya. “Chase” stalks and pursues Kya to the point of assault. To have both of them on opposite ends of the romantic triad is to make their entire dynamic into a literal hunt, supplemented by the laziest trope of faux-feminist writing, condemning nearly every man as an abuser, liar, and rapist.

So in the end, this is a poorly-written melodrama about an unquestionably brilliant and perfect woman, beaten down by men that don’t appreciate her, whose creative and intellectual superiority has to shine through without any semblance of self-reflection, because by design, she’s not allowed to have any flaws.

No wonder Taylor Swift agreed to write a song for it.

Grade: C-

Join the conversation in the comments below! Did you see these films? Do you put any stock in the Golden Globes? Do you have a suit or dress that gives you confidence when you wear it? Let me know!

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