On the heels of my recent film festival recaps, I saved two of my absolute favorite films for their own post. As you know, summer is not my go-to cinema season, but I do always manage to find a few gems among the superheroes, sequels, and fighting robots. And the good news is that both of these films are currently playing in theatres. (Hopefully, in theatres near you.)
During the Los Angeles Film Fest, Film Independent offered a special “members only” screening of AFTERNOON DELIGHT, written and directed by Jill Soloway. I have been following Jill Soloway since her days of writing on SIX FEET UNDER. I think that HBO series stands as one of the best ever produced for television and Jill Soloway wrote some of my favorite episodes on the show. When I heard that she made her first feature film that won her a Directing Award at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, I kept the movie on my radar.
The premise of AFTERNOON DELIGHT may seem unusual, if not far-fecthed – a bored, hipster housewife in LA visits a strip club with her husband in an attempt to heat up their marriage, and winds up bonding with a young dancer at the club whom she then takes in as a nanny and takes on as a rehabilitation project. Yet under the confident guidance of writer-director Soloway, the characters in this exploration of love, sex, initmacy, power, and choices are fully-realized souls who behave in flawed, captivating, unexpected ways. Soloway has a gift for generating conflict-ridden, realistic scenes that are alternately funny, provocative, and uncomfortable. But they’re always grounded in a deep authenticity. She gets major support from the key players in the film: Kathryn Hahn as the troubled stay-at-home mom, Juno Temple as the unapologetic stripper, and Josh Radnor as Hahn’s bewildered husband. If you like your cinema smart, I can’t recommend this movie enough.
The second film that, like AFTERNOON DELIGHT, is deeply rooted in authenticity, is the 2013 LA Film Fest Audience Award winner SHORT TERM 12. Written and directed by Destin Cretton, the film centers around a foster care facility for at-risk kids. Cretton initially crafted his story as a short, basing it upon his own experiences working at a similar type of home, before developing it into a full-length feature. While the story covers a few familiar tropes (angry youth, absent and/or abusive parents, overhwelmed caregivers), the way in which it’s handled is intelligent, refreshing, and steeped in truth. Not only is Cretton’s writing assured, but the performances he pulls out of his actors are powerful and heartbreaking.
An outstanding Brie Larson leads the charge as one of the counselors at the home who is all too familiar with the pain her young wards are going through. Joining her is John Gallagher, Jr. turning in a subtle, moving performance as another counselor on the front lines. Kaitlyn Dever and Keith Stanfield play teen residents of the home and each of them carry individual scenes offering a raw glimpse into their suffering that are simply staggering. I hope that SHORT TERM 12 receives some well-deserved love come Oscar time. Check it out!