Critical Circuit #5 – September 23, 2021

Dear Evan Hansen

I am such a sucker for Broadway musicals, or just musicals in general. Even at their most basic I end up getting emotionally invested in the story or get struck by the songs and choreography. It really would take a special type of musical to just take all that wonder within me and throw it away. Well, congratulations to Dear Evan Hansen for totally stripping anything that’s compelling out of this genre. I won’t even address the elephant in the room with this one and just start with how director Stephen Chbosky was clearly out of his depth with this adaptation. Every musical number is filmed in the same flat, standard way, giving me no reason to believe they ever told this story on a big stage. But hey, maybe the music is good right? Eh, it’s passable at best. The actors are all capable singers but nobody stands out as a clear musical star, which is really saying something considering Ben Platt won the Tony for this same role. Which leads me to Platt, who looks every bit as goofy as he did in the trailer. He is blatantly older than everyone, overacting like crazy and comes across as generally unlikeable, which might be more the fault of the story. And yeah, the story is the issue here. I haven’t seen the musical, I will reserve judgement for if I do there, but on screen there is no redeeming the actions of multiple characters in this film, mainly Evan Hansen. There is certainly a message about trying to fit in and learning to be confident in yourself, these are basic fixtures of many films. But the way this story goes about getting to these stories, and the disrespectful and offensive way subject matters like suicide, mental illness, and drug abuse are thrown into this story, that are truly unforgivable. Many have asked if it’s funny to laugh at. It isn’t. It is more of a spectacle in storytelling, just seeing each scene play out wondering, “how did this story make it this far?” I have no answer to that question. There were some people in my theater who seemed to be along for the ride, but I was certainly not one of them. Say what you will about Cats but man did that one at least try to have a weird vision. This, however, is stale at its best, grossly offensive at its worst.

Lil Nas X – Montero

I love Lil Nas X, even separated from his music it is just refreshing to have a wildly successful pop star that has an equally wild personality and whose blatant marketing campaigns feel integral to his persona and not cheap label antics. I was so excited to see how his debut album would come across and no shock I had a blast with it. Singles like “Montero (Call Me By Your Name)” and “Industry Baby” were already showing Lil Nas X could keep pumping out fun pop bangers, and songs like “Dolla Sign Slime” with Megan Thee Stallion and “That’s What I Want” just prove that point further. But honestly, what impressed me most here was how genuinely heartfelt the ballads on the second half of this record felt. “Sun Goes Down” has really sat well with me since it first came out, feeling like a genuine expression of depression and despair, but moments like “Tales of Dominica” and “Void” also stood out for staying true to the pop sounds that Nas is comfortable with but translating it to more sensitive material. Just like the album cover would suggest, this is a bold record and much like his debut EP there are many genres being fit into here so sometimes it comes across as messy and disjointed but at the end of the day each track is polished and clearly thought out. Lil Nas X is certainly here to stay and hopefully it’s all growth from here.

The Card Counter

Wow, I can’t believe Paul Schrader made a movie about a cool dude who counts cards and wins big! Shockingly, this is actually not the takeaway from Schrader’s awaited follow-up to First Reformed, instead we get a dark character study of a former interrogator turned gambler. This is not a movie for everyone, something that will be pretty clear from the start as we get slow, stiffly worded monologues from Oscar Isaac’s William Tell as he navigates the blackjack circuit. Isaac’s performance here is one of his most restrained as he methodically moves from scene to scene, giving us glimpses into his haunted past. His stoic character works well against Tiffany Haddish’s natural charisma that shines through, even in a role as subdued as hers. The real conversation here is obviously around writer/director Paul Schrader who came through with a very blunt political message, one better left unspoiled, that actually had me a bit stunned. While the message itself was not unique to this film, the manner it is told did catch me off guard and did have me wanting to keep a discussion going. This is going to go under the radar for many, and will be divisive for those who do see it, but the bold vision of Schrader is definitely still on display and those who know his work will certainly want to catch this.

The Eyes of Tammy Faye

The movie that came to my mind after seeing this was Adam McKay’s Vice. Like Vice, The Eyes of Tammy Faye is a traditional biopic with a bit of an energetic, colorful edge to it. And also like Vice, you can tell the creative force behind this movie have a real disdain for many of the characters in the film. This is not to say you must remain neutral when making a biopic, that would actually be far worse in most cases, but it does cause a lot of moments to feel almost like a parody, just spoon-feeding you the central ideas while you laugh at how crazy the characters are. It helps make the story fly by but left me wondering how accurate some of these depictions really were. This is the central flaw of an otherwise very standard biopic about Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker’s rise and fall from success. If there is a reason to see this movie it is Jessica Chastain’s performance as the titular character. Not only is she physically transformed to this person but her mannerisms and body movement help capture this person and really beat life into this film. Andrew Garfield’s Jim Bakker is also impressive, nailing the nerdy charm of the televangelist well from the start, before losing all humanity very quickly. Even with the storytelling flaws, the actual events being told are fascinating and made me curious to check out the documentary this was based off of. If the story interests you, I would say it won’t hurt to check it out and see some great performances.

Indigo De Souza – Any Shape You Take

This record came out about a month ago and has slowly begun to build up some positive word of mouth so I finally checked it out and now feel obligated to put a bit of a spotlight on it. Any Shape You Take is such a refreshing entry into the indie rock canon of 2021, wearing its 90s influences on its sleeve as De Souza gives one emotive, energetic vocal performance after another. This is the kind of music that sounds like being in a small, crowded venue that smells like craft beer and cigarettes as everyone head bangs together. If that’s your vibe, definitely check this out before Indigo De Souza blows up.

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