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BODIED For the first hour, I understand the rapturous feedback — standing ovations and everything! — that Bodied won when it played the Toronto and Fantastic Fest film festivals a year ago. Right from the jump, we’re treated to a hilarious depiction of battle-rap culture that’s both intensely verbose and hysterically absurd. We first see our protagonist, grad student Adam Merkin (American Vandal’s Calum Worthy), at a grimy rap battle, trying — and failing — to teach his pedantic girlfriend (Rory Uphold) how to overlook the misogyny, violence and homo- phobia these rappers spew and appreciate it
for the wordy, witty spectacle it is. Since he’s writing a thesis paper on the use of the N-word in battle rap, he goes to a master, Behn Grymm (Jackie Long), for research. For some reason, Grymm ropes Merkin into an impromptu rap battle (Merkin’s opponent’s name: Billy Pistolz) and, after discovering how good he is at incisive wordplay, gets immediately hooked on the com- petitions. Lord only knew there was so much to make fun of in rap culture, which Bodied does with proudly redonkulous fervor. It’s such fun watching this profane silliness unfold that it pissed me off when Bodied took a sharp turn in the second half. While the movie does address white people’s thorny relationship with rap and cultural appropriation, it demonstrates how delicate satirizing that can be when it gets kind of serious near the end — a long, long end — and suggests that being the best at battle rap can also mean being the worst. (Craig D. Lindsey)
GO BOYERASEDJoelEdgerton’sBoyErased centers on a school committed to the opposite of education, a school of cruel ignorance and unlearning,asortofreverseHogwartscom- mitted to tearing away each student’s singular essence and disgorging into the world muggle after muggle. Based on Garrard Conley’s memoir, the film finds a young man coming
out as gay to his evangelical parents and then being packed off to what their set calls “gay conversion therapy,” a term so specious and detestable it should never be afforded the dignity of appearing without scare quotes. Both book and movie stand as vital exposés of abusive zealotry, of the Dickensian char- latans and tormentors running programs that purport to straighten out LGBTQ kids, but also of the parents and church communities willing to overlook those kids’ mistreatment. Boy Erased plays out as something like reportage. It documents with an incisive drabness the group sessions, garbled sermons and general shoddiness of Love in Action, the program
in which 19-year-old Jared (Lucas Hedges)
is enrolled by his parents, played by Nicole Kidman and Russell Crowe. Director Edgerton resists the impulse toward satire. Instead, he holds to Jared’s perceptions, showing us how a thoughtful young man slowly learns that the adults in charge of his life know less about the world than he does. The dramatic throughline is Jared’s growing certainty that the only real sin he sees is Love in Action itself. There’s not much for him to do in many scenes, though, other than to observe and look increasingly uncertain. When Jared finally erupts, Hedges nimbly navigates the character’s hurt, fear and burgeoning pride — his relief at having at last found his voice. (Alan Scherstuhl)
THE GRIEF OF OTHERS Working with deliber- ately limited resources, writer-director Patrick Wang revels in technical gaucherie that would hinder lesser filmmakers. The Grief of Others, Wang’s second film, which premiered at SXSW in 2015 and is now receiving a brief theatrical run, brims with blasted-out light, poorly recorded di- alogue and clumsy fadeouts. Certain sequences are incoherent unless you’ve at least skimmed Leah Hager Cohen’s novel; in one of many hal- lucinatory scenes, a female character morphs mid-conversation into a male one, and Wang doesn’t bother explaining who he is, during or after. Yet these peculiarities are jarring rather than embarrassing. Wang has clearly studied Jon Jost, who also crafts bleak, family-in-free- fall tales with nothing but a camera, a small town, bare-bones interiors and a jaded heart to his name. Whether it all sinks or swims depends largely on the acting, and Wang’s ensemble here is excellent. Particularly, it includes the un- nervingly Christina Ricci–esque Oona Laurence, as a truant, precocious preteen, and Sonya Harum, as her eccentric, unexpectedly pregnant half-sister. Harum reunites with members of this dead-eyed clan, who are still mourning
the death of an infant and that tragedy’s en- suing betrayals and estrangement. As the title suggests, she latches on to their peril — and that of an androgynous townie (the charmingly off-kilter Mike Faist) — to distract from her own, in vain. Wang favors static, wide, one-take shots, to underscore the relentlessness of his characters’ suffering. But — like Jost — he also has a knack for primitive in-camera effects. The final shot is a triumph of both economy and feel- ing: a silent park burial superimposed — burning projector–style — over an empty kitchen. (Sam Weisberg)
MARIABYCALLASThefrustratingdocMariaby Callas reduces Greek-American opera diva Maria Callas to a misunderstood celebrity who de- voted herself to a calling and a lover that never gave as much to her as she did to them. Director Tom Volf makes his rickety case for Callas as
a tragic figure by cherry-picking quotes from
a variety of her interviews and documents, focusing primarily on paparazzi footage, private letters and Callas’ unpublished memoirs. Clips of Callas singing some of her most famous
arias are purported to speak to her disappoint- ment with bad reviews and persistent gossip about her affair with shipping tycoon Aristotle Onassis. Volf claims in the film’s press notes that the melancholic “Vissi d’arte” aria from La Traviata, its refrain translating to “I lived for art, I lived for love,” actually “summarizes [Callas’] whole existence.” Volf unconvincingly presents Callas — a commanding performer who also famously had a Patti LuPone–sized ego — as a passive martyr. Volf supports his interpretation of Callas’ personality with soundbites from her understandably guarded televised appearances, all of which devolve into terse discussions about her years-long romance with Onassis.
In these clips, Callas talks about how she had to choose between a career as a singer and a more traditional life as a wife (she repeatedly says that she could not successfully be both). Volf’s refusal to address key choices that Callas made to shape her own career and fight her in- securities suggests that he’d prefer to imagine Callas as a victim of fate — and bronchitis, fame, Onassis, etc. — instead of a strong-willed but human prima donna. (Simon Abrams)
MONROVIA, INDIANA Look, the good people
of Monrovia, Indiana, wouldn’t show up to see a quiet, observational movie about your life. But thanks to your curiosity, decency and cosmopolitanism, you might have interest
and access to watching Frederick Wiseman’s film about theirs. It won’t tell you much you wouldn’t have guessed already. This farm town is quiet, home to an aging population of folks who gab at the cafe about their physical ther- apy, and a planning commission eager to find any excuse it can to stop builders from adding 150 new homes to a subdivision. The granaries and silos still do some business, and the hog farm is horizon-wide, its pens as dense with squealing swine as the ball pit at a McDonald’s playground is with well-germed plastic. Ever patient and always attentive to local history, Wiseman shows us a funeral, a touch-and-go school band concert, a grisly operation at a vet’s office, the gaudy stillness of a rural gro- cery store, an all-ages aerobics class and the crushing bore that is a Freemason ceremony. The film’s most arresting, revealing passages concern that local planning board. Some board members fear a subdivision’s inevitable ex- pansion — and, in one member’s vague phrase, “demographic change.” No one presses him on what that means, though another board mem- ber insists that the police are already called out to that subdivision almost once a day. Wiseman doesn’t engage with immigration or migrant labor in his town portrait, which helps make Monrovia, Indiana a stubborn entry into his canon. Many of his subjects are invested
in the continuity of what they perceive as a timeless American normalcy, but they’re too
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