Playing Catch-Up — Tully; Can You Ever Forgive Me; The Smart Studios Story


Tully (Jason Reitman, 2018). Working with a script by Diablo Cody, the writer behind two of his best outings, and a compelling, vanity-free performance by Charlize Theron, director Jason Reitman creates a film that is almost jarring in its bleak comic honesty. Theron plays Marlo, a harried mother who’s just added a third child into an already kinetic household. Marlo’s wealthier brother (Mark Duplass) gifts her a night nanny to help with the new nanny, which leads to the appearance of Tully (Mackenzie Davis) at her front door. Davis is terrific as a suspicious mix of extreme competence and blithe free-spirit, but it’s Theron’s sharp emotional insights that give the film weight. Even before the plot starts flashing its sleeve-snugged cards, Theron slyly conveys the way responsibility can erode all sense of self. The film teeters from time to time, but that can happen when reaching as high as Tully does.


ever forgive

Can You Ever Forgive Me? (Marielle Heller, 2018). Broke, desperate writer Lee Israel (Melissa McCarthy) gets an influx of cash when she stumbles upon some vintage correspondence of famous figures of the past. With a small battalion of old typewriters and her own gift for literary mimicry, Lee briefly made a living peddling fake nostalgic artifacts that were probably more satisfying to collectors than their non-fiction counterparts. Based on Israel’s memoir of the malfeasance, Can You Ever Forgive? is charming in its sense of survival amidst sordidness. Without resorting to a lot of showy signifiers, director Marielle Heller convincingly finds the flavor of New York City in the early nineteen-nineties, hardscrabble but also buffed into a more acceptable shape. The same can be said for the lead character, played by McCarthy with a bruising wit, thuggish indifference to others, and just a few well-placed flickers of vulnerability. Richard E. Grant is marvelous as Lee’s roguish accomplice, and there’s a brisk sternness to Jane Curtin’s turn as Lee’s beleaguered agent.


smart studios

The Smart Studios Story (Wendy Schneider, 2016). This highly specialized music documentary is a perfect product of the Kickstarter era of nonfiction filmmaking, when every last person, place, and thing with enough fans to fill a medium-sized hotel conference room is going to get its turn on the screen. In this case, it’s the humble little recording studio that cropped up in Madison, Wisconsin and improbably became ground zero for several influential albums of the nineteen-nineties, most notably Nirvana’s Nevermind. As with many music documentaries, The Smart Studios Story is calibrated to sate the previously fascinated rather than to spur discovery for the blithe newcomer. As someone who resided seven blocks away from Smart Studios during its heyday, I fall squarely in the former camp. Rough around the edges in a way that suits the subject, Wendy Schneider’s film is engaging and amusing in equal measure, drawing upon interviews with several colorful character who passes through the studios’ doors and making an open-and-shut case in favor of the place’s magic simply through generous sampling of Smart musical output. Truth is, it is impossible for me to resist a documentary that includes a debate — no matter how brief — on the behavior of Kenosha punks.

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