Laggies (Lynn Shelton, 2014). There are other films that depict a twenty-something character’s panicked retreat from the looming responsibility of adulthood, but few make the minor insurrection as charmingly pathetic as Laggies. Directed by Lynn Shelton (working from someone else’s script for the only time in her film career), the feature follows Megan (Keira Knightly), who is knocked into crisis when her longtime boyfriend (Mark Webber) proposes. Pretending to go to a self-help seminar, Megan instead falls into an extended sleepover with a high schooler (Chloë Grace Moretz) she accidentally befriends, eventually falling for the girls’ lawyer father (Sam Rockwell) in the process. As was her custom, Shelton directs the film with laudable grace and elegant wit, bringing deep humanity to the frothy plot. Knightley is inspired in the lead role, playing the character’s bumbling approach to her quarter-life crisis without resorting to comic mockery. Instead, Knightly brings stealth poignancy to the role, which provides added triumph to the inevitable turn toward making choices that will free her from her own smothering uncertainty.
This Changes Everything (Tom Donahue, 2018). Prompted by the important studies of entertainment industry gender equity — or lack thereof — undertaken by the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media, this documentary is a properly withering appraisal of the overvaluing of male voices in the creation of cinematic art. This Changes Everything is a title of thunderous irony, echoing all the times the phrase was deployed when a female-centered work finally broke through in the marketplace only to be instinctually reevaluated as an aberration when studio production slates returned to their lineups of films about white men making things go boom. Director Tom Donahue does a decent job of pulling together archival clips and fresh interviews with an impressive array of creators, but the topic is almost overwhelming, deserving of a multi-night assessment rather than a single film. Still, by providing a platform for the institution’s research and the responding voices, especially that of Davis herself, This Changes Everything does a mighty service.
Buck and the Preacher (Sidney Poitier, 1972). The directorial debut of Sidney Poitier — who came to the task reluctantly after original hire Joseph Sargent was given his walking papers — Buck and the Preacher is a fine example a Hollywood Western from the waning days of the once dominant genre. It’s representative quality extends to carrying some of the common flaws, notably a tendency towards overly sedate pacing and the third-act shootout that seems to take forever. Primarily, though, the film has a bold spirit and a sharp point of view. Poitier is stalwart and true as Buck, a specialist in guiding post–Civil War Black citizens away from the continued persecution of the U.S. South to the — somewhat theoretically — promise of more secure freedoms to the West. It’s Harry Belafonte who walks away with the picture, thanks to a lively, crafty performance as the title’s other character, a minister with a conveniently flexible moral code. It’s a dandy piece of character acting, shorn of vanity and rich with personality.