Palm Springs (Max Barbakow, 2020). Constructed around the sort of metaphysical comedic premise that allows for careening chaos and popping-candy metaphors for the toil of personal development, Palm Springs is a sprightly diversion. Nyles (Andy Samberg) and Sarah (Cristin Milioti) connect at a wedding, and their beach canoodling is startlingly interrupted. From there it only gets wilder, but the less known, the better. Andy Siara’s screenplay is restlessly clever, even if it sometimes tinkers with its own rules to suit the dramatic needs of the moment, and Max Barbakow directs with the proper zingy precision and a fine visual sense. Samberg does a nice job as a schlub whose resigned himself to a dismal, exhausting situation, but the film belongs to Milioti. Her character comes to oddball circumstance with fresh eyes, and Milioti expertly twists her performance through a myriad of reactions, making each sharp turn comes across as natural, logical, and emotionally sound.
Shirley (Josephine Decker, 2020). Among modern performers, no one commits to onscreen madness with quite the same relish as Elisabeth Moss. It’s such a prominent part of her acting persona that her work is threatening to become its own genre, as assuredly as Christopher Walken once specialized in making his own little movie happen inside of other projects. In Shirley, Moss plays author Shirley Jackson, living with her professor husband, Stanley Edgar Hyman (Michael Stuhlbarg, offering a less gentle variant of his Call Me By Your Name character) in Vermont at about the time her landmark short story “The Lottery” make its initial, controversial appearance in The New Yorker. The pair of them open their home to a young couple, Rose (Odessa Young) and Fred (Logan Lerman). Soon, the head games get underway. Moss is characteristically fearless in her portrayal, sidling right up the edge of being too broad without quite tipping over into outright hamminess. Young does as admirable job of keeping up, as if she’s officially auditioning to be Moss’s heir apparent. Director Josephine Decker does a dandy job of imbuing intellectual combat with woozy dread usually reserved for the most gruesome of horror movies, even if it’s sometimes off-putting that the story takes such broad liberties of imposing florid behavior on the lives of real people who lived in the recent past.
The Go-Go’s (Alison Eastwood, 2020). There’s an almost unavoidably rote quality to this documentary about the pop powerhouses that enjoyed record-setting chart success with their debut album, Beauty and the Beat. Mixing archival footage with band member interviews and some stray commentary from outside admires, The Go-Go’s sometimes feels like a more accomplished, slightly longer episode of the old VH1 show Behind the Music. It’s bolstered, however, by a thin layer of aggrieved conviction: Alison Eastwood seems hellbent on earning the quintet of talented women a level of respect that was too often denied them. Eastwood dutifully recounts the highs and lows of the band’s beginnings, their quick, unexpected rise, and their precipitous collapse (they broke up a mere three years after their debut took the top spot on the Billboard album chart) and glides blithely past the long, complicated tangle of multiple lawsuits and stop-start reunion efforts since. The greatest gift the film provides is ample evidence that the Go-Go’s were pure fire during their earliest club gigs, enlivened because they were underestimated.