Plan B (Natalie Morales, 2021). To invoke the movie algebra that feels inescapable in this instance, the second feature directed by Natalie Morales is Never Rarely Sometimes Always put into a polynomial equation with Booksmart to solve for the x of bruising, buoyant satire. After a fumbling sexual encounter at a party, high school student Sunny (Kuhoo Verma) is desperate to get access to emergency contraception only to find she’s stymied by regressive laws that allow pharmacists to invoke whim-like principles to bar their patron’s access to health care. Sunny looks to her best friend, Lupe (Victoria Moroles), and the two set out on a road trip to the promise of a distant Planned Parenthood facility. Working from a screenplay credited to Prathi Srinivasan and Joshua Levy, Morales does wonders maintain a tricky tone of high frothiness underpinned by poignant anxiety, even if the visual storytelling is occasionally a little wanting. Both lead actresses pop with charisma. They manage to make distinctly different characters into believable allies, which goes a long way towards giving Plan B the emotional accuracy it needs to be successful.
This Is the Sea (Mary McGuckian, 1997). The second feature film from Irish writer-director Mary McGuckian takes the Troubles of her homeland, then in an uneasy peace leading up to the Good Friday Agreement, and gives it the ol’ Romeo and Juliet treatment. Although there’s more to it than that, with lots of fraught political positioning and gangster-ish threat, the spine is troubled young romance. The film’s cast has a couple regional ringers in Gabriel Byrne and Richard Harris, both strolling through roles that are as easy to them as sipping on a Guinness. It’s more interesting to watch Samantha Morton, in her first feature film role, still trying to figure out how to contain and channel her superhuman expressiveness. McGuckian’s storytelling is earnest and clumsy. In preserving mystery, she sometimes lets the narrative become nearly inscrutable. Ambiguity goes beyond murky motivations to become simply murk. The title This Is the Sea is taken from the Waterboys’ song, and album, of the same name, and McGuckian fills the soundtrack with the band’s music. I’m lukewarm at best on the film overall, but at least that choice sent aflutter the vintage Radio Operator license pinned to the transmitter room wall in my heart.
Rumble: The Indians Who Rocked the World (Catherine Bainbridge and Alfonso Maiorana, 2017). This documentary makes a compelling case for Native American musical culture exerting a powerful, and woefully undercelebrated, influence on rock ‘n’ roll. Directors Catherine Bainbridge and Alfonso Maiorana’s journalistic work is best when they go widest, giving space for convincing audio testimony that foundational artists, such as Charley Patton, employed rhythms and tones that echoed those of the country’s indigenous people. Eventually the film gives way a procession of mini-profiles of different artists with Native American heritage, cheering their achievements and ruefully acknowledging their challenges, both unique and all too common to the rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle. Understandable as that approach might be, it starts to feel a little conventional. To be fair, there’s a certain value in that narrative mundanity, placing the often ostracized music makers on the same level as any number of other guitar slingers. If that wasn’t the intent, it can surely be the effect.