Then Playing — My American Cousin; The Trouble with Harry; Zero Motivation

My American Cousin (Sandy Wilson, 1985). This amusing, small-scale coming-of-age drama from Canadian writer-director Sandy Wilson draws on her own childhood to tell the story of a girl on the cusp of her teenaged years (Margaret Langrick) whose drowsy summer working on her family’s orchard is upended by the arrival of the title relative (John Wildman). Wilson’s writing is crisp and observant, nicely capturing the mercurial temperaments of young people toying with the adoption of adult concerns, and her directorial strikes the correct light tone. Langrick is terrific in the lead role, deftly showing the way her character’s bravado can slip away at a moment to reveal vulnerability or the flaring passions generated by childlike logic. My American Cousin also sports a nice supporting by Richard Donat as our heroine’s beleaguered father.

The Trouble with Harry (Alfred Hitchcock, 1955). The dilemma cited in the film’s title is that Harry is deceased, discovered in the hilly outskirts of a quaint Vermont town by a hunter (Edmund Gwenn) who believes his did the poor fellow in with a errant shot. That turns out to be not true, but the misconceptions sets into a motion a series of events as seemingly upstanding individuals, including a prideful artist (John Forsythe, entertainingly stiff in the role) and Harry’s widow (Shirley MacLaine, brisk and charming in her film debut), go through great labors to dispose of the corpse. Their efforts are notably indecisive and haphazard, involve multiple burials and exhumations. The Trouble with Harry isn’t one of director Alfred Hitchcock’s more impressive efforts, but it’s fun to watch him in a more playful mode, deploying the darkest of dark comedy with deadpan joy. It feels like the proper preamble to the more varied tones at play in Alfred Hitchcock Presents, anthology series he produced that made its debut mere days after this hit theaters.

Zero Motivation (Talya Lavie, 2014). Sort of a modern M*A*S*H with the countercultural absurdity dialed down, the feature debut from Israeli writer-director Talya Lavie embeds with female soldiers slogging through their mandatory service in the military. The film is divided into a few distinct, interconnected stories, all of them wryly funny and toughened up with bruising observation. The whole cast is strong, led by Dana Ivgy as a strategic underachiever whose only passion is for setting Minesweeper records on the office computers and Nelly Tagar as a women in tear-prone misery desperate to secure a transfer to Tel Aviv. Zero Motivation is a comedy, directed with zest and just the right amount of pointed commentary.

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