Then Playing — Decision to Leave; The Wonder; Fun with Dick and Jane

Decision to Leave (Park Chan-wook, 2022). Working from a script he co-wrote with Jeong Seo-kyeong, Park Chan-Wook meticulous crafts a sly modern noir. Jang Hae-jun (Park Hae-il) is a police detective with a keen dedication to his work and a hobbling insomnia. While investigating a case involving a dead mountain climber (Yoo Seung-mok), he gradually develops a near-obsessive interest in the prime suspect, a young woman named Song Seo-rae (Tang Wei). In his storytelling and visual construction, Park dazzles at every twisty turn. Decision to Leave is packed with satisfying plot details and carries a lot of thematic weight all the way through, right to its emotionally bruising, fiercely challenging ending. There’s also a palpable physicality to individual scenes that heightens the stakes. Although inventively stylized, the repercussions feel almost alarmingly real. Performances are strong across the board, with Tang doing especially strong work in a role that requires sneaky subtlety.

The Wonder (Sebastián Lelio, 2022). Director Sebastián Lelio’s adaptation of Emma Donoghue’s 2016 novel, The Wonder, properly commits to the grubbiness of provincial life in the middle of the nineteenth century while also adopting an occasionally deployed conceit that emphasizes artifice. Florence Pugh plays Elizabeth Wright, a nurse hired to be one of the monitors of a young girl (Kila Lord Cassidy) who’s apparently been fasting for months without showing any physical effects, claiming divine nourishment is keeping her hale. Pugh is strong as always, but too much of the film simpers around her, never finding a consistent rhythm or even much of a point of view. The narrative is prickly enough that its easy to see how this could have been shaped into a compelling work. Instead, The Wonder is sort of a plod.

Fun with Dick and Jane (Ted Kotcheff, 1977). This black comedy follows Dick and Jane Harper (George Segal and Jane Fonda, respectively) as they drift into a life of crime after the former loses his lucrative position as an aerospace executive. The screenplay (credited to David Giler, Jerry Belson, and Mordecai Richler) take some satiric swings at the conspicuous consumption and the self-perpetuating caste systems of U.S. society, but it also proceeds with just enough shaggy tendency towards distraction that the commentary doesn’t land the knockout blows of its most formidable contemporaries. As might be expected, some of the comedy in Fun with Dick and Jane hasn’t aged all that way, but there are unexpectedly progressive moments, too, such as Dick making transphobic statements being treated as ignorance that eventually helps contribute to his comeuppance. Fonda is fun and engaging in the film, even if she’s clearly treating it as a role to charismatically slide through rather than one to really dig into.

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