Then Playing — To Leslie; Bodies Bodies Bodies; Women Talking

To Leslie (Michael Morris, 2022). The feature directorial debut of Michael Morris (who has a formidable number of prestige television helming credits to his name) plays like a throwback to the pre-Tarantino era of independent American cinema, when there was still a lot of space for small, bleak character studies. They were barely seen, mostly serving as de facto auditions for actors hoping for a chance at serious-minded major studio fare, when such cinematic efforts still existed. Andrea Riseborough plays Leslie, a woman who’s made a series of poor decisions that’s led her straight to a booze-soaked dead end. To Leslie follows her fitful attempts to repair the broken spokes of her life, partially with the patient and generous support of a motel manager (Marc Maron) willing to patiently give her a chance. Through the aggressive support of several peers, Riseborough snagged an Oscar nomination for her performance here, but her work strikes me as a cost of most acting as much as best acting. I think Maron’s is actually the stronger performance because it achieves a more understated weariness that feels more honest. Morris’s direction is relatively gentle given the melodrama and manipulation in Ryan Binaco’s screenplay.

Bodies Bodies Bodies (Halina Reijn, 2022). The first English-language feature from Dutch filmmaker Halina Reijn follows the familiar horror movie conceit of assembling a group of young people in a single space and clipping right along as they meet bloody ends in succession. Bodies Bodies Bodies draws its energy from the paranoia that rises with the body count, leading to accusatory fingers pointed in every direction. Sarah DeLappe’s screenplay isn’t quite as deft as it could be, though just enough of its swipes of satirical class commentary plunge deep and the final twist is a good one. Rachel Sennott, who was phenomenal in Shiva Baby, is a scene stealer here, veering between perplexed panic and supportive Gen Z jargon about mental health awareness and diversity. Reijn’s storytelling is clear yet devilishly playful. She glides the film over its bumpiest patches.

Women Talking (Sarah Polley, 2022). Writer-director Sarah Polley’s adaption of the Miriam Toews’s 2019 novel, Women Talking, has a seething tenacity that suits its subject. A group of women in an isolation, religious, and arguably repressive society convene to determine their collective response to a crime perpetrated against them. Polley has the confidence to let the story play out in a contained manner, which can occasionally make it seem as if she’s actually created a stage play but went ahead and made it a movie because that’s her preferred art form. She successfully operates with stern honesty about the abuses suffered by the women while avoiding exploitative sordidness. The dramatically apt stiffness of the dialogue can lead, perhaps inevitably, to a glaring-thesis quality to the film’s discussions of patriarchal oppression, toxic masculinity, and generational cycles of violence. The certainty of purpose might be the point, though. It’s a way that Women Talking insists on the vital importance of listening to what is being said.

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