Tough All Over
The last day of the Tribeca Film Festival brings a kind of closure. It’s not just the audience favorites and competition winners stacked up on the final Sunday, though that certainly helps. The mood at the theaters seems both looser and more organized. It’s as though all the staff members have everything down solid, the ticket scanning and cordoning off of VIP seats. With that confidence comes a relaxation, as well as the wistful knowledge that tomorrow the theaters will get back to the business of showing Fast Five and Rio.
One of those safer choices on this last day was Anne Renton’s The Perfect Family, which had its world premiere earlier in the Festival. Kathleen Turner plays Eileen Cleary, one of the more fearsome examples of the genus church lady ever to narrow her eyes in judgment on a movie screen. She’s one of those fluttering assistants who keeps her local church humming along, attending morning mass, delivering food to shut-ins, confessing once a day when possible. The monsignor (Richard Chamberlain) has just told her that she’s one of finalists for the Catholic Woman of the Year Award. What’s more, the archbishop of Dublin is flying over to give the winner a prayer of absolution.
This news throws Eileen into a state of nervous chaos. She’s worried about the selection committee’s home visit, as her family might reveal their imperfections. Her husband (Michael McGrady) might leave one of his Alcoholics Anonymous books in view. Her son (Jason Ritter) just left his wife and child. While she’s happy to hear that her daughter Shannon (Emily Deschanel) might be coming, she might also be bringing her girlfriend.
Claire V. Riley and Paula Goldberg’s screenplay nicely balances the comic aspects of Eileen’s rigidity and discomfort with a more sympathetic story about her trying to come to grips with the world as she sees it, not as she wants it. When she barks, “I don’t have to think, I’m a Catholic!” it’s both a great laugh line and a point about the appeal of strict theology to a certain kind of personality. Turner seems to be having a ball playing this character, who is never reduced to caricature. Although she bristles with intolerance repeatedly, Eileen’s inability to see why everybody in her family won’t just do what they’re supposed to do is so primal and hard-wired that it’s almost painful to watch.
The Perfect Family might have taken more risks. The prevailing mood is that of a Hallmark Channel film, where the plot and symbols are just too bright and obvious and squared away. But the script’s insights into Eileen, not to mention Turner’s tough-as-nails performance, are more rewarding than the usual drama of appearances. She’s not only a church lady, but a mother who realizes too late that the harder she tries to hang on, the more her control slips away.
Control is also an issue in Norwegian writer/director Jannicke Systad Jacobsen’s growing-up comedy, Turn me on, goddammit (Få meg på, for faen). This smart, tart film took home the Best Screenplay - Narrative Award, an unusual unanimous decision by the diverse jury, made up of Souleymane Cissé, Scott Glenn, David Gordon Green, Rula Jebreal, Art Linson, Jason Sudeikis, and Dianne Wiest.
The story concerns 15-year-old Alma (Helene Bergsholm), feeling confined in a small mountain town in Norway. She’s miserable and confused in the usual teenage sense, flipping off the town sign whenever she passes it, and dreaming of life elsewhere. Specifically, she’s dreaming of a boy in her class, Artur (Matias Myren), whom she imagines climbing in her bedroom window on moonlit nights. When not indulging in this fantasy, she rings up a sizeable bill on a phone sex line.
One evening Alma finds herself standing outside a party with Artur. What should have been a perfect moment to tell him everything turns instantly awkward. When she tells a few friends what happened, they spread the story all over school, and the next day, Alma has an obscene nickname so catchy that even the little kids who live near her house sing it while jumping on their trampoline. Because Artur is popular, she’s made the outcast, and her angry withdrawals into daydreams become ever more frequent.
Jacobsen—a documentary maker who adapted the screenplay from a novel by Olaug Nilssen—has a quite possibly perfect approach to her subject matter. Shooting in a Scandinavian palette of pale greys and blues that emphasizes the dreamy aspect of Alma’s personality, she constructs a melodrama that bridges fairytale and realistic forms. For all of Alma’s anger and bleak outlook, the film maintains a perspective on events and her reactions that she can’t have.
The film reveals as well a delicate sense of comedy, attuned to the acute embarrassments, social minefields, and roaring squalls of adolescence. It understands the passing fancies and worries of the teenager, whether it’s Alma’s pointless aggression with her single mother or her friend Saralou’s (Malin Bjørhovde) habit of writing chatty letters to death row prisoners in Texas. (Saralou’s belief that the prisoners might be interested in happenings at her high school because “things are tough all over” is one of the better gags in a film that’s full of them.) Turn me on, goddammit knows that these things will pass, even if the kids do not.
Turn me on, goddammit
The Perfect Family
Turn me on, goddammit (Få meg på, for faen)