CommonSpace film critic Scott Wilson takes a look at the big movies of the moment
The nation’s favourite Chris (probably), the nation’s favourite PM (most certainly) and the nation’s favourite stop-motion film of the year (hopefully) make for a strong week.
Gifted – ★★★★☆
Despite looking like a run-of-the-mill tearjerker, Gifted has a lot going for it. In Chris Evans and Mckenna Grace it has two believable leads, flawed yet fighting for what they believe in. Its child-genius story is handled with maturity, and deals not only with the perks but also what the weight of expectation can do to a person.
Mckenna Grace’s Mary is a seven-year-old maths whizz. After her mother died, she was taken in by her uncle Frank (Chris Evans), where they live in a welcomingly normal and working class home surrounded by pleasant neighbours, including the particularly warm Roberta (Octavia Spencer).
Frank’s mum (Lindsay Duncan) feels Mary belongs in a special school for gifted children, while Frank is adamant she should have a normal upbringing. This family tussle moves to the courtroom as neither is willing to budge – should Mary be pushed, or should the family learn from its past?
There’s the sacrifice and modesty that comes with putting someone else first, and it’s all from the heart.
Evans is the protagonist so it’s no surprise which way the film wants you to lean, but it earns that support through the chemistry between Evans and Grace. Rather than exploit a vulnerable youngster for fame, he’s determined that she enjoys her youth and has fun, placing stock in friends, hobbies, and experiences.
It’s a naturally paternal performance even if he’s actually her uncle. There’s the sacrifice and modesty that comes with putting someone else first, and it’s all from the heart. While a few of the courtroom scenes distract away from the film’s strong points, when it hits its mark it’s great.
The benefit of having such likable characters is how it elevates everything else. Because we care about them the dialogue is funnier than most of 2017’s comedies, and because we believe in them it means rather than be a disposable Hallmark film, Gifted is a genuine delight.
Churchill – ★★★☆☆
Often ranked among the greatest Britons ever to have lived, the film Churchill removes the bravado and the inspirational speeches, leaving a haunted and torn man. Hallucinating visions of blood washing up on English shores, the death toll is taking its own toll on the man who was fighting the war long before the Americans decided to join in.
John Slattery’s Dwight D. Eisenhower is confident and amid a political stride, while Brian Cox’s Churchill is lumbering, quick to anger, and losing control. Eisenhower’s plan for Normandy is either the path to victory or it’s a slaughter that will leave the Allies in tatters. Churchill is at a loss, believing he knows better, having learned lessons from World War I, but is ill-equipped to intervene.
If nothing else, the film shows another side of a man often portrayed as the nation’s rock. Ella Purnell’s Helen Garrett, Churchill’s secretary, praises him for his morale-boosting speeches and leadership, acting as a substitute for how we usually see him.
In private he’s shaken, questioning his legacy. He becomes despondent when his pessimism overwhelms his steadfast spirit.
Humanising Churchill may be a way to make contemporary audiences engage with him in a way we often haven’t.
Humanising Churchill may be a way to make contemporary audiences engage with him in a way we often haven’t – his flaws are typically glanced over, and he is remembered for his role in World War II while everything else is pushed aside. Other than showing him to be shakier than we might expect, that remains true here.
It’s just over an hour and a half long, but it really does drag. Each plodding step and each gravelly proclamation is like the swing of a grandfather clock. Across the sea is a hellfire waiting to happen in a mass of kinetic chaos, yet at home everything is rather lethargic.
So while it has its upsides, particularly Brian Cox and the film’s reshaping of what we think of Churchill as a figure, it often feels like a TV drama, and never hits any emotional peaks. In its intimacy it aims too low, developing Churchill just enough to show this other side to him, but just slightly. It could have been much more.
My Life as a Courgette – ★★★★★
A fragile little film that could only be told via stop-motion, its delicateness mirroring that of the mentalities of its pre-adolescent protagonists.
Brought together in an orphanage, the innocence of adorable clay model kids is juxtaposed with harsh and harrowing realities. Each backstory is upsetting in its own way, and will undoubtedly hit home for some viewers.
While the kids find solace in each other, there’s a fleeting and unsteady atmosphere, like it’s a temporary peace that’s waiting to be disrupted. It could be a parent or guardian showing up, or someone being adopted, or the addition of someone new – the balance is so perfect that it can’t last.
If kids do watch it they’ll be exposed to grief, abuse, sex and mental health issues in ways that are accessible and appropriate for young audiences.
And then there’s the realistic physical responses to trauma which I’d never seen in animated feature before. A blonde girl who hides behind her fringe repeatedly taps her spoon against a plate when she’s triggered. It shatters the fantastical escapism of how the film looks and becomes an empathetic moment of psychological horror. It’s impossible not to have a gut reaction to this vulnerable and shaken child.
Somehow, despite the amount of tears shed, it’s a film with hope and heart. The community at the orphanage is subversive and bubbling. At just over an hour long, every minute counts, but it takes no time at all to latch on to each child and feel protective of them.
It’s a film about kids, but it’s emotionally heavy and is no less suited for adults. If kids do watch it they’ll be exposed to grief, abuse, sex, and mental health issues in ways that are accessible and appropriate for young audiences.
Animation is thriving right now, and My Life as a Courgette is one of 2017’s best releases.
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