CommonSpace film critic Scott Wilson takes a look at the big movies of the moment
THE BEGUILED, CARS 3 AND TO THE BONE are all best viewed through a contextual lens, making this week’s FilmSpace a chinstroker.
The Beguiled – ★★★★☆
Sofia Coppola won Best Director at the Cannes Film Festival – only the second woman to do so – for this, a southern gothic drama set during the American Civil War. Nicole Kidman’s Miss Farnsworth leads a girls school in Virginia, with only a small number of students left and the derelict grounds seemingly threatening to engulf the house itself.
A young student, Amy, finds Colin Farrell’s John McBurney injured in the woods while out collecting mushrooms. She brings him back to the house where the women are cautious, yet they tend to his wounded leg.
McBurney is either charming and vulnerable or calculated and conniving. He woos each woman individually as he calls the young Amy his best friend, offers a mature respect towards Miss Farnsworth, opens up to Kirsten Dunst’s Edwina, and lustfully commands the attention of Elle Fanning’s Alicia.
His presence is an earthquake to the introverted group of women. Before they were harmonious, now they are jealous, sexual, and paranoid. He sticks around longer than he must – is he scared of returning to the war, or is he a prisoner?
His half-conscious body is washed and observed by the women as they come to terms with his presence. We are invited to do the same.
The name The Beguiled itself offers a conundrum: who is the beguiled? As a remake of Don Siegel’s film of the same name, Coppola wanted to tell the story of these women from their point of view. The jealousy between them all is not without cause. The tension is not entirely natural.
From their point of view, McBurney is seen through the female gaze. His half-conscious body is washed and observed by the women as they come to terms with his presence. We are invited to do the same. He is this foreign, unknown, desirable object, totally subverting prevalent cinematic tropes where women are given this object-like role. Despite their quarrels, we are absolutely with Miss Farnsworth and her students.
There are moments of comedy as McBurney’s attention is competed for, but it is predominantly an adult drama seeking to tell a known story from a different point of view. Audience reaction has been wide ranging and polarised, but Coppola has created a beautiful film centred around a small community of women disrupted by something. Friend or foe is for you to decide.
Cars 3 – ★★☆☆☆
There was a time when Pixar could do no wrong. Starting off with Toy Story, then A Bug’s Life, followed by Toy Story 2, into Monsters, Inc. … and so on. Cars is that strange thing in Pixar’s canon – a consistently underwhelming series.
Now its second trilogy after Toy Story, it’s difficult to imagine Lightning McQueen’s story resonating like Woody’s. Both round off their trilogies by grappling with getting older: one with a mature coming-of-age flair, and the other running on fumes trying to come to grips with ageing.
Toy Story became an animated Boyhood, ending 15 years after it began. As Andy went off to college, so too did many of those who saw the original as a child, making Toy Story 3 not only another wonderful Pixar film, but deeply touching, too.
Eleven years after the original, Cars 3 deals with growing old in an accelerating world. A once proud champion, McQueen can’t keep up with new cars, better technology, and modernised ways of thinking. With the help of his trainer Cruz, who wants to be a racer, he attempts to adapt to the changing racing landscape.
A forgettable Pixar film is a failed Pixar film by their own astonishing standard.
It’s the absence of Pixar’s magic that makes Cars 3 so disappointing, because it isn’t a bad film. The new characters are welcome additions, the plot straddles appealing to young and old the way the best family films do, and it chugs along light-heartedly as we have come to expect from the studio. It’s their own dizzying standards that hurt the film – nothing comes close to the emotional heights of Toy Story, Inside Out, Up, or any of those big hitters.
Animation has caught up elsewhere, loosening Pixar’s hold on profound family films. Laika’s stop-motion efforts have been amazing, with last year’s Kubo and the Two Strings being an utter marvel. Studio Ghibli continues to receive acclaim. Ireland’s Cartoon Saloon is two for two with the breathtaking The Secret of Kells and Song of the Sea.
All of this is to say that Cars 3 is not up to scratch. A forgettable Pixar film is a failed Pixar film by their own astonishing standard. It’s an entirely fine family film that kids and adults can and will enjoy, but unlike the studio’s other trilogy, this won’t be something that defines childhoods.
To the Bone – ★★★☆☆
After the controversy of 13 Reasons Why, no one can accuse Netflix of playing it safe by releasing a film about eating disorders a few months later. To the Bone follows Lily Collins’s Ellen as she moves into a house as an inpatient at the behest of Dr William Beckham, played by Keanu Reeves, after failing to find any recovery methods that work for her.
She shares the house with a number of other young people living with eating disorders, including Alex Sharp’s Luke, a ballet dancer and only male occupant. They strike up a friendship as she adapts to the house and Dr Beckham’s methods.
Don’t overthink it and To the Bone is perfectly entertaining and sufficiently emotional. The communal living is reminiscent of the superior Short Term 12, and the film never suggests there is any one fault or fix for Ellen’s anorexia. Indeed, Dr Beckham says there is no fault or blame as he attempts to understand his patients and the lives they lead.
It becomes difficult not to overthink To the Bone, questioning what its merits are, whether it has certain responsibilities, and whether the physical transformation Collins undertook was worth it.
It opens with a message from director Marti Noxon saying it is based on her experiences of living with an eating disorder. Collins detailed her own eating disorder experiences earlier this year while talking about her memoir. For the role, Collins lost 20lbs with the help of a nutritionist.
It becomes difficult not to overthink To the Bone, questioning what its merits are, whether it has certain responsibilities, and whether the physical transformation Collins undertook was worth it. Ellen is a bit of a celebrity within the “rexie” community, having posted her artwork online, which led to the death of a girl who was inspired by her images of thinness. These dangerous “thinspo” blogs exist, but by framing Ellen as an artist who was simply expressing herself, is To the Bone not doing the same thing?
My ability to enjoy To the Bone as a fictional piece of work is directly tied to my life being free from all-consuming thoughts around eating disorders. That’s as far as any film critic in my position can go. Those with eating disorders and mental health professionals are better suited to taking what To the Bone shows and placing it into a real life context.
I believe its heart is in the right place, but it’s not for me to decide how effective it is. That would be like the middle class deciding whether I, Daniel Blake works or not. If, like that film, To the Bone can get a discussion going, then there’s something to that.
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