The Way Back is a story, beautiful in its own troubled way, of a broken man struggling with alcoholism and his own regrets, by coaching a “lost cause” basketball team at the high school where he had been a celebrated champion.
WHO SHOULD WATCH:
Mid-teens and up but ONLY with parental discretion, supervision and discussion. While there is no sexual content, there is a LOT of bad language and scenes of self-destructive drinking which make for excellent horrible warnings. On the plus side The Way Back gives a clear demonstration of respect for the Catholic Church in general and priests in particular as kind moral centers and understanding sources of redemption.
While The Way Back has a lot of similarities to traditional underdog movies, it progresses through far darker waters than your average feel good sports flick. Most movies of this genre would have ended two-thirds of the way through where The Way Back does. But The Way Back has the courage to move FORWARD through a realistic assessment of the deeply troubled Jack Cunningham, far after the predictable conclusion to the basketball team’s triumphs. This is not condemnation but commendation.
I like a formulaic sports movie as much as the next person. From the faith-based Facing the Giants to the histo-sports drama Victory, the sentimental Hoosiers and the weepy The Miracle Season, I love movies that end tied up in a nice neat bow. But The Way Back is just not one of those movies.
The story, clearly a vehicle for Affleck as cinematic therapy for his own struggles with alcoholism, is of an angry and bitter Jack Cunningham – divorced, former basketball champion, alone and seemingly determined to drink himself to death. Functional in his construction worker job, he showers in the morning with a beer in the soap dish, pops one open on his way home, spends his evenings at a bar and often has to be partially carried home by a family friend. Apparently his life fell apart 2 years previous and we do not initially know why. It could have been for a lot of reasons, but this is a man who has almost completely cut himself off from his family, and self indulgently given up on his marriage, his life, and hope itself.
He is a walking poster child for horrible warnings, until his former priest calls him in need of some assistance with the team which is now languishing at his old alma mater. The previous coach had taken ill. They needed a replacement and, I suspect, the priest knew Jack needed a constructive purpose. While the rehabilitation of the basketball team is satisfyingly predictable, it is only the background of the road to redemption for Jack.
Movies like He’s Just Not That Into You and Batman versus Superman notwithstanding, Ben Affleck is a fine actor. His talents have shined in movies like The Accountant, (SEE REVIEW HERE) about an autistic hitman, and Argo, the semi-docudrama about the rescue of six people behind Iranian lines during the Carter botched, Reagan recovered hostage crisis of 1979. The Way Back, directed by the same talented Gavin O’Connor who helmed The Accountant, is another example of Affleck’s abilities. It’s no coincidence that Affleck has had his own battles with dependency. Jack’s very realistic pain reaches through to the viewer in every scene.By Affleck’s own admission The Way Back was cathartic as the actor went from rehab to filming. And Affleck makes the most of every aching moment.
Janina Gavankar is solid as Jack’s long suffering estranged wife, Angela. Al Madrigal is sympathetic and charming as Dan, Jack’s assistant. Jeremy Radin and John Alyward offer lovely performances as Fathers Mark and Edward, respectively, who try to encourage Jack while still guiding the young men on the court who are in Jack’s care.
The basketball scenes are energetic and entertaining, respecting the audience enough to immerse the basketball in what was, to me, obscure language, but providing enough clear context in language, action and good filmmaking, that details were not necessary.
The movie is quite good but certainly not without its flaws. The cinematography by Eduard Grau is dark, whether by accident or poorly thought out attempts at atmosphere is unclear. Some scenes have jerky edits, and a lot of the intimate conversations are shot with all the panache of a TV soap opera.
On the other hand, the music by Rob Simonsen, who has penned music for other heart wrenching and moving stories like: Burnt, Tully, Life of Pi and The Nativity Story, is hauntingly beautiful and understated, like variations on a theme in the tragic symphony of Jack’s life. The soundtrack carries a theme that plays hide and seek from opening to ending credits, like the thoughts Jack can not, and perhaps does not want, to purge from his mind or in which he wishes to drown.
While The Way Back is a challenge to watch it is also rewarding, warm and even occasionally funny. The path that Jack walks is a rough road with an uncertain destiny, and though it is occasionally painful to travel with him, it is a worthwhile journey to take.
Classic dark comedy of a destitute playboy who plans to marry wealthy and then…murder.
WHO SHOULD WATCH:
While there is little profanity and no sex, the topics of living desolutely and planning homicide are somewhat unseemly for children, though, with parental discretion, perhaps younger teens.
I would venture to say that none of you have ever heard of the movie A New Leaf. Penned, directed and starring Elaine May, co-starring the iconic Walter Matthau, this is a small budget film made in 1971 based upon the short story, The Green Heart, by Jack Ritchie. The protagonist, Henry Graham, (Matthau) is a self-absorbed, self-indulgent aristocratic heir who runs through his family fortune until, in his late thirties, finds himself without friends or fortune. There is only one person in the world who cares anything about him, Harold (the delightful singer and Shakespearean theatrical actor, George Rose), Henry’s valet, who sums up the basis for his loyalty to Henry in this one speech: “How many men these days require the services of a gentleman’s gentleman? How many men have your devotion to form, sir? You have managed, in your own lifetime Mr. Graham, to keep alive traditions that were dead before you were born.”
Of course, Harold tempers this with the warning that if Mr. Graham continues to be poor, he immediately tenders his two week notice.
Henry quickly realizes that, for him, there are only two options: suicide…………….or marrying rich. With Harold’s aide Henry embarks on a quest to find a rich widow or single heiress who would be tolerable to his refined tastes and isolated ways. He soon discovers that while there are MANY candidates, he can’t stand any of them…until he finds the least suitable one of all. An extremely wealthy but ugliest of ugly ducklings, Henrietta Lowell (Elaine May – also the author and director of this brilliant story) is shy, socially awkward, clumsy, naive, and gullible. She is everything Henry would NOT want in a mate… aside from the money. However, it suddenly occurs to him, she would be quite easy to —— murder.
So begins the courtship and honey-murder, I mean —moon of one of the most charming little comedies I have ever seen. It is ultimately a film about the power of love, redemption and poetic justice, but told in the singularly most UN-conventional and UN-sentimental way I have ever seen demonstrated.
I REALLY am not going to spoil this one for you. You can now find it on Amazon HERE.
I recommend this movie as one of my all time favorites. As I mentioned before, A New Leaf COULD be appropriate, with parental supervision, for young teens, and worth the trouble given the moral and theme of the story. Henry is quite chaste. There is very little profanity and no sex. Henry’s SOLE vice is avarice. The only questionable moment is when one socialite attempts to seduce him and Henry, in a breathtaking moment of humor, literally runs screaming from her.
Walter Matthau is at his finest in a brilliant example of miscasting gone right. Aside from Hello Dolly, I can’t think of a less appropriate vehicle for Matthau. But – as in Hello Dolly – he is such an amazing actor that he pulls off the deliciously arrogant and thoroughly self-centered Henry while making him – somehow – adorable.
Elaine May is perfectly terrific as the totally INcapable Henrietta Lowell. Vulnerable, dependent, socially oblivious and educated to the point of being a blithering idiot in everything except her one field of interest – botony – May creates a child-like character who is both endearing and extremely annoying at the same time. You come to understand why Henry would consider killing her yet dread her disappearance.
May is probably not very familiar. She made her biggest mark with Mike Nichols as half of an improvisational comedy duo and did a good deal of stage work. She was in only about a dozen films, including a teensy part in The Graduate, wrote only 10 screenplays and despite her obvious talent directed only four movies, probably because of her tendency to go way over budget. As an aside, one of her directorial efforts was Ishtar, the biggest and most expensive flop in history at that time.
But she did manage to produce this beautiful blossom of a movie. And that, alone, should be enough to decide on… A New Leaf.
NOTE: This is a re-release of a post from 2015. Since then I have added photos and the movie has become available on streaming services.
AUDIO OPTION FOR REVIEW OF LITTLE WOMEN – GERWIG STYLE
Well told but fatally flawed as its ultimate intent is to brutally undercut the original theme of the classic story with a harsh feminist agenda.
WHO SHOULD GO:
Adults ONLY for its twisted theme revealed at the end of the movie.
This 2019 version of Little Women, by extremely talented director/adaptor Greta Gerwig (Ladybird SEE REVIEW HERE), is the latest of 3 in three years based upon the titular novel. These three latest are only a few of many versions available on celluloid. There are LOTS more, including the 1994 version with none other than Batman’s Christian Bale in the role of Laurie and Stranger Things rehabbed Winona Ryder as Jo – but that would be a review for another time.
SPOILERS – EVEN FOR THOSE FAMILIAR WITH THE STORY
Little Women is based upon the classic children’s novel of the same name, about the Marches, a family of four girls and their mother living in Massachusetts on very moderate funds during the Civil War waiting for the family patriarch chaplain to return from the front lines. Included in the cast are the March’s very wealthy maiden Aunt March, their rich neighbor Mr. Laurence and their pitifully poor neighbors, the Hummels.
This 2019 Little Women tells the tale in period costume. However, the 2018 version told in modern day is far far closer to the book’s original theme and intent. The author of the source material, Louisa Mae Alcott had a very unpleasant childhood of poverty under the hands of a tyrannical and irresponsible penniless spendthrift father. Louisa became the breadwinner of the family in part due to her writing of this classic story, idealistically shaped from her wretched family life. Alcott’s autobiography would have been fascinating. Another retelling of Alcott’s story would have been lovely.
Unfortunately, Ms. Gerwig strove to have her reality and fake it too. We, members of the audience, are lead to believe the woman we see in the beginning of the movie is Jo. In fact, we find out at the end, she is Alcott, who holds in contempt the values of marriage which she is “forced” to insert into her book to get it published. This attitude is not only offensive but a sucker punch to everyone who went to see Little Women or, worse, unwittingly brought an innocent girl to view what should have been a delightful retelling of this classic.
That being said, and before I get to the ugly parts of the movie, the acting was splendid. Everyone did an excellent job. Notable were: Chris Cooper (recently in A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood SEE REVIEW HERE) is terrific as Mr. Laurence. Timothee Chalamet (victimized in the pedophile advocating Call me by Your Name SEE REVIEW HERE) is heartbreaking as Laurie.
And Meryl Streep’s Aunt March stole every scene she was in. Streep was the perfect subtle combination of blunt and cynically gruff personality, offering criticism freely and offering no holds barred advice but hiding a genuine affection for her poor relatives about whom she is impatient and condemnatory of what she sees as their poor life choices, but about and for whom she cares deeply.
The cinematography by Yorick Le Saux is gorgeous – evoking the soft feel of two hundred years ago yet inserting bright colors to prevent any feel of drabness.
Alexandre Desplat is no stranger to writing soundtracks for off-the-wall movies, writing for bizarrely fascinating Isle of Dogs (SEE REVIEW HERE), the offensive Shape of Water (SEE REVIEW HERE), the eccentric Valerian and The City of a Thousand Planets (SEE REVIEW HERE). And he doesn’t disappoint here, constantly evoking the feel of young women running or dancing, using a variety of instruments to color the moment.
But all of these positives could not offset the serious negatives of this movie.
Instead of being honest about an eventual “reveal” that the woman we have been watching is not Jo, the character, but Alcott the author, Gerwig has Alcott masquerade as Jo. But in the end Gerwig has “Jo” remain a spinster, complain that she is forced to “sell” her heroine into marriage to sell her book, and insert a “fantasy” scene which portrays an idealized ending to her book in what can only be described as a backhanded, sarcastic middle finger to the audience, as though demonstrating how far Alcott had to condescend to the masses to get her genius in print – that a happy ending with marriage and family is merely a trite and commonplace mechanism with which to make money, not a noble example of what millenia of people have found to be a blessing.
Ms. Gerwig was true to neither the classic nor to what could have been an autobiographical historic drama. Given that so many versions of Little Women have come out recently it would have made sense to go complete bio and tell the story, not of Jo again, but of Louisa Mae Alcott and her sisters. Alcott’s sisters closely mirrored her literary characters. Elizabeth (Beth) did indeed die young. Youngest sister May (anagrammed into Amy) married, not the boy next door, but a businessman violinist. Anna (Meg) married one John, not Brooke, but Pratt who, like Mr. Brooke died unexpectedly young and not that well off.,
Ms. Gerwig placed one foot firmly in the familiar tale and the other in reality just enough to makes smarmy digs at the notion that women “had” to marry to be able to support themselves. Given Alcott’s success, this was obviously not entirely true, and only succeeded in making the March girls hypocritical and tipping Ms. Gerwig’s condescending hand towards the institution of marriage. Shoehorning political correctness into this otherwise lovely tale is unbecoming of this otherwise talented director.
Had she wanted to tell an honest tale of Ms. Alcott’s life story I think that would have been a far more worthy effort than to create a mish mash blend of reality and fiction that satisfied and did no true justice to either tale or genre.
There is much to commend this latest vision. But easy accessibility is not one of its virtues. This is Little Women: intermediate studies level. If you are not completely familiar with the story, you could easily get lost. The movie starts near the end of the story as “Jo” (who later turns out to really be Alcott but going by Jo) is in New York trying to get her stories published. Beth is already dying. Mr. Bhaer’s interest and honest friendship are going mostly unnoticed and unappreciated. The story then jumps back and forth, not only from there to Jo’s early life with her family in flashbacks, but back and forth between the script as written based upon the classic novel and “reality” as Jo changes her story while negotiating with her would be publisher, “shoehorning” in a love story for herself to make the book more marketable, which life event did not really happen. Alcott actually died a spinster.
Even if you ARE familiar with the story it will be very confusing. The characters are not identified right away so who they are gets muddled and is not aided by the frequent flashbacks. It is an interesting though ultimately very flawed perspective. Our family studied it while homeschooling, saw multiple versions over the years and even appeared as a family at a local community theatre production of the stage play. So I know the story well but still had to pay attention to be sure I got the characters right.
There are incongruities which are relatively trivial but VERY distracting. For example, the actresses’ ages chronologically match up to their respective March characters, but they don’t LOOK the right ages. The girl who plays Amy, Florence Pugh, LOOKS and acts the oldest but plays the youngest March. Emma Watson’s Meg (the oldest March girl) looks and acts as young as Amy should be. The actor playing Mr. Bhaer, Louis Garel, is 9 years older that Saiorse Ronan (Jo), but looks Ronan’s (Jo’s) age. He SHOULD look and act about 15 years older than Jo.
Attributed to everyone from Samuel Goldwyn to Humphrey Bogart, referring to people who want to propagandize movies, is the statement: “If you want to send a message, call Western Union.” Whoever said it first, Ms. Gerwig did not get the memo and has decided to create a hit piece on men and marriage in general and the themes of Little Women in particular.
Ms. Gerwig made the men as weak as possible. When Odenkirk’s pathetic Mr. March finally makes his appearance, far from the joyous relief of having their strong male protector back, as he should have been, I had the overwhelming impression that he was just going to be another weak dependent mouth for Marmee to somehow have to find a way to feed. In Bart Johnson’s Mr. March from 2018’s Little Women we see the backbone from which all these Little Women get their strength.
While it is understandable that Alcott would have experienced the Odenkirk version, she WROTE the Johnson version into her book – the man she likely would have wanted to be her father. But Gerwig, again, wants to merge the two to destroy the beautiful story Alcott wrote and simultaneously muddles her opportunity to tell a more true to life biography by awkwardly merging Alcott’s ugly truth with Alcott’s beautiful written literary vision.
Gerwig also made the sisters appear very cold and Machiavelian at times. As the three surviving sisters walk through the recently deceased Aunt March’s spacious home, which she has generously bequeathed to Jo, all Jo says is that she thought Aunt March didn’t like her, to which Amy comments she can dislike Jo and still give her the house.
The sisters never mention how, despite their Aunt’s cold exterior, Aunt March was incredibly philanthropic toward them, took Amy on a trip which secured her marriage to Laurie, invented work for the girls with which Aunt March could give the family money and retain their dignity, paid for Meg’s wedding despite her own misgivings about the wisdom of the marriage, and for all the many other generosities she surely provided her poor brother’s family. None of the things Aunt March did for them were mentioned, only a cool assessment of what she could still do for them now that she was dead.
Even worse, the faith in God upon which the Marches relied in the book was given little and nebulous short shrift lip service in this version.
Miss Gerwig is more intent on propaganda than telling a good story. Along with her obvious distaste for, dismissal of and contempt for men, she doesn’t seem to like America much either.
Mrs. March (Laura Dern) volunteers at the Civil War equivalent of the USO. This was only shown once and then only to provide a vehicle for a propagandistic hit piece as Mrs. March expresses how ashamed she is of her country, despite the fact it is literally bleeding to near death to make amends for its sins. This horrifying comment was not in the book. The only time anyone mentioned being ashamed in the book was of themselves for a fault or NOT being ashamed of hard work.
At one point Amy tells Jo that Jo’s writing about something makes it important, explicitly saying that things do not have inherent importance in and of themselves. This is the acme of hubris on Ms. Gerwig’s part. Apparently Miss Gerwig believes things are not relevant or of any significance unless they come out of the mouth of people like her – the professional writers who believe they can shape the world, not by proof or truth or real life experience, not by faith in God or inherent credibility, or common sense. Gerwig believes that truth comes only from the pen of those, like her, who have a self-assessment of their own importance. This is the essence of Fake News.
Ms. Gerwig has also decided on a PC perception of Jo as androgynous. Some on the left have even, fairly, interpreted many of the lines and attitudes Ms. Gerwig injected into Jo’s character as lesbian. Had Miss Gerwig wanted to examine that possibility concerning the author’s lifestyle in a legitimate adult oriented biography, I would have found that appropriate, interesting, and potentially insightful. But to distort Jo, the Jo from the source material this way, in this skewed version of Little Women is propaganda of the most base nature, inappropriately forcing an alternate sexual topic onto a children’s classic character.
So in conclusion, instead of either a faithful adaptation of the classic novel or an honest and what would have been truly fascinating examination of the real Miss Alcott’s life, Miss Gerwig has decided to work a classic children’s tale into a propaganda project of extreme feminism, anti-Americanism, and manifesto for alternate sexual lifestyles.
And for Miss Gerwig to present the story as an inextricable combination of the fact with the fiction with no disclaimer or delineation between the two, demonstrates that she wanted to have her credibility and fake it too.
Another beautiful, faith-based, entertaining and inspiring movie from the Kendrick brothers, this one about cross-country running as an analogy for the search for faith as various members of a community deal with an unexpected economic catastrophe.
WHO SHOULD GO:
EVERYONE – though young children might become restless without talking animals or flying spaceships.
The Kendrick brothers have a gift for making profound theological points using the most ordinary of human experiences. Much like the way an itinerant preacher some 2000 years ago Who taught using parables about those things with which his flock was most familiar: sheep, olive trees, pearls and wedding feasts, wine skins and goats, oil lamps and fishing, the Kendricks have followed the example of Jesus in more ways than one.
Their first offering to a spiritually starving world was 2003’s Flywheel, which humorously tackled a modern rendition of Zacharias, who Biblically was an unethical tax collector. Flywheel re-envisioned Zacharias as Jay Austin, an unscrupulous used car salesman. Written and directed by Alex Kendrick, then Pastor of Media at Sherwood Baptist Church in Albany, Georgia, Kendrick also portrayed the very flawed Austin.
Intended originally as a cinematic lesson only for their congregation, the indie movie, with its homemade dolly and camera crane, volunteer actors, cars borrowed for 20 minutes, scenes shot in operating businesses, was a very DIY project. (And for any aspiring filmmakers you could learn a lot from their Making of Flywheel Youtube you can see HERE.) But the message and the skill of the storytellers overflowed far beyond their technical weaknesses and it instantly took off, becoming a cinematic sensation amongst the Christian community in such a big way that their profits paid for their next film, Facing the Giants.
Facing the Giants was about Grant Taylor, a failed football coach who, like Gideon in the Book of Judges, faced overwhelming odds. Gideon, self-described as the most insignificant in the poorest house of Manasseh, is put in charge of the Israelite troops to defeat the massive Midianite army. Both men, Taylor and Gideon, find their wins, as the newly Christ-committed Taylor tells his team, by following the instructions to: “…do the best you can and leave the rest to God,” as well as reminding them: “If we win, we praise Him. And if we lose, we praise Him. Either way we honor Him with our actions and our attitudes.”
Similarly Fireproof dealt with marital crises, Courageous (my personal favorite) with fatherhood, and The War Room with the power of personal pray on one’s family.
All the Sherwood films were written and directed by the Kendrick brothers, have won awards, broken box office records even amongst secular audiences, garnered critical acclaim, spun off books written by the Kendrick brothers which have made the New York Times Best Sellers’ lists, and made enough money to allow the brothers to start their own film company, Kendrick Brother Productions.
And now comes Overcomer, whose titular theme develops from various characters’ struggles, which emerge from lack of faith and who become inextricably intertwined with each other in their journey to find meaning and purpose in their lives.
The acting is excellent and professional standard – no cringy moments that occasionally plague the Christian based movies.
The Kendricks do what many Christian film makers can not manage – while they are as open about their message as Thornton Wilder, they never forget that for a film to be successful, in whatever genre, it must entertain. They remember that honey is a far better attractant than vinegar and always have a moving, engaging, often funny, always inspiring, and occasionally heart wrenching story to tell.
The central character is Hannah Scott, (played by newcomer Aryn Wright-Thompson), an aspiring cross country runner who must overcome both physical and familial challenges.
Like Kenneth Branagh, the Kendricks smartly use many of the same acting troupe from previous cinematic enterprises (including a dozen cast and crew whose last name is Kendrick) as well as new faces. Alex Kendrick (All the Sherwood films as well as other Christian based movies) again leads, this time as John Harrison, the coach and lynchpin of the several sub-plots in Overcomer. Shari Rigby (October Baby) plays his wife, Amy. Priscilla Shirer (War Room and I Can Only Imagine – see my previous review HERE) is the school principal and another point of intersection for the interwoven subplots.
The Kendricks choose their new faces wisely and carefully. Cameron Arnett plays Thomas Hill in a compelling performance, all the more impressive as it is done without making eye contact or moving from a bed. Arnett’s real life is an example of inspiration as well. A true moral hero, he renounced a rising career and lost everything when he refused to appear nude, even refusing the studio’s offer of a body double compromise. Like a modern day Eleazar, the God fearing and upright faith-filled elderly Jew in Maccabees who chose death rather than even pretending to do what he was forbidden in the sight of God, Arnett feared he might lead others to emulate him even if the nude was not him. Arnett thought his acting career over until he found the faith based film industry, or rather, it found him.
As in other Kendricks’ movies, there are really no “bad guys” per se, the struggles come from their own inner demons and flaws, rather than outer space aliens or megalomaniacal super villains, making the stories the Kendricks spin all the more immediately relatable to us mere mortals.
The Kendricks know how to make good use of their resources. Flywheel’s budget in 2003 was an astonishingly tiny $20,000. (And no, I didn’t miss a zero.) Their $5 million budget for Overcomer, is almost the total of the budgets of all the previous movies put together and every penny shows in their ever rising benchmark of excellent production quality. The cinematography startles with the opening drone uncut shot beginning far over head, focusing on a city, then a building, flying through a high gym window down to the floor of a court during the last few minutes of a championship basketball game. This production group has come a long way from camera dollies cobbled together from rollers and an auto “creeper” on glued together PVC pipe.
The music is inspiring and mostly made of songs from Christian artists like, among others: Casting Crowns, Mandisa and Paul Mills.
And it is with profound relief I can assure you of the family friendly nature of this, as well as all their other films. The only caution I would give for ANY of the Kendrick movies is the intensity of the inherent nature of the subjects they tackle: marital infidelity, sudden death, unemployment and the confrontation of many other kinds of evil which emerge from our human sinfulness. But no violence is gratuitous, language will never treat blasphemy casually, or plots ever condone any form of licentious behavior. The main characters are as normally flawed as the audience who attends but are also as fundamentally decent and kind, just people trying to tend to their loved ones the best way they know how, but whose search for fulfillment will open a path to God.
So go see Overcomer. Of the film offerings available Overcomer comes in way ahead of the pack. Bring your kids, your pastor, your grandmother, your priest, your first date, your spouse, your best friend, or your drinking buddy. Like any good sermon, there’s something there which will reach everyone who listens.
Lovely production of Steel Magnolias running at ACTS Theatre in Lake Charles, LA from August 2, 2019 through August 11, 2019.
WHO SHOULD GO:
With parental discernment – probably mid-teens and up. A slight bit of language and serious topics, but mostly because the nature of the format – six ladies talking in a single stationary set – while engrossing to the more mature audience members would bore the little ones.
I had the distinct pleasure of seeing the dress rehearsal of Robert Harling’s Steel Magnolias at ACTS Theatre. This comedy-drama is set in a 1980’s Louisiana beauty parlor and performed with great affection for the Southern women about whom this play revolves. The six ladies in the cast nailed it. Their timing, their energy, and their easy camaraderie the night before opening felt as though they already had several weeks of performances under their belts and were only tweaking for the weekend run.
The blocking was artfully choreographed, allowing easy access to all the characters, always a concern with an ensemble cast.
The stage for Truvy’s Beauty Parlor was terrific in all its brightly lit, lightly cluttered and detailed natural realism. For anyone who has ever spent time in a beauty parlor, you could almost smell the familiar hair care products and feel the warm breath of the hair dryers ubiquitous to ladies’ salons.
The director of this all female cast, Zach Hammons, is male. He, with his terrific back stage crew, did a tremendous job with the style and technique of an experienced director. Veteran of the stage as an actor for many years and winner of performing awards, he is fairly new to the role of director.
I found his masculine behind-the-scenes influence a great advantage to this show, helping subtly inform the extensive, but never seen, male supporting players, whose actions are talked about, affect and are occasionally heard by the females on stage: Shelby’s Dad and M’Lynn’s husband, Drum, Tommy and Jonathan, Shelby’s brothers, Truvy’s husband, Spud, Ouiser’s boyfriend, Owen, and Annelle’s husband, Sammy. These men are all actively present in their women’s lives but are never present on stage. Zac confided to me that where most plays have two months to prepare, because of the exigencies of scheduling, they only had one month, but you would never know it to see the show. It’s tight and well timed, brisk in tempo, maintaining its intensity in both comedic and tragic moments from opening line to closing curtain call.
Ashley Dickerson plays Shelby, the optimist who does not let anything get her down and is the center of the play. Ms. Dickerson has performed both at ACTS and Lake Charles Little Theatre on many occasions.
Kathy Heath plays Shelby’s mom in a very challenging role of varied, and occasionally intense, often subtly repressed, emotional turmoil. Ms. Heath has lent her experience to both ACTS and McNeese Theatre, the latter from which she graduated with both a BA in theatre as well as a BS in Mass Com.
Joy Pace literally bursts onto the stage as Ouiser, the curmudgeonly neighbor to M’Lynn’s family. Fiercely loyal and sometimes merely fierce, her bark is always worse than her bite as she frequently steals scenes while providing comic relief. Ms. Pace has extensive experience as director for ACTS, and Artistic and Executive Director for the Itinerant Theatre, with a BA in Speech, and an MFA in directing, but this is her performing debut with ACTS Theatre.
Veronica Williams is Truvy, the energetic Eveready Bunny and the owner of the shop in which all the action takes place. This is only Ms. Williams’ second stage outing, her first as Rosie in Mama Mia! garnering her an ACTA for Best Supporting Actress.
Taylor Novak-Tyler is Clairee, the sweet and lovable widowed dowager who provides advice and acts as a mediator and peacemaker to the sometimes tense female interactions. Ms. Novak-Tyler is another generous contributor to the stages both at ACTS and Lake Charles Little Theatre.
Shelby Castile plays Annelle who starts as the gentle and shyly fragile newbie to town who has the greatest character arc in the show. No newbie to ACTS Theatre though, she has been on stage here many times before.
So head on out to ACTS Theatre to see this terrific rendition of these very familiar women who are, indeed, Steel Magnolias – but, similar to the juxtaposition of opposites in the very title of the play – be prepared to both laugh until you cry and cry until you laugh.
A musical comedy revue of twenty skits with over 40 characters and costume changes, are played by four very gifted actors. Clay and Markie Hebert, Kelly Rowland and Casey Doucet make up the intrepid quartet who sing and act up a storm of laughs and a few bittersweet tears.
They all have AMAZING and powerhouse voices with NO INDIVIDUAL MICROPHONES! They sure don't need them. I would have sat for 90 minutes and enjoyed listening to them sing random songs out of any Broadway collection but each of the diverse vignettes is fitted with a catchy song crafted specifically for the tone of the short story it tells sung by its own unique characters. The wide story range stretches from poignant to snarky to slapstick to tender and all will make you smile as they lead you, not only from the beginning of relationships through their maturities, but guide you through every possible emotion a romantic might have.
Clay Hebert does double duty as director, aided by his assistant Ashley Mayeux. Clay was most recently in Godspell. Markie Hebert was the female lead in Dirty Rotten Scoundrels. Casey Doucet just won an ACTA for his Shrek in the play of the same name. Kelly Rowland is a powerful mezzo-soprano with a flare for comic timing. There is a fifth member of the troupe who is not seen but heard. Andrew Steiner delights the audience with live piano accompaniment, expertly blending these four strong voices.
This is a hilarious send up on the loneliness and difficulties of dating, the challenges of marriage, the tragedy of divorce, and the optimism that it is never too late to find love. With twenty musical vignettes presented for your approval, there is something for everyone involved in the marriage adventure.
Kelly Rowland and Casey Doucet portray an ecclectic collection of characters who are, at turns: hilariously ridiculous, heartwrenching, and adorable.
Clay and Markie Hebert also have a wide variety of personalities to perform, but the scenes where Clay and Markie play man and wife are especially charming as they are married in real life with three little boys. So, for them, this play isn't an observation but a strange kind of out-of-body experience, as they humorously have an opportunity to re-emerse themselves in the excitement, pratfalls, heartbreak, frustrations, and soul fulfilling contentment that highlights the different stages of dating, and varied relationships, with the hope of culminating in the lifetime marital committment.
Make your plans quickly as you'll likely want to see this gem more than once and it only runs through August 12. Get your tickets at ACTS THEATRE
Paterson is a charming film which follows an ordinary nice man for a week as he drives a bus and spends time with his wife and friends, finding inspiration in even the smallest things, to write poetry.
Paterson spends a week in the life of a gentle, kind bus driver (Adam "Kylo Ren" Driver) in the small New Jersey town of the same name who lives with his artsy sweet and beautiful wife Laura and annoying bulldog Marvin.
The movie, to me, asks the question: do you affect art or does the art inherent in the creativity of those around you and the ambient beauty of everything from water falls to homeless bums to a pack of matches effect and shape YOU?
Paterson is presented as a very subtle fantasy – so subtle that I didn’t realize it until contemplating it after the credits had rolled. Paterson, the town, seems to be a magnet for creative forces which, in turn, effect their residents in large and small ways. This little unlikely town is home to a number of minor celebrities: Lou Abbott – comedian, Patrick Warburton – actor, Victor Cruz – football player, Catherine Sullivan – astronaut, Andre Torres – baseball player.
And the film focuses on the unexpected artistry of Paterson, the man, a quiet government employee – a decent responsible man, faithful to and in love with his wife, observant and attentive to the needs of those around him, who finds enough beauty in even the most mundane detail of life – such as the name of the company on a box of matches – to inspire him to write poetry.
He and others seem at times almost under a spell which elicits bursts of creative energies.
But, I mean, why not? If spaceships like the Enterprise can be expected to attract temporal anomalies, and the house in Poltergeist be haunted by the angry spirits of unburied dead; if a fracture in time and space can be located in Cardiff, Wales from which Dr Who’s TARDIS can recharge; if demons can follow unwary owners of cursed objects; if Newton Haven in Simon Pegg’s The World’s End inexplicably can become the "shelter city" for evil alien robots who plan to replace humans; and the Darling Family attracts the attention of Peter Pan – then why can’t a town be imbued with its own creative forces and instill them in its inhabitants in one way or another?
An actor who dramatically obsesses over a childhood friend? A bar owner who strives to participate in chess competitions, even to stealing his wife’s Piggy Bank money? An adolescent girl who writes poetry waiting for her family in a back street in a style very similar to our protagonist?
Paterson – the bus driver – spends every week day waking up at 6:15, having a bowl of Cheerios, driving a bus through the sleepy community, listening to his passenger’s random chatter, spending his lunch at a water fall, enjoying his wife’s eccentric constant redecorating and cooking, taking his wife’s dog for a walk, having one beer at a local bar and entertaining himself all day, like a familiar tune he hums constantly, writing strains of free style poetry in his head then committing them to a solitary, uncopied notebook which he seems interested in only his wife being privy.
Elements of his wife’s morning-described dreams faithfully and routinely crop up in his every day life – she mentions having seen twins and suddenly Paterson notices they are everywhere. Opportunities for poetic events gently flitter around him like fairies. And people simply act in prosaic but poetic ways (sounds like an oxymoron but it works here): The bartender plays chess with himself then moans about getting his "ass whooped" by his opponent. The smitten lover brings a toy gun with which to confront his ex-girlfriend. A random Japanese tourist commits a random act of kindness which gets our protagonist back on track after a minor catastrophe. His Iranian born wife suddenly announces her "lifelong dream" of which our protagonist does not appear to have had any foreknowledge, of being a country western star, and spends her days painting different black and white patterns on everything that stands still long enough – from the curtains to the dog’s collar to the cupcakes she sells at the Farmer’s Market.
And our bus driver is a poet who aspires to be…a bus driving poet happily married to his beautiful doting wife.
Paterson is a charming little movie worth seeing as one might meditate on the shape of clouds on a still summer afternoon or watch swans swim on a glass flat lake.
And those who only know Adam Driver as this generation's version of Darth Vader should watch to note that Driver really can act.
When my husband and I had been married for 15 years we volunteered to go through an Engaged Encounter Counseling training session. During that period of time we learned things about each other that we did not know! For example, his favorite color is blue. I thought it was tan. He always WEARS tan. Who knew?!
The process also reminded me about the dating/mating process. The early years when you become irresistably attracted. Then you wonder if you should take the risk of being a couple. After a time, as you consider you may be spending the rest of your life with this person – have I done the right thing? The infatuation. The sexual attraction. The sharing and adventure. The fun. And then you find out things maybe you hadn’t realized about the other. You fight. Maybe the fight seems to herald in the end of the relationship. But at some point you realize you would much prefer to journey through life WITH this person than without them – warts and all.
Perhaps it takes a personal crisis. Perhaps there is a moment when you see the resilient admirable core at the center of their being – the stuff that, even unknowingly, attracted you to them to begin with. Their morality. Their love of life. Their sense of fun….their courage in the face of life’s adversity. Something to which you can cling during the dangers and storms of life.
In short, I have just synopsized Passengers. This movie is a brilliant allegory about just such a meeting, discernment, set of crises, resolution, determination and resolve that describe the stages of coming together in a marriage – not just the wedding, but truly the union of two people through thick and thin who commit selflessly to each other to face the life and death trials the world – or space – can bring.
Jim Preston (Chris Pratt) and Aurora Lane (Jennifer Lawrence) are strangers. Passengers on a deep space colony ship whose 5,000 colonists and 100+ crew are put into hibernation for the length of a 120 year trip. 32 years into the journey the ship has an unexpected, unplanned run in with a comet storm which causes damage which triggers the opening of Jim’s pod. It also causes other damage which will not be fully noticed for another 2 years. Jim finds himself alone on a 1,000 foot luxury cruise ship with every amenity except companionship. There is the quirky addition of an android bartender
(Michael Sheen) but that’s it. He spends much of his time for the first few months: trying to contact Earth (round trip answer to even his cry for help would take 55 years), accessing the bridge (NOTHING short of a proper access code will get him entry despite the fact he is a mechanical engineer), reading manuals, trying to reactivate his hibernation pod. Finally he resigns himself to at least enjoying the amenities on the ship but after another few months he begins the slow descent into madness. He ceases to care even about shaving or dressing and finally is inches away from suicide when he randomly, if not Providentially comes across Aurora’s pod. He checks out her video profile and the books she has written and falls in love with her humor, her writing and ultimately…her. He struggles for months with the idea of manually opening her pod – even consulting Arthur, but his desperation is too great and he does what he realizes is the unthinkable – he awakens Aurora 87 years too early.
And so the courtship begins. The details of how the potential tragedy plays out, what her reaction is when she finds out what Jim has done, the reason why Jim's pod opened to begin with, and the resolution to their relationship I will leave to your watching of this amazing film.
Suffice it to say that I was captivated by the special effects, delighted by the story and impressed with the acting of two Robinson Crusoes and their bartender “Friday”. Pratt and Lawrence were terrific and Sheen endearing.
But it was my husband who recognized the analogy to marriage – how two people, against odds, found each other. That despite the hundreds of people around them it was up to ONLY the two of them to make a life for themselves, to overcome seemingly overwhelming obstacles and to triumph by self sacrificing to and for each other, recognizing their union may require foregoing other possible choices, binding themselves only to each other, and spending the rest of their lives making a life with each other. The perfect analogy of a courtship and marriage.
My only regret is that religion was sanitized out of the equation. There were Biblical elements: Jim willing to lay down his life for Aurora. Aurora willing to forgive Jim completely and his life becoming her life. They ultimately chose to cleave to each other, despite the fact Aurora was provided, by Jim, with another option. But there were no visits to a chapel, no praying to God in what was emotional extremity for Jim. No acknowledgement of the Hand of God and His Providence in their miraculously timed awakenings, finding each other or escape from mortal peril. And that’s a shame. Because with inclusion of the recogniztion of God this marital analogy would have been raised to the level of a sacramental union. There was even a clergy of sorts in the form of a Senior crewman (Lawrence Fishburne), who stood in the way of Captain for a time and who – before his demise – gave his “blessing” to them.
Despite this lack Passengers is a lovely, inspirational movie about the adventure of two people who bond for life…and who bond FOR life.