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New Found Land: Grown Up Movie Star

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New Found Land: Grown Up Movie Star

Grown Up Movie Star is a story of frustration and abandonment in an isolated, hopeless community, with a pair of teenage sisters virtually deserted by their mother and raised by their reluctant father. While the substance is hardly a revelation, the film’s circumstances are: It marks one of the strongest offerings to emerge from the small island province of Newfoundland and Labrador.

In the pantheon of Canadian cinema, the onscreen realization of Newfoundland and Labrador, the little island off the Atlantic, has been a long time coming. The province is known for its curious culture—a mishmash of Irish ancestry and tragic histories you come to expect from an isolated culture built around the fickle Atlantic Ocean. Much of Newfoundland’s cinema to date has suffered under the burden of translating that unique culture to the screen so that it enhanced, rather than overpowered the storytelling. Recent ventures such as 2006’s Young Triffie’s Been Made Away With have been felled by largely esoteric storytelling and mannered presentation. Thus, the cinema of the province has never quite surfaced to the kind of universal story necessary to find much appeal outside the province’s borders.

Similar in subject matter to recent UK release Fish Tank, Grown Up Movie Star takes a divergent detour in style. It’s clear from the first frame that this is not merely a story of a dysfunctional family, but rather an exploration of the gradual, two-sided realization inside these families: that its members, rather than stock characters or warring factions, are people with complicated and often conflicting needs.

The girls’ parents barely qualify for the title: The mother, Lillian (Sherry White) is a slipshod caregiver consumed by thoughts of her own squandered dreams, while the father (Big Love’s Shawn Doyle) is a disgraced hockey player who celebrates his 42nd birthday by stealing and torching a car. The setting—a typical provincial small town that amounts to a pinpoint on the map—is beautifully incidental, and the details of the landscape are cherry-picked only to suit the narrative. So many films from the province seem more than happy to focus on the vast and haunted scenes of nature, as if these simple ingredients can explain the motives and ennui of the characters. It’s inefficient shorthand at best, and Grown Up Movie Star wisely puts more weight on the afflictions that haunt all small towns: narrow minded neighbors, wasted potential and bored misbehavior.

Much has been made of the sterling performance given here by Tatiana Maslany, who took the award for breakout star at the Sundance Film Festival. As Ruby, she pinpoints the terrific neuroses of being not just a teenager, but a young girl. She pushes and plays with adult men, toying with their authority over her person and testing the waters of her burgeoning sexual power with nervous, indulgent abandon. There’s a thin edge of childish cruelty to her role-playing: She courts a would-be suitor by implying that she’s screwed up, possibly through childhood molestation, only to brush the comment aside seconds later with cryptic levity.

Writer/director Adrianna Maggs refuses to turn the camera away when things get too uncomfortable, notably in a handful of scenes between Ruby and her de facto “Uncle” Stuart (played fearlessly by Newfoundland-native Jonny Harris). As the afterthought of the family, youngest daughter Rose (Julia Kennedy) is at the periphery of the family’s angst, but her behavior hints at playing Follow the Leader with her older sister’s oversexed example.

The result is a ferocious narrative that slips back and forth between melodrama and blunt realism, perhaps relying too readily on the forgiving nature of a family’s bond. Maggs, in her haste to heal these wounded characters, may have put too tidy a bow on dire circumstances, and more than one plotline seems rushed to an artificial close, without earning an emotional satisfaction. But within a cinema struggling to find its footing among its much older cousins, Grown Up Movie Star is a noble addition, and hopefully a predictor of what to expect from the province’s talent.

Jillian Butler is a writer and film critic living in downtown St. John’s. Her blog, Ampersandology, dissects the connections between film and culture, which is also the focus of her upcoming graduate studies.

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Awards

Oscar 2019 Winner Predictions: Adapted Screenplay

After walking back almost all of its bad decisions ahead of this year’s Oscars, there’s no way AMPAS isn’t going to do the right thing here.

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BlacKkKlansman
Photo: Focus Features

Eric and I have done a good job this year of only selectively stealing each other’s behind-the-scenes jokes. We have, though, not been polite about stepping on each other’s toes in other ways. Okay, maybe just Eric, who in his impeccable take on the original screenplay free-for-all detailed how the guilds this year have almost willfully gone out of their way to “not tip the Oscar race too clearly toward any one film.” Case in point: Can You Ever Forgive Me? winning the WGA’s adapted screenplay trophy over presumed Oscar frontrunner BlacKkKlansman. A glitch in the matrix? We think so. Eric and I are still in agreement that the race for best picture this year is pretty wide open, though maybe a little less so in the wake of what seemed like an easy win for the Spike Lee joint. Nevertheless, we all know that there’s no Oscar narrative more powerful than “it’s about goddamn time,” and it was so powerful this year that even the diversity-challenged BAFTAs got the memo, giving their adapted screenplay prize to Lee, Charlie Wachtel, David Rabinowitz, and Kevin Willmott. To bamboozle Lee at this point would, admittedly, be so very 2019, but given that it’s walked back almost all of its bad decisions ahead of this year’s Oscars, there’s no way AMPAS isn’t going to do the right thing.

Will Win: BlacKkKlansman

Could Win: Can You Ever Forgive Me?

Should Win: BlacKkKlansman

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Oscar 2019 Winner Predictions: Original Screenplay

This season, Hollywood is invested in celebrating the films they love while dodging the cultural bullets coming at them from every angle.

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Green Book
Photo: Universal Pictures

You know, if it weren’t for the show’s producers effectively and repeatedly saying everything about the Academy Awards is terrible and needs to be changed, and the year’s top-tier contenders inadvertently confirming their claims, this would’ve been a comparatively fun and suspenseful Oscar season. None of us who follow the Academy Awards expect great films to win; we just hope the marathon of precursors don’t turn into a Groundhog Day-style rinse and repeat for the same film, ad nauseam.

On that score, mission accomplished. The guilds have been handing their awards out this season as though they met beforehand and assigned each voting body a different title from Oscar’s best picture list so as not to tip the Oscar race too clearly toward any one film. SAG? Black Panther. PGA? Green Book. DGA? Roma. ASC? Cold War. ACE? Bryan Singer’s Bohemian Rhapsody. Even awards-season kryptonite A Star Is Born got an award for contemporary makeup from the MUAHS. (That’s the Make-Up Artists and Hair Stylists Guild, not the sound Lady Gaga fans have been making ever since A Star Is Born’s teaser trailer dropped last year.)

Not to be outdone, the Writers Guild of America announced their winners last weekend, and not only did presumed adapted screenplay frontrunner BlacKkKlansman wind up stymied by Can You Ever Forgive Me?, but the original screenplay prize went to Eighth Grade, which wasn’t even nominated for an Oscar. Bo Burnham twisted the knife into AMPAS during his acceptance speech: “To the other nominees in the category, have fun at the Oscars, losers!” In both his sarcasm and his surprise, it’s safe to say he speaks on behalf of us all.

As is always the case, WGA’s narrow eligibility rules kept a presumed favorite, The Favourite, out of this crucial trial heat. But as the balloting period comes to a close, the question remains just how much enthusiasm or affection voters have for either of the two films with the most nominations (Roma being the other). As a recent “can’t we all just get along” appeal by Time’s Stephanie Zacharek illustrates, the thing Hollywood is most invested in this season involves bending over backward, Matrix-style, to celebrate the films they love and still dodge the cultural bullets coming at them from every angle.

Maybe it’s just tunnel vision from the cultural vacuum Oscar voters all-too-understandably would prefer to live in this year, but doesn’t it seem like The Favourite’s tastefully ribald peppering of posh-accented C-words would be no match for the steady litany of neo-Archie Bunkerisms spewing from Viggo Mortensen’s crooked mouth? Especially with First Reformed’s Paul Schrader siphoning votes from among the academy’s presumably more vanguard new recruits? We’ll fold our words in half and eat them whole if we’re wrong, but Oscar’s old guard, unlike John Wayne, is still alive and, well, pissed.

Will Win: Green Book

Could Win: The Favourite

Should Win: First Reformed

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Watch: Joanna Hogg’s The Souvenir, Starring Honor Swinton Byrne and Tilda Swinton, Gets First Trailer

Joanna Hogg has been flying under the radar for some time, but that’s poised to change in a big way.

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A24
Photo: A24

British film director and screenwriter Joanna Hogg, whose impeccably crafted 2013 film Exhibition we praised on these pages for its “disarming mixture of the remarkable and the banal,” has been flying under the radar for the better part of her career. But that’s poised to change in a big way with the release of her latest film, The Souvenir, which won the Grand Jury Prize at this year’s Sundance Film Festival. Prior to the film’s world premiere at the festival, A24 and Curzon Artificial Eye acquired its U.S. and U.K. distribution rights, respectively. Below is the official description of the film:

A shy but ambitious film student (Honor Swinton Byrne) begins to find her voice as an artist while navigating a turbulent courtship with a charismatic but untrustworthy man (Tom Burke). She defies her protective mother (Tilda Swinton) and concerned friends as she slips deeper and deeper into an intense, emotionally fraught relationship that comes dangerously close to destroying her dreams.

And below is the film’s first trailer:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t9Al2nC0vzY

A24 will release The Souvenir on May 17.

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