Friday, January 20, 2023

'Women' finally talks to everyone, but 'Son' is not even close to 'Father'

It has been a full four months since Sarah Polley's "Women Talking" enjoyed the sensational awards buzz of a world premiere showing at September's 49th annual Telluride Film Festival (and then just a few days later at the 47th annual Toronto International Film Festival).

Now, the actress-turned writer/director's fourth consecutive acclaimed movie behind the camera at last earns wider release today in theaters (including exclusively in northeast Ohio at Westlake's Regal Crocker Park). With Academy Award nominations to be announced Tuesday (Jan. 24), "Women" will expand even more next weekend after, as expected, Polley herself likely earns at least a Best Adapted Screenplay nod for a story based on a real incident, as detailed in the novel by Miriam Toews. (Polley actually won the same screenplay honor at the recent Critics' Choice Awards, while her potent "Talking" ensemble already owns a SAG Awards nomination for Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Movie.)

If somehow you haven't heard already, the primary players include names such as Jessie Buckley, Claire Foy, Judith Ivey, Rooney Mara, Frances McDormand, and the dialogue-stealing Sheila McCarthy, among others, all trying to decide whether to escape from or stay in the patriarchal Mennonite community that mistreats them well beyond belief, including unspeakable abuses that spit in the face of their devout faith.

Since all the male offenders are away, the ultimate choice of these women comes with bits of rage, reasoned discussion, sadness, and a gripping fear that even hangs over viewers constantly wondering what might happen if and when the violent evildoers return. Thank goodness Polley holds firm enough rein to keep proceedings well under two hours. Much more and such tension would smother us.

Rated "PG-13": mature content, including sexual assault, bloody images, and some language; 1:44; $ $ $ and 1/2 out of $5

"The Son" heard a little similar festival buzz when its own September introduction to the world took place overseas at the 79th annual Venice Film extravaganza.

Yes, the performance of Hugh Jackman, as the concerned dad of a troubled young man (Australian teen Zen McGrath), has received some good notices, but the film itself reeks of self-importance. And, honestly, perhaps it should since director/co-writer Florian Zeller has called it a prequel to "The Father," the infinitely more compelling 2019 feature that earned Zeller and co-writer Christopher Hampton the Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar and Anthony Hopkins a Best Actor victory in the title role. 

Regardless, Hopkins, whose appearance here amounts to no more than a solid cameo, co-stars with Laura Dern and Vanessa Kirby in a graceless family melodrama that mixes bushels of schmaltz with a minimum of common sense. Maybe it played better on the French stage from whence it came.

Rated "PG-13" by MPAA: mature thematic content involving suicide, strong language; 2:03; $ $ out of $5

Also opening today in theaters: Alone at Night, Missing, When You Finish Saving the World, and You People (which also streams on Netflix, beginning Jan. 27).

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