Delayed Reaction: ‘Boy A’

Boy A is a British film that came out in 2007, but one I just saw the other night. Its title refers to a court practice of hiding the identity of a child defendant – Boy/Girl A, Boy B, and so on. After all, there is always the chance that they will be released as an older teen or young adult – out back into the world after being deemed “rehabilitated,” and no longer a harm to society. (It should also be noted that, while it completely stands on its own, the movie’s plot seems to share some similarities with the horrific James Patrick Bulger case in Liverpool of ’93.)

Andrew Garfield plays our Boy A, and he is amazing. I mean, indescribably so, although this did not come as a surprise. It’s intriguing to me that an actor who has excelled at so many smaller, dramatic, and emotionally heavy roles will be the new Spiderman in the reboot series. (I’m sure he’ll do a great job, but it’s just a whole other world of showbiz.) I hope that no one forgets how heartbreaking and impressive he was in Never Let Me Go (his performance being the best part of the film) and The Social Network (for which he was robbed a Best Supporting Actor nod at the Oscars), and Boy A, which he received a BAFTA for.

Garfield’s characters real name, as a child, is Eric Wilson. We first meet him during the opening scene of the film where he is about to be released from prison. His rehabilitation worker, Terry, asks him what his new name will be to embark on his new life. Already, we know one thing: Eric’s past life cannot be known; it’s a huge, dangerous secret. And then we come to know another thing, as Eric responds with grateful smiles and nervous laughter, “I can’t make up me mind!”: Boy A is innocent. Or, at the very least, no longer a harm to society, fully rehabilitated.

He chooses to be called Jack Burridge, and off he goes into the world of 9 to 5, new friendships, and a brand new romance (with much help from Terry all the way).

As Jack starts his new life and tries to neglect his old one, the audience does not. We are instead in a position where we see Jack’s new, stable life paralleled by his childhood and the crime he was imprisoned for. The reveal comes steadily but surely, the flashbacks eloquent and paced very carefully. We see Eric failing at school, his mother dying of cancer, his father wretched and verbally abusive, being bullied and beaten up by older kids, and then finally befriending Philip – a clear troublemaker with an unusually rough demeanor for a kid. Nonetheless, he likes Eric and he stands up for him. The crime that is committed is perceived to be carried out by the both of them, equally, but the flashback scene to the actual tragic incident doesn’t fill in all the blanks for us. We find out what happened, realize that Philip (as predicted) was the leader in the crime, but we do not find out which crime Eric is guilty of – assisting in the murder of a schoolgirl, or never stepping in to stop it.

The way the film unravels, it seems as though Garfield’s portrayal of the adult Eric (now, of course, Jack) is supposed to speak to his involvement in the crime. Jack is quiet, easily flattered, surprised by other people’s kindness and yet very kind himself, nervous but gentle, naive and literally sheltered, desperate to love and even more desperate to be loved. There is nothing about him that yells “murderer,” but there is definitely something that whispers “follower.” For an actor to go off of a child’s uncomplicated performance and come up with all of this, continuing the journey of this human being in such a complex way, is truly remarkable to watch.

Garfield may have us rooting for him, but the film is not as sympathetic. Though Jack starts out leading a very positive second life (in which he even saves a little girl from a car crash and becomes the town hero), the media gets word of his new identity and the whole country seems to be ravenous to snatch it away from him. The story shoots off from one about a rehabilitated child criminal to one of a young adult running from his past and from the public that wants him to pay. It’s a story about one’s privacy, and if one deserves it after being tried for a very serious crime before he could be considered a teen. It’s a story that makes us question if second chances in extreme cases like these are really possible, and if so, for how long?

No matter what the answers are, or if there even are any, this film – beautiful and delicate when it could have easily been exploitative and harsh – is worth the watch.


Delayed Reaction: ‘Paper Heart’

I wanted so badly to be annoyed by Paper Heart (2009) and, in particular, Charlyne Yi. But instead, I found myself smiling throughout pretty much the whole damn thing. Though Yi is definitely an acquired taste, an odd bird, etc., etc., her charm and cuteness feels universal here. And unlike the rest of the population, yes, I enjoy Michael Cera. Dammit. It’s a clever documentary-style movie that explores love in a genuine, no-frills kind of way. Ultimately, it doesn’t just explore love and finding love, but also the issue of respecting one’s privacy – best shown through the metafilm elements. Yi and Cera play fictionalized versions of themselves, and real-life director Nicholas Jasenovec is portrayed onscreen by Jake Johnson. (I especially loved how, at one point, the film pokes fun at itself for being one of those “quirky comedies.” As Cera says sarcastically, “Yeah, we need more of those.”)

All of the dynamics between the characters ring true – the complicated friendship-turned-collaboration between Jasenovec and Yi, the romance developed between Yi and Cera, and all of Yi’s heartfelt interviews about love with people across the nation. By the end, it all just feels so satisfyingly honest.

Blogging as a Beacon of Hope in ‘Julie & Julia’

Amy Adams as Julie Powell in 'Julie & Julia,' 2009

Yes, I’m a little late on the Julie & Julia (2009) bandwagon. Since this isn’t for the purpose of review, let me summarize mine in one sentence: It was cute, sometimes annoying (mostly due to Julie and husband), but overall entertaining and hunger-inducing. Oh, and Meryl Streep was brilliant, of course…Okay I lied. Two sentences.

Aside from Streep’s performance as Julia Child, the part of the film that was most fascinating to me was Julie Powell. Not as a character, really, or even as a person (because she is real, after all.) Rather, it was her circumstance that was thought-provoking.

Her side of the story takes place in New York City 2002. 9/11 is ever-present in Powell’s life seeing as how she works as some sort of “customer service” representative for victims of the terrorist attack, or anyone complaining about plans to rebuild the World Trade Center. This, obviously, leaves a dark cloud hanging over her life. On top of that, she’s anxious about turning thirty because she has yet to accomplish her career goals.

There’s a scene early on in her storyline where Julie goes to meet up with “friends” for lunch. Though it makes absolutely no sense why this woman would be friends with these superficial and egotistical females, the lunch scene gives us a further glimpse into Julie’s situation. She’s not doing what she wants to do, people remind her of it constantly, and she feels like a failure. No, not just a failure. The best kind – a failed writer.

Now I don’t say that facetiously. Though, you have to admit, it’s an unfortunate common trend in the line of “failures.” But this is where Julie’s circumstance really starts to hit home. We find out that she graduated college with high hopes from herself and everyone else of becoming a successful writer. However, she’s bummed because she apparently had a book deal that fell through. She repeats self-deprecating remarks about her inability to finish anything, and yet she yearns to break free of her monotonous and emotionally draining job. She wants to be published.

And that’s where the blogging comes in. Blogs (“web logs”) have become increasingly popular in the late 90s and the 2000s. Julie entertains the idea of starting one, and her husband  encourages her saying it’s the easiest way to get recognized and published these days. After much debate on what to write about, it hits her that she loves cooking and has a special place in her heart for Julia Child. And thus, the rest is (recent) history.

Honestly, it was a bit strange to watch someone blog in a movie. I’m not sure why, but I guess it’s never really been explored so in-depth before in the context of a film. In this one, it’s half about blogging. And on top of it, Julie Powell becomes a successful writer because of the popularity of her blog, The Julie/Julia Project. More and more, the offers start pouring in, leading to book deals, agents, interviews, etc. (And as the end credits cheesily point out – a movie deal.)

I think Julie Powell’s character represents a lot of things, especially in the current economic times. She represents loss of dreams, disappointment upon graduation, and years of temp jobs she could’ve done better than. She also represents modern-day hope, success via online writing, and accomplishment when she least expected it.

This part of the film, I think, speaks very clearly to our generation – particularly the graduates in their twenties. To tell you the truth, blogging has been my sort of miniature savior in a time of recent post-graduation, bad economic climate, limited jobs, and seemingly nonexistent jobs in what I studied. As corny as it sounds, a comment and a page view trigger that little voice in the very back of my head saying, This is what you were supposed to do. So I’m thankful for blogging, the internet, and the accessible ways in which us writers and creatives can get our voices out there. Because without it? Well, times would really be tough then.

I think Julie Powell herself would agree.

Delayed Reaction: ‘Wendy and Lucy’

Promotional image, 2008

I finally watched Wendy and Lucy (2008), the festival darling about a young woman (Michelle Williams) who’s making her way to Alaska with her dog (the Lucy of the pair) in hopes of starting anew. Directed by indie director Kelly Reichardt, the film feels like a drama made by and for hipsters. It’s methodically slow-paced; and though there are obstacles once Wendy becomes stranded in the middle of Oregon, the movie is ultimately uneventful.

Critics and audiences seem to have mixed reviews of this quiet independent film, which traveled the film festival circuit until it landed in theaters as a limited release. Apparently, you either think it’s subtly brilliant or overrated.

My thoughts? I’m leaning more towards the “overrated” category of opinion. I’m not sure, but maybe you really have to love dogs in order to become enthralled with this storyline – which is really just about Wendy trying to recover her missing pet in Oregon.

There are undertones of American poverty and homeless or nomadic youth, but they don’t seem to come through enough to the point where you can call it “powerful.” Williams’ acting comes off as a forced calm or lethargy. The plot is simple, which could work in its favor, but it really dragged on for me.

Overall, I just couldn’t get into the film. I admire its delicacy in its simplicity, but it wasn’t executed in a way that was engrossing or interesting for me.

And it’s an unfair comparison, but I’m going to have to do it: Wendy and Lucy was no Umberto D.