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New Films: A Quiet Place, Blockers

A Quiet Place
Directed by John Krasinski

John Krasinski’s “A Quiet Place” had a loud opening weekend, posting the second strongest box office numbers of the year (after “Black Panther”). And it really is worth all the fuss and commotion.

Drawing from jump scare horror traditions, science fiction creature features, and post-apocalyptic dystopian futures more typically populated with zombies, “A Quiet Place” masterfully crafts a tale of survival through the experiences of one family. Krasinski directs himself as the patriarch, alongside his real-life wife Emily Blunt, as two parents trying to protect themselves and their three children from monstrous aliens who react only to sound.

It’s a fascinating concept as we see the oft-rendered, self-sufficient homestead, adapted to a life of silence, dominated by either extended periods of muted barefoot scavenging and chores, or hidden behind sufficient insulation or background noise to permit hasty conversations. In an interesting twist, one of the children is profoundly deaf (played well by deaf actress Millicent Simmonds) and so, perhaps compared to other families, this is a family that encountered the new reality already able to sign silently when needed.

Although not his directorial debut, “A Quiet Place” is likely to put Krasinski on the director players list, not just for a tight movie on a tight budget (reportedly $17million), but for jumping so successfully into a genre he’s not routinely associated with. There’ll be no shortage of studio executives wishing they had been associated with this project, and eager to see what he finds to direct next. And had this, for example, been branded as a “Cloverfield” project (which isn’t much of a stretch), it might have revived those fortunes.

Emily Blunt is also strong in the movie, in a role she has said was very personal in terms of the dynamic of protecting one’s family from harm. And Noah Jupe, who plays one of their sons, does a fine job as a young boy trying to rise to the occasion but crippled by understandable fear.

“A Quiet Place” scores on multiple fronts – adequately scaring those who like to be scared, showcasing strong performances, and providing enough of a puzzle and a new scenario for those of us who like to ponder how we might tackle such a unique set of circumstances.

Blockers
Directed by Kay Cannon

The coming of age (heterosexual) sex comedy has long been dominated, almost to the point of exclusion, by films focused on boys and young men, made by men. That’s partly why the recent “Lady Bird” was so noteworthy, with both its female protagonist and its female writer/director/sensibility. It wasn’t a broad sex romp, but it did tackle difficult topics with comedic flair, including first sexual encounters.

Almost 20 years ago, “Coming Soon” (1999) attempted to tackle teen female college students sexuality, and the quest for pleasure, with more of an “American Pie” tone but also with more redeeming content (with meaningful lessons learned along the way). But it fell victim to distribution woes and a harsh reception from the ratings board, and largely disappeared into obscurity (although it can now be found on Amazon Prime).

Now, after decades of promcapades centered directly on male high school seniors, “Blockers” partially sidesteps the subject of female sexuality by viewing the prom experience of three young women primarily through the eyes of their fearful parents. Julie, Kayla, and Sam form a pact to lose their respective virginities, despite Julie being the only one who really feels ready. But an open laptop at home inadvertently brings three of the parents, conveniently one parent each, in on the secret and they set out to derail their daughters’ plans.

The teen characters never feel fully realized, and seem bound by fairly flimsy profiles (and we’re back to girls written by men, although directed by a woman): Julie feels smothered by her lonely single mother who fears her impending empty nest, Kayla is the confident jock who can talk sports but not sex with her meat head father, and Sam is a closeted lesbian dating the least threatening boy in school. Oddly, they each eventually end up with partners who seem potentially more interesting than them.

But the film is really about the misadventures and pratfalls of Leslie Mann, John Cena, and Ike Barinholtz as the frantic older generation, struggling to cope with the sudden maturity of their offspring. These three field the sophomoric humor normally reserved for the teenagers. It’s funny at times, although the laughs are mostly either telegraphed far in advance or related to unwanted encounters with assorted body parts, or both. Throughout it all, it feels as though the focus is in the wrong place, somewhat removed from the more significant moments the girls are experiencing – like reading the diary of somebody who read somebody else’s diary. All of which suggests that the industry is still avoiding a direct focus on girls, sex, and sexuality, from a girl’s perspective, at least as a topic for comedy.

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About the author

Tony Sheppard

Tony Sheppard

Tony is a Professor at Sacramento State, Co-Director of the Sacramento Film & Music Festival and a long-time writer, primarily on topics related to film and the film industry. He is an active supporter of the local arts community, an amateur photographer, and has an interest in architecture and urban planning topics. He is currently designing a 595 sq.ft. house on a very small infill lot in Sacramento.

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