In a week when most eyes and attention will likely be focused on “Bohemian Rhapsody” (previously reviewed here), three much smaller films are also checking out.
Melissa McCarthy plays against her general film type as struggling biographer Lee Israel in “Can You Ever Forgive Me?” After losing her job, she finds herself struggling to pay her bills and sells a treasured celebrity letter, followed by two others she fortuitously finds, only to realize the potential value in forging similar letters. Thus a career low for Ms. Israel becomes a career high for McCarthy as she moves from her cinematic signature pratfalls to acerbic take downs. And in doing so, she joins a long line of comedic talents who have shown even more brightly in dramatic roles, including Robin Williams, Will Ferrell, Kristen Wiig, and most recently Steve Carrell. She’s supported here strongly by Richard E. Grant as an almost equally lonely acquaintance and occasional cat-sitting accomplice.
Another actor most recognized for comedy but able to cross the dramatic line successfully is Jonah Hill, who this week steps into an even more different role as writer and director of “Mid90s,” a wonderful look at childhood in that period. Sunny Suljic stars as Stevie, a kid who’s physically tortured by his mentally tortured older brother Ian (Lucas Hedges) at home, and who yearns to find somewhere more welcoming. When he sees the kids from the local skate shop hanging out and supporting each other, he tags along and finds a strangely less dysfunctional family. While this particular story is about Stevie and his skater friends, and is wonderfully told, it’s a broader metaphor about a need to feel a sense of belonging and might equally be applied to darker subject matter and even self-destructive radicalization.
And radicalization lies behind the story of a young American journalist, and his unaffiliated colleagues, who travel the world to report on wars and terrorism at great personal risk. Susan Sarandon plays Helen Stirling, an E.R. nurse who has to try and hide the fact that her journalist son Andy has been kidnapped in “Viper Club.” Struggling to keep things together at work, she moves from government agencies where hollow assurances are made along with constant reminders of the illegality of paying ransoms she can’t afford anyway, to a network of Andy’s friends who have greater resources and who assure her that the government isn’t going to help. Unsure of whom to trust, she reacts to a lack of official results as she tries to raise the forbidden ransom money from benefactors she can’t identify with, while keeping herself and her secrets at arms length from the people at work she would otherwise better identify with.