Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Bobos in neurotic paradise

Sometimes a movie takes itself just a little too seriously. Such is the case with Last Weekend, Tom Dolby and Tom Williams’s 2014 film starring the versatile Patricia Clarkson, on Netflix. The plot is something we’ve seen a hundred times. A family gathering at a summer retreat - in this case a luxurious stone house along Lake Tahoe - brings out the best but more often the worst in people. The children bring along their lovers and friends and there are the awkward introductions and mullings about whether the characters will take to one another. In this case the clan is headed by Celia (Clarkson), the mother, and everyone seems to have to bow to her constant neuroses. There is added gravitas because she’s considering giving up the house. Celia is of a type - the self-satisfied Californian, liberal in her views and filthy rich, thanks to husband Malcolm’s (Chris Mulkey) - the only seemingly sane person of the lot - business acumen. Celia is what was once coined a bobo or bourgeois bohemian. She dresses like a flower child and buys fair trade products. Yet she basks in her luxurious surroundings, with eco-friendly trappings of course. And yet, amazingly, she sees no contradiction. Celia goes to a farm market and spends $200 on baskets (her obsession) as her son tells her she doesn’t need them. She could have easily given the money to a food bank. Back home Celia is constantly questioning herself, asking Malcolm if others would view them as “good” people. He says they would. The movie is directed well and the plot carries us along. But, really, these characters and their self-indulgent world are fitting for send-up, a la Portlandia, but for the northern California set. For this film embodies all the stereotypes of the contemporary liberal upper class. One son is a stock trader. Another (Zachary Booth) is an artsy and successful gay New Yorker. There is a Hollywood starlet for good measure. She jogs to a self-help recording, the only seemingly satirical scene in the film. There’s another scene, where son Roger (the trader, played by Joseph Cross) puts the moves on the starlet (Jayma Mays). They meet on the dock when Roger is taking a leak. Without washing his hands he takes hers and they venture out on to a boat on the lake, where some extracurricular smooching takes place. All I could think of was, “Why didn’t you wash your hands?!”

Copenhagen, Mark Raso’s 2014 film (on Netflix), is kind of like the Richard Linklater romantic Before… trilogy, only with a harder edge. It’s about a wandering young American in Europe, in this case in the Danish capital. William (Gethin Anthony) is there to find his grandfather. He doesn’t know how to find him and, as luck would have it, meets a charming young woman, Effy (Frederikke Dahl Hansen), who’s a walking encyclopedia. She’s also old beyond her years. William falls in love with her but balks when he finds she’s just 14. Despite the romantic airs of cycling around the capital William is personally frustrated and has the arrogance of a young man’s anger. When he finally meets his grandfather that rendezvous doesn’t go so well either. This is a coming of age story though that sounds trite. Let’s just say it’s about a young man confronting himself in a world that offers wonders but unexpected shortcomings. Besides good performances Copenhagen has an awesome soundtrack featuring Danish artists with an otherworldly techno edge. 

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