Le Week-end (2013)

Rated R.  Running time: 1 hour 33 min.

Our Advisories: Violence 0; Language 2; Sex/Nudity 4.

Our star rating (1-5): 4.5

Enjoy life with the wife whom you love, all the days of your vain life that are given you under the sun, because that is your portion in life and in your toil at which you toil under the sun.

Ecclesiastes 9:9

 Therefore encourage one another and build up each other, as indeed you are doing.

1 Thessalonians 5:11

CplSacCouer

Nick and Meg take in the sights of Paris while trying to restore their intimacy.
(c) 2013 Music Box Films

Chalk up another engaging film about the elderly, though not at all warm and fuzzy like some films featuring an elderly couple. Director Roger Michell and screenwriter Hanif Kureishi’s film stars Lindsay Duncan and Jim Broadbent as Nick and Meg Burrows taking the Eurostar from London to Paris to celebrate the 30th anniversary of their marriage during a weekend. Actually, their motives are less to celebrate than to rejuvenate the romance in their almost dead relationship. Birmingham college philosophy professor Nick probably has higher hopes than schoolteacher Meg that the marriage can be saved. She recoils each time he tries to touch or cuddle her.

Meg also recoils in revulsion from the hotel Nick has booked because it is where they had stayed during their honeymoon. It has been redecorated, with the rooms all painted a dull beige, so that she walks out and books them into a posh hotel that only Nick knows they can ill afford. They enjoy the glorious view of the Eiffel Tower for a minute or less, and then she lavishly consumes the small bottles of wine and liqueurs from their room’s well-stocked refrigerator, as well as the more expensive eat-in-your-room meals. They visit all the tourist sites, but none rekindle anything close to romance, especially in Meg’s heart. When he tries to kiss her in a church, disapproving worshipers hiss at them. At times their barbed interchanges might bring to mind Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, although neither of them rant as long or as intensely as the characters in that marital donnybrook. Meg says of Jim’s lovemaking, “It’s not love — it’s like being arrested.” Jim says to her, “This last five or ten years, your vagina has become something of a closed book.”

Meg longs to have more experiences to enrich herself, and so when their dead-beat son phones to ask that he and his wife be allowed to move back home with them, she refuses.

She does agree to go with Jim to a party to which a former American student and admirer of her husband invites them. They have encountered Morgan (Jeff Goldblum) on the street, and he is so genuinely enthused over reconnecting with his old professor and mentor that he urges them to come to the party celebrating the publication of his new collection of essays.

After purchasing some new duds, they show up at the affair, and after introductions, go their separate ways. The still attractive wife is propositioned by one of the guests, while Jim, spying in a bedroom Morgan’s teenaged son from his first marriage visiting for a brief time, chats with the boy and shares one of his weeds. At dinner, after paying compliments to his new (and pregnant) wife, Morgan surprises Nick by spending more time effusively praising his former teacher and paying tribute to his inspiring him back in his student days than talking about his new book. Meg, who has accepted the admirer’s invitation to a late night rendezvous, is also surprised—and even more so when Jim rises and inappropriately launches a tirade of woes that includes the revelation of the humiliating reason for his concern over the costs incurred over the weekend.

Their exit from the party and experience with the management back at their hotel are as unsettling as everything else that has transpired during the weekend. The two find that in Paris their long repressed feelings of disappointment, rage, and longing for more freedom (the latter on Meg’s part, Nick preferring stability more) burst forth more readily. Meg does not meet “for a drink” the man who had hit upon her, but matters are still up in the air between these two. The film and its principals are wonderful at displaying a couple who have a long history once filled with mutual affection and acceptance, but whose marriage might still be very much in jeopardy when hey arrive back at home.

This film is a far cry from Still Mine or Unfinished Song, but it reflects the reality of many long-married couples who both love and loathe that intractable person they promised to love and cherish “as long as each shall live.” They seem to be a very secularized couple who would benefit from a faith anchoring them to a reality greater than themselves. We can only hope that something will keep them together—could it be the man who has sold out to success and shallow values, Morgan whom Nick calls for help at the end? Unlikely, and yet stranger things have happened. The dance of the three of them to the bistro’s jukebox music does seem like a ray of hope.

 

Nebraska (2013)

Rated R. Running time: 1 hour 55 min.

Our Advisories(1-10): Violence 2; Language 5; Sex/Nudity 1.

Our star rating (1-5): 5

 Honor your father and your mother, so that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you.

Exodus 20.12

 And,  fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.

 Ephesians 6.4

 Then Jesus* said, “There was a man who had two sons.”

Luke 15:11

Film Review Nebraska

Woody will not believe his son David that the prize money he expects in Nebraska is a scam.
(c) 2013) Paramount Vantage

How far will the love of a son for his father go? Director Alexander Payne (Sideways, About Schmidt, The Descendants), working with a script by someone else this time (Bob Nelson), shows us how far in this father-son road trip film—all the way from Billings, Montana to Lincoln, Nebraska, some 850 miles. And that on a wild goose chase bound to end in disillusionment and frustration.

The disillusionment and frustration will be that of David Grant’s alcoholic father Woody (Bruce Dern), who has come to believe the letter from the magazine subscription service stating that he might be a winner of one million dollars. We first see the old man walking along a highway. His disheveled hair and grizzled face appears to be more that of a scarecrow than a human being’s, but there are no cornfields in this part of Montana. A policeman stops and tries to question him, but the one word responses offer little information other than his destination is Nebraska. David (Will Forte) picks him up at the police station. He tells his father that the paper is a scam, a come-on to get people to buy magazine subscriptions, but the old man remains convinced that he is a prizewinner.

When they arrive home, Woody’s acid tongued wife Kate (June Squibb) is anything but understanding of her husband. Both she and David try to dislodge Woody’s belief that he has won a million dollars. Woody, however, has the paper that says so, and so it must be true, he tells them, because it is in print. The old man keeps trying to get away. His license and truck have been taken from him because of his condition, worsened by his drinking. Thus each time he sets out on foot, determined to pick up his prize money in Nebraska.

Kate is at her wit’s end, calling the old man “useless.” Older son Ross (Bob Odenkirk), news anchor at a local television station, would like to place their father in a nursing home. David, just broken up with his live-in girlfriend and working as a salesman at an electrical appliance store, is tired of being called to rescue his father. But he is the only one halfway sympathetic to the old man and his pipe dream. Seeing that his father will keep on trying, David calls in sick to work and tells Woody that he will drive him. He also apparently sees this as a last chance at getting to know this father who has kept him and his brother at arm’s length all through their lives together.

What follows is not the usual road story, ending in tearful reconciling embraces, but it is a trip in which at least one of the pair will emerge richer for the experience. No, actually, more than one. The miles fly by in silence, with the sight of the wide-open spaces especially suitable for the wide screen format of today’s theaters. It is a landscape in which the sky offers as much scenery as the scrubby fields. At David’s suggestion, the pair stop off to see Mount Rushmore in South Dakota, but Woody is unimpressed, observing that it doesn’t look “finished.” There is also a time consuming interlude when they search along a railroad track for the denture plate that had fallen out of the drunken Woody’s mouth the night before when he stumbled from the bar back to the motel.

Along the way David tries to get his father to open up about the past. He raises the subject of drinking, and the sharp reply is, “You’d drink too, if you were married to your mother.” At another time the son seeks information about his parent’s courtship, “You must have been in love, at least at first.” He seems to be seeking some hint of affection from the surly old man. “It never came up,” Woody replies.

Woody injures his head so that stitches are required at a hospital. This diversion has cost them time, so, because they cannot possibly make it to Lincoln before the weekend office closure, they decide to drive down to Hawthorne, Nebraska. It is Woody and Kate’s hometown where his brothers still live with their families.

This segment is a hoot, with Aunt Martha (Mary Louise Wilson) delighted to host the pair. The several other brothers, however, are as undemonstrative as Woody. While the women are in the kitchen talking and cooking, all the men sit stolidly looking at the TV set, the only subject of conversation being what year and make of a car one of them had been driving. Added to the family reunion are Kate and Ross, hastening down to make it a full family reunion. David advises Woody not to say anything about his supposed winnings, but the old man blurts out the reason for the trip anyway. He becomes an instant celebrity, the other family members suddenly interested in his future, especially as it pertains to money. David tries to explain the true situation, but the Hawthorne contingent is certain he is denying the winnings lest he has to share it with them. As we will see, Aunt Martha’s two obnoxious, pudgy sons, still sponging off their parents, make a drastic play for the money later on.

News of Woody’s good fortune spreads around the hangdog-looking town, the citizens also very interested in what Woody will do with his winnings. He answers that he will buy a new truck and also an air compressor to replace the one that was never returned to him by the borrower 40 years ago. One of the townsfolk is more sinister, Ed (Stacy Keach), Woody’s former senior partner in the local garage, claims that Woody owes him a great deal of money. He demands payment, or else there will be a legal battle.

Thus the past hangs heavy over the characters in this film. Woody’s life has not added up to much, nor have those of the rest of the family and neighbors. Hawthorne itself, with it’s rundown stores, some of them vacant, has more of a past than a future, most of its inhabitants being old people left behind by their children needing to go elsewhere for work. During their stay in Hawthorne David learns far more about his father from some of the townspeople than he had ever learned from his parents. The charming elderly editor of the weekly newspaper Peg Nagy (Angela McEwan) reveals that she had been Woody’s girlfriend.

Whether Woody’s withdrawal and mental confusion are due to his lifelong alcoholism or to approaching dementia we do not know. His singular determination to go to Nebraska bares a faint resemblance to the old man in The Straight Story, who set out on a John Deere riding mower to drive the over 200 miles to reunite with an estranged brother (Woody’s motives, of course, are not as pure). Or maybe, we should compare him to the old man in one of director Payne’s own films, Warren Schmidt in About Schmidt, which is about a man retiring from the insurance industry and needing to find a new reason for living beyond the shallow relationship with his wife. Woody, so devoid of an internal life, seems to have no religious faith, and so his only solace comes from the undeserved love of his youngest son. There is grace in this love that will put up with such a negative father and go the distance—some 850 miles—for his sake.

As the end credits rolled, the thought arose that I had witnessed a prodigal son story in reverse: as in Luke’s gospel, this is the story of “a man who had two sons.” But it is the younger son who is the person of love and mercy, and it is the father who is the prodigal. Woody through his drinking has runaway to “a far country,” one not of geography, but of the inner self. David even manages to bring about the best possible result from Woody’s finally learning and accepting the truth in the magazine office–that he has been entertaining a pipe dream. Besides the prize of a cap emblazoned with “Prize Winner,” David gives Woody something else that he has been wanting—actually two something elses, given by a son who, whether a person of faith or not, embodies much of the kind of love described in 1 Corinthians 13. It is one of the rare heart-warming moments in this appropriately black and white film.

I should mention also one other scene of grace. It takes place in the second hospital to which Woody is taken. Kate, joining David at Woody’s bedside, gently brushes back the old man’s hair, tenderly kisses him, and says something like “Crazy old man.” Listen carefully when you watch this scene. What is the tone of her voice this time? As abrasive as before, or has something that has long been submerged by putting up with Woody’s drinking bouts, finally arisen?

Supported by some spare but lovely music by Mark Orton, this slow moving film, tinged with satiric humor, will stay with you for a long time. June Squibb will make you laugh by her unfettered tongue demeaning not only her husband, but their dead relatives as well. She is no doubt a scene stealer, but it will be Bruce Dern’s career-capping performance that will no doubt be included in “Best Actor” buzz in the weeks leading up to the next Oscars presentation.

The full review with a set of questions for reflection or discussion will appear in the January issue of Visual Parables, which will be available early in January. If you are not a subscriber, go to The Store to find out how you can become one. A subscription gives you access to several years of journals that contain many program and preaching ideas for the church seasons.

 

Still Mine

Rated PG-13. Our ratings: V -0; L -1; S/N -4. Running time: 1 hour 42 min.

CuplEatng

Craig and Iene enjoy “dining out” together.
(c) 2012 Samuel Goldwyn Films

 Then he said to them, ‘The sabbath was made for humankind, and not humankind for the sabbath.

Mark 2.27

A capable wife who can find?
She is far more precious than jewels.
The heart of her husband trusts in her,
and he will have no lack of gain.

Proverbs 31:10-11

We have been in a golden age the past couple of years for films that treat the elderly with respect and dignity, rather than regarding them as cute or funny incompetent supporting characters. Canadian writer/director Michael McGowan’s wonderful film based on a true story about a couple in their eighties still very much deeply in love up against a bureaucratic system is both funny at times, and greatly moving at all times.

We are treated to two great stars still at the top of their form, Genevieve Bujold and James Cromwell as a New Brunswick (Canada) couple, the former fighting his way through a maze of housing code rules in order to build a new one-level home for his wife suffering increasingly from memory loss due to dementia.

Craig and Irene Morrison (Cromwell and Bujold) have lived in the small seaport St. Martins all their lives. Son of a skilled boat builder who passed on his carpentry skills, Craig has had to resort to farming when fishing declined. Now he is faced with changes that threaten this, such as the turndown of his strawberries because the distributor now insists that they will buy only from farmers who bring them in a refrigerated truck. He and Irene decide to give them away. Also their cows have broken through their dilapidated fence, so Craig decides to dispense with the herd. Most troubling, however, is Irene’s memory loss and resulting confusion, plus her inability to negotiate the stairs of their rickety two-story house (she falls and injures herself). The two of their seven children who live close by want to place their mother in a nursing home, but both parents energetically reject that. Craig decides to mill lumber from their trees and build a small wheel chair accessible house with a grand view of the bay.

Heeding the advice of such friends as Chester Jones (George R. Robertson), Craig reluctantly goes to town to seek a building permit—and runs up against the rule-obsessed building inspector, Rick Daigle (Jonathan Potts). The old man is shocked when Daigle tells him he will have to pay $400 for a permit, but does so, and then is further upset to learn that he will have to submit a plan that includes blueprints. He has it all worked out in his head, but Daigle says that will not do, thus requiring hundreds of more dollars. The inspector even objects to Craig’s lumber, despite its obvious quality, because it is “unstamped.” Objections pile up, leading to a stop work order, and eventually to the courtroom scene, with which the film begins.

Interspersed are numerous tender scenes revealing the love that says that sixty-one years of marriage each feels the other is “still mine”? We learn that there was a rocky period when Craig had a brief affair, but time and Irene’s love have healed that wound. Despite the burden of dealing with Irene’s dementia, which causes her at times angrily to resist his help, Craig sticks to his determination to provide her last years with a snug home with a lovely view of their beloved bay—and to his intent to risk jail if necessary in the face of the rule-worshipping Daigle. There is an enjoyable moment when Craig’s cause comes to the attention of a journalist, who was put onto the story by a person that will surprise you.

Especially touching is the scene in which Craig speaks of a table that he had designed and built from fine wood that he had harvested. Around it all his family had gathered and shared their meals through the years. At first he was resentful of scratches caused by carelessness. He had worked to smooth them over, but some were too deep to eradicate. Now, however, he regards the imperfections as part of the beauty of the table, a reminder of what the family had been through together.

Although Craig insists on building the house without any help, he learns gradually the importance of the support in his battle with the rules and the rule enforcer. His son and daughter come around to his way of thinking, his lawyer Gary (Campbell Scott) stands by him in court (without submitting a bill, Craig observes), and a neighbor, without telling him had contacted the journalist. By way of warning to some of you, the rating is due to a brief shower scene in which the elderly wife and husband are nude. Reportedly Ms. Bujold at first did not want to do this, but seeing how it helped reveal the tenderness and love that the couple shared through their long marriage, was happy that it was included. This is a not to be missed film that shows that, as in Christ’s time, the rules-obsessed are still with us. But so are determination, a full measure of love and grace, and the eventual admiration that the world eventually bestows upon those sticking by those qualities. Be sure to bring a handkerchief: the tears are not cheaply evoked.

The full review with a set of 9 questions for reflection or discussion appears in the Sep/Oct issue of Visual Parables, which will be available on Sep. 23 when VP’s new site is launched.