These capsule reviews of current movies offer a basic overview of what these stories did (or didn't do) to engage an audience. They are not meant to convey a full review of the movie, or a scene by scene breakdown. All reviews by Bill Johnson.
This film demonstrates the problems with being realistic. Joy the main character is a single mother in a dysfunctional environment. It takes a good twenty five minutes to set out all those characters and their many issues and get to a significant turning point, Joy inventing a mop and then getting onto one of the early cable TV sales channels to promote it into a huge success. By the end of the film, still surrounded by dysfunctional family members trying to sabotage her, Joy has created and manages a business empire.
That's all plot, but what's the story about? That remains buried under the ruble composed of all those dysfunctional relationships and events. It's probably something to do with Joy overcoming all her disadvantages to make something of herself, encouraged by her grandmother. But I'm not sure. And, based on the reviews and audience reactions, I don't think others were sure, either.
There's not enough else going on to make up for that.
The Secret in Their Eyes
This film has a dual time line and some powerful acting, but it becomes a long build to a reveal. The film starts with the murder of a teenage girl, who is the daughter of counter-terrorism officer in LA just after 9/11 working with a partner. Both are devastated by the murder. 13 years later, he feels he's tracked down the main suspect.
The story issue for having a dual time line is there needs to be dramatic tension and a clarity of purpose combining story and plot on both time lines. The plot is always clear, will the main character track down the murderer after 13 years, but the story is more complicated. It's about loss and obsession and not being able to let go of the 'what if' moments in life that define the characters.
A complicated plot like this creates what I call a traffic cop effect, with scenes organized around what needs to happen for the plots on both time lines to work and build to a big reveal. The director and actors pull off the plot and I admire how the characters are portrayed, but a deeper level of psychological depth never developed.
The set up here is two teenagers, 16 and 13, are sent off to spend a week on a remote farm with the grandparents they have never met. The grandparents are very, very odd, with the grandmother running naked through the house in the middle of the night; and the father attacking a stranger in a nearby city. The grandfather says his wife has a disease exasperated by moonlight.
I call this plot, what will be the outcome of this strange behavior? Is there something the grandparents are hiding in the basement? If so, what?
The film moves to answer those questions in an interesting way. But... There's no story, in the sense that I define story. There is a scene with the mother and her teen daughter at the end of the movie, where it's clear the daughter functions as the parent in the relationship. That idea could have been developed in the film. Some other idea could have been developed. None were. Mostly it's just a movie with a lot of boo! moments (things jumping into the screen).
I don't know if there were some story ideas developed in the script that didn't make it into the movie. As it stands, it's the usual problem, the audience finds out the point of the film at the end of the movie. Having a clever plot just isn't enough.