REVIEW: Moxie

Moxie, directed by Amy Poehler, is a Netflix film about 16-year-old Vivian and her feminist awakening when she opens her eyes to the misogynistic culture of her high school. Vivian finds her mom’s old collection of ‘90s feminist punk zines and decides to make her own, anonymously printing copies and putting them in the school bathrooms. A cult following then amasses–a small group of girls get together to start taking larger action against sexism and gender inequality at their school.

I may have came in expecting too much from the film. I’ll try my best to judge it as the lighthearted teen dramedy it was meant to be, but I have to criticize Moxie for its ambitiousness and subsequent shortcomings.

Overall, Moxie felt like it was trying too hard to be too many things, and the end result was a messy and underwhelming teen rom-com. Too often I felt the issues being touched on in the film were important, but not given enough attention or screen time. Moxie tries to cover heavy topics like sexism, racism, transgender issues, sexual assault, and immigrant issues, along with mother-daughter conflict and healthy teenage relationships, all while tossing in a bit of barely-there LGBTQ+ representation and disability representation.

Vivan (left) and Lucy (right) in Moxie (2021)

While I’m happy that this film had representation of so many different identities and experiences, it was disappointing to see so many opportunities for nuanced coverage of these diverse topics disappear in the shadow of Vivian’s coming-of-age plot. As an important but unfortunate example, new student Lucy, a Black girl, is the one who inspires Vivian’s budding feminism by standing up against a sexist teacher and the aggressive school jock. However, Lucy and the other women of color in the Moxie group are basically relegated to the role of one-dimensional inspiration and backup for Vivian, while Vivan, a white girl, gets the privilege of a plot exploring the complexity of her budding political self, family life, young love, and teenage angst–which we don’t even truly get to invest in, because there’s simply not enough time to dive into character development with everything Moxie tried to squeeze into 2 hours.

Amy Poehler’s character, Vivian’s mom, makes a brief reference to the lack of intersectionality in the feminist movement back in her day as a ‘90s riot grrrl. Moxie also fails to fully be the feminism power statement it could be. I feel there simply wasn’t enough time in a feature film to cover intersectionality and discuss why and how misogyny affects women of color, or trans women, or disabled women, differently. And that there had seemingly been no push against the terribly misogynistic culture in the school before Vivian’s spontaneous feminist push is doubtful–but that’s all I’ll say about that.

As someone who was in the high school scene just a few years ago (though it seems longer), I will say I probably would have been inspired by this film as a 16-year-old. I saw some of my own Gen-Z high school struggles portrayed in Moxie, and I think Moxie is definitely more positive than other YA media that was being released in my teenage years (ex. 13 Reasons Why). I think Moxie was made in good intent, it just didn’t live up to its potential. Perhaps as a full Netflix series, Moxie could have been a lot more. 

Moxie was a cute modern-age girl-power flick, but it sure wasn’t anything groundbreaking or monumental. Worth the watch if you’re looking for something light–but don’t expect more than, as NYT’s Jeannette Catsoulis puts it, “a CliffsNotes guide to fighting the patriarchy.”

REVIEW: The Dig (2021)

The Dig focuses on excavator Basil Brown (Ralph Fiennes) as he works on a site in Britain in 1939, owned by Edith Pretty (Carey Mulligan). The driving force of the film becomes the people who are brought to the site as they unearth an ancient artifact. We’re given glimpses into the lives of incredibly complex individuals, all who have their own internal and external struggles, and the only thing that has brought them all together is the dig site in the countryside.

Without giving too much away, I’d like to praise this movie as much as possible. From the beginning you can see how beautiful the film is, the sprawling landscapes of grass and trees, slightly obscured by morning mist or shrouded in a thick fog, the billowing clouds full of rain allowing only the most brilliant sunbeams to pass through, and quite frankly the dirt which looks so rich and velvety that you want to be there, in the film, just to dig your own hands into the gorgeous earth. I was blown away again and again by the scenery, and if nothing else, the film is worth the watch just to look at how beautiful nature can be. On top of that, the performances given by Mulligan and Fiennes are spectacular, and both are able to make the audience feel the way the characters are feeling, sometimes incredibly excited, other times extremely frustrated or full of existential sorrow.

One thing that I absolutely loved about the film was its spirituality and how it reminds us of our place in the universe. Each character has to wrestle with the idea that they are impermanent, that in a thousand years they will be forgotten, and all that will remain of them are some fragments of their possessions. We can see characters greedily cling to things that will preserve their past, which creates a dynamic between some upper class individuals and some of the workers on the site. Some of the highly educated want the glory associated with making such a momentous discovery, but those who actually did the work learn to let go. The characters that we sympathize with are those who realize that they are playing their part in an intergenerational saga. They aren’t meant to live forever as a famous name in history, they’re meant to live their lives and create a history for all of us to learn about.

I would encourage everyone to watch this movie. While it is admittedly quite Eurocentric (which I think is to be expected from a period piece based on a true story which took place in Britain), it delivers justice to hardworking people and critiques the upper class’s desire for self preservation. I think you would be hard pressed not to be sucked into the storyline within the first fifteen minutes of watching, and until you’re invested, the imagery will keep you more than satisfied. If you like to see how brilliant actors can be, watch Fiennes in the first opening scenes, listen to his accent and recognize that this is the same person who played Voldemort in the Harry Potter franchise (what a range!). Stay for Mulligan’s beautiful transformation as she struggles with letting go of her son, and the drama that develops when Lily James’ character is introduced at the halfway point of the film. The more I think of this movie, the more I realize how brilliant it really was, the direction, writing, sound design, and acting are all phenomenal. If I were to keep writing I’m sure I would give too much away, so I’ll contain myself and stop for now. If you can, please watch this movie, I’m sure you won’t regret it. 10/10

PREVIEW: Malcolm & Marie

From the mind of Sam Levinson, creator of the hit HBO series Euphoria, John David Washington and Zendaya star as Malcolm & Marie. This film, created during quarantine, explores a singular evening in the complex relationship between Malcolm, an up-and-coming black filmmaker, and his girlfriend/muse Marie as they return home from the premiere of Malcolm’s film inspired by Marie’s life. Following in the tradition of kitchen sink drama stageplays, I am excited to see how this film keeps us captivated with only its two actors. Malcolm & Marie is currently available to watch on Netflix.

REVIEW: The Haunting of Bly Manor

The Haunting of Bly Manor is the latest installment in The Haunting anthology created by Mike Flanagan for Netflix. The series consists of nine episodes, and follows the story of an au pair who arrives at the haunted estate of Bly Manor.

The series uses horror elements in a very understated way; it elects to hide ghosts in the background that often go unseen rather than to have jumpscare after jumpscare. It has an overall eerie tone – a large, old house and two children who advise their governess not to roam the grounds after dark – but it is very slow burn, which becomes one of its faults. The series takes several episodes before a cohesive storyline begins to unfold, but once the inklings of an intriguing plot emerge, it becomes too complicated. Bly Manor has a massive cast: the au pair, the two children, their uncle, the housekeeper, the gardener, the cook, the dead parents, the previous governess, and many other characters introduced through flashbacks. What Bly Manor does well is showcase the talent of the many actors, however it fails to set up a clear, main storyline supported by the side characters. Instead, it gives each character a subplot and while all of the characters are genuinely well-written and interesting, the show does not give itself enough time to fully flesh out each subplot and tie them each into the main storyline.

The second-to-last episode, “The Romance of Certain Old Clothes,” is the weakest episode even though it is supposed to serve as the explanation as to why the estate of Bly Manor is haunted, what happened to the current governess’s predecessor, and why any of this is relevant to the current staff of Bly Manor. It comes across as a filler or even throw-away episode, and it adds another layer of confusion to the story. I understand that Flanagan wants to retain an air of mystery to keep the audience engaged, however when the story is so confusing for so many episodes, it becomes frustrating to watch. Ultimately, the series wastes a decent amount of time keeping the audience in the dark, resulting in a rushed conclusion of the ghost story before moving on to conclude the ongoing story of love and loss. That being said, one thing that Flanagan does well is create a bittersweet ending that emulates the central theme that to truly love someone is to accept that loving them is worth the risk and pain of losing them. However, though the last 15 minutes of the final episode carry the entire show, it cannot be ignored that the majority of the show is too slow, and that Flanagan adds another subplot in the second-to-last episode that only opens up more plot holes.

Finally, I cannot review Bly Manor without discussing its predecessor, The Haunting of Hill House. Hill House is overall a tighter and cleaner story that does a better job of balancing horror and very human themes – grief and guilt, in this case. Flanagan ties in fear as a projection of guilt and trauma in this series – rather than a separate and debatably related aspect – with a satisfying conclusion addressing family and forgiveness. However, Hill House also falls into a lull with the two episodes before the finale, but those episodes act more as a set-up for the finale rather than an entirely new addition to the story like in Bly Manor.

Overall, I expected both series to come to a huge, dramatic, maybe even disturbing conclusion, but what Flanagan choses to do instead is to subvert expectations and craft two conclusions that that are empathetic and wistful. The last fifteen minutes of Bly Manor and the finale of Hill House showcase Flanagan’s ability to depict compelling stories of human relationships, which is ultimately what draws a large fanbase to the two shows.

REVIEW: The Trial of the Chicago 7

Spoilers ahead, but this film is based on a historical event so…

 

The Trial of the Chicago 7, written and directed by Aaron Sorkin, follows the court case in which eight, later seven, defendants were accused of conspiracy during the summer of 1968. The defendants were accused of inciting riots during the Democratic National Convention which took place during a particularly turbulent time of anti-Vietnam War and counterculture protests and the civil rights movement. The film stars Sacha Baron Cohen, Eddie Redmayne, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Jeremy Strong, Mark Rylance, and Michael Keaton.

The film, overall, is fine. The acting is quite good – Sacha Baron Cohen proves he can take on a dramatic role; Jeremy Strong proves he can take on a comedic role; Eddie Redmayne, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Mark Rylance, and Michael Keaton all prove that they still know how to act. Aaron Sorkin proves, once again, that he is capable of writing snappy dialogue, and also that maybe he should leave the directing to someone else. The film has been executed in the same manner as The Social Network – written by Sorkin, directed by David Fincher – with its fast-speaking actors and more light-hearted, generally goofier dramatization of a legal case. However, this kind of style seems better-suited to lawsuits involving Mark Zuckerberg and the events of his college days rather than a court case addressing antiwar protests and racial tensions.

The film is not insensitive. That sentence is not meant as a litotes – I am not trying to say that the film is not not insensitive. I just left the film confused about how I was supposed to feel. The film includes lines such as “Who started the riots?” and “the police don’t start riots,” and it ends with defendant Tom Hayden reading off the names of Americans who had died in Vietnam as Judge Hoffman demands that there be order in the court. The film also depicts Judge Julius Hoffman ordering that the eighth defendant, Black Panther Party co-founder Bobby Seale, be bound, gagged, and chained to his chair for disrupting the court, despite his fellow white defendants being equally, if not more, disruptive. Seale was ultimately severed from the case – this is what makes it the Trial of the Chicago 7, not 8 – and the case was inherently about the Vietnam War rather than civil rights, however it is impossible to watch this film about protests, rioting, and police brutality in 2020 without drawing connections to race and racism. There was no way for Sorkin to predict the political climate of summer 2020, but “here is a film about some things that happened during the summer of 1968” comes across as a little lackluster. Sorkin does not take the police brutality, Vietnam death toll, or blatant racism against Seale lightly, but after having seen films that successfully balance humor and a modern political perspective on historical events – Blackkklansman comes to mind – The Trial of the Chicago 7 just falls a little flat.

Perhaps it is just simply disheartening to see the evolution of racism and police brutality since 1968. And it is a little bizarre to see this timely film take on the same tone as a film where Andrew Garfield and Jesse Eisenberg argue about feeding chicken nuggets to a chicken. That being said, The Trial of the Chicago 7 may not be revolutionary, but that does not mean it is inherently a bad film.

 

The Trial of the Chicago 7 is now streaming on Netflix.

PREVIEW: A.M.I.

Between online classes, meetings, schoolwork, and arts events, most of us are beginning to resent our forced bond with technology. Still, somehow, staring lovingly at our screens on Netflix remains our go-to pastime (or procrastination habit, if we’re being honest here). Lucky for us all, I have a movie suggestion that might just marry the two conflicting sentiments: A.M.I.

It’s about a gal mourning the loss of her mother, then happening upon a new app with customizable artificial intelligence personalities. She forms a deeply emotional relationship with the voice, but it soon turns much more sinister than sweet mother-daughter talks…

This sounds like an interesting concept, but still an easily consumable slasher flick perfect for the Halloween season and our stressed brains decaying from midterms.