Tricia Youlden

A Monster Calls

★★★★ PG

The death of a loved one is difficult enough for an adult to deal with. For a child it must be overwhelming. Conor O’Malley (Lewis MacDougall) can see his mother (Felicity Jones) being slowly but surely ravaged by cancer. Although this sad little boy is the target of the class bully and his cronies, who routinely beat him up after school, Conor has no one to confide in. He does not want to upset his mother. His father (Toby Kebbell) lives in America with a new wife and daughter.

His maternal grandmother (Sigourney Weaver) is a no-nonsense real estate agent, whom Conor finds forbidding. His daytime experiences feed his recurring nightmare of losing his grip on his mother’s hand and watching her fall into the abyss.

Then, at precisely 12.07 each night, the old yew tree that Conor can see from his bedroom window turns into a monster (voiced by Liam Neeson) and visits him. Although I found the CGI of the nightmare and the monster somewhat excessive, the water colour graphics that illustrate the monster’s three “parables” are exquisite.

Basically, the yew tree monster is helping Conor confront not only his fears but also the reality of his situation. When yet another failed medical intervention has his mother hospitalised, Conor goes to live with his grandmother in her “old person’s house”. Following a flying visit by his father, Conor’s frustration finally unleashes his inner monster.

Yet, no matter what he breaks or whom he hits, he knows that he can’t prevent his nightmare coming true.

His grandmother is so overwhelmed by her own devastating grief that she is unable to comfort him. Although there can be no fairytale happy ending to this story, Conor does eventually comprehend that his grandmother cares and we are left hoping that he and she might “live messily ever after”.

It is apparent why this screenplay by Patrick Ness, developed from an original idea by the late Siobhan Dowd, would have appealed to director J.A. Bayona, whose previous film The Orphanage also deals with children, death and the supernatural.

Like The Orphanage and The Impossible, the production values in A Monster Calls are impeccable.

While it is debatable at which age group this film is aimed, I would suggest that it is probably suitable for children aged nine or over.

Paris can Wait

★★★★ PG

Acclaimed artist, author and award-winning documentary maker Eleanor Coppola had not made a feature film until her husband suggested she direct the screenplay she had written, based on her own impromptu road trip from Cannes to Paris with an associate of her husband’s. The result is the charming film Paris can Wait.

Anne Lockwood (Diane Lane) appears resigned to the fact that her film producer husband Michael (Alec Baldwin) pays more attention to his wheeling and dealing than to her. The couple are about to fly from Cannes to Paris via a troublesome Eastern European film shoot, when Anne is grounded with an ear problem. Coincidentally, Michael’s French business associate, Jacques Clement (Arnaud Viard), is about to drive back to Paris. When he offers Anne a lift in his old Renault convertible it seems to be the ideal solution.

Although Anne is initially alarmed by his somewhat erratic driving, Jacques proves to be a charming, considerate companion. Not only is he is keen to show her sights and scenery well off the beaten tourist track but also to lead her on a culinary adventure, proudly introducing her to the specialties of the regions. It soon becomes clear that they will not be in Paris by nightfall the first evening. N’importe! Jacques seems to know every hotelier, restaurateur and sommelier intimately, especially those of the female gender. As Anne relaxes and confides in Jacques, the more detours they make to see places that he realises would interest her. Even when his beloved car breaks down, Jacques turns it into an opportunity to pick wild herbs, open a bottle of wine and have a picnic.

Cinematographer Crystel Fournier and the whole production team ensure that Paris can Wait looks as luscious as the gourmet dishes that the characters devour en route. Small details like clothes becoming progressively crumpled, hair looking genuinely windblown, further add to the film’s credibility. However, while Anne is rejuvenated by the refreshing realisation that people are interested in her as an individual, not merely as a wife and mother, Michael is becoming progressively more concerned at the time that she and Jacques are taking to reach Paris. Little threads of suspicion about Jacques’ integrity are skilfully sewn into the narrative to provide a slight edge to the film. Whether or not Michael has just cause for alarm, one suspects that he is one film producer who will definitely not take his wife for granted again soon.

Kumail Nanjiani, playing himself, with Zoe Kazan as Emily, navigate the sensitive waters of a cross-cultural affair

The Big Sick

★★★★★ M

Its disconcerting title notwithstanding, the plot of The Big Sick would seem pretty farfetched were it not based on reality. Life can indeed be stranger than fiction. Co-written by Kumail Nanjiani and Emily V. Gordon, The Big Sick begins at the comedy club in Chicago where Kumail (played by himself) is performing his stand-up set, which revolves around his personal situation of feeling caught between two cultures: that of his birthplace, Pakistan, and the US, where he has grown up. Mid-set, he is heckled by young post-graduate student Emily (Zoe Kazan), which leads to a one-night stand.

Both are adamant that they are not interested in a relationship, citing career reasons. However, they get along far too well to stay apart until the true reasons for neither having been keen to begin a relationship emerge.

Although he drives an Uber to support his comedy habit and lives in a blokey mess with another stand-up comedian, Kumail’s parents are under the impression that their second son will become a lawyer and enter into a traditional arranged marriage with one of the many eligible young Pakistani women who just happen to drop in whenever he is having dinner at his parents’ house. The casting of the Nanjiani family is impeccable, with Anupam Kher as his father, Zenobia Shroff as his mother and Adeel Akhtar as his brother. The banter around the dinner table is most entertaining. These scenes are both amusing and revelatory about the fundamental dilemma facing an immigrant family. How much tradition should you retain? Even when it leads to his break-up with Emily, Kumail fails to confront his situation.

Some time after their separation, Kumail is suddenly called to a hospital where Emily is critically ill. Shortly after his arrival, she is put into an induced coma. Only when he sees her so helpless and losing her fight for life does he realise how much she means to him. With the arrival of Emily’s parents, Beth (Holly Hunter) and Terry (Ray Romano), Kumail is summarily dismissed. However, much to Beth’s ire, the man who had broken her daughter’s heart continues to hang around the intensive care unit, day after day. Although her parents and former lover eventually bond, Emily’s condition continues to deteriorate. Amid uniformly believable performances by the entire cast, I must single out Holly Hunter, whose portrayal of Emily’s distraught but determined mother is Oscar-worthy. Yet, despite much of the film being quite an intense exploration of what it means to love someone, the writers, actors and director Michael Showalter subtly leaven the drama with those moments of incidental humour that underlie even the most stressful moments in life and keep us afloat.

The stellar crew assembled by producers Judd Apatow and Barry Mendel is led by Brian Burgoyne (director of photography), Brandon Tonner-Connolly (production designer), Robert Nassau (editor) and Michael Andrews (composer).

This gentle, yet provocative, film was certainly a perfect, albeit temporary, antidote to Term 3 stress for me.

Tricia Youlden teaches drama at Willoughby GHS