REVIEW: Equals

27 07 2016

EqualsDystopian sci-fi often tends to paint in broad strokes as it outlines a vision of an alternate reality. But in Drake Doremus’ “Equals,” however, the focus is on the minutiae and the barely perceptible.

Though its color-drained, emotionless milieu exists somewhere on the spectrum between “Pleasantville” and “The Giver,” the pleasures hardly derive from the gradual revelations of the imagined premise’s limitations. In fact, the film often stumbles when it ventures into thriller-style intrigue around the “escape” from oppression. “Equals” soars when Doremus allows the incredibly specific, gently realized acting of stars Kristen Stewart and Nicholas Hoult to shine.

As cogs in an industrial machine that has sought to biologically eliminate emotions in the name of productivity and peace, Hoult’s Silas begins to feel the stirrings of affection for Stewart’s Nia after observing – ironically enough – her distinct mannerisms like lip biting and unusual eye movement. In these initial flirtations, their attractions scarcely register as the most minor of gestures. Doremus shows an eye for the subtle, the virtually unnoticeable that proves so unique to the cinema.

The chaste, hidden-in-plain-sight romance that plays out in public possesses a truly beautiful nuance and a wonderful correlation to the world all of us inhabit. The small graze of a crush’s hand or the intercepted glance often packs the most profound emotional wallop. It’s a shame that when their relationship moves into the more physical, sensual realm that “Equals” loses this bliss. In their fumbling for sexual intimacy, Doremus presents Silas and Nia as darkly silhouetted and reduced to mere grunts, gasps. Yes, they are discovering sexuality on a primal scale. But there has to be more to it.

Actually, there is more to it, as Hoult and Stewart so clearly demonstrate. With each passing scene, we can see the gradual expansion of the emotional pallets available to Stewart and Hoult – mostly in the latter. Stewart maintains a primarily leveled tenor as Nia, but Hoult grows into an emotionally sensitive character on par with his deeply empathetic turns in films like “Mad Max: Fury Road” and “Warm Bodies.” Doremus may spin in circles doing a kind of Harmony Korine-esque haze of words, fragmentary shots and trance-like score, but the actors of “Equals” keep the film centered. B2halfstars

REVIEW: Breathe In

8 12 2014

Breathe InWriter/director Drake Doremus’ “Breathe In” begins with obvious symbols abounding: a carefully curated family photoshoot, a tower of Jenga blocks, the copy of Jane Eyre lying about.  If you cannot predict what will happen the Reynolds’ take in an English exchange student, Felicity Jones’ inquisitive but indeterminate Sophie, then your high school english teacher owes you an apology.

Doremus, thankfully, does not just lay all the sexual tension out on the table from the outset.  Instead, there is a gradual, more lifelike build in Sophie’s burgeoning attraction to her host father, Guy Pearce’s Keith.  This restraint provides some reason to stay attuned to the story, which is otherwise too clichéd to draw us into Sophie’s psychology.  (And thankfully, Jones looks quite a bit older than high school age, thus eliminating any vibes of their relationship resembling something dangerously close to statutory rape.)

Sophie’s tale, that of a British girl who comes to live with a family in New York for a semester only to find her peers superficial and self-involved, just never feels particularly compelling.  All these scenes really seem to highlight is that Sophie possesses a wisdom beyond her years, an attribute highly accentuated by another highly perspicacious performance from Felicity Jones.

Pearce gets a somewhat more interesting story to work with.  His Keith is a frustratedly immobile cellist who has never been able to achieve the recognition for which he yearns.  Instead of playing in a symphony, he is relegated to teaching at a high school in order to support his family.  Sophie offers him the opportunity to fulfill his desires, not his responsibilities, and his internal vacillation is much more fascinating because it carries those high stakes.  Unlike the rest of “Breathe In,” Pearce’s performance proves quite subtly effective.  C+2stars

REVIEW: Like Crazy

6 03 2012

An indie movie for people that hate indie movies, “Like Crazy” aims for the lowest common denominator at all times by stretching the star-crossed lover formula to the edges of watchability.  Writer/director Drake Doremus really tests his audience’s patience by asking them to sympathize with two characters who spend 90 minutes complaining about a dilemma caused by their own willful negligence of the law.  You would think that only in a fantasy universe do actions not have consequences, but the reality of the film expects to defy the logic of reality.

The entire film hinges on the notion that we are supposed to somehow blame the government for the rift in the relationship of young lovers Jacob (Anton Yelchin) and Anna (Felicity Jones) when it is clearly their fault.  Only two morons would really believe that she could just overstay her visa in the United States and not face any ramifications.  Just because they are “in love,” as they see but we don’t, does not mean that immigration officials will simply deny the fact that she broke the law.  I guess such is the independent spirit of upper-class educated hipsters, believing everyone to be below them and thus only there to serve their peculiarities and desires.

Maybe it would be easier to forgive the two idiotic protagonists if they actually had some chemistry; Yelchin and Jones have as much heat as an industrial-strength freezer.  Their relationship begins almost on a whim, continues due mostly to carnal passion, and subsequently fades because an ocean separates them as they are forcibly split by the government.  Tell me where I’m supposed to root for anyone in this story, not to mention the actors make their characters surly, grumpy, and generally unpleasant.  They’re kind of like the grouches you really hope aren’t making your coffee at Starbucks in the morning.

Really, if Doremus wanted the audience to care at all about such stupid characters, he had to give them something to work with.  Instead, he gives us nothing, and it’s all too easy to resist the story and whatever it might have to say about love.  “Like Crazy” had the opportunity to really say something about connectivity and modernity, yet it settles to just be two attractive twenty-somethings moping about having to take responsibility for their actions.  Welcome to adulthood, kids.  C+