February 2, 2020

SHOWBUZZDAILY Sundance Reviews: “The Father,” “Nine Days” & “The Glorias”


THE FATHER (Sony Classics – TBD):  It’s probably foolhardy to start making predictions about next year’s Oscars when this year’s haven’t even been handed out yet, but it’s hard to imagine a scenario where Anthony Hopkins’s performance in The Father won’t be a major part of the Best Actor conversation.  It’s a showcase role, and Hopkins tears into it, dazzling and ultimately heartbreaking.  Note that it’s impossible to describe The Father without spoiling its central structural concept, so those who don’t want to know should skip ahead.  Florian Zeller, making his debut as a film director with an adaptation of his own play (the script is co-written with Christopher Hampton), begins with what seems like an ordinary domestic drama, in which Anne (Olivia Colman) and her husband Paul (Rufus Sewell) have to deal with her aging, cantankerous father Anthony (Hopkins), who doesn’t want to be reminded of his lapses in memory.  But things quickly turn strange–Anne is now played by Olivia Williams, and Paul is Mark Gatiss.  The relationships shift, and even Anthony’s surroundings subtly change.  Time seems fluid.  We gradually understand that we are experiencing Anthony’s own dementia, something that he only occasionally understands is even happenng.  The Father is shrewd and compassionate, allowing viewers to have some but not all the information about what Anthony’s objective reality actually is.  It could have played as an exercise, but the performers find the heart behind the ingeniousness, and Hopkins brings a Lear-like brokenness to his role.  It’s always tricky to sustain a film’s momentum for the entire year after Sundance, but Sony Classics is very skilled at this game (expect The Father to resurface at one or more of the fall film festivals), and they have the goods here.

NINE DAYS (no distrib):  It’s only fair to note that there were two types of reactions to Nine Days.  The prevailing view seemed to be that it was a spectacular feature debut from writer-director Edson Oda, a wildly imaginative, deeply moving and genuinely profound meditation on no less a subject than the meaning of life.  Then there were the cynics like me, who acknowledged the imagination but also found it to be not particularly coherent philosophical clickbait.  Oda sets his story in a different plane of existence, sort of a pre-life purgatory where watchers like Will (Winston Duke) and Kyo (Benedict Wong) keep track of the souls they’ve sent to Earth to live mortal lives (via VHS tapes and standard-definition TV sets).  When one of Will’s charges dies on Earth, it’s part of his job to fill the vacancy by auditioning a variety of pre-humans for the spot, including Alexander (Tony Hale), Kane (Bill Skarsgard) and especially Emma (Zazie Beetz), who challenges Will at every step of the process and seems by far to be the most complex being in the running.  Nine Days is full of ideas, like the moments of life that Will creates as a consolation prize for each of the failing candidates.  But the tests never make much sense (is it churlish to note that this seems like the most inefficient system imaginable to fill the planet?), and eventually it becomes clear that despite all the wild trimmings, the dramatic point of Nine Days is all too familiar:  the burnt-out Will regaining his mojo.  Oda has certainly created a striking vision, with beautifully stark photography by Wyatt Garfield and production design by Dan Hermansen, and a notable score by Antonio Pinto.  Whether it adds up to more than the sum of its parts, though, will be in the eye of the beholder.

THE GLORIAS (no distrib):  How is Julie Taymor’s The Glorias such a staid, unmemorable piece of work?  Everything about it seems to scream excitement:  Taymor herself is a vast talent, whose work both good (the Broadway Lion King) and less good (Across The Universe) has never lacked for risk-taking, and her co-writer is Sarah Ruhl, the playwright whose dramas include “In the Next Room (The Vibrator Play),” with photography by the great Rodrigo Prieto, The subject is Gloria Steinem, one of the giant figures of the last half-century of American social history.  The supporting cast includes Janelle Monae as Dorothy Pitman Hughes and Bette Midler as Bella Abzug.  The organizing concept is to view Steinem’s life as a bus ride across America, in which the incarnations of Steinem at various stages in her life (played by, among others, Alicia Vikander and Julianne Moore) ride together.  But aside from a minute or so here and there where the Glorias talk to each other on the bus, The Glorias turns out not to be a prismatic deconstruction of the biography genre like I’m Not There, but a conventional bio that intercuts between its timelines.  Steinem’s life, of course, is dramatic and important enough to be compelling even in this straightforward form, and the actors are very good, even if Vikander doesn’t match up particularly well with Moore.  The script, though, doesn’t delve very deep, and The Glorias, in telling the story of an American revolutionary, is oddly committed to following the rules.


About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."