Miss Juneteenth Review


By: Amanda Guarragi 

Miss Juneteenth is a film, about the generational effects of mothering and how choices can affect the future. This is Channing Godfrey Peoples directorial debut and she wrote the screenplay as well. The film is about a former beauty queen and single mother, Turquoise Jones (Nicole Beharie) who prepares her rebellious daughter, Kai Marie Jones (Alexis Chikaeze) for the ‘Miss Juneteenth’ pageant. The film shows Black heritage and the different opportunities that are made available for the Black community.

It begins with Turquoise reminiscing about her pageant days and the future she could have had. She sees her bright, young daughter and wants her to follow in her footsteps, in order to succeed. Turquoise wants her daughter to accomplish more than she did, which causes her to push her to her limit and overwork her for a pageant, she does not want to take part of. It does seem that Turquoise sees this as a redemption arc, for herself, if her daughter wins the pageant and gets the scholarship for university.

Turquoise worked hard to become ‘Miss Juneteenth’ and there was pressure, that came with the title but it also shows how circumstances, like an alcoholic mother, or a pregnancy, can lead to difficult decisions, that could change your life. The film pushes Turquoise back into the world of pageantry and she begins to doubt herself, in how she’s raising Kai. Turquoise can be seen as a very strict mother and Kai wants to express her creativity through dancing instead of becoming a clone of her mother, for this pageant.

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Courtesy Ley Line Entertainment (left) Nicole Beharie and Alexis Chikaeze

 

Nicole Beharie gives a nuanced, emotional, complex performance, as Turquoise and it is one of the best performances of the year. As she guides her daughter Kai, through the pageant, she picked up double shifts, to pay for her pageant run and she realized, that it meant more to her, than it did to her daughter. Turquoise was working three jobs and trying to make everything work, for her family but it seemed like everyone was against her. It may not have been intentional but Turquoise had to hustle and do everything for herself, when others fell through.

Turquoise had struggled with so many things in her life, including a strained relationship with her alcoholic mother. She was responsible for her own mother, from a very young age and she had to learn how to support herself. Those are choices that need to be made, in order to survive and that is what she did. She is a woman that would go to any lengths, to protect the people that are around her and go above and beyond for them, when times get rough.

Miss Juneteenth is a strong debut from Channing Godfrey Peoples, as she discusses the systemic racism and corruption in the Black community, in regards to equal opportunities for schooling and businesses. It shows the journey of a woman, who needed to make tough choices in order to survive, as she remembers a version of herself, that is now a ghost of her past life. Women sacrifice so many things for others around them, including their children and this was a film, that definitely showed the determination they have.

Little Fires Everywhere Review


By: Amanda Guarragi 

Little Fires Everywhere is a Hulu Original series, that is adapted from Celeste Ng’s novel. The series explores the residence living in Shaker Heights, specifically the picture-perfect Richardson family but when a mother and daughter, move into their rental home nearby, things take a dramatic turn. It has a very strong narrative structure, it is well written and shows the complexities of each character extremely well. The show tackles racial discrimination, microaggressions, the meaning of motherhood and a woman’s right to choose.

We first meet Elena Richardson (Reese Witherspoon) who is standing on the sidewalk, staring at her mansion, burning to the ground. We can understand that something has gone horribly wrong and someone else has set her home ablaze. The opening title sequence is stunning as well, showing plenty of important objects and pieces that symbolize how materialistic the residence in Shaker Heights can be. The opening sequence, to any show, is the tipping point because it gives so much away and no one even realizes it, that’s why it is one of my favourite aspects in a series.

Elena had a perfect home, a perfect family, a picture-perfect life but she was unhappy with herself. She has always been confused about what she wanted. Did she want to have a career or did she want to have four children? Naturally people would say, that she could have both and live that picture-perfect life but it is unrealistic. No one’s life is perfect because people are not perfect. Elena wanted to have a family and have a career, but the more children she had, the more she resented the fact, that her journalism career was dwindling. This was such a perfect role for Reese Witherspoon because she plays the privileged, broken woman so well.

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Courtesy of Simpson Street & Hello Sunshine 

The idea of perfection is what causes the most harm in anyone’s life. The pressure to be perfect and to always make the right choices is exhausting. Everyone doubts themselves and if they made the right choices in their lives. At the end of the day, we never really know until ten years later, when you realize how much time has passed and you reflect on your life. This is the case with Mia (Kerry Washington) and Pearl Warren (Lexi Underwood) who have been relocating, their entire lives because Mia is an artist, with a very dark past.

Mia first meets Elena when she takes a look at her rental home, which is down the street from the Richardson house. When Elena speaks to Mia, she is very passive and delivers lines with a discriminatory undertone. Elena reeks of white privilege and Mia is very transparent, when having discussions with her. The racial issues, are not only discussed throughout the series, but they are planted in the very passive dialogue, from white characters and it shows the microaggressions quite effectively. It is all about the way things were said to Mia and to Pearl, it is almost hard to stomach at times because of how oblivious Elena is to her own vocabulary.

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Courtesy of Simpson Street & Hello Sunshine (left Kerry Washington and Reese Witherspoon) 

Elena makes the attempt to welcome Mia and Pearl into her home, they became friends and had discussions about motherhood. The flashbacks to their former selves, played by Tiffany Boone and AnnaSophia Robb, were placed properly as well, so the audience can come to their own conclusion of how “motherly” these characters were. What does it take to be a mother? Are all women fit to be mothers? How does one even define motherhood? Is it really a choice to even be a mother or is it more of an obligation to the gender role? These constructs have women in a box, in a cage, if you will and once they get locked into a role or a life, they did not plan on having, it leads to difficult decisions.

What was most interesting about this show, was the character dynamics, between Mia and Izzy Richardson (Megan Stott) versus Pearl and Elena. Pearl wanted to live a normal life, she wanted to attend school and go to homecoming dances, maybe even experience her first love and stay for a while. Izzy hated her small town life, she did not want to feel boxed in and her art was her freedom. Both Izzy and Pearl, essentially, wanted to switch lives and switch mothers. Izzy and Pearl, saw who they wanted to be when they were older. Izzy saw herself, as a free, artistic spirit like Mia and Pearl saw herself, in a huge home, with a picture-perfect husband and a family like Elena.

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Courtesy of Simpson Street & Hello Sunshine (top) Kerry Washington and Lexi Underwood (bottom) Reese Witherspoon and Megan Stott

The final three episodes of the series, is when all the demons and secrets, creep out and wreak havoc on everyone close to the Richardson family. Their perfect family is torn apart by lies and poor decisions made by Trip Richardson (Jordan Elsass), Lexie Richardson (Jade Pettyjohn) and Elena. The central story, eventually shifts, to a legal battle between Elena’s friend, Linda McCullough (Rosemarie DeWitt) and Mia’s coworker, Bebe Chow (Lu Huang), who fight for custody of young Mirabella/May Ling. It leaves everyone questioning, who is the right fit, to mother this child. Is it the birth mother or the adopted mother? As that heartbreaking storyline unfolds, we find out who Elena and Mia really are through flashbacks.

Little Fires Everywhere is one of the best series I have seen this year and it will keep you in it, until the very end. This cast is extremely strong, Kerry Washington and Reese Witherspoon are incredible in this! The show is very important because it is very subtle in its delivery, that you won’t even realize how many issues are boiling under the surface. It slowly creates this atmosphere of doom like a slow, burning fire, that will ignite at any second. The final episode shows the privilege literally burning to the ground and I think it is a wonderful metaphor.

 

Softness of Bodies Review


By: Amanda Guarragi 

Softness of Bodies feels like an authentic European tale, with a self centred, narcissistic, American poet as the protagonist. It takes place in Berlin, where Charlotte (Dasha Nekrasova) an aspiring poet, hopes to win a prestigious grant, all while dealing with her past relationships. The film unfolds quite naturally, as a string of events cause Charlotte to think on her feet and adapt to her current situation, in order to stay on track for her grant.

Charlotte is one of the most intriguing characters I have seen in awhile. She is very aloof, blunt and passive. She has the chronic need to steal anything she desires (which includes boyfriends) and tends to get herself into some sticky situations. The pacing of this film was the one thing that worked extremely well. Everything happened for a reason and it allowed each bad event, to escalate naturally, in order to suit Charlotte’s actions.

The title of the film speaks on multiple levels but it can be interpreted as the exterior of the body, by touch, is something delicate and sensual. All that matters is the feel of the person and not what is on the inside. The exterior is something people crave, people objectively analyze others every single day, without realizing they do. Their bodies are the first thing that anyone notices before they cast judgement on who they are. Their personality, flaws, or history do not matter.

Once we get to know people, that is when that soft exterior fades away and we are met with the reality of the person. In Charlotte’s case, she was a very tough person to get along with because of the way she was. She was into herself and those around her, were either there to tear her down, or to watch her crumble. She had to deal with her ex-boyfriend who cheated on her, while she was sleeping with another man, who was in a relationship. The film was filled with lying, cheating and deceit. When reflecting on the film, it does seem like Charlotte got away with the ultimate robbery.

The camerawork was interesting, the tracking shots that were used for Charlotte, were great. She was always on the run, or riding her bicycle and the editing during those chase scenes were strong. The colour grading and textures, were subtle throughout but were punched up a bit, during house party scenes. There were yellowish tones and pastels that were used and the smoke that filled the apartments gave it a relaxed, hazy feel.

Softness of Bodies, at first, is a character study and then, one event, kickstarts a downward spiral for Charlotte. She is a master manipulator and con artist. It does get darker, as the film goes on and I think that is why it’s so intriguing to watch. Majority of the time, you question if it can get worse and it definitely does. Charlotte walks through life, unfazed by any minor inconvenience, as if it never even happened. She takes control of her own hardships and finds a way to make it out on the other side.

Shirley Review


By: Amanda Guarragi 

Josephine Decker known for making a splash with Madeline’s Madeline in 2018, takes on the story of famous horror author Shirley Jackson. Shirley is a character study of the famous author, as she attempts to write another novel. She has been locked in her house for two months and has unwanted guests moving in, as her husband Stanley (Michael Stuhlbarg) offers a young teacher, Fred Nemser (Logan Lerman) and his pregnant wife, Rose Nemser (Odessa Young) to stay with them, in order to give him a steady position at the school where he teaches.

The story is a typical stockholm syndrome atmosphere but the intrigue in the protagonist and these characters is what was severely lacking. At first Shirley is opposed in having this couple stay with her and then slowly, she preys on young Rose. She begins to create scenes in her head, that are somehow connected to a “missing girl” ad, that has been circling the town. The story of the young girl named Paula, is somehow in this fictional plain, that crosses into the reality of Rose living with Shirley. Shirley goes a bit mad while she writes this story, causing Rose to unravel at the same time.

Does it seem like a a story about a writer and her muse? Sure. However, the present time of Rose growing closer to Shirley does not make sense with how this film ended. Is Paula a real missing person? Is Rose still alive and well at the end of this film? Or was this entire experience of the married couple moving in with them a dream from the beginning? In simple terms, let’s just say that the film leaves plenty to the imagination and how the audience can interpret a writers process.

Elisabeth Moss delivers another stellar performance but the character just did not sit right for her. There was something off about this pairing and I don’t know if the character suited Moss. It just seemed like the film was forcing itself to be edgy and sinister in order to hold onto its audience. There were graphic visuals and unique camerawork to show the madness in the mind of the author and her process but it wasn’t enough to make it interesting.

Shirley had great moments between both women in the film and they had very open discussions about womanhood but those important conversations got lost in the attempted madness of the piece. It was a bit too messy for my liking because of the constant crossover between present time and fictional scenes. It was hard to understand what Decker wanted to present in this film. Maybe I’m someone who gets too involved into the psychosis of the characters and wanting something to come from it. It had its moments and had solid performances from all four of them but sadly it just didn’t sit well with me.

 

 

 

The High Note Review


By: Amanda Guarragi 

The High Note is a perfectly composed film that effortlessly shows the production journey in the music industry. It had an authentic feel and a nostalgic atmosphere because of Grace Davis (Tracee Ellis Ross) and her very long, successful music career. The film is about women in different places in the industry, one a superstar and the other an assistant/wannabe producer Maggie Sherwoode (Dakota Johnson). Their relationship appears strong but it is definitely tested throughout the film. It is written by Flora Greeson and directed by Nisha Ganatra (Late Night) who delivered one of the best films of the year.

It is one of the most interesting films that shows the musical journey in Hollywood. Grace Davis is a middle aged woman in the industry, who has locked a Vegas residency. Everyone loves the icon and her assistant Maggie wants to push for a new album, instead of extending the contract for another year. Maggie goes above and beyond her paygrade and ends up getting into arguments with Davis’ manager, Jack Robertson (Ice Cube) who keeps putting her in her place. Flora Greeson accurately tells the story of reinventing a brand and an artists story, through multiple perspectives from the people around her.

This cast is truly something special, they all had wonderful chemistry together, which made for a great ensemble piece for everyone involved. Tracee Ellis Ross was stunning. I don’t know any other way to put it but she just gave off this elegance and prowess in her performance as Grace Davis. Dakota Johnson was lovely in this role and really carried the story with her characters dream to be a producer one day. Ice Cube was cast perfectly as Davis’ manager and definitely had the quippy attitude down pat. While watching this film, the one that truly surprised me was Kelvin Harrison Jr. who played David Cliff in the film. The man is very talented but hearing him sing, just elevated my adoration for him and he should be the name on everyone’s lips after this film.

Everything about this film flowed beautifully from scene to scene. The sound design and soundtrack that accompanied each scene worked so well together, as if everything was placed to shed light on the power of music. It was so heartwarming and you could feel the passion for music from everyone who worked on this film. There was so much care and love into creating this story and you could feel it from the entire team. The direction was great and there were many humorous moments that released some of the tension.

It was important to shed light on the treatment of women in the music industry, especially Black middle aged women in the music industry. Tracee Ellis Ross presented such raw emotion when discussing the sexism, ageism and racial issues that plague the industry. It was also important to highlight the difficulty a female producer would face and the connection shared between Davis and Maggie was important to this story. They shared such a beautiful friendship and I think it’s one of the most rewarding aspects of this film.

The High Note is refreshing and one of the best films of the year. This was a film that needed to be made because it highlights the lives of women in the music industry, in a way that no other film has. This film is also filled with plenty of surprises, especially the twist at the end, which made for a pretty emotional final performance. It is a film that captures women in such a unique light and shows that they are strong enough to create a pathway, for everyone to follow suit. It is all about taking risks and putting in the hardwork, in order to achieve your goals in life.