Here’s a look at the new movies I saw this week.
Dear Evan Hansen (Theaters)
Starring: Ben Platt, Kaitlyn Dever, Amy Adams, Danny Pino, Julianne Moore, and Amandla Steinberg
Synopsis: This new film is an adaptation of the popular Broadway show and follows a similar story. Evan Hansen (Platt) is a high school senior with some emotional issues and not much in the way of friends. As a therapy assignment, he writes a letter to himself. When a classmate takes that letter then later kills himself, the boy’s parents (Adams and Pino) believe Evan was his best friend. Instead of setting the record straight, he steers into the skid and creates an elaborate story that becomes and inspiration to thousands all over the world. But it’s a house of cards that can’t help but topple. This is a very tough film for me to talk about because it left me feeling angry. I think it’s callous and disrespectful. I’d go so far as to characterize the story as dangerous, especially for those who struggle with these issues. It’s a delicate subject that is handled with no grace and no compassion. The music here is beautiful and the songs on their own are powerful. That is likely what made it a hit with Tony Award voters. But they’re in service of a plot that is beyond ugly. I not only didn’t care for the story, I was offended. I think this is one of the worst films of the year because of the way these important issues are handled in such a trivial manner to serve a plot that spins in dangerous directions. This is a total miss for me.
Rating: Rated PG-13 for thematic material involving suicide, brief strong language and some suggestive reference.
Verdict: One Star out of four
The Eyes of Tammy Faye (Theaters)
Starring: Jessica Chastain, Andrew Garfield, Cherry Jones and Vincent D’Onofrio
Synopsis: From one of my least favorite films of the year to one of my favorites, and one of two excellent films I saw this week. The Eyes of Tammy Faye is a biopic that centers on Tammy Faye Bakker (Chastain), the wife and partner in ministry of disgraced preacher Jim Bakker (Garfield). This film follows Tammy Faye from a young girl, where her early experience with the church framed her approach to life, through meeting Jim in college, founding a ministry and their fall from grace. I wasn’t alive and watching TV for much of the Bakker’s ministry, which began in the 1960s, hit its stride in the 1970s and came crashing down by the late 1980s. This film was an interesting exploration, one that filled in some gaps. A story like this is always going to draw criticism, especially because it takes a somewhat hard look at some prominent religious leaders. But throughout history, many things have been done in the name of God that wouldn’t make Him proud. As a Christian, I could appreciate that this is a story that looks hard at some individuals with impure motives rather than suggesting all people of faith are in the same boat. In addition, I loved the performances here. The makeup and hair work was incredible as well. Garfield could be on the short list at Supporting Actor, while Chastain is the star here and should be in the discussion for Best Actress. This was a fascinating and powerful film.
Rating: Rated PG-13 for sexual content and drug abuse.
Verdict: Four stars out of four
Mass (Limited Release October 8)
Starring: Jason Isaacs, Martha Plimpton, Ann Dowd, and Reed Birney
Synopsis: This is a powerful and difficult film. It’s also important and timely. It’s one of the best I’ve seen this year, but it packs an emotional wallop that might not be for everyone. This is a quiet film about two couples gathering to discuss their issues. That sounds simple, but what makes it complex is both lost children during a school shooting six years earlier. One couple (Isaacs and Plimpton) had a child who was a victim. The other (Dowd and Birney) had a child who was the shooter. Both carry huge burdens of grief and guilt that, even with the passage of time, have yet to heal. Both have questions and both are seeking a deeper level of understanding. They hope to get that in some way, as well as a measure of healing and closure, by coming together to discuss their children, their lives and what they’ve reflected on in the wake of that day. School shootings are a painful reality in this country that often become a hot-button political issue. This film touches on all those arguments without wading into the politics that divide. This is a meditation on the long-term effects of grief and guilt, and it’s a powerful gut punch. First time writer/director Fran Kranz does a beautiful job of crafting this story. This has four powerful performances and I wouldn’t be surprised if any or all of them get a nomination. In particular, I was moved by the work of Dowd and Isaacs, while Plimpton might deliver the most powerful performance of the four. This is one of the best films I’ve seen this year and one that I hope many people see and think about for some time afterward.
Rating: Rated PG-13 for thematic content and brief strong language.
Verdict: Four stars out of four