Fifty Shades Darker (2017): a love letter to capitalism and patriarchy

Fifty Shades Darker is without a doubt one of the worst films I have ever seen. But if I struggled to understand how such a film could ever be released and embraced by the audiences two years ago when its predecessor, Fifty Shades of Grey, hit the theatres, this second edition to the series hardly left me in any such disbelief. I left the cinema utterly disgusted and shocked about just how bad a film can be, but surprised that this is what brings people to the cinema, that this is what women are willing to spend their money on? No, not anymore. We are living in a Trump-era after all, and it is hard not to see some parallels between Grey’s disturbing treatment of women and Trump’s own sexual assault accusations and disgusting remarks about him being entitled to grabbing women’s genitalia whenever he feels like it. If we are living in an era where the worst kind of misogyny can get you into the White House, should we still be surprised that this kind of film not only gets released without worldwide protests against it, but even makes hundreds of millions of dollars of profit? I guess not.

Grey’s luxurious penthouse could easily be mistaken for the top floor of Trump’s Tower (minus all the gold, although there is a Red Room to make up for that; or should I say REDRUM? Because let’s be honest, it’s only a matter of time when Grey goes full-on Jack Nicholson in The Shining), and his naive, if not just plain stupid, young girl undoubtedly bears some resemblance to Trump’s damsel in distress as she, although not from a foreign country, continuously acts like she just fell from another planet. Having been reading 19th century novels by Jane Austen and  Brontë sisters for most of her adolescent and adult life, she seems to have overlooked the fact that two hundred years and three waves of feminism have passed between now and then, leaving Western civilization thoroughly changed in the process. Women not only got the right to vote and semi-equal opportunities in the professional world, but we also witnessed to a sexual revolution that gave us the right to form and claim our own sexual identity. But this all seems foreign to Anastasia who, at 27, is still a virgin. Which makes her a perfect victim for our modern-day Mr. Rochester who manages to win this clueless and inexperienced girl over with his pockets full of money – as well as with (or maybe despite?) his disturbing and creepy possessiveness that gets alarmingly romanticized in what should be a fictional (#FreeMelania inspired) caution tale about domestic abuse.

At the end of the last film we parted our ways with this troubled couple just as Anastasia, disturbed by discovery of Grey’s appetite for “kinky fuckery” (if anyone wondered whether dialogues get any better this time around, I hope this term alone answers your question: fuck no), dumped his rich stalkery ass and went to live her life on her own terms. But just as she starts working at her new job, Dorian Grey bursts back into her life – and he doesn’t need to do much more but to sweet-talk her over one really expensive dinner before she ends up right back in his arms. This time without the contract. But wait, just an hour and a couple of boring vanilla sex scenes later (seriously, for an erotic movie this film did not even manage to get this part right) he romantically proposes to her just as he wakes from a terrible nightmare (because this is how every woman wants to be proposed: during a nightmare that is quite possible a metaphor for a marriage that is yet to come). She says yes, of course – because how could she not if this is exactly what it takes for her to once and for all waltz into the world of the 1%? The contract is therefore hardly  ever mentioned throughout the film – but then again, isn’t a marriage licence (at least for a person such as Grey) exactly the same piece of paper? Won’t this certificate give him the ultimate control and possession of her? Won’t she simply become his property, obliged to do exactly as he pleases? This is, after all, what she is already doing – only to always putting up a bit of a fight before doing as she is told, like this will fool any of us about her supposed strong will and independence. He already has a file on her, has a hold of her bank account, is tracking her phone and even forbids her to go on an important business trip – which she dutifully obliges. So, what’s next? I’d say her getting locked in his Trump Tower (sorry, my mistake, I obviously meant Grey’s penthouse) where sexual assault will become just one of many ways for Grey to unleash his inner demons (but, as Trump would say, no sexual intercourse can be interpreted as rape inside of a marriage, so all is good, right?).

As I have already established in my previous review: this is a love story about capitalism (as well as patriarchy; the two go hand in hand after all), but this movie is quite less ashamed to admit that compared to the last one. A particularly laughable sex scene that follows their reconciliation is therefore not even trying to be erotic, as if the real turn-on for the audience is actually yet to come a few moments later: by Grey telling Anastasia that he makes 45.000$ every fifteen minutes. And because glamorizing the life of the 1% is all this film is actually about, the list of such ridiculous scenes just goes on: Anastasia getting to choose from custom design lingerie and costumes for the ball at the sight of which she looks more aroused than half of the time she and Christian are actually intimate; her learning about his place in Aspen, to which he smugly replies “I have a lot of places” (and off they go, to have sex, because what’s sexier than a guy you’re dating, even though possessing no personality whatsoever but a sadistic need to cause women pain, telling you that he has real estates all over the country?) and her learning how to drive his enormous sailing boat (one of the most ridiculous scenes in this film where I didn’t know if the whole movie crew was just absolutely fascinated by the fact that boats can drive on water or they just really wanted to sell this particular boat to us as the film seemed to have ended there for a second and jumped to a commercial).

There is absolutely nothing that is not to hate here – from awful dialogues and awkward and stiff performances (with the exception of Dakota Johnson who at times looks like she is actually making fun of her own role, which is really the only right way to approach her ridiculously pathetic character), to guest performance of Kim Basigner who probably got paid a nice sum of money to get a drink spilled in her face and then slapped just a moment later in the most fabulous Mexican telenovela fashion. But her presence mostly just reminded us of how much steamier erotic dramas could (and should) be, since her 80’s film Nine 1/2 Weeks, despite its obvious flaws, managed to do the genre justice that this trilogy can only dream of. Because to be honest, despite the misleading Darker in the title, there isn’t one erotic scene that I would not find laugh out funny – including the one in the big finale when Anastasia finally asks if they could make love in the Red Room. S&M, something that is supposed to be the biggest marketing niche of the franchise, is here once again reduced to using a satin blindfold and handcuffs (oh the kinkiness of it!) which eventually leads to sex in – wait for it – good old missionary position. Instead of normalizing the fact that some people indeed practice S&M and that there’s nothing wrong with that (as long as it happens in a safe environment and with consent of everyone involved), this film tries to normalize and romanticize stalking and possessiveness of a man; of him trying to dominate and control the woman’s life completely, in every sphere of her private and professional life, as if thousands of women aren’t endangered every second of the day by men who act just like that. As for the fetishes that should be at the center of this utterly awful story – the only fetish I managed to detect throughout the film was ultimately the one that both Grey and Anastasia share: money.

The Edge of Seventeen (2016): teenage angst movie of the decade

The Edge of Seventeen seemed to have appeared out of nowhere when it premièred at last year’s TIFF, but it wasn’t long before it won over both critics and regular audiences alike. Still, with years of disappointment under the belt when it came to teen movies, I remained sceptical. These past years were overflown with either problematic, body shaming teen comedies such as The Duff, Glee spin-offs (Pitch Perfect) or adolescent dramas filled with overly eloquent and grown up characters (Paper Towns) that were nowhere near to what real teenagers are supposed to sound like, let alone go through. It was clear – the golden days of John Hughes’s teen movies were over and while there were some films over the years that somehow did the genre justice, none of them ever managed to reach the greatness and timelessness of the ultimate teen classic, The Breakfast Club (1985). The genre seemed exhausted and uninspired, with one film after another falling into a trap of good girl vs. bad girl logic, vicious catfights and “who is dating who” premises. And then along came The Edge of Seventeen – a fascinating directorial debut of Kelly Fremon Craig who depicts teenage angst and overall agony of adolescence with such accuracy that it instantly catapulted me back to my dreadful high school experience – even though it’s been almost a decade since I left those horrible, painful and confusing years behind.

Nadine (portrayed by Hailee Steinfeld who excels in the role) is a tomboyish, unpopular and self-absorbed seventeen-year-old who doesn’t quite belong and is yet to find her place under the sun. She doesn’t get along with her peers, nor does she find any refuge at home where she stubbornly fights with her widowed mother whenever she’s not shamelessly hating on her perfect and popular brother. The only person who gets to see the insecure, imperfect but charming Nadine that hides under the carefully constructed façade of uncompromising sarcasm and biting humour with which she keeps everyone else at bay, is her best (and only) friend Krista. That is at least until Krista starts to date Nadine’s brother. Already feeling misunderstood by the entire generation of “mouth-breathers who get a seizure if you take their phone away” and her family, she now starts to isolate herself even more, using sharp sarcasm to protect herself from the world around and self-sabotagingly hurting everyone around  – only to end up getting hurt the most herself.

Where this film really hits the right note is that it avoids going into a direction of high-school hardships and injustices. Nadine’s classmates are not treating her badly and she is never a victim of any kind of social exclusion. It is she herself that isolates her by rejecting the company of everyone around, looking down on her peers and on all they are supposed to represent. She feels like an old soul, wiser and maturer than anyone else around, but it is all just an act and it is sometimes hard to say if even she herself believes in her supposed superiority. She is simply arrogant (as most teenagers are) and deeply insecure, battling her own demons every step of the way. There hasn’t been quite enough films that would effectively explore the idea of how the biggest enemy of an adolescent girl is usually no one else but herself – but The Edge of Seventeen does just that. No matter what is her external situation, whether she runs with the cool crowd or is completely unknown to people at her school, being a teenage girl is exhausting and horrifying, which makes it quite easy for us to sometimes get overwhelmed by our mere existence. Self-doubt and self-questioning are with us every second of the day, no matter how we pretend to look like we have it all figured out, and while this may be what every youngster goes through, there is also constant observation, evaluation and judgement of others that is mostly reserved for girls – and that we at some point start to project onto ourselves. Or as John Berger smartly put it: “A woman is always accompanied, even when quite alone, by her own image of herself. From earliest childhood she is taught and persuaded to survey herself continually.” And indeed this is exactly what Nadine goes through and what causes her so much pain, even though she uses her brother dating her best friend as a catalyst for her angsty outbursts:

You know, ever since we were little, I would get this feeling like… Like I’m floating outside of my body, looking down at myself… And I hate what I see… How I’m acting, the way I sound. And I don’t know how to change it. And I’m so scared… That the feeling is never gonna go away.

What makes this character so authentic and relatable is her constant distress and inherent loneliness. Most of us went through a time when we felt completely and utterly alone, when we believed that nobody could possibly understand what we are feeling, what we are going through. And no party, no amount of alcohol, no sleepover with our best friend could make us feel better and fill the utter emptiness and despair that was slowly taking control of our body. Indeed, Nadine is sinking into a depression (just another thing that hit close to home for me, having been battling depression for a better part of high school myself), but the film smartly avoids lingering on her sad, distressed face or focusing on melancholy afternoons of her sinking into self-hating and damaging thoughts. The direction instead remains vibrant throughout the entire film, bringing to light just how invisible depression is to the world and people around us and how hard it sometimes is for us to get to terms with it; admitting to ourselves that it is really our negative mindset and outlook on life that is the cause of our problems and not our sibling dating the “wrong” person.

But even though there is a lot of depth and sadness running through the film, The Edge of Seventeen ultimately comes across as a thoroughly enjoyable and funny cinematic experience. This is mostly due to fantastic comedic chemistry between Nadine and her grumpy history teacher (Woody Harrelson) who seems to be the only one capable of decent comebacks to her sarcastic attacks and who ultimately becomes the only person she trusts and whom she seeks out when in need.

Although it can’t quite compare to the provocative brilliance of last year’s teen indie, The Diary of a Teenage Girl, The Edge of Seventeen, despite being a mainstream film, ends up being the best teenage angst movie that the past decade had to offer. And why it will probably appeal to generations to come with its timeless wisdom and relatability, is probably most evident in an emotional and cathartic ending when during final confrontation between Nadine and her brother, she finally realizes that she is far from being the only person whose life is filled with problems and who sometimes doesn’t know how to cope with everything that life throws at her. It is a definable moment – one that everyone of us had to go through – when she has to let go of her egotism, realizing that she is just one of many people in the world who feels trapped, burdened and inadequate. And indeed, this feeling may never go away, but as Nadine’s mother would say: “Everyone’s just as miserable and empty, they’re just better at pretending.”

The Basics:
Directed by: Kelly Fremon Craig
Written by: Kelly Fremon Craig
Starring: Hailee Steinfeld, Haley Lu Richardson, Blake Jenner, Woody Harrelson
Running Time: 104 minutes
Year: 2016
Rating: 8

Valentine’s Day: fifty shades greyer, darker and freer

With Valentine’s Day almost around the corner and with Fifty Shades Darker about to hit the theatres, I decided to make an alternative list of films for all of us who don’t celebrate this annual “holiday” that is, let’s face it, the embodiment of everything that is wrong with contemporary consumerist society.

Before you start jumping to conclusions – no, I don’t have anything against a holiday that celebrates love. But I do have everything against a holiday that makes corporations earn billions by selling meaningless greeting cards, chocolates and flowers, that makes disastrous films such as Fifty Shades of Grey break records and that makes all single people feel like they are somehow failing at life.

If you’re here for films such as Nicolas Sparks’s clichéd romantic dramas, young adult love stories such as The Spectacular Now or Paper Towns, British tear-jerkers such as Me Before Youultimate crying out loud classics such as Titanic or feminist (but not really) films about “female empowerment” such as Trainwreck, this list probably won’t be for you. But if you’re up for something different, real, at times depressing and edgy… then there’s no doubt that you’ll find something perfect for February 14th below.

And for all of you who would like to explore cinematic world of unusual, messed up and/or not meant to be romantic relationships even further, there’s an extended Letterboxd list that I made just for the occasion.

The classics

  1. Brief Encounter (David Lean, 1945)
  2. Amour (Michael Haneke, 2012)
  3. City Lights (Charles Chaplin, 1931)
  4. Vertigo (Alfred Hitchcock, 1958)
  5. Scenes from a Marriage (Ingmar Bergman, 1973)
  6. Casablanca (Michael Curtiz, 1942)
  7. L’eclisse (Michelangelo Antonioni)
  8. Ali: Fear Eats the Soul (Rainer Werner Fassbinder, 1974)
  9. Wings of Desire (Wim Wenders, 1987)
  10. Beauty and the Beast (Jean Cocteau, 1946)
  11. Last Year at Marienbad (Alain Resnais, 1961)
  12. The Shop Around the Corner (Ernst Lubitsch, 1940)
  13. Love in the Afternoon (Eric Rohmer, 1972)
  14. Chungking Express (Wong Kar-Wai, 1994)
  15. Before Sunrise/Sunset/Midnight (Richard Linklater, 1995/04/13)
  16. Open Hearts (Susanne Bier, 2002)
  17. Contempt (Jean-Luc Godard, 1963)
  18. Loves of a Blonde (Miloš Forman, 1965)
  19. Manhattan (Woody Allen, 1979)
  20. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (Michel Gondry, 2004)
  21. A Matter of Life and Death (Michael Powell & Emeric Pressburger, 1946)
  22. It Happened One Night (Frank Capra, 1934)
  23. The Graduate (Mike Nichols, 1967)
  24. Design for Living (Ernst Lubitsch, 1933)
  25. The Philadelphia Story (George Cukor, 1940)

Let’s get weird

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  1. Belle de jour (Luis Buñuel, 1967)
  2. That Obscure Object of Desire (Luis Buñuel, 1977)
  3. Blue Velvet (David Lynch, 1986)
  4. Teorema (Pier Paolo Pasolini, 1968)
  5. Woman in the Dunes (Hiroshi Teshigahara, 1964)
  6. Virgin Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors (Sang-soo Hong, 2000)
  7. The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover (Peter Greenaway, 1989)
  8. Eyes Wide Shut (Stanley Kubrick, 1999)
  9. The Dreamers (Bernardo Bertolucci, 2003)
  10. Last Tango in Paris (Bernardo Bertolucci, 1972)
  11. Wild at Heart (David Lynch, 1990)
  12. Maškarada (Boštjan Hladnik, 1971)

Only for the bravest

  1. The Piano Teacher (Michael Haneke, 2001)
  2. In the Realm of the Senses (Nagisa Oshima, 1976) – one of the most controversial films in the history of cinema; don’t say I didn’t warn you!
  3. Nymphomaniac (Lars von Trier, 2013)

Not happily ever afters

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  1. In the Mood for Love (Wong Kar-Wai, 2000)
  2. Pierrot le fou (Jean-Luc Godard, 1965)
  3. Jules and Jim (François Truffaut, 1962)
  4. Love Affair or the Case of the Missing Switchboard Operator (Dušan Makavejev, 1967)
  5. Chocolat (Claire Denis, 1988)
  6. Le bonheur (Agnes Varda, 1965)
  7. Deep End (Jerzy Skolimowski, 1970)
  8. Amour fou (Jessica Hausner, 2014)
  9. Annie Hall (Woody Allen, 1977)
  10. A Short Film About Love (Krzysztof Kieslowski, 1988)

Outlaw love

  1. Breathless (Jean-Luc Godard, 1960)
  2. Badlands (Terrence Malick, 1973)
  3. Bonnie and Clyde (Arthur Penn, 1967)

LGBTQ

  1. Blue is the Warmest Color (Abdellatif Kechiche, 2013)
  2. Handmaiden (Chan-wook Park, 2016)
  3. Carol (Todd Haynes, 2015)
  4. Weekend (Andrew Haigh, 2011)
  5. The Duke of Burgundy (Peter Strickland, 2014)
  6. Maurice (James Ivory, 1987)
  7. Love is Strange (Ira Sachs, 2014)
  8. Happy Together (Wong Kar-Wai, 1997)
  9. Stranger by the Lake (Alain Guiraudie, 2013)
  10. Show Me Love (Lukas Moodysson, 1998)

Anti-Valentine’s 

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  1. 45 Years (Andrew Haigh, 2015)
  2. The Lobster (Yorgos Lanthimos, 2015)
  3. Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (Mike Nichols, 1966)
  4. Breaking the Waves (Lars von Trier, 1996)
  5. Shame (Steve McQueen, 2011)
  6. Appropriate Behavior (Desiree Akhavan, 2014)

I’m having my own Oscars: 2016

Best Films

  1. Toni Erdmann (directed by Maren Ade)
  2. Cemetery of Splendour (directed by Apichatpong Weerasethakul)
  3. Certain Women (directed by Kelly Reichardt)
  4. Moonlight (directed by Barry Jenkins)
  5. Graduation (directed by Cristian Mungiu)
  6. Captain Fantastic (directed by Matt Ross)
  7. I, Daniel Blake (directed by Ken Loach)
  8. Paterson (directed by Jim Jarmusch)
  9. The Handmaiden (directed by Park Chan-wook)
  10. Our Little Sister (directed by Hirokazu Koreeda)
  11. Sweet Bean (directed by Naomi Kawase)
  12. I, Olga Hepnarova (directed by Tomáš Weinreb and Petr Kazda)
  13. Mina Walking (directed by Yosef Baraki)
  14. Aquarius (directed by Kleber Mendonça Filho)
  15. In the Shadow of Women (directed by Philippe Garrel)
  16. Mellow Mud (directed by Renārs Vimba)
  17. Chevalier (directed by Athina Rachel Tsangari)
  18. 24 Weeks (directed by Anne Zohra Berrached)
  19. Mountain (directed by  Yaelle Kayam)
  20. Family Film (directed by Olmo Omerzu)
  21. Home Care (directed by Slávek Horák)
  22. Our Everyday Life (directed by Ines Tanović)
  23. Death in Sarajevo (directed by Danis Tanović)
  24. Arrival (directed by Denis Villeneuve)
  25. Nightlife (directed by Damjan Kozole)

I am quite happy about the fact that films listed above come from no less than 16 different countries: United States (5), Czech Republic (3), Japan (2), Germany (2), , Bosnia and Herzegovina (2), Slovenia (1), Romania (1), France (1), United Kingdom (1), Greece (1), Latvia (1), Thailand (1), South Korea (1), Brazil (1), Afghanistan (1), Israel (1).

Best Woman-Directed Films

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  1. Toni Erdmann (directed by Maren Ade)
  2. Certain Women (directed by Kelly Reichardt)
  3. No Home Movie (directed by Chantal Akerman)
  4. Sweet Bean (directed by Naomi Kawase)
  5. 24 Weeks (directed by Anne Zohra Berached)
  6. Chevalier (directed by Athina Rachel Tsangari)
  7. Mountain (directed by Yaelle Kayam)
  8. Our Everyday Life (directed by Ines Tanović)
  9. Body (directed by Małgorzata Szumowska)
  10. Maggie’s Plan (directed by Rebecca Miller)
  11. Things to Come (Mia Hansen-Løve)
  12. A Good Wife (directed by Mirjana Karanović)
  13. The Fits (directed by Anna Rose Holmer)
  14. The Edge of Seventeen (directed by Kelly Fremon Craig)
  15. The Invitation (directed by Karyn Kusama)
  16. California (directed by Marina Person)
  17. The Love Witch (directed by Anna Biller)
  18. As I Open My Eyes (directed by Leyla Bouzid)
  19. American Honey (directed by Andrea Arnold)
  20. Into the Forest (directed by Patricia Rozema)

Most underrated films

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“I’m just a scared, ugly, useless person.”

“But maybe everyone’s a little bit ugly. Maybe we’re all just dying sacks of shit, and maybe all it’ll take is one person to just be okay with that, and then the whole world will be dancing and singing and farting, and everyone will feel a little bit less alone.” (Swiss Army Man)

  1. James White (directed by Josh Mond)
  2. Swiss Army Man (directed by Dan Kwan and Daniel Scheinert) – I get that this film might be a bit over the top and gross for some people, but in all its weirdness it is one of the sweetest, humane films about friendship, partnership and love. It’s about how hard it is for us to connect due to restrictiveness of numerous social norms that trap our true selves and make us ashamed of who we really are beneath the mask that we present to the outer world. It’s sweet and heartbreaking – with some truly laughing out loud moments. Not to mention terrific acting by Paul Dano and Daniel Radcliffe.
  3. 10 Cloverfield Lane (directed by Dan Trachtenberg)
  4. Green Room (directed by Jeremy Saulnier)
  5. Born to be Blue (directed by Robert Budreau) – one of the best but least talked about biopics of the past year. Also one of Ethan Hawke’s best performances to date.
  6. My Revolution (directed by Ramzi Ben Sliman)
  7. Morris in America (directed by Chad Hartigan)
  8. Ghostbusters (directed by Paul Feig) – this film just does not deserve the crap it got this past year. At all. Far from being perfect; but hey, so was the original.

Best Documentaries

  1. No Home Movie (directed by Chantal Akerman)
  2. Life on the Border (directed by the refugee children)
  3. 13th (directed by Ava DuVernay)
  4. Free to Run (directed by Pierre Morath)
  5. Houston, We Have a Problem! (directed by Žiga Virc)
  6. O.J.: Made in America (directed by Ezra Edelman)
  7. Fire at Sea (directed by Gianfranco Rosi)
  8. Weiner (directed by Josh Kriegman and Elyse Steinberg)
  9. The Witness (directed by James Solomon)
  10. Janis: Little Girl Blue (directed by Amy Berg)

Best animated films

  1. My Life as a Courgette (directed by Claude Barras)
  2. The Red Turtle (directed by Michael Dudok de Wit)
  3. April and the Extraordinary World (directed by Christian Desmares and Franck Ekinci)
  4. Long Way North (directed by Rémi Chayé)

Biggest disappointments

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  1. Everybody Wants Some!! (directed by Richard Linklater) – ode to masculinity, machoism and yes, even misogyny. I had high hopes for this one (I am a huge fan of Linklater after all) and while I get the time capsule concept of the movie, I cannot watch college guys bashing over girls for two straight hours.
  2. Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children (directed by Tim Burton)
  3. Nina (directed by Cynthia Mort)
  4. By the Sea (directed by Angelina Jolie) – this film looks gorgeous, but it is oh so very boring. It definitely had potential, but Jolie’s writing skills are too poor to keep a viewer engaged for two whole hours.
  5. Suicide Squad (directed by David Ayer)

Worst films of the year

  1. Yoga Hosers (directed by Kevin Smith) – I was never really a fan of Smith, but some of his old films – especially Clerks and Chasing Amy – are actually not all that bad. This one, however, is horrendous. The worst film I saw this year.
  2. Sisters (directed by Jason Moore) – as much as I like Tina Fey and Amy Poehler, their comedic attempts don’t translate well to film. This film is awful and simply unwatchable.
  3. Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates (directed by Jake Szymanski) – stupid impro jokes aside, this film tries so hard to come off as progressive… but it ends up being just another comedy that promotes hetero-normativity, monogamy and marriage as a solution to our every problem.
  4. Bad Moms (written and directed by Jon Lucas and Scott Moore) – because these two guys know so much about motherhood they decided to make a film about it. It’s like Mean Girls, but with grown women, you know? Because women sure can’t function any other way but by forming cliques and competing against each other.
  5. Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising (directed by Nicholas Stoller) – the first part was stupid. So is the second one.
  6. Me Before You (directed by Thea Sharrock)

Captain Fantastic (2016): power to the people, stick it to the man!

Deep in the woods and far away from American capitalistic society, plagued with culture of consumerism, materialism and narcissism, Ben Cash, a patriarch and a father, is raising his six children. Surrounded by nothing but trees, rivers and mountains, his family is living in an unconventional and self-sufficient micro-utopia, based in their unanimous and unconditional refusal of living in what they call “capitalistic fascism”. Refusing to live in a society controlled by money and material goods, they instead form a highly routinised, but entirely self-sufficient way of living, where nothing but demanding physical routines, exercising of survival techniques and extensive, in-depth learning of maths, physics, literature and philosophy fill their daily schedule.

Ben Cash, who is subtly transitioning between the role of an authoritarian patriarch and that of a gentle, understanding and maternal father, is openly contemptuous toward capitalistic society in which people are ever more aggressively ruled by corporations and where any sense of democracy and socio-environmental awareness is increasingly fading away due to narcissistic alienation of first world’s shopping mall population. It is due to him seeing just how powerless, alienated and numb people are, how unable to see anything beyond the newest fashion or trend and how disinterested in the damage that this increasing consumerism is doing to the planet, that he makes a choice of raising his children in complete isolation from all consumer goods, modern technology, popular music and trashy novels – something that, in turn, also means raising them away from institutionalized school system and religion, nationalistic ideology and patriotism, normative social conventions and socially-constructed gender roles. Their idyllic utopia is representing a world in which good education and the ability to argument one’s opinion is celebrated above all else – and where living in the heart of a wild and unpredictable nature is still considered the safest shelter from the monstrous, to humans and environment always damaging capitalistic system.

But when a tragic news about the death of their mother reaches their ideally constructed family life, they suddenly need to leave their safe-zone and step into the civilization; if only to attend her funeral on the other side of the country. And it is here, with them finally setting foot into chaotic everyday of American urban life, that we can observe first negative signs of their isolated upbringing. Bo, the eldest son who only recently came of age, finds it especially hard when he realizes just how insufficient his knowledge about life is, how difficult carrying a conversation with his peers with absolutely no knowledge about pop-culture references and how confusing to understand the difference between innocent flirting and falling in love for someone who has no experiences with girls whatsoever.

Captain Fantastic, easily one of the best films of the year, is therefore continuously playing with a question: is Ben truly the best father in the world, Captain Fantastic, who is effectively resisting to the system and is enabling his children the best possible alternate way of living? Or does his approach to parenthood also has a somewhat darker, problematic side that at times borders on abuse?

The film actively encourages us to think about the meaning of parenthood and about the role that each parent plays for his children – but it skilfully avoids to either idealize or criticise Ben’s unique vision of what family life should look like. He is a fascinating and superbly written (as well as acted) character that never fells into the trap of a good/bad parent dichotomy. As every person, but even more so as a parent, he is imperfect, he makes mistakes and has lapses in judgement, but all while trying to do the right thing at building the best possible life for his family.

Matt Ross’s feature, refusing to step on either side, therefore recognizes flaws and weaknesses in both lifestyles – in a hippie-inspired communal life in the nature, as well as in life infected by consumer capitalism that has spread through the rest of the Western civilization. Yet when we compare his parenting to that of his sister’s permissive, protective and infantilizing way of raising her kids, our idealistic protagonist still comes across as a somewhat better parent – one who treats his children with respect, who does not lie to them about the cause of their mother’s death and who sees them all as equal, no matter their age or gender.

This road movie, that at times comes across as a mixture of Into the Wild (2007) and Little Miss Sunshine (2006), definitely has quite an unconventional premise: how to sabotage their mother’s funeral and rescue her remains before she gets swallowed by the system to which she resisted all her live for the remaining eternity. But behind this simple, yet very unusual story, is a very straightforward critique of our society, as well as a film about what it means to be a family in a time when all that seems to matter is money and everything that money can buy.

As they return to their secluded home in the middle of nowhere, safely distanced from the aggressive system that at all cost tried to suck them into its depth during their roadtrip, they quickly slip back into their daily routine, but with one important change: Bo, who has outgrown the idyllic utopia his father has built for him and his siblings, leaves the captain’s crew to continue his adventures, broaden his horizons and experience life in foreign countries. Since there is always a limit to what our parents can teach us, there usually comes a time when we need to part ways and go on our own path, to make our own experiences. Their communal self-sufficient way of living cannot go on forever, as each of them will eventually need to leave the nest – but what is important is that they will set their feet into the real world with a completely unique, different set of eyes, free of any hate or prejudice, but full of knowledge and hunger to learn. Bo’s departure therefore gives us nothing but hope that he is off to keep on fighting the good fight; as he chooses to keep on living his life outside of the system, following his own rules, living by his own principles. Or as Bo and the youngest of the six conclude their dialogue: “Power to the people!” “Stick it to the man!”

The Basics:
Directed by: Matt Ross
Written by: Matt Ross
Starring: Viggo Mortensen, George MacKay, Samantha Isler, Annalise Basso
Running Time: 118 minutes
Year: 2016
Rating: 9