Last Days of Disco (1998)

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Written and directed by Whit Stillman, The Last Days of Disco takes place in the early 1980s during the waning days of disco’s glittery glory days.

The Last Days of Disco focuses on two recent college grads, Alice Kinnon (Chloe Sevigny) and Charlotte Pingress (Kate Beckinsale). They now live in Manhattan and work at a publishing house. Classmates at a prestigious east coast college, Alice and Charlotte seem to be friends more out of convenience, not actual affection. If Sex and the City had been around at the time you would call Alice and Charlotte “frenemies.”

After work, Alice and Charlotte spend their nights at Manhattan nightclubs socializing with the upper-crust elite and looking for fun and romance. Alice is quiet, soft spoken and intelligent. Charlotte is outgoing and spirited, but quite conceited. And she never fails to give Alice advice on men and dating. Desperate, Alice takes this advice even though it screws her up.

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Alice and Charlotte strike up a friendship with Des (Chris Eigeman) an employee of one of their favorite clubs. Des is quite the ladies’ man but claims to be gay once a relationship sours. Alice and Charlotte also find romance at the club, often with men who turn out to not be Mr. Right. Charlotte dates a man named Josh (Matt Keeslar) even though he really wants to be with Alice. And Alice has a one night stand with a lawyer named Tom (Robert Sean Leonard), who leaves her with a venereal disease.

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Despite their “frenemy” relationship, Alice and Charlotte decide to move in together. Realizing their parents’ generosity can only go so far, they take in another roommate, Holly (Tara Subkoff). Holly may be Alice and Charlotte’s roommate, but she never quite becomes their friend. Alice and Charlotte often question Holly’s intelligence and choices in men.

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All this closeness proves to be too much for Alice and Charlotte, and they soon part ways after a bitter conflict. Charlotte commiserates with Des, claiming her personality is just too much for mousy girls like Alice. But things look up for Alice once she starts dating Josh.

The Last Days of Disco isn’t so much about action and plot as it is about relationships, feelings and catching a singular moment of time. Remember it was the early 1980s. The glamorous and glittery debauchery of the 1970s was starting to look cheap, tawdry and despondent. Soon AIDS would haunt our sexual consciousness, and before long school children everywhere would claim, “Just say no” when it came to drugs.

Like many other coming of age films and TV shows like Girls, The Last Days of Disco examines the idea of young people “finding themselves.” Characters, who at turns seem so sure of themselves, question their choices in love, careers and friendship. And the social dynamic between Alice and Charlotte is quite familiar to anyone who found themselves hanging out with people they didn’t really like but felt they needed them as some kind of life raft during uncertain times.

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The Last Days of Disco is considered the final chapter of Whit Stillman’s self-proclaimed “Doomed-Bourgeois-in-Love-Series,” which also included Metropolitan and Barcelona. All the performances ring true, and Chloe Sevigny is especially affective as the self-effacing Alice.

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Some people might be put off by a movie focusing well-to-do elites, but these are no Kardashians or younger versions of the Real Housewives. Alice and Charlotte’s difficulty in navigating a confusing world ring true whether you grew up with a silver spoon or on a steady diet of cheap mac n’ cheese.

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Saving Face (2004)

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In writer/director Alice Wu’s inter-generational family comedy Saving Face, Michelle Krusiec plays Wil (short for Wilhelmina), a medical resident without much time for a life let alone romance. The only social life Wil seems to have is at Chinese-American gatherings in Queens where people try to set her up available young Chinese-American men.

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However, Wil has a secret. She’s a lesbian. And at one of these gatherings she meets Vivian (Lynn Chen), another lesbian who is also a dancer. Sparks fly between the two women, and slowly their flirtation turns into a romance. However, Wil isn’t quite ready to come out to her family so the romance has to remain a secret much to Vivian’s chagrin (and it doesn’t help that Vivian’s father is also Wil’s boss at the hospital).

In Saving Face, Wil’s mother (Joan Chen) also has a secret, but it won’t stay a secret for long. She’s in her forties, widowed, living with her parents…and pregnant. And she’s not exactly too forthcoming on the man who fathered her child.

Bringing shame onto the family name, Wil’s mother (known as Ma) is kicked out of her parent’s home. Knowing nowhere to turn, she ends up on Wil’s doorstep, and Wil takes her mother in, wondering how she’s going to keep her romance with Vivian a secret and deal with Ma’s impending late in life motherhood.

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As Ma’s belly grows, Wil learns more about her mother, seeing her more as a flesh and blood woman with her own desires and needs. However, this doesn’t exactly inspire Wil to come clean to her mother, and she tries furtively to keep her relationship with Vivian a secret. To be knocked up out of wedlock is one thing; to be a lesbian is quite another. What will the neighbors think? Actually, it’s one of Wil’s neighbors who tries to get her to face herself and Ma.

But will this happen soon enough? When Vivian announces she’s been offered a chance to dance in Paris, Wil realizes she needs to make a decision. Come clean, and admit her romance with Vivian, or remain closeted and let Vivian go. In other words, save face (yet lose someone she truly cares about).

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And Ma must also make some major decisions. One is opening up about who’s the father of her child, a man that superficially, might not seem suitable. And this decision must be made soon before Ma makes the disastrous mistake of marrying someone she doesn’t love just to give her unborn child a name.

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Saving Face examines how we balance the old world (when Wil is with her grandparents she speaks in Mandarin) with a “modern society” (unplanned pregnancy, homosexuality and careerism). And in like any other family, the families in Saving Face are flawed, yet loving. Saving Face may remind viewers of the sleeper hit My Big, Fat Greek Wedding. And though Saving Face is a bit predictable, its good performances and sweet charm make it worthwhile viewing.

I Watch It So You Don’t Have To: Intern (2000)*

 

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If any industry seems perfect for satire and parody it’s fashion, especially the rarefied world of fashion magazines. Fashion doyennes decide where our hemlines will be this season with the same seriousness as preparing military readiness in the Middle East. Bulimia and anorexia are considered virtues. And Botox is as necessary as air and water. Ugly Betty was a successful television sitcom immersed in the world of fashion, and The Devil Wears Prada was a huge smash, so I had big hopes for the indie movie Intern. Sadly, Intern turned out to be as big of a Glamour fashion don’t as see-through jeans and pretty much every outfit you see on the Kardashians.

Dominique Swain plays Jocelyn Bennett, an intern at the fashion magazine Skirt. Jocelyn is apparently a photographer, though you never once see her take a picture, and she is fan of Skirt’s innovative layouts and photography. Sadly, in the brief moments we get to see Skirt, the actual magazine, you wonder if the layout was done by a third-grader on Power Point back in 1998. Yes, I know this movie was low budget, but you think someone could have tried a bit harder.

When Jocelyn isn’t making copies, faxing, running errands and cleaning up Skirt staffers’ desks, she’s pining away for the magazine’s art director, Paul Rochester (Ben Pullen). Paul is a fashion magazine rarity, a straight man. And he’s also allegedly related to Prince Charles. Paul is very fond of Jocelyn but at the moment he is involved with a bitch-on-heels fashion model named Resin (Leilani Bishop).

As Intern begins we find out a Skirt insider has been selling Skirt’s secrets to rival magazine. Jocelyn figures finding out who this insider is just might make her a hero at the magazine, and she goes about trying to find out which fashionista has betrayed Skirt. This also gives her a chance to get closer to Paul. Of course, mayhem ensues, blah, blah, blah. But by the time the movie reaches its dénouement, we really aren’t that invested.

I should have known this movie was going to be crap when it began with a cringe-worthy musical number. Most of the observances of the fashion industry, like when an editor makes herself vomit after finding out the milk in her coffee is 2%, not skim, fall flat. The dialogue is clunky, and when Paul tells Jocelyn that she has the whole world inside of her I audibly groaned. A majority of the performances are wooden; only Kathy Griffin as Cornelia managed to get a laugh out of me.

A lot of blame also belongs on Swain whose acting in Intern is amateurish. At times she rushes through her lines and she has no comedic skills. Her Jocelyn is supposed to be the heroine but in the end you don’t care about her and her future at Skirt. Plus, if Jocelyn is supposed to be so much in fashion why does she dress like such a frump?

A lot of fashion designers and other fashion insiders make cameos playing themselves, and I have to admit that I did have fun naming them. “Hey, there’s Diane von Furstenberg!” “Hey, is that Simon Doonan?” And Vogue editor-at-large, Andre Leon Talley seems to have the ability to poke fun at himself.

Sadly, those cameos can’t make up for a dimwitted film. Intern was written by Caroline Doyle and Jill Kopelman, two women who claimed to have worked at fashion magazines. Buddhist monks could have written a better script. If you want to watch the fashion magazine industry skewered to great effect, you are better off staying home and binge watching Ugly Betty.

*Not to be confused with the 2015 movie The Intern starring Ann Hathaway and Robert DeNiro.

In a Day (2006)

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In the charming and low-key British romantic comedy In a Day, Lorraine Pilkington plays Ashley. By day Ashley works at a London sandwich shop. She’s a fledgling pianist and singer, and the sandwich shop gig is supposed to just fill in the gaps as she gets the gigs that will lead to musical success.

One morning, while waiting for a bus, Ashley is verbally accosted by another commuter. The conversation starts innocently enough. The man asks her about the book she is reading, a book on jazz. Then he asks her about going back to her place for a quick shag. Not interested in having a booty call with a complete stranger, Ashley declines his advances. This does not sit well with the stranger and he begins to harass Ashley calling her horrible names, and finishing his rant by throwing his cup of coffee on her.

Moments later, Ashley is approached by an appealing young man named Michael (Finlay Robertson). He’s a frequent customer at the sandwich shop. To make her feel better about being assaulted, Michael offers to take Ashley out to lunch. Thinking her day can’t get any worse, Ashley decides to take Michael up on his offer.

Michael and Ashley end up at a pricey restaurant. Ashley enjoys the meal and realizes she also enjoys Michael’s company. Their “date” does not end once Michael picks up the check. He still wants to treat Ashley further so he buys her a nice outfit from a pricey boutique, and he also treats her to a new haircut at an upscale salon.

Ashley is touched by Michael’s kindness and generosity, but can’t help but wonder why a near stranger would be so nice to her. And when Michael later tells her that he’s actually pampering her on behalf of someone’s request, Ashley is further confused.

Lunch, new clothes, and a haircut aren’t Ashley and Michael’s only adventures. They visit to Michael’s sister’s home to wish her a happy birthday. Unfortunately, Michael’s sister is a sourpuss who can’t appreciate anything, and you can feel Michael and Ashley’s discomfort during the entire conversation.

But later things brighten up when Ashley mentions a musician friend of hers in need of a new saxophone. Michael agrees to buy Ashley’s friend the new saxophone, and the friend is overwhelmed by their generosity. This visit also gives a chance for Ashley to show off her skills and a pianist and singer, and Michael is truly impressed.

Ashley is still baffled by this mystery man and why he’s being so nice. And when Michael finally owns up to why she deserved to be pampered, Ashley is shocked and doesn’t quite know what to make of Michael’s confession, which brings up bad memories of her childhood. She’s upset, but will she be willing to let go of the past? At the end, we get the idea that maybe, just maybe Ashley can.

In a Day (written and directed by newcomer Evan Richards), goes at a leisurely pace but is never boring. Both Pilkington and Robertson are both very appealing in their roles. Rose Keegan nearly steals the show as Finlay’s shrewish sister, and gives great insight on his psyche. If you’re looking for a sweet little film that is a good escape from the real world and all the depressing news but isn’t the usual rom-com you can’t go wrong with In a Day.

Sunshine Cleaning (2008)

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Sunshine Cleaning, which briefly graced the big screens a few years back, is the story of the Lorkowski sisters who eke out a living in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Amy Adams plays Rose. Rose once ruled the school as the head cheerleader and she also dated the quarterback. Unfortunately, the years post-graduation haven’t been so kind. She toils as a house cleaner and struggles to raise her offbeat son as a single mom. She’s also having an affair with her now-married high school sweetheart who works as a cop.

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Emily Blunt plays Rose’s younger sister, Norah. Norah is the rebellious bad girl, with the tattoos, black eyeliner and shitty attitude to prove it. She parties all night and sleeps all day. And as the film begins she’s just been fired from her waitressing job, and has no other job prospects on the horizon.

On the advice of her ex-boyfriend, Rose begins a post-crime cleaning business and brings Norah on to help clean up scenes of murders, suicides and other deathly messes after the cops have finished their investigative work. It’s one thing clean up the homes of living people, but it’s quite different to clean up the blood, urine, feces, maggots and vomit of the deceased. But soon Rose and Norah learn there are very human stories among the gore.

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At one home, Norah finds a fanny pack filled with photographs of a young girl. This young girl is the daughter of the deceased, and she’s still living in town. Norah starts stalking the woman (played by Mary Lynn Rajskub) and they end up forming an odd and awkward friendship. Rajskub’s character can’t quite figure out why Norah is so interested in her life, and during an embarrassing moment, she thinks Norah’s interest is sexual, and acts accordingly.

Meanwhile, Rose strikes up a friendship with the one-armed owner of an industrial cleaning products store named Winston (Clifton Collins, Jr.). Winston takes a liking to Rose’s son and he helps the two out when they get into a bind. But despite some of the success Rose is having with the business she can’t help but feel like a big loser, especially when she comes in contact with some of her old classmates who are now living successful lives and living in fancy McMansions, some of which Rose has cleaned. At a baby shower, Rose tries to explain her life to her old classmates, and her shame is unmistakable. As is the thinly veiled smugness and condescension of her fellow high school grads.
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Rounding out the family is Rose and Norah’s father, a not always successful salesman, played by Alan Arkin. His love for his daughters never wavers, but it’s not always enough to keep things together. Especially, with a family secret about the girls’ mother that still haunts them as adults.

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Sunshine Cleaning is a sweet film that will probably bring comparisons to another indie flick, Little Miss Sunshine (and not just because of the appearance of Alan Arkin and sunshine in the title). There is not one bad performance in the film, but this is truly Blunt and Adams’ film. And Adams continues to impress me. I’ve loved her since her Oscar-nominated turn in June Bug. I just know she’ll get that big prize one day.

Sunshine Cleaning also proves that there is validity in every job, even those without a fancy title or a huge paycheck. There can be grace in the moments of grotesque. This is best explained by Rose when she tells her old high school friends, “We come into people’s lives when they have experienced something profound and sad, and we help. In some way, we help.”

Look At Me (Comme Une Image-2004)

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The French comedy of manners, Look at Me (Comme Une Image), centers on Lolita (Marilou Berry) and her famous writer father Etienne (Jeanne-Pierre Bacri). Lolita is plain and overweight, and assumes most people want to get to know her because of her father. And usually, she’s right. However, she does have one thing going for her, a lovely singing voice, and is taking voice lessons.

Unfortunately, her father is too wrapped up in his own world to take notice of his daughter. One of his books has just been made into his movie. He has a stunning second wife. And people are constantly vying for his attention. He has no interest in his insecure daughter, and seems almost ashamed of her. Lolita herself is not without her faults. She is distrustful of anyone who makes overtures of friendship. And at times her self-pity is off-putting.

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Yet, Lolita does seem to have one bright light in her life-music. And her singing teacher Sylvia, played by Agnes Jaoui (who also directed and co-wrote the script) takes a special interest in Lolita. Initially, Sylvia’s interest is rather self-serving. Her husband, Pierre (Laurent Grevill) is a fledgling writer. Sylvia assumes if she befriends Lolita, she’ll introduce Pierre to her father, and Pierre’s writing career will finally get off the ground.

But it isn’t long before Sylvia realizes Lolita has a talent that must be nurtured, and that Lolita, herself, is worthy of attention and praise. Sylvia especially notices this when she and her husband are invited to Etienne’s country estate, and he berates everyone around him including Lolita.

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At the same time Lolita’s musical talent is being developed, she begins a friendship with a young man named Sébastien (Keine Bouhiza). Sébastien is also a writer, and Lolita once again thinks his friendly overtures are only to connect with her father. Lolita tries to get her father to help Sébastien, too dense and insecure to realize Sebastien is actually interested in her, and her only. Yes, he’s a writer, but he’d rather concentrate on developing a writing project with his friends rather than be mentored by an egotistical blowhard like Etienne. Will Lolita wise up and realize Sébastien really likes her for her, and she has value all on her own?
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Look at Me is at turns funny and mortifying. Ms. Berry is wonderful as Lolita, vulnerable, heartbreaking and all to easy to identify with all at once. At times you don’t know if you want to shake her or hug her. And you will find Mr. Bacri positively maddening as the selfish Etienne especially in one scene where he walks out of his daughter’s choral performance to take a phone call.

Look at Me takes an unflinching look at our narcissistic celebrity culture, especially once we learn those we worship often have feet of clay. It also examines how feeling like loser in a sea of success, fame, money and beauty that is so crippling we can barely break out the box we’ve put ourselves in.

Live Nude Girls (2000)

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I doubt you think “union organizer” when you hear stripper. When you think of stripper you probably think of breast implants, drug addiction, exploitation, slutty, uneducated, lap dancing and so on. The stereotypes of stripping aren’t exactly positive. But if you watch the Live Nude Girls Unite you just might be surprised.

Narrated by Julia Query and filmed by Vicky Funari, Live Nude Girls Unite tells us about the long journey Ms. Query and her fellow strippers took trying to unionize the Lusty Lady, a strip club in San Francisco. Just like any other working person, the strippers wanted fair wages, health insurance and progressive work policies. However, they were often seen as dirty girls who deserved their bad lot in life.

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But Query and her fellow strippers to not let prejudice and stereotypes deter them. Nor do they get discouraged when Lusty Lady’s management tells them they’re not working “real jobs.” But just like working in an office or in a factory, stripping for 10 hours a day is work. Yet there is this idea that sex workers do their jobs because they enjoy it, not because they are trying to get paid. Perhaps earning a paycheck isn’t as sexy to the customers.

Some of Query’s fellow strippers strip because it gives them the flexibility to raise their families or because they are in school. Sometimes they strip to earn extra income. Query strips simply to make ends meet. She’s a lesbian, a feminist, a grad school dropout, a stand-up comic and a nice Jewish girl. Her mother happens to be Dr. Julia Wallace, an advocate for sex workers. During one moment in the film we see a segment from 20/20 where Barbara Walters accompanies Dr. Wallace as she passes out condoms and counsels prostitutes in New York City.

Live Nude Girls Unite shows the strippers’ working conditions, and informs the viewers why they decided to unionize. A couple of non-strippers who work at the club join the unionizing efforts. The film shows them meeting with lawyers and union organizers, and negotiating their contract, which was not a simple task. We also get to see the workers picketing the Lusty Lady with the hilarious chant “2, 4, 6, 8, don’t go in to masturbate.” Working to unionize the Lusty Lady was difficult and at times the workers were disappointed, but they refused to back down, and their tenacity is inspiring.

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Live Nude Girls Unite also shows a very personal side. Despite working to unionize the strip club, Ms. Query has yet to inform her mom of her job. It is one thing for Dr. Wallace to pass out condoms to hookers, it’s quite another to find out your daughter is a stripper. Dr. Wallace reacts in a way we expect any mother to react, and for a while she and her daughter were estranged.

Made on a G-string budget, Live Nude Girls Unite lacks the polish of other documentaries, but that’s part of its charm. It is honest and gritty, and you really do find yourself cheering the strippers on. Live Nude Girls Unite whether you work a job where you keep your clothes on or strip down to your birthday suit, you deserve a workplace that is fair and just.

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Filmmakers Vicky Funari and Julia Query

Iron Jawed Angels (2004)

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“Well-behaved women seldom make history” – Laurel Thatcher Ulrich

On August 26, 1920 the women of the United States got the right to vote. This did not come to be without the tireless efforts of many women, some of them known, some of them nameless. I am very grateful for the women who literally put their lives on the line to give me the right to vote, so I highly recommend the movie Iron Jawed Angels.

Iron Jawed Angels tells the story of two very brave women, suffragettes Alice Paul (Hilary Swank) and Lucy Burns (Frances O’Connor). In the beginning of the film, the two have returned to the United States after spending time in England where they’ve been very involved with women’s suffrage. They soon join forces with Carrie Chapman Catt (Angelica Huston) and other seasoned activists in the National American Women Suffrage Association (NAWSA) to help American women get the right to vote.

However, NAWSA finds Paul and Burns much too frivolous and rebellious. Paul and Burns are seen as way too radical for Catt and her cohorts when it comes to gaining women’s suffrage. Both young suffragists want a constitutional amendment for American women to have the right to vote. The older suffragists want to use a more conservative state-by-state approach.

Before long Paul and Burns break away from NAWSA and start their own organization, which they call the National Women’s Party (NWP). One of NWP’s goals is to oppose any candidate who is against a constitutional amendment giving women the right to vote.

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After disrupting President Woodrow Wilson’s speech to Congress after he refused to meet with the suffragettes to discuss the issue, Paul and Burns go on a country-wide speaking tour to drum up support for their cause. They join forces with influential people like labor lawyer Inez Mulholland (Julia Ormond) and political cartoonist Ben Weissman. There is even a strong attraction between Paul and Weissman, but she holds off on romance because she wants to devote her time to the cause.

While in San Francisco, Mulholland passes away. Paul is devastated. She feels guilty because she convinced Mulholland to go on tour with them even though she was seriously ill. Very depressed, Paul goes back to her family’s home. But soon Burns convinces her that she is desperately needed. Both ladies go back to Washington DC to further the cause.

The country is now involved in World War I. The idea of women getting the right to vote is seen as silly during war time, and public opinion is not favorable towards the suffragettes. While picketing on the sidewalk in DC, the suffragettes are arrested for the trumped-up charge of “obstructing traffic.” The suffragettes refuse to pay the fine and are sentenced to sixty days in a women’s prison.

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While imprisoned, Paul goes on a hunger strike after being put in solitary confinement and denied any legal representation. The other suffragettes join Paul in the hunger strike, and later they are violently force-fed by the warden.

Paul starts writing about their experiences after a guard smuggles her a pen and some paper. One of the suffragette’s husbands, a prominent senator, is so horrified by the conditions the suffragettes are living in that he gets the word out. Formerly despised, the suffragettes are now supported by the American public who calls them “iron jawed angels.”

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Despite her misgivings about Burns and Paul, Catt is impressed by all the work they have done in name of women’s right to vote. She convinces President Wilson to support women’s suffrage and soon the suffragettes are released from prison. After getting the appropriate amount of states to support the Susan B. Anthony amendment, American women were given the right to vote on August 26, 1920.

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Iron Jawed Angels is wonderfully acted and truly riveting. The story of these brave women is not very well-known but so important. And despite covering a very serious topic, Iron Jawed Angels has its lighter moments. In one scene, a young suffragette sees the cutest hat a store window and just has to have it proving one can be a feminist and a fashionista at the same time.

Iron Jawed Angels should be shown in American history classes. Every young woman and young man in America needs to learn this story. After watching this movie, you will never take the right to vote for granted again.

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Things Behind the Sun (2001)

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For the past few years, singer/songwriter Sherry McGrale (Kim Dickens) shows up at the same house out of control and completely drunk. Just what is going on, and why does Sherry do this on the same day year after year?

In Things Behind the Sun, Sherry sings and writes music that is deeply personal and filled with raw emotion. Her most notable song about getting raped as a young girl is getting a lot of play on college radio, and the music magazines are starting to take notice of her.

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Owen Richardson (Gabriel Mann) is a rock reporter with a vague connection to McGrale. He mentions to his editor (Roseanna Arquette) that he knows who raped Sherry, and she assigns a story to him to profile this up and coming singer with the tortured past.

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Getting to Sherry for an interview is not easy. First, Owen has to deal with Sherry’s immensely protective manager Chuck (Don Cheadle). Chuck’s protection goes beyond the professional realm. Chuck and Sherry used to date, and Chuck still has feelings for her that are often put to the test when he sees how quickly she can degrade herself. Yet, he also knows this degradation is the consequence of her being violated so many years ago.

After some finagling, Owen finally gets his chance to talk to Sherry and possibly interview her for the magazine. Despite their past friendship, Sherry barely recognizes Owen. This is partly due to being in a drunken haze most of the time and also due to trying to bury the past.

But Sherry soon realizes who Owen is as he drops hints of their childhood friendship and their shared love of music. In fact, Owen probably wouldn’t be a writer without Sherry’s influence. But unfortunately, Sherry and Owen’s past also deals directly with Sherry’s rape. It was Owen’s older brother Dan (Eric Stoltz) who initially raped Sherry, and then forced Owen to violate Sherry, too. Will Owen’s confession further scar Sherry’s emotional wounds (and his own, too)? Or will it lead to some much needed healing for the both of them?

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Things Behind the Sun could easily fall into Lifetime movie territory, but in the expert hands of the woefully underrated Alison Anders, it never does. Anders herself was a raped as a young girl, and bravely captures the raw degradation of sexual violence and its fall out. And though the ending is slightly pat and tidy, most of the film is raw and riveting. Most of this is due to the very honest performances. Dickens is brutally real as Sherry, victim and victimizer. Mann makes Owen sympathetic and pathetic at the same time. Cheadle is at turns nurturing and tough. And the late Elizabeth Peña brings a compassionate pathos as the current owner of the house where Sherry was raped. Dickens and Peña’s scenes are brief, yet commanding. In fact, Things Behind the Sun is a deeply potent film that combines tragedy and healing one that truly makes you think.