Tag Archives: Jennifer Lawrence

Opinion: ‘mother!’ shows when cinema goes too far

Trigger Warning: Sexual and physical violence

Warning: I spoil the movie. It may be difficult to fully understand some of what I mean here as I don’t fully explain the plot. Wikipedia has a good summary, if you don’t care to see the movie.

No one has ever made a movie like mother! In terms of craftsmanship, the film is masterful on every single level. The cinematography, editing and sound design all coalesce into a climax that shouldn’t visually work, but somehow does in the most exhilarating of ways. The actors — every single one of them — commit to the story and the “vision” of director Darren Aronofsky. If the Oscars were judged solely based on merit and skill, Aronofsky would be the undeniable Best Director winner.

But it pains me to say all of that because mother! is, at least to me, a deeply horrifying and disgusting film. mother! shows when cinema goes too far.

Aronofsky has a message in his latest film. Well, he has a lot of messages. He comments on humanity both generally and in various specific ways. He shows humanity’s destructive nature on both the individual level and the large scale, through an intimate eye and an epic scope. It’s a message sent and a message received. To some, that message is valuable, and what makes the film so special. In my eyes, it becomes harmful.

Films can absolutely showcase and comment on the terrible aspects of people, on how people can be grossly and horribly damaging. But, as I see cinema, I feel that it is the responsibility of the filmmaker to indict, to firmly make a statement that those things are morally reprehensible, and not just show people being morally reprehensible.

Yet, Aronofsky avoids doing this, specifically in regard to sexual harassment and sexual assault. On many occasions, Jennifer Lawrence’s character is looked at inappropriately, called incredibly offensive things and even groped. Most audiences members, hopefully, will be disgusted by this. And because Aronofsky is making this grander statement that humanity is destructive, for a second, it slips by as another destructive aspect. But there is no indictment. It’s presented as though it’s obvious, as easy to reject. But Aronofsky has the moral responsibility to do the rejecting himself, and he never makes that indictment himself. It’s one thing to show that humanity is destructive. It’s another to indict them for being so.

And that leads me to a larger problem with the way this film presents its commentary. Like I said, it’s stated as obvious. Aronofsky shows us the horrors of mankind as the state of things, as the inner nature of humanity, as inevitable and cyclical. And some may see that as a poignant depiction. In our current times, it’s difficult not to be pessimistic.

But, as I see cinema, a filmmaker can’t just take that stance because a film is inherently subjective. Film is inherently something that the filmmaker presents as their opinion. When Aronofsky offers his opinion — simply, “this is the state of things” — without indictment and without a morality check, it becomes a lazy and regressive opinion.

Don’t get me wrong. A film can end on a pessimistic note. A film can say that things suck and that innocent people are unfairly affected. But — again, this may just be me personally — I have to at least feel that indictment. Think about The Wolf of Wall Street. Some people didn’t like that film because it didn’t sufficiently indict Jordan Belfort for his heinous acts. On the other end, think about Fruitvale Station. The film ends with the tragic death of Oscar Grant at the hands of cops. But the entire film leading up to that point is an indictment of the people and forces in society that could allow for that tragedy to occur.

Indictment can be in theme. It can be in a single moment. It can lie within a single character. It can be presented in its structure or even by a single line of dialogue. Something has to be there. And with mother!, I saw nothing. I felt nothing. Others may have gotten something. But I felt an excessiveness meant to beat us over the head, and I asked “For what cost? Why is this worth it?”

I got no answers.

What I did find, however, was tone deaf male privilege in how Aronofsky approaches his film. Again, filmmakers can make commentary on the poor state of things, and they can use shocking, disturbing and upsetting imagery to do so.

But there’s some imagery that goes too far. There’s some imagery that we should never see, as no message should be worth presenting things so vile — at least in the way that it’s done so here.

As a man, Aronofsky might have given little thought to depicting Jennifer Lawrence’s character being horrifyingly beaten by a crowd, and called a “cunt.” He might’ve thought that it served his message well.

As a man, Aronofsky might have given little thought to depicting a very physical death of an infant. He might’ve thought that it served his message well.

And while, as a man, I don’t personally have connection to these things and I’m not an authority to make a declarative statement, I can understand that there needs to be restraint and extreme care when tackling such content because these are realities and fears of women and mothers. And, as a man, Aronofsky had a responsibility to at least consider his approach because he is not an authority in understanding the impact of those images.

But he presents them so explicitly, directly and viscerally. I don’t know exactly what it is, but there is undoubtedly a way of portraying these things in all three ways, but with a sense of restraint and extreme care, with an awareness that he cannot show these images with singularity. I don’t care how hard it would be to figure out how to do that because it’s his responsibility to.

Some have spoken about how mother! is a subversive studio film, about how critics should think before slamming it as it would discourage a studio from making an original movie that’s so out of the ordinary, that breaks all of the system’s rules.

But I’ll gladly rail against mother! because I don’t want subversive films like this. Movies are more than just their craft. They’re more than just having a message. mother! fails to rectify itself in offensive and embarrassing fashion, and to uphold it as Aronofsky’s masterpiece is, in my opinion, ignorantly ironic. Javier Bardem’s character is a poet and writes a supposed masterpiece. This leads to unbelievable fame that proves incredibly harmful to Jennifer Lawrence’s character. Yet, Bardem’s character shows no care, acknowledgement or awareness of these effects.

In fact, Lawrence’s character literally hands over her heart as she dies so that Bardem’s character can literally restore life from its ashes and do it all again to another woman. He’s not punished. He’s unchanged. It was a moment where Lawrence’s character could’ve rejected him, resulting in indictment and punishment — but Aronofsky is oblivious to that.

Don’t hand over your praise, your hearts to Aronofsky. Don’t let him harm people. Don’t let him do it again. “For the sake of the art” is not a good enough reason.

‘mother!’ Review: Jennifer Lawrence captivates in this gonzo descent into hell

“Howl to the moon” was the phrase Darren Aronofsky used to opaquely describe his feelings behind mother!, an impeccably mounted, nearly impossible-to-digest-on-one-viewing allegory for the folly of mankind. And truly, love it or absolutely f*cking hate it, mother! can really only be described in that phrase.

To speak much about the story of mother! is a spoiler. What can be said, however, is that mother! is an equivalent to Terrence Malick’s Tree of Life, but without the hope for life that Malick’s film glowed with. Rather, Darren Aronofsky’s film presents itself as a damning critique of many things, including, but not limited to religion, celebrity and marriage.

The brazenness of it all comes from the fact that mother! is obvious in its ambitions, but refuses to hold viewers’ hands, forcing them to confront its precipitous descent into humanity’s darkest depths.

Much admiration must be lobbed toward the stunning work of Aronofsky regular Matthew Libatique, whose cinematography is tightly framed here, and the incredible sound mixing crew, who, without any score, build a palpable sense of dread from everything that happens off-screen.

Most impressively, though, is Academy Award-winning Jennifer Lawrence’s ability to command the screen so effortlessly. The willingness of Lawrence to literally and figuratively bare it all, physically and emotionally, in this film is absolutely commendable, but that framing nearly verges toward exploitative. However, the film’s dirtiness and its treatment of her character is what the film asks viewers to ponder as they leave the theater.

Is mankind worth saving, or are we all doomed to destroy the things we should be loving and taking care of the most? Aronofsky refuses to give an answer, even if he suggests a pessimistic view. For cinephiles who like their films that way, mother! may stand as a landmark for years to come.

Grade: 9.4/10

Our full review of mother!

Featured image via Paramount.

Darren Aronofsky’s ‘mother!’ is an allegorical, savagely comedic nightmare — Full Review

“Howl to the moon” was the phrase Darren Aronofsky used to opaquely describe his feelings behind mother!, this impeccably mounted, nearly impossible-to-digest-on-one-viewing allegory for the folly of mankind. And truly, love it or absolutely f*cking hate it, mother! can really only be described in that phrase.

To speak much about the story of mother! is a spoiler, since the marketing has done a brilliant job of hiding its twists and turns, and because the film makes obvious references to the most popular book in the world. Essentially, an ego-driven writer (Javier Bardem) and his wife, an endlessly loving woman (Jennifer Lawrence), are met by an uninvited couple (Ed Harris and Michelle Pfeiffer) — and the writer is happy for the couple’s admiration of his work, yet the wife realizes nothing and no one are quite like they seem.

From here though, the film becomes an admittedly pretentious, but gonzo exploration of the depravity that can be fit within one single house.

What can be said, without the fear of giving too much away, is that mother! is an equivalent to Terrence Malick’s Tree of Life, but without the hope for life that Malick’s film glowed with. Rather, Darren Aronofsky’s film presents itself as a damning critique of many things, including, but not limited to religion, celebrity, global warming, immigration, war, trafficking, marriage, divorce and parenting.

The film is obvious in its ambitions, to the point where an engaged, literary-minded audience will quickly pick up the broad strokes at play. But the brazenness of it all comes from the fact that mother! also refuses to hold the audience’s hand, should they check out from this film’s delayed, but precipitous descent into humanity’s darkest depths.

If It is the ultimate crowd-pleasing horror film, then mother! is the ultimate soul-crushing one, albeit one brimming with the darkest of dark comedy — not far off from Dante’s playfully titled The Divine Comedy.

Much admiration, even from the audiences who reject the film’s aspirations and themes, must be lobbed toward the stunning work of Aronofsky regular Matthew Libatique, whose cinematography is tightly framed here, and the incredible sound mixing crew, who, without any score, build a palpable sense of dread from everything that happens off-screen.

Most impressively, though, is the Academy Award-winning Lawrence’s ability to command the screen so effortlessly. Aronofsky and Libatique wisely frame all of the film from her perspective, either with a tight close-up on her face or medium shots where she can still be seen within the frame even if another character is the focus.

The willingness of Lawrence to literally and figuratively bare it all, physically and emotionally, in this film is absolutely commendable, but that framing nearly verges toward exploitative. However, the film’s dirtiness and its treatment of her character is what the film asks viewers to ponder as they leave the theater.

Is mankind worth saving, or are we all doomed to destroy the things we should be loving and taking care of the most? Aronofsky refuses to give an answer, even if he suggests a pessimistic view. For cinephiles who like their films that way, mother! may stand as a landmark for years to come.

Grade: 9.4/10

Featured image via Paramount.

Jennifer Lawrence’s top 5 performances

Jennifer Lawrence is one of the biggest superstars on the planet right now, deemed by many as the next Meryl Streep; she’s already been nominated for four Oscars at the young age of 27, meaning that she has 31 years to catch up to Streep’s current number of 20 nominations — a task not too unthinkable.

Looking back at her career, Lawrence has surprisingly fewer notable appearances than one may first expect — perhaps a reminder of how young she is. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing because each performance is one that sticks, whether because of her immense talent, showcased in films such as Silver Linings Playbook and Winter’s Bone, or because she’s already cemented herself as a big franchise A-lister with leading roles in X-Men and The Hunger Games.

With Darren Aronofsky’s mother! releasing this Friday, Lawrence will only remind those that sadly and systemically undervalue her that she’s not going anywhere. She’s not the next Meryl Streep because she’s the only Jennifer Lawrence. And while this list may not host as many hot takes as others, it’s a rightful celebration of an undeniable talent.

5. The Hunger Games

Lionsgate/Courtesy

In The Hunger Games, Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) captures the fascination of the public, but in a slightly meta twist, Lawrence herself catapulted to the broader public’s radar. By then she had already been nominated for Best Lead Actress for her work in Winter’s Bone, but with The Hunger Games, Lawrence established herself as a heroine for the ages — the highest grossing action film heroine, to be precise. But don’t let the memory of Barnes and Noble’s endless supply of Katniss merch sully the performance Lawrence gives in the first Hunger Games film. She gives us a heroine who’s vulnerable and sympathetic, but never lets that get in the way of being a badass. Amid the flood of YA novel adaptations that descended upon cinemas in the wake of The Hunger Games, Lawrence’s turn as Katniss shows that the phenomenon began and ended with her undeniably strong performance.

— Harrison Tunggal

4. Joy

20th Century Fox/Courtesy

David O. Russell’s Joy is a bit of an unengaging slog, but Jennifer Lawrence isn’t one of the reasons why. In fact, she’s the only reason why the film is watchable in the first place. She embraces and envelops herself in the dynamic familial conflict and vulnerability of the character of Joy — a young inventor and businesswoman who builds a dynasty — reacting with a quiet energy and taking charge with such lively fervor; we almost feel the line “never… speak… on my behalf… about my business… again” in our bones, each brief pause breathing with badassery. She may not dive as deep into the mentality of the character as she does in performances ranked higher, but her utterly firm and assured commitment to the role reverberates off the screen.

— Kyle Kizu

3. Winter’s Bone

Roadside Attractions/Courtesy

The performance that started the hype around her talents, Winter’s Bone was a tiny little indie that did significantly better than anyone would have expected, largely in part due to Lawrence’s captivating leading character. Set in the rural Ozarks, Winter’s Bone features Lawrence as a 17-year-old tasked with taking care of her mentally ill mother and her two younger siblings within a financially destitute family that is being threatened to have their housed foreclosed on since her meth-addicted father put the house up for bail. And he, for reasons waiting to be discovered in this twisty film, has yet to make his court date.

What’s so immediate about this film’s portrayal of this kind of life is both Lawrence and director Debra Granik’s refusal to allow stereotypes to percolate into the story. There’s an authenticity to the sadness, the courage and, ultimately, the hope Lawrence brings to this young heroine. One could immediately see the star power that Lawrence possesses, which has only been further proven in each film since.

— Levi Hill

2. American Hustle

Sony Pictures/Courtesy

Bat-shit crazy Jennifer Lawrence is the best Jennifer Lawrence: so it is written.

As Rosalyn Rosenfeld in American Hustle, Lawrence injects what could have been a stereotypical “wronged, manipulative wife” role with charisma, intensity and a touch of true malice. In one memorable scene, Christian Bale’s character calls his wife “the Picasso of passive-aggressive karate.” She does indeed spend a good portion of the film attempting to sway events through careful manipulation, but when the dam breaks, no one throws a tantrum like Lawrence. And for what it’s worth, just overcoming the sheer extravagance of American Hustle’s costuming was a feat for all involved— from that slinky white gown to her teased blond updo, it’s a noteworthy accomplishment that the most “extra” thing in the film was Lawrence herself.

— Kate Halliwell

1. Silver Linings Playbook

The Weinstein Company/Courtesy

While Jennifer Lawrence was already an Oscar nominated actress with seemingly endless potential at such a young age, it was really 2012 that catapulted her into super stardom and the charts of Best Actresses Working Today. Between The Hunger Games and Silver Linings Playbook, any actor could claim they owned the year. Leading a massive franchise and the biggest crowd-pleasing prestige film is quite the accomplishment, yet it’s her performance in that second film, David O. Russell’s Silver Linings Playbook, that stands as her best performance in her already acclaimed career. With the premise of the film centered around deeply flawed people, Lawrence plays Tiffany, a young widow who battles depression and is ostracized in her town for having casual sex with many of the men in it after her husband’s passing. While the film rests on Bradley Cooper’s shoulders, who convincingly plays the manic-depressive Pat Solitano, Jr., Lawrence steals the show. Given almost equal weight in this tight balancing act of mental-issues-drama with dysfunctional family comedy, without Lawrence’s performance — which gives off bubbly optimism and a cold cynicism — the movie may not have had its silver lining.

— Levi Hill

Featured image via Paramount.

Box Office Report: As summer closes, box office reaches historic low with top earner merely making $10 million

Box Office Report for the weekend of August 25 to August 27:

As the summer closes with its last weekend, the box office has reached the year’s lowest point and, as reported by Box Office Mojo, the worst weekend in about 16 years.

The Ryan Reynolds/Samuel L. Jackson-starring The Hitman’s Bodyguard took home the top spot with an estimated $10.05 million, bringing up its domestic total to approximately $39.61 million. The film’s reported budget is $30 million, meaning that, despite it’s mostly negative reception as it sits at 39% on RottenTomatoes after 143 reviews, it will almost certainly make its money back, and then some. The weekend gross of The Hitman’s Bodyguard, however, is the lowest earning top spot of the year. One would have to go all the way back to the weekend of February 3-5, when M. Night Shyamalan’s Split made $14.42 million, to come close to a worse #1 earner. Some say that the film’s finalized weekend number — its ‘actuals’ — will dip, meaning that it could even sink below $10 million.

Annabelle: Creation placed second with an estimated $7.35 million. Taking place within the Conjuring franchise, which itself has crossed $1 billion, the film should cross $100 million domestically within the coming weeks (it currently sits at $77.88 million). With a budget of $15 million, the horror prequel will be, relatively, one of the year’s most profitable films.

New releases, though, proved incredibly unappealing, with the animated film Leap! being one of only two to break the top ten. The Weinstein Company acquisition, which premiered internationally last year, made only $5.01 million domestically.

Wind River, which performed well during a limited release, expanded to over 2,000 theaters, and took home an estimated $4.41 million at the domestic box office. The indie, coming from Sicario and Hell or High Water screenwriter Taylor Sheridan, features what many critics are calling Jeremy Renner’s best performance.

Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk stuck around in the top ten after its 6th weekend in theaters, raking in another $3.95 million to claim the 6th spot. At this point, the World War II epic has yet to fall more than 47% from weekend to weekend, and never more than 41% after its second weekend, showing that it has strong legs. With a domestic total currently sitting at $172 million, the film will soon beat The Boss BabyGet Out and The LEGO Batman Movie to become the highest domestic grossing film that is not a sequel or a franchise vehicle — an accomplishment that Nolan is incredibly familiar with.

After Spider-Man: HomecomingThe Emoji Movie and new release Birth of the DragonGirls Trip, like Dunkirk, finds itself in the top ten after its 6th weekend, making an estimated $2.26 million domestically. The all-Black, all-female comedy recently crossed $100 million domestically.

Finally, in a bid for the 5th spot on the “highest domestic grossing superhero films” list, which is currently held by Iron Man 3 at $409.01 million, Wonder Woman added 1,407 theaters, expanding to a total of 2,210. The DC Extended Universe picture took home $1.68 million, bringing its domestic total to $406.2 million. It should claim that 5th spot in due time, putting it behind only The Dark Knight RisesAvengers: Age of UltronThe Dark Knight and Marvel’s The Avengers respectively.

The following weekend may be even more abysmal, with very few new releases that could make any notable dent. Unless Tulip Fever somehow strikes a chord with audiences, next weekend’s top earner may be well under $10 million.

The one after that, however, will see the release of It, which Variety reports could make about $50 million domestically its opening weekend, according to early box office tracking. With Jennifer Lawrence’s mother!, Kingsman: The Golden CircleThe LEGO Ninjago Movie and Tom Cruise’s American Made coming in the weeks following, the fall season will hopefully reinvigorate the box office.

*All weekend numbers are domestic, meaning that they’re from theaters in the U.S. and Canada, and are also estimates, reported by Box Office Mojo, with actuals coming out in the next few days.*