Merry Christmas! Quickies on several Christmas Day openings:
Concussion—Peter Landesman directed this straightforward drama starring Will
Smith, who plays Dr. Bennet Omalu. This Nigerian pathologist came to the U.S.
starry-eyed about the American Dream, and then learned what happens when you
get between Americans and football.
While doing autopsies for the Allegheny County Coroner’s office in Pittsburgh, including one for down-and-out Steelers center Mike Webster,
Omalu came to the
conclusion that it might not be healthy for men to spend their careers bashing
their heads into each other—he referred to the results of this as Chronic
Traumatic Encephalopathy. The NFL found his theory shocking and controversial.
After a while, it struck me that the film’s somber, brooding tone was less
about the horror that befalls CTE victims and their families, and more about American
angst over anything that challenges, complicates or interferes with the love of
football. The best line, delivered by Albert Brooks, refers to the place the
NFL has taken in America: “They own a day of the week,” he says. “The same one
The Church used to own.”
Carol—The latest from Todd Haynes is this impeccable adaptation of the 1952
Patricia Highsmith novel The Price of Salt. As in Blue Jasmine, Cate Blanchett
is a rich lady in trouble. Carol is an affluent, elegant New Jersey housewife
and mother, in the process of divorcing her husband. She’s out shopping when
she meets Therese (Rooney Mara), an aspiring Manhattan photographer, working in
a department store. The two are immediately riveted by each other, and as they
get acquainted, eventually taking a road trip together, their relationship
grows from yearning infatuation to a genuine bond. It need hardly be said that
all does not go smoothly for them.
This is sort of a companion piece to Haynes’ Far From Heaven, his lush,
Douglas Sirk-ish ‘50s soap opera in which Dennis Quaid struggled against his
sexuality as if he’d been diagnosed with low blood sugar or anemia. But because
the lead characters in Carol aren’t trying to overcome their identities, it’s
probably a more enjoyable movie. It’s also probably better made—the period
detail is rich but not fussy, and the acting bristles, both erotically and
Blanchett is daringly mannered, both in her look and her delivery—at first
she seems lacquered and campy, almost a little gothic. But as the movie progresses
her grand style starts to blend perfectly with Mara’s touchingly unaffected,
natural directness. Very simply, the two of them seem lucky to have found each
Daddy’s Home—Will Farrell is the square, trying-too-hard stepdad, and Mark
Wahlberg is the cool absentee Dad with the motorcycle and the
treehouse-building skills. They stupidly one-up each other for the love of
Linda Cardellini and her rather unlikable kids, and the result is self-consciously
“transgressive” slapstick of the kids-in-wheelchairs-getting-knocked-over style
in vogue since The Hangover.
It’s fairly terrible, though I suppose it gets a smidge better in the
homestretch when Farrell and Wahlberg aren’t competing anymore. My only other
comment is: I can no longer see Mark Wahlberg without being reminded of Andy
Samberg’s Saturday Night Live impression of him.