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Out in Theaters: PRIDE

I was reluctant to watch Pride. I’m not a huge activist when it comes to anything besides the “No-Poo Movement”, so I’m generally less inclined to endure pandering of any kind. When I read the synopsis for Pride, it seemed a little politically heavy. Perhaps it would be Dallas Buyers Club with parades. Thankfully, it was so much more than that.

Pride starts, expectedly, at a gay-pride parade in the Summer of 1984. On his birthday, Joe (George MacKay) sneaks out of his parents’ house to join in the festivities. Soon, he meets Mark (Ben Schnetzner) and his group of friends. Mark’s an energetic, delicate young activist for everyone’s rights. He’s got a massive “Thatcher Out!” banner hanging outside his apartment window. Joe gets handed a bucket and joins in on the chanting: “Lesbians and Gays for the Miners!”

The film focuses on the British Coal Miners’ strikes in the United KingdomB during Margaret Thatcher’s Prime Ministry. Mark hears about their plight and sees an opportunity to gain sympathy for the “gays’” cause. The police that used to torment the homosexual community have shifted their attention to the miners picketing and rallying. He starts L.G.S.M. — Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners (they’ve got a very forthright name) — and calls upon his fellow friends to join the cause. Notably: Joe, Jonathan (Dominic West), and Steph (Faye Marsay, the “L” in LGSM).

The problem is: no one will accept their money. Mark, being the driving force that he is, decides to contact a suffering town directly and offer their help. Dai (Paddy Considine, Hot Fuzz & The Bourne Ultimatum) picks up and is more than willing to accept the money. LGSM goes up to Wales to meet him and the town, but this hardy Welsh miners’ town isn’t as receptive. Soon, a struggle erupts as LGSM refuses to let down in helping them out, while the miners reconcile help from a community that they don’t understand.

The film is one of protest and persistence. Joe’s hiding his homosexuality from his parents. His Dad mockingly calls AIDS “Anally Injected Death Sentence.” His internal struggle matches the one facing LGSM: how do we change a prejudiced perspective. As the town warms up to “The Gays as they call them” and older members like Cliff (Bill Nighy) and Hefina (Imelda Staunton) begin to advocate for them, the town faces the same rift as Joe: how are these people different? LGSM picks up more and more support, but the more vocal opponents continue trying to sabotage their efforts.

Pride is beautifully acted, unimposing and wide open. Really, it’s raucous fun. LGSM puts on a benefit concert, a parade, and constantly brings fun to the tense topics Pride highlights. The juxtaposition of gruff miners and flamboyant LGSM-ers is hilarious, and Pride has fun making fun of itself. Heavy materials are treated with the same lightness as a pride parade. It’s proud without boasting.

Old vets like Considine, Staunton and Nighy deliver soft, tender and often hilarious performances as older town-members quick to accept LGSM. They give what you’d expect from top-bill names. Their interactions are simply gold, as they mine for understanding. These old folks have never met a homosexual in their life, and now they’re surrounded by them. Their reactions are brilliant.

But Pride makes its money from its young cast, who dance and sing and enjoy every moment. They never give up and don’t take “no” for an answer. Their charisma and enthusiasm melts hearts. Ben Schnetzner is revelatory in one of his first on-screen performances. As LGSM’s headstrong leader, he’s the Billy to this film’s Elliot, the Simon to its Garfunkel. He takes the brunt of the criticism, but bounces back unharmed. He’s the group’s anchor, and he’s definitive in his charm. MacKay, Marsay and West too, are sincere, droll and flamboyant.

Ultimately though, praise belongs to director Matthew Warchus (directing his first film since 1999) and writer Stephen Beresford, who have put together something special here. Weaving in so many tales of strife without coming off as overbearing is something difficult to accomplish, but they do so with aplomb. By the end, the triumph isn’t what you’d expect either. Beresford keeps you guessing, and Warchus has you dancing in your seat. This film is based on a true story, but it seemed bigger than that.

Heart-warming, fun and eye-opening, Pride is surprisingly earnest and solid from start to finish. It bypasses prejudice and gifts you with understanding. I’m more than proud to recommend Pride. Be prepared to dance.

A

 

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Out in Theaters: ABOUT TIME

“About Time”
Directed by Richard Curtis
Starring Domhnall Gleeson, Bill Nighy, Rachel McAdams, Lydia Wilson, Lindsay Duncan, Richard Cordery, Tom Hollander, Margo Robbie
Comedy, Drama, Sci-Fi
123 Mins
R
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A truly good-natured movie is almost impossible to find nowadays. Every major studio release hot off the production line comes caked in ice-packed grit, each romance more a thing of cool-blooded calculation than the starry-eyed butterfly-tummied trances of acoustic guitar ballads. Even the biggest name in romance, the haughty Nicholas Sparks, tends towards conclusions of masturbatory tragedy. Someone has to either die or get laid out with a terminal case of cancer. It’s as if audiences can’t handle the sweet without the sour – all must end in woe or, at the very least, a shade of woe. Look at the great romantic saga of the past ten year; I’m referring of course to Twilight. Even if you strip away the Mormon patriarchal underpinning and grade-A beastly acting, this “great romance” involves a stoic vampire and an even steelier teen. There’s no beaded passion here – nothing beneath the carnal urges and “hot and bothered” eye-banging – just angsty stirrings in the nether regions mislabeled as “love.”

Examining a real relationship, or at least any that I’ve seen, under the context of this brand of ironclad romance, there’s very little overlap of note. And yet, the lukewarm romance soldiers on: the bastion of 21st century detachment and bone-deep aversion to commitment. This template of 21st century romance has become centered on a singular quest for detached self-satisfaction that it’s turned against everything that love stands for. And then comes About Time, an earnest well-meaning love story amongst a pack of wolves. It’s quite simply, a breath of fresh air.

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Released amongst a rash of hefty dramas and mindless actioners, this purely delightful romance wears its heart on its sleeve in bold, sincere patches. While many romantic competitors keep an emotional distance from the audience through the use of sarcasm and a predictable three act meet-up-break-up-make-up formula, About Time is unafraid to alter the formula, scraping foreseeable twists and turns for the emotional heft of real family dynamics and all the baggage that comes with that…oh and time travel.

Yes, time travel plays a significant part of the narrative as on the eve of his 21st birthday, Tim (Domhnall Gleeson) is let in on a little family secret by his Dad (Bill Nighy): the men in the family have a peculiar ability to ball their fists and leap through time. In fact, the ability to time travel goes back as far in the family tree as the rascally orange hair which runs rampant in this English family. It takes no great stretch of the imagination to fantasize about how we would use these life-altering powers, but in About Time any ideas of grandiose heroics are by and large shelved. Meek and ginger Tim wants to use his powers for one thing and one thing only: to snag a girlfriend.

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When it comes time to procure the finest vixen in the land, the “traveling” bits are entirely effects free. There are no bright neon lights or pin wheeled wormholes, a directorial decision of “less is more” that works wonders within the foundation of the story. Unlike many plots involving time travel, About Time doesn’t spend too much time establishing the guidelines for the time travel sandbox, but it does play by its own set of rules. But rather than getting convoluted in the details of time travel’s idiosyncrasies, the rules here are simple: your actions can change the events of the past so 1) You can only travel to points and places in time that you’ve already been to before (i.e. no peeking into the future and no going back and killing Hitler) 2) Don’t alter any event before the birth of your child (different sperm, different baby) 3) Realize that there’s some things that time travel can’t fix. Some things just need to be accepted or learned through the arduous journey that is life.

As much as nitpicky drones love their plot-hole-seeking pastime, any attempt to dissect and discredit the functionality of the time travel here is moot because, well, its pretty rock solid. However hokey a time-jumping premise sounds in the midst of a love story, it’s used to surprisingly compelling effect and is far more nuanced and well-mannered than you might otherwise expect. And even though it’s there, time travel really isn’t what About Time is about. Rather, it uses the fantasy to tap into emotional reality.

Rather than use his time-traveling talent for typical teenage debauchery, Tim saves his ability as a last ditch effort of sorts, only used to better the circumstances of those around him, to avoid the unpleasantries that tend to pop their head up when least expected, and most importantly, to revisit the best days of his life. About Time ponders the idea that we can live life to the fullest not because of magical abilities but, perhaps, in spite of them.

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As for the romance at the center of the film, Rachel McAdams flirts with a new kind of woman- a mousey brunette, steadfast in her bookwormery and emotional reservations. It’s perhaps the least showy role she’s done and for once, she is entirely tolerable if not completely adorable. Newcomer Gleeson is equally charming, although not nearly in the traditional sense we’ve come to expect from a romantic male lead.

Bumbling, awkward and entirely orange-haired, his Tim makes up for his lack of suave with the good decision-making skills rare in a rom-com male. But the story is larger than the affable romance at its core, it’s about family; how families come together, depend on each other, and, ultimately, how parents pass the torch to their offspring. Like a good-natured Butterfly Effect, the most emotionally pungent material is unearthed in Gleeson and Nighy’s father-son relationship, so much so that, it might earn a sniffle, maybe even a tear or two from those apt to be touched by emotional films.

Regardless of its breezy premise and total lack of a bad bone in its body, this is the sparse romantic drama that totally works. Brushing off the sleazy staples of modern day rom-coms – the hunky leads, reheated man-wrong-woman, woman-wrong-man clichés, and snarky, obnoxious best friends – Richard Curtis has found something far more earnest, good intentioned and true. With an archer’s marksmanship, he manages to land a bullseye in our emotional main vein on a number of occasions. However coated with a healthy layer of rose-colored glaze, About Time is bold enough to be a nice guy amongst an army of grit and cavalier cool. This time though, nice guys don’t finish last.

B