I can’t remember the last time I enjoyed a Julie Roberts performance, though I do remember the last time I enjoyed a Julia Roberts film (that would be ‘Wonder’ from last year) But I thin she is fantastic in Peter Hedges’ Ben Is Back,’ wherein you can see Roberts go deep and try to get in a character, instead of just trying to go by and wing the performance through her trademark guffaw. In here, she plays Holly, a mother who has to deal with her son coming home from rehab to spend Christmas at home, and Roberts is great at that opening scene wherein she sees her son and her face has to show a multitude of emotions – glee with his arrival, but at the same time there’s concern and fear with what might happen. Roberts owns the film from that moment, as we experience what she goes through for twenty four hours.
There has been a couple of movies this season about white boys in peril, and this one is the one that resonated best so far from me. The film switches gears mid-way through, and that made it more interesting for me. I was on the edge of my seat as it veered towards being an almost-thriller. And I have to say that I have seen Lucas Hedges give one memorable performance after another recently and he is at his best here, and I believed him the most in this film. He and Roberts played off each other well, and their performance add heart and soul to the film. At my screening, there were people hired by the studio giving about questionnaires about the film and I thought they were very aggressive, which makes me think they don’t really know how to market this. I hope this film finds an audience. It deserves one.
During the season of Oscar baiting, I sometimes ignore what I think are more ‘commercial’ fares so it took me a minute to see ‘Wonder.’ (I could be a snob sometimes) But, I have heard from so many people who loved this film, so I just couldn’t totally ignore it. Now, I regret the wait because ‘Wonder’ is wonderful. I even think that this is one of my top favorites from all the movies I have seen recently, and that list includes from Oscar front runners.
Simply put, the film made me feel good, and it made me shed tears. Anchored by great performances, the film just made you believe. You believe in the story, you believe in the good that emanates from it, and you believe in the life affirmations that it radiates. The film, based on a book by RJ Palacios and directed by Stephen Chbosky, is about a boy Auggie (Jacob Tembley) who starts going to middle school after being home schooled by his mother (Julia Roberts) Auggie has a facial deformity, and has had numerous plastic surgery operations. There he faces the harshness of life, but takes a lot of it good-nauredly, as he has fantastic disposition in life. I was skeptical with the Julia Roberts performance, as I think most times we see ‘Julia Roberts’ the star instead of the character. But the Julia star power is slightly dimmed here, with her nude lipstick and dowdy cardigans (though she still cannot resist that throaty toothy laugh that we get to see once again here) I do have to admit I thought she was good here, and even matched Owen Wilson’s brodude father to Auggie. Chbosky directs with a soft hand, and the softness emanates throughout the film. Sure, a lot of this felt very manipulative after, but I didn’t feel cheap or used. I gladly succumbed to the wonder of ‘Wonder,’ and heartily recommend the film.
Just in time for Mother’s Day on May 9th, we have ‘Mother’s Day,’ which is Gary Marshall’s latest installment in his ‘Holidays’ series. This movie is as bad as it sounds, and it is truly horrific in a lot of senses. It applies every sitcom trope you can find, and that wouldn’t be as bad if it was well acted, but this cast of great actors couldn’t even elevate the bad material. The screenplay – it took five people to come up with this crap – is a series of cliché after cliché, and you can see every actor here – Julia Roberts, Jennifer Aniston, Kate Hudson – just biding time waiting for their car service to take them home. And while we are it, why is Julia Roberts wearing her red hooker blunt wig from ‘Pretty Woman,’ coincidentally also directed by Marshall. The film takes an all-time low with Hudson’s character’s hate filled parents, played by Margo Martindale and Robert Pine, who spews every bigoted dialogue in their dialogue. (It’s not funny) I wish I had something nice to say about this movie at all, and as I sat at home later thinking about it, I only realize all the mothers in the world deserve a better gift. Well, maybe that’s the one good thing I can say about this film: it made me think of my mother whom I miss everyday of my life.