FILM | REVIEWS
DRAMA LUCY IN THE SKY (TBC) 124min ●●●●●
How is it possible to return to normality when you have gazed on the vast wonder of the universe? In Lucy in the Sky, astronaut Lucy Cola (Natalie Portman) has returned home from her first space mission. She is physically fit, mentally strong and hungry to return to training. However, it soon becomes clear that Lucy is anything but
fine. Her nice-guy husband Drew (Dan Stevens) seems more boring than ever. Fellow astronaut Mark (Jon Hamm) is such a rugged hunk that he is impossible to resist, but their affair means more to her than him. Although based on the true story of Lisa Nowak, there’s a Fatal Attraction bunny-boiler feel. Director Noah Hawley made his name on TV’s Fargo and works hard (too hard perhaps) to make his cinematic debut a visceral, immersive experience. Changing aspect ratios, slow-motion and flashback shards of euphoric memories are among the devices deployed. Portman’s committed performance is reminiscent of a young Jodie Foster, conveying Lucy’s aggressive drive to succeed and need to create order from the chaos of her mind. What Hawley fails to achieve is a deeper insight into her actions and fall from grace. In the end, there is more style than substance to his tale. (Allan Hunter) ■ General release from Fri 6 Dec.
BIOPIC – DRAMA A BEAUTIFUL DAY IN THE NEIGHBOURHOOD (TBC) 108min ●●●●●
Experience has taught us to be wary of public figures who seem too good to be true. Journalist Lloyd Vogel (Matthew Rhys, playing a character based on writer Tom Junod) is assigned to interview beloved television host Fred Rogers (Tom Hanks), a saintly father figure to generations of Americans. Vogel arrives armed with cynicism and finds himself charmed and disarmed by a more complex man than he had imagined.
In many respects this is more about Vogel than Rogers. A prize-winning writer and new father, Vogel is burdened by anger and resentment towards his own feckless father (Chris Cooper). Rogers’ influence on Vogel reflects the impact he made on American children.
Director Marielle Heller makes bold choices and constantly works against the grain of the film’s sentimentality. She has two rock-solid performances at the core, with Rhys conveying a sense of bitter, curdled anger that might cost him all he holds dear. Hanks is masterful as he captures Rogers’ cosy cardigan manner, but also lets us see the deeper levels of someone who works hard to be a force for good and knows just how much effort that requires. (Allan Hunter) ■ General release from Fri 6 Dec.
WARTIME COMEDY JOJO RABBIT (12A) 108min ●●●●●
Nazism is tricky terrain for a comedy, to put it mildly, so a daffy take on Hitler is pushing it. But Taika Waititi isn’t just any old director; the New Zealander’s films (including What We Do in the Shadows and Hunt for the Wilderpeople) brim with affection for outsiders. Born to a Maori father and part-Jewish mother, he tells the story of a brainwashed German boy with panache, poignancy and abundant absurdity.
An obedient little Nazi who’s ‘massively into swastikas’, ten-year-old Jojo (Roman Griffin Davis) seems lost to his German resistance mother Rosie (a marvellous Scarlett Johansson). With his father away fighting, the outwardly fanatical but secretly gentle Jojo has reinvented Hitler as an avuncular mucker. Assuming the role himself, the Führer becomes one of Waititi’s signature oddballs, spouting motivational messages as an endlessly unlikely imaginary friend.
Although reality intrudes, the film – based on the Christine Leunens novel Caging Skies – is steeped in semi-fantastic stylings that prioritise nostalgia for childhood over the horror of war; the spectacular production design has Wes Anderson-levels of charm and attention to detail. Davis shines in his acting debut and memorable turns from Thomasin McKenzie, Rebel Wilson, Stephen Merchant and Sam Rockwell add to the glorious patchwork.
Waititi ridicules Nazi ideology with aplomb and his brand of winningly juvenile humour underpinned by sweetness is an ideal fit for a child’s-eye view of events. There’s a spectacularly funny send-off for ‘Adolf’ but there are moments of crushing sadness too, enough to take your breath away. As Jojo journeys toward enlightenment and reconnects with his humanity, it’s actually rather beautiful. (Emma Simmonds) ■ General release from Fri 3 Jan.
PERIOD COMEDY THE PERSONAL HISTORY OF DAVID COPPERFIELD (PG) 119min ●●●●●
Stepping away from his satirical roots, Armando Iannucci pays homage to the great Victorian novelist Charles Dickens by adapting what many consider to be his masterwork. Acknowledging his own debt to the writer’s comedic sensibilities, the British filmmaker brings out the author’s lighter side. It’s a sprightly take on Dickens’s account of the life of optimistic orphan David (Dev Patel), typified by off-kilter transitions between scenes, while Iannucci’s askew humour and eye for eccentric
details deftly intermingles with the author’s own.
There are constant delights to be found in the interpretations of the supporting cast – from David’s batty Aunt Betsey (Tilda Swinton), her sweet but unhinged cousin Mr Dick (Hugh Laurie), and the verbose pauper Mr Micawber (Peter Capaldi). And Iannucci’s casting of Patel is a masterstroke – not because his colour-blind selection may encourage others to follow suit, but because he’s a perfect fit for the role of the ever-likeable hero. As a breezy and colourful crack at a classic, it smartly straddles the line between appeasing aficionados and enticing newcomers. (James Mottram) ■ General release from Fri 24 Jan.
96 THE LIST 1 Nov 2019–31 Jan 2020