(WOMENSENEWS)--Two movies released this month are so stunning that they're likely to wind up on many critics' top-10 lists at year's end.
Lebanese director Nadine Labaki's "Where Do We Go Now?" opening May 11, is about Muslim and Christian women who've raised families side-by-side in a rural village. When incidents incite their menfolk to violence, they work collectively to calm things down. Their peace-preserving tactics range from chastisement to comedic distractions. From the film's opening sequence featuring a beautifully choreographed brigade of female mourners, the ensemble of actresses -- Labaki among them -- captures your heart and never lets go. You must see this film, which so beautifully celebrates women's resolve and the successful application of love and humor in foreboding circumstances.
The other big winner is "Polisse," opening May 18. This stunning, stylish and seductive film offers an anthology of tales drawn from the annals of Parisian child protective services. French filmmaker Maiwenn not only directs and co-writes with Emmanuelle Bercott, she also stars in this gritty, fast-moving depiction of the dangerous world of police actions against child abuse and exploitation. With commitment and compassion, the squad saves children while shouldering more and more personal despair. All of the performances are brilliant and Maiwenn is a cinematic tour de force.
Otherwise, May brings a mother lode of movies about motherhood, several of which seem designed to take the holiday sweetener out of Mother's Day.
Ann Renton's "The Perfect Family," opening May 4, stars Kathleen Turner as an ultra- Catholic, overly controlling mother who conforms to the church's most conservative conventions. While vying to be named Catholic Woman of the Year, she discovers her daughter is gay and pregnant and planning to marry her partner. Her son, she learns, is cheating on his wife with an older woman, and her recovering alcoholic husband, who can no longer bear her rigidity, asks for a divorce. This crisis panorama leads her to reevaluate her convictions. Paula Goldberg and Clair V. Riley's irreverent script pulls no punches in bashing taboos.
"Mother's Day," opening May 4, is a femme-centric thriller starring Rebecca DeMornay as the violent, control-freak matriarch of a tribe of terrorizing home invaders.
Lisa Asuelos' "LOL" is the Hollywood remake of her eponymous 2008 French coming-of age in the digital-age dramedy. The plot pits a high schooler (Miley Cyrus), in the throes of teenage angst, against the rigorous discipline of her strict mother (Demi Moore). The script is predictable but leaves plenty of room for enjoyment. Opens May 4.
Mexican director Patricia Riggen's "Girl in Progress" is a lovely coming-of-age film of reconciliation between a teenage daughter who, while trying to grow up, takes on the role of looking after her single mom (Eva Mendes) who hasn't yet grown up. Opens May 25.
With an appealing range of perspectives, several May movies focus on the intricacies of mother-daughter relationships.
Nicole Kassell's "A Little Bit of Heaven," opening May 4, is a feel-good film about serious illness. Kathy Bates plays the ultimate mother trying to care for her daughter
(Kate Hudson), a successful and irreverently fun-loving career woman whose sudden cancer diagnosis causes her to focus on what's most important to her, including her new doctor and beau (Gael Garcia Bernal). Gren Wells' script gives Hudson's particular charm a chance to shine.
Debbie Goodstein's "Mighty Fine," opening May 25, stars Andie MacDowell as a wife and mom who customarily defuses her husband's (Chazz Palminteri) unpredictable fits of rage by acquiescing to his every wish and impulse. But that ends when his violence turns on her and their two daughters. No spoilers, but she revamps her circumstances mighty fine.
"Small, Beautifully Moving Parts," opening May 25, is Annie J. Howell and Lisa Robinson's charming comedy about Sarah Sparks (Anna Margaret Hollyman), a geeky gal whose unexpected pregnancy sends her on a cross-country road trip to find her own estranged mother, an unconventional gal who lives off the grid. This entertainingly quirky first feature strikes a chord, indicating that Howell and Robinson and the film's stars have luminous careers ahead.
The month has plenty of other compelling non-mom fare too.
Bess Kargman's "First Position," opening May 4, is a top pick for all who love dance, especially ballet. The superbly structured documentary interweaves stories of six talented, dedicated youngsters, aged 8 to 16, as they prepare to perform at the Youth America Grand Prix, an annual competition that awards scholarships and launches winners into professional ranks. These kids are extraordinary. So are their parents and teachers. So is the film.
"Last Call at the Oasis," out May 4, is Jessica Yu's galvanizing documentary about the world's rapidly diminishing fresh water supply. Yu intercuts exquisite cinematography of rivers, lakes and waterfalls with footage and graphics that show the disastrous consequences of encroaching drought. Environmental activists -- including Erin Brockovich-Ellis -- explain the conservation measures that must be taken before it is too late.
In "The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel," director John Madden assembles a memorable ensemble of A-list British senior thespians -- Judi Dench, Maggie Smith, Bill Nighy, Tom Wilkenson and others -- for an enticingly scenic travel romp in which a group of budget-conscious retirees transplant to India in search of a better, more affordable life. In their new digs, a rundown palace that's been repurposed as a retirement community, they loosen up and learn to appreciate each others' quirks and their own best qualities. This film is utterly charming. It also opens May 4.
"Hysteria," directed by Tanya Wexler, is a fanciful, romantic and comedic interpretation of a great moment in history: the invention of the vibrator! Called the feather duster, the tool created by 19th century British gynecologist Dr. Mortimer Granville (Hugh Dancy), was used to treat hysteria, the diagnosis applied to women with symptoms ranging from insomnia to a toothache and all deemed maladies of the womb. The "feather duster" was an instrument of pleasure that made Granville a legend in his own time. Maggie Gyllenhaal co-stars as the feminist who falls in love with him and challenges his and other doctors' -- including her father's -- medical sexism. "Hysteria," out May 18, played like a comedy of manners, is hysterically funny.
In addition to covering film for Women's eNews, Jennifer Merin writes about documentaries for About.com; is president of the Alliance of Women Film Journalists, a nonprofit organization of the leading women film journalists in the U.S., Canada and U.K.; and is a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association.
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