Not even a rain-soaked July 4th could help "Tammy," starring Melissa McCarthy. But while the Warner Brothers' blockbuster comedy falls short, the French film "Gabrielle" certainly does not.
A scene from "Gabrielle"
Courtesy Entertainment One
NEW YORK (WOMENSENEWS)--Given the box-office disappointment it looks like other moviegoers join my weariness in watching Melissa McCarthy stereotype herself as a brash, crass, misbehaving fat girl who's pursuing a predicable path of hefty woe that she herself initiates. Enough already. This movie offers a few good guffaws, and the relationship between Tammy and her grandmother (Susan Sarandon, who's really too young to play this part) bears some measure of interest. But if this is where feminism in film is going, I think I'd prefer a throwback to the late 50s, early 60s silly romcom Tammy films starring Debbie Reynolds and Sandra Dee.
4 That Opened by July 4
Fortunately, there are more appealing and satisfying femme-driven films on big screens in July, including four that opened over Independence Day weekend.
"Gabrielle" is writer-director Louise Archambault's truly touching drama about a young woman, the titular Gabrielle (Gabrielle Marion-Rivard), who strives to lead a normal life filled with love and music, although she has Williams syndrome. Her main hurdle is overcoming other people's prejudices, a mission she embraces with unflagging determination and a wonderful sense of joy and humor. A tender, uplifting and refreshingly unsentimental drama about overcoming stereotypes. In French, English subtitles.
"Nothing Bad Can Happen," German filmmaker Katrin Gebbe's gripping first feature, is a must see for fans of truth-based horror scenarios. This one plumbs the dysfunctional relationship between an obsessive Christian punk rocker and his satanic father. Scary, disturbing and well realized to the core. In German, English subtitles.
Filmmaker Evelyn Purcell's "Heatstroke" is an action thriller and travelogue that follows a family – played by Stephen Dorff, Svetlana Metkina and Maisie Williams – on an African safari, where they must dodge predatory wildlife, poachers and gun runners. The fast-paced plot is engaging and the performances are good. Best of all are the animals, and the safari scenery.
In "Beyond the Edge," filmmaker Leanne Pooley creates a thrilling 3-D documentary about Sir Edmund Hillary and Sherpa Tenzing Norgay, the first two men to reach the summit of Mount Everest, the highest, most treacherous peak on Earth. It was on May 29, 1953, and the world, still recovering from World War II, was very much in need of heroes. They found them in Hillary (Chad Moffitt) and Tenzing (Sonam Sherpa), and their bravery and determination to succeed is still deeply affecting. The 3-D brings the harsh and foreboding environment to life. It's all about a remarkable moment in world history and a primer of a travelogue about the world's majesty and beauty.
Opening July 11
See "Land Ho!" just for the fun of it. Co-written and co-directed by Martha Stephens and Aaron Katz, this delightful road trip comedy cavorts through Iceland on a life-affirming holiday adventure for an odd couple of retired former brothers-in-law (Paul Eenhoorn and Earl Lynn Nelson ) who are determined to kick aging, loneliness and depression in the butt; no ifs, ands or buts about it. They are seductive. So's the scenery. This is an ideal escape from summer heat!
Filmmaker Mary Mazzio's documentary "Underwater Dreams" is wildly inspirational. Four Arizona high school students, the children of impoverished Mexican migrant workers, enter a high-profile underwater robotics contest, show extraordinary ingenuity in building an underwater robot with their extremely limited resources and compete against MIT and other engineering powerhouses; and take top honors! They're delightful kids, and their story – as well as their robot – is a winner. Michael Pena narrates.
"Boyhood" is Richard Linklater's wonderful, unique coming-of-age film. Twelve years in the making, the movie chronicles what growing up is all about, from the perspective of Mason, played by breakthrough child actor Ellar Mason, who grows up in front of Linklater's camera. The pop music soundtrack is a parade of era-defining hits, which structure the film as a sort of episodic epic. This is a sensory delight that invades your psyche. Go see it!
Opening July 18
In "Sex Tape," a couple Annie (Cameron Diaz) and Jay (Jason Segel) decide to systematically try all positions in "The Joy of Sex" to spice up their 10-years-after-marriage sex life. They make a video of the three-hour project and guess what? It's mistakenly uploaded and becomes accessible to their friends and family. They scramble to delete it as quickly as possible, but don't manage to be quick enough. Funny? I guess it's a matter of taste. I just wish Cammie would pick better projects. This one doesn't do justice to her comedic talents. Co-written by Kate Angelo and Jake Kasden (who also directed).
Opening July 25
Screenwriter-director Luc Besson's futuristic action thriller casts Scarlett Johansson as a woman who is transformed by her victimization into a sort of super hero. She's forced to be a mule for drugs and the drugs start leaking into her system Lucy refuses to play the victim and transforms herself - through an assertive combination of street smarts, personal rage and righteous indignation – into someone who cleans up the streets. Johansson really drives it home.
In "Very Good Girls," writer-director Naomi Foner casts Dakota Fanning and Elizabeth Olsen as high school best friends who make a pact that they'll lose their virginity before they part ways for college at the end of summer vacation. As plot would have it, they fall for the same guy (Boyd Holbrook) and, well, you know, tensions mount and the friendship is redefined. A bit contrived, but still a well-made film with an intriguing story about female friendship.
Opening July 30
"War Story" stars Catherine Keener as a veteran war photographer fighting to recover from the emotional and physical trauma of having been held hostage and brutalized in Libya. She does so by taking on the cause of a young Tunisian woman (Hafsia Herzi) who needs an abortion and safe passage to France, as rescue from the similarly dangerous and abusive circumstances of her life. Powerhouse performances, delivered without a trace of sentimental self-indulgence, give these female characters iconic strength that is nothing less than inspiring. This moving and memorable must see-drama provides a strong close out the movie month of July 2014.
In addition to covering film for Women's eNews, Jennifer Merin writes the Cinema Citizen blog at www.AWFJ.org, the website of the Alliance of Women Film Journalists, the nonprofit organization of leading female film journalists in the United States, U.K. and Canada, of which Merin is also president. She also writes about documentary film for About.com. For more information: Alliance of Women Film Journalists (http://www.awfj.org)