By BRUCE DENNILL
That Awkward Moment / Directed by Tom Gormican / 16LS 2
Who Is Dayani Cristal / Directed by Marc Silver / PGV 7
Parkland / Directed by Peter Landesman / PGLVD 8
Lalaloopsy: Episodes 1-14 / A 5
A time where intelligent films could be made about the transition from teenaged or college-level awareness of the needs of significant others to developing valuable, sincere relationships seems ever further away as projects like That Awkward Moment prioritise actors’ current marketability and barroom humour in what is just another young adult sex farce (“romantic comedy” doesn’t really apply, as there is precious little romance), rather than a release with any worthwhile unique selling point. Zac Efron has made a point of shedding the squeaky clean image built up in his early, Disney-endorsed career, so his being a cynical, libidinous sort here isn’t terribly surprising. But he sells himself short in terms of the charm and charisma he’s capable of exuding, and his character suffers for it. Perhaps more disappointing still is Miles Teller, who is also generally following a maturity curve in terms of the roles he’s playing, but who has taken a backward step here. The set-up is simple: three friends convince themselves that they have – without input from others – all they need to satisfy their every ambition. Predictably, that hypothesis is tested by the arrival (or re-evaluation) of various women in their lives. Equally predictably, the viewer is expected to empathise with well-off, arrogant, shallow men because deciding to commit to a single woman is viewed as “giving in”. It’s not that misogyny can’t be funny – ask Ricky Gervais – it’s just that this effort is nowhere near smart enough to deliver even guilty pleasure laughs.
Gael Garcia Bernal goes violently against type (he’s a versatile performer, but he’s usually a little closer to the mainstream) in this dense, compact near-documentary about the perils faced by immigrants trying to get into the US. A couple of divergent threads are held together by a body bearing a tattoo that means – or might mean – different things to different people. Bernal plays a Mexican of limited means but formidable determination who travels to the States to try and track down a missing relative and must face endless challenges to do so. Interspersed between bits of his story are sequences detailing the challenges faced by the professionals and officials whose job it is to control the influx of wannabe citizens into the country and – heartbreakingly – to track those who go missing, sometimes never to be found. The film is not designed to be entertainment in the same way as a romantic comedy or blockbuster, so viewers should be aware that they’re in for something that is very deliberately paced and that communicates its message as much through meditative consideration – quiet moments spent experiencing moments alongside its characters – as through conventional narrative techniques. The film never shies away from its controversial subject matter, but it’s never preachy, either. Watching Who Is Dayani Cristal is not fun, exactly, but the film is significant and will remain relevant as the immigration issue continues to develop and change.
This is that rarest of American films: one that doesn’t push its agenda into your face so hard it comes out the back of your head (even though the plot deals with a central event in American history – the assassination of John F Kennedy) or opt for melodrama when there’s more than enough conventional drama in just putting something close to what happened on the screen. Parkland is a look at the facets of the events of that day that have never received the same sort of coverage as the newscast events – the moment of the shooting; the arrest of Lee Harvey Oswald; the swearing in of Lyndon B Johnson. It wanders through the corridors of Parkland Hospital, where Kennedy was taken after the shooting, and allows Marcia Gay Harden to produce another example of why she’s one of the most reliable of Hollywood’s top actresses and Zac Efron to suggest that he still has unplumbed dramatic depths. It goes behind the camera held by random bystander Abraham Zapruder (the fantastic Paul Giamatti) and explores the way he deals with both the trauma of what he has seen and the fuss about the footage he’s captured with strong, quiet dignity. The final piece is a superb casting puzzle is Billy Bob Thornton as a Secret Service agent who has to recover from the worst possible event in his professional life and ensure that what happens afterward is in keeping with the office of his late employer. There are no big action sequences and no overblown writing tricks crowbarred into the script in order to hold viewers’ attenention. Because the audience knows what happened even before the film starts, the tension is already high up front. All director Peter Landesman has to do is maintain that tone and keep his A-listers in line, and he does both of those things brilliantly. A moving, thoughtful take on a moment in history that’s been dragged through some pretty poor scenarios in the name of entertainment, Parkland is a film worth owning so you can re-watch it and spot the nuances you may have missed the time before.
It’s difficult to say, as an adult, exactly what will appeal to very young viewers when watching a series like this. The Lalaloopsy characters are little animated characters designed to look like they’re made out of fabric – stitches for mouths and buttons for eyes. It’s supposed to be cute, but it’s also a little freaky in a Neil Gaiman kind of way. Regardless of its visual appeal or otherwise, though, the main problem (again, for anyone over six) is the pacing. The intent – it says so on the packaging! – is to encourage using creativity when solving problems and to teach the value of patience. You need the latter when you’re eight episodes in and it feels like you’re watching the same sequence of events playing out for the eighth consecutive time. There are a great number of other series pitched at the same audience that deliver similar messages more effectively, and with enough wit and wisdom to ensure that it’s not only the kids who get a kick out of watching them, but their older siblings and parents too. The simplistic approach taken here ensures that only the youngest observers will be convinced – not a bad thing, but also not a useful tool to extend appeal further that that.