Movies I watched on the plane – Tully, Breath, Unsane

When I have to kill time on international flights I usually like to turn off my brain and watch some crappy movie I’d never bother to pay for at the cinema. This time around though I ended up watching some good movies!

Tully

I really enjoyed Young Adult, the previous collaboration between Charlize Theron, screenwriter Diablo Cody and director Jason Reitman, and this sharply written drama about the challenges of motherhood was just as good, if not as biting. Theron’s character, Marlo, is about to pop out child no. 3, while also looking after a daughter and a son who’s somewhere on the autism spectrum. Her husband (Ron Livingston who will always remain Jack Berger from Sex and the City to me) means well but travels a lot and doesn’t really understand how tiring it is to run the household. When the child is born Marlo feels no elation or relief, just despair at the prospect of more exhaustion ahead.

Finally she gives in and agrees to her brother’s offer to hire a night nanny, and gets her own modern Mary Poppins: a 26-year-old girl named Tully who is a perky, bright-eyed free spirit, wise beyond her years. She won’t just mind the infant, she’ll also tidy up the kitchen overnight and bake cupcakes for Marlo’s son’s school. Her youthful energy reminds Marlo of herself, back in her carefree unmarried boho days, and her growing friendship with Tully feels rejuvenating.

Theron never shied away from being messy and complicated onscreen, or taking on roles that leave little room for vanity, and she’s wonderful here. The story might be slight and it takes a turn at the end that you either roll with or roll your eyes at (I rolled with it), but Cody’s sharp dialogue and domestic insights make it engaging.

Breath

A slow-paced but soulful adaptation of Tim Winton’s novel and an impressive directorial debut from Simon Baker, who also plays a key role. Breath is a coming-of-age story revolving around a couple of teenage boys growing up on the Western Australia coast, who fall under the spell of surfing and form a friendship with an older surfer, Sando (Baker).

I felt that the pull and the mystique of the ocean, and the near-religious experience of riding a giant wave, were palpably portrayed in the film, with the crisp visual style that captures the natural beauty of the Australian landscape. Elizabeth Debicki completes the intense quartet of the characters and gives the most memorable performance as Sando’s wife Eva, an enigmatic character who seems to live behind a wall of sorrow and is both callous and pitiable. The young actor who plays the chief protagonist is sympathetic and capable but maybe not quite nuanced enough to fully portray his character’s inner life, especially in the scenes without the benefit of dialogue. But then the books always tend to give you a better picture of the characters’ thoughts and emotions. I might check out the original book now.

Unsane

This movie totally flew under my radar, and as the credits rolled I was surprised to see it was actually directed by Steven Soderbergh. Who apparently shot the entire film on iPhone – I instantly felt that something was off, but couldn’t pin it down until I googled the movie. Is it the future of filmmaking… ehhh I hope not because the iPhone look is cheap and grubby. Not a fan of a higher frame rate either.

Soderbergh however is a master of his craft, and for most of its running time Unsane is a lean, mean thriller, with an excellent lead in Claire Foy. I haven’t watched The Crown, but based on this I can see why she was tapped for the next Lisbeth Salander, she has a marvellous intensity and willingness to be hard and unlikable onscreen. Her heroine in Unsane, Sawyer, is traumatised by the previous stalking experience and ends up being detained in a psychiatric hospital against her will after she comes in for a mere consultation and fills out a few forms. When she claims that an orderly at the hospital is in fact her stalker, it’s unclear whether the threat is real or whether it’s in Sawyer’s head.

One common problem with watching movies on the plane is when you have to disembark and miss the ending, aaaaargh. With the last ten minutes unwatched, the movie doesn’t quite land in the end and falls into some traditional traps of the genre. Still, Soderbergh’s direction, Foy’s performance and some unexpected story strands (like the criticism of the US healthcare system) made it worth watching.

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