Flick(s) of the Week: Oslo August 31

Oslo August 31 A quietly powerful drama depicting the melancholy of a drug addict in recovery, Oslo, August 31st chronicles a day in the life of Anders (Anders Danielsen Lie), a 34-year-old man who is two weeks shy of completing his rehabilitation program. Given leave from rehab, Anders treks around the picturesque title city, reuniting with friends and encountering strangers. He takes stock of his life in an attempt to reconcile his past, reconnect in the present and consider his options for the future.

His despair is achingly palpable. A fantastic scene has Anders eavesdropping on café patrons’ humdrum conversations, which puts his cynicism about life into bold relief. Perhaps the film’s best sequence features Anders delivering a moving monologue (in voice-over) describing his parents and his childhood. He talks about the freedoms he was given and the opportunities he had and perhaps squandered. It serves to possibly explain—without judgment or blame—how and why he became an addict. Yet what makes Oslo, August 31st resonate is that viewers come to clearly understand Anders and his (failed) relationships. Lie gives a phenomenal performance with magnificent expressions and body language. It—along with this fantastic film—will be seared in viewers’ memories for days and weeks and months to come.

Also Opening

Babymakers A crude—and crudely made—comedy about Tommy (Paul Schneider) trying to get his wife Audrey (Olivia Munn) pregnant. After months of sex in the shower, in the car, in the living room, under a table, and even in a bed, he just cannot knock her up. Learning the unfortunate fact that his sperm isn’t up to snuff, Tommy devises a plan to recover (i.e., steal) the healthy sperm he donated to a cryobank years before he married Audrey. It is, of course, a wrongheaded plan—and one that involves an untrustworthy member of the Indian mafia, Ron Jon (Jay Chandrasekhar, the director)—and it goes wrong.

But then so does much of Babymakers. The soph-moronic jokes range from jerking off to cantaloupe to a character slipping and sliding in a sea of sperm. It’s a sign that the film’s biggest laughs come from Tommy’s testicular traumas—basically, the guy getting hit (repeatedly) in the crotch. Schneider tries his best with this lame material—he acquits himself quite well in the sexual fantasy sequences—but mostly he wears a perpetual look of disbelief on his face. Viewers will, too. Babymakers is about as much fun as a kick in the groin.

Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Dog Days The third entry in this continuing series—adapted from the popular novels—about a middle school student on summer vacation.

Farewell, My Queen Benoît Jacquot’s intimate look at power and unrest in Versailles on and after Bastille Day, 1789, is a handsomely mounted historical drama. Based on the novel by ChantalThomas, the film concerns Sidonie Laborde (Léa Seydoux), the queen’s reader, who observes and overhears much in her role as a servant during these tense early days of the French Revolution. SIdonie is a cunning woman who is loyal to Marie Antoinette (Diane Kruger). And the queen, who lovingly treats Sidonie’s mosquito bites with rosewater, appreciates her servant’s discretion. The queen trusts her reader so much, she confesses to Sidonie that she loves Gabrielle de Polignac (Virginie Ledoyen). Farewell, My Queen is a fascinating character study because its heroine has a unique perspective on the unfolding events of the day. Sidonie is able to manipulate others—exchanging a needlepoint for information, or asked to visit Gabrielle, whom she sees asleep in the nude—to gain a leg up and perhaps protect herself from possible harm. Viewers will care what happens to Sidone, especially when the queen asks Sidonie to help Gabrielle escape from Versailles. Farewell, My Queen downplays the romantic drama—the lesbian overtones are modest and hardly arousing; the only real bodice ripping is Sidonie interrupted clinch with Paolo (Vladimir Consigny) a sexy gondolier. If the plot takes a while to kick in, this fine film still offers an eyeful for lovers of gorgeous costumes and opulent sets.

Ruby Sparks Calvin (Paul Dano) is a successful young writer, who published a work of “genius” at 19. But now, a few years later, he has writer’s block. He has recurring dreams about Ruby Sparks (Zoe Kazan, who penned the screenplay), a “quirky, messy woman whose problems are endearing.” And when he writes about her, suddenly, the dream girl he manifested in his mind, becomes real. If he wants her to speak French or snap her fingers, she does. Never leave him—she won’t. He controls her by typing out his wishes. But he never quite uses his powers to his advantage. Nor does the film get at what Calvin really wants, which makes it tough to care about what happens to him. Ruby Sparks shows how Calvin’s situation is crazy, but he’s not. However, the film, which starts off as a clever story, soon turns into standard romantic comedy-drama. There are montages of the lovers having fun and being cuddly together, and there are fights about separation, cloyingness, jealousy, and loneliness. There is also a wasted episode involving a trip to Big Sir to meet Calvin’s hippie-dippy mother (Annette Bening). Ruby Sparks exaggerates male-female relationships for comedic effect, but too much of the film is just unfunny. Calvin mostly mopes, and has little disregard for others; he is neither likable nor unlikeable. Dano makes him a quirky, milquetoast hero whose problems are not endearing. Kazan has a bit of verve as his inspiration, but their romance never quite clicks. Neither does this Ruby Sparks.

Total Recall Colin Farrell stars in this remake of the 1990 Arnold Schwartzenegger hit—based on a Philip K. Dick short story—about fake memories. Perhaps it will be memorable?

The Well-Digger’s Daughter Daniel Auteuil makes an assured directorial debut remaking Marcel Pagnol’s screenplay, set in 1940s France. Patricia (Astrid Bergès-Frisbey) is the poor young titlecharacter, a teenager who is described as being “as kind as she is pretty.” Taking lunch to her father Pascal (Auteuil), one afternoon, Patricia meets Jacques (Nicholas Duvauchelle), the handsome son of the wealthy shopkeeper M. Mazel (Jean-Pierre Darroussin). She resists his advances, but meets him again when Félipe (Kad Merad), her father’s co-worker—who hopes to propose to Patricia—to see Jacques perform in an aerial show. On her way home from the show, she is seduced by Jacques, and eventually bears his child. However, as the war has since begun, Jacques and Félipe are sent to the front, and Patricia’s status as an unwed mother can cause shame on the family. Pagnol’s story brings out issues of honor, dignity, and love as Pascal defends his daughter against the Mazels’ efforts to avoid responsibility for the child. The custody battle is less interesting than the lies and secrets that prompted it, but The Well-Digger’s Daughter is an enjoyable and traditionally sentimental film helped out by nice period details, and less by the sweeping, syrupy music by Alexandre Desplat.

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Gary Kramer

Gary M. Kramer is a Philadelphia-based film critic who thinks Sandra Bullock mambos. He likes eating ethnic food and watching ethnic movies—though not necessarily both at the same time or from the same country.

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