Review of reviews: Film & Stage
Call Me by Your Name
Directed by Luca Guadagnino (R)
Gay love blooms in northern Italy.
As winter approaches, Luca Guadagnino’s remarkable summer romance “arrives like the gift of a jar of summer fruit preserved lovingly by hand,” said Dana Stevens in Slate.com. Armie Hammer and Timothée Chalamet co-star as young men who become lovers in 1983 Italy, and though Chalamet’s Elio, at 17, is seven years younger than the American grad student he falls for, Chalamet’s “breathtakingly detailed performance” leaves no doubt that the teenager knows who he is and what he wants. Watching these two characters learn from each other proves to be “one of the great cinematic pleasures of the year.” For all of its erotic intensity, Call Me by Your Name “isn’t a particularly explicit movie,” said Justin Chang in the Los Angeles Times. It is first and foremost a love story, the kind that “swoops you up and then gently sets you down.” Elio maintains a relationship with an on-and-off girlfriend, but the movie isn’t concerned with what that tells us about his sexuality, said Anthony Lane in The New Yorker. It’s interested in individuals, not labels, and it’s interested in young love—“what a feast it can be, how it turns with the seasons, and why it ends in tears.”
Directed by Lee Unkrich and Adrian Molina (PG)
A Mexican boy ventures into the afterworld.
The latest animated hit from Pixar offers such an exuberant vision of Mexico and its traditions that it “feels as if you’re sticking your head inside the collective unconscious of an entire culture,” said Ty Burr in The Boston Globe. The story follows a Mexican boy who’s magically transported to the Land of the Dead during his village’s annual Dia de los Muertos celebration. To escape, he needs to locate his great-great-grandfather, but in the meantime, he’s surrounded by music, riotous color, and friendly skeletons, as Pixar’s in-house geniuses once again “force a fusion of the marketplace and the metaphysical that is unique in pop culture.” The busy screenplay “throws a lot at the wall to see what sticks,” said Michael Phillips in the Chicago Tribune. The protagonist, Miguel, learns plenty of life lessons as he defies his family to pursue his dream of playing music—and even solves a murder mystery along the way. Still, the story eventually arrives at a heartwarming climax. Besides, its message about love’s enduring power “couldn’t be more timeless,” said Alan Scherstuhl in VillageVoice.com. During the powerful finale, “I cried, but warmly”—over affection and memories that endure across generations.
Directed by Stephen Chbosky (PG)
A fifth-grader learns to accept his unusual face.
“Wonder is the sort of movie that seasoned cynics dread,” said David Edelstein in NYMag.com. But you shouldn’t judge a film on its premise alone, and this story about a 10-year-old with congenital facial deformities earns most of its tears honestly, through sharp details about character and a genuine generosity of spirit. Jacob Tremblay plays Auggie, the outcast who must learn to cope with cruel teasing when he enters a private school after years of being educated at home. Tremblay uses the character’s disfigured face “the ways Greeks used masks”—a screen that viewers project much onto—and he’s surrounded by likable allies, including his parents (Julia Roberts and Owen Wilson) and an “instantly lovable” big sister. She’s the narrator of a section of the movie’s four-part story, and her experience of feeling like the family’s forgotten child is shattering, too, said Stephanie Merry in The Washington Post. Though the movie stumbles here and there, “mostly it succeeds in telling not one complicated story, but many.” Wonder is in no sense a subtle movie, said Chris Nashawaty in Entertainment Weekly. At one point, an adorable dog dies for no good reason. You know you’re being manipulated as you watch, “but the wonder of Wonder is you won’t mind a bit.”
The Steppenwolf Theatre, Chicago, (312) 335-1650
Tracy Letts’ new drama is so good, it’s “nearly certain to be the single work of art that best represents, but will also survive, the Trump era,” said Steven Oxman in Variety. An extended eavesdrop on a town council meeting in a fictional Midwestern community, The Minutes begins as a “humorously unflattering” portrait of small-town democracy before blasting away at some of the myths that make such civic exercises possible. A Broadway opening is in the works. Still, “I’d argue The Minutes needs more work,” said Chris Jones in the Chicago Tribune. The drama hinges on the council’s attempt to hide what occurred at the group’s previous meeting, when the town’s bloody history sparked a virulent debate, and the whistleblower needs to be more sharply defined. Still, Letts gets much right. The Minutes “will not be a play you forget quickly.”
Sony Picture Classics, Disney Pixar, Lionsgate, Michael Brosilow ■