As the story snakes south through the United States along the Mississippi River, this movie builds up a bleak, mopey vibe that's difficult to engage with. It's the story of two gambling addicts who think that the answer to all of their problems lies just around the next bend in the river, and it's sharply well written and directed, with astute performances from the lead actors. But it's also relentlessly grim and unsympathetic.
They start their journey in Iowa, where estate agent Gerry (Ben Mendelsohn) is at the end of his rope when he meets cocky gambler Curtis (Ryan Reynolds). There's a spark of recognition between them, as Gerry sees Curtis as himself 10 years younger, thinking maybe he can kickstart his life again. So they hit the road together, heading for a high-stakes poker game in New Orleans. Along the way, they stop to visit Curtis' favourite prostitute (Sienna Miller) in St. Louis and Gerry's bitter ex-wife (Robin Weigert) in Little Rock. And in between, they visit Memphis to win some extra cash. But by the time they reach New Orleans, things are starting to look desperate again.
Continue reading: Mississippi Grind Review
An especially strong script gives actors plenty to chew on in this comedy-drama, in which writer-directors Faxon and Rash (The Descendants) take an observant look at the awkward connections we make with each other. Using sparky humour and emotion, the filmmakers and cast create vivid characters we can't help but identify with, even when they do all the wrong things.
At the centre, Duncan (James) is a 14-year-old who dreads spending the summer at a beach house owned by Trent (Carrel), the cruelly critical new boyfriend of his mother Pam (Collette). When they arrive, they meet gossipy neighbour Betty (Janney), who has a whole season of neighbourhood parties planned. And her daughter Susanna (Robb) looks just about as miserable as Duncan does. As he tries to escape, Duncan finds a local water park run by colourful misfit Owen (Rockwell), who takes Duncan under his wing and offers him a summer job. And being on his own gives him the badly needed self-confidence to talk to his mother honestly, take on Trent and maybe even ask Susanna out on a date.
Even though this is essentially a standard coming-of-age movie, the script never falls into the usual cliches. For example, when Duncan's first kiss comes along, it plays out in an unexpected, realistic way. This is a generous, honest comedy packed with terrific characters and resonant situations. Supported by the all-star cast, James delivers an impressive performance as a sullen teen struggling to face the world around him , growing up while remaining awkward and likeable. Meanwhile, Stockwell keeps us laughing with a lively party-boy turn that's underscored with sympathy. Collette beautifully layers the repressive, conflicted Pam. Carell goes nicely against type as the cruelly passive-aggressive Trent. And Janney steals the show with the most hilarious lines.
Continue reading: The Way, Way Back Review
The BBC drama starring Aidan Turner returns to BBC One on September 4th.