Been So Long

I’m obsessed with Michaela Coel so it was a no-brainer to choose this film. And there’s been a lot of horror and emotion the last few weeks so it’s nice to focus on something a little less dramatic. Been So Long is an adaptation of a musical play of the same name and although it still covers serious subject matter, it’s set against a joyous Camden backdrop (probably where I would live if I lived in London) and it’s very sweet.

While its director isn’t Black, she is a woman of colour and while the screenplay was written by a white man – Che Walker – the film does boast an almost entirely Black cast so I’ve fit it into our Films by Black Filmmakers category, frankly because it belongs there.

I don’t know about you but sometimes on the weekend, all I want to do is watch things that make me smile and snack, so this was a good fit.

Been So Long (2018)

A dedicated single mother who, on an unusual night on the town, is charmed by a handsome yet troubled stranger.

Directed by: Tinge Krishnan
Starring: Michaela CoelMya LewisArinzé Kene

*Spoilers*

Simone (Queen Coel) is a single-mum who lives alone with her disabled daughter Mandy (Lewis). Her best friend Yvonne (Ronke Adekoluejo) is keen to get her out on the town as she hasn’t had any action “since MySpace” but Simone is reluctant. Wholesome mothering is all she’s interested in, thankyouverymuch. Luckily, Yvonne prevails this night via the power of song – which contains a verse about sitting on someone’s face – and it’s a good thing really because at the bar she meets Raymond (Kene).

Fresh out of prison for a non-violent crime, Raymond is slowly settling back into outside life. Back home with his mum and doing a job he’s not particularly proud of, Raymond is ready to rebuild his life. When he meets Simone, it seems this could be possible. So it’s a shame when she sees through his cover story and, after she makes an insensitive comment about his prison experience, he ends their first meeting prematurely.

Fate takes care of their situation though when the pair end up unwittingly sitting next to each other on the same bus home. They exchange numbers and Simone seriously considers the possibility of letting a new man into hers and her daughter’s life. If he can convince her he’s good to his mother and respects women.

Meanwhile, unbeknownst to Raymond, he is being stalked by a knife-wielding white boy – and the father of Simone’s daughter is back on the scene, and keen on establishing a relationship with her.

Can Simone open her heart enough to let love in? Is Raymond the decent bloke he seems to be? And what does the kid from 1917 (George MacKay) want with Raymond?

Thoughts

If this review seems a little light on the ground I guess it’s because honestly, the movie’s pretty light on action. It’s sweet enough but there are a lot of side stories going on that make it messy and took me out of the main story. We’re I’m here for the brilliant wit of Michael Coel – maybe a few upbeat ditties and some strong female support in the shape of Yvonne and we do get some of that but not nearly enough.

I didn’t really follow George MacKay’s arc because it starts dramatically and then never goes anywhere. He’s got beef with Raymond over a girl he’s secretly in love with but it’s never made clear what her relationship was to Raymond and why George is so murderously against him. Likewise, there’s an unwanted pregnancy story for Yvonne that seems to be tacked on just to give her something to do during a period of not speaking to Simone. Oh, and there’s also some comment on gentrification when their friend Barney’s (Luke Norris) inherited bar is threatened with closure.

I can just about stomach the Mandy’s father story line as it explains a few things about why Simone is so protective but it’s not particularly exciting. It would also be remiss not to mention the songs. They’re all pretty forgettable and not really for me. That said, Ms Coel has a banging voice and once again proves there’s nothing she can’t do. If anyone’s seen recent series I May Destroy You then they’ll already be aware of that.

I don’t want this to be a MC appreciation post but I feel very strongly that she – and Adekoluejo who plays Yvonne – are the strongest links here and all I wanted to see. They’re kind of wasted in a mediocre landscape which is admittedly attractive and vibrant but never really takes flight.

3/5

What does my one true blog love think of this one? Would she sing songs of love for it in public or stay silent? Find out here.

The Lovebirds

This week I thought, why not see out our loosely themed Mental May with a film picked solely on it’s central pairing? We do what we want on our blogs and if we want to watch a Rom Com starring Issa Rae and Kumail Nanjiani then we will.

How can it fail, honestly?

The Lovebirds (2020)

A couple experiences a defining moment in their relationship when they are unintentionally embroiled in a murder mystery.

Directed by: Michael Showalter
Starring: Issa Rae • Kumail Nanjiani

*Spoilers*

Leilani: You literally spent several hours yesterday writing a negative Yelp review, with your white woman fingers, about that tapas place we went to, and I thought it was pretty tasty.

Leilani (Rae) and Jibran (Nanjiani) have been together for four years. Like most, they bicker a fair amount, mostly about social media usage and whether they’d win The Amazing Race (Leilani is convinced they would, Jibran – not so much). On the way to a dinner party they mutually agree to split up, throwing pretty mean barbs at one another in the process.

And that’s that – so let’s all lament our past lost loves and head home, eh? Sike!

Obviously we’re here for an adventure and since one of Leilani’s major relationship gripes is Jibran’s inability to be spontaneous, it seems things are about to get a lot faster and a lot looser, just to fuck with them. Distracted by their argument, Jibran runs a red light and hits a cyclist. In the following kerfuffle, the pair are then carjacked by an undercover police officer chasing after the very same cyclist. The pair almost enjoy the action until they catch up with ‘Bicycle’ who’s brutally run down by the cop and then reversed over a couple of times. In their car.

When the cop – ‘Moustache’ – disappears and the (former) couple are cornered by a couple of witnesses hellbent on citizen’s arrests, they’re faced with a dilemma: should they stay or should they go? Jibran thinks they should hand themselves in, while Leilani reasons that nobody will believe their story and anyway, racial profiling will ensure they’re locked away forever.

Now officially on the run and in possession of Bicycle’s phone, Leilani figures their only option is to try and work out what the fudge is going on so they can exonerate themselves with the feds. Reluctantly, Jibran agrees and so begins a comedy of errors as the ex-lovebirds meet a cornucopia of colourful and dangerous characters, uncover a most unsavoury middle-class sex cult (although Leilani doesn’t strictly hate it), dodge bullets, pump perps for information, evade the police – and maybe, just maybe, fall back in love?

Jibran: It was very salty. I didn’t know I would get mouth-f***ed by the Dead Sea! And I don’t have white woman fingers. I’ve got meaty bronze.

Thoughts

I’m not going to take us through every single strand of this caper but I did enjoy myself. The dialogue is nice and snappy – and it’s genuinely charming in places. I’d expect nothing less in the hands of our leads, who are ridiculously attractive and likable. I really love the back of the cab scene where Leilani tricks Jibran into singing ‘their’ jam – Firework by Katy Perry.

The general malaise near the end of a relationship is very relatable and there’s a true sadness to it. Luckily, there seems to be a little hope left for our pair who have obvious unfinished business. I’m pretty sure my business would never be finished with Kumail Nanjiani, just saying.

This plot has been used a lot so it’s not exactly a game-changer in that respect but it’s more self-aware than its counterparts and not so white washed as – as an example – Did You Hear About the Morgans?. I am here basically for any stories that don’t just centre around privileged white people (like me).

The Lovebirds is fun, good-looking and sweet but it probably isn’t going to be the most memorable movie of the year, and I don’t really have much more to add.

UPDATE: Just one more thing. It doesn’t ring at all realistic that the two of them would get away from the police that easy. The comments regarding racial profiling make sense, given horrific current events and white privilege since forever, so why then when they finally face the detectives on the case, is it all so “We just wanted to make sure you were okay/course you didn’t do it.” It’s all a bit too fairytale ending and, well, tone deaf.

My Rating

3.5/5

Does it pass the Bechdel Test?

You know I don’t think it does? The only conversations I remember between two females were about men. Happy to be corrected though.

What does my love bird think of this one? Would she go on an epic one night adventure with it, or turn it over to the cops at the first opportunity? Find out here.

Portrait of a Lady on Fire

We continue Mental May with possibly the most stunning movie I’ve ever seen. I’m honestly a little worried about how I’ll talk about it, it’s just so… perfect. I’m thinking maybe we should just quit the month on a high and start again in June.

Jill?

Portrait of a Lady on Fire (2019)

On an isolated island in Brittany at the end of the eighteenth century, a female painter is obliged to paint a wedding portrait of a young woman.

Directed by: Céline Sciamma
Starring: Noémie MerlantAdèle HaenelLuàna Bajrami

*Spoilers*

Héloïse: When you’re observing me, who do you think I’m observing?

Marianne (Merlant) is teaching a group of young girls how to paint. One of them uncovers a painting in storage and is prompted to ask her about it when she seems perturbed to see it. The painting is called… well you guessed it: Portrait de la jeune fille en feu.

The story of the painting soon unravels in flashback. Marianne arrives on a small beautiful island, commissioned to paint a wedding portrait of the lady of the house there. She arrives late, after jumping into the sea to rescue her tools, which fall overboard into the choppy sea. Marianne warms up in front of the fire that evening and later questions the maid Sophie (Bajrami) about her young mistress, who has only arrived home in the last few weeks. Her sister has died and Héloise (Haenel) – the lady – has been brought back from the convent to marry a Milanese nobleman, her sister’s betrothed basically.

There’s a story there, about the sister and Marianne soon gets it out of the maid that she’d jumped to her death. Héloise’s mother (Valeria Golino) tells her that although she’s there to paint, she’ll have to do it from memory as her daughter has already been through one artist – and refuses to pose. Héloise instead thinks she’s there as a companion to join her on long walks.

La Comtesse: He never saw her face.
Marianne: Why won’t she be painted?
La Comtesse: She refuses this marriage.

So the women walk and they look at each other, Marianne to study her subject for later rendition. Héloise ponders whether or not she can swim. They talk a bit. Marianne asks her if she thinks her sister wanted to die, Héloise says she does. That she was sorry for leaving her sister to the fate she killed herself to get away from. Gradually a friendship is born and the painting is finished.

Unwilling to betray her new pal, Marianne tells her the truth about her being there – and shows her the painting. Héloise criticises it and Marianne spoils it on purpose, much to La Comtesse’s chagrin. She’s almost fired but Héloise agrees to sit this time, much to her mother’s surprise. She agrees to let Marianne start again, while she’s away in Italy. She goes for five days, leaving the women with just Sophie for company.

In the most dreamy scene, Héloise reads the story of Orpheus and Eurydice to her friends and they all debate the true reason Orpheus turned around to look at his wife, thus sending her back into the underworld for all eternity.

Sophie, it turns out is pregnant and, not wanting to have the baby, the new friends first try to help her miscarry – and later have an abortion. She takes them to a bonfire gathering where a bunch of women stand around singing and Héloise’s skirt catches fire. The next day the women kiss for the first time in an impossibly picturesque cave but Héloise freaks out and runs away.

She comes round and after admitting how scared she is, the women make love (or fuck. They fuck). Things are blissful for a time but as the day of La Comtesse’s return draws nearer – and with it, the end of the assignment and Héloise’s impending/unwanted nuptials. Marianne is haunted by a vision of her lover in her wedding dress.

On the last day Marianne presents the finished painting – and also whips up two mini portraits to remember each other by. On page 28 of a book she’s lent to Héloise, she paints a nude of herself but like a tasteful one.

Something’s got to give because they can’t stay like this forever, unfortunately.

Héloïse: In solitude, I felt the liberty you spoke of. But I also felt your absence.

Thoughts

Everything about this movie is wonderful. The setting, the framing of certain shots, the colour palette. The performances are utterly flawless and all three central characters are played to perfection. I also loved Sophie and her dynamic with the women. Her abortion scene is so moving (and utterly insensitive tbh, as it occurs on a bed that has children in it). This movie destroyed me at the end, I’m not going to lie – and, that scene, despite its subject matter, is respectfully handled and full of hope.

And the end end – my God. I’m giving nothing away but the slow build up of the relationship between Marianne and Héloise is sublime, it’s so well paced and I really didn’t want it to end but the ending was beautiful.

I also have to say that I really respected the women on the island, the ones at the bonfire. They give off such deliciously witchy vibes and I am here for it 100%. Also, I can see myself living quite happily there myself, as long as I had plenty of books.

Marianne: When you asked if I had known love. I could tell the answer was yes. And that it was now.
Héloïse: I remember.

My Rating

5/5

Does it pass the Bechdel Test?

Oh hell yes.

What does my muse think of this one? Would she paint it in a flattering light or make it look like Trump in a toupee (so just normal Trump then)? Find out here.

A Secret Love

Imagine being in love with someone for over 65 years and not being able to share it with your loved ones? That’s the situation Terry Donahue and Pat Henschel found themselves in when they met and fell in love in the late 1940s – a period of time not renowned for its acceptance of same sex relationships.

This documentary meets them as elderly ladies in failing health. Now fully out to their friends and family – and married to each other – the couple are at a point in their lives where they have to start making decisions about where to live in case something happens to one of them.

A Secret Love (2020)

Falling in love in 1947, two women — Pat Henschel and pro baseball player Terry Donahue — begin a 65-year journey of love and overcoming prejudice.

Directed by: Chris Bolan
Starring: Terry Donahue • Pat Henschel • Diana Bolan

*Spoilers*

Fuck me this is an emotional one. It’s genuinely heartwarming to hear the story of how Terry and Pat came to meet and fall in love. After 65 years of spending almost every waking moment together, the pair are finally able to tell their family the truth about the relationship and plan their nuptials. But they’re beset with a dilemma – they have to downgrade their long term home for something more manageable. Where should they live?

Terry’s family reside in Edmonton, Canada and it makes sense for the women to move closer to them since Pat doesn’t have her own – but she doesn’t want to move to such a cold climate. Could there be more to her reluctance that simple temperature concerns? Could Pat be unwilling to let go of her controlling ways?

Diana, Terry’s niece is worried that it might be the latter and hatches a plan to intervene and get them closer – but will they relent? The documentary is so lovely but it doesn’t shrink away from the stubbornness of Pat, who’s spent her whole life all but on her own with the love of her life. It’s hardly surprising she might find it hard to relinquish some control. Terry meanwhile suffers from Parkinson’s which is part of the reason Diana is so keen to get them to Canada.

Their story is wonderful. Terry, a pro baseball player (who in part inspired the 1992 movie A League of Their Own) describes her time on the team and how she first met Pat, to whom she was attracted though she’d previously avoided the girls she suspected of being gay. Courting a man quickly gave way to a fully-fledged relationship as she accepted who she was amidst the backdrop of a close-minded America. Photos of the women, both young and glamorous pepper the doc – painting a vivid picture of a more complicated time.

In present (ish) day, the women contemplate whether they should get married now their families know everything, and we hear from some of its members, one of whom admits she’s cool with the truth now it’s out but doesn’t want them living in sin. LOL.

The women, now in their eighties, finally relent and wed in an intimate ceremony while the officiator reads a poem by E.E. Cummings.

There are rows and tears as Diana and Pat come to blows about what is best but you never lose sympathy for either woman. Both have Terry’s very best interests at heart and there’s never any doubt of that. This is one to enjoy if you’re feeling sentimental and in the mood for a light cry. Ultimately the story is gorgeous, a tribute to a pure love that spans almost seven decades. SEVEN DECADES! We can all aspire to commit ourselves to anything for that long.

Alas the epilogue gives us an insight into what has happened to the couple since and it’s very, very sad. So grab some tissues for god’s sake.

4/5

What are you watching?

Four more films

A few words on what I’ve been watching at the local multiplex.

A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood

Based on the true story of a real-life friendship between Fred Rogers and journalist Lloyd Vogel.

I loved this and I don’t mind admitting I was caught off guard by how much. As a UK dweller, there’s not much I know about Mr Rogers but Tom Hanks brought him to life up there on the big screen, and with an edge too.

But this tale is more about Vogel, and his inner rage and deep sorrow. A feud with his absent father has him emotionally damaged and unable to move on, which is kind of a problem now he’s a brand new dad himself.

When he’s sent to interview Mr Rogers for a fluff piece, things escalate and the big man’s infinite kindest and patience (or so it seems) bring out the truth. Can Vogel move on? And is Mr Rogers for real?

Well, I cried like a baby for most of this – it’s deeply beautiful and although Rogers isn’t the central focus, Hanks nails his scenes. Matthew Rhys is wonderful too with excellent support from Chris Cooper. My favourite film so far this year and in a season full of bangers, that’s no mean feat.

4/5

Queen & Slim

A couple’s first date takes an unexpected turn when a police officer pulls them over.

Wow. What a ride! Absolute babe Daniel Kaluuya teams up with Jodie Turner-Smith in this modern day Bonnie and Clyde story – and I was in 100%.

That makes it sound much lighter than it actually is though – and light on subject matter this is not. We’re dealing with deep-seated racism, police brutality, revolution – and it’s beautiful. Shocking still, unsurprising, brutal – there’s a lot to unpack.

Queen (Turner-Smith) and Slim (Kaluuya) enjoy a slightly awkward date that probably isn’t destined to lead anywhere. Except, on the drive home, the pair are pulled over by a prejudiced (white) cop. You can see where this going.

When the situation escalates, with Queen injured and the pig dead, accidentally, at Slim’s hand – we’ve got ourselves a couple on the run. And so begins a dramatic road trip as Queen & Slim find themselves the unintentional poster children for black power. Will they make it to safety and crucially, is this even love between them?

This is a sexy film, with dynamite leads to root for. It’s heartbreaking, angry, simple, stunning and everything about it slaps hard. I really enjoyed the caustic Queen and everything about the dialogue between them. There’s a line Slim utters when Queen asks him what ‘Ride or die’ even means:

‘I just want someone that’s always going to love me. No matter what. Someone that’s going to hold my hand and never let it go.’ ~ Slim

It’s perfect.

4/5

Parasite

A poor family, the Kims, con their way into becoming the servants of a rich family, the Parks. But their easy life gets complicated when their deception is threatened with exposure.

This is the film I was most looking forward to during awards season. Bong Joon Ho already won me over years ago – uh, hello Memories of Murder – so I knew I’d be in for a treat. Not to mention the fact it’s a rarity for non-white, non-american movies to get a look in on most awards lists and I was excited to see how it would be received.

Parasite is spot on. Dark and twisted, sure but funny too. The plot just keeps giving, rendering you speechless at points, devastated at others and hoping against hope for a happy ending. Mostly it examines the South Korean class system and compares the life of two very different families: the haves and the have-nots.

In a nutshell, the Kims are barely getting by. Living dejectedly in a poor neighbourhood, doing what they can to feed and clothes themselves, fortune changes when son Ki-woo scores a tutoring gig for a wealthy family: the Parks.

It’s not long before the rest of the Kims – sister Ki-jong, and mum and dad Ki-taek and Chung-sook – have secured well-paid positions within the family too. But things take a batshit turn when a usurped former member of staff shows up one rainy night… and that’s all you get from me. 

I loved this so much – it’s the director’s second best film – and I am beyond stoked it swept the board at the Oscars. It’s just a shame none of the incredible actors were even nominated.

Stand-outs for me are, of course Joon Ho regular Kang-ho Song, the flawless Yeo-jeong Jo who plays the Park’s gullible but lovely matriach – and So-dam Park who plays the Kim’s daughter Ki-jong. Housekeeper Moon-gwang (Jeong-eun Lee) pretty much steals the show though.

Wonderful.

5/5

Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn)

After splitting with the Joker, Harley Quinn joins superheroes Black Canary, Huntress and Renee Montoya to save a young girl from an evil crime lord.

Last but by no means least, it’s fun times with Miss Harley Quinzel. Honestly this was a total trip from start to finish. I laughed a lot, absolutely relished the aesthetic and loved the soundtrack. This is everything Suicide Squad should have been but could never.

Sure, there’s not that much to it. Harley (Margot Robbie) has broken up with the Joker (good riddance), and she’s letting go and moving on. Except being the Joker’s girl affords a certain immunity, a safety from the consequences of her erratic actions and without that, Harley finds all her nemeses crawling out of the woodwork, ready for payback. Including would-be king pin Roman Sionis (Ewan McGregor).

But Harley’s nothing if not resourceful and she cuts a deal with Roman to find a very valuable diamond that’s been nicked by a young pickpocket. Along the way she also meets the mysterious Huntress (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), nightclub songstress and badass Dinah Lance (Jurnee Smollett-Bell) – and criminally underappreciated cop Renee Montoya (the legend Rosie Perez). 

Will girl power out when Roman turns on them all? Well what the fuck do you think?

I want to watch this all over again because it’s actually good, which is credit to its female director (Cathy Yan) and female writer (Christina Hodson) – AND producer Robbie. It’s so refreshing to see strong, sexy women on the big screen who aren’t being solely sexualised. It’s the difference between Zack Snyder directed Wonder Woman and Patty Jenkins directed Wonder Woman. Anyway, I want more please.

5/5 for fun alone

What are you watching?