Tuesday, October 6, 2015

MD Reviews: Departures


"You'll find someone when you're not trying", as the adage goes, but what if the reason you're not trying is the death of a loved one and/or a diagnosis of a potentially terminal disease? The answers to that potent question are explored in two recent films, one a bittersweet drama starring one of our favorite actresses in her first(!) starring role, the other a funny yet moving documentary featuring a stand-up comic following the hardest year of her life.

In I'll See You in My Dreams, Blythe Danner shines as Carol, a widowed retired teacher who, after the death of her beloved dog, finds herself, practically unintentionally, seeking companionship with two very different men. The first, the thirtysomething slacker (Martin Starr) who cleans her pool, elicits good natured clucks of cougarism from her golden girl-friends (the delightful trio of Mary Kay Place, Rhea Perlman and June Squibb). But it is the second, a silver fox played by Sam Elliott, who reawakens within Carol the possibilities of something more.

Touching on themes — love, sex, death, the joys of medical marijuana — familiar in films about aging, I'll See You in My Dreams still feels fresh, due in large part to the natural direction of Brett Haley and his (with Marc Basch) intelligent script. But it is Danner who hits the home run here, delivering a complex, lived-in performance that is never maudlin, always real. Here's hoping that this Emmy and Tony Award winner gets a chance to complete her "triple crown" of acting laurels with an Oscar.

"Hello... I have cancer." That is how comedian Tig Notaro (think a drier, even more deadpan Ellen) opened what would become known as a legendary stand-up set in 2012. But that was just the latest in a Job-like string of tragedies that befell her at the time; not only had she just recovered from a nasty intestinal infection that could have killed her, her mother had recently died after a freak accident. She found catharsis by turning the tragedy into comedy and it changed her life and career... yet how do you top that?

The documentary Tig (now streaming exclusively on Netflix) relates the year following that fateful night at the comedy club, including Notaro's successful mastectomy, her creative struggle to re-find her comedic voice and her attempts to have a child post-cancer. However, like another recent doc (An Honest Liar), Tig's most unexpected, compelling aspect is a love story, here between Notaro and her In a World... co-star/now-fiancée Stephanie Allynne. How it develops from a kindred spirit friendship into a romantic relationship, particularly since Allynne had never dated a woman before, is both sweet and, thanks to their shared senses of humor, very funny (seriously, they'd have a best seller on their hands if they published their LOL text messages).

You'll find lots to enjoy in these two different, life-affirming hidden gems. Seek them out.

MD Ratings:
I'll See You in My Dreams: A-
Tig: B+

I'll See You in My Dreams is now available on DVD and Blu-ray:

Review by Kirby Holt, creator and editor of Movie Dearest, The QuOD: The Queer Online Database and the Out Movie Guide.

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