With the mind of a poet trapped in a body made nearly useless by polio, Mark O’Brien fought to live a normal life, and his remarkable true story is told with candor and abundant clinical detail in The Surrogate. Part of that pursuit of a normal life was a quest, in his mid-thirties, to lose his virginity. But with an iron lung, getting really good on the guitar wasn’t exactly an option, hence his arrangement with a sex surrogate. As he moves past that relationship and on to others, the film examines the different forms love can take. Helen Hunt brings warmth to the surrogate character. William H. Macy is a hoot as a catholic priest giving surprisingly good advice. B
Real-life actor/dad Mark Webber shows some promise in his writing/directing debut, The End of Love, the tale of how a young father deals with tragedy. This melancholy effort has some nice moments but ultimately feels too much like a dad’s home movie of his kid. C
Aubrey Plaza is becoming a notable actress who can instinctively express her own brand of impatience or insecurity without uttering a line. Fortunately, Safety Not Guaranteed gives her the lead role she deserves, and gives all the players some fun oddball dialog and a uniquely twisted story. With a winning mixture of boy-next-door charm and out-to-lunch crazy, Mark Duplass plays the wierdo, or maybe the genius, who is recruiting a partner for his time travel project. And Aubrey Plaza’s character, initially a bored member of a team investigating this project, warms up nicely. Some of the secondary story lines aren’t as inspired as the main arc, but overall this is low-budget indie is a nice little joy ride.
After the screening, the Q/A revealed that the film was inspired by an actual ad in a 1997 issue of Backwoods Home Magazine, soliciting a time-travel partner, an ad that gained some internet notoriety. B+
David Duchovny channels Jeff Bridges as a combination goat whisperer / Moses of weed. That WTF concept is not as entertaining as it should have been, but neither he nor the goats are the central characters anyway. The wide-ranging GOATS is a story of a bright teen-age kid who is trying to grow up and looking for guidance, not from a mom addled by new-age nonsense, not from an up-tight dad who is mostly out of the picture, but from the goat man, at least initially. In this coming-of-age yarn, everyone has a bit of growing up to do, and they get there with some quirky fun but without the sort of drama that would have made this more compelling. C+
Parker Posey is a tornado of crazy-sexy-cruel as the new manager hired to shake things up and improve sales at a grocery store chain in Price Check. The improvements are not without collateral damage, especially to her second in command, Eric Mabius, who gets a confidence boost from his new mentor but also takes a hit to his private life. Parker Posey’s performance is dazzling, funny, and uninhibited, and kind of overwhelms the more subtle elements in the film, like lessons about honesty and ambition. And unfortunately the ending does not have the same punch as the rest of the movie.
Note from Q/A following the screening: When a woman acts like a man it’s not pretty. B-