Ashley

Y’know, like the Marx Brothers

AshleyThe key to Ashley is not in trying to deduce what it’s about; it’s in reading the film’s puzzling structure.  You have to decide from the outset if you’re going to take everything literally in spite of the dreamlike quality of many of the story’s character-centric vignettes (some of which seem far too convenient and inevitable, especially in the later sections).

The story is led by the titular Ashley (Nicole Fox), a seventeen year-old girl who has experienced an extended depression since the passing of her father.  Despite her age, she’s secure in her sexuality (“I like girls,” she tells a nerdy boy who innocently tries to hold her hand) and apparently in her introversion.  The film takes the form of a few dozen self-contained scenes, most of which involve Ashley being abused in some way – she’s taken advantage of by classmates (both male and female); has the stuffing kicked out of her by a gaggle of mean-girls who discover her preference for girls; her mother’s boyfriend (Michael Madsen) tries to kiss her; a girl she has a crush on (Mallory Moye) breaks her spirit after playing a cruel game with her; the school shrink (Tom Malloy) exhaustively tries to open her up; and worst of all, her own mother, Stacy (Jennifer Taylor), who is dealing with single-parenthood and an uncontrollable temper combined with the fact that her own daughter barely says a word to her, is frequently abusive.  Ashley is into self-mutilation, incorporating it into most facets of her life, even associating it with intimacy.

The characters who interact with Ashley are only allowed, as far as the narrative structure goes, to interact with her, not so much with each other.  This means that Nicole Fox carries every scene in the movie.  Since Ashley has no friends, she frequents dating sites on her laptop (when was the last time we saw cybersex in a movie?), eventually meeting Candice (Nicole Buehrer), a 33 year-old woman who also happens to be very lonely.  For most of the film, we only hear Candice’s voice, making us wonder whether there’s a more sinister motive behind her instant-message sweetness and her phone calls to the much younger Ashley (when was the last time we saw phone sex in a movie?).  But Ashley, for whatever reason – maybe faith alone, since literally everyone else has let her down in some way – trusts her, and they agree to meet.

Why isn’t Nicole Fox a full-time actor?  I realize that a scripted, brainjunk reality show got her to where she is, but let’s make the most of it after this masterful (when was the last time I used that word two posts in a row?) performance.  She defines this film, appears in almost every scene, and probably has fewer lines than Ryan Gosling had in Drive.  Most of her communication is done through facial expressions and the beginnings of words.  Watching her attempt to say “I’m sorry” and struggling to even form words is truly painful.  Where did this performance come from?  Why are so few talking about it?

Jennifer Taylor delivers a great performance as well, although it may be partially wasted on a film that isn’t really about her character.  The scene where she finally attempts to reconcile with Ashley is very difficult, and plays out as pleasantly as it can.  But it’s good payoff.  Michael Madsen briefly appears, still looking and sounding way too much like Mr. Blonde to be able to convince me of much else, but if he, like so many others in this piece, had bigger roles, the fact that he even appears here might not be so glaring.

The ending of the film is where things become a little too convenient.  I like movies that are honest about depression.  I am allergic to contrivance.  One person being nice to you does not yank you out of years of feeling absolutely nothing, does not cure addictions and harmful habits, does not heal all of your relationships and personal problems and allow everyone to understand you.  This is why I use the term “dreamlike” to describe what happens after Ashley’s protracted and very well-acted date with Candice: could Ashley possibly be imagining all of this?  That after all of the failures, abuse, and sheer bottom-of-the-barrelness she must deal with every day, that she pictures herself as a person who people love to talk to, who has a good relationship with her mother and an attractive romantic partner, who has male friends that don’t want to sleep with her, who doesn’t need therapy, etc.?  The film doesn’t do anything to indicate that what’s happening is in fact not real, but if the pacing of the film’s shoehorned denouement were slowed down, I might believe it more.  I also have concerns about the whole “girl has a sexually abusive father, so she becomes a self-loathing lesbo” trope, which is based entirely upon stereotypes about girls that have been perpetuated forever through mediums like this.  This film, and these actors, are better than that (even if the script-writers aren’t), and it would only have taken a minor tightening of the celluloid lug-nuts to fix it.

The takeaway here: stop making movies about depression if you think the depressed person has to become “happy” by the end, or if you think that introverted people secretly want to be extroverted.

Ashley (2013); written by Domenic Migliore; directed by  Dean Ronalds; starring Nicole Fox and Jennifer Taylor.

Blue is the Warmest Color

The wolf is coming back

BITWCBlue is the Warmest Color is one of the most heartbreaking films I have ever seen, and simultaneously one of the most beautiful.  Its narrative operates under the same narrative we, as people, tend to operate by, more than it adheres to the inevitability of generic film formula.  Blue, like life, involves things happening with no overt or pre-established pattern.  Relationships begin and end, sometimes within minutes or days, and sometimes over the course of several years.  Sometimes they can be healed, sometimes not.  Mixed signals are sent.  There are misunderstandings.  Characters are frequently wrong when they speak.  Some conversations are very long, and not echoed in obvious ways later in the story.  And when it all ends, it doesn’t.

Adèle (Adèle Exarchopoulous) is a high-school student interested in French and English literature.  The opening shots spend lots of time in the classroom, with the students giving their respective readings and philosophical musings concerning specific texts, which in lesser films would spell out the themes of the entire story and leave us with nothing to think about (the opposite of what it intends).  Adèle’s friends constitute the adolescent heteronormative, urging her to spark a relationship with a guy who looks at her in class (Jérémie Laheurte) and threatening to ostracize her when they suspect that she might be gay.  She tries dating Thomas, but according to her, she’s “missing something.”  There’s a part of her that she’s not in touch with, and she must shatter his dreams of being with her to prevent a greater hurt later, like him as she might.  A female classmate kisses her on the spur of a moment, but then lampshades her the next day.  Adèle is so well-characterized and possesses so much narrative power that when these things happen to her, they hurt us just as much.  We can’t help feeling that the barblike comments of her peers are aimed at more than a character in a visual fiction, and all of this happens in a film that, at heart, is not exclusively focused on misconceptions about and abusive behavior towards gay people – the secret is to write and present scenes honestly, to let them happen as they happen, and to leave out the overt social commentary (Look through the recent archives for the year’s most egregious perpetrators of that particular celluloid foul).

Adèle’s friend Valentin (Sandor Funtek) takes her to a gay bar to have some fun, and she leaves, opting to check out a nearby lesbian bar, wherein the film’s only application of the Rule of Inevitable Coincidence takes place: inside, she meets Emma (Léa Seydoux), an up-and-coming visual artist and college senior, whom she passed on the street just days before.  The two hit it off, and through one thing and another, a relationship begins.

This relationship is earned.  In fact, by the time Adèle and Emma begin seeing each other (runtime-wise), plenty of films would already be over.  Things start to progress: they have mindblowingly intimate sex, they meet each other’s parents and have middle-school-style sleepovers, and eventually, they move in together.  But here’s the thing: Adèle still does not identify as gay.  Years pass.  Adèle, per her dreams, has become a teacher of first-graders.  Again, plenty of time is spent in the classroom, and still, looking at Adèle’s face, we can tell that something is missing.  We begin thinking of her own days in school, which were years ago for her, but only an hour and change for us.  Emma, who embraces her natural hair color and abandons the candy-blue, is now a sought-after artist with a big house.  She has large parties.  Her friends, with whom Adèle still has trouble jiving, see Adèle as a trophy wife (a phrase never spoken, but look at how they treat her, and the topics of discussion they bring up with her as opposed to the high-minded art and gender conversations they have with Emma).  Joachim (Stéphane Mercoyrol) pontificates about gender identity, and we wonder about Adèle, how she thinks of herself and her new life, where her level of depression is, what she’s sacrificed over the years to be with Emma.  She meets Samir (Salim Kechiouche), an actor who appears as “terrorists” in American films (and gives a very accurate/humorous criticism of how the American film industry uses actors of Eastern European descent).  He’s interested in her, maybe as a friend, maybe something more, but they feel out one another’s personalities while Emma schmoozes, drinks, and flirts with a pregnant woman named Lise (Mona Walravens).  Adèle, feeling as alienated as ever, once again becomes lonely, even when she’s in bed with Emma.

An affair and a breakup happen.  More years pass.  Adèle, truly alone, floats on her back in the ocean as the lens tries desperately and to no avail to focus on her.  We beg for a reunion (maybe one of the most earned reunions in the history of film), and we get it, but once wounds heal, revisiting their origins can be impossible.  The story leaves us not with a new beginning, not at a definitive coming-to-terms, but where Adèle started and where she always seems to be: listing.

The film’s thread of blue coloring starts, of course, with Emma’s hair.  From then on (mainly because we’ve got the title in mind), everything colored blue seems somehow significant, especially in the end, when Adèle begins wearing a blue dress and cool-colored earrings, which everyone notices, while Emma is now blonde and plainly clothed.

The Palm d’Or received by Adèle Exarchopoulos and Léa Seydoux (only the second ever to be awarded to a woman and the first to be awarded to two) is more than deserved; it’s vital.  Regardless of the sexual identities of the actresses, they’ve given us an honest narrative about all types of identity through the eyes of a woman who happens to be in love with another woman.  And for the first time since Bound, we have sex scenes between women that are not meant for titillation, the director’s gender and sexuality notwithstanding – yes, it is possible for heterosexual men to create honest, non-masturbatory narratives about gay women!  From independent filmmaker and LGBT activist Jodi Savitz, writing for the Huffington Post:

“Forgoing clichés, the scene is not categorically arousing. Better yet, it is nothing short of mesmerizing. Throughout, it not only showcases Adèle’s innocence and instinctual desires but foreshadows the power struggle induced by Emma’s broad palate of sexual experience and her affected social class.”

The gasps induced by these scenes (three total) come not from the fact that we’re watching such a raw portrayal of sex in and of itself, but the fact that we’re being allowed into the intimate lives of these characters, into things that they would never tell us about over dinner (oysters or otherwise), into emotions and bits of characterization that simply cannot be injected through conversation and exposition.  We’re invested in Adèle.  We want to sock the kids who verbally abuse her; we want her to ask our advice on what she should do on nights when Emma stays out uncharacteristically late; we want to float past her in the ocean and tell her that, hey, whatever you’re feeling is okay (which is different from “everything is going to be okay,” because bromidic bullshit does nothing for the perpetually sad).

Perhaps the biggest roadblock for some will be watching this film with anyone else (without blushing, at least).  Why?  Doesn’t Adèle’s story give us enough about the consequences of being ashamed?  Well, maybe that’s the film’s meta-point, right there.  This is a masterfully-acted masterpiece whose ending has made me feel more broken-up-with than any before it.  And more than many actual breakups.

Blue is the Warmest Color (2013); based upon the graphic novel by Julie Maroh; scripted and directed by Abdellatif Kechiche; starring Adèle Exarchopoulos and Léa Seydoux.

Drinking Buddies

Lager than life

DBJoe Swanberg’s Drinking Buddies operates on multiple levels: it’s a movie about intimate human interaction between unique characters, and it’s also a movie about craft beer, although if you’re a non-drinker (like me), thoughts about whether the characters’ respective levels of drunkenness in any given scene are affecting what they say might not occur to you until later.  The alcohol is more or less a prop that provides a little image cycle (not a pattern, exactly).  As a result, the film has a very distinct flavor.

Witty and outgoing Kate (Olivia Wilde) and teddy-bearish Luke (Jake Johnson) are the titular “buddies,” coworkers at a Chicago brewery who share an extremely chummy rapport.  Those of us who understand that opposite-sex heterosexuals are perfectly capable of sharing meaningful, platonic friendships would probably not bat an eye (though we might wonder what kind of couple they’d make).  Luke is in a relationship with Jill (Anna Kendrick), who wants to marry him and is growing tired of waiting for a straight answer (though she’s never stereotypically pushy or catty about it), and Kate has been dating Chris (Ron Livingston, who recently played a Pinkerton agent on Boardwalk Empire) for a few months.  He’s introverted, loves the wilderness, and would rather be reading than downing beers at a bar all night.  How they came to be together is a mystery that remains unplumbed.

The couples spend some time together at Chris’s family’s cottage, and an immediate connection is made between Jill and Chris, who share a sudden kiss in the woods.  Chris subsequently breaks up with Kate, but not for the sake of trying to date Jill – simply because he realizes that things aren’t working.  Kate goes into a bit of a drunken funk and must move out of her apartment with the help of Luke, a situation that creates more than a little bit of “will they, won’t they” tension.  But the story of these characters does not end where fans of this type of film might expect it to; it ends where it would and probably should: where it began (“cycles” is still the key word).

The film contains plenty of very long shots, some of which mean something and some of which don’t.  A long shot of Kate riding her bike, for example, could have been cut from fifteen seconds to three and still served the same purpose.  However, an extended shot of Kate walking upstairs, removing her shoes, beholding the sleeping form of Luke, who is exhausted from a full day of moving her furniture, thinking long and hard about what to do, and then carefully sliding into bed next to him, contains the entire heart of the film in itself.  The non-frantic handheld camera, sweeping from important thing to important thing, is vital for these types of shots, particularly because of the character whose reactions we’re supposed to (to a point) share, despite the fact that we still see her.

Has Olivia Wilde done anything this impressive in the past few years?  I keep thinking of movies like Burt Wonderstone, Cowboys & Aliens, and Tron: Legacy, in which she played the token female character meant only to motivate or tempt the Boring Hero, giving her few layers to explore.  Here, she’s funny, cocky, and full of swagger, but also sensitive, frustrated, and loving (but never “nurturing”) at the same time.  Her speech, drunken or not, devolves into Goldbluming several times, and it’s a treat.  How much of her Kate stuff was improvised?  If you run into her, can you ask her for me?  This is a masterful comedy performance, but also a complete character.  There’s also Jake Johnson, about whom I cannot say enough, though he essentially plays another version of Nick Miller from New Girl.

I hesitate to think about the drinking games that could be applied to viewings of this film.

Drinking Buddies (2013); written and directed by Joe Swanberg; starring Olivia Wilde, Jake Johnson, Anna Kendrick, and Ron Livingston.

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

What have we done?

la_ca_1016_the_hobbitI don’t know who’s paying reviewers to say that The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug is leaps and bounds better than the mediocre first film, but as they say, the money-hose runs long (actually, I just made that up).  I wrote a bit about narrative payoff in the newest Disney film, which seemed all well and validated until last night.  The Desolation of Smaug makes Frozen look like Pulp Fiction.

We joked all throughout the aughts about Peter Jackson’s love for All Things Orc, and when he shoehorned Orcs into the first Hobbit film (for the laymen: Orcs do not appear in Tolkien’s The Hobbit novel), even that seemed somewhat okay, since yes, the novel did have an army of Goblins (later referred to as a type of Orc in The Lord of the Rings) led by Bolg, the sworn enemy of Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage in the films), son of Azog, the sworn enemy of Thorin’s ancestors, and as we all know, the Boring Hero of a fantasy film must have an appropriate foil.  But in the first film, it wasn’t Bolg; it was Azog, who in Tolkien’s mythology is dead a century before the novel begins.  Alright, I thought.  Maybe PJ liked Azog’s name better.  Bolg didn’t do much other than get squished by Beorn off-page, so no harm done.  But then I remembered how many Orcs and Uruk-Hai received their own scenes in the first trilogy of films.  I recalled lines like “We ain’t had nothin’ but maggoty bread for three stinkin’ days!” Okay, okay, I thought.  This is all because they’re making a trilogy, and need to have a bad guy to knock off in a duel at the end, so let’s stick it out until Azog bites it and Bolg takes over the army in the next one.  And then Azog did not die, and what’s worse, I hadn’t brought anything to throw at the screen.

The new film is All Orcs All the Time (actually a better title than the one it has).  The wonder and magic are gone, as are all attempts to adapt the novel.  Beorn (Mikael Persbrandt), one of the most interesting and important characters in the novel, and also the subject of one of the novel’s funniest and most involving scenes, receives two or three minutes onscreen, wherein he says and does nothing that makes any difference or sense, before being shoved aside for scenes of computer-generated Orcs saying corny bad guy crap to one another.  Remember Barrels Out of Bond?  That’s included, but it’s extended to about twenty minutes so that a thousand Orcs can be killed trying to stop the barrels from floating down the river while simultaneously battling other characters who are not in the novel, such as Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly) and Legolas (Orlando Bloom), whose makeup so heavily tries to hide how much older and differently built than he was in the LotR films that his face might as well be animatronic – in fact, most of his fighting is done by a CG version of him, and it’s some of the most embarrassingly bad CG that I’ve ever seen onscreen.  Even the dwarves in the barrels appear as blobs of CG color.  Did they dump the entire animation budget into Smaug, spitball this stuff together, and just say “Fuck it; the Ringers won’t notice or care”?  If there’s a chase scene, there are Orcs involved.  If there’s a narrow or dark passage, an Orc is lurking somewhere.  If a new set is introduced, you can bet the Orcs will want to visit it.  If someone is eating a cake, an Orc will pop out.

The overt “prophecy” stuff about the dwarves takes a front seat.  Thorin is supposed to retake Erebor and become King Under the Mountain.  He believes and pursues this without question, even referring to people who might be sacrificed in the wake of this pursuit by their races instead of their names, absolving himself of all blame for their deaths.  He has a scene wherein he becomes not unlike Sean Bean’s Boromir in a fumbling attempt to snatch the Arkenstone.  Here’s the problem: no one in the theatre – and more importantly, not even the lens of the film itself – seems to realize that Thorin is the villain.  He’s the one making all of these bad things happen.  His adventure is putting everyone in danger and bringing back to life a dragon so steadfastly evil that he actually utters the phrase “I am death” – and not even to intimidate anyone; he says it to himself!  Thorin will not succeed in the end, of course, but none of Tolkien’s (nor Jackson’s) narrative remotely suggests that he gets what’s coming to him.

There’s an unbelievable amount of focus on material meant to raise the stakes, but the film falls victim to an ancient blunder: you cannot raise the stakes in a prequel by introducing stuff that has already been resolved in the originals.  Gandalf (Ian McKellan) goes head to head with the Necromancer (Sauron) before getting captured at the end.  Is anyone truly afraid for him?  Similarly, when the One Ring rolls away, is anyone afraid that Bilbo (Martin Freeman) will not retrieve it?  In further distractions, even the barely-relevant Master of Lake Town (Stephen Fry, basically playing himself) has his own scenes with yet another Jackson-invented character, Alfrid (Ryan Gage), who essentially fills the “Wormtongue Lite” role.  Furthermore, an excruciating amount of screentime is devoted to Kili (Aidan Turner), who falls for the flawless Tauriel in much the same way that Gimli becomes infatuated with Galadriel.  But it’s different this time because none of this, including Tauriel, is in the book, and readers know that any nuance or depth concerning Kili’s character doesn’t matter much at the end of the next film anyway.

You’ll notice that I have barely mentioned Bilbo Baggins, the titular Hobbit.  That’s because his role, the essential narrative voice of the novel (albeit told in vintage Tolkien third-person) is relegated to cameo status here.  There were times that the film lingered so long on Orcs and dwarves that I actually forgot about Martin Freeman’s involvement.  He saves the dwarves’ lives more than once, but the profoundness of these feats is never mentioned by anyone (Gandalf at one point chalks everything up to Bilbo not being “the same Hobbit who left the Shire,” and we’re left to accept him as a generic warrior character to go with the other thirteen).

If you’ve made it this far, I’ll say this: Bilbo’s scene with the Mirkwood spiders is very good, and even includes the twisted speech of the spiders, and the horrifying revelation (to those who pay attention) that Bilbo’s desire to keep the ring is more than fairly similar to the spiders’ blind desire to feast on living flesh.  But it’s soon punctuated by yet another unwelcome and noncanon arrival of the Elves, whom Jackson shoved into Helm’s Deep (where they did not belong), and now has them rescue our gang from spiders and Orcs using painfully choreographed bull-shitsu, most of which is animated and not performed by the actors or stuntmen.  The involvement of Gandalf is well done, despite the fact that his trek to Dol Guldur is not shown in the novel, because it’s simple: he wants to check out a suspicious magician whom he (correctly) presumes to be Sauron.  So he joins Radagast (Sylvester McCoy, still covered in bird shit) and heads to the center of the problem.  It’s straightforward and mostly relevant.  Take a guess at whether he fights Orcs, though.

And then there’s Smaug (Benedict Cumberbatch), a creature so painstakingly created that he took the entire title of the film for himself.  The scene with Smaug is great in the novel not because we see a cool dragon or a battle, but because we see a genuine bit of characterization on the part of Bilbo: due to the Ring’s influence, he begins arrogantly taunting Smaug without even thinking about it.  In the film, he still refers to himself as Riddle Maker and Barrel Rider, but he does it all jittery-like, and both characters react to the other exactly as you’d expect characters in a fantasy movie, and not from the works of J.R.R. Tolkien, to react.  The wordplay soon moves aside in favor of a film-invented battle with the dwarves, whom, again, readers know will not succeed in melting Smaug’s indestructible hide with molten gold (although it takes us a half hour to get there before the film abruptly drops us).  Wherever there arises the opportunity for a cliffhanger, there will be one.  Even Legolas’s lakeside duel with Bolg ends in a stalemate.  Smaug, though, is expertly animated and acted, albeit at the expense of the filmmakers’ one true love: the Orcs.  Evangeline Lilly’s involvement is also a welcome breath, adding a feminine energy and voice that the story desperately needs.

The biggest chip I carry is that ever since the original Rings films, I have continuously suspected that Peter Jackson and Philippa Boyens, reread as they might, have no idea what Tolkien’s books were actually about, and this was Tolkien’s biggest fear and pet peeve when it came to adaptations of his work.  It’s so easy for someone with the money and fanbase of New Line to say that a certain addition is “in the spirit of Tolkien,” when in fact, there was a reason he did not write penis jokes, ten-page battles with Orcs, and a wrestling match atop Mount Doom.  Tolkien’s cultural insensitivity aside, he knew the workings of his own universe.

All things considered, I can say with genuine honesty that I think the final chapter (which should have been this one, considering the amount of taffy-style narrative stretching seen here) will be better in all ways, if we can find our way back to even a single facet of what makes the story resonate – the smallness of it all, the deliberate and unique narrative, the characterization of Bilbo.  Is it an “enjoyable” film?  Yeah, sure.  But as I’ve said, spectacle and entertainment do not make quality art.  Leave the enjoyment to the Wargs.

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (2013); based upon the novel by J.R.R. Tolkien; screenplay by Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, and Peter Jackson; directed by Peter Jackson; starring Ian McKellan, Martin Freeman, Evangeline Lilly, and Richard Armitage.

Frozen

Not bro-zen

Anna-and-Elsa-frozen-34118411-2046-2195Here are a few stray observations about Disney’s Frozen, in some particular order (“Alright, Whatever” to “Wow; That’s Vital”):

They’re sticking to the adjective-as-title thing.  Enchanted, Tangled, Frozen.  Oddly, these Titles for the Too Impatient to Read a Full Line generation represent the studio’s best films in a long, long – well, ever.

The just-for-humor sidekick characters are actually funny, particularly Josh Gad as Olaf, a snowman whose one true desire is to experience summer.  He gets dismembered a lot.  It’s always hilarious.  Having walked himself into several sharp tree branches, he looks upon his wounds, which would be unspeakably painful and deadly to anyone but a snowman, with childlike fascination:  “Huh.  Look at that.  I’ve been impaled.”

In a rare move for Disney, the bad guys do not die, which leaves a gaping, unsatisfied hole where the dual protagonists’ parents end up.  The villain is not the typical Evil Incarnate character, but he still has it coming after repeated attempts to murder both of our heroines.  I’m not one to pander for violence, but narrative payoff is something else entirely.

Finally, a Disney movie that is unabashedly feminine.  Both the protagonist and the deuteragonist are women.  The goofy love interest is a bit of an afterthought, and the princess’s naive dreams of true love are subverted when the handsome prince turns out to be a ruthless manipulator.  By the time Anna (Kristen Bell) meets someone she actually likes, she’s matured, and doesn’t allow the film’s epilogue to be a grandiose wedding with the supporting characters stupidly grinning in support.

Different is good.  Elsa (Idina Menzel), the elder sister and by far the most interesting character, is born with the uncontrollable ability to create ice and snow, with which she nearly kills Anna during a childhood game.  When she becomes Queen, she can no longer hide her powers, which cause her to be ostracized and exiled by the homogenized population of Arendelle.  But her reaction is not to wish that her condition could somehow be “fixed,” and not that the superstitious minds of her kingdom would welcome her back.  She realizes (during a soliloquy-style song, naturally) that the only person she needs to be good enough for is herself.  What a move for Disney, whose narratives about women mutilating themselves and otherwise conforming to suit the standards of other people will never live down the harm they’ve caused.  Thankfully, plenty of time is spent alone with Elsa, and what was undoubtedly originally planned as a one-dimensional Snow Queen antagonist turns out to be the most sympathetic, misunderstood underdog of the bunch.

There’s a lot of talk about “an act of true love” being the only thing that can heal a frozen heart. Barf, I know.  But wait – the final act of true love does not turn out to be the much-expected “true love’s kiss” between Anna and her chosen beau; it’s Anna’s decision to save Elsa’s life in spite of the entire kingdom wanting the latter dead, and Elsa’s subsequent weeping as she throws herself over her sister’s icy form.  The whole film rides on this moment.  What a relief.

My one regret about the above is that with a single miniscule adjustment (removing the sibling-hood and making Anna and Elsa friends), this could have been a story about two women who love each other.  Well, it is, but I mean romantically.  Anna’s relationship with Kristoff (Jonathan Groff) is so shoehorned in that there’s no time for it and it feels synthetic.  Maybe Disney isn’t ready for a gay princess, but everyone else is.  With the studio’s first black princess a few years back, and the first truly women-centric story in their history, a gay Disney narrative could provide so much in the way of healing.  But Frozen is a positive step.  Most of all, it’s gently done.

Frozen_(2013_film)_posterFrozen (2013); based upon The Snow Queen by Hans Christian Andersen; screenplay by Jennifer Lee; directed by Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee; starring Kristen Bell, Idina Menzel, and Josh Gad.