“Hungry Hearts” (2014) starring Adam Driver

Jude (Adam Driver) is a young engineer living in NYC. He becomes trapped in the bathroom of a Chinese restaurant w/ Mina (Alba Rohrwacher), who works at the Italian embassy. Despite this awkward first encounter, Jude and Mina begin a relationship and move in together. Some time later, Mina wakes to a phone call from her employer; she will be relocated to her native Italy in 2 mos. Mina soon discovers she is pregnant. Jude and Mina are married at a beachside cafe on Coney Island. A fortune teller labels her baby as an “Indigo child. Mina believes that her son is needs to be “protected” from doctors, meat, and sunlight. Her extreme actions create intense worries for Jude, as well as his mother (Roberta Maxwell).

This indie film is based on the novel Il Bambino Indaco (The Indigo Child) by Marco Franzoso. It was directed by Saverio Costanzo; he worked a handful of indies, then on the Italian version of the TV show In Treatment (2013-2016). Most recently, he directed eps of My Brilliant Friend (2018-2020). Hungry Hearts was selected to compete for the Golden Lion at the 71st Venice International Film Festival; Driver and Rohrwacher won the Volpi Cup for Best Actor and Best Actress respectively. It was also screened in the Special Presentations section of the 2014 Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF). When the credits rolled, I learned that the Production Manager was one of my former classmates from grad school (Fordham)! Rashi DeStefano grew up in Brooklyn (her father is Italian, her mother is Indian), was a Teaching Fellow at a public HS in Manhattan (while in grad school), but then studied filmmaking.

[1] With the current uproar of vaccinations, there is certainly a modern day link to the story line of mother’s instincts vs. doctor’s orders.

[2] A psychological drama – tense at times, perhaps – but it really doesn’t have all that many thrills.

[3] The idea of having the diet of a child being the source of conflict between a couple is unique in cinema, but a very real concern. …the duo’s impeccable performances do their characters justice and it’s often heartbreaking.

[4] It has a good storyline and some incredibly emotional scenes. Adam Driver does an amazing job portraying Jude- a father who is conflicted between pleasing his wife and saving his son- and I believe his performance makes the movie. However, throughout the film, the camera is inconsistent and shaky.

-Excerpts from IMDB reviews

“While We’re Young” (2014) starring Ben Stiller, Naomi Watts, Adam Driver, Amanda Seyfried, & Charles Grodin

Josh: For the first time in my life I’ve stopped thinking of myself as a child imitating an adult.

Cornelia: You feel that way too?

NYC-based documentary filmmaker, Josh Srebnick (Ben Stiller), is 44 y.o. and married (for many yrs.) to 43 y.o. Cornelia (Naomi Watts). She produces films for her father, Leslie Breitbart (Charles Grodin), a respected/successful veteran documentarian. Josh and Cornelia’s relationship has been boring lately; they don’t travel or do anything out of their routine. On the personal front, they may still want to have a baby, like their BFFs Marina (Maria Dizzia) and Fletcher (Adam Horovitz- also a member of Beastie Boys). On the professional front, Josh seems to have lost inspo (working on one film for 8 yrs, but nowhere near completion). Thing change when they meet a creative/hipster couple in their mid-20s- Jamie (Adam Driver) and Darby (Amanda Seyfried). Jamie expresses great admiration for Josh; he aspires to become a documentary filmmaker himself. Darby makes ice cream in unique flavors.

Cornelia (to Marina and Fletcher): It’s like their apartment is full of everything we once threw out, but it looks so good the way they have it.

Greta Gerwig (the partner of director Noah Baumbach) was cast, but dropped out due to scheduling conflicts; Seyfried replaced her. When Josh leaves his father-in-law Leslie’s apartment, a sign is visible next door for the National Arts Club. Leslie lives on Gramercy Park, one of the most prestigious ‘hoods in NYC; the homes face Manhattan’s only private/gated park (only residents have the keys). The Lincoln Center tribute to Leslie Breitbart was filmed at the Time Warner Center/Shops at Columbus Circle bldg; I went to grad school nearby and was often there (it had a Whole Foods, offices, retail). The speaker who presents Leslie with his award is Peter Bogdanovich, a film historian/director.

Josh: It’s weird, you know, I’m at that age where the things you think are only going to happen when you get older are actually happening.

Jamie: If I’m going to be totally honest with myself, I don’t think I’m ever going to die. I know that’s crazy.

Josh: It’s crazy.

Jamie: I think I’m pathologically happy.

If you’re a fan of Driver, you’ll really enjoy this film (free on Amazon Prime)! Jamie is energetic, warm-hearted, and wears some interesting outfits (incl. hats). This is the time when the actor grew his thick/dark hair longer (to cover his large ears). Those big/elaborate tattoos on the arms are fake. He moves in a quirky manner; Baumbach had the “idea of Jamie being like water.” Jamie and Josh have a touching bromance; Josh even starts to dress differently. I liked the set design; the places you see all looked lived-in. The younger couple have many albums (not CDs), videos (not DVDs), a typewriter, a rooster (in a small cage), kittens, and a roomie (renting the loft space). There is a (LOL) scene where Josh and Cornelia practice hip hop dancing at home; Darby had taken Cornelia to such a class. I don’t want to give more away, so check it out if interested!

While We’re Young” takes a turn in the third act as it grapples with some ethical dilemmas, and it doesn’t quite work. It becomes angrier and heavier as Josh uses his inquisitive nature to unearth some dark truths—both about himself and his new friends. It feels like a totally different movie as it reaches its very public climax, and an inferior one. -Christy Lemire, film critic

[1] I love the sharp jabs launched at Josh’s expense. That may annoy some people who are uncomfortable with the awkward truths being poked at. All four leads are doing amazing work. Adam Driver is the big difference. Noah Baumbach is at his sharpest up to this date.

[2] The film spends the first hour weaving a tale and presenting us with flawed but likeable characters. Then of course the “twist” comes in at about an hour (typical for all films). At this point the film which had me hooked, loses me. It was a twist I felt coming…

[3] A lot of the jokes and digs at the hipster culture may be deserved for simple pretentious ways…

…by the last act Josh becomes so one-note in his obsession over uncovering the BS of Jamie that it gets to be a bit much.

Luckily… much of the movie is funny. Stiller is quite funny, in some instances when he becomes the foil for Driver, and the latter actor has a weird kind of charm and energy, filling in this hipster’s shoes a 100%. He doesn’t look like he should be a really good comic actor, but he carries a lot of odd, quirky interest…

-Excerpts from IMDB reviews

“This is Where I Leave You” (2014) starring Jason Bateman, Tina Fey, Jane Fonda, Adam Driver, Rose Byrne, & Corey Stoll

Judd: I don’t understand the Shiva. Mom’s not even Jewish, and dad was an atheist.

Wendy: A Jewish atheist, and this is what he wanted.

Judd Altman (Jason Bateman) is a radio producer in NYC who finds his wife, Quinn (Abigail Spencer), in bed w/ his boss/radio personality, Wade (Dax Shepard). A few mos. later, after Judd becomes divorced, his father passes away in their hometown upstate. His final wish is for the family to hold shiva (though their family wasn’t religious). Judd’s sister, Wendy (Tina Fey), is married w/ a toddler son. Judd’s mother, Hillary (Jane Fonda), is a famous therapist/author who overshares. Judd’s younger brother, Phillip (Adam Driver), is the “wild child” who runs his mouth, drives too fast, and is seeing an older woman. The eldest brother, Paul (Corey Stoll), takes care of the hardware store (the family biz) and is married to Annie (Kathryn Hahn); they are desperate to have a child. Judd runs into an younger friend of his, Penny Moore (Rose Byrne), who used to have a crush on him.

Judd: My marriage is over. I don’t have a job.

Hillary: That’s why you didn’t come see him these last few weeks? You thought he’d think less of you?

Judd: I think less of me. I’ve got nothing. Look at me. Way too old to have this much nothing.

Sitting shiva is the Jewish ritual of mourning after a loved one dies. The relatives of the deceased (his or her parents, children, siblings, and spouse) gather daily at one house and receive visitors who offer condolences (and often food). The Hebrew word “shiva” literally means seven, as the Altman’s family friend/rabbi (Ben Shwartz) explains. Hillary also explains that they need to sit in low chairs (as they are close to the earth).

Judd: It’s hard to see people from your past when your present is so cataclysmically screwed up, you know.

This isn’t technically a holiday movie, BUT it will give you many of the same vibes. The 4 adult sibs are forced to stay in their childhood home for 7 days- yikes! They retreat to the roles they had as kids (which is what you’d see in any family). There are secrets that will be uncovered- some small and some pretty life-changing. The cast is quite strong; they actually seem like a (dysfunctional) family. The actors have good chemistry together; it looks like making this movie was fun. However, there is TOO much going on! Some of the dialogue is quite touching, but there are also lines which come across as obvious, cliched, cringe-worthy. The hometown folks don’t have much characterization, as some critics/viewers commented; Penny comes across as a “manic pixie dream girl.”

Phillip: Dad was a stoner?

Judd: No, it was probably medicinal.

Phillip: It always is.

This movie was directed by Shaw Levy (Date Night, Stranger Things, Free Guy, etc.) and written by Jonathan Tropper (who also wrote the novel based on his own family’s stories). It’s nice to see Fonda, but I wish many of her lines were better. Bateman and Fey seem to usually play these type of roles and they do well. Stoll said this was his first time working on a comedy; he started in the theater and I liked him since House of Cards. Driver (before he became famous) is the lil bro who still has to grow-up; he plays the stock market and his love life is messy. Driver (funny/carefree) looked like he was enjoying this role; it was also the time when he was working on Girls. Stoll and Driver also acted together in The Report (which I will post about soon).

“Royal Shakespeare Company: Love’s Labour Won” (2015)

Autumn 1918. A group of soldiers return from the trenches. The world-weary Benedick and his friend Claudio find themselves reacquainted with Beatrice and Hero. As memories of conflict give way to a life of parties and masked balls, Claudio and Hero fall madly, deeply in love, while Benedick and Beatrice reignite their own altogether more combative courtship. Set amidst the brittle high spirits of a post-war house party, where youthful passions run riot, lovers are deceived and happiness is threatened – before peace ultimately wins out. -Synopsis

I saw this play on Marquee TV (which is an arts and culture streaming service); I signed up for the free 14-day trial. The play is more commonly known as Much Ado About Nothing; it’s my favorite Shakespeare comedy. This adaptation is set in the time period made famous by the recent PBS drama series and movie Downton Abbey. Hero (Flora Spencer Longhurst) and Claudio (Tunji Kasim) are the younger/fresh-faced couple. Beatrice (Michelle Terry) and Benedick (Edward Bennett) are the slightly older/jaded pair content to be singletons. By means of “noting” (which sounds similar to “nothing,” meaning gossip, rumor, and overhearing), Benedick and Beatrice are tricked into confessing their love for each other; Claudio is tricked (by Don John and his accomplices) into rejecting Hero at the altar thinking she has been unfaithful.

We are in an English village w/ an estate fit for royals. In the living room, there is a tall/elegantly-decorated Christmas tree. In one hilarious scene, Benedick hides inside the tree (while Leonato, Prince Don Pedro, and Claudio discuss him and Beatrice). There are songs and dances which come from (or are orchestrated to fit) the early 1900s vibe. We hear “Sigh No More” sung by Balthasar; it tells women to accept men’s infidelity and keep on living w/ joy. In the 1993 film directed by and starring Kenneth Branagh, the song is featured prominently in both the opening and finale.

Sigh no more, ladies, sigh no more,
Men were deceivers ever,-
One foot in sea and one on shore,
To one thing constant never.

Benedick and Beatrice (“too wise to woo peaceably”) are the main interest of the play; they have some of the best (and most memorable) lines. Terry (who became director of Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre in 2017) commented in an interview that “Beatrice felt very deeply,” so humor was a “defense mechanism” she used. I loved how this actress played the (pivotal) scene in the church.

I had rather hear my dog bark at a crow, than a man swear he loves me.

Not till God make men of some other metal than earth [would she consider having a husband]

Benedick is a bit disappointed when his best pal (Claudio) has the “intention to turn husband.” Benedick is also adept at using humor. The life of a bachelor suits him best, and only a rare woman would convince him otherwise.

…But it is certain I am loved of all ladies, only you excepted: and I would I could find in my heart that I had not a hard heart; for, truly, I love none.

I wish my horse had the speed of your tongue.

I liked how this production created a balance between the light and serious moments. The humor is played (mostly) w/ subtlety, as would suit Brits from that era. Beatrice, Benedick, and some of the minor characters have scenes w/ physical humor. I was impressed by how light the actors were on their feet (when the scene called for it). You can watch some scenes below!

Beatrice and Benedick meet.
Leonato, Prince Don Pedro, and Claudio set a trap for Benedick.
Beatrice and Benedick say they love each other, but she wants him to kill Claudio!

More Holiday Movies

Holiday Engagement (2011)

Hillary (Bonnie Somerville- a former model and singer) is a 30-ish journo in LA w/ a V busy/successful lawyer fiance, Jason.  One day, Jason says that he MAY have to move to Pittsburgh for a promotion; Hillary is surprised/disappointed (b/c everyone she knows is in California). Jason decides to break up w/ her, saying she’s NOT supportive of his career; Hillary is shocked/saddened. She told her fam, incl. her mom (played by veteran comedian Shelley Long) that she was bringing her fiance over during Thanksgiving weekend. Hillary’s bold/opinionated BFF decides to put up an ad on an online dating site (though Hillary is hesitant). There are MANY replies to Hillary’s video ad the next morning, incl. one from an actor, David (Jordan Bridges, son of Beau and grandson of Lloyd). David is NOT a total stranger; Hillary and Sophie had interviewed him for their magazine before. David really needs some work, so he can pretend to be Jason (after all, he’s an actor)! 

This is the (rare) holiday movie, while NOT quite believable, has two good actors (in the leads) w/ plenty of chemistry! Too bad they didn’t give Long any comedic stuff to do; she’s known for that. There are points where the film drags a bit, BUT it’s got some good/touching scenes also. In one of the best scenes, Somerville (who has a beautiful voice) and Bridges (who plays the piano) sing a duet of a X-mas song. It turns out that Hillary’s fam, incl. her 2 younger sisters, don’t have the picture-perfect lives they pretend to lead. While David is NOT rich/successful, he cleans up V nice, loves Hillary’s writing, and is a caring man. What will happen after the real Jason has a change of heart and shows up at Hillary’s parents’ house? This one is worth a watch IMO (check it out on Netflix); it has some quirky dialogue and cute moments.

The Spirit of Christmas (2015)

Kate (Jen Lilley) is a lawyer from Boston who recently broke up w/ a bf (who she wasn’t ever in love w/ anyway). Her boss has ONLY 3 wks get a haunted inn appraised and sold. The kind BUT uncooperative manager claims a spirit living there will NOT approve. With Kate’s possible promotion resting on her success, she checks in (over the holidays) and attempts to deal w/ the ghost, Daniel (Thomas Beaudoin), who was murdered 95 yrs ago. 

This is a well-made (scenery, costumes, sound effects, and acting) holiday film shot in Massachusetts at a historical inn. It has a mystery element, along w/ the romance, which sets it apart from many other films. I thought the flashback scenes were done V well. The actors are pretty good; they portray their characters quite naturally IMO. I’d recommend it to those who liked The Christmas Carol. The Ghost and Mrs. Muir, and or the famous ’80s film- Ghost. It’s now on Netflix, along w/ MANY other titles. 

Santa’s Boots (2018)

Holly (Megan Hilty), an independent-minded executive living in Seattle, returns home for Thanksgiving and Christmas to Noblesville (a real small town V close to where my lil bro grew up for MANY yrs in central IN). When a young employee gets sick, Holly goes to work as Santa’s elf at her family’s store, Montell’s, where she meets a young Santa, Nick, w/ whom she has great chemistry. The store, which is in trouble, sees a sharp rise in profits over Black Friday (thanks to the teamwork of Holly and Nick, who kids and parents enjoy visiting). Holly doesn’t reveal that she’s the boss’ daughter and Nick doesn’t reveal his last name. When Nick (whose regular job is working on his family’s tree farm) disappears, in a Cinderella story reversal, Holly searches for him w/ the ONLY clue he left behind- his black work boots.

I thought this movie (which premiered last night on Lifetime) has some real-world elements; my friends (who I watched it w/) also agreed. Both Holly and Nick are wondering what to do w/ their futures as they near their 35th birthdays. Holly’s BFF Elle is played by a South Asian actress; it’s NOT unusual to see a few desis as supporting characters or background actors in (Canadian) movies. Days of Our Lives viewers will be happy to see Roark Critchlow (Dr. Mike), who plays Holly’s kind/supportive dad. Holly’s grandmother, a woman who keeps it real, provides some humor. R

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