THE HERO (Movie Review)

*** out of ****
Rated R
(for drug use, strong language, and some sexual content)
Released:  June 9, 2017 limited; June 30 expands
Runtime: 93 minutes
Director: Brett Haley
Starring: Sam Elliott, Laura Prepon, Nick Offerman, Krysten Ritter, Katharine Ross

Available to rent through Amazon Video or buy on Blu-ray and DVD. Proceeds from purchases made through these links go to support this blog.

For an actor known for his iconic voice, Sam Elliott sure can pack an emotional punch in quiet, wordless silence.

Those are the kind of overdue revelations you get in The Hero, a late-in-life acting showcase for the character actor with the glorious baritone drawl. We all know he can drop wisdom on The Dude with those rich vocal pipes, but now we finally get to see the depths that Elliott can fully reveal.

Reminiscent of what Crazy Heart did for Jeff Bridges (which included nabbing him an Oscar), The Hero provides Elliott the role of an aging artist forced to take stock of his life, and he absolutely owns it. Yes, the legacy angst being explored here is familiar, but Elliott and director Brett Haley’s script make them very specific, and personal.

A famous actor past his prime (or, at least, his popularity), Lee Hayden (Elliott) can still make an easy buck lending his voice to the latest product placement. But such gigs, which can actually be obnoxiously demeaning to an experienced talent (trust me, the VO session scenes are spot-on, I know), may pay the bills but they also suck the soul.

Lee still has a passion to be artistically relevant, especially since downtime spent not acting forces him to confront the mess he’s made of his personal life: a divorce, and an estranged adult daughter. Real-life Elliott wife Katharine Ross (The Graduate, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid) plays the ex, and Jennifer Jones star Krysten Ritter is the justifiably embittered offspring.

When he’s not in the booth or being frustrated by the lack of offers his agent can wrangle, Lee likes to swing by the bachelor pad of his friend Jeremy (Nick Offerman, great as always) where they can unwind with some reefers. Lee has other, newer problems too, ones that bear the weight of impending mortality, but his existential malaise is upended when he makes a surprise connection with a friend of Jeremy’s, the 30s-ish Charlotte (Laura Prepon; Orange is the New Black, That 70s Show).

Yes, a May/December attraction sparks, but the connection is so casual, so kindred, so authentic, and based on souls connecting rather than fleeting desperate loneliness, that it actually works. There’s no BS or pretense involved, just genuine good humor, and you buy it – especially since the portrayal is smart enough to confront the fact that there’s a creepy element to it as well.

It all comes from a real place, tenderly and truthfully done, while also serving as a catalyst that helps get to the core of Lee’s existential crisis, his regrets, and the need to face them.

This familiar struggle, seen portrayed many times before, is made singular by how Elliott and Haley flesh Lee out. He’s a man with a hardworking ethos, someone who still feels vital in his twilight. Other movies would look at a similar figure with sympathetic eyes but see him as someone who’s afraid to accept his new reality, that his time has past, or that time has past him. But here, Lee sees himself correctly; it’s the vapid world that has lost sight of something.

Brett Haley, a relatively young filmmaker, has carved out an unexpected path for himself of late: crafting portraits of people in life’s last act. His previous movie, I’ll See You In My Dreams, was a similar showcase for actress Blythe Danner, written specifically for her. Elliott co-starred in that immensely endearing film as Danner’s love interest, and now Haley has in turn written one for him.

It, too, creates some really sweet moments of tenderness and grace, and does it all with a deft touch that lets even things like the reading of poetry not be saccharine or hackneyed but, well, actually poetic.

But it’s not just what Haley has provided Elliott on the page; it’s also what he allows Elliott time for on the screen. Some of the film’s best, most illuminating moments are lengthy close-ups of Elliott in which not a single word is spoken. Haley just rests on those shots, lingering, letting Elliott reveal Lee’s melancholy, his pain, his sorrow, by staying on Lee as he contemplates those burdens, and feels them.

Of course Elliott’s also great with words, too, and not just because he can make them sound good. An audition scene in the film’s second half, in which Lee reads for a part that cuts too close to the bone, is an absolute heartbreaker. It’s more than just “the Oscar clip”; it’s the kind of rare, special soul bearing moment that makes you wonder just how autobiographical it really is.

I don’t know, Elliott may be at complete and total peace in his personal life, but what he pours out in this scene makes it seem like he needed that release for himself.

Haley’s original title for this movie was Iceberg, to serve as a metaphor for a character who had much more going on beneath the surface than what others could only see above it. That idea is even spelled out at one point, which would’ve made the title too on-the-nose.

The Hero is a better one, particularly for this character, one who blanches at the notion of being labeled a hero – even though that’s exactly what he’s famous for – because he knows all-too-well that he’s far from it. The title, then, becomes appropriately two-fold: accurate, and ironic.

That’s the beauty of how the label is used here, and its a complex truth that Lee fails to appreciate: people need heroes, especially ones that are flawed, and who are brave enough to confess it.

First Trailer For Hugh Jackman GREATEST SHOWMAN Original Musical (VIDEO/IMAGES)

What ironic timing.

In the year that Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus ended its historic 146-year run of being The Greatest Show on Earth, Hollywood will release an original musical about how it all began. Yes, that’s right, an original musical, produced by a Hollywood studio, no less, and not from a previous Broadway spectacle or made by some indie director with a passion project.

Granted, you won’t glean from this debut trailer for The Greatest Showman that it actually is a musical; in fact, you won’t see anyone singing. But the song that fuels this first look is just one from the entire pop-styled soundtrack, with songs written by Oscar-winning lyricists for La La Land (who also recently won Tonys for Best Musical champ Dear Evan Hansen).

Starring Hugh Jackman as P.T. Barnum, Michelle Williams as his wife, Zac Efron as Barnum’s business partner, and Zendaya (Spider-Man: Homecoming) as a trapeze artist, The Greatest Showman opens this Christmas, December 25, 2017.

Click on any picture for larger image gallery.


**** out of ****
Rated PG-13
(for sci-fi action violence, some language, and brief suggestive comments)
Released:  July 7, 2017
Runtime: 143 minutes
Director: Jon Watts
Starring: Tom Holland, Michael Keaton, Robert Downey, Jr., Jacob Batalon, Marisa Tomei, Jon Favreau, Laura Harrier, Zendaya, Bokeem Woodbine, Tony Revolori, Donald Glover

Available to rent through Amazon Video or buy on Blu-ray, 4K, 3D, and DVD. Proceeds from purchases made through these links go to support this website.

Avenging the notion that a second reboot of anything is unnecessary, or that it displays a bankruptcy of ideas and is merely greed-driven, Spider-Man: Homecoming swings into the MCU as the best Marvel movie ever made.

It’s an exuberant thrill machine that will continue to reap rewards on future inevitable viewings and, more importantly, reveal itself as more than just an entertainment. On every level, this is a perfect blockbuster construct, elevating pop cinema to an art form. Wonder Woman just broke a glass ceiling, but this third pass at Spider-Man has set a new genre standard.

As superhero movies go it’s only topped by Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight (and arguably Tim Burton’s original Batman, too), and yet it succeeds by being everything that Nolan’s dark and gritty crime drama isn’t. Together, the two are the yin and yang of comicbook movie masterpieces. We never got to see James Cameron’s passion-project take on the webcrawler, but I’d be hard-pressed to believe it could’ve been any better than this.

Or, more accurately, any truer. Dispensing of the angst, shyness, and insecurities that we’ve seen layered into previous screen adaptations, this Spider-Man simply loves being Spider-Man.

Sure, a good deal of the character’s long-running mythology is absent – he’s a videographer here, not a photographer, there’s no Uncle Ben death, no J. Jonah Jameson or newspaper gig, no “with great power…” sloganieering, and no belabored origin story rehash to speak of (thank God) – but those things aren’t required when you have the kind of enthusiastic teenage Peter Parker that has charmed webheads in comics for decades. We’ve never truly been given that Spider-Man before – until now.

It’s as if the filmmakers’ credo was, simply, “What would I have done if I were Spider-Man when I was a teenager?” Every bit of Peter Parker’s personality and how he embraces his gift (and Tony Stark’s generosity) emerges from that overwhelming sense of how absolutely cool this all is. He even wants to embrace the responsibility, not be conflicted about it. His best friend Ned share’s the same youthful “Mind Blown” glee over Peter’s alter ego, even as they both still remain serious Lego nerds.

It’d be too time-consuming to checklist everything that works here, except to say that everything does. The cast, the tone, the action, the humor – my gosh, the laughs in this movie! The comedy here is clever, witty, and character-based, not goofy or shticky; well, except for Spidey’s snappy one-liners, but then that’s always been his brand so it’s welcome and it works. And it’s not just in the dialogue, it’s in the action too. For this Spidey, having new superpowers doesn’t instantly make him the world’s greatest urban swinging trapeze artist.

The story even feels remarkably fresh, but that’s what you get with an ensemble so perfectly cast. They can take familiar beats and own them, making them not only new but specific. Credit directorial choices, too, like making the Cool Entitled Rich Kid Bully who pesters Peter an Indian American (Grand Budapest Hotel’s Tony Revolori), not another white jock. Most importantly, you always get the vibe that these characters do what they do because of who they are, not because the plot needs them to.

It’s easy to geek out over this deep actors bench and how they’re used, starting with Tom Holland in the lead. He turns angst into passion, shyness into awkward zeal, and motivates his immaturity with nobility rather than selfishness (but it’s still immature). He’s perfect. Robert Downey Jr.’s Iron Man isn’t only granted solid supporting screen time; he gives us fresh new depths and shades for Stark that, this far into the MCU, seemed impossible to discover.

And Jon Favreau makes for the perfect choice to play Stark’s confidante Happy Hogan who’s tasked to keep tabs on Parker. Who better than the director of the first Iron Man (which began the MCU) to be the guy who makes sure Parker stays honest, responsible, and doesn’t mess things up?

Every one of the mostly-new teen cast is superb (there’s a whole other high school movie going on in parallel to this one), with Jacob Batalon’s Peter bestie Ned the highlight, as are Donald Glover and Fargo: Season 2’s Bokeem Woodbine in shadier roles . Marisa Tomei brings her charismatic acting chops to a hottie Aunt May (and the movie doesn’t pretend she’s otherwise) while Michael Keaton’s Vulture overcomes “the villain problem” common to the genre, creating someone who’s a sinister loose cannon yet complicated and calculating.

Vulture may be the bad guy but his grievances are valid, and they resonate in our populist times of increasing wealth and class inequality. He’s a legitimate threat, not just a maniacal foil. Keaton now stands alone with the distinction of having given one of the best superhero and supervillain performances in the canon of comicbook movies. Honestly, after Ledger’s and Nicholson’s Jokers, who’s better?

Along with being a transcendent third-gen restart, Spider-Man: Homecoming bucks other conventional wisdom, too, notably that it boasts what must be the best script ever written by six credited screenwriters (usually a sign of rank mediocrity). This story is so brilliantly constructed, right down to each beat, that it never allows the plot (or Marvel Universe building) to bog down the characters, relationships, or pure vicarious thrill of experiencing what they’re experiencing. It even kickstarts the film’s third act with a turn that is absolutely impossible to see coming (no, it’s not a “twist”, so don’t be looking for one), and it ratchets up the stakes, both dramatic and emotional, in a gasp-inducing instant.

As far as the Universe building goes, it’s all done on the periphery but with purpose, not shoehorned in. I don’t recall one moment that ever felt like an exposition dump. Like any story well told, this one takes its requisite MCU business and actually uses it to inform Peter Parker’s arc.

Making movies by committee should never result in something this good (let’s not forget it must also receive the blessing of Marvel guru Kevin Feige’s MCU papal authority). This soars with a singular vision and voice, and that can only be the result of a talented director working at peak level powers. Other tentpole IPs with less cooks in the kitchen have been the demise of more experienced filmmakers in the past, and even the present (we’re looking at you, Young Han Solo).

Jon Watts crafts his first big-budget blockbuster with the bravado and precision of an assured veteran. This is a legit self-contained movie, not just a brand builder. Watts’ ability to not only balance but seamlessly blend so many spinning plates (action, relationships, conflict, comedy, deftly dropping occasional Marvel Easter Eggs) makes him the new Golden Child of the MCU, as does his keen abilities as an action maestro.

There aren’t just more Marvel movies in Jon Watts’ future; every producer and studio in Hollywood will be throwing their scripts at this guy, particularly since his previous indie effort Cop Car was just as assured, despite it being the polar opposite of this. In its early era Coen Brothers stripped-down style, it showcased his range and ability to create palpable cinema that’s rooted in insightful, taut storytelling, not a carte blanche budget. Jon Watts is just getting started.

His set pieces here are as good as you’ll see in modern moviemaking, formally crafted and clearly staged (the Washington Monument sequence feels like an instant classic), including a climactic showdown that, while special effects driven, is not another example of CGI overkill. It’s telling how tense the action can be when driven by character, as it is here between a spartan Spider-Man and ascendant Vulture, rather than the fate of the world.

And if that’s not praiseworthy enough, Watts pulls off an even rarer feat: crafting a moment late where this superhero feels truly vulnerable, and mortal, in a situation that seems could only be remedied by a cheap “Avengers ex Machina” cop out. It’s not, thankfully, and instead what we get is a defining moment for Spider-Man, and for Peter Parker.

It gave me chills then and it still does now just thinking about it, boosted by a Michael Giacchino music cue that, after all this time, becomes the first “theme” for a Marvel character, a genuine attempt at a recognizable iconic anthem, not just “heroic noise made my instruments”. Talk about long overdue.

Spider-Man: Homecoming is a jolt to the MCU, the genre, to Hollywood in general and, well, to the mass appeal movies of the 21st Century. It has everything. Even the Captain America cameos are inspired. It sneaks in a great nod to Ferris Bueller, too (look for it), and caps it all with the best post-credits tag that’s ever been (it’s worth the wait).

By movie’s end, Peter Parker may still have some growing up to do, but the movie he comes in arrives to us fully formed.

This is your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man, and he is absolutely amazing.

BABY DRIVER (Movie Review)

*** out of ****
Rated R
(for violence and strong language throughout)
Released:  June 28, 2017
Runtime: 113 minutes
Director: Edgar Wright
Starring: Ansel Elgort, Lily James, Kevin Spacey, Jon Hamm, Jamie Foxx, Elza
González, Jon Bernthal, CJ Jones

Available to rent through Amazon Video or buy on Blu-rayDVD, and 4K. Proceeds from purchases made through these links go to support this blog.

I think I just saw Quentin Tarantino’s favorite new movie.

No, Baby Driver isn’t Tarantino-esque in the sense that name-drop evokes. Rest assured, this is the next natural progression for director Edgar Wright (Scott Pilgrim vs The World), a master of contemporary pop cinema who riffs on styles with a style all his own.

And that’s exactly what a guy like Tarantino would love: a movie that puts a new spin on a classic genre, reimagining it rather than satirizing it, loving tropes rather than mocking them, infusing everything with pulpy high stakes and super cool swagger, all with heavy doses of vinyl-worthy music.

Sure, this movie’s millennial hero listens to his tunes through earbuds, not on wax discs, but he’s still a maker of mixtapes – on actual cassettes – and his iPods (yes, plural) are first-gen retro. Baby’s hipster cache is fully intact.

Baby Driver is a crime thriller by way of neo-musical, cut to the beat – literally – of classic rock, pop, and R&B tracks. The actors don’t sing or dance, but songs and choreography are very much a part of this film’s whirlwind of glocks, shocks, and four smoking tires.

Baby (aka the baby driver) is a young twenty-something who applies his unmatched driving skills to steering the getaway car for professional robbers. He listens to music non-stop, especially when driving, fueling him like a superpower.

The film opens with a high-speed car chase through the streets of Atlanta, one that includes a really clever “shell game” visual. It follows a bank heist and, as vehicular mayhem erupts, Baby drives through it all with cool intensity and Jedi-like reflexes.

It’s also the last job of his young career, the final run that will pay off the debt he owes to the criminal mastermind Doc (Kevin Spacey), the man who orchestrates these gigs. Of course, when a movie opens with one last job we know that it won’t be too long before Baby’s pulled right back in.

In this case, it’s very much against his will. The collateral violence and death, both on innocent people as well as among criminals themselves, is weighing hard on Baby’s conscience. He’s a good kid that Life dealt a bum break, and he wants to correct course. But Doc won’t let him.

The film’s first half sort of meanders through various relationship setups and new robber teams, and while it’s all done with panache the success of the overall experience comes down to two things: do you dig Baby, and do you love being inundated (at times pummeled) by a near-non-stop soundtrack.

The songs are great, no doubt, and include the ditty that inspired the title character’s name (if you don’t know the classic, that means you’re not old), but they’re also indicative of the opening act’s style-over-substance simplicity.

After awhile you begin to wonder if there’s any “there” there, not in terms of thematic depth (because who needs it in a movie like this?) but simply in characters and relationships you actually care about beyond dangerous cool people who butt heads, and a sweet if standard love interest for Baby at the local diner.

More frankly, Baby Driver could use less Baby and more driving.

What would that contradiction even mean? It means that there’s not nearly as much driving as one would expect (#FastButNotAlwaysFurious), and the character development roads that the script goes down feel rather conventional, even with Wright’s gift for dialogue and humor (although the sentimental connection between Baby and his deaf foster dad is the film’s best).

But more than anything, as Baby, Ansel Elgort (The Fault In Our Stars) isn’t quite the charismatic screen presence you’d hope for, or that the role really needs. To his credit, Elgort improves as the film goes along, and he rises to the occasion down the final stretch when circumstances cause Baby to make brave, bold choices, but he’s never strong enough to make you want to see more of this Baby in a sequel, or to have directors give him a shot in meatier material. He’s a respectable actor, but a star is not born.

Indeed, the entire supporting cast essentially upstages the lead. A forgivable downside, as they’re responsible for so much of the movie’s fun, tension, and thrills. Every casting choice is on point, with Jamie Foxx and Jon Hamm being every bit as cool as you’d expect them to be while also adding an intimidating punch.

Wright is in complete and total control of every moment in this thing, including the excesses, so even if you find its indulgences to be overkill (mileage will vary, pun intended) there’s no doubt this is exactly the movie that Wright wanted to make. He’s always been a precise visionary, not one who shoots for “coverage”, yet even as some sequences here required multiple cameras rolling you can still see that it’s all by design, not Wright doing an editorial CYA.

Even with all that style, however, one can’t help but feel there’s something missing – an intangible – without Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, and Wright’s Brit-crew in the picture. It’s commendable that Wright expands outside that safety net, and does so successfully here, but it’ll take time to reproduce the chemistry that comes from his comfort zone.

All that nitpicking having been said, Baby Driver is not a movie to overthink. As Guillermo del Toro tweeted, this is a beautiful example of an inspired filmmaker who, after being dumped by Marvel on Ant-Man,”comes out of a debacle with a movie that declares his credo again.”

This is a cinematic ride to enjoy and Wright makes it easy to, especially as he brings the first half’s loose threads together (not unlike a great mixtape) into sharp, potent focus, and in occasionally surprising ways; it’s just not the new modern masterpiece that some have overhyped it be.

But it doesn’t need to be. Baby Driver is why people go to the movies. So go.

THE BEGUILED (2017) (Movie Review)

***1/2 out of ****
Rated R
(for some sexuality, violent injuries, and brief language)
Released:  June 23, 2017 NY/LA; June 30 expands
Runtime: 93 minutes
Director: Sofia Coppola
Starring: Nicole Kidman, Colin Farrell, Kirsten Dunst, Elle Fanning, Oona Laurence, Angourie Rice, Emma Howard, Addison Riecke

Available to rent through Amazon Video or buy on Blu-ray and DVD. Proceeds from purchases made through these links go to support this blog.

It’s pretty rare when a non-specific one-word title so effectively fits the movie its labeling, because general descriptors can apply to so many other stories, but The Beguiled is perfectly named in every conceivable way.

Whether describing the young women at the center of this tense Southern Gothic tale, or the eerie hypnotic tone that steeps director Sofia Coppola’s aesthetic, or simply what we the audience become, The Beguiled lives up to its name.

Exploring polar opposite versions of Coppola’s young & entitled modern day female Bling Ring burglars, The Beguiled is a psychodrama that emerges from dropping virile masculinity into the midst of sheltered femininity. It’s 1864 Virginia, and a girl from an all-female boarding school discovers a wounded and sickly Union soldier (Colin Farrell) in the woods nearby. Despite initial reservations, the head mistress Martha (Nicole Kidman) decides to take the man in, patch him up, and hopefully save his life.

Cloistered there are the teacher Edwina (Kirsten Dunst) and five students descending in age from teen (Elle Fanning’s Alicia) to grade school. Once the girls’ initial collective hysteria calms down, the reactions to the man vary, from intrigued to cautious to fearful – but all completely fascinated.

As the soldier heals and fears subside, the girls are, well, beguiled by his charms, and the three oldest women find their sexuality awakened, albeit with chaste hesitation. Each tests the boundaries of their passions: Edwina is shy, Alicia more forward, while Martha exerts control. Martha, being the oldest, knows how to draw the line with her desires in a way the other two do not.

Even the prepubescent girls can’t help but be drawn to the soldier, as he slyly – even respectfully – spins his web with each. An insidiously gentle tempter, the soldier ingratiates himself with the younger girls as he looks to see which of the women he can successfully seduce, and stirs jealousies among them all. But his prey are the three oldest, and his flattering temptations – each tailored to what each woman needs – grow increasingly harder to resist.

In the hands of a lesser director and cast, with artists more provoked by the lurid melodrama than the human vulnerabilities, this would all be played in amplified strokes and to lesser, baser effect. Instead, Coppola contains everything. It makes for a truer representation of the time and place (as well as a more taut build of suspense), relying on her actresses to summon and wrestle with the carnal urges that belie their Christian morals and social constructs.

Coppola finds potency in simplicity, utilizing lingering looks and stealing glances by the women as they gaze on parts of the soldier’s torso and body. These POV’s aren’t salacious, they’re completely human; internal flirtations that seem harmless at the time, instinctive. But each little indulgence is another step in a downward compulsive spiral.

Farrell is so cunning in how he doesn’t push his seductions, even playing them as virtuous or pure (although keeping his native Irish dialect provides a roguish undercurrent), while the three female leads exude their emotional ids with palpable intensity. Kidman especially, whose Martha is the only one able to also access her ego and super-ego, gives another showcase in what seems to be a new, confident peak in her career.

Both lush and minimalist, Coppola’s elegant yet earthy formalism is a stunning display of what gorgeous restraint can conjure. Director of Photography Philippe Le Sourd (best known for Wong Kar-Wai’s The Grandmaster) employs painterly still-frame precision that, quite brilliantly, evokes the period’s neoclassical and romantic portraits. These are some of the best images you’ll see on any screen all year.

Coppola also restrains from using music until the last half hour, and even then only applies ominous drones sparingly. The lack of an orchestral underscore, which allows the breezy Southern air to authenticate the atmosphere – punctuated by war heard in the distance – serves to amplify the veracity of what is otherwise an unabashed exercise in genre, one that crescendos to brutal conclusion.

This isn’t Sofia Coppola’s most thematically layered film (that could be The Virgin Suicides or, yes, even Marie Antoinette; stick it, haters) nor is it her most existentially resonate (make it Suntory Time, Lost in Translation), yet there’s a reason this garnered the Best Director prize at this year’s Cannes Film Festival: The Beguiled is Coppola’s most assured work of art.

OFCC Podcast: Episode 10 – TRANSFORMERS 5, CARS 3, BOOK OF HENRY, Han Solo Shakeup, & More (PODCAST)


Episode 10: Deceptibomb, Cars Tune-Up, and Disturbances In The Force

For this edition of The OFCC Podcast, available on iTunes, a roundtable of critics from the Oklahoma Film Critics Circle discuss the latest in movies for late June 2017.

You can also stream Episode 10 by clicking here.

On this episode, the critics include:

 Transformers: The Last Knight (starting at 2:20))
Cars 3 (2017) (at 15:30)
The Book of Henry (at 24:33)
Han Solo Movie Director Shakeup – Discussion (at 44:33)
Beatriz at Dinner (at 1:00:22)
Paris Can Wait (at 1:15:00)

Articles referenced:

Click here to subscribe through iTunes, and look for the June 23, 2017 episode.


*** out of ****
Rated R

(for strong language and a scene of violence)
Released: June 9, 2017 limited; June 23 expands
Runtime: 83 minutes
Director: Miguel Arteta
Starring: Salma Hayek, John Lithgow, Connie Britton,
Chloë Sevigny, Jay Duplass, Amy Landecker, David Warshofsky

A movie about people talking that will get people talking, Beatriz at Dinner comes from the patron saint screenwriter of strong female roles.

Mike White’s most popular scripts have been for the Jack Black vehicles School of Rock and Nacho Libre, but his best work has been in the empathetic character portraits of women in existential crisis: The Good Girl (Jennifer Aniston) and the HBO series Enlightened (Laura Dern). Each one, truth be told, has been a proxy for White’s own melancholic disconnect with the world. Now there’s Beatriz at Dinner, which gives Salma Hayek her richest showcase since Frida fifteen years ago.

The film itself, which also boasts strong ensemble work (from John Lithgow especially), is a mesmerizing if biased Trump era critique, using an Hispanic outsider to indict rich white capitalists and the privilege they flaunt.

Its ideas are more personal than rigorous, emerging from feelings rather than reflections, which results in a final act that doesn’t know how to resolve itself. Beatriz at Dinner exists primarily, it seems, for White to vent his sociopolitical frustrations, not stir intellectual debate. Nevertheless, it remains emotionally provocative.

Beatriz is a health therapist for soul, mind & body, whose job allows her to be in the periphery of the One Percent but never of it. A very simple, earthy woman (Hayek is dramatically glammed-down) that practices Buddhism with Catholic leftovers, Beatriz lives by herself with her goats, to which she’s deeply attached.

Beatriz’s car breaks down at the house of a wealthy client, named Cathy (Connie Britton), who adores Beatriz.  Cathy invites Beatriz (who’s troubled by a recent loss) to the dinner she’s hosting; guests include Doug Strutt (Lithgow), a brash real estate developer…and Trump archetype.

So there’s your premise: Shy New Agey Hispanic Vegan Eastern Mystic gets dropped into the middle of gregarious high society Caucasians whose preoccupations are more material than spiritual. Awkward conversation ensues, and it’s fascinating for us, as an audience, to be a bug on that wall.

They talk about a wide variety of things, from business to politics to world travel, and it’s clear that White has been an observant participant in these circles before. He knows these people. A prime example is when Strutt dissects, in shrewd detail, how he’s able to develop property even in the face of progressive protestors and likely lawsuits. He doesn’t game the legal system because he doesn’t need to; he simply knows how to play it to his advantage.

Whether it’s this, or immigration, or hunting, or any number of other topics, Beatriz is, despite being calm and centered by nature, a hippie liberal who can’t stay quiet in the face of what she finds offensive, regardless if etiquette would suggest otherwise (and it does, as Beatriz is the outlier who’s been invited in).

Watching her speak frankly adds to the intrigue, with her ire increasing as its met with dismissive contempt, delivered in a patronizing guise of geniality. The cast plays these conversations with fresh, electric interplay, and an overlapping spontaneity that’s reminiscent of Robert Altman ensembles.

A more magnanimous movie would’ve found the humanity in both sides, but White’s disdain is too raw for such generosity. Even so, the elites here are fully formed, articulate people, not simplistic parodies, and Lithgow’s Trump stand-in is much more erudite and sophisticated than our 45th President.

To the extent these people are genuinely interested in hearing Beatriz share her perspectives, it comes from a curiosity that actually exposes unconscious bigotry. The best that can be said of these people is how sincerely clueless they are to their own sense of entitlement.

Tension builds and crescendos until it’s capped by a shocking contrivance that I won’t spoil, but it’s one that liberals will see as cathartic wish fulfillment. Though it may serve as a release for pent-up progressive rage, it doesn’t do the movie or the Beatriz character any favors, particularly in our current toxic political climate. Moreover, White and Arteta end up not having the guts to play this incendiary turn to a legitimate conclusion, and finally pull the punch.

Even so, the moment is so jarring that, if the film were more widespread in the public consciousness, Beatriz at Dinner would be easy fodder for conservative pundits. Coming off the heels of a horrific shooting targeted at Republican Congressmen (as well as infamous news items such as Kathy Griffin’s decapitated Trump head photo and the Trump-as-Caesar “Shakespeare in the Park” stabbing), the anger-fueled moment of seething liberal hatred that White contrives for Beatriz (and no doubt feels himself) only serves to solidify the caricature of the unhinged Democrat.

Then, to cement the fact that White and Arteta’s goal is to merely roleplay their outrage rather than actually say something, the story abruptly ends on a cryptic cop out. At 75 minutes, Beatriz at Dinner is a movie that’s unfinished. Ideas are left on the table, unsaid or unexamined, not out of laziness but simply a lack of desire to dig deeper. White and Arteta don’t want to challenge the audience or even their own biases; they just want to unload.

What could’ve been a Thinking Person’s movie ends up simply being an angry, pissed off one, leaving us with a mostly invigorating piece of cinematic theatre that ultimately sells itself, its concerns, and us short.