Girl: Bella Thorne took an ax/ and gave the Maytag 40 whacks.
How would we have survived this far into a pandemic without the ever-present Bella Thorne there to help take the edge off? In the third of four 2020 releases reviewed in these pages — the sequel to 2017’s The Babysitter will have to wait — the reigning Queen of Whoop-ass stars as a Girl With No Name (or Girl for short) who returns home deadly determined to hack to pieces the abusive father she hasn’t seen in almost 20 years. She wants to ensure her Mama (Elizabeth Saunders, an effective substitute for Margo Martindale) the lifetime of restful slumber that only the death of the vengeful slob who broke her back could provide, so imagine Girl’s disappointment when she arrives on scene to find her old man hanging by his arms in the tool shed. Who beat her to the punch?
Golden is a fancied town situated in the Pacific Northwest (read: Canada), but it has an authentic-sounding ring to it. Dogs, both two- and four-legged, run the dangerously deserted streets — none more forbidding than Sheriff (Mickey Rourke), whose duties as head lawman include riding herd on a band of male siblings imaginatively dubbed “The Brothers.” (The film’s biggest mystery lies in the question, “How does one afford that much plastic surgery on a sheriff’s meager salary?”)
Much of what the run-down backwoods community has to offer oozes familiarity. One might say that’s part of the charm of its generic underpinnings. The Chamber of Commerce cancelled the town’s daily delivery of sunshine around the time neo-noir was christened, and a ray hasn’t cracked the clouds since. Barkeep (Glen Gould) is a dependable type, quick to make with the good advice when The Brothers are out of earshot. And stationed at a table sits faded B-girl Betty (Lanette Ware). The way Girl makes men slobber, Bette has no choice but to view the younger woman as a threat to her vocation. (Betty is also the only character in Golden whose name is not a symbolic reflection of an individual trait.) While I’m on the subject of welcome signature items: were theatres up and running, there would no doubt be a line of Bella’s Belly-Shirts and horseshoe-through-the-septum nose jewelry on sale in the lobby.
Not wanting to return home without first uncovering the identity of her father’s butcher, and eager to rinse away any inculpatory blood stains accrued while unhooking pop, Girl visits a laundromat to wash half the clothes she carries on her back. Charmer (Chad Faust, debuting as writer and director) is the Brother assigned the task of burying Girl’s father, but first he decides to make a pit stop at the launderette. The lad asks more questions than a four-year-old at a circus. It’s hard to imagine a character as focused as Girl giving slick-hick Charmer the time of day, but true to his name, the talkative lothario scores points by offering her the loan of an unlaundered tee. The preliminary-round pissing contest that follows ends with her hatchet landing dead on target, while Charmer’s clumsy handling of a baby Bowie almost costs him a finger. A subsequent face-off round of ring-around-the-washers-and-dryers stokes the film’s high-as-is energy quotient with an unexpected burst of action in the unlikeliest of places.
But as fate (and the screenwriter’s pen) would have it, it’s more than mere sex appeal that catches the collective attention of this fancy gang of miscreants. Unbeknownst to Girl, dear dead Daddy (John Clifford Talbot) stashed a sizable chunk of cash with her name on it. Gee, maybe the old guy wasn’t so bad after all. And what was in the mysterious letter pater mailed Mama? Good cinema need not answer to great art. In the absence of multiplexes, and with screens never more conveniently consumable, there’s ample room and time for both. Thorne’s “Don’t F With Me!” demeanor, Rourke’s suave sadism, and a satisfactory twist tacked onto the end combine to make this tough Girl one worth tangling with. ★★★
Video on Demand New Release Roundup
Hillbilly Elegy — Growing up Opie, the closest Ron Howard came to an addictive personality was town drunk Otis Campbell. Considering the amount of time Howard spent in Mayberry — and with almost three-dozen benignant features to his credit — one would be wrong to expect more spit and less polish in this tale of the yokel who went to Yale. At its best, The Andy Griffith Show tackled issues with warmth, humor, and a kind of down-home logic that drew tourists to the fictional North Carolina utopia. Opie on the opioid crisis can lead only to good acting that’s made even better when two actresses, with a combined 13 Oscar® nominations, go head-to-head as a mismatched set of backcountry mother/daughter gladiators. Once upon a time, daughter Bev (Amy Adams) was a nurse; an addiction that began by pocketing pills from patients’ plastic medicine cups soon landed her on the unemployment line. Mamaw (Glenn Close) once set fire to a man for drinking. (Close plays Mamaw as a German expressionist painting of Mrs. Doubtfire come to life.) Gussied-up in their Walmart best, the two vie for the love of son, grandson, and author J.D. Vance (played at various stages of his life by Owen Asztalos and Richie Cunningham clone Gabriel Basso). Vance used his best-selling memoir as the basis for his screenplay. Told in flashback, we observe J.D. as he grapples with a choice between leaving town for what could be a life-changing job interview or hanging around Kentucky to look after a mother fresh off a heroin overdose. This isn’t an elegy as much as it is a condescending yet well intentioned “just say no” public service announcement. Listen carefully to hear a deafening awards buzz. 2020 — S.M. ★
Spring Tide — Three generations of Chinese women residing under one roof: crusading reporter Jianbo (Lei Hao), her huffy mother Minglan (Elaine Jin Yan-ling), and a 9-year-old daughter, Wanting (Qu Junxi), who, in spite of all odds, appears destined to escape with her spirit intact. Jianbo is the type who is quick to relinquish her seat on the train to a parent with a baby in need of nursing, but reluctant to give her own mother the time of day. She arrives home in time to catch the tail-end of mom’s prayer group and for no other reason than to piss her off, stands in the kitchen and fires up a cigarette. As we’ll soon discover, living with Minglan might well be enough to justify a two-pack-a-day habit, but then again, she’s a survivor who’s earned her battle scars. Wanting lives full-time with grandma, while Jianbo, unable to tolerate her mother for more than a few days at a stretch, has two other spots on which to lay her weary bones: a bunk in the dorm and in the arms of a speechless, yet seemingly satisfying lover. Writer-director Yang Lina’s arduously exacting moral fable charts a family dynamic and cultural flow that leads to new beginnings in one of this year’s most unforgettable journeys. Now playing on a premium video-on-demand outlet near you. 2019 — S.M. ★★★★