Advertisement

Indie Focus: Moving beyond the past in 'Christopher Robin,' 'Nico, 1988' and 'Night Comes On'

Hello! I’m Mark Olsen. Welcome to another edition of your regular field guide to a world of Only Good Movies.

Recently, no less an expert in the field that Reese Witherspoon asked on Twitter: “Why aren’t there more romantic movies?” The Times’ Amy Kaufman takes a look at the state of the rom-com and the business and creative decisions behind Netflix’s “Summer of Love,” a purposeful program of romances.

Advertisement

As Katie Silberman, screenwriter of the popular “Set It Up,” put it, ““When I grew up, a romantic comedy was a good thing. Something happened in the last decade or so where all of a sudden, it had a negative connotation. It’s been so rewarding to hear how hungry people were for romantic comedies.”

Jen Yamato wrote about her own experiences with the new Netflix rom-coms, including a viewing party with a group of friends. As she wrote, “We’d suffered a great paucity of the kinds of films studios used to invest in. We were a long-starved tribe with a shared hunger for movies that at least, like ‘Set It Up,’ reminded us of a time when rom-coms were good.”

We will have a number of screening events coming up in August, including one from a filmmaker I have been wanting to showcase since we first started our Indie Focus screenings six (!) years ago. For info and updates, go to events.latimes.com.

Left to right, Bronte Carmichael, Ewan McGregor and Hayley Atwell in "Christopher Robin"
Left to right, Bronte Carmichael, Ewan McGregor and Hayley Atwell in "Christopher Robin" (Laurie Sparham / Disney)

‘Christopher Robin’

The new film “Christopher Robin,” directed by Marc Forster, imagines what would happen if the character from A.A. Milne’s “Winnie the Pooh” stories grew up to be an adult (played by Ewan McGregor) and how his childhood friend could continue to help him on into adulthood.

Reviewing for The Times, Justin Chang said the movie approaches its fanciful story “with wit, tact and sincere respect for the audience’s intelligence, as well as its desire for honest, unfussy pleasure.” He added, “The lessons Christopher must learn — don’t work too hard, hold your most cherished memories close, love your family and friends above all else — are nothing if not obvious. And, much like Pooh himself, always worth revisiting.”

The Times’ Todd Martens spoke to some of the creative team behind the movie. Alex Ross Perry, one of the movie’s three credited screenwriters, spoke of the challenges in making movie for both children and adults when he said, “I wouldn’t be ashamed to be a grown man going to see a ‘Winnie the Pooh’ movie in the theater with no child next to me, so let’s make sure we’re making that movie. … It has to be completely logical in that Pixar sense, where adults can go see it in a roomful of kids, but it doesn’t feel like you’re seeing a kids movie.”

At Time, Stephanie Zacharek said the film is “the movie you didn’t know you needed … the picture has a charming, low-key vibe that is, here and there, brushed with just a trace of adult melancholy. It’s good for kids, but maybe even better for adults who could use a little calming something.”

A scene from "Nico, 1988."
A scene from "Nico, 1988." (Magnolia Pictures)

‘Nico, 1988’

Written and directed by Susanna Nicchiarelli and staring Danish actress Trine Dyrholm, “Nico, 1988” tells the story of the final years in the life of Crista Päffgen, better known as the musician Nico. After appearing in Federico Fellini’s “La Dolce Vita” and on the landmark album “The Velvet Underground and Nico,” she struck off on her own path, making records of chilly foreboding while living a life of emotional turmoil.

Reviewing for The Times, Kenneth Turan wrote, “Dyrholm, an actress of formidable presence who expertly handles her own singing as well as the acting, gives a strong, truthful, unflinching performance that powers the film the way Christa's energy powered the bands she was in those late days.”

At the Village Voice, Alan Scherstuhl wrote, “‘Nico, 1988’ shows us the star pouring all her pain and exuberance into music that she doesn’t care whether you take or leave. She even wants to leave it herself, toward the end, when the idea comes to her that she might work in a flower shop instead — that she might spend her days around life. But she can’t. She might insist that some acquaintances call her Christa, but she’s too Nico not to be Nico.”

Lindsay Zoladz at the Ringer wrote about the real-life Nico, saying, “One of many things Nicchiarelli’s movie reminds us is that Nico’s later music was darker, deeper, and infinitely richer than most people realize. In fact, the whole second half of her career was a defiant and fascinating repudiation of everything that had drawn people to the former model and muse in the first place.”

Writer Angelica Nwandu, actress Tatum Hall, actress Dominique Fishback and director Jordana Spiro from "Night Comes On," photographed in the L.A. Times Studio at the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah, on Jan. 19
Writer Angelica Nwandu, actress Tatum Hall, actress Dominique Fishback and director Jordana Spiro from "Night Comes On," photographed in the L.A. Times Studio at the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah, on Jan. 19 (Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)

‘Night Comes On’

Advertisement

Directed by Jordana Spiro from a screenplay co-written with Angelica Nwandu, “Night Comes On” explores the difficulties of the foster-care system through the story of two sisters, one who is old enough to be on her own and the other inside it. The film stars Dominique Fishback and Tatum Marilyn Hall.

For The Times, Kenneth Turan wrote, “The tension and the love between the sisters is revealed as being equally real, as is Angel's unwavering determination to do what she views as the right thing by violently confronting her mother's killer. … As with much of this impressive first feature, that confrontation plays out in a way that is as satisfying as it is unexpected. Night does indeed come on for this film's characters, but the light of day is present as well.”

The Times’ Tre’vell Anderson spoke to Nwandu and Spiro for a Q&A that will be publishing soon. Of their collaboration on the project, Spiro said, “We’re both opinionated people and I think that we did a pretty good job of allowing ourselves to argue with each other, mull things over, teach each other things and really hear what the other is saying. I also had to allow myself to be educated and keeping that partnership alive through the entire process of the film.”

Advertisement

For the New York Times, Teo Bugbee noted the creative partnership between Spiro and Nwandu by saying, “The result of their partnership is a film that balances penetrating clarity with compassion. Mirroring Angel’s dissociated gaze, Ms. Spiro’s camera sometimes wanders from her characters to fixate nakedly on families at rest or children at play. But when it comes to the sources of Angel’s pain, Ms. Spiro’s sharp-sighted scrutiny softens like eyes that have slipped — mercifully — out of focus.”

Email me if you have questions, comments or suggestions, and follow me on Twitter @IndieFocus.

Advertisement
Advertisement