Explore the world of original plots and unique storytelling with Sylvy, a film major and chronic indie fan. She will steer you toward the best that independent cinema has to offer at home and abroad, past and present.
Now go get the popcorn ready…
By Sylvana Fernandez
Director: Adrienne Shelley
Release Year: 2007
Sandwiched into relative obscurity somewhere between the releases of indie box-office successes Little Miss Sunshine and Juno, Fox Searchlight Pictures put Waitressinto theaters. Equally compelling and personal (if not more so) than its predecessor and successor, Waitress received little publicity due to the unfortunate murder of its writer/director Adrienne Shelley while completing the project.
The story is simple: Jenna Hunterson (played by Felicity star Keri Russell) is a typical Deep South girl: she got married to Earl (Jeremy Sisto) when she was young and now, a few years later, she’s absolutely miserable. In hopes of having enough money to escape her emotionallyneedy and controlling husband, Jenna starts hiding some of the money she makes working at Joe’s Diner to enter a pie contest, since baking them is her passion and winning would allow her to gain independence.
In a demonstration of Murphy’s Law, however, Jenna finds out she’s pregnant, and Earl finds her hidden money. Stuck again, Jenna has to prepare for a child and a future she doesn’t want. Then she meets her new doctor, the painfully awkward out-of-towner Dr. Pomatter (Nathan Fillion). They form an unlikely friendship and, eventually, an affair.
With a script and performances that read more like real life than any other film I’ve ever seen, Waitress forms a recipe for an interesting, touching movie. Jenna’s waitress friends (Cheryl Hines as Becky and Shelley as Dawn) and her adorably cranky boss (Andy Griffith) add insight, comic relief and dimension to the film.
Morally thought-provoking without being too heavy and overall a bittersweet experience, Shelley’s last film is memorable and definitely worth a watch if you missed it on the big screen.
Per Grazia Ricevuta (Between Miracles)
Director: Nino Manfredi
Release Year: 1971
Anyone familiar with Italian cinema has probably heard of leading man Nino Manfredi, who launched his career in the 1940s and continued to do film until his death in 2004. In 1971, he made his directorial debut with the comedy Per Grazia Ricevuta, which won the Best First Film award at Cannes.
The story begins practically at the end: Benedetto Parisi (played by Manfredi himself) is rushed into a small hospital after a serious injury involving a cliff by the sea. As he drifts in and out of consciousness during surgery, we’re taken back to his childhood, growing up as a mischievous boy in a tiny, deeply Catholic Italian town. The young Benedetto is tricked by his aunt into changing his ways and turns into a pious teenager and young man who eventually moves into the church with intentions to take vows as a priest.
A chance encounter with a woman changes his plans and he’s told to go out and see the world. He does, going on several journeys at once and finding himself, love and friendship, all of which test his faith in a very humorous way.
Aside from the gorgeous picture-postcard Italian settings (the opening scene is a personal favorite), the best part of the film is Manfredi’s performance. As Benedetto, he’s an endearingly childish man, naive and loyal, and the effect of this is both comic and heartbreaking. Still as relevant and amusing as it was 30 years ago, Per Grazia Ricevuta will be enjoyable no matter what your belief system is.
The Squid and The Whale
Director: Noah Baumbach
Release Year: 2005
Describing the overall sentiment of The Squid and the Whale is as easy as repeating its tagline: “Joint custody blows.”
Set in 1980s Brooklyn and based on Baumbach’s experiences, brothers Walt (Jesse Eisenberg) and Frank (Owen Kline) find their lives turned upside down when their intellectual, Ph.D-holding parents Bernard (Jeff Daniels) and Joan (Laura Linney) decide to divorce and split their custody, to the point of taking turns keeping the pet cat.
The older Walt, who’s always aspired to be like his dad, decides the fault resides with his mother, Joan, and her affairs, so he begins to avoid her and starts lying about his songwriting and his homework. Frank hates being forced to play ping-pong to keep his dad, Bernard, company in his new house and is more understanding of his mom, so he often runs away to Joan’s house, where he can drink soda and beer.
In the months that follow, each character tries—and fails—to figure out the reason why things went wrong, gradually finding flaws in each other that make placing blame near impossible. The Squid & The Whale’s main strength is its script, which is full of subtle hints, literary and movie references, and uncomfortably funny moments. It’s the perfect foundation for four excellent performances.
Everyone unravels in their own way, but the breakdowns are pitch-perfect, well-timed and believable. Walt in particular pulls things together, ultimately making the film less about the consequences of divorce and more about the struggle any teen has accepting their parents as fallible yet somehow loveable human beings.