Local cinemas this week

Movie of the week: On Chesil Beach

Ian McEwan’s Booker-nominated short novel was always going to be tough one to bring to the screen, but this adaption by theatre director Dominic Cooke seems to have divided critics.  Maybe its excruciatingly awkward central sex scene made some of them uncomfortable, and well, yeah, it’s supposed to. But please don’t be put off. This certainly isn’t your usual romantic love story, but it is an honest, exquisitely tender and sad one. Besides, the always phenomenal Saoirse Ronan does the nearly impossible – she makes a character, who could so easily have been seen as cold and detached, unbelievably sexy.

She’s Florence, and is called “frigid” by her new husband Edward (Billy Howie, in an equally strong and brave performance) on their disastrous wedding night. Most of the story is framed around that night and its aftermath, with flashbacks to their earlier courtship clearly revealing them to be very much in love, cutting into their stilted conversation and clumsy fumbling in the honeymoon suite of a starchy beachside hotel. The problem here was, as the acerbic John Larkin once wrote in a much-quoted poem, “Sexual intercourse began in 1963.” And sadly for these two, its only 1962 – and a long, long time before the internet made the mechanics of sex explicitly known to every 9-year-old who can type those magic three letters into google. 

Now of course there’s more to this story than just ignorance. People may not have talked much about sex (nowadays we seem to do nothing but), but they did successfully manage it, believe it or not! And even today’s all-so-knowing young couples go through something similar to Florence and Edward’s ordeal. The real key is an ability to communicate, and that’s what missing here. The flashbacks deftly and evocatively sketch those more innocent (some would say stuffy) times, their families, class backgrounds (there are small but significant distinctions) and their characters, all which offer subtle clues as to what could go wrong. And oh boy, does it… This is the sort of movie which had me racing to read the book, and I’ll (perhaps unfairly) reveal that the “money shot” the director does show (discretely, the aftermath anyway) is rather more dramatic on the page. There it’s the sort those inquisitive 9 year-olds will undoubtedly find online, but that’s not the sort of a movie likely to make it into your local art-house. Nor the quite beautiful but heartbreakingly tragic love story, so perceptively and wistfully told here. M from Aug 9. Local cinemas include Palace Norton St, Palace Central, Burwood and Dendy Newtown ★★★★

The Spy Who Dumped Me

There is a pretty funny shaggy dog story somewhere in Susanna Fogel’s action packed gal-pal comedy/adventure, and I did laugh heartedly a few times in first the 30 minutes. Not long after though, probably around the time of the first of several poop jokes (when will US comedy writers get over their poo fixation, are we all supposed to be 4 years-old?), the film’s mechanical plot and the repetitive nature of the co-stars Mila Kunis and Kate McKinnon‘s gags together began to outstay their welcome. They play two early-30s besties whose directionless lives take a sudden turn when supermarket checkout operator Audrey (Kunis) learns that her hunky boyfriend (Justin Theroux) doesn’t make his living making podcasts (does anyone?) but is in fact a globe-trotting CIA agent engaged in a desperate cat-and-mouse game with either international gangsters, terrorists or rival government agents (who knows the difference these days – and really, we’re not supposed to care). But before being (seemingly fatally) shot, he entrusts Audrey with a flash drive, instructing her to hand it over to someone in Austria.

Up for anything, Audrey and her inseparable bestie Drew (McKinnon) hot trot it to Europe – for the usual series of spy-caper action sequences – none outlandish or funny enough to produce much excitement or laughs. The bog-standard car chase starts out ok, with the girls’ Uber driver relishing the chance to drive like Tom Cruise in Mission: Impossible through the streets of old Vienna. “I’ve just taken a shit-load of meth!” he announces as he floors it (so that’s Tom’s secret?). But then, and this is typical of the script’s blasé attitude to violence, he’s casually and brutally shot in the head and shoved out the door. Meanwhile, you’ll never guess in which bodily orifice Audrey has hidden the drive… Yes, you will, of course you will… And that “joke” is so hilarious, it just has to be done twice. Sigh… MA15+ from Aug 9 at Palace Central, Burwood, Rhodes and Dendy Newtown. ★★ 

Also opening this week

Superfly (unpreviewed)

Reviews – Russell Edwards