Movie reviews: Life, Missing You Already, Older Than Ireland

Life (15A) opens in 1955, with Nick Ray’s East of Eden about to be released on an unsuspecting public and James Dean (Dane DeHaan) just another Hollywood unknown. 

 

Frustrated by commissions of red carpet roll-calls, and believing that Dean is much more than just a pretty face, freelance photographer Dennis Stock (Robert Pattinson) pitches the idea of a photo-essay.

The subsequent Life magazine spread — and particularly those shots of Dean huddled into his overcoat in Times Square — became iconic, but Anton Corbijn’s film is concerned with how difficult the shoot proved, not least because the publicity-shy Dean was a rebel without a cause long before he stepped into the role of Jim Stark.

Given Corbijn’s status as a photographer, it’s no surprise to discover that this film is as beautifully composed as the lives of its protagonists are in disarray — both Dean and Stock are at something of a professional crossroads, and struggling to make the necessary sacrifices that will move them on to the next level.

Pattinson is a brooding, bristling presence at the heart of the story, juggling admiration for Dean’s talents with envy at his impending success, but DeHaan steals the show with a touching, layered portrayal of the mercurial star a troubled soul seeking truth through his art who finds himself at the mercy of a corporate machine concerned only with maximising profits.

There isn’t a huge amount of narrative drive, it’s true — the boys bicker, smoke, shoot photos and take a road-trip to Indiana — but if the film was conceived by Corbijn as a cinematic equivalent of a classic photo-essay, then he has pulled it off with some style.

Missing You Already (15A) centres on Milly (Toni Collette) and Jess (Drew Barrymore), friends since childhood even if they are polar opposites — Milly is high-maintenance and entirely self-centred, whilst Jess can always be relied upon to pick up the pieces whenever Milly’s life self-destructs.

When Milly is diagnosed with breast cancer, however, Jess can’t provide the necessary support: Jess has, after years of heartbreaking effort, finally become pregnant. 

Catherine Hardwicke’s film, from Morwenna Banks’ screenplay, provides Collette and Barrymore with roles of real depth and breadth, and both thrive — Collette, particularly, visibly revels in amplifying Milly’s excesses as she becomes ‘a cancer bully’, and makes no attempt to cookie-cut Milly into the kind of socially conventional mother, wife and friend we tend to see on the big screen.

Barrymore, in the quieter role, is given rather more of a burden to carry, given that gentle, thoughtful Jess is for the most part too good to be true, although her enduring self-effacement gives her eventual explosion all the more zest when it finally occurs. 

The story is a little too long — there’s a self-indulgently prolonged detour to the Yorkshire moors as the women pursue a lifelong obsession with Heathcliff — and the emotional impact might have been more pronounced had Banks and Hardwicke focused on either of Milly’s or Jess’s tragedies rather than trying to braid the two. 

For the most part, however, Missing You Already is a funny and poignant tale of how two ordinary women cope when they find themselves in extraordinary circumstances.

Older Than Ireland (PG) is a charming documentary, directed by Alex Fegan, that sounds rather simple in theory: point a camera at Ireland’s centenarians and ask about their memories of their schooldays, their first kiss, the Civil War, emigration, their spouses, and so forth.

What transpires, however, is nowhere as simple as might be expected: the range and breadth of the memories and opinions evoked by straightforward questions creates a fascinating mosaic of Ireland over the last century (we get a first-hand account of what it’s like to have a gun pointed at you by the Black and Tans, for example, while one woman’s father was the British officer who took the surrender from the Irish rebels in 1916).

Funny and heart-rending, the answers are as often irreverent given that the interviewees no longer have any great need to impress their families, peers or even God — and if you’re any kind of prude, you ask 113-year-old Kathleen Snavely the secret to her longevity at your peril.

Indeed, the responses to the run-of-the-mill questions are so varied that it’s virtually impossible to derive any real pattern when they’re viewed as a whole, but over the course of this fascinating film two things do emerge. 

Firstly, the extent to which Ireland has changed, for good and ill; and secondly, that we need to start listening to our older generations, and listening now.


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