Movie reviews: Vacation, Paper Towns, Gemma Bovery

THIRTY years after his childhood trip to Walley World in Vacation (1983), Rusty Griswold (Ed Helms) takes a similar Vacation (15A) with his wife Debbie (Christina Applegate) and sons James (Skyler Gisondo) and Kevin (Steele Stebbins). 

Movie reviews: Vacation, Paper Towns, Gemma Bovery

It’s an arduous road-trip of 2,500 miles from Chicago to California, but Rusty is hoping the time spent together in their rented Albanian family car will help his constantly bickering family to bond.

Things go wrong for Rusty very quickly, of course, although the script — the movie is co-written and co-directed by John Francis Daley and Jonathan M Goldstein — offers a rather flat trajectory for the first half-hour, despite a strained in-joke in which Rusty explains how his vacation, compared to his father Clark’s (Chevy Chase) original vacation, will stand on its own two feet.

Gradually, however, this comedy of embarrassment and social ineptness does start to find its own way, as Rusty discovers shocking truths about his ostensibly respectable wife, the Albanian family car becomes a character in its own right, and some neat cameo appearances from Leslie Mann and Chris Hemsworth divert the road-trip away from what seemed at first a fairly predictable itinerary.

Helms is hugely sympathetic in the lead role, even if he is largely reprising his best-known turn as the hapless victim of circumstance in The Hangover movies, Applegate provides very strong support as the long-suffering wife and cynical yin to Rusty’s boundlessly enthusiastic yang, while Gisondo puts in an affecting turn as awkward teenager James.

It’s uneven in pace and tone, but Vacation has just enough laughs to make it worth your while.

Best friends as kids, Margot (Cara Delevingne) and Quentin (Nat Wolff) have grown apart as teenagers when Paper Towns (12A) opens.

Even so, Quentin has always secretly loved Margot; when she disappears one night, Quentin enlists his friends Ben (Austin Abrams) and Radar (Justice Smith) to decipher the clues Margot left behind, clues Quentin believes will lead him to Margot — and possibly true love — if only he can read the runes correctly.

Directed by Jake Schreier from an adaptation of John Green’s best-selling YA novel, Paper Towns is a rather whimsical affair (“Margot loved mysteries so much she became one,” Quentin tells us) that doesn’t really deliver on a strong opening, a vibrant sequence in which Quentin helps Margot to take her revenge on those high school peers who have betrayed her.

Wolff steals the show with a performance that nails the essence of the teenage boy — he’s a smart kid goofily deranged by hormonal overload — but too much of the story’s credibility rests on Margot’s scarcely believable mythology: she’s the high school beauty, queen of the popular clique, but also an icy-cold loner and avid reader of Walt Whitman who listens to Woody Guthrie.

The struggle to accommodate these conflicting character traits gives Delevingne’s performance something of a distancing effect, which in turn leaves us wondering why Quentin is so enamoured with her that he’ll take off on a wild goose-chase road-trip to track her down (hint: hormones).

As charming as it is in places, Paper Towns has little of the emotional heft of the most recent John Green adaptation, last year’s The Fault in Our Stars.

Gemma Arterton stars as the eponymous heroine of Gemma Bovery (15A), a London woman who has relocated to Normandy with her husband, Charlie (Jason Flemyng).

Her neighbour, local baker Martin (Fabrice Luchini), is obsessed with Gustave Flaubert’s Madame Bovary; soon Martin is both anticipating a tragic ending for Gemma, and manipulating events to direct Gemma towards her literary denouement.

Anne Fontaine’s adaptation of Posy Simmonds’ novel is a sensual delight, both in the way Gemma and Charlie sink into their new life in Normandy and also the accretion of physical nuance in prosaic activities — the scene where Martin teaches Gemma to bake bread, for example, fairly crackles with sublimated eroticism.

But while Gemma and Martin’s life in Normandy might be rustic, Fontaine resists the temptation to make it idyllic: plagued by cold and damp, mice and rising debts, Gemma succumbs to an affair with young landowner Hervé, sowing the seeds of her tragedy.

Arterton is radiant in the lead role, even though the part, harking back to Emma Bovary, requires her to play Gemma as inscrutable and essentially unknowable, Fate’s plaything at the mercy of Flaubert’s original story.

Indeed, Arterton is so dazzling it’s easy to overlook Luchini’s haunting, tragicomic turn as the obsessed middle-aged man who is so profoundly moved by Gemma/Emma he becomes Fate’s unwitting agent.

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