Saturday, November 14, 2015

'Suffragette' crashes on rocks of Oscar season, while 'Peanuts' dares to be different by staying the same

Not all movies that dare to land in the thick of awards season land on their feet. Word had been getting around for a few weeks before now that Sarah Gavron's well-meaning Suffragette just doesn't have the goods, and I have to sadly agree. It's unfortunate that in a year that features so many female-driven films contending in the awards race, that this one -- which was also written and directed by women -- should become such a visible casualty.
But it is what it is. The film just isn't very good. The subject matter it tackles is noble (at times unflinchingly brutal), but importance is not equal to quality.

Gavron shoots in an agitated handheld style that only work in certain scenes, but becomes grating -- occasionally downright confusing -- in all other instances. It clocks in at less than 2 hours, but feels much longer than that. The screenplay provides little insight into its characters, forcing the actors to do heavier lifting.

Carey Mulligan may salvage a Best Actress nomination from it all (and Brendan Gleeson deserves at least a good hard look in the Supporting Actor category), but they're the only saving graces of this poorly executed snooze-fest. The confluence of bad reviews, bad word-of-mouth, and the movie being a tough enough sell as it is will probably kill any other Oscar chances it may have had.

For me, the perfect tonic for that disappointment was to be found in less serious, but more deftly handled fare. The Peanuts Movie turned out to be exactly the sort of movie I hoped it would be; Modest but utterly disarming, speaking to kids at their own level but never immaturely so. Just a cursory glance at the tot-targeted trailers (and Scrat short) that play before hand serves to remind us how rare and precious kid flicks that don't lean entirely on the low-brow can be.
Reviews have been kind if hardly ecstatic, but I think it's easy to underestimate the challenge of adapting Charles Schultz's three-panel nuggets of existentialism into a fleet family film. It flows gracefully from vignette to vignette, which tie together the most threadbare of plot lines in under an hour-and-a-half. Its optimistic message, however plainly summarized it is in the end, is a valuable one for youngsters, and is faithful to the underlying philosophy of the beloved comic strip.

In fact, besides the skillful transposing of Schultz's illustrative style to 3D computer renderings (another challenge for the filmmakers that's easy for us to overlook), The Peanuts Movie resolutely adheres to the characterizations and narrative style of every previous Peanuts animation in the canon, several of which are referenced in sly sight gags and one-liners. If any of those classics ever charmed you, it'll be hard not to be charmed by this one as well.

As for new young audiences, it's something of a risky approach for Blue Sky to go so old-fashioned, but the film is better off for it. After over a decade in the feature animation game, this comfortably stands as the studio's finest effort.

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