Chloe Grace Moretz in Shadow in the Cloud
The title serves an effective dual meaning—an Irish idiom referring to someone else if they seem to be getting a little big for their britches, and a sense of being on your own—in this earnest drama from director Phyllida Lloyd and co-writer/star Clare Dunne. Dunne plays Sandra Kelly, a Dublin woman who leaves her abusive husband, Gary (Ian Lloyd Anderson), with her two daughters, then sets out to build them a DIY house in the backyard plot of her employer. The narrative is diligent about conveying Sandra’s wearying routine of working two jobs, trying to care for her kids and navigating the bureaucracy that will maintain her housing allowance, as well as the PTSD that rattles her every time she has to interact with Gary. But despite a lot of difficult subject matter, there’s a brightness to the way Herself celebrates the creation of a makeshift family of friends and volunteers who help Sandra with her home-building project. It is perhaps inevitable that part of the climax would involve courtroom drama emphasizing The System, and a bit of speechifying. Along the way, however, it’s a well-acted and solidly-constructed profile in both doing it yourself, and how much you need not to be doing it yourself. Available in theaters Dec. 30; Jan. 8 via Amazon Prime.
Pieces of a Woman **
Director Kornél Mundruzcó and screenwriter Kata Wéber drew from their own real-life tragedy to inspire this melodrama, but that doesn’t mean the result isn’t more strident than touching. Martha (Vanessa Kirby) and Sean (Shia LaBeouf) are a Boston couple planning a home birth for their first child, only to face an unimaginable loss when the baby dies shortly after it’s born. Mundruzcó sets the tone with an effective 20-plus-minute “single take” of the labor and birth, which then feels less special and more like an affectation when he pulls out the same trick for an awkward dinner party. And throughout the film, the cracks keep showing: Kirby’s performance leaning into mute stares, leaving LaBeouf to pick up the slack going overboard as Sean lapses from sobriety; aggressive interference from Martha’s mother (Ellen Burstyn), who by the way is beginning to experience dementia symptoms; a courtroom scene that goes for an eye-rolling “this is irregular but I’ll allow it" moment. Too little feels authentic, whether in Martha never once wrestling with a sense of guilt, or in the relationships between the characters. There’s no one “right” way to process grief, but Pieces of a Woman shows the wrong way to make that process feel real. Available in theaters Dec. 30; Jan. 7 via Netflix.
Shadow in the Cloud ***
I have no idea what was in the original version of this script by the very problematic Max Landis, but by the time director Roseanne Liang was done with it, it had become a kind of irresistible mix of genre preposterousness and strangely effective allegory for surviving domestic violence. Set in 1943, it places a woman named Maude (Chloe Grace Moretz) aboard a B-17 bomber, tasked with carrying a mysterious package, while a mysterious gremlin begins wreaking havoc on the plane. Structurally, the movie’s an odd creation, with nearly the entire first half consisting Moretz in the plane’s belly turret playing solo against radio voices, followed by a climax full of apeshit crazy action sequences. But it’s strange to see all the wild pieces of this plot mostly come together for a story built around the idea of gaslighting, and of an abused woman forced to resort to extreme measures to protect herself and her family. Yes, it tries to pack a lot of stuff into just 80 minutes, and the John Carpenter-by-way-of-Stranger Things
synthesizer score grows wearying. Your mileage may vary as to whether it ends up feeling oddly cathartic to see Moretz punching a metaphorically-loaded winged monster in its bat face. Available Jan. 1 in theaters and via SLFSatHome.org.