Along for the Ride ***
Sony Pictures Classics
Jim Broadbent in The Duke
Formulaic fare feels a lot less formulaic when there’s a spark to the performances, and writer/director Sofia Alvarez packs a surprising punch in her adaptation of Sarah Dessen’s 2009 YA novel simply by putting together a terrific young cast. Emma Pasarow plays Auden West, a straight-arrow high achiever who decides to spend the summer between high-school graduation and college in the beachside community of Colby staying with her father (Dermot Mulroney) and working in the shop owned by her stepmother (Kate Bosworth). There she meets Eli (Belmont Cameli), a bike-riding loner with tragedy in his past. Romance blossoms, naturally, but the focus isn’t entirely on the chemistry between the two leads, as charming as they are. It’s also about the blossoming friendship between Auden and her three co-workers (Laura Kariuki, Genevieve Hannelius and Samia Finnerty), who initially seem like they could be the story’s antagonistic “mean girls,” but show themselves to be more through charismatic performances. Naturally there are important lessons to be learned in a way that’s almost too gentle, and Mulroney is a bit of a blank as the self-absorbed dad. But as “everything changed that one summer” tales go, this one has enough of a sense of place—and personality—to make it feel distinctive. Available May 6 via Netflix.
Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness ***
See feature review
. Available May 6 in theaters.
The Duke **1/2
There’s a certain type of movie that I’ve long thought of as “three-generation movies”—the kind of generally charming but inoffensive fare that you could sit down to watch with your parents and grandparents without anyone getting too worked up about it. Notwithstanding a quick moment of sexuality and a few f-bombs, this fact-based dramedy fits the bill. In 1961 England, progressive-minded Newcastle cabbie Kempton Bunton (Jim Broadbent) raises the occasional ruckus over issues like paid licenses required to operate a television, much to the consternation of his pragmatic wife, Dorothy (Helen Mirren). When the National Gallery purchase a Goya portrait of the Duke of Wellington for a cost Kempton believes should go for social causes, the painting finds its way into his hands to hold hostage. Director Roger Michell keeps up a lively pace as he bounces between the Bunton household and the investigation into the theft, all leading up to a trial that’s teased in the film’s prologue. And it’s all generally engaging stuff, particularly with Broadbent in fine form as the working-class activist and Mirren as his exasperated foil. There’s just not much meat on its bones, either as character drama or social commentary, and the courtroom finale—however true to life it might be—is crowd-pleasing silliness. Then again, that’s exactly what might keep all generations of the family happy. Available May 6 in theaters.
Petite Maman ***
The fanciful conceit at the heart of writer/director Céline Sciamma’s drama is so perfect that it’s a little bit heartbreaking to find that it doesn’t quite achieve an emotional gut-punch. In the wake of the death of her grandmother, 8-year-old Nelly (Joséphine Sanz) accompanies her mother (Nina Meurisse) to clear out her rural childhood home. While playing in the woods, Nelly encounters another 8-year-old girl, Marion (Gabrielle Sanz)—who happens to be Nelly’s own mother as a child. Sciamma’s script shows a true understanding of how a child might wrestle with their first encounter with mortality, and a fascination both with adult life—as the girls perform a play together—and the notion of what their parents were like before they were parents. Yet while the tight 72-minute running time allows the narrative to unfold more like a short story, there’s still just a bit of character-building missing, even allowing for Nelly’s child’s-eye-view. More frustrating is the fact that while the two young actors are charming when at play, they can’t quite sell the moments when the girls are supposed to be dealing with fears and confusion. The result is something that offers insight, but insight that remains mostly abstract, rather than intensely personal. Available May 6 at Broadway Centre Cinemas.