Love, Simon

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In years past, representation of anything non-hetero in television and film has been pretty dismal. Of course, there are exceptions to that statement — Blue is the Warmest Colour, Milk, Moonlight — but for the most part, on-screen homosexuality isn’t typically captured or portrayed in a way that represents real life.

This is problematic for a profusion of reasons.

A lot of people realize their own sexual awakenings from a steamy scene on their favorite show. For me personally, I remember watching a K.D. Lang music video and having attraction to another person who was ALSO a female for the first time. Years later, I had a crush on Kyle MacLachlan.

If you know what both of these people look like, you’re probably drawing a line from point A to point B that isn’t quite straight, but definitely makes sense.

Right around that time, somewhere in the 90s, MacLachlan played Lang on Saturday Night Live and my life came full circle.

This digressed farther than I meant it to.

Simon Spier (Nick Robinson) is, as he will tell you, a pretty happy teen. His dad, Jack (Josh Duhamel) was the high school quarterback and married the “hot valedictorian”, Emily (Jennifer Garner). He has a sister he actually likes, Nora (Talitha Bateman), who spends her days cooking and baking in the family’s fabulous granite countertop kitchen.

When he’s not at home in his impossibly cool bedroom that is literally covered in stickers and posters that represent his extensive love of music that a 17-year-old in 2018 wouldn’t probably know about, Simon spends time with his BFFs, Leah, Abby, and Nick (Katherine Langford, Alexandra Shipp, and Jorge Lendeborg Jr., respectively).

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He’s in drama, loves iced coffee, and is practically connected via IV to his phone — like any other teenager.

But, as he’ll tell you himself, he’s got one huge ass secret. Thinking he’s the only one feeling this way, Simon is surprised when another student at school posts to an anonymous message board about being gay and not knowing what to do about it.

Simon takes it upon himself to reach out to his classmate to relate and the two wind up finding a safe space inside the anonymity bubble of the internet. Unfortunately, nothing gold can stay, and these intimate emails fall into the wrong hands.

Simon will have to potentially compromise his sacred friendships to keep his secret safe.

But why? Why would someone have to keep from their loved ones a detail of paramount importance to who they are?

Because the world is full of evil.

Simon suggests the idea that straight is the default and wonders why straight kids don’t have to come out to their parents as well. It’s worth taking a moment to truly consider that.

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The message this movie sends across is that we should be able to love who we love and be who we are. I was there for it, too. I am 1000% on board with love is love. Love, Simon is charming, heartfelt, and quite well-written.

It was not lost on me that there was a montage set to “I Wanna Dance with Somebody (Who Loves Me)” by Whitney Houston featuring Jennifer Garner’s movie son. If you’ll recall, Garner had her own colorful montage set to that very song in 13 Going On 30. Yes, I remember that well. And daily.

I’m saying all of this because — while I enjoyed Love, Simon very much — I couldn’t help but think about the fact that real coming out stories don’t often follow the same path as this one. I know plenty of people who’ve come out to families who no longer speak to them.

Love, Simon paints a picture of an idyllic family in this sort of utopia where the family is happy all the time and everything is beautiful. The kids at school all get along and there’s a cheeky Vice Principal (Tony Hale) who doesn’t quite get the kids but tries way too hard and it’s comedic relief in all the right places.

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I’m not trying to rain on this movie’s parade at all. I thoroughly enjoyed myself — to the point of tears. However, I do worry that kids who are struggling with their own identities might see this film and gain the hope that their stories might play out the way this one does.

Most of them won’t. It’s a travesty, but it’s the reality of the situation. This movie is an escape from the world. Which is exactly what movies are supposed to be sometimes. Maybe someday, everyone who tells the world who they really are will be celebrated and a rainbow will appear out of nowhere and a fun 80s song will play while two people of the same sex kiss to the cheers of a crowd.

For now, we’ve got a movie that wants to lead us in that direction and has its heart in the right place. It’s a pure delight in a time shrouded in abysmal grey fog. Love, Simon hits theaters this weekend. See it and then check out the equally playful and sweet soundtrack (available on Spotify) for some extra good vibes!

Love, Katie.

A Wrinkle in Time

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I wanna say that I was assigned to read this book in maybe fourth or fifth grade. Whenever it was, after seeing this movie, I can tell you that my underdeveloped brain couldn’t possibly have grasped the gravity of it.

This is a heavy story that — while fascinating — was difficult for me as an adult.

Truth be told, I probably didn’t read the book and guessed my way through the test. Please, no one tell Oprah.

Meg (Storm Reid) and her little brother, Charles Wallace (Deric McCabe), live with their mother, Kate (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) who is a doctor of the sciences. Ever since the mysterious disappearance of their astrophysicist father, Alex (Chris Pine) 4 years prior, Meg and Charles Wallace now face the fallout of such a odd event.

Meg, feeling lost and unsure of herself, faces bullying from her classmates — because children are monsters — and doesn’t seem to find any solace at home, either. In attempting to keep her father’s memory alive, Meg argues with her mother. That’s a lot of turmoil for a little girl to have on her shoulders.

Fortunately, Charles Wallace has some plans in the works that are going to change everything.

When a boy from school — Calvin (Levi Miller) — arrives to visit Meg one day, Charles Wallace has some visitors as well; three astral goddesses.

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Mrs. Whatsit (Reese Witherspoon) is the first to make contact with little Charles W. next is Mrs. Who (Mindy Kaling), who can only speak in quotes. Finally, Mrs. Which (Oprah Winfrey) who appears to be the ringleader.

Mrs. Which alleviates some of Megs bewilderment by explaining that they heard a call for their father and the three are here now to help locate him. To do this, they’ll be tessering AKA traveling through time.

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Meg remains wildly skeptical, but grows hopeful with each strange new interaction. Before the end, Meg, Charles Wallace, and Calvin will face challenges greater than any they’ve overcome before. Treacherous and mischievous, their journey is frightening and sometimes feels insurmountable.

The story showcases the power of the human will and the strength we can summon in our darkest places.

That said, the film itself unfortunately falls a bit flat. Ava DuVernay has indeed done something remarkable with this movie, but I’m afraid the writing just wasn’t as solid as it could have been.

The take home message of Wrinkle is a promising one; simply, be kind. With all of the ugliness that exists, a single selfless gesture could change the course of someone’s day, maybe even their life.

I wish that writer Jennifer Lee had embraced a bit more humor, but she did give Meg a tangibly relatable quality that’s going to be easy for young people to grab and hold on to.

Carrying a good message for the youths, this movie had a hard time holding my attention, so I have to imagine it might be even more difficult to engage children.

Red Sparrow

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The first time I saw Jennifer Lawrence, she was sawing off an arm in Winter’s Bone, giving me fodder for my “now TWO of this year’s Best Picture nominees involve amputation” joke.

James Franco’s character removed his own arm in 127 Hours. Then there was the scene in Winter’s Bone. They were both nominated for Best Picture. I guess it was more of an observation than a joke.

Anyway.

We’ve since seen her take on a multitude of various roles, one of which earned her an Oscar. There is no question that Jennifer Lawrence has killer chops. I see in her the likes of Natalie Portman, Michelle Pfeiffer, and Sally Field. With just a touch of Jack Nicholson.

Lawrence can be dropped into any film and increase its value by being there.

Passengers was a remarkably sub par film that I was able to endure because of her prowess.

Mother! — one of the most polarizing films of the last decade — was enriched by her on-screen magic.

And now, Red Sparrow, a film that promises intrigue and espionage and delivers next to nothing, is saved merely by her presence.

When Prima Ballerina Dominika Egorova’s (Lawrence) dance career is cut short, her life is turned upside down in short order. To care for her ailing mother, Dominika takes on a sort of assignment from her Uncle (Matthias Schoenaerts) who promises that she’ll get everything she needs upon completion of this task.

Dominika is sent off to Sparrow School wherein she will learn the ability to manipulate people using her body. Dominika takes on various identities while attempting to get close to CIA agent, Nate Nash (Joel Edgerton). When she learns that Nate spends his afternoons at the pool swimming laps, Dominika decides to catch his eye by dying her hair.

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Ladies and gentlemen, the movies often ask us to suspend our disbelief. That said, watching her character — who has long, chocolate locks — walks into a drug store and picks up one box of blonde hair dye.

One box.

Even if she’d purchased eight boxes, you don’t go from dark brown to blonde from a box.

THEN.

Then, she goes to the pool with her newly natural-looking lighter shade and dives into a chlorinated pool. In real life, her freshly colored tresses would have turned GREEN.

I had several problems with Red Sparrow, but that one was at the top of the list. One of the greatest struggles Sparrow faces is its quest to be a forward-thinking masterpiece in regard to the empowerment of women. Lawrence’s lead is a very strong woman, indeed. The film falls flat, however, in attempting to follow too many plot lines.

I’m also not on board with the fact that our “leading lady” is to be the hero — in a way — but Nate the white American sort of steals her thunder. But isn’t that just the way of the world?

The film is flawed at best, but Lawrence performs brilliantly, giving us a sort of light at the end of the tunnel.

I normally would never post any kind of spoiler in a review of a film, but I would be remiss to omit the detail that there is a rather jarring sexual assault scene in this movie.

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For director Francis Lawrence — no relation to Jennifer — this film appears to be new territory as his previous projects were the Hunger Games films, Water for Elephants, and music videos featuring Beyoncé, Lady Gaga, and Britney Spears. Perhaps the film’s lesson in letting go might apply to him, as well.