Disobedience (2018)

   Director: Sebastián Lelio With: Rachel Weisz, Rachel McAdams, Alessandro Nivola, Anton Lesser, Allan Corduner, & Nicholas Woodeson.  Release: Apr 27, 2018 R. 1 hr. 54 min. 

Director: Sebastián Lelio
With: Rachel Weisz, Rachel McAdams, Alessandro Nivola, Anton Lesser, Allan Corduner, & Nicholas Woodeson. 
Release: Apr 27, 2018
R. 1 hr. 54 min. 

2_4 stars.png
 

One of the bad things about being a movie lover who resides in a southern city is the lack of movies that come my way; sometimes it can take a few extra months before I can see and study a film that everyone else is raving about. Sebastián Lelio’s “Disobedience” is a film that was one of great anticipation for myself, as a fan of his last film, the Oscar-winning “Fantastic Woman.” The recipient of best foreign language film, “Fantastic Woman” was a provocative and visually stunning entree to the year of 2017, and “Disobedience” is a so-so follow-up. 

His first English-language story, based on Naomi Alderman's novel,  “Disobedience” centers around Ronit Krushka (Rachel Weisz), a New York-based photographer, and the daughter of a recently deceased rabbi who breathed his last breath during his last sermon. As a denounced daughter of the Rabbi, Ronit (Rachel Weisz) was someone who found herself as a stranger returning home to a community that doesn’t share the same individuality she does. She sees old faces, faces that immediately begin to judge her lack of fulfillment as someone unmarried, unproud of her Jewish heritage, and unconforming to a lifestyle that she abandoned. 

The question remains though, why did she leave the community? The answer comes to fruition when we begin to see her interact with her ex-best friend Dovid (Alessandro Nivola), who was dubbed as the spiritual son of her father. He was the boy groomed for the divine throne left by this infamous Rabbi, and someone who was recently married. Ronit (Rachel Weisz) picks on her step-brother for marrying a Jewish woman until she learns the identity of this mystery wife, Esti (Rachel McAdams), who shares an intimate history with Ronit (Rachel Weisz). 

As a woman forced to become someone that she’s not, Esti (Rachel McAdams) seems deeply saddened, pretending to fit in with the community she was born into, ashamed of her sexuality. Reminiscent of Xavier Dolan’s “It's Only the End of the World,” the film begins to divulge into an examination of the inherent intolerance of religion. It’s something up for discussion, as when you have the belief that no other worldview is right other than yours, it tends to produce barriers. 

The barriers constructed by Sebastián Lelio and his co-writer Rebecca Lenkiewicz never attempt to paint a single individual as an antagonist, the film frames society, and even more so religion as the one at fault, not the followers themselves. It’s a refreshing framing of an imprisoned love story that would point the finger at the man or the pastor, instead, “Disobedience” strays away from expectations and provides a tale that, like “Call Me By Your Name,” blends it's melancholy with an unidentifiable villain. Unlike Luca’s masterpiece though, “Disobedience” doesn’t provide a reveling experience as much as it does a dramatic trial of two women’s silenced affair. 

You would expect Lelio and Lenkiewicz’s story to narrow in upon the affair, or the woman who’s risking everything to feel whole again, feeling young again, as The Cure’s “Lovesong” suggests, but the film centers itself around Ronit (Rachel Weisz) who becomes more of an observer than a character. Watching these events take place before, growing quieter and quieter as they continue, never speaking out against them, rarely giving us time with Esti (Rachel McAdams). She’s someone shackled by a community, a husband, a faith that refuses to see her as who she is, more as a surrogate for children. Why that emotional struggle doesn't become the focus still seems perplexing. 

Lelio and Lenkiewicz narrative is one absent of that emotional heft because of that choice of fixation I think; it was needed to make this movie something more than an essential examination of the tribulations that LGBTQ members still face in both religious communities and society in general. That’s not to say the film doesn’t provide anything worth investing though; it can become enraging to watch a group belittling others for a difference of viewpoints or a husband forcing his wife to be someone she’s not. Watching her deal with the process is disconcerting and resonating, seeming as if she’s become divorced from her individuality, with only Ronit (Rachel Weisz) being able to remind her of who she once was. 

The performances are essential in making this story work, and Rachel Weisz and Rachel McAdams are well aware of that fact, never straying away from the challenge. The story doesn’t lay everything out for us, so those first moments of interaction have to feel organic and natural as if these two women are no strangers to one another. McAdams and Weisz achieve that level of chemistry in a multitude of ways, hefting a duo of performances that ache the heart as much as they uplift it. Two women standing together in confidence is something special to watch, but Alessandro Nivola is no slouch either. Depicting the husband and Rabbi successor, Alessandro Nivola is subdued near the beginning of the film but slowly begins to pack on the layers of emotion, leading to a speech near the end of the film that serves as one of it's best moments. 

The colors and framing of this film is subdued as well, cinematographer Danny Cohen furnishes a bleak and dour look to the film. Filled with greys, storm clouds, dim-lighting, and low contrasting visuality that seems in the vein of a black and white photo, something lacking the same punch of energy needed to make the screenwriting feel more than adequate. 

Maybe it should have gone further than just examining this story like an observer; perhaps it should've provided more interaction between the women, it needed more of something. Maybe the story centered around the wrong person as I suggested, maybe it was something else. Regardless of whichever side of the coin I decide to land on, it's a film that suffers because of that vacancy of emotional heft, never branching off as more than a quiet rebellion of everyday circumstances produced by such behavior. Perhaps it should have been more daring, more risky, more outright with its individuality. Maybe it was silenced by its religious undertones. 

“Disobedience” is Sebastián Lelio’s third feature film in a row to discuss the hardships of womanhood. The lack of voice, the lack of identity, the lack of notice given to them. He’s become somewhat of a moral authority as a filmmaker, why does he stray away here? 

I can’t say that “Disobedience” was worth the wait, there is something here worth watching, something special, I just feel that most of it was left unsaid. Next time, shout it out. 

Set It Up (2018)

   Director: Claire Scanlon  With: Zoey Deutch, Glen Powell, Lucy Liu, Taye Diggs, Pete Davidson, Meredith Hagner, Jon Rudnitsky, & Tituss Burgess.  Release: Jun 15, 2018 TV-14. 1 hr. 45 min.

Director: Claire Scanlon
With: Zoey Deutch, Glen Powell, Lucy Liu, Taye Diggs, Pete Davidson, Meredith Hagner, Jon Rudnitsky, & Tituss Burgess. 
Release: Jun 15, 2018
TV-14. 1 hr. 45 min.

 

Romantic comedies are a hit and miss kind of genre, either they suffer from a multitude of cliches or they have such a unique voice that these films stand out with a fragrance of seamless rewatchability. Claire Scanlon’s “Set It Up” is a film that falls somewhere in the middle, but it definitely favors the latter. It’s a female written and directed film that seems to handle this genre with flair and charisma that seems to stray away from this genre. 

Taking place in the upper echelon of New York city, “Set It Up,” written by Katie Silberman, introduces us to the crappy job of assisting someone who holds the keys to your future, specifically two assistants. Harper (Zoey Deutch) who assists to a big-time sports journalist, Kirsten (Lucy Lou), and she’s an aspiring writer who spends her hours supporting and slaving away for this boss woman, while simultaneously forgetting actually to write something. 

Her co-star, Charlie (Glen Powell), is a helper for a big-time business mogul, Rick (Taye Diggs), and he wants to get that big promotion so he can afford those expensive seats that he usually saves for his boss. After a night in which these two aides struggle to agree on how to satisfy their bosses appetites, they come together and begin to share each other's struggles. Participating in this therapeutic exchange of the frustrations they feel for slaving away for two people who seem to care less whether they are happy or sad or anything other than on-time and quiet. 

They soon hatch up this plan to force these two to begin dating and getting it on, so that they can start to get a little time to themselves. Harper (Zoey Deutch) takes this time to try and kindle and mingle with other singles, and Charle (Glen Powell) decides to begin hanging out more with his model girlfriend, Suze (Joan Smalls). His gay roommate, depicted by SNL’s Pete Davidson, clearly sees this lack of self-confidence and identity that Charlie (Glen Powell) has, and it becomes a pivotal character arc for this man. 

Harper (Zoey Deutch) is in the same pickle of having that same lack of belief to become a writer, which as someone who shares that struggle of writer’s block, I get that anxiety of not feeling good enough. Continually stressing about re-writes and trying new writing styles so if someone looking to hire writers reads my work, they might decide to give me some money for it. 

These two people begin to discover the relationship their constructing is not as palpable as the one manifesting before them, and then the film provides those cliche lines for love and yadda yadda yadda. We’ve seen these tropes and plot structures before, and Katie Silberman seems to have forgotten this. She has provided a relative amount of nuance and unique voice to a film that soon turns into the stereotypical romantic comedy that we’ve seen more than a thousand times. I guess these things still have to be here so that we know that we’re watching a romantic comedy, but it also feels as if she’s sacrificing footing for a killing stroke in a way. 

Delivering a screenplay that still fits in the tight little check boxes of the genre, but also shares her voice. You can hear that tone of someone writing what they mean, from the standpoint of sharing what they believe. Painting a diverse cast that is usually predominantly white and straight like that of “The Proposal,” “The Devil Wears Prada,” “Forgetting Sarah Marshall,” “Love Actually,” and I could go on. 

“Set It Up” is not one of those films, introducing a proud gay character that provides the movies best jokes, and two bosses that are diverse as well. One of whom is an independent, strong, and confident woman and the other is a successful black man that stands in a position of power. It’s subliminally executed though, never noticing it until someone else points it out or until you begin to read someone else's review, like I did, before writing this one. Visually, Claire Scanlon’s direction doesn’t stand out in that area, rarely being more than a carry and film kind of situation. She does provide that upbeat, hipsterish, New York city style that delivers that authenticity that blends in with the realistically diverse depiction of a metropolitan area. 

The film doesn’t deliver much more than that though, a film that has a lot of surprising uses of foul language, gender influenced debates and a considerable amount of witty dialogue. The two stars share remarkable chemistry and provide some great banter between each other that feels palpable and believable. Seeing them interact with two diverse higher-ups such as a Chinese-American woman and an African American male, knowing they struggled for their earnings and opportunity, just as much as these two white assistants. 

It’s a film that paints a diverse picture, uses that picture to formulate a few subliminal socio-political comments, but never actually delivers anything worth mentioning. It’s a film that cuts off the crust of its bread, fearing to offend instead of standing their ground, Katie Silberman and Claire Scanlon provides a film that is surprisingly better than most but never takes that final step to make something worth taking notice. It’s like a teenager being afraid to speak up about something they know to be true; you just have to breathe and embrace the anxiety. 

We watch Harper (Zoey Deutch) deal with a similar problem; she's advised to write something awful to correct and tinker over to make it great, the same logic could be applied to the screenplay from Katie Silberman. You have to write that script that takes off a bit more than it can chew so that you can learn how to deliver your message properly. Silberman is almost there, but she needs to embrace that rebellious side that she displays so passionately in this authentically colored romcom. 

Hearts Beat Loud (2018)

   Director: Brett Haley  With: Nick Offerman, Kiersey Clemons, Ted Danson, Sasha Lane, Blythe Danner, & Toni Collette. Release: Jun 8, 2018 PG-13. 1 hr. 37 min.

Director: Brett Haley
With: Nick Offerman, Kiersey Clemons, Ted Danson, Sasha Lane, Blythe Danner, & Toni Collette.
Release: Jun 8, 2018
PG-13. 1 hr. 37 min.

 

In the midst of watching Brett Haley’s (“The Hero” & “I’ll See You in My Dreams”) “Hearts Beat Loud,” I began to take note of the film’s modesty. It never introduces or takes a stance on some sort of social commentary or political discourse, which is remarkably refreshing. While I enjoy a filmmaker standing by his beliefs and embracing that controversial edge of social topics, it’s nice to see a movie that allows us to relax and enjoy a film that charms with pure charisma. 

It never stops to take a stance on anything, which is something it could’ve done with that of its star being in a same-sex relationship with a girl named Rose (Sasha Lane). The film could’ve stopped to defend that relationship, which wouldn’t have bothered me, obviously, but it would have been entirely unnecessary. The story doesn’t need that added bit of socio-political debate; in fact, it feels so natural to the story that it never feels as if it's being argued for, just merely occurring within our narrative. 

Written by Brett Haley and Marc Basch, “Hearts Beat Loud” focuses on a relationship between a father and daughter. Specifically, that much-awaited moment when the young one goes off to college and the dad has to learn how to live without her being home; the whole situation is even harder when discovering the mom passed away in a cyclist accident twelve years before our story occurs. 

Residing in the hipsterish village of Red Hook in Brooklyn, Frank (Nick Offerman) is a records shop owner, selling vinyl and chatting up music geekdom with customers. His daughter, Sam (Kiersey Clemons), is a pre-med student at a community college preparing to attend another round of pre-med at UCLA. 

The only problem is that she inherited that gene of singing from her mother, who met her father in a band. After one jamming session after a long hard day in which Frank (Nick Offerman) reveals to his landlord, Leslie (Toni Collette), that he’s going to close the shop, they kindle a fire that gives Frank (Nick Offerman) this feeling of a last chance at reigniting that immense pride of fatherhood. 

There is melancholy that hangs over it all, which becomes an idealist versus realist kind of scenario in which Frank (Nick Offerman) sees a young girl throwing away her talent for a reliable income. On the other hand, Sam (Kiersey Clemons) is afraid of ending up like her father, a dead-end shop owner who lives in the past. It’s something the film does quite differently than fellow uplifting musical rides like “Sing Street,” maintaining a level-head between something authentic and dreamlike storytelling. 

Brett Haley and Marc Basch excel in crafting that harmony of tension and upliftment, never allowing it to crush your feeling of elevation while never allowing you to believe in something implausible. Someone who says this best is the bartender Dave (Ted Danson), who states “We can’t always do what we love, so we have to love what we do.” 

He becomes a constant source of therapy for our father figure as well as providing some amusing stories about his times in Woodstock, and he describes the film’s narrative meaning with that poetic diatribe. Recognizing that dreams don’t always come true and we have to learn how to live without them. It’s not crushing, nor is it saddening per say. The film handles it in a way that inspires us to relook at life in a way that is far more optimistic than dour. 

Where the film gains a lot of steam that pushes it from good to great is its music. It has an indie-folk style that also has a lot of pop to it, providing a soundtrack that is so infectiously passionate. Forcing you to tap your toes while allowing the lyrics speak to your soul, it's that kind of music that we all listen to for some upliftment, and it delivers in that way. The film does have a few touching songs that echo the inherent emotion placed into this family dilemma, something that is sure to roll a tear or two from every eye in the theater. 

Aesthetically, Brett Haley and his cinematographer, Eric Lin, deliver a summerish atmosphere to the film. Providing a vivid and bright array of visuals that attract the eye, with yellows and greens radiating throughout the screen. The environment is very hipsterish, with flannels and coffee and retro style scenery that blends in with the story in an organic fashion. The camera itself moves freely, circling our artists when they begin to jam out, providing this momentum building essence that excited me with joy and vibrancy, something the film continued to do with ease. 

Both Offerman and Clemons deliver fantastic performances. Offerman (“Parks and Recreation” & “Hero”), returning for his second team up with Brett Haley, has always been the cuter and far more charismatic version of Tom Selleck for me, and he displays it again in “Hearts Beat Loud” with some adorably humorous moments with Kiersey Clemons (“Dope” & “Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising”). 

He also provides some of the film’s most passionate moments, moments that are only outdone by Kiersey Clemons who surprises with an exceptional performance. She gives these naturalistic moments that feel as if we’re watching Sam instead of Kiersey Clemons pretending to be Sam Fisher. If it weren't for her co-star Toni Collette’s phenomenal performance in “Hereditary,” she would be my front-runner for the best female performance of the year thus far. Collette also delivers a solid performance in this movie, as well as Ted Danson who is fun to see as always, and there’s also some fun scenes with Blythe Danner who depicts Frank’s (Nick Offerman) mother.

The story is one we’ve seen before, and one we’ll inevitably see again. The music is poppy, and purposefully catchy, but it all plays so organically that it provides a feeling that merely is infectiously joyous. During a scene in which Frank (Nick Offerman) is attempting to help bring Sam’s (Kiersey Clemons) debut song to life, he states: “This is a mood piece, it just has to have a feeling. This has a feeling.” The same could be said for “Hearts Beat Loud,” a mood piece that is contagiously exhilarating that elates as much as it inspires. It’s a feeling that I can’t get enough of, and one that I can’t wait to feel again. 

Fifty Shades of Grey (2015)

Fifty Shades of Grey (2015)

“Fifty Shades of Grey” is a bad film, but most bad movies are born out of a lack of commitment to a project, a lack of cooperation from a studio, or just a lack of effort placed into the filmmaking. I’m not saying all three of those scenarios didn’t take place, but I think there was something far worse taking place behind the camera than just those tools of cinematic injustice. 

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Drive (2011)

   Director: Nicolas Winding Refn With: Ryan Gosling, Carey Mulligan, Bryan Cranston, Albert Brooks, Oscar Issac, Ron Pearlman, & Kaden Leos. Release: Sep 16, 2011 R. 1 hr. 40 min. 

Director: Nicolas Winding Refn
With: Ryan Gosling, Carey Mulligan, Bryan Cranston, Albert Brooks, Oscar Issac, Ron Pearlman, & Kaden Leos.
Release: Sep 16, 2011
R. 1 hr. 40 min. 

 

"Is he a bad guy?" "Yeah." "How can you tell?" "Because he's a shark." "There's no good sharks?" It’s this bit of dialogue that our Driver (Ryan Gosling) and Irene’s (Carey Mulligan) son, Benicio (Kaden Leos), share that gets to the heart of what Nicolas Winding Refn’s “Drive” is at its core. It’s a story that is all about one man’s attempt at repentance; it's a dramatic and artistically manifested character study that resides in the skin of an action, car-centric, thriller. Refn fabricates a film that has so much visual storytelling that it's hard to believe the movie was only released five years ago because it maintains an old-fashioned feel in how Refn produces a silent film in hiding. 

“Drive” uses it dialogue in that way, if it ever does say anything at all, it's for a designated purpose. It’s a story that would usually be given a hefty dose of dialogue with cheesy lines that are meant to evoke an enthusiastic response from the audience; it's traditionally expected to focus far more on the action and the car chases than the man behind the wheel. 

“Drive” does the complete opposite, telling a story about a man whose name remains a mystery to us, even after the credits roll, we only know him as the Driver (Ryan Gosling). His backstory, his upbringing, and most of the details we would usually get are all thrown to the wayside and forgotten. Instead, we are given moments that are meant to be open for interpretation. An interpretation that evokes a feeling of heartache for myself, because, despite our lack of knowledge for this man’s past and his identity, we learn about the man he is. He’s someone seeking that righteousness for his committed sins; we know that his history is far darker than he lets on. We see that when he meets the family next door consisting of a single mother, Irene (Carey Mulligan) and her son Benicio (Kaden Leos). 

He regularly has a grin on his face, as if he's finally found his place to rest, but we learn that her husband was in prison all this time. Finally released to a family welcoming home, a man (Oscar Isaac) whose past sins force him back into life. The Driver (Ryan Gosling) wants to be a real hero, a real human being as one of the film’s essential songs suggests, he throws his hat in the ring to save this man from his debt. When the job goes awry, we’re left with a man who has to overcome his vengeful anger, left with few choices to make to get back to that feeling of serenity. 

Until that point, his self-inflicted guilt feels unwarranted as the film opens with him committing a crime, one that seems to be relatively free of the sin that we see him carry, at least at the weight he carrying it. We see him express his rules to the men he’s assisting in the robbery, he’s the getaway driver, but he’s one that doesn’t come cheap. He’s there for the job, he doesn’t carry a gun, he owes them nothing when the job is done, and he’s damn good at his job. 

We watch him speed through the streets of Los Angeles in a way that isn’t quite like anything we’ve seen before. There are no wide shots of him driving away with an army of police cars following him. Instead, he's a tactician, and he's strategic with his vehicular maneuverability. He stops and hides in plain sight, he chooses a car that blends in, and he moves through the chase with a sense of artistry that leaves his associates with a stunned looked on their face, as if they find his strategy a bit unfamiliar, but they know that he knows exactly what he’s doing. 

The way he gets out of this chase is sly as well, but the entire scene is treated with a heft of focus by Refn and his cinematographer, Newton Thomas Sigel. They shoot the whole chase from inside the vehicle, providing that perspective filled the feeling of being apart of the pursuit. You hear the engine rev, and it feels as if your sitting next to the driver, experiencing the revs of the engine and the adrenaline of a car chase. Refn delivers that type of neorealism/noirish style to the film, always maintaining the sheer sense of realism while providing a noir style. 

The soundtrack echoes that, with strange, rhythmic, and magnetic, electronic music that echoes how Refn is clouding his story’s emotions with style. Though his style is resonating and beautiful to watch, the emotions become hidden behind that style. It’s the one lagging flaw to be found in this story because it's an elegant exercise in the form a filmmaker uses is what makes “Drive” special. 

He extends it further and farther than it deserves to be, allowing that noirish essence to lend to the realism of the film while maintaining a level of emotion due to the sheer brilliance of the writing behind our hero. Written by Hossein Amini ("Snow White and the Huntsman" & "47 Ronin") and based off the novel by James Sallis, “Drive” has a sense of normality to its screenplay, almost as if it's purposefully turned down. 

The action, the blockbuster potential, and the sheer excitement of it all feel turned down, but the humanity is turned all the way up. Not only in how our hero is handled, but in how the world is rendered. The tagline of the poster says “there are no clean getaways” which feels eloquently precise for what this film’s story is attempting to become, but in all fairness, that story hinges on our main character. The Driver (Ryan Gosling) is a man who carries a sense of guilt as I said, but it takes a while before we figure out why. 

Before we see that darker side of himself, that he finds himself fighting off more often than not, he wants to rest and feel the warmth of life once again, but he’s lost to the life he’s become apart of, being forced to become the coiled scorpion that resides on his jacket. Injecting venom into those who dare to tempt him, that same violent venom that seems to poison his life more than others, and Ryan Gosling exhumes that character arc better than anyone possibly could. He’s like Steve McQueen in that way; he’s charismatic but subtle. He embodies presence and sincerity. 

He’s an actor that continually challenges himself with characters needing a sense of powerhouse performance, even manifesting a character whose love for a doll becomes as poignant as anything we’ve seen before in “Lars and The Real Girl.” Audiences felt they were sold a bill of goods after seeing this impeccable actor in “Drive” though, they expected this to be his turn towards action and spectacle, but Ryan continues to remain in favor of quality over quantity. He shows up on the silver screen one to two times a year, and each time it's special. 

Much like “Drive,” a film that sold itself as something that audiences love, but one that merely inhabits the exterior of that genre and is made up of something far more poignantly with that of its internal aspects. The audience wasn't lied too; they just weren’t told the whole truth. 

Editor's Note: This review was originally published on Oct 23, 2016 to moviequotes&more.com and has been re-written for qualitative purposes. 

Only Yesterday (1991)

   Japanese Director: Isao Takahata | English Director: Jamie Simone With: (Jap Voices) Miki Imai, Toshirô Yanagiba, Yoko Honna, Mayumi Izuka, Mei Oshitani, Megumi Komine, Yukiyo Takizawa, & Masashi Ishikawa. (Eng Voices) Daisy Ridley, Dev Patel, Alison Fernandez, Hope Levy, Stephanie Sheh, Ava Acres, Madeleine Yen, & Jaden Betts. U.S. Release: Feb 26, 2016 | Jap Release: July 20, 1991 PG. 1 hr. 58 min. 

Japanese Director: Isao Takahata | English Director: Jamie Simone
With: (Jap Voices) Miki Imai, Toshirô Yanagiba, Yoko Honna, Mayumi Izuka, Mei Oshitani, Megumi Komine, Yukiyo Takizawa, & Masashi Ishikawa. (Eng Voices) Daisy Ridley, Dev Patel, Alison Fernandez, Hope Levy, Stephanie Sheh, Ava Acres, Madeleine Yen, & Jaden Betts.
U.S. Release: Feb 26, 2016 | Jap Release: July 20, 1991
PG. 1 hr. 58 min. 

 

“Only Yesterday” feels like a companion piece to Isao Takahata’s 2014 swan song, “The Tale of Princess Kaguya,” but it's actually one of the films that led to its manifestation. Arriving on American shores in 2016, “Only Yesterday” was originally released in Japan on July 1991. It’s a film that has been held back from U.S. soil due to its embracement of womanhood, but it's that unshameful welcoming of studying a woman’s maturity that leads to “Only Yesterday” being a delightful discovery for initial viewers and first-time observers of the English dub alike. 

Written by Isao Takahata and adapted for American audiences by David Freedman, “Only Yesterday” is a story based off of the “Memories Come Tumbling Down” manga from Hotaru Okamoto & Yuuko Tone, depicting that dreamlike essence of reminiscing. Specifically, a 27-year old woman’s hindsight of her childhood. The stories behind her first crush, her first time trying pineapple, her first period, and how all of these things influenced her maturity. In the present day, she’s a woman going back to the countryside of life, realizing that the city life may not be all it's cracked up to be, trying to relive that passion for life. 

She craves that spirit of hard work, but work that fulfills you. Something that makes you feel whole inside, tired from the effort you’ve given to something, pouring out your love for a task that you enjoy. It’s a story that examines how our immaturity and idealism that we inherently possess as children carries us to the adult that we eventually grow into, including our interactions with literal biological advancement, such as puberty. 

Takahata’s “Only Yesterday” falls in line with his mature stories that star children, such as his World War II survival story from the perspective of Japanese children in “Grave of the Fireflies,” or his empathetic study of women in Japanese society in “Kaguya.”

He, like his long-time collaborator and friend Hayao Miyazaki, is an artist who produces child-focused stories that teach adults as much as they enforce life lessons upon children. His aesthetic style is also something that continuously evolved throughout his career, from his brand and detailed hand-drawn animation of “Only Yesterday” to the minimalist and seemingly vibrant style of “Kaguya.” Isao Takahata is no stranger to the conversation of genius filmmaking, despite his stories being simplistically referred to as children’s cartoons by some. 

“Only Yesterday” is a film that exemplifies his extraordinary ability as a storyteller. Continuously transitioning between the present day and her adolescence, painting the past with this blurry outlined fade, replicating that real-life visual that we experience when looking back on our past. It’s hazy, slightly irregular, almost misconstrued, while remaining clear as day due to its impact on our lives, allowing us to watch a world that is partially regained by the senses. The saying “art imitating life” could never be so poetically attached to anything more than this animated coming of age dream of a film. 

The stories of the past are carried throughout the film, sometimes being placed in the backseat so that the present day narrative can take back the wheel. While it's dialogue-heavy and meandering and a bit detracting in comparison to the stories of her childhood, the adulthood perspective provides some of the film’s most enchanting moments that can roar the heart a beat or two. 

It’s because of the deep-rooted emotion that we almost instinctively assign to children that these stories carry far more weight than the ones stemming from her womanhood. They are charming and warm, while fundamentally depressing when we watch her deal with the mockery of popular girls, the belittlement of her voice due to her age, and her silenced individuality due to the persistent squashing of her dreams and hopes that eventually carry over to her adult seclusion feeling like an earned side effect of the trials she’s encountered. 

It’s a tale that feels inherently tender and tangible, that’s not to say there is no fantasy to be seen. A particular moment exemplifies her metaphorical translation of happiness from her interaction with her first crush, she flies through the air, soaring on cloud nine as a giant pink heart pops from the roof. These moments alongside the tragedies and the resonating aura we endure make the love letters to nature and paths of adulthood feel lackluster. We always seem to look back with reverberance and sentiment and look forward with pessimism and anxiety; it’s genuinely the passion that feels like it was “Only Yesterday,” while the tension of the world feels like it's apart of today. 

Isao Takahata exhumes the essence of that message with ease almost, the English-speaking voice talents of Daisy Ridley (with an outstanding American accent), Dev Patel, and Ashley Eckstein, and the Japanese-speaking voices of Miki Imai, Toshirô Yanagiba, and Yoko Honna add that extra amount of empathy to make this film something beautiful to experience inside a theater. 

It’s romantically swooping ending that broaches during the credits is tear-jerkingly flattering to watch, a rare feat to see in both modern-day animation and live-action filmmaking alike. The Pixars and Dreamworks of the world are always fantastic, but the magic of Studio Ghibli seems to breathe rarified air into the world of hand-drawn stories still, even when their more than twenty-five years late to the party. 

Editor's Note: This review was originally published on Mar 2, 2016 to critiquingcinema.com and has been re-written for qualitative purposes.