Movie Review: ‘The Mustang’ is a Quietly Beautiful Tale of a Convict Finding Redemption Through Horse Training

2 Comments

CREDIT: Focus Features

Starring: Matthias Schoenaerts, Jason Mitchell, Gideon Adlon, Connie Britton, Bruce Dern

Director: Laure de Clermont-Tennerre

Running Time: 96 Minutes

Rating: R for Horse-on-Human and Human-on-Horse Violence and Prison Profanity

Release Date: March 15, 2019 (Limited)

Is it possible to forgive yourself and move forward from the worst, most destructive mistake you’ve ever made in your life? That’s the question at the heart of The Mustang, the feature directorial debut of French actress Laure de Clermont-Tennerre. Roman Coleman (Matthias Schoenarts) is in prison for assaulting his wife, but you don’t know that’s his crime until about halfway through, because he’s so tightly coiled that he barely conveys any information vocally beyond acknowledging people’s presence and asking them to go away. You get the sense that he wasn’t always this way, or at least that it wasn’t always this extreme. A key scene is a group therapy session in which the therapist (Connie Britton) asks Roman and the other convicts, “How long from the thought of the crime to the actual crime?” For most of them it was a matter of seconds, a moment of passion that instantly, dramatically altered their lives and self-perception.

For Roman, he cannot see a way back to himself or a version of his life in which he could ever again be comfortable spending time with his pregnant teenage daughter (Gideon Adlon). But despite the personal hell he is stuck in, a chance for redemption comes through via, of all things, a program for convicts to break and train wild horses (run by a no-nonsense Bruce Dern, charming in a crotchety sort of way). You don’t have to think too deeply to see the symbolism of Roman as a broken animal and to know that’s how they form such an empathetic bond after a violently unpromising introduction (Roman pounds the horse’s chest out of frustration in an early training session). Thankfully, De Clermont-Tennerre wisely underplays just about every moment, allowing Schoenaerts’ quiet intensity to do its job and speak every message that needs to be conveyed. This is a movie about hope emerging from a profoundly hopeless situation. That always has currency in cinema, and life itself.

The Mustang is Recommended If You Like: The Rider but with a lot more quietly intense masculinity with hidden sensitivity, The Shawshank Redemption

Grade: 4 out of 5 Wild Horses

This Is a Movie Review: Three Teenage Girls Make a Sex Pact, But It is the Parents of ‘Blockers’ Who Are Behaving Badly

2 Comments

CREDIT: Quantrell D. Colbert/Universal Pictures

This review was originally posted on News Cult in April 2018.

Starring: Leslie Mann, John Cena, Ike Barinholtz, Kathryn Newton, Geraldine Viswanathan, Gideon Adlon

Director: Kay Cannon

Running Time: 102 Minutes

Rating: R for Girls Talking About Sex Without Any Shame, Butt Chugging and the Like, and a Concerning Amount of Drug Use

Release Date: April 6, 2018

What to do with a movie that has a really great message but that plays fast-and-loose with any sense of realism? You take the good, you take the bad – the facts of life! I didn’t go into this meaning to name-check a classic ’80s TV theme song, but as it popped into my head, it just felt remarkably right. At its core, and at its best, Blockers emphasizes the fact that teenage girls have sexual desires and treats that truth as matter-of-factly as it deserves to be treated. This isn’t some “girls can be gross, too!” twist on a “boys will be boys” classic. The sex here approached with maturity and it is often romantic. Any grossness in Blockers is due to insecurity or lapses in plausibility.

Have sex pacts ever occurred in real life? If so, I hope they are as supportive and sweetly motivated as the one in Blockers. On the occasion of her senior prom, Julie (Kathryn Newton) announces to her lifelong friends Kayla (Geraldine Viswanathan) and Sam (Gideon Adlon) her intention to lose her virginity tonight to her boyfriend. Sensing an opportunity for a shared anniversary, Kayla and Sam declare that they are in as well. They may not be in as serious a relationship as Julie is, but they’ve got guys who they like well enough and who have the necessary equipment. But when Julie’s mom Lisa (Leslie Mann), Kayla’s dad Mitch (John Cena), and Sam’s dad Hunter (Ike Barinholtz) catch wind of the pact, they are not going to stand idly by as their girls become women.

It is distressing that these parents have such regressively protective attitudes, though it is encouraging that they are presented as the ones so clearly in the wrong. And what’s more, their motivations are more complicated than not trusting their daughters. Lisa is a single mom who has raised Julie alone her whole life. She is struggling through deep-seated separation anxiety, worrying that Julie getting closer to her boyfriend means she will attend college thousands of miles away, which means that she could disappear forever. Director Kay Cannon and her team of screenwriters handle this unflinchingly, and I wish they would have devoted even more time to it. Hunter, meanwhile, knows that Sam is gay and is worried that her friends are forcing her to do something she doesn’t really want to do. Originally introduced as a deadbeat screw-up, he ends up coming off as the most open-minded of the trio, though the film does lose focus a bit on that tack for the sake of gags. Mitch is really the only one who comes as the stereotypically overprotective parent, and though Cena does imbue him with a fair amount of sweetness, he feels out of place in what the film is ultimately saying.

Blockers’ message that teenage girls should be allowed to make their own sexual decisions, especially if they are with boys (or otherwise) who they like and respect, is indisputably valuable. While it may be underlined a little too obviously, perhaps it is a message that needs to be repeated. It is also heartening to see a group of supportive teenage female friends on screen. Julie, Kayla, and Sam have their stark differences, but their loyalty runs deep. That well of positivity offsets a bit the parents’ surplus of bad behavior, which stretches the bounds of credulity a bit too much. Seriously, Blockers, you’re plenty funny without having to resort to butt chugging beer. That is to say, this is a movie that is much more sure-footed when it comes to romance (somehow making licorice the perfect food for declaring love) than when it swerves into the territory of illegal behavior.

Blockers is Recommended If You Like: Superbad and other Judd Apatow productions, particularly if they feature insecure parents, The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, Clueless

Grade: 3.5 out of 5 Sex Pacts