The Collegian
Monday, April 15, 2024

Film Fridays: Five movies to shake off the spring semester slump

Editor's Note: The views and opinions expressed in this article do not reflect those of The Collegian.   

As we move into the early spring showers of February, we all struggle to shake off the hibernation of winter. It’s that time of year when the New Year’s resolutions start to lose their luster, and the work begins to snowball. Every chance you get to catch your breath, you spend it on TikTok, intermittently acquiring brain rot as a break from monotony. 

Hey, I’m not knocking social media. My personality is almost entirely composed of Drake one-liners. But sometimes, you get this itch to feel something, rather than simply go numb. Instead of watching sad compilations with Subway Surfers running in the background, I suggest curling up in your dorm and trying out one of these five films that pack the perfect gut-punch to trigger a good cry.

Waves (2019)

First of a few A24 recommendations is the 2019 cinematically stunning, “Euphoria-”esque film “Waves.”The movie contains the titularly promised oscillating plotline as we watch a well-off African American family in South Florida endure a complex tragedy that unravels the life they had previously held together with their collective drive to succeed. 

The first half of the film centers around Tyler (Kelvin Harrison Jr.), a 17-year-old high school wrestler with high expectations and even higher pressure to achieve greatness from his father (Sterling K. Brown). The score and cinematography mirror Tyler’s constant struggle between embracing the freedom of adolescence and feeding his ambitions, with music like Kanye West’s “I Am A God” mimicking Tyler’s panicked pulse and minute-long scenes bathing the screen in ominous ultraviolet or pressure building reds. 

However, if the first hour of the film emulates the rise and crash of a wave, the second would be characterized as the adaptation of the sea to the aftermath, as we continue the storyline shift perspective to Tyler’s sister Emily (Taylor Russell). 

In the wake of the accident, Emily seeks to move forward with her life but is simultaneously stuck retrospectively grappling with the circumstances of the tragedy. Accompanied by background music like Frank Ocean’s “Swim Good” and “Siegfried,” Emily attempts to reintegrate herself into a life colored by guilt and untenable pain, navigating the process of embracing change while reminiscing about the placid existence she once experienced. 

Intimate and quietly powerful in their vulnerability or lack thereof, each character represents something bigger than the archetypes they aim to represent, the necessity to make space for vulnerability which yields the opportunity for forgiveness. “Waves” serves to remind us of the miraculous human capacity to climb, falter, crash and rebuild in order to rise again. 

All of Us Strangers 

Nearly every college student endures a vicious cycle of homesickness, in which you can be blissfully happy with your friends one second and the next yearning for the comfort of people you have known your entire life. However, it can also be accompanied by the realization that as your knowledge of the world has grown, the imperfections of your raising become increasingly apparent.

Reconciling life’s newfound transparency with the unchanging desire to return to the naivete of childhood is no small feat, but “All of Us Strangers” provides a cinematically stunning representation of just that. Middle-aged screenwriter Adam, portrayed by ”Fleabag’s” “hot priest” Andrew Scott, flits back and forth between his idyllic childhood and struggling present, attempting to unpack the trauma that has shaped him since his teenage years. 

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Also starring Paul Mescal, who plays Adam’s self-assured, suave neighbor Harry, the film follows their ensuing relationship and the vulnerability that exposes Adam’s complex relationship with his childhood. As he revives and probes the idolized childhood he buried away long ago, Adam grapples with a renewed understanding of his past, gained through an adult perspective.

Packed with dialogue that leaves you at most ten minutes of tear-free viewing, the film is unabashed in its display of unbridled emotion, never sparing us from the viciously raw pain that Adam endures as he struggles to reconcile the facets of his personality that his parents loved with his true matured identity, lacking the ability to find reassurance in his parents’ support. 

Shifting frequently between a nondescript apartment in London and the English suburbs, the entirety of “All of Us Strangers" is anachronistic and untethered to greater society, placing us solely in Adam’s progressively blurred reality. 

As the lines between his past and present fall away, we are exposed to a man who has truly never left his utopic boyhood behind and can only feel along watching him attempt to remedy the idolized memory of his family with the complex nature of their own identities. 

The Royal Tenenbaums

A saturated, socially awkward portrait of a family characterized by prodigy and ensuing burnout, “The Royal Tenenbaums” (2001) is one of Wes Anderson’s most acclaimed works, bearing his signature quirky characters and tender moral of finding belonging in the ever-changing world. 

The film follows the story lines of the three adult Tenenbaum children in the face of their parents’ separation, unraveling their safety net of encouragement as each struggle to find their purpose in life, which their mother Etheline (Anjelica Huston) and father Royal (Gene Hackman) previously spurred. 

Though each Tenenbaum appears to have established a life for themselves in their own corner of the world, Royal’s unexpected summons recongregates the family, rekindling old bonds and revealing the mutual isolation and misunderstanding they all feel. 

You will laugh, sigh, gapeand doubt the reality of these characters, but the beauty of the film arrives when you realize that it is the nearly impossible dysfunctionality of the Tenenbaums which makes them all too relatable as a portrait of the modern family. 

Marcel the Shell with Shoes On 

I bet it wasn’t on your 2024 bingo card that a film about a viral talking shell is still the most candid display of humanity to grace your screen since 2021. “Marcel the Shell with Shoes On,” a deftly orchestrated love letter to family and belonging, presents itself to the audience as a hodge-podge stop-motion animation triumph.

The A24 film follows Marcel, a presumably youthful talking shell complete with socks, shoes and googly eyes, as he builds a relationship with human documentarian Dean, who comes to stay in the Los Angeles home that Marcel and his grandmother occupy. 

As Dean films and observes Marcel’s ingenious ways of adapting to premature independence, he begins to peel back his wryly hilarious, bubbly exterior, exposing the unimaginable trauma that the shell has miraculously turned into insurmountable bravery.

Not only does Marcel welcome you into his whimsical self-constructed world of tennis ball cars and record player skate rinks, but he simultaneously gives you a place within it, beguiling you with his overwhelming celebration of freedom in the face of an entirely unknown world yet to be explored. 

Triggering giggle after giggle with his deadpan humor, immediately ensued by sob-inducing tenderness, we journey with Marcel as he boldly claims a world never meant to belong to him, leaving you feeling that maybe everyone needs a taste of the little infinity created by talking shells in the alms of a sock drawer. 

The Florida Project

If you really want to unpack your childhood on a Tuesday night, A24’s 2017 film “The Florida Project” will do just that, flawlessly straddling a portrayal of visceral human struggle and the freedom of childhood. 

Painting a portrait of a rundown motel kept barely functioning by the manager Bobby (Willem Dafoe), the film follows Halley (Bria Vinaite), a young unemployed single mother finding odd jobs to cover rent for her and her six-year-old brazen daughter Moonee (Brooklynn Prince). 

Just on the outskirts of the highway with a clear view of the Walt Disney World, the physical juxtaposition mirrors the The Magic Castle occupants’ atmosphere of unrealized happiness, as they find themselves inexorably trapped on the precipice of grasping the life they desire. 

However, the same cannot be said for Moonee and her gang of unschooled motel children, as they adventure unchecked through the landscape, a romanticized world of outlet malls and abandoned buildings. 

Gleefully conning strangers into buying them ice cream, envisioning lives with their own beds and bookshelves in the mold-covered abandoned homes, and wreaking havoc at The Magic Castle for Bobby to remedy, their adventurous bliss becomes melancholic and sickening.

However, as this veil between childhood and adulthood begins to slip, the pain caused to Hailey, Moonee and the broader community of The Magic Castle is unbearably raw and heartbreaking, a brutal decomposition of childish bliss that elicits a much-needed cry and an appreciation for the many privileges we take for granted. 

Contact opinions writer Camille Duran at camille.duran@richmond.edu.

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