It’s 1967 in Ballygar, a community in Dublin, where three friends of three different generations gather to mourn the death of one of their own. Lily (Maggie Smith), Eileen (Kathy Bates) and Dolly (Agnes O’Casey) soon come face to face with the friend’s daughter, Chrissie (Laura Linney), who fled Ballygar for the United States and hasn’t been back in nearly four decades. When the church wins a contest for a pilgrimage to Lourdes, Lily, Eileen, Dolly and Chrissie travel to the holy site. Each of the women must confront their individual problems and help each other while searching for the miracle that can possibly change their lives for the better.
Directed by Thaddeus O’Sullivan, The Miracle Club is a heartfelt story about societal expectations when it comes to relationships and life choices.
The film has a gentle message of acceptance as the characters try to connect with Dolly’s non-verbal autistic child. Despite the title and the characters’ journey, the film isn’t all that religious. The pilgrimage to Lourdes seems more like a cultural milestone than an event sprung from any sort of religious fervor. This movie will appeal to both Catholics and non-Catholics who are seeking tender story delivered without a heavy hand.
The four leads shine and Smith, Bates and Linney in particular continue to prove their star power. We need to continue to embrace stories about older women and intergenerational relationships. This film is one example about how these stories can be told and told well.
The Miracle Club reminded me of two movies in particular. The story line about an exiled woman returning to her small town after a big scandal drove her away reminded me of The Dressmaker (2015) starring Kate Winslet. If you’re interested in a more dramatic piece about the Sanctuary of Our Lady Lourdes pilgrimage site, I highly recommend Austrian filmmaker Jessica Hausner’s excellent film Lourdes (2009) starring Sylvie Testud. If you want to learn more about that film, check out the article I wrote about Lourdes for the Turner Classic Movies website.
The Miracle Club is distributed by Sony Pictures Classics and is currently in theaters.
For 16 year old Jaime (Anwen O’Driscoll), life will never be the same. When her father dies suddenly of a heart attack, her distraught mother sends her from their home in Thunder Bay, Ontario to Montreal, Quebec to stay with her aunt Beth (Liane Balaban) and uncle Jean-Francois (Antoine Yared). They are devout Jehovah’s Witnesses and Jaime must attend religious services with them if she’s going to live with them. At the Kingdom Hall Jamie meets Marike (June Laporte), a fellow teenager who immediately catches her eye. The two develop a strong emotional bond that quickly becomes something romantic. Jaime is caught in between two worlds and leans on her friend Nathan (Hasani Freeman) who becomes a much needed ally outside of her family’s religious community.
You Can Live Forever is an astounding queer drama that accurately depicts what life is like in a close knit—and closed off—religious community. Anwen O’Driscoll and June Laporte bring an intensity to their roles that is palpable. They convey so well the bond between these two teenagers and the pain of having to keep their love for each other secret. It was fascinating to watch Jaime’s outsider perspective as she’s thrust into this new world that has its own language, custom, culture and expectations. I only wish that Nathan’s character had more to do in the story.
The film is written and directed by Mark Slutsky and Sarah Watts and Watts herself grew up queer in a community of Jehovah’s Witnesses. In her director’s statement Watts writes:
“I grew up gay in a Jehovah’s Witness community in a small northern town. As a teenager, I was eager to see a story with a character who even remotely resembled me on the movie screen. But I was always disappointed. For years, [Mark and I] worked together to create a film that could honor my own background and the experiences of other young people in a similar predicament. You Can Live Forever is the movie I always wanted to see as a teenager.”
There are very few depictions of Jehovah’s Witnesses in film and almost always the filmmakers get some aspects of that religion’s culture wrong. You Can Live Forever is spot on in every single aspect. Every single one. Even down to the style of chairs found in a Kingdom Hall, the specific language used in the community and even the annoyance felt when others call them “Jehovahs” instead of Jehovah’s Witnesses. How do I know that the depiction of this religion is accurate? Because I grew up in this religion myself. It’s been nearly two decades since I stepped inside of a Kingdom Hall. You Can Live Forever brought all of those memories back. Like Watts, this is a movie I would have wanted to have seen as a teen. I repressed my own sexuality for many years, due to my upbringing, and film like this would have given me a much needed mirror. I commend Watts and Slutsky for bringing to life such a beautiful, honest and touching queer drama.
Side note: In one scene Jaime has a poster of Heavenly Creatures (1994) hanging up on her dorm room wall. Like You Can Live Forever, that film explores an intense emotional bond between two teenage girls. It was an important film for me in my teen years and I appreciated spotting this reference.
You Can Live Forever (2022) is currently available to rent on VOD and is coming to Blu-ray on June 6th from Good Deed Entertainment and Kino Lorber.
Sam Cowell (Rachel Sennott) used to be funny. Her stand-up comedy acts would elicit uproarious laughter from the crowd and hate comments on the internet. All of that ended when a traumatic event sent her into a deep depression. With the support of her roommates, Sam navigates her new life with PTSD. But she’s forced to face her past when Brooke (Olga Petsa), the teen she used to care for as a nanny, goes missing.
Written and directed by Ally Pankiw, I Used to Be Funny is a heartfelt drama that tackles PTSD and depression while balancing the poignancy with humor. The story alternates between the present day and the events that lead to Sam’s trauma. A slow burn keeps the audience both anticipating and dreading the moment that led Sam to her current mental state. I can’t say enough good things about Rachel Sennott who shines in this dramatic role while still also showcasing her knack for comedy. I was fully invested in Sam’s story and I think audiences will too.
I Used to Be Funny had its world premiere at the 2023 SXSW Film and TV Festival.
Technology is changing our every day lives and a rapid-fire pace. We live at the pace of social media and the intersection between the real world and the internet became even more enmeshed than ever before. The power of the internet is inescapable.
The COVID pandemic brought on a level of digital disruption that had real world ramifications. R/Wallstreetbets became a gathering place for average folks to become retail investors. They turned GameStop ($GME) and AMC ($AMC) into meme stocks creating a short squeeze that adversely affected hedgefund investors and short sellers. They gamified their work with apps like Robinhood and with memes, symbols and jargon like “diamond hands” and “tendies”. All the extra time at home gave Americans an opportunity to learn financial strategies and turn it into a game that both made them a lot of money and disrupted the financial market. At the same time another form of disruption was brewing online, building steam during the 2020 presidential election and culminating in the January 6th, 2021 attack on the Capitol.
The internet allows for varying levels of anonymity. Behind avatars, online users can expose a darker side of humanity with all of the dangerous ideologies and harmful rhetoric that comes with it.
Directed by Ondi Timoner, The New Americans: A Gaming Revolution is a high-paced and engrossing documentary about our new age of finance and digital disruption. This subject matter can be difficult to understand especially for the uninitiated who are unfamiliar with r/Wallstreetbets, cryptocurrency, memes and TikTok. Even the chronically online, like myself, need a bit of guidance to understand this complex online world and all the jargon that goes with it. Timoner uses facets of internet culture to visually tell her story while also pausing throughout the movie to define specific words and phrases that need to be clarified in order for the current conversation happening on screen to be fully understood. This helps the viewer not get lost in the technicalities and enriches the film by providing both visual entertaining with information.
“…the only way to approach this journey was to interview people across all aspects of the disruption and to tell the resulting story in the same language that drove it: with Tik-Toks, memes, and fast-cuts that mimic the online world of the new generation that fueled this movement.”
Director Ondi Timoner
Notable talking heads in the film include
R/Wallstreetbets founder Jamie Rogozinski
The Real Wolf of Wall Street Jordan Belfort
Former White House Communications director and founder of SkyBridge Capital Anthony Scaramucci
Investor Raoul Pal who provides the viewer with valuable insights
Influencers Blayne Macauley, Hugh Henne, ProThe Doge, Taylor Price
Investors, artists, and more.
The New Americans: A Gaming Revolution presents complicated subject matter in a way that is both approachable and entertaining.
The New Americans: A Gaming Revolution had its world premiere at the 2023 SXSW Film Festival.
Growing up in a tight-knit and ultra-religious community hasn’t been easy for 17 year old Jem Starling (Eliza Scanlen). Her elders, including her mother Heidi (Wrenn Schmidt), wield shame over the youth as a way to control them. It seems like everything Jem does, regardless of intent, draws attention to her body in a way that’s sinful. She struggles to connect with other members of the community until 28 year old youth pastor Owen (Lewis Pullman) comes back into town. Owen briefly fled his loveless marriage to Misty (Jessamine Burgum) for a mission trip to Puerto Rico. He’s come back a changed man. When Jem and Owen are reunited, it’s clear that there is an intense connection between the two. Their shared desire for quiet rebellion brings them together. Jem is torn between her obligations to her family, especially to her father Paul (Jimmi Simpson) who once led a secular life as a musician and now suffers from depression and addiction, and her growing lust for Owen.
Directed by Laurel Parmet, The Starling Girl’s tale of forbidden lust in a religious community will both titillate and disturb viewers. While the age gap is off-putting, Scanlen and Pullman are a magnetic pair and they do a great job depicting the emotional consequences of repression. Shame is a huge theme and viewers get to witness the many ways it rears its ugly head in Jem’s world. As someone who grew up in a very strict religion, I didn’t quite understand how there could be so many circumstances in which Jem and Owen were allowed to be alone together. Even a courtship scene in which Jem is matched with Owen’s brother has them alone and without an assigned chaperone. Alas, youth pastors having inappropriate relationships with minors is nothing new so these scenarios already do happen.
The Starling Girl screened at the 2023 SXSW Film and TV Festival.