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.
PJ (Rachel Sennott) and Josie (Ayo Edebiri) are bonded by their lifelong friendship and shared experience as lesbian misfits at their high school. They both have their eye on cheerleaders Isabel (Havana Rose Liu) and Brittany (Kaia Gerber). Their awkwardness becomes a roadblock in their quest to get laid. When Josie injures Jeff (Nicholas Galitzine), the star of the football team and an idol on campus, her crush Isabel is impressed. PJ and Josie soon concoct a plan. They start a girls-only fight club on campus, with the guise of building community, in order to impress their crushes. They even trick their teacher Mr. G (Marshawn Lynch), who is otherwise distracted by his divorce, into sponsoring them. What begins as a ruse becomes more earnest as the club members feel more empowered by their new skills and each other. All the events lead up to a football game between two rival high schools.
Directed by Emma Seligman, Bottoms is absolutely bonkers in the best way possible. The film unabashedly leans into its ridiculousness and is bolstered two strong leads. High school cliches are turned up several notches to great comedic effect. The story was co-written by Seligman and Sennott, their sophomore collaboration after the hit indie film Shiva Baby (2020).
My only quibble is that the romantic pairs, both lesbian and straight, have little chemistry. You have to suspend your disbelief in order to buy that these young people are into each other.
The cast is really stupendous. In addition to Sennott and Edebri, who have great on screen camaraderie, Marshawn Lynch, Miles Fowler and Ruby Cruz also shine in their respective roles. Bottoms is great fun and sure to be a crowd-pleaser.
Bottoms had its world premiere at the 2023 SXSW Film Festival and is distributed by Orion Pictures.
Update: MGM and Orion Pictures will be releasing Bottoms in select theaters on August 25th.
Donna Summer achieved a level of fame and adoration that few singers have been able to attain. “Love To Love You”, “Last Dance”, and “She Works Hard for the Money” were all major hits and became anthems for sexuality, indulgence and feminism. Despite her incredible celebrity, Donna Summer had always been an enigma. Fiercely private, when she wasn’t on stage Summer was off-limits.
Directed by Roger Ross Williams and Summer’s daughter Brooklyn Sudano, Love To Love You, Donna Summer gives viewers a peak at the real woman behind the iconic image. The documentary is comprised with archival footage from performances, television appearances and home movies along with a few scenes of Brooklyn Sudano in present day interacting with her family. There is no real narration, instead Summer’s story is told primarily through audio interviews with family members and some archival interviews from Summer herself. The film does address her religious beliefs and the controversy surrounding them during the 1980s.
Love To Love You, Donna Summer isn’t as revelatory as it promises to be and leaves the audience with more questions than answers. Donna Summer was and continues to be an enigma and although this documentary gives us a look at her celebrity and personal life, it does so in a fairly biased and roundabout way that will ultimately leave viewers unsatisfied.
Love To Love You, Donna Summer had its US premiere at the 2023 SXSW Film Festival and will be released by HBO in May.