The summer of 2016 did not have much to offer in terms of summer movie blockbusters. We had another avalanche of super-hero sequels that are becoming mind-numbing in their predictable plots and exhausting action sequences. It’s almost enough for you to root for the villain to finally destroy the world and save us from having to watch more of this dreck. There were some cute animated films, like Zootopia and Finding Dory, but neither of these stood out as being significantly better than past summer animated movies.
I’d argue that the best films of the summer of 2016 were a trio of small, independent films: Sing Street, Maggie’s Plan, and Love and Friendship.
Sing Street comes from writer/director John Carney who previously made Once and Begin Again. Sing Street is even better than those prior two, excellent movies. All three films are about trying to capture the purity and innocence of making music, but Once and Begin Again are about trying to recapture those qualities while Sing Street is about discovering that purity and innocence for the first time. The movie is set in economically depressed Ireland in the 1980s. A teenager sent to a new school tries to find his place and (most importantly) impress a girl by forming a band. The newly formed band tries every genre of 80s pop music, providing a nostalgic tour de force of the music of that era. No school band was ever this good or versatile, but you just need to let go and enjoy the fantasy. In addition to music, and youthful romance, the movie offers a touching picture of the relationship between brothers, a topic that deserves more attention in modern movies. So grab your eye liner, synthesizer, and sensible brown shows and be sure to see Sing Street.
Maggies’s Plan by writer/director Rebecca Miller is like one of Woody Allen’s sophisticated relationship comedies, but even better. The basic plot is that Maggie, played by Greta Gerwig, is a sweet and nerdy university administrator in New York City who is perhaps a little too capable at managing things. She meets a fellow-academic played by Ethan Hawke who is a star in his field of ficto-critical anthropology but wants to be a novelist. He’s already married to an even more accomplished academic, but is drawn to Maggie’s ability to manage his life and boost his ego. At first Maggie is attracted to Hawke’s character, but eventually tires of him. So, she comes up with her Plan, which is an even more elaborate attempt to manage everyone’s lives. Maggie’s Plan exceeds its typical Woody Allen counterpart by more accurately capturing the perspective and voice of the women characters. It also portrays the crappy apartments and chaotic lives of New York pseudo-intellectuals much more accurately. It’s dry comedy but darn funny.
Love and Friendship is an adaptation of a Jane Austen novel by writer/director Whit Stillman. Unlike prior films of Austen novels, this one departs severely from realism. The characters and dialogue are so over-the-top that it comes off more as a farce. And Whit Stillman’s direction and use of on-screen character descriptions really make this farce work. Stillman’s earlier films, which include Metropolitan (one of my all-time favorites), Barcelona, and The Last Days of Disco are all like Austen films in that they feature a declining upper-class. But I think some may misunderstand Stillman in those films and in this new one as pining for a return to those old, aristocratic days. Far from it, I think Stillman is really a champion of the rising and enterprising bourgeoisie in all of these movies. What may seem like the manipulative villain in this movie is actually the practical and enterprising new class, while the aristocrats are generally buffoons who are easily fooled and generally deserve the decline they are experiencing.
All three of these movies may be out of theaters, but should soon appear on the small screen via, Netflix, Amazon, Hulu, or whatever. Pop some popcorn and enjoy these small, indy hit of the summer of 2016.
Zootopia has layers. It’s more than it seems to be at first. Wish I’d had time to blog on it. I may yet.
I agree. I really liked Zootopia. But these three films were even better.