MVFF Spotlights #4: Wild/St. Vincent/After the Fall

by Carrie Kahn on October 14, 2014

We’ve got three final spotlights from the 37th Mill Valley Film Festival, which closed Sunday night after ten days of showcasing dozens of fresh and exciting titles. Festival highlights, photos, and videos are available at: We’ll see you at the Fest next year!

(USA 2014, 120 min)

Cheryl (Reese Witherspoon) at the start of her long and often arduous journey.

Director Jean-Mark Vallée (Dallas Buyers Club) and writer Nick Hornby have turned Cheryl Strayed’s exceedingly popular memoir Wild into one of the best pictures of the year. Reese Witherspoon gives perhaps the fiercest performance of her career as Strayed, who, in the mid-1990s, hiked the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) solo as a way to cope with several losses in her life. A powerful meditation on grief, healing, strength, and redemption, Vallée’s picture benefits enormously from the emotionally raw performances of is two lead actresses. Laura Dern, as Strayed’s mother Bobbi, seen in flashbacks, is devastating as a young mother whose capacity for hope and love is beyond measure. Shot on location at various points along the PCT, Yves Bélanger’s cinematography is breathtaking, and fittingly accentuates the emotional complexity of Strayed’s story.

Release Date:
– Opens nationwide on December 5th

St. Vincent
(USA 2014, 103 min)

Oliver (Jaeden Lieberher) and Vincent (Bill Murray) spend some quality time at the pub.

This film comes perilously close to falling under the precocious-young-boy-turns-curmudgeonly-old-man-into-nice-guy trope. Although writer/director Theodore Melfi’s picture does indeed exhibit a bit of that genre schmaltz, fortunately it’s saved by fresh, nuanced characters and comically adept performances that help tone down the sap factor. Bill Murray and newcomer Jaeden Lieberher, as the grump Vincent and the moppet Oliver, respectively, play off each other nicely, with Lieberher impressively holding his own against Murray in terms of timing and delivery. Oliver and his mother Maggie (Melissa McCarthy, nailing a more dramatic role for a change) move next door to the eccentric and mostly unpleasant Vincent, who becomes Oliver’s ersatz babysitter, with naturally complicated results. A through line story about Oliver’s Catholic school project on saints is one of the picture’s more heavy-handed elements, but is forgivable given the sharp script and wry performances. Naomi Watts as a Russian stripper-slash-prostitute and Chris O’Dowd as Oliver’s patient, kind teacher round out the exceptional cast.

Release Date:
– This Friday, October 17th (check back here on Friday for Gordon’s full length review!)

After the Fall
(USA 2014, 110 min; AKA Things People Do)

Frank (Jason Isaacs) and Bill (Wes Bentley) bond during target practice in the New Mexico desert.

First time writer/director Saar Klein previously worked as a film editor, most notably on several of Terrence Malick’s pictures, and Malick’s influence can be felt in this tale-for-the-times about desperation and frustration during the economic downturn. Wes Bentley is riveting as the recently laid off Bill, struggling to maintain his mortgage payments and keep his family afloat in their Albuquerque suburb. Frank (Jason Isaacs) is a cop with family problems of his own, and he and Bill form a mutually supportive friendship despite some major secrets on Bill’s part. Featuring stunning cinematography from Matthias Koenigswieser – the landscape is almost a character itself – Klein’s picture explores the moral and ethical choices we are often faced with during crises. The picture’s ending is superbly well crafted – it’s the kind that lends itself to great discussion with your movie-going friends, and you’ll find yourself ruminating over it for days.

Release Date:
– Opens in limited release nationwide on December 12th

Carrie Kahn

Moving from the arthouse to the multiplex with grace, ease, and only the occasional eye roll. Proud new member of the San Francisco Film Critics Circle.

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