“13 Reasons Why,” “The Heart is a Lonely Hunter,” and the Agony of Loneliness

A few months back, I was with my dad at a small Los Angeles cafe. My dad suddenly had a wide grin on his face. He recognized someone. I looked over at an older man holding his laptop. My dad said to him, “Excuse me, but are you Chuck McCann?” He smiled and replied, “I used to be.” We had a lovely twenty-minute conversation with him and afterwards I asked my dad, “Who is Chuck McCann?”

As a result of this unexpected interaction, my dad showed me a small, independent sixties film called The Heart is a Lonely Hunter. McCann has a small, but important role in the film. This was one of those times, just like with Caught, where I felt that click when you discover a forgotten film, when you’re genuinely moved and completely absorbed in the story that’s being told.

If you’re unfamiliar, The Heart is a Lonely Hunter, based on the novel of the same name by Carson McCullers follows John Singer (Alan Arkin), a deaf and mute silverware engraver. He lives a pretty quiet existence. His only real friend is a mentally challenged man named Spiros (Chuck McCann). When Spiros is put in a mental institution a few towns over, Singer uproots his life and moves into a family’s home where he befriends their sixteen year-old daughter, Mick (Sondra Locke). As usual, drama ensues…but this is slightly quieter drama.

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So polite and nice calligraphy, RIGHT?

Here are just a few reasons why you need to see The Heart is a Lonely Hunter:

The Cast

Alan Arkin carries this film. At the time he made this, he was just starting out, having just made the film which made him: The Russians are Coming, the Russians are coming! He was an interesting choice for the part as we usually think of Arkin in a comic and verbal context…or maybe that’s just cause I know him best from Little Miss Sunshine. Either way, Arkin delivers possibly his greatest performance without uttering one word. He was nominated for a Best Actor Oscar for his work in the film, but lost to Cliff Robertson.

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His expression is EVERYTHING

Sondra Locke is also a revelation in this film. At 21 years old, Locke gave Mick a vulnerability and toughness that I daresay, most actresses today don’t have. She was the perfect counterpart to Arkin. They complimented each other. Though she didn’t go on to be a movie star, she’s continued to work in the film industry as an actor and producer. Locke was also nominated for a Best Supporting Actress Oscar, but lost to Ruth Gordon.

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One of my favorite scenes in the film

Chuck McCann’s screen time may be a short, but he certainly makes his mark in the film. He was known for most of his career as a comic actor, but this film showcases his dramatic range. He is also famous for having a relationship with Stan Laurel. He apparently just found his number in the phone book and called him up. Fascinating…

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All Chuck McCann’s character wants to do this in this film is eat and I totally get it. 

Percy Rodrigues, Cicely Tyson, and Stacy Keach also give great supporting performances.

The Story

I had not read McCullers book when I saw the film, but feel compelled now to do so. Similarly to To Kill a Mockingbird, McCullers book discusses the South as well as racism and other social issues. To me, the film is ultimately about what it feels like to be lonely. It’s less about the plot and more how these significantly different people deal with their loneliness.

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No overacting. Arkin, man. He’s great.

In this way, the film reminds me of Netflix’s recent adaptation of the YA bestseller 13 Reasons Why. Everything Arkin’s Singer does is to bring people closer together. Even though ultimately, he’ll never feel that closeness with the people around him, he tries to help people where he can, even when he’s met with derision and anger. In 13 Reasons Why, the real message to take away is that our actions matter, both in positive and negative ways. We never know what anguish and pain the people around us are going through, but in our small way, we can do our part to make their lives a little brighter.

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“We have to do better.” – Clay

The Direction

In true indie style, you’ve probably never heard of the director of this film. I hadn’t. His name was Robert Ellis Miller and he actually passed away in January of this year. He directed the film very much like a play. He let moments play out organically. You never felt like you were being manipulated. It all felt genuine and real.

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So sweet

Carson McCullers

I think it’s amazing that Carson McCullers got this published at the age of 22. Her life was filled with pain. She attempted suicide, but was not successful. Carson had a tumultuous childhood and a rough adulthood, which was cut short when she died of a brain hemorrhage, just before filming began for The Heart is a Lonely Hunter.

As such, I think there’s a melancholy nature to all her works, but especially this novel. She took her pain and turned it into something meaningful, art that serves as a reminder that we all experience loneliness and that feeling that way is part of the human experience.

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She’s also famous for “The Ballad of the Sad Cafe.”

The Heart is a Lonely Hunter is a poignant portrait of what it’s like to feel lonely.

It’s completely forgotten, but I don’t find its themes any less relevant than those expressed in Netflix’s 13 Reasons Why. We all get lonely to different degrees and we truly can all do our part to reach out and connect with the people around us. In this strange age we’re in, I think this film’s message is of the utmost importance.

 

Gifs and photos property of Warner Bros.

 

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The Charms and Flaws of Hannah Fidell’s ‘6 Years’

Back in February of 2015, I got a screening invitation for a movie called 6 Years. Though I was intrigued by the poster, I couldn’t make it to the screening. Months later, I noticed it, while doing the random, late night Netflix search and decided to give it a watch.

While the film is definitely flawed, I found it to be mesmerizing and thought provoking. Produced by the ever-wonderful Duplass brothers and written/directed by Hannah Fidell, 6 Years unflinchingly explores all sorts of relationship issues including adultery and physical abuse. However, to me the film at its core is really about the fact that sometimes, as sad as it is, we outgrow relationships. There’s still love, but a time comes when both parties need to move on and that’s more heartbreaking than anything!

If you’re not familiar, 6 Years follows Melanie (Taissa Farmiga) and Dan (Ben Rosenfield), two halves of a young couple that has been together for six years (title!). Dan is about to graduate college and possibly move away for a job. Melanie still has a year left of school. Thus, they’re in a weird phase of their life and drama ensues.

Here’s why you should watch 6 Years on Netflix ASAP:

The Creative Team

The Duplass Brothers, who directed this film are for real responsible for many of our tv/film obsessions. They’ve produced the much lauded HBO comedy Togetherness (I’m still mourning its cancellation!), The Overnight, and the upcoming sure-to-be-amazing Anna Kendrick film, Table 17. They’re great about supporting indie writers/directors like Hannah Fidell, who previously wrote and directed A Teacher, which was another Sundance gem.

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As my mother would say…they’re very Jewish.

The Cast

The strength of this film rests largely on its two young, intensely talented leads: Taissa Farmiga and Ben Rosenfield. Taissa is the younger sister of acclaimed Bates Motel actress, Vera Farmiga, and she certainly got the acting gene. She’s emotional, yet I never felt like a moment was false.

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What if he was just like, um, no?

Similarly, Ben Rosenfield is a revelation in this film.You might know Ben from his stint on Boardwalk Empire or as one of Logan Lerman’s roommates in the recent indie, Indignation. However, 6 Years is his chance to shine and he does. He’s insanely charming and I’m not just saying that because he has great hair, though of course he DOES. 

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Also, can we talk about his hair PLEASE?

Both of their characters do some pretty awful things and yet, Dan and Melanie are still relatable. That’s called acting chops, people!

The Script/Outline

IMHO, this no-real-script thing is usually a detriment and I do think that this may be one of the film’s major downfalls. However, what the film loses in wit, it gains in verisimilitude. Fidell’s script was apparently an outline which included pictures. Similar to Drake Doremus’s Like Crazy, the outline was more of a jumping off point than anything else. Rosenfield and Farmiga knew what was supposed to happen, but they improvised their actual lines. Though according to my dad the film had one too many curse words, 6 Years presents college age kids the way they really talk and thus, makes the characters feel more genuine.

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BURNNNNN.

The Incredible Indie Soundtrack

I’m not gonna lie – the soundtrack for this film is maybe eighty-five percent of why you should watch it. Literally, the moment it was over, I was pulling up the soundtrack’s playlist on Spotify. It’s seriously amazing. Here’s one of my favorite songs from the film:

The Themes

For all its flaws, I loved the film because of the issues it tackles and the way it tackles them. So many times, especially in regards to serious issues like abuse, we tend to vilify someone in a relationship. From the outside, it’s very easy to do that. This person’s abusive – simple answer, leave them! The film makes you feel like you’re in it with them and as despicable as both of them can be, we relate to both of them and can’t put either of them into a box of the “good guy” or “bad guy.” They both make big mistakes, but ultimately their love for each other is real. It’s just not enough to keep them together.

The film is also about decisions in your early twenties. There’s a scene where Dan is telling his mother that he was offered a job at a record label in New York, but that he’s considering not taking it because Mel still has a year left in school. His mother tells him that the decisions you make at this age affect the course of your life and so, you need to think about yourself, be a little selfish. I love Dan’s answer too, “It’s kinda stressful.” I feel ya, Dan. Decisions are always stressful because you don’t know how they will turn out.

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So sweet. 

It’s emotional and thought provoking

When I see a movie, the thing I’m most hoping for is that it gives me something to think about. For a movie that’s only a little over an hour long, 6 Years packs a lot. While I think the film is far from being perfect or even one of my favorite films, it leaves you with something to think about and to me, that’s one of the major purposes of cinema.

It is an emotional one so only watch this if you’re in the mood to feel ALL the feels – including the bad ones! I think it’s worth it just for the performances by Ben and Taissa, who are sure to go on to big things!

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I’m feeling TOO MANY FEELSSSS.

Trailer below:

Photos and Gifs property of Netflix.

Why ‘Short Term 12’ is a Modern Classic

At the first TCM Film Festival, back in 2010, I think it’s safe to say my brothers and I were the youngest people there. We cornered Ben Mankiewicz (just kidding – he loved talking to us!) and asked him if he thought good movies were still being made today. We were trying to settle an argument in which my dad had asserted that most movies made after 1990 were of mediocre quality. Ben laughed and told us that of course, good movies were still being made. He said that whether it was 1940 or 2010, there are good movies and there are bad movies. No time is perfect. Short Term 12, made in 2013, is a perfect example for anyone who thinks that new movies are all crap.

I remember very distinctly seeing the trailer for this movie and saying, “Ooh, Brie Larson and John Gallagher Jr!” Yes, I was literally seeing it because of the stars. I never thought it would become one of my favorite movies, but it did. When it came out in Los Angeles, I dragged my roommate to see it with me. We were two of four people in the theater…mind you, it was a week day, but still…

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Brie is EVERYTHING

It was one of those experiences you have where you come out of the theater and can’t believe something that amazing exists, something that touches you on such a deep level and is actually about an important issue. I was in awe of this film and so, went back to see it in theaters multiple times, each time dragging a new person with me. I was a little obsessive.

If you’ve never seen the film, here’s the 411: Short Term 12 follows a group of line staff at a short-term care center for foster kids. The place is essentially a halfway house – as Brie says in the film, “they just keep them [the kids] until the state figures out where they’re gonna go next” (Cretton). Brie’s character, Grace, is leader of the line staff. She’s a girl who has a few demons of her own. She takes her job very seriously and when they take in a new girl, Jayden (Kaitlyn Dever), Grace is forced to face those demons. And of course, that complicates her relationship with her boyfriend and fellow line staff member, Mason (John Gallagher Jr.) and drama ensues!

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#drama

So, even though this blog is dedicated almost exclusively to older films, I wanted to take a minute and talk about this film because it is already a classic. And here are a few reasons why:

The Cast

Obviously, Brie Larson won the Oscar this past year for her performance in Room, (which is also great), but I believe her performance in Short Term 12 was just as Oscar worthy. I remember hearing a story about James Cagney in which he gave advice on acting. He said, “You walk in, plant yourself, look the other fella in the eye, and tell the truth” (Cagney). Brie Larson, whether she’s heard that advice or not, reflects that ideal in this film. She’s so genuine in every moment. This movie would be worth watching just for her performance which is subtle, relatable, and heartbreaking.

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I think she pulls off this look pretty well…

John Gallagher Jr. is also wonderful as Mason. I’ve been a fan of John since he was in the original cast of Spring Awakening on Broadway. And then, of course, he was on The Newsroom, a show which I worship in a god-like way. He shares that same verisimilitude that Brie has. In every moment of everything I’ve seen him in, there’s never been one false moment. Maybe that’s why it’s so easy to fall in love with him, in The Newsroom and in Short Term 12. Plus, he’s hilarious!

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Be still my beating Newsroom-loving heart…

Kaitlyn Dever was quite the discovery as Jayden, the new girl with an attitude problem. It’s easy when you first see her on screen to put her in a box, but she’s got layers upon layers and took her big emotional moments in the film and played them with subtlety. I’m sure we’re going to see great things from her.

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Love the eyeliner action.

Keith Stanfield had been in the original short that Director Destin Cretton made on the subject. He shines as Marcus, a quiet, smart, but insecure kid who’s about to turn eighteen, and thus, be thrown out into the real world, with no one to help him. He wrote original raps for the film and they are heart-wrenching and powerful.

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Powerful words, no?

Finally, Rami Malek (who, of course now, has had great success with USA’s Mr. Robot) is great as the newest line staff member, Nate. His part may be small, but he makes the most of it and actually has some of the funniest moments in the film.

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A slightly different character than he plays in Mr. Robot…

The Screenplay

Destin Daniel Cretton first made a short about this subject and then decided to expand it into a feature. He based on his time working in residential foster care. As such, there’s a weight to it beyond just being an entertaining story. He obviously wanted to tell this story because his experiences and what he observed were close to his heart. His story is what all great stories are about: human beings. Flawed as the characters might be, they’re completely relatable and feel true.

As a writer, his screenplay is truly inspiring to me.

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#HeartBreaking

The Music 

The original score for Short Term 12 was written by Joel P. West, who’s only just now, starting to garner some attention. To me, his music is vital to the film. It almost feels like another character. It’s subtle and somehow fits these people and their journeys perfectly.

As I mentioned, though, Keith Stanfield wrote some raps for the film and they are incredible. This one, especially:

The Cinematography

Brett Pawlak served as DP on the film and the results are incredible. This also goes hand in hand with the direction of the film. There’s a scene where Jayden is waiting to be picked up, listening to a song on headphones. Cretton and Pawlak do such a great job of making you feel like you’re in her head, going through it along with her.

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When she looks up THOUGH

It’s heartfelt and deeply moving

This movie left an impression on me. It’s special because it’s not exploitative. It’s coming from the heart and you can tell. Some people, like my dad, have a bias against new films simply because they’re new. And mind you, I think there are a lot of bad movies being made today. But, this movie is a reminder that a good story is a good story, no matter when it’s made. Cretton established himself as a filmmaker interested in characters and I can’t wait to see his next film!

 

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Great line.

Watch the trailer below. The film is available to stream on Netflix. 😍