Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri

Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri

By: Kevin Jordan

Whose side are you on?

(It’s award consideration season and I’m playing catch-up.  As I tear through them, I thought I’d try mini-reviews.  Enjoy!)

About seventeen minutes into Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri, Sheriff Willoughby (Woody Harrelson) has the following exchange with distraught mother Mildred Hayes (Frances McDormand) whose daughter was raped and murdered months earlier and who erected three billboards questioning the police’s job performance because she is pissed at the sheriff for not arresting anybody for the crime:

Willoughby: “I’d do anything to catch the guy who did it, Mrs. Hayes.  But when the DNA don’t match no one who’s ever been arrested, and when the DNA don’t match any other crime nationwide, and when there wasn’t a single eyewitness from the time she left your house to the time we found her, well, right now there ain’t too much more that we can do except…”

Mildred: “Could pull blood from every man and boy in this town over the age of eight.”

Willoughby: “There’s civil rights laws prevents that, Mrs. Hayes, and what if he was just passing through town…”

Mildred: “Pull blood from ever’ man in the country, then.”

Willoughby: “And what if he was just passing through the country?”

Mildred: “If it was me, I’d start up a database, every male baby what’s born, stick ‘em on it, cross-reference it, and as soon as they done something wrong, make a hundred-per-cent certain it was a correct match, then kill ’em.”

Willoughby: “Yeah, well, there’s definitely civil rights laws prevents that.”

Prior to that exchange, writer/director Martin McDonagh had us fully on Mildred’s side and thinking the sheriff was a lazy dick.  After that exchange, we’re hooked by this film because we have no idea who we’re supposed to be rooting for.  Of course we want justice for Mildred and her daughter, but the sheriff makes some damned good points and sounds like he really tried to find the killer.  This is the epitome of a movie that is constantly pulling you from one side to the other and not just with the main plot.  Every character in this movie, from Mildred’s son Lucas (Robbie Hayes) to angry and racist officer Dixon (Sam Rockwell) to billboard proprietor Red (Caleb Landry Jones) to others, are multi-faceted, rich characters that will take your initial allegiances and stomp on them.  Then, they’ll stomp on them again just to make sure you weren’t getting comfortable again.  It’s a rare movie that can make you root for everyone and no one at the same time

Rating: Don’t ask for any money back.  Mildred didn’t after Willoughby’s speech so neither should you.

Laggies

By: Kevin Jordan

Growing up is hard.

laggies

Wouldn’t it be nice if we could get just one movie about several different relationships that wasn’t an insipid ensemble movie featuring several pairs of people with tenuous, at best, connections between each other?  You know what I’m talking about – movies like Valentine’s Day or Love Actually or What to Expect When You’re Expecting.  Yeah, I know that last one is about pregnancies, but that didn’t stop it from sucking as hard as a hungry infant.  My point is that Laggies is that movie you were waiting for.  Unless, of course, you’re actually waiting for Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar, in which case maybe you don’t care about movies like Laggies at all and you probably clicked on this review because you just wanted to know what the hell a laggie is.

Even after seeing the movie, I’m not really sure what a laggie is, but I think it refers to people who are lagging behind their peers in some way or another.  I know – my insight is astounding.  Anyway, Keira Knightley plays Megan, our main laggie.  She’s 28 years old with an advanced degree, but works for her dad as a sidewalk sign twirler and still thinks tweaking a giant Buddha statue’s nipples is hilarious (for the record, she’s right).  She is still close with her high school circle of friends and still dating her high school sweetheart.  Her friends and boyfriend, Anthony (Mark Webber), are all “grown up” while Megan still goes over to her parent’s house to surf cable have build-your-own-pizza night.  I’m not sure what Anthony sees in Megan, but she must make one hell of a pizza, if you know what I mean.

Suffice it to say, Megan is basically still in high school and this point is emphasized when she befriends a group of teenagers when she buys booze for them.  She quickly becomes close friends with their de facto leader, Annika (Chloe Grace Moretz).  After a couple of days of hanging out and a marriage proposal by Anthony, Megan decides to crash at Annika’s house for a week to figure things out.  Say it with me – SLEEPOVER!  With a…28 year old!?…sign-twirler who misses skateboarding and buys liquor for minors?  When do the cops show up and where are Annika’s parents?

Speaking of which, this is the point at which Sam Rockwell shows up, playing Annika’s father, Craig.  Craig is a divorced divorce-lawyer whose ex-wife, Bethany (Gretchen Mol), ran out on Annika and him when Annika was just eight.  We briefly meet Bethany somewhere around the half-way mark of the film, which is also the point at which we realize this movie is actually a coming-of-age story, rather than a relationship story, thus further explaining “laggies.”  It’s also at this point that you notice Knightley is delivering an unexpectedly great performance.

For the first half of the film, Knightley is acting like a child and speaking like a child.  It gets kind of annoying and you start to wonder how she doesn’t get slapped by people more often, especially by her bitchy friend, Allison (Ellie Kemper), who really didn’t appreciate Buddha’s nipples being tweaked.  When Megan goes with Annika to see Bethany, her voice drops at least two octaves and her mannerisms age roughly twenty years.  It’s the kind of performance that makes you pay attention and wonder how she could be the same person that crapped the bed in Pride and Prejudice.  And, Megan’s not the only one we see advancing.  Annika matures past her devil-may-care, rebellious teenage attitude, as do her friends.  All of them are dealing with various relationships and all of them deliver performances that make you believe that those relationships might not be 100% fiction.

What’s really good about this movie is that there is at least one relationship or character that we all can relate to.  We all know a Megan (or nine) in our lives, and who doesn’t have friends whose parents got divorced – or are divorced themselves?  It’s a refreshing movie that doesn’t get too serious with those relationships, but doesn’t make any of them preposterous either.  When all is said and done, you’ll walk away from this film satisfied, though I still wonder what a laggie is.

Rating: Ask for two dollars back.  If there’s a flaw with this movie, it’s that Sam Rockwell is given nowhere near enough screen time, and honestly, he’s the main reason I went to this movie.