The film’s biggest knock is its inability to speak to everyone as succinctly as it spoke to me. To call it a comedy special is a disservice that sets an expectation for the ‘knee-slapping observations’ to unfold (we will leave the title of ‘Best Comedy Special’ to Michael Che for the year), and viewers with such an expectation are destined to be a bit perplexed by the introspective piece they no doubt got instead. Inside is a film about being inside. It is a film about the people inside who will watch it. And it is a film about the ones inside our heads clamoring for an opportunity to make a joke when no one is laughing in the background.
The first act is a stack of cards, and it is here that we introduce the film’s core downfall which is its ambitious world building that occasionally stretches beyond our ability to grasp the breadth of its implications. But at the end of the day, when all is left but a lonely man and his pig, it grows hard to care about such trivialities as a ‘best films of the year’ list. Unless, of course, you do it for you. And you do it for the people who may smile and remember that one meal or nugget of wisdom that they hold with them today to lift them out of the mud.
CODA may not be a perfect film. It certainly uses our love of these characters to its advantage in ways that may seem exploitative to the actual grounded foundation of the plot. But the point is deemed moot as the final scene plays in all its magnificent glory, a scene in which a line—a single word—is enough to make you cry.
Licorice Pizza is not only a stellar redefining of the romantic comedy, but it’s also bolstered by—and even carried on the back of—Alana Haim, a performer with an almost envious quality to demonstrate a beautiful understanding of empathy, to allow her character (known to the audience as ‘Alana’, using her own namesake) to make chaotic decisions that are uniquely understandable.
The three perspectives so clearly established in the film by the three writers only speaks to further the audience understanding. Whether it is the symbolism of a horse misused and locked away, or the declaration of a man’s insistence that sexual violence against a woman he ‘loves’ is a scorn against him, The Last Duel embraces its horror undertones. It uses genre to liven its experience and reveal that not all is as it seems.
Critics may scoff at The Harder They Fall’s conventions, lamenting that the narrative takes too many diversions into a burgeoning romance and contrives excuses to keep that romance alive. And that is a valid complaint. But The Harder They Fall proves, unmistakably, that a storyteller makes all the difference. No one is ever truly bothered by predictable narratives considering how much time we spend re-watching our comfort classics in place of new material. And sometimes all it takes is a fresh perspective, someone painting with a brush that’s just a little bit broader on an already delightful canvass, for us to marvel at a picture all over again.