I haven’t been an avid movie person in the past, but this recent year, specifically these past two months, I relished in two movies that have quickly risen to the top of my favorites list. And the best part is that they were both a complete and utter surprise to me.
After the disaster movie ending I experienced with Tully, where I was overly immersed in the main character’s life only to receive your typical Hollywood twist that pulled me completely out of the storyline, I became overly cautious when it came to sinking fully into the carefully curated world of films.
But these two were simply too good from start to finish; the kind of films I want to watch again and again, or at the very least, revisit them in my mind over and over.
I like my movies like I like my books: introspective and entirely character-driven. (Check out my My Favorite Books of 2018 for similar book recommendations.)
Stella’s Last Weekend:
I went into Stella’s Last Weekend giving it less than one minute to impress me because I wasn’t up for another movie disappointment, as you can imagine with my previous fails. And I have to give credit where credit is due because this film had me within the opening shot because I’m a sucker for a beautiful beach with a moody boy looking like he’s in an indie music video.
This film is about a family coming together to “celebrate” their dog of 17 years coming to the end of her life, and it’s written by a mother who clearly knows how her boys work best together. Through this family project blossoms a wholesome story that made me completely sink into the film, so much so that I got to let go for all my troubles, which was saying a lot that particular day.
And then, of course, I was flooded back with a wave of nostalgia when it came to the unbreakable dynamic established between Nat and Alex Wolff, which I haven’t experienced since my days of watching The Naked Brothers Band on Nickelodeon. What with Nat’s songs causing 8-year-old me to stare moodily into the night through my window and Alex being the wild child (he finally got a real tattoo, which he shows off in Stella’s Last Weekend, after many years of drawing them on his young self on the show), it was like going back to 2007. There is literally not even one scene where those two managed to let me down. I felt like I got to join in on a secret type of magical link only a few get to experience in their lifetime. And you can just tell THEY’RE HAVING SO MUCH FUN TOGETHER IN EACH SCENE, and it’s hard to not catch up on their fun.
Alex’s character, Ollie in particular always had me holding out to see what next surprising line he would utter, especially with phrases like, “I’m a millennial, Jack, Mom works for me.”
A movie that can make me feel included on all the inside jokes with a simple look that says it all is my kind of movie. Like, the Mom (Polly Draper) interacting with her boys through glances is the perfect way of showing instead of telling. And I can’t get enough of it because this is something rarely established, and we get to experience this effect thanks to these three being so comfortable around each other; this is a whole deeper level of family.
There’s so much I want to say (and that I’ve been bursting to write down ever since I first saw the film) and no way to capsulize it, so I think a bullet-point list will come in handy:
- This film holds another point for realism in the simplicity of having dialogue that returns back to the point where it last left off. Realistically, if you were abruptly cut off before a major revelation from someone, you would return as soon as possible to that topic of conversation with said person. So little things like this had me star-struck.
- Said person who holds the major revelation is, of course, the main clashing point for these two brothers: Violet. Though, it’s a sign of how comfortable Ollie is around her that he can act exactly the same with his brother when they’re all together. It took only one scene to showcase this. Brilliant.
- The main bonding point for these two brothers then surprisingly is Ron aka the father nobody asked for. Nothing was as reassuring for these two as making fun of Ron with the constant reminder that nobody understands his place in their close-knit family.
- Speaking of, the humor in this is something else I cannot even begin to capture. Which we especially see in scenes with Ron and the three of them with how he does not get their humor in the slightest. It’s the kind of humor that most would call quiet with how it builds up over years of being around each other; the humor sneaks up on you out of nowhere, but the underlining tone for this movie lies in its intimate playfulness. I remember laughing to myself for a solid week after watching the film because certain scenes would replay in my mind at different times of the day. Like, the “your mother” joke, which is arguably the most overdone comedy, was renewed in the scene where their least favorite employee at their favorite claw machine warns Nat’s character, Jack, “I know about you and the claw,” and Alex’s Ollie brings a brilliant comeback: “He doesn’t cheat, Marty. He’s very loyal to your mother.” All it takes is a simple moment for it to register, and I was laughing uncontrollably.
- Nothing is shown without it having some significance sooner or later, and I appreciate a film dedicated to having a rounded ending.
Stella’s Last Weekend takes on all the tropes associated with the topic of two brothers and one girl and showcases that this really isn’t the case of “Oh, whoever shall I choose?” This is challenged on screen with Jack’s simple “Confused about what? Who’s the right brother? I mean, we’re not the same person.” But I liked that this aspect wasn’t dramatized because it’s simply that Violet met a random dude at a party about a year ago that she really liked, then ended up not calling him because of a misunderstanding and high school drama, and now here she is with this boy named Ollie who turns out to be the brother of… And all this confusion it creates is conveyed so piercingly in the movie when Violet opens up to the mother with a heartbreaking “I don’t know what I’m doing.”
This is the first Hollywood film I’ve seen that actually handles this topic so clearly with a “you can’t get between my two sons,” instead of an “oh, you know, what can you do in the face of Love?” Like, it clearly lays down the situation that we live in a world with so many other people, and you don’t get between two brothers just because your emotions are overbearing at that moment.
Ultimately, this movie succeeds in showcasing the simplest truths about family and the intensity of love and the confusion that accompanies it. And the extra effort put in that differentiates a good movie from a bad one comes to shine in the everyday interactions that replicate real-life moments we don’t even notice until we see them broadcasted on the big screen and receive this peg of recognition, of feeling seen. As you can see I genuinely care for this movie, so if you’re intrigued check out the trailer here:
On the flip side of that, here is another movie that I recently watched that had the same where-has-this-been-all-my-life effect:
The Boy Downstairs:
A young woman is forced to reflect on her first relationship when she inadvertently moves into her ex-boyfriend’s apartment building.
This, like all the best films, was found through a random scroll on the way to find a genuinely good Rom-Com. After a tiny moment of confusion at the World-War-II sounding title, The Boy Downstairs, but I was touched within the opening scene of this film that raises many questions:
This is THE movie for someone who, like me, wants a romance film that isn’t about the grand gestures that give me low-key second-hand embarrassment. Instead the storyline chronicles the development of a relationship through minimal gestures (insignificant in their small inhabitance but grandiose in their meaning), like simply being on each other’s wavelength and genuinely caring and paying attention and openly liking each other just as much as the other does; none of that will-they-won’t-they. And it was, quite frankly, refreshing.
The love interest in this, Ben, still has me in heart-eyes. Like, anytime I recall his heartfelt “I just want to be with you,” it gets me all over again. Not only that, but his initial unsureness around her I found beyond endearing.
Speaking of scenes in The Boy Downstairs, there’s one, in particular, I still haven’t gotten over because it’s expresses such a tender and pure form of love that I’ve yet to see on the big screen where two characters bond not through excessive PDA, which I cannot help but skip over, but rather through sharing childhood school traumas and just looking in each other’s eyes and seeing that twinkle slowly appear as the story progresses and your heart opens up.
You can really feel his love for her through the hurt he feels on her behalf even though it happened years and years ago. I mean, his eyes say it all: This scene was so inviting and open and just so damn raw that I took it as my own.
Truly, Ben’s character just sparks one question: Where can I get one? I cherish this sweatered boy so much.
Speaking of their close nature, I cherished how it was expressed through little gestures that I hold so close to heart, like Ben stroking her cheek simply to feel close to her while she’s telling her story, or Diana stroking Ben’s hair while he’s driving, or stealing little forehead kisses… IT’S THE LITTLE THINGS THAT GET ME.
Another thing: the storytelling used with the constant moving back-and-forth created within the timeline made for an interesting effect, similar to how memories resurface upon seeing a person again. So that Diana would go back to their best moments when they’re not on the best of terms in the present day. And it’s brilliant because after such an intimate scene where she shares so much of herself and he accepts her so openly, seeing him then in this completely unfamiliar terrain in the present day recreates the same betrayal she must feel. Like, we had this heartfelt moment and now you’re somewhere that we have no clue how you even got there.
That’s where the underlying dry-humor comes in to lighten up the mood, and just like the aforementioned film on this list, it’s ground-breaking with how it sneaks up on you. It’s the simplicity of Ben getting her humor that creates this easygoing nature with them, especially when it’s shown throughout the film just how few people get Sophie’s joking. (That restaurant scene with the “I wanted to ask if he had lemons,” still makes me crack up.)
Then on the flip side of that, in the present day, the unbearing nature of living close to someone you’re not with anymore, which can quickly create this dangerous slope where you’re walking home every day with him on your mind, wondering if you’ll see him, you know, just to be prepared ahead of time. And in this case, there’s no way to avoid it because Ben’s window is right there, and Diana‘s seemingly innocent “I’ll just check if he’s near his window not because I care, obviously, just out of habit” says it all. And then when he’s not around anymore like he used to, it creates this heartfelt moment of loss when she can’t seek out that piece of comfort in her day. “How’s Ben?” “I don’t know. He doesn’t live here anymore.” (I can literally recite lines from this film even though it’s been weeks and weeks since I first watched it; that’s how good the script is.)
I’ll be on the look-out for any following works by the writer and director of this film, Sophie Brooks. This movie was a work of art.
Check out the trailer here:
If you’re interested in similar ramblings, I have a full page dedicated to all my TV & Movie-spoils which you can check out here. For similar book recommendations, be sure to also scroll over my My Favorite Books of 2018.
I look forward to reading about your favorite movies in the comments!