Forbearance

Forbearance is a typical weepie plot — a couple grappling with a cancer diagnosis — with a different spin on it because the main couple is on the verge of divorce. How can they reconcile the news of this sickness and the marital tension they are experiencing? These two devastating crises test the lead characters, Josh and Callie Sunbury, as they must confront painful truths. All of this makes for an incredibly intense drama. 

The Sunbury’s have been married for twenty-something years but they are constantly arguing with one another when he’s not working at the factory or she is teaching at the local high school. There’s something about the actors Juli Tapken and Travis Hancock that seems mismatched—he is all brute force with a tinge of misogyny and she is more brittle and independent. But perhaps that’s the point: they were doomed from the start. The day Callie comes home with divorce papers is the day she learns that he has cancer and only a few months to live. 

The film is a grounded depiction of two flawed adults stumbling through some life-changing news. They have no idea what is the right or wrong way to act or how to deal with the regret of past mistakes that may never be fixed. What makes Forbearance such a unique drama centered on cancer is that there is no uplifting reconciliation or cloying epiphany.

Forbearance is not without its missteps. The dark lighting and harsh brick settings don’t make it particularly pleasant to look at, with the exception of some beautiful farmland scenery from cinematographer Tyler Sanso. There are several side characters and subplots that are overexaggerated, such as an old affair and an estranged adult son who cannot understand why his father does not choose treatment; though well-acted by the filmmaker Cedric Gegel, it seems unnecessary. The somewhat sluggish pacing makes these detours feel a bit frustrating as well.

Nevertheless, Gegel proves himself to be a fine actor and his directing/screenwriting efforts are commendable. He crafts an authentic drama that draws from his own experience as a cancer survivor. Forbearance is a brave work that bravely traverses all of the fears, sadness, and uncertainties surrounding the illness and its effect on family — those you have solid or strained relationships with. It is a very raw film that deals with big emotions with admirable sincerity.

Love in Kilnerry

Love in Kilnerry has all the elements of classic British comedies that juxtapose quaint conservative settings with something risque (The Full Monty, Kinky Boots, Calendar Girls, etc.). The film trades an England locale for a sleepy New England town that looks like it belongs in a snow globe, populated with close-knit residents who live quiet and repressed lives. The gorgeous landscape shots are brightly lit: the autumnal colors and green valleys nearly pop off the screen. The town residents are afraid of change and often sweep their unhappiness under the rug, whether from a failing marriage, losing a loved one, or pining after someone but being too shy to confess their attraction. 

Their picturesque world is rocked when a representative from the Environmental Protection Agency holds a town meeting and explains that a local factory has been dumping toxic byproducts into the water supply. This may cause some side effects such as a ravenous libido that the straight-laced town sheriff Gary O’Reilly (an affable Daniel Keith) must try to control. Keith also writes and directs Love in Kilnerry which allows him to balance such fantastic performances from a large ensemble. Much to the chagrin of Nessa (Kathy Searle in an adorably high-strung role) who has a crush on him, Gary must resist succumbing to the aphrodisiac so that he can stop the townspeople’s crazy antics such as having public sex or riding their bikes naked. 

It’s refreshing to see a film that focuses on older characters, with the majority of them being over 50 years old. The premise of elders spouting profanity-laden zingers and engaging in raunchy sex acts (complete with dominatrix outfits, orgies, and sex dungeons!) is, obviously, played for laughs, but the film never makes fun of them for being sexual at an old age. Rather, the humor is found in the relief these winsome characters feel now that they are free of their inhibitions. The talented ensemble is able to make these silly and exaggerated moments feel genuine. 

There’s a kernel of sweetness in the lewd comedy that keeps Love in Kilnerry from being exploitative, largely drawn from the quaintness of the town and its inhabitants. Occasionally the jokes are a bit too over-the-top and cringy, and the side plots and various characters are hard to keep track of, but overall the film is a delightful whirlwind of a farce. Love in Kilnerry is a quirky, sex-positive tale about opening yourself up to new experiences that is irresistibly charming. 

Belle Vie

At the heart of Marcus Mizelle’s Belle Vie is Vincent Samarco, a passionate French immigrant whose warm and jovial demeanor has you fully invested in his difficult journey bringing his restaurant Belle Vie (meaning “the good life”) to his Los Angeles community. Slideshows of close-up images detail the delicious food that he so finely crafts. Mizelle’s film is a medley of small, intimate observations into Samarco’s domestic life, family history, and relationships with his workers— all of the human details that go into his trade. 

Belle Vie is not your average food documentary as it explores the impact of COVID-19 on hardworking restauranters like Samarco. Despite all of the struggles to remain open during California’s harsh restrictions, Samarco maintains a positivity that is inspiring.  He reflects on the importance of restaurants and other public institutions to find kinship and camaraderie with others. Belle Vie was the heart of many people’s lives, a space for good music, conversation, and meeting new friends. In this modern age of remote work and staring in front of our computer screens all day, Samarco’s heartfelt interviews about the virtues of human connection are quite moving to hear. 

One of the unique things that Samarco did during the pandemic was let patrons contribute their favorite memories on a chalk drawing that looked like the inside of Belle Vie covering the facade of the restaurant. Mizelle’s combination of talking head interviews and fly-on-the-wall shots of Samarco and his wife Ornella is very engaging, especially as they fight to keep Belle Vie open while the state piles on more and more constraints. Samarco’s earnest love of cooking and community, as well as his good-natured presence, makes Belle Vie an uplifting work in spite of the disheartening ending. Through its hardworking and cheerful main subject, the affectionate documentary Belle Vie delivers a powerful message about persevering despite the worst and most uncertain of times. It is exactly the kind of comfort food we need in this post-pandemic world. 

Stalker

Incorporating social media into films—particularly horror genre ones—in an organic and fluid manner is tricky,  but Stalker does so with panache. Tyler Savage’s Stalker is an unsettling film about the dual disconnection and intrusiveness of modern society. The riveting Vincent Van Horn stars as Andrew, a young man soothing his recent heartbreak by moving to Los Angeles. He still spends his nights scrolling through photographic memories with his ex-girlfriend Erin. Soon he meets the beguiling Sam (Christine Ko) at a bar and they connect over their failed relationships. Andrew’s world comes crashing down when he crosses paths with Roger,  a lonely ride-share driver. 

Michael Lee Joplin’s kinetic performance carries the film; he deftly balances the eerie charm of the psychopathic role without being too cartoonish. Roger develops an obsession with Andy and starts harassing him by threatening his adorable dog Juicebox, installing secret cameras, impersonating him on phone calls, and so much more. Savage, working from his script with Dash Hawkins, skillfully builds the tension as Roger’s grip on Andy’s life becomes increasingly stronger. Roger ends up running Andy’s job, relationships, and finances with the simple push of a button. The way Roger can destroy Andy’s life and assume his identity through technology with such ease is utterly terrifying. 

Stalker features a clever twist ending that is best left as a surprise and sure to rattle viewers. Savage makes great use of the lower budget and small cast to craft an unsettling film about the power social media has in our lives. It is an incisive horror piece that handles its brutality and psychological menace with precision and makes you think twice about exposing yourself so intimately online. 

Coast

Coast has familiar teen-movie themes: disaffected youth who want to escape their hometown, teen pregnancy, an inspiring English teacher, concerns about the future, and parental strife. But it is also an affectionate portrait of a unique and specific agricultural community and its people. The film focuses on the children of Californian immigrants who endure difficult, back-breaking labor in the local strawberry fields or vineyards. Coast centers on a group of bold young girls who yearn to find their own place in the world. 

15-year-old Abby (Fatima Ptacek) longs to know what lies beyond her stifling hometown of Santa Maria, a point of view that is slightly at odds with the painterly compositions of pale skies and lush greens from cinematographer D.J. Harder. She cannot appreciate the town’s rugged beauty because, like most teenagers, she wants to spread her wings and fly somewhere else. Ptacek delivers an electric performance as the rebellious and listless Abby. She fiercely communicates the fire in Abby’s belly for something more, particularly through her love of music. 

Abby butts heads with her hard-working mother, a night-shift nurse played by a staid Cristela Alonzo. She takes care of an ailing woman played by the formidable Melissa Leo, whose side plot is unnecessary but engaging. Abby’s father Blake (Paul McCarthy-Boyington) has been kicked out of their home for getting his secretary pregnant and Abby largely ignores him. A bright light in Abby’s humdrum existence is the enigmatic musician Dave (Kane Ritchotte), a traveling musician who makes Abby believe her dreams can come true. 

Directors Jessica Hester and Derek Schweickart and writer Cindy Kitagawa give Coast a meandering feeling that drags at times but evokes the aimless feeling of the main characters. What is most significant about the film is that it is told through the lens of Hispanic teenagers, many of whose parents are undocumented laborers. There is also the constant thrum of music, whether it be live performances or on the soundtrack that gives Coast vibrant energy, even in its tedious moments. Coast is an earnest coming-of-age film about adolescent discontent with a unique perspective on the pressures of second-generation immigrants.