What to Watch This Weekend: ‘The Tragedy of Macbeth,’ ‘The Tender Bar’ Or ‘The Lost Daughter’
Pick between enterting the misty, mysterious world of Shakespeare, motherhood and a heartwarming coming-of-age film
The Tragedy of Macbeth
Directed by Joel Coen, the younger but taller of the two Coen brothers who’s married to Frances McDormand, The Tragedy of Macbeth (streaming on Apple TV) is an abridged, black and white, theatrical rendition of Shakespeare’s play. It also speaks Elizabethan English, often in verse.
Because of this and its heavy-duty cast — Denzel Washington, McDormand and talent drawn from British acting royalty — The Tragedy of Macbeth carries the heft and weight of nine Oscars, several BAFTAs, Golden Globes, Cesars, Emmys and Tonys.
Naturally, you approach the film as one would look forward to a special English literature lecture by a world-renowned professor: With nervous excitement, but also apprehension. You want to bask in its brilliance, but fear whether you will understand what is being said.
For the most part, The Tragedy of Macbeth feels like that momentous English literature class in college where you get just 30 percent of what was said, but acquire bragging rights for life.
I watched the film without pause or even a loo break because it is stark, sparse and yet cinematically brilliant.
It conjures a misty, mysterious world and stages each scene like a play, with entries, exits and powerful, breathless soliloquies in between. Most of them are by Macbeth.
The problem with the film is not so much that its language is inaccessible, but that there isn’t much drama. Characters are shrunk in stature and their scenes and lines are cut down to the bare, expository minimum so that the stage can be cleared for Denzel Washington’s histrionics.
Every scene on foggy nights, men approaching us from a dusty horizon, strange play with walls and stairs, light and shadow, are just stunning settings for Washington to hold forth. He is good, not great because in almost every scene his all-too-familiar mannerism breaks the spell.
The film has powerful actors playing significant characters, but all of them, including Banquo and Macduff, are allowed just fleeting appearances. Worse, Lady Macbeth is shown first as a conniving woman, and then a worried wife who eventually just sleepwalks around. Big moments like the Great Birnam Wood moving towards Dunsinane Hill are deflated and robbed of their climactic power.
Despite all this, the shape-shifting Kathryn Hunter, who packs in the power of Three Witches into one, lifts the film with her haunting performance. Her twisting body and gravelly voice gift the film its only two memorable scenes. Hunter’s witch is scary and mesmerizing and The Tragedy of Macbeth is worth a watch just for her.
The Lost Daughter
Since The Lost Daughter dropped on Netflix, it has triggered many women into writing confessional or think pieces, as well as social media posts about motherhood, the ideal mother and the impossibility of the perfect mummy.
The film, directed by Maggie Gyllenhaal and starring Olivia Colman, is based on a novel of the same name by Elena Ferrante.
I have not read the book by the Italian author whose identity remains a mystery, but these deep-breathing pieces about mummies and motherhood are entirely misplaced in the context of the film.
The Lost Daughter is a bit lost.
The film introduces the character of Leda (Olivia Colman), a 48-year-old academic who is on a working vacation in a quiet Italian seaside town, as a prickly, private person. She is possessive about her space and is quick to swat away all intrusions.
The way Colman plays Leda, there is no lightness to her. She is a jumble of heightened emotions who is forever teetering on the edge of an emotional outburst.
There are some flare-ups, some quiet moments with the caretaker, Lyle (Ed Harris), and in between these Leda finds herself drawn to a young mother, Nina (Dakota Johnson), who is shapely, sensuous and mysterious. One day, when Nina’s daughter goes missing, Leda finds her but begins to unravel herself.
There are flashbacks to Leda’s past, to days when she was a young mother and struggled to work and find a moment of peace but couldn’t because of the demands of her two daughters and a husband away on work. Exhausted from the physical and emotional effort of being a single parent, she left them for three years in the care of their father to pursue her passions — literary translations and a hottie professor.
The Lost Daughter wants to tell the story of a working woman and a young mother who struggled to be both. But the story it tells is about a middle-aged woman who is weighed down by guilt. Those three years are like a boulder tied to Leda’s neck that she lugs around. The Lost Daughter just can’t reconcile with those three years despite the fact that Jessie Buckley, who plays young Leda, embodies the pain of being pulled in two different directions subtly and with dignity.
The film creates moments of shame for Leda, and the bowed-head solemnity with which Colman “performs” the role of an “unnatural mother” often feels as if the universe of The Lost Daughter is telling her that she doesn’t deserve the air she is breathing.
If we weren’t explicitly told otherwise, we’d think that Leda didn’t leave her daughters in the care of her husband, but did something terrible to them.
The 1979 film, Kramer Vs. Kramer, had more feminist cred than The Lost Daughter.
The Tender Bar
The Tender Bar (streaming on Amazon Prime) is a warm, slick, cool coming-of-age film directed by George Clooney and starring Ben Affleck.
Based on American novelist and journalist J.R. Moehringer’s 2005 memoir of the same name, the film is set in Long Island, New York, in the languorous Seventies. It’s a world that carries the peppy colors and craziness of the Sixties like a hangover.
The film, told from the point of view of the droopy-eyed nine-year-old J.R., has a glowing warm heart.
The story is simple and American.
J.R.’s mother (Lily Rabe) has had to move back to her father’s house because of an absent husband and the role of his mentor and friend is taken on casually by his flamboyant Uncle Charlie (Ben Affleck) who drives a Cadillac DeVille convertible and runs a local bar.
Charlie teaches J.R. the “male sciences,” encourages and supports him to write, while his mother spends all her time and energy in hoping that he gets into Yale.
J.R. grows up to become a writer who chases impossible relationships.
I loved Daniel Ranieri, the boy with the longest eyelashes who plays the young J.R. It’s while holding his hand that we walk through this world that is made up of knitted sweaters, high-waist trousers, old men on recliners, friendly faces in smoky bars and a home where there’s love around the dinner table.
If you were to pick just one of these films to watch this weekend, I recommend The Tender Bar. It is the most honest of the three and it has a rather dashing Ben Affleck.