IFF Boston is not known for its premieres. Every year the festival grows its prestige and moves closer towards its goal of being a major festival with premieres of films like at Sundance, SXSW or Tribeca. Traditionally, IFFB shows the best of the recent fests, like Sundance, SXSW and Hot Docs. This recent attempt to premiere more films made me both weary and excited. My first encounter with a premiere this year is Homemakers.
Detailing the existence of Irene (Rachel McKeon), an unsuccessful musician in Austin, Homemakers follows her journey to claim the inheritance of an abandoned, virtually unlivable home in Pittsburgh. She is partly the classic teen that refuses to grow up and partly a weird chaotically unique person. While original in her actions, I’m not sure I found them completely believable in the first half of the film. Homemakers left me somewhat perplexed. Is this supposed to be funny? Charming? Relatable? I’m really not sure, because it had none of the desired effects on me. The characters and story were grating.
However, as Irene’s maturation progressed, I began to connect with her. The subtlety in Rachel McKeon’s performance lead me to find her funny, enjoyable, charming and even relatable. And it wasn’t just McKeon; Healey and cinematographer Ben Powell have an excellent eye for color and placement. I love the colors of the film, the costumes, the sets, and the movement of actors. To be clear, it’s not as skilled as recent standout Hide Your Smiling Faces or I Believe in Unicorns, but I’m certainly intrigued to see what else they do in the future.
For most of Homemakers, I wanted to be watching similar, better films. However by the end, the film won me over. I hope it finds distribution and can’t wait to hear what other filmgoers think of the film, and how they react to the eclectic Irene.
The Vietnam War on film is something I’ve been following since senior year in high school. I took an elective in Vietnam history and spent hours speaking with that teacher about which of the films are the most intriguing or most effective—as if an 18 year-old suburban kid from the 21st century would know what is an effective portrayal. Thus, I come to this film as someone who understands that odd sense of familiarity, created by frequent exposure, with something that I truly can never understand outside of the interpretations of others. Most of the characters in this documentary, In Country, have a similar attachment. In fact, there are multiple mentions of Vietnam films, including Full Metal Jacket and Platoon specifically.
Meghan O’Hara and Mike Attie’s new documentary is about people who choose to reenact the Vietnam War in the Oregon woods. The range of participants is surprising, including veterans of Vietnam and Iraq, children of veterans, and children who simply grew up playing games like war. For someone who comes from a mostly anti-war community, or at least war only in necessary circumstances, the notion of reenactment is hard to take especially since most Americans feel shame towards the Vietnam War. Much to my surprise, many re-enactors are oddly detached and unemotional about this activity. For one Oregon brewery manager, it’s just sort of fun. I was most shocked by the general lack of somberness surrounding the reenactments; the simple acceptance of war as a part of our lives. Not a particularly desired or undesired one, just an aspect.
The film also wanders into other territory, like a Vietnam Collector’s home or old footage of the war. These aspects were disappointing and unnecessary; I wanted more central focus on the reenactments. I feel like I saw pieces, but I didn’t experience it from above and develop a broad understanding of what this activity is and why we’re reflecting upon it. Regardless, this inspection of Oregon reenactment culture is a strangely affecting and somewhat insightful.
Tough Love examines the American child welfare system from the vantage point of two sets of parents (one in NYC, one in Seattle) struggling to retain custody of their children. Tough Love is much like a classic documentary examination you’d expect at a festival or on HBO Documentaries. It explores the lives of a couple characters surrounding a single issue and is filled with interviews, relevant life scenes, and a few notable vulnerable moments. As a result, there isn’t any groundbreaking movie magic in Tough Love, but it’s an intriguing story told very well using traditional tools.
Stephanie Wang-Breal’s camera follows the process and its participants with patient observance. Usually, in powerful emotional moments, a documentary director would zoom in on a character’s tears, but Wang-Breal keeps her camera in the same place. This allows the moments to feel more real and less forced. She is also very successful at incorporating music into the film, which gently informed the moments on screen without feeling unnecessary or over-the-top as documentary music often can.
Thematically, the film is focused on the constant questioning of whether or not these people can be good parents despite troubled pasts. The resulting anguish tugs at your heart as a viewer in a way that is genuine and memorable. Tough Love isn’t the must-see of the festival, but is definitely worth a watch if these issues intrigue you.