Truly Madly Guilty

This is a story that begins with a barbecue,” said Clementine.

I think I don’t have to summarise this story if I’d tell you that this author is the one behind Big Little Lies as well and that she definitely carved out a spot for herself in the ‘What’s Really Happening Behind the Doors of Seemingly Happy Families’-niche. A niche I very much enjoy, so no negative comments there.

The negative comments here are solely plot related. When my thoughts turn to “this is filler, just give me the twist/clue”, the story is going on just a tad too long. If all that build-up leads to not that much, you need a stronger conclusion. Maybe that’s just the burden of reading so much that surprise is hard to find.

Because there’s nothing otherwise wrong with this story: it doesn’t pretend to provide something more than it offers. It’s entertaining, it fits the bill, it’s escapism.

And it might make you want to visit Sydney.

Truly Madly Guilty, Liane Moriarty, Flatiron Books 2016

To All The Boys

102 min.

It’s easy to judge this on many different levels and scoff a bit, but remember the target audience, and try to find some joy in your heart. I did.

2 all the boys This is the sequel to To All The Boys I loved Before. Mild spoilers for that one follow.

How long can a happy ending last? As everyone involved here are teenagers, the question might be a rhetorical one. Another crush shows up, and he seems much more nicer and attentive than Lara Jean’s boyfriend, oh no!

When not dating, worrying about dating and thinking of how to keep her boyfriend happy, Lara Jean has to deal with friendship, family and school as well. Actress Lana Condor makes sure she carries it well, even with those eye-rolling moments in which you just want to shake every teenager involved.

All of it is very cute and bright and sometimes very quirky, and all of it completely fits the bill and the people this has been made for. And – I admit almost with shame – for me as well.

To All The Boys: P.S. I Still Love You, Netflix 2020

Otherhood

100 min.

Depending on when you read this: just in time for Mother’s Day. It’s very loosely tied around that day: mothers feel neglected by their sons because of a lack of Mother’s Day attention and therefore decide to go find them. The so-called hijinks follow.

otherhood film posterWith one of the mothers mentioned being played by Angela Bassett the game is immediately upped: when’s the last time her presence pulled a project down? So okay, Patricia Arquette is here to play a young Frankie-rip off and Felicity Huffman still thought she could buy universities, but they’ve got Angela Bassett.

With such a title and these actresses involved it of course isn’t about the sons in this story, but they do manage to keep up.

New York city gets to be the city where it all happens and everyone has room for personal development – including the small-town-mums who I guess stayed at home for so long that they need a city to remember that they’re individuals whom had been young once.

You could just watch this for the make-over Angela Bassett gets, but it might leave you with some appreciation for both your mother and your personal space as well.

Otherhood, Netflix 2019

Parasite

132 min.

As is known by now; I’m not that impressed by lyrical reviews. If the words ‘needs an Oscar!’ pass by, I roll with my eyes. There’s two reasons I still went to go see Parasite in theaters: I was curious, and I had a free ticket.

parasite posterNow I’ve watched it and don’t know how to review it without giving the story away. But honestly, wow. Parasite moves through different genres and scores with every one of them. It doesn’t have to be a commentary about rich versus poor, about housing and loans; the images are there and clear enough.

So yes, it’s a story about a poor family that worms its way into the heart of a very rich family. Yes, you’re very probably going to have to read subtitles as well (unless you know Korean). But holy heck, what did I just watch?

It’s beautiful and sharp and cheeky, until it isn’t. It’s daunting, until it turns into something worse. It’s over two hours and only very few times that I felt like checking the time remaining, because you have to pay attention. Or rather, you want to. And in some way I feel like watching it again already – let me go back to the family.

Parasite, Neon 2019

 

 

I Am Mother

113 min.

When you first critique lands about ten minutes in, it’s hard to not view a film without bias. Why is everyone involved white, even the people in the ‘old-timey’ videos the main character views?

I Am Mother posterThen there’s the non-nuanced use of the soundtrack. A good soundtrack builds upon the scene, sharpens the emotions you are already feeling. In this case we got THINGS ARE SCARY pressed upon you while things weren’t all that scary. Or emotional. And lights flickering with no reason don’t mean that we’re worried either, just that we want an explanation about wiring suddenly being faulty when we’re looking for someone.

Is there anything nice to be said about this film? Not really – maybe that with small tweaks it could at least be a commentary on sovereign AI and its relationship with humanity, but that’s been done before – and better – as well. Even the explanation of the things happening is extremely unclear – did I nod off somewhere along the almost two hour ride?

So all in all, it’s just not much of anything. If someone’s mid-parting is the thing I’m irked about most, it doesn’t say any good about the plot. You can’t replace it with music bits either, nor flickering lights.

Good thing about all this is that at least it’s an utterly disbelieving dystopia: more sensible humans would have given up before any AI could get involved.

I Am Mother, Netflix 2019

 

The Au Pair

We have no photographs of our early days, Danny and I.

Right up my alley, this one. Family secrets, a tinge of the supernatural and people using lipstick to write on mirrors.

After a death in the family, Seraphine discovers a photograph that makes her doubt her family history. She’s always felt different (isn’t that how it always starts?), and now feels like she can finally turn that feeling into something solid.

Good thing she still lives in her family home and plenty of hints are quite easily found. Is it witches, fairies, or just the cute little villagers that had always enjoyed a good gossip about the weirdos in Summerbourne house?

We are strung along just a tad too long, but the decorations along the way are fun enough to not be very disgruntled about it. In less than 300 pages Emma Rous sets up an entertaining tent with solid poles keeping up a well-set story. If there would have been more room for the supernatural, I would have given it an extra star.

The Au Pair, Emma Rous, Penguin Random House 2018

Fleishman is in Trouble

Toby Fleishman awoke one morning inside the city he’d lived in all his adult life and which was suddenly somehow now crawling with women who wanted him.

Good gravy, there is a lot going on here. One of those stories that pulls the rug under your feet and even while it happens, you are a bit disbelieving of the fact. I don’t even know if I liked this.

I am still thinking about it, though. About the people involved, and how important it is to have the right angle on any subject.

Which Fleishman is in trouble? Toby Fleishman is the main character – at least for a very long time. He’s divorcing his wife Rachel, and the narrator follows him in every part of his life (neatly compartmentalised): at work, as a father, as a(n almost) single man. It’s that last part that could well get on your nerves quite fast: Toby describes in detail how he feels like a kid in the candy store; the candy here being women of every shape, size and age.

But is this a story about a man’s middle life crisis, or a lament for the softer kind of man that chose children over endless riches and career promotions, and who managed to end up with a woman that did the complete opposite?

You can’t say too much about Fleishman is in Trouble without showing too much of the story, nor do I exactly know how to put its appeal into words. Maybe it’s disaster-tourism: maybe the unpleasant surprise of bad judgement.

Fleishman is in Trouble, Taffy Brodesser-Akner, Penguin Random House 2019

The Marrow Thieves

Mitch was smiling so big his back teeth shone in the soft light of the solar-powered lamp we’d scavenged from someone’s shed.

I don’t like post-apocalyptic stories; they make me very nervous. With the way the people in power are ignoring environmental and societal issues, it’s – for me – not that hard to believe that sooner than later we’ll be scavenging food and fighting for survival. It’s not something I enjoy thinking about, so why did I still start The Marrow Thieves?

Because of the author and the point of the view of the story: indigenous people. I always try to read more by indigenous writers, books using indigenous stories (although that’s a whole other (potentially sticky) kettle of fish), and this one made it sound more sci-fi-ish than “the world has gone to the crapper and humans are terrible”. We all make mistakes, sometimes.

Cherie Dimaline keeping the story short (less than 200 pages) and the characters very recognisable and deserving of your support prevents you from leaving this story feeling absolute despair. Yes, humans are terrible. Also yes: humans have family, hope and determination.

I still hope we don’t need those in a post-apocalyptic setting.

The Marrow Thieves, Cherie Dimaline, Cormorant Books 2017

Ask Again, Yes

Francis Gleeson, tall and thin in his powder blue policeman’s uniform, stepped out of the sun and into the shadow of the stocky stone building that was the station house of the Forty-First Precinct.

I enjoy family stories. I’m quite the sucker for generational stories that sometimes are big and grand enough to be called family epics. It’s character based, sometimes with time and surroundings being an extra character, but simply about all the people involved (or some of them).

Ask Again, Yes shouldn’t be called epic. Maybe not even a family story. It somehow feels like it has picked the least exciting characters to hang the story up on, and then seems to just shrug about how they can’t carry whatever plot (points) they pass. Why not more information about the previous generation, their immigration, the world they moved into? Instead the reader gets childish stubbornness that never really gives any reason to warm up to it.

So, if you want the story of a family, and all of it, go for The Woo-Woo, or Run, Hide, Repeat or The Locals. They’ll give you something more enticing.

Ask Again, Yes, Mary Beth Keane, Scribner 2019

Paradise Lodge

The job at Paradise Lodge was Miranda Longlady’s idea.

‘Teenager in seventies’ England gets a job at a seniors home and learns things about life, herself and others’ must have been a curious plot to pitch, but Nina Stibbe manages to land it with a homely, gentle feeling to the story and everyone involved. Even Matron.

Lizzie Vogel is a bit of an onion; she’s got layers. Starting off this job with ‘better shampoo’ as a personal motivation, she quickly starts to see that both seniors and the people providing for them as individuals as well. Her work at the home is more exciting and interesting than school, there’s a cute guy who’s someone else’s boyfriend, and her mother isn’t all that stable through all this; all of which causes issues in a domino kind of cascade.

That might make Paradise Lodge sound severe and dire, but even though there are deaths, it’s all on the lighter side of things. Teenage problems, without being teenage disasters. Lizzie really is an onion: she goes with many things.

Paradise Lodge, Nina Stibbe, Penguin Books 2017