Buddy, directed by Heddy Honigmann, is a glimpse at the bond between service dogs and their owners. Honigmann follows 6 service dogs that assist people suffering from a wide variety of ailments ranging from blindness to autism and PTSD. Her style is fly-and-the-wall and it's effective for the most part as you glean a little information about the personalities of the owners as well as the dogs, although this isn't the kind of doc that provides much background info about its human subjects. If you're a dog-lover, chances are you'll love watching the footage of the dogs comforting or protecting their owners. To be fair, though, there's nothing that will make you shed any tears or haunt your memory per se. Buddy doesn't becomes as witty nor as entertaining as the cat documentary Kedi, but at least it's a mildly engaging, charming and heartwarming doc. It opens Wednesday, March 20th at Film Forum via Grasshopper Films.
Dragged Across Concrete
Out of Blue
Gabe (Winston Duke) and his wife, Adelaide (Lupita Nyong’o), spend the summer at their vacation house along with their two children, Zora (Shahadi Wright Joseph) and Jason (Evan Alex). They hit the beach with an affluent married couple, Kitty (Elisabeth Moss) and Josh (Tim Heidecker), but it's the same beach that Adelaide experienced something traumatic as a child which comes back to haunt her. That night, four mysterious doppelgängers of her and her family show up outside of their home.
Usually, the less you know about a horror/thriller's plot, the better, but in the case of Us that doesn't really matter because none of its plot offers anything truly surprising, shocking or believable, even within the film's internal logic. The screenplay by writer/director Jordan Peele awkwardly blends comedy, drama, horror and thrillers with social commentary while hitting you over the head with symbolism and foreshadowing. How many times does Peele have to reference Jeremiah 11:11 for the audience to catch onto it? He treats audiences as if they were stupid and can't handle subtlety. Case in point: the song "F8ck the Police" that plays during one particular scene. Peele also handles exposition very poorly which is evident throughout the film, but especially during the lazy third act where there's an expositional speech that derails the film's momentum and leaves as many holes in its plot as there is in Swiss cheese. Then there's a M. Night Shyamalian twist in the third act that's silly, unnecessary and seems tacked-on. Us doesn't come close to the brilliance of Hitchcock's psychological horror films like Psycho and Rear Window nor to Richard Fleischer's imaginative and biting social commentary Soylent Green.
What keeps Us mildly engaging, though, are Lupita Nyong'o and the underrated Elisabeth Moss' terrific performances, and the impressive production design and cinematography. However, those are shallow strengths that don't compensate for the film's lack of emotional and intellectual depth. Jean Luc Godard once observed, it's not where you take ideas from that's important, but where you take the ideas to. Us ultimately bites off much more than it could chew with a story that's concurrently overstuffed and undercooked.