The Movie of My Life
Jake (Anton Yelchin), a young man, meets Mati (Lucie Lucas), a slightly older woman, in the town of Porto in Portugal. He's from America; she's from France, but lives and works in Porto. They have a passionate love affair and sleep together one night. Many years later, Jake, now greying, meets Mati again and learns that she has a husband (Paulo Calatre) while reminiscing of their romance during their younger days.
Writer/director Gabe Klinger and co-writer Larry Gross tell the love story of Jake and Mati achronologically, starting with the second act when Jake and Mati are already laying together in bed. The aspect ratios change depending on the mood that Jake is in, much like in Xavier Dolan's Mommy. When the two lovers experience their passionate affair, the aspect ratio is wide screen; during the other scenes, it's narrower. The jumbled narrative structure is quite effective when it comes to getting inside the mind of Jake as he grapples with a mixture of complex emotions when meeting her after all those years apart. However, you don't learn enough about Mati, and the decision to skip scenes showing their years apart makes their reunion less powerful. The wafer thin plot could have used a little bit more meat on its bones or at least some moments of profundity like in Before Sunrise, Brief Encounter, and An Affair of Love. It does somewhat compensate for its lack of depth with the melancholic and romantic atmospheres created by the often breathtaking, visually poetic cinematography. In other words, its style occasionally becomes its substance.
Anton Yelchin delivers a tender, nuanced, and moving performance which is among the best of his career, and he manages to rise above the mediocre screenplay while finding the emotional truth of his role. His portrayal of the older Jake is quite convincing. The same can be said for Lucie Lucas, although she doesn't have nearly enough scenes to show off her talents. She and Anton have palpable chemistry together onscreen, so they're clearly well-cast. Even though Porto is slightly underwhelming at its very brief running time of 76 minutes, at least it's far better than the thoroughly lethargic, painfully boring, and shallow Paris Can Wait from earlier this year.
After Bo (voice of Steven Yeun), a donkey, escapes captivity in Nazareth, he sets out on an adventure to ensure that Mary (voice of Gina Rodriguez) and Joseph (voice of Zachary Levi) reach Bethlehem in time for Mary to give birth to Jesus. Dave (voice of Keegan-Michael Key), a dove, and Ruth (voice of Aidy Bryant), join them on their quest. The only person standing in their way is King Herod (voice of Christopher Plummer) who wants to snatch the baby away using his henchmen and attack dogs.
Christian-themed films can sometimes by preachy and heavy-handed while alienating the non-faith crowd. THE STAR wisely avoids those pitfalls. It has an easy-to-follow story that offers plenty of delightful thrills, humor, wit, and pathos. Bo the donkey makes for an underdog (or underdonkey, rather) hero who's well worth rooting for. He also has qualities that are relatable and universal: he yearns to be free and to fulfill his destiny to help others, in this case, Mary and Joseph. Screenwriter Carlos Kotkin avoids bombarding audiences with too much action sequences. Yes, there are indeed some exciting, suspenseful action scenes, but the film's emphasis on it's captivating story and lively characters remains intact. The way that the co-writers introduce the characters is quite interesting and even amusing, i.e. how he meets and befriends Ruth the sheep.
The filmmakers also do a great job of balancing the film's light and dark elements. There aren't any scenes that little kids will find too scary; the King's attack dogs won't give them nightmares---there's even a surprising layer of depth to them by the end that will stop making you see them as cartoon villains. Kids will love THE STAR while adults will be able to enjoy it as well; this isn't one of those animated films that babies its audience while leaving adults bored like THE SECRET LIFE OF PETS. Although it doesn't quite reach the heights of animated classics like SHREK or RATATOUILLE, it's nonetheless enormously entertaining and among the best animated films of 2017.