Sandwiched between the Golden Globes and the Academy Awards, February has notoriously been known as a “dump month” for the film industry. This, however, does not stop the stream of new movies hitting theaters and streaming services. As catalogs grow larger and flood homes with seemingly endless options, it can become harder to pick the right film to watch. Despite its reputation, February is not short of hidden gems, and film beat reporters Joy Diamond and Emma Murphree are here to give input on which new releases shouldn’t — or maybe should — go under your radar.
“Three Months” is a coming-of-age drama done right. Starring Troye Sivan and produced by Daniel Dubieki (whose past credits include “Up in the Air” and “Juno”), “Three Months” succeeds where so many others fail: portraying genuine, multifaceted teenagers. In “Three Months,” recent high school graduate Caleb (Sivan) is exposed to HIV and has to wait three months to find out if he’s positive. At a support group held by his local Pride center, Caleb meets Estha (Viveik Kalra), another teenager waiting for his test result, and the two begin to grow closer.
The film is reminiscent of “Juno.” Caleb is self-assured with occasional snarkiness, and he has an unconventional but supportive immediate family; meanwhile, the film’s love interest is human, not insufferably flawless. Despite some overlapping themes, “Three Months” stands on its own with its unique story and more modern lens.
The film beautifully pairs Caleb’s positivity and naivety with his very serious, potentially life-changing situation, effectively producing a very relatable, tender reality. With an evocative, touching performance by Sivan, “Three Months” extends beyond a young-adult audience and tells a universally lovable story.
— Joy Diamond
“A Banquet,” the directorial debut from Ruth Paxton, constructs a viscerally repellent mise en place with all the visual trappings of a compelling body horror flick — but nothing quite manages to congeal. Citing Lars Von Trier as an influence, Paxton is conspicuously preoccupied with mortality, trauma and faith. Where “Melancholia” has imminent apocalypse to contextualize and underwrite it, “The Banquet” retains only a few moldering whiffs of substance beyond its characters’ insular, atomized strife.
Another “Melancholia” influence is in the matriarchal familial dynamics, especially between the main character, Betsy — who in her last year of high school experiences a rupture of self and body — and her mother, who struggles to pick up the pieces. In “A Banquet,” this unseemly thin connecting thread takes the form of generational trauma, passed purely through a smattering of oral recountings. But Paxton waits to incorporate this crucial dimension until an hour elapses. When Betsy’s grandmother arrives, her daughter’s own neuroses begin to get dredged up, but it’s too little too late.
If there’s an area where “A Banquet” excels, it’s in the film’s depiction of food, eating and the violent, carnal slant it can take on, all refracted through an eerie prism of austere upper-middle-class life. It’s a film worth seeing for the queasy aesthetics alone.
— Emma Murphree
“The Sky is Everywhere”
Based on the eponymous 2010 young adult novel, “The Sky is Everywhere” tells the story of teenager Lennie Walker (Grace Kaufman), a music prodigy who unexpectedly falls in love while grieving the sudden death of her older sister, Bailey (Havana Rose Liu). On top of this, Lennie finds herself tangled in affections for both Toby (Pico Alexander), her late sister’s boyfriend, and Joe (Jacques Colimon) the charming, guitar-playing new boy in town who shares her love for music.
One can’t help but be somewhat moved by the intense pathos of the film — thanks to a touching performance by Kaufman — but beyond a first glance, the overly dramatic story becomes frustratingly over the top and unoriginal. It seems as though a protagonist like Lennie can’t exist without the bubbly best friend and unnecessarily mean nemesis, but the most frustrating cliche is the “love at first sight” moment between Lennie and Joe, which is not only overdone but completely devoid of chemistry.
Though “The Sky is Everywhere” captures some essence of teenhood through its main character and occasionally tugs at the heartstrings, it is nearly impossible to become invested in the characters or their overwrought romance.
— Joy Diamond
“The Tinder Swindler”
In a cinematic experience akin to getting a lobotomy, “The Tinder Swindler” boldly posits the question: What if two Scandinavian bimbos with disposable incomes matched with the most perennially cringe Israeli conman on a dating app?
“The Tinder Swindler” is a new Netflix documentary that took the streaming site by storm in early February, swiftly climbing to the number one spot. Despite its salacious subject matter, the film’s massive success still feels unprecedented, given how utterly cheap the filmmaking is. Cutting between profoundly millennial WhatsApp messages and poorly-worded talking heads with the zeal of a small child taking a pair of craft scissors to Barbie hair, the film does its best to mount tension over its bloated run time, only to let it fizzle right up until the end.
Yet, “The Tinder Swindler” intermittently redeems itself — whether it’s through the many vacuously quotable remarks (”I am homeless king”) or Ayleen’s unadulterated slay (selling all of the swindler’s clothes and pocketing the money as Le Tigre’s “Deceptacon” blares in the background) — there’s enough packed in to entertain for a couple of hours. Why not turn the brain off and submit to the zeitgeist?
— Emma Murphree