Writer/director Azazel Jacobs has a lot of fun maneuvering the frame around the characters and their environments, studying the geometries of how they’re confined with each other. This brings the performances, the strongest part of the film by far, to the fore. Letts has made his entire body limp in physical surrender to ennui, only lighting himself up at precise moments. Winger makes Mary’s turmoil over her indecisiveness enthralling. It’s frustrating, then, that she gets shortchanged by the story, with much more time devoted to Michael’s side, hers developing in shorter scenes spaced further apart. His side mainly consists of him giving Lucy different permutations of the cold shoulder and then reassuring her, which wears out quickly. With a more balanced treatment, the movie would be more engaging.
3 Generations clearly means well, but it attempts to tell a “universal” story about changing family dynamics and the physical shifts of puberty via a specific phenomenon which it does not truly comprehend. And it does so without any apparent creative input from transgender people behind the scenes. At the center is a basically disconnected series of incidents around Watts doing an embarrassing variation on a woman-child. Despite scattered well-done beats (nursing a black eye with a cold stuffed hen is kind of inspired), this film mostly backfires.
All of this would make for a much more memorable film if it created a greater investment in these characters. What sense we get of them mainly comes through expository speeches, with some backstory revelations (Anne had a baby who died at a few weeks old, Arnaud’s brother committed suicide) delivered with little build-up. Information isn’t the same thing as character development, and we more or less get everything there is to know about Anne and Arnaud from the first few minutes we spend with them. Anne is out of her depth in a foreign country and circumspect about her future, while Arnaud is a food nerd who really wants to get her into bed—little of that changes in the story, and our understanding of them barely shifts as well. Paris Can Wait may be a terrific vicarious vacation, but it’s an airless cinematic excursion.
Great horror is the pursuit of meaning through defilement, a conscious and inquisitive violation of the mind, the body, the beloved, the home; the concentric circles of security that comprise our lives. Great porn proceeds from a similar root, grappling with that which delights and with that which abases in the context of their inextricability. There is no division between the shame that ignites desire and the desire itself, just as there is no division between love and the fear of death.
Lauren Greenfield’s subjects pop from her photographs in an uncanny way. With the use of subtle lighting and framing, she makes their surroundings appear slightly unreal, or perhaps hyperreal, and the people within look shifted to another plane of reality, like they’re photoshopped into their own lives.
This is the kind of setup one can easily picture a Hollywood rom-com working with in the ‘90s (decide for yourself whether it would star Julia Roberts or Meg Ryan). But while Burshtein’s script treats it with a light touch, it also takes Michal and her search seriously and respectfully. Koler, a newcomer, acts not with zany desperation, but with a believer’s assuredness, letting doubt creep in only at strategic, impactful moments. Mainstream movies often struggle to depict religious people three-dimensionally, but Michal’s journey is one even an unbeliever can understand. After all, cultural expectations aside, her basic desire for companionship is a universal one.
Audiences of mainstream documentaries tend to lean left or centrist, or otherwise may be discomfited by a film that reads frankly as being pro- instead of anti-war. The filmmakers would doubtlessly assert that they are merely pro-troops, that they seek to recreate soldiers’ experiences and pay proper tribute to the sacrifices they make. Such an argument is buried under the rubble of the many explosions Salzberg and Tureaud present with glee. The film is stylized for maximum rush, turning real combat operations into what looks like Call of Duty compilations. That is morally abhorrent, cheapening the danger and death seen in this footage.