Summer Movie Preview 2011: Drama & Independent Films

The summer season can get big, loud and obnoxious. Considering it lasts four months and not every moviegoer wants that heavy dose of blockbuster, independent films and dramas can offer a nice alternative for the summer, even if the can’t-miss ones are usually out in November and December. Considering Oscar-nominated Best Picture “The Kids Are All Right” came out last summer, at least one of these is bound to make some waves, regardless of whether it rides them to the Kodak Theatre next year.

Since so few pure dramas (so not counting romances) come out in wide release this summer, i’ve combined drama with arthouse films, many of which played festivals such as Sundance or even Cannes, which is currently going on right now.

Everything Must Go (Now Playing)

Directed by Dan Rush
Written by Dan Rush, Raymond Carver (short story)
Starring: Will Ferrell, Rebecca Hall, Christopher Jordan Wallace

Summary: A relapsed alcoholic loses his job and then his wife, who throws all his belongs out onto the front lawn. Out of both laziness and wanting to purge himself of his former life, he holds a yard sale and a young neighborhood kid helps turn him around.

The Word: The most common thing said about Will Ferrell is “I don’t like him and I haven’t like him in anything … except “Stranger than Fiction”…” Well, Ferrell looks to go more in that direction with “Everything Must Go,” a role that seems like a snug fit. A healthy 77% on Rotten Tomatoes helps.

My Thoughts: I’m expecting Ferrell in top form after reading the positive buzz, which means this is worth catching on DVD at the least.

Everything Must Go Trailer

Hesher (Now Playing)

Directed by Spencer Susser
Written by Spencer Susser, David Michôd, Brian Charles Frank (story)
Starring: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Natalie Portman, Devon Brochu, Rainn Wilson

Summary: Hesher (Gordon-Levitt) is a greasy-haired loner/slacker whose life seems to have no direction. Things change when he develops a friendship with a young boy (Brochu) whose being bullied at school that lives with his father (Wilson) in his grandmother’s house after his mother died.

The Word: Spencer Susser’s first full-length feature might have taken awhile to get to theaters, but it packs a heck of a cast for a debut. There seems to be a great deal of formula at play in the unlikely friendship dynamic between the son and Hesher both helping the other fix something in their respective lives, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Rotten Tomatoes has this film at a mixed 53%.

My Thoughts: To see someone like Joseph Gordon-Levitt play against type (and star alongside Natalie Portman) has me intrigued enough to follow this carefully, even if it’s just catching it on DVD or Netflix streaming in the future.

Hesher Trailer

The Beaver (Expands May 20)

Directed by Jodie Foster
Written by Kyle Killen
Starring: Mel Gibson, Jodie Foster, Anton Yelchin, Jennifer Lawrence

Summary: A deeply depressed father, husband and business exec (Gibson) gets kicked out of his house and finds a beaver puppet in a dumpster to be his only means of communicating and rebuilding his life.

The Word: Hard to believe that Jodi Foster’s first directorial effort in 16 years is being overshadowed by anything, but that’s what happens when you cast Hollywood’s most contentious figure not named Charlie Sheen in the lead role. Balancing an odd mix of comedy and drama, “The Beaver” will have to fight Gibson’s reputation to earn anything despite terrific young leads in Yelchin and Lawrence and of course Foster’s involvement herself.

My Thoughts: Gibson aside (I personally can’t feel motivated to pay to see a film of his in the theater), “The Beaver” looks a bit all over the place. I’m sure once you get used to his Aussie-voiced puppet it’s not so bad and could create a terrific character portrait, perhaps evidenced in its current 63% on Rotten Tomatoes, but that doesn’t make it a must-see.

The Beaver Trailer

The Tree of Life (May 27)

Written and Directed by Terrence Malick
Starring: Brad Pitt, Sean Penn, Jessica Chastain

Summary: A father-son tale that focuses on a son’s relationship with his father (Pitt) in the ’50s and then his life when he’s older (Penn).

The Word: Rarely has buzz for a film mounted like this. “The Tree of Life” was intended for last year but pushed back a whole year, which made everyone eyeing poetic filmmaker Terrence Malick’s next hype it up even more to the point where everyone wanted to know what this film was about, especially with Pitt and Penn in the leads. It finally premiered at Cannes this weekend the reviews are decidedly mixed, which has always seemingly been the case with his films. They’re always beautiful, but not always coherent and entertaining. Some Cannes reviews labeled it “pretentious.”

My Thoughts: It shocks me that so many people were thinking this was summer Oscar bait given Malick’s made two films in the last 13 years. His last film was the underwhelming “The New World” (2005) and he’s done nothing since 1998’s “The Thin Red Line,” which was his one universally lauded film. I’m thinking again that there will be beauty to “Tree” but ultimately nothing that jumps out as Oscar-worthy.

The Tree of Life Trailer

The Trip (June 10)

Directed by Michael Winterbottom
Starring: Steve Coogan, Rob Brydon

Summary: Steve Coogan, playing himself, is asked by The Observer to tour some of England’s finest restaurants, but when his girlfriend can’t come, he asks his nutty friend Rob Brydon to accompany him.

The Word: This one’s a little off the beaten path for you, but Winterbottom (“Tristam Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story,” “A Mighty Heart” and “The Killer Inside Me”) has a strong track record and Coogan’s still a below-radar comic actor. Filmed in the third-party observer way of many current TV shows, expect just goofy character dynamics and apparently several celebrity impressions.

My Thoughts: I don’t know if I’d pursue it in theaters, but the early festival reviews have been very strong and the film seems funny and different as it’s about a relationship, not so much with a serious plot or conflict.

The Trip Trailer

The Art of Getting By (June 17)

Written and Directed by Gavin Wiesen
Starring: Freddie Highmore, Emma Roberts, Michael Angarano

Summary: George (Highmore) is a major slacker who never does his homework but could become something of an artist if he can find something he’s passionate about. That begins to change when he meets Sally and the two cut class together every so often.

The Word: Buzz out of Sundance this year for Gavin Wiesen’s debut feature “Homework” (since retitled) was mostly positive and as such, Fox Searchlight picked it up. We haven’t seen Highmore, now 18, since his child-actor days as Charlie in “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” and in “Finding Neverland,” but Roberts has become a familiar “rebellious indie chick” in the last year so she’s right at home.

My Thoughts: Not so sure an 18 and a 19-year-old can hold up an indie film without any reputable older actors as co-stars, but all the pieces for a strong indie coming-of-ager are here.

The Art of Getting By Trailer

The Help (Aug. 12)

Directed by Tate Taylor
Written by Tate Taylor, Kathryn Stockett (novel)
Starring: Emma Stone, Viola Davis, Bryce Dallas Howard

Summary: A college graduate in segregation-era Mississippi (Stone) comes home and starts life as a journalist. When one of the town wives (Howard) begins to motion for a requirement that Southern homes have a separate bathroom for “the help” (black nannies/housekeepers), she decides to write a story from their perspective and ends up with a book of material.

The Word: “The Help” is based on a best-selling novel featured in a number of book clubs. As the summer’s only uplifting drama option and a young starlet (Stone) paired up with a venerable actress (Davis), this could be one of those films that doesn’t make a splash but hangs around while to make a good amount of money.

My Thoughts: Terrific casting here could help elevate a traditional Civil Rights tale into something with a substantial amount of heart and character. There also appears to be a nice balance of humor to slice down some of the racial tension. Here’s truly a dramedy that should appeal to black and white audiences whereas action films and sports dramas have been the only genres to do that so far.

The Help Trailer

Our Idiot Brother (Aug. 26)

Directed by Jesse Peretz
Written by David Schisgall, Evgenia Peretz
Starring: Paul Rudd, Elizabeth Banks, Zooey Deschanel, Emily Mortimer

Summary: Ned (Rudd) is an oblivious idealist whose faith in humanity and immaturity get him in a lot of trouble. After getting out of prison early for good behavior, he barges in on the lives of his three sisters.

The Word: Another film that premiered at Sundance, this one should be a better sell than the rest with Rudd as the star and that trio of delightful actresses as the sisters. Peretz has only notably directed “The Ex” with Jason Bateman and Zach Braff.

My Thoughts: I think Rudd is playing appropriately outside his type and again, love the supporting cast. I can’t recall a slacker protagonist quite like Ned in that he doesn’t have some kind of quirk or he’s not also a rebel and troublemaker; he’s just flat out street-dumb. For the late summer when box office business takes a dip, this could be a nice way to bridge the gap to fall.

Our Idiot Brother Trailer



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