EIFF 2015: ‘Inside Out’ Review 0 21

eiff-2015-inside-out-review

Pixar is no stranger to brilliant concepts, whether it’s bringing toys to life in their famous tale of child playthings or a near-silent clean-up robot or a crotchety old man who uses balloons to fly away in his house. But with Inside Out they may just have hit on their most ingenious one yet, used as a springboard for some of the most emotionally resonant, visually resplendent cinema the studio has ever produced.

The plot focuses on a young teenage girl named Riley (voiced by relative newcomer Kaitlyn Dias) who is forced to move with her parents (Diane Lane and Kyle MacLachlan) from the Midwest to the bustling San Francisco, leaving behind her childhood bedroom, school friends and beloved hockey team. She’s going through all the emotions of a normal girl, reacting to new everyday situations.

The masterstroke of the idea comes with the fact that we get to see those emotions visualised as individual characters within Riley’s brain. Joy (Amy Poehler), Sadness (Phyllis Smith), Anger (Lewis Black), Fear (Bill Hader) and Disgust (Mindy Kaling) live in the “Headquarters,” the control center of Riley’s mind where they help advise her life.  When something goes drastically wrong and two of the emotions get lost, disrupting Riley’s ability to feel all emotions, they must try and find their way back to where they belong so that she can back to living her normal life.

Very few films are able to make all their components work together in pretty perfect symphony but Inside Out does just that. It’s a film about emotion and feelings but not just making us experience those while watching but exploring why we do. Its visualisation of the emotions we all feel on a day-to-day (heck, often minute-to-minute basis) in the form of distinct, colour-coded characters is not just a way to create bright and shiny, cutesy and quotable figures to keep the kiddies happy – although they’re certainly those things in spades – but a wonderful way to draw us in and get us invested in Riley because we’re literally seeing what makes her tick.

Each of the Emotions are archetypes by nature but they’re also extremely well-drawn, pardon the pun, and each of their specific attributes used for maximum laugh capacity. They’re also fantastically voiced by a stellar cast, whether it’s Poehler’s fittingly ecstatic Joy whose job it is to always look on the bright side of life or Kaling’s brilliantly no-nonsense Disgust coming in handy whenever Riley is forced to eat all her vegetables or dress a certain way at school. Stealing the show, however, is Smith as Sadness because of her absolutely perfect vocal representation of an emotion that’s at once crucial and arguably the most damaging.

It rolls out the John Lasseter/Pixar mantra that story should come before anything else and once there’s something tangible and emotionally resonant that we can hold onto then the rest of the ingredients are layered on top. It’s something that one or two of the lesser Pixar films have failed to do (*cough* Cars 2! *cough*), choosing bells and whistles over a meaningful story, but Inside Out proves just how adept the studio can be at it.

We can all relate to Riley’s story of moving away to a new house and just not feeling at home, with scary new experiences being heightened by the emotions of a budding and still-growing mind. Kids will see themselves in it as they are, adults will see their younger selves in it as they were and both audience groups will find plenty to revel in. Importantly it’s never a film that talks down to the younger audience at which it’s partly aimed, never above jumping around in a fit of youthful silliness while also containing some of the cleverest sight gags, wordplay and cultural references the big-screen has seen in a long time. It also has one of the most emotional, lump-in-your-throat endings of any Pixar movie and as anybody who’s seen Toy Story 3 will know, that’s not something to be said lightly.

The film is split between the regular outside world and the inside of Riley’s head and it’s in the latter that the most fun moments most naturally come. Furthering the central concept, the girl’s memories are visualised as orbs that shine a colour corresponding to whatever type of memory it is – yellow would be for her learning to ride a bike, blue would be when she fell and hurt herself and so forth – and this takes us to the various “lands” of her mind that are most important to her through which Joy and Sadness must traverse on their journey back to Headquarters. More abstract concepts and ideas are visualised here, from Riley’s childhood friend Bing Bong (voiced by the incomparable Richard Kind), a party candy floss-part-animal hybrid to the literal Train of Thought, and they are as entertaining as they are ingenious. It’s this sort of imagination that really does set Pixar apart from the rest.

Under the direction of Pete Docter (Monsters Inc., Up) and storyboard artist-turned-co-director Ronaldo del Carmen, Inside Out is nothing short of a wondrous piece of family entertainment, one to which we can all relate in one way or another, whether you’re at ages with its central character or a long-in-the-tooth adult fondly remembering the good old days when everything didn’t seem so complicated. And yet it was always complicated, as we can all attest, at least in our minds. Emotions play a part in our lives from the moment we’re born and Pixar’s cinematic representation of them is the kind of witty, inventive and emotionally resonant film that just doesn’t come along all that often.

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I'm a freelance film reviewer and blogger with over 10 years of experience writing for various different reputable online and print publications. In addition to my running, editing and writing for Thoughts On Film, I am also the film critic for The National, the newspaper that supports an independent Scotland, covering the weekly film releases, film festivals and film-related features. I have a passion for all types of cinema, and have a particular love for foreign language film, especially South Korean and Japanese cinema. Favourite films include The Big Lebowski, Pulp Fiction and 2001: A Space Odyssey.

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Movie Review: Home Again 0 187

This review was previously published at The National.

Despite an obviously talented leading lady in Reese Witherspoon and a family pedigree behind the camera in making this sort of rom-com flutter sweetly off the screen, Home Again struggles to finds its way out of cloying cliché and narrative contrivance.

This is the directorial debut of Hallie Myers-Shyer, daughter of genre stalwart Nancy Meyers (The Holiday, What Women Want). It focuses on the life of Alice Kinney (Witherspoon), a single mum who has just turned 40 and tries her best to raise her two daughters Isabel (Lola Flanery) and Rosie (Eden Grace Redfield) in Los Angeles with her job as an interior decorator.

Freshly separated from her British music mogul husband Austen (Michael Sheen), she embarks on a drunken birthday night celebration that leads to her meeting a trio of 20-something lads – Harry (Pico Alexander), George (Jon Rudnitsky) and Teddy (Nat Wolff) – who are trying their best to break into the Hollywood movie business.

The young men improbably end up staying in Alice’s guest house while they work on finishing the script for their first film. Before long they become an integral part of her life, from Alice embarking on a romantic relationship with Harry to George helping out Isabel with her school play. To quote the title of the director’s mother’s 2009 film – it’s complicated.

Except the film mistakes the kind of enjoyably frothy complexity exemplified by the best of the genre for skin-clawing convolution that renders much of the romantic and comedically-tinged drama of Alice’s life lacking in authenticity. Not that it needs the ring of truth that comes with, say, a Ken Loach picture but you need to be able to invest and believe in these characters’ lives as presented.

The approach to gender and generational relationships is simplistic which, of course, is nothing new to a genre that, at least in its Hollywoodized state, so often throws up films meant to be taken as easy-going fluff. But it’s particularly frustrating here when it squanders the potential thrown up with the initial concept of a woman trying to find herself again once she’s out of a stale relationship by entering into one with a much younger man.

It strangely seems far more interested in the plight of the three young men working as three cogs of one creative machine – director/producer, writer and actor – to get ahead in the movie business.  But even then it smacks of implausibility, like a cheap rom-com version of the bromance found in Entourage but without any of the snarky wit or Hollywood satire. Despite decent chemistry between a likeable assembled cast, Home Again is a tough pill to swallow as it rings false through and through.

3.5 out of 10

Movie Review: Goodbye Christopher Robin 0 212

This review was previously published at The National.

The world of celebrated children’s author A. A. Milne and the creation of his beloved Winnie the Pooh stories are chronicled in this frightfully polite biopic from director Simon Curtis (My Week with Marilyn) that flirts with dipping its toes into darker waters but steadfastly clings to safe tropes and always with its top button firmly fastened.

We start off in 1941 where we find an ageing Milne (Domhnall Gleeson in questionable make-up and greyed hair) and his wife Daphne (Margot Robbie) living on their secluded East Sussex farm. They receive a telegram informing them that their son, C.R. Milne, is missing presumed dead after heading off to fight in World War Two.

We then jump back in time to Milne on the front lines of the First World War. He returns from the fighting a changed man; suffering from PTSD (popped balloons evoking sudden gunfire et al.), becoming increasingly sick of just making people laugh with his West End plays and the general hustle-bustle that comes with big city life.

He convinces his reluctant wife to move to the country for some peace and quiet and where his infant son, Christopher Robin (played by Will Tilston at the younger age, Alex Lawther as he gets older), can go on the childhood adventures he deserves with the support of loving nanny Olive (Kelly Macdonald).

Settling into the kind of serene life he craves, he is inspired to create Winnie the Pooh and the rest of his soon-to-be-beloved friends inspired by the stuffed animals with which his young son has become so enamoured. Unfortunately for Christopher – referred to by everyone as “Billy Moon” – his father uses his real name in the stories, turning him into one of the most famous boys in the nation.

Despite the obvious attraction of it exploring the world famous Pooh stories, it’s a film much more interested in the effect it has on a fractured family clinging on to peacefulness, not least the unwanted attention thrust upon a young boy who simply isn’t equipped to handle it and how his parents carry on oblivious.

If anything it takes a curiously bleak outlook on what these stories mean to the world once they’ve been put out there, conveying a somewhat confusing message for a film that ultimately wants us to celebrate these stories as immortally cherished tales; that the Winnie the Pooh embraced immediately by the public and has now stood the test of time for almost a century is in some way missing the point of what it truly means to the author and a son who, inadvertently or not, was used as a tool of innocence to sell the idea of an idyllic childhood in Milne’s Hundred Acre Wood.

It’s bolstered by almost uniformly moving performances; Gleeson plays Milne with a kind of damaged empathy that makes you feel like you get to know the author beyond the public persona. Macdonald is oftentimes heart-breaking as Christopher’s devoted caregiver and Tilston walks away with the film as the adorably sweet-natured young Christopher. It’s only with Robbie that the film makes a misstep; she’s miscast as Milne’s wife and never stepping out of the shadow of cold motherly cliché.

In spite of its darker leanings, the film remains too buttoned up to properly wrestle with those themes in any sort of lasting way, far too polite to ever dive head first into the murky waters into which the drama intermittently peers.

Wrapped in Ben Smithard’s handsomely old-fashioned cinematography and soaked in Carter Burwell’s perpetually swelling score, it’s an aesthetically and emotionally appealing but nevertheless fairly vanilla period biopic best suited to being enjoyed on a rainy Sunday afternoon with tea and biscuits.

6.5 out of 10