Quick Reviews: 'Soul', 'Pieces Of A Woman' | Existential Dramedy, Vanessa Kirby
In a year where Pixar had uncharacteristically two films released after feeding you few nostalgia trippy sequels, you might have been slightly worried about the animation studio’s output turning into ''good'' instead of ''great''. But maybe you don’t have to worry at all since the year’s second release Soul, directed by Pete Docter and written by Kemp Powers, Mike Jones and Docter, once again reminds you how these films can affect adults as well as kids, possibly surprising you to an extent. Soul unveils a story of a part-time music teacher Joe Gardner (Jamie Foxx) who's trying to bring his body and soul back together on Earth after suffering an accident while he’s also aiming for his dream of being a professional jazz musician. What is fun to see is that not every animated film has to take the craft further nowadays if it finds its own stylish story and confident voice.
Soul’s revelation is that it genuinely finds ways to take the path less travelled multiple times during its runtime. After the accident moves the story forward, Docter and co. don’t overwhelm you with exposition or a colourful journey in ''The Great Beyond'' but instead the script starts hitting you with jokes. Some are targeted to young kids and some to adults, also trying to get the action back to Earth which in fact is the driving factor of Joe’s story. When doing just that, we get to explore places that are unexpected for an animated film—a black-owned barbershop, Joe’s mom’s workplace, off-the-radar jazz club—which all push Joe’s growth and expand the viewer's understanding of his characterisation. The film's ending also doesn’t let up with that as there is no need for trauma or a loved one’s hurt because we get to a conclusion that is grounded and earnest, and even then it takes the occasional left turn.
In our typical reality, the movie would be an interesting, character-driven dramedy so it’s remarkable how well that is blended together with fantasy and adventure elements in animation. Not a single scene or genre shift feels off-putting and the odd side characters feel responsive despite their designed shapes. Many of their voice actors (Tina Fey as 22, Rachel House as Terry etc.) do a splendid job but the biggest thing, on a personal note for me, was the fact that I managed to forget that Foxx was voicing Joe. Foxx’s intonation, pitch and tempo all felt crucial for the character.
One last major thing to talk about Soul is its music, of course, starting with the dynamic jazz composed by Jon Batiste that contrasts small-scale electronic music from Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross. Reznor and Ross are unrecognisable and yet fully in tune with the visuals as they’re doing something new for them. Batiste’s jazz and how animators capture Joe’s hand movements on the piano for it are similarly on another level, elevating scenes whenever utilised. Those jazz club scenes with ''live'' music are pure ecstasy to watch, as is the movie.
Smileys: Screenplay, score, tone, Jamie Foxx, originality
Frowneys: Nothing too terrible
The pizza looked great as well, am I right?
PIECES OF A WOMAN
Make your one-shot sequences or cut together ''one-shot'' sequences and inject them to my veins. Furthermore, make them suitable for the genre you’re playing with and inject even more. That might be the only proper thing you’ll remember from director Kornél Mundruczó and writer Kata Wéber’s (credits introduce the film as by both of them) heavy, taxing character drama Pieces Of A Woman where the main couple Martha (Vanessa Kirby) and Sean (Shia LaBeouf) are expecting a daughter and have a home birth assisted by a midwife named Eve (Molly Parker). That is the basis of the film's notable long scene and something goes horribly wrong, setting up the rest of the story. First third-or-so which features that long scene is beautiful and heartbreaking but the rest of the film is simply way too basic considering how spectacular Kirby is.
There are good supporting performances to be found (Parker, LaBeouf, Sarah Snook as Martha’s lawyer and cousin Suzanne) but Kirby is clearly the one driving this vehicle and doing so with adamant control. Her outing seems fully fleshed out, from the blocking to the reactions on her face, even how she utilises pitch when speaking to different characters as the story moves along. Even when the movie stumbles in the second half, she doesn’t go to slumber all the way but instead there are constantly strong scenes throughout. Subtle nuances that support Martha’s journey and Kirby's portrayal are the decisions made by the makeup department. The birth scene stands out obviously as far as their work gets displayed but the usage of makeup as the time goes on also reflects Martha’s mental state, surely helping Kirby in her process.
''Pieces'' doesn’t really ever succeed in breaking the surface after its title card but neither does it really ever sink very far down. Where it does take a tumble is when it shifts focus from Martha to Sean's state of mind as the picture painted of him is less clear and subtle. The film builds up to Martha picking up the pieces whilst dealing with tragedy, emotional availability and even body trauma but instead we the audience get sometimes steered away from her. Courtroom drama that ensues feels hastily put together, Ellen Burstyn (as Martha’s mother Elizabeth) has weird monologues and people talk about metaphors unnaturally because the filmmakers failed to put those into Martha’s story properly. Eventually we don’t get to know much about anyone and the ending scene feels slightly unearned due to earlier conflicts. There are no mind-numbing, utterly dumb decisions but the latter half is quite meandering.
Smileys: Vanessa Kirby, makeup
He didn’t have quite enough material for me to put him next to Kirby’s name but Benny Safdie (as Chris) killed it here or is that just me?