-A dishonest but well-acted look at an nontraditional family, and a suspense thriller that feels more real than you’d like.
Initially released two years ago at TIFF as “About Ray,” 3 Generations is a second-time around editing job that has the Weinsteins releasing an incomplete movie in a dead time of year. After being pulled from its release date in the middle of Oscar season to be put out under a new name and fresh cut, its straight to VOD status is very indicative of how messy of a film it is. Although the performances are all really good, it’s not much of a film, but more of a television program that itches at an important topic but lacks cohesion.
Ray (Elle Fanning) is a FTM transgender teen who looks to start hormone therapy at the onset of the movie. Because he’s underage, he needs to get permission from his parents, a progressive but still worried mother (Naomi Watts) and an absentee father (Tate Donovan). Instead of a traditional nuclear family, Ray and his mother live in a New York studio apartment with his lesbian grandmother (Susan Sarandon) and her girlfriend (Linda Emond). While going through bullying at school and the struggles of being transgender are enough, familial pressures and a lack of understanding continue to weigh on Ray, as most of the film revolves around whether or not Naomi Watts can consent to the transition.
Like I stated before, the movie does feature great performances. Elle Fanning is slightly unconvincing as a transgender male in terms of the physical nature of the performance, but emotionally, she hits every note pretty well. Her career is blooming, and it’s not hard to see why with the amount of great performances she’s been turning in (see The Neon Demon, 20th Century Women, Live by Night, Trumbo, etc.). While Sarandon is mainly used as comic relief, Watts does the manic, concerned mother role that she’s become somewhat famous for. She’s fine in this as well. Talented actors make this pretty watchable, despite its flaws.
The flaws nearly outweigh the acting, such as incomplete pacing, story-arcs that get left unresolved, and just an overall sense of loneliness around Ray that doesn’t make sense considering the vast amount of support groups that would be available to a transgender teen in New York City. It seems that a lot of the plot was written by someone who didn’t really understand the complexities of the subject matter, and although the acting is good and the performance by Fanning is enlightening, it’s better left as a television release that just brings awareness to the issue. It’s not the kind of film that will really make a viewer understand the problems or emotionally connect with the story, because there just is not enough substance.
3 Generations (2017)
Director: Gaby Dellal (On a Clear Day, Angels Crest)
Starring: Elle Fanning, Naomi Watts, Susan Sarandon, Linda Emond, and Tate Donovan
RT Score: 36%
Berlin Syndrome is a very scary movie in its own way. There may not be any jump-scares, and there may not be a traditional amount of violence for a film like this, but the psychological effect that this movie’s minimalist production has on the viewer is impressive, and makes it one of the best thrillers of the year.
The title is a take on ‘Stockholm Syndrome,’ where our main character (Teresa Palmer) is an Australian tourist in Germany for photojournalism, and she goes on a date with a charming, well-read young man (Max Riemelt). After they spend the night together, he locks her in his apartment, which is well isolated from where everyone else lives. Over the next several months, she becomes his hostage, a live-in version of the perfect utopia for a disturbing character, who also exhibits the psychopathic behavior of constant seduction and taking pictures of her in compromising positions. Her job is to try to escape, but she begins to exhibit stockholm syndrome and an unnatural neediness for her captor.
This movie is not very exciting to watch, thus the slightly lower score, and it’s not a movie that I’ll ever watch again because of its style. When I called it “minimalist” I’m referring to an absence in supporting characters, an absence in camera flares, and essentially what boils down to a one-room production for a majority of the run-time. The villain character is chilling, and his lack of a true personality, and how little we know about him, makes him more intimidating. Sure, it’s a little silly that she wasn’t able to overpower him, but her psychological diminishing was impressively acted and presented.
The lack of excitement and revisiting ability does put this movie more in the ‘B’ range, but consider it a ‘B’ movie with an A premise, because it’s executed and acted very well. Teresa Palmer impressed me in Hacksaw Ridge and does again here, and this is a really well-made, taut film.
Berlin Syndrome (2017)
Director: Cate Shortland (Somersault, Lore)
Starring: Teresa Palmer, Max Riemelt, Matthias Habich
RT Score: 76%