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Greenwich ’17: Darkness and Light

June 4, 2017

Here’s how you know I’m a born movie critic. I spent yesterday — a gorgeous Saturday in June — in bucolic Greenwich, Connecticut… sitting in a darkened theater watching three movies with equally dark themes: rape, cancer and homophobic self-loathing. Yet The Light of the Moon, The Hero and Beach Rats all left me with a sense of hope, if not for the characters, then for the talented actors and auteurs whose work was exhibited at the 3rd Annual Greenwich International Film Festival.

Stephanie Beatriz delivers a revelatory performance as a Bushwick, Brooklyn architect whose world begins to crumble after she’s raped by a stranger in The Light of the Moon. This role represents a night-and-day contrast with her regular gig as bad-ass cop Rosa Diaz on Fox’s Brooklyn Nine Nine, and Beatriz displays a dazzling versatility. She brilliantly plays every shade of her character’s complicated reaction to the assault, especially how it affects her relationship with her well-meaning but retroactively overattentive boyfriend (Michael Stahl-David).

Writer-director Jessica M. Thompson utilizes her skills as a documentarian to construct an unsentimental, realistic depiction of how this violent incident reverberates in every corner of the victim’s world—her work, her friendships, her family. After the film, Thompson and Beatriz participated in an enlightening Q&A in which the star shared her fear of taking on this project, not because of its themes but because it was the first time she had the chance to prove she could play the lead in a movie and she wasn’t sure she could do it. Beatriz has no need to worry: Her future as a cinematic protagonist is bright.

Sam Elliott is nearing the other end of his career, as is his character in The Hero, Lee Hayden, a Western-movie icon confronting his own mortality after receiving a grim pancreatic-cancer diagnosis. Writer-director Brett Haley, who’d previously worked with Elliott on another late-in-life drama, I’ll See You in My Dreams, tailored this part to his leading man, and it fits him like a well-worn pair of cowboy boots.

Lee tries to make piece with his ex-wife (Katharine Ross, Elliott’s too-rarely-seen real-life spouse) and his estranged daughter (an underused Krysten Ritter), while engaging in an unlikely romance with a much younger stand-up comic (Laura Prepon, whose natural deadpan serves her well here). The film’s best scenes, however, are between Elliott and Nick Offerman, as his onetime costar-turned-drug dealer. The story moseys along, and whenever Elliott is on screen, you can’t take your eyes off him. That’s the measure of a true movie hero.

The real star of Beach Rats isn’t Harris Dickinson, the little-known actor cast as Frankie, a gay Brooklyn teen who can’t express his true sexuality in front of his hoodlum friends, his overwhelmed mother (Kate Hodge) or the confused young woman (Madeline Weinstein) he unsuccessfully tries to turn into his girlfriend. It’s writer-director Eliza Hittman, who builds on the promise of her 2013 feature debut, It Felt Like Love, which dealt with a young girl’s sexual awakening in a similar hood.

Hittman’s distinctive visual and aural style marks her as a genuine voice to whom attention must be paid. She could become the Scorsese of Coney Island. Her streets are still mean, even if they are on a boardwalk.

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