This is the gripping “found movie” for a perpetually plugged-in world. In Aneesh Chaganty’s Searching (B+), the protagonist father portrayed wonderfully by John Cho often contemplates sessions further down the web’s wormhole while resisting the notion to simply shut down. Grounding this mystery thriller, Cho’s desktop pop ups the ante – online, engaged and amplified – and embarks on an emotional arch of triumphant connection over isolation. The propulsive plot about the disappearance of his daughter grants viewers a tense window into his soul and mindset, while the film’s action takes place largely in the virtual environment of computer and surveillance screens. It’s the Who Framed Roger Rabbit of social media tropes: humans mixing with fetching FaceTimes, charming chatbots, brilliant browsers and suspenseful streams. Among the emojified denizens and avatars, you almost suspect a cameo from an animated paperclip! Chaganty’s inventive high-tech hub is ideal for clue reveals stashed in the cache: flashbacks by archived selfie confessionals, public actions by viral video and forensic breadcrumbs dotting the underbelly of the social graph. The realistic interfaces are sturdy supporting performers, as is Debra Messing playing nicely against type as a hard-driving detective. While the film’s procedural formula doesn’t always measure up to its creative format, the #SearchingMovie is well worth discovery.
Oakland is woke-land for a duo of friends looking to flip the script on clean living and justice in Carlos López Estrada’s Blindspotting (A-). Daveed Diggs of Hamilton and Rafael Casal parlay rap, poetry and spoken word into a creative indie about two blue collar bros trapped in conflicting narratives after a late-night shooting. The humor is sweet and the drama sobering as the co-stars (also co-writers) address race, identity and gentrification in a brisk and frisky production. The film’s frantic pace, bubblegum colors and lyrical landscapes lure viewers into an eccentric and exquisite singular urban atmosphere. Diggs is superb and rises to the challenge of one iconic sequence in particular that truly tests the charismatic chops he showcased on NYC stages. Casal channels a young De Niro as his fierce foil, balancing rage and tenderness in grand doses. Wonderful actresses Janina Gavankar and Jasmine Cephas-Jones are highlights in the supporting cast, balancing all the testosterone in some clever conversations. A split second or two that are too on-the-nose, including split screens, threaten to make some of the motifs a bit too obvious; but overall, it’s a stunner. Come for the buddy comedy, and stay for the message. Despite the timely topics and hefty themes, it’s optimistic and will become a talked-about touchstone.
Blindspotting review published 4/13/18
A lark gets quite dark as a fascinating story unfolds in David Farrier and Dylan Reeve’s documentary Tickled (A-). Farrier, an offbeat New Zealand journalist, uncovers an odd strain of “competitive tickling” viral videos inspiring him to plumb the depths of a mystery wormhole that takes him on an unexpected crusade around the globe. With Reeve as his Silent Bob-esque camera companion, the intrepid lead reporter displays finesse and fortitude while chronicling the giddy and gritty. In this case he may be covering the armpit of arch-villains, but there are stunning parallels to terrorist cells and cyberbullying rings that can occur when evil masterminds seduce, recruit and retaliate buoyed by the anonymity of the internet. It’s news of the unusual indeed but as absorbing as any suspense thriller this year.
A genre hopping film about being lost in the wilderness and summoning the courage that only a best friend can help you achieve, Daniel Scheinert and Daniel Kwan’s Sundance discovery Swiss Army Man (A-) is the year’s cinematic curiosity as well as a mild revelation. Paul Dano turns in a superb performance as a young man seemingly stranded on an island until he is joined by a one-of-a-kind companion played by Daniel Radcliffe, who brings with him an unexpected sense of magic and utility. A dramedy filled from beginning to end with flights of fantasy and a dreamlike approach to storytelling, the film’s furtive lessons will reward adventurous moviegoers. Prepare to be startled and astonished in equal doses in this rather wondrous parable. The lively and affecting a capella score by Manchester Orchestra is nearly a character as well. Too much description of what goes on would be reductive; but suffice it to say you’ve seen nothing like it, and its filmmaking craft is nothing short of life affirming.