DIFF 2017 Day Five: A Quiet Passion And Mr. Roosevelt

The Dallas International Film Festival runs March 31 – April 9. 2017

It’s “Two For Tuesday” and I welcome the first of two straight evenings with only two films on my schedule. Addtionally, neither Tuesday nor Wednesday features a documentary, so my odds of re-gaining faith in humanity are increased a bit. The two movies I watched on Tuesday April 4 are recapped below:


We open with a young woman standing strong during a critical moment at seminary school. It’s kind of a clunky start in an overly-dramatic and stagey sense for the film, but Emma Bell sets the standard for the future behavior of Emily Dickinson. What follows is a period drama with minimal costuming effects, but rather a fitting onslaught of language and words – much of which comes courtesy of Ms. Dickinson’s mighty pen.

I’ve often viewed Emily Dickinson as an early feminist whose beliefs and intentions were stifled by the era in which lived, as well as the depression that seemed to cloak most of her days. She clearly stood for women’s equality at a time when her own poems were published anonymously to avoid scandal and backlash for the paper. Writer/director Terence Davies (The Deep Blue Sea, 2011) has no interest in glamorizing either the times or the writer, and Cynthia Nixon seizes the opportunity to capture the essence of a gifted woman who at best, could be described as a societal misfit.

The terrific cast also includes Keith Carradine as Emily’s proud father, Jennifer Ehle as her sister Vinnie, and Duncan Duff as brother Austin. Emily’s rare forays beyond familial boundaries are mostly via garden strolls with her wise-cracking friend Miss Buffum, played with zeal by Catherine Bailey. There is also a tremendous 3:00am scene between Emily and her sister-in-law Susan (Jodhi May), which provides the best possible self-analysis by Ms. Dickinson (outside of her writings). She confesses to her new family member, “You have a life, I have a routine.” This insightful line seems to carry no sadness for Emily.

The first third of the film features some low-key zingers that rival anything from Whit Stillman’s superb Love & Friendship, though the balance of the film takes a turn towards the serious and focuses more on Faith and Death and Emily’s controversial stances. She embraces the description of “no-hoper” and continues on with her observations of a life she barely leads. While the language and words are the stars here (along with Ms. Nixon), there is a very cool effect as the characters seamlessly age before our eyes in a series of portraits, vaulting the timeline headfirst into Emily’s descent into self-imposed isolation. It’s a very well done biopic that requires your ears be in prime form.


The most pleasant surprise of the festival so far comes courtesy of writer/director/actress Noel Wells (“Master of None”). It’s a wonderful little gem filmed in Austin, Texas and it somehow only gets better after an excellent and very funny opening sequence.

Ms. Wells plays Emily, a Los Angeles-based editor who receives an emergency call from her ex-boyfriend Eric (Nick Thune) requiring her to return to Austin. Her lack of liquidity, and still-simmering flame for Eric, result in her accepting an invitation to stay at the home of Eric and his seemingly perfect and passive-aggressive girlfriend Celeste (Britt Lower). Varying situations and interactions lead to some uncomfortable and awkward moments that deliver a new style of humor.

Support work and additional fun is provided by Andre Hyland and Bina Chauhan as Emily’s new friends and support system. Their hijinx include time at Hippie Hollow, a rowdy house party, and some sexual freelancing jumpstarted by the phrase “You’re funny” … Emily’s ultimate turn-on.

The film is shot on 16mm Kodak film (announced pre-credits) and it clearly establishes Ms. Noel as a filmmaker to watch, reminding a bit of the underrated Miranda July. Not only does she have skills as a director and actress, the line “You’re a good person with bad execution” proves she has a real knack as a comedic writer. Good stuff from an exciting new face.

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