A skinny teenager wants to wrestle in this unpretentious film with a predictable storyline (it even gives away the ending in the first minute) but benefits from some sharp dialog and the always watchable Patricia Clarkson.
Cal Chetley (Devon Graye) has a lot of spirit and a great relationship with his widowed mother (Patricia Clarkson) — until she finds out that like his late father and estranged brother he wants to join the wrestling team. She points out that he’s a beanpole while his brother Mike is “built like a car.” But he has been picked on by a bully and would like to be able to defend himself physically as well as he does verbally. And joining the team gives him a reason (and an excuse) to try to repair the connection to Mike (the WWE’s John Cena).
It’s your basic sports plot. There’s the meet where he fails miserably. There’s the secret hold he has to be ready to learn. The wrestling and the relationship between the brothers seems to make progress and then hits some obstacles on the way to the big meet.
It may satisfy wrestling fans but it is unlikely to make the sport compelling to anyone who is not already knowledgeable. It is more likely to make some new fans for Graye, who is instantly likable as he stands up to a bully, gently teases his mother about her date, and even more gently helps his friend Luli (Madeleine Martin in the film’s weakest performance) understand that she is not valuing herself enough. Cena is well cast as a big guy who keeps a lot inside, and Danny Glover plays a helpful guide who somehow always shows up when he is needed, though no one ever sees him but Cal. Clarkson makes the mother real and touching, bringing a wry affection and touching pride to her moments with Cal and a fierce urgency to the family tensions. Her scene with Martin, as two women living in male-dominated households, is a highlight that reminds us where the real victories are.
George Heymont has an excellent column in the Huffington Post about three new tributes to real-life Jewish heroines, all shown at the recent San Francisco Jewish Film Festival. “Ahead of Time” is the story of Ruth Gruber. The first journalist to enter the Soviet Arctic in 1935, Ruth also traveled to Alaska as a member of the Roosevelt administration in 1942, escorted Holocaust refugees to America in 1944, covered the Nuremberg trials in 1946 and documented the Haganah ship Exodus in 1947. Her relationships with world leaders including Eleanor Roosevelt, President Harry Truman, and David Ben Gurion gave her unique access and insight into the modern history of the Jewish people.
Heymont calls Ingelore “a deeply moving” story of a deaf-mute Holocaust survivor, from the subject’s film-maker son.
Surviving Hitler: A Love Story sounds like a movie, but it really happened. A Jewish teenager and an injured soldier join a doomed plot to kill Hitler (the one portrayed in the Tom Cruise movie, “Valkyrie”). Heymont says,
What makes [John Keith] Wasson’s documentary so touching is that Helmuth was an amateur filmmaker whose 8-mm home movies (including footage from the German home front) survived Germany’s destruction under Hitler’s rule. Whether shooting footage of Jutta in a bathing suit, sipping coffee, or reading a book, his 8-mm films glow with the strength and optimism of young people in love.
“Expecting Mary” is a heart-warming story of a pregnant teenager (the utterly winning Olesya Rulin of “High School Musical”) who runs away from home and is taken in by the quirky residents of a trailer park. It has an exceptionally strong cast and I was honored to have a chance to speak to two of my favorite actresses, Linda Gray (Sue Ellen in “Dallas”) and Lainie Kazan (the mother in “My Big Fat Greek Wedding”). Both were very happy to talk about the film and what it meant to them.
Gray was performing in a theatrical version of “Terms of Endearment” written by Dan Gordon. She told me that “I literally cried my eyes out eight performances a week for six months. I said to him, ‘I love your writing but could you write me something lighter?'” She wanted to do something fun and funny and sweet, and she wanted to return to comedy. “I didn’t want to be Sue Ellen Ewing, I didn’t want a very powerful man. I wanted to be a woman who comes from her heart, who has an indomitable spirit.” Ever since her iconic performance as the wife of J.R. on “Dallas,” she had been cast in dramatic roles. But before “Dallas” she appeared in the short-lived Norman Lear sitcom “All that Glitters.” Here she plays Darnella, a one-time Las Vegas showgirl (Frank Sinatra gave her a T-bird), now performing in a tiny Indian casino run by a widow named Lillian Littlefeather (Kazan). She brought into the production her friend and costume designer Donna Barrish to help create Darnella’s look on and off-stage. And she is indeed funny and endearing as the kindhearted Darnella, whose essential goodness and generosity of spirit inspires those around her, including an enthusiastic truck driver (Elliot Gould), her grumpy landlady (Della Reece) and pig-tending neighbor (Oscar-winner Cloris Leachman). “Darnella makes the best of what it is, she looks at the bright side, she makes it glamorous, she has hope.”As she described the production to me, it was clear she was its fairy godmother behind the scenes as well as on camera. Everything was filmed in just 18 days, and everyone involved did it as a labor of love.
Kazan told me she could tell immediately that the script was “delicious.” She said, “It’s sweet, it’s a family film, it’s inspirational, it’s entertaining – the performances are terrific.” Like Gray, she spoke a little ruefully about being typecast too often, in her case as a series of ethnic mothers. But, she said, “I’m an actress who will go the limit. I will find the truth in everything.” She keeps a “character closet” and throws into it any odd or end she thinks might work for a character she could play. In this case, she was able to assemble the wardrobe for her character as the Jewish widow of a Native American casino owner from the goodies she had accumulated over the years.
I loved talking to her about her early days in show business. She understudied for Barbra Streisand in the original production of “Funny Girl.” “I wasn’t very interested because I knew it was a frustrating job and Ray Stark [the producer] offered me $50 a week and I said, ‘I’ll take it.’ I had a front row seat in seeing the making of one of the most extraordinary stars – believe in yourself and know that if you are prepared and ready to make and accept mistakes as growth, a learning process, then you can do anything.” She is considering playing the role of the mother in the upcoming revival. She will be on “Desperate Housewives” this season and performing her nightclub act at Feinsteins on October 5.
The film opens in limited release this Friday, September 10. For information about where to see “Expecting Mary,” check this list of theaters.
Barbra Streisand sings the traditional Rosh Hashanah song, Avinu Malkeinu – Our Father Our King. L’Shana Tova! A sweet new year to all.