Sunday, May 10, 2009


It's a real shame that a film as unusual -- and unusually well-made -- as INCENDIARY, adapted and directed by Sharon Maguire (right) must go straight-to-video. On the other hand, we can at least be grateful for the chance to see it. One side-effect of straight-to-video is that you won't have heard that much about the movie's plot -- which is all to the good. To be surprised by what happens is to also be in the shoes of the movie's heroine, played by the ever-wonderful Michelle Williams (shown below, right, with Sidney Johnston, who plays her son), and this situation will ad enormously to one's appreciation of the film. (Even reading the IMDB's single-sentence description is a spoiler of sorts.)

Incendiary is about loss, grief and guilt. If you stick with it, you'll be hard put to think of another movie that handles these subjects much better. Ms Williams, playing a working-class housewife and mother in London, sports another excellent British accent. (Remember her in Me Without You?) One evening, waiting for her husband to meet her in a bar after his work, she attracts the attention of Ewan McGregor (below). That's as much plot as you'll get from me, though where the movie finally takes you -- and how deeply and truthfully -- you will have no idea. I'll just say in passing that the manner in which Ms Maguire handles her big event -- how you first see it and then visit its aftermath -- is exemplary: creative, shocking and believable.

Other moments and images cling to the memory, too: the blimps, with their photographs, hanging in the sky over London; in what kind of surroundings men end up living who do difficult and stressful work; how grief can create fantasy. Incendiary is nothing close to perfect. There becomes a sameness to the pace of the film as it moves along, and the subplot of the guilty security-force leader (played by Matthew Macfadyen) could have been handled better. Yet the film is not overlong and does so much so well that gratitude is in order. In adapting Chris Cleave's book, Maguire has taken the kind of current events usually treated as either spectacle or an excuse for violent revenge and made them resonate in a way that seems both honest and deeply personal. In the process, prejudice, police retaliation, mourning and regeneration -- as well as the aforementioned loss, grief and guilt -- are all explored with great perception and not a little style. This is a film you'll want to see; even if you aren't as taken with it as I was, I think you'll be glad to have confronted it.

And afterwards, you might want to confront something a little simpler -- funny and sweet -- with the added bonus of a really terrific acapella chorale. So try another little-seen movie (this one at least got a small theatrical release two years ago) called THE WEDDING WEEKEND, in which a group of old friends who, since college, have performed in an acapella vocal group, reunite -- with their significant others -- to serenade at one of their member's wedding.

That's right: We have a "reunion" movie, a "weekend getaway" movie, a girls-against-the-guys movie, and a 30-something coming-of-age film. Have you seen all this before? Sure, but seldom with as light or entertainng a touch as here -- and never with the wonderful music. (The songs appear to have been peformed by various acapella groups -- including the cast members: good for them!) No wonder Wedding Weekend has walked away with nine film festival prizes, many of these the popular "audience award."

Writer/director Bruce Leddy (left) and casting director Avy Kaufman have assembled an ensemble that absolutely clicks -- including David Harbour, Rosemarie DeWitt (also quite good in that other wedding ensemble pic Rachel Getting Married), Reg Rogers, Elizabeth Reaser (so great in Puccini for Beginners and Sweet Land) and Molly Shannon (have you seen this woman's wonderful performance in Year of the Dog?). Everyone in the cast is fine, but space and linking time is limited.

The movie zips along on memories, reconnections, some clever and funny sex talk, and even a delighful jailhouse scene (below) -- only going off-track late in the game when needless melodrama rears its head. But Leddy manages to get it bouncing back in no time. Romantic comedies, ensemble style, are nothing new, but it's the rare one that works as well as this.

One urgent note to producers, distributors, filmmakers -- whoever managed to stick this film with several titles along the way: Don't! On the IMDB it has three different names -- SING NOW OR FOREVER HOLD YOUR PEACE, THE WEDDING WEEKEND and SHUT UP AND SING, the latter being the title of the Dixie Chicks' documentary of a couple of years back. (IMDB even includes the poster art for that one -- as though it were part of the movie at hand.) Find one good title, and stick with it, please?! But readers: Don't let this stop you from renting or buying the film, after which you'll probably want to get the CD -- should one exist (if so, I couldn't find it).


Anonymous said...

Thanks for your nice review of the movie The Wedding Weekend. Just so you know, we TRIED to keep the original title Shut Up and SIng -- and had been using it for more than a year on the festival circuit before the Dixie Chicks decided to call their documentary the same title -- but a legal battle with the Weinstein Co was like a toy poodle attacking a giant doberman. We didn't stand a chance. But thanks for putting the good word out on the movie!

James van Maanen, said...

Why is TrustMovies not surprised by this news? The Weinstein Co.? Well, anyway, you TRIED. And your film is very good. So you win two out of three.

What about a CD of music from the film? Now, that's what I would really like! In addition, of course, to another good film from YOU. Until then, we'll have to make do with MAD-TV episodes, I suppose...?