May typically exists as the long-awaited kickoff to the summer movie season. While COVID has caused a slower start than normal, there’s still a slew of intriguing independent releases operating around the periphery. In this month’s new release breakdown, I cover a feel-good crowdpleaser, a fresh spin on the rom-com genre, and a Cannes festival darling. Let’s get it going!
DREAM HORSE – Directed by Euros Lyn
Dream Horse Synopsis: The true story of Dream Alliance, an unlikely racehorse bred by small-town bartender Jan Vokes. With very little money and no experience, Jan (Toni Collette) convinces her neighbors to chip in their meager earnings to help raise Dream and compete with the racing elites. Their investment pays off as Dream rises through the ranks and becomes a beacon of hope for their struggling community.
From the sentimental poster to the marketing’s cheery crowdpleaser energy, Dream Horse proudly wears its earnest pretenses on the heart. Director Euros Lyn and screenwriter Neil McKay certainly have a commendable story on their hands, a semi-true tale that delves into a Welsh community’s reinvigorating bond amidst their town’s blase existence. Under the duo’s tutelage, Dream Horse’s pertinent values are morphed into a series of largely inauthentic frames.
Like many films of this elk, Dream Horse strives for cheerful pleasantness rather than fully-formed dynamics. McKay rushes past a myriad of intriguing subplots (Jan’s waning relationship with her husband, the community’s dire economical straights, and the Dream Alliance complicated business decisions) to present the Hollywood equivalent of comfort food. This familiar spell will achieve enough for some viewers, but the film never engaged me where it counts the most.
Despite solid performances by Toni Collette and Damian Lewis, the characters end up feeling like lifeless amalgams of well-trudged cliches. None of them find much dynamic purpose outside of the story’s whims and desires, hammering in the film’s generally artificial delivery. A story about a rustic community coming together against hardship has a lot of potency and weight. It’s just a shame that Dream Horse‘s tolerable delivery rarely reaches dramatically compelling heights.
DREAM HORSE is now playing in theaters nationwide during May before a VOD run on June 11.
PORT AUTHORITY – Directed by Danielle Lessovitz
Port Authority Synopsis: Paul, a 20-year-old midwesterner, arrives at the central bus station and quickly catches eyes with Wye, a 22-year-old girl voguing on the sidewalk. After Paul seeks her out in secret, an intense love between them blossoms. But when Paul discovers Wye is trans, he is forced to confront his own identity and what it means to belong.
A long-forgotten offshoot of the 2019 Cannes Film Festival, Port Authority is finally finding its way to the masses. Some may dismiss the film for its lengthy duration on the backlogs, but that would be a major disservice to writer/director Danielle Lessovitz’s assured debut. Coming to life with a vibrant sense of community and place, Port Authority develops thoughtful textures from its sleight delivery.
I really hope Lessovitz receives the attention she deserves here. As a breakout debut, her free-flowing camera movements elicit a wandering atmosphere fitting of her lost protagonist. She truly soaks in New York’s varied sensibilities, whether that be the commanding freneticism of club life to low-economic areas propped up through communal power. The visuals define a sense of place further developed by Lessovitz’s thoughtful portrayal of the trans community. Not only is the casting representation on point, but the characters are also imbued with dynamic and well-articulated characterization despite their somewhat limited runtime.
Port Authority’s biggest draw comes from its well-matched leads. Fionn Whitehead and Leyna Bloom are a compelling pair as newfound lovers. Whitehead’s insular work showcases Paul’s intense longing buried under his rigid demeanor. Bloom has genuine star potential, grabbing the audience’s interest through her deft mixture of charisma and vulnerability. Their lively chemistry serves as the igniting force behind Paul’s evolution from rough uber-masculinity to a genuine human being.
While Lessovitz certainly utilizes familiar devices (the third act feels a little too clean for its own good), Port Authority discovers its own purpose from indie formula. I hope audiences are willing to give this film a chance this weekend.
PORT AUTHORITY is available in select theaters May 28th and On Demand and Digital June 1, 2021.
WE BROKE UP – Directed by Jeff Rosenberg
We Broke Up Synopsis: Lori and Doug, a longtime couple breaks up just days before Lori’s little sister Bea’s wedding. In order to not disrupt the fun, the couple decides to pretend they’re still together until the weekend is over.
I am admittedly cheating here as We Broke Up was an end of April release. Still, I am always intrigued by “rom coms” looking to evolve off of the genre’s traditional formula. From the perspective of a couple falling out of love after a decade-long relationship, Jeff Rosenberg’s writing/directorial debut presents moments of raw authenticity.
Stars William Jackson Harper and Aya Cash register a compelling and fittingly distant rapport while still conveying the pairs’ deeply-seated feelings for each other. When the film is at its most intimate, it affectingly examines a delicate personal stage with profound feelings of melancholy and loss (the ending is touching in its own quiet ways). It’s refreshing to see a film treat breakups with honest sincerity, with both parties coming to a common point of love and understanding despite their differences.
Despite moments of brilliance, We Broke Up rarely breaks the romantic comedy mold. Too much of the sporadic 80-minute runtime is spent mucking through bland comedic bits and wacky situations. These moments not only feel borrowed from far superior films, but they shift the focus away from the appeal of the star’s central rapport. The leads take a backseat far too often to the genre’s unoriginal hijinks, preventing the well-meaning narrative from ever reaching its intended heights.
There’s a great movie buried amidst We Broke Up’s far too busy runtime. It’s a shame Rosenberg can’t fully develop his thoughtful concept, but the moments that do work display his potential going forward in the subgenre.
We Broke Up is now available on VOD throughout May.
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