Making Friends with Death

Death. It’s a subject that many of us don’t want to deal with, let alone feel comfortable talking about. It can be especially difficult when it involves someone we care deeply about, particularly in a scenario like a parent having to prepare for the loss of a child. Yet death is the one fate we all ultimately share, so it’s not something we can conveniently try to avoid. Given that, then, this is an eventuality that we must all find a way to accept. It’s a process that might also unfold more readily if we make the effort to better understand it, ridding ourselves of misinterpretations about it so that we can view it in a more natural, more accessible light – in essence to learn how to make friends with it. That may not be easy, but it is possible, as illustrated through the whimsical and profound new cinematic fable, “Tuesday” (web site, trailer).

Fifteen-year-old Tuesday (Lola Petticrew) is facing something no one her age should have to contend with – a terminal illness that’s closing in on her and shrinking the number of days ahead of her. She’s in a great deal of pain and has largely been relegated to the limited confines of the home she shares with her single mother, Zora (Julia Louis-Dreyfus). Tuesday is alone much of the time, too, cared for by a visiting nurse, Billie (Leah Harvey), when Zora goes off to work. Or at least that’s what Tuesday has been led to believe.

Terminally ill 15-year-old Tuesday (Lola Petticrew, left) attempts to help her grief-stricken mother, Zora (Julia Louis-Dreyfus, right), come to terms with her impending demise, as seen in the whimsical and profound new cinematic fable, “Tuesday,” now playing theatrically. Photo by Kevin Baker, courtesy of A24.

In actuality, Zora leaves the house every day, but she’s not going to work; she has no job. Instead, she frequently spends her days visiting various resale shops seeking to sell household items as a means to raise money, presumably to pay for the medical and home health care expenses of her daughter. And, when she’s not doing that, she can be found holed up in a local café or sitting by herself in a neighborhood park, often until late in the day when she’s supposedly getting off work.

So why is Zora occupying her days like this? One might think that, as the mother of a terminally ill daughter, she’d want to be spending as much time with her as possible, particularly with the clock running out. But she doesn’t, because the prospect of losing Tuesday is too much to bear. The pain of the looming inevitability is simply too great, so she seeks to put it out of her mind by avoiding these circumstances as much as possible. She even ignores Tuesday’s calls to her on her cell phone, letting them go to voicemail. However, Zora soon finds that, no matter how much she might try to run away from this situation, she can’t hide from the truth.

Zora discovers this one day when she arrives home late. She’s greeted by Billie, who tactfully but honestly informs Zora that she needs to be spending more time with her daughter. Billie notes that Tuesday’s demeanor has changed, growing progressively weaker and more reconciled to her fate, suggesting that her remaining time is growing short – and that Zora needs to use that time to tie up any loose ends between them. Zora is incensed at the suggestion and screams at Billie to stay out of her personal business (hardly a realistic demand under these conditions), but the kindly nurse says that it’s time for Zora to step up and be a mother to her daughter while she still has the chance.

So how is it that Tuesday has reached this resigned frame of mind? It happens when a mysterious visitor appears in her bedroom – Death, having assumed the form, of all things, of a large, talking, shape-shifting parrot (voiced by Arinzé Kene). Interestingly enough, Tuesday doesn’t seem especially shocked at his arrival, nor does she come across as particularly afraid. In large part, given her condition, she knew Death was coming. In fact, in light of her deteriorating health, she quietly welcomed his arrival to take her away from her suffering.

Death is admittedly somewhat surprised by her reaction. He’s more accustomed to resistance, fear and denial when he makes an appearance to those on the verge of crossing over. And, even though he’s well acquainted with the cries for mercy from the many who welcome his arrival to take them away from their pain, he often expects these other anguished emotions to accompany these desperate appeals. Needless to say, this mission places a big responsibility on Death’s shoulders, and it has clearly worn heavily on him, too, especially when he’s called upon to offer some measure of comfort to the dying at the trying time of their passing.

Terminally ill 15-year-old Tuesday (Lola Petticrew, left) receives a mysterious visitor – Death (voiced by Arinzé Kene, right) – who arrives in the form of a large, talking, shape-shifting parrot in writer-director Daina Oniunas-Pusić’s impressive debut feature, “Tuesday,” now playing theatrically. Photo by Kevin Baker, courtesy of A24.

What’s even more surprising to Death, though, is the compassion that Tuesday shows to him when he greets her. She can sense the pain he has had to bear and is willing to extend to him the same kind of empathy that he offers to others. For instance, she gets him to talk, something that he admits he hasn’t done for some time. In addition, he’s filthy, his feathers having literally become coated in the despair he’s encountered when visiting others at the time of their transition. Tuesday accommodates him by drawing a bath for him, a gesture he accepts willingly and enthusiastically, enabling Death to become renewed in a way not unlike what he is about to offer her.

This experience benefits both Tuesday and Death. They forge a connection, one based on mutual support and respect. One could even call it making friends with death, as both of them are about to get something out of their relationship that they each strongly need and desire.

However, when Tuesday relates what happened – and what is about to happen – to Zora, she can’t handle it. And, when Death finally reveals himself to Zora, she lashes out in a fury, viciously attacking the parrot in hopes that doing so will prevent what’s about to unfold. But, like all of her other efforts to forestall the inevitable, Zora’s assault solves nothing. She may temporarily be able to keep Death from performing his duty, but she can’t forever eliminate the mission he’s been charged with carrying out.

To make matters worse, by preventing Death from fulfilling his task, circumstances in the wider world start going askew, taking on widespread apocalyptic proportions. Countless souls everywhere, including Zora’s own neighborhood, begin crying out in anguish, frequently pleading with Zora and Tuesday for help. But what can they do?

Not until Zora gets a taste of what Death does can she fully appreciate his purpose for being. She comes to understand Death’s mission and why the world needs it. This includes Tuesday’s need for it, too, and why Zora must embrace it if both she and her daughter ever hope to find peace. But can Zora make the last step in that big leap of acceptance? And, if so, how will it impact her and her future, both personally and in the world at large?

Visiting nurse Billie (Leah Harvey, left) attends to the needs of terminally ill 15-year-old Tuesday (Lola Petticrew, right) when her grief-stricken mother leaves home each day to go to work at a nonexistent job in the whimsical and profound new cinematic fable, “Tuesday.” Photo by Kevin Baker, courtesy of A24.

Without a doubt, death is a frightening prospect to many of us. To a great degree, this likely has to do with the fact that it represents the greatest unknown that most of us will ever face. And, for us, as a species that generally doesn’t like change, that kind of unpredictability scares the you-know-what out of us. However, is that reason enough to let the concept keep us relentlessly paralyzed in place? That’s something this film attempts to address and dispel.

Much of what drives this fear is a lack of understanding, and those conditions, in turn, lead to the formation of beliefs in line with that thinking. We fear what we don’t understand, which, consequently, leads to resistance of examining, let alone accepting, the idea. And that realization is important given the role that our beliefs – including those based on fear – play in dictating how our existence unfolds. It’s not clear how many of us are aware of this school of thought, but a lack of familiarity with it and its principles keeps us from understanding how it works – and in all of its permutations, including the manifestation of what happens when we embark on our journey into the great unknown of what occurs after we leave physical existence behind us.

Through Death’s various encounters with those he comes to claim, viewers witness a range of reactions, from abject fright to pleas for mercy to attempts at bargaining to expressions of welcoming, though skeptical, relief. And it’s because of those typical responses that Tuesday’s reaction is so unusual to Death. She’s surprisingly accepting of Death’s appearance at her bedside. However, considering how much discomfort she is in, it’s understandable how a release from the captivity of the unendurable existence in which she finds herself could be seen as a fortuitous change.

What’s more, Tuesday’s compassion for Death’s circumstances is even more surprising, even to the messenger himself. He’s accustomed to the more typical reactions to his arrival in the lives of others, so it’s naturally bewildering that he would encounter someone concerned with his well-being. It’s possible that Tuesday senses the reason for his arrival and the relief it will provide, so there’s a part of her that believes in returning the favor, providing him with some much-needed compassion, something he likely almost never receives when he makes an appearance elsewhere. That sort of kindness is enough for Death to grant Tuesday’s wish of the gift of time to be able to square up matters with her mother.

Terminally ill 15-year-old Tuesday (Lola Petticrew) spends much of her time at home alone, save for her visiting nurse, because her single mother is unable to cope with her impending passing, as seen in writer-director Daina Oniunas-Pusić’s whimsical and profound new cinematic fable, “Tuesday.” Photo by Kevin Baker, courtesy of A24.

In striking contrast to Tuesday’s acceptance of Death’s arrival, there’s Zora’s consuming fear and anger over what’s about to happen. She’s obviously not suffering the same kind of physical pain as her daughter, so she likely doesn’t share Tuesday’s belief that the messenger’s arrival could grant her the peace she so dearly seeks. Instead, Zora is bought in to more conventional notions about death, such as a fear of the unknown and the need to fight against it at all costs. But do Zora’s beliefs suit Tuesday? Based on her condition, it would seem not. Rather, these beliefs reflect Zora’s insecurities and lack of understanding. They may be appropriate for her mindset, but they’re not doing anything for Tuesday other than prolonging her pain. Is that fair to her? Most of us would probably say no, but, if the circumstances are ever to change, Zora must come to understand this.

A big part of resolving this issue rests with Zora needing to grasp why she believes as she does: What’s behind her fear of death? What’s driving her obsession with keeping Tuesday alive at all costs (especially given that she can barely bring herself to spend time in her company)? And why is Zora so resistant to the idea of being on her own once Tuesday is no longer in the picture? She sincerely needs to examine these questions if she ever hopes to get answers to find her own peace.

To up the stakes on these issues, Zora soon finds herself in the midst of a world that’s falling apart around her. The suffering of others becomes pervasive, no matter how much Zora tries to surround herself and Tuesday with some kind of invisible protective bubble. But even those measures can’t prevent the encroachment of an existence filled with so much pain and anguish.

This experience helps to open Zora’s eyes to see what can happen when such all-consuming suffering closes in on her. It begins to give her an appreciation for what Tuesday may be going through. In fact, comparisons of these events to the apocalypse begin to shed new light on the true nature of such a much-feared event, namely, that struggling to keep death at bay at any cost is the apocalypse itself. It’s something that prevents transition and transformation (especially in times of great need) and inherently goes against nature, with the ongoing anguish that comes from it being what results. In many respects, it’s what Tuesday is going through writ large. This, of course, again raises the question, is it fair for any of us to continue to put someone through that because it goes against our own beliefs and sensibilities?

This realization helps to put Zora on the path to understanding. But what really seals the deal for her is the opportunity to get a firsthand sense of what Death is able to do for others in pain. Seeing the relief and peace that come over others at last helps Zora appreciate what passing on can accomplish for those under such anguishing circumstances. Being able to assist in that process can be rewarding, too, as it removes the infirm from their pain. What a gift that can be, both for the recipient and the facilitator. But, as noted earlier, even with this new awareness, is Zora capable of bestowing the same gift upon Tuesday?

Taking this next step requires a belief that has more to do with Zora than with Tuesday, as it harkens back to the aforementioned questions that she must address for herself if she ever hopes to reach a definitive conclusion about herself and what it means for her outlook on losing her daughter. Zora now has the tools to help her proceed with this, but can she pull them all together in a cohesive perspective that enables her to move forward? It’s likely something that’s going to require a big leap of faith on her part, one that’s presumably pursued in the hope that everything will turn out fine for all concerned. That may appear to be almost as much of an unknown as one’s fundamental understanding of the nature of death. But, if anyone ever hopes to make sense of all this in the end, it’s a step we must all take for ourselves – and hope that we can live with whatever outcome arises from it. The more we can learn how to make friends with this process, the easier and more rewarding it’s likely to be for all of us.

In her best-ever onscreen work, Julia Louis-Dreyfus turns in an engaging performance as Zora, the grief-stricken mother of a terminally ill 15-year-old daughter, in the whimsical and profound new cinematic fable, “Tuesday,” now playing theatrically. Photo by Kevin Baker, courtesy of A24.

Fables often make for intriguing storytelling and engaging cinematic experiences. And such is the case for the debut feature from writer-director Daina Oniunas-Pusić, a whimsical yet profound tale about how to make friends with death. In doing so, the film gets into some deeply meaningful material, presenting insights that most of us probably have never considered, let alone explored, shedding an entirely new light on the essence of death, as well as the tremendous burden it has placed on its ornithological messenger. The result is a truly moving story, one that deftly mixes joy and sadness, pathos and humor, and anger and sympathy, not only for mother and daughter, but also for Death itself and the wider world of which we’re all a part. The narrative certainly gives viewers much to contemplate, introducing notions that might well raise eyebrows and perhaps even ruffle a few feathers (no pun intended) for those accustomed to more conventional interpretations of this subject. But, in the end, the picture provides a fresher, more mature take on these concepts than typically seen elsewhere. Admittedly, the pacing sags a touch in the middle, and the flow of the story may seem somewhat strange or a tad unfocused at times. What’s more, some may question the reasoning behind why Death appears as a talking parrot (but, then again, why should it necessarily take some of the more familiarly gruesome forms we have seen in other stories, such as the grim reaper, for instance?). The film features fine performances, most notably the best screen work Louis-Dreyfus has ever turned in. It also respectfully recalls material presented previously in such perceptively prescient tales as the moving Australian comedy-drama “Baby Teeth” (2019) and the classic Twilight Zone episode “Nothing in the Dark” (1962) featuring a very young Robert Redford. Still, the premise may strike some as odd, absurd or implausible, but, then, when have fables, fairy tales or opera librettos ever faithfully stuck to the tried and true? Suspend your disbelief for this one, and sit back and immerse yourself in what it has to say. You may never look at death the same way ever again. The film is currently playing theatrically.

Embracing the unknown is challenging in almost any context, but that’s particularly true for many of us when it comes to a subject with the magnitude of death. However, since there’s no escaping it, we might as well learn how to accept it, given that attempts at evading it are ultimately fruitless. And worrying about it solves nothing, accomplishing little more than wasting precious time that we should be spending on enjoying life. “Tuesday” provides us with a valuable lesson in learning how to deal with this inevitability. And, if we think about death as something that comes to us in a form as seemingly unthreatening as a big talking parrot, we just might view it as more of a friend than a foe. After all, if we’re to be escorted across the threshold of this world by a winged emissary such as this, maybe the experience will allow us to take flight as we move on to the next step.

A complete review is available by clicking here.

The Name Is Bond…

I recently had the privilege of attending Chicago’s Griffin Museum of Science & Industry, which is currently hosting the world premiere of the 007 Science Exhibit, a truly a deep dive into the franchise and the technology behind the gadgets that have made it work. If you live in the area or plan on visiting the city by October 27, you absolutely must see this exhibit if you’re a James Bond fan. With 13 vehicles and more than 90 007-related artifacts from the many films in this franchise, as well as a variety of film clips and interactive exhibits, it’s a great retrospective and a lot of fun! For further information, visit the exhibit’s web site by clicking here.

Yours truly with 007’s Aston Martin from “Casino Royale” (2006), with wreckage intact! Photo by Trevor Laster.

Don’t Mess With Seniors

According to playwright David Mamet, “Age and treachery will always beat youth and exuberance.” The kind of wisdom that comes from life experience can be tapped and put to use in many ways, particularly when others try to pull the wool over the eyes of those who’ve been around for a while and have had ample opportunity to stockpile such seasoned and shrewd sagacity. And, when that aptitude is combined with the personal confidence necessary to make a difference in situations where justice is clearly called for, the wrongdoers should take heed. Such is the case in the fact-based tale of a senior scammed by would-be crooks in the hilariously outrageous new comedy-drama-action thriller, “Thelma” (web site, trailer).

Many criminals assume that the elderly are easy targets for victimization. They believe that seniors are overly trusting and easily confused, especially when it comes to schemes that employ modern technology and underhanded measures. And, regrettably, in some cases, that’s all too true. However, not everyone is so vulnerable. Just ask 93-year-old Thelma Post (June Squibb).

Thelma is a spry but sometimes-gullible widowed retiree who still manages to live independently in her Los Angeles condo. She has a number of health conditions, but most of them appear to be reasonably under control. She also experiences her share of “senior moments,” such as “recognizing” people she thinks she knows, a practice that she gets right only about half of the time. All things considered, though, Thelma seems to do well enough on her own, even though some of her family members are concerned that she may not be able to continue living unassisted for much longer.

When 93-year-old Thelma Post (June Squibb, right) falls victim to a phishing scam that robs her of $10,000, she joins forces with her old friend, Ben (Richard Roundtree, left), to get the money back in the new, fact-based comedy-drama-action thriller, “Thelma,” now playing theatrically. Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures.

Of course, those family members live in glass houses of their own and should probably be careful about hurling stones. Thelma spends most of her time with her grandson, Daniel (Fred Hechinger), a kindly but “unfocused” twentysomething who acts as a sort of an impromptu on-demand caretaker, a role he can readily fulfill given that he’s unemployed (and apparently incapable of holding down a job or attending school). Then there’s Thelma’s daughter, Gail (Parker Posey), a high-strung, emotionally charged career woman who becomes easily distracted, stunningly scattered and manically driven whenever plans don’t unfold according to script. Gail’s husband, Alan (Clark Gregg), tries to keep matters on an even keel, but, when Daniel and Gail go off the rails, sometimes it’s even too much for someone as supposedly level-headed as him to hold everything together. And, if anything goes awry in Thelma’s life, her relatives frequently go into meltdown mode, inflaming the situation to an even greater degree (and, ironically, raising their concerns that she should no longer be living on her own). In fact, when circumstances start to get out of hand, it’s often up to Thelma to restore order before they go further amiss.

Because of this apparently well-worn pattern, Thelma doesn’t always tell her family everything that’s going on with her, knowing what will result from it if she does. It’s only when conditions get particularly dire that she says something. And that’s what happens when Thelma receives a panic-stricken phone call supposedly from Daniel (or at least from someone who sounds remarkably like him). He claims he’s been in an accident and desperately needs $10,000 in cash to bail him out. Being the loving, caring grandmother that she is, Thelma naturally comes to his rescue, grabbing money from the many secret hiding places all over her home, hastily putting it in an envelope and mailing it to a post office box address that “Daniel” provided her.

However, not long thereafter, when Thelma finds out that her grandson is fine, she and the family realize she’s been the victim of a phone-based phishing scam. Thelma is both embarrassed and outraged. She wonders how she could have fallen for such a scheme, but she’s also determined to get the money back. She contacts the police, but the investigating officer, Detective Morgan (Chase Kim), informs her that the money is probably gone for good. But that’s a response Thelma is unwilling to accept.

Without saying a word to her family, Thelma concocts a plan to track down the missing funds. She visits her old friend, Ben (Richard Roundtree), who lives at a nearby senior residence, seeking to enlist his support and to “borrow” his electric scooter. Ben tries to dissuade her by pointing out the potential dangers involved, especially since the post office box she seeks to stake out is quite far away. But, given Thelma’s steely determination, she sets off on her odyssey across Los Angeles with Ben reluctantly in tow.

Ninety-three-year-old Thelma Post (June Squibb, left) dotes on her twentysomething grandson, Daniel (Fred Hechinger, right), who serves as an impromptu caretaker for her, as seen in the hilarious, fact-based comedy-drama-action thriller, “Thelma,” now playing theatrically. Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures.

As the duo’s journey unfolds, they have an array of wild and wacky experiences along the way, such as a stop at the home of their aged but out-of-touch mutual friend Mona (Bunny Levine) to surreptitiously borrow her gun. That unexpected revelation raises yet another red flag for Ben, but it’s something that plucky Thelma takes in stride. That becomes apparent when Ben asks Thelma if she even knows how to use a gun, to which she blithely replies, “How hard can it be?”

Meanwhile, the family tries to track down Thelma when she goes missing. Daniel, who drove her to the senior residence, becomes worried when she fails to show up for her ride back home, so he contacts Gail and Alan for help, aided by a pair of nursing home employees (Nicole Byer, Quinn Beswick). But the usual mayhem that ensues when issues like this come up appears once again, leaving everybody in the dark. And, even when they think they’ve found Thelma, their efforts go for naught as the sly old lady manages to outwit them and keep them off her trail.

As day turns to night, Thelma and Ben continue their trek, but conditions grow progressively more ominous as they enter unfamiliar and somewhat dubious turf. Ben is ready to throw in the towel, but Thelma refuses to give up. She believes she can succeed in her quest, no matter how problematic it becomes and regardless of whatever obstacles are strewn across her path. But is this determination realistic or wishful thinking? That remains to be seen, but, considering how far she’s already come, it would be unwise to count her out just yet.

Far too often, the elderly are treated as frail, vulnerable and easily coopted. But such blanket sentiments are hardly fair, especially since not all individuals are cut from the same cloth, including seniors. How they conduct themselves and view their world is as varied as what one finds in any age group. In fact, based on the David Mamet observation noted above, mature adults often have a distinct advantage over their younger counterparts, based on their vast lifetimes of experience.

How seniors approach life, as with those at any age, depends on their beliefs, for these outlooks shape the existence they experience. It’s unclear how many elders have heard of this school of thought, but, given how some of them have successfully managed to live fulfilling lives in their golden years and remain vital through the process, it’s obvious that they’ve learned how to make use of this way of thinking to their advantage. And that can be particularly useful for those who are confronted with situations like what Thelma faces.

Despite having initially been swindled out of her money and some occasional senior moments, Thelma is basically quite sharp for her age, and she’s willing to relentlessly wield her mental acuity and street wisdom when needed. She’s unafraid to move forward courageously, unwilling to let circumstances stop her that might otherwise hinder the actions of others, especially those who are easily intimidated, regardless of age. She believes she can achieve her goal, and she’s determined not to let anything get in her way. We should all be so brave.

Seniors Thelma (June Squibb, right) and Ben (Richard Roundtree, left) prove that it doesn’t pay to mess with the elderly when they seek revenge for a phishing scam, as seen in the sidesplitting new fact-based comedy-drama-action thriller, “Thelma,” now playing theatrically. Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures.

Of course, if we’re each responsible for the reality we create for ourselves, some might wonder why Thelma would draw circumstances like these into her world. That’s a good question, and only she can answer that for herself. However, when we consider the “concern” that others like her family members have for her well-being and independence, perhaps she needed to attract a situation like this to prove to them that she’s still perfectly capable of handling and resolving her own affairs. Itʼs tantamount to one of those “I’ll show them!” moments, particularly for someone eager to remain autonomous.

In addition, Thelma’s manifestation of this challenge could be a way of setting an example for others, most notably her family. When faced with a crisis, these younger and supposedly more savvy individuals tend to collapse under the weight of these issues, largely incapable of responding to the circumstances. Yet, at the same time, they’re also the ones who decry Thelma’s growing inability to continue functioning independently. (Indeed, there are those glass houses, again.) It’s as if they’re projecting their own insecurity-based beliefs onto Thelma. Well, maybe they can’t handle what they’re facing, but Thelma certainly can, and her actions could thus be a way of showing them that it’s possible to address these situations without falling apart. Take a lesson, folks.

This is not to suggest that Thelma doesn’t need help. Like most of us, she does, especially in a dicey situation like this. And that’s why she seeks assistance when needed, such as calling on Ben for help. She’s not afraid to admit that she needs the aid, either; contrary to popular belief, that’s a sign of strength, not weakness, when circumstances like this arise. Thelma is also discerning enough in her beliefs to know where to turn in these instances. Note how she looks for assistance from Ben – someone she can count on – rather than her family (except, occasionally, Daniel) given their inherent shortcomings. Wise lady, to be sure.

There’s a definite sense of realism feeding into these beliefs. Being 93, Thelma knows that she’s not as capable of doing all the things she did when she was younger, and her realistic appreciation of this is a driving force in helping her understand her limitations in terms of when they can be met or exceeded and when they’re beyond what she can still do. That’s another form of the wisdom that comes with age, and she draws upon it to temper her beliefs, preventing her from pursuing fruitless (and potentially hazardous) wishful thinking. It’s a principle we should all apply in our lives, but it’s especially true for those who need to keep themselves from making foolish mistakes out of pride or a loss of perspective.

At a time of life when it’s often assumed that we wish to take things easier, there are those of us who believe firmly that we can remain independent and still take care of ourselves, and Thelma is a prime example of this. She wants it known that it’s bad form to mess with seniors, especially those who continue to possess the determination to retain control over their lives and destinies. It’s the antithesis of the rampant victimhood and helplessness that we often see individuals embrace these days, and, in Thelma’s case, it comes at a time when she feels she needs it most.

So why is Thelma’s independence so important to her? In a heartfelt moment, she notes that she lived at home with her parents until her early 20s, when she got married. She then lived with her husband until his passing, when she was 91. It was at that point when she was essentially on her own for the first time in her life, and she glows about how much she has enjoyed it, something she’s not ready to give up after only two years. That’s understandable, particularly when we get a sense of what it’s like to grow into our own personal power. And, for someone whose life is nearing its end, having a measure of mastery over that personal power is important in light of how much one has had to give up in reaching that point. It likely won’t be long before that last-remaining degree of control will become lost for good, so having the opportunity to continue savoring its satisfaction for as long as possible becomes a high priority. After all, as the inherently creative and powerful beings that we are, it’s what truly makes life worth living in the end.

When their elderly relative goes missing, a panic-stricken family seeks to track her down, including her daughter, Gail (Parker Posey, left), her grandson, Daniel (Fred Hechinger, center), and her son-in-law, Alan (Clark Gregg, right), in writer-director Josh Margolin’s debut feature, “Thelma,” a hilarious, outrageous comedy-drama-action thriller now playing theatrically. Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures.

Mixing comedy and drama is rarely easy, but successfully doing so in the context of an action thriller is quite an accomplishment, one brilliantly pulled off in writer-director Josh Margolin’s debut feature. The film represents an impressive premiere thanks to its superbly penned, well-balanced, evenly paced script relating the experiences of his own 103-year-old grandmother (who’s still alive and kicking and whose real-life home was used as one of the film’s principal movie sets). This uproarious farce features humor that’s clearly outlandish but never implausible or over the top. But there’s more to this offering than laughs – the sight of capable, underestimated elderly folks taking charge over their lives (and, in the case of this picture, even performing their own stunts!) is truly inspiring. This is backed by a potent, poignant (though never preachy) underlying look at what it’s like to grow old and the losses that come with it, a bittersweet meditation on the inevitable changes that emerge with age and how all too quickly they arrive, material that’s deftly and often philosophically interwoven with the comedy. The picture is also a triumph for 94-year-old Squibb in her career’s first-ever lead role, one worthy of Oscar contention, effectively capturing her diverse talents, qualities that have been bottled up for far too long. In addition, the film is a fine showcase for Roundtree in his final feature film performance, one in which we see him in a different light from many of his previous roles and in which he’s perfectly matched with his cunning co-star. My only issue with the picture is with the portrayal of Thelma’s family, in which the development of its three principals never comes off quite right, seemingly reaching for something that doesn’t gel properly, an aspect of the narrative that clearly could have used some further refinement. Otherwise, though, “Thelma” (or “Thelmaf” as it was once known in an alternate version of the title) is one of the funniest, best produced releases that I’ve seen in quite some time. So hop on your scooter and get your behind to your nearest theater to see this one – or else.

Itʼs often been said that “Just because there’s snow on the roof, it doesn’t mean there’s no fire in the chimney.” Thelma and Ben (and a number of their spry cohorts) prove that, too, in this delightfully engaging tale. But there’s no need for us to think of this only as a work of fiction for the big screen. Indeed, as noted above, this is a story based on the experience of the director’s real-life grandmother. So why should any of us think of scenarios like this as being outside the realm of possibility? We need to give seniors more credit than we typically do, and we should bear that in mind, considering that one day we’ll be in their shoes ourselves. Would we want to be thought of as helpless and unable to function on our own? I think not. I know I wouldn’t, and I certainly intend not to be. Maybe that’s advice we should all take to heart – and make the most of whatever time we have left. After all, it will never come again, and that’s one regret none of us should want to endure.

A complete review is available by clicking here.

Following the Quest for Relationship Fulfillment

In an age where the lines of what makes for a successful relationship have become increasingly blurred (and simultaneously more liberating), we’re seeing all manner of partnership combinations emerge that are just as valid as conventional models, no matter how different they may appear. And thank goodness for that, as anyone in an alternative partnership can joyously attest. However, despite this newfound freedom, these relationships can experience their share of challenges just like any other pairings. But, if a connection is worth it, then so is the effort required to realize such a cherished aspiration, an undertaking explored in the new animated fantasy, “Robot Dreams” (web site, trailer).

In 1980s New York – portrayed here as a multi-species zootropolis – Dog lives by himself in a modest East Village apartment. It’s a rather lonely existence, however, and he often feels depressed that there are so many others around him, like his next-door neighbors, who have successfully found lasting companionship. Consequently, he’s come to feel resigned to a life of channel surfing and warming up microwave meals for himself. It’s hardly enough for him, though.

However, one evening while scrolling through his multiple cable channels, he comes across an ad for the Amica 2000 companion robot. Dog is struck by the idea and decides to order one for himself. And, when his new automated friend arrives, Dog and Robot quickly become fast friends. They spend the summer tooling around New York, engaging in such activities as rollerblading in Central Park and performing rollerskating dance moves to Earth, Wind & Fire’s “Party On” a la Starlight Express for captivated crowds of onlookers. They form a connection that transcends friendship, even if it’s not necessarily something that most would look upon as a relationship (despite the fact that, for all intents and purposes, it probably is, at least symbolically speaking).

Fast friends Robot (left) and Dog (right) tool around 1980s New York, enjoying the summertime street life of this multi-species zootropolis, as seen in writer-director Pablo Berger’s Oscar-nominated animated feature, “Robot Dreams,” now playing theatrically. Photo courtesy of Arcadia Motion Pictures.

Late in summer, Dog and Robot pay a visit to the beach, where they spend the day frolicking in all manner of fun, including going swimming. But the water doesn’t agree with Robot, and, after stretching out on the beach for a nap that lasts until early evening, he’s unable to move, rusting in place. He can’t stand up or move about, and Dog is panicked when he finds that he and Robot are alone. Everyone has left the beach – and not just for the evening but apparently for the season, their visit having taken place on the beach’s closing day for the year.

Unable to help Robot, Dog leaves for the night, returning home to get tools that he hopes will help his incapacitated friend. But, when he comes back the next day, he finds that the beach has been cordoned off with chains and signs that state it’s closed until the following June 1. Dog’s attempts at breaking through the barricades to rescue Robot are subsequently met with police action, even when he tries to explain his reason for doing so. Authorities will have none of that kind of lawlessness. That outcome is further reaffirmed when Dog submits a petition at City Hall seeking temporary off-season access to the beach, but his request is summarily denied.

In light of these developments, as well as a subsequent arrest for trespassing, Dog is reconciled to having to wait to retrieve his friend, who is apparently destined to spend fall, winter and the following spring stretched out on the beach. Dog is saddened by Robot’s absence, especially with the knowledge that his companion is vulnerable to the elements and other potential hazards. In fact, Dog’s worst fears begin to materialize as the weather changes and the lack of available protection become apparent, especially when Robot is subjected to an unexpected visit by a trio of troublesome Rabbits.

As the days pass without Robot’s companionship, Dog grows increasingly worried about whether he will ever see his friend again. Because of this, he starts exploring options for finding new sources of camaraderie. However, he soon discovers that others can’t begin to compare to Robot. And, even when he finds a potentially suitable new acquaintance in Duck, a flirtatious feathered friend, he realizes that loyalty and sincerity can be difficult commodities to come by.

These sentiments weigh heavily both on Dog and on Robot, as each of them begin having dreams about both a reunion between them and scenarios in which they find themselves in the company of new companions. These somnambular experiences feel real and seem pleasant enough until they wake up and realize that they’re just dreams, not waking occurrences, prompting them to return to the ennui that has come to characterize most of their days.

With June 1 fast approaching, Dog anxiously awaits the opportunity to reunite with Robot. But, before he gets that chance, Robot is found by Monkey, a salvage contractor, who discovers his body with his trusty metal detector. He collects Robot’s parts and hauls them to a junkyard, where he’s sold for scrap to Alligator. And the working pieces are subsequently purchased by an inventor raccoon named Rascal, who seeks to rebuild and resurrect Robot in a new working form.

It appears that friendship can transcend boundaries as seemingly immutable as species and technology, as discovered by Dog (left) and Robot (right) in writer-director Pablo Berger’s Oscar-nominated animated feature, “Robot Dreams,” now playing theatrically. Photo courtesy of Arcadia Motion Pictures.

All of the foregoing occurs without Dog’s knowledge, so, when he finally goes to the beach to look for Robot, he’s devastated by his absence. What’s to happen now, given that Robot seems irretrievably missing and Dog’s other friendship prospects have abandoned him? Is Dog destined to live a life of relentless loneliness? Will there be some kind of miraculous reunion? Or will some unexpected development occur that takes both Dog and Robot in an entirely new direction? Perhaps that’s what dreams are made of – be they had by a robot or any of us.

Finding that special someone to make us feel complete can be quite an ordeal, one that’s often disheartening and frustrating. But, when we find the right partner, fewer things in life are sweeter and more fulfilling. This kind of companionship is not to be taken lightly, however; it requires work and commitment, not to mention a firm belief in being willing to follow through on both fronts. Yet, sadly, all too often, many prospective partners aren’t disposed to making that kind of effort.

As the picture opens, Dog is all too familiar with these circumstances, yet he nevertheless longs to find such a connection for himself. His belief in the notion is strong, and that’s vital if he ever hopes to see it come to fruition, because that kind of faith is essential to this process, the school of thought that maintains these notions are responsible for manifesting the reality we experience. Dog may not have heard of this line of thinking, but he makes use of its principles to attract what he seeks, and that becomes apparent when he at last sees the TV commercial that changes his life. And, at the risk of sounding trite, it’s a dream come true.

So how does this come about when all of Dog’s previous efforts haven’t produced results? Well, as noted above, he has faith in the belief that it can happen, despite what seems like ample evidence to the contrary. But those disappointments are indications that what he wants and needs hasn’t properly manifested yet, that those prior “prospects” simply weren’t suitable for him. However, those “failures” aren’t proof that his ambition is an utter impossibility. It just means that “the cake is still baking.”

Dog’s faith is backed up by a belief in ridding himself of limitations. To be sure, the conventional approaches haven’t worked, but, then, maybe the conventional is not for him. Because he’s willing to keep his options open, then perhaps he needs an option more suited to his unconventional sensibilities, a bill that Robot fills where others don’t. Granted, pairing up with a technology-based partner may seem a bit unusual for an organic being, but, if the chemistry between them works, so what? Affinity often knows no bounds, and a connection that comes from such a quality likely requires one to abandon traditional limitations and to allow the unconventional to come shining through. That’s something Dog and Robot quickly discover for themselves, and, given everything it took to make this partnership happen, the result is quite satisfying. More power to them.

The satisfaction to come out of such involvements is often some of the greatest we will experience in life, something we wouldn’t trade for anything. That’s especially true when such feelings arise for those who are part of alternative partnerships, the kinds of relationships that others in more traditional pairings may often look upon askance. These connections thus offer credence to the idea that there is someone for everybody out there, no matter how seemingly unlikely that may have appeared at one time and regardless of how unconventional the bonding may be. Such arrangements give hope to the lovelorn, keeping them going at times when they might otherwise give up. And who would have thought that we could learn such a valuable lesson from an animated dog and robot?

In light of the foregoing, though, one might legitimately wonder why Dog and Robot have befallen the challenges they face. That’s a good question, and their reasons are obviously their own, something that we as onlookers aren’t in a position to question. However, scenarios like the one they face often go a long way toward testing the veracity of a relationship, as becomes apparent by the lengths that Dog is willing to go through to help out his impaired friend. Their situation could also be another test of faith, one designed to gauge the strength of this belief. Or it could be a lesson in learning to let go and see what happens, a stepping stone toward finding love again when what we cherish is believed lost for good. Admittedly, these aren’t particularly easy lessons, but they often come with the territory in loving partnerships, with our companions serving as valuable collaborators in these undertakings.

Can beings as diverse as Dog (left) and Robot (right) become close companions for one another? That’s the question metaphorically addressed in writer-director Pablo Berger’s Oscar-nominated animated feature, “Robot Dreams,” now playing theatrically. Photo courtesy of Neon.

In the end, perhaps the most important takeaway we can get from the story of Dog and Robot is the need to treasure the experience of a relationship like theirs no matter how long or short it might ultimately last. The value rests with having had the experience at all, whether it’s fleeting or endures for a lifetime. Nothing can top what comes out of an involvement like this, and that’s what we should be most grateful for. This unlikely duo shows us that, and we should be thankful for them sharing their experience with us.

The simple but profound sentiments depicted in this delightful animated feature from writer-director Pablo Berger skillfully hit all the right notes for those longingly seeking connection. It deftly addresses the kinds of relationship questions that many of us face in life, providing viewers with circumstances that ring familiar, even if the parties involved (at least superficially) are vastly different from us. The result is a warm, touching, heartfelt story that’s decidedly sweet and cute (though never cutesy), with more than a few bittersweet moments to keep it real. The picture’s charming, imaginative animation presents a whimsical, nuanced view of the Big Apple in the 1980s with virtually no dialogue (despite voice actor-provided sound effects) but backed with a killer soundtrack. The narrative, based on a graphic novel by Sara Varon, is a bit sluggish at times (especially in the film’s opening half), with some sequences that could have been trimmed or eliminated. In fact, some critics and viewers have contended that “Robot Dreams” is a glorified short that’s been needlessly padded to stretch out its runtime (though that’s a view I don’t share, despite my belief that this release would have benefitted from some judicious editing).

As a general rule, I’m not an overly huge fan of animation, since much of it in my mind is excessively silly, manic and inane (especially among American productions), so I tend to pick what I screen in this genre very selectively. However, when animation works well, its offerings frequently turn my head, as this one often does. This Oscar-nominated title for best animated feature is a fun little picture that will surely put a smile on your face and tug at the heartstrings, and, from a romantic standpoint, that’s something worth dreaming about. The film is currently playing theatrically.

The joy that comes out of being with the right partner is often indescribable. It’s something we dream about, and, when we find it, we want it to go on forever. But, no matter how long the experience lasts, we should gratefully immerse ourselves in the ecstasy for it having dropped into our laps. If a dog and a robot can appreciate that, then we surely should be able to as well. And, as we do, we should follow the advice served up by Earth, Wind & Fire: Party on, people.

A complete review is available by clicking here.

Copyright © 2024, by Brent Marchant. All rights reserved.