Tag Archives: Josephine Decker

Our Portable Realities of Grief — “The Sky is Everywhere”

I hated “The Sky is Everywhere” until I loved it. I wanted to turn it off 20 minutes in because it was overwritten. In turn, that asks a degree of overacting to deliver it correctly. There’s so little grounding in the moment-to-moment of its opening act. What changed? Me. Stay with the film and begin to match its rhythm and pace, and it’s immensely rewarding.

I’ll give you one very early example to show what I mean: Lennie has lost her sister Bailey very suddenly. It’s her first day back at school in two months. She’s challenged for first chair clarinet. The music teacher says it’s inappropriate given the circumstances, but Lennie accepts. Setting aside that her challenger is played like a cartoon villain all but twirling a mustache, let’s just go with it.

The challenge is blind – the two girls play from behind a curtain. The challenger plays…all right, it’s not great, and the class waits for Lennie to play. When the curtain drops, it’s revealed she’s run out of the room and into the woods. The music teacher awards first chair to the challenger as a forfeit, instead of – I don’t know, saying that it’s clearly not the right time and they can run a challenge at a later date. At this point, the film is less about Lennie and more about what teacher in their right mind would go through with this.

The solution is, of course, to send another student running out of school into the woods – and not to bring her back to school, but to play guitar for her in the woods, and at this point I’m less concerned with Lennie’s grief than I am with when this dude is getting fired because he has no business being a teacher, let alone one who apparently has multiple students trying out for Juilliard because I guess the school is that good at music despite stuffing its 20-piece ensemble into a room that barely fits it.

What happens plotwise in this sequence is easy to understand, and yet nothing in it makes the slightest amount of practical sense. That’d be fine if it was the flight of symbolism “The Sky is Everywhere” makes its bread and butter. I love its departures into dance, set deconstruction, and touches of animation, but this is the plot part that’s supposed to sustain those flights. We’re made to understand that these events happen – perhaps with some added flair and style – but that they essentially happen as we’re shown.

At this point, I felt like the movie was forcing its premise to be secondary to its quirky affectations, rather than letting anything evolve naturally. And yet…. “The Sky is Everywhere” isn’t just overwritten and (perhaps) overacted, it’s also overdirected, and when something has gone that far over in so many ways, sometimes you wonder why the hell you haven’t, too.

“The Sky is Everywhere” is overdirected by Josephine Decker in the way that Michel Gondry, Julie Taymor, Baz Luhrmann, or Jean-Pierre Jeunet overdirect, which is to say that it’s directed exactly the way it needs to be, and if anyone else had directed it any other way, it would be woefully underdirected.

The film mentions “Wuthering Heights” every other scene for its first half, which quickly had me thinking, “I get it already”. It’s all Lennie reads because in mourning her sister she identifies with the characters and their obsession with misery. I was sick of the movie reminding me how much Lennie loves “Wuthering Heights” when I was also reminded five and 10 and 20 minutes ago.

But here’s the key point: I was being an idiot. Imagine watching Baz Lurhmann’s “Romeo + Juliet” and thinking it’s odd everyone’s talking like Shakespeare wrote them. Of course he wrote them, it’s “Romeo + Juliet”. Yet “Wuthering Heights” isn’t as immediately recognizable a cultural touchstone as Shakespeare is, my last Bronte kick was years ago, and “The Sky is Everywhere” is influenced by it rather than being a straight adaptation. Where Lurhmann doesn’t really need to remind anyone, “Hey, watch this like you’re watching Shakespeare” even once, “The Sky is Everywhere” apparently really did need to remind me five or six times, “Hey, watch this like you’re reading Emily Bronte”.

When I started reading the film as “Wuthering Heights”, or at least from the emotional standpoint of a gothic romance, it was like a key opening a lock. I really did need the film to remind me several times before it dawned on me to listen.

Once you turn that key and the lock falls open, an entire emotional reality comes pouring out of “The Sky is Everywhere”. It’s filled with beautiful sequences that bring emotion alive through fantastical production, choreographed dance, and a host of scenes that exist as metaphors. That incredibly self-focused, overwhelmingly internal, streaming monologue that had struck me as overwritten is the foundation for gothic romance. When I started viewing the film with that in mind, I recognized that what I had viewed as shoving the foundation aside actually was the foundation.

It does help that the supporting roles eventually get more time to develop past their heavily quirk-forward introductions. Cherry Jones, Jason Segel, Jacques Colimon, Pico Alexander, Ji-young Yoo, and Havana Rose Liu are all very good, once they’re given space to flesh out their characters.

Through it all, Grace Kaufman gives a superb performance as Lennie. This is the second time in recent weeks a Gen Z actress has delivered a rangy, realistic portrayal of grief. While Jenna Ortega in “The Fallout” concerns very different subject matter, there is something that’s resonant and modern in both their portrayals of grief that we typically haven’t seen before.

I’d suggest the reason for this is casting teenagers as teenagers, instead of casting people in their late-20s. Different generations process grief differently, especially as that processing is shaped by a world that introduces new grief on a daily basis, but also seems able to connect and communicate grief more openly than before. This allows a more accurate and relatable portrayal of grief that’s fit for the 2020s instead of the 2000s. Because of their subject matter, these two films take very different conclusions from grief, but they’re both real, accessible, timely, and they help create films that will still be relevant and speak to us a decade from now.

There’s another work that “The Sky is Everywhere” brings to mind, and this may be more personal. “What Remains of Edith Finch” is a video game that’s similarly almost overbearingly quirk-forward. Once you’re able to crest that, it uses its design and a very particular literary tone to reel you in. Because you’re expecting metaphor to come alive, you also expect a contrast that highlights it. When that contrasting foundation itself is so stylized and metaphorical, you can feel unmoored – as if the film or game can’t decide on its own tone. Yet the more you watch or play, the more you sync up to that tone and understand the movable foundation it uses – a kind of emotional reality as foundation rather than a plot-centered one.

That difference is huge because one of those foundations is inherently shifting and subjective, while the other is concrete and, from a story’s perspective, not just objective but omniscient. The former enables those stylistic, metaphorical flights to go even further, but because you’re being asked to see an entire world subjectively through a character’s eyes – instead of seeing that character in a steady world through omniscient eyes – there’s a much higher suspension of disbelief when it comes to plot and world detail.

That asks a greater level of trust be given over to a director, without knowing whether they’ll come through on it. Like “What Remains of Edith Finch”, that unmoored foundation means you have to sync up well enough with “The Sky is Everywhere” to be swept off at the same pace. If you can, it really does deliver and it does things a more tethered movie never could. At the same time, some viewers may not be able to or may not be interested in doing that.

I compare “The Sky is Everywhere” to “What Remains of Edith Finch” because they both ask you to inhabit emotional realities that shape the world around you, that shape other people’s stories. They don’t just present a situation or character going through grief, they ask you to be a part of coping with that grief and see the world from the perspective of the grief-stricken. Reality isn’t reality. Every emotion is supersaturated, idealized and romanticized until it’s rejected, the world takes the shape of your perception. It’s not so much that “The Sky is Everywhere” can’t find it’s tone or sense of reality initially, it’s that the concrete foundation we’re so used to stories providing us isn’t there from the start. Most films about grief give us that anchor, but like “What Remains of Edith Finch”, “The Sky is Everywhere” doesn’t want us to have it. To embody grief, we cannot have it, or else we would have an out from that embodiment.

We start from a place where reality is already gone, suffused in this case with gothic romance and monologues that are overwritten until you start feeling them instead of analyzing them. It’s beautiful once you can get close enough to where it’s coming from, but trekking that far out is difficult and not what everyone wants out of a film like this.

Even loving it, I still have criticisms of “The Sky is Everywhere”. The characters are initially defined by such an overwhelming level of quirk that it’s hard to read any of their relationships beyond this. Without enough of anything else, they can come off as creepy in place of caring from time to time. This means getting to know them later places them at a deficit that doesn’t feel intended.

Dialogue scenes where the characters struggle to put shape to their grief are brilliantly done, but it takes about 25 minutes to get to a single one of them. Plot aspects like whether Lennie will get into Juilliard, which are so central in the film’s opening act, become somewhat forgotten later. Of course, this becomes less important to Lennie, but I do think the film focuses a bit too much on some practical initial stakes to get you invested when it’s not really about those stakes. The opening act gives us those stakes and descriptions of grief, but it fails to let us see a character interacting at length with the film’s focus on grief until it’s shifting us into that second act. It’s important we know these details, but they shouldn’t dominate the film’s opening to the exclusion of everything else.

All that said, if you can ride out that opening act and get that key to click for you in terms of its gothic romantic storytelling, “The Sky is Everywhere” is a gorgeous, beautifully designed, well-conceived film with a strong central performance. If it never clicks for you, that’s understandable – its storytelling approach will lack enough of an anchor for many. If it drives enough curiosity to see what it wants to show you next, “The Sky is Everywhere” can ultimately be extremely rewarding.

It’s a challenging film, perhaps even off-putting, but if you can sync up with its sense of metaphors springing off the back of a metaphorical reality, it has a lot to say that’s worth hearing.

You can watch “The Sky is Everywhere” on Apple TV.

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New Shows + Movies by Women — February 11, 2022

There’s a lot to get to this week. With 14 titles, most streaming services see something new, but it’s an especially good week if you have Netflix or Shudder. Just from what I’ve observed writing this feature for the past two years, Netflix regularly has a big influx of projects by women. I don’t know that they have a higher rate than others. Since Netflix has a much larger output compared to other streaming services, it could just be a matter of volume. Either way, there are weeks like this where a huge number of titles by women appear on the platform.

As for Shudder, it’s picking up a lot of horror films that came out on rental last year, but that haven’t found a subscription service until now. These can be international, like Argentina’s “Rock, Paper and Scissors”, or a low-budget indie like “I Blame Society”. Shudder can be pretty good at grabbing these horror gems by women that other services overlook.

Of course, with Valentine’s Day around the corner, there’s also a number of romantic comedies out there. It’s a genre I do miss and they look surprisingly good. Expect to see some promising ones coming out this and next week.

New shows and films by women this week come from Argentina, Iran, Japan, the Netherlands, South Korea, the U.K., and the U.S.


Inventing Anna (Netflix)
showrunner Shonda Rhimes

Julia Garner stars as Anna, a con artist who uses Instagram to convince New York high society that she’s a German heiress…before stealing their money. The series is based on a real-life case where Anna Sorokin defrauded banks, hotels, and the wealthy throughout the 2010s. If you don’t know Garner, she’s absolutely an actress to keep your attention on.

Shonda Rhimes created and showruns “Inventing Anna”. Rhimes has produced on “Bridgerton”, “Scandal”, “How to Get Away with Murder”, and “Grey’s Anatomy”.

You can watch “Inventing Anna” on Netflix. All 10 episodes are immediately available.

Sister Boniface Mysteries (Britbox)
showrunner Jude Tindall

A Catholic nun spends her free time solving mysteries.

Showrunner and writer Jude Tindall also created and wrote for “Shakespeare & Hathaway: Private Investigators”, and wrote on the show where the character of Sister Boniface first appeared, “Father Brown”.

You can watch “Sister Boniface Mysteries” on Britbox. New episodes arrive every Tuesday.


Ballad of a White Cow (MUBI)
co-directed by Maryam Moghadam

Maryam Moghadam writes, directs, and stars as Mina in this Iranian film. Mina discovers her husband was innocent of the crime for which he was executed. She attempts to fight the very system that denies her even the most basic agency as a woman.

Maryam Moghadam directs with Behtash Sanaeeha. As an actress, she’s appeared in a number of Iranian films. This is her third film as a writer, and second as director.

You can watch “Ballad of a White Cow” on MUBI.

The Sky is Everywhere (Apple TV)
directed by Josephine Decker

Based on the novel by Jandy Nelson, a shy musician tries to keep growing up in the wake of her older sister’s death.

Josephine Decker directs, and she’s kind of a big deal. She helmed “Shirley” starring Elisabeth Moss, and “Madeline’s Madeline”. She has a tendency to get weird, meta, and experimental.

You can watch “The Sky is Everywhere” on Apple TV.

Anne+ (Netflix)
directed by Valerie Bisscheroux

In this Dutch film, a graduate navigates her love life in the LGBTQ+ scene of Amsterdam, while trying to get her writing career off the ground.

The film is based on director and co-writer Valerie Bisscheroux’s series “Anne Plus”.

You can watch “Anne+” on Netflix.

I Blame Society (multiple services, VOD)
directed by Gillian Wallace Horvat

Gillian is a good filmmaker, but she just can’t seem to break through. Then it comes to her: the skills to be a good director are very similar to the skills needed to commit the perfect murder.

Writer-director Gillian Wallace Horvat is a prolific producer and director of video documentary shorts. Put another way, she directs those documentary featurettes that end up as extra features on new releases and remasters. Some are historical, some are analytical, some confront problematic elements in classic films.

It’s a unique skillset and she has about 50 of these to her credit in just the last five years, along with occasional award-winning shorts.

You can watch “I Blame Society” on Hoopla, Kanopy, Shudder, Tubi, or see where to rent it.

Child of Kamiari Month (Netflix)
directed by Shirai Takana

A girl named Kanna is a descendant of the gods. It’s her family’s duty to collect offerings from around Japan and deliver them to the gods. When her mother passes away, Kanna takes the responsibility on in the hope the gods can reunite them.

Shirai Takana started out doing in-between animation on movies a decade ago, worked her way through key animation jobs, and assistant directed 2020’s visually stunning “Children of the Sea”. This is her first film as director.

You can watch “Child of Kamiari Month” on Netflix.

Marry Me (Peacock)
directed by Kat Coiro

Jennifer Lopez stars as singer Kat Valdez, who’s about to marry her longtime partner Bastian in front of a global audience. She learns seconds beforehand that he’s been unfaithful. Totally reasonably she marries a stranger in the crowd, a man named Charlie who just so happens to be played by Owen Wilson.

Based on the graphic novel, Kat Coiro directs. She’s been a director on “Dead to Me”, “The Mick”, and “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia”. She’s also directing the upcoming MCU “She-Hulk” series.

You can watch “Marry Me” on Peacock.

Love and Leashes (Netflix)
directed by Park Hyeon-jin

A woman stumbles on her co-worker’s secret, and the two develop a romantic bond over BDSM. The Korean romantic comedy is based on a webtoon.

Writer-director Park Hyeon-jin has previously directed “I Am Your Bleating Phone” and “Like for Likes”.

You can watch “Love and Leashes” on Netflix.

Rock, Paper and Scissors (Shudder, VOD)
co-directed by Macarena Garcia Lenzi

In this Argentinean horror film, two siblings resent their half-sister when she seeks her part of their father’s inheritance. They don’t want to sell the house they’ve inherited, so they decide to hold her captive, playing a series of escalating games.

Macarena Garcia Lenzi directs with Martin Blousson. It’s the first narrative feature for either.

You can watch “Rock, Paper and Scissors” on Shudder, or see where to rent it.

Alone with You (VOD)
co-directed by Emily Bennett

A woman eagerly anticipates her girlfriend’s homecoming. As she prepares, their apartment begins to take on hallucinatory qualities, hinting at a truth she’s tried not to recognize.

Emily Bennett co-writes, directs with Justin Brooks, and stars. This is her first feature film as director.

See where to rent “Alone with You”.

Homestay (Amazon)
directed by Seta Natsuki

In this Japanese film, a high school student passes away and a soul takes up residence in their body. That soul has 100 days to figure out the truth behind that student’s death. I believe this is a remake of a Thai film, but based on a novel by Japanese writer Eto Mori. Can’t find a subtitled or dubbed trailer for the Japanese version, but English subtitles will be available on Amazon.

Seta Natsuki has directed on several Japanese films and the series “The Curry Songs”.

You can watch “Homestay” on Amazon.

The Kindness of Strangers (Netflix)
directed by Lone Scherfig

Clara and her two sons escape from her abusive husband. In a tough New York City winter, their survival is reliant on rare, intertwining acts of kindness. Zoe Kazan stars as Clara.

Writer-director Lone Scherfig has directed a number of films in Denmark, the U.K., and the U.S. This includes the Oscar-nominated “An Education”, as well as “Italian for Beginners” and “Their Finest”.

You can watch “The Kindness of Strangers” on Netflix.

Tall Girl 2 (Netflix)
directed by Emily Ting

A tall girl has gained popularity at school, and as the lead in the school play has to navigate social issues she hadn’t before. This is the sequel to “Tall Girl”.

Emily Ting directs. This is her third film.

You can watch “Tall Girl 2” on Netflix.

Take a look at new shows + movies by women from past weeks.

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