FilmWonk Podcast – Episode #15: “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo”, “Young Adult”

Poster for "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo"

This week, we took a cue from the movie studios and decided to cram one too many films into the same day. First, we delve into the dark and depraved world of David Fincher’s fresh adaptation of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. Then, we’ll examine the maturation of Diablo Cody in her new collaboration with director Jason Reitman, Young Adult. (44:42)

Still from "Young Adult"

Please note that per usual, this podcast may contain NSFW language. Additionally, due to the subject matter of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, our review contains some rather frank discussion of rape and associated social issues. We understand these matters are delicate, and we recommend that any sensitive listeners skip past the spoiler section of this review (see the show notes for timing).

FilmWonk rating (The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo): 7/10
FilmWonk rating (Young Adult): 8.5/10

Show notes:

  • (0:00) Review: The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo
  • (11:55) Spoilers: The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (warning: disturbing content)
  • (24:07) Review: Young Adult
  • (36:21) Spoilers: Young Adult
  • Minor spoiler: Near the end of the Dragon Tattoo review, we allude to a certain character stealing a substantial amount of money. From the book, the actual amount was around $260 million USD, which was worth about 2.5 billion Swedish kronor when the book was written. In the film (according to Wikipedia), the amount is 32 billion Euros (~$41 billion USD).
  • We mention the actor who plays Lisbeth Salander’s guardian. This actor is Yorick van Wageningen, whom we may have recognized from his small part as “The Guv” in The Chronicles of Riddick.
  • For the record, there is no Mercury, MN.
  • Music for tonight’s episode is Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross’ version of “Immigrant Song” (performed by Karen O from the Yeah Yeah Yeahs), from the soundtrack to The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.

Listen above, or download: The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, Young Adult (right-click, save as).

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2010 Glennies, Part 4: Best Actress

#5: Annette Bening – Nic, The Kids Are All Right

This film didn’t quite do it for me, and reminded me that I sometimes have to catch myself from thinking that the best performances of the year will invariably fall within the best films. But while Lisa Cholodenko’s sex comedy/family drama was not without its flaws (particularly in the second half), Annette Bening’s performance as the conservative “patriarch” of this surprisingly* conventional family was immaculate. She completely sold her ever-changing reactions to the introduction of her kids’ birth-father (Mark Ruffalo), treating him first like a looming threat to her primacy, then laughing and drinking wine with him and the family. This is a completely authentic character, and Bening’s delivery of dramatic outbursts and comedic barbs alike was spot-on. Her chemistry with Julianne Moore felt mostly believable – it had a kind of comfort and ease, just like an old married couple.

She also completely nails the best two lines in the film, which I won’t spoil here.

*By the standards of quirky indie film, that is.

#4: Carey Mulligan – Kathy, Never Let Me Go

I’ve seen Carey Mulligan play cheerful, but I’ve seen her play somber much more frequently. While I may eventually reach a point of wanting to see a wider range from this actress, I found every dour moment of her screentime in Mark Romanek’s Never Let Me Go to be completely compelling. This film relied heavily on tone, and Mulligan’s performance and chemistry with her fellow leads (Keira Knightley in particular) helped maintain the film’s bleak and somber atmosphere without ever letting the audience lose emotional touch with the characters. These are wretched and pitiable creatures, and it is Mulligan’s heart and compassion that keeps the audience caring for them right to the end.

#3: Hailee Steinfeld – Mattie Ross, True Grit

An early scene in True Grit features Mattie Ross in hardball negotiations with a stable owner over her late father’s horses. Her unrelenting performance amid rapid-fire dialogue in this scene would have been enough to get 13-year-old newcomer Hailee Steinfeld a supporting nod from me, but the Academy be damned – this is unquestionably a lead performance. Steinfeld is in every scene of True Grit, and the film could not have succeeded without such a mature and charismatic take on this character. Mattie Ross is articulate, intimidating, and a bit of a gadfly, and has to keep up with powerful characters three times her age without ever overstaying her welcome with the audience. It’s a tall order, but Steinfeld completely pulls it off. Her rapport with Jeff Bridges was admirable, treading some fascinating ground between road-trip comedy and an intense father-daughter bond. This film is a delight, and it owes much of its appeal to Steinfeld.

#2: Natalie Portman – Nina Sayers, Black Swan

The effectiveness of Nina Sayers is in both her initial state- the pure and fragile “sweet girl”- and her incredible mental and physical transformation. Natalie Portman not only sold both aspects of the character, but fearlessly committed to all the pain and revulsion – bordering on body horror – that she must experience. Portman’s chemistry and frightful interactions with her fellow players (Barbara Hershey in particular) become increasingly fascinating as Nina descends into full-blown schizophrenic madness. Along with Aronofsky’s direction, this was a performance that would make or break the film, occasionally even compensating for deficits in the screenwriting.

“I’M the Swan Queen!” screams Nina as she embarks on the film’s final performance. And indeed she is. Embodying both the white and black swans, Portman’s performance is complete and unmatched.

#1: Kim Hye-ja – Mother, Mother

It is a rare movie tagline that so adequately captures the tone of a film. For Bong Joon-Ho’s Mother, it was this: “She’ll stop at nothing.” Simple and straight to the point. Kim Hye-ja, an actress primarily from Korean television, gives a tour de force performance as the unnamed titular matriarch. Every one of her character beats rang completely true, from her constant worry about her mentally disabled adult son (Won Bin) to her utter desperation to clear his name for murder. She goes to some alarming lengths as the film goes on, and Kim’s performance completely sold each one of her increasingly heartbreaking decisions. The gorgeous opening scene features Kim breaking into an uneasy dance in the middle of the field, with a very pained expression in her face and body language. The full meaning of this scene becomes apparent later in the film, but from the outset, it is clear that Kim Hye-Ja can convey a great deal of emotion in completely unspoken terms. This is a character that the audience wants the best for at all times, no matter what she becomes.

Honorable Mentions:

  • Jennifer Lawrence as Ree in Winter’s Bone
  • Noomi Rapace as Lisbeth Salander in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
  • Emma Stone as Olive Pendergast in Easy A
  • Marisa Tomei as Molly in Cyrus
  • Julianne Moore as Jules in The Kids Are All Right (Honorable, honorable mention: as Catherine Stewart in Chloe)

Click here to see the rest of the 2010 Glennies.