The Happiest Day in the Life of Olli Mäki (2017; Dir.: Juho Kuosmanen)
By Daniel Barnes
*Opening Friday, May 5, at the Landmark Embarcadero Center Cinemas in San Francisco and the Landmark Shattuck in Berkeley.
Shot in a hazy and washed-out black-and-white, and so slight and unassuming that it barely qualifies as a movie, this true story about the titular Finnish boxer training for the fight of his life is mostly notable for what it’s not. It’s NOT a sports movie; it’s NOT a love story; it’s NOT interested in biopic beats; it’s NOT even that interested in its own protagonist, an introverted pugilist distracted from his upcoming 1962 title bout with American pugliist Davey Moore by the loves of a blonde. The Happiest Day in the Life…is NOT a lot of things, and is seemingly more influenced by wispy, shoe-gazing indies like Tu Dors Nicole and Baden Baden than by traditional demands for conflict, context, emotional catharsis, and all the other elements of drama that were good enough for Hawks and Ford but are somehow offensive to the contemporary sensibilities of disaffected hacks. Instead, The Happiest Day in the Life… is more of a dithering hangout movie – warm and enveloping like the afternoon sun, luxuriating in gliding bike rides and long walks through the woods, easily digestible and easily forgettable.
The Fits (2016; Dir.: Anna Rose Holmer)
By Daniel Barnes
*Opens Friday at the Landmark Opera Plaza in San Francisco.
A scrappy and big-hearted brawler of a film, but one without any real fighting spirit or punching power (OK, that’s enough with the boxing metaphors). First-timer Holmer helms this half-gnawed fingernail of a narrative about Toni (newcomer Royalty Hightower), a taciturn and determined young girl who trains in a Cincinnati boxing gym with her older brother. Toni harbors a powerful desire to slide over to the dance class next door, but when she tries out for the troupe, the mean-girl older dancers start suffering inexplicable seizures, and a good deal of circumstantial evidence points back to our protagonist. The Fits is being positioned as a breakout role for 10 year-old star Hightower, and she certainly has a strong screen presence, steely and magnetic from the moment she starts counting out sit-ups, but Holmer’s trendy disaffection leaves Hightower and the rest of this largely amateur cast without much to do. In lieu of character development, we get scores of shots of people squinting into the sun and staring into mirrors, while Holmer leaves the viewer to fill in the blanks (I can do that at home). To be fair, I’m just completely over this wishy-washy, “impressionistic,” Ain’t Them Bodies Saints shit. I liked some of the Lubezki, Jr. camera moves, and a cool final musical number saves The Fits from the Dump-yard, but otherwise it feels padded even at 72 minutes.