If there’s one thing that we’ve assuredly learned about filmmaker Asghar Farhadi it’s that he’s inclined to construct morality tales (i.e. A Separation), his films often border on extreme melodrama (i.e. The Salesman) and he’s fixated with shooting in any kind of confined apartment, home or dwelling space (i.e. The Past). It’s no surprise at all that those elements are apart of his latest work, Everybody Knows. This time, however, the Iranian filmmaker has ventured out of a Persian context and set his tale in a small village in the countryside of Spain recruiting the Oscar-winning power-couple of Penelope Cruz and Javier Bardem to lead it. And, sadly, that ends up sounding more intriguing than it turns out to be.
The films opens with Laura (Cruz) returning to Spain with her sixteen-year-old daughter Irene (Carla Campra) and significantly younger son Diego (Iván Chavero) in tow. Laura lives in Argentina with her husband Alejandro (Ricardo Darin), but has ventured home for the first time in three years with just her kids for the wedding of her younger sister Ana (Inma Cuesta). When she first arrives everyone is thrilled to see her including her older brother Fernando (Eduard Fernández), who runs the small hotel that everyone is convening at, Fernando’s daughter and soon to be single mother Rocio (Sara Salamo) and Laura’s deteriorating father Antonio (Ramón Barea). Also happy she’s back in town is her first love, Paco (Bardem), the owner of a nearby vineyard who has since moved on with his own partner Bea (Bárbara Lennie), but also has a mixed relationship with the rest of Laura’s family. But everyone comes together for the aforementioned wedding, who’s reception contains arguably more joy and fun than all of Farhadi’s previous movies combined. Everything’s all fun and joy, but a mystery is a brewing. After a day full of fun with Felipe (Sergio Castellanos), Paco’s nephew, Irene feels weak and Laura immediately puts her to bed. Within a few hours, however, Laura discovers her daughter has disappeared. In her place all that is left is nothing but a pile of newspaper clippings telling the tale of girl who was kidnapped a few years earlier. Eventually Laura gets a text saying Irene has also been kidnaped and if she goes to the police her daughter will be killed.
What ensues from that point forward is, frankly, a narrative mess. Farhadi introduces one red herring after another to make the audience question who possibly kidnapped Irene. Unfortunately, they all seem so implausible you never take any of them seriously and when the true culprit is revealed it’s simply a bit of letdown despite the family drama that has surrounded the episode. It’s in this context, however, where Farhadi wants to make points on stereotypical prejudice against immigrant farm workers, capitalistic greed, the ridiculing of faith and there’s even some shady judgment over a potential abortion. All have potential, they’re surrounded by some good performances and some misdirected ones, but once the film really comes to an end it becomes clear they were all just distractions that dragged the film to a running time twenty or so minutes longer that it needed to be.
Late Night, Nisha Ganatra’s workplace comedy set behind the scenes of a nighttime talk show, stars Mindy Kaling, who also wrote the screenplay, as an eager comedy buff with no professional writing experience (she works as a manger in a chemical plant, doing bits over the intercom speaker). One day she parlays a late show’s half-assed diversity initiative into a job within its all-white, all-male writers room. Her new boss from hell is Katherine Newbury (Emma Thompson), an Emmy-winning talk-show host who’s been coasting for years on her legacy, telling safe jokes to a dwindling viewership. She’s also particularly awful to her writing staff, barring them from set and assigning each of them a number rather than bothering to learn names.
Essentially a kind of comedy-world relative to The Devil Wears Prada, Late Night has no shortage of topics to chew on, particularly in regards to showbiz gender politics — the hurdles placed in front of women both in front and behind the camera, but also how identity determines which material is open to whom. But this isn’t a single movie so much as two separate ones awkwardly stitched together. Katherine’s film is the better of the two, simply by the virtue of leaning on Thompson’s solid, complicated performance as a veteran entertainer who’s devoted her whole life to the work, never needing to worry if people found her “likeable.” Molly’s half is much thinner, a self-actualization sitcom. And together they never quite cohere, and both ultimately struggle with the vary problem that Katherine’s fictional show has, lacking any sort of bite.