Quick Movie Reviews (Divine Love, Let Him Go & Miss Juneteenth)

Divine Love

Materialized faith dominates the near-future vision of Brazil rendered in Divine Love, the potently provocative and alluring latest film from Gabriel Mascaro. Balanced with plenty of eroticism and sci-fi touches, this incisive satire takes on the influence of evangelism on the present Brazilian government by looking at what could come. It sets itself in 2027, where the government pretends to uphold secularism, but an anti-abortion and ultra-conservative agenda has seeped into every aspect of daily life. Mascaro displays this via genetic detectors on entrances that indicate a person’s marital and pregnancy status. Overstepping her bureaucratic position to impose her religious beliefs, Joana (Dira Paes) prides herself in the number of divorces she’s prevented. Infertility, however, pains her own marriage and has polluted her conviction with doubt.

At first, Mascaro shows Joana as the Lord’s most loyal servant. But that devotion isn’t as self-sacrificing as it appears. It hinges on her dream of being a mother, a truth that causes her guilt. That fascinating inner turmoil speaks of those willing to conveniently accommodate “sin” to justify their deeds as a pathway to a self-righteous end, all while judging others. She can rationalize anything so long as it further helps what she considers sacred. Which then brings Divine Love, the titular Christian couples group that could easily pass for a steamy swingers club, where therapy consists of extramarital sexual encounters, permitted under the pretense of helping the husband and wife stay together or procreate.

Image via Outsider Pictures

Fluorescent colors, whether in neon sings or daily lights, wash over every one of cinematographer Diego García’s dazzling, dry-ice ambient frames. Working at a fixed low, slow simmer throughout, Divine Love makes an expansive use of a tight budget, with production designer Thales Junqueira situating the film’s most outrageous provocations in a delirious but somehow plausibly mundane waking nightmare. By way of its lush aesthetic, the film really reflects how conversion has taken on the form of an enticing, easily consumable product: a drive-thru praying session with a pastor or a massive Jesus rave. With all its futuristic absurdities, Divine Love glides into its final act with a supernatural twist of large proportions, exposing how when presented with the ultimate miracle even the most outspoken, passionate believers act hypocritically skeptical. With subtly not exactly in its vocabulary, Divine Love, reveling in its sinuous dips of erotic trance, takes its darkly fluorescent and sensual sci-fi and delivers an urgent cautionary allegory

Grade: B

Divine Love is available in Virtual Cinemas

Let Him Go

Throughout the ’90s Kevin Costner made his way through the Western genre. Yet now, decades later, there’s Let Him Go, which isn’t of a traditional example of the genre. It’s set in the ’60s, and contains more quietly strained family melodrama than horses (though there still are horses). Then again, this also isn’t really Costner’s movie: He’s a quiet sidekick to Diane Lane, who plays Martha Blackledge, a doting grandmother, a vaguely disapproving mother-in-law, and grieving parent, all of which happens in quick succession. The unexpected opening-minutes loss of Margaret’s adult son is compounded when her daughter-in-law Lorna (Kayli Cater) remarries and moves away from the modest family ranch, taking Margaret’s toddler grandson Jimmy with her. It’s not long after that, when Margaret witnesses an abusive outburst from Lorna’s new husband Donnie Weboy (Will Brittain), and before she can confront him, the new family blows town in a hurry. George (Costner), a retired sheriff, isn’t sure if it’s their place to track down and retrieve Jimmy, but that’s what Margaret insists they do.

Based on the novel of the same title by Larry Watson, writer-director Thomas Bezucha shows an impressive patience in developing this low-key rescue mission, showing a refreshing confidence. As they travel from Montana to North Dakota tracking the mysterious Weboy family, the couple practices their contrasting interrogation styles with various locals. Margaret is both sunnier and more aggressive, while George exhibits a reserved reluctance, dragging his words over the trails of Costner’s gravely voice. But as the film progresses it begins to teeter its more restrained side into something more trashy. Yet that teetering does help sustain some of the tension: When Margaret and George meet the Weboy’s dominant matriarch Blanche, Lesley Manville bits right into the hamminess. Yet it doesn’t help that the hammy, pulpy second half lack grim humor, and instead succumbs to flavorless sentiment.

Image via Focus Features

Though Costner’s character doesn’t drive the narrative, Bezucha sometimes feels as if he’s taking cues from his star, ensuring that the movie stays square, respectful, and a little goofy. This is a neo-Western in time period, but not necessarily in sensibility. Thankfully, there’s also one key element that keeps Let Him Go from becoming an AARP disclaimer of grandparent grievances is its acknowledgment of the physical limitations involved when climbing back in the saddle. George and Margaret may be tough, but they can’t complete their mission with some Taken-esque efficiency. So Bezucha’s sensitivity ultimately wins the day. While it’s hard to shake the awareness that the whole movie exists to set up a violent catharsis, it’s also hard to deny that it has just enough sadness and regret to back it up. Even with its very uneven, more pulpy second half, Let Him Go shines more when it focuses on its more patient, somber and elegiac post-western restraint.

Grade: B-

Let Him Go is available on VOD

Miss Juneteenth

The Miss Juneteenth pageant is one where young Black women compete for the title and an accompanying scholarship to a historically Black college. It’s also, as the title suggests, a central event in Channing Godfrey Peoples’ film. It stars Nicole Beharie as Turquoise Jones, who the pageant in 2004, but faced personal difficulties and didn’t go to college. She now works two jobs while raising her daughter, Kai (Alexis Chikaeze), who’s about to turn fifteen and whom Turquoise is grooming, with rigid discipline, to compete in the 2019 pageant.

Image via Vertical Entertainment

At its heart, if you couldn’t tell, Miss Juneteenth is about the mother-daughter relationship, which Peoples admirably brings to the screen with a naturalistic subtlety. Much of the film’s psychology rests on Turquoise, who Beharie plays as a stoic woman pulled in multiple directions, both by the men in her life and her own stalled ambitions. She’s nostalgic for her glory days as a beauty queen, so much so that an outgoing coworker, Betty Ray (Liz Mikel), teases her about it regularly. She works hard, and wields the sacrifices she makes for Kai like a weapon at times. Turquoise is a complicated person, and both Beharie and Peoples treat her with a deserved respect. The film as a whole moves at an unhurried pace, yet Peoples still locks in with its conventions, while still creating a specific enough environment. An element that breaks that milieu is the dialogue, which struggles to ring as true as the performances. Yet, thankfully, Beharie’s passionate lead performance finds enough tenderness to celebrate. Though its very familiar path can be frustrating, Miss Juneteenth shines through its observational aesthetic and impressive central performances.

Grade: B-

Miss Juneteenth is available on VOD

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