Girl power in two new American indies from A24

OCTOBER 13 ― Surprisingly, I've found quite a lot to love in this year's American indie offerings. I guess with the continued expansion of streaming services like Netflix and Amazon, plus all the other VOD platforms available out there, the prospect of an American indie making a sale at one of the major North American film festivals like Sundance, SXSW and Toronto has increased quite a bit compared to the decade before.

At the very least, the demand for indie flicks to fill up the various platforms' catalogue is very real, so with better demand comes better supply, not just in quantity but also quality, especially when considering the fact that VOD/streaming and cinema viewing habits can be quite drastically different.

That is because VOD/streaming is subscription-based, while cinema is ticket based, hence the fact that someone like Michael Pena can headline a decently budgeted Netflix film like Extinction without much fuss, but will find it much harder to headline a studio film targeted for theatrical distribution.

Another blessing with this greater demand is that variety is not a sin anymore. One can make films not targeted at the widest possible audience and can still get picked up for distribution, especially for VOD/streaming platforms.

So right now might just be a new golden age of American indie and mid-budget films, films that try to target more than just the lowest common denominator, that are not just made for festivals but can be easily seen if you know where and what to look for.

And as if to prove my point by playing like a coincidence, I recently just saw two great American indie films about or with subject matter that’s considered quite rare even now ― young women (of various shapes and kinds, of course). So let’s see what these girl power movies are about, shall we?

Eighth Grade

One of the highlights of my movie-going year in 2018, Eighth Grade is a small miracle that’s even more astonishing once you realise that it’s a debut feature film by a 27-year-old YouTube comedy star.

It’s a miracle because in the oversaturated world of teen movies, one would think that “fresh” is not going to be something that one is going to encounter with a new entry in the genre.

But here it is, a teen movie about a female eighth grader going through her last week of middle school, that just feels so, so awkward and true, that most of it feels like watching embarrassing home videos of yourself when you were 13 and finding out how hopelessly off target your definition of “cool” was back then.

If I could pick only one movie to call perfect this year, then I think this is the one. Elsie Fisher goes beyond excellent as the lead character Kayla, and there’s a father-daughter scene here that probably tops even that great father-son scene in Call Me By Your Name.

Director Bo Burnham just knocks it out of the park with scene after scene of painfully funny cringe-comedy, all the while affectionately depicting the joys and pain of someone who has clearly left childhood behind, but not yet turned into a full-blown teenager.

In short, this is the sort of film where you know the people in it. Heck, they might even be you once upon a time. And that’s quite an achievement.

Every bit as magical as Lady Bird or The Edge Of Seventeen, to quote more recent examples of teen dramedies, Eighth Grade goes one better in the commercial stakes by being warmer and funnier, without losing anything in the artistry and craftsmanship stakes.

Never Goin' Back

There’s already a cult following for A24, an independent movie production company that has already produced critical favourites like A Ghost Story, It Comes At Night, Hereditary, Good Time, The Florida Project, The Disaster Artist, Lady Bird and many more.

It also produced Eighth Grade, and this movie, which again proves that it’s got a great eye for identifying projects that are still edgy, but with something of enough interest to pull in the crowd from its intended audience.

If there’s any justice in this world, then female stoner comedy Never Goin’ Back deserves to be at least as big as the Cheech And Chong and Harold And Kumar movies.

Its two lead characters, Angela and Jessie (which will surely make stars out of newcomers Maia Mitchell and Camila Morrone, both practically lighting up the screen with their infectious energy and chemistry) are waitresses (who are also likely high school dropouts) who do everything together ― live together, smoke bong together, rail lines of coke together, draw penises on each other’s faces together and loads more ― want nothing more right now than to go on a beach vacation to celebrate Jessie’s 17th birthday, and they’ve already blown next month’s rent money to do so.

What happens afterwards is a series of entertaining cock ups that are par for the course in stoner comedies like this one, but Angela & Jessie are such infectious characters that they make the whole movie feel fresh, and of course, howlingly funny.

Not only headlined by two girls, but also directed by a woman ― Augustine Frizzell ― making her feature film directing debut here, Never Goin’ Back is quite simply one of the cinematic joys of 2018, even if you don’t like indie films.

* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.

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