Arts

‘Undine,’ ‘My Zoe’ and More Offbeat Streaming Gems

This month’s off-the-radar recommendations include a trio of terrific (but modest) indies from earlier this year, along with a thoughtful biblical drama, a wild slasher musical (yes, you read that right) and a documentary to fill that “Summer of Soul”-sized hole in your heart.

‘Together Together’ (2021)

Stream it on Hulu.

The writer and director Nikole Beckwith opens her character-driven comedy-drama with credits rendered in a white Windsor font — unmistakable as Woody Allen’s go-to title font. It seems like a bold, even ill-advised choice, but it’s a purposeful reference; the flaws of Allen’s cinematic worldview are discussed later in the film, which can be read as a feature-length rebuke to the ubiquity of May-December romances in that director’s work. The relationship here, between a would-be single dad (Ed Helms) and his gestational surrogate (Patti Harrison), is much more nuanced than that, though awkwardness gives way to affection and even love over the course of the pregnancy. Beckwith dares suggest that such emotion can exist outside the realm of romance, and scene after scene lands with sensitivity and depth, without sacrificing any laughs along the way. Helms crafts his best film work to date, and Harrison is a real find.

‘My Zoe’ (2021)

Stream it on Amazon.

Julie Delpy writes, directs and stars in this tender familial drama with an unexpected dose of science fiction. Delpy’s Isabelle is a scientist and newly single mother who is struggling to navigate through the minefield of conflicts and emotions tied to her recent divorce; both parents want what’s best for their daughter, but have vastly different methods of achieving it. What begins as a 21st-century riff on “Kramer vs. Kramer” veers into more serious territory when little Zoe (Sophia Ally) is struck by tragedy, prompting Isabelle to call upon her vast scientific knowledge — and willingness to experiment. Delpy writes about parenthood from the inside out, capturing its fears and presumptions with a vividness that borders on emotional brutality. But her gift for dialogue and mood makes “My Zoe” an ultimately rewarding experience.

‘Undine’ (2021)

Stream it on Hulu.

Christian Petzold’s latest begins in the middle of a breakup, with the standard explanations and platitudes, until Undine (Paula Beer), the woman on the receiving end, says something you don’t typically hear in such conversations: “If you leave me, I’ll have to kill you. You know that!” This is no ordinary romance, obviously; true to her name, Undine is a water nymph, and according to legend, when a man betrays her, she must kill him and return to the sea. But she’s waylaid by another, immediate romance, with (of course) a kindhearted deep-sea diver (Franz Rogowski), and complications ensue. Petzold is delving into the realm of magic realism, but with an emphasis on the realism; “Undine” is first and foremost a romantic drama, with the compelling intimacy and chemistry of its leads front and center, and the fantastical present mostly as well-drawn flourishes.

‘Mary Magdalene’ (2019)

Stream it on Netflix.

Like “Ophelia,” from last month’s column, Garth Davis’s biblical drama “Mary Magdalene” repositions a woman into the center of a familiar tale, while simultaneously retelling it to a modern audience. Rooney Mara is quietly superb as the title character, carrying much of her faith and fear in her soulful eyes, and Joaquin Phoenix is a surprisingly effective Jesus of Nazareth, adroitly using his naturalistic approach to emphasize Jesus’s humanity and charisma. Davis and the screenwriters, Helen Edmundson and Philippa Goslett, revisit the expected highlights — the raising of Lazarus, the conflict with the money changers, the Crucifixion, the Resurrection — but never present them as tableaux or pageants. Much like in Scorsese’s “Last Temptation of Christ” (a clear stylistic influence), these scenes have an urgency and immediacy to them, as if they’re being staged for the first time.

‘Seeking a Friend for the End of the World’ (2012)

Stream it on HBO Max.

The genuine end-of-the-world vibes of late — floods, fires, a mutating plague — might make this apocalyptic romantic comedy hit a bit too close to home. On the other hand, its underlying message of giving in to the insanity, and making the best of the time you have left, feels exceedingly welcome. Steve Carell is at his sad-sack best as an average guy whose wife abandons him the second it becomes clear that the end is near; Keira Knightley is charming as the neighbor who accompanies him on an impromptu road trip. The writer and director Lorene Scafaria, later acclaimed for “Hustlers,” makes an assured debut, orchestrating a top-notch ensemble cast with skill, and creating wildly funny comic situations that remain anchored in the story’s crumbling reality.

‘All Good Things’ (2010)

Stream it on Amazon.

Those who eagerly followed the twists and turns of the true crime documentary series “The Jinx” should seek out this earlier dramatization of its events from the “Jinx” director Andrew Jarecki. Ryan Gosling stars as David Marks — a fictionalized version of Robert Durst — who leaves his life of privilege to be with his wife, Katie (Kirsten Dunst), only to become a suspect in her disappearance, as well as an increasingly bizarre series of unsolved murders. Gosling is given a tricky task, finding the humanity in a seemingly impenetrable character who may or may not be a murderer; and Dunst makes a good match, conveying how this sincere woman could have seen that humanity — and the price she paid for it.

‘Disobedience’ (2018)

Stream it on Hulu.

transcript

Anatomy of a Scene | ‘Disobedience’

Sebastián Lelio narrates a sequence from his film, starring Rachel Weisz and Rachel McAdams.

My name is Sebastián Lelio. I am the director of “Disobedience.” This is quite an intimate scene between Rachel McAdams and Rachel Weisz’s characters. They just kissed for the first time to Rachel Weisz’s surprise. In a certain way, these two women are the two sides of the same woman. One stayed in the Orthodox community and somehow repressed her sexuality, Rachel McAdams’s character. And the other one, Rachel Weisz, ran away. And by doing that, she lost her origins. So this long walk expresses all that. That kiss had an immediate effect in their relationship. And suddenly, they feel connected and talking like the girls they used to be. And we can sense very strongly that they are strongly bonded. And I really wanted to get this scene mainly in one shot. And it was difficult. We did this like a whole morning until we got it right. The movement of the camera. The rhythm of the dialogue. And then the way in which things are moving on the side of frame. To get it right it was hard. But then I thought that it was important to do it in one take so we could really go into what they are feeling and experiencing. Don’t. “Don’t. I’m a good teacher. And I help them to value themselves.” “OK, but what about you?” “That is me.” And it only cuts into the next shot when Esti says, “That is me.” And I thought that was a great moment to cut into a close-up of Rachel McAdams in order to remark the importance of her statement. “And you? Are you happy?” “Yes I am.”

Sebastián Lelio narrates a sequence from his film, starring Rachel Weisz and Rachel McAdams.CreditCredit…Bleecker Street

Rachel Weisz and Rachel McAdams star as members of a strict Orthodox Jewish community whose shared past forcefully returns in this powerful drama from the director Sebastián Lelio (adapting Naomi Alderman’s novel). Ronit (Weisz), estranged from the community, returns following the death of her father and resumes her romance with Esti (McAdams), who has repressed her desires and entered a loveless marriage. Lelio approaches the material matter-of-factly, refusing to either sensationalize or desexualize the relationship; it’s a rare mainstream portrayal of same-sex attraction that considers both emotional and physical attraction, on equal footing.

‘Like Crazy’ (2011)

Stream it on Netflix.

Young romance is dramatized so often in popular culture that yet another story of lost love hardly seems noteworthy — but few are rendered with the kind of lived-in experience that the director Drake Doremus brings to this Sundance hit. Anton Yelchin stars as Jacob, who falls hard for the British foreign exchange student Anna (Felicity Jones) and must face the geographical and emotional difficulties of a long-distance relationship. Doremus and his co-writer Ben York Jones penned only an outline, working with their actors to improvise the dialogue, creating intimacy and authenticity in even their offhand exchanges. Yelchin and Jones convincingly convey their longing and desperation, while a pre-fame Jennifer Lawrence shines as a potential complication for Jacob.

‘Stage Fright’ (2014)

Stream it on Amazon.

Fans of throwback horror will delight in this cheerful mash-up of “The Phantom of the Paradise” and “Friday the 13th,” in which a summer musical theater camp’s production of a “Phantom of the Opera” rip-off is disrupted by the troubled past of its leading lady, and the return of the bloodthirsty killer that murdered her mother. The writer and director Jerome Sable both embraces and sends up the conventions of Gothic horror and slasher movies, while convincingly staging the musical-within-the movie (and ensuring echoes of “Rocky Horror Picture Show” by casting Meat Loaf in a supporting role). Keep an eye out for the “Schitt’s Creek” star Daniel Levy in a cameo role.

‘Mr. Soul’ (2020)

Stream it on HBO Max.

If “Summer of Soul” whetted your appetite for archaeological explorations of forgotten pop culture artifacts, this energetic documentary makes a fine companion piece. It concerns “Soul!,” a variety and talk program produced for public television from 1968 to 1973 — one of the first such programs produced by Black talent, aimed at a Black audience. As such, it showcased an astonishing array of musical stars, including Stevie Wonder, Al Green and Earth, Wind & Fire (whose awe-inspiring performances are excerpted), as well as prominent Black authors, intellectuals and activists. The show was the brainchild of Ellis Haizlip, who produced and hosted; “Mr. Soul!” is written and co-directed by Ellis’s niece, Melissa Haizlip, who captures the show’s history with a mixture of cultural awareness and familial pride.

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