Written and directed by Paul Weltz
Out August 21
Grandma is one of those rare films that’s entirely about women. There are a handful of men, but none appear in more than one scene. Instead, the story focuses on a family of strong, complicated women. Lily Tomlin drives the film with her performance as Elle, the grandma from which the film takes its title. Elle is mourning both the death of her longtime partner and her recent breakup with her much-younger girlfriend (Judy Greer) when her teenage granddaughter, Sage (Julia Garner), asks for help. She’s pregnant, she’s scheduled an abortion for later that day, and she needs money to pay for it. Sage doesn’t want to tell her mother (Marcia Gay Harden), and Elle is cool with that. The only problem: Elle’s just as broke as Sage is.
The pair sets out to round up the money from Sage’s loser ex, Elle’s friends (including Laverne Cox in a standout scene) and Elle’s mysterious former lover (Sam Elliot). Their mini road trip includes plenty of humor, but also showcases the duo’s increasing desperation as the clock runs down. There are a few missteps—Sage’s morning sickness is unbelievably melodramatic and the director’s use of cutesy chapter titles is a little precious—but it’s refreshing to see a movie pass the Bechdel test so completely. –Erika W. Smith
Directed by Gilles Paquet-Brenner
Out August 7
Gilles Paquet-Brenner’s adaptation of Gillian Flynn’s gruesome novel Dark Places stars Charlize Theron as Libby Day, the survivor of a mass murder at her family’s farmhouse in 1985. The director uses extensive flashbacks to show what led up to the murders of young Libby’s mother and two sisters, as well as grainy, shaky footage to recreate Libby’s experience that night. Meanwhile, modern-day Libby’s trust fund—plumped up by concerned citizens moved by her tragic plight—is running out. Conveniently, it’s at this point that she’s approached by a serial killer fan club that wants to pay her to help them prove her imprisoned brother Ben is innocent of the murders. She’s sure that Ben is the killer, but she needs the cash, so she allows the group to pick her brain and eventually does some digging herself.
Although Dark Places is an enjoyable thriller, the movie is hamstrung by its problematic source text. It’s got a strong ensemble cast, which includes Christina Hendricks, Chloë Grace Moretz, Corey Stoll, and Nicholas Hoult, but Theron is a little too glam to play the bitter adult Libby. The movie also lacks the meatiness of the book, which fleshed out the plot enough to make it seem a little less unlikely. It all unfurls a bit too easily, even though the speedy pacing makes it less noticeable. Flynn fans shouldn’t expect another Gone Girl, but it’s still worth exploring Dark Places. –Jenni Miller
Sleeping with Other People
Written and Directed by Leslye Headland
Out September 11
At Sundance, Leslye Headland, writer/director of Sleeping with Other People, called her new film, “When Harry Met Sally for assholes.” And indeed, the narrative starts with several romantic-comedy staples—there’s an adorably nutty woman, Lainey (Alison Brie), and her smart-ass guy friend, Jake (Jason Sudeikis). They don’t know they’re perfect for each other, even though their friends keep telling them so, and they try to navigate their personal lives against the backdrop of upper-middle-class Manhattan. Then Headland adds lots of sex, a killer soundtrack, and a modernized version of an orgasm at Katz’s Deli (it involves self-love and an iced tea bottle). The “asshole” part comes in when we learn that both Lainey and Jake are serial cheaters. While Jake’s reasons are somewhat opaque, Lainey’s behavior is more thoughtfully explored. She is trapped in a long and terrible affair with an OB-GYN (Adam Scott), a man who inspires a toxic mix of panic and desire in her.
The success of Sleeping with Other People depends on viewers’ tolerance for romantic comedies. And the deciding factor could be a great scene, set to a great song. When Lainey, rolling on E at a child’s birthday party, makes up choreography to a David Bowie classic, you might just fall for modern love. – Phoebe Magee
This article originally appeared in the Aug/Sept 2015 print edition of BUST Magazine. Subscribe today!