The Films of Shana Feste
The Greatest (July 24/10)
A watchable yet rather run-of-the-mill tearjerker, The Greatest follows married couple Allen (Pierce Brosnan) and Grace (Susan Sarandon) as they attempt to cope with the tragic death of their 18-year-old son (Aaron Johnson's Bennett) - with the sudden appearance of Bennett's pregnant girlfriend (Carey Mulligan's Rose) initially throwing a wrench into the pair's grieving process. First-time filmmaker Shana Feste does a nice job of immediately capturing the viewer's interest, as the film opens with the admittedly surprising death of Johnson's character - with the subsequent inclusion of a captivating single-take shot, in which Allen, Grace, and their other son (Johnny Simmons' Ryan) ride home from Bennett's funeral, certainly cementing the movie's decidedly promising atmosphere. It's only as Feste's less-than-subtle proclivities become more and more evident that The Greatest begins to lose its grip on the viewer, as the writer/director places an increasingly prominent emphasis on elements of a disappointingly conventional nature. This, in turn, ensures that the film ultimately possesses the feel of a made-for-television melodrama, with the uniformly superb performances - Brosnan is especially strong here - ultimately standing as The Greatest's primary saving grace. It's also worth noting that Feste has peppered the proceedings with several stellar stand-alone sequences - ie Michael Shannon turns in an expectedly gripping cameo as the man partially responsible for Bennett's death - yet it's clear that the filmmaker's lamentably simplistic modus operandi dulls the movie's emotional impact (which is a shame, certainly, given the inherently moving subject matter). The end result is a passable debut from a relatively promising director, although the impressive cast and solid setup ensures that it's difficult not to walk away from the movie feeling just a twinge of disappointment.
Written and directed by Shana Feste, Country Strong follows recovering alcoholic Kelly Canter (Gwyneth Paltrow) as she embarks on a comeback tour alongside a pair of up-and-comers (Garrett Hedlund's Beau and Leighton Meester's Chiles) - with the movie subsequently detailing the characters' melodramatic exploits in both their professional and personal lives. The decidedly conventional nature of the film's setup is, at the outset, not quite as problematic as one might've suspected, as Feste does a nice job of eliciting appealing performances from the various actors (eg contrast Hedlund's charismatic work here with his stiff turn in 2010's Tron: Legacy) - with the affable vibe perpetuated by the ongoing inclusion of catchy, toe-tapping musical interludes. There's little doubt, then, that Country Strong's downfall stems from its almost egregiously deliberate pace, as the film is neither gritty nor authentic enough to justify the slow-moving nature of its episodic midsection. The presence of a few standout sequences here and there (eg a shamelessly manipulative yet admittedly engrossing scene in which Kelly entertains a young boy suffering from leukemia) ensures that the movie generally remains watchable even through its more overtly tedious stretches, while the prolonged buildup to the climactic concert is actually quite well done and surprisingly entertaining - though Feste squanders the improved atmosphere by subsequently emphasizing the concert itself to an almost unreasonable degree. It is, as a result, not surprising to note that the tearjerking finale is hardly able to pack the emotional punch that Feste is clearly aiming for, which effectively ensures that Country Strong, when everything's said and done, can't help but come off as a well-intentioned misfire.
A remake of the eponymous 1981 film, Endless Love details the sultry, forbidden romance that ensues between two teenagers (Alex Pettyfer's David and Gabriella Wilde's Jade) over the course of one long summer - with Jade's father, Hugh (Bruce Greenwood), providing the most vocal opposition to the unlikely pairing. It's an almost excessively conventional premise that is, at the outset, employed to surprisingly agreeable effect, as filmmaker Shana Feste has infused the proceedings with an unabashedly soapy feel that's generally quite difficult to resist. The movie's lush atmosphere is heightened and perpetuated by the various performances, and although Pettyfer makes for the least convincing teenager since Ian Ziering, the palpable chemistry between the two leads goes a long way towards sustaining the easygoing, affable vibe. (It doesn't hurt, either, that Greenwood's role is much, much bigger than one might've anticipated, with the actor's typically engrossing performance generally holding his character's more overtly one-dimensional attributes at bay.) It's only as the protagonists are predictably torn apart that Endless Love begins to lose its already-tenuous grip on the viewer, with Feste and Joshua Safran's screenplay tossing in everything but the kitchen sink in an effort to keep things going - which consequently does mute the impact of the movie's uplifting, romantic finale. The end result is a relentlessly erratic remake that certainly could have been worse, all things considered, and yet it's ultimately clear that the film overstays its welcome to a degree that's nothing short of disastrous.