Man, I am glad I finally got to scratch this one off my list. The American Midwest is a blackhole where indie movies live a two-to-three week lifespan in one or two theaters, and then they go away forever.
Shout out to Landmark Theaters, by the way. If not for you guys, then I would have never been able to see films like this one, The Death of Stalin, A Ghost Story, The Florida Project, Isle of Dogs (on opening week), etc.
Alright, let’s get to it.
SITWOL: A mentally unstable man accepts a job that is more than he bargained for.
The main reason I went to see this movie (aside from recommendations from followers) is because Joaquin Phoenix is one of the absolute best actors working today. His role in YWNRH only gives him a handful of moments to outwardly shine, but that is mainly because there is so much inside the head of Joe, his character, and Phoenix’s ability for subtle acting is absolutely top notch in this film.
Another fantastic thing about this movie is the cinematography. Not only does it attempt to experiment with so many different ways of visual storytelling, but so many of them succeed. The frequent busyness of many of the shots really emphasizes Joe and his unstable mind as well.
Finally, the soundtrack in this movie is almost completely superb. Not only does it give it a unique feeling, but it did so much for building up tension and creating extremely jarring moments.
However, those three elements are really the only parts of huge praise I have for YWNRH.
There are some other things I thought were good; most of the other performances, while minimal, were fine. The story worked well enough for what it was going for.
However, there are some things about this movie that I really didn’t like.
The movie tries very, very hard to be… artistic. There’s a lot of scenes that happen within Joe’s head. There are scenes that abruptly happen, giving small details about Joe’s life. There’s scenes that seem to be metaphoric in nature.
Some of these artistic bits REALLY benefited the story. However, some of the artistic bits felt more like detriments or distractions to the overall finished product. Some of it just felt pointless, and some of it felt kind of stale after a while. This is especially true about the ending. Without spoiling anything, the ending felt so jarring, counter-productive, and meaningless.
Also, the little girl in this movie was not good, and her performance was extremely distracting. At first, I was trying to make excuses for how unconvincing her performance was; maybe her character was drugged? Well, then I suppose she was on drugs for 100% of the movie, because her performance didn’t get any better.
I still recommend “You Were Never Really Here”.
This movie is going to be this year’s “A Ghost Story” in that it will divide people into three groups:
— The people who will think it is a unique masterpiece.
— The people who will enjoy it for what it is, but won’t be as impressed.
— The people who will think it’s a pretentious garbage heap.
(Also, as what happened to “A Ghost Story”, I’m betting this movie is going to get snubbed come awards season.)
Like “A Ghost Story”, I can understand the sentiments of all three groups. But like “A Ghost Story”, I’m going to end up in the middle one. (By the way, in case anyone is curious, I like “You Were Never Really Here” more than “A Ghost Story”).
“You Were Never Really Here” is a fine movie with great ambition. Much of its ambition is executed brilliantly, but much of its ambition caused the movie to stumble. It’s a fantastic example of visual storytelling while simultaneously being an example of how visual storytelling can cannibalize the final product. If anything, I would highly recommend this movie for the experience, as I think there is more good in the film than bad.