It’s time for my first film of 2017 which happens to be a limited release film from the end of 2016. It has gotten a lot of buzz since its tour of film festivals and all that praise is well-earned. If I could have seen it last year, it definitely would have made the top 5 of my top 20 list of the best films of 2016. That’s the thing about living where I do, they always seem to get here when it’s too late but at least it did at all.
Synopsis: The monster does not come walking often. This time it comes to Connor, and it asks for the one thing Conor cannot bring himself to do. Tell the truth. This is a very touching story about a boy who feels very damaged, guilty and mostly angry. He struggles at school with bullies, and pity looks from everyone, and at home with his mother’s sickness. Will Connor overcome his problems? Will everything be okay? Will Connor be able to speak the truth? (IMDB)
Starring: Lewis MacDougall, Sigourney Weaver, Felicity Jones, and Liam Neeson.
Writer: Patrick Ness
Director: J.A. Bayona
Running Time: 108mins
Those worried about the film’s authenticity to its source material, the author of the book in which the film is based, also wrote the script. Conor O’Malley (MacDougall) is feeling very alone. His mother (Jones) is dying, his father (Toby Kebbell) is gone, and he is bullied at school. In order to cope, his imagination creates a towering tree monster (Neeson). The monsters always seemed to show up 12:07 and claims that he will tell him three stories and when he was done, Conor would have to tell him his own story, his own truth.
The monster’s stories dealt with such themes as the good and bad in people, the consequences of one’s actions, and an invisible man becoming more invisible after being seen. These stories did not make sense to Conor at first but they actually related to his current situation. They forced him to look within himself and taught him how to handle his situation. They helped him to ease his pain by learning to let go of his mother and dealing with living with his grandmother (Weaver).
Conor’s had a much different relationship with his mother than with his father or grandmother. Conor and his mother were very close. He knew she was sick but he kept wanting to believe that she would get better, despite failed treatment after failed treatment. They have made a life together and he was not ready to give it up. Things changed for him once his grandmother came along. She wanted to prepare him for the worst but all he saw was as the enemy for trying to take him away from his mother. His father was out of the picture after divorcing his mother at a young age and starting his own family in America.
The monster was a towering presence, almost giant-like, and his relationship with Conor was the best part of the film. The visual effects were great in bringing him to life. He is a tree after all so all of his branches and such had a life of their own, interacting with the environment in different ways. He was menacing at first, as most monsters are, but became more of a calming presence for Conor. He was a CGI tree but he still felt like another character in the film and it was interesting to learn about his past as his stories were all based on his past experiences.
The visuals extended to the monster’s stories. They were all animated in a watercolor fashion, making them dream-like. The set design and the score also helped to set the mood of scenes, often tugging at the heartstrings. The film did a lot of that as it was a pretty sad film. It was easy to feel right along with the characters. Conor was a relatable and genuine character with his troubled life and his reaction to being on the verge of losing his mother and his grandmother was the same in that she was losing her daughter and she was faced with having to take care of a child for who she had nothing in common. His mother wanted to be there for Conor but couldn’t because of her illness.
The acting was excellent throughout with MacDougall standing out. He carried the film, making Conor likable while conveying his range of emotion in coming to terms with his mother’s sickness. Jones was sympathetic as Conor’s mother but didn’t really have much to do other than being a rallying force for Conor and his grandmother. Weaver was great as the grandmother and the film could have gone without Kebbell as Conor’s father but he was still good too. Neeson was perfect as the monster, making him a distinct character while creating a comforting presence. It just would have not been the same if it were someone else.
Overall, this may look like a kids film but the emotional subject matter may not be for everyone. This was a beautiful, gripping drama with great performances.
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