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L’attesa, in the tagline sense, may indeed be about a boy. But its two main characters take the Bechdel Test and go Thelma & Louise on it. No, Piero Messina’s debut feature doesn’t involve a raucous road trip or Brad Pitt’s ass. But its women think deeply, feel intuitively, and act deliberately, circling each other as they get acquainted and generally living in the moment despite the disquiet in the air. Their hearts might be hurting—one for a known reason, the other out of speculation—but still they laugh and play.
Anna (Juliette Binoche) meets her son’s French girlfriend, Jeanne (Lou de Laâge), when she flies to Sicily to celebrate Easter with their wealthy family. But Giuseppe, Jeanne’s beau, isn’t there when she arrives; a hired hand picks her up and sets out some food, telling her that the matriarch of the mansion isn’t feeling well and will meet her in the morning.
It takes a while, though, for Jeanne to find Anna come daylight. In the clothes she slept in, she wanders around the castle-like home, surprised to discover that its many rooms and halls are filled with people. And whenever Jeanne asks about Giuseppe’s whereabouts, Anna changes the subject or suddenly must attend to something. Jeanne is largely left alone among all the strangers, repeatedly calling her boyfriend’s phone but getting his voicemail.
Finally, Anna throws Jeanne a big enough bone to tide her over: “We’ve suffered a terrible loss,” the pallid mother says. “My brother died.” Jeanne connects the dots that Giuseppe must be off attending to some related need, though there really are no dots to connect.
Viewers will have a better idea of where he may be than Jeanne does, though they’ll feel no less off-kilter. Adapted from a play by Messina and three others, L’attesa conveys a mysterious chill from the very beginning, with Messina panning down a Christ sculpture as an elderly woman kisses its feet, both statue and worshipper surrounded with black. The odd scenes continue after a leisurely, nearly Bond-like opening credits sequence: a long shot of travelers’ silhouettes, standing backward on an airport walkway; another religious statue being transported on a truck, completely covered in a garbage bag except for its hands; Anna walking from room to room engulfed in black, with her far-off face slowly coming into view.
Jeanne, for the most part, stops asking about Giuseppe as she and Anna get to know each other, going to the lake, having meals, visiting a museum. It’s all compelling, but you can’t help but feel impatient on Jeanne’s behalf, wanting her to say, “That’s nice. Now where the fuck is he?” It’s ridiculous that she doesn’t, at least not with any force. And it’s ridiculous that she’s not told.
Which leaves L’attesa both frustrating and captivating. Especially mesmerizing is a scene of a red-dressed Jeanne dancing with some dinner guests to Leonard Cohen’s “Waiting for the Miracle to Come”; it’s evocative of the “Cat People” scene in Inglourious Basterds, with de Laâge as intriguing as that film’s red-dressed Mélanie Laurent. Binoche is also masterful in this scene, her Anna watching Jeanne with an expression that ever-so-subtly turns from an entertained smile to an angered grimace.
Though de Laâge plays no small part here, it’s Binoche’s film to steal, as the reality her character tried to bury comes to the surface. You may very well find L’attesa’s premise absurd. But the actresses’ finessed portrayal of two women peeling away niceties to reach a truth elevates the script till you forget your irritation over its whys and stay transfixed by its hows.
The son in Rob Reiner’s Being Charlie, however, takes center stage: He’s a well-off 18-year-old addict whose father is running for the governor of California. Charlie’s states of sobriety are as changeable as the weather; Dad wants to keep him in a treatment center because he loves the kiddo and wants him to get better.
Just joking: He’s campaigning, and therefore hyperaware that voter loyalties can also sway whichever way the wind blows.
Unlike L’attesa, then, it’s obvious where this latest Reiner blubberfest is going, right? Well, yes and no. Charlie actually doubles down on the director’s genes, with son Nick Reiner (along with freshman Matt Elisofon) penning the script, which he loosely based on his own experience with addiction. And though the few left turns the film does take are predictable if you’re the kind who likes to guess, the screenplay and the star, Nick Robinson (Jurassic World), are lively and charismatic enough to make the ride more enjoyable than you’d expect.
Robinson’s Charlie miserably commemorates his 18th birthday at a rehab facility before making a run for it. He’s got nothing but a backpack and the suit he’s wearing as he hitchhikes to L.A.—stealing some pills from a ride on the way—and has his friend Adam (Devon Bostick) drive him to his parents’ place. Charlie isn’t very well received: His mother (Susan Misner) wants to be welcoming, but his father (Cary Elwes) tells him it’s back to rehab for 30 days or else he’ll be financially cut off. The immediately defensive Charlie basically tells Pops to fuck off, but Adam talks him into going back and sticking it out.
The bulk of Being Charlie alternates between Charlie’s successes, failures, a dangerous romance, and the fires his father has to put out whenever he and his bad behavior get pulled into the spotlight. Reiner doesn’t shy away from the lows of a drug addict, showing rock-bottom in all its ugliness and desperation. And though Charlie may straighten out a little too magically, the script doesn’t give him a will of steel.
The appeal of the film lies in its performances. Robinson’s Charlie is deep-voiced and sarcastic, able to win people over with his wry humor. (And smarts: On his first day back in group, he goes off about the capitalist side of treatment centers.) Common plays the supervisor in Charlie’s halfway house, whose support is never condescending and who quietly compliments him on his talent-show stand-up act, which was too graphic for the counselor to officially endorse. Misner is hardly a presence—Bechdel fail—but Elwes is a reliable first-rate dick.
Yes, there’s hugging at the end, but there’s also no sugarcoating the truth about drugs: They served as “a way to kill the noise,” Charlie says. During several moments here, he killed it good. And if anything can make saccharine a little less sweet, it’s the sarcasm of an 18-year-old kid.
L’attesa and Being Charlieopen Friday at West End Cinema.