One of the joys of being a student again is that I get six months of Amazon Prime for free – and it’s a privilege that I’ve been thoroughly abusing. Amazon Prime, I’ve discovered, is very good for discovering low-key, but very good films, which might otherwise have passed me by. Here are three of my favourites.
It’s Kind of a Funny Story is one of those joys of a film that takes as its subject matter a theme that could quite easily be depressing – in this case depression – and manages to weave a heart-warming story from it, without ever belittling the very real issues involved. Its premise is basically that a boy, Craig, having contemplated suicide, decides to check himself into a hospital’s psychiatric floor. Confronted with the oddball characters there, he quickly comes to regret his decision – but (somewhat predictably – this isn’t a particularly hard-hitting film) with the aid of an adult patient, Bobby, and a disturbingly pretty girl, Noelle, he starts to confront the issues that he’s been facing. The film manages to tread a fine line between dealing with Craig’s mental issues seriously, whilst never descending into angst. For somebody who theoretically understands depression without ever really having had much direct experience of it, the film provided a genuinely moving and thought-provoking way of engaging with the subject.
Second up is Boy Meets Girl, a film about a transgender girl, Ricky, and her relationships with another girl Francesca – and her also with her best friend, Robby. Again, transgender issues are not a subject I have a huge amount of direct experience with, so this warm, compassionate film provided interesting insight into the issues involved. It was instructive without being preachy, heartfelt without being saccharine, and in general a joy to watch from beginning to end. Perhaps most importantly of all, it managed to avoid the pitfall of falling into caricature when dealing with transphobia. Characters you think will be transphobic end up being more nuanced, whilst characters that clearly want to open and reasonable slip up in believable ways.
I suspect that there are those who will consider both these films to be a bit too ‘feel-good’ given their chosen subject matter – and I do feel that they have been written more for middle class audiences outside the communities that they talk about, rather than for people within those communities. But as a bridge to further understanding, I think that they both lay some very strong foundation stones.
Finally – and this one’s a bit of a cheat because I knew of its existence from a while back, and I was delighted when I saw it on Amazon Prime – there’s Veronica Mars. I really loved the three series of the television show, and its eponymous teen private detective. Veronica Mars, as a character, was funny and charming, without being unbelievably precocious, and the show could go to some pretty dark places. This film follow-up was fan-funded through Kickstarter, and it was made with the intention of tying up some of the loose ends left dangling when the series was abruptly cancelled. It thus had a lot riding on it. I’m still not sure how its creators managed to deliver so successfully on all fronts. The film is an entertaining, self-contained mystery in its own right, that nonetheless allows the established characters to breathe and develop in interesting ways. Veronica Mars’ character in particular goes to a strangely twilit place that makes perfect sense when you start thinking about everything that she went through in the television series. It offers resolution without doing anything too abrupt. It also offers a truly impressive number of cameos from the more minor members of the television cast (the best by far being the headmaster’s storming mobile phone rant as he marches down a staircase – and his priceless reaction when he sees Veronica climbing the steps in the opposite direction). The film is a masterclass in how to deliver a fan-friendly capstone to a popular franchise.
There are still plenty of films on Amazon Prime to work through. I have my eye on Another Earth next.
But that’s for another day.
(Incidentally, as a kind of runner-up to this, I did enjoy Safe Haven – if only for the letters. Oh my God, those letters. They almost broke me. I think that the worst part of the film for me was when I thought the letters had been destroyed. I don’t think I could have coped with that).