Review – Becky

With Lulu Wilson, Kevin James, Joel McHale, Robert Maillet, Ryan McDonald. Written by Nick Morris and Ruckus Skye & Lane Skye. Directed by Jonathan Milott, Cary Murnion. Rated R for strong bloody violence, grisly images, and language. 93 minutes.

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It’s hard to imagine a stranger mixing of genres than BECKY. It’s a cross between “Home Alone” and “Straw Dogs,” a violent R-rated thriller of a minor fending off criminals by herself. Those who go for this kind of vengeance story may be diverted, but it’s definitely not for the squeamish.

Surly teenager Becky (Lulu Wilson), having lost her mother to cancer, is unengaged in school and barely talking to her father (Ryan McDonald). It doesn’t help that her father has announced he’s remarrying. Becky runs out of the family vacation house to go and sulk, and that’s when four dangerous prison escapees arrive and take the father, and his fiancée and young son, hostage. They are led by Dominick, sporting a black beard and a shaved head, with a swastika tattooed to the back of his scalp.

What may grab your attention is that Dominick is portrayed by comic actor Kevin James (TV’s “The King of Queens,” “Paul Blart, Mall Cop”) in what’s being billed as his first dramatic role. He can be calm and rational, but he’s ruthless and will let not anything stop him from achieving his goal, recovering a mysterious item he had hidden at the house. How and why he did it and what recovering will achieve is never explained. It is, as Hitchcock would have put it, the MacGuffin – the plot-driving thing everyone in the film is concerned about that we should not pay so much attention to.

Dominick eventually discovers that Becky is nearby and has the item in question. What follows is a cat and mouse game where, one by one, the gang go after her, starting with Jeff (Joel McHale), who tries to convince Becky if she’ll just turn it over, they’ll go away. When the boy in “Home Alone” abused the two thieves trying to break into his house in slapstick fashion, Becky is playing for keeps. There’s an implication that, should there be a sequel, we’ll learn that in unleashing this violent side Becky is discovering her true self, but our concern here is with her surviving this home invasion.

Without revealing too much, her tactics may be justifiable but they are unpleasant to watch: blood flows, people are chopped to pieces and, in a scene even Quentin Tarantino may find to be a step too far, someone’s eyeball is dislodged. It says something about the movie rating system that this level of violence is rated R (under 17 allowed with parent or guardian) and not NC-17 (no one under 17 allowed, period). Consider yourself warned.

In terms of performances, young Wilson is effective as the moody Becky who is determined not be pushed around by these adults anymore than she listened to her father. Former wrestler Robert Maillet has some moments as the conflicted member of the gang, who warns Becky that he carries the burden of the lives he has taken. However, viewers familiar with James will be surprised that he can play such a malevolent character in contrast to the lovable schmoes he usually portrays. It’s often been noted that it’s easier for a comic to turn serious than for a dramatic actor to play comedy. His performance here won’t be on any Oscar short lists next year, but just might get other filmmakers to consider him in a new light.•••

North Shore Movies has given this film a score of 2.5 out of 5.Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books. His latest novel is Father of the Bride of Frankenstein. He is the 2018 recipient of the Skylark Award given by the New England Science Fiction Association. He lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.

Review – The Trip To Greece

FILM REVIEWTHE TRIP TO GREECE. With Steve Coogan, Rob Brydon, Claire Keelan, Cordelia Bugeja, Timothy Leach. Directed by Michael Winterbottom. Unrated, but contains profanity and sexual situations. 103 minutes.

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Sometimes, when the fourth or fifth installment of a franchise rolls around, I’ll find myself suffering from a sort of Stockholm Syndrome, unreasonably happy to see familiar material even if I was never that crazy about it in the first place. (It’s a relaxing, lizard-brain sort of “Hey, they’re doing that thing that I know again!” appreciation that’s more akin to surrender than actual enjoyment, and might explain the enduring comfort-food quality of James Bond movies.) I had run out of patience with the international improv shenanigans of Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon even before their 2017 “The Trip to Spain,” finding myself more relieved than anything else by its shocking freeze-frame ending suggesting that Coogan’s character had been killed by ISIS. And yet somehow THE TRIP TO GREECE sat better with me than their previous couple of pictures, which I guess is either a testament to me being worn down by repetition or just the strange circumstances under which the film has been released.

For the uninitiated: 2010’s “The Trip” was a six-episode British television series whittled down to a feature-length movie in which director Michael Winterbottom chronicled comics Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon on a tour of gourmet restaurants. Divvied up into equal parts stunning scenery, food-porn kitchen coverage, and the comedians’ passive-aggressive banter, the picture was distinguished by uncanny celebrity impersonations and a creeping, middle-aged melancholy that culminated in Coogan shouting his Alan Partridge catch-phrase “Ah-Ha!” into an abyss. Taking their cue from HBO’s “Larry Sanders” and “Curb Your Enthusiasm” model, the stars played slightly shittier versions of their offscreen personalities with fictional onscreen families portrayed by professional actors. Encouraged to improvise at length, occasionally they hit comic paydirt via the gleefully obnoxious Brydon undercutting Coogan’s preening vanity. But return “Trips” to Italy and Spain brought decidedly diminishing returns.

“The Trip to Greece” doesn’t bother explaining what happened during Coogan’s ISIS adventure, picking up already in progress with the two stars in Turkey on an assignment to retrace the steps of Odysseus, as if Homer’s journey had also included fine dining and non-stop impressions of legendary British character actors. They don’t do Michael Caine this time – Ray Winstone and Anthony Hopkins merit most of the mimicry – and Winterbottom doesn’t push the central mythological gimmick much, save as an excuse to frame his getting-on-in-years stars in front of some spectacular ruins while they contemplate their impending decrepitude. But for a rehash it all goes down surprisingly smoothly, with the caddish Coogan reprising an affair as if going through the motions while family man Brydon can’t wait to head home.

Coogan’s gloating over his Oscar nominations for the already-forgotten “Philomena” in the previous picture is now replaced by bragging about his BAFTA nod for 2018’s drippy, lachrymose “Stan & Ollie,” with Brydon once again puncturing his co-star’s comically exaggerated ego while being awfully careful not to draw any blood. (You’ll notice there’s no mention of Harvey Weinstein’s involvement in “Philomena.”) They settle into their bickering routine like a comfy old chair, and it’s hard to think of another movie right now that benefits so enormously from the diminished expectations and half-assed attention spans of home viewing. But what makes watching “The Trip to Greece” so inadvertently affecting at this fraught moment is just how much we’d all love to go to a fancy restaurant with our most annoying friend.

The currently faraway pleasures of travel, fine dining and companionship are quite inadvertently triggered by this lackadaisical sequel’s depiction of such. It’s a longing only bolstered by the movie’s morose mood and somber music cues – including Max Richter’s “On the Nature of Daylight,” which by my count has appeared in nine films over these past fourteen years and has become the hacky, arthouse equivalent of playing Creedence songs in your Vietnam movie. Like the rest of the films in this series, “The Trip to Greece” ends abruptly with a puzzling dramatic development in no way emotionally earned by the previous two hours. And yet it accidentally strikes close to home if only by illustrating how such simple joys we take for granted can be so suddenly swept away.•••

North Shore Movies has given this film a score of 2.5 out of 5.Over the past two decades, Sean Burns’ reviews, interviews, and essays have appeared in WBUR’s The ARTery, Philadelphia Weekly, The Improper Bostonian, Metro, The Village Voice, Nashville Scene and He stashes them all at Spliced Personality.

Review – Inheritance

FILM REVIEWINHERITANCE. With Lily Collins, Simon Pegg, Connie Nielsen, Chace Crawford, Patrick Warburton. Written by Matthew Kennedy. Directed by Vaughn Stein. Unrated. 111 minutes.

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INHERITANCE is the sort of potboiler thriller that only works if you’re willing to play along and don’t know what’s coming. Only one key plot point will be revealed here and it happens early on, setting the main plot in motion. So you’ve been warned.

Lauren Monroe (Lily Collins) is district attorney who goes after corrupt corporate executives. Her brother William (Chace Crawford) is in a tight race for a congressional seat. The Monroes are wealthy and powerful family, shaken when their father Archer (Patrick Warburton) dies of an apparent heart attack. When his will is read the bulk of the estate is left for William, while Lauren is give a mere million dollars… and an envelope.

Inside is a digital video and a key. On the video Archer tells Lauren that her inheritance includes a buried family secret which must never be revealed. Here’s the first surprise, without which the review will make no sense. In what appears to be a bomb shelter hidden in the woods, Archer has been keeping a prisoner chained to a wall. Morgan (Simon Pegg) has been trapped there for decades and when Lauren discovers him, asks to be set free. Before she does so, she insists on knowing who he is and why her father has kept him there.

That’s where the plot synopsis will stop, because what follows are a series of reveals and twists and quite a few red herrings as Lauren pries the story out of Morgan and learns more about her father than she ever knew. In flashbacks we see that she did not have a close relationship with him, although others keep reassuring her how proud he was of her. It’s understood that her young brother was the favorite.

The lure for many will be the casting of Pegg, known primarily for his comic roles in fan favorites like “Shaun of the Dead,” is deadly serious as the chained captive, appearing at first so unshaven and unshorn that viewers longing for a trip to the barber shop or salon should be able to relate. It’s long been noted that it’s harder for a dramatic actor to do comedy than the other way around, and Pegg plays it absolutely straight.

The other cast members have more one note roles, although Connie Nielsen gets her moments as the grieving widow. Collins gives it her all as the heroine but never quite convinces that she would be a powerful D.A. given that at 31 she looks half that age. It’s not a flaw on her part, but she looks more like she should be in the cast of “Riverdale” than being a hard-hitting prosecutor. She’s game, though, and carries through the demands of the plot in unravelling the film’s mysteries.

Director Vaughn Stein isn’t concerned with the incredible nature of the story, but goes for a realistic look as opposed to the more surreal take he had in his 2018 debut “Terminal.” Writer Matthew Kennedy’s first feature script has a bit too many red herrings and could have been tighter, straining to keep the twists coming to the end. “Inheritance” is the cinematic equivalent of the paperback you leave at the beach or airport after you finished it, diverting but forgettable. Sometimes that’s enough.•••

North Shore Movies has given this film a score of 2.5 out of 5.Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books. His latest novel is Father of the Bride of Frankenstein. He is the 2018 recipient of the Skylark Award given by the New England Science Fiction Association. He lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.

Review – James Vs. His Future Self

FILM REVIEWJAMES VS. HIS FUTURE SELFWith Jonas Chernick, Daniel Stern, Cleopatra Coleman, Frances Conroy, Tara Spencer-Nairn. Written by Jonas Chernick, Jeremy LaLonde. Directed by Jeremy LaLonde. Not Rated, but equivalent to an “R.” 94 minutes.

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Mixing time travel and romantic comedy is an unusual premise, but not unheard of, as in “Happy Accidents” (2001) and “About Time” (2013). The Canadian JAMES VS. HIS FUTURE SELF is a pleasant if somewhat uneven mix of genres, but despite its rough edges, the pluses outweigh the minuses making for a sometimes sweet, sometimes raucous movie.

James (Jonas Chernick) is working on developing a process to travel in time. He’s so obsessive about it that another researcher at the lab, Courtney (Cleopatra Coleman), remains just-a-friend with whom he’s afraid to go any further. The story is set in motion with the arrival of Jimmy (Daniel Stern) who announces that James will succeed in inventing time travel, and he’s the proof. He’s the older James from the future and he’s come back in time to convince himself not to do it.

Some of the comedy is lowbrow: Jimmy proves who he is by demonstrating that he has James’s distinctive genitalia (thankfully out of camera range). On the other hand, some of it is quite smart, as when James finally gets the nerve to ask Courtney out on a date using the quantum physics metaphor of “Schrodinger’s Cat,” which gets increasingly awkward. The whole point of the story is less about time travel than about Jimmy convincing James to “live in the moment” instead of obsessing about the past or the future.

The performances are as uneven as the script, which Chernick co-wrote with director Jeremy LaLonde. Chernick and Coleman are delightful as the young scientists, showing that being brilliant doesn’t make one any better at courtship than anyone else. Indeed, Courtney notes she hasn’t dated in quite a while because men are intimidated by how smart she is. Their scenes together are the standouts in the movie.

Stern, on the other, seems to have been encouraged to play his character over the top, as his character gets increasingly desperate. His best moment is not in his broad actions but in a quiet moment with Coleman, revealing who he is and how he’s always felt about her. Frances Conroy steals her few scenes as the head of the lab where James and Courtney work.

The double climax of the film is of a piece with the rest of the story. The first is an over-the-top (and not really believable) showdown as Jimmy tries to prevent time travel from being invented, and the other resolves the James/Courtney love story in a quiet and quite touching way. If the uneven tone is sometimes grating, it’s the comic love story that will linger. Perhaps some future Chernick and LaLonde can come back and convince the filmmakers to tone it down a bit. In the meantime, “James Vs. His Future Self” is worth a look for those seeking a different sort of romantic comedy.•••

North Shore Movies has given this film a score of 3 out of 5.Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books. His latest novel is Father of the Bride of Frankenstein. He is the 2018 recipient of the Skylark Award given by the New England Science Fiction Association. He lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.

Review – Capone

FILM REVIEWCAPONE. With Tom Hardy, Linda Cardellini, Matt Dillon, Kyle MacLachlan, Katherine Narducci. Written and directed by Josh Trank. Rated R for strong bloody violence, pervasive language and some sexuality. 103 minutes.

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Josh Trank’s CAPONE is the work of a free man. Originally far more evocatively titled “Fonzo,” it’s a film about the legendary Chicago gangster at his ignominious end, puttering around his Miami estate suffering from neurosyphilis and crapping himself between incoherent outbursts while the Feds slowly strip the place of his belongings. It’s a rare mob movie without any flashbacks to the quote-unquote good old days, one that starts and finishes at the miserable finale of an empty existence. It’s kinda like if “The Irishman” had opened with the scene in which De Niro buys his own coffin.

I guess I respect this film way more than I enjoyed watching it. It’s a gutsy, confrontational art-punk kind of thing, one that makes more sense if you know Trank was just recently a young filmmaker of enormous promise, chewed up and spit out by the superhero industrial complex. The major studios’ abandonment of mid-budget films has deprived an entire generation of any chance to hone their craft on smaller projects, shoving not-ready-for-prime-time-players like Trank and Colin Trevorrow into the captain’s chair on massive mega-productions requiring entirely different skill-sets than their modest debuts.

There’s no learning curve allowed in franchise films these days, nor anything resembling apprenticeship and these stories always seem to end with someone getting fired from a “Star Wars” movie. (Of the five Disney “Star Wars” films released over these past five years, only “The Force Awakens” and “The Last Jedi” were actually completed by the directors originally hired for the projects.)

Trank’s 2015 take on “Fantastic Four” was probably an awful idea to begin with, turning the cheeky, early 1960s Pop Art slapstick shenanigans of Marvel’s first celebrity superhero family into a dour, Cronenberg-ian body horror nightmare. But as Walter Sobchack once said about the tenets of National Socialism, at least it was an ethos. Radically reshot and recut with all thumbs by Fox executives, “Fantastic Four” bled out as a monument to zero fucks given. The most incoherent mess unleashed upon theaters until “Suicide Squad” showed up the following summer, it was a $100 million movie that couldn’t even bother matching Kate Mara’s reshoot wig to anything resembling the pre-existing footage.

The curious “Capone” begins with our racketeer released from prison on compassionate leave, deep into dementia and in dire need of the adult diapers brought by his doctor, amiably played by Kyle MacLachlan. (Between this and his performance as Thomas Edison in Michael Almeryda’s upcoming, gleefully insane “Tesla,” the former Agent Cooper is proving indispensable in bizarre biopics.) There’s some discussion about a bag containing eleven million dollars that Capone is rumored to have buried somewhere on his estate, but his brain is such Jell-O pudding from the venereal disease it puts an end to the treasure hunt quickly.

As “Capone” wore on, I developed a weird, contrarian’s affection for the ugliness of this movie. There’s something strangely endearing about gorgeous, porn-star-looking Tom Hardy’s abject aversion to being handsome or even understood in most films, hiding himself behind masks, ugly makeup, and doing crazy voices that somehow make you enjoy movies as stupid as “Venom” despite your better judgement. Hardy could easily be a heartthrob but instead he’s a Mickey Rourke waiting to happen, and in “Capone,” he’s finally found a role that allows him to bleat incoherently like an addled Popeye the Sailor Man while noisily shitting his pants not once, but twice, onscreen.

I really liked Matt Dillon in this movie, playing an old friend of Al’s who is probably a ghost, the two of them hanging out listening to a radio drama about the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre and laughing about everything the show gets wrong. There’s a pretty great stretch early on that feels like Al Capone wandered into Overlook Hotel in “The Shining,” as Hardy anachronistically sings along with Louis Armstrong to “Blueberry Hill” and the movie attains a hallucinatory grandeur that Trank can’t quite maintain.

In 2014, Jon Favreau made “Chef,” a poorly-veiled, hugely entertaining and brazenly self-congratulatory account of his break with Marvel Studios, in which the “Iron Man” director starred as a culinary genius hamstrung by a corporate goon (Dustin Hoffman) and lusted after by Scarlett Johansson and Sofia Vergara despite weighing roughly 275 pounds and having all the onscreen animal magnetism of Jon Favreau.

Ultimately “Capone” feels like the same kind of therapy for Trank, less self-obsessed but still similarly obstinate, with a filmmaker doing whatever he wants for no good reason other than that he’s finally escaped the machine and because he can. Free at last.•••

North Shore Movies has given this film a score of 2.5 out of 5.Over the past two decades, Sean Burns’ reviews, interviews, and essays have appeared in WBUR’s The ARTery, Philadelphia Weekly, The Improper Bostonian, Metro, The Village Voice, Nashville Scene and He stashes them all at Spliced Personality.





Review – Tales From The Crypt: The Complete Series

DVD REVIEWTALES FROM THE CRYPT: THE COMPLETE SERIES. Executive produced by Richard Donner, David Giler, Walter Hill, Joel Silver, and Robert Zemeckis. 20 DVDs. SRP $169.99.

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When HBO premiered their horror anthology series “Tales From The Crypt” in 1989, a decade of original programming had already come before, with genre favorites “The Hitchhiker” debuting in 1983 (through 1990) and “Ray Bradbury Theater” running for two seasons in 1986 (and an additional four on USA Network fro 1988-92). However, this patently adult celebration of pulp fiction–pulled from the pages of Entertainment Comics’ (EC) Comics’ “Tales From The Crypt,” “Vault Of Horror,” “Haunt Of Fear” and others—became its most enduring. This lasting power was thanks to a diverse line-up of on-screen talent, guest directors, and an unforgettable host: a ghastly, pun-addicted ghoul and amazing puppet by “Walking Dead” makeup guru Kevin Yagher called “The Cryptkeeper.” The character, memorably voiced by John Kassir and brought to life by a team of incredibly skilled puppeteers, would go on to become an icon, celebrity, and commodity unto himself, spawning record albums, Saturday-morning cartoon shows, and a couple of movies.

Like any anthology, and especially one that ran for seven seasons like this one did, “Tales From The Crypt” had its share of balls-out rockers, mezzo middlers, and fully forgettable fizzlers, not to mention an oddball, themed seventh and final season that shot largely in England. The ninety-three bloody/funny episodes run a tight, under-thirty-minutes each (save for producer Robert Zemeckis’s best-in-show war spectacle “Yellow” starring Kirk Douglas and son Eric), and are collected in Warner Brothers’ 20-disc TALES FROM THE CRYPT: THE COMPLETE SERIES DVD set.81fk7jmalfl._sl1500_Enough time has passed so that “Tales From The Crypt” has become a nice time capsule, recalling a time when the likes of Douglas, “Who Framed Roger Rabbit” star Bob Hoskins, and “Superman” star Christopher Reeve were still with us (not to mention that it was also a time when cellular telephones were the size of World War II-era field radios). However, none of the Universal-produced movies that followed—audience favorite “Demon Knight” (1995) and the largely maligned “Bordello Of Blood” (1996)–are here, nor is the let’s-slap-a-logo-on-this-turd afterthought “Ritual” (2002). (The last original “Tales” content was “New Year’s Shockin’ Eve” in 2013, and while it is not available for purchase, FearNet has posted it to YouTube.)

This is not a new set. Released back in 2008 after all seven seasons had been released previously (and selectively on VHS prior to that), nothing new is included in this collection. However, this is no barebones set, with a decent-enough selection of bonus content to appease fans (though admittedly, the special features grow less special as the seasons wear on):

Season 1: “Tales From The Crypt: From Comic Books To Television” and “The Cryptkeeper’s History of Season One”

Season 2: Behind-The-Screams “Shockumentary” featurette and “Fright and Sound: Bringing the ‘Crypt’ Experience to Radio” (a brief detailing of the 8-episode “Tales” radio dramas produced in 2000)

Season 3: “A Tall Tales Panel” (in which series creators and admirers celebrate the show in a “Crypt” seminar, “Tales From The Crypt Reunion: A Panel Discussion,” and the “Crypt Jam” music video

Season 4: Commentary on “What’s Cookin’” (fan favorite episode starring Reeve, Meat Loaf, Bess Armstrong, and Judd Nelson) by The Cryptkeeper (Kassir), writer A.L. Katz, and series chronicler Digby Diehl

Season 5: “Death Of Some Salesmen” (the ghastly episode featuring Tim Curry in 3 roles and Ed Begley playing against type as a real shitbird) virtual comic book

Season 6: “Whirlpool” virtual comic book

Season 7: “Fatal Caper” virtual comic book

Why bring it up now then? Because like “The Hitchhiker” and “Ray Bradbury Theater,” “Tales From The Crypt” is conspicuously absent from HBO Max‘s launch slate on May 27, which instead focuses on a seemingly aimless roster of original programming (and, of course, the exclusive rights of “Friends,” to the tune of $425 million). Could this be a rights issue similar to the one that kept M. Night Shyamalan’s planned 2017 series reboot from happening? Did someone forget to do an HD remaster in time? Is some green studio exec treating “horror” as a dirty word? HBO is mum on the subject, and while mentioning it here in the ether is unlikely to get the ball rolling for a streaming/Blu-ray release–which would also need to be a remaster, as HDTV sets were not available until 1998–at least you know know you can still get your hands on physical media of this important series (and do so while you still can).



For collectors/completists, HBO’s “Tales From The Crypt” spinoffs didn’t fare as well.

The animated, mostly kid-friendly “Tales From The Cryptkeeper” ran for two seasons on ABC starting in 1993, with a third season on CBS as “New Tales From The Cryptkeeper” in 1999. While the DVDs are out-of-print, the impressive free streaming service TUBI has them all (and also in Spanish).

A spinoff called “Perversions Of Science” ran on HBO in the summer of 1997, but ended after just 10 episodes. It was hosted by a sexy female robot named Chrome (voiced by Maureen Teefy) with the stories playing out on a monitor inside her right breast, and focused more on dark sci-fi. Despite the “Amazing Stories”-styled opening sequence, it is quite in the vein of “Tales,” if it had been written by Philip K. Dick. It is presently unavailable on any media (though all are available on YouTube thanks to fan-archivists).•••

North Shore Movies has given this film a score of 4 out of 5.Robert Newton is a veteran film critic, novelty recording artist, and Creative Director of the Cape Ann Community Cinema. His first film, about Massachusetts-born rocket scientist Dr. Robert H. Goddard, is in production now.

Review – How To Build A Girl

FILM REVIEWHOW TO BUILD A GIRL. With Beanie Feldstein, Alfie Allen, Paddy Considine, Stellan Powell, Emma Thompson. Written by Caitlin Moran. Directed by Coky Giedroyc. Rated R for sexual content, language throughout and some teen drinking. 102 minutes.

how_to_build_a_girlHOW TO BUILD A GIRL is a British coming-of-age story that might have been a run-of-the-mill example of the genre, but instead, it proves to be a delightful version of how to do this right. One has to go back to “Gregory’s Girl” (1981) to find a film that threads the needle with such dexterity. At a time when we’re in desperate need of such distraction, it is a welcome release.

Based on the novel by Caitlin Moran, who wrote the screenplay adaptation, it tells the story of Johanna Morrigan (Beanie Feldstein), a teenage girl with literary ambitions. She gets the chance to write rock music reviews and blossoms both personally and professionally. From being a member of a large and overcrowded family, she turns into the chief breadwinner.

Her coming-of-age includes embracing her sexuality despite not being a prototypical “hottie.” Indeed, one of the greatest strengths of the movie is Beanie Feldstein’s turn as the lead. Feldstein, who is the real-life sister of actor Jonah Hill, is funny and vibrant in the role, conveying the youthful discovery of her physicality with gusto.

Beyond that, the film explores a young person discovering and exploring her role in the world. Her ambitions as a writer show up early, when she turns in far too many pages for a school assignment requiring far less. When she gets the opportunity to write professionally, she steps up and looks for the chance to shine.

One of the clever bits in the film is that she has pinned up photos of her heroes on her wall and they speak to her. So she gets advice from Sigmund Freud (Michael Sheen), Sylvia Plath (Lucy Punch), Elizabeth Taylor (Lily Allen) and Julie Andrews (Gemma Arterton) in “The Sound of Music.” Teens on the cusp of adulthood wonder how they can make that change to independence, and the film expertly shows how its protagonist makes that transition.

We’re in a time of uncertainty and confusion which many of us have not experienced since our own years of adolescence. “How to Build a Girl” explores that time with humor and sensitivity, demonstrating a deft touch. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences recently announced that they’re going to make an exception this year and allow Oscar nominations for movies released directly to streaming services. It’s impossible to say what the year ahead holds or when we’ll be able, or comfortable, returning to theaters. In the meantime, here’s an opportunity to enjoy a movie that touches the heart.•••

North Shore Movies has given this film a score of 4.5 out of 5.Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books. His latest novel is Father of the Bride of Frankenstein. He is the 2018 recipient of the Skylark Award given by the New England Science Fiction Association. He lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.