The 2017 summer movie season fast approaches. If you're looking for interminable superheroes (Spider-Man: Homecoming), neverending franchises (Transformers: The Last Knight; War For the Planet of the Apes), unnecessary reboots (The Mummy) or highly anticipated Stephen King adaptations (The Dark Tower; It), take heart. Your air-conditioned theater needs will be met.
It's going to be a great summer for breakout comedic fare, somber haunts, period dramas and spirited indie pictures as well. Here's just a brief sampling of some of the smaller summer movies fresh off the festival circuit, which may (or may not) be coming soon to a Montana theater near you.
Beatriz at Dinner
Director Miguel Arteta and writer Mike White (frequent collaborators whose work includes The Good Girl and HBO's short-lived series Enlightened) are back with another story about a flawed but spiritually earnest woman on the verge. Salma Hayek stars as a healer named Beatriz who finds herself trapped at an increasingly uncomfortable dinner party. John Lithgow delivers a career-defining performance as a shallow CEO with contradictory depth. Weeks after seeing it at the Seattle International Film Festival, I still can't decide how I feel about this movie's dubious ending. (Opening June 9)
Director Sofia Coppola just earned herself a best director award at the Cannes Film Festival for what looks to be a haunting and mesmerizing adaptation of Thomas P. Cullinan's 1966 novel about a Union soldier who crashes the party at a girls' school in Virginia during the Civil War. (Did you know there's a 1971 adaptation of the same story starring Clint Eastwood? Me neither!) Colin Farrell plays the soldier, alongside Kirsten Dunst, Nicole Kidman and Elle Fanning as the unhinged women. (Opening June 30)
A Ghost Story
Rooney Mara eats an entire pie in one uninterrupted shot (plus other oddities) in this mesmerizing film by writer and director David Lowery. Casey Affleck stars as the man under the sheet in a story that ruminates on grief, attachment and the ethereal nature of existence. Hands down, A Ghost Story was the most talked about and possibly most revered film at this year's Sundance. For lovers of cinema, seeing this one in theaters is more or less mandatory. (Opening July 7)
The Big Sick
Real-life husband and wife Kumail Nanjiani and Emily V. Gordon authored this hilarious and heartwarming account of their courtship, directed by Michael Showalter (Wet Hot American Summer). The picture famously sold at Sundance for $12 million and then re-appeared as the opening night film at the Seattle International Film Festival, where I saw it with thousands of other people in a giant auditorium. (At least half the punch lines were lost in the echoing laughter.) Kumail plays himself as a fledgling comic in Chicago's amateur scene, accompanied by Emily the psychology grad student (Zoe Kazan). The plot thickens when Kumail's impending arranged marriage and Emily's illness conspire to tear them apart. Meanwhile, Holly Hunter and Ray Romano nearly steal the show as Emily's parents. (Opening July 14)
Director William Oldroyd's feature debut comes to us from Nikolai Leskov's subversive 1865 novella about prescribed gender roles in European society. The film made its first appearance last September at the Toronto International Film Festival and has been building momentum ever since. How the story relates to Macbeth's doomed wife remains a mystery to me, but rest assured that 19th century Russian authors knew how to deliver repression and dread. I can't wait to see what becomes of Katherine (Florence Pugh) in this spirited take on the usual period drama. (Opening July 14)
Surely you have room in your heart for one more offbeat, breakout comedy? Saturday Night Live cast member Kyle Mooney co-writes and stars as James, a sheltered young adult who's spent the first 25 years of his life sequestered in a bomb shelter in the desert with nothing but a made-up kid's television show and a couple of nutbar parents to shape his worldview. Another audience favorite at Sundance and Seattle International Film festival, Mooney gives a surprisingly nuanced performance in a strange, inventive story packed with breezy, palpable lessons. (Opening July 28)
The Unknown Girl
This Belgian import first showed up at Cannes in 2016 before eventually making its way to the states. I sought out The Unknown Girl in May at the Seattle International Film Festival because I'd heard great things about sibling directors Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne. (Darren Aronofsky cites them as a major influence.) Adèle Haenel stars as a doctor who feels responsible for the death of a young girl outside of her offices and becomes consumed with finding her killer. The film explores the psychology of caretaking and paints, with the quietest touch, a devastating picture of obsession. (Opening August 25)