The last day of the ninth Lone Star Film Festival opened with T-Rex, Zackary Canepari and Drea Cooper’s documentary about Claressa “T-Rex” Shields, the 17-year-old girl from Flint, Mich., who three years ago brought home an Olympic gold medal from the first Games that allowed women’s boxing. She’s dealing with a crime-ridden neighborhood, and she moves in with her coach Kevin Crutchfield because she and her mom’s boyfriend can’t stand each other. Her relationship with Coach Crutchfield is rather complicated, too, as he tries to keep her from dating entirely so she can focus. Her journey to victory offers lots of sports-movie inspiration, but the most sobering part comes afterwards, as she doesn’t attract nearly the endorsements that fellow Olympic champion Gabby Douglas does. Her mom still struggles to pay the water bill after Claressa brings home the gold. I’ve always been attracted to sports docs, and this is a satisfyingly complex one.
I saw Porter Farrell’s Windsor, but I’m going to save my thoughts on that for this coming week’s Film page. After that came The Benefactor, a fiction debut by documentarian Andrew Renzi. It stars Richard Gere as a rich reclusive philanthropist who once killed his friends by drunkenly driving them off an embankment. When their daughter (Dakota Fanning) calls him to say that she’s married to a doctor (Theo James) and having his baby, the rich guy emerges from hiding and showers them with gifts like a new house. This winds up being a run-of-the-mill addiction drama, as our manic hero scarfs down painkillers left over from his car accident. Gere is good, but his turn here isn’t anything we haven’t seen before from him, though James shows some backbone here that he doesn’t show in the Divergent movies. I’ve seen a ton of better movies like this, for all its good intentions.
The last entry was Anomalisa, the stop-motion animated film by Charlie Kaufman and Duke Johnson that plays like Lost in Translation with puppets. David Thewlis voices a middle-aged British expatriate who spends a night in a fancy Cincinnati hotel (named after the psychiatric phenomenon known as the Fregoli delusion) for a gig as a corporate motivational speaker. Brilliantly, every person around him has the same face and the same actor’s voice (Tom Noonan), including our hero’s wife, ex-girlfriend, young son, cabdriver, and even an opera recording that supposedly stars Dame Joan Sutherland. This creepy and occasionally nightmarish touch drives home the main character’s alienation. When he finally meets a customer-service rep named Lisa who has a different voice (Jennifer Jason Leigh’s, to be exact), he goes to bed with her and starts planning to leave his family. Lisa, whose self-esteem is at basement levels because of her scarred face, is so sweetly acted by Leigh that it’s frustrating that she isn’t treated more fully. Ultimately, I don’t find this as compelling as the similar Her, but still, this work has a look and feel that’s unlike anything you’ve ever seen.
It’s hard to judge the success of this year’s edition, since I don’t know which movies the old management team brought in and which ones are from the new one. (Let’s remember, the current team didn’t have much time to settle in and get things done.) Carol gave us at least one film that’s sure to be an Oscar contender this year, but I found myself keenly missing both the left-field horror films and the difficult works by international auteurs like Nuri Bilge Ceylan and Béla Tarr, which the old management had a habit of bringing in. We won’t really know the character of the new LSFF until next year, but I do hope the festival keeps supplying us with such films. That’s what separated Lone Star from the Dallas festivals and others in the region, allowing us to see works by major artists on the big screen that wouldn’t play anywhere else. It’d be a shame to lose that.