With so many streaming options at our fingertips, it is somehow still so easy to fall into a rut of watching the same shows every weekend. But how much SVU or Parks and Rec can I really watch? (Too much.) Thankfully, Netflix Originals provide a platform for small, arty movies to break us out of our comfort zones.
In one such movie, Horse Girl, Sarah (Alison Brie) works at a craft store and her coworker Joan (Molly Shannon) is her only real friend. On her birthday, Sarah’s roommate, Nikki (Debby Ryan), sets her up with her boyfriend’s roommate. Just as things are starting to look up for Sarah, she starts experiencing bizarre dreams that exacerbate her sleepwalking. Before long, the dreams also impact Sarah during the day and she starts to unravel, convinced that she is a clone of her grandmother.
Alison Brie is outstanding in this strange, emotionally raw role. She is easily the best part of the movie. I watched Horse Girl to the end, wondering the whole time where the story was going to end up. Although it was certainly suspenseful and provided a shocking portrait of a psychotic break, it also often felt like the film was being weird for the sake of weirdness. The story’s strangeness will certainly be a turn-off for many viewers, but it is a unique and quirky story with some touching moments and a dark sense of humor.
Horse Girl was directed by Jeff Baena, who wrote it along with Alison Brie. It runs 1 hour 43 minutes and is rated R for language and some sexuality, graphic nudity and drug use.
Another option for something different is American Son, a tense drama about race relations in the United States. Based on the Broadway play and starring the same cast, American Son takes place entirely in a Florida police station as a black mother, Kendra (Kerry Washington), and her estranged, white FBI agent husband, Scott (Steven Pasquale), wait for information about their missing 18 year-old son, Jamal.
Kendra is deeply distrustful of the police and her interactions with Paul Larkin (Jeremy Jordan), a young police officer, quickly escalate into a crash course in American race relations, growing more complicated once Paul makes it to the police station, and then again when Lt. John Stokes, a black veteran police officer, finally arrives to update the family. As the stressed-out parents, who only know that their son was involved in “an incident,” become more worried that Jamal has been in an officer-involved shooting, the suspense and the tension increase along with their emotions. These feelings are the undercurrent to the arguments about race in American life. Sometimes the conversations are hamfisted and cringeworthy. For example, Deputy Larkin clearly thinks that Jamal must be a member of a gang and it is no wonder that Kendra gets angry at him. Then, his attempts to be nice to her fall flat as he stumbles over his own ignorance. The most insightful moments happen between Kendra and Lt. Stokes, who has experienced racism like she has, but has a much more sympathetic view of the police.
As it wades into difficult issues around race and policing, American Son covers controversial and emotionally-charged territory. It does not always do so with a lot of nuance, and it will not be a movie that everyone loves, but it is sure to be a thought-provoking conversation-starter.
I happened to enjoy that the film is basically a filmed play with very sparse sets and a limited cast. I appreciate when a film can do a lot with just a few characters and settings. Maybe the actors could have used a bit more to work in terms of dialogue. If you know Kerry Washington from Scandal, her role here is strikingly similar in tone to Olivia Pope, yet her character has the most range by far, as the other characters seem to serve tropes. Nevertheless, given its tight 90-minute runtime, I think American Son is worth a watch.
American Son was written by Christopher Demos-Brown and written by Kenny Leon. It runs 90 minutes and is rated TV-MA.