A new movie about NSA whistleblower Reality Winner tests how much more audiences care about rescue pets than their humans. Reality, based on Tina Satter’s play Is This a Room, tells the story of Winner’s (Sydney Sweeney) interrogation by FBI Agents Garrick (Josh Hamilton) and Taylor (Marchánt Davis) about the mishandling of classified documents. Reality tangentially digs into ethical concerns around classified information, national security, and the politics of whether whistleblowers are hailed as heroes or treated as traitors. At its core, though, it is the story of a young woman who finds her back up against the wall while her cat hides under the bed.
Drawing on transcripts of the actual interrogation, Reality builds tension through dramatic irony. The audience knows that Reality is in trouble before it hits her how much trouble she is in. The simplicity of the sets and story put the weight of the drama on Sydney Sweeney’s performance and she delivers with quiet angst and microexpressions that depict the building fear of the character. Opposite Sweeney’s muted performance, Josh Hamilton and Marchánt Davis give the scenes more energy as they play nice cops backing Reality into a corner. Hamilton especially brings awkwardness to the role which heightens the uneasiness everyone feels.
In an entertainment ecosystem in which so many movies and shows are too long, stuffed with too many elements, I appreciate the simplicity of a story that takes place over a contained time with few characters and locations. Building tension in this simplicity testifies to the quality of the writing and the performances. Reality triumphs in its restraint, leaning into the anxiety that Reality feels, first about her pets and then about her future. You bet I looked up what happened to the cat and dog before the credits rolled. My biggest complaint is that they cast the wrong breed of dog.
Reality was directed by Tina Satter, who wrote the screenplay with James Paul Dallas. It runs 83 minutes and is rated TV-MA and is streaming on Max or whatever HBO’s app is called this year.
On Hulu, Saint X follows Emily (Alycia Debnam-Carey/Kenlee Townsend) as she tries to find out what happened to her older sister, Alison (West Duchovny), who was murdered years earlier on a family vacation in the Caribbean. Befriending cab driver, Clive “Gogo” Richardson (Josh Bonzie), who worked at the resort where her family stayed, Emily conjures up memories of the tumultuous last week of her sister’s life.
With Natalie Halloway undertones and a meandering plot, Saint X fits a specific need. When my husband and child were both in bed, but I still needed to unwind, I put on the newest episode and was entertained for an hour with my popcorn and tea. Salacious but still attempting to have a social conscience, the miniseries is at its best when it focuses on the cast of minor characters involved in the mystery, moving toward a tragic, somewhat surprising conclusion. The White Lotus it is not, but the show still provides enough twists to keep an audience hooked. Performances by West Duchovny, Alycia Debnam-Carey, and Josh Bonzie give all the silliness some emotional weight. Saint X promises a good mystery, but is forgettable except when focused on complicated friendships, twisted by grief.
Saint X was created by Leila Gerstein. It runs for eight episodes on Hulu and is rated TV-14.
Finally, on Showtime, the second season of Yellowjackets continues the story of the 1996 Yellowjackets soccer team in the aftermath of a plane crash that strands them in the Canadian Rockies. Although I did not review the first season of the series, I was gripped by how the show developed the traumatic experiences of Shauna (Melanie Lynskey/Sophie Nélisse), Taissa (Tawny Cypress/Jasmin Savoy Brown), Misty (Christina Ricci/Samantha Hanratty), Natalie (Juliette Lewis/Sophie Thatcher), Lottie (Simone Kessell/Courtney Eaton), Travis (Kevin Alves), Van (Lauren Ambrose/Liv Hewson), and Coach Ben (Steven Krueger) in the wilderness and the long term impacts once they were rescued.
The second season keeps building the suspense but with less emotional payout and some gaping plot holes. Perhaps watching week to week would have made the lagging quality more apparent, but watching straight through, I was satisfied with the intricacies of the relationships, the lingering mysteries, and the outstanding performances. For those who have not yet watched Yellowjackets, you are missing out on some of the strangest, scariest prestige TV out there, but be warned, it is not for the faint of heart. As shocking as the horror elements can be, it is the dynamics between the girls, the performances, and the outstanding 1990s needle drops that keep me hanging on for new episodes.
Yellowjackets was created by Ashley Lyle and Bart Nickerson. Season two runs for nine episodes on Showtime and is rated TV-MA.
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