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Now that awards have been doled out and speeches have been given, we have now officially entered the dry season in film. We’re still months away from Summer Blockbuster season but a movie released this close after award season is unlikely to garner attention from the academy. Even still, I managed to watch eight new (or at least new to me) movies this month.

Ranging from Netflix sequels to past Oscar winners to the biggest movies of 2019, here are all the movies I watched for the first time this month.

To All the Boys: P.S. I Still Love You

In the depths of my heart, I know P.S I Still Love You wasn’t groundbreaking or particularly well told, but I couldn’t help but enjoy it anyway. The sequel to To All the Boys I Loved Before, this film continues the story of Lara Jean and Peter. Now that they’re dating in the real world, everything seems to be going perfectly––that is, until Lara Jean receives a response from John Ambrose, the recipient of one of her love letters. Lara Jean is faced with a choice––Peter or John Ambrose?

While the script lacked the sharpness of the first movie, the movie still had heart. This franchise is the only reason I will stomach Noah Centineo (he becomes more and more like a Magcon boy from my middle school years)––and he delivers a charming performance as always. In this film, we also get to see the budding romance between Lara Jean’s father and their neighbor Mrs. Rothschild. I loved this relationship because we get to see the only man who has remained unproblematic (Lara Jean’s father) navigate the world of dating after the tragic death of the girls’ mother. We also get to see the family honor their mother through the continuation of family and cultural traditions.

What this movie lacked in pacing and writing, it made up in aesthetics and charm. Newcomer to the series Jordan Fischer delivered an enjoyable performance and made the viewer grapple with the same question as Lara Jean––Peter or John?

Overall, I give this movie a 3.5 out of 5 stars. Though I quite enjoyed it, I recognize the technical flaws it presented. Following the stunning first movie, this was a little disappointing. Perhaps this is a good problem to have––to have made the first movie so good, anything less than amazing feels average.

The Shape of Water

For whatever reason, sex with a fish-man just didn’t work for me. Though I understood the messages about love, discrimination, and how beauty comes in all forms, the movie didn’t quite hit hard enough for it to be worth my time.

Centered around a mute janitor named Elisa, The Shape of Water details her love affair with a creature stuck in the research lab she works in. The movie is set in the 1960s, and we watch as societal outsiders deal with how people see them––the mute woman, her black coworker, her gay neighbor, the creature.

We see the obvious connection between the creature––known simply as “the asset”––and those struggling to survive on the margins. While I don’t want to completely trash this film, the incessant dreariness and surreal allegory was just so utterly not my taste.

A little out of touch with reality but a little too dreary to be a fun surrealist fantasy, this film was missing something for me. Plus, I don’t know how I feel about the symbolism of marginalized people as an ugly fish man who eats cats.

I give this movie a 2.5 out of 5 stars. Honestly, I think I would’ve liked this film better if it hadn’t won best picture. It’s a quirky little movie with an important message, but not poignant or immediate enough to be groundbreaking.

Harley Quinn: Birds of Prey

Although this film perhaps has the worst title of all time (c’mon guys, just pick one), it was actually incredibly enjoyable. Post-breakup with the Joker, Harley Quinn realizes she no longer has the protection of the supervillain from the (many) people she has wronged in Gotham. As she tries to escape from the consequences of her actions, she meets up with an unlikely team of women who share some common enemies. Complete with an egg, bacon, and cheese sandwich as the romantic lead, this film did not get the credit that was due.

Margot Robbie gives an appropriately cartoonish performance as she runs from basically every other bad guy in the city. Though Harley Quinn is a little nuts and more than a little violent, she’s likable and fun, and we even get to see a soft spot as she interacts with Cassandra Cain, a child who quickly becomes one of a few action heroes of the movie.

I give this movie a 4 out of 5 stars, mostly because of how pleasantly surprised I was by it. I only knew Harley Quinn from Suicide Squad––where she is portrayed as a hyper-sexualized, flat character. Now, we can tell this movie was directed by a woman (Cathy Yan). Harley Quinn has a stylish and relaxed makeover––no longer stuck in short shorts and awkwardly ripped, too tight shirts. Watch this movie for the fashion alone and stick around for the fun and colorful ride.

The Lobster

Although I didn’t like it much, I surely will not forget The Lobster.

In a surrealist dystopia, single people are sent to a hotel to find love in 45 days; if they fail, they are immediately turned into the animal of their choosing and released into the wild. We follow the journey of David, a man who struggles to find love after his wife leaves him. After he chooses an unfeeling woman as a partner, David realizes he can’t live like this anymore and escapes, joining a pack of “loners.”

Both the loners and the hotel have strict rules. If someone fails to follow them, they are punished with absurd and painful punishments––burning a man’s hand in a toaster is just one example.

While the first half of this movie is admittedly pretty funny, they lost me in the second half. Once David escapes the structure of the hotel, the movie loses its edge. While with the loners, David falls in love. He and his love (who remains unnamed) struggle to keep it a secret. The group, however, is so disorganized and under the radar, I had trouble understanding why they couldn’t just go somewhere else.

This movie earns a 2.5 out of 5 stars mostly because the second half of the movie couldn’t keep up with the first. If they had managed to maintain the quick wit and pace, I would’ve enjoyed this more (though it still wasn’t exactly my taste). I didn’t love this but if you’re interested in a good, long think, go ahead and give it a watch.

Jojo Rabbit

A comedy about Nazis is a tricky subject matter, but if there’s one man for the job, it’s Taika Waititi. He served as both the director and as a major player (Hitler) in the film. One of my favorite pieces of information about this film is that Waititi didn’t do any research on Hitler because “he’s an asshole.”

Jojo Rabbit tells the story of a ten-year-old member of The Hitler Youth, Jojo, during the tail end of the Second World War. He, along with his imaginary friend, Hitler (who is played as an emotional drama queen), will do anything and everything for the party. But when Jojo discovers a Jewish girl hidden away in their walls, he is forced to confront his bias.

This movie was filled with smart choices. It begins with a montage of The Hitler Youth screaming and cheering for the Nazi dictator like he’s a member of a boyband; it’s even underscored with a Beatles’ song. The final scene in the movie (I won’t spoil it) is similarly underscored by David Bowie’s “Heroes”. Though the music doesn’t match the historical time period, it fits beautifully. The actors (fantastic, of course) weren’t acting their hearts out; rather they gave a fun performance––perfect for the satire.

I’m giving this one a perfect 5 out of 5 stars. The script is sharp. The message is clear. I spent the film laughing and crying and laughing again. Plus I’m a sucker for a good Bowie song.

Joker

Oh, white male rage. In all fairness, I didn’t exactly go into this one with an open mind––it was almost impossible with the fanatic group of supporters that came with Joker. But, hold on, let’s start with the basics.

Joker reveals the backstory of outsider, Arthur Fleck, who eventually becomes the famous supervillain in the DC cinematic universe opposite Bruce Wayne (Batman). Arthur Fleck has his share of issues. He’s obviously incredibly mentally ill, complete with an uncontrollable laugh at the worst of moments. He is constantly berated and bullied by a society that doesn’t understand him, and his equally out-of-it mother certainly doesn’t help.

I’ll give credit where credit is due: Joaquin Phoenix is an amazing actor. As much as I’d like to say this whole movie was a steaming pile of garbage, Phoenix’s performance was incredible. He was almost unrecognizable in this role, he faded into it so well. But Phoenix’s performance couldn’t save the script.

The main message of the movie seemed to be to place blame on the world around Arthur for his behavior. We’re meant to see Arthur as a victim, even though he is consistently off-putting, sometimes violent, and often creepy. As a woman, I understand why so many people couldn’t find it in their heart to be sympathetic, he just didn’t allow you to be. He even gets a platform to share his message (there’s an unintentional message about white privilege for ya), which he still regards as a dig.

I give this a 2.5 out of 5 because I am so tired. I can’t in good faith give it a zero or a one because I appreciate the stylistic creativity and the merit of the actors. However, the message was not only irrelevant, it was irresponsible and failed to make a good point about mental illness. Try harder.

The Farewell

Another A24 film, this time (for me) a winner. I actually knew about this story a long time before the movie came out. In 2016, Lulu Wang produced a story about her family for this American Life called What You Don’t Know that served as the plot for this 2019 film.

Wang tells the story of her family through the eyes of the main character, Billi––a woman struggling to make it in New York. After her grandmother gets cancer, the family decides not to tell her––apparently a very common practice in China. In order to say their goodbyes, they orchestrate a fake wedding between Billi’s cousin and his girlfriend of three months.

After award season, I expected this movie to almost resemble a dark comedy, as it was nominated for a Golden Globe under the “Musical or Comedy” category. It wasn’t. Of course, maybe I could’ve suspected that a story about a family saying goodbye to a dying grandma wasn’t much of a comedy. It was incredibly touching and sincere and did offer the audience several moments of joyful connection between family members.

I give this movie a 4.5 out of 5 because of Awkwafina’s amazing performance and because I cried throughout almost the whole thing. Though it’s not a movie I’ll watch over and over (because, again, I don’t think I can handle the emotional baggage), I’m certainly glad I watched it. Everyone should see this at least once to bask in the simplicity, the rawness, and the emotional connection that comes out of this lie.

The Florida Project

Watch The Florida Project right now. Right. Now. Director Sean Baker made a name for himself with his 2015 film, Tangerine which was shot entirely on an iPhone. With a budget of $100,000, Baker was able to make a dazzling and colorful film about the lives of two trans sex workers and their quest for revenge on a cheating boyfriend.

Now, he’s back with an even more spectacular (and slightly higher budget) production with The Florida Project.

In the span of one summer, we follow six-year-old Moonee and her adventures living at a rundown motel with her young mother, Halley. Though we know in the back of our minds that Moonee and Halley are beyond desperate, living on the economic margins, the movie focuses instead on the innocent joys of childhood.

In the heavier moments of the movie, we see the events unfold from the perspective of a child. Using upward camera angles, it feels like we are watching the world go by like we are six or seven years old.

Further, Baker is able to tell a story detailing the hardships of poverty without being condescending or romanticizing the positions of the people living in the hotel. Out of the corner of our eye, we see Halley go further and further to make ends meet for her child. In the foreground, however, we see adventurous and high-energy Moonee seeking fun and excitement everywhere she goes––accompanied by her best friends, Scooty and Jancey.

This movie is complete with a near-perfect cast. Willem Defoe is gruff yet ultimately a caring and paternal manager at the inn. Defoe’s character shows us moments of human empathy in even the most desperate situations.

I give this movie a 5 out of 5. I am honestly shocked that it wasn’t even considered by most major award shows; it has quickly become one of my all-time favorites.

All and all, February was composed of some fairly good films––accompanied by the expected duds along the way. Though we could chalk this up to the fact that many of these movies were released in the last several years, don’t knock the dry season, there are still good films out there for you. The new releases of the month were fun, even if they weren’t groundbreaking. The freedom of missing award season allowed these movies to be driven by entertainment, not trying to achieve some higher value. Additionally, wading through heaps of available films online helped me discover what has quickly become an unforgettable movie––The Florida Project. Though I will certainly look forward to the summer season of highly anticipated film, this month has allowed me to expand my horizons and appreciate some thoroughly fun films.

Emi Grant

Seattle U '21

Senior creative writing major at SU. Seventies music, horror movies, and the occasional political discourse.
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