I’ve never watched “Downton Abbey” on TV. I’m just not — and really never have been — a TV watcher. When I’m home — or even traveling — I have other things I’d rather do than plunk myself down in front of the boob tube. I hear the series is quite good. Judging by the quality of the movie, I’d say those raving about it are quite correct.
In the case of class shows like “Downton Abbey,” not being a TV watcher is my loss.
“Downton Abbey” — for the uninitiated like me — is more or less a high-quality soap opera. Director Michael Engler — who has directed several of the TV episodes — and series creator and screenwriter, Julian Fellowes, bounce about the Downton Abbey mansion and seamlessly go from the bowels of the place to the upper rooms while exploring everything there and in between.
“Downton Abbey” is set in 1927, and the king and queen of England are going to pop in for a visit to the Crawley family estate. It gets everyone from the bluebloods to the staff in a dither.
Mary doesn’t think the butler, Thomas Barrow, is up to the task of handling the household supervision, so she suspends him and brings back former butler Mr. Carson to run things. That frees up Barrow — who is homosexual — to explore his sexuality.
Carson running things doesn’t work out all that well either because the staff of the king and queen — bullies that they are — come in and take complete control of everything from food preparation to the festivities. Downton’s crew gets understandably miffed.
Violet Crawley, the Dowager Countess of Grantham, explores an inheritance issue and accuses her cousin Maud of cheating Robert Crawley — who heads the Crawley clan — out of his rightful inheritance.
In the kitchen Daisy flirts with a guy fixing the boiler and her fiancé Andy is insecure.
Tom Branson — the Irishman in the mix — has important things to do in addition to finding some romance. Meanwhile, Edith is pregnant at the same time the king says he wants her husband, Bertie, to take off with the Prince of Wales for a three-month tour of Africa.
Lastly, the family — alas — is broke as broke can be.
There’s lots to love about “Downton Abbey,” starting with the writing. Fellowes obviously loves these characters, their history, lifestyle, living situation, morals and ethics. That love affair has not only turned into a very successful television series, but he’s managed to pen a gem of a movie.
That leads to an important question. How does a non-series watcher like me possibly figure out what’s happening and who’s who in the movie when I have missed all 52 episodes over the series’ six seasons? The answer. It doesn’t matter. Do just a bit of research and then sit back and relax.
You’ll be a little lost but not all that lost.
Another plus — and something that oddly helps you relax — is how comfortable these actors are with their characters, with each other and with Fellowes and Engler. The cast chemistry is exceptional and the acting of the individual actors is as good as the story.
I’d start spouting off about some of the actors getting acting awards at the end of the year and into next but they’ve all perfected their roles and are perfect with how they fit in the series, so who do you pick? Who do you single out? All of them? I can say picking this as the best ensemble cast will be a no-brainer for awards groups giving out accolades for ensemble acting.
Just one complaint. And it’s going to seem petty. Fellowes can’t seem to end his movie. Just when you think it’s all done and are ready to rise off your seat because the credits are about to roll, he keeps going. No problem. You sit. Wait. It’s done, you start to get up and then have to sit down and do it all over again.
As noted. A minor ding on an otherwise perfect movie; a movie so good that the non-TV watcher in me is seriously considering starting from scratch and streaming all six seasons.
By the way, if you are a fan of the series, or of this kind of movie, Engler and Fellowes also collaborated on “The Chaperone.” It is one of my favorite movies from last year that nobody saw when it was released in the U.S. this year. If you haven’t seen it, do yourself a favor and find it somewhere.
You’ll thank me for the recommendation.
▪ Rated PG for mature themes. It’s playing at the Fairchild Cinemas Pasco and Queensgate 12s, at the AMC Classic Kennewick 12 and at Walla Walla Grand Cinemas.
▪ Rating: 5 out of 5
‘Brittany Runs a Marathon’
“Brittany Runs a Marathon” won the Audience Award and a Grand Jury Prize at this year’s Sundance Film Festival. Awards at film festivals are a hit or miss recommendation for moviegoers. Sometimes audiences and judges at festivals see things much differently than those seeing a movie at an ordinary theater.
One only needs to go back a few years to the Cannes Film Festival and to a film titled “Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives.” It picked up the Palme d’Or. “Uncle Boonmee” is practically incoherent and is one of the worst movies I’ve ever seen. And it’s not just bad but laughably bad.
So just because a movie wins big awards at film festivals doesn’t necessarily mean it is all that good. However, you can relax. In the case of “Brittany Runs a Marathon,” the Sundance awards make sense. In fact, they are a good recommendation.
Jillian Bell stars as Brittany. She’s overweight, has awful eating habits, is unhealthy and hides her insecurities behind a wicked sense of humor. Tired of being fat and taken for granted, Brittany is shamed by her upstairs neighbor into joining a running club.
At first she hates it, but soon manages to tolerate the pain of running, make a new good friend and come up with a measure of tolerance for the pushy runner living upstairs. Eventually, the goal is for all three of them to run the New York Marathon.
Brittany also ends up in a very weird relationship with a guy who is squatting in the house of a couple whose dog she’s supposed to be caring for while they’re traveling.
On the surface this one looks totally shallow. You already know it’s headed to sappy movie territory and is going to be a very predictable feel-good-movie. That’s the nature of the beast. At the same time, writer/director Paul Downs Colaizzo gives his film, his main character and her friends multiple dimensions as well as real lives, real personalities and the kinds of struggles we all go through in our own walks through life.
“Brittany Runs a Marathon” also has a very good cast, all of whom gives exceptional performances. However, it is Bell (“The Night Before,” “Goosebumps,” “22 Jump Street”) and her portrayal of the sometimes pathetic Brittany, that makes this one a must see.
She bounds through the movie with unbridled enthusiasm. Brittany is just fine with casual friends, and even those she’s close to as long as the friendship stays on the surface. Dig a little deeper, want a little more and the walls come up and Brittany lashes out, and lashes out hard.
As Brittany discovers a deeper self it is uncomfortable. She’s used her weight and that over-developed sense of humor as a shield. Praise is foreign and anything personally positive is frightening. It gives her character an edge. The movie needs that edge since it keeps it from drifting into ordinary feel-good-flick territory.
Bell pulls it off perfectly and gives one of the year’s best performances. It’s easy to get attached to her early in the movie. As you get to know Brittany, you like her more and more. And like Utkarsh Ambudkar’s Jern, by the end of the movie you not only like her, but you’ll fall deeply in love with Brittany.
Acting just doesn’t get any better than that.
Bell is quite good but a large part of the credit for her performance goes to the exceptional writing of Colaizzo. He’s a playwright whose hit play “Really Really” got critical acclaim and he’s now moved into television production and movie making. His screenplay was inspired by a good friend who changed her life through running.
Her name is Brittany.
Colaizzo has a bright future. In fact, if enough people see “Brittany Runs a Marathon,” I predict Bell, this movie and Colaizzo could end up with the year’s best sleeper movie. As the praise builds, more people will hopefully notice and it’ll get a wider release. When it does, I predict the movie ends up nominated for all kinds of major awards and Bell gets a slew of best actress nominations as well.
She is as perfect as perfect gets and her movie isn’t far behind.
▪ Rated R for mature themes, language. It’s playing at the AMC Classic Kennewick 12.
▪ Rating: 5 out of 5