**** As the credits rolled and the theater lights came on, the audience remained seated, the instrumental soundtrack highlighted by sniffles and the liberation of travel-size tissues. In short, Michael Showalter’s Spoiler Alert rips your heart out with a uniquely beautiful story of love, loss and relationships. Even “Stone Cold” Steve Austin would weep blubbering tears as Michael (Jim Parsons) clings to his dying partner Kit (Ben Aldridge) in a twin-sized hospital bed. The film was adapted from Michael Ausiello’s memoir Spoiler Alert: The Hero Dies, which recounts his own love story. In the movie, the magic of the material arises from its realism—one moment you’re belly laughing, the next you’re curling into the fetal position right there on the movie theater floor. Heartbreaking scenes cascade into hilarity, preserving the story’s humanity and gravity. All the actors shine in their roles, but Parsons and Sally Field (as Michael’s mother, Marilyn) offer particularly phenomenal performances. Rom-com fans, clear your schedule and run to the next showing of Spoiler Alert. PG-13. ALEX BARR. Bridgeport, Cascade, Cedar Hills, Eastport, Evergreen Parkway, Fox Tower, Living Room, Lloyd Center, Studio One, Vancouver Mall.
**** A bright orange tanker barrels down a country road. On the truck, in bold black letters, are two warnings: “Toxic Chemicals” and “Flammable.” So, of course, the driver reaches for a bottle of Jack Daniels. What could go wrong? In story terms, everything; artistically, nothing. White Noise, an unexpectedly buoyant tale from hyper-cynical auteur Noah Baumbach (Marriage Story), may be his best film—an astonishment, given that it’s based on Don DeLillo’s allegedly “unfilmable” 1985 novel. A perky, puffed-up Adam Driver stars as Jack Gladney, a professor of Hitler studies (thankfully, a field of research, not a how-to course) fleeing an “airborne toxic event” with his wife, Babette (Greta Gerwig), and their four children. Amid the pandemonium, Baumbauch unleashes a banquet of themes—consumerism, infidelity and climate crisis are all on the menu—yet never leaves you feeling intellectually overfed. Merrily and persuasively, White Noise insists that life is wondrous in its meaninglessness, even when Jack and Babette seek spiritual guidance from a ferociously grouchy nun (Barbara Sukowa) who declares that anyone hoping to hear her talk of angels is an idiot. Turns out, she’s not a fan of the next world; she’s just doing her best to help people live in this one. In its poignant, peculiar way, so is White Noise. R. BENNETT CAMPBELL FERGUSON. Bridgeport, Hollywood.
THE ETERNAL DAUGHTER
** Martin Scorsese once described his career as, “One for them, one for me”—and filmmaker Joanna Hogg (The Souvenir) has certainly taken the second part of that statement to heart with her latest inward reflection, The Eternal Daughter, starring Tilda Swinton. She plays the dual role of a middle-aged daughter, Julie, and her elderly mother, both of whom come to stay at a dank hotel that was once an estate where the mother lived. Julie is desperate to show her a good time, but can’t seem to break through the years of history and trauma the place holds. Her only encounters with other characters are with a snarky front-desk clerk, a kindly hotel worker, a scene-stealing dog, and a mysterious visitor knocking at night (it’s clear that we’re being placed in a dream world, accented by the hotel’s eerie isolation in a foggy nowhere). The sparse dialogue and odd mysteries of the hotel echo Charlie Kaufman’s I’m Thinking of Ending Things, another film that delved into its creator’s psyche, but the journey is less rewarding here. The Eternal Daughter is laden with symbolism that’s intriguing to study, but its glacial pacing and lack of plot make it challenging to enjoy. PG-13. RAY GILL JR. Studio One.
** A man is strangling sex workers in the holy city of Mashhad, Iran. Almost immediately in director Ali Abbasi’s film, we find out why—a so-called jihad against vice—and, more surprisingly, who. It’s a cards-on-the-table approach that’s just true crime if you know the 2000-01 saga of the Spider Killer and resembles a deconstructed thriller plot if you don’t. Journalist Arezoo Rahimi (Zar Amir Ebrahimi) is our investigator, but the primary character is the strangler, Saeed Hanaei (Mehdi Bajestani), as Abbasi lays bare the murderer’s process and the toxic cocktail of shame and hate that drives both him and many of the men depicted within the Iranian theocracy. That’s a fascinating theme, but foregrounding it makes Holy Spider a foregone, pitiless experience. A critical car chase is undershot, and suspense is replaced by unblinking, exploitative dramatic irony during murder scenes. And despite her Best Actress win at Cannes, Ebrahimi is given few dynamics to play beyond basic journalistic determination and requisite terror. Unquestionably, Holy Spider packs a gut punch, released into a world where Iranian women are fighting openly for their lives against the malevolent patriarchy explored here. But as a piece of filmmaking, its fixation on sheer impact snuffs out story, character and even humanity. NR. CHANCE SOLEM-PFEIFER. Cinema 21.