Where do we find entertainment these days? On our laptops and in our living rooms. The streaming options are overwhelming — and not always easy to sort through. So, in this weekly feature, I review a movie or series that might otherwise be easy to overlook.
The film: Homemade (2020)
Where to see it:
Want to check out Maggie Gyllenhaal’s home in Vermont? Here’s your chance. Let’s be clear, though: Nosiness about the celebrity next door is not the best reason to watch Homemade, Netflix’s new collection of 17 short films created by filmmakers in quarantine. With offerings from celebrated directors around the world, all pitting their creativity against the restrictions of lockdown, this wildly diverse anthology has a lot more to recommend it than voyeurism.
Still, I’m guessing you are curious, so here’s a preview: In Gyllenhaal’s short film “Penelope,” her husband, Peter Sarsgaard, plays a man sheltering in the countryside from a virus that has killed half a billion people. He makes toast. He listens to the radio. He mourns a loved one and has a questionable encounter with a tree. It’s one part current events, one part Lars von Trier’s Melancholiaand one part springtime in Vermont.
Will you like it?
While it’s nice to see your home landscape on screen, the real power of Homemade is that it transports us into other people’s quarantined lives, making a powerful statement against isolation. Most of the films depict fairly privileged lockdown situations — well-stocked kitchens, bookcases, yards and patios. A notable counterpoint is French director Ladj Ly’s “Clichy-Montfermeil,” in which a young man sends his drone camera out the window to capture an entire neighborhood, from women standing in line for food to a couple fighting on the balcony of their crowded high-rise.
Some of the Homemade films are fiction, such as Gyllenhaal’s effort; others are memoirs or chronicles. Johnny Ma’s contribution takes the form of a bittersweet video letter to his estranged mother.
Family is a common theme, with filmmakers’ kids starring in several films. While the older ones talk about their fear and frustration, the younger ones just play, finding solace in their imaginations.
For me, the most affecting film in this category was Rachel Morrison’s “The Lucky Ones,” in which the director addresses her 5-year-old son about her hopes for his future. “I hope you remember none of it,” she says bluntly about the pandemic.
If there’s inevitable darkness in these shorts, there’s also a refreshing amount of comedy. Italy’s Paolo Sorrentino (The Great Beauty) contributed a primary-colored gem in which Queen Elizabeth II and Pope Francis, both represented by souvenir figurines, find themselves in lockdown together and discover how much they have in common. The Dude from The Big Lebowski also makes an appearance.
Chilean director Pablo Larraín, who also coproduced Homemade, springs a wickedly funny surprise on the viewer in “Last Call,” about a nursing home resident contacting a lost love. In “Couple Splits Up While in Lockdown LOL,” Zambian-Welsh director Rungano Nyoni uses the sole medium of text messages to tell the sidesplitting story of exes forced to share a tiny apartment. And Sebastián Lelio (Gloria) contributes an energizing musical number.
I could have done without Kristen Stewart’s “Crickets,” in which the star offers us a front-row seat to her own ennui. But there’s way more to Homemade than the fleeting thrill of peeking into celebrities’ quarantine refuges.
If you like this, try...
Paris Je T’Aime (2006; Kanopy, Vudu): Twenty-two directors contributed short films about love to this anthology, set in various arrondissements of Paris.
The Ballad of Buster Scruggs (2018; Netflix): Joel and Ethan Coen go west with this anthology of shorts that riff on classic Western cinema — sometimes comically, sometimes tragically.
Short of the Week: Short films are everywhere online and often free to watch, but they’re harder to discover. The makers of this addictive site curate a fresh, international selection; choose your favorite genre and start browsing.