Two exclusive-run films open in Nashville Friday, one at Belcourt Theatre and the other at Regal Hollywood Stadium 27 & RPX. The first is a candid look at a Broadway legend while the second is about two people seeking to free themselves from lonely lives. Both are gems that shouldn’t be missed while they’re here.
Elaine Stritch: Shoot Me
In addition to her verbal brass (the doc opens with the star saying, “Look, I’ve got a certain amount of fame, I’ve got money, I wish I could fuc&*n’ drive. Then I’d really be a menace”) we see then-87-year-old Elaine Stritch as she prepares for her Stritch Singin’ Sondheim…One Song at a Time cabaret revue at New York’s Carlyle Hotel (where she lived at the time). We follow her through other parts of her daily life that (during 2011-12 when the film was shot) include “30 Rock” tapings as well as a drink-a-day for the recovering alcoholic. She directs the cameraman to reshoot one sequence although he’s supposed to be a fly-on-the-wall, and yells at reckless New York City drivers (but who hasn’t done that when living or visiting there?).
Elaine Stritch: Shoot Me touches on career highlights too; I’m glad to see mentions of Bus Stop, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf and A Delicate Balance for those who might not realize she’s done some great non-singing stage roles in addition to work in such memorable musicals as Sail Away, Company and most recently the revival of A Little Night Music opposite Bernadette Peters.
But in showing her struggles with aging (as she says, Bette Davis was right that old age wasn’t for sissies) and Type 1 diabetes, as well as the scene where she recalls the blissful marriage with actor John Bay that was cut short by his 1982 death from brain cancer, we see not only what connects Stritch to audiences and other artists but all of us to each other: vulnerability.
The also-legendary producer/director Hal Prince sums her up best in this film, which marks the directorial debut of acclaimed documentary producer Chiemi Karasawa: “…She’s irreverent and she’s feisty, well, she’s got the guts of a jailbird, but what really makes her interesting is the convent girl is there always. Your tendency if you didn’t know her might be to disregard her vulnerable she is and how deep her insecurities are. She’s complicated, and she’s an eccentric, but you’ve got to deal with Elaine’s eccentricities because ultimately they’re worth it.”
This movie was an international film festival darling in 2013 from Cannes to Telluride. Maybe that’s why the Indian film establishment snubbed it when submitting a choice for the Foreign Language Oscar; the Film Federation of India chose The Good Road to compete in this year’s foreign-language Oscar instead of The Lunchbox and failed to garner a nomination. That led first-time feature writer/director Ritesh Batra to tell The New York Times, “Because the movie had succeeded in the international festival world, somehow in a lot of people’s eyes that made it less Indian. The lines between patriotism and stupidity are very blurry.”
It’s a shame if that’s true, because this sweet and simple tale set in Mumbai captures the city in all its bustle and its characters in all their conflicts. Mumbai‘s 5,000 Dabbawallahs deliver hot meals from wives to husbands each day through the city’s congested streets and train lines. For more than one hundred years this service has worked so well that the illiterate deliverymen using a complex coding system of colors and symbols to make their deliveries have an astoundingly low error rate; only one in a million lunchboxes is ever delivered to the wrong address, according to a Harvard University study referenced in the film.
Batra’s story pivots on that rare occurrence: Middle class housewife Ila (Indian stage star Nimrat Kaur) is trapped in a marriage with a husband that pays little attention to her. Hoping to rekindle the flame she tries a new lunchtime recipe for her spouse that is accidentally delivered to Saajan (Irrfan Khan, known to international audiences for roles in Slumdog Millionaire, The Life of Pi and The Amazing Spider Man), a dispirited widower nearing retirement from a government job. When it becomes obvious that the lunch went to a stranger, Ila puts a note in the following day’s lunchbox, and a correspondence begins that will change both their lives.
Though we never see them together there is a wonderful chemistry between Kaur, Khan and their characters, as well as between Khan and an up-and-coming Indian actor named Nawazuddin Siddiqui as Shaikh, the young man that is training to replace Saajan and becomes a surrogate son to him. And Batra’s script allows us to view Mumbai in its rich diversity, including the fact that Ila is a Hindu, Saajan a Christian and Shaikh a Muslim, without bias in a society where religion and class still create powerful divisions.
Michael Simmonds‘ unobtrusive cinematography lets us feel we’re part of that Mumbai instead of mere voyeurs. That, Batra’s hopeful storyline and sublime acting make The Lunchbox good nourishment for the spirit.
For showtimes, more info on and tickets to Elaine Stritch: Shoot Me (NR, 81 min.) go to the Belcourt Theatre’s website by clicking here. For showtimes, more infor on and tickets to The Lunchbox (PG, 104 min.) go to the Regal Hollywood 27 & RPX page on the Regal Cinemas website by clicking here.
*Photos from Elaine Stritch: Shoot Me courtesy Isotope Films and IFC Films; photos from The Lunchbox by Michael Simmonds courtesy Sony Pictures Classics.