Little Joys of Summer

Movie Theaters Are Out. Backyard Flick Houses Are In.

Arts editor Conner Reed has a few suggestions for your backyard film fest.

By Conner Reed August 1, 2020 Published in the August 2020 issue of Portland Monthly


So you’ve got a backyard (brag), a projector (double brag), and “friends” you’d like to have over to your “house” (come off it, damn). All things considered, a backyard film fest is one of the safest ways to wring a little joy out of this less-than-certain summer, and we’re here to help you sift through the content junkyard and program your own private Cannes.

First, something for the family: Spike Jonze’s Where the Wild Things Are got a lot of flak when it dropped in 2009 for being melancholy and abstract and far from our Sendak-colored memories. It did not deserve any of it. It’s dark, sure, and round-rimmed glasses folk like myself have hijacked it for overblown-think-piece fodder, but it is also visually gorgeous and refreshingly frank, and it features Forest Whitaker and Paul Dano as big ol’ puppets. The dreamy, wide-open island where most of the film is set makes it an optimal outdoor screener, and as a locally significant bonus Max is played by a young Portland native.

Also ideal for outdoor viewing? Widows, that movie you almost saw over Thanksgiving 2018 before opting for the new Fantastic Beasts. Loosely adapted from an ’80s BBC drama by 12 Years a Slave director Steve McQueen and Gone Girl scribe Gillian Flynn, Widows is the rare thriller that succeeds both as a slab of genre pulp and as high-minded social comment. Four recently widowed women (Viola Davis and Elizabeth Debicki among them) carry out their husbands’ final heist against the backdrop of a messy election in contemporary Chicago. It’s exciting and thought-provoking, and sports one of the great movie dogs of the 2010s. Enough loud, beat-’em-up action to make your neighborhood think you’re interesting but not so much that you’ll become public enemy no. 1.

If you’re looking for something “fun” instead of “good but dour,” you’re probably better at parties than I am. Congratulations! And look no further than A Simple Favor. A deliberate ripoff-slash-sendup of Gone Girl (to throw it back to Flynn), Paul Feig’s sharp, campy-as-hell comedy was tragically mismarketed as the exact kind of flimsy beach read it skewers. Blake Lively (in a series of stunning suits) plays a mysterious, martini-loving stranger who pulls mommy blogger Anna Kendrick into her orbit before vanishing without a trace. There are cameos from Jean Smart and Linda Cardellini, a fizzy French pop soundtrack your neighbors are bound to appreciate, and plenty of simmering sexual tension courtesy one Henry Golding. If you’re looking to beat the heat, movies don’t come much breezier.

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