The Names of Love

This French film asks the question — can a ditzy, open-hearted young woman with no apparently source of income find romance with an uptight middle-aged forensic scientist.  Bien sur. The French name of this film, Les Noms de Gens, literally translates as “People’s Names”, and much of the film revolves around people’s attempts to stereotype each other based on their names (spectacularly unsuccessful in the case of the two protagonists). French comedies are rare, and this one has an edge, making fun of everything from casual racism and French cultural snobbery to the Holocaust (funnier than it sounds).

The movie gets an R rating, probably because of a running joke involving the woman’s absent-minded habit of forgetting some or all of her clothes. But if you’re OK with full frontal, this is a good-hearted movie the whole family can enjoy.

The Help

An interesting, but not completely successful, story of black housekeepers in the segregated South. The stories of women who raise white children who grow up to be their employers are powerfully told.  And the film does a better job than any I’ve seen at depicting the casual cruelties of Jim Crow. But the film never answers the most interesting question it asks — what does it feel like to raise the children of white families, while your own children are raised by others?

The acting is generally good — I especially liked Allison Janney and Sissy Spacek in small roles.  (Mary Steenburgen was ridiculous, though).

Recommended, with reservations.

The Descendants

George Clooney, a self-described “back-up parent,” suddenly finds himself the primary caregiver of his two daughters when his wife becomes incapacitated.  He doesn’t know what his daughters have been up to in recent years, and, as it turns out, not much about his wife’s life either.  He muddles through.  There’s a subplot involving a family trust with vast real estate holdings (the Rule against Perpetuities makes an appearance), which mostly serves as an excuse for some fantastic Hawaiian scenery.

This is that rare thing, a film pitched at adults that doesn’t condescend.  Clooney, in real life a parent of none, is very convincing as an accidental father.  The relatively unknown actors who play the daughters and the older daughter’s boyfriend are even better.  I also enjoyed Beau Bridges in a small role as an older, scruffier Clooney.  Highly recommended.

The film has an R rating for no apparent reason (no explicit s*x, violence or nudity).  Any well-adjusted teenager would enjoy it. A 10-year old would probably be bored.