20 July 2016

Little Gems Vol. 2

Anton Yelchin Edition

As was the case with the first volume of this series, I am going to talk about those obscure films I've happened to stumble upon after becoming intrigued by an actor's body of work. This volume is going to centre upon the works of Anton Yelchin. Yelchin, as mentioned in the previous post, was an actor who was able to portray a wide-variety of roles and in celebration of his life and work, I'm going to focus on the roles that stand out. Even though I am fond of Yelchin's appearances in the many big blockbusters/popcorn movies that he made, I'm going to feature the films that are not necessarily that well-known to an everday viewer; the films that took my breath away due to the actors' performances, rather than those centered on big action sequences and plot devices.

Charlie Bartlett (2007)
As already mentioned briefly in the previous post, this was the film that made me sit up and take notice. Charlie Bartlett (2007) centres on the title character as portrayed by Yelchin and his desperate ways of getting his fellow classmates to like him. It may sound like a typical teen movie where a popularity contest takes place but Charlie Bartlett is so much more. Charlie is a teenager whose antics have led him to get kicked out of several private (I'm using the non-British term here as it's only going to get confusing) schools. It's eventually decided that he will have to attend a public school and in true movie-cliche way, Charlie's first day doesn't go to his plan. But, unlike most movies, Charlie (through wit and utter self-confidence) manages to turn things around in his favour by becoming the students' psychiatrist and in effect, a precription-meds dealer to his fellow pupils. Obviously this leads to unwanted notice by the authorities in the film (the teachers, the parents, the police) and the playoff between Principal (Robert Downey Jr) and student reaches a head. It is a film that not only has a lot of comedic elements (a fact that I had forgotten until my recent re-watch of the film, something I was still happily amused by after several years) but also a lot of poignant moments too, a film that feels like the makers of this movie still remember what it is to be a teenager in high school, especially those that don't fit in. The actors' performances are essential to making this film memorable: Yelchin dazzles as Charlie, someone the audience roots for even when it's clear his actions are questionable. His character is a lot more likeable than the  obvious one he's sometimes compared to (Ferris Bueller), less cocky but yet still oozing with confidence that people are naturally drawn to. He proves he's able to balance his comedic requirements equally with his serious ones, going head-to-head with Downey successfully, matching each emotion - making this film one of the rarities that I'm willing Downey to take a backseat. Yelchin is the rare actor that doesn't even need to speak in order for you to realise what he's feeling as it's there on his face, the empathy he shares with the character is palpable, even done subtly in a film where his comedic chops are front and centre. It's a film that can be watched on multiple viewings with an ongoing and even pace. This is the definitive film for both exisiting fans of Yelchin and those new to his work. (If you get the chance, don't miss out on the cast commentary - it is evident to anyone listening that the chemistry Yelchin shared onscreen with Kat Dennings carries on over in their real life friendship).

Like Crazy (2011)

I doubt this next film would have even been on my radar if it wasn't for my love of Yelchin. Even though traditional love stories aren't normally my cup of tea, I gave this a whirl due to the concept: a film in which the characters' dialogue was entirely improvised by the two main actors involved. I'm always intrigued by films using the device of improvisation, it normally showcases the actors' talent and their ability to convincingly think on their feet. However, the improv technique is quick to highlight the poor amateurs and differentiate from the true professional. Fortunately, the majority of actors in Like Crazy (2011) are the real deal. The plot is one that pops up now and again: girl meets boy, they fall in love only for an obstacle to keep them apart, leaving the audience constantly guessing whether they will be reunited. Felicity Jones plays Anna, a British student residing in America who falls for Yelchin's Jacob, they are parted when Anna's visa runs out and she's barred from re-entering the country. The film portrays a realistic way of a couple who are desperately in love only to be succumbed by life's pitfalls. The realism, of course, is very much down to the two stars, a film they successfully carry throughout. With lesser actors who weren't up to the task, Like Crazy could easily have become forgettable but Jones and Yelchin's performances leave a lasting imprint on the audience's mind. Their chemistry is such that in scenes where they're not together, the audience is yearning to see them reunited in order to continue to witness the couple's journey. The range of emotions is a feat that Yelchin manages to pull off beautifully, and when compared to his role in Charlie Bartlett, the difference is awe-inspiring as it shows he wasn't just a one-trick pony who played the same characters. His character in this film can not be any more different to Charlie Bartlett (or any of his roles for that matter), he comes across as a more thoughtful, introvert and artistic young adult as compared to the previous role. It's a film where Yelchin started to come into his own as an actor and expand on the talent that he had been exercising since he was a kid; no longer would he be just dismissed as another child actor trying to prove his worth, here was proof that these roles came naturally to him as he grew physically and figuratively. Like Crazy was the start of the strive to better each role from the last, upping his game every time.

5 to 7 (2014)
This film could get chosen purely for the voiceover narration alone, there is something so hypnotising as to view a film with Yelchin's husky overtones directing the audience's attention. But alas, even though more of his films could just feature Yelchin speaking and I wouldn't get bored, that is not actually the sole reason why I've incoperated this film into the article. While 5 to 7 (2014) is essentially a love story, it's a love story with a twist: boy meets girl, boy falls head over heels in love, girl ends up being already married, girl  proposes they continue seeing each anyway with the admittance that her husband also carries out affairs. What follows is a light-hearted comedy-drama with Yelchin proving, once again, that he can switch between the two effortlessly, all the while making his character a three-dimensional human that audiences empathise with. Again his chemistry with Berenice Marlohe, who plays his love interest Arielle, is charming but I should also note not only his chemistry with Olivia Thirlby (who he previously starred with in New York, I Love You) which is engaging to see but also his ability to go shoulder-to-shoulder with his onscreen parents as portrayed by Glenn Close and Frank Langella, most of which the comedic elements are derived from. The heart-stopping moment, which is a running theme throughout these films chosen (the scenes in films that halt my breath and realise what a true, extraordinary talent Yelchin was) comes towards the end. I won't spoil for those who still wish to watch this afresh but the moment is summed up in the facial expressions of Yelchin, where the audience could feel everything he is going through just with a glance. It is clear within this film, he continued to create characters that weren't easily dismissive and would always have the audience's heart.

Honourable Mentions:
Alpha Dog (2006): It's saying something really when the whole cast is out-performed by a 16/17 year-old boy; Middle of Nowhere (2008): A Charlie Bartlett-type film if Charlie was dealing weed and the love interest was annoying; Hearts in Atlantis (2001): The chance to see a young Yelchin hold his own alongside Anthony Hopkins.

These are the films to me that not only stand out, but are a hidden gem found when discovered by the audience member. When thinking of the definitive role in Yelchin's collection, these instantly come to mind and anyone who is new to Yelchin's work should definitely start with one of the above-mentioned films. Feel free to share any other roles that stand out personally to you for whatever reason, I would love to hear about it.


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