How Bel Powley Prepared For Her Role As A Crack Addict In ‘White Boy Rick’ – The Contenders London

Read on: Deadline.

One of the sublime performances in Studio 8/Sony’s White Boy Rick belongs to British actress Bel Powley, who portrays Dawn Wershe, the sister of Detroit teen-turned-drug-dealer/government informant Rick Wershe Jr.
Yet while Rick initially lifts t…

‘White Boy Rick’ Film Review: Real-Life Drug Saga Bolstered by Strong Performances

Read on: TheWrapTheWrap.

There are times when you watch a newcomer in a role and know, just know, that they’ll go on to tackle great, eclectic challenges; with “Call Me By Your Name” still in moviegoers’ rearview mirrors, Timothee Chalamet, for example, is already proving himself an enormous, versatile talent. But other times, such as with Richie Merritt, the star of “White Boy Rick,” you’re no less transfixed, but you wonder: Is this young actor simply perfect in this one role? Or can he countenance others with that beautifully, ordinarily dull expression? While there isn’t a single moment in his performance that doesn’t feel utterly believable, it also seems singularly engineered for this character and this one alone.

“White Boy Rick,” director Yann Demange’s account of the young, wasted life of real-life teen drug dealer and FBI informant Richard Wershe Jr., is punctuated by surprising verisimilitude that uplifts a latter-day “Scared Straight” premise beyond the boundaries of the A-list cast brought in to bolster its prestige. But it’s Merritt’s devastatingly authentic turn as a kid propelled by good intentions and naïve ambition to scuttle his own life in order to create a better one for his family that makes Demange’s follow-up to the critically-acclaimed “’71” a frequently indelible cinematic experience, charged with unique energy and impact even when its premise is overly familiar.

Wershe Jr.’s story begins at age 14, when he was hustling dealers at Michigan gun shows on behalf of his father, Richard Sr. (Matthew McConaughey), and then turning around to sell unregistered AK-47s to Detroit drug lords like Lil’ Man (Jonathan Majors) and his teenage lieutenants. It doesn’t take much time for the FBI to connect the dots between the source of the guns and the crimes committed with them, so Agents Snyder (Jennifer Jason Leigh) and Byrd (Rory Cochrane) offer Rick a deal in exchange for protection of his father: buy — and later sell — drugs so they and a local police officer (Brian Tyree Henry) can create a paper trail to nab the “real” crooks. He reluctantly agrees but winds up getting shot after Lil’ Man discovers that he’s working with the authorities.

Watch Video: Watch Matthew McConaughey Play the Bongo Shirtless in NSFW ‘The Beach Bum’ Trailer

Rick’s gunshot injury waylays his decision to go back to school, where he’s considered too dangerous to be around other students. But after finding out that he’s inadvertently fathered a daughter with Brenda (Kyanna Simone Simpson), a former classmate, and that his sister Dawn (Bel Powley) is on skid row addicted to drugs, he convinces Rick Sr. to let him sell drugs in order to lift the Wershe family out of debt and give them an opportunity for some sense of normalcy. He soon discovers the very adult consequences of his actions when Snyder and Byrd arrest him and threaten a life sentence unless he helps once again — this time to catch a local politician they believe has underworld connections.

Written by Andy Weiss (“Punk’d”) and Logan and Noah Miller (“Sweetwater”), “White Boy Rick” is leavened with more humor than you might expect, and it’s a welcome flavor offered frequently enough in this tragic story that the whole thing doesn’t feel like an unrelenting downer; one imagines it’s hard to make drug addiction and poverty seem even occasionally amusing, but throw McConaughey and Powley in scene together, bickering over going out for frozen custard as a family, and there’s a funny, humanistic spark here that films like “Black Mass” seem to lack.

What’s further interesting about their approach to this true story is the matter-of-factness with which it’s told from this kid’s point of view: he’s neither a wholesome, corruptible innocent nor a calculating criminal in training, but a kid who’s watched his dad’s lifelong, feckless hustle, and learned how to survive — and occasionally, profit — from a perspective adjacent to and occasionally outside the law.

Also Read: Sorry, Parrotheads! Matthew McConaughey’s ‘The Beach Bum’ Trailer Misspells Jimmy Buffett’s Name

Although Rick is driven by the desire to reunite his family, and he certainly enjoys the spoils of his particular vocation, the movie never belabors the Wershes’ financial straits nor preys upon them to make more grandiose observations about blue-collar desperation, Detroit (then or now) or more broadly, The Failure of The American Dream. Liberated from direct connections to those larger themes, Rick’s story seems like one of simple fallibility, the misguided notions of a kid who in some cases is misled, and others make actively dangerous choices because the struggle to keep his family together becomes too exasperating to bear.

That feels much more relatable and powerful than any sort of deliberate cultural commentary, especially amplified through the performances of Merritt and the rest of the cast. (At the same time, not one but two separate conversations make the observation it would be “better” if Rick killed someone than sold them drugs, because the criminal penalty would be lower, which is certainly something to think about in the justice system both of the 1980s, when this all happened, and right now.)

Acting can be a tricky thing, and sometimes it can just be a trick, but Merritt has the gift of naturalism, be it an act of design or accident, that cannot be taught. He literally never brings more to a moment than is needed, instead absorbing his surroundings much like Rick must have, processing what next step to take, and reacting with a combination of pragmatism and quiet, buried hope. McConaughey is sort of a perfect foil for this sort of performance (he gives a lot of showy energy), but it works here because it makes Rick seem like his whole life has been an act of observation, the receding background of his father’s flamboyant failures, finally come to bear in his son’s self-destructive choices. Powley further feels like an alchemic combination for this family unit, transcending drug-addict clichés to play a young woman able to turn her desperate need for help into a constant source of gallows humor.

Also Read: Reminder: ‘Titanic’ Almost Starred Matthew McConaughey and Gwyneth Paltrow (Podcast)

The movie’s sense of place, both geographic and cultural, is similarly specific, but it feels more like a mixtape of atmospheres than the encyclopedic jukebox of Scorsese or his imitators; a soundtrack of pre-hip-hop tracks (such as Bob James’ “Take Me To Mardi Gras”) and early rap classics (Eric B. and Rakim’s “Paid in Full”) provide more or less seamless interstitial music from one stage of his criminal career to the next. But again, what ultimately makes “White Boy Rick” so special is Merritt’s performance, and the promise, the hope that other filmmakers will find the right use for his brand of unforced realism in front of the camera, the sense that he’s not “acting” but actually is the character at his core.

All of which is why frightening future delinquents may be one of the sociocultural motives for this particular type of storytelling, but the artistic effect here is nothing short of inspiring; history has already been made, no matter what — including nothing — Merritt does next.



Related stories from TheWrap:

IFC Midnight Acquires Bel Powley’s Fantasy Horror ‘Wildling’ Ahead of SXSW

Matthew McConaughey ‘Making Noises’ Supercut May Be the Best Thing You See All Day (Video)

Matthew McConaughey Goes Shirtless Again in ‘Serenity’ Thriller Trailer (Video)

Matthew McConaughey Delivers 4,500 Turkeys to Families in Kentucky on His Birthday (Videos)

‘White Boy Rick’ Film Review: Gritty, Poignant Drama Is Portrait Of a Teenager, Corrupted

Read on: TheWrapTheWrap.

If you didn’t know that the story of “White Boy Rick” was true, you might still be fascinated by this gritty, fast-paced look at a city’s descent into the drug wars of the 1980s through the experience of one unlucky kid, a prelude to the tragic state of Detroit today.

But the story of Rick Wershe, which debuted at the Toronto Film Festival on Friday night, is true. He’s a teenaged hustler (played by newcomer Richie Merritt) surviving on the streets of the ghetto. A regular in the neighborhood, he’s pressed into becoming a federal informant by a set of corrupt agents, and then soon enough is running his own drug operation – all still as a teen.

Matthew McConaughey plays his father, Rick Sr, a seedy working-class stiff with slicked-back hair who sells guns out of the back of his car to make ends meet. But Rick is also a devoted dad who looks out for Richie, loves and protects him – though not always successfully (Ricky’s sister, played by Bel Powley, is already lost to the family as a crack addict).

The family unit is completed by Bruce Dern as the grandfather living next door.

Also Read: ‘Beautiful Boy’ Film Review: Timothee Chalamet and Steve Carell Shine in Harrowing Look at Addiction

Ricky is caught between the crooked cops, his downmarket dad, the local drug lords (who school him after an arrest on the difference between doing “white time” and “black time”) and the roiling culture of the street. But Merritt plays his character with a surprising dose of innocence. He’s not a killer and never even considers that route; he sells drugs as his only path out of poverty, even while dragging his sister out of a crack house.

The movie is a convincing prelude to the inner city nightmare of today: Guns abound. Criminals shoot up parties and bars. Kids watching TV in their living rooms end up dead.

Director Yann Demange (“Secret Diary of a Call Girl”) uses darkly lit interiors and a thumping background bass to create the daily tension that accompanies chronic poverty, and not-so-occasional killings of neighbors and friends. It’s to his credit that he lets the scenes play out in a way that feels unforced.

Also Read: ‘Outlaw King’ Review: Chris Pine Soldiers Bravely Through Crowded Epic

Jennifer Jason Leigh is a welcome presence as one of the corrupt federal agents — she’s half feral, the other half maternal.

But the shocking turn of the story is what happens once Ricky is arrested. It is here that the crushing injustice of the system he cannot change comes home. The final part of the film plays audio of the real-life Rick Wershe, who McConaughey said they spoke to all during the filming.

Said the actor during the Q&A at the Ryerson Theatre: “This story deserved to be told even if it was fiction, which it was not.” Sony will release the film on September.

Related stories from TheWrap:

Will Oscar Season’s Early Contenders Survive the Toronto Film Festival Onslaught?

Toronto Film Festival Market: Will Streaming Giants Spend Big Again and 5 Other Things to Watch

12 Hottest Toronto Movies for Sale, From ‘Wild Rose’ to ‘Vox Lux’ (Photos)

‘Mary Shelley’ Film Review: Elle Fanning, and the Author She Plays, Deserve a Better Movie

Read on: TheWrapTheWrap.

There aren’t many authors who can claim to have had as meaningful and lasting an impact as Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, whose masterpiece “Frankenstein; Or, The Modern Prometheus” made an indelible effect on the culture that persists and permeates through the present day. What’s more, the real life of Shelley is a fascinating tapestry of challenged social mores, which parallel the themes of her work in dramatically intriguing ways.

So you’d think a movie based on the life of Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley would be very, very interesting. But in the case of Haifaa al-Mansour’s “Mary Shelley,” you would be very, very wrong. The film is handsomely produced but as dramatically inert as a high school oral book report, giving audiences the gist of the “Frankenstein” author’s story but never, ironically, bringing her to life.

“Mary Shelley” begins in the author’s late teens, where Mary (Elle Fanning) lives with her father, author William Godwin (Stephen Dillane, “Game of Thrones”), and the ghost (figurative, not literal) of her dead mother, a free-thinker whose grave Mary visits often. Mary already writes, but her father dismisses her work as that of an imitator, and he doesn’t have very nice things to say about the horror genre, either.

Watch Video: ‘Genius’: Mary Shelley, ‘Frankenstein’ Author, Will Be Nat Geo Show’s First Female Genius

To get Mary away from his second wife, for the sake of everyone’s sanity, Godwin sends Mary to live with relatives in the country, where they host wicked poetry slams, and where a young handsome writer named Percy Shelley (Douglas Booth, “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies”) dazzles her with his free-style approach, his subtle-but-not-subtle flirtations, and his support for her own writing career.

It’s an idyllic scenario, ruined when Mary has to return home to take care of her sick sister, Claire (Bel Powley, “The Diary of a Teenage Girl”). Shelley follows her home but — surprise! — he’s been married this whole time, and Mary has to decide whether to toss the cad out on his ear or to live with him in decadent, free-spirited sin, spiting her father and society as a whole.

Watch Video: Elle Fanning Is a Punk Rock Alien in New ‘How to Talk to Girls at Parties’ Trailer

Naturally she opts for the latter, but it turns out living in sin is boring as hell. To hear al-Mansour (“Wadjda”) tell it, the hedonism of Percy Shelley and the idealism of Mary Shelley are but limp overtures, masking deep-seeded insecurities. And while that may or may not have been the case, the film presents repetitious arguments in favor of those convictions, only to consistently follow them with melodramatic reversals and tonal finger-waggings.

“Mary Shelley,” the movie, seems to be very disappointed in Mary Shelley, the person. For all the film’s attempts to filter her life through a modern lens, right down to the perfect knit beanie you can probably still buy at Urban Outfitters, it presents every unconventional lifestyle as an obvious mistake, which leads to marital misery, attempted sexual assault and dead family members.

Even the scene everybody’s waiting for — that fateful trip to the estate of Lord Byron (Tom Sturridge, “Journey’s End”), which led to the creation of both “Frankenstein” and John Polidori’s “The Vampire.” previously dramatized in the 1980s films “Gothic” and “Haunted Summer” — plays out like a morose hangover, with Mary waiting patiently for everyone else to stop having fun. Granted, her inner life is wrecked and tormented, but the movie fails to present her outer life as anything other than a justification of her misery.

Also Read: Elle Fanning in Talks to Star as Patty Hearst in Fox Drama, James Mangold to Direct

It’s unfortunate when any biopic reduces an artist to “Sad Life, Good Art,” and this is no exception. But at least all that misery leads to a cathartic burst of energy, on the part of the character as well as the film. “Frankenstein” explodes onto Mary’s pages with bursts of ink, and when she finishes she drops her novel onto Percy’s desk with a satisfying wallop, the 19th-century version of dropping the mic.

The sense of dramatic satisfaction is short-lived. Indeed, the message that Mary Shelley needed to be free of the dominance of disappointing men in order to compose her masterpiece was already undone by the film’s baffling decisions to precede her writing sprint with a voice-over of writing advice from her father. And in case you somehow missed every other plot point in the movie, Claire practically explains the theme of “Frankenstein” to the camera, lest we didn’t know that the novel was about abandonment.

Never mind all the other things it’s also about, apparently, and never mind all the other female horror authors of Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley’s generation, and the generation previous. The film culminates in a series of publishers balking at Mary Shelley’s opus, not just because they suspect her husband really wrote it, but also because they say women shouldn’t be interested in the macabre.

It’s as though the film is oblivious to the fact that some of the earliest, most influential and bestselling gothic horror authors, prior to the publication of “Frankenstein,” were already women. It would hardly take a writer like Ann Radcliffe to imagine a writer like Ann Radcliffe rolling over in her grave.

“Mary Shelley” is a simplistic approach to the artist’s life, framed as a not-so compelling argument. The film undercuts its admiration of Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley by judging, harshly, her life choices and reducing her timeless masterpiece to simplistic metaphor for a lousy marriage. Mary Shelley deserves better than “Mary Shelley.”



Related stories from TheWrap:

Elle Fanning Says She ‘Regrets’ If Her Decision to Work With Woody Allen ‘Hurt Anyone’ 

‘3 Generations’ Review: Elle Fanning Tries Hard in Timid Trans Tale

Elle Fanning to Play Aspiring Pop Idol In ‘Teen Spirit’

IFC Midnight Acquires Bel Powley’s Fantasy Horror ‘Wildling’ Ahead of SXSW

Sony Pictures Pushes Matthew McConaughey’s ‘White Boy Rick’ Back a Month

Read on: Variety.

Sony Pictures’ “White Boy Rick,” starring Matthew McConaughey, Richie Merritt, Bel Powley, and Jennifer Jason Leigh, will now be released wide Sept. 21, a month after its original release date of Aug. 17. The movie will also get a limited release on Sept. 14. This marks the second time “White Boy Rick” was delayed; it […]

Broadway Review: Chris Evans in Kenneth Lonergan’s ‘Lobby Hero’

Read on: Variety.

“Manchester By the Sea” didn’t come out of nowhere. The aching compassion for humanity in that 2016 Oscar winner is second nature to Kenneth Lonergan, going back at least to 2001, when Playwrights Horizons commissioned this bittersweet, people-friendly play.  Set in the lobby of a generic Manhattan apartment building, the play looks both kindly and […]

IFC Midnight Acquires Bel Powley’s Fantasy Horror ‘Wildling’ Ahead of SXSW

Read on: TheWrapTheWrap.

IFC Midnight has acquired the U.S. and Canadian rights to “Wildling” ahead of its world premiere at this year’s SXSW Festival.

Directed by Fritz Böhm and written by Böhm and Florian Eder, the film stars Bel Powley, Liv Tyler and Brad Dourif. James Le Gros, Collin Kelly-Sordelet and Mike Faist also star.

“Wildling” follows Anna (Powley), a woman who has spent her entire childhood locked in an attic, being cared for by a man whom she knows as Daddy. He tells her of a child-eating monster called the Wildling, and when she is freed from the attic, her nightmares of the Wildling return.

Also Read: ‘Boy Erased’ Star Theodore Pellerin Joins Netflix’s ‘The OA’ (Exclusive)

“Wildling” will debut theatrically and on VOD on April 13. Producers on the film include Trudie Styler and Celine Rattray of Maven Pictures, and Charlotte Ubben. Film i Väst, Filmgate Films and ARRI Media coproduced in association with Global Road and Night Fox Entertainment.

IFC Midnight is owned by AMC Networks Inc. and is a sister label to IFC Films and Sundance Selects. Other films released by IFC Midnight include “The Babadook,” “The Autopsy of Jane Doe” and “Room 237.”

Also Read: SXSW to Remain in Austin Despite Outcry Over Anti-Immigration Law

The deal was negotiated by Arianna Bocco, executive vice president of acquisitions and production at Sundance Selects and IFC Films, with CAA representing the filmmakers. International sales will be handled by Global Road.

Related stories from TheWrap:

SXSW Lineup Includes John Krasinski Thriller, Jordan Peele TV Show, Daryl Hannah Western

Katie Couric, Baroness von Sketch Comedians to Headline Power Women, BE Conference at SXSW 2018!

Barry Jenkins Named SXSW Film Keynote Speaker for 2018

SXSW: IFC Midnight Nabs ‘Wildling’ Starring Bel Powley, Liv Tyler (EXCLUSIVE)

Read on: Variety.

IFC Midnight has acquired U.S. and Canadian rights to “Wilding,” Variety has learned. The deal comes in advance of its world premiere at this year’s South by Southwest. The film follows Anna (Bel Powley), a woman who spent her entire childhood locked in the attic, under the care of a mysterious man she only knows […]

‘Carrie Pilby’ Trailer: Bel Powley Stars As A Recluse Young Genius

Read on: Deadline.

Going to Harvard at age 14 and writing “several strongly worded letters to oil companies” at age 6 doesn’t classify as normal, and from The Orchard’s newly released trailer for its upcoming film Carrie Pilby, Carrie’s life does indeed seem anything but conventional. The Susan Johnson-directed coming-of-age comedy is based on Caren Lissner’s bestseller and stars Bel Powley as a young genius who doesn’t necessarily know it all.
In the film, written by Kara Holden, Carrie…

Bel Powley-Starrer ‘Carrie Pilby’ Gets March Release Date

Read on: Deadline.

Carrie Pilby, the Bel Powley-starring pic that The Orchard acquired in the fall after its bow at the Toronto Film Festival, will hit theaters March 31, the distributor said today. It will be followed by a digital and VOD release April 4.
The movie, directed by Susan Johnson and written by Kara Holden who adapted Caren Lissner’s bestseller, stars Powley as Carrie, a genius who graduated Harvard at 18 and is convinced the world is populated by oversexed hypocrites. She has…

Film Review: ‘Detour’

Read on: Variety.

It may be tempting, and not entirely inaccurate, to describe Christopher Smith’s “Detour” as “Sliding Doors” reimagined by Quentin Tarantino, but this cleverly twisty neo-noir thriller turns out to be more substantial and surprising than such logline shorthand might suggest. Indeed, some VOD viewers likely will desire an instant replay of the film, to more fully… Read more »

The Orchard Acquires Bel Powley Movie ‘Carrie Pilby’

Read on: Deadline.

The Orchard has acquired North American rights to Carrie Pilby, the Susan Johnson-helmed coomedy that stars Bel Powley and bowed at the Toronto Film Festival. The Orchard plans an early 2017 release.
Based on Caren Lissner’s bestselling book and adapted by Kara Holden, Powley stars as a genius who graduated Harvard at 18. Convinced that the world is populated by ovesexed hypocrites, she has a hard time making sense of life as it relates to morality, relationships, sex and…