This week, by sheer happenstance, I’m writing about four female-centered productions: Two in theaters, two on TV.
Disney animated films aimed at young girls have changed quite a bit over the past half-century, from tales of helpless princesses waiting for the right prince to come along and escort them to happy-ever-after land, to today’s savvy princesses who like the boys just fine but can basically handle things on their own, thank you very much. Still, there remains the Disney formula — royal heroine and her people are put in jeopardy and manage to work it out, accompanied by superb production values: Gorgeous animation, talented creators, and voices and songs. The latest is “Moana,” which is the Samoan word for ocean. My nearly five-year-old granddaughter found parts of it too scary, but it’s a rousing tale of an ancient island people, their gods and monsters. I confess to being a Lin-Manuel Miranda fangirl — can’t stop singing the “Hamilton” score all day long — and his contributions are lively and lovely. It’s nice to see brown skin instead of white, and if “Moana” seems to end two or three times before it actually does, well, that too goes with the Disney formula, which, in this case, works very well.
When the closing credits for “Jackie” finally began, I expelled a breath — what felt like the first one in the nearly two-hour running time. What a tense, absorbing, startling film it is. Natalie Portman is simply astounding. Her spot-on characterization of Jackie Kennedy in the week following JFK’s assassination is like nothing the actress has ever done before. The excellent script (Noah Oppenheim), brilliant direction (Pablo Larrain) and Portman combine to create a truly complex human being — terrified, regal, maternal, unreasonable, worried about her husband’s legacy; indeed, how she herself will be regarded in history. Portman is in every frame of the film and the intensity never lets up, never gives us, the audience, a break from her emotions. It’s definitely a must-see.
I was one of those “Gilmore Girls” devotees during the show’s original run, but I avoided high expectations for “Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life,” now streaming on Netflix. Revivals, reunion shows, whatever you call them, are usually never as good as our memories of the original. In this case, all the old elements of the show are here — the rapid-fire mother/daughter dialog, the town weirdos, the singing street corner guitarist, friction between Lorelei and her mother, and so on. But in the first 90-minute episode, it seemed to feel somewhat artificial, as though both the actors and Amy Sherman-Palladino, the show’s creator and main writer, were trying too hard to recapture the magic. After a while, everyone settled in and I got more comfortable watching it. I’ve seen the first three episodes and will report on the fourth and final one next time.
No one does historical drama better than the Brits — no one. Not only do they have that fabulously rich heritage, complete with kings both great and foolish, and that class system that practically seethes with great story plots without even trying, but they have those actors. Oh, those highly trained and versatile British actors — I am in awe. I was, once again, while viewing 10-part “The Crown.” Claire Foy (Ann Boleyn in last year’s magnificent “Wolf Hall”) is outwardly dutiful, inwardly unhappy as the suddenly elevated young Queen Elizabeth, circa the 1950s. Quiet, but with a spine of steel, we watch as she maneuvers her way through the ins and outs of both palace and government intrigue. If the current Queen Elizabeth seems a not-very-exciting monarch who favors hats, watch “The Crown” and see who she really is.