This week, Jonathan Schumann joins Reel Dad Mark to write about a current movie in theaters. From 1999 to 2006, the two of them shared this column as Take Two: A Son and Father Go to the Movies. Jonathan currently lives in New York City.

‘Non-Fiction:’ Falls flat


By Jonathan Schumann
You never know what you’re going to get from French director Olivier Assayas.
Over the course of his career he’s given us everything from the seething thriller “Demonlover” to the hipster ghost story “Personal Shopper.” And while there’s something to be said for being this constantly surprising, his latest, “Non-Fiction,” falls more than a bit flat.
The film consists of the rambling musings of the dying creative class: Authors, publishers, actors, dilettantes. Everyone has an opinion around how technology has changed the way we encounter stories, the type of story that feels relevant to us today, the rise of e-books and the enduring popularity of romance queen Nora Roberts.

There are some funny diversions and compelling points made, but there’s no real dramatic thrust driving the story forward. We don’t really care about the characters, and when one of the central quartet is played by Juliette Binoche, that’s really saying something. They all seem suitably bored with their lives and are pursuing foolhardy affairs as a result, but even these indiscretions contribute very little to narrative.
So, it’s more a thesis on the state of media consumption than a film. Or, the cinematic equivalent of going to a dinner party where everyone thinks they’re a little smarter than they are. Either way, beyond the passing amusement, there’s not much to “Non-Fiction.”

Streaming Pick: ‘Irma Vep’


Assayas’ send-up to “Day for Night” has something to say about the stories we consume, and actually says it through action, versus prolonged musings over coffee and pastry. Maggie Cheung stars as a Hong Kong star cast in an obsessive director’s remake of the silent French classic “Les Vampires.”

Non-Fiction is non-stop talk


By Mark Schumann
There’s a lot of talk, non-stop chatter, actually, in Olivier Assayas’ “Non-Fiction.”
This landmark director loves to capture the follies that people create by simply being alive. When he hits the mark, as in “Personal Shopper” and “Summer Hours,” the results stagger. But his fascination with the content in “Non-Fiction” gives Assayas too much license to include too many words. And the result is more tiring than illuminating, more repetitive than meaningful.
Similar to Assayas’ classic “Summer Hours,” the new film features an ensemble cast, a compelling topic, and a central character who focuses most of the conversation. While the earlier film used this convention to explore the issues of families, the new entry settles on topics related to the publishing world. Guillaume Chalet plays an editor at an established publishing house who is bewildered by challenges of digital media. Like many in that world, he is uncertain how to remain relevant to readers as their tastes change. Should he continue to print and bind conventional books? Or should he convert to e-readers only? Or does a mix of media make the most sense?
While this discussion may be interesting in, say, a podcast, there’s not much about the content that demands a movie camera. At least the “Summer Hours,” that followed a similar approach, could rely on the visual appeal of characters relating to each other. But the characters in “Non-Fiction” are less developed people than representatives of a particular point of view. That may contribute to the debate but that does little to entertain. The film emerges as a talky exploration of a topic that may not demand capturing the conversation on screen.
Of course, any opportunity to see Juliette Binoche on screen can be lovely. But she talks too much, too.

Streaming Pick: ‘Summer Hours’


This lovely film is filled with as much conversation as Non-Fiction. But this time around moviemaker Olivier Assayas focuses on the people, and their relationships, as he explores how relatives react to the death of the family matriarch. Again, Juliette Binoche captures the immediacy, and loneliness, of someone searching for direction following a death.
Non-Fiction is rated R for “some language, sexuality and nudity.” The film runs 108 minutes and is showing in local theaters.

‘Personal Shopper’ celebrates mystery


We don’t always know what actually happens in “Personal Shopper.”

Like any film from Olivier Assayas, including “Non-Fiction,” this film is filled with so many twists and turns — some real, some fake — that we aren’t totally certain, as the film ends, what has happened and what has been imagined. But we don’t care. Unlike at the conclusion of “Non-Fiction,” with “Personal Shopper” we are totally spooked, thoroughly entertained, and we’ve experienced a star turn from Kristen Stewart who proves, with each performance, how much more she brings to the screen than her “Twilight” appearances would suggest.

Directed by French moviemaker Assayas — who also made “Clouds of Sils Maria” with Stewart and Juliet Binoche — “Personal Shopper” could promise more than it delivers. The opening sequence, of Stewart wandering through an empty house, suggests the chills of Hitchcock. We know, from this start, that there must be something to the mysterious moments, calls and texts that fill Stewart’s life. She arrives, as the film begins, at the home of a lady she works for, quickly establishing that her client is demanding, pampered and outrageous, as Stewart navigates the various ways to pamper. But the personal shopper can’t completely focus on her job because her life — with its mysterious interruptions — continues to intervene.

Much of what distracts Stewart focuses on the recent death of her twin brother. We quickly learn they were close and that he may have died under suspicious circumstances. We also observe that he tries to communicate with his sister and, as Stewart waits for signs of his presence, she lets that possibility get in the way of work she needs to do. So we get to know a young lady who wants to please her diva boss but finds herself caught up in the possibility of communicating with her dead brother’s spirit.

This intersection of supernatural thriller and workplace drama may not feel natural at first but Assayas directs in such an assured manner, and Stewart is so compelling an actress, that we soon forget how silly the whole thing may be. Yes, too much of what happens is too coincidental or convenient. But Assayas plants enough doubt in our reactions — as Stewart plays to the possible logic of her approaches — that we begin to wonder if what we may be seeing could actually happen to these characters. And that gives the film an extra layer of fun.

Stewart makes the movie. As outrageous as its premise, and exaggerated its approach, the actress insists on playing the absurd as if it could actually occur. Of course, every time Stewart seems mystified by the voices she hears, the texts she receives, the images she sees, we’re transported back to a dozen other films that use similar conventions. But Stewart is such a natural actress that even the familiar can feel fresh and the artificial can ring true. She never begs us to accept the film’s authenticity. Stewart simply makes us believe in the character. As she helps us see what could happen through this personal shopper’s eyes, she helps us believe in what this lady may face. And that gives us a great roller coaster ride at the movies.

Personal Shopper, running 1 hour, 45 minutes, is rated R for some language, sexuality, nudity and a bloody violent image. The film is available to stream online.