Penny Marshall (1943-2018)

As a teenager, I would often take myself off to the cinema after school; part of it was the new found ability to be independent and do things on my own, but mostly it came of a desire to escape into my love of the movies for a couple of hours. Naturally, those movies you see when young are what you will always regard as a ‘golden-age’; my teens covered the late 80’s and early 90’s with the release of such movies as ‘Back to the Future’, ‘The Goonies’, ‘Die Hard’, ‘The Princess Bride’, ‘Beaches’, the list feels endless to me.

Three of the most memorable movies were ‘Big’ (1988), ‘Awakenings’ (1990) and ‘A League of their Own’ (1992); directed by Penny Marshall. Wildly different in theme, these were all brave choices that don’t on paper shout out ‘hit’. All the braver considering that Penny was practically the only successful female director on the scene at that time. Jane Campion and Kathryn Bigelow were just coming into their own but everyone else seemed to disappear after one-hit.

There are no guns, no special effects, no Arnie – these are character-driven stories with fun, passion and empathy: ‘Big’ is the story of a boy who wishes to be grown up; ‘Awakenings’ is based on the true story of Oliver Sacks’ work with catatonic patients in a psychiatric hospital; ‘A League of their Own’ is again, based on a true-life story of the women baseball players who kept the leagues going while the male players were fighting in WWII.

What connects these three very different stories, is Penny Marshall’s ability to put magic into real-life situations. In ‘Big’ the magic is more obvious but is only there to act as the catalyst to enable the story. ‘Awakenings’ is like a modern fairytale where the statues come to life and the magic in ‘League’ comes through the camaraderie of the women breaking down barriers and doing something they love to do rather than something they feel obliged to do.

Being a natural comedian also meant that Penny was able to imbue her movies with a sense of fun; whilst not really comedies, there are some properly funny moments in all three movies, even in ‘Awakenings’. Then on the reverse, all three movies will make most people weep buckets with their delicate depiction of the poignancy of loss (innocence, life, youth).

Credit must also be given for Penny Marshall’s ability to elicit such amazing performances from her actors. Tom Hanks utterly convinces that this grown-man is actually only a little boy; Robin Williams and Robert De Niro go totally against type as they both portray quiet, sensitive, thoughtful characters and who knew Madonna could actually be a really good actress?

With still very few women directors making movies today, Penny Marshall was definitely in a league of her own.

13 Reasons Why (S1 & S2)

[Spoilers below (not major ones)]

This is a tough one, tough to watch and now tough to write about (this has taken me a long time to write, edit, re-edit etc.). Through a series of cassette tapes (the titular 13), season one reveals why Hannah Baker decides to take her own life.  This is a difficult watch by any standard but especially so as the completely avoidable becomes somewhat inevitable. Each episode focuses on one of the people in Hannah’s life who she feels has a part to play in her decision. It would be wrong to say that every one of the 13 are to blame as their actions vary from not malicious, to petty, to mean, to truly terrible but the effect each of them has on Hannah’s life is tangible in varying degrees.

This looks and feels, at first, like any other high school teen drama and there are some delightful, funny, touching moments but this is also, necessarily, a brutal watch. Katherine Langford and Dylan Minnette have great chemistry as Hannah and Clay, they are both incredibly likeable, both flawed and both very complex characters. As the season continues, we begin to understand how complicated life has become.

It was an interesting decision to carry this on for a second season given that apart from a couple of loose ends, the story seemed to have been told and the important conversation had been started.  But as with many things, it’s more complicated than that.

For the first few episodes of season two, it felt like they were stretching the story somewhat and the narrative device of having Hannah appear as a ghost throughout seemed contrived but as it continued, it did make more sense.

I think season two enforced the awful finality of a decision, Hannah isn’t a romantic heroine, nor is she making a brave choice. It also shows, where the first season didn’t so much, how the actions of one person can ripple across and impact on so many others. It’s hammered home several times, that there is no future for Hannah, she isn’t coming back, there is no happy ending.

Whilst issues surrounding sexuality are addressed and race to a lesser extent, the focus here is on gender. Some of the different experiences and unique pressures that both young men and women can come under are dealt with and we are shown that either can be ‘bully’ or ‘victim’ and very often can be both.

Interestingly, a couple of the cast are shared with ‘Love, Simon’ (Katherine Langford & Miles Heizer) and with that plus the high school setting the themes of bullying, isolation, peer pressure are very similar. This feels like what could have been Simon’s fate had he not had an awesome family and great friends.

This show has come under a lot of flak and I can see that this is an extremely sensitive subject and of course parents especially want to protect their children but not talking about something doesn’t make it go away.

NetworkCBC / Netflix
CastDylan Minette, as Clay Jensen
Katherine Langford, as Hannah Baker
Christian Navarro, as Tony Padillo
Alisha Boe, as Jessica Davis
Miles Heizer, as Alex Standall
Justin Prentice, as Bryce Walker
SeasonS1 (2017): 13 episodes
S2 (2018): 13 episodes