John Seven | Viewer's Discretion: 'The Act,' 'Granny' are anything but fairy tales

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'THE ACT' (HULU)

Based on a 2015 homicide case in Missouri that saw a woman murdered by her daughter, reported as stricken with leukemia and muscular dystrophy, as well as a few other conditions, including brain damage that left her mentally incapacitated, "The Act" takes you into their life together in intimate terms.

Following their relocation from Lousiana into a Habitat For Humanity home, the mother Dee Dee (Patricia Arquette) and daughter Gypsy (Joey King) elicit the sympathy and admiration of everyone around them and are more than willing to accept charity, including cash. But "The Act" allows you to share space within paranoid walls that have been built around their private lives, and the circumstances of Dee Dee's unhinged Munchausen-by-proxy imprisonment of Gypsy unfold.

But this isn't so much a portrait of Dee Dee — though I should say that Arquette is magnificent in the role — as it is of Gypsy and her struggle to figure out who she is amid a lifetime of manipulative lies that has transformed the fairy tale that Dee Dee insists on into the real circumstances of Gypsy's life and biography.

The real key to "The Act" is contained in one of its most frequently referenced preoccupations, the fairy tale lives of princesses. Disney is often cited, and Gypsy's most beloved character is Rapunzel, fitting since that's the one she most resembles. Her tresses — her means of connection, coupling, and escape — are regularly shaved off by Dee Dee in order to keep her isolated, but Gypsy realizes there are other ways to interconnect.

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Fairy tales are exactly that, and yet the sanitized, Disney versions have become so ingrained in our culture, and so influential on gender roles, that "The Act," among other things, becomes an indictment of our culture's obsessive need to gloss over reality. Dee Dee and Gypsy live in a lie, but everyone around them prefers to accept the lie rather than acknowledge the visible indications that there's more going on.

'GRANNY'S DANCING ON THE TABLE' (AMAZON)

A fairy tale within a fairy tale, both of them embracing the Grimm Brothers more fiercely than Disney, "Granny's Dancing on the Table" takes advantage of its Swedish heritage by also recalling director Ingmar Bergman in its psychologically dark portrayal of dysfunction through family generations. And yet there's something about director Hanna Sk ld's quiet film that prevents it from getting depressing, no matter how brutal it can, at times, become.

Revolving around the current life of Eini (Blanca Engstr m), a young girl who lives isolated in the forest with her father (Lennart J hkel), Sk ld alternates Eini's emotionally complicated existence of loneliness and captivity with the girl's narrative to herself about how she got there. This takes the form of beautiful, rough stop motion animation where we learn about Eini's grandmother and great-aunt mostly, their story of how they ended up in the woods, and how the bursting independence of one, Eini's grandmother, is countered in oppressive, imprisonment of the other.

Movies typically would embrace the story of the independent woman who skirts away from her horrible life, but Sk ld implies that every action leaves victims. That's not because of cruel intentions on the grandmother's part, but because of the impartial nature of the universe that requires you to save yourself, first and foremost, but also have the temerity and, most importantly, opportunity to do the same for others. In the most Bergman-like moments of its theme, Sk ld traces how the darkness of one generation bleeds through into the others, and how the innocence of one person can coexist and struggle with what their ancestry has given them. Not for the faint of heart, but Sk ld's animation personifies the actual gloomy imagery that filmmakers like Tim Burton use for window dressing amidst sentimentality.

John Seven is a writer in North Adams who has never been satisfied by movies and television that are easy to come by. He likes to do some digging. Find him online at johnseven.me


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