“The Bread Factory,” directed by Patrick Wang, acts as an extremely original experience. It is a mix of an introspective European arthouse film and a humble screwball comedy celebrating small-town Americana.
The film is about a large Chinese corporation establishing an outlet of its theater business in a small American town, hoping to siphon tax money from the local government. This threatens the town’s traditional theater ‘The Bread Factory,’ as tax funds are its only source of income. Conflict ensues when these two groups fight over whether the town’s art budget should be reallocated.
In its multi-faceted examination of small-town American life, “The Bread Factory” manages a personable modesty uncommon since the days of Jean Renoir. Nothing ever seems contrived or cliché. Instead, characters act with the clear reasoning and complete fidelity not only to their own character but also to the character of the world around them. The film is shot in a way that aids the mood of realism, by emphasizing long takes simply depicting the world how it is, rather than emotionally controlling or manipulating the viewer. “The Bread Factory” allows the audience to find beauty in the humility present in every frame rather than shoving fake, manufactured beauty in their face through glitzy set design or boastful shots.
There is also a sense of understated appreciation for the reality of American life. The film is filled with actors, not stars, and as such the quiet earnestness and authenticity of their human and down-to-Earth characters is completely believable. The deadpan comedy shares this common theme of understated thoughtfulness, using the characters’ traits and building off of them for humorous yet knowing asides. Indirectly, through this understated approach, and directly through the film’s plot, the movie is very softly telling the viewer that it, and all art, cannot be faked. Instead, the emotion and thought a filmmaker puts in a movie must be genuine, and nothing can replace true, honest-to-God, sincerity in art.
If only the new remake of “A Star is Born” understood this! With characteristic glee and overstatement, the executives in Hollywood have churned out yet another uninspired remake of an eighty-year-old melodrama.
This fourth (fourth!) version of “A Star is Born” is effectively about the same story as all the other versions. A declining star, in this iteration a pop musician, is in decline at the same time as he propels a small-time singer and romantic partner into fame and stardom.
While you can’t exactly expect Oscar-bait from 80 years ago to translate well into modern Oscar-bait, this story truly creaks with age. Its glamorization of fame and patronization of lower middle-class America as simply waiting for a hero to give them everything they’ve ever wanted translates poorly, as in modern reality, there are constant scandals about the moral and personal failings of successful people. Neither does it translate into a competent plot.
Plot-wise, this antiquated perspective effectively rids large portions of the story of any conflict or realism, making it difficult to relate to-or stay interested in-the movie. While there is some conflict present in one of the main character’s struggles with addiction, it is played down for most of the movie and ends up simply appearing shoved in at the end.
What “A Star Is Born” ends up feeling like is a wonderful three-hour movie poorly edited down to two hours. The movie certainly includes the climaxes to plot arcs – and it has many of those – yet it does not include the parts where characters are initially developed, where addictions and problems are established or where characters actually battle their inner demons. We hear a plot element – for instance, someone might be shy – and then, without any explanation or conflict, it is suddenly resolved. “A Star Is Born” feels more like a best-of reel than an actual movie.
This brand of odd superficiality reeks of Hollywood’s apathy for art. To those who created this movie, the point was simply to examine what seems to move audiences and then to replicate it. In practice, this misses what made those climaxes pay off in the first place: the huge amount of buildup and character development that took place beforehand. The creators of this movie attempted to replace the art with the chart, and they paid the consequences with characteristically disastrous results. Unfortunately, we pay as well.