Friday Flicks July 12: “Miss Arizona” & “Marianne & Leonard: Words of Love”

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At AMC Arizona Center:

Miss Arizona—The title character doesn’t live in the title state. The tiny blonde former beauty queen, Rose by name, is now the neglected L.A. trophy wife of a talent agent, rattling around her big house with little to do; even her ten-year-old son now considers himself too old to show her any affection. She gets dragooned into teaching a “life skills” class at a women’s shelter, and it turns into a half-wacky, half-poignant adventure.

As the only one around with a working vehicle, Rose (Johanna Braddy) ends up a chauffeur to her class, four women who have developed hard knock life skills she never dreamed of. They’re trying to scrape enough money together to buy a plane ticket for one of their number (Robyn Lively), to get her to her kids in Kentucky before her violent estranged husband can.

Written and directed by Autumn McAlpin, this low-budget indie takes a farcical turn about midpoint, with Rose trying to pass herself off, Victor/Victoria-style, as a drag queen. But at its core, Miss Arizona is a wistful, sweet-natured ensemble piece for five good actresses—along with Braddy and Lively, Shoniqua Shandai, Dana Wheeler-Nicholson and Otmara Marrero round out the strong quintet.

Braddy, a scream-queen type from stuff like The Grudge 3, holds her own in the lead. With her wan, melancholy, slightly perplexed smile and her worn optimism, she manages to suggest the possibility of growth and hopefulness without overplaying it, and in her quiet way, she’s genuinely funny.

By the way, Steve Guttenberg turns up in a supporting role. If you haven’t seen him since his Police Academy days, it might take you a minute to recognize him. But emerald is definitely his color.

At Harkins Camelview Fashion Square:

Marianne & Leonard: Words of Love—Not many people could do words of love like Leonard Cohen. This documentary chronicles the affair of the late lamented Canadian bard and his Norwegian lover and muse Marianne Ehlen, whom he met in the early ’60s, as a single mother, in the artists’ community on the Greek island of Hydra. At the time he was still a novelist and poet; he hadn’t yet become a singer/songwriter. Despite the title “So Long, Marianne,” their relationship would continue, off and on, happily and unhappily, together and separately but never completely over, for the rest of their lives.

This subject matter must have hit home hard for the prolific British documentary director Nick Broomfield; he too had a long personal history with Ehlen. Perhaps that’s why there’s an unusual emotional intensity to the film, which superficially isn’t that different, in style and content, from a VH-1 Behind the Music episode. It may also have to do with the extraordinary film and video and photographic record which these ridiculously glamorous people have left behind.

Cohen, with his handsome craggy profile and his mellow growl countered by his somehow sheepish manner, is a mesmerizing presence here even if you’re immune to his obvious sexual charisma. It’s clear how endlessly his exasperating behavior would be forgiven by those around him.

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