Thursday, June 13, 2024

“ANORA”

THE STORYA young sex worker from Brooklyn marries the son of a Russian oligarch. Her fairytale marriage is threatened when the man’s parents travel to New York to force an annulment.

THE CASTMikey Madison, Mark Eydelshteyn, Yuriy Borisov, Karren Karagulian, Vache Tovmasyan, Ivy Wolk & Luna Sofia Miranda

THE TEAMSean Baker (Director/Writer)

THE RUNNING TIME – 139 Minutes


Sean Baker is no stranger to displaying the lives of those many would secretly or proudly, in some cases, look down upon due to their class. Whether it’s a trans woman in “Tangerine,” or a former male porn star in “Red Rocket,” or a single mom living out of a motel in “The Florida Project,” he always approaches his subject with curiosity and empathy, allowing us a window into their souls and highlighting what the American Dream has sold to them and their admirable pursuit of it. That trend continues with what might be his best and most accomplished film yet, “Anora.” Still, as excellent of a movie as it is for its filmmaker, it’s an even more significant moment for its leading star, Mikey Madison, in the titular role.

Anora, who prefers to go by Ani, lives in Coney Island, New York, in a small apartment with her roommate under an overhead train and frequents to her job in the city daily as an exotic dancer at a nightclub. If the client is willing to pay a little more privately, she’ll perform sex and rightfully get paid for it. Ani knows exactly who she is, what she is doing and takes pride in what she does, though, if the opportunity came knocking at her door, like anyone else, of course, she’d seize the chance to take it to grant herself a better life. Eventually, that opportunity comes to the club in the form of 21-year-old Russian highroller Ivan Zakharov (Mark Eydelshteyn). Living off his parent’s money with no job, he becomes infatuated with Ani, and after a few paid nights sleeping together, he eventually proposes to her to get married on a whim while the two are in Las Vegas. Ani has found her path to security, wealth, and, surprisingly, happiness, as Ivan honestly seems to be in love with her and doesn’t just want her around as a trophy wife. Living in Ivan’s father’s mansion with all the money she could ever need, everything seems to be going well for Ani until rumors of their marriage reach Ivan’s parent’s ears. Ivan’s parents send Toros (Karren Karagulian), an Armenian fixer, along with two hired goons (Yuriy Borisov and Vache Tovmasyan) to talk sense into Ivan, who has shamed his family and get his recent marriage annulled. Abruptly, the men break into the mansion, forcibly making their demands. Ivan runs off, leaving Ani behind with the three men to search for him as they need both parties present for the annulment to take place, but Ani isn’t willing to throw her new life away so easily.

What starts as a sweet romantic comedy of sorts about an American girl who can speak a little bit of Russian and a Russian boy who can speak a little bit of English quickly turns into a stressful, chaotic search through the streets of New York City that feels right in line with the work of the Safdie Brothers. “Anora” is a vivacious film filled with propulsive energy and profundity. It can be noticed in the naturalistic performances of the entire cast. It can be seen in Drew Daniels’ vivid cinematography. It can be felt in Sean Baker’s editing, and it can be heard through its soundtrack and often loud, overlapping, vulgar dialogue.

Emotions are high as Ani is placed in a terrible situation against her will, with men telling her how this whole “problem” is going to go, how she has no choice but to comply, and how even if she’s pregnant with Ivan’s child, they’ll find a way to take care of that too. Her life is being decided for her, and given how often we read in the news on a daily basis how men are constantly trying to find new ways to take control over women’s lives and their bodies, this turns the defiant Ani into such a likable and compelling character to follow. Even at the young age of 23, she has complete control over her desires and how to use her body to get what she wants. She’s comfortable in her own skin, constantly criticizing the incompetent men for doing wrong by her, as she has no interest in leaving Ivan, no matter what they threaten her with.

After watching Mikey Madison in supporting turns in “Scream” and “Once Upon A Time In Hollywood,” it’s now her turn to live the American Dream herself and reap the benefits of the terrific and alluring performance she delivers in “Anora.” A vigorous display of comedy, drama, it’s a genuine star-is-born moment for Madison where her career will likely change as a result of making this movie, and deservedly so. And for those who were fans of her work in the two films mentioned before, she does have yet another memorable screaming scene to compliment her previous performances. Madison brings a feisty fierceness, confidence, strength and emotional vulnerability to Ani, making her a character worth rooting for and firmly establishing herself as a magnetic actress to watch in the future. Nowhere else does this feel more potent than in the film’s final scene between her and Yuriy Borisov, who plays Igor, one of the two hired hands who displays more compassion towards Ani and her situation as the evening progresses. Where Baker takes this complex moment between the two before the credits roll is surprising and a somber final insight into Ani’s character that brings Madison’s performance and the film’s themes full circle, making for some of Baker’s most powerful storytelling yet.

As talented and captivating to watch as Madison is, so too is Mark Eydelshteyn as Ivan. Having to capture Ivan’s juvenile charm and party boy persona while showing unexpected levels of depth and nuance in his more intimate moments with Madison, he’s the real surprise breakout performer from the film. Other supporting performances from the Armenian trio who go on a wild goose chase with Ani through New York looking for Ivan over the course of one night are all hilarious in various ways, with Baker never losing sight of how disorderly and clumsy these hardened men are despite them wanting to come across as intimidating. But that’s part of Baker’s gifts as a storyteller and always has been. He’s able to take someone who, on the surface, you may not initially find all that interesting, and through dramatic tension, awkward situations, and some clever lines of dialogue that never feel overdone or heavy-handed, he can pull these remarkable, authentic performances out of these actors making the characters they inhabit all the more engaging.

Standing up for yourself and your right to earn a better life through hard work and ethics is at the core of “Anora.” Being an adult means having a certain level of independence, free from your parents, free from what society thinks of you, and free from what others try to force upon you. Baker’s latest look at marginalized people working their way to live their lives to the fullest in “Anora” is another winner in his ever-growing filmography and almost feels like a direct response to the often-cited remark that there’s not enough sex in movies nowadays. With a phenomenal performance from Mikey Madison, strong supporting work from the other actors around her, and an energized plot that thrusts through its 139-minute runtime with conviction and sincerity, it’s a deeply fascinating and entertaining character study that earns its time.

THE RECAP

THE GOOD - A phenomenal, magnetic performance from Mikey Madison that shows her dramatic and comedic abilities. Mark Eydelshteyn also shines in a breakout role. Sean Baker's most assured film to date, continuing to expand upon the themes that have made him a household name in the world of independent cinema.

THE BAD - Some may feel the film starts to run out of juice past the two hour mark.

THE OSCAR PROSPECTS - Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actress, Best Original Screenplay & Best Film Editing

THE FINAL SCORE - 9/10

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Matt Neglia
Matt Negliahttps://nextbestpicture.com/
Obsessed about the Oscars, Criterion Collection and all things film 24/7. Critics Choice Member.

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<b>THE GOOD - </b>A phenomenal, magnetic performance from Mikey Madison that shows her dramatic and comedic abilities. Mark Eydelshteyn also shines in a breakout role. Sean Baker's most assured film to date, continuing to expand upon the themes that have made him a household name in the world of independent cinema.<br><br> <b>THE BAD - </b>Some may feel the film starts to run out of juice past the two hour mark.<br><br> <b>THE OSCAR PROSPECTS - </b><a href="/oscar-predictions-best-picture/">Best Picture</a>, <a href="/oscar-predictions-best-director/">Best Director</a>, <a href="/oscar-predictions-best-actress/">Best Actress</a>, <a href="/oscar-predictions-best-original-screenplay/">Best Original Screenplay</a> & <a href="/oscar-predictions-best-film-editing/">Best Film Editing</a><br><br> <b>THE FINAL SCORE - </b>9/10<br><br>"ANORA"