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2 new movies center on filmmakers who lead disruptive, messy lives


Two new indie films, "Passages" and "Shortcomings," open this weekend. Critic Bob Mondello says both center their stories on filmmakers who lead disruptive, messy lives.

BOB MONDELLO, BYLINE: You're likely to take an instant dislike to Tomas in "Passages."


FRANZ ROGOWSKI: (As Tomas Freiburg) Stop. Stop. Stop. Stop. What are you doing with your hands?

MONDELLO: We meet him on the set of a film he's directing, dissatisfied with everything and everyone.


ROGOWSKI: (As Tomas Freiburg) This is just a transition moment, but we are turning it into a huge drama moment because you're not able to make some simple steps down the staircase. Everybody's waiting for you.

MONDELLO: At an afterparty, things aren't all that different. He snaps at his husband, Martin.


ROGOWSKI: (As Tomas Freiburg) Can you at least try not to look so bored? We're trying to celebrate here.

BEN WHISHAW: (As Martin) Tomas, I just don't feel like dancing.

ROGOWSKI: (As Tomas Freiburg) It's my party, and my husband doesn't want to dance with me.

ADELE EXARCHOPOULOS: (As Agathe) I'll dance with you.

MONDELLO: Agathe is beautiful, and Tomas ends up doing more than just dancing with her, a fact he's openly boastful about when he comes home to Martin the next morning.


ROGOWSKI: (As Tomas Freiburg) You know what I was doing last night?

WHISHAW: (As Martin) No, but whatever it was, you sound very excited.

ROGOWSKI: (As Tomas Freiburg) I had sex with a woman. Can I tell you about it, please?

MONDELLO: The arrogance is breathtaking, toxic, really. And you see the pain in Martin's eyes even as he swallows it.


WHISHAW: (As Martin) It's fine, Tomas. It's fine. This always happens when you finish a film. You just forget.

MONDELLO: It's actually not fine this time. And things get complicated. Agathe will soon be just as bruised as Martin. And director Ira Sachs makes sure the cause of their suffering suffers, too, though Tomas is so self-absorbed it sometimes takes him a while to realize how royally he's screwing up. In a film shoot, where power dynamics are on his side, Tomas can be as petulant as he wants. In life, when that behavior ends up driving people away, he doesn't get to edit the outcome.


ROGOWSKI: (As Tomas Freiburg) Screening tonight went really well.

WHISHAW: (As Martin) Why are you here?

ROGOWSKI: (As Tomas Freiburg) I wanted you to tell you, friend.

WHISHAW: (As Martin) No.

ROGOWSKI: (As Tomas Freiburg) Come on. Let's have a drink.

WHISHAW: (As Martin) No. You can't stay here.

ROGOWSKI: (As Tomas Freiburg) One drink. Come on.

WHISHAW: (As Martin) Don't be - you can't stay here.

ROGOWSKI: (As Tomas Freiburg) One toast. Come on. It was really great. People were clapping.

MONDELLO: No clapping in real life - so many passages to growing up, so little progress. At least his movie was a hit. In "Shortcomings," a hit movie feels like an affront to Ben when he attends a "Crazy Rich Asians"-style comedy at an Asian American film festival, though his girlfriend, Miko, suspects he might just be jealous.


ALLY MAKI: (As Miko Hayashi) We've waited a long time to see ourselves reflected in a...

JUSTIN H MIN: (As Ben Tagawa) In a garish, mainstream rom-com that glorifies the capitalistic fantasy of vindication through wealth and materialism.

MAKI: (As Miko Hayashi) OK. I guess I thought you might be able to see, like, beyond your own snobby tastes.

MIN: (As Ben Tagawa) Have we just met?

MAKI: (As Miko Hayashi) Ha. It's a game-changer, OK? And now when you or some other Asian American filmmaker wants to make a movie that's cooler or more artsy or whatever and they're suddenly able to get funding, they should get down on their knees and bow down to that garish mainstream hit that cleared the way for them.

MONDELLO: Ben's not a bowing down kind of guy. He manages a failing San Francisco arthouse cinema and complains about everything, really, as when Miko says she's gotten an internship in Manhattan.


MIN: (As Ben Tagawa) Trust me. New York is overrated. It's so gentrified now.

MAKI: (As Miko Hayashi) How many times have you even been there?

MIN: (As Ben Tagawa) Are we counting layovers? Look. It doesn't matter. There's no way I'm moving to New York for three months, all right?

MAKI: (As Miko Hayashi) I wasn't really asking you to.

MONDELLO: OK, time to regroup because no sooner departed for New York than Ben is commiserating with his lesbian pal Alice about dating one of his employees.


SHERRY COLA: (As Alice Kim) Eww (ph). How old is she?

MIN: (As Ben Tagawa) Twenty-three, 24, 25 - probably the same age as your waitress.

COLA: (As Alice Kim) That's different.

MIN: (As Ben Tagawa) How is that different?

COLA: (As Alice Kim) Everything's less creepy without the hetero power dynamics.

MONDELLO: He plays the indie filmmaker sympathy card on a date with someone else...


MIN: (As Ben Tagawa) I was trying to be the next Eric Rohmer or something. But I had to accept eventually that I was just a current Ben Tagawa.

MONDELLO: ...Plays a more abrasive card on yet another date and gets told off in no uncertain terms.


DEBBY RYAN: (As Sasha) One day I hope you'll understand that this really is just about you.

MONDELLO: Working from a graphic novel by Adrian Tomine, director and comedian Randall Park has framed Ben, who's played by Justin H. Min, as charming, clever, a committed contrarian and a bit of a jerk, a manchild of the sort who, back in the early aughts, used to populate Judd Apatow comedies like "Knocked Up." Park keeps the tone light and the patter clever enough that though Ben sometimes seems nearly as clueless as Tomas does in "Passages," he's a lot easier to take in "Shortcomings" despite his shortcomings. I'm Bob Mondello.


JUNGKOOK: (Singing) Weight of the world on your shoulders. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Bob Mondello, who jokes that he was a jinx at the beginning of his critical career — hired to write for every small paper that ever folded in Washington, just as it was about to collapse — saw that jinx broken in 1984 when he came to NPR.