Empire of Light

A missed opportunity even from the great Sam Mendes.

The life of a movie theater employee has its ups and downs. You get to watch movies for free, make some new friends, and learn new things about yourself. Those are the positives, while the negatives consist of guests sometimes insulting you or making trouble of any sorts. Messy theaters-they’re controllable, but if people got upset that they can’t bring outside food in the theater or if they degrade employees based on her race or gender or if they make noise during the movie, employees and managers will not tolerate those behaviors.

As I was watching Sam Mendes’ latest movie “Empire of Light,” I was able to see some of those highs and lows represented in low key ways. But unfortunately, despite his impressive filmography, his next film is a disappointment. I think it should have taken us more inside the life of a movie theater employee, but it ends up having a lead character with mental problems, which seems to switch back and forth, and can barely allow us to process her troubles.

As an usher, which gives me the fringe benefits to review movies for you loyal readers, I must confess I’ve had some stressful issues, and I regret expressing them. I was lucky that my mangers and co-workers sympathize my autistic condition, and always knew I did a good job at trying to keep my theater from falling part with all the trash people leave behind and all. I’m not bragging because I don’t clean theaters in a timely fashion for competition; but rather it can be a night of survival. Go back to my “Violent Night” review to see what went down.

On to “Empire of Light.”

Set in an English coastal town in the 1980s, the main movie theater, named the Empire Cinemas, will soon have a major gala premiere of “Chariots of Fire,” which could help expand the business. In the U.K, movie theaters are referred to as “Cinemas.” I’ve been to two of them when I visited London in 2019, and while their previews are twice as long as domestic previews, they really did show quality.

Olivia Colman stars as a duty manager named Hilary Small, who suffers from a mental issue that makes her moody. I don’t think it’s just her occasionally faking it with her married boss (Colin Firth), but whatever is up her tail, it was enough for her to damage some perfectly made normal sandcastles, by saying: “I’m not working under instruction.”

She begins a small romance with the young newcomer Stephen (Michael Ward), who deals with some of the discriminations because he’s black, and doesn’t think he should apply for college again, after being rejected the first time. He tries to be Hilary’s voice of reasoning, but she responds with misandristic anger. “All these people, all these men, they will have their comeuppance, just you see!,” she says. It tends to switch back and forth-sometimes they’re able to connect, and sometimes she explodes.

The positives are I liked the performances from Colman and Ward, and I liked how this movie reminds me of the good and bad times working at a movie theater. But the film didn’t work for me, because of how we struggle to understand Hilary and her misandristic issues. It’s often too angry and too confusing for us to comprehend them. I’m not even sure what the message was, or if there was supposed to be any.

This movie should have taken us more into the world of a movie theater-cinema or whatever we should call it depending on our country-in whatever time period the story wants to take place in. I usually enjoy looking at old movie theaters for their styles, and at least, they would show less and less previews. “Get the show started already!” is my usual reaction to them.

Rating: 2 out of 4.

In Select Theaters This Friday

Categories: Drama, Romance

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