When the term “rom-com” gets bandied about in Hollywood, critics and audiences alike tend to groan and make a swift exit. While there are exceptions (the original Hitch springs to mind) most of these movies are either cliched, drily written or just plain not funny. The latest movie to fall into this category, ‘Stowaway’, is another movie with a great cast that is just plain dull. It follows a group of high school friends who take a trip to Europe. While there, they run into an old friend and fall various degrees of in love. They all end up taking a cruise on the ship and things happen.
As the world slowly begins to return to normal, the impact of COVID-19 on the entertainment industry, and the film industry in particular, is undeniable. The visible signs of the virus are becoming clearer every day. Theaters are closing, studios are consolidating, and the slow release of new films is flowing like a once-flowing faucet. This phenomenon is less visible, but perhaps more relevant, in the way we consume films. COVID has changed everything from the way we physically look to the way we interpret what we are looking at. It’s hard to watch a movie, any movie, but especially a new movie, without considering the reality behind it. This challenge makes Stowaway, Netflix’s latest film, an interesting introduction to film culture. A film that wears its heart on its sleeve and surrenders to this harsh reality, reminding us of the importance of humanity.
While I am far from the first to point out the implications of COVID, it remains an important topic in the ongoing discussion. Even more important are the realities that the virus has brought to light. We live in strange times in America, where hate and fear seem to prevail in everything we see, read and hear. We feel more divided than ever, and in times like these an effective way to express ourselves is indirect. Netflix’s largely plotless space thriller is ultimately the perfect vehicle for its main message. At the risk of exaggerating, let me put it another way: Humanity is something we lack at the moment. Stowaway is the most amazing representation of this.
Using symbols to generate voltage
Stowaway is a short space thriller from director Joe Penna in which a three-man mission to Mars is threatened by an unwanted passenger. Anyone familiar with these types of films can fill in what they think is going on. Penna (and her co-writer Ryan Morrison), however, see it differently. Stowaway is more of a psychological or even intimate social thriller. It’s less about things going wrong in space and more about a group of people making difficult decisions. This last option may seem less exciting, but it is in fact much more than that. The tension – and there is a lot of tension – is fuelled by a drama whose authenticity is palpable.
Penna and Morrison create their own characters that allow for an authentic connection. This is where the humanity of the film begins. Each character is miraculously revealed throughout the film, bringing you closer to them with each new piece of information. Understanding their motivations, goals and history allows the themes of the film to unfold. There is no plot in Stowaway, which makes the characters all the more important as they drive the themes and suspense.
Excellent characters and genuine commitment
Understanding each person makes decisions even more difficult. Penna and Morrison rise above this difficulty, offering no easy solutions and digging even deeper into the characters. This makes their solutions even more complex. The intimacy of the characters is overwhelming at times and creates the most important tension. The deeper you dive into the characters, the higher the stakes get. It is spectacular and ultimately very moving to experience history in this way.
Penn and Morrison create wonderful characters on the pages, but it’s the interpretations that bring them to life. Anna Kendrick, Toni Collette, Daniel Dae Kim and Shamier Anderson did great in their roles. Ultimately, Stowaway is a film about humanity and sacrifice for the other. The real weight and emotion of this act is due to their performances. The good chemistry gives the film a good dynamic, and it really shines when more than two of them are together. However, the power of these performances is expressed in more intimate moments. Whether they are alone or in quiet conversation with each other, the film is at its best when these actors have the space to show the true seriousness of their situation.
Anna Kendrick falls to
Anna Kendrick and Daniel Dae Kim stand out in the film. Toni Collette is great, as always, and drives the film more by her presence than anything else. Shamier Anderson is an actor I don’t know and he comes across as someone who is really in a terrible situation. However, it is Kendrick who carries the emotional weight of the issue and Kim who brings real depth to the story. Zoe Levenson uses Kendricks best acting skills to perfection. Kendrick is charming, understanding and sincere. Transferring those traits to Levenson allows you to convey the emotional weight of the film, because you empathize with Kendrick. You believe her and you connect with her, which means you connect with the theme of the film. It’s a great performance from him, and ultimately one of his best performances.
Like David Kim, Daniel Dae Kim is also more concerned with philosophical issues. Each character offers a different perspective on the situation, but it is Kim who struggles to get her point across. He makes an incredibly difficult decision that often goes rogue in these types of stories, but here there is humanity in that decision. You see the conflict on his face, and you sympathize with the situation instead of reacting negatively. That’s where the beautiful elements of Stowaway lie. The situation these people find themselves in is terrible, and every decision is fraught with complications and dire consequences. However, none of these people are positioned negatively; instead, they are allowed to explore their options with great grace and nuance. We explore these options with them and ultimately (along with the heroes) we get a better understanding of what makes a truly heroic decision.
The right film, the right moment
Stowaway is the right movie, the right situation. It is a good film for the times we live in, because it appeals to our best qualities. It’s not the most profound film or a cinematic masterpiece, but it’s more of a breath of fresh air. It is refreshing to see people in impossible situations doing their best for others and sacrificing for the good of those around them. No one is forced to do the right thing, they choose it. By making this choice, they encourage the viewer to do the same. There are many films coming out that reflect Trump’s presidency, COVID-19, and the turbulent state our country is in right now. Some will be tactful and intelligent, others will be more spiritual. But in the end, those who inspire us to love one another, to show true humanity, and to make sacrifices for others will have the most impact. Stowaway does it all, and it’s a joy to watch.
Follow @MovieBabble_ on Twitter and Aubrey @ajmckay24.
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