Since the quick escalation of response to the Coronavirus pandemic, it’s become almost cliche to talk about what you’re streaming these days. However, the point remains: we’re all stuck inside right now. Finding something new and interesting (or at least diverting) to watch is one way to keep sane–and possibly away from the Social Media Cycle of Doom for a couple of hours. To help sort through what’s available, this weekly column will look at what’s newly available via on-demand and streaming, and let you know what’s worth spending your time on.
A Hidden Life
Terrence Malick’s World War II drama is available to rent on demand this week. While it’s definitely not the most upbeat thing you could watch right now, it is a beautiful movie, and one that helps give voice to the way a lot of people feel at this moment (and were already feeling before we had a pandemic to worry about). It’s easily one of last year’s best movies, and given the strength of 2019’s cinematic output, that’s pretty significant.
A Hidden Life is Malick’s account of the life of Franz Jägerstätter, a farmer in rural Austria who was imprisoned and executed for refusing to swear fealty to Hitler because of his Catholic beliefs. It should come as no surprise that this is a very philosophical film, discussing the weight of faith and responsibilities to one’s beliefs and one’s family. It probably also won’t surprise you that WWII in the film is a metaphor for the conflicted discussions and painful conversations that define our lives right now. It is Malick’s most directly religious movie to date, and also, one could argue, his angriest.
This adaptation of Jerry Spinelli’s beloved young adult novel was released on Disney + last Friday, and comes from Fast Color writer-director Julia Hart. It’s a sweet movie that works well on a streaming platform directed toward families and younger viewers. Occasionally Stargirl feels like a Manic Pixie Dream Girl narrative for kids (Spinelli’s 2000 novel reads like the ur-text for YA literature superstar John Green’s whole oeuvre, if that gives you any indication), but it includes some nice ideas for younger viewers about identity, and having the courage to express your authentic self.
Stargirl’s protagonist is Leo (Graham Verchere), a high school junior who’s tried most of his life to blend in and not be noticed, in a small Arizona town where ennui reigns supreme. One day, a new student, the quirky and multi-talented Stargirl (America’s Got Talent ukulele wunderkind Grace VanderWaal) shows up, and immediately starts making everyone’s lives better. Her renditions of Beach Boys and Go-Gos songs help the football team win games. She gives awesome surprise gifts, and seems to know details about others’ lives before they’ve even introduced themselves. Leo is smitten, and realizes he wants to live that kind of life, too.
Stargirl’s beats are fairly obvious, and its characters not always terribly well-drawn, but it has its aesthetic down very well. This is the kind of movie where two teenagers wander through the desert listening to Big Star’s “Thirteen,” and you believe absolutely that these characters would identify with that song (also, if the movie does nothing other than introduce a new generation to Big Star, I’d still consider that a win). Stargirl’s uniqueness is also explored as a full character journey, not just an adorably magical collection of quirks, so even though her character’s sole purpose is to elevate the lives of Leo and his classmates, she’s still allowed to be her own person.
These are just a couple of options among a variety of new and upcoming streaming possibilities to help keep your mind occupied. Keep checking this space for new recommendations that can give you the cinematic experience you’re looking for, even if you can’t head to a theater for the next several weeks.