The film industry has traditionally used the month of January as a dumping ground for its worst movies, a letdown after the highs of the holiday season. While there have been some major exceptions to this rule, odds are that if you go to see a movie in theaters this month, it will be bad. That’s just how it goes.
With that in mind, maybe you’ll want to stay inside and browse the films available to stream, preferably those that were released in months other than January, preserving your mental health in the process.
In keeping with this issue’s theme, here’s a selection of three films I’ve recently found enjoyable that deal with topics in health.
‘The Inventor: Out for Blood in Silicon Valley’
The story of Elizabeth Holmes and her company Theranos, a medical startup that purported to revolutionize blood testing with new and unproven technology, only to implode in spectacular fashion, has captivated the public for years. It’s easy to see why — it’s full of strange personalities and idiosyncrasies and touches on prominent issues with how appearances can trump reality in the tech world.
The story of Theranos has recently been brought back into the spotlight due to Holmes’s criminal trial. While there’s plenty of media around, like John Carreyrou’s book “Bad Blood,” to help you devour all the bizarre minutiae of the situation (did Holmes really tell everyone her dog was a wolf?), Alex Gibney’s 2019 documentary does a good job of making the story digestible for broad audiences. Gibney showed us the downfall of Enron in 2005 and once again does a great job finding the right interviews to depict the quixotic vision of Theranos.
“Other People” is an indie comedy starring actors such as Jesse Plemons and Molly Shannon that somehow manages to also be a frank, dramatic portrait of what it looks like to slowly lose a beloved family member to cancer. Based in part on the experience of writer/director Chris Kelly (check out his recent TV series “The Other Two” as well), the movie stars Plemons as David, whose attempt to make it as a comedy writer in New York is disrupted by a breakup with his longtime boyfriend and the news that his mother (Molly Shannon) is sick with cancer. He moves back to Sacramento to help take care of her and has to navigate complex family dynamics including tension with his father (Bradley Whitford), who has never accepted him as gay.
Kelly gets excellent performances out of a talented cast that also includes actors like John Early and Zach Woods. The movie never feels either cloying or glib, and it’s also never tonally inconsistent. Everyone acts like a real person, which is hard to come by in a lot of modern comedies, studio or independent. Bonus points for the way in which Kelly integrates Train’s insufferable earworm “Drops of Jupiter.”
‘Sound of Metal’
Would it surprise you to learn that the best part of this movie is the sound? Or that its sound was the best among all movies in the year of its release? (So said the Oscars.) The team of five mixers and editors responsible for this film had to find methods of illustrating hearing loss and the distorted sound of cochlear implants in a way that would be powerful for an audience of mostly hearing people. And they excelled.
The movie centers on Ruben (Riz Ahmed), a metal drummer and recovering addict who struggles with the reality of losing his hearing after years of performing, and his stay at a shelter led by Joe (Paul Raci) as he reckons with his deafness. His stint there leads to changes in how Ruben sees himself and his relationship with his bandmate and girlfriend Lou (Olivia Cooke). It’s an innovative, thoroughly compelling movie that you may have missed amid the pandemic. While the narrative meanders a little in the third act, the film redeems itself with one of the best endings I’ve seen in a long time. Do yourself a favor and check it out this January.