ReviewsSan Francisco

Watching Molly’s Game at the Shattuck Cinemas was Fantastic

By Erin Carini

I saw “Molly’s Game” at Shattuck Cinemas in downtown Berkeley. True to their website claims, the theater shows an “eclectic mix of Hollywood favorites, foreign language cinema and independent film.” The pretty extensive food menu and cocktails served from the Lot 68 Lounge lobby bar, in real glasses, add a nice touch. The ample and comfortable seating incidentally makes it one of my favorite spots to sit alone and cry in a dark room full of strangers.

image from Timothy S. Allen

Before this epoch of  “everything’s in shambles” became in vogue, Olympic movies were typically focused on underdog(s) sticking it to snooty and discriminatory judges. Movies like “Cool Runnings” and “Eddy the Eagle” are predictably about following your dreams against all odds, spiked with gritty training montages and metals. Despite the trailer, “Molly’s Game” doesn’t stay to that cookie cutter lane. It’s also not “I Tonya” with rich celebrities and an “Oceans Eleven”-style plot thrown in for good measure.

Actually, Molly Bloom’s Olympic career merely bookends the movie – the real essence of the story is about starting over when things come crashing down around you. It’s about crawling out of the ruins of the life you thought you would have, clinging to your roots and trying again.

I was immediately struck by Jessica Chastain’s calculating narrations and emotional range. Her performance is both gripping and amusing. She owned the roll but respected the story, making sure to interview Molly’s old contacts, all in the name of hidden referential gems, making the line about Player X, portrayed by Michael Cera, being a “green-screened little shit” so much juicier.

Molly’s Game. Photo courtesy of STX Entertainment

The movie dances in tropes while the audience tries to guess at which real poker loving celebrities are being portrayed. The beginning of the movie alludes to the classic “daddy issues” narrative that screenwriter/director Aaron Sorkin has become infamous for. However, this movie isn’t about having power over powerful men, or mobsters, or celebrities – it’s about Molly Bloom. The name, the person and the reflection of past mistakes. It’s about coming from “a hole so deep I could go fracking” and turning that into a game, a career and a whole new life.

The movie has enough of that “heart” commonly found in Olympic biopics, but doesn’t rely on it. The “yes, you can” theme is present but not cliche. Molly Bloom’s life is an anthem for falling, quite literally, from grace and and getting back up, over and over again, and it leaves the viewers with the sense that they can too. And that’s the point. You can. You can come back from anything and still be who you are. Suffer from a spine shattering fall? No problem. Being indicted by the FBI? You got this. Did you cut one during the big meeting? Whatever. You still have your name and you still have yourself. After all, Molly is still Molly.

*P.S: Player X = Tobey Maguire, in case you hadn’t guessed.

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