A studied behavioral experiment gets the lush cinematic treatment in Ruben Östlund’s icy, darkly funny “Force Majeure”

Written by Daniel Spada

Force Majeure [Turist] (dir. Ruben Östlund, 2014)

Seen at Hamptons International Film Festival on 10/10/14

US (limited) theatrical release: 10/24/14

An avalanche – a visual spectacle most of us are unlikely to see throughout the course of our lives, depending on our fondness of the slopes and our class position. This spectacle acts as the inciting incident of Ruben Östlund’s fourth feature, Force Majeure, collapsing the family unit at the center of the film and leaving some very emotionally unstable “adults” in its wake. The avalanche dually serves as a metaphor for the bourgeois Swedish couple’s matrimonial meltdown and the effortless challenging of gender roles’ basic foundation (not lack thereof per-se, but situatedness). Filled with credible performances and well drawn characters, especially the supporting ones, Östlund’s ideological inquiry is bolstered by an obsessive, formalist attention to detail – frames filled with etched-in meaning and musical cues used to jarringly effective ends.

We understand Tomas as a well-to-do, distracted, work-obsessed father from the first few scenes, in which he sneakily checks his iPhone in bed, and his wife Ebba tells her friend Charlotte at the lodge that they’re there on vacation because Tomas has been working so much. “So now he has five days to focus on his family,” she says. This, however, makes him no more or less an empathetic character. The scene that definitively rules him out as an empathetic character is the one in which, on Day 2, while having lunch with his family at a restaurant overlooking the slopes and reassuring them that the cascading snow they’re seeing is controlled, he sprints away to his safety (not without said precious iPhone), leaving Ebba to wrangle up the distressed kids all by herself.

The pressures of hetero-monogamous familial relationships hang heavy in the French Alps air, as Ebba persistently attempts to figure out her husband’s insistence on their two self-professed differing perspectives regarding the incident. At one point during a dinner with Charlotte and her English-speaking date, he offers the absurd rationale of not being about to run in ski boots. Östlund very cleverly holds the long shot of the both of them for several seconds past the point of excruciating embarrassment when Ebba repeats what he said to the couple. Ebba’s entirely believable patent disbelief and Tomas’ authentic humiliation and discomfort underscore the impressiveness of both Lisa Loven Kongsli and Johannes Bah Kuhnke’s performances.

In a later, private moment between Ebba and Charlotte, Ebba’s dissatisfaction with her current situation hits a peak when she inquires about Charlotte’s sexual escapades (it is important to note that she does have a husband and children). Charlotte’s questioning and challenging of the foundation of human sexual norms is cut and dry. Ebba’s response, however, is not. Her anger is paired with nothing if not a distinct curiosity about Charlotte’s line of thinking (and self-professed actual lived way of life), which regardless of whether it is a put on air or not, deeply rattles Ebba. Ebba is not let off the hook, as she is depicted as a bit jealous of Charlotte’s disposition, but also neither is Charlotte. Her nonchalance is undercut by hypotheticals, the answers to which it is possible even she is unsure although she speaks with certainty.

A key moment comes along after Ebba persists in telling the story, once again, to an old friend of Tomas, Mats, and his girlfriend Fanny. The tension rises as Ebba becomes increasingly emotional about what it means that Tomas ran for his life, and Mats and his girlfriend get more uncomfortable over time. Eventually, Mats begins a tepid but clear defense of Tomas and Fanny comes to Ebba’s comfort (it is unclear about whether Mats actually believes the absurdity that he speaks or just feels bad for Tomas, attesting to the power of Kristofer Hivju’s supporting performance). Fanny then proceeds to tell Mats that she doesn’t think Mats would save their children in a hypothetical situation, while an older generation of men would have come to the aid of their spouses. Fanny understands the changing nature of gender norms and masculinities, just like the genesis of the silly contemporary gendered attachment to such colors as blue and pink, while Mats is overwhelmed by her apparent lack of belief in his ideal masculinity and paternal instinct.

In one of the most entertaining sequences of the film, Tomas and Mats are relaxing on beach loungers and drinking beers after a tough day of skiing during which Mats attempts to purge Tomas’ guilt and shame by making him yell into the snowy void. Electronic dance music playing in the background, Mats encounters a younger woman who tells him her friend thinks Tomas is attractive. A short while later, she returns to recant her statement, saying that she meant someone else. Mats’ initial reaction is disbelief – he thinks they’re kidding around – and then anger, while Tomas stays laying in his chair, clearly a little embarrassed about the mix up. The two of them then proceed to laugh it off, which is what the audience has been doing all along.

In what seemed like a tidy way to end the film, the second-to-last scene offers Tomas a chance at temporary redemption. While an open ending at once seemed likely, the viewer is slammed with an ending that calls for an overall deeper examination into how this vacation has affected everyone involved. Not to offset the serious philosophic base of the film, Östlund’s finely spun yarn is undercut with amusing and humorous visual gags – a child’s toy comes crashing into a serious conversation, while a judgemental janitor appears out of thin air at the most untimely moments. Vivaldi’s “Summer”, used to emphasize the chaos and disorder of the family’s post-avalanche scare state parallels well with the crisp, uniform images of the ski slopes being prepared daily, attracting our attention to man’s need to control nature. When the avalanche hits on Day 2, it almost feels too real, and though we haven’t really been given enough time to invest in these characters, I felt like running for my life, not unlike Tomas. What is certain, though, is that the professional photographs they had taken on Day 1 certainly don’t reflect who they are as people now.

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Everyone Else (2009)

By Colleen Rowe, originally published on Nocturnal in 2010.

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In the spring of 2010, I watched “Everyone Else” at the Independent Film Center in the West Village [NYC].

The film depicts a couple on vacation and their wavering emotional consistency within a week. There were no tragic deaths, plots to deceive an unfaithful lover, or detrimental tidal waves that threatened to destroy a major city and the lives that depend on its existence. This film, simply, illustrates the moments of tender playfulness that make up the simplest definition of “love” and the everyday hardships that occur within relationships that are continuously thrown beneath thin, silk rugs, only to be tripped over when aged wine on the top shelf is empty and the after-sex high has sunk below one’s realm of consciousness

The scenes are simple and subtle and completely real. The most powerful aspect of “Everyone else” is the abundance of everyday conversation that makes up the entirety of the film, which also happens to be one of its most realistic components. Although major visual occurrences do shock and intrigue us, it is the words that are spoken to us that continue to live in the cave of our minds as famished, hopeless savages that disconnect the stems of our brain cells, as we think  and think and tear away the remains of our mental health.

I often drift off to sleep with nothing but words in me. They are in my fingertips, my thighs, the space between my nostrils. They shout and repeat and sing me to sleep with sweet melodies and unofficial intentions. These words, nothing but emotions that have been conceptualized and given syllables to hang from. Nothing but words. Nothing but emotion. They sleep with us, watch us make coffee in the morning, and drag us through this thing called “life”. There are some days when I do nothing but think about them.

A Journey “Under The Skin” 

By Langston Teijeiro
 
Aliens? Extra-Terrestrials? The Third Kind? The Fourth Kind? Maybe you turn to the Spielberg classic “E.T.” for answers, or to Ridley Scott’s crowning achievement, “Alien,” for a compelling sensation of vulnerability, and helplessness, as I do. Maybe you even look up at the stars? Well, early in 2014, I had the pleasure to sit in a quiet, empty theater for the newest work by Jonathan Glazer, a British director who has led some independent classics such as “Sexy Beast” and “Birth”. Undoubtedly, “Under the Skin” is the Golden Standard of Science Fiction. It gave me chills beneath my skin, despite the fact that one primitive human being booed as the ending credits began to roll.
 
Scarlett Johansson delivers the performance of her career as an attractive being who is physically, emotionally, and spiritually lost on Earth . The film is photographed and shot so eerily, that I began to feel as if the spirit of the great Stanley Kubrick lent a helping hand. This story is best said through the eyes of Johansson’s character, who is clearly in pain, finding her thrill by sexually teasing men and then disposing them into her own fluid. This is an interesting concept, especially since the majority of sexual activity derives from fluids. 

However, by the third act of the film, we realize that her beauty is really only skin deep… and we can feel her torment. The human audience magically finds themselves relating to a character not born in this world, and we begin to pity her. She can’t find peace anywhere, and her beauty is her curse. The film ends as an expose of her repulsive characteristics– her “true” colors are shown.

Langston Teijeiro is a 24 year old screenwriter based out of New York City and Los Angeles. He is currently in the process of planning his first directorial debut (Which he wrote himself) and should begin shooting Summer 2015. He was born and raised in Miami, FL, and graduated from Florida International University in August 2012.

5 Reasons Why “Captain Phillips” Was The Most Accomplished Film Of 2013

By Langston Teijeiro

Hello, fellow cinephiles. I hope that you are settled in after “12 Years a Slave” won the big award and “Gravity” became the big winner (7 Academy Awards). As we are preparing for another fall season, I figured it would be beneficial to take a trip back down memory lane as I explain why Paul Greengrass’ masterpiece (Bloody Sunday, United 93, The Bourne Supremacy, etc.) known as “Captain Phillips” was truly the biggest triumph of 2013. 

Though there are many more, here are 5 reasons why:

1) What Was Written:  As a screenwriter, I understand what it takes to make a film work behind the camera. Screenwriter Billy Ray’s approach was to adapt Richard Phillips’ memoir to an entertaining, thrilling, and thought provoking Docu-Drama. The script was a multi-layered examination of the 2009 event, rather than a dull lecture. This film was written with grace from beginning to end, making an intense, informative, and jaw dropping roller-coaster ride. Billy Ray’s writing efforts won him the Writer’s Guild of America Award in 2013, as well as an Academy Award nomination in 2014 for Best Adapted Screenplay. Well deserved, Mr. Ray…Well deserved.

2) What Wasn’t WrittenHave you ever heard the phrase: A screenplay is merely a blueprint? Well, it’s true. Nobody understands this concept better than masterful director, Paul Greengrass. With a resume that ranges from the critical acclaim of “United 93” to the commercial success of “The Bourne Supremacy”, Paul Greengrass’ approach to storytelling is recognized. Much of Captain Phillips was improvised, including the iconic line that first time actor, Barkhad Abdi, ad-libbed in, which is present in arguably the most iconic and powerful scene of the entire film. However, despite the power of that famous scene, the improvisation that captured my attention the most was the captivating ending in the infirmary on the ship.

 3) Technically, The Film Should Not Have Succeeded:  When one looks at the trailer for this film, it can be concluded that “Captain Phillips” is a typical, Hollywood propaganda piece meant to sell tickets and entertainment to jaded audiences. However, thanks to Scott Rudin, Kevin Spacey, Dana Brunetti, and Michael De Luca, this film is a golden treasure that embarks and captivates, rather than merely entertains.

 4) Launched Careers: It’s always a beautiful thing to see a pack of newcomers from Minnesota shine on a big screen and, at times, steal the show from a Two-Time Academy Award Winner. However, there is one Somali from Minnesota who completely nailed his performance. Barkhad Abdi shines in this epic with no prior acting experience. His menacing demeanor, facial expressions, and impeccable body language earned him an Academy Award Nomination, Golden Globe Nomination, Screen Actor’s Guild Nomination, and a British Academy Award win for Best Supporting Actor! Who is the captain now?

 5) Solidified Careers: What more can an artist do after they make history and pass their prime? Oh yeah, reach a second career peak. Throughout the film, Tom Hanks maintains a reserved, composed, and calm demeanor as the lead performer. However, in the third act in the lifeboat, Phillips’ composure runs out, and as the pirates are executed in a brilliant fashion, Hanks delivers in a way that no other actor could have. The ending in the infirmary shows Hanks’ prowess as an actor and he shows all of the reservation, composure, and calm being channeled through shock, distortion of speech, tears, and trauma. It’s the perfect examination of the human brain after it experiences a traumatizing occurrence which, in my opinion, equates to Hanks’ finest work to date.

With Henry Jackman’s score, Barry Ackroyd’s lighting, Greengrass’ brilliant ability to engage a story, and plenty of other technical challenges this film had to endure (Shooting in tight spaces, filming on the ocean, etc.),“Captain Phillips” diligently executes cinematic structures and formulas. However, it rebels in every way possible, making this film the greatest cinematic accomplishment of 2013.

Now all we can do is sit back, watch the news, and predict what story Paul Greengrass will grace us with next.

Langston Teijeiro is a 24 year old screenwriter based out of New York City and Los Angeles. He is currently in the process of planning his first directorial debut (Which he wrote himself) and should begin shooting Summer 2015. He was born and raised in Miami, FL, and graduated from Florida International University in August 2012.”

Abject Bodies and Gender Instability in Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho (1960)

By Dan Spada, originally published on Raving Through Dark Nights. Republished with permission.

The way performance functions in Alfred Hitchcock’s “Psycho” reflects a deep, abiding preoccupation with gender roles and the truth economy that is generated therein. The oscillation between masculine and feminine, and the instability of gender is depicted in the construction of characters that do no satisfy ideal, conventional roles regarding sex and gender, but rather expose a profoundly unsettling inconsistency in respect to bodies, both abject and normalized. The gender role reversal in Psycho is blindingly obvious, particularly in the scene where Lila goes to explore the house and find Mrs. Bates, while Sam acts as a decoy to distract Norman. This scene and the following one, in which it is revealed that Norman has been preserving the skeleton of his mother and dressing up in her clothes, stress the transience of gender, and how it is not always in sync with biological sex. Sam’s aggressive homo-social taunting of Norman in this sequence, and Lila’s exploration of the house, leading up to the discovery of the skeleton and Norman’s performance as his mother, all hint towards an inherent gender instability within the characters of the film and a masculine/feminine malaise that is developed throughout the course of the film.

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Before Lila begins to look for Mrs. Bates and Sam distracts Norman, they search through the cabin one for any clues. They find a slip of paper Marion wrote on regarding the stolen money (just numbers and equation signs) that missed the toilet when she flushed the rest down. Lila becomes desperate to search the house and speak to Mrs. Bates, and Sam fulfills the typical role of male protector by saying, “I don’t like you going into that house alone.” This dialogue is in line with the heterosexist ideology of the time, and an ideology that Sam’s character clearly held true. He sounds resigned when he says that he’ll find Bates and keep him occupied.

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It is important to note that Sam’s gender performance, like everyone’s inside the world of the film (and outside, according to feminist and queer theorist Judith Butler), is a failure. He cannot provide for Marion in the way that she wants and needs him to (as evident from the first scene); ironically, right after Norman watches the swamp swallow the car with Marion’s body in it, Sam is seen writing a letter to Marion professing that he doesn’t care if they are poor, cramped, or miserable – at least they’ll be happy (and alive). This could be why he overcompensates when in pursuit of the truth about what really happened to her, and this overcompensation comes on particularly strong throughout the scene in which he keeps Norman occupied. His hyper-masculinity in this scene is almost to be expected, especially with someone as weak as Norman.

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However, Sam’s hyper-masculinity does not surface until after they enter the office. Norman is already suspicious of the couple, and Sam is clearly nervous, at first (before entering the office), to be diverting Norman’s attention. He knows that he is a potentially dangerous person, although he is not yet sure in what way. The sexual tension between the two is immediately felt in Norman’s body language. His confidence (both in body and speech) when he asks, “You looking for me?” slowly begins to dissipate shortly thereafter. His body then enters a visible state of unrest, and Sam’s teasing line, “I never can keep quiet enough for her, so I thought I’d look you up and talk”, with all its erotic undertones, hints towards a fluctuation between homo-social and homoerotic interaction – that also begins to dissipate after those few seconds.

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Sam then begins to try to bully the truth out of Norman, which, although it does not work (in regard to what he wants to hear – about the money and Marion), puts him in a progressively more distressed state over the duration of their conversation. It seems that Hitchcock implies that when Sam says “Buy a new one, in a new town, where you won’t have to hide your mother,” when talking about the hotel and the money, that Norman is actually thinking about himself and his gender identity. Hitchcock is also suggesting the possibility of Norman thinking Sam is aware of his secret, which makes him noticeably tense up – his jaw muscle begins to contract faster, and his speech begins to tremble.

In the office scene, the frame is split perfectly in two. Sam inhabits one side (the left – customer), Norman the other (the right – owner): one proper body, one abject; one (normalized) heterosexual identity, one (shamed) queer; one searching for what he will not find, and one hiding something everyone is looking for – but also the opposite, something no one expected to find. Lila exploring the house while Sam distracts Norman also could be looked at as a gender role reversal – why is it Lila exploring the house while Sam distracts Norman? Shouldn’t they use Lila’s female sexuality to keep Norman’s attention while Sam (born explorer, essence of man) searches the house? Or were they already unsure about Norman’s sexuality? They certainly were not given any clues to his gender trouble at that point.

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The revelation of Norman as Mrs. Bates is a different kind of performance when looked at against those outlined by Judith Butler. Butler offers drag as the ultimate portrayal of gender instability. However, almost always, drag offers some sort of comedic edge (whether it be inherent in the participants/the performance or reactionary from the audience) and her syllogism that if one understands drag as a portrayal of gender instability, then they must believe gender to be socially constructed, is reductive and unrealistic. With Psycho, Alfred Hitchcock offers his character’s gender trouble in a less deductive and more effective/affective way: Norman is not a sideshow, a circus act for the people from within the film or the audience to laugh at (up until the end, when a feeling of camp arises). Hitchcock is not setting it up so that once the audience witnesses the wig falling off Norman’s head in the big reveal that they will instantly be convinced of gender’s contingent foundations. Hitchcock is, however, offering a deeply troubling ambiguity that confounds the characters within the film, and finds the audience feeling a deep unease in regards to what they have just seen. It’s the slippage between masculine and feminine, the undeclared sexuality of Norman that is emphasized by Hitchcock and felt by the audience; it is that uncertainty which functions as the crux of the film and is the key to its understanding. With drag, you only get the performance. With “Psycho”, you get more: the visage of the boy next door and the spirit underneath the skin of Norman Bates – the creation of a monster a little too human for our liking.

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About the writer: Dan Spada has a Bachelor’s in Women Studies and Film from Hunter College. He currently works for Tribeca in the Acquisitions Department. Dan was on the Pre-screener Committee for the Hampton’s International Film Festival taking place this October (2014) and was on the selection committee for this year’s Rooftop FIlms Summer Series.

Feature Film “Leaving Circadia”: How Does Art Define its Creator?

By Colleen Rowe

Behind its “feel good” effect, Evan Mathew Weinstein’s feature film, “Leaving Circadia,” is laced with serious undertones circulating around semi-harmless manipulation and the everyday struggles artists, and people, face in a world filled with aesthetically presentable competition.

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“Leaving Circadia” circulates around the life of resident manager, “super,” Tom’s interactions with the people around him—friends, his boss, and initially unfriendly, but occasionally respectable acquaintances. Tom is played by Evan Mathew Weinstein, who is not only the director, but also the writer and executive producer of the film. Portrayed as a somewhat hopeless stoner with limited obligations and a knack for painting, Tom lives his pointless life as if he is a promoter for the nonconformist lazy man. His character, initially likable, even with his untactful commentary, becomes even more engaging as the film progresses. There are times when his manipulations are harmlessly, for lack of better words, cute. His encounters with the noticeably attractive Collette, played by Larisa Polonsky, shed the covering of his comical outer persona and allow audiences to see him beneath his protective guise. As viewers, we remain suspicious of his motives that are intertwined with benign manipulation.

The few side-plots featuring the various characters in Tom’s life are memorable in their brevity—including an interaction between two lovers as they talk in a bathtub. These simple sentiments are some that all viewers can relate to on a personal level. Those moments that are so private, but all-encompassing, portrayed and likened to be interactions that probably have happened in real life situations. They are charming, realistic even—this is what makes “Leaving Circadia” so appealing, with its character stereotypes shaded with the individualistic behaviors that can be found in real people who aren’t performing for a camera. A few shots involving the major characters throughout their day at a park and its surroundings, the sun setting in the distance, remain the most aesthetically memorable throughout the film. A shot of the sunlight between trees—it strikes you suddenly like a glaring focus.

Aside from Collette, his boss plays one of the most important roles in his life, similar to an overbearing father who gives many chances, but also expects too much. Played by Joseph R. Gannascoli, Nat is a self-serving, mercurial individual who often criticizes Tom on his most obvious flaws: slothfulness, irresponsibility, and folly. He rightfully demands Tom’s time, because, as he explains to the aloof stoner, it is his job, but he is unreasonable in his expectations—even if Tom had been a hard-working, reliable character. Nat sheds light on Tom’s inactivity, forcing viewers to see that he isn’t doing enough, regardless of how rudely he interacts with him. As viewers start to see Tom through Nat’s viewpoint, they might wonder: who is in the right here? The supermodel-toting, Bluetooth-obsessed Nat has a valid point, but we are already on Tom’s side because he is so easy to empathize with. Before dismissing Nat as a typical, “jerk” boss, consider his character’s accusations as credible, as he has probably known Tom for an elongated period of time.

Aside from acting as the visual muse and emotional stability for Tom, Colette plays a key, inspiring role that transcends Nat’s introspective assessments. She offers her advice to Tom, upon seeing his art for the first time, to sign paintings, sell them—to get his work out there. She sees talent past this major “hopeless” category that Tom is fit into by his peers. Why hasn’t Tom, who is so quick to attempt to win money in poker bets, taken advantage of marketing his immense artistic talent? He answers this later during a reflective moment with a friend: “My dad was an artist, talented. At his easel, cigar in his mouth. The art world is a brutal place. Somewhere along the way, it broke him. I watched that light go out. I was always afraid that would happen to me.”

Tom eventually takes back control of his life, something that Collette is directly responsible for—picking up his art, brushing off the dirt, and offering it as a piece to sell. Before you put your “trash,” the work that made you so horribly mad, to the curb think about its effect on others. It is validated that Tom is not the potential that Collette thought he was, but that he is an artist.

If you’re not going to allow the light to shine, it will never be lit. How will it ever go out? That’s the equivalent of hiding in a dark closet, waiting for your captor to find you. If you leave your protective cage before that darkness you fear discovers your whereabouts, you might just create a perpetual brightness—art that is not tainted by fear.

The people we meet in our lives change us, regardless of how long they stay.

Larisa Polonsky won Best Actress in a Feature Award, lead lady in “Leaving Circadia,” at Long Beach International Film Festival (2014).

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“Leaving Circadia” cast includes: Christian Coulson: Tom Riddle from “Harry Potter”, Joseph R. Gannascoli from “The Sopranos”, Ashley C. Williams from “The Human Centipede”, Larisa Polonsky from “Chicago Fire”, adult actress Stoya, and two time Tony winning actor (and star of Fox’s “Fringe” and Steven Soderbergh’s upcoming series “the Knick) Michael Cerveris.

Photos previously featured found on: Facebook.com/LeavingCircadia

Photo Link:

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Beneath Apparent Routine: Mark & Jay Duplass’ “Jeff Who Lives at Home”

Written by Paige Skelly

In feature film, “Jeff Who Lives at Home” (2011), directors/writers, Mark and Jay Duplass depict Jeff (Jason Segel) as a 30-something bachelor who lives in his parents’ basement. Jeff is compelled to unravel a mystery after having a brief, but strange conversation with an unknown caller, concluding that it was a sign sent directly from the universe. Along his travels we meet Jeff’s brother, Pat (Ed Helms), and see how Jeff’s apparent absurdity with digging into coincidences actually comes to a head as a family secret is revealed and a potentially life threatening situation takes place. Though the plot-line may not sound extravagant, the film itself speaks volumes. This comedic drama will leave you with a sense of curiosity concerning the bigger picture—looking at life with a broader perspective. You are given the opportunity as a viewer to contemplate priorities, and delve beyond the surface of routine. As we see in “Jeff Who Lives at Home,” not all is as it seems—everything is connected in one way or another. It’s a film for everyone, really.

*Also starring Susan Sarandon (Dead Man Walking) as Sharon and Judy Greer (Jawbreaker) as Linda.