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Years from now, when he's a household name, remember the weekend of July 17-19, 2015, as the time when Ezra Miller's star officially began to ascend.
Not that it's been static up until this point. First turning heads with startling turns in the teenage psychodrama Afterschool (2008) and the ruin-your-whole-week-level dark We Need to Talk About Kevin (2011), Miller shifted gears to play an openly gay and vibrantly alive high-schooler in the critically adored The Perks of Being a Wallflower (2012). Those varied but equally strong performances caught the attention of DC Comics, whose execs cast the 22-year-old actor as The Flash in their new slate of superhero blockbusters, the ones being kicked off with next year's Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and Suicide Squad. And earlier this month, news broke that Miller's been handpicked to play New York City wizard Kredan in the new Harry Potter spinoff movie series Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, opposite Oscar winner Eddie Redmayne.
As Ron Burgundy would say, Miller is "kind of a big deal," and he's also a scene-stealer in two of this weekend's best new movies: the big-studio comedy Trainwreck and the indie The Stanford Prison Experiment. Here's the skinny on both of those films:
There’s been a lot of talk about whether or not Trainwreck, starring and co-written by comedian-of-the-moment Amy Schumer, really is a progressive romantic comedy, one that shatters the ho-hum genre’s conventions in the same ways that Schumer crushes multiple taboos on her Comedy Central series Inside Amy Schumer. The answer is, despite how middling it may sound, "Kinda."
Directed by Judd Apatow, Trainwreck has the right premise for breaking down this kind of movie’s standards. Schumer, who based the script on her own personal experiences, plays a commitment-phobe who mindlessly sleeps with guy after guy, unable to separate herself from dying, once-philandering father’s (Colin Quinn) anti-monogamy tirades. Working as a reporter for the trashy fictional men’s magazine Snuff, she interviews a sports doctor (Bill Hader) who’s cutting-edge and best friends with NBA guys like LeBron James and Amar'e Stoudemire. She quickly falls for him, but, you know, she’s a veteran bed-hopper, and the newfound love turns her into a self-saboteur.
Trainwreck’s story is definitely atypical, giving a woman the role of sexual conqueror that’s usually afforded to dudes, yet Schumer and Apatow strangely lose sight of that around the midway point. Once Schumer and Hader’s bond grows, Trainwreck falls into the clichés and formulas of every other Hollywood rom-com, right down to the "one person goes above and beyond to prove their love to the person who’s angry at them" trope—think Justin Timberlake’s ridiculous flash-mob for Mila Kunis in Friends with Benefits, but with more New York Knicks City Dancers.
How Trainwreck bucks the normal Hollywood rom-com trends, however, is by being legitimately funny, and often downright hilarious. Apatow is, after all, the same director who made the A+ rom-coms-in-disguises The 40 Year Old Virgin and Knocked Up, and Schumer’s too scathingly sharp with her mostly profane one-liners to let her first shot at big-screen stardom look and sound anything like the dreck Katherine Heigl made after Apatow’s Knocked Up. She’s also smart enough to surround herself with a superb lineup of co-stars, including an unrecognizable Tilda Swinton and a totally game Ezra Miller, whose big scene with Schumer already deserves its own commemorative statue at next year’s MTV Movie Awards.
Back in 1972, Wes Craven’s deeply disturbing film The Last House on the Left was marketed with the ingenious tagline, "To avoid fainting, keep repeating: It’s only a movie. It’s only a movie. It’s only a movie…." The same self-soothing disclaimer could also apply to The Stanford Prison Experiment, an intensely harrowing pressure-cooker that will leave some viewers wishing they could jump into the screen and stop its madness. The only difference between Craven’s ’72 debut and director Kyle Patrick Alvarez’s new film, though, is that the latter actually happened. A more apt chant would be, "I can’t believe this really happened. I can’t believe this really happened. I can’t believe…"
The Stanford Prison Experiment dramatizes one of the most notorious cases in the history of psychology. In 1971, Stanford University psychology professor Phillip Zimbardo (played here by Billy Crudup) paid 18 male college students $15 a day to pretend they were prison guards and inmates. The goal was to figure out why people in jail-like environments behave how they do, and the experiment was scheduled for two weeks—it only lasted six days.
Alvarez excellently captures the group’s rapid descent into abusive authority and helpless compliance with a gradual realism—before you know it, kids are being physically mistreated, and then, just like that, perverse sexual orders are given. What could’ve felt exploitative or like misery-porn is elevated to pulse-shredding drama by the film’s ace cast of first-rate young actors, namely Ezra Miller as the first “prisoner” to lose his mind and Michael Angarano as the most tyrannical "guard," who calls himself "John Wayne."
You’re left questioning how things could’ve gone so wrong back in 1971, but also how you would handle a similar situation. Not to mention, wishing it were, in fact, only a movie.