MOVIE OF THE WEEK June 7, 2024: LATE BLOOMERS

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An unlikely friendship with a woman three times her age leads to personal growth for a struggling twentysomething in director Lisa Steen’s charming feature directorial debut, Late Bloomers. Starring Karen Gillan as floundering 28-year-old would-be musician Louise and Margaret Sophie Stein (aka Malgorzata Zajaczkowska in her native Poland) as Antonina, the testy Polish woman Louise unexpectedly finds herself spending time with and caring for, the film is a thoughtful take on what it really means to grow up.

When the film begins, Louise is stuck: She’s not making any progress (or money) professionally, she’s dodging her dad’s calls, and she’s still hung up on the boyfriend who broke up with her a year ago. A drunken misadventure lands her in the hospital with a broken hip; during recovery, she winds up doing physical therapy with patients who are much older than she is and finds herself sharing quarters with the irascible Antonina, who doesn’t speak English and seems determined to drive Louise nuts. But when they’re both released from the hospital on the same day and it appears that Antonina has nowhere to go, Louise brings the older woman home to the apartment she shares with roommate Brick (Jermaine Fowler).

Thus begins a relationship between the two women that ends up having benefits for both: Louise, hired by Antonina’s granddaughter to care for Antonina during the day, finds a purpose (and learns — or relearns — the importance of putting someone else’s needs ahead of her own), and Antonina gets to enjoy life again, since Louise isn’t one to say no to a wild idea or spontaneous outing. As Late Bloomers unfolds, we learn more about why exactly Louise has been unable to make much forward progress — and why having an older woman in her life makes a difference where that’s concerned. We’re also reminded that Antonina has led a full, meaningful life of her own, which doesn’t deserve to be forgotten simply because she’s not as physically capable as she used to be.

Steen, working from a smart script by Anna Greenfield, elicits engaging performances from her stars. It’s particularly nice to see the talented Gillan out from behind the make-up and prosthetics of Guardians of the Galaxy‘s dour Nebula; she’s genuinely vulnerable and awkward here (there’s a sex scene that’s both hilarious and cringe-inducing), and it’s clear that Louise has a soft heart and caring nature under her snarky bravado. And Stein/Zajaczkowska is sharp and ultimately endearing as Antonina, who’s not at all ready to fade out quietly, no matter what the world is throwing at her. The two women are far from perfect, but that’s what makes them perfect for each other, and their relationship is the heart of Late Bloomers. — Betsy Bozdech

Team #MOTW’s comments:

Pam Grady: While stalking her ex-boyfriend, 28-year-old Louise (Karen Gillan) falls off a window still, breaking her hip and sending her into the world of physical rehab in Lisa Steen’s amiable first feature. Suffering from an injury far more common in the elderly than a millennial, she finds herself amidst a cohort of senior citizens, including Antonina (Margaret Sophie Stein (aka Malgorzata Zajaczkowska in her native Poland)), an elderly Polish woman with a nasty attitude and not a word of English. The mutual dislike eventually melts into an initially wary friendship, something Louise desperately needs at this crossroad in her life when she is not only uncertain about her direction in life but also plagued with guilt over her frayed relationship with her mother (Talia Balsam). Stein/Zajaczkowska is the comic soul of the movie, creating laughs with expression and body language. But Gillan, best known these days for her role as Nebula in the Marvel universe, is the film’s beating heart, all sensitive nerve ends in her confusion and lack of direction. A film that is overly facile and a little sitcom-like at the start eventually finds its footing to blossom into a touching story of a young woman finding herself.

Loren King Late Bloomers finds a fresh approach to a coming of age and mother/daughter story. The directing debut from by Lisa Steen, working from a screenplay by Anna Greenfield, features an affecting, darkly comic performance from Karen Gillan as Louise, a 28 year-old Brooklyn slacker musician whose cynicism and self-deprecation are rooted in family relationships that become poignantly clear as the film unspools. But first Louise’s journey takes a deceptively circuitous route: after landing in the hospital, she reluctantly befriends the surly, Polish-speaking senior Antonina (Margaret Sophie Stein, aka Malgorzata Zajaczkowska in her native Poland) who shares her room and seems to have nowhere to go upon discharge. Even if prickly bonding seems where this is headed, the relationship is funny and surprisingly moving, thanks to the two leads, as is Louise’s eventual, touching reckoning with her own mother.

Sherin Nicole In Late Bloomers Karen Gillan returns to her penchant for playing misfits, this time in an intimate indie buddy-dramedy. Gillan’s Louise is a 28-year-old Brooklyn musician whose life has gone off-key after a breakup and an injury. Her counterpoint is Antonina, a Polish provocateur portrayed with belligerence by Margaret Sophie Stein (aka Malgorzata Zajaczkowska). When Louise’s life takes more turns, the Millennial and the Boomer form a “You scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours” pact. They strangely understand each other but looking after someone else—from bathroom breaks to heartaches—is rough when you struggle with being yourself. Directed by Lisa Steen and written by Anna Greenfield, Late Bloomers finds its humor in the twin tolls life exacts from young-ish and senior women who don’t quite fit the paradigm. While discovering their truths, Louise and Antonina trip over their pain on their way to being okay and accepting it.

Leslie Combemale Grumpy young woman meets grumpy old woman to both their delights and ultimate growth in Lisa Steen’s directorial debut. Margaret Sophie Stein, better known as Malgorzata Zajaczkowska in her native Poland, offers a world of meaning through body language in a story where communication is meant to go beyond words. She and Karen Gillan captivate the audience, especially in their one-on-one scenes, transcending a much-seen story of an irascible duo creating found family together, to make Late Bloomers heartfelt and memorable.

Jennifer Merin Late Bloomers is a soulful film that gives way to compassionate consideration of some heart heavy subjects like loneliness, abandonment, self esteem and the agonies of aging. The story has enough quirky embellishments to to be thoroughly engaging throughout. And the performances by Karen Gillan as Louise and Margaret Sophie Stein as Antonina are so utterly charming that you can’t help rooting for their endearingly troubled characters to find their way to joy. Read full review.

Nell Minow: It is easy to overlook Karen Gillan’s skill as an actress, but she manages to bring sensitivity and wit to her high profile action films, the Guardian’s of the Galaxy trilogy, where she is all but unrecognizable as a bald, blue-skinned alien cyborg warrior or the two Jumanji movies, where she plays a video game avatar with unbeatable fighting skills. In Late Bloomers, we really get to see her breadth, as she makes it clear that an aimless, hopeless, lost 28-year-old is more scared than selfish, more anxious than unambitious. Director Lisa Steen and screenwriter Anna Greenfield take us inside the intimacy of women’s spaces, with older women illuminating a path of resilience, courage, and humor for Gillan’s character.

Sandie Angulo Chen: Late Bloomers is a delightfully quirky dramedy about an intergenerational friendship between a directionless Millennial woman and an angry Polish grandmother whose lives intersect at a Brooklyn hospital. Starring Karen Gillan and Margaret Sophie Stein (aka Malgorzata Zajaczkowska in her native Poland), the character-based story has only the slimmest of plots but touches upon a variety of substantive themes. Directed by Lisa Steen and written by Anna Greenfield, the charming and surprisingly moving film is a testament to how unlikely friendships can change and inspire people.

Nikki Fowler: In Late Bloomers, 20-something Brooklyn based Louise finds herself unexpectedly in a hospital surgery ward after falling from be ex boyfriend’s new brownstone apartment. You guessed it, she was stalking him. In the hospital, she runs into an aged Antonina whose fuss pot nature is more than the community can handle. There’s lots Louise can learn from Antonina as the quirky yet lovable film explores aging and death, all while Louise figures out her life.

Liz Whittemore Perhaps the most unexpected buddy comedy of the year, Lisa Steen’s Late Bloomers finds an emotionally stunted Louise, a woman stuck on her ex and avoiding familial connection, landing a job with her former hospital roommate, an elderly Polish woman. Margaret Sophie Stein (aka Malgorzata Zajaczkowska in her native Poland) is Antonina. She is dynamite, balancing between being curmudgeonly and vulnerable. Karen Gillan is fearless. Her comic timing and sardonic delivery make Louise equal parts obnoxious and endearing. Stein and Gillan’s chemistry bridges the age and language barrier for a darling duo. On the surface, Late Bloomers appears to be an arc of guilt-driven redemption. In truth, it is a multigenerational film delving into unresolved trauma and the nuance of grief.

Cate Marquis The indie film Late Bloomers is an odd couple dramedy starring Karen Gillan as a 28-year-old, Louise, who is stuck in a post-collegiate mode, denying her depression, and still not over being dumped by her long-term boyfriend a year ago, and Margaret Sophie Stein (aka Malgorzata Zajaczkowska in her native Poland) as Antonina, an angry, strong-willed older woman who speaks only Polish. The two women who form a wildly unlikely friendship after meeting in a hospital, Along with the insightful performances, Late Bloomers evolves to a surprisingly funny, charming dramedy that touches on issues of loneliness, aging, compassion and facing life and its changes. Read full review.

FILM DETAILS:

Title: Late Bloomers

Director: Lisa Steen

Release Date: June 7, 2024

Running Time: 99 minutes

Language: English and Polish with English subtitles

Screenwriter: Anne Greenfield

Distribution Company: Vertical Entertainment

AWFJ Movie of the Week Panel Members: Sandie Angulo Chen, Betsy Bozdech, Leslie Combemale, Nikki Fowler, Pam Grady, Loren King, Cate Marquis, Jennifer Merin, Nell Minow, Sherin Nicole, Liz Whittemore

Previous #MOTW Selections

Other Movies Opening This Week

Edited by Jennifer Merin

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Jennifer Merin

Jennifer Merin is the Film Critic for Womens eNews and contributes the CINEMA CITIZEN blog for and is managing editor for Women on Film, the online magazine of the Alliance of Women Film Journalists, of which she is President. She has served as a regular critic and film-related interviewer for The New York Press and About.com. She has written about entertainment for USA Today, The L.A. Times, US Magazine, Ms. Magazine, Endless Vacation Magazine, Daily News, New York Post, SoHo News and other publications. After receiving her MFA from Tisch School of the Arts (Grad Acting), Jennifer performed at the O'Neill Theater Center's Playwrights Conference, Long Wharf Theater, American Place Theatre and LaMamma, where she worked with renown Japanese director, Shuji Terayama. She subsequently joined Terayama's theater company in Tokyo, where she also acted in films. Her journalism career began when she was asked to write about Terayama for The Drama Review. She became a regular contributor to the Christian Science Monitor after writing an article about Marketta Kimbrell's Theater For The Forgotten, with which she was performing at the time. She was an O'Neill Theater Center National Critics' Institute Fellow, and then became the institute's Coordinator. While teaching at the Universities of Wisconsin and Rhode Island, she wrote "A Directory of Festivals of Theater, Dance and Folklore Around the World," published by the International Theater Institute. Denmark's Odin Teatret's director, Eugenio Barba, wrote his manifesto in the form of a letter to "Dear Jennifer Merin," which has been published around the world, in languages as diverse as Farsi and Romanian. Jennifer's culturally-oriented travel column began in the LA Times in 1984, then moved to The Associated Press, LA Times Syndicate, Tribune Media, Creators Syndicate and (currently) Arcamax Publishing. She's been news writer/editor for ABC Radio Networks, on-air reporter for NBC, CBS Radio and, currently, for Westwood One's America In the Morning. She is a member of the Critics Choice Association in the Film, Documentary and TV branches and a voting member of the Black Reel Awards. For her AWFJ archive, type "Jennifer Merin" in the Search Box (upper right corner of screen).