Marie Curie discovers radium, a slasher invades an Airbnb vacation home, and a Midwestern teenager experiences masturbation in movies arriving on Friday.
“Radioactive,” director Marjane Satrapi’s profile of scientist Marie Curie, streaming July 24 on Amazon Prime, is an engagingly informative but disappointingly conventional drama. Its constraining biopic formula deprives its extraordinary heroine, and the capable Rosamund Pike, who plays her, of the chance to excite.
The Poland-born Curie (1867-1934), as most know, discovered radioactivity with her husband, Pierre, and was the first woman to receive a Nobel Prize. Previously profiled in 1943 in the outmodedly titled “Madame Curie,” and in 2017 in the arthouse offering “Marie Curie: The Courage of Knowledge,” Curie is presented by Satrapi and screenwriter Jack Thorne (adapting Lauren Redniss’ graphic novel) as an ahead-of-her-time immigrant woman of scientific and romantic passion who refuses to be hindered by sexist and xenophobic attitudes.
In 1890s Paris, Marie (born Maria) Sklodowska, and fellow scientist Pierre Curie (Sam Riley) meet-cute and begin collaborating in Pierre’s laboratory. They marry. Satrapi gives them a sexy love life.
No beaker madness here — the lab scenes are serious and down-to-earth as the couple discovers radium and polonium. They also develop the theory of radioactivity (Marie coins the term). After the Nobel Prize committee reverses its snub of Marie, they share the prestigious honor, for physics.
In scenes both entertaining and horrifying, radioactive products — face cream, toothpaste, chocolate —become the rage, with nobody realizing the dangers. Marie, who will eventually die of radiation-related aplastic anemia, even sleeps with a vial of the glowing green substance.
The film’s second half follows Marie after Pierre’s 1906 death. Marie receives her second Nobel Prize, this time for chemistry. During World War I, with daughter Irene (Anya Taylor-Joy), she helps provide mobile X-ray units for soldiers.
On the personal front, the post-Pierre Marie has an affair with married colleague Paul Langevin (Aneurin Barnard). Scandal results.
Information-wise, the movie delivers, covering everything from Marie’s early uranium experiments to Pierre’s interest in spirituality.
As a love story, it’s enjoyable enough, with Pike and Riley providing essential chemistry, which Satrapi enhances with visual effects on occasion.
Satrapi, whose less commercial “Persepolis” and “Chicken With Plums” contained lots of personality, seeks a wide audience here, and while Marie Curie deserves such attention, “Radioactive,” from its deathbed framing device to its standing-ovation comeback moment, has a recipe-book feel. It’s no dud, but by trapping a woman like Curie in a story too skin-deep and formula-driven to be able to present her insightfully and truthfully, it’s a frustrating missed opportunity.
Time-traveling sequences that illustrate how the Curies’ discoveries, in ways both beneficial and destructive, will affect humankind — a boy receives radiation treatment for cancer; a warplane drops an atomic bomb on Hiroshima; disaster occurs at Chernobyl — prove distracting and unnecessary.
A melodramatic overemphasis on Marie’s post-Pierre heartbreak leaves Pike, who’s given Marie a welcome unsentimental vim until this point, with little to do but cry and pine.
When the credits roll, audiences have a satisfying picture of what Marie Curie achieved, but learned little about who she truly was, beneath the history-making surfaces.
Starring: Rosamund Pike, Sam Riley, Aneurin Barnard, Anya Taylor-Joy
Written by: Jack Thorne
Directed by: Marjane Satrapi
Running time: 1 hour, 49 minutes
A worst-case Airbnb scenario plays out in “The Rental,” actor Dave Franco’s feature debut as a writer-director available Friday on Video on Demand. Franco has made both an infidelity dramedy and a slasher thriller, faring neatly in the former arena and adequately in the latter, but the two components don’t come together successfully.
The modest movie seems inspired by “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?,” Roman Polanski’s claustrophobic thrillers and “Halloween”-like slasher pictures, while also bearing the stamp of Franco’s cowriter, Joe Swanberg (“Drinking Buddies”), known for his tapestries of restless young people.
Charlie (Dan Stevens) and Mina (Sheila Vand) display the affectionate vibe of a romantic couple as they view a gorgeous Pacific Coast vacation home on a computer screen. But they are actually business partners planning to celebrate a company success with a weekend getaway that will include their significant others. Mina is dating Josh (Jeremy Allen White), Charlie’s Lyft-driving ex-con brother. Charlie is married to Michelle (Alison Brie), who supports her husband’s easy rapport with Mina. Basically, uh-oh.
At their Airbnb beach-house rental, the four are greeted by Taylor (Toby Huss), the homeowner’s brother and a passive-aggressive creep. Due to an incident involving her Iranian surname, Mina believes, and may well be right, that Taylor is a racist. Antagonism develops.
While the site, with its splendid scenery, a hot tub and a bag of ecstasy provided by Michelle, is a dream house, not all is bliss among the characters. Secrets emerge, affecting their views of one another.
Most pivotally, Charlie and Mina find themselves alone together. It’s easy to guess what happens.
The film enters thriller terrain when the characters learn that somebody has been watching, and filming, them. That means that Mina and Charlie’s intimate act has been witnessed. Panic and disaster occur.
Then a hammer-wielding masked madman invades the home.
Franco maintains a smooth grip on the wheel and displays a flair for visual storytelling. He avoids unnecessary explanatory dialogue. While his intensity level is a little underwhelming, he builds substantial suspense.
He presents his characters with a winning blend of soapiness, seriousness and genuine feeling.
As a story about romantic, fraternal and friendship relationships, and as a paranoid thriller about the creepiness of surveillance, the movie is sufficiently compelling to make viewers wish that Franco hadn’t abandoned the satisfying psychodrama for the slasher entertainment that follows.
Among the uniformly strong cast, Stevens deserves special mention for supplying the charm necessary to make the caddish Charlie tolerable.
Starring: Dan Stevens, Alison Brie, Sheila Vand, Jeremy Allen White
Written by: Dave Franco, Joe Swanberg
Directed by: Dave Franco
Running time: 1 hour, 28 minutes
One of the most charming movies about masturbation you’ll ever see, “Yes, God, Yes” is a 78-minute comedy about the moral crisis of a Midwestern teen who questions what she’s learned at Catholic school after discovering her sexuality through self-pleasuring.
Set in the early 2000s, this semiautobiographical directorial debut by Iowa-raised screenwriter Karen Maine (“Obvious Child”) follows 16-year-old Alice (Natalia Dyer), whose carnal knowledge is limited to having watched the car-sex scene in “Titanic” until an AOL chat inspires her to “touch” herself.
Feeling guilty afterward — the priest (Timothy Simons ) at her Catholic school calls masturbation sinful — and distressed by false rumors characterizing her as the school slut, Alice attends a Catholic retreat to clear things up. The retreat, however, where Alice finds herself wildly attracted to team leader Chris (Wolfgang Novogratz) and witnesses pious authority figures secretly behaving lustfully, leaves her only more confused.
This isn’t edgy satire. Maine’s depictions of religious education and indoctrination are flatter and more cliched than those in “Lady Bird” and “The Miseducation of Cameron Post.”
But as a coming-of-age tale, it’s gently appealing. Alice’s rabbit-hole-like adventures unfold amusingly and engagingly. Anyone familiar with adolescence will likely recognize the emotions Maine portrays.
Standouts among the solid cast include Dyer as the awakening Alice and Susan Blackwell as an unlikely source of advice.
“Yes, God, Yes” opens in virtual cinemas on July 24 and on digital and VOD on July 28.
Yes, God, Yes
Starring: Natalia Dyer, Wolfgang Novogratz, Timothy Simons, Francesca Reale
Written and directed by: Karen Maine
Running time: 1 hour, 18 minutes