‘Peppermint’ review: Jennifer Garner is one fierce, angry momma

After a decade of ‘mom roles’, the former Alias star still has it in her bones in Pierre Morel’s action thriller ‘Peppermint.’

Looking at Jennifer Garner’s IMDB page, it’s apparent that the action heroine has been pinned to a decade of nondescript maternal roles since 2007’s The Kingdom. Fans (including me) are itching to see her back to her element and this year, Taken director Pierre Morel creates a vehicle for that. The action-thriller is titled Peppermint – an ice cream flavor that only gets mentioned once in the film. It may seem irrelevant, but the sweet menthol candy actually works as a metaphor to Garner’s character as well as her dichotomous acting career.

She perfectly fits the profile of North Riley, a soccer mom turned into a justice-seeking vigilante. If Liam Neeson’s daughter in Taken gets kidnapped and nearly gets sold in sex trade, in Peppermint, North’s daughter and husband gets brutally gunned down by a gang of thugs working for a Mexican drug cartel. Despite Riley being the star witness, the corrupt justice system sets the culprits free and even deems her as mentally unstable. Garner gives it all during a humiliating and soul-crushing courtroom scene and from that point on, you already give your stamp of approval to all the macabre things she’ll do five years later.

Jennifer Garner is back with a vengeance in ‘Peppermint.’ Photo via Lakeshore Entertainment and Viva International Pictures.

Call it a rip-off all you want but the main selling point of this film is to remind people that Garner can kick ass. And it doesn’t seem like she got rusty at all – she’s physically and emotionally at peak here. Peppermint does not focus on her supposed metamorphosis – her disappearance and training years are all summed up in one throwaway line – so the film can go right away for the jugular. The narrative jump and Riley’s transition into a lean killing machine can be sudden but with Garner selling the idea of a one-woman army so effectively, you’ll quickly get used to it. You know how these revenge stories work so let’s get into the bloody action shall we?

The ensuing skirmish is mostly composed of routinary shootouts and personally, I would love to see more hand to hand combat because that is Garner’s forte. One sequence happens at a piñata store and Morel can’t be bothered to inject more ingenuity in his proceedings. It still gets ultra-violent for maximum visceral impact, but in a genre headlined by John Wick’s elegantly-staged combats or Die Hard’s ambitious use of firepower, nothing here ends up truly remarkable. Actually, the estrogen element that comes along is what gives this film a slight edge.

It’s not all soulless vendetta and the film hasn’t completely lost touch of Riley’s humanity. Along the way, she meddles with a drunk, deadbeat dad to teach him a lesson – just like what Robert McCall of The Equalizer films would do.

Jennifer Garner delivers retribution in ‘Peppermint.’ Photo via Lakeshore Entertainment and Viva International Pictures.

Peppermint walks on a tricky tightrope of revenge stories. Most of the time, the resulting protagonist in this sub-genre is an anti-hero but you wouldn’t want a story that celebrates the immorality of its character nor a subplot that purely demonizes the villains to gain sympathy. North is a victim forced into action but the film conveniently reduces the villains to cardboard characters in an attempt to tip the scales of justice towards her favor.

The inherent disturbing subtext can be off-putting to some as the film goes against its own morals. Riley, in the beginning, tells her daughter not to go around punching bullies but now that she has nothing left to lose, she resorts to a killing spree. Ultimately, righteousness is based on what the majority thinks is right and not necessarily what is actually right. And there’s the film’s gray area that can’t please everyone.

Peppermint won’t score points for originality. I can only imagine what’s going on with writer Chad St. John’s head while conceiving its premise: ‘The Punisher and John Wick wants to have their justice, so why moms can’t have theirs?’ Hence, the birth of this film. Garner sure deserves a better material but considering that she delivers a standout performance worthy of recognition, better action roles are hopefully on their way soon.

3 out of 5 stars

Directed by Pierre Morel and written by Chad St. John, ‘Peppermint‘ stars Jennifer Garner, John Gallagher Jr., John Ortiz, Cliff “Method Man” Smith, Richard Cabral, Annie Ilonzeh, Juan Pablo Raba, Tyson Ritter, Pell James, Jeff Hephner, Chris Johnson, Kyla Drew, Cailey Fleming, Michael Reventar
Run time: 102 minutes

MOVIE REVIEW: Love, Simon (2018)

Love, Simon is a surprisingly, radically-inclusive coming-of-age tale that wins you over with its universal truths.

Love, Simon kicks off with its titular character declaring in a voice-over that he’s just a typical teenager (“I’m just like you”) then the film cuts to a montage that highlights his upper-middle class credentials: his beaming family and their beautiful model house, his first SUV, his cool, ethnically-diverse friends sipping on their iced-coffees, etc. Well, Simon’s straight-out-of-catalog existence makes him anything but your ‘typical teenager’. It got me worried for a minute. Is this going to be the type of teen movie that is written by people who don’t understand teenagers at all? Director Greg Berlanti proves this otherwise so I swept this slight misstep under the rug. Simon’s seemingly perfect life is a facade and once you get past it, the film delivers a heartfelt story of self-liberation.

And so, the film reveals a common denominator. Like most of us, Simon’s been harboring a “huge ass secret.” In his case, he’s gay and no one knows anything about it. We are given enough reasons to believe that Simon outing himself in public will not be the end of his world. He’s in a much safer environment after all: he has a liberal-minded family that will not shun him plus, a supportive group of friends that will stand by him. His biggest fear is actually how these people around him will fundamentally change their perspective towards him. The film presents an interesting dichotomy of declaring your difference to the world yet still wanting things to be the same as ever. What will people expect of him moving forward? Is he supposed to let his ‘gay flag’ fly once he’s in college? Simon visualizes his future in an exuberant and hilarious Whitney Houston dance/dream sequence. He is, after all, a confused teenager who don’t know what he asks for.

While most queer films often equate coming out as a death sentence, Love, Simon feels progressive. Simon does not see his sexuality as an abnormality or an aberration, it’s just a part of him that he’s learning to embrace. Most of the conflict here is actually an internal struggle and sure, you could wish for more cinematic tension. But once the film lays out his moments of introspection, it turns up more affecting than what we expect it to be. There is a sustained level of inclusivity throughout Simon’s emotional journey that it will not take a gay person to understand what he’s going through. The emotions transcended are universal and we all know them too well: the agony of keeping a dark secret to yourself, the itching anxiety of waiting for someone’s reply, the humiliation from doing grand romantic gestures, the blindsiding confusion from misreading your friend’s mixed signals, etc. The film falls squarely in the coming-of-age category but it isn’t interested in rehashing the tired tropes of social food chain, overrated prom nights, graduation farewells, and so on. It all suddenly feels refreshing.

But even if you’re not emotionally invested at all here, the film still finds a way to captivate its viewers’ attention. The film’s mystery is the identity of “Blue”, an equally-reluctant closeted gay student to which Simon sparks up a digital romance with. The two confide each other’s deepest secrets including their embarrassing sexual awakenings (involving Harry Potter and Jon Snow, don’t ask) and as the story places us in Simon’s shoes, we begin to speculate who could his penpal be? Is it the popular jock? His pianist co-thespian? His classmate who works in the local diner? This guessing game allows our protagonist’s longings drift from one prospect to another, playing out in hypothetical scenarios.

Going back on the subject of portraying teenagers in films, director Greg Berlanti genuinely cares about the teen experience, especially their approach towards young love. The characters come out with a right mix of intelligence, complexity and naivety (as it should be). The film also benefits from a clever and sympathetic script by Isaac Aptaker and Elizabeth Berger (two of the writers behind the heartwarming series This is Us). Simon (Nick Robinson) and his group of friends Leah (Katherine Langford), Abby (Alexandra Shipp) and Nick (Jorge Lendeborg Jr.) deliver strong performances, managing to be both authentic and likeable. Leah says at one point, “Sometimes I think I’m destined to care so much about one person, it nearly kills me,” this is how sensitive smart teenagers talk. We even get to understand the psyche of Simon’s annoying classmate Martin (Logan Miller), how he’s misguided as opposed to being completely malevolent. It all boils down to seeking love and validation from the people around them. Because that’s what teenagers really care about.

But if I were to pick a line that’s representative of the whole film it will be from a poignant scene where Simon’s mom (Jennifer Garner) says to him, “This last few years, it’s almost like I can feel you holding your breath. You can exhale now.” This is exactly how the film feels like – a long overdue exhale. This is a story of a young man who comes into his own terms and finally takes charge of his story. Admittedly, the third act feels saccharine that you can almost shoehorn a Taylor Swift chorus in the end but as the whole theater cheered for Simon, I couldn’t help but feel uplifted as well.

Love, Simon is not groundbreaking by any means and still could’ve used a more realistic touch present in indie films. Still, the movie ends up as a competent descendant to seminal teen classics like The Breakfast Club. It does not present the audience with an overt agenda or a didactic lecture on LGBTQ rights, it simply says that everyone, no matter who they love, deserves a great love story.

Love, Simon wins you over with its universal truths, and for that, this ends up as one of the most important films of the year.

4 out of 5 stars

Distributed by 20th Century Fox, ‘Love, Simon‘ will have its paid advance screenings on April 30 and May 1, 2018 in select PH cinemas. Opens nationwide on May 9, 2018.

Starring: Nick Robinson, Katherine Langford, Alexandra Shipp, Josh Duhamel, Jorge Lendeborg Jr., Keiynan Lonsdale, Logan Miller and Jennifer Garner. Directed by Greg Berlanti from a screenplay by Isaac Aptaker and Elizabeth Berger. Based on the novel ‘Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda’ by Becky Albertalli.

Runtime: 1 hour, 50 minutes

Jennifer Garner keeps the faith with ‘Miracles from Heaven’

The core of Columbia Pictures’ new inspiring film “Miracles From Heaven” is a mother on fire, an impassioned, if constantly questioning 21st Century woman, who never lets up or lets go in her efforts to keep her child from harm.

But to get deep into the grit and turmoil of that kind of maternal drive, the filmmakers knew they needed an actress who would go all-out for a brave, complex performance without ever losing the audience’s connection to her. The consummate match for that mix was found in Golden Globe® winner Jennifer Garner.

Her career spans from action roles such as CIA officer Sydney Bristow in the hit series “Alias” and the action-thriller “The Kingdom,” to sparkling comedies such as the acclaimed “Juno,” to playing opposite Matthew McConaughey in the Oscar®-winning “Dallas Buyer’s Club.” But this was a role unlike any Garner had tackled – and she jumped into it with 100% commitment.

“Jennifer was devoted to exploring that unbending strength of a mother,” says director Patricia Riggen. “She has three kids she adores, so she had that immediate understanding of Christy’s situation. But she also brought a sense of love, care and generosity that becomes the center of all the film’s relationships. The Beam family goes through all the colors of life, which is what I think makes the film an exciting and moving experience, because you see them shift from happiness to real struggle and conflict and then back to a stronger form of happiness. As Jennifer portrays her, Christy is so human and so real and I think that’s why people will identify with her.”

Garner knew right away the role was going to demand a lot – and take her on a journey that wouldn’t be easy on an emotional, spiritual or even logistical level. But she also felt an undeniably potent attachment to it. “`Miracles From Heaven’ kind of chose me,” she explains. “The night I read the script, I practically stayed awake all night. This family’s story was so moving to me and I remember feeling so grateful for my healthy three sleeping down the hall.”

That trepidation vanished by morning’s light – replaced by the feeling that she would do whatever it took to make it work. “I woke up knowing that I had to do this,” she remembers thinking. “It felt like something that had been put out there for me and so I said, ‘Yes.’”

Meeting Christy Beam only heightened Garner’s inspiration. “Looking at the world through Christy’s eyes has been such a gift for me. It gave me perspective,” Garner says. “This is the first time I’ve been able to spend so much time with the person I’m portraying. And I knew I was going to love her before I even met her. The strength she showed is something that I aspire to as a mother. I love her quiet faith. I love her relationship with Kevin. And I love their incredibly sweet family.”

That Christy questions whether her faith, or anything at all, is actually enough to hold her up through such an epic struggle was important to Garner. “For me, that’s what makes this story so human,” Garner relates. “You can understand Christy watching her child suffering so much and thinking out loud, ‘wait a minute, where are you, God?’ But I think she goes on to take that on as a challenge and commits to working that much harder to find that trust again.”

Like Christy, Garner began to see more and more how tiny, persistent miracles are what kept the family afloat just as much as the beguiling tree incident. “They had this huge miracle happen in their lives, but a miracle is also someone like Angela showing up and becoming a friend,” she observes. “A miracle is doctors going out of their way to help. A miracle is the enduring love of a close-knit family. We all have struggles in life, but I really believe that there are miracles all around — every baby born, every flower that blooms. We’re just lucky to live in this world full of beauty.”

Based on the inspiring book and astonishing true story of the girl rescued by an out-of-the-blue accident, Columbia Pictures’ “Miracles from Heaven” stars Jennifer Garner as Christy Beam, a tenacious, devoted mother whose world is flipped upside down when her daughter Anna (Kylie Rogers) is struck with a rare, incurable disorder. With a parent’s fiercest determination, Christy summons the courage to do everything she can and beyond for her child, heading on a heart-gripping quest through a medical maze, even as her faith begins to flag. Yet, just when all truly seems lost, a series of unfathomable yet documented events unfold that leave not only Christy but doctors, family and community at once baffled and profoundly inspired by the astonishing mysteries life holds out to us.

Opening across the Philippines on March 16, 2016, “Miracles from Heaven” is distributed by Columbia Pictures, local office of Sony Pictures Releasing International.