Posted on Thursday, April 20th, 2017 by Alex Riviello
Yesterday, Marvel revealed that the directors of Captain Marvel are none other than Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck, prompting people around the world to say… “Who?”
This isn’t the first time that the media giant has gone from left field with their choices, hiring directors famous inside the world of independent film but not much farther than that. After all, this is the company that made James Gunn, a man who once made $150 for writing a Troma movie, a household name. This is the studio that allowed the brothers who directed Welcome to Collinwood to make the next logical step and go on to Captain America: Civil War. Through Marvel, anything is possible, and Boden and Fleck have a really solid history of crafting intense, character-driven movies…and even directing a few future Marvel superheroes along the way.
Let’s take a look back through their filmography.
Stand and Deliver Dangerous Minds
Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck’s personal and working relationship began when they met in NYU and instantly connected, eventually collaborating on the documentary shorts Have You Seen This Man? and Young Rebels. This led to them working on a short narrative film called Gowanus, Brooklyn, which won the short filmmaking award at the 2004 Sundance Film Festival. The film is concerned with a student discovering her teacher is a crack addict, and was created with the idea of attracting financiers to their undeveloped film Half Nelson. You can watch the 20 minute short below and see that, indeed, it’s basically the same first act of what the feature ended up becoming.
Half Nelson expands the story quite a bit past that, of course. On the surface, it’s about a white inner-city teacher opening up to minority students through an unorthodox teaching method, eschewing the usual lessons to really reach across the divide and connect with the kids. Yeah, you might think you’ve heard this one before, but this film is a whole lot darker than that.
Ryan Gosling stars as Dan, a middle-school teacher in Brooklyn who finds an unlikely friend in his student Drey (Shareeka Epps). As drug addict and drug dealer, they both keep each other’s secrets and form an unlikely friendship, but no one is rising above their problems here. Gosling is so good at playing damaged human beings and he was nominated for an Oscar for his performance. Fun fact: future Falcon actor Anthony Mackie also appears as a drug dealer.
The Moneyball Scout
Their next film, Sugar, told another story about someone out of their element, this time a kid from the Dominican Republic who’s brought to the States by the lure of Major League Baseball and all the riches it promises. Like many of their other protagonists, the titular character (played to perfection by newcomer Algenis Perez Soto) isn’t sure what to do when he finally gets what he wants.
This makes for a film that is much less of a baseball tale than you’d expect. Sugar doesn’t have a final big game for the climax, and doesn’t really seem to care that much about the sport itself. It definitely understands the system and the whole process of bringing players to the league (it’s a well-oiled factory at this point), but it doesn’t linger on that, choosing instead to focus more on the immigrant experience.
It’s a fish-out-of water tale as this kid from the D.R. struggles to fit in with new religious home in Iowa, dealing with communication issues and while competing with amazing players on the field. As with Half Nelson, the movie was generally acclaimed, surprising everyone for how deeply it delved into its protagonist’s experience.
Shutter the Cuckoo’s Nest
If you’re starting to see a trend of films that aren’t quite what you’d expect from the synopsis, you’re starting to understand their work.
Based on Ned Vizzini’s young adult novel of the same name, It’s Kind of a Funny Story is another tale of a man and his mentor in which the mentor might not be the best role model. In this case, it’s a mostly serious Zach Galifianakis as an adult patient in a psychiatric ward who mentors a suicidal teen played by Keir Gilchrist. While you might assume that with guidance like that the kid is doomed, they strike up a fast friendship over the five days he’s legally required to stay in the ward after almost jumping off the Brooklyn Bridge.
Sadly, this is probably their least effective film. Perhaps that’s because it it tries to fix the troubled teen’s issues by giving him a love interest during his stay (because if anything can cure mental illness, it’s a relationship with another emotionally unstable person!). It’s certainly their most emo, concerned as it is with a high school student who outwardly has it all – he’s rich, goes to a private school – even though he can’t quite seem to figure out this whole life thing.