BAM tackles a whole generation with ‘We Can’t Even: Millennials on Film’ series

"Minding the Gap" screens on July 29 at BAM.  Photo Credit: Kartemquin

The two-week film series brings screenings of “Minding the Gap,” “Mean Girls” and “Lady Bird” to BAM.

"Minding the Gap" screens on July 29 at BAM. 
"Minding the Gap" screens on July 29 at BAM.  Photo Credit: Arthouse Hotel NYC

Ready for their close up? The Instagram generation is way ahead of you.

“We Can’t Even” is the tongue-in-cheek title for a two-week series at BAM devoted to “Millennials on Film.” A mix of dark dramas, coming-of-age tales, techno thrillers and expressive comedies, it is the first such collection devoted to people born between 1981 and 1996 at a major repertory cinema.

“It’s the first stab at a canon,” BAM’s senior specialty film programmer Ashley Clark tells amNewYork. “It’s a generation often thrown under the bus for being self-absorbed, anxious, addicted to their phones, killing various industries. We’re hoping to complicate that narrative.”

The series opens with a bang. “Vox Lux,” the discomfiting Natalie Portman drama about pop stardom and terrorism, which was in general release only last year, leads a subgroup of uneasy, violent movies. “It’s almost a millennial origin story, as millennials were forged in a climate of terror and school shootings,” Clark says. The film is programmed with Gus Van Sant’s “Elephant,” an experimental film from 2003 loosely based on Columbine, and “Nocturama,” a highly stylized recent French film about teen terrorists which left Clark “feeling like I couldn’t breathe” after he’d seen it.

Watch "Nocturama" on July 25-26.
Watch "Nocturama" on July 25-26. Photo Credit: Grasshopper Film

There’s also a look at technology, with the unauthorized Mark Zuckerberg biopic “The Social Network,” the Edward Snowden documentary “Citizenfour” and Argentine interconnectivity tone poem “The Human Surge.”

“Millennials are the first generation to grow up online, so this explores what that’s done to communication, thought patterns and quality of life,” Clark tells me.

“It’s a good mix,” Karen Han, a 20-something entertainment reporter at Polygon says, surveying the titles. “In blockbuster movies, millennials are usually just shown as people who can never get off their phones.” She’s especially fond of Bing Liu’s years-in-the-making “Minding the Gap,” about a group of skateboarding pals in the often overlooked Illinois suburbs.

“Depictions of young people and families in this economic strata often come off as exploitative,” she says in praise of the Oscar-nominated documentary.

If “We Can’t Even” has something of a patron saint, it’s former Disney star Lindsay Lohan. The series captures her rise with “Mean Girls” (not all of the curated movies are super serious) but also catches her low moment, the critically maligned “I Know Who Killed Me,” winner of eight Golden Raspberry awards.

"Frances Ha" shows on Aug. 3
"Frances Ha" shows on Aug. 3 Photo Credit: IFC Films

“It’s not one of cinema’s high masterpieces,” Clark says, “but I like having a series with a best picture winner like ‘Moonlight’ and this, and having it make conceptual sense.”

The Oscar-winning “Moonlight” is programmed with “Boyhood,” two stories with enormous sweep and narrative structure, as well as the French-language film “Girlhood.”

“Our broader goal at BAM,” Clark says, “is to recast the familiar. [Those three] movies are on the same day for a reason. ‘Boyhood’ and ‘Moonlight’ are ambitious and sensitive movies, but only ‘Boyhood’ was rated as a sort of universal story. ‘Moonlight’ showing right before it sparks a conversation about how films are framed, and how to undo those assumptions.”

“A lot of the tragic movies like ‘Margaret’ make sense, but I love seeing ‘Tangerine’ and ‘Lady Bird’ here,” Indiewire’s deputy editor of film (and actual millennial) Kate Erbland tells me. “’Lady Bird’ captures the malaise anyone feels as a teen, but it is uplifting as she starts to find herself. There’s the question about millennials ‘are they actually growing up?’ and Saoirse Ronan’s character appears to be doing just that.”

“’Tangerine’ is great because it is about people of this age, but of a completely different existence than ‘Lady Bird,’” she says of the famously shot-on-an-iPhone look at transgender sex workers in Los Angeles.

BAM's series includes French coming-of-age film "Girlhood." 
BAM’s series includes French coming-of-age film "Girlhood."  Photo Credit: Strand Releasing

Other highly regarded films like “Frances Ha,” “The Bling Ring,” “Personal Shopper” and “Good Time” round out the collection, but Clark has a special fondness for a Jamaican-British film called “Strolling” making its American debut. It’s a collection of street interviews a young woman named Cecile Emeke made with people in the black diaspora all over the world. Not only is it a look at an underrepresented millennial community, it’s one of the films in this series actually made by a millennial.


Every one of these movies is worth your time, but here are my five top picks.

Nocturama July 25 — 26

Bertrand Bonello’s highly stylized caper film about a group of teens pulling off a terrorist attack is a pure cinema rush and an ethical nightmare. It’s a controversial film that needs to be seen to be believed.

Moonlight July 27

One of the most gorgeous and emotional Oscar winners in a long time, it’s always worth taking advantage of catching this on a big screen.

Minding the Gap July 29

This deeply engrossing and, at times, tragic exploration of group dynamics over a long period of time is one of the best documentaries in years. It’s a workout, though.

Frances Ha Aug. 3

The best of the Noah Baumbach-Greta Gerwig collaborations is uplifting, real and has great New York imagery. It’s also so, so, so funny.

Good Time Aug. 5

The most Queens movie made this century, with Robert Pattinson chased by destiny through our largest and most White Castle-rich borough.

‘We Can’t Even: Millennials on Film’ runs July 24-Aug. 6 at BAM Rose Cinemas, 30 Lafayette Ave., Fort Greene. Check out bam.org for the full schedule.

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