The Souvenir: Part II: NYFF Review

Year: 2021

Runtime: 106 minutes

Director: Joanna Hogg

Writers: Joanna Hogg

Actors: Honor Swinton Byrne, Tom Burke, Charlie Heaton, Tilda Swinton, Richard Ayoade

By Tom Moore

Joanna Hogg’s follow-up to her 2019 breakout film “The Souvenir” is a major milestone on multiple levels. Sequels are pretty rare in the indie film scene, so it’s pretty impactful that “The Souvenir: Part II” sees Hogg creating her first sequel as well as, I believe, the first sequel for rising indie studio A24. Even more so, Hogg hits another rare milestone of “Part II” being a great sequel as it has a unique execution to revisiting Julie’s (Honor Swinton Byrne) story after the traumatic events she faced in the first film.

“Part II” follows Julie navigating her grief following Anthony’s (Tom Burke) fatal drug overdose by making her graduation film about her relationship with Anthony. Now, I’m not going to lie, it was a little strange and unexpected to see Hogg take such a meta-approach to “Part II’s” story as it mostly involves Julia dealing with her grief by essentially making her version of the first film. On paper, it’s a little goofy and a bit of a risk for storytelling, but it’s one that surprisingly pays off incredibly well since it’s a fitting storytelling choice.

Hogg actually utilizes Julia’s narrative surrounding her making the first film within this sequel to not only create a more personal way for her to express and explore her grief, but also add in some comedic nods to the filmmaking process. For anyone that loves seeing behind the scenes stuff with movies or is a true cinephile, there’s plenty of funny moments that come from Julia dealing with infighting amongst her crew, criticisms about her script and direction, and differing views and philosophies of filmmaking. The return of Richard Ayoade as Patrick is a comedic peak as his unyielding artistry and outbursts make for some hilarious moments that happen on the set of his own movie that he’s filming and I don’t know how we do it, but Ayoade deserves some awards love for his charming and energized supporting performance. The film’s meta-approach goes all the way in the last scene in a really fun way and it’s great how Hogg turns this meta-styled storytelling in a personal approach to dealing with grief.

Throughout Julie making her film about her relationship with Anthony and his drug problems, you can feel her processing her grief as she attempts to piece together her feelings. It’s really interesting to see her having conversations with cast and crew about what these scenes mean to her and how she views them in retrospective and it’s a different way of seeing someone explore their grief. However, just because Julie’s found a way of exploring her grief through her filmmaking doesn’t mean that her issues with Anthony’s death are resolved as she struggles when she’s off set as well.

Julie’s experience here really delves into artistic struggle, especially when working with personal material, as she deals with a lot of pushbacks with her film and her frustrations spill out into her real-life relationships. The constant questioning of her film from professors, colleagues, and even her family frustrates her and makes her feel less supported and causes tensions in her relationships that make it tougher for her to move forward. It’s a very touching perspective on dealing with grief that sees Byrne’s return be just as great as the first film.

Frankly, it’s unclear how Byrne isn’t being scooped up by anyone like she should because with both “Souvenir” films, she’s shown herself to be this great, undiscovered talent. She shows a great mix of comedic wit and silent trauma that makes Julie’s struggles with grief so real and relatable. Not to mention, the returning dynamic with her in-film and real-life mother Tilda Swinton, who is also a welcomed return, is incredibly heartwarming and one of the stronger aspects of the film. She’s shown herself to be a more than capable lead with the subtle rawness she brings in showing Julie’s grief  in her quieter, more outer physical performance and is committed even through the film’s abstract final moments. The big moment of Julie confronting Anthony’s death is done through an abstract dream sequence that’s a little tough to figure out in the moment and doesn’t feel as much a part of the more grounded and realistic portrayal of grief we’ve seen up until this point. However, while it creates some bumps, the film ultimately sticks the landing in Julie’s grief story and creates a fitting close for her arc.

Hogg really breaks the mold for sequels with “The Souvenir: Part II” with how she executes a surprising approach to a follow-up story that excellently continues Julie’s story of grief that shows Byrne to be a continually rising talent.

4.5 stars

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