Molly’s Game (STX Entertainment, R)

Molly Bloom was once one of America’s best skiers, with a career trajectory that seemed to be pointing straight to the Olympics. There are no guarantees in sport, however, and unlike her brother Jeremy (who both skied in the Olympics and played in the NFL), Molly found her niche in another line of work—hosting high-stakes poker parties for celebrities. It’s the kind of story that cries out for the Aaron Sorkin treatment, and that’s exactly what you get with Sorkin’s directorial debut, Molly’s Game.

Sorkin has never been one to let the facts get in the way of a good story—no one seriously claims Mark Zuckerberg created Facebook to get back at a girl who dumped him, then spent years pining after that same girl—and Molly’s Game is no exception. Although the story it tells seems entirely straightforward, the bare facts of the case have been carefully edited and improved by Sorkin. While the movie for that reason does not make a great crib sheet for Bloom’s life, who cares? The dramatic impact and character exploration that result are so effective that it seems small-minded to catalogue all the times his version of events plays fast and loose with the truth (although if you are of that turn of mind, the hive mind that is the Internet is at your disposal).

Molly’s Game begins with a flashback to young Molly (Piper Howell as a 7-year old, Samantha Isler as a teenager), ski prodigy, and her sometimes fraught relationship with her clinical psychologist father Larry (Kevin Costner), who appears to value winning slightly more than Vince Lombardi. We then jump forward to meet the adult Molly (Jessica Chastain) as she has run afoul of the law and is trying to convince attorney Charlie Jaffey (Idris Elba) to take her case. What happened between those two points constitutes the bulk of the film. Without dropping too many spoilers, Molly decides to take a year off between undergraduate and graduate school, finds works as a cocktail waitress and lawyer’s assistant, and then finds her way into more lucrative work. She’s smart and good-looking, and finds ways to make both pay off for her, although perhaps not exactly in the way that parents usually hope for their daughters.

2017 was a good year for directorial debuts, and Molly’s Game is no exception. As with Greta Gerwig’s Lady Bird, if you didn’t know this was Sorkin’s first time behind the camera, you’d never guess it. You’d also never guess that it was his first time writing a female lead, because the Molly Bloom he and Chastain create is undeniably a Sorkinesque characters and yet is also a fully convincing human being. Sorkin also wrote the screenplay (adapted from Bloom’s memoir), so of course you get the sharp dialogues and self-knowing monologues characteristic of his best work.

Molly’s Game is no mere word fest, however—Sorkin also has an excellent feel for visuals, aided by the expert work of cinematographer Charlotte Bruus Christensen, production designer David Wasco, art directors Brandt Gordon and Doug Huszti, and above all costume designer Susan Lyall. Seriously, you can track the development of Molly’s understanding of how the world works and what place she has chosen within it by what she’s wearing, and that’s costume design at its finest. | Sarah Boslaugh

One comment

  1. It’s tempting to think of “Molly’s Game” in poker terms: Sorkin’s holding a queen, a king, and at least a couple of aces, but the tell is that he talks too much, and in the end you realize he’s bluffing.

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