This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.
Leonora Anne Mint’s review published on Letterboxd:
This review may contain spoilers.
(Viewed a restored 35mm print.)
These movies are pickled in a queasy brine-- hubris, blood, acrimony, nostalgia.
To me this wasn't two separate stories at all, but rather a single narrative about a son coming to terms with his role as his father's successor, contemplating a younger version of his father who he admires and wants to emulate, while his own life proves more toxic and complex, until he ultimately realizes that the version he imagined doesn't reflect reality, and his real father is nowhere to be found. All he has left is himself, alone, having severed all ties to humanity in the pursuit of glory.
This may be more compelling and interesting than Michael's non-arc in the first film, but it doesn't make him an easy character to feel for or really stay all that interested in. The character who actually felt compelling to me was Fredo, the "frail" older brother who struggles to contend with his familial status. He's not explicitly portrayed as being disabled, but it's hard to feel like the treatment he gets from family members is anything other than casual ableism.
Meanwhile, women are sidelined and trivialized as usual; Connie is supposedly hurting herself to hurt Michael, but is she just saying that because she knows the only way he'll acknowledge her pain is if she makes it about him? Kay's abortion is handled similarly, not as an autonomous decision she's made about her own body and future, but as something she's done to devastate her husband, and something the film implies is ultimately motivated by racist sentiments on her part. That's...a lot to contend with.
I can't lie and say I wasn't impressed by this film, especially Gordon Willis's once again mesmerizing cinematography, and the melancholy score, which I'll continue to have stuck in my head for the next few weeks. As much as it's a fascinating and multi-layered film, though, and as much as it fills an important role in depicting an immigrant's experience in America with nuance and detail...it also just feels, a lot of the time, like Julie & Julia for toxic bros, wish fulfillment where the tragedies and consequences are either peripheral or validating. It's stylish, but also fucked up.