Middleburg Film Festival: Marriage Story & Honey Boy Shine While Harriet Disappoints


This is MTR Network’s first year covering the Middleburg film festival in Middleburg Virginia. The festival is the brainchild of Sheila Johnson, co-found of BET and the CEO of Salamander Hotels and Resorts which plays host to some of the biggest films of the festival.

Middleburg likes to tout that the road to the Oscars leads through Middleburg and while that might be an ambitious claim, the numbers mean it might not be that far from the truth. In 2018 films that screened at Middleburg ended up leading to 38 Oscar Nominations and 23 Golden Globes. So maybe there is something to the claims.

Here’s a quick rundown of some of the films I saw Thursday and Friday at Middleburg. Stay tuned on the network as we'll have full reviews for each film coming soon.

Marriage Story

Marriage Story: Nicole, their son and Charlie lay awake in the bed

  • Starring: Adam Driver, Scarlett Johansson, Laura Dern, Merritt Wever
  • Directed By: Noah Baumbach
  • Written By: Noah Baumbach

Marriage Story was the opening film of the Middleburg Film Festival. Netflix is determined to force any critics that they don’t belong hanging with the big studios when it comes to award season by flooding the market with high quality cinema that can’t be ignored. Marriage Story is part of that onslaught. The film follows Charlie (Adam Driver) and Nicole (Scarlett Johansson) as they work through their separation and eventual divorce. It’s an emotional and engaging film to watch as they don’t make it easy to pick sides. It shows the real, emotional impact of what happens when two people that were in love (and may still be) determine that they’re no longer compatible for marriage. Both Driver and Johansson put in incredible performances that are going to put them on this year’s highly contentious race for Best Actor/Actress.

Honey Boy

Honey Boy: Young Otis with pie all over his face

  • Starring: Shia LaBeouf, Lucas Hedges, Noah Jupe
  • Directed by: Alma Har’el
  • Written By: Shia LaBeouf

The best way to explain Honey Boy is to say that you’re not going to be prepared for the complicated emotions that stem from watching it. Shia LeBouf has definitely been putting in some strong performances lately (See the Peanut Butter Falcon). What works so well is that audiences are clearly watching Shia LaBeouf work through his own issues with his father as he plays James Lort. There’s an authenticity to the role that LaBeouf plays that adds a lot of nuance to the complex relationship between James and Otis. There are times you see James as just an abusive, ex-felon loser and then there are times you see the hurt, and pain that he’s suffering from that causes. Lucas Hedges and Noah Jupe both put in fantastic performances as both the 22-year-old and 12-year-old Otis respectively. Enough credit cannot be heaped onto Alma Har’el for directing this film. With a project like this that is so personally, this film could have become a bit messy. But Har'el is able to balance the nuances of this story extremely well. 


Harriet: Cynthia Erivo as Harriet Tubman hiding behind tree

  • Starring: Cynthia Erivo, Janelle Monáe, Joe Alwyn Gideon, Leslie Odom Jr
  • Directed By: Kasi Lemmons
  • Written By: Kasi Lemmons, Gregory Allen Howard

I’d say that Harriet was the biggest disappointment of Middleburg but that would require me to have had high expectations for the film. Let me be clear and say that Harriet isn’t a bad film. But it’s also not a great one and definitely no one that many who wanted a Harriet Tubman film wanted. And to be even clearer, it’s not the Harriet Tubman film that black people wanted. The film is watered down, puts more focus on Tubman’s “visions from God” and leaves a lot of great story out of the film as a whole. Harriet feels like a rudimentary 101 course on Harriet Tubman that ultimately disappoints.

Follow more of our Film Festival 2019 Reviews and Coverage on our Press Page Page: https://press.mtrnetwork.net

Follow us on Social Media:



Charles (Kriss)

Leave a reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.