The Princess Bride Speaks!

Dear CF,

I can’t wait to hear about your time in a room with movie men. What sorts of animals were those?

Some thoughts for your (new Frenchish word) list of girls on film. En especial,  a response to Manohla Dargis’ point that women just want to see themselves represented in something and so will twist their mental lives into knots trying to fit some version of the insipid psychic pretzels Hollywood peddles as the “female experience.” The ladies are good at adopting other viewpoints, and they do so when faced with “chick flicks” not because they want drivel, but because they want desperately to identify with some on-screen story. So! They try to find some point of identification through which to enjoy the idiocy that passes for plot in Bride Wars. Because at least Bride Wars sells a female perspective. It doesn’t shut women out in principle and this feels inclusive even while it busily colors the gender a screaming pink.

Which brings me to this lovely essay by Meaghan O’Connell at theorodable about You’ve Got Mail, which revisits the movie ten years later and tries to work out what it did and didn’t mean. It’s hard, she notes, to separate the drivel and bad politics from the nostalgia and charm and sheer relief of finding something you could sort of identify with:

If you are not from New York but are also of a certain age and a certain sentimentality, you may also think, I’ve been there, but mean something more like, I remember that AOL sound! (That Aol. sound?) The anticipation, the staredown with the (now ironically?) triumphant red flag— Will it be up? Will it be down? Will my life be ruined? Will Wade Forman ask me to Homecoming through it? Or maybe you will think: I have been there, I have had that haircut, or I have asked for it and gotten something far worse. Or, I have also thought disparaging things about Corporate America! I, too, am surprised to see Dave Chapelle in this movie! Or, in my case at least, I have been at some point in my growing up, so in this movie, so in love with the whole thing of it, that I wanted to buy armfuls of white t-shirts and olive green cardigans from The Gap and be that skinny, be “a lone reed”, wear a strappy wristwatch and go to Starbucks and maybe aim for bigger breasts and low-rise Dockers instead of pleat-front, but still, to this day, imagine he is walking just behind me on city blocks unnoticed, ordering me bouquets of sharpened pencils for Fall and stealing my business out from under me and making plans to ruin my life. Or something. Because that is love, we have learned, are reminded: we earn it, through unrelenting patience and saintlike forgiveness and cute-meet, Hollywood coincidence and E-MAIL.

What intrigues me most about O’Connell’s essay is how she creates (and acknowledges she creates) an entire private backstory that’s evoked by the experience of Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks typing. It’s an impulse we all have—to smack our better, more complex and real stories onto a show or movie because, when it comes to representations of the real thing, we’re mightily underfed. Chick flicks work because they’re ciphers. Yes, there’s a universe we create around and through e-mail. You’ve Got Mail points to that and we fill in the rest with our hopes for Homecoming Matt or musclebound MCAT study partner because so far, nobody seems to do it better than us. (This isn’t true of other movies. A Philadelphia Story is about Tracy Lord, period.) When Reese Witherspoon’s character in Legally Blonde tells us to “bend and snap,” she’s really telling us to “empathize and project.”

Jezebel posted this clip of Robin Wright and Rebecca Miller (director of The Private Lives of Pippa Lee, also daughter of Arthur Miller and wife of Daniel Day-Lewis) being interviewed by Charlie Rose. Wright talks intelligently about the reinvention and risk-taking that happens even (gasp!) after 29 has come and gone and one is a buttercup no more.

Tangent: Yesterday I watched an episode of Season 1 Gilmore Girls in which Rory walks up to Dean’s house after they’ve broken up. She stands outside the door for a few seconds and the show telegraphs, in its brash fast-talking way to which Rory supplies an eternal and ethereal contrast, that the hardest thing she could do at that moment is knock. Palpable, that fear! And a distantish memory; you remember it the way you remember skinned knees hurting, but not quite how. It’s nice to hear Wright say that those moments aren’t all behind us.

More soon.

Fondly,

M

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