I’m Checking Out

Dear friend,

I have a letter to you I started after watching Julie and Julia that I can’t mail just yet, but it’s about living rooms and pickles and corsets.  Until I finish it, I think you should know that I’m deep in Meryl awe. It’s been said before, too many times, but my God, what can this woman not do?

On the subject of mothers and daughters and grandmothers: I was flipping around Netflix for something to watch while I cleaned. (It’s the hard cleaning with abrasive powders that get old oil off of things. I’d forgotten how much muscle this kind of cleaning takes.) Anyway, I found Postcards from the Edge, based on Carrie Fisher’s book about her fights with addiction and Debbie Reynolds. And this little number, which mixes the awesomeness of Meryl with Shel Silverstein to my everlasting joy. I give you “I’m Checking Out”:

Fondly,

Millicent

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TKO: The Puffy Chair vs. Paper Heart

Dear Millicent,

Forgive my absence–I have been afloat in a Netflix sea, as well as the Baltic (seriously! Was in Denmark: I have seen more full length fur coats than I ever imagined possible in this life).  As I woozily recovered from jet lag and a stodgy January, I leaned heavily on my Netflix, which is where this odd matchup comes from.  Both are movies that wear their hoodies on their sleeve: one to great irritation, the other to surprising depth.  I have given them this imaginary fistfight because I think they started with similar intentions, or at least are depending on a similar audience (more hoodies).  In the past, we have talked about the line between preciousness and charm, the twee and the supple, and I think we have it again here: the firecracker and the real deal.

VS.

The Puffy Chair is a mumblecore film (a term I just learned last week, and am not sure if it is a noun or an adjective).  According to Wikipedia, it is a niche that arrived in the early 2000s focusing on twenty-somethings figuring out their lives, often played by non-actors with improvised scripts.  This sounds like a horrible idea, and something that would get my hate on in only the way that very special things can.   But it’s fantastic.  I think I feel about mumblecore the way most reviewers treat Avatar: I cannot believe it didn’t piss me off.

The Puffy Chair focuses on a guy going to pick up an Ebay purchase with his girlfriend and his brother.  Nobody is exactly likable, but neither is anybody a full-on loser.  The film doesn’t rest on charm, and does a smart job of acknowledging how annoying and subtle the privilege of middle class youth is.  The questions are big, and the narrative is strong and littered with all the prevalent real life propsetting of a modern un-Meyers project.  But, there is only one dick joke, and no unrealistic tidiness or mess.  There are so many places this film could sag or break, and it just doesn’t do it.  It leans to the Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind side of human emotion, but with no tricks to brightly illuminate the path.  While I love Kaufman’s well turned tricks, what we have here is another kind of naked animal, and it looks just like us.

I’m worried that as I yap about TPC, you will give it a try and sigh loudly in disgust.  The cute voices, the clean Adidas sneakers, the fact that it starts in NYC…all I can say is that the characters get weak, humiliated, and unmasterful in their lives, and those sneakers don’t protect a soul.

And then, there is Paper Heart, which I had expected to be charming and realistic, the new take on the romance.  I happily sighed as I watched the promo in the theaters, but upon arrival, I couldn’t watch more than 20 minutes of it (thus my critique is under-informed, yet sure).  The firecrackerness of it made my stomach churn.  Instead of an envelope of a generation being pulled open, soft guts out, this movie is sealed cellophane.  Are you in your twenties and a comedian in Los Angeles? If not, these house parties and unmade beds are not for you.  Since everybody is a a little unglamorous, you are supposed to have one of two reactions: if you are trying to get out of your small town: I want to live there like them; and if you are currently in high school:  They are just like me, the future is where it’s at,  and love is a poky little thing that can happen. It is almost this generation’s Reality Bites, but a little more offensive because it believes in its mission. From the twenty minutes I could stomach, the shaky camera and real life interactions were only people saying things out loud, proud of their voice.

The titles sum up the distinction: Paper Heart is so wispy and pitch perfect–who wouldn’t want to see that movie? And thus you get a package of youth in love that is all glitter (with the glitter being that there is no glitter).  Whereas The Puffy Chair is one of the most un-enticing titles I have heard in a long time, and yet, like it’s film, it is honest and successful in its representation. There really is no glitter.  Mumblecore might have fallen on that hardest of narrative tricks: the navel-gaze that is interesting to other people, and a realism that elevates the audience through specificity.

Yours,

CF

Canada, Oh

Dear Millicent,

Let’s move to Canada.  Why? While the healthcare will be nice, and we’ll have the seasons, they will be extras.  The real benefit will be good television, radio, and publishing.  It seems as if in Canada the arts not only matter, but they are inclusive.

My ridiculous proof for this is a TV show that I stumbled upon, Maisonneuve, and radio essays that often show up on PRI. We can joke about the lackluster (a poor word for such sequined divas) Celine Dion and Shania Twain, but they are cancelled out by The Munro, and Montreal’s great charm on all who visit (I have never been).

The TV show is called Slings and Arrows, and I think it might be the best show I have seen.  I say this giddy off of a Netflix binge on the first season, and I have been known to give this title lightly.  I said the same about The Wire, Can’t Get a Date, Duchess of Duke Street, Berkeley Square, 30 Rock, The Daily Show, Arrested Development, Kids in the Hall, Peep Show, The Office (British), Mad Men,and years ago I was high off of Northern Exposure and Twin Peaks. All of these shows have left me breathless in what they have accomplished.  They are each the best in their own bright way.

I can’t believe Slings and Arrows got made.  I have never seen a script that was so odd, so unformulaed, so light, and so weighty.  It is about theater, for god sakes, and it’s about Canadian theatre, no less.  The show isn’t focused on setting trends. Nobody in the piece is wickedly outfitted as a cultural gatekeeper.  There is commentary on art in its public and commercial space.  There is a lightness in drawing the characters in three dimensions.  The writers seem to be unburdened by the need to play to the balcony–and they can have a grim fun that isn’t centered on flash or ego.  Yet flash and ego are present, but their creation is subtle and swift.  And deft and honest and well-played.  Humble is the wrong word, but there is a strong sense of confidence that carries more swagger in its apparent geekiness than the usual intricate and hip HBO offering.  This is only one show, and one season of that show, but it leaves me with the impression that Canada is the type at the party that looks like an IT clerk (unironic glasses, pleated pants, bland unbranded sneakers), but who is so relaxed and interesting that they make all the people in boots, scarves and tattoos look unfortunately overwrought. Maybe they are just refreshing.

Maissoneuve does the same for me.  Less McSweeney’s quirk (not that the quirk isn’t its own kind of gold), and more open conversation. Again, theirs is the party I want to go to.

We can go look at the cedars, get jobs where we won’t be millionaires, but it won’t matter, and in the summers we can wear dresses with puffed sleeves and drink cordial (I was thinking of Nova Scotia, and thus good old Anne).  We can also still drive to visit the folks on this side of the border.

If the second season of Slings and Arrows doesn’t hold up, this is all subject to change.

For now, to Canada, where the firecrackers seem lovely, the air is crisp, and the people have all swum in lakes,

Yours,

CF

I Love You, Three Dimensional Well Written Character

Dear Millicent,

I am trying to find a phrase for the female bromance, and am not having much luck: sismance (sounds like a goiter), ladymance (sounds like a medieval weapon), cronemance (I kind of like this, but it makes me think Dune), girlcrush, or the brit term for falling in love at boarding school — –‘having a pash’?

I ask this because I just saw I Love You, Man, a title bromance, and Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore (a supreme Netflix wonder). I was smitten with ILYM’s lack of difficulty: it is plot-lite, where even the climax is not very threatening or stressful.  I smiled at Paul Rudd throughout, and savored such lines as Jon Favreau offhandedly ordering a drink for wife, “and something with sour mix for her,” and Rudd’s father staidly announcing that his best friend is one of his sons in front of the other son.   But, the movie’s thesis is that women are friendship-a-matics: they instinctively klatch up and and share and support, while men have a hard time letting their hair down.  As Paul Rudd ventures to find friends, he encounters men wanting to date him or steal his clients, or geeks that are even less cool than he is.  His girlfriend enters the movie with a complete girl talk brigade with requisite bitch and ditz as besties.  Ladies have “girl’s nights” and drink wine.  They can sleep at each other’s houses and own boutiques together.  This doesn’t seem untrue, as much as one dimensional.

When he does meet his soul friend, they have quite the pash.  And it’s got all its dimensions.  They tell each other secrets, they support each other’s dreams, they make each other grow. The movie plays easy, so they have tilted the scales to make a more compact and satisfying formulaic tale.  The ladies have to be flat characters to foil the round joy of Rudd’s character arc with his manfriend.

But, isn’t the bromance really the story of all friendships? Doesn’t the post-college adult often flounder in isolation and miss the days where friendship was less homegenous, but very much enforced? In school there is required recess, and then the caste navigation of high school, and then dormmates and so on. Then we are released to the unwild, where people are no longer grouped by age or interest, and the world is lonelier.  Gyms and video stores and bars become the great chances of interaction.  I fuss not because ILYM is an inept representation of the difficulties of finding likeminded people, but because it’s like that way for everybody.  Women might say “I love you” to their pash a little earlier in the game, but otherwise same gauntlet.  And this is my nitpick with the Bromance/Apatow genre: it showcases its men with amazing dimensions of complexity, tenderness and contradiction and that is supposed to be the trick.  The ladies are supposed to have all of this stuff figured out, and as the men grapple and learn, we are all inclined to melt and appreciate the wit and humanity presented.  And, I usually do just that; as a critic, I am a worthless sop in the audience–I enjoy all of it.

Which brings me to Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore, where I lost the bet that Kris Kristofferson would wear jeans in every scene (he wears white pants, once! The rest, denim all the way).  This move explained a few things to me:

  1. Why, while growing up in Tucson, people often referred to this movie and Jodi Foster’s amazing quote “he’s even weird for Tucson, and Tucson is the capital of weird.”
  2. A parenting trend that might have influenced my parents: in the movie Alice is a single mother that talks to her precocious 12 year old like he is fully grown.  He is very astute (and could walk straight into a Wes Anderson movie), and mom makes cracks about her sex life or trouble paying the bills and then tells him to finish his dinner.  They have a loving relationship.  I wonder if divorced parents at the time, hoping to have an equally savvy and well-bonded relationship with their kids, tried to be the brassy, worldly honest type, not realizing that their own lines (and their kids) were not written in a script where the outcome is ultimately a happy one.
  3. Harvey Keitel was once a very young man.

And, we have Alice, played by Ellen Burstyn, as a successfully three dimensional lady on film.  My shock in watching the movie was how long it had been since I had seen that kind of complexity organically presented.  The movie is astounding in its motivations–every plot point has a very believable and fairly subtle reason for happening.  I have some issues with the ending–if you watch it, we must discuss–but overall, it’s a witty and complete portrait.  And, there is a gal pash, or rather, a tribute to the importance of the pash.  As Alice leaves town after her husband’s death, she and her friend have compelling goodbye scene where they both acknowledge how much they will miss each other (again, amazingly natural and heartfelt), and then later, this same friend is mentioned as Alice and Flo sunbathe in Tucson.  They have just become a united front, and Alice leans back, eyes closed to the sun and says “I forgot how good it is to talk to someone.”  The viewer feels how good these women feel in this moment.  It’s great.  I love the assumption of the movie that nobody has anything figured out, and practically every character is  their own little motor chugging through the world.

If the bromance/Apatow set , or a new think tank of entertainment, could take that kind of formula on, I’d be delighted.  I keep thinking there must be a female version of Peep Show, and all the Apatow gross-out/sentiment fests, and Juno isn’t quite it.

I love you, lady,

CF

The Mermaids, Singing

While watching Funny Girl, I kept wanting to apply the plot from Disney’s The Little Mermaid.  It doesn’t completely hold up, but is fun to consider.

  • Red hair.
  • The view from the bottom (Fanny’s Henry Street her own little ocean kingdom)
  • The singing, usually about yearning or adorable shenanigans.
  • Legs as the beauty ideal.  Fanny is constantly referencing her skinny legs, while Ariel just wants legs and a pass to the castle.
  • Major transformation: street-kid to confident celebrity, or mermaid to leggy bride.
  • Nicky and Prince Eric both go for ruffled shirts.

Maybe it was the sense of ingenue that both films share, but it was very fun.  Other thoughts:

  • Fanny’s first dinner with Nicky is so full of first relationship flutters.  I love her back and forth between the shock that this man, this hot guy likes her, and then her insistence on her own control/narrative of elegance/composure.  She is both inexperienced and fairly sure of what she wants (though unwilling to thoroughly announce it).
  • That divan.  Wait, that dining room.  I hate to be crass, but that private dining room is pretty much one giant vagina (at least, this is the thought I had when the doors open, which led me to thinking if all the infamous red rooms of bordellos are actually giant versions of engorged membranes).
  • Back to the divan.  There it is, giggly and very present.  I love her reaction to it.  I’m not sure I love how she succumbs (that we actually see her ultimately horizontal), but I love how it is the big scary hilarious unavoidable (she can’t stop sitting on it) elephant in the room.  Also, I do kinda love that she is ultimately horizontal.  She’s no seducee, she’s an interested newbie.
  • Much enjoyed quote: “A stranger should be strange,” says Fanny’s mom at her party, surmising Nick as he happily gambles with the older ladies.
  • Is one of the reason’s Streisand is so popular the same reason most people like Springsteen’s “Thunder Road”? In that song, there is the famous line “You ain’t a beauty, but hey, you’re alright.”  Julia Roberts even identifies with that line (I read that in a Rolling Stone once).  Do we love things that acknowledge our fear that we aren’t gorgeous, but are still indeed attractive in some other soul serving way?  Do we love watching obviously gorgeous people talk about their insecurities, thus proving that our insecurities insure our own humble beauty?
  • Oh! The costumes.  Le sigh.
  • Did you notice the strange refrigeration theme? In that first song she sings on roller skates she keeps talking about the Frigidaire man, and once rich, she shows off her in home icebox.  Thoughts?
  • I also kept thinking of Jennifer Aniston.  So, Ariel and Anniston.  Odd?
  • Lobsters in Maryland? No, silly movies.  It’s crabs.
  • Speaking of lobsters, this brings us to Doris Day.  Fanny could have a good long chat with Day’s character in The Thrill of it All!.  They both have men that cannot handle their women in higher paying, more satisfied jobs.  Except, fertility does solve Day’s problem, and mostly seems to complicate Fanny’s (though it’s more of a sidenote).
  • Nicky is gross, full of weakness that I will allow myself but not anybody I want to marry.  He is so frustrating at the end that I cannot believe her last song.  The ending is bullshit.  The dress is divine.
  • Nicky is fairly dreamy at the start. But, he reminds me of two similarly dreamy men (upon initial acquaintance) that are wracked by immaturity and self-esteem probs. So, lesson learned.

This comes together to another theme that has been running around my head lately.  A very dear friend of mine is recovering from a recent pregnancy loss.  The pregnancy itself was unexpected, embraced, and then discovered to not be a successful pregnancy.  This all happened in weeks, and the changes in her life and outlook (as you know the power of a few weeks), were immense.  I am starting to think that all major things in our life are about creation–love, reproduction, work.  These are the places where the stakes do not need our tampering to make them higher (versus the pettier intense narratives that I may create and obsess in my daily life).  But when it comes to these things, time can stop, worlds can change.  These things are the stuff of biography, of that certain juice where we perk up and say “I didn’t know it could be like this. I didn’t know this could be part of my life.”   This could go either good or bad, but it where we become our own movie, and get to leave the television redundancy of the every day.

We make some good things,

Loves,

CF

Where Are The Miracles?

1.) The other best part of the strangest goat-belly compared fight scene ever? That after harshly throwing her on the bed (really, not okay–way to hard for a comedy), he says “Queenie! You have one thing coming to me!” and then he rolls her off the bed and they start making out (as you aptly described). I assume he means sex since she has been holding out on him for two years apparently? Maybe because she didn’t want to mix her body in with the debt she was paying off? And even more odd–she looks like she was somehow slipped a muscle relaxer once off the bed–or are we supposed to assume that his kisses are soooooo good that they have the same effect as Valium?

2.) What is wrong with Ann Margaret’s voice? She can’t say her fiance’s family name without slurring, and then the rest of the time she sounds like she is five-year-old. Also–if you had never ever seen your mother before, don’t you think there would be some deeper conversation going on, like “who is my father?” or something?

3.) Bette Davis can’t behave destitute. Her posture is too good.

4.) Was the pacing strangely slow for a comedy? It took forever for the shenanigans to begin. I really wanted the whole movie to be about Queenie in the nightclub. My favorite scene is her jumping around in that silver costume.

5.) David Foster Wallace died. I don’t know where this fits in, but it marked my night. I just watched a Charlie Rose clip from ten years ago, and it all fits strangely into our conversations earlier today. Thoughts?

CF