Archive | Essays

Of Apatow, Dunham, Girls, and the Godfather

In my latest Word and Film essay, I anticipate this weekend’s Girls season finale, and explore how Lena Dunham fits into Judd Apatown. An excerpt:

“The severity of the editing and swift tone changes in “Girls”–a sunny “Hard Days Night” cemetery caper followed by a darkly shot throwdown–do not cater to audiences so much as lead them, building upon a devil-may-carefulness that Apatow himself introduced in his first TV ventures. But Dunham takes it further. There’s a steeliness in her show that is inconceivable in the “family values”-laden, endearingly compensatory, slightly slobbering world of Apatow’s directorial efforts. (His confessed love for self-help books shows in good and bad ways.) She presents the denouement of Hannah’s book editor’s death but not of her grandmother’s; the abrupt evacuation of Adam’s sister; and a shakedown in which the Girls rip each other to shreds with terrifying accuracy. What’s more, none of these events are referenced again by characters otherwise well-acquainted with navel-gazing. There’s an incontinuity at hand that feels both deliberate and brutal. When coupled with all those nitpicking confessionals delivered in uptalk, it speaks of a generational callousness that is stunningly observed.”

For more, including a bevy of Godfather references, go here, Sirenaders!

A Double of Doubles

In my latest essay for Word and Film,  I focus on movie zeitgeists, in which a handful of films on the same topic come out at the same time. In particular I look at a recent double of “doubles”—Enemy (opening today), starring Two Jakes (Gyllenhaal), and The Double, starring a neurotic Jesse Eisenberg and a hustling Jesse Eisenberg. An excerpt:

Enemy, which opens this week, stars Jake Gyllenhaal as Adam, a hapless history teacher who feels threatened when he discovers Anthony, a small-time movie actor (also Gyllenhaal) who is his exact physical double. Directed by Denis Villeneuve, the film is based upon the Nobel Prize-winning author José Saramago’s Portuguese novel The Double, a cheerless affair that tackles subjects like self-illusion in what seems like one endless, stream-of-conscious paragraph. The film veers from the book in some key ways – it’s set in Toronto and boasts such surreal touches as giant spiders and an “Eyes Wide Shut”-style sex club – but is no less grim. Gyllenhaal’s acting strength typically stems from his remarkable physicality but his “two Jakes,” perhaps taking their cues from the film’s gray and brown palette, are so lifeless that not even their gorgeous blonde mates (more mirrors!) can rouse them. Some of the problem lies with the normally deft Villeneuve’s one-note direction, which eschews any soulfulness – as though it would compromise his grinding theme of the elusiveness of identity in an empty world.

Here’s the rest, Sirenaders!

La Middle-Aged Vie Boheme

Lately I can’t stop listening to the soundtrack of Rent. I didn’t even like that musical when it first came out, arguably because I was living in the creative ghetto of Manhattan’s Lower East Side amongst a bunch of drug addicts and queens of all genders, and resented what felt like a Disney version of my life. Twenty years later, I adore its cocktail of pathos and joy, which just goes to show you that nostalgia can be generated for anything once it’s passed.

I’m especially moved that, with great heart, this production puts its “Today 4 U” money where its mouth is. Written in the midst of the AIDS crisis, it is based upon many characters who did not survive to see the 21st century, and was written by a young man who, because of a genetic syndrome, knew that he would not. Now that I’m of an age when my peers and I daily live with mortality as a reality rather than a fantasy, I appreciate Rent’s carpe-doomsday aesthetic, even if it does come with jazz hands. I sing selections from its soundtrack all the time. “Light My Candle” as I clean; “Life Support” as I drive; “Seasons of Love” as I cook; “Will I” as I pay bills; “Santa Fe” as I walk block after NYC block; “Take Me or Leave Me” as I paint. Often I weep as I sing, but it’s not unhappy weeping. It’s that my-joy-and-sorrow-connects-me-to-the-universe sort of weeping. It’s weeping along the lines of that Stella Adler quote: Life beats down the soul and art reminds you that you have one.

At the same time I’ve become a ’90s musical enthusiast, I can’t stop painting and wallpapering things. This began when I commenced my home rehab last fall. I’d always feigned the vapors when anything had to be fixed around my rent-stabilized apartment, either Tom Sawyering an innocent bystander or, more than often than not, ignoring the problem entirely until it toppled on my head. (That really happened once; a badly installed ceiling lamp fell on my bed just as I was going to town on a long-lashed lover.) I think I assumed–feminism be damned!–that eventually I’d be married or moneyed, and so would be able to permanently fob off those handyman tasks or just move somewhere grander. But after last fall’s final break from a man I deeply love, I accepted my life might always be white steed-free. So I rolled up my sleeves and commenced to finally fix up this fix-it-upper—to divest and plaster and sand and paint and forage. You know, that Marge Piercy quote: Bless whatever you can with eyes and hands and tongue. If you can’t bless it, get ready to make it new. Continue Reading →

"All, everything I understand, I understand only because I love."
― Leo Tolstoy