Archive | Feminist Matters

‘Gone Girl’: More Savory Than Sweet

Who can forget Ben Affleck’s acceptance speech at the 2013 Academy Awards? “Marriage is hard,” he declared while thanking wife Jennifer Garner, and the audience collectively froze. The next day, Oscar post-mortems were dominated by a debate about the actor-director’s words: Were they inappropriate? Were he and Garner having trouble? Is marriage hard? Imagine an entire movie launched from that declaration – complete with Affleck’s cheesy, unsettling grin – and we’ve got “Gone Girl,” David Fincher’s extraordinary adaptation of Gillian Flynn’s eponymous bestseller.

Though few deny that Fincher is a technically proficient director, charges of misogyny and misanthropy have dogged his films since 1995’s “Se7en,” his serial killer mystery with a biblical twist. True, his body of work – from “The Social Network,” the Sorkin-scripted Facebook origin story, to the ill-fated “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” – doesn’t paint a rosy picture of humanity. (It’s a wonder he’s not accused of misandry.) But it’s not really humanity that gets the shaft in his films; it’s human interactions. People may need people, he suggests, but that doesn’t mean we don’t bring out the worst in each other. In this sense, “Gone Girl” – an unflinching portrait of human intimacy if ever there were one – may be his signature piece. Continue Reading →

Lena Dunham’s ‘Heartburn’

Unlike many of her peers, Lena Dunham doesn’t score buzz for celebrity feuds, leaked sex tapes, or alleged stints in rehab. Instead, the Oberlin-educated actress, producer, director, and writer is known for clever quips, unapologetic feminism, a signature style, her film and TV projects (most recently, she’s producing a documentary about a tailoring company for the LGBT community), and an endearing, brilliantly articulated honesty. In short, she’s the latest in a long line of great Hollywood dames. So it’s no surprise that Lady Dunham has plenty of mentors – from Judd Apatow to her mom, the artist Laurie Simmons, to the late Nora Ephron. In fact, when the writer and director died in 2012, Dunham’s New Yorker remembrance (Nora’s advice about her love problems: “You can’t meet someone until you’ve become what you’re becoming”) was so loving and clear that it launched her own career as an author. To celebrate the publication of her memoir cum Helen Gurley-inspired advice manual Not That Kind of Girl, then, let’s consider a fantasy Dunham remake of “Heartburn,” the 1986 adaptation of Ephron’s thinly disguised account of her divorce from Watergate journalist Carl Bernstein.

Though that film boasted a terrific premise and an astonishing pedigree – Ephron herself wrote the screenplay; Oscar-winning Mike Nichols directed; Oscar-winning Meryl Streep starred as food writer Rachel (the Ephron stand-in); Oscar-winning Jack Nicholson played columnist Mark (the Bernstein stand-in); Carly Simon sang the soundtrack; and the supporting cast included Jeff Daniels, Stockard Channing, Catherine O’Hara, Oscar-winning Kevin Spacey (who plays a subway mugger in one of his first-ever screen roles), and Oscar-winning Milos Forman – it was a mixed bag at best. The problem lay mostly with Nichols. With respect to his legendary wit (check out his early standup with writer Elaine May), it didn’t quite match the sensibilities of good-girl absurdist Nora. On the other hand, Dunham’s combination of excellent manners and wacky irreverence – not to mention her family background of well-off creatives – mirrors Ephron perfectly. Continue Reading →

Communing With ‘Tracks’

To call Robyn Davidson’s 1980 best-selling memoir Tracks a travelogue is a bit facile. It’s not that it doesn’t conform to the definition of a travelogue: It is about her 1977 trek across 1,700 miles of west Australian desert with four camels and her sweetheart of a dog. But for many men and even more women, the book is also an anthem of liberation – from racism, nationalism, sexism, and from social conditioning itself.

Davidson writes:

The self in a desert did not seem to be an entity living somewhere inside the skull, but a reaction between mind and stimulus. The self in a desert becomes more and more like the desert. It has to, to survive. It becomes limitless, with its roots more in the subconscious than the conscious.

To those tired of the “Me Decade” (which has since lengthened into the “Me Decades”; is it possible we’re having a “Me Millennium?”), Davidson’s rejection of the Western concept of the self comprised the very essence of liberation. The irony was that, having achieved an egoless state out there in the outback (however fleetingly), Davidson bristled at the egotism implicit in self-documentation. Practical Aussie that she was, she still dutifully wrote up her trip for National Geographic magazine, her sponsor. She even allowed photographer Rick Smolan to capture her image as “the camel lady,” as she became known internationally. The book she subsequently wrote relayed her journey as well as the ambivalence she felt about needing anything – from other people to words themselves. It’s an unlikely subject for a bestseller, really. Unless you factor in Davidson’s glamour.

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