Last night, I saw Lady Sovereign at the Knitting Factory. Like MIA, Lady Sovereign is a fierce lil Britgirl rapper. There are so few American female MCs living in any kind of limelight these days (fewer than there used to be, even) that I am tres curious about these girls. Also I have not been able to stop singing “Ch Ching,” her Little Engine That Could single.
Jostle and I drove over the Williamsburg Bridge at an hour already past our bedtime and parked right around the corner from the club like true suburban haufraus. Then girlfriend didn’t come on until after what may have been the longest DJ set ever to precede a live act. So long that I nearly drowned in the showkid culture that doesn’t even proliferate Williamsburg in such volume: The girls growing out their bangs by combing them into poofy pompadours; still rolling up their jeans too many times. The boys in their goofy railroad conductor hats. The dancing, ever more white. I nearly decked a guy who poked me hard “as an experiment to see if I would fall.” Why not dip my braid in the inkwell, you Tom Sawyer douchebag?
But it turned out Lady Sov was worth it and then some. Tiny with a braided side ponytail and big-boy basketball sneakers and jeans, she came off like the improbable love child of a ménage a troi between the Little Rascals, Tintin and Punky Brewster. All small useless limbs and cockeyed grin and accent. Ch ching. Reeling from bad McDonald’s, she had to fit her set in between vomiting sessions, and her deejay’s equipment kept malfunctioning so badly that she stamped her tiny foot. But stylishly. If she could pull her set out from under those bad stars, she’s already a star herself. And she did. She charmed the shite out of all of us with her oddly easy chatter. Like Dean Martin she was. Even standing in the queasy upper section, far from the madding crowd, her charasma bit me pleasurably in the assma. So that I got asthma. Oy. After a while, I barely even noticed how everyone around me was dancing like they were knee-deep in aerobics class.
I mean, really. Really.
Last night I walked out of a screening of Keane, due for release in late September. It wasn’t the worst movie, at least what I saw of it. Represented by one of my favorite publicists, one known for her choosiness, and executive-produced by Steven Soderbergh (which doesn’t automatically recommend a film; see Criminal or, rather, don’t), I’d been anticipating Keane with some low-level excitement. But 30 minutes in, I knew I had to leave. The story of an obviously mentally ill man seeking a daughter abducted from NY Port Authority made me wobbly: crampy, headachey, feverish, dizzy. Made me like him, in other words; him, as he spun in circles and hissed at himself and pulled anxiously at all his layers of clothes.
I used to believe that anything that evoked such a strong physical reaction shouldn’t be dismissed — the first 10 minutes of Leaving Las Vegas were at least as harrowing as this film, for example — but the last two films that I’d found as nauseating (Demonlover and Irréversible) didn’t exactly inspire me to stay yesterday. Both ambushed my senses merely as a crash course in their stunted nihilism. Keane’s payoff for all this physical misery wasn’t clear enough; I could see stretching ahead another whole hour of a wild-eyed, tight-mouthed man inadvertently bungling all the lives all around him. So I grabbed my purse and hustled out in search of some Advil.
Back before I mostly attended press screenings, I walked out on films all the time. It was a lavish, dramatic gesture, almost like paying for a bad date’s meal with your last 50 bucks. It was my way of claiming my time as important, of also (I must confess) peeving my then-boyfriend, who insisted on catching not only every trailer but every final credit. Looking back, skipping out really was a luxury. As a paying audience member, I had a right to walk if the movie wasn’t holding me in its grasp. These days, I’m a cog in the film industry machine — albeit a small cog. (Right now I’m mostly doing listings for the estimable flavorpill. ) I still feel lucky to be invited to screenings, and, especially in the case of indie movies, I feel a responsibility to the filmmakers who’ve likely invested a few years of their lives and their resources to at least watch the whole damn thing. What if the film is great and just hasn’t inspired the right critics so far, hasn’t been accepted by the right festivals? (The terrific Funny Ha Ha is a prime example.)
Honestly, I’m not proud of what I did yesterday. I’m thinking of seeing the film again in penance. And of pleading heat exhaustion.
I seem to be slightly immune to the charms of Miranda July and her much-vaunted first feature Me and You and Everyone We Know. Something about its careful creepiness sticks in my craw — and not in a good way. July and her characters’ quiet peculiarities — the dowry-obsessed preteen; a pair of sexed-up neighborhood vixens seducing the blank-faced new kid; July herself as an art naïf busy mucking about with slide projectors and stalking the shoe salesman who lights his hand on fire in response to his divorce — just aren’t my cup of tea no matter how original they may be. Yes, July strips her film of the misanthropy that often sinks Solonz’ films (to which Me and You has been rightfully compared), but a teeth-decaying preciousness takes its place. Her movie may touch on the many mottled ways that humans strive for true communion with each other, but not with as shattering an impact as it’s been credited. It’s hard to distinguish exactly what sets her film apart from a bevy of other small movies slated for release this summer: The estimable Happy Endings and Junebug poke into some of the territory with a greater fierceness if perhaps less vulnerability.
I am willing to admit that some of my beefs simply aren’t fair, that I always read July’s sort of morose whimsy as passive-aggressive. But if July’s film were as overwhelming an achievement as it’s been touted, wouldn’t it render sympathetic even characters to whom I’d be disinclined in real life? Isn’t that one of the points of character-driven film in the first place? Or am I just (back)lashing out? I can’t quite decide.
Here’s the kit to go with that caboodle:
1. I was restless as all get out during March of the Penguins. It’s typically true that humans only focus on aspects of nature that suit their own agendas (the upcoming Grizzly Man does a fine job of proving that), but an usual amount of anthropomorphizing goes into projecting that those penguins were laboring hard for love. Since when is good-old species survival conflated with romantic pursuit?
My resistance may stem from a resistance to Morgan Freeman’s hypnotic narration. His sonorous voiceovers actually work sometimes — most recently in Million Dollar Baby — but there are other times when his magnanimous smile is just too audible. Which reminds me that:
2. Paul Haggis really is overrated. Million Dollar Baby is great, but that is because Haggis adapted that script from F.X. Toole’s terrific book, and because Clint Eastwood is a great director and actor who surrounded himself with an able cast and crew. The over-the-top portrayal of Hilary Swank’s female boxer’s lazy, poor family smacks of the kind of demographic shortcuts that comprise the whole of Haggis’ too-pat LA ensemble film Crash. The (limited) success of that movie (and of Me and You) shows just how how hungry American viewers are for bigger topics and bigger emotions. Which brings me to my last point:
3. Reading, of all things, a copy of GQ on the can, I came across an article calling to task Ben Stiller and his gaggle of boys-will-be-boys (no link available, sorry). Much has already been written about Stiller’s vainglory, about how he struts his strangely overdeveloped little Cro-Mag bod around even when it’s plot-inappropriate, about the fundamental mediocrity of his mainstream comedies. But this piece nails what it dubs his “fratpack,” the group of male comedians who claim vaguely hipster status without remotely ruffling the status quo.
Stiller started out his career working with gays and feminists (the aborted Ben Stiller Show contains his funniest work by far) but, along with the likes of the Brothers Owen, Vince Vaughn, Will Ferrell (whom I do love), he has found his footing making the kind of movies that challenge nothing but patience. I’m as much a fan of simply retahded as the next girl, but therein lies the problem. There ain’t no girls to speak of in these stickly-dickly vehicles except as objects of humor or lust. Given that Chappelle is now on a seemingly permanent hiatus, that Kudrow’s show is an enormous disappointment, and that the Stella boys may be nerdier but are certainly no more progressive, what does it say that the only true social satire taking place right now is in more straight-on media knock-offs like The Onion or The Daily Show?