Archive for February, 2011

February 22, 2011

Everybody’s “Blue”?

As I walked out of the theater that had thankfully showcased Blue Valentine for me, I overheard a conversation between a couple of girls in their early twenties.  The centerpiece of their discussion was: “Don’t go and see this with a new significant otherrrr…Yah! It’ll be, like, awkwarrrrrd!”

I loved the movie.  It’s about a struggling married couple on the verge of divorce, but Derek Cianfrance and his post-production crew dexterously edit in heart-warming, delightful scenes that are highlights of Dean’s (Ryan Gosling) courtship of the very receptive Cindy (Michelle Williams), which serve as a mighty juxtaposition to where they fatefully end up as a couple.

Viewers of this film, be they verbally eloquent or not, will be naturally inclined to judge it as a real downer.  Like most couples, Dean and Cindy begin on quite a high note.  The boy, painfully devoid of self-esteem, uses his wit, charm, and smile to actually land the blond girl of his dreams.  But then, time and choices plague them to the point of destruction.  And there’s a kid involved.

Many may think this film is a testament to the death of love, the idea that it’s all a myth.  Not so.  One needs to consider the fact that this couple was quite young and immature when they sealed their respective fates.  The best segments of this work, in my opinion, are when the two first meet.  The positive energy they emit radiates off the screen and into your heart.  Dwell on this. (Somehow Ryan Gosling has not earned a Best Actor nod.  He, like many before him, may be on his way to a “Career Oscar.”)  Sure their shit gets all fucked up, but that doesn’t have to be you either.  Thematically, “Go with your gut” rings true, but, at the same time, “Learn from your mistakes” is triumphant.

True love takes time to develop.  Blue Valentine, with hints on the corruption of the American Dream as well, discusses this point.  So, don’t think about breaking up with your “significant other” after watching this flick.  Instead, take marked appreciation of the good times because they may not, or just may, last.

February 17, 2011

“500 Days” Will Last a Lifetime

Marc Webb’s 500 Days of Summer will emerge in the coming years as this generation’s timeless and age-defining romantic dramedy.  With homages to the Sixties’ The Graduate, I wouldn’t call 500 Days an “update” of that classic, but there will be ironic correlations as we grow old.

Looking back through history, each faction of young people via the artistic community expressed a sense of disillusion, disconnect, and dissatisfaction with social norms and expectations.  In short, they felt lost.  Post-WWI’s group were even called “The Lost Generation,” highlighted by the literary achievements of F. Scott Fitzgerald and a myriad of others, as the world put itself back together, only to have it splintered again a couple of decades later, making way for the “Beatniks” and, the ever-popular, “Hippies.”  Generation Hipster (Can I go there?) has our war/s too.  But this also is a time of incredible awareness, considering that we have throttled into an era that could arguably be labeled “post-Civil Rights Movement,” “post-feminism” and where more people anticipate earning higher levels of education than before.  Yeah, I know there is work still to be done in all of these areas; however, we have our president, we have our secretary of state, and these days a four-year degree is a “minimum requirement,” which was not the case for our parents. Progress has been made.

I bring all of this up to have you recognize that the characters of 500 Days are very modern, in terms of both their strengths and their flaws.  Tom, portrayed by the absurdly talented Joseph Gordon-Levitt, is in his mid-twenties and still trying to “figure it all out.”  He’d made his way through college, studying architecture, just to be passed over by a few potential employers in the fleeting months after graduation.  “Life happened” and he finds himself half-assedly designing greeting cards for a steady paycheck.  Viewers never get a sense that Tom will be a lifer in that position.  Summer, played by Zooey Deschanel (once I start to register accurate adjectives of approval for that woman, there will ultimately be a tally of an embarrassing number), is, like Tom, a Los Angeles transplant.  From Michigan, she claims to have landed on the left coast simply due to boredom.  We come to know that Summer was well-traveled and freely explored her sexuality.  Upon meeting and (merely) “liking” Tom, Summer declares that she isn’t “looking for anything serious,” which she understands might “freak some guys out.” While these aspects of their backgrounds link them to those “lost” folk of the past, the reasons for this lack of focus and absence of goals is quite different.

Some say that “women in the workplace” has been the impetus behind the rising average age of marriage for both males and females.  Women now are taking their time, putting their career first, before settling down and having kids in their thirties, as opposed to their twenties.  Others speculate that folks marry later due to an increase in college education.  We hear less and less of people simply graduating high school, getting a job, and procreating by the time they’re 21.  Whichever the reason, or be it a combination of both along with other causes, men and women are “just dating” throughout their twenties and 500 Days does an impeccable job of illustrating the clashes that can transpire in our lost generation of hipsters.

How many times, youngish people, have you been in dating situations where either the girl or guy announced what Summer said to Tom about avoiding a “serious” relationship?  How often have you said or heard “Yeah, no pressure”?  Who has uttered to another that they’re “Just friends,” knowing full-well it was more than that?  And “Let’s not label this” is another popular one.  All of these lines are featured in 500 Days.  These key points of dialogue, along with obviously making the movie most relative to Gen-Hipsters’ instances of “hanging out” with members of the opposite sex, drive the conflict forward.  Ironically, in this story, the male is the perpetrator of couple-hood, while it is the femme fatale seeking a more open set of circumstances.  However, Tom complies with Summer’s demands, I guess, in the name of being “progressive.”  He’s the one with the testicles.  Tom should just be happy with getting laid and not allow fucking feelings and emotions to get in the way, right?  But he does.  This causes much distress for our protagonist, while Summer’s emotions are remarkably collected.  She just goes with it.  At one point, Tom’s drunken friend McKenzie (played by the guy who inconceivably gets to nail Christina Hendricks whenever he wants to) even calls Summer “a dude.”

In The Graduate, Benjamin is asked several times, “What’s wrong?”  He is unsure about his future, to say the least.  Grad school?  Career?  Marriage?  Kids?  He’d rather spend his time “just drifting” on a water mattress in his parent’s pool.  Ultimately, viewers of 500 Days don’t see anything wrong with Tom and Summer; they are empathetic figures.  We’re drifting right alongside them.  In stark contrast to Benjamin and Elaine (Sure they get together, but, at best, their ultimate fate as a couple is quite uncertain; just look at their expressions while on the bus.), Tom and Summer reveal that there is hope at this film’s conclusion.  Summer gets married and Tom meets Autumn, but only when he reemerges a more confident man with a straight set of priorities and reassurance.  Our generation is simply experiencing a prolonged adolescence, both similar and contrasting to those before us.  We have this heightened awareness of possibilities and potential that paradoxically has a stunting effect on our maturing process.  Dating in the “Aughts” then features a tricky terrain because of this.  So, we must struggle and “beat on, boats against the current.”  But we’ll have our “one fine morning” when we figure it all out.

February 5, 2011

“Six Feet Under” – It’s February and You’re Depressed Anyway

So now that you have experienced the magical madness that is Weeds, I have another Netflix suggestion for you: HBO’s Six Feet Under.  Created by Alan Ball, the series centers around Nate Fisher (Peter Krause), the oldest of three, who, after spending much of his adult life away from his off-kilter parents and siblings, finds himself having to oversee the family business: a funeral parlor located in their own house.  In the premiere episode, Nate’s father is killed when his car is hit by a bus.  Feeling obligated to now work from home, Nate is forced to get along with his mourning mother, Ruth (the award-winning Frances Conroy), his in-the-closet brother, David (Michael C. Hall – Dexter before he was Dexter), and a misguided, troubled, much-younger sister, Claire (Lauren Ambrose).  Adding to the intensity of his new, old life is his girlfriend, Brenda (Rachel Griffiths), whom he happened to nail on the Christmas Eve plane ride home, just moments after meeting her.  Due to the sudden tragedy, she easily sympathizes with Nate, turning a mile-high club hookup into a full-fledged relationship.

One of the intriguing aspects of the show’s early episodes is Nate’s discoveries of facets of his dead father’s secret, almost double-life.  The series’ emergent theme is that family, no matter how much one may try to deny this as a reality, is a major part of a person’s life.  Nate had spent years trying to escape his destiny as a funeral director, but there he is, doing just that with much success.  In the process, he is beginning to recognize that he, perhaps, never gave his father and his family a chance to develop a quality relationship with him, or even each other.

The better of the first four seasons is Season Two (not that Season One is unwatchable, but if you’re not overwhelmingly impressed, I urge you to stick with it) because it is then that the story lines and tension between the characters pick up immensely.  Nate has a looming brain-condition and a bat-shit crazy fiance, David is in breakup-mode, Claire’s in love with a criminal, and even Ruth is dating again.

Seasons Three and Four have high points (namely Rainn Wilson’s-yes, Rainn Wilson-appearances), but also a few scripts that are difficult to accept as believable or realistic.  I found myself thinking on a couple of occasions, “Ok.  This much bad shit can’t happen to one family.”  In retrospect though, I see those episodes as stepping stones to one of the finest seasons of any series of television, making them more than worthwhile.  I really don’t want to give too much away, but the last three episodes of Season Five in particular are filled with some of the most profound acting this viewer has ever witnessed.

So, put Six Feet Under at the top of your queue this month.  You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, and you’ll understand why you’ve heard all the hype surrounding the final moments of this great HBO series.