How do parents react to the notion their child may be homosexual? In Jamie Babbit’s But I’m a Cheerleader, a film that aspires to be high camp, a young cheerleader suspected of Sapphic yearnings is sent straight to “straight camp” for deprogramming.
With the exception of the fab faux 50s set design and cameo-worthy stars like Bud Cort and Mink Stole, it’s utterly cheerless.
Scott McGehee and David Siegel’s The Deep End takes a more somber view of Sex Ed. Once main character Margaret Hall discerns her son Beau’s sexual orientation, immediate suppression is the task at hand. Margaret runs errands and runs interference in Beau’s extracurricular activities. When she discovers his sleazy lover’s impaled body on the family dock, it’s anchors away as the offending corpse is disposed of right into Lake Tahoe’s chilly depths.
One more to-do item crossed off her list.
What Margaret deliberately avoids is alerting authorities, or asking Beau about the dead man. This efficiency model does not use her common sense—instead she leaves herself vulnerable to the melodrama of blackmail and potentially, jail.
That a mother’s lot is filled with many and mundane details—enough to cause one to go off the deep end—is the only way to fathom the implausible premise. Tilda Swinton, with her crisp competence and precise manner does manage to nicely button up the film. Goran Visnjic, the brooding blackmailer she swiftly puts to shame, is quite good (not to mention good-looking), as well.
Film bleu is the new film noir as The Deep End is awash in turquoise water symbols. Apologies for the pun, but it’s difficult to restrain oneself when virtually every single frame from Sparkletts to Swan Lake contains a H20 allusion. Stylish, yet distracting. Perhaps the imagery is intended to divert the audience from contemplating the irrationality of a mother who, under the guise of protector, cannot confront her child on critical issues of innocence or guilt.
Ignorance is not always bliss. It is often the agony of intolerance.
As the frozen supertoy boy stares fixedly at the Blue Fairy reciting Pinocchio’s mantra, I too begin a silent chant: Let this be the final scene, let this be the final scene, let this be the final scene . . . It’s not, of course. For director Steven Spielberg to allow a mainstream film end in a moment of melancholia is far too great a wish.
A.I.: Artificial Intelligence relates a futuristic story of a robotic boy’s love for his adoptive mother. Advanced technology enables “mecha” David to operate fully loaded—with logic and emotion. He is sent to live with one of the manufacturers, Henry Swinton and his grief stricken wife, Monica, ostensibly to replace their comatose son, Martin.
Once Martin—insecure and inhumane—miraculously regains consciousness and comes home, David has exceeded his usefulness and is abandoned to the grim fairy tale forest. Imprinted with an obsessive Oedipus complex, the robot child is certain if he were only transformed into a real boy, his mother would welcome him back. David and his irritating walking/talking teddy bear set off on this quest, by way of Shirley Jacksonesque “flesh fairs” and mad scientists.
Visually, A.I. a cinematic astonishment: Manhattan drowning, Gigolo Joe jubilantly tap dancing, wizardly Rouge City beckoning.
As a story, the problem lies in its key characters. They are not complex in an interesting way; rather, their actions confound. Examples: The seemingly intelligent Swintons do not recognize their only offspring is an obvious bad seed; and doesn’t anybody realize David’s highly respected creator, Professor Hobby, cloned his own deceased son?
Stanley Kubrick’s ghost floats about A.I., haunting the unrealized potential for a sophisticated psychodrama. The weird happy ending (extraterrestrials are involved), however, is unmistakably Spielberg—more artificial sweetener than artificial intelligence.
Yolanda Thibodeaux Cochran’s effervescent Instagram announcement immediately caught my attention:
@yolandatcochran My peeps! So excited to finally be able to share that Project Greenlight is back, and I had the great privilege to produce the resulting feature film GRAY MATTER alongside @jeanettevolturno!
@IssaRae, @KumailN, and @GPDmadeit give the next generation of filmmakers the chance of a lifetime, but only one gets to direct her first feature film. And this season makes it abundantly clear (contrary to some narratives), that the pool of capable female directors is OVERFLOWING! Working with the truly talented @mekowinbush was such a pleasure and career highlight. Can’t wait to watch her star rise!
@katy.huntley Yo! I know I wrote a review once, but I can’t seem to find it. I do luv the Project Greenlight series! Congrats!
@yolandatcochran Looking forward to your thoughts this season. Maybe you could write new review?!
Friday 2:57 PM Katy: Well, hello star! Binge ing PG rn! Yolanda: . . . I want to know ALL your thoughts. All of them.
Fast break Quick take:
Viewing the behind-the scenes of movie-making is where the delicious drama lies. Selecting Meko Winthrop initially appeared to be a solid choice. Her calm, shy, demeanor belied her vulnerable, funny, and fiercely stubborn nature that emerged early on.
The rules of the Project Greenlight world were elucidated; stakes were stated from the get-go by all invested parties, with clear articulation and much repetition. The script required rewriting before the eighteen-day shoot, which recalcitrant Meko resisted.
Attempting to be supportive of Meko’s vision, and understanding of the vulnerable first-time feature film director, the powers that be were not direct, until Episode 3 with eight minutes left:
Yolanda: Time has come for a “Come to Jesus” meeting.
I had to immediately repair to White Heat Yoga to prepare for the “what for” in Ep four.
All ten episodes wildly entertain, but the big delight is watching a true-blue friend televised in her professional element—slaying the game without ever veering from her vibrant vivacious self.
Charlotte: I’ve been dating since I was fifteen. I’m exhausted. Where is he? Miranda: Who? The White Knight? Samantha: That only happens in fairy tales. (1)
“Modern women need cheat sheets to remind us romance isn’t dead.” (2)
Jane Austen’s heroines do not only exist in early nineteenth century literature. “Cher” is an up-to-date Emma in Amy Heckerling’s Clueless. The titular character in Bridget Jones’s Diary is reminiscent of Pride and Prejudice’s Elizabeth Bennett—only now she’s a hip London “singleton” navigating among the “smug marrieds.” Written in the spirit of Ms. Austen, four New York singletons offer their own Girls’ Guide to Hunting and Fishing with cosmopolitan wit in HBO’s Sex and the City.
Faithful to the ideal of romantic love is sweet Charlotte, originally an art dealer and now a divorcee. Miranda, a corporate lawyer, represents sensibility bordering on skepticism. Damn the torpedoes sexual temptation is embodied in publicist Samantha. Main character Carrie Bradshaw considers and synthesizes these and her own disparate perspectives on the love and war front. Carrie shares Elizabeth Bennett’s “quickness of observation.” (3)
She poses questions, carries out research, and reports on the city that never sleeps’ escapades and exploits. (Note: The first episode of the series begins with Carrie interviewing an English journalist named Elizabeth, and ends with her bumping into her own Mr. Darcy, enigmatically christened “Mr. Big.”)
These single successful career women are engaged in love/lust relationships confined to twenty-two square miles of Manhattan. Like the village in which Jane Austen locates her select society, Sex and the City, based on author Candace Bushnell’s column, is only a “. . . small subset of high-profile New Yorkers: fashion people, media honchos, money people, famous-for-fifteen-minute-artists.” (4)
Sex and the City’s universe is specific—yet its themes are universal. What intrigues Sex’s writers, and ultimately its audience, are the same kinds of thematic conflicts Austen writes about:
“[Jane Austen] is interested in dramatizing sex in everyday social life—in the drawing room rather than the bedroom. The courtship plots she creates allow her to explore the relations between sex and moral judgment, sex and friendship, sex and knowledge—that is, between sex and character. . . . The very publicity of sex in Austen’s novels—the constant awareness, the relentless dramatization—is what makes her examination of social life so powerful.” (5)
The writers for Sex and the City are not restricted to the drawing room. What happens behind closed doors is on screen in full view, yet the salacious is only a diversionary hook. Discourse on mores and manners, particularly givens associated with gender roles, is what constitutes the show’s substance, much like in Austen’s world:
“The lives of Jane Austen heroines, who spend much of their time at balls, dinners and on extended visits, should not . . . be considered trivial. Essentially they are engaged in receiving an education in manners, the subtleties of which can be fully explored only in the context of the formal social occasion, and are thus being prepared for their role as arbiters of manners and preservers of morals. By undergoing this process, and by eradicating the deficiencies in manners . . . the heroines eventually become as useful to society as any politician, soldier or clergyman.” (6)
Sex and the City is a comedy, and as such the leading ladies have a vast comic repertoire to draw from (broad humor for Carrie’s “fashion roadkill” (7) pratfall; black humor for Miranda’s mother’s death) (8). Comedy is the essential accessory for trifling issues: Manolo Blahniks or Jimmy Choos shoes? as well as the severe “running with scissors” (9) situations. The 5th’s season finale leaves the New Yorkers still girlfriends, still single, and still cynical—yet romantic enough to fall sway to the strains of a song playing at an acquaintance’s wedding reception: “Is that all there is? Is that all there is? If that’s all there is my friends, then let’s keep dancing . . .” (10)
As ever, everything that’s classic is fabulous again. Whether we are perusing Jane Austen’s literature or tuned into Sex and the City, we can all relate to the “delightful commentary upon the little foibles of human nature” (11)—a “perpetual human comedy, in which we all have to play our parts.” (12)
Postscript: Twenty one years after first publishing the Jane Austen Heroines’ article, And Just Like That showcases the character, Amelia Carsey, as a voiceover artist performing a dramatic reading of Pride and Prejudice.”
Footnotes 1 “Where There’s Smoke.” Writ. Michael Patrick King. Sex and the City. Created by Darren Star. Dir. King. HBO. Season 3: Episode 31. June 4, 2000.
2 “Are We Sluts?” Writ. Cindy Chupack. Sex and the City. Created by Star. Dir. Nicole Holofcener. HBO. Season 3: Episode 36. July 16, 2000.
3 Swisher, Clarice. Ed. Readings on Jane Austen. San Diego: Greenhaven Press, 1997.
4 Franklin, Nancy. “Sex and the Single Girl.” The New Yorker, July 1998: 74-77.
5 Fergus, Jan. “Sex and Social Life in Jane Austen Novels,” in Jane Austen in a Social Context. Ed. David Monaghan. Macmillian Ltd., 1981.
6 Monaghan, David. “Jane Austen and the Position of Women,” in Jane Austen in a Social Context. Ed. David Monaghan. Macmillian Ltd., 1981.
7 “The Real Me.” Writ. King. Sex and the City. Created by Star. Dir. King. HBO. Season 4: Episode 50. June 3, 2001.
8 “My Motherboard, My Self.” Writ. Julie Rottenberg and Elisa Zuritsky. Sex and the City. Created by Star. Dir. Michael Engler. HBO. Season 4: Episode 56. July 15, 2001.
9 “Running With Scissors.” Writ. King. Sex and the City. Created by Star. Dir. Dennis Erdman. HBO. Season 3: Episode 41. August 20, 2000.
10 “I Love a Charade.” Writ. Chupak and King. Sex and the City. Created by Star. Dir. Engler. HBO. Season 5: Episode 74. September 8, 2002.
11 Moore, Catherine. “Pride and Prejudice.” Masterplots. Ed. F. N. Magill. Englewood: Salem, 1976.
12 Priestly, J.B., “Afterword,” in Four English Novels. Eds. J.B. Priestly and O.B. Davis. New York: Harcourt, 1960.
Please, give me a second grace/ Please, give me a second face. I’ve fallen far down/the first time around/ Now I just sit on the ground in your way.
Now, if it’s time to recompense, for what’s done/ Come, come sit down on the fence, in the sun. And the clouds will roll by/and we’ll never deny/ It’s really too hard . . . to fly.—Nick Drake
Imperial in manner and impervious to any but his own interests, patriarch Royal Tenenbaum acts out atrociously, conferring “betrayal, failure, and disaster” upon his wife and three precocious prodigies in writer/director Wes Anderson’s melancholy New York story, The Royal Tenenbaums, co-written with Bottle Rocket and Rushmore collaborator, Owen Wilson; original music composed by Mark Mothersbaugh.
Royal is the errant center of Anderson and Wilson’s distinctly drawn gallery of idiosyncratic characters. An unfaithful husband and unaware parent, he indulges in deception, favoritism, and occasional thievery with genial charm. Early on, an exasperated Etheline banishes Royal from their Archer Avenue castle:
Margot: Are you getting divorced? Royal: It doesn’t look good. Margot: Is it our fault? Royal: [less than reassuring] Obviously we made sacrifices as a result of having children. But no . . . Lord, no.
Royal’s subsequent interactions with his offspring are intermittent and marred by Freudian psychodramatics. A sense of entitlement (yet without the proper financial backing) maintains Royal as a guest of the Lindbergh Palace Hotel for twenty-two years until they, too, ask him to leave.
And thus Royal re-enters Etheline and his adult children’s lives, certain he can cadge a measure of redemption. What he discovers is a modern day Glass family: numb, suicidal, and hostile towards his infiltration attempts:
Royal: You think you can start forgiving me? Chas: Why should I? Royal: [indignant] Because you’re hurting me!
A widower with two young sons, Chas has most at emotional stake in the Royal family. Unlike his father, he is protective of Ari and Uzi—but to their detriment. Petrified that death and destruction are imminent, he quells their adventurous nature:
Royal: Chas has those boys cooped up like a pair of jackrabbits, Ethel. Etheline: He has his reasons. Royal: Oh, I know that. But you can’t raise boys to be scared of life. You gotta brew some recklessness into them. Etheline: I think that’s terrible advice. Royal: No you don’t.
With egregious glee, Royal takes the lads on a tear, exacerbating the conflict. The ensuing argument Royal and Chas have carries on inside the hallway closet where shelves of classic board games line the walls. Fortune 500, Operation, Strategy, Risk, and Last Word exemplify the kind of ingenious storytelling subtlety that makes Anderson and his Go To crew the Head of the (Hollywood) Class.
All apologies aside, Royal remains constant in his slippery solipsism, try as he might to change. It is finally Chas who veers off his intractable course of righteousness and forgives his father. Soon thereafter, Royal suffers a fatal heart attack. The epitaph on his headstone, authored by his own hand (and proofread by Etheline at his request), reads:
“Died tragically rescuing his family from the wreckage of a destroyed sinking battleship.”
The listing vessel none other than himself, Royal O’Reilly Tenenbaum.