January 26, 2013

"Women and Mental Illness: Why The Virgin Suicides is Still Relevant Today" by Alissa Fleck

How often do “chick flicks” deal with serious mental illness? The truth is, all the time, just not directly or realistically. It’s usually more of a static undertone, a fair-weathered eccentricity, employable when it’s charming.

Take, for instance, the “Manic Pixie Dream Girl,” a term recently coined by film critic Nathan Rabin to describe the giddy, overly-hyper female protagonist of so many gender- and hetero-normative chick flicks and romantic comedies.

January 25, 2013

"Peyton Place" by Jeffery Berg

Sometimes when I think of Christmas, I think of a scene in Peyton Place where Lana Turner takes off her coat and reveals her black leather gloves and a crimson dress.  Snow falls outside the window as she tells her lover about her sordid past and then remarks, “You want the truth but when you get it, you’re just like everyone else, you want anything but the truth.” On this viewing of the film I found Turner and her character particularly compelling.  Widowed Constance MacKenzie runs the town dress shop and spends much of her days and nights in solitude, reading magazines and books, going to the movies alone, smoking cigarettes, and avoiding relationships within the community—afraid of scandal, afraid of gossip, and love.  Her daughter Allison (Diane Varsi) is illegitimate but she lies to her about her dead father.  Constance recognizes, resents, and fears for her maturing daughter. Turner herself endured abuse and several unhappy relationships including one with a man who was killed by her daughter – an incident that eerily mirrors events in the movie.

January 24, 2013

"Unlikable Protagonist: Young Adult" by Amy Lawless

Yesterday my friend Jackie Clark emailed me a few pages from Out of Sheer Rage: Wrestling with D.H. Lawrence a book by Geoff Dyer, which I totally plan on reading.  I printed out the PDF and underlined these lines as they highlighted a particular characteristic found in Mavis Gery, the protagonist of Young Adult (2011) who manages to be at once both completely unlikable and completely relatable:

“it is a relief from something else - anything else. And so, after squandering a day working through this demoralising routine that I have worked through innumerable days before, I would resign myself, would in fact abandon myself to not giving up, to picking up my pen and trying once again, if for no other reason than to render listening to my CDs a little less dispiriting, to make some progress with my study of D.H. Lawrence” (Dyer 231). 

In the opening scene of Young Adult, Mavis seemed to be doing absolutely nothing. She was watching trashy TV and examples of a clinical depression littered the physical setting; phone calls from editors went straight to voicemail before they were ignored completely, cans of dog food doubled as serving bowls. A birth announcement that her ex-boyfriend was a new dad, doubled as a motivation that her life clearly lacked.  Kinda sick, right? However, if we are to read Mavis Gery through the lens of Dyer, depression consists of not doing anything and this questionable behavior is, at the very least, something...an improvement.

Mavis Gary [played by Charlize Theron], the unlikable protagonist of Young Adult, is a character wrought with an ambiguous sense of morality. She’s a poplar girl turned Young Adult serial novel author [think the Sweet Valley High series] who is not only just as razor-sharp beautiful as she was when she lorded over her high school as the prettiest and most popular girl in school, she’s also just as self-involved. Most of the film consists of her pursuit of a married ex-boyfriend, Buddy Slade [played by Patrick Wilson] whose wife just gave birth. For most us, this causes our stomachs to fall with disappointment or our genitals fold up for business. However, for the truly lonely in a world fraught with ambiguity, negotiating the desire for something that one can not have is entirely relatable. Grey area is a large and messy conversation topic for human beings with brains. Most of us just stalk the ex-boyfriend on the Internet. Not Mavis. She returns to the hometown after receiving the birth announcement in order to win back Buddy Slade, who she has decided has issued a “Call for Help” in the form of his baby daughter’s birth announcement.

Is Mavis just morally bankrupt?  I would argue no.  She has a number of qualities that would qualify her as being in a state of frozen maturity [arrested development] and is thus stuck in the emotional age of high school girl. In a slow reveal, it is shown that Mavis miscarried Buddy’s baby years ago, and probably due to this and her native immaturity and self-loathing has caused her to fall apart semi-completely after the failure of a subsequent marriage. For example, Mavis obsessively pulls her hair out (one strand at a time), has a drinking problem, watches really bad television [usually young teen girls crying or performing in front of an audience risking complete public failure or “The Kardashians”].  Mavis is also someone who remembers everything from high school with the same violent emotions as if the events in question had just occurred last week. [Note: High School totally sucks and I don’t mean to diminish anyone’s pain from High School.  I have found through personal experience making new and stupider adult mistakes will help one to forget the distant child’s-play mistakes.]


At minute 33, Mavis calls Matt Freehauf [played by an every-scene-stealing foil played by Patton Oswalt] and says, “it is way more complicated than you can possibly understand. Buddy Slade and I have years and years of history and it is very rich and very complex.”  Here she is telling Matt, who is physically handicapped and can therefore see beyond Mavis’ Ice Queen good looks straight down into the throat of her soul, that when he’d seen Mavis trying to get Buddy Slade drunk, he got the wrong idea.  It was too complicated for anyone to understand.  He would just never get it. In 2010, Esquire Magazine published an anonymous, brave, and yet equally cowardly [see? More grey area.] piece written by a man on why men cheat. One line stayed with me long after I read it: “You have to enlist the sympathy of the woman you are fucking.”  Mavis isn’t the man in this scenario, and she isn’t fucking anyone—just trying. However, she deeply tries to elicit the sympathy of Matt.  Like a true friend, self-possessed with his own solid moral compass, he only ever gives her the straight dope: he tells her she needs a therapist, she’s crazy, and through it all, it’s very clear that he is falling in love with her and all of these flaws.


The song “The Concept” by Teenage Fanclub served as a refrain throughout the film.  To this song, Mavis had given Buddy his first (and her first) blowjob in high school!   When Mavis drove from Minneapolis back to her home down, she played the song on repeat.  Buddy, it seemed, had made her a mixtape back in the day.  The song on repeat reinforces her sickness. It was her physical proof that they had loved, that they had wanted one another, and it was physical proof that they were one, that they belonged together. Later when Buddy’s adorable wife’s “mom band” covers “The Concept,” Mavis’s face turns blank. Her ownership over “The Concept” was lost.  Buddy may just like the song a lot.  But due to Mavis’ giant egotism, it is more likely that she believed that he was thinking of her still when he listened to it. She reminded him of the blowjob in the bar as the wife’s band sang the lyrics “I DIDN’T WANT TO HURT YOU, OH YEAH.” He played dumb. He didn’t want to hurt her. Oh yeah.

We all have those songs that meant something to us. I have memories of a Madder Rose song, being 16 at a party I wasn’t supposed to be at and making out with a boyfriend. It was so romantic; I’ll never forget it.  Listening to songs like that bring me back to a place that I am sort of glad I’m not in right now.  However, in the darkest onyx of the darkest hour, the darkest place sounds like the song on repeat and the memory of that which is no longer here – a first love. An innocent love. Love used to be like that. The mirror changes, becomes more cruel, but that Teenage Fanclub song sounds exactly the same. The difference between Mavis Gery and most of us, however, is that we have a voice or friends we listen to who say(s), “No fucking way. Have some god damned pride.” Ooooh yeah.


Patton Oswalt’s character Matt deserves attention for not only being the foil to the cruel Mavis, but for being the most likable character in the film.  Matt’s locker was adjacent to Mavis’ in high school. She did not recognize him in adulthood; he wasn’t a popular kid. In fact, he was so unpopular he was beaten violently and severely for being gay (hate crime) by bullies, and now he has to walk with the help of a cane. Additionally, his penis was disfigured (though still basically operational). And when it was found out that he was not gay, the crime was not prosecuted as a hate crime – but as just another beating. Matt, however, like I said, serves as Mavis’ foil: he’s not beautiful physically and in fact is crippled (Mavis remains youthful in appearance).  Matt sees the world as it is; Mavis lives in a fantasy world.  Due to his struggles, Matt works on modest projects: he makes his own bourbon, “hacks” small super hero figurines into better and more powerful ones. These are projects that make him happy on the inside and sustain him. In contrast, Mavis’ outward fixation with worldly achievements: living in Minneapolis (the ‘big’ city--LOL), bragging about her Young Adult series despite its wan in popularity (it’s ending), and attempt at the destruction of a marriage not her own. However, despite these differences they understand each other—perhaps because they are so very different.

Matt answers the phone holding Ranch Dressing.  He and his sister had been engaging in some kind of a dining ritual which consists of putting Ranch Dressing on pizza before eating it. This sounds disgusting and delicious, but also some kind of a ritual engaged in by children. It looked good; I won’t lie. Ranch dressing appears in their house as commonly as a clock might appear on a wall. It’s never explained, but it explains them.  Ranch Dressing takes 94% of its calories from fat (Wikipedia, 2012).  But more saliently, Ranch has been America’s most popular dressing since 1994, and is the dressing “of the everyman” (Koerner 2005). Matt and his sister represent your average Americans who have hopes, but don’t want to be stars.  They have their own lives and want to maintain what they already have. Ranch is just a way to put more fat onto what you already have.  I’m not 100% sure what this means, but I’m pretty sure that it’s approaching a metaphor for the idea that Americans want to maintain what they already have and also want a little bit more. Ranch provides this.  But like every American, I’m sure you’re thinking “Don’t tell me what my Ranch Dressing does for me.  Get your words off my Ranch.”  And Iove you for this, America.  I wouldn’t have you any other way.


In an interview with Marc Maron, Diablo Cody, the screenwriter, discussed the ending of Young Adult. I won’t tell you what happens, but it’s important to note that Mavis Gery does not change. In conventional fiction, a main character is supposed to change in some way. Sometimes it’s not huge. Sometimes a character just looks at something in a slightly different way, like turning a baseball so the seams face the other direction. Cody spoke at length about the riskiness of such a character and how they were almost going to have another ending (one in which Mavis does change). It’s great that she doesn’t change because we humans rarely change. I know that sounds so desperately and deeply pessimistic. I wish I believed otherwise. However, I have yet to bear witness to something as dramatic as a personality shift in an adult person. After a drink out with Mavis early in the movie, Buddy remarks that she looks the same (physically) as she did in high school.  He said, “the rest of us changed. You just got lucky.”  Sure she didn’t change, but luck had nothing to do with it.


Anonymous. Why Men Cheat. 10 March 2010. 1 December 2012 <http://www.esquire.com/features/reasons-why-men-cheat-0410>.

Dyer, Geoff. Out of Sheer Rage: Wrestling with D.H. Lawrence. New York: Picador, 2009.

Koerner, Brendan. "Ranch Dressing. Why do Americans love it so much?" 5 August 2005. Slate. 1 December 2012. <http://www.slate.com/articles/arts/number_1/2005/08/ranch_dressing.html>. Wikipedia. Ranch Dressing. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ranch_dressing>.
Young Adult. By Diablo Cody. Dir. Jason Reitman. 2011.

Amy Lawless
is the author of
 Noctis Licentia (Black Maze Books, 2008), the chapbook Elephants in Mourning ([sic] Press, 2012), and My Dead (Octopus Books, forthcoming in 2013). She was named a 2011 New York Foundation for the Arts fellow. She lives in New York City. For more information go to http://amylawless.blogspot.com/.

January 23, 2013

“A Different Kind of Total Wreck: Reflections on White Palace" by Jaime Corbacho

[Note: Jaime is an antiques appraiser.]

i.  “Hey, Max, some of these boxes are empty?”

Whether I choose to acknowledge it or not, my apartment is haunted. Call it an occupational hazard. I have shelves full of other people’s books, other people’s things. In the kinetic unraveling of life, someone forgot to psychically let go of something. And it is here, in my living space. It doesn’t affect me or others especially, I can just feel it there. Like the sensation of having gum stuck to the bottom of your shoe. I could look. Or I could just keep walking. I really like to walk.

I’m watching White Palace tonight, a favorite. It’s a 1990’s May-December romance starring James Spader (Max Baron) and Susan Sarandon (Nora Baker). It takes place in St. Louis and opens with a view of the Gateway Arch, designed by Eero Saarinen. The last time I saw this movie, the arch was merely an arch. Now Eero Saarinen regularly visits my life in the form of Tulip and Womb chairs. His furniture is mostly plastic, cheery and vacant. It reminds me a lot of Janey, Max’s dead wife in the movie. I don’t personally own any Saarinen pieces, but if I did, they would be dismissed as suspects. No one would haunt a Saarinen chair.

It is strange to feel this, yet not really believe in ghosts; as if I have used my imagination so much over time that it has developed a refined suspension of disbelief. I respect the possible existence of ghosts, have closed and locked my bedroom door before starting the movie so as not to disturb them. But I have no interest in thinking about ghosts, their vapor hands still clutching with confused passion something once belonging to them. One of the reasons I like this movie is that it shares this attitude. Max is not haunted by Janey. He is the one reminding everyone else in the movie that she is dead. He does so without any resistance to its science. His tone is as complete as the circumpolar arch of stars that first informed thinkers and dreamers that the world was round, turning them into observers of beginnings and ends.

ii.“I’ll give you a hint, Fred, I ain’t exactly Ginger Rogers.”

Max charges into the White Palace where Nora works, irate. It is worth noting that both the movie and the novel it was based on sought permission to be called “White Castle” but the restaurant chain refused on both accounts and threatened to sue. Like the restaurant chain and the studio, Max and Nora argue on principle. Only Elfriede Jelinek would classify this as a meet-cute.

Max enters shouldering his dry cleaning and snail-trailing his apartment in tidying arcs. He is fastidious and appropriate. Cleanliness appeals to me in ways I was indifferent to before I worked in antiques and discovered other people’s houses. If hording and vilified hygiene become a living heightened mob, then it follows that there is a loneliness to people who are neat that Spader portrays simply. I don’t know if there is a psychological condition where a person has trouble distinguishing actors from their roles, but if one does exist, I have it. When Max stops to correct the fringe of his Persian rug or place his watch at a right angle to the glass water carafe on his nightstand, it endears me to Spader.

Like Nora, I am older. It’s odd for me to say this as I felt like I was 40 when I was 16. But it’s easy to feel old when you are young because even though your promoted maturity and power can be stripped in two words (“You’re grounded”), you are still left with the poetic asymmetry of youth and more life to make amends. I once asked one of the flying trapeze artists on the Santa Monica Pier why, when they fell, there was a ripple underneath the net: “That’s the safety net for the safety net.”

You don’t flirt when you are older. You are sexual and your sexuality makes men uncomfortable to the point that they are intrigued. Annie Proulx observed: “There are four women in every man’s heart: the Maid in the Meadow, the Demon Lover, the Stouthearted Woman and the Tall and Quiet Woman.” And then there is Susan Sarandon.

Nora sees Max later that night at what, by her seductive slump and the shade of lipstick on her highball glass, must be her local watering hole. Now almost extinct, there is a certain way older women smoke that is commemorated in black and white movies and pulp fiction. Nora drags on her cigarette, sizing Max up from across the bar. There is always a “sizing up” quality to the older female smoker: the slight squinting of the eyes on the inhale, the chin resting languidly on the hand during the exhale like a Mucha poster girl framed by the smoke in art nouveau swirls. When I was younger, Nora made me proud to be a smoker and now that I am older, she makes me disappointed that I quit.

She crosses the bar and performs an indelicate étude of arbitrary questions and observations, suggestive Billy Wilder quotes and irreverent handsiness. This is a difference between younger and older women. A young woman would steal glances like light through stained glass. A young woman would be still, rather than be rejected. Their power lies in their inaccessibility, the possibility of compromising their restraint. The older woman offers tenacity, an almost military indifference to failure and the possibility of discovering what has made her this fearless. I remember watching this movie when I was younger and being bolstered by her success. Nora was so old and managed to seduce Max who was so debonair in his tuxedo. Had so much hair. I felt her resolve as otherworldly, magical, and something I would only briefly encounter in this film as I would surely be married by her age.

So much hair.

So this is what I am becoming…someone magical. I recently went to see a young man who wanted his uncle’s magic trick collection appraised. It was what you would expect: yellowed card tricks, a collapsible bouquet, a box with a false bottom, silk kerchiefs whose alter ego doves had long since passed. Lastly, there was a vintage “Saw the Woman in Half” box. As I approached it, the young man touched my arm: “Can you appraise that from here?” “Why?” “Because I think it’s worth more with the secret intact.”

iii. “I don’t think you should be so fast to judge other people’s blow jobs.”

After a good laugh at the expense of the dead and a fender bender with a mailbox, Nora manages to convince Max to come in for a cup of coffee. Her place is a settled cyclone of old magazines, wrappers, potato chips and Lawrence Schiller photographs of Marilyn Monroe with whom she shares a name and a lifestyle: “She’s so fucked up and glamorous and losing and fighting all the time. Losing and fighting.” Max passes out on the couch. Nora is awake in bed in her bathrobe, smoking.

I love bathrobes, especially contemplative ones. Because I am reptilian in my metabolism they are necessary for a good night’s rest. A bathrobe, lime green, once saved my life in a fire. I have, at any given time, 6 different robes of 6 distinct natures on the hooks of my bedroom door: a sexy robe, an after shower robe, a dress robe (something that can be worn out in public for brief periods), a bedtime robe, a summer weight robe and a guest robe reserved for visitors. I am currently wearing the after shower robe, even though I showered much earlier. It is unusually soft in color and composition and is also my contemplative robe. The movie is paused and I am in the same position as Nora, both of us in our robes. She with her cigarette, me with my laptop. I think we are thinking precisely the same thing.

For a moment, Max thinks the woman on top of him is Janey. It is the only time in the movie we see her: supple, gentle, faithful…a robe that would save your life. Then the stabbing chords of Spanish guitars alter the mood to a deeper more exonerating sexuality and the gloaming of pale hair tenses to a dusky red. Max tries to fight Nora off but eventually acquiesces beneath her mouth, her hands and their stale polish, the poster of Marilyn, like the woman herself, coming in and out of focus.

It is difficult to write love scenes for a film. You not only have to make the audience believe that these two people are attracted to each other but you must convince two actors who may also be complete strangers to pretend to want it even more.

Fero Saarinen had a son he named “Eames” after his equally famous contemporary Charles Eames. There is a man out there named Eames Saarinen. In certain circles, this man must get blown all of the time. I am convinced that Max was never that lucky. When he cums, he moves the hair from Nora’s face like you might do for a loved one with a fever. He asks politely for more. When they are finished, he turns her face to his and Susan Sarandon looks the most beautiful I have ever seen her look before or since. It is hard for me to believe that in that second, they were not in love. But I suppose that is normal for talented actors. They wear different kinds of emotion like different kinds of robes. Their occasions are temporary and private.

iv. “They’re supposed to pull the leaves off. It’s in the contract.”

Jason Alexander plays Neil, Max’s best friend, whose wedding will later cause friction between Max and Nora. He calls Max “Miss Havisham.” At Neil’s bachelor party, a photo of Janey gets mixed into the slide show. Max looks up at the screen as he might at a living Janey. Neil is concerned for his friend as the mood of the party plummets. Even the stripper senses it.

At the time this movie came out, I became concerned with leaves. My grandmother had a pool in her backyard. After my grandfather died, leaves arranged themselves like daisy chains on its surface; striking at first, the reds and yellows against the receding turquoise. Seasons continued to come, sometimes uninvited and with more leaves until the pool finally had to be drained. Thereafter the pool’s tide was completely autumnal and slowly rising. I was growing up and my grandmother was giving up. It was hard for me because it meant something to be near her.

Her house was entirely mid-century modern and she hated it. She was an interior decorator operating under my grandfather’s aesthetic. It must have been torture. I remember some of it: no Saarinen but a Knoll sideboard, an Edward Wormley sectional, a Paul Frankl lacquered cork coffee table shaped like a kidney bean and a marimba. After he died, she would turn this place into her tomb.

It is the second year anniversary of Janey’s death and Max’s mother drags him to the cemetery. She is angry at the leaves, so many goddamn leaves. This scene always makes me angry, too. When the wind would fortuitously visit the pool, the leaves would just swirl in its confines, puff out proudly like a courting bird. When the rain would come, it would serve only to bond them together. Even if it snowed, the leaves were never completely hidden, their tails and fingertips pitching in the white broth like an ogre’s stew. And the more there were meant the more time had gone by without change.

Then something strange happens. It is my favorite part of the film. Max’s mother busies herself with other relatives laid to rest there leaving Max alone with Janey’s tombstone. He is looking at the tombstone but hearing Nora and the sounds she made when he made love to her. The camera tightens on his face as her climax grows louder. He mouths something, a few words, probably not in the script.

I have a lot of things from my grandmother, none of which I believe to be haunted. It is mostly jewelry and I think if there is an afterlife, Elizabeth Taylor, Marie Antoinette and Barbara Hutton have all put the kibosh on haunting gemstones. I wish it was her, because she said would look after me. She would watch me frown at the leaves in the pool and promise me that when she died, she would send me messages only I would understand.

v. “I don’t gobble and I don’t lie."
I’ve been having interesting conversations with people regarding what constitutes a movie being labeled a “chick flick.” Rightfully accused of seeing almost every movie ever made, I have an opinion. For me, a chick flick is either a movie with a predominantly female cast focusing on what are considered female topics (e.g. gender bias, female puberty, mother-daughter relationships, etc.), or a film that a woman chooses to watch when she wants to feel like she is in love. In the latter designation, the woman will pick a “chick flick” based on her similarities to the female protagonist but more often on her attraction to the male paramour.

This is how Max falls in love with me. He is quietly expressive, smiles secretly and often. He opens drawers knowing I am only pretending to sleep. He brings me a new mailbox. He spills coffee on clients, forgets to fix the headlight of his car. Keeps forgetting to fix the headlight of his car. He buys me an insulting gift and immediately returns it for a better one. He ties my shoelace, buckles my seat belt, makes me dinner and flowers and flowers and sex that smells of flowers. And he doesn’t leave. Not when we fight, not when I push him away, not when all of his friends try to set him up with women his own age, not when our differences rear up like threatened animals between us. He is calm. He makes my fist into a hand again.

vi.  “I only know that when I’m not with you, I’m a total wreck.” “And when you are with me?” “I’m a different kind of total wreck."

Nora finally leaves because she is sure Max is ashamed of her age, her poverty, her edges. Every encounter with Max’s friends has ended badly due in large part to her insecurities. In the past, her character has been hemmed by misfortune and failure. She only thrives now in an implausible Marilyn-land of candid seductions and perilless romance. As a relationship develops, she fears its reality and what it might require of them both to sustain it.

Max goes to Nora’s house after an argument to discover she has vanished. There is a note on the couch. I don’t know who on the set wrote this but it is in blue pen and some of the words are crossed out. Initially, one of the writer’s I’s looked more like a “T.” It is an authentic touch.

What has always fascinated me with this scene is that Max just walks into her house. The door is unlocked and she lives in Dogtown. I don’t know much about St. Louis, but I have learned that any section of a city earning the epithet “Dogtown” is unsafe. I can understand why she left, but I can’t comprehend why she wouldn’t lock her house. She would have to trust that he would come looking for her before likely consequences arose. This is a powerful way to say good-bye.

I might also place too much emphasis on the sanctity of locks. Last week I watched a video on how to make a bump key. The man began the demonstration by stating “the general public does not know they are not safe.” I have lost the key to my storage locker and instead of looking harder for it, I have decided to replace it by employing the methods of criminals. To make a bump key, you must file a key that fits into the lock to its lowest ridge. The trick is to also file the peaks to display less erratic behavior. If the peaks are too steep on one side, the key won’t go in. If they are too steep on the other, it won’t come out. He goes on to describe the energy transferred from the ridges into the pins of the lock. I hope whoever loves him does not take this tendency to wax poetic for granted.

I have a key fob that was formerly used for Ward B of the Camarillo State Hospital. I believe it may be the haunted item. My plan is to attach it to the bump key when I try it on the lock. If the key works, maybe the spirit will let go of the key fob. I don’t hold out a lot of hope based on my skill and the plan’s sensibility. It is a disappointingly literal way to rid oneself of a ghost.

The movie ends with Max moving to New York to find Nora. It is a little cloying, but I am always relieved. Usually I like films in spite of their happy endings. This one I like because of it. I can picture Max and Nora getting a small place in Boerum Hill. They grow old together, making love on Sunday afternoons. Max is widowed again but it is expected this time. It is different and the same. His walks through Prospect Park are slower with a cane. The late afternoon sun quiets the leaves overhead like a tittering classroom, and he repeats a few words he spoke as a younger man to no one at all.

Jaime Corbacho is an antiques appraiser and writer in Los Angeles, California. Lately, you can see her work on National Geographic’s America’s Lost Treasures, thirtysomethinginvestor.com and in the offices of Beverly Hills’ accountants this tax season. This year she will be authoring monthly articles on antiques and collecting at www.corbachoappraisals.com.

January 22, 2013

"The Way We Were" by Stacey Harwood

There has to be crying.  Not the eyes-welling-up-and-spilling-over kind of tears but the runny-nose-and-heaving-choking-sobs-punctuated-with-gasps kind that turns the napkin you picked up with the popcorn into a useless pulpy mass.  There’s crying because the ending is either unbearably sad or is satisfyingly happy. Sometimes, especially when you’re with a close friend or your sister, there’s laughing as well.  You’re laughing at yourselves for crying: “Look at us. Aren’t we silly?” 

It’s just a movie.

January 21, 2013

"Get Our War Paint on and Go to Work: Gentlemen Prefer Blondes" by Krystal Languell

This semester, the department-wide freshman composition final exam at one of the schools I teach for is about gender performance and expectations in America. We’re all required to teach the same two essays, which, when juxtaposed against one another, seem to do little more than argue whether it’s harder to be a man or a woman: another false dilemma from higher education. In my class, I’ve supplemented the essays with a paragraph out of Judith Butler’s Gender Trouble, a discussion of the Bechdeltest and an episode of Father Knows Best, assigning new vocabulary words: “performativity,” “representation,” and “patriarchy.”

January 20, 2013

"Return to Sender: You've Got Mail" by Susanne Reece

The first time I saw You’ve Got Mail, I was cuddled up with a bottle of red wine several months after a bad break-up with a live-in boyfriend, and several months into experiencing everything the NYC dating scene had to offer a girl of 36.

I’d had a fling with the friend of a friend, who I trusted not to be shitty to me, because I was the friend of a friend, and then he was anyway. I’d been out on a date with a guy I met in a bar who picked me up after work in red convertible and took me to an expensive meal in Park Slope during which he sat very close to me in the booth, hanging with his arm around me through the entire dinner, and who afterwards dropped me at a subway stop. I never saw or heard from him again.

Then there was the guy, again met at a bar, who took me to see a soul-crushing arty film in which the protagonist commits suicide. Afterward he figured since he’d sprung for the movie, I really ought to let him take me back to my apartment and fuck me up the ass. And while I’m on the subject, there was the guy with the DVD porn collection that ran around the entire floorboard and completely filled a large floor to ceiling bookshelf in his living room who proudly showed me the “incest fiction” story he had written.

So, at that time in my life, everything about You’ve Got Mail appealed.