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Fauxscar Nominee: Silver Linings Playbook

January 11, 2013 in Comedy, Fauxscars, Fiction, Film, Literary Movies

The Mad Hatter:  Have I gone mad?

Alice:  I’m afraid so. You’re entirely bonkers.  But I’ll tell you a secret.  All the best people are.

After seeing Silver Linings Playbook, I left the theatre in a really good mood.  One of those moods where, if life had been a musical or I had any rhythm or dexterity, I would have jumped up and clicked my heels together as I skipped down the street.  Instead I took to telling anyone who would listen how amazing and uplifting the film is and how they must drop everything they are doing and see it immediately. (Seriously, stop reading this and go see it.)  A couple people, intrigued by my insistence, asked me what it was about. A feel-good film about an emotionally damaged man, whose bipolar disorder is only discovered after a violent outburst brought on by his wife’s infidelity lands him a court-ordered stint in a mental health facility, you say?  They looked at me like I was the one who might be crazy.

Bradley Cooper plays the protagonist, Pat Solitano, Jr., in David O. Russell’s film adaptation of Matthew Quick’s 2008 novel, and the film begins with his release from the hospital.  He has lost his job, he lives with his parents, his neighbors think he has gone off the deep end, and a restraining order requires him to stay 500 feet away from his wife.  But he has a plan: stay positive; be stronger; and find the ‘silver lining’ in his situation — doing so, he believes, will surely bring his wife back to him if he works hard enough.

The problem, however, is that the ‘silver lining’ isn’t always what you think it should be.  For most of the film, Pat is too close to the situation he’s in, and too stuck in his ways, to see this. In one scene, for example, he has an outburst over Ernest Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms – He wakes his parents in the middle of the night with a tirade about the unexpected tragic ending that befalls the characters, raving, “They were happy.  You think he ends it there? No. He writes another ending.” — Hemingway’s novel provides a parallel to Solitano’s own story, in which he believes his ‘ending’ will find him back together with his wife.  Yet, as John Lennon once sang, “life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.”

Pat soon meets his match in Tiffany Maxwell (Jennifer Lawrence), a brazenly unapologetic young widow, who is equally as broken.  Thus, Pat and Tiffany make a deal.  Tiffany will help him get a letter to his estranged wife and in return Pat will be her partner in a dance competition.  The film culminates in their final dance, two well-matched individuals performing a fun, choreographed mash-up that paints with painstaking clarity the humor, trust, and genuine admiration between the two.  Their performance is made even more endearing by contrast to the competition, a line-up that resembles the professionals from Dancing with the Stars.  We know they won’t win, but in this moment we also know (and so does Pat) that sometimes what you originally thought was the silver lining may have actually been the cloud.

Pat and Tiffany are portrayed as outsiders, looked at by their families and friends as off-kilter, damaged goods, possibly a few cards short of the deck.  And it is true that Pat and Tiffany may be ‘crazy,’ but they aren’t the only ones.  Pat’s dad, a phenomenal Fila track-suit-wearing Robert DeNiro, spends football Sundays in obsessive compulsive mania masquerading as old school superstition. As Pat Sr. rearranges the remote controls so that the Philadelphia Eagles will win, Pat’s best friend Ronnie has his own stress and anger issues that find him punching walls in his garage to let off steam.  The story manipulates our perception of sanity.  After all, Pat and Tiffany may be nuttier than fruit cake, but they admit it.  And how does the old adage go about crazy people?  If you think you’re crazy, you are probably sane enough?

Cooper is flawless in his portrayal of Pat.  With memorable roles in classic comedies such as Wedding Crashers and The Hangover, he doesn’t get the credit for his acting ability that he deserves. With a Best Actor nod in the Oscars (and the Fauxscars!) maybe that will change.  Lawrence of The Hunger Games fame is hilarious as Tiffany, a character that comes off as a less stable, yet equally kick ass (albeit R-rated), Katniss.  Robert DeNiro is Robert DeNiro, enough said.  Yet, as the OCD Solitano patriarch, his performance is both comical and touching.  Chris Tucker rounds out this dream cast as the loveable, questionably unhinged, Danny, a fellow patient Pat meets during treatment, whose random drop-ins add an extra helping of comic relief to the already very funny film.

Simultaneously witty, intelligent, poignant, and heartwarming–there is something universal about this story.  Like Pat says in the end, “life will break your heart… and I can’t begin to explain that, or the craziness inside myself and everybody else.”  Maybe the moral of the story is in acknowledging that, and being better for it.  And if, like Pat, you are lucky enough to surround yourself with people whose ‘crazy’ is compatible with your own, then maybe that is the real ‘silver lining.’

‘Girls’: HBO’s new comedy about ‘sex and the city’

August 14, 2012 in Comedy, New York Travel, Television, Women Writers

HBO’s new comedy, Girls,  has everything I look for in a television show.  It is smartly written, raucously witty and excruciatingly relatable.  It is a startlingly refreshing comedy in both its dry humor and acerbic social commentary. Yet, because its premise involves four single gals living in New York City, it has quickly drawn comparisons to HBO’s other female-centric comedy, Sex and the City.  While Girls  is clearly its own animal, the similarities are there. Take away the money, the clothes and the careers and it could be a prequel of sorts, had the SATC girls been twentysomethings in 2012.  Girls  is a self-deprecating un-photoshopped Sex and the City,  where pink cosmopolitans with perfectly curled lemon peel garnish are replaced with Solo cups of warm craft beer.

26-year-old Lena Dunham writes, directs and stars in the HBO comedy, produced by Judd Apatow of Bridesmaids  fame, which just finished its first season and is slated to return this winter.  Dunham graduated from Oberlin College with a degree in creative writing and first made waves with the independent film Tiny Furniture.

Discussing Girls  in a New York Times interview, Dunham said, “I get to look at so many aspects of what it means to be a woman, of what it means to live in an urban environment.”   While the shows are quite different and air over a decade apart, the same statement could have been made by the writers of Sex in the City  in 1998.

Girls  is very aware of the comparison and pokes fun at the association while simultaneously paying homage to their television predecessor.  Shoshanna (Zosia Mamet) has a SATC  poster prominently displayed on the wall of her apartment, and refers to her cousin Jessa (Jemima Kirke) as “definitely a Carrie, with some Samantha aspects, and Miranda hair.”  It is clear to anyone watching, who had also been a fan of SATC,  that naïve and virginal Shoshanna is a Charlotte, and Jessa, who misses an appointment at the women’s health clinic to have sex in a bar bathroom, is most obviously a Samantha.  This makes the responsible and sometimes uptight Marnie (Allison Williams) the Miranda of the group and aptly leaves the main character Hannah to clumsily fill Carrie’s Manolo Blahniks.

At the same time that they accentuate it, the apparent similarities are paradoxically what expose the core differences of the two shows. Hannah is Carrie…in real life.  Hannah is all of us in real life.  Those of us who watched Sex and the City  related to the women’s relationship struggles, but most us didn’t have the closets or six pack abs to match.  Hannah is us, only funnier.  While Sex and the City  projects itself as older, wiser, and wearing better shoes, Girls  is its awkward, uncoordinated and downright hilarious younger sister.

One of the major tropes of SATC  was the rift between women in their twenties and women in their thirties.  In a season 2 episode, Samantha exclaims, “These girls in their twenties, they’re so spoiled and ungrateful, they think they’re it,” to which Miranda replies, “because the world validates their delusion.”  Girls  does not validate this delusion.  In fact, it exposes it. No one would choose to be in Hannah’s unemployed, financially insecure and emotionally unfulfilled shoes.  Yet many of us are, or were at one time.

While both shows expose embarrassing and relatable relationship issues, Girls  does not sugarcoat, or airbrush.  Miranda’s postpartum sex scenes (before she had dropped the baby weight)  look like a Cinemax late night feature when compared to Hannah and Adam’s self-conscious and uncomfortable to watch romp in the first episode of Girls.  Samantha’s slight ‘weight gain’ in the SATC movie, represented by the svelte actress wearing a pair of pants one size too small, is treated as something that needs to be addressed immediately.  Meanwhile on Girls, Adam grips Hannah’s stomach awkwardly in bed, causing average weighted women everywhere to cringe.

At the heart of both shows is a female writer using her own experiences as social commentary.  Both women grapple with insecurities and complicated relationships, all the while navigating life in the city.  Adam, Hannah’s pseudo-boyfriend, may not be Mr. Big, but he is equally emotionally distant and cryptically confusing, in need of immense examination and ripe for the analytic writer’s eye.  In one particularly hilarious turn of events, Marnie’s boyfriend gets his hands on Hannah’s notebook, in which she comments on the questionable state of their relationship. This causes problems for the couple and, after Hannah is forced to read aloud to them from her writing, she asks, “If you had read the essay and it wasn’t about you, do you think you would have liked it? Just as, like, a piece of writing?”

Hannah asks of Marnie and her boyfriend what Girls  asks of the viewer.  Its reflexive nature is constantly turning the gaze back on itself.  While we relate to the scenarios experienced by the characters, we are constantly bombarded with purposefully uncomfortable images, such as the aforementioned sex scenes between Hannah and Adam.  By doing so, Girls  exposes the reality that Sex and the City  glossed over with high fashion and well-placed puns.

In the first episode, Hannah tells her skeptical parents, “I don’t want to freak you out, but I think I may be the voice of my generation.”  If the first season of Girls  is any indication, she just might be.

*

Girls returns to HBO in January 2013.  In the meantime, if you are a fan of the show, experience NYC by taking a walk in the ladies’ shoes.  The Guardian has created a map, with pins marking the real locations used in filming.  Create your own New York Girls tour and see the city through the eyes of Hannah, Jessa, Shoshanna and Marnie.