‘Bridesmaids’ is the movie that I’ve always wanted to see.  Despite the fantastic reviews, I was still highly skeptical.  A chick flick called bridesmaids?  With almost no racial diversity and one big girl who is a bit crazy and mostly the butt of physical humor?  I did not see how this movie could be very good.  Fortunately for me, I was in for quite a treat!

Honestly, I was sucked in within the first ten minutes of the film.  The opening sex scene between Kristin Wiig and the very sexy Jon Hamm was Hilarious.  It was your typical, but never mentioned, encounter between a woman who wants sex and the man who’s using her for sex when he can’t get in touch with anyone else that night, and who is only concerned with his own pleasure, completely ignoring his bed mate’s wishes.  This is a scene that happens often in real life, if you believe the accounts of my own friends, but which you never see in cultural accounts of real life sex.

We see this messy real life character of Annie: barely employed failure, crappy car, cannot pay her bills, has to move back in with her mother, crazy and instable, involved in shitty barely romances (including the aforementioned Hamm debacle which recurs throughout the film), and finally involved in a tete a tete with her best friend’s new best friend, the upper class one-upping wife of her fiance’s boss.  She lies to her best friend (“oh, it’s not too much..”) the same way she lies to her “man” (“oh, yeah, that feels so good…”)  When do you see a character like this who isn’t completely one-sided stereotypical and utterly non-complex?  Instead, this character is complex, has real life emotional breakdowns while also managing redemptive moments of zeal and genuine happiness for herself or those around her.

What I loved about this movie more than anything, however, was the ability of this movie to call out the genre.  Every time something cliché happened, they called themselves on it.  For example – at one point, I wrote down “Great.  Typically poor unhappy woman needs to be saved/redeemed by a man?!”.  Literally seconds after I wrote this, Annie decries: “I don’t need to be saved!” and runs out.  This absolutely cracked me up – I knew at that point that this movie and I were on the same page.  The movie attacks the ‘so pretty girl’ versus the ‘so cute/so sweet girl’ dichotomy by having the feuding Annie and Helen calling each other by these clichés.

Although Maya Rudolph was a mixed character, there was not any other racial diversity in the film, which is a definite flaw.  And props must be given for inclusion of any – even if limited – body diversity.  Megan (Melissa McCarthy) was a phenomenal role, and even proved to be more complex than initially hinted toward as the movie progressed.  Additional props must be given to the addressing of class disparity between characters.  Although the two best friends – Annie and Lillian – are from the same background, one moved up and the other moved down, economically speaking.  This wasn’t a problem to be resolved, but rather it was simply a fact of the movie.  I appreciated the tension that this caused as it was, and the fact that it was addressed.  It was, for much of the movie, the base cause of much of the drama – the tension between Helen and Annie, the fact that Annie was going crazy and had entirely too much on her plate, the separation of the group on the airplane, etc.

Jon Hamm’s stereotypical asshole man out to get his compared to Chris O’Dowd’s Officer Rhodes was another fantastic pairing.  When the two run into each other, Rhodes’ response is “you’ve got to be kidding me!”.  It is absolutely perfect.  Ultimately, the philosophy of the movie is summed up completely in one line – You’re your problem, Annie, and you’re also your solution.  Once Annie makes the decision to fly with things and not let everything around her control her, she comes to terms with those around her.  Highly recommended movie – catch it before it leaves theaters!  I definitely look forward to more from this writing duo.


Bad Teacher

I’m getting this one out of the way.  Bad Teacher.  A coworker and I decided to head to the movies and, despite all of the fantastic films out right now, Bad Teacher was his choice (I was personally rooting for Horrible Bosses, but am a pushover…).  So, here is my review.

This movie is a waste of time.  I guess Justin Timberlake’s agent is really pushing for him to get in to more film.  Watching his performance felt like watching a not-so-funny version of his Saturday Night Live skits, and at a much too extended pace.  There is a reason those skits are 3-5 minutes long, and JT should not be exposed to film for any longer than this.  I don’t know if it’s just that he cannot act, or if his over-the-top performances are somehow his idea of the roles?  For sure, watching Justin Timberlake is like watching middle schoolers.

Apart from JT, the rest of the acting was actually tolerable.  I’m already a fan of Jason Segel, and Phyllis Smith’s performance really cracked me up.  I guess watching actors as a casting agent for so long really rubbed off on her.  Cameron Diaz, of whom I’m not a tremendous fan, proved her chops, although in an entirely unlikeable and unredeemed character.  I think she was supposed to be redeemed in the end, as she changes her gold-digging ways when she falls for the goofy and more ‘simpatico’ character of Mr. Gettis; but mostly I despised her character so much by that point that the obvious ending just wasn’t doing it for me.

Perhaps I’m being a touch unfair.  There were some cute moments – I actually laughed my ass off at one point, over Phyllis Smith.  But, I was the only one in the audience.  The rest of the audience laugh lines were predictable and not funny moments.  There was a lot of gold-digging and manipulation, by both of the main female characters.  Perhaps this movie was meant to be a spoof on our education system – that standardized testing is too easy to cheat and, ultimately, meaningless.  The even take a stab at a joke regarding the inherent racial discrimination of standardized testing! But then, I think I might be reading far more into the movie than the intentions of either the writer or the director.

Apart from the horrendous acting by Justin Timberlake, I was left trying to figure out what the hell his character even meant.  He plays a long-term substitute teacher, who happens to be the grandson of a wealthy watch maker.  Apparently this makes him a character who plays the politics incredibly well – he will agree with you no matter what stance you take (sharks tear families apart – but they’re majestic! – but they’re awful…), and apparently his idea of a good time is dry humping, as he cheats on his girlfriend.  Even better, he gives the clever republican, anti-woman speech culminating in an attack on choice: “I’m pro-choice.  Everyone should do what makes them happiest.  Except abortion, of course.”  I’m not sure if the role was meant as an attack on the ‘values’ protecting wealthy who play the political game all the time without even being aware of it, or if, again, as I suspect, I may be reading too much into it.

Ultimately, this could be a cute movie to see at the dollar theater, or on Netflix.  But it is certainly not worth $11 to see it.

An Overcast Afternoon at the Museum

I went and wandered through the High Museum of Art today.  I had a blast!  Although I had invited a few friends to come with me, most of them were busy.  So, I decided to go walk around on my own.  I was there for nearly two hours, and saw less than half of the exhibitions, so I definitely need to go back.

What I found most interesting, though, was the exhibit of folk art.  There were a couple of paintings by Mattie Lou O’Kelley, an Atlanta woman, who painted large canvas as it was laid flat on her table, moving around the table and painting upside down at the top of the painting.  She used stippling to make these beautiful images of her family’s farm or a long ago yard sale.  There’s something really incredibly powerful about being transported into these spaces – simple, every day images – that would have remained with this artist from her childhood.  What was so special about these images that they would have compelled her to put these images onto canvas, to share them with strangers?  They were really lovely.

Another Atlantan – Linda Anderson – had some featured works, as well.  The one I most enjoyed was ‘the kiss,’ a depiction of the Garden of Eden, set in North Georgia.  The painting features Adam and Eve kissing, as Eve plucks the fruit – a Georgia Peach – from above her head.  As they partake in their pleasure, the animals and angels watch on in pleasure and horror.  The peach tree and couple are surrounded by the north Georgia mountains, palm trees and fronds, exotic animals, angels, and a road leading out of Eden – a road which turns out to be the serpent itself.  It’s a stunning piece.

Some other paintings in the same exhibit had been scratched out with house paint on found portions of roofing tin.  It’s inspiring to be reminded of the power of the creative impulse in people, and none so much as those who lack the means to create with traditional art supplies.  To see a sheet of tin and be inspired to create on that – well, it’s just sort of magical, really.

I thoroughly enjoyed my trip today, however brief it may have been.  Strolling through the halls alone, examining some works and passing by others, was a moment of quiet and a time of reconnecting with my own creative process.  I’ve much more to see, and I can’t wait to go back and view the rest of the exhibit!

Tree of Life: An impression of god, the universe and everything

Moving to a large city like Atlanta certainly has it’s perks, especially if you’re an art film enthusiast!  Having lived in mostly smaller cities most of my life, I’ve never had quick access to a theater which actively previews and shows new art film.  A good friend, and fellow film enthusiast, invited me to take advantage of our mutual new situations and take a visit to our new local theater showing “The Tree of Life”.  He warned me that there were a lot of complaints from film viewers so far, and that it reportedly lacked a traditional, linear narrative.  With this in mind, we decided to head off to the theater!  Before you read any further, please be aware there may be some spoilers –

Several people walked out during the first hour of the film, especially during a particularly long scene which I heard another movie goer refer to as making her feel as though she were in the natural history museum instead of a movie.  When the movie ended, I was surprised to hear so much grumbling.  One man said he has never prayed so hard for a movie to end in his life.  Another said that he found the film tedious.  Contrary to all of this, I must say that I found it to be an astoundingly beautiful film.

While research the film prior to heading to the theater, I read it described as an impressionistic film.  I think this is a perfect descriptor for “The Tree of Life”.  Rather than being told a story, instead we are witnessing the impression of a story.  We see the story more as experience rather than story.  We can relate to the story and the characters through images – both from the characters’ own lives as well as those of the universe, our galaxy, our earth, and inside the human body – used to depict questioning of identity, purpose, solitude and, more importantly, ‘Mitsein’ or the being-with-others of Heidegger.

We are presented, in the very beginning of the film, with the dichotomy of grace and nature.  According to the female voice over here – later discovered to be the mother, brilliantly acted by Jessica Chastain – we have a choice to make with our lives – to live a life of grace or a life of nature.  This in combination of the opening sequence quotation from the biblical story of Job really establishes the theme of the movie and the story we experience from there, as we witness a family struggle to connect their own misfortune with the path of grace, associated with God.  The voice overs of prayer which are uttered over images of the universe are astounding, giving a complex and rich nature to our own subjective realities.  That the characters, by their prayers, imagine God to be so intimately connected to the birth (or death) of a human child is juxtaposed against the rich and truly awesome images of galaxies and star formation, even against the images of jellyfish (about whom the first remark concerning the natural history museum emanated) and waves and volcanoes are flashed before us within the experience of the film.

What we, as the audience, are left with is a feeling of profound awe of the world, and really of our own selves.  We see the way we are – characters are reintroduced in Jack’s (Sean Penn) middle age precisely the way he would have remembered them, as young and vibrant, his own mother and father younger than himself; our prayers and meditation/reflection about our own place and function in the universe; the way our relationship with our own parents informs our intimacy and partnerships in our own adult lives.  But more than anything, we are reminded that the paths of grace and nature – said to be so clearly delineated and opposing – intersect every day.  A modest gesture of chance, such as a predator leaving his prey in tact and alone, can be viewed as miraculous or as some kind of divine intercession on behalf of the prey – though when this exchange occurs with dinosaurs, we must question the extent of divine providence; the extent of grace’s division with nature.

Another moment which struck me came from Mr. O’Brien (Brad Pitt) as he reflected upon the death of his teenage son – the provincial event which causes the questioning of our main character as well as his family.  He comments that he had made his son feel shame by criticizing the way he had turned the pages of sheet music as Mr. O’Brien sat at the piano.  This brief moment stunned me; this small regret, seemingly nothing – probably a passing complaint to his son – became a defining moment for O’Brien’s relationship with his son.  Was the comment taken to be shameful or embarrassing for the son?  Did he recall this behavior in his last moments?  The way that these small nothings of a moment, so seemingly meaningless in the context of an entire life, stick with us throughout our lives and actually come to be an integral part of us and of our relationships with others around us struck me as especially truthful and huge.  Some of my own relationships with family and friends reflect this same dysfunctional wonderment at small moments and their incredible impacts on our lives as formative.  To imagine that those I love might have these small regrets about our interactions, these teeny tiny holes in our relationship actually brought me to tears.  It was a powerful and illustrative moment for me.

I know that many folks have discussed the tedius or pretentious or static or boring nature of the ‘nature’ shots of the film which interrupt the narrative.  Considering the theme of nature versus grace, these images are magical and telling.  We experience the universe, but not – as the story of Job tells us – through God’s eyes.  Instead, our own tiny speck of dirt is hyper real to us while the rest of the universe remains shrouded and mysterious.  The voice overs of prayerful and reflective meditation tell a powerful story about our own relationship to this universe, and our conceptions of grace and nature.

I recommend the movie highly, if you enjoy art film.  If you go into the theater expecting what the movie is – a beautiful, woven experience of a story about God, the Universe and Everything – then I think you will find the film to be illuminating and touching, and reflecting of our own delicate and dependent-upon-others human nature.