Wednesday, February 27, 2008


Birkel is going to kill me, but ... I saw Juno and ... the scales are coming down on the "liking it" more than "loathing it" side.

I know I know! I too was annoyed by the loudly shouted message of "If you're a young smart person you HAVE TO LOVE this movie!" I think I was irritated before the film even opened because one day in December I was standing on a corner in Union Square and a whole bunch of dudes dressed up in the track suits from the movie jogged by in a silly marketing ploy. And then as the hype built and as annoying people of my acquaintance started using "wizard" in their daily vocabulary and referring to Paulie Bleeker as some sort of cult hero, I secretly determined that I Would Not Like this movie. After all, I've been burned in the past by Sundance glorybabies: both Thank You for Smoking and Little Miss Sunshine were big, fat, letdowns.

And for the first half hour of the movie, my skepticism was justified. The oh-so-carefully chosen music, the Converse-heavy credits, the hipster handlettering, the DIALOGUE: I rolled my eyes so many times that today they're sore.

But then the movie stopped being (quite so) self-conscious and became more serious...and as a result, more genuinely funny. By the end, not only had I laughed out loud several times, but I'd even wiped a tear or two away.

I think the praise lavished on Ellen Page is actually completely deserved. With another actress as Juno, I don't think this movie would have been a success (either commercially speaking or as a film in itself). She brought a lovability and a poignancy that absolutely grounded the movie in a way that it wouldn't have worked without. You know, she was really irritating and flippant in parts, but that was the point: her character is THREE-DIMENSIONAL. As a former three-dimensional teen girl myself, I can't tell you how much I appreciated seeing one for once portrayed on screen--and not only portrayed, but carrying the movie. If Juno's profitibality leads to more filmmakers exploring girls and women as deserving central film subjects and not just as eye candy, then I can handle guys in track suits cluttering up Union Square.

However. Where I do in the end object is to the idea that Juno is somehow a deeply insightful or profound or groundbreaking examination of teen pregnancy. No, it isn't. This movie would have been successful whether it was about Juno's summer job in the zoo or Juno in a beauty pageant or Juno writing a history paper. Juno herself is the reason it's memorable, and not her circumstances. In fact, it's in its treatment of pregnancy that I thought it showed its shallowness the most. It's no "cautionary whale" as some groups have hailed it; one reference to cocoa butter and one spring prom missed in no way provide some sort of lesson to teens contemplating protection-less sex. (WHY no protection, Juno? And why was this point never really discussed, Diablo?) I'll cut the movie some slack because I don't think it was setting out to teach a message, and nor should it have--it set out to tell one girl's story. It's the media I won't excuse; for in this age of Hollywood motherhood-fetishization and Spears-sisters fertility obsession, to greet Juno as somehow bravely illustrating the realities of teen pregnancy is irresponsible. At the close of the movie Juno cheerfully goes on with her life. For many girls, no such ending is possible.

Monday, February 25, 2008

80 years later, a big yawn.

I was going to allow the Oscars to fade without dignifying them with remark (not because I disagree with the winners--I'm sure No Country for Old Men is as wonderful as Chris says it is, even if I personally don't think my stomach is ready for a viewing any time soon; but, rather, because I'm still offended by the obscene number of commercial breaks),

but this, THIS, cannot be allowed to pass without comment.

Now, I too despised J.Hud's be-pocketed, be-boleroed ensemble from last year, but when I saw this I yearned for its return. This dress makes her boobs look like a ... Mack truck. And I think the bare arms were also a mistake. I think she's BEAUTIFUL; I just don't think this dress is flattering. In general I feel empire waists should be reserved for the pregnant.

In further sartorial disagreements, the New York Times called Marion Cotillard's fish-scale mermaid gown a mistake, whereas I, on the contrary, thought it not only the loveliest dress of the night but the only one with any fashion gumption. Also, she was gorgeous, and gave an adorable speech; and I'm generally in favor of her because I had picked her on my office Oscar poll, which I will not, however, win because I did not predict that The Bourne Ultimatum would be so unexpectedly successful. Silly me.

All in all, a dull show with even duller dresses, but I will close by telling Katherine Heigl to go once and for all away; and if she insists on remaining inexplicably in the public eye can she never preface her Teleprompter reading with the disclaimer "I'm incredibly nervous so please forgive me," thereby making all one billion viewers intensely uncomfortable? You're an ACTOR. Public speaking is the one thing at which you, by definition, are required to be competent. Take a Toastmasters class or something.

Friday, February 22, 2008

The other shoe drops.

"This week was like a cold overcast day and I was the only kid who decided to go to the town swimming pool and it was the first day it was open so the surface was covered with dead bugs and I was swimming with my mouth open and a piece of dog doo that was floating along floated into my mouth."--Chris, two minutes ago

Chris and I coincidentally took the same F train home tonight and waded through slush on the sidewalk and sleet in the air to unlock our door and discover our beautiful big high ceiling apartment that we moved into one month ago and love is covered from top to toe in a fine layer of grit--cement dust, we think, and are just hoping it's not lead-contaminated. I'm leaving a butt-print in my chair as I type.

The landlords are demolishing the bottom two floors, renovating them into a duplex for their family, and this morning was the first we'd heard the construction start up, although last night when we came home we were confronted by a new interior door in the hallway separating our staircase from the rest of the building, destroying my fondly-held delusion that I had a beautiful brownstone all to myself. "It's not like I own the building," I told myself. "The nice landlords deserve some privacy for their family." Even when we felt the floors shake as we put our coats on and left for work this morning we maintained a cheerful attitude about it all.

And we don't blame the landlords, who called us right away after receiving our frantic email and have already offered to pay for our laundry bill and put us up in a hotel (we don't THINK we're being poisoned, so we said thanks but that's okay).

Now Chris is on the phone with the contractor, amazingly friendly considering his fury when we first walked in and his subsequent desolation--see above quote. Oh, update: apparently the theory is that the workers opened the windows, creating a vacuum in the building and sending all the dust...well, you guessed it.

Anyway. We're off to find some vodka--I mean, dinner, Chris, Shelby, and I. I'll feel much more equipped for Swiffer-shopping after I've had something to, um, eat.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Who could ask for anything more? Who could ask for anything more!

For Chris's Valentine's present I got him An American in Paris, in part because of my secret scheme to get musicals included more regularly in our Tuesday movie night line-up, and in part because it's one of my favorite movies of all time. We watched it last night. I hadn't seen it since my early adolescence when I would kick my younger siblings out of the basement so I could pause, rewind, and rewatch every dance sequence and attempt to reenact them myself. This obsessiveness apparently stood me in good stead, for last night I mentally anticipated each time step, each airplane roll, each inside-out fouette as though I was placing my hands over a keyboard after a long absence away from a computer.

God, it's such a good movie. The layers of backstory, not necessarily spoken, just understood: Milo Robbins, the poor little rich girl, simultaneously supremely confident and crushingly insecure, swooping in to "sponsor" (read: devour) hottie artist Gene Kelly because she likes his, uh, "work." Nina Foch's performance is SO GOOD, and something I never noticed or appreciated in my younger days. Lise Bouvier (Leslie Caron in her first film, in a role that Michelle Williams should play if they were to ever, God forbid, update it), a young girl who has grown into exquisite beauty with absolutely no awareness of it and consequently no self-consciousness, engaged to a man she loves deeply as someone who's raised her and cared for her since her parents' death when she was a child, unexpectedly in love with a brash young American. Jerry Mulligan, peacocking around Paris with his muscly forearms and his paintbrushes, overly cocky and under-talented yet somehow still lovable, I think because he is so unaffected by Milo's patronage and passes at him and instead is wholeheartedly focused on his work and the girl he so desperately wants (and also because the filmmakers intelligently gave him a dance number with a flock of French schoolchildren). Adam Cook--why is he in this movie? Yet Oscar Levant plays him--is him--as so wry, self-loathing, self-deprecating, and honest that he becomes an integral character when really he seems there for little more than to provide piano accompaniment. I found myself laughing hysterically watching him light multiple cigarettes and drink his companions' coffee--he's transparently, frantically hoping those same companions, Jerry and Henri, will not discover the knowledge that he alone possesses that the woman they are both declaring their love for is the the same one. And Henri himself, the other man, the older father figure to whom Lise is engaged: how can you hate him? Even Jerry likes him. When Henri so enthusiastically introduces his fiancee--Lise--to Jerry, not knowing that Jerry and Lise have said a bitter goodbye earlier that day, Jerry swallows his heartbreak and makes the occurrence a pleasant one, not wanting to hurt Henri perhaps even more than he doesn't want to hurt Lise. And then when Henri and Lise's taxi pulls away and her eyes are overflowing with tears and he's watching her, his own heart breaking for her rather than breaking for himself (even though it must be). Of course he tells the taxi to go back. Of course!

The 17-minute, ground-breaking ballet at the end is the highlight. The best moment--of the ballet and of the entire movie--comes when the cheerful traffic scene suddenly evaporates and Kelly and Caron are silhouetted against a smoky background. The music changes, elongating into horns and strings, and they melt into each other in a slow, rapturous duet amongst the fountain's statues. The camera swings, following them; Gene Kelly is dragging Leslie Caron, arching, through the statues and her leg swivels in a wide circle that magically echoes the camera's swing and the swing of the music. It's one of the most spine-tingling moments in cinema.

Here, I found it. The moment I'm thinking of comes around 1:38-1:40, 41, but the whole excerpt is so gorgeous; watch it all (WITH THE SOUND), or better yet, rent the film.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

I am an old fart.

I am sort of addicted to the blog Sweet Juniper...and after a weekend away from the Internet I was absurdly heart-warmed to see that their second baby finally arrived, a couple of weeks past his due date.

Seriously, just call the nursing home; I'm an old, soft mushie.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Mysterious ways.

When I was seventeen, I desperately wanted to go to a certain college in my home state, so much so that I only applied to three others--one backup state school, one stretch private university, and one random, Midwestern oddity. Everyone around me was confident I'd be accepted at my first choice--my grades and intelligence were perfectly in order with its standards, and despite its being selective it was also a state school so I thought I had more of an in.

I was wrong! When the thin envelope came bearing its indifferent news, I was devastated; not just disappointed that I couldn't go to the college I had daydreamed of but burningly crushed and humiliated that I hadn't been judged good enough. Every time I heard the school mentioned I cringed; if I learned of someone else I knew going there I hated them passionately; when I had to tell my coworkers that I hadn't gotten in, their genuine shock and sympathetic outrage at the admissions decision was faintly cheering, but didn't protect me from my own intense mortification.

I didn't care any longer where I went to college or even if I went at all. What did it matter? I was rejected at the stretch university--not really a surprise considering I had whited out part of my handwritten application, perhaps subconscious sabotage--and accepted at the backup school (judged that year the second party school in the nation by Rolling Stone, which was not cheering to my dad) and at the little school in the Midwest, which not only granted me an academic scholarship but also bore a scribbled note on the acceptance letter from the admissions director: "I LOVED your essay!"

My mom, who had persuaded me to apply in the first place ("It's IOWA, Mom. I'm not moving to Iowa." "Just go to the interview, honey, it'll be good practice!") determinedly bought plane tickets and we went out one spring weekend to tour the campus.

Our plane (the first one I'd ever been on) touched down in a cornfield. It was snowing. In April. The air on the drive from the airport to the hotel reeked of something pungent and indefinable--the Quaker Oats factory smell that I would later come to know intimately. I see some of you nodding as you read this.

There's no way, I thought to myself.

But the tour the next day changed my mind. The cute little campus was welcoming, and the school pulled out all the stops for its potential freshmen, for this was Scholarship Day. We talked to history professors and art lecturers; looked at the theatre; toured the dorm I would, as it turned out, live in that fall. Still stinging from my rejection and not feeling terribly invested in my immediate future, I told my mom, "Okay" and we flew home to begin the Bed Bath & Beyonding that new eighteen-year-olds all over the country were doing.

That decision changed my life. The four years I spent at that school were indescribably happy--not every minute, of course, but even the lows were experiences I wouldn't trade, for they made me a bigger, fuller person. The friends I made there are to this day the ones I count my best--you'll notice that they're the only ones outside of family with whom I share this blog. By the time I graduated, I was so happy that my life took the path it did, even if I did still toss my head when that other, not-to-be school was referenced.

This is the Internet, so as much as I want to I won't get into the funny "coincidences" that upon moving to New York caused any lingering regret over that long-shredded thin envelope to evaporate completely, heartily replaced by a deep, devout gratitude and an urge to turn up the radio whenever a certain Garth Brooks song is played.

Along those lines, on Saturday night Chris and I took the subway into midtown for a cocktail party at which many of the other guests were alumni of the school in question.

This post is just to say--Dear God: Thank you. So much.


Monday, February 4, 2008

Well THAT was pretty much the most exciting game in the history of football.

The pandemonium in my living room last night--as three elated Giants fans, one horrified Patriots fan, and one sympathetic neutral alternatively jumped up and down screaming and slumped over on the couch in shock and disbelief--was no match for the wild honking and cheering from the streets outside.

Parade on Tuesday!

And now, back into the breach. I don't think "one day at a time" is doable. Maybe "one hour at a time" or even "one email at a time." But I do have a fun weekend with Katie to smile over as I wade in.

Further: People around here can't stop beaming. You know, I'd never watched football until I met Chris, who made me turn my back on my half-hearted Redskins loyalty for his lifelong Giants devotion, but games like last night make me realize just why people watch. I mean, did you see this????