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White Irish Drinkers: big whiny babies

1 Nov

Writer/Director John Gray (creator of The Ghost Whisperer) used his own $600,000, proceeds from the show, to make his independent film. The film, set in 1970s Brooklyn, follows two brothers, Danny, older, criminal, doomed (Geoffrey Wigdor) and Brian (Nick Thurston), younger, artistic, idealistic as they make a pact to rob the local theater Brian works for on the night of a Rolling Stones concert. This is not a caper movie so if that’s what you are expecting, you will never get the payoff. This is the movie about two brothers who are on different paths and stay on different paths.

SPOILER ALERT

Within the first ten minutes of the movie, I already knew what was going to happen. Danny was going to stay a criminal, try to do something decent in the end and then get killed, dying as a redeemed martyr. Brian was going to shun the life of crime Danny was trying to lead him into and follow his path as an artist, getting the girl and escaping his working class Brooklyn neighborhood. And that’s exactly what happens. I’m always sorely disappointed when I can predict the plot of a movie.  That said, I actually watched the whole thing.  This is one of those moments that had I gone into a movie theater and spent $13, I would have been angry.  This was simply one of my Netflix streaming choices.  For my monthly Netflix fee, I wasn’t actually disappointed.  I was even willing to give it three stars.

If you are curious about what it was like to live in a blue collar family (with an alcoholic abusive father) in the 1970s, and you want to see the career choices regular people made back then when there was still job security and things like benefits for most people, then this is the movie to watch.  This film is a glimpse into the insular working class world of the 1970s.  It’s also tragic in a way, to see how the two characters who are so excited they have jobs as a transit authority worker and a garbage man are making fun of their friend who goes to college and majors in “computers” since there is no future in that, according to them.  What most viewers probably won’t realize is that the mindset of a civil service job with benefits was a solid goal for people who only had their high school diplomas and back then, not everyone was expected to go to college.  In fact, trade schools made more sense to them.  All of that goes back to the way things worked in America for a very long time.  Really, since the 1940s.  So if nothing else, I’d argue this film is a solid look at a social class and the last decade or so it would exist in its safe benefits-filled and lifetime job security bliss.  Because by the end of the 1980s and into the early 1990s, job security was a thing of the past.

My strongest criticism of the characters are that they do not actually grow.  They stay the same.  And while I didn’t like watching that, I will be the first one to admit, that actually is a reflection of real life.  Most people don’t grow.  They stay the same for their entire lives.  But I already knew that.  I don’t necessarily want to watch a movie about average ordinary people.  Because even Brian with his artistic gift, still somehow feels average and ordinary.  And I guess, my biggest issue with the film is that I don’t want to watch average and ordinary.  I can see that when I walk outside every day.

Revisiting Reservoir Dogs

13 Aug

Once in a while, I use a selection from Philip DeFranco‘s “Like Totally Awesome” Film Club to do a review.  Mostly because he offers three movies a week, all available for streaming on Netflix.  Sometimes these are films I’ve seen and loved.  Sometimes these are films I never bothered with.  Sometimes they’re films I hate.  And, at times like this, they are films I definitely liked but I had issues with.

Okay, I’m just going to say it.  I have issues with Quentin Tarantino.  I also have issues with other directors, probably Steven Spielberg, more so.   But I will not dissolve into a diatribe about why I dislike Spielberg’s directing in a post about Tarantino.  I will say this:  on the whole, I think Quentin Tarantino actually has some talent.  I say ‘some’ because he tends to let the fact that he’s a man get into the way of being a truly great director.  Some might say this is a harsh criticism.  I am simply saying, “Quentin, could you not be such a blatant sexist?  Especially in the opening of Reservoir Dogs?”  Because the scene in question, which I will discuss in a moment, I believe sets the tone of Tarantino’s arrogance in general.

This criticism, about being a blatant sexist probably would never have struck me so severely if if hadn’t been Tarantino’s character (played by Tarantino himself), Mr. Brown, saying the words.  It is powerful enough to have a character deliver your words, but when you as the write and director play that character and say those words, in the opening of your film, you’re delivering a message.  Maybe you don’t realize it but you are.  You’re saying, this sentiment is so important to me that I’m not letting another person say it.  I want to give the message to you, my audience.  Me!  So, I find it rather humorous (sad?  ironic?  just plain weird?) that this great message Tarantino decides to relay to us, his audience, is about the lyrics for Madonna’sLike A Virgin.”  Now the first time I listened to this opening, I was in my early 20s and didn’t pay much attention.  The subsequent times I’ve watched the film, it still didn’t strike me as anything, in fact, I almost tuned out their lyric discussion.  But this time, for the very first time, I actually listened to what he said.  All I could think was:  Is Quentin Tarantino an idiot?

In this particular scene, the opening scene, we are in a diner and a group of gangsters are finishing their meal, going through the final discussion of a heist and discussing songs.  They all have fake names, hence, Mr. Brown (Quentin Tarantino).  Mr. Brown talks on and on about what Madonna’s song really means.  Apparently, his astute analysis is that the woman in the song has had a lot of sex.  Okay, I agree with that assessment.  But here is where Mr. Tarantino and I diverge on our analysis of the song.  He claims that she feels like a virgin because her new love interest’s penis is so long that it hurts her, ‘like the first time’, hence, like a virgin.  Only there is no discussion of penis size or allusion to penises in the lyrics of the song.  Yes, I spent some time going through it.  The song is simply about a woman who is jaded who has actually fallen in love with someone and rediscovers what it is like to have feelings.  This makes me worried about Mr. Tarantino.  If he is so dense about feelings, can he not even properly interpret a simple song from the mid 1980s?  And if his ability to analyze something as straightforward as a Madonna song from her early years is impaired, what does that say about the messages he’s sending in his films?  Is he actually saying anything?  Or, is his thinking flawed?  I would say, in this instance, thank goodness this film isn’t a love story or I would have to walk out.  I know one thing, I’m going to have to re-watch True Romance now that I’ve made this discovery about his inability to understand females.  Maybe that’s why I’m always struck that the women in his films tend to be more masculine in their approach.  And no, it isn’t a bad thing if that’s the case, but I’m wondering if it is because he cannot relate to women — normally.  Or at all.  Just a thought.

Right after the lyrics debacle, one of the most famous scenes from the film appears:  the tipping of waitresses debate.  Mr. Pink (Steve Buscemi) doesn’t believe in tipping.  The rest of the guys yell at him that this is how waitresses make a living.  We suddenly get a lecture on uneducated women’s socio-economic status in the US.  I feel as if I’m being lectured at from an article in TIME magazine.  Now, suddenly, Tarantino ‘cares’ about women?  If they are in subserviant positions where they know their place and are dependent on men’s kindness?  Isn’t how they ended up in those waitress positions in the first place?  Either they or their mother’s made a bad choice?  Of course that’s not to say every waitress is from some uneducated background.  Plenty of women going to school or needing second jobs waitress.  But that isn’t the message that’s delivered in the film.  Which makes me think, before Tarantino decides to educate the audience, perhaps he needs a bit more of an education himself.

My other criticism of this film is that I don’t feel like there is anything redeeming about any of the characters.  Nothing.  And while that dislikability of characters became a somewhat popular trope with crime/violent films in the 1990s, especially the early 1990s (think The Last Seduction, 1994), I was less impressed than I felt I should have been with all the critical praise the film got at the time.  I remember going to the cinema in anticipation of greatness.  I was expecting a commercial Godard.  Instead, I just got a violent commercial with a good torture scene, some good music and, the one thing I will give Tarantino credit for, a new signature flashback/cicular narrative style.

The narrative of the film is straight forward.  There’s been a botched diamond heist.  The surviving members all suspect each other.  There are three main things that happen in the narrative after the diner scene:  Mr. Orange (Tim Roth) is shot and Mr. White (Harvey Keitel) is trying to get a doctor but these are the days before cell phones.  Mr. Pink arrives at the warehouse and essentially tells Mr. White that Mr. Orange is a liability.  Mr. Pink shouts.  A lot.  Soon Mr. Blonde (Michael Madsen) arrives and he has a surprise, a cop he’s kidnapped during the robbery.  SPOILER ALERT IF YOU HAVEN’T SEEN THE FILM.

Mr. Blonde tells Mr. White and Mr. Pink to ditch their cars.  Mr. Blonde then proceeds to torture the rookie cop he’s kidnapped in a now famous scene to the Stealer’s Wheel song “Stuck In the Middle With You”.  It is a great scene and as far as torture goes, Tarantino builds up the tension between an alternation of long shots, medium shots, close ups of objects, like the razor that will cut off the cop’s ear, the radio that will play the music that is a counterpoint to the terrifying scene unfolding, and finally, the surprise end of the scene which I will not divulge.

While the present narrative plays out, it is intercut with flashbacks informing us how the members of the team met and revealing how the undercover cop got on the crew.  Tarantino’s use of flashbacks intercut with the present is perhaps the most clever part of his narrative trope.  Instead of a linear story, we start before the robbery, jump to the aftermath of the robbery, jump back to the past as the crew is formed, jump to the present, etc.  This jars the viewer which in turn places them in a position of slight confusion as to where they are in the story, what’s happening, and who is responsible for the narrative itself.  Perhaps it is because we get multiple POVs that we feel as alienated as some of the cons.

This alienation also plays a key role in the final scene, in the shootout involving Mr. White, Nice Guy Eddie (Chris Penn) and Joe Cabot (Lawrence Tierney).   I believe, what made this film such a sensation, besides the torture scene involving Mr. Blonde and the cop, is the fact that they all shoot each other and even our undercover cop is killed.  Usually someone survives.  In this case, from what we can tell, the obnoxious Mr. Pink is the sole survivor but he gets picked up by the police as he makes his escape (from what we hear offscreen).  So, in one sense, Mr. Orange has accomplished his goal.  All the bad guys are caught.  He just didn’t live to see it.  And herein lies my problem, I don’t actually feel bad that Mr. Orange has been killed.  Instead, the triple shooting death that comes as a result of Joe shooting Mr. Orange, trumps Mr. Orange’s death, as an individual.  But then again, this movie was about a dysfunctional group of gangsters working together and it ended  as a dysfunctional group of gangsters dying together.  I just believe the whole thing would have been more poignant if there had been some humanity.  Somewhere.  When I finish watching a film and don’t care that they all died, I start to question why.  And it goes back to character, or lack of character, in the film.  Yes, these characters were ‘characters’ but they weren’t human.  Tony Soprano is human.  That’s the difference between a great character and a bunch of mediocre ones that stand alone for shock value.

Watch my Vlog Review on YouTube.

Mysteries of Lisbon: one long movie… that was once a mini-series

12 Aug

Last weekend, I made the trek to the new Film Society Lincoln Center’s Elinor Bunin Monroe Film Center and paid my $17 on an extremely humid Sunday evening to watch the 4 hour and 32 minute Raul Ruiz tale, Mysteries of Lisbon.  Before I go any further, I think it is only fair to warn you that this film was originally a mini-series for European television.  Which would explain why I felt like I was watching Masterpiece Theater at Lincoln Center.   That is not an actual complaint for me, just an observation; although, the wealthy older man who complained to me in the concession stand line as I was waiting to buy a box of Goobers during the 20 minute intermission (I got hungry), would beg to differ.  You have to have patience for slow storytelling with this film, and if you are not one who has the fortitude to wait and see where the winding narrative will take you — well, you might just want to wait until you can watch this at home.  With much cheaper candy.  If however, you are tolerant and well-versed in the way foreign films unfold, then you will feel right at home.

This film is a tale of vying narratives, controlled by two vying masculine voices, that of our young protagonist, Pedro (João Luis Arrais), and his care taker, guardian, and teacher, Father Dinis (Adriano Luz) .   Pedro doesn’t know who his parents are and this mystery consumes him.  Apparently, it consumes the other children as well because at least one bully picks on him and calls him a bastard since he has no last name.  There is an altercation with a wooden ball and then Pedro ends up badly injured.  It is actually at this point that the true narratives in the film start, or at least start to take shape and make sense, as we experience, first through Pedro, then through Father Dinis, the story of how Pedro was born.  We meet his parents, his evil maternal grandfather, a servant of his grandfather’s that doubles as a paid assassin; and if that isn’t enough, we learn about Father Dinis and his origins and life before he took his vows (he plays three roles in the film which works very well, it isn’t as it might be in an old Disney film).  Once Pedro has become a man (played as an adult by Afonso Pimentel), we encounter the paid assassin as a constant in his life, along with a maligned countess and a string of nobility.  It’s almost like a combination of Charles Dickens and a Jane Austen novel.

I do not want to say too much as it is more fun to hear the story unfold as you watch it.  And if you are sitting there for hours, quite honestly, you need something to look forward to.  Raul Ruiz is a master storyteller.  He’s also a film professor and a Chilean exile who lives in France.  He’s had decades of experience, working for a good deal of that time in Europe, doing both television and film.

The lyrical feel of the mise-en-scène in the film is reinforced through the cinematography that evokes the setting of an unreal fairy tale unfolding before your eyes.  This particular fairy tale is masculine.  Most of the stories that are told belong to the male characters, with the exception of  two strong female voices that are heard, Pedro’s mother, Angela de Lima (Maria João Bastos) and his love interest as an adult, Elisa de Montfort (Clotilde Hesme).  Ironic that both these women are heard but Pedro never is able to contain either woman in his narrative.   Also the two actresses resemble each other enough to make Pedro’s love of Elisa as an adult more than a bit incestuous, especially since Elisa is so much older than Pedro.

One thing I will note, throughout the narrative, for our protagonist, Pedro, three items travel with him throughout his life:  a drawing an English tourist did of him at the beginning of the film that is framed for him, later, after he’s been hurt, a small theater tableau that he uses to comment on the story as it unfolds (it’s significant to notice when this theater appears as it tends to be at a key point in the narrative each time for Pedro), and finally, the wooden ball, that, got the narrative rolling, so to speak.  As these are constant symbols in the film, it is important you ask yourself, what exactly do they represent to the narrative, to Pedro, and to the ending of film.

Here is the trailer for the film.

Watch my Vlog Review on YouTube.

Attack the Block: A teen gang in South London battles aliens

4 Aug

Attack the Block One SheetAttack the Block is a fast-paced Science Fiction/action/horror/comedy film that won’t disappoint its audience.   Joe Cornish (writer/director) expertly weaves a mutli-genre narrative  into a tense, fun and entertaining journey of terror and… self-discovery.  Yes.  Self-discovery.  All this for a £9,000,000 budget.

Moses (John Boyega) is the leader of a London street gang, a group of young juvenile delinquents who have far too much time on their hands and too much testosterone coursing through their veins (the affliction of most males, teenage and otherwise).  We follow the narrative that begins with Moses’ bad decision to have his group rob a nurse, Sam (Jodie Whittaker), which puts him and his group in the spot where an alien crash lands into a car.  Sam escapes the group who were holding her at knifepoint, and honestly, at this juncture of the film, I was wondering how Cornish was going to turn this around for me.  I was so disgusted with the group of mini-thugs, I was hoping the aliens would crash-land into them and the film would end.  I don’t have a lot of patience for armed robbery.  Moses forgets about Sam and is far more curious about the car the alien has crash-landed into.  He goes to investigate and in the process, almost gets killed.  He’s so mad the alien attacked him, he and his gang follow the alien to an abandoned structure and they rush in.  We don’t see the fight, but the boys come out victorious, with a dead alien that looks a lot like a gorilla with lots of shark teeth.  And yes, these aliens are cheesy but as the film progresses, their presence becomes increasingly menacing.  I enjoyed them far more than the aliens from Cowboys & Aliens or the one from Super 8.

SPOILER ALERT FROM THIS POINT FORWARD.

It’s Moses desperate need for acceptance and inability to control his emotions that actually causes all the peril in the film.  His desire to kill the alien, and the direct action of the killing, starts the narrative of horror in motion.  Cornish essentially makes Moses a complete wanker at the beginning of the film, challenges us as viewers to see if we can look beyond his violent interior and exterior and somehow identify with him.  Moses takes the audience on his journey:  from being a self-serving juvenile  to becoming a man willing to sacrifice himself for the good of the community.

When the aliens (who as I said are basically scary looking gorillas with ice blue glowing teeth that like to tear people up and bite them) come after Moses’ block, it’s a matter of pride in the beginning.  Turf as well.  The neighborhood drug dealer, who attempts to recruit Moses early on in the film warns him though, that the block Moses is living on isn’t really Moses’ territory, it’s the dealer’s.  In this assertion lies a challenge for Moses, so while defending his block against the aliens, he inadvertently angers the drug dealer who becomes his nemesis, so now Moses and his gang must avoid not only an alien threat but the human threat as well.

If Moses hasn’t brought on enough problems for himself and his group of friends, they end up having to seek help from the very same woman, Sam, who they robbed.  This challenge for our anti-hero becomes one of his greatest tests in the narrative:  to look beyond what he perceived as someone outside the block, apologizing for his actions and accepting her as a trusted friend.  In that same spirit, Sam, the nurse, must put aside her anger and fear of Moses and his friends, attempt to help the injured party in the group, and ultimately, trust Moses with her life.

Now, you might ask yourself if this is an action/horror comedy movie or a tender coming of age/tolerance movie.  It’s all of the above – because the coming of age elements come out of the action/horror/comedy narrative.  It is no small feat to pull that off and Joe Cornish must be given his due.  Whenever things get far too intense we are allowed a moment of comic relief either through dialogue and familiar issues in the lives of every teen (the guys can’t call for help, they’re all out of credit on their mobile phones (cell phones if you’re reading in the US), or watching two young residents of the block trying to get accepted by the gang.  They look like they’re about 8 or 9.  They do get their moment though – which is another gold star for this script – Cornish pays off the plot points that he sets up.  Things are not left hanging or unanswered, they are always dealt with, which is more than I can say for many Hollywood studio films that suffer through the development process with multiple writers.

Although this is primarily a horror film and there is plenty of blood and nerve-wrecking scenes, this film is about far more.  It is well worth the price of admission – full price.  I rarely say that.  I liked it so much that I would probably go again.  Now I never say that about any horror film out in the theaters.  I’m looking forward to watching Joe Cornish’s career.  It’s also nice to see Nira Park got it right again (the producer that brought us the UK horror/comedy zombie film, Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World).   Don’t miss Attack the Block.  You’ll be sorry if you do.

Watch my Vlog Review on YouTube.

Trailer for Attack the Block:

Rubber: this tire should be shredded and burnt

24 Jul

The only reason I actually watched this film, Rubber (2010), was because it was a selection in Phillip DeFranco‘s movie club, Like Totally Awesome.  I figured this was a way for me to watch some films I might not have heard of or never got to.  Well… I’m wishing I never heard of this film and I’ve got to say this was the longest hour and a half that I’ve endured for awhile.  I think my root canals have been less painful to endure.  Maybe even getting my teeth pulled while awake with not enough novocaine.

This movie is about Robert, a psychic tire that goes on the lam (if you can call it that when a tire goes on a killing spree and is on the run from the cops) and kills everything and anything that crosses its path except an attractive girl.  “He” almost kills her but fate intervenes at the last moment.  Their paths cross a bit later at a seedy motel where she conveniently leaves her front door open as well as the bathroom door so she can take a shower and I suppose, let anyone who would like, watch.  Because that is completely logical.  I know that when I stay at a seedy motel in the desert that’s the first thing I do.

The director of this cinematic atrocity, Quentin Dupieux, is actually a French record producer, DJ, composer and songwriter.  Dupieux also likes to go by Mr. Oizo.  Okay.  Whatever.  I’d like to give Dupieux some credit, and if he’d just made the straight horror film with the psychic pathological killing tire, I might have actually enjoyed it.  An inanimate object as a protagonist who kills is a clever idea.  Yes, it has been done before but not with something as mundane as a tire (to the best of my cinematic knowledge).

My issue with this film comes with the other half of it.  Dupieux decided to get fancy.  To try and flaunt his cinematic knowledge of audiences/spectators and how they function in a film.  Hitchcock (Rear Window, 1954 and Vertigo, 1958) and Powell (Peeping Tom, 1960) did it on a level that doesn’t warrant Dupieux worthy enough to exist in the same milieu.  However, he tried to insert himself there by invoking the avant-garde and the French New Wave into the mix by having his character speak to the audience in the film and the audience off-screen.  Now, that could be forgiven on its own.  I’ll chalk it up to an over-zealous love of film theory (I’m sure I’m giving him more credit than he deserves).   What I believe is a giant cinematic faux-pas is that he informs us we will be watching a film that doesn’t happen for any reason then proceeds to justify that his ‘film’ doesn’t need to have any reason, using examples from blockbuster films as if his could ever hope to attain that status.  Here’s a piece of advice to you Dupieux:  audiences don’t need to be told they are watching crap.  They can figure it out for themselves.

I’m sure Dupieux feels he is a highly intellectual and clever filmmaker because this film was shown at Cannes.  I just think that a worthy film that could have been made got the shaft and yet another piece of shlock is out there, taking up space.  I find it a sad commentary on who is financing films and what they are thinking.  Because whoever financed this film must have been high on crack.  And that’s me being kind.  Oh, and if you ever watch this film, you would probably be better off watching it high on crack as I can tell you right now, watching it on sinus medicine isn’t enough.

You can watch my Vlog Review on YouTube.

Trailer for Rubber:

The trailer is better than the film.

 

Tabloid: Sex scandals, bondage and mormons

23 Jul
Tabloid Movie Poster

Tabloid Movie Poster

I always think I am not a huge fan of documentaries.  Actually, it isn’t the documentaries themselves.  Once you get me to the movie theater, or I am forced to watch one for research, or in the old days (I absolutely refuse to use the phrase ‘back in the day’ – I hate it), a class, I usually like them, but the idea of them bores me.  I blame my father.  I will always associate documentaries with my most hated TV show growing up on Sunday nights before 60 MinutesMutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom.  I was forced to watch that show for years.  Years.  I hated every second of it.  It’s not that I don’t like animals but I hate watching them kill each other.  I don’t care if that’s how it is.  I can know that’s how it is, I don’t have to watch it every week.  Boy was I happy when that show ended.

So I avoided documentaries like the plague.  I grew to appreciate French documentaries since I saw so many in graduate school but that’s where my appreciation and great knowledge ended.  It was with a bit of trepidation that I went with a friend to go see Errol Morris‘ new film Tabloid last week.  She suggested that or an old Dennis Hopper movie but Tabloid was shorter and I always have to take the train schedule back to Connecticut into account when doing anything past 9pm in New York City.  So… Tabloid it was.  As soon as the film started, I knew we’d made the right choice.  I am very rarely entranced by a film from the beginning but this story was so outrageous that I was hooked in the first minute.

Tabloid recounts the 1980s media frenzy (mostly in the UK) surrounding the ‘manacled Mormon.’  Kirk Anderson, a Mormon missionary, who went to England was pursued by his girlfriend.  She allegedly ‘kidnapped’ him, tied him up spread-eagled to a bed in a rented cottage and proceeded to seduce him with fried chicken and back rubs then they had sex for three days.  He and the Mormons claimed rape.  Joyce McKinney, the alleged perpetrator, claims she flew to England to rescue Mr. Anderson because he had been brainwashed by the Mormons.  Although she may be a bit of a pathological liar, McKinney is a constant source of entertainment.  She explains a woman raping a man is like someone trying to ‘stuff a marshmallow in a parking meter’.   The narrative of McKinney’s exploits unfolds through several points of view:  her own, tabloid reporters’ at the time including Peter Tory, a gay activist who was once a Mormon, and a number of other individuals who played roles in McKinney’s life or her schemes.  These accounts are edited together with tabloid excerpts, archival news footage, cartoons, drawings – essentially any media which might enhance the story and make the audience member question the narrative unfolding.

Morris uses his signature camera/rig/setup the Interrotron to interview his subjects.  The Interrotron is a device that allows for a direct first person interview, essentially with Morris as the Interviewer AND the camera instead of a traditional 60 Minutes or news style interview where the reporter/interviewer and the subject sit together and don’t necessarily face the camera.  Morris believes his device allows for a more telling interview – the viewer is in the same position as the camera/interviewer, therefore, we are supposed to experience the tale as it unfolds, with our subject looking at us, the audience, in the eye, instead of the old style where they look the interviewer/reporter in the eye and we watch.  Basically, this means we are one step closer to experiencing what the filmmaker experiences, in a sort of dual position, that of director and audience member at once.

Whether you believe Joyce McKinney is guilty of kidnapping and rape or not, this movie is worth seeing.  It was one of the most entertaining stories I’ve ever heard and honestly, I don’t care if she’s nuts, she entertained me.  And if this film and McKinney don’t entertain you, then you should get your head examined.  I might even buy the DVD.  I don’t think I even own a documentary on DVD that I haven’t, ummm, recorded for educational purposes.

Trailer for Tabloid:

My Vlog Review:

Desperately Seeking Susan, Part 2

17 Apr

I realized that I didn’t touch on a few ideas that I felt were essential to this cinematic monolith of girl power.  First, economics.  Susan (Madonna) doesn’t worry about money.  She simply steals for a living.  There are no moral qualms.  What’s everyone’s is Susan’s because somehow she’s entitled.  Now, that doesn’t mean she’s always a thief.  She did trade her lovely jacket for some sequined boots, although I have a hard time believing that she wouldn’t have stolen them if that jacket had not served so well as a narrative device for mistaken identity.  And, while Susan doesn’t have a job, she doesn’t seem to need one.  She can manipulate at such a high level that she continually uses everyone to survive.  It’s a skill anyone living in New York City needs to master.

Roberta (Rosanna Arquette) on the other hand, manages to find a job as Susan.  Although it is as a magician’s assistant that only pays $20 a night (how could anyone live on that in NYC even in the mid 1980s?), she is gainfully employed, which says more are her character and personal responsibility than Susan’s.  The only thing that truly bothers me about this film is that while it is telling young girls and women to follow their dreams, it sure doesn’t show them how on earth they’re going to exist in tough economic times.  I know at the end of the film, they receive a reward for the stolen earrings, but really!  How long can that reward money last?  Especially if Susan has no income and Roberta’s still making $20 a night.

This also brings me to the second point I wanted to make, the idea of the ‘couple’ in a comedy.  The  most important ‘couple’ in the film is Susan and Roberta.  The title itself, “Desperately Seeking Susan” is not really about Susan’s boyfriend seeking her, it is about Roberta seeking Susan.  Roberta seeks the “mystery of Susan” and can only begin to satisfy her life when she becomes the other, in this case, Susan.  As Susan, she becomes a whole of herself.  As Roberta, she is only a housewife, which from the beginning of the film, we learn that she feels she is lacking a purpose in her existence.  Roberta as Susan starts to take chances, gets a job, lives in the city and rejects convention.  The only problem is that Roberta doesn’t quite have Susan’s natural gustiness…something that becomes quite apparent as she is chased and attacked.  And, it is, after all, Susan who hits the bad guy and saves the day.  Susan, however, lacks Roberta’s ‘polish’ and strangely, allows a friendship with Roberta that she doesn’t have with anyone else.  Susan uses people, she doesn’t actually like them.  This newer, softer Susan at the end of the film, is the result, it seems, of her new-found partnership/friendship with Susan.
The last shot of the film show that the true couple of the film is Susan and Roberta.   It is this friendship and coupling that allows them to become a power couple.  They are the complimentary halves to each other.  As part of the heterosexual couple, each woman is not ‘special’, yet as part of their ‘dynamic’ friendship, they brought down a murderer and a thief (it takes one, or half the couple, in this case, to know one?).  They share the reward and become heroines.

If these women become heroines by the end of the film, and we are discussing women, after all, I pose the question, what sort of character is Susan throughout the film?  And what about Roberta?  If this were a drama, Susan would unequivocally be a femme fatale, and Roberta might be characterized as a reluctant femme fatale; however, this film is marketed as a comedy about mistaken identity.  So the question is posed:  is Susan a femme fatale? And, can a femme fatale function in a ‘comedy’?  I thought about this as I sipped a lovely glass of Grgich Hills Zinfandel and ate some Roquefort cheese on imported crackers.  I came to a resounding:  I’m not sure!  Femmes fatales don’t really go with the comedic genre.  I might need the entire bottle of wine while I contemplate the answer.

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