My Home Has No Heart: Xavier Dolan’s “It’s Only the End of the World”

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the end of the worldA ball bearing drops onto its track, the little sphere rolling smoothly held between metal wires, its path never too crooked, never uneven, never too wide or narrow. Marbles need support, but otherwise, they seem like little else but totems used to set things off in motion, as the grander design of the path reveals the intricate workings of something like a Rube Goldberg Machine. For me, it was a letter, or an invoice, rather, that arrived a year after my father’s death and a few weeks after my first semester in college, on Christmas Eve. Seated in the living room, before the enormous television that acted as the only string that could keep my mother, my sister, and me together in any semblance. The string between the three of us had been taut since his death – a combination of emotional abuse, physical abuse, pathological lying, betrayal, and manipulation had been the things to cause the relationships to unravel without control. I avoided leaving my room whenever I was home, lest any threads deteriorate beyond fixing. But, as always, returning home sent me into a fury and depression. My skin crawled when I knew I had to be at home. My mother and I were rarely not at each other’s throats, a simple question to either of us (“What do you want for dinner?”) enough to send us down a spiraling, dizzying path to a shouting match. This letter was the catalyst, the climax taking place the next morning when my sister placed her hands around my throat and, in an effort to get her off of me, I smashed a coffee cup on her head. Merry Christmas to us.

Being in the midst of an argument with a loved one, a family member especially, is like seeing red. Everything disappears – your sense of space, time, the language you use. They’re either volcanic eruptions, building up, or when a flame touches the sulfur tip of a match: an overwhelming burst, a spectacle.

If Xavier Dolan knows anything, he knows that he likes spectacle. His most recent film, It’s Only the End of the World, returns to family dysfunction on a slightly larger scale; where his previous films concerned two or three characters at most, giving the works a focus and a balance, his newest jumps around between the four family members of Louis, a gay prodigal son returning home after a 12 year absence, with the intent of telling his family that he is dying. He is the ball bearing, the marble, and domino, and yet he is not unaffected by the events that follow his homecoming. He must contend with his younger sister, Suzanne (Lea Seydoux), who always wished to know him; his smothering mother Martine (Nathalie Baye); his petty and volatile older brother Antoine (Vincent Cassel); and Antoine’s perceptive and compassionate wife, Catherine (Marion Cotillard). Before long, madness ensues. Read the rest of this entry »

Dancer in the Dark: The Loneliness of Joshua Harmon’s “Significant Other”

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“It’s the light of day that shows me how

And when the night falls, loneliness calls”

– “I Wanna Dance with Somebody”, Whitney Houston

There much dancing throughout Joshua Harmon’s new play Significant Other, which opened on Broadway at the Booth Theater on March 2. The dancing takes its form literally, as four friends – Jordan (Gideon Glick), Gay Jewish dweeb; Kiki (Sas Goldberg), loud and mess; Vanessa (Rebecca Naomi Jones), professional and cynical), and Laura (Lindsay Mendez), Jordan’s best friend and former college roommate – as they dance at each other’s bridal showers, bachelorette parties, and weddings, in clubs, bars, and Kentucky, with the number shrinking as each successively pairs off, and somewhat more figuratively. Figurative in, again, two senses: the cast literally bounces around the almost MC Escher inspired set, room stacked upon room, and with its language. Finding a nice comfort spot between the quasi-naturalistic dialogue of ‘90s sitcoms and romantic comedies, the cast bobs in and out, talking to one character in one scene and then easily bleeding into another conversation, a relentless swing time that inevitably leaves Jordan alone. And that’s what Significant Other is very plainly, very boldly in some ways about: being alone and trying to figure out what to do when you have to dance by yourself. Read the rest of this entry »

Blood, Sweat, and Tears as the American Way: Marc Anthony’s “I Need to Know”, the American Dream, and Lynn Nottage’s Sweat

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02sweat1-facebookjumboThere is a jukebox in the back of the bar where much of the action takes place in Pulitzer Prize-winner Lynn Nottage’s incendiary new play Sweat, running in Studio 54. It’s dusty and old and you can’t quite tell if it plays CDs or something else.   Taking place primarily over the course of a several months in 2000, Nottage implements a mixtape of early aught, late nineties tracks, songs that played on the airwaves too late before the club iteration of Studio 54 could blast them over a crowd of dancers in the city, dressed flamboyantly, swaying without  care in the world. Instead, the music plays in a bar the reeks of as much history as the jukebox itself, the TV occasionally on with the faces of politicians vying for the White House, including George W. Bush; a couple tables where the regulars from the textile factory sit or tumble over; and a tap that spits out weak, watered down beer, the same beer every day, in spite of the hopes of young Chris’s, a factory worker and with college on the horizon. The song that is the most striking in Nottage’s playlist, the one that bookends the show, is Marc Anthony’s “I Need to Know”, off his eponymous studio album from 1999. For a story about a bunch of working class people in Pennsylvania whose relationship with their jobs, with each other, and with capitalism itself becomes a dangerous pas de deux (or better yet, tango), Anthony’s Latin infused track is recontextualized within the play’s ideas. Read the rest of this entry »

Grease is the Word: The Founder

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founder_still_michael-keaton_lg-h_2016_0American audiences love a white douchebag who is also a genius. Their shittiness is mostly outweighed by their ingenuity. You may be a dipshit that can’t really relate to anyone and dares to put “I’m CEO, Bitch” on your business card, but at least you created Facebook. And you might have daddy issues and an inability to relate to basically anyone, while also backstabbing your closest friend (which seems like a trend), but at least you created he iPod. The Social Network and Steve Jobs, amongst several films of their ilk, are excellent and okay films, and while their desire is to deconstruct the myth of said white male asshole genius, they can’t help but be at least marginally complicit in valorizing them. (That they’re both written by Aaron Sorkin might have something to do with it.) The Founder, directed by John Lee Hancock and written by The Wrestler scribe Robert D. Siegel, looks like these films from the trailer, even from the poster. Michael Keaton, as McDonald’s’ first franchiser Ray Kroc, stands in front of the “golden arches”, they themselves such a piece of iconography, as if trying to steal the spotlight from such a quintessential logo and standin for the American Dream. Above his head in all caps: “Risk Taker. Rule Breaker. Game Changer.” They cleverly forgot one word: Villain. Read the rest of this entry »

Eyes Wide Shut: The Best Music Videos of 2016

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worshipOnce upon a time in West Hollywood, a friend of mine dragged me out to paint the town red and make me stop using old timey phrases like that when I was visiting Los Angeles. He took me to a gay club called Tiger Heat, which was supposed to be like the magazine in the sense that the twinks there were just as seemingly depthless. But I found one of my first true loves on the dance floor that night: the music video. As I don’t drink often and was then disinclined to engage with anyone in that kind of space socially, I spent the night swaying back and forth to the music, bathed in neon lights, and I stared up at the monstrous screen playing random music videos.

Perhaps surprisingly, yes, there were other music videos released this year not by Beyoncé. And while one may be quick to quip, “And I’m not sure why they bothered”, the little pieces of pop art pleasure here are just as worthy of attention as the tome Lemonade. Read the rest of this entry »

Who Is You: Reflections on 16 from 2016

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KEVIN

Who is you, man?

BLACK

Who, me?

KEVIN

Yeah, nigga. You.

The question lingers in the air like the ribbon of smoke that’s unfurled from Kevin’s mouth after a puff from a cigarette. It carries a whiff of both genuine curiosity and the subtle nod that it’s almost rhetorical. Last year, Wesley Morris proposed that 2015 was the year we obsessed over identity, which is not incorrect. But what of this year, when the challenges marginalize communities face grow more visible in the public eye? Even the most loved and adored icons, as they’re so often called, were in some ways center points for discussions of identity – Prince, Bowie, Kiarostami, etc. In essence, haven’t we always been fascinated with not only who we are, but the politicizing of that question, so frequently without a clear answer? Read the rest of this entry »

Blind Dance: Damien Chazelle’s “La La Land”

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la-la-land-ryan-gosling-emma-stone.jpgAs Nick Pinkerton’s review notes, the musicals that have come and gone in the last couple of decades have – through form and, to some degree, theme – noted, “They don’t make them like they used to.” But La La Land does try earnestly and effortfully to make them like the used to, “they” being the likes of Jacques Demy or Vincente Minelli or Stanley Donen. I can’t help but wonder why Damien Chazelle, an incredibly proficient director, wanted to “make them like they used to”. Is he just a caustic nostalgist? Read the rest of this entry »