(CW: discussions of rape and sexual assault.)
I don’t think it’s an accident that Anthony Willis’ string arrangement of Britney Spears’ “Toxic” sounds like a swarm of bees, the angry and volatile kind, conjuring a venom dipped revamp of the classic Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov composition. It’s the most dramatic attempt in Emerald Fennell’s film Promising Young Woman to (supposedly) invert the sugar sweet, pretty pop aesthetic into something darker and more poisonous, from its pop songs (Charli XCX’s “Boys”, Paris Hilton’s “Stars Are Blind”, etc.) to its romantic comedy tropes. (For the record, “Toxic” was always, I think, a two pronged track, about a bad relationship. It’s in the title.)
Though perhaps, beneath its impressive minimalism and beyond its somewhat on the nose application, it might be on the savvier side as far as the choices made in this film’s finale: it’s not Cassie (Carey Mulligan), the traumatized and vengeful protagonist whose escapades to unveil the way rape culture infects us all won’t revere the fate of the friend she’s doing this for, who’s “toxic”, even though part of the conceit is that she is like a candy apple with a razor tucked beneath its skin. But, she also has, arguably, a “toxic” relationship to revenge itself, never quite realizing that the men she lures and lectures and the complicit women she tricks will never offer the catharsis she desires. For a moment, there’s a hint of self-actualization, on the stoop of her late friend’s house, speaking with her friend’s mother. But it passes, and she’s back, in sexy nurse cosplay (one of many costumes that look like someone read the wiki page for Ms. 45 and nothing else), ready to take down the man, Al (Chris Lowell), who raped her best friend and got off, at his bachelor party.
In two different plays, adapted from two different films, and by two different directors (one Belgian and one French), two women—“of a certain age,” someone, more likely than not a man, might write colloquially, garden variety sexism dotting the fibrous page—look into the mirror and see their unsavory fates, and the loss of what was once so promising, even if under a particular paradigm. They’re two actresses playing actresses in play adaptations of films about plays, and theatre, and performance, and all of that baggage. One actress, Margo Channing (Gillian Anderson), reacts to her growing obsolescence with venomous wit, peppered in with drunken desperation. The other, Myrtle Gordon (Gena Rowlands) responds with a sort of actorly paralysis, like the yips, and also with sloshed conduct. And as two live feeds amplify and project the frustration and neuroses these women are experiencing, men loom in the background, flattening it all for the sake of their own thrill.
It’s fairly interesting that, at least in New York, that the international broadcast of the National Theatre’s production of All About Eve, directed and adapted by Ivo van Hove, and the United States premiere of the stage adaptation of Opening Night, directed and adapted by Cyril Teste, should “run” in such close proximity to one another, mere weeks apart. They’re effectively very similar texts, with equally iconoclastic leading roles for women, and presented in not dissimilar, but extremely disheartening ways. It could be argued that the films from which these plays are adapted are in dialogue with one another, and, in a way, so are the adaptations themselves, though I would really designate it as a pompous shouting match that grates on the ear than a conversation. 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
There 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 »
Amongst my worst qualities as a human being are my aggressive need to be right about the James Bond movies, my habit of impulsively buying food, and my disinclination to listen to complete albums. It’s not to say I haven’t done it (LEMONADE y’all!), it’s just that my taste in music, unlike my taste in people with whom I sleep and subsequently kick out of my room, is very high and finnicky. So, most of the music I listen to I’ve heard in commercials, trailers, movies, commercials and trailers for movies, the radio, and once in a while, recommendations from friends, enemies, and former lovers’ sister’s best friends. In honor and celebration of nothing in particular, here’s a list of 100 favorite songs that I originally intended on posting last year, but due to laziness and a bout of post-Mad Men depression, I never got to. Read the rest of this entry »
That guy – the one whose hairs cascades down his back like a nymph, straddling a line between art school sexy and Bushwick eye-roll worthy; the one who waxes poetically about peace, love, understanding, the latest Gibraltar coffee ad; the one that casually quotes Descartes and whose very nonchalance about the name dropping makes him all the more intriguing – has an album out, and it is both very good and also kind of silly. That guy is BØRNS and that album is Dopamine. Read the rest of this entry »