There is so much bait in Sam Levinson’s Malcolm & Marie (on Netflix) that every moment is an arch rachis, a streak of fakery on an angler, barely hiding the dull hook. As the film prods its characters to prod its audience, the aggressive and argumentative film continually vies for your attention and interrogation, invites you, and then shies away, resentful, when you’re ready to joust. Its hook is rusty, dull, and so inelegant I’m surprised as many people took the bait as they did. Once one realizes that the characters, and the film, have little to say about anything, much less about art and film critics, it’s easier to recognize the lifelessness of the film.
(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.
I opened my work laptop this morning to a collage of Dorinda Medleys gesticulating expressively at someone(s), her mouth silently shouting “I’ll tell you how I’m doing. Not well, bitch!” ad infinitum. An amusing enough, if not especially unique, sentiment to describe the last year, and perhaps discomfitingly auspicious. (Could anyone have predicted that the Real Housewives would become, first, an obsession to theorize and intellectualize, and then its rightful sweet spot as fascinating, pulpy via affluence pop cultural artifact to zone out to while doomscrolling, sans fake thesis titles?)
It’s an absurd image, from this or any year, not just one rich lady asserting herself in loose appropriative body language garb — hand curved like a C, just short of a barrel bent threat or some more rapid and articulate bodying — but an endless scroll of them, wordlessly in sync with one another. I do not know what she is wearing other than a black sweater and pearl earrings, but her aggression implies she’s ready to take them off, finding a queasy cocktail of bizarrely hilarious drag and dystopian lane hopping. (The “someone” was Candace Bushnell, author of the Sex and the City books.)
Anyways, the point is that opening up to the gif of Dorinda from season 9 of Real Housewives of New York is as absurd as the scenario itself. I think, in other images of absurdity, or surreality, one can find tenderness, softness, beauty.Read the rest of this entry »
Another year, another couple homewrecked, another layer of calcification, another foot away in ironic distance, I mean, another foot into my obsession with Stephen Sondheim’s Company. But you knew that! I don’t think I could wrap-up 2019 better than this piece about alienation, displacement, Sondheim in pop culture, and why “Being Alive” haunts us, with thanks to my wonderful Paste editor Dom Sinacola. (Don’t worry, I’m not completely devoid of self-awareness when it comes to my Company content. At this point, it’s sort of a bit. But! I did write/finish my Company screenplay, which I had been talking about doing for five or so years. So, I’m very proud of that.) Read the rest of this entry »
Imagine having the intellectual or emotional bandwidth to talk about 2018 at all, is something I keep saying to myself. It’s a sentence I could easily write over and over again for this little post. I am truly exhausted, but I’m glad I’m alive. I’m glad I have people around me that I can share parts of myself with, and that they can, hopefully, share their lives with me.