Screenplay by… Adam Schiff

Everyone likes a good story.

But what is a good story and how do you construct it?  Then, how do you tell it?

I brought my students to a panel this week at the Writers Guild Theatre that featured the 2020 WGA nominees for best screenplay.  Overall, they had a great time listening to writer-directors Greta Gerwig (Little Women), Rian Johnson (Knives Out) and Noah Baumbach (Marriage Story), as well as the screenwriters responsible for Joker, The Irishman, Booksmart and A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, among others, talk about how they do what they do.

Allow me to sweep up all those names you just dropped

Even if they aren’t always the best at speaking in person about it, these women and men know a ton about story construction and how to seduce an audience through visual, verbal and other means.  They are tasked daily with figuring out what makes people tick and give them a computer screen, a piece of paper and/or a camera, you would undoubtedly be dazzled by what they come up with.

In the last 12 months, many of you already were.

But as they spoke, I couldn’t help but think of another former screenwriter, my congressman Adam Schiff (D-CA).  On that very night he had just spent hours on the Senate floor, as the lead House manager for the Impeachment of Donald J. Trump, trying to convince a recruited audience to vote for the removal of a president many voted for and still continue to support.

For those disgusted with politics, think of it like the nasty studio head purposely test marketing your new movie (Note: The one he hates) before a hostile audience he gleefully assembled in order to determine whether it will be released or not.

Or just think of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell…doing anything at all.

The purest definition of #ShtEatingGrin

The screenwriting skills of Rep. Schiff, who back in the nineties actually moonlighted as a screenwriter (Note: He received an offer from film producer Nick Weschler (The Player) to option his crime thriller The Minotaur while working as an assistant U.S. attorney) were on great display all week.

Though he had a lot of help from six other extremely articulate fellow male and female managers in proving his case, he was the one principally tasked with how to structure and execute the narrative they were about to perform.

Is it any wonder then that he chose to start with a quote from Alexander Hamilton and end with another from Atticus Finch?

My 15 minutes will never be up!

Too much a reach?  Consider that Rep. Schiff was primarily trying to put pressure on a handful of senators to allow key witnesses Trump had previously refused to allow testify before Congress to at least finally be heard.

To do this he had to not only construct a legal narrative but present his case in a way that the public could understand so they might also apply some outside pressure on their representatives to hear those stories and vote in favor of impeachment.

So what better way to prove his case to them than to quote Hamilton, the only Founding Father to have a musical named after him that is currently an international phenomenon, one that has grossed more than half a BILLION dollars on Broadway alone, has more than 20 touring companies worldwide, a Pulitzer Prize for drama and a record-setting 11 Tony awards.

… and here’s a #ShtEatingGrin that is deserved!!

I mean, when Congressman Schiff starts out by likening Trump to the type of charlatan none other than HAMILTON warned us about, a man unprincipled in private life… bold in his temper… known to have scoffed in private at the principles of liberty… to flatter and fall in with all the nonsense of the zealots of the day it carries some weight, right?  Not to mention it doesn’t hurt when Hamilton also characterizes that man as someone who, much like Trump, could only be trusted to pursue his own interests.

Which is to say nothing about Atticus Finch, hero of THE great American classic novel, To Kill A Mockingbird.  That’s the same one that none other than Aaron Sorkin recently adapted into a hit Broadway play that is just about to start its own two-year international tour.

BONUS: Ed Harris with Hair!

Every writer knows the moral weight Atticus Finch’s words carry when we seek to convince an American audience (or any American) to use the common sense their parents taught them when they were kids about the differences between right vs. wrong.  But it takes a screenwriter’s knowledge of both drama and the audience they’re tasked with seducing to know where to place it.

Gotta say as a screenwriter and teacher of writing myself, I was incredibly pleased my very own congressman was smart enough to give the Atticus quote his key ACT THREE moment in the Trump case.  Especially when Schiff himself confessed on the Senate floor that as a young lad he first heard those words from his own father (Note: Just as Mockingbird’s own writer Harper Lee had heard them her own Dad, fictionalized as Atticus).  To drive the point home further, Rep Schiff revealed that he even attributed Atticus’ words to his own father before learning years later they were actually being passed on to him by his very moral Dad only because he had taken the time to actually READ the classic story and PARENT with it. (Note: Nice touch when speaking about the well known to be NON-READING Trump).

This will be the worst school trip ever

But that wasn’t all.

As one watched Rep. Schiff and his colleagues unspool the case against our ELECTORAL COLLEGE POTUS (Note:  Full Confession; I was riveted to my DVR), it was hard not to once again recall the WGA event.  Particularly that moment when Greta Gerwig told the audience that it was only because she found out LW’s writer Louisa May Alcott managed to hold on to the copyright of her novel at a time when women were mostly powerless, that SHE was able to come up with the boldest female empowerment moments for Jo, Alcott’s heroine, in this new movie version.

Greta deserved Betta #saoirseknows

This idea of digging deep into the facts and constructing your narrative around real actions your main character takes (or took) rather than claims he/she makes was also on display with each Trump video clip Schiff and his posse unspooled on the Senate floor as they were crosscut with evidence of the true real-life contrary actions taken by Trump and documented by staff, cabinet members and in some of his own candid audio tapes in the House managers’ presentation.

It also brought to mind Rian Johnson’s confession about tricks he uses as a screenwriter as he plans his stories for ultimate dramatic effect.   He freely confessed that 80% of his writing process is outlining and structuring his story just as The Irishman’s screenwriter Steve Zailian’s admitted that in order to figure out how to execute every film story on which he’s hired (Note: See his IMDB page and be impressed) he needs a plan and OUTLINING is a good way to come in with a PLAN.

First note in outline: This line must appear every 10 minutes

No wonder after the über-outlined case against Trump unfolded on that very first day even arch adversaries like Sen. Lindsey Graham took Schiff aside and privately shook his hand at the intricately planned and structured way in which he laid out the story he was telling, convincingly taking the senators, step by step, through the Trump narrative HE had decided to tell in order to prove his case.

Of course as everyone in Hollywood knows, particularly screenwriters, you can do everything right and still not get the results you want.

Think of that film recut at the last minute (Note: Orson Welles’ Magnificent Ambersons).  Or consider that terrific cult movie not released properly that first time around (Note: Harold and Maude or The Rocky Horror Picture Show) that had to be rediscovered months or even years later because their messages were sabotaged by the arbitrary moment in which they were determined to first arrive.

Once upon a time this film was a box office bomb

I can’t help but worry whether this will be the case for the storytellers in the Schiff posse, no matter how well constructed and executed their narrative might be.  Particularly when I read this sobering statistic in the Cook Political Report:

A majority of seats in the U.S. senate represent just 18% of the country. 

This means that ANY hope for a majority vote on any one issue in the Senate could conceivably be SUNK by a GROUP OF SENATORS accounting for UNDER ONE FIFTH of all voters in the country.

In other words, the will of more than EIGHTY PERCENT of the country that agree with my Congressman, and me, on the Trump of it all, could EASILY be ignored in the next week.  Or even two or three.

You got that right, Sutton.

This is not the Hollywood ending Schiff or anyone on the WGA panel that evening would write.    But, and not to be a downer, it is also important to remember that for all his wisdom at the end of To Kill A Mockingbird Atticus LOSES his case.

Will we settle for an ending to a similar story that took place almost a full century ago?

Or will we create our own narrative?

Hmmmmmm.

Original Hamilton Cast – “My Shot”

Same Ol’ Oscar

The 92nd Oscar nominations were reliably predictable.  No, this year’s list of honorees cannot rightly be categorized as #OscarsSoWhiteStraightMale.  But neither could the group even vaguely be considered #OscarsSoColorful, #OscarsSoInclusive or even #OscarsSoPurelyArtistic.

It does seem a bit quaint to even be discussing what Hollywood (Note: Whoever or whatever that is) deems deserving of its annual golden statuette when the world is falling apart around us but perhaps that’s the very reason to spend a bit of time on it.  We all need a diversion or two, or twenty-three, and well, every year the Motion Picture Academy never fails to both come through AND simultaneously disappoint.

The Academy always comes through…

That said, it was interesting to see just how aware the Academy was of just how white the awards had the potential to be.  You could tell by their choice of not one but two people of color – Issa Rae and John Cho – to announce the nominees to an international audience.  That’s twice as many non-White people that were nominated in all four acting categories combined!

It’s a sad state that Green Book was more diverse

Meaning, Cynthia Erivo was the sole person of color to be singled out in an acting category this year for her lead performance as famed abolitionist Harriet Tubman in the fine historical drama, Harriet.  Does it count for diversity that Antonio Banderas was also nominated for his lead role in Pedro Almodovar’s brilliant semi-autobiographical pic Pain and Glory? That’s for social media to decide so you’re on your own there.

Leading the list of this year’s nominated films with ELEVEN nods was…Joker? Well, the title of that film alone says everything you need to know about the times we live in.  Close behind were: The Irishman and 1917 and Once Upon A Time in…Hollywood with ten each.

More like a TEN (but really, this did factor in right?)

The aforementioned Ms. Erivo was also one of a handful of recipients to receive two Oscar nominations in two separate categories this year.  Her second was as co-writer in the best song category for Harriet’s “Stand Up.”  Also double nominated were: Scarlett Johansson as both lead actress and supporting actress for Marriage Story and JoJo Rabbit, respectively; and David Heyman as a producer on two potential best picture winners, Marriage Story AND Once Upon A Time in…Hollywood.

Here is a full list of the nominations along with some (accurate? snide? bitchy?) opinions on those chosen and those left out of the major categories.  Let’s save the rest for when the awards are handed out on Feb. 9th.   In the meantime, get your Joker masks ready, the next four weeks promise to be….memorable?

My mantra to get through these nominations

BEST PICTURE

FORD V FERRARI  Peter Chernin, Jenno Topping and James Mangold, Producers

THE IRISHMAN  Martin Scorsese, Robert De Niro, Jane Rosenthal and Emma Tillinger Koskoff, Producers

JOJO RABBIT  Carthew Neal and Taika Waititi, Producers

JOKER  Todd Phillips, Bradley Cooper and Emma Tillinger Koskoff, Producers

LITTLE WOMEN  Amy Pascal, Producer

MARRIAGE STORY  Noah Baumbach and David Heyman, Producers

1917  Sam Mendes, Pippa Harris, Jayne-Ann Tenggren and Callum McDougall, Producers

ONCE UPON A TIME…IN HOLLYWOOD  David Heyman, Shannon McIntosh and Quentin Tarantino, Producers

PARASITE  Kwak Sin Ae and Bong Joon Ho, Producers

The question is, what DIDN’T get nominated?  Pretty much all the films predicted to get a nod in this category managed to squeak through.  The possible exception was Knives Out, which nevertheless received what more and more seems to be the consolation prize of a writing nomination, in this case for its director Rian Johnson.

Still gets top honors for best knit!

What else MIGHT have been nominated in this category even though you’d be crazy to expect it?   Well, the indie movie The Last Black Man in San Francisco should not have to rely solely on the Independent Spirit Awards to be named among the best films of the year when it is clearly that and more.   But don’t get me started on the #OscarsSo……. Again.

DIRECTING

THE IRISHMAN  Martin Scorsese

JOKER  Todd Phillips

1917  Sam Mendes

ONCE UPON A TIME…IN HOLLYWOOD  Quentin Tarantino

PARASITE  Bong Joon Ho

Here’s the thing.  Greta Gerwig, Little Women, Lulu Wang, The Farewell, Marielle Heller, A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, Alma Har’el, Honeyboy and Kasi Lemons, Harriet.  When you have five women who directed the aforementioned Oscar caliber films and not one gets nominated in this category, well, this is why people begin to talk.

We riot at dawn #burnitdown #justiceforGreta

Though whenever this subject comes up I point to the SOLE FEMALE to WIN best director, Kathryn Bigelow.  She got the award for her work on The Hurt Locker, a war movie with a male protagonist.  What this tells us, aside from the fact that Bigelow is a great director, is that the subject matter of a movie has as much to do with the gender of a director where the Oscar nominees (and winners) are concerned.

Anyone hungry? #sausagefest

ACTOR IN A LEADING ROLE

ANTONIO BANDERAS   Pain and Glory

LEONARDO DiCAPRIO  Once upon a Time…in Hollywood

ADAM DRIVER  Marriage Story

JOAQUIN PHOENIX  Joker

JONATHAN PRYCE  The Two Popes

There are those who might rightly be grousing that the performances of Taron Egerton in Rocketman and Robert DeNiro in The Irishman should have gotten a nod.  But truly the best performance of the year NOT in this category was in Uncut Gems.  Adam Sandler did the best acting of his career as a Jewish, compulsive gambler jeweler who can’t get out of his own way in an unrelenting and uncomfortably riveting film.  Does he deserve the Oscar for it?  Yes.  Do I care if you disagree?  No, cause it’s true.

Get ready for Grown Ups 3 #sigh

ACTOR IN A SUPPORTING ROLE

TOM HANKS  A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood

ANTHONY HOPKINS  The Two Popes

AL PACINO  The Irishman

JOE PESCI  The Irishman

BRAD PITT  Once upon a Time…in Hollywood

Brad Pitt is really the only one who matters here…for so many reasons.  Least of which is that Mr. Pitt is the sole person in this category NEVER to have won an acting Oscar.

This category is so 90s, you have to watch all the nominees on VHS

ACTRESS IN A LEADING ROLE

 CYNTHIA ERIVO  Harriet

SCARLETT JOHANSSON  Marriage Story

SAOIRSE RONAN  Little Women

CHARLIZE THERON  Bombshell

RENÉE ZELLWEGER  Judy

Yeah, it was between Cynthia Erivo and Awkwafina (The Farewell) for the female of color slot and Cynthia won.  Just kidding, sort of, but not…really.  However, it won’t matter.  Renee Zellweger’s daring recreation of Judy Garland at the end of her life, singing and all, will win and should win.

Although Charlize wins for inspiring the most gasps (and nightmares)

ACTRESS IN A SUPPORTING ROLE

KATHY BATES  Richard Jewell

LAURA DERN  Marriage Story

SCARLETT JOHANSSON  Jojo Rabbit

FLORENCE PUGH  Little Women

MARGOT ROBBIE  Bombshell

Did you really think J Lo would be nominated for doing her Oscar pole dance in Hustlers?  Really?  No, I mean…really???  Really????????

MAYBE WE DID CHAIRY?!?!

WRITING (ADAPTED SCREENPLAY)

THE IRISHMAN  Screenplay by Steven Zaillian

JOJO RABBIT  Screenplay by Taika Waititi

JOKER  Written by Todd Phillips & Scott Silver

LITTLE WOMEN  Written for the screen by Greta Gerwig

THE TWO POPES  Written by Anthony McCarten

 

WRITING (ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY)

KNIVES OUT  Written by Rian Johnson

MARRIAGE STORY  Written by Noah Baumbach

1917  Written by Sam Mendes & Krysty Wilson-Cairns

ONCE UPON A TIME…IN HOLLYWOOD  Written by Quentin Tarantino

PARASITE  Screenplay by Bong Joon Ho, Han Jin Won; Story by Bong Joon Ho

You could have read three or four articles predicting the screenplay nominations and scored close to 100% in both of these categories.  But for my money, the big omission is Booksmart, a coming of age/last night of high school story chock full of memorable characters in hilariously awkward situations you felt you had both seen and never seen before.  So imaginative, heartfelt, funny and extremely difficult to achieve that it took four writers – Emily Halpern, Sarah Haskins, Susanna Fogel and Katie Silberman.  Of course the fact that they’re four women writing a female driven narrative had NOTHING to do with the snub!

What does the Oscars have against girls and poles?

Not to downgrade the rest, but I got up at 5:15 am for this!  So, here they are without comment:

 

ANIMATED FEATURE FILM

HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON: THE HIDDEN WORLD 

I LOST MY BODY 

KLAUS 

MISSING LINK 

TOY STORY 4 

 

CINEMATOGRAPHY

THE IRISHMAN  Rodrigo Prieto

JOKER  Lawrence Sher

THE LIGHTHOUSE  Jarin Blaschke

1917  Roger Deakins

ONCE UPON A TIME…IN HOLLYWOOD  Robert Richardson

 

COSTUME DESIGN 

THE IRISHMAN  Sandy Powell and Christopher Peterson

JOJO RABBIT  Mayes C. Rubeo

JOKER  Mark Bridges

LITTLE WOMEN  Jacqueline Durran

ONCE UPON A TIME…IN HOLLYWOOD  Arianne Phillips

 

DOCUMENTARY (FEATURE)

AMERICAN FACTORY 

THE CAVE 

THE EDGE OF DEMOCRACY 

 FOR SAMA 

HONEYLAND  

 

DOCUMENTARY (SHORT SUBJECT)

 IN THE ABSENCE 

LEARNING TO SKATEBOARD IN A WARZONE (IF YOU’RE A GIRL) 

LIFE OVERTAKES ME

ST. LOUIS SUPERMAN

WALK RUN CHA-CHA 

 

FILM EDITING

FORD V FERRARI  Michael McCusker and Andrew Buckland

THE IRISHMAN  Thelma Schoonmaker

JOJO RABBIT  Tom Eagles

JOKER  Jeff Groth

PARASITE  Yang Jinmo

 

INTERNATIONAL FEATURE FILM

CORPUS CHRISTI  Poland

HONEYLAND  North Macedonia

LES MISÉRABLES  France

PAIN AND GLORY  Spain

PARASITE  South Korea

 

MAKEUP AND HAIRSTYLING

BOMBSHELL  

JOKER 

JUDY 

MALEFICENT: MISTRESS OF EVIL 

1917 

 

MUSIC (ORIGINAL SCORE)

JOKER  Hildur Guðnadóttir

LITTLE WOMEN  Alexandre Desplat

MARRIAGE STORY  Randy Newman

1917  Thomas Newman

STAR WARS: THE RISE OF SKYWALKER  John Williams

 

MUSIC (ORIGINAL SONG)

I CAN’T LET YOU THROW YOURSELF AWAY  from Toy Story 4; Music and Lyric by Randy Newman

(I’M GONNA) LOVE ME AGAIN  from Rocketman; Music by Elton John; Lyric by Bernie Taupin

I’M STANDING WITH YOU  from Breakthrough; Music and Lyric by Diane Warren

INTO THE UNKNOWN  from Frozen II; Music and Lyric by Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez

STAND UP  from Harriet; Music and Lyric by Joshuah Brian Campbell and Cynthia Erivo

 

PRODUCTION DESIGN

THE IRISHMAN 

JOJO RABBIT 

1917  

ONCE UPON A TIME…IN HOLLYWOOD 

PARASITE 

 

SHORT FILM (ANIMATED)

DCERA (DAUGHTER) 

HAIR LOVE 

KITBULL 

MEMORABLE 

SISTER 

 

SHORT FILM (LIVE ACTION)

BROTHERHOOD 

NEFTA FOOTBALL CLUB 

THE NEIGHBORS’ WINDOW 

SARIA 

A SISTER 

 

SOUND EDITING

FORD V FERRARI 

JOKER 

1917 

ONCE UPON A TIME…IN HOLLYWOOD 

STAR WARS: THE RISE OF SKYWALKER 

 

SOUND MIXING

AD ASTRA 

FORD V FERRARI 

JOKER  

1917 

ONCE UPON A TIME…IN HOLLYWOOD 

 

VISUAL EFFECTS

AVENGERS: ENDGAME 

THE IRISHMAN 

THE LION KING 

STAR WARS: THE RISE OF SKYWALKER 

The Rolling Stones – “You Can’t Always Get What You Want”

Giving (Extra) Thanks

Due to technical difficulties, enjoy this second serving of this week’s Notes post! 

There is a perfect little gem of a movie at your local theatre right now called Ladybird that perfectly evokes the real spirit of Thanksgiving. Or, at least, what it should be.

No, this is not because it has turkey dinners, enviable family gatherings or even any one real specific major revelation about what or whom we should all be majorly thankful for in life.

I mean, is there one such precious individual or experience that you can pinpoint from your past or present? Certainly I can’t think of one.

So instead what the immensely insightful writer-director Greta Gerwig (who will now finally be shed of the loaded and limiting moniker of “go-to indie actress”) has given us is a whole series of people and memories and hurts and pleasures from a fictionalized vision of her own last year of high school that trusts US to look inward and draw our own conclusions.

so angsty #inthebestway

Who was a jerk and who was wrong? Were you actually born into this family or unwillingly dropped into one of nature’s most regrettable mistakes? Are you right about more things than you’ve given yourself credit for or is that just your guilt or subconscious trying to sell you that there might have been two or more moments when THEY could have known better?

Of course we all have our THEYs but they differ depending on the age we are and what we’re experiencing.

This was the point of Ladybird for me and why it feels exactly right for Thanksgiving 2017.   We should be grateful for all of it – every last moment – for THEY have brought us to where WE are today.

If that’s not what we want we can choose to do better.

If that’s what we like we can look back in joy and appreciation – or in fear that it will inevitably one day all disintegrate and turn into dust and sand. Or we will.

a little light (and dark) humor

This is hardly revelatory stuff. Except in moments that you need to be reminded of it. Then it is.

It is also why the coming of age movie will always be a timeless and enduring genre that each generation or subset of a generation – yes that means anyone reading this – defines for itself.

No – this does not mean be grateful for the AWFUL (fill in this blank with the myriad sickening moments you’ve barely lived through or witnessed of your choice.

ah relief!

Please. This is not in any way meant to be inspirational and we have a whole host of upcoming holidays from which to draw those lessons from. But sometimes art – and yeah, many films these days still qualify as such – can remind all of us that what we get in any given year is usually a mixed bag that we figure out how to uniquely proceed through or get stuck in. It is this, all of this, that specifically makes us, individually – US.

And in the moments they are happening, we are usually the worst judges of US.

It seems not insightful but merely truthful to write this at the end of what has been a very difficult year for many of US – especially in the U.S. (Note: And its territories).

One supposes there are some – okay, at most a very small plurality – who get up each day singing the 2017 equivalent of Zippity-Doo-Da. But if you live in LA as I do, or in the NY or San Francisco areas, where many of my friends and relatives are located, it’s a tough lift to imagine.

Can we just stop with the term “Real Americans”? #dreamsfor2018

And yet –

I would like to see the negative events of 2017 – starting with Trumpism, moving through various climate and/or gun-related disasters, then segueing on to the public exposure of the nauseating ordinariness of sexual abuse in our culture, and finally ending with each of our own specific misfortunes in the last ten months – as part of a continuum.

They are part of what we are and have become – for sure.

But they DO NOT tell our ENTIRE story.

It’s too simplistic to define four years by 10 months or a single, seemingly cacophonic event. Just as it is way too reductive to define a young woman’s trajectory in life by the jerky boy she got rejected by in high school or the harsh, withholding mother who never understood her.

Even if your mother is played by the divine Laurie Metcalf

Ladybird respects her heroine enough not to underestimate her and it feels, at this time of the year, that we might all resist the temptation to pull the rug out from under ourselves or our worlds before our final scenes are played.

Some months ago I was seated at the bar of a hip restaurant in West Hollywood a dear friend had taken me to in order to cheer me up after some disconcerting news. (Note: Yes, the BAR – it was the only seating immediately available and it featured not only the same food but a real 180 degree CARRERA MARBLE countertop).

we’re very fancy

In any event, seated right next to me eating THE MOST FABULOUS food, was this very lovely, friendly and much more hip looking lesbian couple from London enjoying a pizza we knew we immediately had to order and, well many laughs we (well, I) clearly knew we had to be a part of.

After striking up a conversation, within minutes I’d somehow forgotten why we were there, tuned out the noise from any number of obnoxious Hollywood types within earshot and became thoroughly entranced with the very hip, funny London lesbianers’ tours of Venice Beach, the Hollywood sign, and tale of one particular dish at some other restaurant I’d been to many times that the most infectiously happy and hipper of the pair made me promise to go back and try because it would literally change my life.

me… 90% of the time

I felt better until it was almost time to leave when I suddenly and uncontrollably blurted out:

I just want you to know that Trump – so many of us didn’t support him. Please don’t think of us like that.

At which point, she put her hand on mine, looked me in the eye and replied:

Oh love, we know. We all know. Please, don’t take that on yourself.

MY EMOTIONS

She smiled, I nodded, she paid the check and she turned away. Then she got up and I noticed she was wearing a HUGE yet very stylishly hip diamond ring that sparkled her way towards the light by the door.

Wow, I thought, that’s quite a rock, no wonder she’s so happy.

Of course, as we know, nothing is ever that simple. Much as we’d like it to be.

Doris Day – “Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah”

Giving Thanks

There is a perfect little gem of a movie at your local theatre right now called Ladybird that perfectly evokes the real spirit of Thanksgiving. Or, at least, what it should be.

No, this is not because it has turkey dinners, enviable family gatherings or even any one real specific major revelation about what or whom we should all be majorly thankful for in life.

I mean, is there one such precious individual or experience that you can pinpoint from your past or present? Certainly I can’t think of one.

So instead what the immensely insightful writer-director Greta Gerwig (who will now finally be shed of the loaded and limiting moniker of “go-to indie actress”) has given us is a whole series of people and memories and hurts and pleasures from a fictionalized vision of her own last year of high school that trusts US to look inward and draw our own conclusions.

so angsty #inthebestway

Who was a jerk and who was wrong? Were you actually born into this family or unwillingly dropped into one of nature’s most regrettable mistakes? Are you right about more things than you’ve given yourself credit for or is that just your guilt or subconscious trying to sell you that there might have been two or more moments when THEY could have known better?

Of course we all have our THEYs but they differ depending on the age we are and what we’re experiencing.

This was the point of Ladybird for me and why it feels exactly right for Thanksgiving 2017.   We should be grateful for all of it – every last moment – for THEY have brought us to where WE are today.

If that’s not what we want we can choose to do better.

If that’s what we like we can look back in joy and appreciation – or in fear that it will inevitably one day all disintegrate and turn into dust and sand. Or we will.

a little light (and dark) humor

This is hardly revelatory stuff. Except in moments that you need to be reminded of it. Then it is.

It is also why the coming of age movie will always be a timeless and enduring genre that each generation or subset of a generation – yes that means anyone reading this – defines for itself.

No – this does not mean be grateful for the AWFUL (fill in this blank with the myriad sickening moments you’ve barely lived through or witnessed of your choice.

ah relief!

Please. This is not in any way meant to be inspirational and we have a whole host of upcoming holidays from which to draw those lessons from. But sometimes art – and yeah, many films these days still qualify as such – can remind all of us that what we get in any given year is usually a mixed bag that we figure out how to uniquely proceed through or get stuck in. It is this, all of this, that specifically makes us, individually – US.

And in the moments they are happening, we are usually the worst judges of US.

It seems not insightful but merely truthful to write this at the end of what has been a very difficult year for many of US – especially in the U.S. (Note: And its territories).

One supposes there are some – okay, at most a very small plurality – who get up each day singing the 2017 equivalent of Zippity-Doo-Da. But if you live in LA as I do, or in the NY or San Francisco areas, where many of my friends and relatives are located, it’s a tough lift to imagine.

Can we just stop with the term “Real Americans”? #dreamsfor2018

And yet –

I would like to see the negative events of 2017 – starting with Trumpism, moving through various climate and/or gun-related disasters, then segueing on to the public exposure of the nauseating ordinariness of sexual abuse in our culture, and finally ending with each of our own specific misfortunes in the last ten months – as part of a continuum.

They are part of what we are and have become – for sure.

But they DO NOT tell our ENTIRE story.

It’s too simplistic to define four years by 10 months or a single, seemingly cacophonic event. Just as it is way too reductive to define a young woman’s trajectory in life by the jerky boy she got rejected by in high school or the harsh, withholding mother who never understood her.

Even if your mother is played by the divine Laurie Metcalf

Ladybird respects her heroine enough not to underestimate her and it feels, at this time of the year, that we might all resist the temptation to pull the rug out from under ourselves or our worlds before our final scenes are played.

Some months ago I was seated at the bar of a hip restaurant in West Hollywood a dear friend had taken me to in order to cheer me up after some disconcerting news. (Note: Yes, the BAR – it was the only seating immediately available and it featured not only the same food but a real 180 degree CARRERA MARBLE countertop).

we’re very fancy

In any event, seated right next to me eating THE MOST FABULOUS food, was this very lovely, friendly and much more hip looking lesbian couple from London enjoying a pizza we knew we immediately had to order and, well many laughs we (well, I) clearly knew we had to be a part of.

After striking up a conversation, within minutes I’d somehow forgotten why we were there, tuned out the noise from any number of obnoxious Hollywood types within earshot and became thoroughly entranced with the very hip, funny London lesbianers’ tours of Venice Beach, the Hollywood sign, and tale of one particular dish at some other restaurant I’d been to many times that the most infectiously happy and hipper of the pair made me promise to go back and try because it would literally change my life.

me… 90% of the time

I felt better until it was almost time to leave when I suddenly and uncontrollably blurted out:

I just want you to know that Trump – so many of us didn’t support him. Please don’t think of us like that.

At which point, she put her hand on mine, looked me in the eye and replied:

Oh love, we know. We all know. Please, don’t take that on yourself.

MY EMOTIONS

She smiled, I nodded, she paid the check and she turned away. Then she got up and I noticed she was wearing a HUGE yet very stylishly hip diamond ring that sparkled her way towards the light by the door.

Wow, I thought, that’s quite a rock, no wonder she’s so happy.

Of course, as we know, nothing is ever that simple. Much as we’d like it to be.

Doris Day – “Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah”