OK Fine, It’s Me

It was confirmed to me this weekend that I am, indeed, a coastal elite.

How else to account for my amusement and constant head-nodding recognition of me and mine while watching HBO’s sort of movie/Zoom session/play turned into a cable film of the same name?

Guilty as charged

Written by Paul Rudnick, a guy who is funny but yet not someone whose work I’ve ever much liked (In and Out, Adams Family Values, even his gay play/movie Jeffrey didn’t speak to me with much honesty),  no one is more surprised by my reaction to his above mentioned – okay, let’s just call it a Zoom-A-Thon – than liberal me.

Of course, that could be the reason.  Because these days I find that I’m not really liberal at all.  That’s how well I know myself.

Instead, I’ve been categorized as a slightly left of center traditional Democratic voting white guy with privilege who has spent the majority of his charmed life living  in big cities on either coast.  Sure, I sweat about things but mostly I rant, complain and sort of stand up for my principles when and if I’m pushed hard enough – but only if that push is a shove.

At least I still look cute

Granted, I am some of those things on any given day.  I mean, which of us does not embody some stereotype of our particular census group at a specific moment in time.  But I’m also a lot more than that.  Plenty more.  Not to mention I stand up for sh-t far more than my friends and family would like.  And often in public.

This seems to be the issue the majority of critics are having with Coastal Elites. It presents as five separate monologues by the kind of people I know or have met or might cross paths with, via what looks like five separate socially distanced chats, four of them on Zoom.

The Fab Five

The monologues are incredibly well-delivered by the likes of Bette Midler, Dan Levy, Issa Rae, Sarah Paulson and Kaitlyn Dever.  In turn, they play a NY Jewish “liberal” retired teacher gone ballistic; a gay unemployed actor melting down in West Hollywood; a philanthropist trust fund kid trying to contain her fury and fears; an online meditation guru unhappily dealing with her conservative family; and a thoroughly overwhelmed Wyoming nurse temporarily working in a New York City hospital.

With that cast playing those characters, all in the midst of this mess of 2020 politics and pandemic, how could you go wrong?

Okay, the truth is most critics, social media commenters and audiences have had it with Zoom.  Isn’t it enough we have to live it?  Must we now have it shoved down our throats in a cable movie?  What could possibly be fun or even meaningful about SEEING that small screen on our clearly larger screen.

Sorry, Marcia. #moreofaJanfan

Right, I get that but mostly, well, I don’t.  I’ve sort of come to appreciate Zoom communication.  For one thing, it sure beats sitting in a meeting live with lots of people you’d prefer not to ever have to deal with again live, or at least pretend to enjoy sitting through or next to at any office meeting.

Zoom or otherwise!

Would that you could turn off your inner camera and actually disappear from a room.  How cool would that be?

For another, Zoom has gotten us all to learn a piece of technology we all would have previously avoided like, well…the plague.

Sorry, too soon?

Well, that seems to be the problem for many of the naysers.  The tone of Coastal Elites is somewhere between comedy and drama.  A mix of theatre tweaked laugh lines honed for TV that move the tone up, down, around and through everything from the Menace that is POTUS, the pandemic that will soon have killed 200,000 Americans (Note: Yay, we’re #1! 😒) and the existential angst that only elites like me and these characters have the time to worry about.

My new inspirational poster

I don’t know, after spending the last six months working and living at home, and being told by medical professionals that in the next 12 months don’t count on the prospects being much better, I’m getting a bit freaked out in the mind here.  What the f-k is wrong with characters that feel the same way?  And since when can’t social commentary be, um, amusing and yet on another level, be about something?

Remember the Tony Award-winning play Six Degrees of Separation?  Sure, it was a lousy movie but the source material was pretty good.  And speaking of lousy movies most of the critics once thought was meaningful, have you seen the Oscar-winning best picture Crash lately?  Or revisited the Oscar-nominated Grand Canyon?

Perhaps those critics should (Note:  But you don’t have to, save yourself) and not get back to me.

Don’t even get me started

Bette Midler delivers one of her best screen performances in years as this New York Jewish lady of a certain age coastal elite.  Someone who couldn’t contain herself any longer and ripped that red MAGA hat right off the head of the smirking, Trump-loving provocateur who dared cross the line with her at her local Manhattan Starbucks.

I knew that woman and love that woman because, well, I AM that woman.  Or my mother and aunt sort of were.

Well, now I’m just being redundant.

In addition, who better but Schitt’s Creek’s Dan Levy to be an out gay actor fretting about queer representation at his most recent audition.  Try not thinking about your gayness with White, I mean, Mike Pence in and around the White House.

I never would’ve imagined Issa Rae playing a wealthy young woman who went to boarding school with Ivanka Trump but that’s probably because I have a middle-aged, late sixties/early seventies view of who went to boarding school.  If anything, that makes me far, far, FAR from being part of any elite.

She sure is

Sarah Paulson can make us believe pretty much anything but presenting this sort of new age guru who can barely deal with her Trump-loving family in the Midwest on a recent trip was an unlikely yet kind-of-inspired juxtaposition with a twist.

And in the clean up position, Kaitlyn Dever really delivers as a young, out-of-town nurse working in a NYC hospital at the height of COVID in April.  The young star of Netflix’s Unbelievable as well as last year’s best buddy flick, Booksmart, more than anyone else, brought a certain kind of even-handed pathos that was able to wrap up the show and make it, in total, much more of a journey than simply a series of rants and clever monologues.

A star on the rise

But that’s my take.  One from a coastal elite who is clearly the target audience for this type of thing. So sue me if these days we want some meaning but also want to be amused for just a few secs on and off.   That doesn’t minimize the issues if, at the same time, you accept that no one piece of art can possibly generate the depth to deal with it all, or even huge chunks of it, effectively.

You can’t even address it all on social media, try as so many of us might, and think as so many of us do.

Me, on my better days

Take it from the source but to my mind what myself and likely more than a few of those non-elites out there are looking for right now onscreen, in a movie (Note: Remember those?) are at least a few glimpses of  honesty – a sense of some angsty reality mixed in with… maybe a smile or two we may, or likely may not, be getting in real life.

If that doesn’t please the critics, well, tough sh-t as me and mine might say.  It certainly gave me/us some relief and something to think about for 90 minutes.

Bette Midler – “One Fine Day”

I See You, You See Me

A dear friend told me months ago to watch the new short form Netflix series Bonding because I had liked Special, another short form Netflix series, and that this one, too, struck similar coming-of-age chords for LGBTQ people like ourselves.

Of course, I never did because, well, who has the time? There is too much white supremacy to not look away from, too many racist Twitter feeds to respond to (Note:  Because if I don’t, who will???) and far, far too much programming already backed up on the DVR that I’m already pretending that I’ll get to but know I never will.

I promise I’ll get to you Sandra… PROMISE!

Nevertheless, a stolen August weekend several hours away with still other dear friends frees you up for all kinds of things.  These include: philosophical talks, ocean views, good food and wine and…bonding.

Both kinds.

One of the coolest things about being an LBTQ young person these days is that you get to see yourself more fully represented in films, television and elsewhere.  Though not fully acknowledged, you are at least not relegated to lurking in the corners of the big and small screen as a coded center box on The Hollywood Squares or as a closeted and/or severely depressed third act revealed killer in some edgy Hollywood detective movie.

or you’re Liberace.

That is pretty much what I experienced as a 17-year-old gay kid and a big part of the reason why I now find shows like Bonding to be such a delight.

Why does a 13-18 minute per episode/seven show season about a NYC female psychology grad student/dominatrix and her aspiring stand up comic gay male assistant/best friend from high school resonate with me so deeply and, well, queerly?

There are many reasons.  So many, many, many.

Oh, calm down.  It’s not even barely remotely about the S&M, at least not in a sexual way.

Chairy, give the fans what they want #hehehe

Nor is it because it is set in NYC and has an absence of heteronormative-espousing straight male white supremacists controlling the narrative, though that helps.

Instead, it is because during its very short season Bonding managed to reflect back to me a version of myself in both its male and female protagonists.  I got to see the pain, the struggle and the triumph of getting beyond the scars of childhood wounds with characters whose sensibilities reflected the types of thoughts and challenges that I actually experienced at the time in my own world. 

This is me.

It didn’t matter that I was their age decades ago or that the world in which they now live in is a very different place than it was way back then.  What does matter is that the smart, somewhat nerdy gay guy and his female best friend (who sort of have sex on the night of the senior prom but don’t) now have the kind of loving, oddball relationship that is/was me.

No, I never donned a leather mask and urinated on…(oh gosh, never mind!) for money.  Nor was any one of my friends bold enough to be a sex worker in leather even though I can recall one or two gals I know meeting up with men they don’t know in weird places where they proceeded to…well, never mind again.

You’re leaving us hanging!

Still, by using this as a setting and embracing the gay of it all and single white female sex of it all and the general insecurity and uncertainties of one’s twenties and all, without being leering or exploitative AT ALL, something happens.  We, the audience, get beyond the window dressing of what at first glance make these stories feel rarefied and extreme.

These are two people.  They date and go to school.  They live in the kind of small and/or drab unenviable apartments most of us did/do in our twenties.  More importantly, they are plagued by the same existential questions of:

1. How will I fit in and forge enough of my own path where I don’t sell out my soul?

2. Will I find love or am I even capable of it?

And, most universally —

3.Where is home and how do/will I even begin to know how to get there or recognize it if it ever arrives?

Srsly, watch Bonding. #plug

These are the ongoing tasks of not only every young person but of every member of a generation no matter what age they are or will become.

What’s different in 2019 is that audiences get the opportunity to take these journeys with LGBTQ characters in the leads, with Black, Brown and Yellow people in the leads, and with members of either sex of any age or non-binary disposition in the leads.

And play to audiences who will WILLINGLY go along for the ride.

Euphoria is also on my DVR. Don’t at me.

There was a moment not so long ago where you’d get feedback at a writers’ pitch meeting on stories such as these like:

  1. Why does this character HAVE to be gay? Or –
  2. The people in this world feel really specific rather than relatable. Or –
  3. There isn’t enough of an audience to justify spending time with two leads who are so fringe and, too often….unlikeable.

Yeah, you might still get some of that.  But more often than that it’s –

  1. Wow, that’s an original voice we really could respond to in this format. Or –
  2. Is that based on a real story? Because that will be a real plus in reaching out beyond yours, and our, niche markets. Or –
  3. We need it now. Yesterday.  YES!

At the end of the day commercial storytelling is still a business.  But right now we live in a time when a weekend of entertainment away can also mean finding yourself seen (and heard) not only in areas where you didn’t expect to be but on platforms where you were previously very much being silenced.

It’s not everything but for today…….I’ll take it.

“This is Me” – The Greatest Showman