But… Why?: A Movie Story

This is not about hating a film.

It’s just that every so often there is a high-class movie that critics and audiences seem to love and you just don’t get.

At least it starts out that way.

Uh oh — the Chair is about to get real

Here’s the deal.  You’re watching a movie and there are moments in the first half hour that irk you.

-The actors seem to be trying too hard to make you feel something. 

-The story interests you but the choices the characters make feel written, or vague or just plain unbelievable. 

-The conflicts scream drama and real-life comic irony. Yet nothing you’re watching has any urgency.  These people seem to have it all in a 2019 world where land mines can literally lurk around every corner.

Finally, as you watch all of this unfold you want to run from the theatre screaming to every character appearing in this acclaimed work of artistic brilliance:

Jesus, get a real problem!!!!  What would you actually do if crime knocked at your door, your kid got sick, you truly couldn’t pay your bills or even one of the myriad of political issues we see played out on the news daily hit you squarely in the face? 

No comment (but really, comment)

This is all to say, is it enough these days to watch a film that is merely about successful, wealthy characters whose chief challenge in life is a lack of communication with each other and their own super human inability to get out of their own way?

Noah Baumbach’s Marriage Story, starring Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson poses that question.  Decide for yourself after you see it.  Or better yet, don’t see it and use the money to contribute to any one of the 7,235 Democratic candidates running for president in 2020.

Except this guy. No one should give money to this guy.

There have been wonderful movies about the dissolution of a marriage between wealthy, or at least well-off and politically unaffected, couples and the byproduct of pain it inflicts on both their children and themselves.

The haunting Shoot the Moon (1982) comes to mind (Note: Diane Keaton singing the Beatles’ If I Fell in the bathtub.  Unforgettable.).  More acclaimed and better known are Ingmar Bergman’s Fanny and Alexander (1982) and the Oscar-winning Kramer vs. Kramer (1979).

Boyhood also fits the bill

So you don’t have to be economically pressed or non-white or non-straight to warrant a big screen dramatization of your issues.

The problem with Marriage Story for what will likely be a vocal minority of many of us is, like its protagonists, it tries to have it all and takes no responsibility for its own actions.  It’s an overwrought and yet underdeveloped attempt to capture the superficial in a non-superficial way.

It is very loosely based on the dissolution of the real-life marriage of its prolific director-writer Baumbach to actress Jennifer Jason-Leigh so one immediately presumes it’s operating from a place of honesty.

Ehhhhh… maybe?

Yet some of us will leave the theatre pondering whether what is most difficult is to be honest about ourselves?  A second question might be whether what seemed life threatening, dramatic or even black comedy funny to us will register as anything more than Okay, boomer (Note: Feel free to substitute Gen X, Millennial, et al) to anyone else.

It’s not that we don’t at all care about Charlie, an avant-garde turned breakthrough N.Y. theatre director, his wife Nicole, an L.A. bred commercially acclaimed actress who married him and, in the process, rebranded herself as a deeper, more serious thespian.  Nor is it that we don’t have feelings for Henry, their adorable if somewhat odd, floppy-haired 8-year-old son whom both parents seem devoted to and truly love.

Sounds…. fascinating.  #vanilla  #very

It’s just, well, what do we do with two people who tell us their problems in long monologues about their lives and feelings, none of which seem pressing enough to justify the drastic decision they’ve made to junk the whole deal?  Every marriage has some level of neglect, betrayal, sacrifice and unexpressed anger.  So why is it these two people suddenly decide they can’t take it anymore?

Or, as many a writer instructor poses to their classes at least once every semester:

WHY. THIS. DAY?

Is she thinking what I’m thinking? #butwhy

This story of a marriage becomes a strange juxtaposition of over-explaining the big issues and leaving out the specifics of what would elucidate them.  That leaves it in the hands of two very capable actors, the dynamic duo of Driver and Johansson, to work it out for us.

It’s an unfair place to put them in yet each manages to rise to the occasion and create whatever sparks of resonance the story has.  They are so game and so committed that it is only the looks on their very raw and very photographable faces that drag the movie over its much hoped for finish line.

Is it interesting to spend half of your viewing time watching the onscreen antics of callow California divorce lawyers?  Not to mention, are there still people who think every second person in Los Angeles tries to sell the merits of the city to die hard New Yorkers by constantly proclaiming about our homes and apartments:

But look at all that space! 

Don’t get me wrong, I still love you, Laura Dern #youdeservebetter

It’s a 1980s view of the left coast that only someone steeped on the east could write.

Which is not to say that it’s untrue.  Nor are numerous other moments.  It’s that they’re unchallenged.  They hang in the air as facile explanations for behavior rather than offer us lacerating insight as to why.

This is never more exemplified than when Mr. Driver’s Charlie is tasked with performing Being Alive, Stephen Sondheim’s famed eleven o’clock number from Company, in its entirety.

As he sings: But alone, Is alone, Not alive as some sort of tremulous reflection and revelation for a marriage gone bad, we feel for the actor.

ADAM DRIVER SINGS?!

But it’s more for him and what he’s managing to pull off in the name of his character. He deserves the Oscar nomination surely coming his way for the herculean task of simply getting through it.

That cannot be said for anything else in the film, speaking for the very vocal minority of us who simply don’t get it.

Tina Turner – “Let’s Stay Together”

Billionaire Boys’ Club

Screen Shot 2016-01-24 at 11.25.54 AM

I heard a troubling statistic this week – 80 billionaires own HALF the wealth in the WORLD. You read that correctly. There are eighty people on the planet as wealthy as 3.6 BILLION of the poorest people. Not to mention, of those, 50% live in the United States. And you thought we were a country in decline?

Please.

Of course, if you’re female the news is not good.   Of those fortunate 80, only 8% are women.   Surprisingly, it’s not much better for young people since 68 of the 80 are over 50.

So if you reject the cliché of rich white men essentially owning the rest of us, well, you can’t argue with facts. This is NOT a debate on global warming.

The struggle is real

The struggle is real

You might be comforted to know the cut off point to make the Elite Eighty is a net worth of $13 billion. Though that means Oprah’s $4 billion plus doesn’t put her even near the top 200. Somehow it only seems fitting that she be there as OUR rep. But what’s fitting, or even seems so, is not reality. That much most of us 21 and over already know.

There is one piece of good news in all of this – not even The Republican Apprentice makes the team. I don’t know about you but I find some comfort in finding he’s not winning at everything – that is if you don’t count decency.

Here’s his latest invective from the campaign trail in Sioux City, Iowa this weekend:

I could stand in the middle of 5th Avenue and shoot somebody and wouldn’t lose any votes. It’s incredible.

See, even he can barely believe it.

LOL... he says

LOL… he says

Do I have to write the words Donald Trump? I suppose so since my prediction at a dinner party two months ago that he was the likely Republican presidential nominee this year seems to be coming true. I couldn’t foretell more than 33% of the Golden Globe winners two weeks ago yet with this I appear to be right on target. Well one can only hope history holds true and I don’t know a whole lot about what any of our futures hold, most particularly yours.

Perhaps it’s all my years working in and around the entertainment industry, but I for one have no desire or belief that a famous rich person would or even could rescue me. Too many deals fall apart; it’s easy to make promises when you’re at the top of the heap you don’t necessarily plan to, or might not even be able to, keep.

Since to get there you usually have to have enough smarts to possess a large personal wealth and career cushion, not to mention several other types of back up plans, you never really have much of your own skin in the game. Intentions are good, or not, but they seldom ever put this group in any real danger of falling in with the rest of the herd that we comprise. Yeah, you heard me. That would be us. Mooooo….

Truth bombs

Truth bombs

Therefore, it’s quite perplexing to me to see the world reaching out to today’s uber wealthy in order to lead. Putting Lord Trumpness aside, the latest news is that another mega billionaire – former three term N.Y. Mayor Michael Bloomberg – has enlisted a team to research the viability of his own independent run for the presidency. Bloomberg’s net worth is said to be $37.2 billion, which would easily put him in the top twenty of the Elite Eighty. Though for some reason he seems to be absent from the current 2015 list. Debate on that all you want but what is undebatable is he could still easily buy and sell The Ass-holian Apprentice several times over.

Oh Chairy, don't make me laugh!

Oh Chairy, don’t make me laugh!

Does this then mean it’s us against them and our only hope is the polar (Note: That’s not a blizzard joke) opposite of a 73 year-old socialist senator from Vermont – the state with the least amount of people in the country next to Wyoming? Well, Bernie Sanders’ net worth is under $1 million so that doesn’t seem likely. Pres. Obama, a senator and best selling author, was already worth at least triple that when he was elected to the presidency more than 7 years ago.

Hillary Clinton, whose net worth is at least $31 million seems more in line with populist sentiment at the moment – and not only because she’s married to a former president who on his own is worth more than $80 million, not counting his political skills. Yet despite an initial excitement that we could finally elect our first female chief executive in U.S. history and an initial groundswell of excitement and support – the enthusiasm level for her seems to be faltering. I guess it’s no longer enough to elect someone from a minority group in the country. Oh right, females actually are the MAJORITY of voters. Perhaps, that’s it. We really do hate ourselves.

Words fail me

Words fail me

Which brings us back to the wealthy, white male elite. What better personification can there be that we’d all relate to than the virulent #OscarsSoWhite uproar over the lack of diversity among this year’s nominees? Forget that the real fight is a much larger, ongoing battle of equal opportunity in the film business. How dare those guys not nominate Will Smith for Concussion and Spike Lee for…Chi-Raq? We’ve now got Will, Jada and Spike sitting it out this year, despite Chris Rock hosting and even though the Academy has nominated Spike and Will several times in the past, awarded Spike an honorary award this year for his many contributions to the industry and currently has a Black woman serving as its president.

Not that any of the above means a damn thing when it comes to diversity. Though, nor do the Oscar nominations. They’re hardly ever fair as a barometer for anyone or anything. I mean, I for one am glad I’m not 9 year old Jacob Tremblay’s father right now or little Jacob myself. I’m not sure I could ever imagine topping that bravura performance in Room even if I lived to be Gloria Stuart’s age. Which is fast approaching.

Just kidding... this is so me!

Just kidding… this is so me!

Nevertheless, pseudo liberal bastion that it is – the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, quickly announced this week it would be modifying its nominating process to disqualify some members from voting for future Oscars if they don’t have credits within the last 10 years. Plus, it is doing a massive campaign to recruit (and presumably admit, since it’s tough for anyone to get in these days), more non-white members.

Well, I’m not sure if this is entirely right or wrong but if it gets rid of a few of the macho homophobes who refused to award Brokeback Mountain Best Picture back in 2005 and instead chose the more bland and mainstream Crash – it’s all right with me. Though for sure, I’d trade it all for clean water in Flint, Michigan.

Great, now my head is now pounding with confusion about equal opportunity, wealth and fairness. Still, if anyone thinks of themselves as somehow lesser-than for not being at least a millionaire several times over at this point in their lives –here’s one last fact:

Sarah Palin’s net worth is estimated at $12 million.

I know

I know

Clearly, you don’t have to be a guy or particularly smart, seemingly sober or, well, even vaguely rational, to lead. Okay, you often do need to be white but relax –the Motion Picture Academy has picked up the mantle from Pres. Obama and is already working on that. Please don’t set us all back and, like a 1950s Disney princess, hope some wealthy white guy from the ruling class will rescue you. Movie endings don’t usually happen in real life. It’s a fantasy business.

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