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”

Addiction Du Jour

So I’m sitting here listening to Jada Pinkett Smith talk about addiction because what else would you do on a Saturday afternoon when deadlines are looming and you have a dozen and half more student scripts to read?

Killin’ it

You might want to know that it turns out Jada has a talk show on Facebook Watch (Note:  So this is a thing now?) called Red Table Talk with her Mom (Adrienne) and daughter (Willow) and the random guest where they share three generational perspectives on…issues.

Now I’m not a Jada fan, or even non-fan, though I remain rankled by her husband Will Smith refusing to kiss a guy onscreen decades ago when he played a gay character in the film adaptation of Six Degrees of Separation.

Never has there been a more appropriate usage of this gif #ByeWill

Still, that’s not her responsibility and I did enjoy her in Bamboozled.  Though I really dislike the idea of people home schooling their kids, which apparently the Smiths have done.  And I think we can all also agree her announced Oscar boycott a couple of years ago, partly due to Will not being nominated for, ahem, Concussion, was a bit grand and a bit much.

On the other hand, who’s to say?  #OscarsSoWhite became more of a thing and the next year Moonlight did win best picture.

All of this is #SoNotMyBusiness, of course.

I don’t know these people and have no right to judge them.  Except, well, I do – most of us do – especially when they expose their personal lives to us via…well, I was going to say television.  But silly me, Red Table Talk is a web series, which is not exactly TV even though it involves a small screen with talking heads and programming you can make disappear with the flick of your finger.

TV? Phone? Remote? I have no idea.

Don’t knock that power.  How much did you wish you could make disappear this week?

Somehow watching Jada’s Mom talk about her years as a heroin addict, Will’s sister admitting up until a week ago she was stoned on grass 24/7 and Jada recalling her own sex addiction back in her twenties became, in itself, addicting.  At least for the 15 plus minutes it was on.  Add to this the presence August Alsina, the seemingly tough guy young singer she and Mom recently helped out of pill addiction and I began to wonder if my continued interest wasn’t the latent addiction gene that I know I carry but had always managed to keep at bay, finally rearing its ugly head.

Suffice it to say – no.

We’re all addicted to addiction and not necessarily in a good way.

Pretty much

Although…I lament on how unable I am on most days to turn off cable news.   And when I had my students watch Boogie Nights last month I could see the look of sheer terror in some of their eyes when I casually mentioned that porn was not always free to watch over and over again on the Internet.  Speaking of which, is Twitter raging an addiction?

That’s obviously rhetorical.

Three major movies at the moment spotlight addiction.  Julia Roberts tries valiantly to keep her son from going back on drugs in Ben is Back, Steve Carrell valiantly trying to understand why his son does drugs in Beautiful Boy and Lady Gaga is torn up inside and out that the man she loves and knew was an addict before she married him is now back on drugs in A Star Is Born.

I was so moved by this scene I almost forgot the terrible orange hair moment. #ALLY

The old sick joke at the newspaper I once worked at was that it took at least three concurrent examples to even begin to consider something a trend at any moment in time.  So if we add Twitter raging to the mix, well…. draw your own conclusion.  But know another golden journalism rule I learned in grad school at Northwestern — never rule out the obvious.

(Note: You’re welcome since I just provided you with several thousands of dollars of valuable education gratis).

The price is right

In too many ways all three of these film stories are rather obvious, but, isn’t that part of the attraction?  We know these people, we’ve seen these people or perhaps we are these people.  All of us addicts.  Or enablers.  And sometimes both.

Tom Arnold just claimed in Newsweek that even self-proclaimed never tasted alcohol Electoral College POTUS Trump habitually snorted Adderall on the set of NBC’s The Apprentice.  Stand up comic Noel Casler, who says he worked on the show for six years called the EC POTUS a speed freak and said his obsession/ogling of the female contestants on the Miss Teen Universe pageant he owned was something akin to what would happen if you gave Jeffrey Dahmer a cooking show. 

It’s just beyond #MUELLERHURRY

None of this is pretty but we don’t live in pretty times.  Therefore, the more we can understand our addictions and/or the addicts we love, or love to hate, the sooner we can make the necessary informed choices.

They may not all be our cups of tea but let’s not pretend A Star is Born, Ben is Back and Beautiful Boy don’t offer us all something and that together they’re not a trend. We can even learn from Jada Pinkett Smith, god help us.

Joan Jett & The Blackhearts – “I Hate Myself For Loving You”