Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Just Another Girl on the I.R.T., or: He Bought a Jeep

Is there anything trendier at the moment than a ’90s throwback? (Maybe early ’00s.) If the Collab is known for one thing, it’s having a finger on the pulse of all that is trendy, so of course this month won’t go by without a peek back into the ’90s as we focus on films directed by Black women.

A note about the I.R.T. for those of us not in ’90s New York: I.R.T. was the Interborough Rapid Transit, one of the former operators of what would become the NYC Subway. Despite the title, there aren’t many scenes on the subway, so this may not be the film for you if you’re only in it for the trains.

The Film:

Just Another Girl on the I.R.T.


Leslie Harris

The Premise:

A confident Brooklyn teenager with big plans to graduate high school early and become a doctor finds her future disrupted by an unexpected pregnancy.

The Ramble:

A proud ’90s Brooklyn girl, 17-year-old Chantel Mitchell knows all too well what people think of her and her neighborhood. Determined to tell her own story, Chantel breaks the fourth wall frequently to offer her own teenage perspective on her life and future.

Breaking stereotypes, Chantel is loud and bold while earning good grades and planning to graduate from high school early to pursue college and medical school. Her teachers are probably relieved, in all honesty, as Chantel is constantly getting in trouble for talking back and challenging the curriculum’s failure to adequately address slavery and racism. She has decided she won’t be stuck in her job at the corner store forever or end up like her parents, stressed and struggling to make a living.

A group of three teenage girls sit on a park bench, eating lunch together.

In many ways, the future feels like a long way off for Chantel, and nothing will stop her from chilling with her friends and dancing with all of the cute guys at parties. So though she’s a smart & precocious young woman, Chantel is a teenager who acts impulsively and without all of the facts. In a commentary on the lack of sex education in the States (which has not significantly improved), Chantel and her friends believe a number of complete myths, such as having sex standing up makes it impossible to get pregnant.

A teenage girl sits smiling, facing a young man at a party.

It’s in this context that Chantel ditches her not-quite-boyfriend Gerard and takes an interest in self-assured Ty, who has a Jeep, aka a way for Chantel to avoid remaining another girl on the IRT. When Chantel has unprotected sex with Ty, it’s not long before she realizes she’s pregnant. In denial and anxious about her future, Chantel decides to keep things a secret and not make a choice about her pregnancy.

However, surely keeping her pregnancy hidden will only be possible for a rather limited amount of time?

The Rating:

3.5/5 Pink Panther Heads

Director Leslie Harris’ vision was to film the coming-of-age story of a young Black woman at a time when this type of narrative received so little attention or acclaim. Based on the lack of funding for any future Harris ventures, it seems little has changed in filmmaking. In addition to the director’s vision, I love the ’90s fashions and the bold, unapologetic tone of Chantel’s character.

What makes this film feel uneven at times is the tension between two approaches here: that of celebrating Chantel’s coming-of-age and portraying her life realistically. I appreciate the film’s hopeful tone, which embraces Chantel’s tough persona and recognizes her as a determined yet flawed teenager. It’s refreshing to see her self-assuredness onscreen, including when she claps back with facts about the problematic whitewashing of history.

The tone shifts quite significantly when Chantel realizes she’s pregnant and tries to hide from this reality. Structural problems surrounding the lack of education and resources for sexual health have a real impact on Chantel’s life. The pregnancy morphs from scary to absolutely horrifying when she goes into labor prematurely and frantically searches for answers much too late. Shifting from Chantel’s confidence to horror to hope makes the last third in particular feel jarring.

Harris’ commitment to telling a realistic story that breaks down stereotypes and celebrates the everyday lives and survival of Black characters seems to be a major reason her film didn’t gain much traction despite recognition at Sundance. It’s frustrating that she’s been unable to make a film since, as my sense from Just Another Girl is that Harris has significantly more creative storytelling up her sleeve.

Would my blog wife cruise around the city with this one in the passenger seat or make it take the train? Find out in her review!

Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

She’s Gotta Have It, or: Three-Penised Monster

There’s no one quite like Spike Lee as a director; like the best out there, you know immediately when you’re watching one of his films. It’s pretty incredible that this is true even with this week’s pick, his earliest film. And that, for this same feature, he wrote the line “We let her create a three-headed, six-armed, six-legged, three-penised monster.” Truly a contender for the most Spike Lee moment of this very clearly Spike Lee film.

CW: rape

The Film:

She’s Gotta Have It

The Premise:

A Brooklyn artist is content with having three lovers at once…but the men involved may not be quite so chill about this arrangement.

The Ramble:

A young artist living in Brooklyn on her own (before it became unlivably expensive), Nola Darling is a woman interested in pushing boundaries. She’s ready to tell her own story, speaking directly to the camera to do so.

However, it’s not long before others begin to chime in–it seems virtually everyone has an opinion about Nola. Those voicing the loudest concerns are three men, all of whom Nola has been involved with romantically: Jamie, Mars, and Greer.

A black-and-white still of a woman glancing over her shoulder at a man while crossing the street on a busy sidewalk.

Right away, it seems as though Jamie is the most sincere of Nola’s love interests and your classic romantic lead who believes in things like true love and soul mates. Oh, how a first glance can deceive. Though Jamie’s first meeting with Nola is framed as a rom-com meet-cute when he follows her while waiting for a bus, it creeped me out so much. I’m sorry, but it was not dating apps that “killed romance”–it was definitely behavior like this.

Far from Jamie’s character is Mars, a young Spike Lee who jokes a mile a minute, never taking anything too seriously. Meanwhile, aspiring model Greer embodies very white, middle-class obsessions with self-improvement, health, and his own looks.

In front of a painting in progress, a woman speaks with a man in a New York jacket, a baseball cap with the lid turned up, and large-framed glasses.

While Nola brings all three men into her bed at different times, she identifies as heterosexual, gently turning down the advances of her friend Opal. Nevertheless, Jamie shows a jealous streak. Nola’s disdain of monogamy becomes a problem for all three of her lovers, but her charm is enough to keep the peace for a while.

I’m not going to lie…there’s not a whole lot to the plot beyond this. There’s a somewhat bizarre musical interlude for Nola’s birthday, and she makes the decision to bring together her lovers for a Thanksgiving feast (not a euphemism). The Thanksgiving decision exists almost entirely for the three men to make petty jokes at each other’s expense, and I’m not mad about it.

Three men sit around a table, eating the Thanksgiving turkey and other food served on the table.

Ultimately, Jamie’s jealous streak takes over, and he demands that Nola choose to be with him exclusively. Even though she agrees, I think you can guess how long that relationship lasts.

The Rating:

4/5 Pink Panther Heads

Spike Lee’s first film may feel somewhat unpolished and meandering, but it’s an impressive movie nevertheless.

We really can’t talk about it without discussing Nola’s rape, which is presented more or less as an aside (and since there seem to be different ways of describing this scene, Spike Lee himself refers to this as a rape scene). It’s a scene that is very much there for the story and to reinforce our feelings about Jamie, but not so much to recognize Nola’s feelings during or after.

And, I’ll be honest, despite the feminist themes, there are a LOT of topless scenes featuring Nola’s breasts that feel very male gaze-y. I do appreciate that Lee has no interest in a sleazy male fantasy lesbian scene between Nola and Opal…but I do wish he had made the decision for the two to actually get together (especially since this is supposedly what happens in the Netflix series).

For all of its issues, this film is a refreshing celebration of different ways to express Blackness, a vibrant Brooklyn neighborhood, and Black women living on their own terms. As much as the film is about Nola, it’s also a calling out of men engaging in problematic behavior, even–and especially–when they consider their behavior a reflection of love. All three of the men Nola loves try to change or control her while labeling it love. No wonder Nola rejects the narrative of monogamous romance.

Btw, three-penised monster is not a phrase you want to Google when you can’t remember the exact quote from the film.

Would my blog wife enjoy a non-monogamous romance with this one or shut down that penis monster right away? Read her review to find out!

three shirtless men look out at ocean waves on a beach
Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Beach Rats, or: Why, Teens

Though Gay July is technically over, we’re keeping the party going for one last film.  Much like the summer itself, this week’s pick is fine while it lasts…but it’s also ok when it ends.

The Film:

Beach Rats

The Premise:

A Brooklyn teen struggling with his sexuality and father’s terminal illness opts for summer distractions over facing reality.

The Ramble:

Frankie’s maybe not having the best summer ever in a sort of you don’t have to go home, but you can’t stay here way.

By day, he chills with his muscly Brooklyn bros on the beach.  By night, he gets turned on by naked dudes on Chatroulette.  Desperately trying to avoid thinking about his dying father or face his mother’s disapproval, Frankie spends most of his time out and about…a titular beach rat?

four shirtless men sit outside on concrete steps

Initially, Frankie seems interested in Simone, a girl he meets while at Coney Island watching fireworks he very symbolically finds dull.  I may be digging a bit too much for symbolism here, but he seems most intrigued by Simone when she’s literally wrapped in a large yellow python.

a man holds up a large yellow python near a woman who holds her hands back
Is that a python you’ve got or are you just happy to see me…?

Very much in the closet, Frankie is very hot and cold with Simone.  Wanting to keep up the facade of his macho straight dude act, Frankie tries to hold onto Simone without getting too close.  However, since he’s not at all interested in sex with Simone, this proves rather difficult.

At the same time, Frankie is very much interested in taking his Chatroulette adventures a step further and meeting up with men for sex.  This is done rather sketchily in parks at night, though frequently includes the bonus of getting high.

a shirtless man faces another man in the dark

When Frankie shares with his friends that he’s been pretending to be gay in order to get high, they predictably take this to a dark place, leaving Frankie morally conflicted.

The Rating:

2/5 Pink Panther Heads

Maybe it’s the muscle relaxers I’m on talking, but I’m falling asleep just thinking about this one.  Not a whole lot happens in terms of plot, character development, or relationship building.  Frankie is ok, but that’s about the strongest response I can convey about him.   His choices are understandable but frustrating to watch as they keep him emotionally distant from his friends, family, and sexual partners.  Though safe from rejection and homophobia, Frankie seems to have an emotionally empty life.

Also, I have come to the personal conclusion that I just don’t want full-frontal male nudity onscreen.  More asses would be fine, but definitely not more dicks.  What can I say–apparently I’m a PG-13 girl living in an R-rated world.

Would Christa meet this one in the dark or immediately block user?  Read her review here to find out!

Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Frances Ha, or: Things That Look Like Mistakes

This month is one of the most fun on the Collab, returning for its third year!  Welcome to Feminist February 3:  The Revenge.

The Film:

Frances Ha

The Premise:

A young woman seeks a place to live and a direction for her life after moving out of her best friend’s apartment.

The Ramble:

In her late 20s, unattached, and easily gliding past responsibilities, Frances is living happily with her bff in Brooklyn and quite content to keep things as they are.  (As a side note, bless people who name their movies after their lead protagonist because it’s the only way I ever remember character names.)

Anyway, you know a change is coming.  After breaking up with her boyfriend when she doesn’t want to move in with him, Frances gets the bombshell that her roommate, Sophie, is buying an amazing apartment in trendy Tribeca.  A struggling dancer with a talent for choreography, Frances couldn’t even afford one square foot in the apartment and must quickly find a new place to live.

A woman sitting on a window ledge passes a cigarette to a woman standing next to her
Friends who smoke together…are broke together?

When she goes on a date with Adam Driver, Frances unknowingly meets her new roommate.  Frances moves in with Adam Driver (whose character name I will never remember) and Benji.  Though AD is basically a walking, talking sex drive and Benji constantly reminds Frances that she’s hopelessly undateable, she gets along well with her roommates.  Benji and Frances bond over music and movie nights, while AD brings ladies back to the apartment and walks around in a towel.

Frances is eager to show off her new place to Sophie, who comes across as overly critical and perhaps a bit jealous.  Throw in the added drama of Frances’ disdain for Sophie’s boyfriend, and it’s clear there are some tensions rising beneath the surface of their friendship.

Two people sitting face a woman standing in front of them, while a third person seated props her face up with her hand
Of course we’re all having a wonderful time and not secretly hating each other!  Why do you ask?

After heading home to Sacramento for the holidays, Frances returns to New York and moves in with one of the dancers in her troupe/I don’t really understand how dance works.  While she pretends nothing is wrong, Frances has actually been cut from the Christmas show and is too proud to accept a secretarial role open at the…dance office?  Again, not something I’ve ever been even remotely interested in.

During a horrible dinner party, Frances learns that Sophie is moving to Japan with her boyfriend.  Impulsively, she decides to spend the weekend in Paris, though absolutely nothing works out while she’s there.

A woman walks along the edge of the Seine River at night, the Eiffel Tower behind her in the distance
On the bright side, doesn’t actually fall into the Seine?

Upon returning to the States, Frances works for her alma mater in Poughkeepsie over the summer as a server during donor events.  Sophie, who met Frances while in college, is attending one of the events with her boyfriend and reveals she is engaged.  Unable to contain her shock, Frances catches Sophie’s attention and the two bond in a dorm room just like the good ol’ days.  When Sophie confesses her reluctance to stay in Japan with her fiancé, Frances jumps on the chance to persuade her to return to NYC.  Will the two be reunited for good or settle for always having Poughkeepsie?

The Rating:

3.5/5 Pink Panther Heads

Like Frances herself, this film lends itself to meandering.  Gerwig is great in this and I see some strong parallels to themes and characterizations in Lady Bird.  However, it’s a bit loose and unstructured for me–more of a slice of life film than one with a dramatically unfolding plot.  The relationship between Frances and Sophie is central here and, though strong, is evolving in ways that are bittersweet and uncertain.  It’s rough to see the contrast between their life stages and maturity taking a toll on their friendship.

There is some really excellent, funny dialogue, though.  The entire argument between Frances and her boyfriend surrounding moving in together and adopting hairless cats is great.  I also love the opening scene of the film depicting Frances and Sophie roughhousing in a public park.

My favorite of Frances’ lines is the deceptively simple “I like things that look like mistakes.”  While there are perhaps flaws in this one, the search for direction and challenge of growing yet holding on to close relationships ring true.  Just maybe with a teensy bit more of a structured plot next time.

Would my blog wife let this one crash on the couch or send it packing from her glam apartment?  Read her review here to find out!

Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Little Boxes, or: I Lived Ironically in the Suburbs Before It Was Cool

May has been rechristened Melanie Lynskey Month.  After unintentionally watching I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore (IDFAHITWA) during the same weekend, my blog partner-in-crime and I are obsessed.  I dare you not to feel deep love and admiration after witnessing the beauty of Ms. Lynskey having an existential meltdown in front of children, aggressively destroying lawn art, and dreaming of a world where people stop acting like assholes.

Our first feature this month is Christa’s pick in which no wicker lawn animals were harmed.

The Film:

Little Boxes

Where to Watch:

Netflix (US)

The Uncondensed Version:

Our girl Melanie plays the role of Gina, hipster Brooklyn photographer who moves to the suburbs of Washington state with her hipster Brooklyn husband and son.  Though she has just accepted a tenure-track position in a college art department and the family is looking forward to more stability, they are nevertheless sad to leave behind their friends and the cool artsy vibe.

To their amazement, the same amount of money that carved out a small Brooklyn apartment gives the family a much bigger 2-story house in the suburbs.  However, they are in for some culture shocks as suburban living means navigating some oddly specific rules like children always calling adults Mr. or Mrs. (which really isn’t that odd to me, and if I ran into any of my primary school teachers, I would cringe if they insisted I call them by their first name).

All 3 members of the family have their own obstacles to tackle.  Gina’s husband Mack is a writer who is procrastinating on his latest book by writing food magazine articles.  He finds himself becoming a something of a local celebrity for being a published author with an agent and, more sinisterly, being commodified as quite possibly the only black person in town.

A man cooks on a hot plate in a mostly empty kitchen.
Fellow stress baker in action.

Gina is adjusting to typical academic BS, finding the tenured faculty monopolizing her time both on- and off-campus.  Janeane Garofalo is weirdly one of the tenured ladies, and encourages Gina to go out drinking with her tenure committee, then shames her when she gets drunk.  Sounds about right for tenured faculty.

A woman passes her cell phone to another woman, giving her a sly grin.
It’s not a dick pic, promise.

Meanwhile, their son Clark is dealing with sudden attention from 2 girls in town who want to talk about rap and show off their dance moves for him.  One of the girls, Ambrosia, takes an interest in Clark in a really uncomfortable way that fetishizes him.  Shit hits the fan when Ambrosia’s mother catches them in a compromising position, causing Clark to lash out and make a decision he regrets.

A mixed-race boy with an afro sits next to a blonde white girl. He is wearing a striped shirt.
Spoiler:  it does not involve mixing a horizontally striped shirt with vertical stripes.

Dripping with symbolism, all of the family’s personal belongings have been delayed, and Mack has discovered mold in the house that desperately needs to be removed.

With the family in chaos, perhaps the decision to move to the suburbs was a big mistake after all.

The Rating:

3/5 Pink Panther Heads

I’m super tired, which is one of several reasons I failed to empathize with most of the characters in this film except for Clark’s cousin, who comes to visit near the end.  He’s the main source of comic relief, offering sage advice beyond his years to the entire family.  However, it’s too little too late, and it doesn’t help that I didn’t particularly care about the family.  We were never off to a good start as it really rubbed me the wrong way when all the members of the family were marveling about how beautiful and spacious their new house was…possibly because I’m eternally bitter about my lack of financial freedom.  IDK, Mack and Gina felt way too bland to be these cool trendy artists.

It would have been cool to see more of the “before” picture of the family’s life in Brooklyn rather than hear Gina wax poetic about what a beautiful haven for amazingly talented artists and intellectuals it is.  FFS, we get it—hipsters fucking love Brooklyn.

Most of the secondary characters didn’t come off much better.  I really hated Ambrosia, and it took Clark a damn long time to realize she may not be an overly nice person.  Christine Taylor and Janeane Garofalo were so underutilized and had maybe 5 minutes tops on screen.

I think my problem here was that I wanted this to be either funnier or more dramatic.  It failed to make me laugh or produce any genuine feeling in me…except, you know, ironically.  Like a Brooklyn hipster.

Did Christa like this one before it was cool?  Read her review here to find out!