Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Queen of Katwe, or: The Chess Version of Billy Elliot

Feminist February may be in its 3rd year(?!?!?!), but that doesn’t mean it’s too late for firsts.  This week’s film is our first Disney feature on the Blog Collab, first set in Uganda, and first (and probably last) all about chess.  Definitely not the first to make me cry an embarrassing number of times.

The Film:

Queen of Katwe

The Premise:

The true story of Phiona Mutesi, a Ugandan girl who rose quickly to become a chess master.

The Ramble:

For those of you, like me, who always want to know what a title means–Katwe is a slum in Uganda’s capital, Kampala, where Phiona grows up.  One of four children, Phiona takes care of her younger siblings and sells maize to support the family.  Since her father died, Phiona’s single mother, Nakku (Lupita Nyong’o!!!), struggles to keep the family together and under a roof.  Phiona’s older sister, Night, has had enough and takes off with her scooter riding boyfriend.  After this act of rebellion, Night helps the family financially but is essentially dead to her mother.

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You kids get off my lawn!

Meanwhile, Robert Katende (David Oyelowo!) is an engineer searching for a job in Kampala.  When he discovers all of the engineering jobs are completely about who you know rather than what you know, he must settle for a part-time gig as a coach with a small ministry.  Luckily, the family has a second string as his wife Sara is an elementary school teacher.

In Robert’s chest beats the tender heart of a chess nerd, and his passion project with the ministry is trying to get all the kids hooked on chess.  He hopes to develop the talents of his pupils in order to show the privileged what they can achieve.  No unresolved childhood issues there at all.

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Yeah, you’ve already lost me, dude.

Enter Phiona, stage right.  When she stumbles upon the chess club in action (and gets free food–possibly the only reason I’d ever stick around for chess), Phiona decides to try playing despite some of the kids being little assholes who tease her for being dirty.  Though initially confused by the many rules of the game (I’m there with you, girl), with practice Phiona learns to master the game–even winning against the group’s current champion.  In a scenario that feels way too real, Phiona actually feels bad about winning and apologizes for it.

Soon, Robert figures out a way around the snobby prep school’s efforts to exclude the team from a chess championship.  However, it turns out stuck-up rich kids are the least of his problems when Phiona’s mother finds out what she and her brother have been up to.  Suspecting ulterior motives and fearing her children will be unable to earn money for the family, Nakku forbids them from playing chess again.  That is, until Robert promises he will find a way to get them into school if they’re allowed to play.

I think it’s no spoiler to tell you that the rich kids are absolute douches and Phiona wins against the smug little assholes.  Still, she doubts her abilities and believes she only won because her opponent let her.

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NERDS.

Nevertheless, things seem to be falling into place until Phiona’s brother is in a terrible accident, the family is left without money, and they are evicted from their home.  Phiona also starts to realize the injustice of the chess world.  Though she has beaten players with the world-class mentors, she goes back to a dissatisfying existence where mundane chores take precedence over the exciting(?) game of chess.  Despairing of her life, Phiona belongs neither in Katwe nor among the wealthy.

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If the prize for winning a chess championship were fries and ketchup, I might be a bit more inclined to make an effort.

After a series of wins, Phiona is determined to continue playing chess–and, vitally, to make money from it.  She and Robert travel to Russia to compete professionally, which may help her earn a stipend to support her family.  However, things do not go as planned, and a disappointed Phiona is ready to give up.  When the rainy season washes away their home, the fraught relationship between Nakku and Night reaches a boiling point, and Robert faces a difficult career decision, does this mean the end of Phiona’s dreams?

Clearly not or it wouldn’t be a Disney film.

The Rating:

4/5 Pink Panther Heads

I wouldn’t call this a new favorite, but it has a stellar cast, a fairly action-packed plot (for a film about chess), and a genuine heart holding it all together.  Thematically, this has a lot in common with Billy Elliot, though the PG rating and Phiona’s set of challenges take a different angle (and there are significantly fewer songs by the Jam in this one).  I am ridiculously susceptible to crying at inspirational speeches, and David Oyelowo has more than his share.  Damnit, dude.

Phiona (and Madina Nalwanga in her first film role?!??!) in particular is a wonderful character to watch, with a quiet determination tempered with a realistic amount of self-doubt, commitment to duty, and frustration.  We are of course rooting for her the whole time, but the film doesn’t gloss over the limitations that poverty, gender, and geography place on her ability to succeed.  Nakku is also incredibly sympathetic as a mother whose concern is the survival of her family–even if that means settling for a less than ideal future.  As a single mother with no interest in remarrying, Nakku is fucking fierce and a genius at survival.

I want Lupita Nyong’o to adopt me and David Oyelowo to be my life coach.  Or I could just bring them coffee, whatever.

Was this a checkmate for my blog wife or did she enjoy it about as much as a game of chess IRL?  Find out here!

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Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Lion, or: Goodbye, Feelings

This month’s theme (essentially “Hey, this film made me think of you”) has unintentionally been the ultimate exercise in trust.  “Hey, let’s watch this emotional sucker punch of a film because I know how much you like a good reminder of how broken your feelings are” is one interpretation of this week’s pick.  However, I believe the intention with Lion is along the lines of “Hey, I know you like films with a realistic yet affirming story and rich emotional complexity, plus Nicole Kidman’s cool.”

/Also I may have suggested this one for the blog before but have lacked the emotional willpower to follow through and watch it.  That stops today.

The Film:

Lion

The Premise:

Based on the true story of a young man, raised in Tasmania by his adopted family, who used Google Earth to find his biological family in a small Indian village over 25 years later.

The Ramble:

Saroo lives with his mother, sister, and brother in rural India.  The family does what it can to scrape by–Saroo’s mother carries rocks, while Sarro and his brother Guddu performing the dangerous work of stealing coal from moving trains.  Saroo is especially close with his brother and always wants to be included whenever Guddu goes off alone to bring home something the family can trade for food.

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I can no longer complete this post as my heart has broken into pieces too tiny to ever find and put together again.

One evening, Saroo insists on going along with his brother on a mysterious errand at the train station.  However, Saroo is unable to stay awake and falls asleep at the station.  When he wakes up, Saroo is on a moving train that doesn’t stop for days.  Eventually, the train stops in Calcutta and a lost Saroo has no idea how to return home.

After months of life on the streets dodging all manner of characters with ill intentions, a young man helps him talk to the police.  The police don’t recognize the name of his village and post his picture in hopes of someone claiming him.  Unfortunately, these efforts fail, and Saroo is sent to an orphanage that makes Dickens look tame.

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Never trust a ginger.

Eventually, an Australian couple adopt Saroo and later, his brother Mantosh.  As they grow up, it becomes clear that Mantosh is a deeply troubled child who later turns to drugs.

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I’d like Nicole to do more ’80s period pieces because she’s nailed that look.

The family dynamics become strained further when, after completing his university education, Saroo secretly determines to find his biological family.  Though his girlfriend Lucy believes his family should know what’s going on, Saroo insists it would hurt his mother too much to learn the truth.

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I apologize for not preparing you for how good Dev looks in this film.

If you saw any of the trailers for this film or have seen any films that avoid an entirely nihilistic ending, you can probably guess whether Saroo is able to locate his family (plus I’ve never heard of anyone writing a book about looking for their biological family and then not finding them).  However, I challenge you to feel emotionally ready for the ending of this film because, unless your heart is made of stone, it will not happen.

The Rating:

4.5/5 Pink Panther Heads

Though the plot is fairly straightforward, this film kept me engaged throughout as it battered my feelings.  It asks quite involved questions about the nature of family, privilege, identity, and loss.

Because this is a story driven by the experiences and feelings of its characters, the casting is so important here–and it’s perfect.  Dev and Nicole really stand out in their roles, and of course Sunny Pawar, who plays Saroo as a child.  He conveys so much emotion with his eyes and comes across as very genuine in some really devastating scenes.  I don’t even like kids, but I wanted to reach through the screen and hold him and tell him everything was going to be okay.

Possibly my only criticism is that Rooney Mara is almost entirely wasted in her role as the supportive girlfriend.  She has charisma here but not a lot to work with–it’s not even clear to me what she does in later scenes except go jogging and lecture Saroo about being honest with his family.  While she’s of course not the focus of the story, it would’ve been nice to see her fleshed out as a character and given more personality.

Everything else about this one is beautiful, though.

Would Christa use Google Earth to track this one down or run away faster than you can say “orange soda”?  Find out here!

TV Reviews

Thoughts (And Way Too Many Feelings) on BoJack Horseman: Season 4

*Spoilers for BoJack Horseman seasons 1-4 below*

Time’s arrow marches on, as Beatrice is fond of reminding us during season 4 of BoJack Horseman.  Like so many words of wisdom uttered through the course of the show, this phrase has been passed down from the family–along with emotional baggage, trauma, and deeply rooted bitterness.  Though time’s arrow marches on, our characters regularly dwell on a past dominated by physical and verbal abuse, mental health crises, and feelings of powerlessness even as they long to return to the good old days.

Oh, right.  And this is a comedy.

Though we begin the season with the titular BoJack MIA somewhere in the desert, our characters remaining in Hollywoo must keep calm and carry on.  Or at least carry on.

Diane and Mr. Peanutbutter start things out on a sour note with his campaign for Governor of California.  Both of Mr. Peanutbutter’s ex-wives, Jessica Biel and Katrina, are helping with the campaign, fueling Diane’s insecurity and amplifying her guilt over not supporting his political career.  Writing pieces in opposition to Mr. Peanutbutter’s political stances gets clicks for the blog Diane now writes for but creates tension at home.  Is there enough left of their marriage to keep them together?

While BoJack doesn’t appear at all in episode 1, he does of course return to Hollywoo eventually.  After fixing up (and subsequently destroying) the summer home where BoJack vacationed with his parents, he returns to discover his long-lost (and previously unknown) daughter Hollyhock has tracked him down.  His relationship with Hollyhock is complicated by the arrival of Beatrice, who moves in when she is no longer allowed to stay in her assisted living facility.  BoJack’s determination to be a better person (horse) and avoid letting his daughter down is strong…but so is his desire to seek petty vengeance against his mother (now suffering from dementia).  Let’s return to this one later because it is bleak.  Bleak.

Meanwhile, Todd is up to his usual misadventures while learning to live with and accept his asexuality.  After agreeing to a sham Hollywoo engagement and briefly becoming a fashion icon, Todd teams up with Mr. Peanutbutter for yet another ill-advised business proposal.  Their latest venture is the horrifying marriage of clowning and dentistry, which is eventually shut down by the BBB.  However, since it’s Todd, this failed business leads to another (equally horrifying) opportunity.  This is a pretty good season for Todd, who even gets an episode paying tribute to his generous nature.  Is this a turning point for Todd or will others take advantage of his good nature yet again?

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You’ve been reading this review for a while.  You deserve a picture.

Princess Carolyn, on the other hand, starts the season strong, but it becomes one of the worst for her on both a personal and professional level.  Her relationship with Ralph Stilton begins to crack when his mouse family fails to offer her a warm welcome (and even sings a song about hating cats).  Things unravel rather quickly in an episode in which a broken necklace is deeply symbolic (and even the framing device for this episode is meant to deceive you and destroy you emotionally).  All of Princess Carolyn’s dreams crumble before her eyes as her greatest strength (her ability to always land on her feet) becomes an obstacle preventing her from starting a family and achieving her professional goals.

Don’t worry, though, I’ve saved the saddest storyline for last—Beatrice Horseman.  Up until this season, she has been perhaps the most unsympathetic, horrific character on the show as one of the main reasons BoJack is so fucked up.  I still remember the emotional impact of season 2’s opening episode, in which all of BoJack’s resolve to change his life and adopt a brand new attitude is crushed by one short phone call with his mother.  Beatrice does still say and do terrible things in this season, but it’s hard to say as an elderly, ailing woman she deserves the treatment BoJack gives her.  We see more insight into her childhood and married life than ever before, which explains a great deal of her psychological and emotional trauma.

While BoJack’s life clearly demonstrates the impact of bad mothers, we also see what happens when fathers are terrible:  both BoJack’s father and grandfather.  We see the soul-crushing messages Beatrice receives as a child about her intelligence (she has too much) and body (also too much).  In her adult life, Beatrice holds the family together, gets her husband a job, and smooths over his (major) mistakes with no choice but to live bitterly with her regrets.  Perhaps most devastatingly, BoJack will never know the full story, and he and his mother continue to bring out the worst in each other.

As usual, this season consistently brings smart social and political commentary (see the entirety of Mr. Peanutbutter’s celebrity political campaign, as well as episodes about fracking and gun violence).  However, it’s at its strongest in the emotionally distressing way we’ve come to expect from BoJack during the latter half of the season.  It divides almost evenly, taking a dark(er) turn with episode 6, “Stupid Piece of Shit.”  We get insight into BoJack’s inner monologue, in which he constantly hurls verbal abuse at himself (his favorite insult being “you stupid piece of shit”).  This is much too real for me and culminates in Hollyhock asking if the voice in your head ever goes away.  (If only.)

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Here’s another picture.  Which in no way is expected to make you feel better.

It’s not an easy season to watch—as the series has progressed, we as the audience have maintained a great deal of sympathy for BoJack.  However, there have been an increasing number of times when it’s become more challenging to make excuses for his damaging behavior—to Sarah Lynn, Penny, Herb, and his mother.  Whether this pattern will continue with Hollyhock is a major question this season asks.

Possibly my only complaint this season is the relentless setting up of positive moments explicitly to knock them down.  It works for the most part because of the nature of this show, but after seeing the 4th (and 5th and 6th and 7th) character experience a moment of happiness only to see it shredded to pieces a scene later, it becomes a bit played out.  I started having an almost Pavlovian response to the sound of laughter or genuinely uplifting moments.

Always in the back of my mind during this season was how it will end (especially in light of season 3’s downer ending).  This is one of the show’s saddest endings but its final moment is tinged with hope (spoiler:  BoJack is SMILING [and it’s not for a scene]).  The lives of our characters have certainly changed a great deal from the beginning of the season to the end, and several of them even grow to some degree.  However, can these characters really change or will they fall back into repeating the same patterns?  Will they ever feel complete or continue to be broken?  Can they stop hurting themselves and the others around them?  If you figure it out, let me know.

While I love every moment of watching BoJack, I have worried that watching these characters continue to make the same mistakes would grow stale.  My fears were put to rest this season, which manages the same level of emotional devastation as usual without becoming monotonous.  Though I am now an empty husk, I really loved this season as much as any of the others…you know, in that masochistic BoJack kind of way that demands a whiskey chaser, 7 pizzas, and too many apple fritters.

Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews, Uncategorized

Poppy Shakespeare, or: Arguably the Less Fun Shakespeare

I thought this week’s film would go nicely with our theme and be somewhat satirical in the vein of Trainspotting.  Horrible moments dotted with the occasional winking nudge along the lines of “Blimey, this mental health business is a bit much, isn’t it?”

I don’t know where this delusion came from…possibly too much John Oliver?  The moral of the story is that I was wrong.  So, so wrong.

The Film:

Poppy Shakespeare

Where to Watch:

Amazon Prime

The Premise:

Pray you never find yourself at the mercy of the mental health care system, whether you believe in a higher power or not.

The Ramble:

N is a patient who has been in psychiatric care for many years, carrying on a legacy inherited from her mother and grandmother, and possibly farther up her family tree.  She’s pretty content with the status quo—she collects “mad money” as her income, gets to come and go more or less freely, and enjoys the company of her fellow patients.

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Based on this scene, I’d be totally fine with a stay at Dorothy Fish.

Obviously a change is coming, which arrives in the form of Poppy Shakespeare.  Though everyone in the Dorothy Fish hospital is there voluntarily, Poppy insists she isn’t.  N is assigned to help Poppy understand how the ward works, but the only help Poppy is interested in is how to return to her life and daughter.

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Dress every day as if you’ll be committed to psychiatric care.

Meeting with a lawyer introduces Poppy to the catch-22 that is the entire mental health system:  to collect “mad money” and pay for representation that proves she is fit to leave Dorothy Fish, Poppy must prove she is, in fact, mentally unstable.  Luckily, she has N to help her con the system by falsifying her forms and demonstrating symptoms like pulling out her own hair and burning herself with scalding water.

Meanwhile, the ward is undergoing massive changes.  In an attempt to cut costs and receive bonuses, assessments will be made more frequently to discharge more patients more quickly.  N is terrified as her usual yearly performance must walk a very fine line to avoid the dread of placement on one of the upper floors for more severe mental health issues without being discharged entirely.

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They like me–they really like me!

As N and Poppy try to cheat the system, they become close friends.  The chemistry between the two leads is perfect, making their friendship believable yet bittersweet.  While N is confident their plan will succeed, of course things aren’t going to be so simple as the two patients wind their way through the maze that is the mental health system.  All of this madness begins to take its toll on both characters, and the emotional damage they suffer together will have understandable, realistic consequences for them.

Yeah, this is less Trainspotting and more…slowly bludgeoning your feelings with a wooden plank for an hour and a half.

The Rating:

3/5 PPHs

I wouldn’t argue that this is a bad film or one that mishandles its subject matter, but it’s heavy as fuck.  Oh, you wanted an uplifting film about overcoming crises and handling mental health issues effectively?  Not this one.

Poppy’s situation is horrifying as she describes completing a profile, then out of the blue being identified as someone with a severely disordered personality and being stuck in limbo.  Her experience begs the question of who exactly defines sanity and what motivations may influence them–especially when N uncovers a secret towards the end of the film.  N isn’t in a much better place, as she and just as much at the mercy of the system–a system that failed miserably to help her mother and grandmother.

Chillingly, Dorothy Fish is recognized for its excellence at one point in the film.  It’s a bit of an Ivan Denisovich move–if this place is considered exemplary, how terrible must the other wards be?

Would Christa let this one loose or send it up a floor higher?  Find out here!

Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Divines, or: Au Revoir, Feelings

Not cool, Christa.

First film of the new year and I’m already ugly crying.  We’re kicking off 2017 by knocking off a handful of titles that have been on our movie bucket list forever.  First up is Divines, which will just toy with all of your emotions before crumpling them into a ball and kicking them.  In the best possible way.  Make sure you’re not wearing mascara before you watch.

The Film:

Divines

Where to Watch:

Netflix (US)

The Premise:

Teens in Paris are determined to make money by any means possible to escape their tough neighborhood and family dysfunction.

The Uncondensed Version:

Dounia and her bff Maimouna are teenagers living in a rough Paris neighborhood.  The two are always getting into trouble, blowing off school, and causing mayhem in general.  Dounia has the added chip on her shoulder from her mother’s reputation for sleeping around—which means all of the little asshole kids call Dounia a bastard.

Things really kick into high gear when Dounia gets sick of all this shit and drops out of school, determined to make as much money as possible and leave everyone else in the dust.

Enter Dounia’s idol, Rebecca, a drug dealer who seems to have it all.  Dounia comes up with a bold plan to get Rebecca’s attention…which actually pays off, and both Dounia and Maimouna wind up working for Rebecca.

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Preach.

In addition to working together and causing trouble, Dounia and Maimouna like to sneak into the theater when dance recitals are happening and make snarky comments.  That is, snarky until Dounia develops a major crush on one of the dancers, Djigui, whose day job is working security at the mall.  (He does have really nice eyes and a fucking hot back tattoo.)  In typical teenage girl fashion, she’s a complete jerk to him and makes fun of his dancing…which may be the only time in recorded history that tactic actually works.

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Also the tactic of watching/recording him while he’s shirtless.  Apparently when I do it, it’s creepy and illegal.

As the relationship between Dounia and Djigui intensifies, so too does her role in Rebecca’s criminal activities.  Rebecca’s plan is to steal money from her old supplier, who supposedly has 100,000 hidden in his apartment.  Dounia will get herself invited to his apartment…once she conquers walking in heels.

At the club, Dounia does catch Reda’s eye but later gets in trouble when she provokes the police.  Her mom, Maimouna’s parents, and Rebecca are all pissed.  Dounia loses permission to see her bff and loses Rebecca’s trust.  Determined to make things right with Rebecca, Dounia arranges to meet up with Reda.

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THIS.  Is my favorite scene.  Along with every other scene Dounia and Maimouna have together.

Unfortunately, the night she will meet with Reda is also the night Djigui invites her to his recital.  What will Dounia choose and what will the consequences be?  I’ll answer one of those questions:  major.  Major consequences.

The Rating:

4.5/5 Pink Panther Heads

I deducted 1/2 of a PPH because it took me a while to get invested in this one, maybe 30 mins or so.  It’s really hard to get under the surface of Dounia’s personality at first—she’s cocky, tough as nails, and single-mindedly focused on making money.  She’s also incredibly talented at making cringe worthy decisions that you can see unravelling as soon as she commits to them.

I also find it really challenging to sympathize with teenagers at this point in my life.

However, once I finally started to understand Dounia’s motivations and the vulnerabilities she constantly works to cover up, I fell hard for her character.  The relationship between Dounia and Maimouna is so fucking lovely and perfect, it makes me almost want to be a teenager again.  Almost.  Just be warned that all of those horrible decisions Dounia makes don’t come cheaply and don’t come without serious repercussions.

What did my divine blog wife think?  Does she have feelings left or is she also just an empty husk now?  Find out here!

Life Rants

On Counseling, or: How Does That Make You Feel?

Six different counselors have listened to me, and I don’t think there will be a seventh.  At least not for a while.

Some terminology first:  I use the word “counselor” over “therapist” because counselor to me suggests someone advising you versus someone “fixing” you.  Therapy inevitably winds up alongside concepts like physical therapy, which you do for a set amount of time until your muscles have healed.  Sometimes this is how counseling works—you do it until you no longer need it.  But I haven’t ever felt “fixed” so much as I’ve learned some new coping strategies and some ways to recognize when I’m not coping well.

I’ve had counselors I’ve really clicked with, and others not so much.  My latest taught me two things:  1. Sometimes the counselor is wrong for you, and 2. I have the tools I need to be my own best counselor.

I should clarify the first point—I don’t think my counselor was under-qualified or giving out bad advice, but it wasn’t advice that made sense for me.  The best counselors for me listen and help bring me to my own conclusions, whereas this one told me on several occasions what I should do and, implicitly, how I should feel.  She told me about the solace she has found in religion.  I honestly wish I could say the same, but I don’t, and the tone she took made me feel inexplicably guilty.

At the time, I was feeling inadequate about starting a new job, managing one of the worst family conflicts I’ve ever dealt with (and that’s saying something), and feeling extremely isolated.  According to the counselor I spoke with, the key to unlocking all of my problems was forgiveness (and, I swear, The Secret, but I will try to refrain from being overly snarky in this post).  I do know that I hold onto grudges and don’t forgive easily, but telling me that I should be more forgiving does absolutely nothing to help me feel better about myself.

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We weren’t even halfway through our 6 sessions, and I already knew this counselor didn’t understand where I was coming from.  She told me I was adorable and angelic, both of which made me feel worse.  I catch myself being fake nice all of the time and suppressing the shit out of my negative emotions, so being complimented on how sweet I am just makes me feel like complete garbage.  She asked me if I love myself, and I don’t know how to fucking respond to that.  I’m human.  There are things I like about myself, and things that I don’t.  I know that one of the people I’m most reluctant to forgive is myself.

The worst was when I told her my reasons for coming in, and she paraphrased, “So you’d say you’ve had a pretty easy life.”  Would a single fucking person in the world say they’ve had an easy life?  Life is damn hard, no matter who you are.  I’ve certainly had privileges others haven’t, but I felt so obliterated when she said that, so completely invalidated.  In retrospect, I should’ve said that it wasn’t working out and asked to see another counselor, but I am so goddamn stubborn and feel like I’ve failed if I quit something.

Even though I don’t think of the sessions with this counselor as successful, being unable to connect with her gave me room to connect better with myself.  I realized I didn’t need these sessions at all—what I really needed was to give myself time alone to unravel my feelings, space to breathe, and compassion to be fair to myself even when I don’t like who I am.

I’m not particularly good at trusting or forgiving people or feeling like an authentic version of myself, whatever that actually means.  Sometimes I dig myself a pit of self-despair and don’t know how to get back out.  But that’s part of who I am, and I’ve gotten better at recognizing when I’m doing those things and trying to refocus my energy.

Believe me, I’m not saying you should ignore the advice your counselor gives you or skip out on counseling.  I am most certainly not an expert on mental health issues.  Besides, I really clicked with a couple of my counselors, one of whom I still imagine having conversations with when I’m feeling really low.  He really understood me and pushed me to follow through to conclusions I wasn’t necessarily comfortable with.   But even psychologists are only human.  Like all human relationships, some work out better than others, and it’s not your fault if they don’t.

Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Dirty Dancing, or: The Other St. Patrick

This month we both celebrate and mourn the end of summer by giving our brains a break.  Apparently that means ripping our own hearts out and dragging them along the ground because that is approximately the ease with which I objectively approached the beautiful dream that is this classic.  Objectivity is overrated anyway.

The Film:

Dirty Dancing

Where to Watch:

Please borrow my copy if you’ve never watched this because it hurts my heart to think about knowing anyone who hasn’t seen this movie

The Premise:

For the love of all that is holy, please stop and watch this damn movie.  I’ll make you popcorn.  Actually, I think I’m out of popcorn.

The Uncondensed Version:

It’s 1963 and Baby is off to the swanky summer resort where her family stays every year.  (Or, you know, the ‘80s version of the ‘60s because so many of the hairstyles/songs are completely anachronistic but IDGAF.)  Baby is such a goody two-shoes that she can’t imagine any man as great as her dad (vomit).  That is, until…okay, not yet.  NOT.  YET.

We need a teensy bit more set up.  Baby has her future mapped out:  she’ll study the economics of developing countries at Mt. Holyoke, then join the Peace Corp and save the world.  Her heart is in the right place, but she’s so idealistic it hurts.  Also really bad at dancing, which is unfortunate because it seems like the only activity available besides wandering around at night wearing a knitted sweater.

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I also make this face when I have to talk to boys.

Baby’s father keeps setting her up with dick-bag Ivy League types whose self-confidence is matched only by their sleaze.  Is it any wonder, then, that Baby is immediately drawn to Patrick Swayze, who walks up late wearing sunglasses (inside) and knocks things off of set tables, thus establishing his role as bad boy who gives zero fucks?  He also does a very nice mambo and has extremely controlled hip movements, which doesn’t hurt.

So Swayze’s character is named Johnny Castle, which I just hate.  It sounds like the name of a White Castle knock-off, doesn’t it?

But I digress.  After several evenings of wandering around, Baby finally gets into the cool kids club by famously carrying a melon.  As it turns out, what the cool kids do all night is practice some rather risqué dance moves in the ‘60s version of a rave/hotbed of sin.  The most valuable piece of intel Baby gathers is that Swayze is NOT dating his super gorgeous dance partner, Penny.  And that his hips are magical.

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Literally made of magic.

Baby continues to dodge sleaze balls and participate in the resort’s tacky entertainment until one night she finds Penny crying alone in the kitchen.  Baby has a good excuse to track down Swayze and learns that Penny is pregnant.  Who’s the baby daddy?  Not Swayze, contrary to literally every single person’s assumptions.  It’s actually the creepy waiter who is attending Yale and sort of dating Baby’s sister.  When Baby confronts him about the pregnancy, he acts like a total dick bag and recommends The Fountainhead.  Honestly the complete embodiment of being a dick bag.

With no alternative, Baby asks her father for the money needed for Penny’s abortion, supplying an “It’s really important” line as her only explanation.  Surprisingly, this works(??!).  I think I’ve just never had a good enough reputation for people to take me at my word.

Of course the major complication is that Penny can’t miss this big performance at another resort and no one else could possibly fill in.  Right, Baby?  Esp. when Patrick Swayze emphatically insists there’s no way she could.  Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaand cue “Hungry Eyes.”  In every sense.

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This scene.  ❤ ❤ ❤

Everything leads up to the big performance, which goes okay, and Penny’s abortion, which does not.  Guess how safe it is to get an abortion when men try to restrict women’s reproductive rights?  Baby needs help from her father yet again, though he’s not so understanding this time and forbids her from seeing Swayze or any of his crowd again.

…Which, you know, means she goes directly to a shirtless Swayze’s room.  And I got chills during this entire scene because not only is it such an emotionally raw scene, but it’s so sexy even though there’s not a ton of nudity.

I feel any further plot summary gets lost in translation, so let’s wrap it up.  You either know the rest and worship at the altar of St. Patrick Swayze or you have a heart of stone.  Amongst the many obstacles facing Baby and Swayze are sleazeballs, prejudice, assumptions, cougars, arbitrary rules, and theft.  And this is all before we’re even close to cueing “She’s Like the Wind.”

Needless to say, I was dead emotionally well before the heart-stopping classic line “Nobody puts Baby in the corner.”  Flat lining.

The Rating:

5/5 Pink Panther Heads

For a movie remembered as an ‘80s teen fantasy, this one explores some dark themes.  Abortion I think is the obvious one, esp. the real dangers women faced in finding a safe, affordable operation during a time when it was illegal.

On a related note, privilege also receives a lot of attention.  With enough money, even a total sleaze like Robbie the waiter can coast by relatively unscathed; he loses a recommendation letter, but is there any doubt he’ll land on his feet after the summer ends?  Penny, on the other hand—what will become of her?

Baby naively believes everyone deserves the same opportunities in life and realizes for the first time how untrue this is and what an unfair place the world is.  There is a stark contrast between the future she has ahead of her vs. Swayze, whose character will be lucky if he ends up with a steady job painting houses.  Swayze also feels completely used by the wealthy older women who want, ahem, private dance lessons from him.

There’s a bittersweet yearning for the past since this film is a coming of age story, the end of an era, but also the transition to a better future.  Baby isn’t so sure what she’ll do by the end of the movie, but she has definitely decided to reject the life her parents chose and the cocoon they built around her.

Okay, yes, Baby’s growth as a person is triggered in large part by her relationship with a man, but it’s her love of dance that gives her freedom, power, confidence, and self-expression over (even) Patrick Swayze.  Ultimately, both Baby and Swayze learn from each other, and not in the way of weird old Hollywood movies where he’s her teacher/guardian/lover (looking at you, My Fair Lady).  Baby’s empowerment actually improves all of her relationships, even with her dad as he learns to respect her autonomy.

Moral of the story:  EVERY.  SINGLE.  LINE.  In this film.  Is classic and beautiful.

I said Patrick Swayze should be sainted as an offhand FB comment, but I stand by it.  Patrick Swayze is my religion.  Those hips have performed miracles.  (But seriously, please don’t smoke.)

Let’s not even pretend:  Christa is a living human being.  She loves this film.  Find out how much here!