TV Reviews

Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, or: I’m Clearly Not Over You Yet

It’s the end of an era.  The last episodes of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend aired on Friday, April 5:  an ep to conclude the show’s storyline and a live special filmed in LA.  I’m so pleased the show’s creators were able to bring things to a close on their own terms, but it’s still hard to let go.  While far from perfect, CEG is one of my favorite shows in recent memory, featuring a flawed heroine, a cast of memorable supporting characters, and messages about self-acceptance, mental health, sexuality, reproductive health, and the power of female friendship — all told through songs at once hilarious and heartfelt.  I’m going to miss this show.

I’ve seen so many lists ranking the best songs of the series, but this is impossible for me to do.  I’d still like to reflect on the songs and their importance to the show’s themes, so I’ll list some of my favorite songs by category instead.  Here we go!

Female solidarity

“Friendtopia” – the Spice Girls parody/tribute is incredible here, and I wish more songs about girl power involved literal revolutionary action.  Favorite lyric:  “When my friends and I stick together, there’s nothing we can’t do / And when I say that I specifically mean we’re gonna stage a coup.”

“Let’s Generalize About Men” – the fab ’80s style is everything to me, and I appreciate so much how the show crafts songs that support women while simultaneously calling them out.  Among other things, this song draws attention to the problematic gay best friend stereotype.  Favorite lyric:  “Gay men are all really great, every single one / They’re never mean, just sassy / They’re all completely adorable and fun.”

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“Women Gotta Stick Together” – while I’m glad Valencia stuck around as a character and experienced growth, I love her thoroughly bitchy early songs.  Though claiming to be about female solidarity, Valencia uses feminism here to remind others of their flaws, a smile pasted on her face throughout.  Favorite lyric: “Women have the power, the power to make a change / Like this girl should pluck her eyebrows, and those jeans should be exchanged.”

“Feelin’ Kinda Naughty” – the show is great at pointing out the creepy underpinnings of so many relationships.  While parodying the fetishization of lesbian relationships, CEG also highlights another way women can convince themselves their bad behavior is somehow female solidarity.  Favorite lyric:  “I want to kill you and wear your skin like a dress / But then also have you see me in that dress / And be like, ‘OMG, you look so cute in my skin.'”

Wallowing a little too hard at your own pity party

“You Stupid Bitch” – this was a real turning point in the show for me; I felt this song so personally and both appreciated that and felt way too exposed.  Favorite lyric:  “These shards are a metaphor for my soul / Can’t stop the self-pity ‘cause I’m on a roll.”

“Tell Me I’m OK” – I hate how accurate these songs are; Rebecca needing assurance from random strangers that she’s normal, and convinced that everyone else knows inherently how to come across as normal.  Favorite lyric: “Seriously, Patrick, was I sick in school the day they taught you how to be a normal person? / It just feels like there’s something fundamental I’m missing out on / Like, is there an instruction manual?”

“Santa Ana Winds” – Rebecca uses the Santa Ana Winds as an excuse for her behavior rather than taking responsibility; she also manages to make herself the center of everything by convincing herself the Sana Ana Winds are out to get her personally.  Eric Michael Roy’s performance absolutely makes this song. Favorite lyric:  “I’m mystical but also carry dangerous spores / I bring whimsy and forest fires.”

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“The End of the Movie” – another song I wish I didn’t relate to so hard; I just feel like life is supposed to make way more sense than it does.  Plus the Josh Groban cameo is perfectly executed.  Favorite lyric:  “If you saw a movie that was like real life, you’d be like ‘What the hell was that movie about? It was really all over the place’ / Life doesn’t make narrative sense.”

“No One Else Is Singing My Song” – oof, this one hurts because I know I’ve been guilty of wallowing in my own self-pity to the point I’m convinced no one could possibly ever relate to what I’m feeling.  CEG plays this up perfectly in this song, emphasizing that a lot of Rebecca’s isolation is self-inflicted.  Favorite lyric:  “Have you ever been far from home / So scared you had to roam / And now you’re beaten and tired with no one to call a friend (He doesn’t count).”

The power of self-delusion

“West Covina” – so many of Rebecca’s problems come from this place of seeing exactly what she wants to see while denying the reality of the situation.  Favorite lyric: “My life’s about to change, oh my gosh / Because I’m desperately, hopelessly in love with…West Covina.”

“I’m a Good Person” – the uncensored version is everything to me.  Once again, Rebecca looks to others for validation while completely deceiving herself.  Favorite lyric: “Newsflash, fuckwads, I’m a good person / Do what I can for you all the time.”

“Nothing Is Ever Anyone’s Fault” – Rebecca gets so close to self-actualization here, recognizing that her trauma and mistakes have shaped who she is.  Unfortunately, she and Nathaniel are blindly determined to blame their parents for all that has gone wrong in their lives.  Favorite lyric:  “It wasn’t technically Hitler’s fault / Hitler’s brother died and that made him super sad.”

“A Diagnosis” – getting an accurate diagnosis is a huge step for Rebecca, but it’s not going to be an easy journey.  Again, she gets so close to the point, yet misses it entirely, believing that the diagnosis equates to a solution to her problems.  Favorite lyric: “With a diagnosis, I’m ready to blow this joint / And by joint I mean my inner sense of confusion (You said that confusingly).”

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“After Everything I’ve Done for You” – poor Paula is just trying to vicariously live out her romantic fantasies through Rebecca, so who can blame her for getting a bit upset when her scheming yields no results?  As this song demonstrates, Rebecca isn’t the only character fixated on fairytale romance.  Favorite lyric: “That’s right, I make yoga class schedules / There’s no limit to where my reach is.”

“Don’t Be a Lawyer” –  I absolutely love the ’90s vibe of this, as well as what I consider (further) confirmation that my decision to work in libraries was the best of my life.  Also shout-out to “I Want to Be a Child Star,” which is great and could have the alternate title “Don’t Be a Child Star.” Favorite lyric: “There are so many other professions that don’t turn you into Jeff Sessions.”

Toxic masculinity

“Fit Hot Guys Have Problems Too” – one of my absolute favorite songs of the entire show, this takedown of toxic masculinity never fails to crack me up.  It’s obnoxious how a group of extremely privileged dudes is holding their own pity party, though at the same time, it’s really their own conception of masculinity holding back their free emotional expression.  Favorite lyric: “Don’t look at us, we’re not dancing for you / Leave us alone, we have to twerk out our sad.”

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“I Go to the Zoo” – playing against type, fuckboy Nathaniel reveals the illegal high he gets to forget about his broken heart:  visiting the zoo after hours.  Favorite lyric: “I look at the monkeys / Their eyes look like my eyes.”

“The Buzzing from the Bathroom” – the idea that Tim’s masculinity is threatened based on his wife’s orgasms is ridiculous, yet it’s a real fear men have. The Les Mis parody makes Tim’s fears seem all the more melodramatic while reminding us there’s a very simple solution here:  just ask what your romantic partner likes.  Favorite lyric:  “Oh, the buzzing, cursed buzzing, that damn incessant hum / I used to think I was a hero / Can’t believe she didn’t come…to tell me that she needed so much more than I could give.”

Problematic narratives surrounding romantic love

“Love Kernels” – the Beyoncé tribute is brilliant, the costuming incredible, and the lyrics brilliant.  God, it hurts how desperate Rebecca is and how real it feels.  Favorite lyric:  “I’ll be patient until the kernels rain down like candy on Shaquille O’Neal in the movie Kazaam.

“Fuckton of Cats” — again, the TV version is good, but the uncensored version is exquisite.  Favorite lyric: “This is the future smell of my house / It’s the smell of my dreams that have died (and cats).”

“The Math of Love Triangles” – while love triangles are the bread and butter of rom-coms, they’re not as glamorous as Rachel Bloom’s Marilyn Monroe impersonation. Favorite lyric: “We’re starting to suspect you don’t sincerely want to know about triangles.”

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“One Indescribable Instant” – Lea Salonga sings beautifully about fairytale romance in the vaguest of terms.  Favorite lyric: “What, are you kidding me? / No, it’s for real-able.”

“Oh My God I Think I Like You” – this is surprisingly sweet and sad for a song that focuses so much on intense, no-strings sex.  Favorite lyric: “Is there spermicidal lubricant that can kill the fluttering in my heart?”

“I Hate Everything But You” – I relate to Greg a lot sometimes, most clearly exemplified by this song.  Favorite lyric: “I hate when people ask me if I’d ever get a tattoo / Hate combination conditioner and shampoo.”

Sexuality and sexual health

Cats songs: “Hungry Vagina Metaphor,” “Itchy Vagina Metaphor,” “Funky Vagina Metaphor” – it’s impossible for me to choose a favorite among these, though Fred Armisen’s cameo as Itchy Cat holds a special place in my heart.  I’m impressed with the show’s commitment to exponentially increasing the number of songs written about yeast infections.  Favorite lyric: “Funky cat is all the rage when something’s off with your pH.”

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“I Gave You a UTI” – Santino Fontana’s performance here is so great, while the song breaks new ground with its subject matter.  At least, as far as I know, there had never been songs about having a UTI until this one.  Favorite lyric: “I’m so good at sex / Your maidenship got wrecked.”

The un-sexiness of sex

“The Sexy Getting Ready Song” – truly an instant classic.  Right off the bat, CEG is interested in examining unrealistic beauty standards for women.  This one focuses on the misconception that looking flawless comes naturally; actually, it’s quite a process that is really painful and often downright disgusting.  Favorite lyric:  “You know what?  I gotta go apologize to some bitches.  I’m forever changed after what I just seen.”

“The First Penis I Saw” – unlike other songs about first love, this one doesn’t hesitate to bring up the awkward, embarrassing side of a first sexual experience.  The ABBA parody is brilliantly done, and Donna Lynne Champlin’s face acting is just so excellent.  Favorite lyric:  literally this entire song.

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“Let’s Have Intercourse” – taking a romantic Ed Sheeran-style approach to this ballad, Nathaniel manages to make this seduction entirely about himself and his own gratification.  Favorite lyric: “Sometimes my body wants things that my mind does not / My body wants things that make my mind go ‘Body, what?'”

“Strip Away My Conscience” – shattering all of our illusions about sexy stripteases, Rebecca’s number includes throwing a shoe at Nathaniel’s head and reminding him that her thong has just been up her butt.  Favorite lyric: “Baby, it’s such foreplay / When you slither like a moray / EEL.”

Self-acceptance

“Gettin’ Bi” – such a fun song that captures Darryl’s enthusiastic personality while making important and valid points about bisexuality.  Favorite lyric: “It doesn’t take an intellectual to get that I’m bisexual.”

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“Anti-Depressants Are So Not a Big Deal” — I strongly feel this should be required listening for anyone taking anti-depressants or other meds to manage mental illness, as well as people who don’t understand why these medications are so important and necessary.  Favorite lyric:  “Some cry that in the past we didn’t medicate everyone / Cool, witch trials and the crusades / Sounded like so much fun.”

Bonus round

“Dream Ghost” — I absolutely love this song and don’t know what category to put it in. The Dream Girls motown tribute is so catchy in and of itself, while the meta commentary is sharp, and Michael Hyatt’s voice is so perfect for it.  Favorite lyric: “This guy is deciding whether or not to leave his wife / This girl is wondering if she should terminate a pregnancy.”

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“There’s No Bathroom” — the Weird Al cameo this show deserves with the reprise I never would’ve expected.  This song is as bizarrely fun as the man himself (complete with accordion).  Favorite lyric: again, this entire number.

Thanks for sticking with me through this behemoth of a post.  Thanks for the memories, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend!

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Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Mary Shelley, or: If You Like Percy Bysshe Shelley and Getting Caught in the Rain

It’s 2019.  It’s almost the 2nd month of 2019.  But while it’s still month number one, we do what we want, we watch what we want.  And this week we take a trip 200ish years into the past with a brilliant writer and real-life heroine.

The Film:

Mary Shelley

The Premise:

An examination of the events in Mary Shelley’s life that led to the creation of her iconic Gothic novel, Frankenstein.

The Ramble:

Mary Shelley (née Godwin), like your average teen, likes to hang out around her mother’s grave and invent creepy ghost stories for her siblings.

Since the death of her famous mother, Mary’s father William Godwin, a philosopher in his own right, has remarried.  Her stepmother (aka Anna from Downton Abbey) despises Mary and her distracted, creative mind, and the two are frequently at odds.  After an especially contentious fight, Mary is unceremoniously sent off to live in Scotland with a radical philosopher and his family.

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Though miserable, things are looking up when Mary befriends one of the daughters of the family, Arya Stark Isabel.  They bond over their interest in all things occult and the desire to summon the ghosts of their deceased mothers.  You know, teen stuff.  The two pass the time enjoyably enough until Percy Shelley arrives on the literal winds of change. Significant stares are exchanged.  Repartee is traded.

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Unfortunately, a blossoming new romance grinds to a halt when Mary receives the news that her stepsister Claire is gravely ill.  Mary rushes to her side only to discover, rather than being at death’s door, Claire has been desperately bored.

Luckily, Percy is a massive fanboy when it comes to Mary’s parents, and it doesn’t take much convincing for her father to take him on as a protégé.  From then on, it’s secret notes, hanging out in graveyards, getting caught in the rain, and drinking sacramental wine.

However, it’s sort of a buzzkill when Percy’s wife and daughter arrive on the scene, bursting Mary’s bubble.  Having been raised with her radical parents’ ideas, Mary is all for free love and embracing an unconventional lifestyle.  Her father is decidedly not ok with this and cuts her off when she runs away with Percy, bringing Claire along for the ride.

Unsurprisingly, being young, poor, and in love isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.  Percy can’t get anyone to publish his work, yet insists on throwing elaborate dinner parties for his sleazy friends.  Meanwhile, Mary is expecting and worried about her baby’s future.

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Predictably, the creditors come.  Forced to flee on a cold, rainy evening, Mary’s newborn baby is not long for this world.

Meanwhile, Claire has news of her own:  after meeting the infamous Lord Byron during a night out a the theater, she became immediately pregnant after he looked at her.  /Also she’s been having an affair with him for the past few months.  Interpreting a letter from Byron as an invitation to visit, Claire and the gang head off for a month-long binge and general drunkenness and debauchery.

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All of this is leading to that famous weekend that produced those Gothic masterpieces, Shelley’s Frankenstein and John Polidori’s The Vampyre.  Throughout all of this, I should mention, Byron predictably acts like a bag of dicks.  Percy isn’t much better, though John is sweet if a doormat.

After drafting her most famous work, Mary struggles with finding a publisher.  Eventually, she is able to publish anonymously on the condition that Percy writes an introduction…which means everyone in the world will think he is the writer.

Frustrated and hurt, Mary’s relationship with Percy deteriorates and her career as a writer seems over before it’s begun.  We all know she will ultimately become one of the most important English writers, period…but how will she get there with the odds stacked against her?

The Rating:

3/5 Pink Panther Heads

I am always up for a period drama.  And–no surprise–Elle Fanning is brilliant as ever.  However, as a whole this film fell somewhat flat for me.  I get that a successful writer’s life does involve a lot of scenes that wouldn’t be exceptionally thrilling onscreen.  But Mary comes across as such a boring person at times; I wish we had gotten inside of her brain a bit more to explore her brilliance.

Most of the time, we are focused on Mary and Percy’s relationship angst.  And, admittedly, a lot of the Romantics were probably huge douchebags, but Percy doesn’t come across looking great here.  From what I remember, Percy was supportive of Mary’s writing and never tried to claim credit for her work (though people did assume Frankenstein was his work).

The film also makes the odd choice of quoting from Percy’s poetry A LOT.  I understand the choice to use Percy’s words as Mary finds her voice as a writer, but it really got under my skin.  Remember Bright Star, which featured so much beautiful Keats poetry because it was a film ABOUT Keats?  This film is ABOUT Mary Shelley, so her words should take priority over Percy’s…unlike, you know, that thing all of those 19th century dudes were taken to task for IN THIS FILM.

Would my darling blog wife skip romantically through the rain with this one or ditch it in the mud like it’s the heteropatriarchy?  Find out here!

Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Bar Bahar (In Between), or: Roomies Before Groom…ies

Bad, United States.  Bad, bad United States.  For once, I’m not talking about the current state of our political affairs.  What is truly disturbing is the way some absolute gems of international cinema slip through the cracks and take months (if not years) to become widely available to a US audience, especially if we have to (god forbid) do some reading while we watch.  That explains how it took so long to get around this week’s film, which is beautifully bittersweet.

The Film:

Bar Bahar (In Between)

The Premise:

3 Palestinian women sharing an apartment in Tel Aviv attempt to navigate the forces of tradition and modernity on their lives and future plans.

The Ramble:

Our main 3 ladies are rather unlikely roommates facing unique challenges as modern Palestinian women living in Tel Aviv.

Leila comfortably bucks tradition, layering on the makeup for her job as a lawyer, and layering it on even thicker for nights at the club.  She is unapologetically living life to the fullest and reveling in her single glory.

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Her roommate Salma enjoys a good party too, but leads a double life.  Hailing from a small-town Christian community with a family planning her arranged marriage, Salma struggles to hold down a job but tells her parents she’s a teacher.  As it turns out, Salma is also keeping her sexual orientation a secret–she is a closet lesbian, which is…probably (definitely) going to cause some tension.

Throw Noor into the mix–a shy computer science student who wears a hijab and hails from a devout Muslim family–and there are bound to be some roomie fights over more than whose turn it is to wash the dishes.

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Suspecting judgment from Noor and her fiance, Wissam, Leila and Salma are less than welcoming.  It’s not long before Leila and Salma realize Noor is an incredibly caring person and bond.  Though Wissam would like Noor to stay at home once they are married, Noor is not the traditional woman she appears to be.  She focuses on her studies but seems interested in the group of friends partying in the apartment on a regular basis.

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One of the new faces in the group is that of Ziad, a cute and forward-thinking guy who Leila falls for.  She is contentedly in a monogamous relationship for the first time in a long while.  However, Leila wonders how progressive Ziad really is when he avoids introducing her to his family…unless she starts to make changes like giving up smoking (and for the first time in recorded history I say DON’T DO IT, GIRL).

Meanwhile, Salma has started a new job as a bartender, which is (conveniently) a great way to meet ladies.  After meeting Dounia, Salma brings her on a visit home for moral support, which can only end well, right…?

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Noor’s story takes a heartbreaking turn when Wissam turns out to be manipulative, controlling, and violent.  Luckily, Noor has her newfound friends to lean on, and the trio plots a way to get Wissam out of their lives for good.  Even after their plan is successful, will these friends be able to move forward, or will they forever be stuck in between?

The Rating:

4.5/5 Pink Panther Heads

Predictably, my favorite thing here is the relationship between the 3 women.  Though they don’t bond immediately, they do learn to appreciate the parallels in their lives and the challenges they face.  All 3 experience instant judgment based on their appearance and face scorn from different social groups.  They all must learn to live with many sets of identities and expectations and in the spaces in between.  (On a side note, they all have different body types that aren’t commented on–they just exist.  In the world!  Like women’s bodies do in real life!)

The idea of living in between works on so many levels here–between tradition and modernity, Israel and Palestine, work and marriage, family and self, law and justice, freedom and safety.  This idea lingers; there is some definite progress made by each of the ladies in terms of self-identity, but that doesn’t necessarily drive their lives forward as a whole or indicate they will have more control over their lives or self-expression.  Though a feminist film, we as an audience reflect on how far we have to go rather than how far we have come.

Would my blog wife join this posse or ditch without paying her rent for the month?  Find out here!

Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

The Firefly, or: No Weddings and a Funeral

It’s summer.  It’s hot.  We’re looking for a film with a bit less intensity than The Witch but with a message of female empowerment…and lesbians.  This month we’re highlighting films about same-sex relationships between women (and possibly men if we feel like it), which I’m informally referring to as the Summer of Love.  Month of Love?  Either way, count on many significant stares, secret meetings at night, and…the use of coffee to express feelings?

The Film:

The Firefly

The Premise:

Two women mourning the same man unexpectedly develop romantic feelings for each other.

The Ramble:

Though she has been quite happily married for 4 years, Lucia has decided to call it quits with husband Adrian.  Why?  Adrian’s recent promotion will take him to New York, while Lucia feels the need to stay in Bogota to support her brother and his fiancée.

Just a few days before, Lucia and her brother Andrés weren’t even on speaking terms–why the sudden change of heart?  A car accident on Andrés’ wedding day puts more than one plan on hold, leaving Lucia devastated.  Instead of attending the funeral for her brother, Lucia hides out in his apartment, discovering another mourner left behind:  Mariana, the fiancée.

The two women bond immediately over their shared grief.  Lucia is full of regrets over the way she treated her brother, calling him a monster during their final conversation.  However, through Mariana, Lucia hears about the last few years of her brother’s life and his happy relationship with Mariana.

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Rather than return home to her husband, Lucia stays with Mariana–that is, until movers come to clear out Andrés’ apartment.  In the empty apartment, the two women light candles (and drink copious amounts of wine) to honor Andrés.  On Lucia’s insistence, she and Mariana visit Andrés’ grave and bring him flowers.

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Though the two women return to their separate lives, they still feel a strong connection.  Somewhat impulsively, the two set out for the town where Lucia and Andrés grew up.  Staying together in a hotel room with one bed leads to a sudden change in their relationship status…but when Lucia regrets their night together, will it snuff out the spark before it’s had a chance to grow?

The Rating:

3.5/5 Pink Panther Heads

My favorite part of this film is the relationship between Mariana and Lucia, which feels authentic and natural.  A scene where they communicate through slurps of a straw is unique and sweet without being sappy.

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Though the relationship feels real, it does take a long time for it to develop onscreen.  However, the biggest problem with the film is its melodramatic start.  Not only do we get a slow-mo car accident involving a shattered family portrait, but a dramatic bride running away from the church in tears.  Probably the first 20 minutes of the film are scenes of Lucia and/or Mariana crying…which I understand, but still gets to be a bit much.

The melodrama is undercut by Lucia having a rather petty reason for cutting herself off from her brother.  The futility of holding onto grudges is important to this film thematically, but it just sort of makes Lucia look like an asshole.

Overall, the chemistry between our two leads makes this one worth it.

Was Christa rooting for this one or waiting for it to die in a slow-mo car crash?  Find out here!

Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Holy Camp, or: I-E-I Will Always Love You

This week gives us a much-needed break from full-frontal scenes depicting the male (and female) anatomy, which is a feat unto itself.  Add Whitney Houston musical numbers, strong female friendships, and lesbian themes, and we’ve got…well, a film premise constructed from our dreams, essentially.

The Film:

Holy Camp! (La llamada)

The Premise:

Teen bffs at a religious summer camp must contend with secret parties, the crushing of their dreams, visits from an unexpectedly glittery God, and attractive nuns.

The Ramble:

Maria and Susana are besties for life reluctantly spending the summer at a religious camp for teens.  While initially planning to sneak out and party every night, Maria has lost interest in their schemes.  As it turns out, she has been meeting someone else at night–God.  And he seems to be a huge fan of Whitney Houston.

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This is your vision of God too, right?

After refusing to participate in a weekend canoe trip, Maria and Susana are effectively under house arrest with novice nun Milagros.  Though she tries to be stern, Milagros is too kind to be angry and bonds with Susana over their love of music.  Hmmmmmm…I wonder if perhaps Milagros has a secret past as the lead singer of a band…

Milagros isn’t the only one keeping a secret.  Susana, upset about the newfound distance between the two friends, accuses Maria of leaving her hanging.  Maria, on the other hand, thinks it’s time to grow up and forget about their dream to become a world-famous girl band.

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Bestie love.

Meanwhile, Sister Bernarda is convinced she has the perfect solution for reining the girls in:  music.  Though Milagros appreciates the thought, she finds Sr. Bernarda’s taste in music…a bit dated.  This leads to perhaps the finest nun-centric musical number since The Sound of Music.

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No caption needed.

Still on the outs with her bff, Maria, confides in Sr. Bernarda that God speaks to her through the songs of Whitney Houston.  Sr. Bernarda is less than understanding initially, but does eventually believe and support Maria.  With the help of the Sister, Maria learns to pray so she can understand God’s message but keeps her newfound faith a secret.

Susana is also keeping her feelings a secret.  When she sees Milagros dress up and sing into a hairbrush, reminiscing about her days as a singer, Susana develops a bit of a crush.  But does Milagros have a clue?

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Right on, Mary.

Though now armed with the power of prayer, Maria feels farther than ever from God when he laughs at her efforts and walks away.  She becomes despondent after this until Susana finally visits her and the two make up.  Susana confesses to Milagros that she’s in love with her, leaving the novice stunned.

How will the two best friends heal their relationship with the ones they love?  And might it perhaps involve a choreographed glitter-suffused dance number?

The Rating:

5/5 Pink Panther Heads

Without hesitation.

I feel bad now about some of the other films I haven’t given a full 5 stars that probably deserved it.  This one definitely deserves it as it’s so fucking joyous and refreshing in so many ways.  All 4 of our leading characters are women, one of whom is rather aged.  Though she’s a bit out of touch, she is a respected and compassionate while remaining remarkably free of judgment.  The ladies of this film support each other so much, and I support that support.

The way love is explored is powerful:  spiritual love, the love between friends, and romantic love.  Both Maria and Susana express their love for each other by being true to themselves and honest with each other.  I also like the message about religion even as a completely non-religious person.  The way the faithful choose to worship is their decision–music is just as valid as prayer.

If this is what church had been like when I was growing up, you can be pretty damn sure my ass would’ve been in the pews about 3,000x more.

Was Christa singing the gospel of this film or did she convert to another immediately?  Find out here!

Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

The Art of Loving, or: You Weren’t Found in a Cabbage Patch

It’s summer, so we’re doing what we want on the blog (in contrast to every other season).  This week we’re up for some education on sexual and reproductive health…in 1970s Poland.  Based on a true story!

The Film:

The Art of Loving

The Premise:

A renowned Polish gynecologist struggles to publish a book that addresses very real–and very taboo–sexual issues married couples experience.

The Ramble:

Michalina Wisłocka, having worked as a gynecologist for years in many parts of Poland, has long been an advocate for contraception and the demystification of sex. Now, in the 1970s, she is ready to publish a book to help married couples, and especially women, understand their reproductive health and sexual issues. Enter the Catholic Church, stage left. Also the Soviets. Plus the media. And throw in a few disgruntled misogynists too for good measure. Getting a book published on such a taboo topic is going to be a battle.

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…of wearing super chic boho-style headscarves.

As it turns out, Michalina has always been surrounded by controversy. After spying on a skinny dipping man with her bff Wanda, Michalina eventually ends up marrying him. In large part because of Wanda, Michalina and her husband Stach survive the war. Wanda goes to live with the couple, and they eventually become a threesome. Michalina thinks this will work out perfectly as Wanda fulfills Stach’s sexual needs, while Michalina will fulfill his emotional needs.

After the war is over, Michalina pursues a medical degree and the 3 live together in harmony. Of course, this doesn’t last—when both Michalina and Wanda become pregnant, things get rather complicated. As Wanda is an unmarried woman, Michalina claims both as her own children. This will be totally fine and never backfire as this unconventional family will be together forever…right?

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WWII lulz,

Yeah, maybe not. Wanda feels like a 3rd wheel and decides to leave with her son. This move will create absolutely no trauma for any parties involved…by which I mean SO much trauma for everyone. Wanda leaving triggers the dissolution of Michalina and Stach’s marriage, transforming a family of 5 into a party of 2.

Devastated, Michalina retreats to a small Polish village for the summer. Though she insists she’s taking a break from men, Michalina is nevertheless drawn to Jurek, a married sailor with a secret romantic streak.  From Jurek, Michalina gets her signature style of clothing made primarily from curtains.  She also feels encouraged to love and appreciate her body for the first time.  Unfortunately, Jurek is going to have to choose between his family and Michalina…3 guesses on how that turns out.

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We’ll always have Lubieniec…

In the present day (by which I mean the 1970s), Michalina is on the verge of publishing her book.  However, to avoid controversy, the chapter on female orgasms has been cut.  Following a ridiculous male rights conversation about men’s orgasms being important too (we know), Michalina walks with her book, refusing to compromise on this.

Will Michalina find a publisher and help thousands of Polish women reach their, er, full potential?  Related question:  is there a time in history when middle-aged white dudes are not trying to control women’s bodies?

The Rating:

3.5/5 Pink Panther Heads

I absolutely love the portrayal of Michalina in this (by Magdalena Boczarska).  She’s smart, confident, caring, and unwaveringly determined.  Some of her lines are absolutely brilliant–my favorites being “I am the sexual revolution and I’m coming,” and “You’re from a vagina; you weren’t found in a cabbage patch.”  What a woman.

However, there are a few things I find frustrating throughout the film.  The entire subplot of the secret baby mama feels melodramatic and disjointed.  Michalina is heartbroken when Wanda leaves with her child and believes both kids will be fucked up for life.  Yet after this scene, the film spends very little time exploring the effects on all parties and wrapping up this part of the story.

After the dissolution of the Michalina/Wanda/Stach relationship, the close bond between Michalina and Wanda disappears.  It’s frustrating to see such a genuine love vanish because of men–and indeed the extent to which Michalina’s early decisions are influenced by men.  While I adore Jurek and his surprisingly forward-thinking brand of 1970s Polish feminism, I dislike how much of the film revolves around Michalina’s relationships with men.

Would Christa flip straight to the dirty pictures or burn the manuscript?  Find out here!

Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

I Am Not a Witch, or: …Am I?

Rounding out May Mayhem is our first film set in Zambia, though absolutely not our first film about witches.  This is by far our most realistic witch film as we get a glimpse into the lives of women accused of witchcraft in present day Zambia.  Intrigued yet?  Let’s dive in.

The Film:

I Am Not a Witch

The Premise:

A young girl accused of witchcraft is sent to live on a witch camp, where she is expected to work, use her powers to help the government, and solve the ongoing drought.

The Ramble:

After an unnamed girl with no friends and no family arrives at a small Zambian village, she struggles to go quietly about her business.  The girl, later named Shula, is the scapegoat for accidental falls and even bad dreams, leading to the witch word being thrown in her direction.  Shula, who is virtually silent in all scenarios, neither confirms nor denies being a witch.

As a result, Mr. Banda, a government official declares she must be a witch since she doesn’t deny it.  Nevertheless, he has a witch doctor make an official analysis involving a chicken dying in or outside of a circle.  After this witch test, Shula is taken to live at a witch camp with other women who have been declared witches.

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At the witch camp, the women are expected to work by farming, breaking rocks, and completing other manual labor.  Each woman has a ribbon attached to a large spool, intended to keep the witches from running away.  While the witch camp seems to be largely an opportunity for the local government to recruit unpaid laborers, the women do what they can to make the best of things, caring for one another and forming their own family in exile.

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Shula soon learns that another duty of witches is to preside over court hearings and determine guilty parties in criminal cases.  Of course, Shula has no supernatural insight into who is telling the truth, but she quickly earns a reputation as being a fair and accurate judge.  While uncomfortable with this role, Shula must fulfill this role and condemn one of the suspects, whether guilty or not.

Because of Shula’s success, she spends some time with Mr. Banda and his wife at their obscenely gorgeous house.  Mrs. Banda reveals she was once considered a witch but gained respectability through marriage.  Shula must do as she is told and, if she is lucky, will end up in the same position.

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In a bid to make some extra cash, Mr. Banda appears on a talk show with Shula.  Once there, he tries to market special Shula eggs with magical properties.  However, unexpectedly, the talk show host inquires about Shula’s education, serving as the catalyst for her attendance at school.

All of this takes place in the midst of a horrible drought that Shula is expected to resolve.  After concerns that she isn’t prioritizing the drought, Shula is pulled from school despite quite enjoying it.  This sends her into a downward spiral quickly–what is Shula meant to do when her future looks like nothing but serving the whims of others?

The Rating:

3.5/5 Pink Panther Heads

There’s no doubt this is an utterly unique film and has an important story to tell.  So few films focus on African women, let alone those as marginalized as the witches in this story.  The ribbons are a beautiful symbol of the literal and metaphorical restraint these women experience as a result of baseless accusations against them.  An accusation of witchcraft seems to be a convenient opportunity for government officials to step in and recruit unpaid laborers (who also serve as a low-cost tourist attraction).

Shula herself exhibits an admirable strength of character despite the isolation and mistreatment she experiences.  One of the tragedies of this film is her brief introduction to childhood, learning, and playing with others her own age, which is cut short by the superstitions of others.  This to me is the turning point for Shula, when she experiences what her childhood could be only to have it snatched away–all of her quiet endurance seems to be for nothing.

That being said, I found the lack of narrative structure distracting.  Like Shula’s life, our experience in the film is disorienting as we see her shuffled around unexpectedly with little explanation.  The tone is uneven at times too, with much of the film being satirically funny but becoming incredibly bleak in the end.  I wasn’t expecting such a merciless ending for this one that turned my guts to stone.

Did this film impress my blog wife with its occult magic or leave her running around like a chicken with its head cut off?  Find out here!