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.

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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.

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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.

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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?  Find out here!

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Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Mr. Roosevelt, or: Lost in Austin

Another week, another pick that we don’t have to explain to you.  Due to the nature of our free spirits (and inability to make decisions), we’re kicking off 2018 with whatever the hell we feel like watching.  This week’s film has significantly fewer sharks.

The Film:

Mr. Roosevelt

The Premise:

Cats.  Brunch.  Hipsters.  Must be Austin, TX.

The Uncondensed Version:

After Emily learns her cat Mr. Roosevelt is in poor health, she jets back to Austin right away.  Having set off for LA several years before, she left Mr. Roosevelt in the care of her now ex-boyfriend, Eric.  In this time of crisis for the cat parents, Emily crashes with Eric and his serious girlfriend Celeste.

By the time Emily makes it to Austin, Mr. Roosevelt has passed on from this life.  A group of Celeste and Eric’s hipster friends have a dinner out and honor Mr. Roosevelt.  At the dinner, Emily learns Eric is focusing on becoming a realtor rather than pursuing his dreams of being a musician.

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Hell is other hipsters.

Emily hoped to have more to show for her time in LA, but so far she’s doing cringey auditions, editing videos with a group of men who may or may not be part of a real company, and coasting by on the popularity of several of her Youtube videos.  When Celeste asks how things are in LA, Emily freaks out and causes a food-related accident.  Jen, a server there, helps Emily and befriends her, leading to several hipster adventures.

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IDK where you go to catch up with your friends if not the women’s restroom…

After aforementioned hipster adventures, Emily gets a call from the vet’s office that Mr. Roosevelt’s ashes are ready to pick up.  Unfortunately, Celeste, who was also a parent to their cat child, arrives first and claims the ashes.  She invites Emily to a brunch she’s planning in Mr. Roosevelt’s honor, which makes Emily lose her shit.

Eric helpfully takes Emily out to get tacos, and they later go to a party where Jen is playing with her band, the Leeks.  What is meant to be a fun night out takes a dive when Eric and Emily have a heart-to-heart about their breakup, shattered dreams, dismal future, etc, etc.

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TACOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOS

The next day is the brunch for Mr. Roosevelt, and let’s just say it does not go well.

The Rating:

3.5/5 Pink Panther Heads

Reasonably entertaining with some funny moments (the brunch is an exercise in the absurd), this film suffers mostly because Emily is so unlikeable for 95% of it.  She does find some redemption at the end, but it feels like too little too late.  Most of the time, she bicycles around doing self-destructive things that have consequences for other people, then acting surprised when there’s not a lot of sympathy being tossed her way.  I usually relate to the feeling of being an eternal fuck-up, but it takes Emily a reeeeeeeeeeeeeally long time to stop acting like an asshole.

I imagine this is a bit of a Portlandia for Austin, though all of the time Emily spends judging hipsters feels a bit hypocritical because she’s just a scarf and an oversized pair of plastic-rimmed glasses away from being the biggest hipster in Texas.

Jen is fucking cool, and I wish a lot more of the focus had been on her friendship with Emily.  Sadly, it takes Emily a really long time to appreciate when she’s got a good thing going.

Would my blog wife toast this one with mimosas or bicycle far away at top speed?  Find out here!

Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Seeking a Friend for the End of the World, or: I Was Promised Melanie Lynskey

This week’s pick is a stretch in terms of our Melanie Lynskey theme, but the only other films of hers coming to my mind were Heavenly Creatures and Ever After.  Since we’re all about broadening our horizons through this blog collab, we opted for this questionable doomsday comedy that, sadly, doesn’t give our star of the month (year, life, etc) a lot of screen time, but does feature more cameos than you can shake a stick at.

The Film:

Seeking a Friend for the End of the World

(Fun fact:  the acronym for this film is SAFFTEOTW)

Where to Watch:

Netflix (US)

The Uncondensed Version:

After the failure of one final space mission to divert the path of an incoming asteroid, it seems the existence of humanity is rapidly drawing to a close.  With the realization that human existence will end in 3 weeks, Dodge (Steve Carell) tries to carry on as usual, while his wife literally runs off as quickly as she can in the opposite direction.

Dodge visits his friends, who try to set him up with a date during one last party, conveniently creating the opportunity for an absurd number of cameos  This is where our girl Melanie Lynskey enters the fray as a somewhat out of character, over the top flirt wearing a tiara.  I really wish she’d been given more to do here, as she appears for maybe 5 minutes max, though that’s true for most of the cameos in this film.

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Our queen appropriately adorned.

Despite everyone at the party going nuts in the true spirit of carpe diem, Dodge remains aloof and unable to enjoy the atmosphere (and admittedly, some of the shit on these people’s bucket lists is pretty fucked up, including shooting up heroin and letting their young children get wasted).

When he returns to his apartment, Dodge is alarmed to find his upstairs neighbor Penny (Keira Knightley) crying on the balcony.  An eternal fuck-up, she has made the most regrettable mistake of her life and missed the last plane home to see her family in England.  When she asks about old pictures Dodge has been going through, he reveals his own regret—losing his first love, Olivia.  Penny also inadvertently reveals details about his wife’s affair, of which Dodge had been blissfully unaware up to this point.  However, she does have good news in the form of a letter mistakenly delivered to her apartment months ago from none other than Olivia.

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Appropriate reaction to the realization that ML’s role in this film is over.

When rioters threaten the apartment building, Dodge and Penny flee the city to find a route to Olivia and track down a plane–with the company a dog named Sorry that has been left in Dodge’s care.  TBH, the dog is probably the only one besides ML (and Gillian Jacobs, who appears later) who’s not phoning it in for this film.  Before they leave, Penny grabs a few favorite records because that’s her one defining personality trait in this film and should appeal to the trendy youths in the audience (none of whom watched this film with me, except maybe Bertha Mason, but she’d be more into destroying vinyl).

Since this is a journey film, our crew hits the road after catching a lift with a seemingly nice man driving along.  If you are like me, you will probably wait for him to be revealed as a secret cannibal or human taxidermist, but really the only thing memorable about his character is his readiness to die (which I think is pretty understandable considering the circumstances).  This sets up a long line of characters and scenarios that would be cleverly and occasionally obnoxiously quirky in any other road trip comedy, but fall flat here.  The overly friendly staff at a restaurant have a really boring secret, the police are needlessly nitpicky, and even the doomsday preppers are staggeringly normal.

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Vinyl…something about drinking port and listening to the Velvet Underground on vinyl…blah blah blah…extended hipster stereotypes, etc, etc.

Initially, there’s a balance between the apocalyptic and romance threads that weave throughout the film, but eventually the romance plot takes over with Penny revealing personal stories about her family and practically writing a love song to vinyl.  At a certain point it feels like the writers took turns drawing random lines of dialogue from a hat of full of romantic comedy clichés.

When the two do finally track down Olivia’s house in Delaware, it’s so, so, so anti-climactic and frustrating.  It’s obvious that Dodge and Olivia aren’t getting back together from the moment the film begins, but it’s really unsatisfying that Dodge seems to abruptly shut off his feelings for her in favor of bonding with Penny.  Narratively, it’s supposed to make viewers believe his feelings for Penny are the most genuine, but it only succeeds in making him looking fickle as fuck.

I think I should stop because I have so, so, so many problems with the ending and don’t even know where to begin.

Let’s just say this one goes out not with a bang, but with a whimper.  Though it would also be accurate to say it literally does go out with a bang.

The Rating:

3/5 PPHs

Eh, it probably deserves fewer PPHs, but I will grant some leniency for the premise (which had potential) and the brief but shining moment in which our girl ML appears.

First, let’s start out with the romance element because it gets so much goddamn screen time.  Keira Knightley and Steve Carell are really difficult for me to buy as a couple, and he seems to be more of a caring father figure than a love interest.  They are both so bland as characters, and Penny’s love for records felt tacked on to give her some semblance of personality.  I honestly felt Audrey Hepburn had more chemistry with William Holden in Sabrina, and that’s a pretty low bar.

The end also pisses me off because Dodge makes a decision for Penny rather than letting her decide, which is not the least bit romantic.  FFS, men.  STOP IT.

The tone is perhaps the biggest problem—for example, a scene where someone is making a piss joke and then gets shot a few seconds later feels out of place.  This film can never quite commit to being a comedy or a drama, failing to merge these elements together well.

I could see SAFFTEOTW more easily becoming a dark comedy or satire and couldn’t help comparing it to other works like Fido, arguably Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, or even You, Me and the Apocalypse (that short-lived and rather uneven apocalyptic TV show starring Rob Lowe as the least believable priest in existence.  It was never going to last 7 seasons, but it was funny at least).  All of these successfully gave an apocalyptic event a dark, funny twist, and even worked in a more or less believable romantic subplot.

To be clear, the dog in this film is adorable and should be praised, given treats, and in general be considered a good dog–and I’m not even a dog person.

Would Christa befriend this one or let it all burn?  Find out here!

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.

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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.

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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.

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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?  Find out here!

Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Feminist February: I’ve Heard the Mermaids Singing

Feminist February is off with a bang!  Or quite possibly a whimper.  It’s my pick this time around, chosen primarily because this film was written, directed, and produced by women.  Plus there’s that T.S. Eliot reference in the title.

I don’t know how to react to this one, but Christa might.  She usually does.

The Film:

I’ve Heard the Mermaids Singing

Where to Watch:

Netflix (US)

The Premise:

A perpetual temp with a photography hobby takes a job working for a curator with somewhat bizarre results.

The Uncondensed Version:

Polly, aforementioned temp, is way ahead of her time as evidenced by the format of this film:  1980s video diary.  She was a vlogger (sorry, Christa) before vlogging was a thing.

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I’m done using the word “vlog” in this post now.

It’s pretty clear that Polly doesn’t quite have her shit together, but her house is a hipster’s dream complete with darkroom to develop the photos she takes around the city.  Oddly, the darkroom seems to function as living quarters for plants…so I’m not sure those plants will be alive for long unless they need little to no sunlight.  Too nitpicky?  Too nitpicky.

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She even rides a bicycle everywhere.

So Polly lives alone with a cat and a goldfish that lives in a huge jar.  Again, surprised that it’s alive.  Polly considers herself a spinster at the age of 31??!?!?  I almost spat out my tea at that.

To return to the (admittedly somewhat thin) plot, Polly takes a temp job as a secretary for a French gallery owner/curator, Gabrielle.

Polly seems to have a pretty big crush on Gabrielle, who is gorgeous and sophisticated in an Ingrid Bergman-esque kind of way.  Okay, I’m sorry, all women with vaguely European accents—I have probably compared you to Ingrid Bergman at some point.

Anyway, Polly seems hopeful about their relationship and, confusingly, they do go to a Japanese restaurant for squid.  Is it a date?  Is it dinner?  Is it all of the above?  Unclear, but when Gabrielle offers Polly a permanent position, she eagerly agrees.

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Hand towel struggles.

Everything seems to be going quite swimmingly until Gabrielle’s ex, Mary, rolls into town.  Gabrielle and Mary become an item again, which makes Polly super jealous and have very odd dreams/fantasies.  Though Polly is invited over to hang out with the two, she becomes something of a third wheel as she’s not sophisticated/hipster/chic enough to stay on their level.

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Damnit, I left my headband at home.  Now I’ll never fit in!

And, as it turns out, Gabrielle gets into heavy existential shit when she’s drunk.  I mean, she is French.   Gabrielle feels like she has no talent and is wasting her life, unable to create anything of beauty or significance.  In an effort to make Gabrielle feel better, Polly asks to see her work.  It’s so beautiful that Polly decides to hang it in the gallery.  Plus it prob wouldn’t hurt her chances with Gabrielle.  But does it help?  As it turns out, the work isn’t really Gabrielle’s.  And, even worse, Gabrielle insults Polly’s photos.  Not cool, Gabrielle.

Let’s just say this film goes super dark and bizarre when Polly discovers the truth about who created the paintings.  Seriously, it’s pretty fucked up.

The Rating:

3/5 Pink Panther Heads

That’s the last time I pick a film based on T.S. Eliot references in the title.  I was left wondering what exactly the point was, and I feel the ending came out of nowhere.  Polly is pretty adorable, though.  She’s kind of like a neurotic Molly Ringwald.

Did Christa hear the mermaids singing?  Find out here!