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Archive for the ‘Women characters’ Category

The Women

Of course many of the characters are trivial, ridiculous ladies. The people who made the movie thought so too, that’s why they showed us the characters. They knew and deep in our hearts we know that there were (and are even today!) women whose interests do not extend much beyond clothes and gossip. Why should we hide from the fact? Of course the monkeys dressed up in miniature copies of high-fashion designs are silly – but no sillier than the women for whom this sort of status symbol is important

Taking this film on its own merits, without resorting to specious comparisons with some ideal of indescribable loftiness, it’s pretty darn good. After all, it’s a comedy, and comedy is exaggeration. And props, as they say, to screenwriter Anita Loos. Credit must be given to any woman who survives in a male-dominated field for umpteen years. She worked with D. W. Griffith! And of course Loos didn’t start writing this one from scratch, but adapted it from a play by Clare Booth Luce.

It was really a clever decision, to have not one single male in the whole picture. Yet, how to include the decisive argument between Mary and Stephen – a dialogue which includes every line ever spoken between husbands and wives in similar situations since the beginning of time – while preserving the artistic decision of the all-female cast? I can just imagine the author and/or screenwriters brainstorming this problem… Aha! Play the scene with the two women domestics, one reporting the argument and the other providing appropriate cynical comments – what a solution!

The dialogue between Mary and her mother is right on, and it can’t be denied that even in this age of openness and therapy for all, a person whose loved one strays is still faced with the same choices – confrontation or feigned ignorance – and making the choice still needs to be thought over carefully.

Technical comment: After a bad-news phone call from her husband, Mary reflectively fondles the bottle of Summer Rain perfume – cut to the department store counter with lots of bottles of Summer Rain perfume.

Crystal is such a baddie – treating the black woman as if slavery were still in effect, making her break a date, to cook a dinner which Crystal will pass off as her own handiwork. When Stephen breaks their date she brings in the big guns – it’s her birthday and her neuralgia is acting up and her sister is sick etc. Power plays between women in a struggle to hold a man are a phenomenon we can witness today. Those who clamor for verisimilitude have got it.

The fashion show of course is pure satire, and I bet the clothes looked ridiculous even to 1939 eyes, as overwrought as Fellini’s bishop robes in Roma. The woman who announces the styles promises models engaging in the “activities of everyday life” – like going on a picnic in big antebellum dresses.

Symbolic touch – Crystal snaps up the sexy nightgown that Mary planned to buy – as if to say, “You won’t be needing it, dearie.”

Technical comment – Sylvia the troublemaker reflected in a 4-way mirror, assaulting Mary from all sides with her wicked advice. What she’s saying is the most awful thing of all. Stephen has introduced the interloper to Mary’s child, they were seen having lunch in the park. When kids are dragged into an affair, mothers freak out. This is a psychological truth which there is no sense in denying. Now totally off her head, Mary rushes to the confrontation her friends are urging. Naturally Crystal is as slimy and mean as Cruella deVille.

What about the extreme demonstrativeness of Mary’s relationships with her daughter and mother? They’re forever embracing and petting and putting heads in laps. Veterans of group therapy of course are unfazed to view this, but I’m curious to know how 1939 eyes looked at the very physical style of relating in this affectionate family. Why did the director choose it? Was this sort of thing more common back then? Or is the demonstrativeness a conventional exaggeration meant to portray Familial Love, in the same way that Crystal’s gimlet eyes portray Bitchiness?

In Joan Fontaine’s autobiography No Bed of Roses she describes the making of The Women. The story of how Rosalind Russell played sick to coerce the management into giving her equal billing with Shearer and Crawford, also found in Russell’s book, is recounted here. Fontaine says working with George Cukor was a refreshingly pleasant experience.

Directed by: George Cukor
Actors: Joan Crawford, Joan Fontaine, Paulette Goddard, Hedda Hopper, Rosalind Russell, Norma Shearer

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Lars and the Real Girl accomplishes the seemingly contradictory goals of being not only cozy, homey and heartwarming, but deeply weird.

Ryan Gosling plays a very shy young man who lives in the garage of the old family homestead, now occupied by his brother and sister-in-law. He doesn’t want to live in the house, and doesn’t want to interact with people. He sends away for one of those super-deluxe imitation women, and introduces her as Bianca, his girlfriend who is in a wheelchair and doesn’t speak English.

The local doctor advises letting him live out the delusion. “Bianca’s in town for a reason,” she sagely advises. So the family, and then pretty much everybody, goes along with it.

Older brother Gus is a great character, who observes all the manly decorum, reserve, and dignitas, yet lets his heart have the final say. Karen is the lovely warm pregnant wife who does her best for Lars and Bianca. As the townsfolk adapt, Bianca gets a job, volunteers at the hospital, and becomes a real member of the community.

Meanwhile, the doctor helps Lars work through his problems, with a happy ending for all, and that is meant in the most innocent possible way. There are some lovely moments.

Lars and the Real Girl can be taken two ways: superficially, as a delightful entertainment; and meaningfully, as a commentary on many aspects of society as we know it. This would be an interesting date movie. The conversation it could inspire would certainly be indicative of the attitudes and beliefs of a new friend you’re getting to know.

It would even be a suitable movie for a family evening with the kids. Despite the fact that she’s an anatomically correct sex doll, not much is made of that, and any mild innuendo they might hear, would go over the heads of young kids anyway. Although her default posture seems to be knees-spread, Bianca is never salacious, and after her first appearance, she is customarily dressed in sensible country outfits borrowed from Karen.

I know it’s a comedy, but I can’t help taking this detail seriously – Despite living in a cold climate, and with the price of fuel what it is… these people spend an awful lot of time standing around yakking with the house door open.

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Reason watched: Andy Garcia, Ellen Burstyn, Philip Seymour Hoffman. But mostly Andy Garcia (sigh.)

Michael (Andy Garcia) is an airline pilot, Alice (Meg Ryan) works for the school system, and they have two little girls. They’re both basically very nice people. Alice is a helper, a counselor to teenagers. It’s no wonder she’s burned out and flirting with trouble. For somebody in a position of trust, she lets herself say some indiscreet things. A girl is looking for an excuse to accuse a boy of sexual harassment, and Alice sarcastically suggests that she entice the boy into trying to lift up her skirt. Definitely not cool. But she basically cares, that’s why she got into this line of work. She suffers from the frustration of realizing that some of these kids are beyond help.

When Alice stays out late drinking with a colleague, the excuse to go drinking isn’t the only reason. The friend needs to talk, and Alice wants to help. But she also causes Michael to miss a flying assignment, which is a serious mark against him. Things are starting to come apart.

Sometimes Michael is drawn into Alice’s wild spontaneity, and probably on some level convinces himself that he’s too buttoned-up and conventional, and it’s good for him to have a partner who’s a bit crazy. Their anniversary seems to bring Alice’s discontent to a crisis point. She leads Michael into helping her vandalize a neighbor’s car. This is some over-the-top behavior.

They go on vacation to de-stress. It’s night, and the most gorgeous man in the world, her very own husband, is rowing Alice around on a lake surrounded by sparkly lights. When drunk, Alice is not only bubbly and wildly cute, she can also be a real asshole. She’s standing up in the boat, taking a pugilistic stance, and of course falls in the water and of course he has to dive in and rescue her. Some romantic evening! Consequently, Alice promises to stop drinking so much. Hah.

Michael is such a cool guy. He says ALL the right things. It’s just that he doesn’t know when to stop. The part about responding beautifully when called upon, helping when help is needed and requested, he’s got that right. But he can’t stop there, and is always jumping in to help in situations where the very thing that pisses her off so much is the presumption that he knows better.

I understand Alice’s exasperation, because of an incident that happened. I was in a public place once with a supremely nice guy – very much like Michael in the movie. A stranger did something incredibly rude, behavior I had encountered in the past, and had made myself a vow never to tolerate again. And here it was. The jerk needed to be told what was what, and I was destined to be the one to tell him. If it was just me, I’d have cussed the stranger up one side and down the other.

But the nice guy asked me to let it go, so I did. We walked away. But my sense of mission was thwarted. I wanted a confrontation, wanted to be Woman Hear Me Roar. Of course, on some level, I also really didn’t want the nice guy to see me transmogrify into a raging harpy. But all this anger was still boiling around in me. I didn’t want somebody else to step in and decide what my response to a grievous provocation should be. I didn’t want to be protected by being gently led away. I understand Alice not wanting to be calmed down.

By the way, with such a horrible mother, how did Michael grow up to be so nice? That was surely a triumph of reincarnation over current-life family. If environmental influence were all, Michael would be even more of a mess than his wife Alice. And toward Alice, his mom is the classic poisonous mother-in-law. A quietly persistent bitch is worse than an occasionally flaring-up bitch any day of the week.

Michael arranges for the best alcoholic rehab money can buy. When Alice gets out, she doesn’t want to make love, and doesn’t want anything to do with him outside of bed, either. It’s not fair. That’s one of the horrible things that relatives of addicts need to face. You tried your best, and it still wasn’t enough. The unfairness can kill. He’s an enabler, but only in the most gentle, loving, best-intentioned way. He wants so badly to help, and winds up helping badly. Their troubles are not over. In fact, it gets so bad he has to move out. His good-byes to the children are heart-rending.

Michael comes to hear Alice’s six-month sober speech at AA, and they wind up snogging in the middle of the coffee break. You can tell that they will reconcile.

Loose end – But doesn’t he still have to move to Denver anyway to keep his job? So, does this imply that the family will move to Denver? It would certainly be great to get away from the toxic mother-in-law. Or are we to assume he’s going to take the other career alternative they had discussed, where he stays based in San Francisco and goes to work for a different airline, starting over at the bottom of the seniority ladder? Inquiring minds want to know.

The script was co-written by Al Franken, who had some experience with Al-Anon. He told Entertainment Weekly, ”I really began to understand about people’s pain and suffering and about how families that look normal aren’t.”

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