It’s the first week of October and I’m still catching up on all the movies I meant to review last month. I lost track of time with school starting at the beginning of the month, and then for the past couple of weeks I’ve been consumed by the Kavanagh hearings and aftermath. More to say about that, but I’ve been struck over the past few days by how easily people can see Kavanagh’s point of view, and sympathize with him, and how much that has to do with the fact that we are all accustomed to reading the male point of view, through decades of male-authored movies, television shows, novels, comic books, etc. Conversely, people are able to listen to Blasey Ford, and feel bad for her, and maybe even believe that she was assaulted, but they disregard the details that place her story in a shared reality, i.e. her naming of Kavanagh and his friend Mark Judge. It’s as if she doesn’t exist in the world as completely as Kavanagh does.
Anyway, here are five quick reviews of some movies that are streaming now. All are worth a watch, and one is a masterpiece.
Dir. Kay Cannon
This is a movie about three parents freaking out when they discover that their teenage daughters plan to lose their virginity on prom night. So, they stalk them on prom night. It’s a very funny premise, saved from being sexist by Leslie Mann, who plays a nervous mother teaming up with two nervous fathers. The movie is split pretty evenly between the parent and teen point of view, and I guess it shows I’m getting old that I identified more with the parents than the teenagers, but I liked getting both perspectives. Leslie Mann is the MVP and made me laugh out loud several times with some great physical comedy.
SIERRA BURGESS IS A LOSER
Writer: Lindsay Beer
This was the movie where I finally understood why all the fuss about Noah Centineo. Conventional directing and plotting, but funny dialogue. I liked this. I recommend it for a weeknight with take-out.
NAPPILY EVER AFTER
Dir. Haifaa Al-Mansour
Once, when I was in a short story writing class, I wrote a story about a woman who dyes and cuts her hair in order to change her life. The critique I got from the young men in my class was that the premise was dumb and that it made the character seem superficial. Which annoyed me, because even if the story wasn’t executed well, they clearly didn’t understand the cultural and political significance of women’s hair. In Nappily Ever After, the main character shaves her head — and the actress did it for real, apparently! — in order to start fresh after a jilting, and to take a break from Eurocentric standards of hair beauty, i.e. straight hair. The movie is organized into chapters, each titled according to different hairstyles and stages of hair growth. As far as rom-coms go, it started well, providing all the classic rom-com scene-setting, but in the second half, things felt kind of rushed and I left feeling like I’d never gotten to know the main character as well as I wanted. Still, a good watch, and I appreciated the premise.
JANE FONDA IN FIVE ACTS
Dir. Susan Lacy
Jane Fonda was one of the first celebrities that I was aware of, because my mother had her workout video and she bought me a leotard so we could do the workouts together, which were really fun! I was six, I think. (Funny to me now, because my son is six and he recently got a leotard for dance class and loves to wear it and do Jane Fonda-esque moves.) Until watching this doc, I had no idea that all the profits from her workout video went to the Campaign for Economic Democracy, run by her husband Tom Hayden. I’d never heard of this husband, but he was the second of three. Each act of the film is named for the men in Fonda’s life, starting with her father. The final act is named, simply, Jane.
Jane seems to think that it took her whole life to get to a place where she was independent, and that’s why she and the director framed her life story in terms of the men in her life, but to me, she seemed pretty independent throughout her life. She strikes me as someone who was always trying to know herself better, and her marriages were just one way of doing that. There was also her training and apprentice years as an actor, her traveling and political work, and later, a return to acting, directing, and producing. She made some dumb mistakes along the way –s he’s still apologizing for some of her statements about the Vietnam War — but I admire how she’s always seeking and full of energy. There’s nothing revelatory about this doc, or even particularly insightful, but you get a lot of Fonda, including recent interviews and a ton of archival footage, so if you have a soft spot for Jane, you’ll like this.
Writer & Dir. Jennifer Fox
I really hesitated to watch this one, because I knew it was about a woman looking back on the sexual abuse she suffered as a child. I just didn’t want to go there, especially after a year of #metoo news, when I’ve been thinking about it a lot. But after listening to an episode of the Slate Culture Gabfest, in which it was highly recommended — and one of the reviewers had the exact same qualms as me — I decided to give it a try. And wow, it’s an incredible movie. I watched it a month ago and I don’t think a day has gone by where I haven’t thought about it. It’s been especially relevant over these past couple of weeks, as everyone grapples with Christine Blasey Ford’s testimony, which was a powerful mix of emotional storytelling and intellectual analysis. With her training as a clinical psychologist, Blasey Ford’s testimony was unusually descriptive, with a recounting of her traumatic memories as well as the brain processes that inscribed them. She also had to account for the gaps in her memory, and the long-term effects of the assault on her life.
The Tale occupies a storytelling space similar to Blasey Ford’s, as an adult Jennifer Fox (Laura Dern) looks back on a sexual relationship she had with her running coach when she was 13. As a child — as Jenny — she told herself it was consensual, but as an adult, she looks back and is horrified by the way her coach his married lover preyed on her insecurities and loneliness. The adult Jennifer, who has become a documentary filmmaker, uses her skills as a filmmaker to analyze the past, and in some cases interviews the people who were involved. Over the course of her research, she realizes that the person she really wants to talk to is her childhood self.
The Tale is based on Fox’s own life story, who, like the Jennifer of the film, is a documentary filmmaker. She could have made The Tale as a documentary film, but fiction gave her more flexibility and allowed her to explore her childhood more fully, casting actors who embody what she saw, as a child. The narrative format also allows her to interview her childhood self, who clings to her sense of autonomy, which she needed to survived, and ultimately, escape an abuse situation. The Tale asks, quite openly, what do we do with that girl who is still alive inside us, still fierce, still vulnerable? It’s a way of asking what to do with the damage, and of acknowledging that the healing is never complete, though it can be better understood.