The Two Movies That Got Me Through January

tuscan_sun

We’re well into 2019 and I’ve barely watched any movies because my kids have been so sick. January was a festival of viruses, a nasty cold that just never left and then, last week, when the last of the phlegm departed, my baby brought home a novel stomach flu that incubated for about 36 hours before hitting me, my husband, and my first-grader in six-hour intervals.

I feel like this is the third or fourth time I have written about illnesses, so at this point it is a leitmotif of this blog and probably warrants its own tag.

Anyway.

When Under The Tuscan Sun came out in 2003, I was 25, and I remember kind of wanting to see it, but feeling that it was for older women. That feeling didn’t always stop me from seeing movies I wanted to see–for instance, I sat in a theater of seventy-somethings watching the 2004 Cole Porter biopic De-Lovely–but in this case, I think a part of me thought I should save this movie for a time in my life when I needed it.

Well, my two readers, that time has come. I’m 40, and I spent the past six weeks cooped up in a virus-ridden apartment with two small children and an unfinished novel manuscript. (The second unfinished novel to take up residence in my laptop in the past few years.) One night, I was perusing HBO’s offerings and I saw beautiful Diane Lane and a bouquet of yellow sunflowers. I thought, that is exactly what I need: Diane, flower gardens, Tuscany, and a serious real estate makeover. 

Under The Tuscan Sun is very low stakes, in a good way. It reminds me of a travelogue show my first grader and I have been watching on Netflix called The World’s Most Extraordinary Homes.  This G-rated show is hosted by an architect and an actress who is also a “property enthusiast”–which, as far as I know, is not a real thing, but does describe a lot of people’s relationship to television shows about other people’s houses. Together, the actress and the architect tour beautiful homes and imagine what it would be like to live in them. The architect describes what it took to make the house and the two of them meet architects and homeowners. There is zero drama: the house is already built and everyone loves it, the end. Some days that’s about all I can handle, entertainment-wise.

There is a little more angst in Diane Lane’s version of World’s Most Extraordinary Homes, but you know she’s going to be okay. She’s suffering after a bad divorce, and yes, she is taking a financial risk by buying a decrepit villa under the Tuscan sun, but she’s also lovely and charming and wearing great sweaters and meeting interesting people, all the while making notes for the memoir that will become the book that will be optioned into the movie you are now watching.

The most stressful part of watching Under The Tuscan Sun was waiting for Russell Crowe to show up, because I had confused the movie with A Good Year, about an investment banker who renovates a house in Provence. I have never seen A Good Year, and had conflated the two movies in my mind, thinking that Russell Crowe was going to materialize as Diane Lane’s love interest. About halfway through Tuscan Sun, I realized that if Russell Crowe were going to show up, he would have shown up, and I relaxed into the movie, realizing that he would not be there, and in fact, no major love interest would arise. Instead, Sandra Oh makes a surprise third act appearance and Diane Lane wears a series of beautiful dresses.

PARTY GIRL

Speaking of fashion, I think I re-discovered the movie that determined my whole fashion sense, at least in my twenties. It is Party Girl but it could have been called Parker Posey because it is Peak Posey and Peak 90s and Peak Pre-Internet. (It could have been called The Last Days of the Dewey Decimal System.) It is directed by Daisy von Scherler Mayer, who seems to be a lot better known now, as a TV director, than a film director–a a pattern I have noticed among female filmmakers who got their start in the 80s and 90s. It makes me wonder if TV has gotten really good, in part, because the directing pool is more egalitarian.

Anyway, I remember loving Party Girl when it came out. I was in high school at the time. I have no idea how I saw it. My parents would not have rented it, I don’t think. It wouldn’t have played in the theaters near me, in Western Maryland. I guess I rented it on my own? I have no idea! Anyway, it was likely one of many movies that made me want to move to New York. And wear colorful tights.

There are parts of Party Girl that have not aged well. There’s a party with a middle-eastern theme, which I think viewers are supposed to perceive as misbegotten, but which comes off as offensive. Other creaky parts are not as problematic but do seem like part of another era, especially the ending, when Parker Posey demonstrates her research chops by reciting all the people she has called and the books she consulted to come up with a job search plan for her love interest. Life before the internet was so time-consuming. (And yet we all had so much more free time.)

Despite these flaws, I love Parker Posey in this movie. I love her barely concealed hostility at a world that has zero interest in her intellectual capacities, I love her struggle to take herself seriously and grow up, I love her willingness to try new things, and of course, I love her outfits. The layered shirts, the brightly colored tights, the short skirts, the bold patterns, and the comfortable yet flamboyant shoes. I love how much fun she has with her clothes and how she uses her outfits to express her ambitions. Re-watching this movie cheered me up and made me remember the cherry red corduroy skirt I used to wear on the weekends when I didn’t have to follow an office dress code. I gave that skirt up years ago, but after I saw Party Girl, I bought a new one: dark red, and not quite as short, but it still reminds me, in a good way, of my early years in New York.

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