No One’ll Ever Not Love You Again
By Molly Lambert
The Swimming Hole at Falling Creek Camp near the town of Tuxedo in Western North Carolina’s Blue Ridge Mountains
So this week on This Recording is Unofficial Nineties Indie Films Week. It’s unofficial because most of my posts always have some Nineties Indie Film content, and because this previously decided theme has been superseded by a newer more relevant theme, namely the Battle of the Sexes. So it’s also Officially The Psychology of Gender Warfare Week.
To fully grasp this attempt to combine the two topics, you should first read this inane New Yorker piece by the inane David Denby about romantic comedy in the last couple of decades.
1. Romantic Comedies are about the battle of the sexes
2. The prevailing trend in romantic comedies of the previous ten or more years has been to pair/pit an immature male against a responsible female.
3. The man must learn how to grow up, and the woman must learn how to cut loose.
4. The women in these movies (and all movies) are almost entirely ciphers i.e. catalysts for the man’s inner change to take place.
5. The women move the romantic plot along, the men move the comedic plot along.
Terrible writing and dumb logic aside, Denby is onto something here. He’s described the plot of a million movies that have been made in recent years. As a plot, it’s the foundation for Wedding Crashers, Knocked Up, The Simpsons Movie, Fever Pitch, and a lot of other movies that generally go directly to DVD and are directed by Ed Burns. Ed Burns is the White Man’s Woody Allen like Pat Boone is the White Man’s Little Richard.
Certainly it’s indicative of a larger cultural issue. Men are in crisis, at least over-educated young white men, who are also generally the makers and protagonists of independent films. The fallout of feminism is a generational shift where women readily take on male roles, but men are having problems taking on the feminine, which might be defined as learning how to take care of other people.
I watched a bunch of these movies recently, not really on purpose. I’m not sure what to call the genre, I want to say “male menopause” but it’s not that. It’s more like a second puberty or a bar mitzvah in which one actually becomes a man. It’s similar to Ur-Quarter-Life Crisis text Garden State and Ben Kunkel’s Emosogynist bildungsroman “Indecision”, but skews slightly older. The stakes tend to be marriage or pregnancy, but the issue is always responsibility, men coming of age or refusing to, often due to “reactance.”
This little douche, with his tie-dye and crocs, will be up to his neck in teaching jobs and the accordant undergrad pussy while you are still putting out your sad little zine and he’s the bard of paper four and shit
Actually, just read this Salon (I know, I know, it’s old!) article on the whole phenomenon, where Kunkel says all sorts of infuriatingly emosogynist things about gender relations. Here’s one gem:
“To really aggrandize these generalizations we’ve been making, you could claim that a great historical crossover has occurred, that a sense of tragic, dignified realism has become the [mark] of femininity while men have become head-in-the-clouds dreamers who want things to be ideal if they’re to be at all…If men respond to a post-industrial accident like losing their job in the same sort of way — that they just can’t believe that the world has disappointed them — that’s interesting. But you’d also want to praise one aspect of it: If men, by being unrealistic, dreamy or weak, are preserving a sense of how life should actually be lived, then good for them.”
A key figure in this movement is Paul Rudd, whose name I can’t actually type without “dreamy” before it. The Ruddaissance began with his self-mocking turn in Wet Hot American Summer, followed by Anchorman. He was even almost believable as the pathetic dumped guy (almost) in The 40 Year Old Virgin. Apparently he had bad skin in high school so he went on Accutane. OMG me too Paul! His favorite musician is Tom Waits! OMG just like Scarjo!
Rudd’s comeback crests with Knocked Up. His performance as Judd Apatow’s marital passive aggression is flawless. The chemistry between Rudd and Rogen is the best in the film, which sort of demonstrates David Denby’s point.
Talking is the primary sexual act of any movie, and the fact that the men all light up in each other’s company and shut down in women’s doesn’t help make the love stories believable.The men need to be civilized, and refuse to do it themselves. In every one of these films the women are forced into the role of taskmaster and inevitably rebelled against, which can’t be much fun for them. No wonder their characters often come off as shrill.
The indie movies are even more literal about the duality of the pre-evolved male. The Puffy Chair and Old Joy assign a character to play each side. Apparently within every dude exists a responsible sensitive male, and a Wooly Will Oldham yearning to blow off his pregnant wife, bust free, and drive out to Burning Man.
“Freedom! Freedom from female oppression! This is so aweso…wait this is kinda gay isn’t it”
In The Puffy Chair, this character’s name is Rhett and he looks like Matisyahu. The Duplass brother who acted was a little too Dane Cookish for my extra-subtle tastes. I could hear the Jack Blackisms and affectations in his joke delivery too easily. Nonetheless I thought the movie raised some good points, and accurately depicted how super annoying long-term couples can be. The baby voices totally raised my hackles.
In Old Joy the Will Oldham character is played by Will Oldham, who inhabits the role with such detail and skill, I felt like he was a friend who owed me money. The other thing that stayed with me from Old Joy is that you have to see Will Oldham’s balls for a split second, which gave me the epiphany that Will Oldham’s head kind of resembles a drooping testicle, which is appropriate given that just as testicles are full of yet to be born children, so Oldham’s head is full of yet to be born songs.
Diggers, Ken Marino’s period piece about Long Island fisherman in the seventies explores some of the same issues, but the female characters are way more fleshed out and there’s some class difference thrown in for good measure. I always seem to like these movies that take a traditional nineties style indie and set it in the seventies. The other examples I can think of right now are Scotland, PA and The Squid and The Whale. It’s like by evoking the halcyon character-based films of the seventies they turn the nostalgia meter up to eleven.
Diggers is also a bonanza of super sexy repertory players from nineties indie films. Josh Hamilton, Chris Eigeman, and Jeremy Davies are the holy trinity of squinty-eyed thinky-lookin nineties indie dude actors. All the roles they would have once gotten are now given automatically to Peter Saarsgard. Josh Hamilton, who starred in one of my favorite talky nineties indies The House Of Yes is the only one represented in Diggers, and he gets to play the most fun role. He’s the druggie burn-out of the friend pack, which seems way logical now that the internet tells me he went to Brown.
“I love you man.” “No, I love YOU man.”
Ron Eldard is super well cast as the douchey ladies’ man who starts schtupping Rudd’s sister. Eldard’s a former golden gloves boxer apparently, and an actual Long Island native. It also works in his favor that Rudd’s sister is played by Maura Tierney. Tierney’s having a career revival of her own, hooking up with the cool kids to be in Semi Pro and the Tina Fey mom-com Baby Mama. Hot lez/future 24 president Sarah Paulson is great as Marino’s long-suffering wife, and Lauren Ambrose takes the traditional Parker Posey role as the crazy haughty bitch.
There may be some truth to the Responsible Woman/Immature Guy meme, but it’s certainly not the only kind of relationship that exists. We all known plenty of Irresponsible Women and Responsible Men, which now that I think about it is the plot of all the Screwball Comedies I love so much.
In fact, if these movies made me sad about anything, it was not for the state of affairs between men and women but for men and their friendships. These movies are all really about homoerotic love, not sexual (except maybe Will Oldham’s) but just, the love a bro has for his bro. There’s a whole school of psychological thought that Homophobia has killed Western Friendships. It should also be noted that Plato, the namesake of Platonic Love, fucked little boys in the ass.
“Nothing. I was just rubbing some mud on the small of his back. What?”
“The more one has to assure oneself that one’s relationship with another man is not homosexual, the more conscious one becomes that it might be, and the more necessary it becomes to protect oneself against it. The result is that friendship gradually becomes impossible.”
– The Danish sociologist Henning Bech
All real friendships have a romantic element. The idea of being made anxious by attachment to friends is ridiculous to me, but I’m a girl. We have no hang-ups whatsoever about hugging or expressing our feelings for one another. I guess it’s just like, friendship is gay. It’s just not until you spend a weekend in the forest with them that you realize how gay it actually is.
(All of these pictures came from Time Magazine’s The Myth About Boys article. You might think it’s sort of unfair to homoeroticize these pictures. It’s only as bad as sexualizing underage girls, something our culture has been doing since, oh, the beginning of time. I can’t help it if these boys just love playing with each other!)
Molly Lambert is the Senior Editor of This Recording, and Foremost Expert On Everything, Ever.
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