In Which The Advice Springs Forward In All Directions

Hard to Say is This Recording’s weekly advice column. It will appear every Wednesday until the Earth perishes in a fiery blaze, or until North West turns 40. Get no-nonsense answers to all of your most pressing questions by writing to justhardtosay@gmail.com or by dropping us a note at our tumblr.

Hi,

Through an online dating website I recently met a woman, Ellen, who has just gotten out of her marriage of two years several months ago. At first I was hesitant to pursue things with Ellen thinking it would get complicated. We have a great connection, but it is not easy to handle the presence of someone else in her life with whom she has a long, shared history. Further complicating the situation is the fact that he actively tries to get her back. More recently, she spent an entire night sobbing when he sent her a long letter.

Honestly, I’m tempted to tell her to contact me once these issues sort themselves out. On the other hand, I do feel something with her I haven’t with other women so sticking it out does have its appeal. What should I do?

Michael S.

Michael,

Participants in the degrading, sexist institution we call marriage have every incentive to stay in their committed, legal union. The tax breaks are just insane, and the thrill of unprotected sex pretty much never goes away. I am sort of joking, but sort of not.

When a woman leaves her marriage, it means that she is really not having it. There is one key exception to this situation — when her husband cheats. Then things are kind of up in the air because forgiving him is very possible and you could end up on the outside of this situation rather quickly.

Assuming that is not the cause of the divorce, you’re probably in a far more stable situation than you imagined. Most women aren’t going to jump into another relationship after something this serious goes haywire, so if she is sticking around, she isn’t just experimenting and probably has actual feelings for you. If you are there for her during this difficult time — and not just as a pillow — she will remember that kindness.

On the other hand, if she starts having all night talks with her ex, you are free to express your disapproval and disassociate until she does.

Hi,

I recently met a guy, Aiden, through some mutual friends who is attractive, confident and fun to be around. The only concern I have is that he insists on meeting up at concerts that are frequently loud. He usually drinks to excess, and while he is great fun under these circumstances, the entire night is rather exhausting for a weekday. 

Maybe this kind of thing would have appealed to me when I was in my early twenties, but we’re both in our early thirties and the idea of being a sweaty mess every time I see Aiden is a disturbing project. On occasion we will do other things, but it seems this is his idea of fun and he goes to two or three shows a week.

Marjorie W.

Dear Marjorie,

Compatibility means that you enjoy doing the same things at the same times, like going to shul on the high holidays, or interchanging each other’s limbs so you can feed each other bagels chock full of gluten. Couples require these shared activities, or else they will begin to resent one another. The fact that you are already resenting Aiden’s choice of fun this early on in the relationship is maybe not the best sign.

You will then wonder, will he grow out of what he enjoys? It’s not impossible to do so, but since music is a wonderful expression of the soul, it would be hard to imagine he will suddenly enjoy listening to it performed. Maybe if you got him a really great stereo.

Illustrations by Mia Nguyen.

In Which We Generally Keep Everything Light

Enthusiasm Curbed

by ALEX CARNEVALE

Joshy
dir. Jeff Baena
93 minutes

Screen Shot 2016-08-16 at 10.57.28 AMRather than marry Josh (Thomas Middleditch), Rachel (Alison Brie) hangs herself with his belt from a door on his birthday. In Jeff Baena’s second feature, Joshy, no one seems particularly upset about this. (Rachel had recently had sex with her fiancé and found it profoundly unsatisfying.) His friends decide to throw him the bachelor party in Northern California that they had planned despite this. Josh’s buds are similarly unhappy:

— Adam (Queen of Earth director Alex Ross Perry) was recently dumped by his girlfriend of ten years for being too clingy

— Ari (Adam Pally) is somewhat bored with his marriage and when he meets Jodi (Jenny Slate) they talk about how Jewish they both are

— Eric (Nick Kroll) is Nick Kroll.

It emerges that every single person at the party recently dated a woman with a Jewish name. “You are meant to be happy,” screams Greg (Brett Gelman), the only individual there for the weekend who doesn’t realize that Josh’s bride-to-be suffocated herself to death.

What is most surprising about this mostly improvised film is how completely dull it is. Nick Kroll tries to liven things up by mugging his way through every scene, and it quickly becomes apparent that he is the most masculine of anyone present, setting something of a low bar. As the bachelor party goes on, erstwhile director Ross Perry/Adam explains the particulars of time travel paradoxes. “We’re living in what’s called the alpha timeline,” he suggests. “We’re waiting for a momentous event which has yet to occur.”

Ari and Jodi have the exact same haircut, and when Ari cheats on his girlfriend their curls touch. Adam Pally is high for most of Joshy, a decision which restricts his innate likability to a soft disgust. The fact that he is unfaithful makes things even worse. All we want is someone exactly like us, Joshy suggests, and when we realize that this is not the case we turn back.

In the morning Joe Swanberg and his wife show up with their five year old son. Eric hides the bongs and the cocaine. Swanberg immediately takes over the mantle as the most masculine of the group, and Nick Kroll’s Eric is feminized by his simple presence. Swanberg’s facial hair alone is the most important cinematic aspect of Joshy, he is also twice the performer of anyone involved in this project. He looks like if Chris Hemsworth passed on steroids for a full calendar year.

Swanberg leaves immediately after breakfast when he and Eric fight, and before everyone takes mushrooms. Northern California is fuzzy and overcast; the weather is as improvised as the dialogue. In the fog you can’t see anything, really. Eric hires strippers but Adam just ends up talking with one of them about how he resembles her stepdad. The various mid-life crises dealt with by these boy-men take over completely and Joshy becomes incredibly depressing.

The music of Joshy is the real highlight. An original score by Devendra Banhart plays over the various arguments. Rachel’s parents accuse Josh of killing her and try to tape his confession, others fight over the various sex workers that visit this bachelor retreat, and Ari’s internal struggles over his infidelity rotate around Banhart’s drifting guitar loops.

Baena (Life After Beth) never delves more specifically into any of the character’s dilemmas, giving Joshy more of a realistic feel. There is no greater moment of catharsis, and the interplay between those who know each other and those who don’t is roughly the same. History, even the memories between people, have vanished in this awful place.

Women are absolutely on the outside here, but not in a way that seems purposeful or distracting. They are just other people, and so these men might easily be as feminine as their wives and girlfriends. At the center of the loss, Middleditch doesn’t get very much screen time, and the lame hijinks that surround him don’t seem to mitigate his grief any. As in life, he is just left with a mess of emotions and no outlet for them whatsoever. Hormones belong to everyone.

Alex Carnevale is the editor of This Recording.

In Which Women Are Rarely Found Around The Rock

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Wear and Tear

by DICK CHENEY

Ballers
creator Stephen Levinson
HBO

Since Ballers is usually a term that refers to people living life well, it is strange that it does not seem to apply to anyone on this show. Spencer Strasmore (Dwayne Johnson) is a deeply unhappy ex-football player trying to represent athletes in the greater Miami area. The Rock is just 44, but due to decades of wear and tear on his body from life as a professional wrestler, he looks considerably older. The fact that he is so completely hairless makes him resemble something like a cross between Lord Varys and the Predator.

In the ring, The Rock was not much of an artist. When he looked to transition to acting, he did the only sensible thing, which was take as many lessons as he could. His first major foray into this new art form was a role in the 2002 action romp, The Scorpion King. Christ was he bad in this movie, giving absolutely no indication that even fourteen years later he could manage the role of Spencer Strasmore, as close to his own background as that part is.

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Wrestlers, in Vince McMahon’s world, are classified as independent contractors. This is the immoral way that a company with a billion dollar valuation gets away with not paying for their employees’ travel and lodging on a grueling road schedule that keeps them away from their families for almost three hundred days a year. Being a football player requires a lot less work comparatively, although depending on how hard you are hit, it can be even more dangerous.

The Rock did not like to be hit, but he never minded doling out the punishment. In a tragic night at the 1998 Royal Rumble, he got overly excited and bashed a chair into the skull of his opponent more than twenty times, causing a severe concussion that would end the man’s career a few years later and permanently scar him for life. It was these disturbing moments that turned The Rock into Dwayne Johnson — he never planned to take such risks with his own body and saw the chance as a safer, more lucrative career.

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Still, the fact that men (his father Rocky Johnson and his maternal grandfather Peter Maivia) on both sides of his family tree were huge stars in that industry keep him coming back. The Rock’s last professional wrestling match was three years ago. He tore his tendons from his pelvis in a match with John Cena. The months off in rehab delayed shooting on his next film. Brett Ratner’s version of the Hercules myth did well overseas, making $244 million on a budget of $100 million. For the role Johnson received $10 million; substantially more than his payoff for that year’s Wrestlemania. The movie was shit.

It is in fact hard to think of a movie Dwayne Johnson has starred in that was actually any good. The Fast and Furious films are so completely painful and devoid of any inspiration whatsoever that they certainly make Johnson stand out as the only interesting aspect of them. Comedy should suit him, but for some reason he was the straight man in this year’s Central Intelligence: watching Kevin Hart act is painful enough.

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Despite the fact that all his projects are garbage, Johnson has improved so much as a performer. This was inevitable, as the innate charisma he possesses was only waiting for the right role. Spencer Strasmore is this role. The main relationship in Ballers is the friendship between Johnson’s Strasmore and his partner Joe (Rob Corddry). It is fun to watch the normally spastic Corddry portray more of a laid, back realistic character, and he was the absolute best part of the Hot Tub Time Machine duology, where his acting chops were sorely underused.

The two are so good together in Ballers that you ignore how painful is it to watch an ancient Andy Garcia mug for the camera as their antagonist, Andre. The rest of the largely African-American cast completes Johnson far better. As Dolphins general manager, Dulé Hill is magnificent in a role that plays to all his strengths, and John David Washington is almost as compelling as Johnson himself in the role of a Dolphins wide receiver.

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The weakest part of the show is its realism. Ballers presents itself as a behind-the-scenes type look, but it never approaches any of the excess that might shock or appall viewers. It is more about how everyone involved in this disturbing industry of destroying black mens’ brains and paying them on non-guaranteed contracts is actually not terrible.

Wrestlers never had a union, because they never had the leverage for one. Their general mistreatment is a ghastly unreported story, but the responsibility the NFL players union abdicated should be a worse one. In every other sport, contracts are fully guaranteed. The NFL is as popular and successful financially as all of those other disciplines combined. You can feel that the particulars of this absurd situation are toned down because of HBO’s pre-existing relationship with the NFL, but Ballers highlights some of these wretched moments despite that.

The most depressing moments in Ballers are more subtle. Strasmore’s girlfriend Stephanie (Taylor Cole) barely ever sees him and the two have intercourse even less. Strasmore has no love in his life, and it is unclear whether or not Strasmore is even capable of intercourse given the amount of painkillers he subsists on. The Rock seems so sad now.

Dick Cheney is the senior contributor to This Recording.

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In Which You’re The Worst Is Just The Best

Why Don’t You Take It?

by ETHAN PETERSON

You’re the Worst
creator Stephen Falk
FXX

There is a moment during the tumultuous second season of the brilliant comedy You’re the Worst where Jimmy (Chris Geere) is about to cheat on his girlfriend with the woman who owns the bar closest to his home, Nina (Tessa Ferrer). He mounts her on the bar’s counter and politely asks if he can suck on her toes while he’s inside her. She presents ten bruised and battered digits, casualties of her bronze-medal winning run as an Olympic skier. He is aghast, but attempts to forge forward. Noticing his reaction, she demurs. “A second ago,” she explains, “I was going to let you raw dog me on my own bar.”

Jimmy is very far from the worst, which makes the unconscionable title of Stephen Falk’s series about unhappiness inaccurate at best and wildly misleading at, um, worst. He doesn’t end up cheating on his live-in paramour, Gretchen (Aya Cash).

Before I met my fiancée, I dated a charming woman. Once we were walking through a park near the Brooklyn Bridge and I stopped to take a picture. She had this judgmental smirk on her face, since undoubtedly many people had paused in this same space in order to record a similar moment. “I try not to be basic,” she told me, and I immediately wondered why anyone would want to try not to enjoy something.

In season one of You’re the Worst, Gretchen and Jimmy are increasingly similar to this woman I met. She was unhappy with the way others experienced the world: it had some kind of invisible, dehabilitating effect on how much she was able to enjoy Earth and mankind. I told her honestly that I never thought about anyone else unless I had a good reason to do so.

Geere and Cash make a very believable couple; and yet there is something vaguely wrong and substantially off about their relationship. You can see that while some aspects of being together come very naturally, others are clumsy and more than a little harmful to both of their egos. Ultimately they are not really a good match, but they have the unique compatibility of not being very palatable to others unlike themselves.

Cash’s performance as the clinically depressed Gretchen is the emotional heart of You’re the Worst. In comparison, Geere comes across as happy-go-lucky when he complains about the direction of his career as a novelist or his interpersonal failures. Gretchen’s sadder journey resulted in an astonishing scene this past season where she broke up a fight outside a radio station by whipping out a handgun. “I felt nothing,” she tells her friend Lindsey (Kether Donaghue) after the frightening moment.

Lindsey is divorced from her husband Paul, and endlessly pursued by Jimmy’s roommate Edgar (Desmin Borges). The subplots involving Jimmy and Gretchen’s friends always seemed a bit atonal from the main thrust of the series, but this changed with the introduction of the show’s best secondary character, Dorothy (Collette Wolfe). Edgar meets Dorothy when he takes an improv class at a local theater where she is an instructor. There is something so comforting about a relationship where one person has all the power, and uses it only for good.

In Jimmy and Gretchen’s relationship, it becomes increasingly unclear who has command of the ship, or whether there is a captain at all. Jimmy’s reaction to Gretchen’s bizarrely delayed disclosure of her clinical depression is meant to be typical — misunderstanding her condition, he attempts to thinks of ways that he can snap her out of this funk. At times such a storyline could begin to approach the tenor of an afterschool special, but the intermitted emotional and nonemotional way these two brilliant actors exchange their affection transcends the awkwardness of the subject matter.

Season two of You’re the Worst was such magnificent television that despite the show’s niche audience Falk was given the go-ahead on a third season, which debuts on August 31st. Hopefully Netflix will pick this show up afterwards, since its genius eclipses the tired formulas of last two shows Falk worked on, Weeds and Orange is the New Black. (Some old episodes of You’re the Worst can be streamed on Amazon Prime.) Whereas before the show seemed to belong to Jimmy and the immensely charismatic Geere, Gretchen’s illness has allowed Aya Cash to make You’re the Worst the stage for the best performance by a single woman since Mary Tyler Moore. Love is all around.

Ethan Peterson is the senior contributor to This Recording. He is a writer living in Manhattan.


In Which We Always Elevate The Star Of Another

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Not Complaining

by ALEX CARNEVALE

for Michael S. Harper

In 1957, Ralph Ellison told his second wife Fanny McConnell that their marriage had been a disappointment to him.

Ralph and Fanny met thirteen years earlier. She was slightly older, still gorgeous, having changed the spelling of her name from Fannie to Fanny as a way of putting the sexual abuse by her stepfather behind her. She had studied theater at the University of Iowa after transferring from Fisk College in Nashville. Due to Jim Crow laws she was never allowed onstage.

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Disillusionment came to Fanny quickly. When she enrolled at Fisk, she told her mother, “I think I am the best looking girl in the freshman class. I am going to make it my business be one of the smartest too.” She transferred from Fisk to Iowa, where she was even unhappier at the larger, almost all-white school. Chicago treated her no better.

Fanny’s first husband was the drizzling shits; her second husband ran off to join the 366th infantry and decided he liked it a lot better than his wife. She lost her job at the Chicago Defender for no reason and found Washington D.C. to be the most racist city she had been to yet.

In New York, she took a position at the National Urban League. It was here that she met Ralph Ellison, who, she wrote, was “the lonely young man I found one sunny afternoon in June.” In reality, the two were introduced by mutual friend Langston Hughes. Their first date occurred at Frank’s Restaurant in Harlem.

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Ralph encouraged his new girlfriend to read Malraux. He was planning a novel about a black man dropped into a Nazi prison camp, who would rally the group together before perishing as a martyr. It was meant to be “an ironic comment upon the ideal and realistic images of democracy.”

Three months after they kissed, Fanny moved into Ralph’s apartment at 306 W. 141st Street. She could not tell anyone she lived there, since she would have been fired from her job if they knew. Soon after, she left for Chicago to finalize her divorce papers. Ellison panicked that she would not come back. She had barely hit city limits when he telegrammed, YOUR SILENCE PREVENTING WORK. WIRE ME EVEN IF MIND CHANGED. Fanny replied, NOTHING HAS CHANGED. I AM THE SAME AND LOVE YOU.

When she returned to New York, Fanny was so happy she chanced an enema and threw out her old clothes. They adopted a puppy, a Scottish terrier named Bobbins. The two were rarely apart in the years that followed.

World War II ended, but Ralph’s own battles continued. They spent part of that summer after their marriage in Vermont, where among the detritus of backwards New England, Fanny’s husband developed the basic concept of Invisible Man. Ralph found it difficult to write in Harlem, so he rented a shack in scenic Long Island that served as his office. The rent took up most of his savings, and Fanny’s job at a housing authority provided the rest of what they had. The two were married quietly in August 1946.

At the same time as Ellison was putting down roots, his friend Richard Wright was leaving America for Paris, exhausted by the insults an invective marriage to a white woman had brought into his life. In Paris, Wright would have powerful friends in the expatriate community; Ellison had already found these resources in America.

With Fanny by his side, Ralph hoped for the kind of acclaim and financial security of which he had long dreamed. In order to really get down to completing Invisible Man, he plotted a sabbatical from his wife in Vermont where he could finally wrap up the novel. He took Bobbins and their new dog, Red, with him. He missed his wife intensely: “To paraphrase myself, I love you, write me, I’m lonely, and envious of your old lovers who for whatever pretext, have simply to walk up the street to see you.”

Fanny wrote back, “My dear, all my former lovers are dead. I don’t even remember who they were.”

Ralph encouraged Fanny to spend the time writing, which she had done for the stage in Chicago at the Negro Theater. In New York she was expected to keep up relationships with Ralph’s wealthy white friends, who enjoyed parading her around a bit too much.

OeZxDxuBy the time Ralph made it back from Vermont where he was basically the only black man in a small college town, Invisible Man was yet to be completed. Fanny felt major pressure to produce a child. At 38 this would have been difficult, and Ralph was resolutely against adoption. Still, she could not conceive despite fertility treatments at the Sanger Bureau. Frustrated with his wife, Ralph pretended to seek other intimacy without ever consummating it.

He took out on Fanny his anger at not being able to complete the book, at what he felt was a token role in a white-dominated literary world. All this he also channeled into his writing. When a friend offered the use of an office in Manhattan’s diamond district, Ralph gladly accepted. Perched in a window that looked out on Radio City Music Hall, passerby were often scandalized to see a black man smoking at a typewriter.

By 1949 Ralph had to abandon his temporary office, but Invisible Man, after so long, seemed close to being finished. An excerpt published in the magazine Horizon heightened anticipation for the book and elevated Ralph’s star, pushing him to complete the final manuscript. Fanny did much of the typing as he revised, focusing the text by eliminating an Othello-like subplot.

Manhattan seemed a more hospitable place than ever. In these last months of putting together the book, Ralph would do anything to distract himself from saying it was done; he even constructed an entire amplifier from parts to avoid working on it. Fanny gave him the space he needed: husband and wife were on more solid ground. Finally, with a new agent and new publisher, Invisible Man appeared on store shelves on April 14, 1952.

“We feel these days,” Fanny wrote to Langston Hughes, “as if we are about to be catapulted into something unknown — of which we are both hopeful and afraid.”

Alex Carnevale is the editor of This Recording.

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In Which We Cannot Begin To Understand Fully

Hard to Say is This Recording’s weekly advice column. It will appear every Wednesday until the Earth perishes in a fiery blaze, or until North West turns 40. Get no-nonsense answers to all of your most pressing questions by writing to justhardtosay@gmail.com or by dropping us a note at our tumblr.

Hi,

My friend Michael recently moved to New York. Naturally we have met up a few times, and I recently introduced him to my girlfriend Lenai. Michael is very good at making a first impression, and he surely did so on Lenai. She thinks he is great and wants to hang out with him often. Unfortunately I know that Michael was not quite as fond of my partner as I was, and he has made it clear that he would prefer we just interact on a one-on-one basis for the most part.

This makes thing awkward, since in other to see Michael I would have to explain to Lenai why she is not really wanted. And I have no answer to the question Lenai poses about why we are not seeing him more. I feel strongly that the truth js not really an option here, but I could also see any deception backfiring and I don’t want to ruin what I have with Lenai. Please help.

Edwin K.

Edwin,

You need to find a naturally combative situation that will pit Michael against Lenai in a circumstance that will lead Lenai to not want to interact with Michael again of her own volition. You presumably know her values better than I do, but issues of conflict are often the plausibility of anal, the sexism of Bernie Sanders, and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. (I once was dumped by a woman for telling her that Ariel Sharon was a gr8 man.)

If Michael intrinsically dislikes Lenai, conflict will emerge sooner or later. Get him very drunk or high on whippets. Some people are just assholes on whippets.

The real backfire you should be worried about is that Michael changes his mind, since you do not seem to be working all that hard to get these two to enjoy each other’s company. Pushing people further apart sometimes brings them closer together

Hi,

How much time is normal to spend on the phone with your significant other? I ask because I have been dating a girl I will call Angela for about eight months. Things are going well. In the early days of the relationship, I would call her a lot and we would sometimes have “erotic discussions” over the phone. (She was away for the semester in Brazil.)

Now we see each other a lot and there doesn’t seem to be as much of a need for long conversations on the phone since the “getting to know you, getting to know all about you” period is over. Despite this, Angela expects a phone conversation of over an hour most days. I’d rather use this time on other things so that I don’t have to be doing other things when I’m spending actual, in person time with her. Am I wrong to feel this way?

Allen C.

Dear Allen,

Most people have their phones all the time now. The answering machine was a magnificent invention rendered obsolete by the shortsightedness of the human race. What you need is an ironclad reason why you would not be using your phone at a given time that enables you to ignore a certain percentage of Angela’s calls. Physical pain from holding the phone should waylay Angela for a bit while we find what she really needs: another phone partner.

In fact, maybe you should find her a new boyfriend, since you seem unwilling to do what’s required of you.

But seriously, if you just pretend that you have tinnitus, lie about a trip to the doctor you took, explain that he recommended short phone calls for the safety of your ears and long hand jobs for the safety of your penis region, this problem should fall by the side rather quickly.

Hey,

My boyfriend Aaron and I have been seeing each other for six months after meeting on Tinder. He is something of a nervous guy at times, never more so than when we are being intimate. He is extremely well-endowed so has nothing to worry about on that front. Still, he gets a little anxious and as we start, begins narrating every aspect of what is happening. The amount of apologies on offer is amazing, but quickly gets old. If my head is accidentally bumped he will stop completely and ask me if I am OK. Once, completely unprompted, he left to get me ice.

I have tried to talk to Aaron about this, but even after I explained, he looks verbally constipated during sex and I can tell he’s not himself. Is it possible to get him over this hump?

Lucianne R.

Dear Lucianne,

I despise puns.

Some men are brought up to think women are very delicate. At the same time, they ignore pretty clear evidence that Angelina Jolie keeps the souls of the men she couples with. Do you think she was like, “Hey Brad, I’m heading for your anus” on that fateful first date? Some things are better when you don’t know about them beforehand, like Ellie Goulding and the Batmobile.

I suggest physical intervention in this case. Aaron won’t shut up, but he probably wants to, so put your finger on his lips and shush him as you take over. Failing that, cover his mouth and nostrils tightly. When he begs for his life, remind him, “I thought I told you to close your trap.”

If you are keen on a more psychological approach, tell him a story about a friend named Marcia Hamsbottom who had an ex-husband who would not stop quoting The Big Lebowski, no matter how many times she told him she hated it. If he says that the name Hamsbottom sounds made-up, wonder aloud how he has not heard of RCA recording artist Duracell Hamsbottom. I think he was in Outkast?

Illustrations by Mia Nguyen.

 

 

In Which Our Mother Was A Mila Kunis Of Sorts

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Snow White

by ELEANOR MORROW

Bad Moms
dir. Jon Lucas & Scott Moore
100 minutes

Amy Mitchell (Mila Kunis) finds her husband (David Walton) cheating on her with an Ukranian camgirl. They masturbate together because his wife is really busy, even though she only works part time since her two children, Jane and Dylan, have zero in the way of friends or hobbies. No Jewish woman has ever named her children Jane and Dylan, but society has forced Mila Kunis to renounce her faith and become a gentile version of herself.

After she decides to be a “Bad Mom,” Kunis’ choices involve: reading the newspaper, going to the movies, and eating before paying in the supermarket. She talks to her friends Kiki (Kristen Bell) and Carla (Kathryn Hahn) about how they are kind of mystified by what uncircumsized penises required. In every significant way, these are women who have never made any emotional choices since they were teenagers.

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This is what men imagine women are like: they have no internal agency beyond reappropriating montage sequences from The Hangover where they get wasted and forget about what are ostensibly the most important people in their entire life, their children.

Yet a certain amount of dissatisfaction with the world they live in is probably appropriate. There is one person of color in Bad Moms, and she is Jada Pinkett Smith. Actually, Mila Kunis’ couples counselor is played by Wanda Sykes, who is forced to wear a gigantic afro for some reason, and the principal of the school is Wendell Pierce for what can charitably be referred to as a Holy Trinity of tokenism.

In the promotional material for Bad Moms, Jada Pinkett Smith was awarded the title “Judgy Mom,” I guess because she has short hair. By the end of Bad Moms, the chief antagonist Gwendolyn (Christina Applegate) takes all of her former enemies on her husband’s private jet, but Jada Pinkett Smith does not even get to go along — presumably because she is too judgy. At the prospect of flying on a tiny black plane that looks perilously unsafe, the women get incredibly giddy, like they have never been more than a few feet above the ground.

After she finds out that her husband has been cheating on her, Mila Kunis has basically no reaction. She sort of knocks over the computer monitor and kicks him out of the house. She never cries, or even tells her children what happened. She tells her friends, but explains that things had not been great for awhile and that there was not a lot of sex. What was the excuse for this? She works at a coffee start-up.

Maybe Bad Moms just exists to brainwash women into thinking going to the movies and paying $12 for a ticket to these inspirational, regressive messages created by men is the way to exorcise their basic unhappiness. I recently read the memoir I’m Not Okay: Turning Heartbreak Into Happily Never After by Andi Dorfman which has made me consider these issues more deeply. It was truly disturbing how much Andi’s reaction to men was shaped by the other men in her life, whether it be her father’s appraisal of her potential partners or just others guys she had dated in her life.

I’m Not Okay: Turning Heartbreak Into Happily Never After has a lot more to say about what makes women happy than Bad Moms. There’s this moment where Andi gets really upset with this guy she is about to sleep with because he asks her whether she wants to “make love” or “fuck.” She responds, “Umm…make love,” and the whole thing goes south from there. Later, she sees his apartment and it is in no way as great as she described, and she realizes she does not want to fuck him any longer. I was truly in awe that someone would ever admit to being this superficial.

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My point is that even the most banal story told by an actual woman holds about 1000x more weight than anything in Bad Moms. Just the choice to cast Kristen Bell as a shrinking wallflower who is forced by her husband to have sex with every Friday is handled with an astonishing lack of grace. I mean, it was not okay to casually include a rape subplot in this suburban comedy.

Dressing Kristen Bell up in unattractive clothing that she would never wear feels so fake. Even though Mila Kunis is a mother now, we never really see her as one in Bad Moms. The way she talks to her kids as if they were these precocious little balls of happiness she has to coax forwards is so completely unbelievable that she instantly loses all credibility as a mother.

Eleanor Morrow is the senior contributor to This Recording.

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