Everybody got your movies watched? It’s time to share! This is a week fraught with emotion for most of us, as it’s the week celebrating both the creation and demise of The Dissolve, the site which gave us birth and blazed all too briefly; we celebrate here to prove that there is still somewhere a place for thoughtful film writing on the internet. Even if, you know, it isn’t monetized here.
I gave Pico Candleshoe, that Disney delight of teenaged Jodie Foster, because it summons childhood for me, and our theme was time. I can still imagine the Disney Channel commercial for it and the excitement with which my sisters and I greeted its all-too-seldom appearances. Then, years later, it became one of the first movies I bought on DVD and therefore represents another summer, this one something of a suspended adolescence. Also the time I realized that, yes, I really could use the internet to find things I thought everyone but me had forgotten.
As for my own viewing, Cookie Monster gave me High Art, and I’m afraid I didn’t like it as much as he does.
Plotting the Curve
This is the third movie I’ve seen by director Lisa Cholodenko, and it is definitely damning it with faint praise to say that it’s the one I’ve liked best. Then again, as I frankly loathe The Kids Are Alright, “I guess this one isn’t terrible” is a lot better. As for Laurel Canyon, well, I remember disliking it but mostly because one of the main characters reminded me so powerfully of a good friend’s mother who I dislike on the excellent grounds that she’s emotionally abused that friend. (My friend always starts out disputing that phrasing until I start listing, then she thanks me for reminding her again, lest she start letting her mother do it again.) Though it is also the movie that made me really start crystallizing my thinking about “Mythic Los Angeles,” so at least it had that going for it?
Syd (Radha Mitchell) is a beautiful young woman who has just been promoted to assistant editor of a high-art photography magazine. The receptionist (I’m not actually sure) asks what she did to get the job, and frankly, it feels as though they’re just embarrassed to keep calling her an intern while still giving her intern’s work. Her boyfriend, James (Gabriel Mann), feels the same way. At any rate, one day, she’s taking a bath and notices a serious leak coming from the crack in the ceiling, so she goes upstairs to see if she can figure out what’s going on, because calling a plumber would be expensive. And so she meets the people living there, who turn out to be retired photographer Lucy Berliner (Ally Sheedy) and essentially retired actress Greta I’m Sure She Had A Last Name (Patricia Clarkson). They are strung out and doing nothing. Syd doesn’t recognize Lucy’s name, but when it turns out Lucy is famous, her boss (David Thornton) is certainly eager to take the credit for rediscovering the woman whose name he hadn’t even known.
The problem is that I didn’t like much of anyone in this movie. Lucy’s mother (Tammy Grimes) tells Lucy that she’s too passive, and she’s right. Greta is awful and won’t stop talking about Fassbinder and accuses other people of being vain for answering her questions. Syd is a bit of a cipher. I don’t have anything bad to say about James, but I don’t really have much good to say about him, either; he does spend more time worrying about Syd’s job title and income than her happiness. Greta’s friends seem to me to be taking advantage of Greta, but of course Greta is living on Lucy’s money anyway. Harry, Lucy’s boss, is a terrible mansplainer.
I also, to be honest, have limited patience with the drug use. Syd gets annoyed when it bothers James that she “did a line of heroin,” and she keeps saying, “It’s just a line.” But I’m one of those people who thinks, “Actually yes, that is something to be upset about.” Especially since she was snorting heroin with Lucy instead of going somewhere she was supposed to go with him. Syd comes into a room at one point and, uninvited and without asking, snorts off a mirror that Greta and Lucy always have sitting out with apparently heroin on it, and I can’t help thinking that’s dreadfully rude. I mean, I’m hardly an expert, but that’s really rude, right?
But when I put together what other movies by the same director I’d seen, it no longer surprised me. Because one thing that bothered me about the other two movies—both of which were also written by her—was how the characters persisted in making terrible decisions that the movie seemed to think were perfectly normal, if wrong. What’s more, all three movies involved infidelity that went against what a character already believed about their sexuality. I get that it happens, but I don’t like that it happened three times in three movies and that, in all three movies, the infidelity happened or at least almost happened before the character had a conversation about it with their actual partner. Maybe it’s prudish of me. But it’s uncomfortable to me that no one in any of these movies seems capable of honest dialogue with the person they’re ostensibly sharing a life with.