Everyday Poetry: Paterson

PATERSON_D26_0049.ARW

(spoilers ahead)

Every morning, Paterson (Adam Driver), who lives in the town of Paterson, NJ, gets up. He goes to work (he’s a bus driver). He writes poetry. He comes home to his wife, Laura (Golshifteh Farahani), who always has a new project to show him. He takes the dog out for a walk. He goes to the bar, gets one beer, and talks to the owner, Doc. Rinse, wash, repeat.

In Paterson, one week in the life of Paterson is shown. How could this possibly be any more interesting than watching paint dry? I go to the movies for escape, not to watch some dude’s daily routine. How could watching seven days in a fictional character’s life be worthwhile?

Paterson reminded me of another low-key, almost drama-less indie that came out last year: Loving. I said in my review of that film about the famous Loving vs Virginia case, “(Loving) reminds me why not a lot of movies are made about introverts. It doesn’t matter how powerful those closeups of intense expressions are. It doesn’t matter how wonderful they are as role models… Quiet people simply do not have the onscreen charisma we are used to to entertain us. And I say this all as an introvert. A movie about me would not be entertaining in the least.”

Paterson is very Loving-like on the surface, minus the historical importance. It’s about Paterson, a quiet, kind, dutiful man, and his slightly more eccentric but equally as kind and lovable wife. They lead an unremarkable life, and are content. They’re even inter-racial like the Lovings, although this film does not treat that as anything but normal.

Loving doesn’t succeed as a movie because it takes what people see on the surface when it comes to quiet, calm, introverted people: silence and boredom. And that becomes the movie. (Not to say Loving doesn’t have good elements, it’s just underwhelming)

However, Paterson succeeds because it takes what goes on below the surface of quiet, calm, introverted people: observation, introspect, and a rich inner life. And that becomes the movie instead.

The cinematography of Paterson, richly done by Frederick Elmes, is Paterson’s inner monologue and observations. The shots of the shoes of people on the bus. The details of people’s knees touching. The layers of waterfalls and beers and faces and notebooks, are all  visual representations of Paterson’s brain. The brain of an artist works like that, and the film is able to capture a rich inner life visually with both simplicity and bravo.

The other thing that compels the character of Paterson to be beyond what is on the surface is Adam Driver’s performance. None of his moves seem calculated. He is simply inhabiting the body of Paterson, and exploring the world around him. It is beautiful to behold. He and Farahani are so lovable in the roles, that at the slightest bit of tension I was afraid something bigger would happen and I didn’t want them to get hurt.

Luckily for me, nothing did happen to them. Well, it seems like nothing bad happens to them. The climax of the film involves (spoiler) Paterson’s notebook of poetry being torn up by a dog. Nobody except his wife even knows about his poetry. Is that really climax-worthy?

While watching the scene, my mind rushed to the other writer’s-notebook-gets-destroyed scene from one of my favorite films, Little Women (1994). Little sister Amy rips up Jo’s notebook, and Jo (understandably, from a fellow writer’s perspective) viciously attacks her.

I held my breath as Paterson and Laura walked in to see the notebook. I waited for Paterson to explode into anger, or cry, or chase after the dog. Or at least Laura to do something.

But instead they just react. Paterson doesn’t get visibly upset, because it’s nobody’s fault. Laura tries to make him feel better, but there is nothing she can do.

So I let out my breath and relaxed. Nothing bad happened to them. It’s all okay. Until you start thinking about the whole movie, and realize that it’s not okay. This really is a climax. This really is a dramatic moment for the film. Just because it’s quiet and not overblown or even truly expressed, I just spent an hour and a half watching a week in Paterson’s life, just to to feel the pain of this moment, which in any other movie would not be felt at all.

Paterson is an ode to our own beautiful lives. No matter how ordinary, or routine, or small, what we do and how we act and how we interact with people around us matter. The more you observe it, the more poetic- whether sad or hopeful- it becomes. Our lives fuel our art and passions, so that itself gives it worth.

Paterson, like its lead, has more going on under the surface, and it’s dazzling in its own peculiar way.

-Madeleine D

#OscarsSoWhite 2015, #HollywoodSoToken 2016? Concussion + Race

Concussion, a 2015 film, was made to be an Awards contender. Biopic? About a controversial subject? A mainstream actor being serious? That would win in most years, However, after mixed reviews, Concussion was overshadowed completely with the #OscarsSoWhite controversy, a social media riot that pointed out that there were no actors of color in the Oscar nominees for the second year in a row. Suddenly, Concussion was brought back into the conversation, as it was cited with other “black films” that should have had nominations. Was Concussion snubbed? Meanwhile this year, Race, a biopic about Jesse Owens that has a lot of the above Oscar checklists, has already been forgotten about. Yet with diversity reforms in the Academy, will Race get a chance? Does it deserve one?

concussion-movie

Concussion tells the story of Dr. Bennet Omalu, an immigrant doctor from Nigeria who was the first to discover the effects of CTE in the NFL. Dr. Omalu is played by Will Smith, who is phenomenal in the role, so much so that I forgot he was Will Smith. His accent was consistent, he was subtle when he had to be, dramatic when need-be. The only flaw in the character is from the writing. Dr. Omalu is portrayed as perfect, a more American hero than Captain America. He never gives up, he always tells the truth, and he deals with abuse graciously and with integrity. He is the definition of inspiring, and that’s what makes the movie just a tad underwhelming.

The information in this film is very important. It’s not fun, but I think everyone needs to know about the effects of CTE and its consequences. However, the movie lacks the grit it needs. It has moments, it has scenes of greatness. But overall, the film doesn’t quite “go there,” making it seem like the filmmakers themselves don’t believe this is mandatory viewing.

Concussion is still a compelling movie, though. The heart of the film is the love story between Dr. Omalu and his wife Prema Mutiso (Gugu Mbatha-Raw), and the doctor’s faith. Dr. Omalu’s faith in God is never ridiculed by the movie and is shown to be his main source of strength, which is a really nice thing to see in a film.

race-movie

Race is the story of Jesse Owen’s journey to the 1936 Olympics, held in Pre-WW2 Berlin. The film starts with Jesse Owens (Stephen James) in college, training under Coach Larry Snyder (Jason Sudeikis). In biopic fashion, Jesse finds a not-racist coach who becomes a mentor figure and guides him towards greatness. In biopic fashion, he overcomes all odds to become a great athlete and awes the world in the Olympics. In biopic fashion… well, everything kinda happens in biopic fashion.

Race is very by-the-books. It reminded me of the 2013  film 42, starring Chadwick Boseman as Jackie Robinson and Harrison Ford as Branch Rickey, manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers. 42 is a fantastic movie, and I think Race could learn a few things from that film.

42 never shies away from the fact that racism was a daily struggle for Jackie Robinson. Race shows racism, but in a way that makes you feel angry, but never uncomfortable, which is something 42 makes sure to make you feel. Race rarely gets into the head of Jesse Owens. When it does, it’s great, and it’s a shame because there was potential there. 42 gets into the head of Jackie Robinson and Branch Rickey.

What I do admire about Race, though, is that it helped me understand why the Olympics and sports are so important. I’m not a sports person. I like the Olympics, but I’ve never understood quite why an athlete would dedicate their entire lives to spending mere minutes on the field. Race showed me the drive in athletes, what it means to them, and the politics behind the Olympics. I’m very glad it did, so as we gear up for the 2016 Brazil Olympics, I can be more appreciative of the event.

Race is well meaning, earnest, and a solid movie. But that isn’t enough. Race needs more to make it feel less like a really good TV movie and more like an important film everyone should see.

Now I’d like to address my initial questions. Are these Oscar-y films worth the attention of the academy? Personally, I think that if Matt Damon is going to be nominated for being an astronaut potato farmer, I think Will Smith should be nominated, too. I don’t think either film deserves anything more, though, as awards go.

Here is an interesting observation, though, that I’ve heard other places. Oscar bait movies about black people are almost exclusively about slavery or racism. Even this year’s most talked-about (but way too early to forecast) awards contender, The Birth of A Nation, is about slavery. Should #OscarsSoWhite really be about just having more black talent on screen (and we won’t even get into the discussion of how there has been an exclusion of other races. The 2016 Oscars were only about black actors, even making jokes at the expense of Asians)? Or should this discussion really be about making films about people of color the way films are made about white people? Last year, white actors were nominated for everything from being a pioneer, to being a transgender woman, and white actresses for being a shopkeeping girl to being an immigrant, while the last time a black actor was nominated and won was for playing a slave.

In the light of new diversity reforms, will a mediocre film get chosen simply because it’s “diverse?” Will movies like Race have a chance now? Because I think we should start holding all movies, “diverse” or not, to a higher standard, and include all people in those better movies. Would it have changed The Martian to have a black lead? Would it have killed Mad Max to have a Latina woman as Furiosa?

My point is, make films with diverse talent that isn’t just about slavery. Don’t forget about other races too, or we’ll have a #OscarsSoZebra. Don’t stop making quality films, including biopics and slavery films, but don’t assume they’ll win, and don’t assume they are the only place to use minority talent. And if you are going to make diversity reforms, get to the heart of the problem, and not the shallow stuff. This topic is super complex, and I haven’t even scratched the surface. I’m not the most qualified person to do so. But when I see a person on screen that I relate to strongly and feel connected to, that makes a world of difference. And I’m a white teenage girl, an audience that is being catered to more and more every day. I can’t imagine what it would be like to only see a person like yourself portrayed as a trope or token exclusively.

I hope one day I’ll be able to review films with minority leads without mentioning race (except if it’s in the title), but right now I have to, and we have to address it. I applaud these movies for not shying away from it either in their respective subjects, and I applaud all the filmmakers, black, Asian, Hispanic, white, male, or female- anyone who is trying to reflect the real world on screen.

-Madeleine D

Feminism in Film, 2015: Suffragette + The Intern

In 2015, two movies came out a month apart. Both were directed and written by women with strong feminist under (and over) tones. The first was The Intern, a comedy about a business woman and her new intern. The second was Suffragette, a British historical period drama, chronicling the early 20th century Suffragette movement. They are wildly different in tone and story, but both have significant correlating themes and messages.

Suffragette

suffragette

Directed by Sarah Gavron, Written by Abi Morgan

Suffragette is a story about a moral and political movement, told through the eyes of (fictional) Maud Watts (Carey Mulligan), a working class woman with a husband and son. Maud is slowly brought into the Suffragette movement, eventually giving up everything to be a footsoldier for the cause. Through the movie, she meets fictional (but inspired by real women) Edith Ellen (Helen Bonham Carter) and real-life figure Emmeline Pankhurst (Meryl Streep). Streep is only in the movie for two minutes, but her moral authority is significant; if Meryl Streep told me to go burn down a governor’s house, I would probably do it, too.

Suffragette is a beautifully crafted film. There is plenty of heart and earnestness in it. All the actors are wonderful. Carey Mulligan shines through as Maud. Her expressions say everything, and she has a powerful arc of fear to bravery. She never loses her humanity though, or her grip on the audience.

The only thing that is a drawback to this kind of approach of telling such a big movement through one person is that the scope is small. We don’t know anything about what other suffragettes are doing. We don’t know what causes Edith, or Emmeline Pankhurst, to join. We don’t see the beginnings or ends of the cause. It is also exclusive to working-class white women of the time, when in reality there were all sorts of women in England and all over the world fighting for the right to vote.

But as it worked in 2014’s Selma, having a narrow focus allows for more emotional connection. There were plenty of painful moments in the film, and seeing it through one person’s eyes made it even harder to watch.

I also want to appreciate how the movie didn’t villainize too many people. Yes, there were a couple of men in and out of the government who were actively against the women in the Suffragette movement. But those men made points that they were just following the law. They had been taught their whole lives that women were inferior. They didn’t know anything different. Many women felt that way too, that to be a suffragette meant not being a “good woman.” That just points to the greater enemy- systemic sexism and conditioning. Any film that is able to get to the heart of an issue, while still showing the complexities of the situation, is a fine one indeed. It’s more than just a good movie, it’s a painfully relevant one, and that makes it important.

The Intern

The-Intern

Written, Directed, and Co-Produced by Nancy Meyers

Ben Whittaker is a great guy. He’s well off. Competent. Loyal to a fault. Thoughtful and nurturing.

Jules Ostin is a bright young entrepreneur. She owns a fast-growing e-commerce clothing store. She’s creative and smart, and has enormous potential.

One day, Ben and Jules meet. They form a special bond, and soon realize they are just what the other needs.

Because Ben is a 70 year old retired widower who wants to intern for Jules, and Jules is struggling with her marriage and work and needs a confidant and friend. Oh, you thought this was a romantic comedy?

The Intern is a polished, sweet, aesthetically beautiful movie about life, business, and friendship. Anne Hathaway as Jules and Robert De Niro as Ben are both extremely likable and well-cast, with natural chemistry. The movie has nice messages about the importance of every generation, what they bring to the table and what they can learn. While there are some jokes about Ben’s technology skills, and the frivolity of youth, everyone ends up being well-respected by the end.

Nancy Meyers injects some interesting observations into the film. (Disclaimer: I haven’t seen any other Nancy Meyers movies, so I can’t compare the views shown in this movie to her other ones.) At one point in the film Jules observes that “girls have become women, and men have become boys,” pointing out the difference between Ben and her male colleagues. Long lost are the days of gentlemen.

This is an interesting view on how modern feminism has brought down men. Her husband is a stay-at-home dad, and (spoiler alert), is found to be having an affair. The movie never excuses this behavior, but it raises the question of, does this have anything to do with Jules’ absence and him not feeling like he’s living up to what it means to “be a man”?

I personally think that these are both worthwhile things to muse on, because modern feminism has gained a reputation for degrading men’s accomplishments in order to favor women’s, instead of simply shining an equal spotlight on both. Yet in the same movie, there are some contradictions. At one point, Ben tells a younger man to always carry a handkerchief for when women cry, (which at least two women do). Ben says, “I hate to be the feminist here,” which will rub some people the wrong way as a form of mansplaining. And the fact that Jules, while earnest, still totes a lot of the “overworked business woman” cliches is unnecessary.

It’s these, and a few other more spoilery things, that give me pause on The Intern. It has the right overall idea, but there are things here and there interjected into the movie that seem contradictory, or at least questionable. But on the other hand, our world is just as confused about feminism as this movie is, and if it’s supposed to be portraying real life, then I guess it is successful. But this has a whole lot of shine and convenience for a realistic movie.

Now I would like to draw some comparisons between these two 2015 Fall releases. Suffragette is about the beginning of feminism, and The Intern is about how we use it today. The Intern has some conflicting ideas about feminism, reflecting on the push and pull of the modern movement. Suffragette shows that at no point in time were these issues easy, or these rights achieved without compromise. Some women in the suffragette movement did some terrible things. Maybe for a good cause, but does that justify it?

For those who are uncomfortable with feminism, especially being labeled as a feminist, I am completely sympathetic. Modern feminism is associated with some unfortunate things (just like any broad movement), and is often most viewed through the voices of radical feminists. I understand not wanting to be associated with those things. But the idea that men and women are equal is what needs to be told through our media, even if it’s not under the umbrella of being called “feminist.”

That’s why it is important to evaluate these kinds of movies. Just because a movie has a “strong female character,” is about women, is directed by a woman, doesn’t mean it’s feminist. A movie that isn’t directed or “starring” a woman isn’t necessarily not feminist (i.e, Mad Max: Fury Road). We have to evaluate a movie on its art and message. It’s difficult to have these conversations. It’s tiring and frustrating, especially in this age of social media. But it is more important to have these conversations than to not. How else are we supposed to get anywhere? How are we supposed to get to a point where we don’t have to evaluate a movie based on its gender politics, Bechdel Test results, or the gender of the people behind the camera without starting the movement towards that? A place where movies don’t have to carry an agenda. But for now, we have to, and I applaud movies like these that take up the challenge of being conversation starters.

-Madeleine D