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Classic Recordings
Robert Altman Week

Tuesday
Jul292014

In Which Her Parents Constituted The Final Straw

Paying My Dues for the Journey

by ELEANOR MORROW

They Came Together
dir. David Wain
83 minutes

Joel (Paul Rudd) is an executive at Candy Systems Incorporated, a multi-ventured candy conglomerate. He is in a long-term relationship with a brunette named Tiffany (Cobie Smulders) who struggles to return his affection because of certain depraved incidents in her past.

On the day that Joel plans to propose to Tiffany, he finds her apartment spackled with torn off clothes and accessories on the hardwood floor. He calls out her name and hears sounds in the bedroom. Assuming she is just washing herself noisily in the shower, he attempts an elongated speech to preface his marriage proposal. When he turns around he sees her in the arms of Trevor (Michael Ian Black). His relationship is over.

With this inauspicious beginning commences David Wain's supreme masterpiece, They Came Together. Previously known for tackling lighter topics like the innocent thrills of summer camps or couples retreats, They Came Together marks a departure for Wain. The film is riotously funny, but it is also deeply personal.

On the surface, They Came Together presents like a zany parody of You've Got Mail. Joel's new love interest is Molly (Amy Poehler). Watching Molly swish through her delightful homespun candy shop named Upper Sweet Side makes you realize how much the showrunners on Parks and Recreation dressed and made her up so as not to overshadow Rashida Jones or Aubrey Plaza.

In They Came Together, Poehler's Molly is the utter embodiment of womanhood. Mother of a nine year old son, she meets Joel at a Halloween party where both attend dressed as Ben Franklin.

Joel and Molly don't click at first, but eventually the two New Yorkers discover they share a rare hobby: they like fiction books. "It's the feeling of being transported to another place and time," Molly says at one point. Just as quickly as their romance takes off, Joel has second thoughts when he discovers that Molly's parents are white supremacists. (Did you know that over 30 percent of whites in America believe in white supremacy, and of those 30 percent, over 95 percent of white supremacists are regular viewers of Person of Interest?)

Molly and Joel try to make their relationships with other people work after that. Joel gets back together with Tiffany, who is honest enough to inform him that he should be very suspicious of her motives, and Molly finally accepts the advances of her accountant admirer Eggbert (Ed Helms). He does not particularly share her love of fiction ("I only like to read about things that actually happened," he explains over a burrito) but he does seem pretty devoted to her, even complimenting her on how she plays Charades.

Where They Came Together really shines in its exploration of how Jewish men adapt to dating non-Jewish women. Joel's parents were killed in a tragic accident, and he has had to provide for his younger brother  Jake (Max Greenfield) who now works as a cab driver. His knowledge of the financial reality of the candy industry is the complete opposite of Molly's homespun ways  in her shop, candy is free for all children and dogs.

When Joel's company attempts to put Molly's tiny candy shop out of business, we realize how insane it was in You've Got Mail that Meg Ryan blamed her low sales on bookstore chains that are now themselves filing for bankruptcy. No one has ever properly explained to me why wasting paper is somehow morally superior to reading something on your phone, and I doubt they ever will.

Unlike the out-of-date pieces of shit They Came Together pays tribute to, there is no happy ending here. Molly discovers she has an affinity for prescription painkillers, and the coffee shop that Joel tries to open on the Upper West Side flops within a week. Meaningfully, there is no overly familiar scene where Joel and Molly have sex  it wasn't really about that. It was about the candy, and how you really should not give it away for free.

Eleanor Morrow is the senior contributor to This Recording. She is a writer living in Manhattan. She last wrote in these pages about Masters of Sex. You can find an archive of her writing for This Recording here.

"Not Mine to Love" - Slow Club (mp3)

"The Pieces" - Slow Club (mp3

Monday
Jul282014

In Which Boyhood Keeps Us In A State Of Perpetual Anxiety

Familiar Story

by SARI EDELSTEIN

Boyhood
dir. Richard Linklater
165 minutes

Critics are swooning over Richard Linklater’s new film Boyhood, most notably because it took twelve years to film see, for instance, Dana Stevens' rave. Linklater has claimed it was the longest shoot in film history. But this cinematic accomplishment does not serve a particularly novel take on adolescence or aging; instead, it offers a familiar story of coming-of-age as masculine disenchantment and growing older as decline.

Nominally about the boyhood of its protagonist, Mason Evans (Ellar Coltrane), Boyhood is actually about the effects of time more broadly, as it portrays the same actors over the course of twelve years. Thus, the film’s central subject is aging, and how years look. We see how twelve years register on the faces and bodies of the young actor as well as on the more familiar Ethan Hawke and Patricia Arquette, who play his parents.

The landscape of rural Texas its canyons and vast expanses affirm the power of time to change its subjects, to work deep ravines and crevasses into the earth. But while time renders the natural world ever more beautiful and mysterious, the film works hard to show that age has the opposite effect on people. According to this film, aging is not about progress or improvement, nor is it about the acquisition of wisdom. According to Boyhood, life involves nothing but a progressive winnowing away of idealism.


Though the hard-working mother of two, Olivia (Patricia Arquette), achieves some version of success (home ownership, graduate degree), she can’t find a decent husband or a modicum of financial stability. Moreover, the tenderness we witness with her children in the early scenes of the film dissolves into power struggles, nagging, and alienation.

Mason’s father, played by Ethan Hawke, is perhaps the only sympathetic man in the film, though he begins as a clichéd deadbeat dad. While he is absent for much of their childhood, he comes to desire true intimacy with his children. By contrast, Mason’s two stepfathers represent more conventional versions of “manhood," associated with alcoholism, violence, and emotional frigidity.

Boyhood dwells on the vapidity of traditional rites of passages; birthdays and graduations are rendered empty performances. When he turns fifteen, Mason is given a gun, a bible, and a suit and tie, the paraphernalia of the normative Southern man he is supposed to be. In one of the final scenes, his mother breaks down as her son leaves for college and sums up the film’s bleak view of aging when she semi-comically announces, “You know what’s next? My funeral!” Thus, far from celebration, rites of passage merely bring her closer to death. And Mason keeps viewers in a state of perpetual anxiety (avoiding car accidents, abuse, and injury by a hair’s breadth), as if to remind us that growing up is simply about not dying.


In this sense, Boyhood shares a sensibility with last summer’s sleeper coming-of-age film The Way, Way Back, which also rendered adulthood as an undesirable achievement. In that film, fourteen-year-old Duncan begrudgingly endures a summer vacation with his mother and her hostile boyfriend, Trent, at a beach house in a small New England town. To escape the claustrophobic climate of the beach cottage, Duncan finds refuge at a nearby waterpark whose loopy slides and swimming pools signal the film’s refusal to adhere to conventional ideas about linear development.


Where Boyhood portrays coming-of-age as disillusionment and fails to represent any alternative to the adulthood of the prior generation, The Way, Way Back challenges reigning ideas about how individuals experience the effects of time. In the film’s final scene, Duncan’s mother joins him in the “way, way back” of the family’s wood-paneled station wage, aligning herself with her son and his “backwards” way of seeing the world.

The movie thus ends in the same place it began; Duncan has not outgrown this childish status but has come to embrace it, reclaiming the lowest position on the hierarchy as a badge of honor and a preferable perspective. The Way, Way Back reminds us that growing older does not require one to conform to a life course rooted in stages and in the gradual assumption of normative gender roles.

Boyhood, on the contrary, is about the relentless stampede of years and their predictable and grim effects on individuals. Like the HBO television series Girls, Linklater’s movie makes a claim to universality with its title. But this boyhood is specific; it is a white, middle-class, Texan boyhood. In one scene, Olivia casually suggests to a young Latino landscaper that he go to college. To her surprise, the nameless character crosses her path years later at a restaurant; he has attended college and tells her, “You changed my life.” This surprising scene, strangely sentimental in the context of this cynical film, hints at the other boyhoods that might be imagined. Where Mason refuses to embrace the capitalist dictum that his parents, teachers, and supervisors relentlessly proffer, this young man seems to have wholly embraced the promise of the American dream. In a way, then, the movie acknowledges the specificity of version of boyhood it presents and implies that perhaps Mason’s anomie is itself a privilege.

Sari Edelstein is a contributor to This Recording. She teaches American literature at the University of Massachusetts-Boston. She doesn't tumbl or tweet. This is her first appearance in these pages.

"Ghostly" - Home Video (mp3)

"Calm Down" - Home Video (mp3)

Friday
Jul252014

In Which Amy Schumer Obliterates Her Own Vanity

Impossibly Amy!

by ALEX CARNEVALE

Amy Schumer's face is a bit too bulbous in certain regions, resembling a squirrel with nuts saved up for winter. Her comedy is mostly self-deprecating when it comes to her appearance. She makes jabs at herself about her weight, her voice, her profligate sexuality basically anything that is not her hair or navel.

Amy is primarily a Jewish woman. Since Jewish women are not so often blonde, Amy passes for a shiksa at first glance. When the unsuspecting goy realizes he is not dealing with one of his own kind, he instinctively rebels against this momentary betrayal. This explains any and all venom against Ms. Schumer on the internet, except from the wives of the married men she has been with. When they told her they loved her, she told them that they loved their wives.

It is possible that Jesus could return to us, but not in the form He took the first time? It is, isn't it?


In one of her sketches, Amy Schumer returns to her domicile and finds her boyfriend wearing clown makeup. She accepts his explanation that he was wearing the makeup as a surprise for her, even though it seems very obvious her boyfriend is hiding a clown woman in their bedroom. The joke is that Amy forgives things that she should not.

In another sketch, Amy's friend and writer on the show, Tig, has cancer. When she asks Amy to run in a 5K supporting cancer research, Amy keeps finding excuses that would prevent her from participating. The joke is that Amy is an insensitive boss and human being. We all know that's not true!

In another sketch, Amy is on a date with a man who is telling her about his experience on 9/11. After she orders her sandwich, Amy remarks of the woman who took her order, "She's cute" after thinking about it for several seconds. The joke is that Amy is so self-centered that she pays compliments to people outside their hearing, I think. Amy finds it very difficult to concentrate during her date's story. Later, she directs him to be quiet while she attempts to Shazam a song playing in the restaurant.

Melissa McCarthy is a lot less conventionally attractive than Amy, but it is still revolting how she is used as a punchline for her weight, and how Chuck Lorre wrote a whole TV show about how the only man she could find would be a guy the size of a house who she met at an Overeaters Anonymous meeting. (This is actually the horribly offensive plot of Mike & Molly.)

Amy's self-deprecating schtick more closely resembles Tina Fey's. Listening to Fey put herself down over the course of season after season of 30 Rock became exhausting, then ridiculous as the actress who portrayed Liz Lemon turned into a sex symbol. There is a deep uncomfortability with sex at the heart of Tina's act in general. It is the reason why her stylings translated so terribly to the movies, where our revulsion and disbelief at how much she claims to have eaten is not nearly as desirable or sympathetic over the course of two hours.

Tempting as it may be to film Amy getting dumped by Bradley Cooper and go on a road trip with her best pal (one of Judd Apatow's daughters, most likely) there are only a select few people who mankind is willing to pay to watch denigrate themselves for our amusement, and the list grows every time Mary Kate or Ashley Olsen replicates via simple mitosis. In her new movie with Apatow, Trainwreck, Amy wrote her own role as a woman who tries to "get over her self-sabotaging ways."

Amy's putdowns of herself are fresher and more biting (and at the same time Joan Rivers-ancient) when she refers to her own promiscuity. Amy recently whispered to James McAvoy on the Tonight Show that she has been known to use too much teeth during oral sex. He seemed vaguely disgusted and semi-turned on. When he stood up he was 5'1" max and Amy did not appear to be interested any longer.

In another sketch, Lisa Lampanelli sings a really awkward and dated song about her breasts being unusual.

In another sketch, Amy portrays a therapist counseling a group of troubled husbands. Each of the men advocates severe violence as a solution to their marital problems. Amy attempts to dissuade them from such a drastic course. At the conclusion of the sketch, Amy's Australian boyfriend enters the room to complain that he has been waiting for too long. The men suggest ways she might kill this man.

In another sketch, Amy expresses her frustration about how terrible her mother is at using any basic technology. In another sketch she and Parker Posey complain to a waiter who does not understand their dietary needs.

Some critics have taken issue with Amy's many bon mots about her vaunted promiscuity. Offstage, Amy makes it clear that while she is far from sexually inexperienced, she does not treat relationships in any kind of frivolous way. Even on her show, Amy shows herself as vulnerable and committed when her partner seems to require the opposite. This seems like an impossible woman to tear your eyes away from for more than a second, let alone cheat on.

It sort of bothers me that no matter how disgusting a male comedian is, no one accuses him of betraying his gender or political movement because he makes a joke about his balls.

Alex Carnevale is the editor of This Recording.

"On My Own" - Kodakid (mp3)

"Goin' Out West" - Kodakid (mp3)