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Entries in durga chew-bose (44)

Friday
Jun142013

In Which We Inherit A Readiness To Conspire

Getting It

by DURGA CHEW-BOSE

Running on Empty
dir. Sidney Lumet
1988, 115 min

“Note-perfect,” was how my friend Akiva described Sidney Lumet’s Running on Empty in a recent gchat. As it often happens, I intuit praise as vital tidings; as if being made aware of something, in effect, hikes up its value. I have since watched the movie four times, three times alone, and once with someone who I feared was not 'getting it' — who I split my attention between, hoping to note a slight smile warming on his face during some of those 'note-perfect' scenes.

Released in 1988, three decades after Lumet's debut feature, 12 Angry Men, Running on Empty tells the story of Annie and Arthur Pope (Christine Lahti, Judd Hirsch), whose past involvement in a 1970s anti-war bombing of a napalm laboratory has forced them underground.

On the run with their two sons, Danny (River Phoenix) and Harry (Jonas Abry), the Popes adopt new identities every time they are forced to skip town. "Hey kid, you," Annie quizzes Danny as she opens a can of tuna in their newest home, "What's your name?" "Michael," he answers only to have Arthur drill him more aggressively. "What's my name? Spell it. What's your mother's name? And your brother?" Danny responds with mocking fidelity, out-daring the very authority his father had taught him to rival all of those years.

But moments like that last one are rare, and the conceit of a fugitive family pales in comparison to the story of a family and its day by day dynamic. Their readiness to conspire — not just as outlaws, but as a little brother who pulls pranks at the dinner table, or as a mother who whispers to her love-struck teenage son, 'I like her,' or as a father who playfully winces whenever his kids speak in surfer slang and misuse the word 'radicaaaal' — that spirit is portrayed with a fullness that tolerates bouts of adolescence in adulthood and prodigious wisdom among children. Like so many of his films, despite his characters' jeopardous lifestyles or expiring freedom, Lumet's capacity for creating an entire world feels triumphant.

In re-watching Running on Empty, I noted, as if pocketing mementos for later, some of my favorite parts. Written by Naomi Foner (Jake and Maggie Gyllenhaal's mother) the script really finds its sweet spots when Danny and his music teacher's daughter, Lorna Phillips (Martha Plimpton), fall in love. Lorna, whose assuredness and nervy manner of speaking (and whose voice is deeper than Phoenix's) — "You are certifiable!" is one of the first things she tells him — and who stands with her arms crossed, grins, defends her anger as wit, and impassively talks about feelings, family, and the future, is offset by Plimpton's soft, doll-like hair, her sunken boyish features, and most of all, her protective love for Danny.

River Phoenix, whose contemplative manner is at once serious and rebellious, anchors the movie. Even the score, a bittersweet piano that is somehow suggestive and nostalgic, both, might very well be one of his pieces; Danny's virtuosic piano playing and Julliard audition marks the beginning of his doubts to remain with his family on the lam. Although he talks like a teenager, "I feel kind of lousy," and reacts self-consciously like one too—removing his wire-frame glasses when he answers a question in class — his withdrawal is burdened by a life changing choice. Like most teenagers in movies who live in city outskirts, Danny’s rare flashes of abandon are captured when he peddles standing up and turns a corner, or how he never locks his bike, or how effortlessly he jumps over railings and climbs in and out of windows.

Annie's birthday dinner plays much like a foreign film: party crowns, a modest yet joyful table, jokes about LSD trips, and a James Taylor "Fire and Rain" sing-along as they clear the table, dance, and do the dishes. Here the Pope family's outlook is at its truest without becoming too darling. They are a unit, accompanied this time by Lorna, who in her tomato-red crop top and rainbow skirt is happily unfettered, a welcome change from her father's chamber music concerts where she "dresses for a funeral" in lace that matches the Phillips’ sitting room curtains.

phoenix & lumet

Especially great about Running on Empty is its endless supply of tokens from that time: Christine Lahti's high-waisted jeans and white baggy turtleneck, Judd Hirsch’s quintessential ‘Dad’ jokes, or those varying shades of corduroy brown and navy blues, or how saying "they look uptight" is the most accurate way of describing 'otherness.' Insulting someone's IQ, that too was once relevant, or how a teacher, if he took a particular liking to you, might say "Get outta here" after class. Or how home economics involved partnering off, aprons, rows of ovens and Formica counters, buttercream mixing bowls, and instructions on how to make tuna-walnut-casserole.

It’s an unusual type of fondness to love a movie that is neither groundbreaking nor particularly dazzling, and that does not occupy a critical place in its director's canon. But like passages from books that I revisit or quotes from teachers I copied in college notebooks, Running on Empty too, has incredibly strong restorative powers.

Durga Chew-Bose is the senior editor of This Recording. She is a writer living in Brooklyn. She twitters here and tumbls here. You can find an archive of her work on This Recording here. She last wrote in these pages about her mother.

Friday
Feb152013

In Which We Begin To Vacation At Our Leisure

Family Vacation

by DURGA CHEW-BOSE

 

× The time will never be right for a family vacation.

 

× It’s been years, nearer to a decade, since the last one.

 

× Somehow, plans for one are hatched.

 

× By way of Reply All, one family member will threaten to withdraw from the trip.

 

× It will happen more than once.

 

× Compromises are remarkably easy.

 

× Keep in mind, the art of bargaining with empty threats can often appear like a compromise.

 

× Once the tickets are booked, doubts about a family vacation are directly proportionate to an increasing yet delicate sense of anticipation.

 

× This type of anticipation is expressed through practical (but thoughtful) text messages.

 

× Some examples include: “thinkin of buying one of those 360 degree spinner wheel suitcases. thoughts?” Or, “Have you seen how hot it’s gonna be!?”

 

× Or (attached with a picture of your passport and approved travel visa) the words: “I win.”

 

× Bottom line: “The youngest” will never grow out of wanting to be “first.”

 

× Family vacations provoke immediate regression.

 

× Reverting to childhood habits is embarrassingly easy.

 

× For instance, you will pack little, expecting to borrow shampoo, toothpaste, and mosquito repellent from your parents.

 

× Clothes, from your older brother.

 

× Coveting an older sibling’s t-shirts is an irrefutable fact of life.

 

× Book choice, on the other hand, requires much deliberation.

 

× Tip! Pack one re-read. Two brand new books (your choice). And one recommendation/gift (someone else’s choice.)

 

×Also suggested: print and pack a few longreads that you’ve recently read and enjoyed and want to share with your family.

 

× On the way to the airport, you’re unexpectedly charmed by the idea of this trip.

× Following a series of delayed flights, bad food, and interrupted sleep, spotting your parent’s face at the airport in Mumbai, shouting your name from a crowd, feels like a hallucination.

 

× A hallucination immediately made real by comments on how tired you look.

 

× Or how thin your face has become.

 

× Or how your jacket sleeve has a hole.

 

× It takes a couple days, give or take, for parents to adjust to being around their kids who are no longer kids.

 

× Stuff gets said that isn’t meant to hurt.

 

× More often than not a parent forgets that you exist in a world where you work and pay rent, and get angry and sad, and have your heart broken and mended, broken and mended.

 

× Still, that initial hug will briefly dissolve all that currently feels unwieldy in your life.

 

× You will spend the rest of the vacation dodging all topics related to what is feeling unwieldy in your life.

 

 

× Avoid deflecting to your sibling’s life.

 

× Just dodge.

 

× Dodge. Dodge. Dodge.

 

× Until that one afternoon, a very sunny one where your skin feels warmed from within and everyone is off doing his or her thing, and you suddenly feel compelled to put down your book and talk to someone.

 

× Less the actual conversation, but the desire to speak candidly and kindly, is the vacation’s sweet spot.

 

× Similar examples: Drinks at the hotel bar with your brother on your father’s tab. A wedding reception at the hotel keeps you both distracted enough to not get on each other’s nerves.

 

× Or, watching as a parent delights in a snack he or she hasn’t delighted in in years.

 

× Better yet; if you find the snack particular gross.

 

× And a personal favorite: The four of you walking in a narrow line. (The market was too crowded and loud to walk and talk side by side.)

 

× Inevitably, when a family is forced to walk in a line, the eldest member always appears the youngest.

 

× At a spice plantation, biting into a peppercorn and burning your tongue, you are more present than you have been in a very long time.

 

× Parents look older the more present one feels.

 

× But their happiness looks freer too.

 

× E-mailing a friend frequently — as frequently as possible that is — is essential.

 

× But just one friend.

 

× Choose someone who won’t expect elaborate details about the trip, but a continued conversation from before you left.

 

× E-mails concerning the vacation, unless funny, are rarely enjoyable to read or to write.

 

× Choose a friend who you’ve recently felt emotionally near to.

 

× One that your parents do not know or have the knowledge to ask about.

 

× These emails will feel secret and with ten hours separating the two of you, your good mornings will be her good nights. Her insomnia will feel like company.

 

× She will be, for the next two weeks, that side of you which is witness to yourself. An orbit.

 

× Long car rides through windy mountaintop roads in Kerala will make you devastatingly nauseous.

 

× Nausea is the most regressive sensation, ever. All you want is parents, and luckily, they are there!

 

× Offering to sit in the middle is both a literal and figurative way of hoping to take up the least amount of space.

 

 

× Missing an ex when travelling with family is expected.

 

× Missing an ex’s body, especially when sleeping in hotel sheets, will feel cruel and comforting, both.

 

× An “I miss you” e-mail will be sent and regretted.

 

× Nostalgia becomes unusually relevant on family vacations.

 

× One morning, late in the trip, a big fight will push someone to his or her limit.

 

× Your stepmom will walk away from breakfast having not eaten a bite.

 

× Do not follow her.

 

× Irritability levels are higher than usual when one isn’t accustomed to eating three meals a day with a father, a brother, and a stepmother.

 

× It’s to be expected.

 

× Out of the blue, hugging your brother seems vital.

 

× He does not hug back.

 

× It looks like this.

 

× You will spot and study other families also vacationing.

 

× All fathers have Beckett legs.

 

× Grown-up siblings speak in a code they themselves are trying to decipher.

 

× Everyone dresses down and wears hats.

 

 

× Other families seem quieter than yours. Laugh louder sure, but are by some means quieter.

 

× If you’re not someone who naps, don’t be surprised if you do on a family vacation.

 

× Activities are tiring.

 

× Tours are exhausting.

 

× So rarely do you do or attend things that aren’t urgently interesting to you. 

 

× Parents enjoy the company of their adult children, remembering them as babies.

 

× Adult children are suddenly moved to sit very close to their parents.

 

× Or to knock on their hotel room doors for no reason.

 

× To sit on the edge of their bed and watch as your stepmother chooses from a very tiny box, which earrings she will wear.

 

× Vacation photographs:

 

× Hope for a good one.

 

× Anticipate terrible ones.

 

× On the last day, take slow and steadied bites at breakfast. Have seconds.

 

× Read a newspaper.

 

× Go for a walk with your brother.

 

× After a long journey home, it’s cold in New York and nobody is there to greet you.

 

× But you turn your phone’s data on again and a slew of text messages pop up.

 

× Pop. Pop. Pop.

 

× Text your roommate: “Shady’s back.”

 

× In the cab ride home, you send a quick email to your family. “Landed! Love you.”

 

× You send another one: “Home first!”

Durga Chew-Bose is the senior editor of This Recording. She is a writer living in Brooklyn. She tumbls here and twitters here. You can find an archive of her writing on This Recording here. She last wrote in these pages about The Mindy Project.

"Anthophobia" - The Love Language (mp3)

"Horophones" - The Love Language (mp3)

 

Tuesday
Dec042012

In Which Mindy Kaling Forgets Dessert

The Mindy Project: Notting Hill Episode

by DURGA CHEW-BOSE

From the moment we were introduced to Ed Weeks’s character, Dr. Jeremy Reed, on Fox’s The Mindy Project, Hugh Grant has been the obvious comparison. Like Grant, Weeks is tall and British. Like Grant, Weeks’s long face is one-third forehead and steadied by an all but imperceptible rascally smile. Like Grant before him, Weeks is that precise blend of reticent British rearing mixed with a skewed and slightly overeager American awakening. Dr. Jeremy Reed, as with some of Grant’s most memorable roles, is the London version of what might have happened had '80s Andrew McCarthy and Rob Lowe merged into one. Self-loathing and self-loving, both. A sometimes dope with great hair whose romantic exploits are punctuated by a woeful second act.

For this viewer, a Hugh Grant rom com inspired Mindy Project episode seems inevitable. But which one? Nine Months? Two Weeks Notice? Bridget Jones? Dr. Reed and Dr. Danny Castellano (Chris Messina) could duke it out in the street as “It’s Raining Men” plays. After all, Castellano possesses some distinctly Mark Darcy traits. Or, like in Love Actually Dr. Reed could get caught making out with the office receptionist backstage at Dr. Lahiri’s best friend Gwen’s (Anna Camp) kid’s Christmas recital. And of course, there’s always About a Boy: bored of the New York dating scene, Dr. Reed pretends to have a kid (stealing Gwen’s of course) in order to meet single moms. While one of Grant's most-loved roles as Will Thacker, the lovestruck travel bookshop owner in Notting Hill might be a less obvious Mindy choice, we thought here at TR we’d give it a go.

The episode would begin with Mindy waxing about her favorite neighborhood in New York—probably the West Village. Like Grant’s appraisal of Notting Hill, Kaling’s character, Dr. Lahiri, would catalog the brownstones, the smell of sugar wafting from Magnolia Bakery (the cupcakes, she’ll admit, are overrated), the coffee shop where every movie is shot, the bookstore where every movie is shot, the dollar pizza for hangover breakfast, and the store that sells clothes for grown women who want to look like Parisian toddlers.

Next, Mindy leads us to her obstetrics practice where everyone is huddled around the receptionist’s computer looking at red carpet pictures from the previous night’s Golden Globes. (Likely the Globes so that Mindy can reference the year Matt Damon boasted about getting a better seat than Jack Nicholson). Everyone wittily banters.  Betsy (Zoe Jarman) mentions she has a crush on Ryan Seacrest and Morgan (Ike Barinholtz) the nurse, who may as well be a beefier Rhys Ifans (Will's lovably bizarre roommate in Notting Hill, Spike), makes some quintessentially weird yet apt comment. “Funny you should mention Ryan Seacrest in a room full of OB-GYNs, Betsy. After all, his name is an anagram for Try Cesareans."

Then, the most famous movie actress in the world walks in for an appointment. She’s an Emma. Emma Jones. Or Emma Hudson. Or Emma Wood. She’s played by Rachel McAdams or Anne Hathaway. She’s wearing sunglasses, a cornflower blue garment washed Mets cap, t-shirt and jeans. Everyone at the office gets weird and whispery, and awkward. Morgan is not altered in the least. Castellano gawks. Jeremy and Emma are immediately, very sweetly, smitten.  Mindy, seeing potential for a Notting Hill romance, calls everyone to her office for a meeting.

From her desk, she orders Jeremy, without any explanation, to recite a few lines.

“Come on Bridget, we belong together.”

AND

“In my opinion, all men are islands. And what's more, now's the time to be one. This is an island age.”

AND

 “Who do you have to screw around here to get a cup of tea and a chocolate biscuit?”

Jeremy goes along with it but is confused. Danny interrupts, having figured out what is going on and bluntly asks, “Do you think Andie MacDowell and Julia Roberts are hot?” Mindy rolls her eyes and explains to Jeremy while apologizing for reducing him to stereotype that he’s basically Hugh Grant. The gang all agrees and Mindy insists he “Notting Hill the day” and ask Emma the actress out on a date. Betsy chimes in and instructs Jeremy that, just like in the movie, he should rush out when Emma leaves and accidently spill coffee on her. Castellano corrects her. “Orange juice. It’s orange juice not coffee that Hugh Grant spills on Julia Roberts.” Everyone turns. Mindy is impressed by but prepared to mock Castellano for his detailed knowledge of the 1999 romantic comedy. Because the gang was already invited for dinner at Mindy’s that evening, she suggests that Jeremy invite Emma, just like in the movie.

Dinner at Mindy’s is cozy. Her apartment is all white bookshelves and warm lighting. Think Nancy Meyers seashell tones with Jonathan Adler orange and fuscia throw cushions. Emma gets along easily with everyone. She laughs with her mouth wide open. She finds Morgan especially charming and watches Mindy admiringly. She compliments Betsy on her outfit and Betsy, like Hugh Grant’s sister in Notting Hill, declares that she and Emma should be best friends forever. Jeremy has obviously fallen in love. Mindy catches herself staring at Danny who is uncharacteristically well behaved at dinner. He looks handsome and relaxed.

Unfortunately Mindy forgets to make dessert. She rummages through her fridge, freezer, and pantry only to find a half-empty jar of Nutella. She hands everyone a spoon—one scoop each. But there’s a little left and Betsy insists that they fight for the last scoop: “Whoever’s the saddest act here, get’s to finish the jar.” They all play. Morgan doesn’t quite get the game and starts confessing to weird shit he’s done in his life like lying every time he’s claimed to see the image in a Magic Eye. Mindy goes on a tangent but then realizes she’s pretty happy with her laugh right now. Danny’s speech is oddly sentimental. He mentions his divorce and hints at perhaps being lonely. Embarrassed he ruins the moment by taking the last scoop of Nutella before Jeremy, Emma, or Betsy get to go. Jeremy and Emma leave together. “I Do” by 98 Degrees plays.

The episode ends with Mindy, the next day at work, standing at the threshold of Danny’s office door, grinning. “Hey Danny,” she says. He stares at her impatiently. "Yes, Mindy?" She looks at him with puppy eyes and says, “I’m just a girl…standing in front of a boy, asking him to…” Danny shoos her out before she can finish. He appreciates being made fun of by Mindy.

The camera pans out of the office and onto the street where a group of 30 something girlfriends are gabbing and dressed like Parisian toddlers. 

The Mindy Project airs tonight at 9:30 p.m EST.

Durga Chew-Bose is the senior editor of This Recording. She is a writer living in Brooklyn. She tumbls here and twitters here. You can find an archive of her writing on This Recording here.

"Ocean's Eye" - Peace (mp3)

"California Daze" - Peace (mp3)