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Entries in eleanor morrow (52)

Thursday
Sep152016

In Which We Decide To Become An Actress Living In Los Angeles

Afternoon Audition

by ELEANOR MORROW

Loosely Exactly Nicole
creators Christian Lander & Christine Zander
MTV

Better Things
creators Louis CK & Pamela Adlon
FX

Every single person faces the prospect of reincarnation. When we emerge into our second lives, we live either in Van Nuys or Silverlake and go to endless, disappointing auditions. Such is the subject of two new television series, FX's Better Things and MTV's Loosely Exactly Nicole.

The latter features a ubiquitous presence on MTV of late, comedian Nicole Byer. It is not hard to figure out why the network is so high on her, since Byer is probably the most charismatic performer they have by leaps and bounds. Loosely Exactly Nicole details her life with roommate Devin (Jacob Wysocki), a massive gay man who has a natural rivalry with Nicole's other best friend Veronica (fellow standup Jen D'Angelo).

The three of them spend a very serious amount of time talking about men, but it is all talk: even though Nicole's boyfriend Derrick (Kevin Bigley) features on occasion, he is more just a stationary penis for Nicole to ride during the evenings. During the day, she is a nanny for a Taiwanese kid (Ian Chen), who she takes to her auditions if it seems absolutely necessary.

Loosely Exactly Nicole is the first show to make life in Los Angeles seem the least bit bearable. At times the production seems like it occurs in a series of parking lots; even the scenic park where Devin goes to reunite with a standard-looking white guy from his past looks like dogshit. This seems a conscious choice to make Nicole stand out even more from the world around her. It turns this MTV series into an inspiration, aspirational project for young people: simply by being fabulous you can ascend above your shitty surroundings, wherever they may be.

Nicole goes on various tinder dates since her thing with Derrick is more of a friends-with-benefits type situation. On one such meet-up, the white man informs her not to get another drink unless she plans to sleep with him. (He had spent too much money this week.) This is the most agency any straight white man shows on Loosely Exactly Nicole; this species is basically a blank canvas for Devin, Veronica and Nicole to project themselves onto at intervals.

Despite a relatively memorable physical form, Byer is so much more of a chameleon than you would think. One episode has her changing hairstyles, and it takes this small cosmetic change to show off what astonishing range she truly has as an actress. The writing on Loosely Exactly Nicole never lets her down: it is consistently hysterical. Watching Amy Schumer after watching this turns Amy into a parody of itself, since all of Byer's sex commentary is so much dirtier and true-to-life. It will be very difficult for a stronger comedy to emerge from this fall season of television.

Better Things, the apology project from Louis CK after he masturbated in front of all those women, does not benefit from this comparison. Pamela Adlon plays herself as Sam, a Los Angeles-based voice and television actress who unlike Nicole Byer lives in a beautiful home with her wonderful children. It is pretty unclear why Adlon is so unhappy. If she actually had to lead Nicole Byer's life, my guess is that she would drown herself in the La Brea tar pits.

It made sense when Louie was whiny and annoying since the theme of his show was what an entitled prick he was to everyone in his life, at all times. Adlon has a similar perspective on her life, except we are supposed to sympathize with her completely. Louie was also painfully short on actual love stories and geniune connections with people. Better Things features Pamela Adlon obssessing over a guy from her past who texts her that he is thinking about her:

This eerie anxiety when the ellipsis indicate the other party is typing on their iPhone is the kind of soft touch Adlon & CK bring to some of Better Things' more intimate moments. The show falters the most when brings Adlon into broader, showbiz comedy, like a scene where Bradley Whitford performs fake cunnilingus on her. That sketch falls so flat that it makes me wonder whether the half-hour format really suits what they were trying to do here.

Better Things is so much less interesting when Adlon not-so-hilariously fuming at the clerk in a drugstore or complaining about the teacher of her children. Sam's three daughters are very young, with her oldest, Max (Mikey Madison), just entering her teen years. Max asks her mother to get her pot, a suggestion which is met with complete disdain and utter rejection, even though it is honestly didn't seem that crazy 20 years ago, let alone now, for a kid whose mother is an actress living in this house:

Adlon's actual ex-husband lives in Germany and does not have much of a relationship with his children. We get some sense of how isolating that is for her, and yet the real Pamela Adlon seems like so much more of a happy person than Sam. When it is most predictable, Better Things feels like a televised spin-off of Bad Moms, even though Adlon does not really do anything very questionable with or around her children. She is mostly just sad, depressed and exhausted. It is maybe not the best sign for a comedy that it is most compelling without the jokes.

Eleanor Morrow is the senior contributor to This Recording. She is a writer living in Manhattan.

Thursday
Aug252016

In Which We Turn Into A Rabbit Or A Bear

Rhinoceros

by ELEANOR MORROW

The Lobster
dir. Yorgos Lanthimos
118 minutes

The theatrical and literary movement known as absurdism was a reaction to fascism. Like any reactionary movement, it was doomed to die on the disappearing strength of the philosophy to which it was opposed. Greek director Yorgos Lanthimos (Dogtooth) finds a more reliable oppression to wage his absurd drama The Lobster against: the bourgeosie society which demands that a person by themselves feels in some way inadequate.

David (Colin Farrell) is dumped by his wife for a stronger, more active masculine individual. He is escorted to a hotel and informed that if he does not form a romantic partnership in 45 days, he will be changed into the animal of his choice.

Quietly, Farrell has turned himself into one of the most engaging cinematic performers. Masturbation is not permitted at this tony retreat, but a maid comes in and rubs her ass on David's dick for about five minutes. "Just a little longer," he pleads before she leaves. His face vacillates between annoyance and unavoidable pleasure during the act, and yet he allows his voice to convey most of the emotion, remaining placid throughout most of The Lobster.

This subtlety is the watchword. Even John C. Reilly is incredibly subdued during moments which might warrant a more comedic tint. Lanthimos asks everyone to play his concept completely straight, and the resulting tone is a bit humorless at times, since there is nothing very unreasonable about what is going on.

In order to extend their stay at the hotel before they become beasts, the guests are given tranquilizer guns to hunt loners who have Into the Wilded into the nearby forest. It does not take very much for David to become one of these loners. He meets a cruel woman who kicks his brother, who has become a dog, to death and abandons the entire prospect of meeting someone like him. His conclusion is that there is no one like him, and he immediately absconds into the woods upon this realization.

There he falls into a group led by a woman (Léa Seydoux). Seydoux has never been used quite correctly by Hollywood, and her muted beauty here is captivating beyond all else. Farrell meets another loner (Rachel Weisz) and falls in love with her, but in this society any romance is punished by mutilation.

Ionesco ruined absurdism for a long time, and maybe the concept of the theater in general. It was very hard to take other writers in this genre seriously because he had written the entire project of humanity into a corner. The Lobster suggests that any attempt at making sense out of human relationships will end in an abandonment of sense, and a return to an animal state.

In the film's prologue, a woman (the film's production designer Jacqueline Abrahams) shoots a donkey with a handgun. Like many moments in The Lobster, it is only humorous if you are completely devoid of human empathy. It is hard to account for some critics who found The Lobster dizzyingly funny — they must have a good laugh when they see Syrian refugees on television, or when they saw that man in front of a tank in Tiananmen Square. Did you know they never even found out who that was?

Then again, this could be a problem inside of me. I never found Gulliver's Travels very amusing either. The concept that human beings should be in relationships with one another never seemed all that controversial to me. There are unhappy relationships, but I never heard of someone being completely satisfied without one. I'm open to the idea, but it is nowhere in The Lobster. Most of the participants in the hotel are quite complicit in the project. At the end of their stay, each couple must test their romance by sailing around the bay in a yacht.

"Will you give me a kiss?" David asks Rachel Weisz in one scene. She demurs and suggests a game. This is precisely what he is not interested in, but knows he must undertake. Anyone who has dated for any length of time knows how much of romantic relationships involves interchanges which resemble play. As the two negotiate their arrangement, we finally get the sense that this is the only kind of coming together which is possible. Any human connection formed by other means would never last.

The Lobster moves quickly enough to never be dull or allow you to overly consider the implications of its premise. This is wise, for the unlucky people who saw Ionesco's Rhinoceros were forced to consider its implications at length. Classical violin pushes every the most untoward moments of The Lobster away. There may be something terrible around the corner, but at least it will be over soon.

Eleanor Morrow is the senior contributor to This Recording.

Tuesday
Aug092016

In Which Our Mother Was A Mila Kunis Of Sorts

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.

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.

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.