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Pretty used to being with Gwyneth

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Frank in all directions

Jean Cocteau and Jean Marais

Simply cannot go back to them

Roll your eyes at Samuel Beckett

John Gregory Dunne and Joan Didion

Metaphors with eyes

Life of Mary MacLane

Circle what it is you want

Not really talking about women, just Diane

Felicity's disguise

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Entries in eleanor morrow (54)


In Which We Turn Into A Rabbit Or A Bear



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.


In Which Our Mother Was A Mila Kunis Of Sorts

Snow White


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.


In Which We Were Supposed To Do This Together 

Needs A Certain Something


Feed the Beast
creator Clyde Phillips

There is a scene in the first episode of the new AMC series Feed the Beast that typifies Clyde Phillips' writing style completely. Tommy (David Schwimmer) shows up at a group meeting where they workshop his grief over the death of his wife Rie. The group's leader asks Pilar (Lorenza Izzo) to stand in for Tommy's wife in a role-playing exercise. "I miss you," Tommy explains to this woman he has just met. "I need you. We were supposed to raise our son together. We were supposed to open a restaurant together. I love you. You're like a phantom limb." Pilar listens with a look on her face like she just won the lottery. In Phillips' vision of the world on shows like Dexter and Nurse Jackie, the deepest pain imaginable also brings the most unlikely pleasure.

This paradigm is exemplified by Tommy's best friend, recent parolee and gifted chef Dion (Jim Burgess). Burgess is the central performer on Feed the Beast, and to be completely honest the show would be quite drab without him. Fortunately, Burgess needed a role exactly like this one and he found it. Not only is he the most gorgeous, irresistible creature ever to saunter into a room and slice a leg of lamb, Burgess's performance as the cocaine-addled Dion naturally projects a non-physical threat to any established order. Just looking at him is dangerous.

Feed the Beast creator Clyde Phillips rarely concerns himself with deep, emotional connections, seeming to favor the abcesses constructed by various forms of sociopathic or antisocial behavior. The person Tommy Moran cares about the most is his son T.J., but that cannot help feel like a stand-in for his dead wife. Because of his grief, every relationship that follows can exist only on a surface level.

But that is entertaining enough for television — if Dion were not such a deceitful person, he would never have ended up in jail, where he became popular by cooking for the guards. His talent at cooking, and by extension, shaping his personality around his gift, is what makes him attractive to others. If God did not bless him in this way, he would simply be a piece of shit.

Dion owes money to a mafioso named Patrick Woichik (Michael Gladis), fresh off his disappointingly flimsy run as Paul Kinsey on Mad Men. Gladis tries to imbue the role with all the menace he can muster, but at his core he seems nothing like a Bronx mobster. It is not that Gladis is the wrong age or type for the part; it is more that the role of paper-thin villain with a funny nickname does not really suit his particular set of skills. Vicious men are usually at least one other thing, if not two.

I understand trying to cast against type and not reinforce certain Italian-American stereotypes, since Feed the Beast pretends to set itself in a Greek community. But the decision hurts the show by trying to offer something that is different but still ultimately the same.

Dion and Tommy decide to open a Greek restaurant in the Bronx by reclaiming money owed to Tommy by his racist, wheelchair-bound father, Aidan (familiar character actor John Doman). Tommy's father is something of a drain on the show as well. It is difficult enough to constantly re-experience one painful backstory in the case of Tommy's wife — but to have a second, peripheral tragedy that consumes him distracts from both.

The Danish series Feed the Beast bases itself on had a larger cast of characters surrounding their protagonist, and I applaud the move to a darker feel and shorter focus. These two male antagonists unfortunately seem muted and a bit powerless in comparison to our heroes, and end up detracting instead of adding to the milieu. Even with these criticisms in mind, I don't fully understand the reviews Feed the Beast has received, which are overall rather horrid for a show of this pedigree. For me, watching Schwimmer's foray into drama opposite the insanely charismatic Burgess would be enough for several seasons. There is no arguing that there is something missing from the story being told, however.

I think the main mistake is with Burgess' character, since he must carry the show. Giving him career success to reclaim is a marvelous start and we want to see him overcome his issues, but having him win the love of a family and a woman would make him even more sympathetic. Instead he fucks his beautiful lawyer and Tommy's son already seems to like him for no reason. No one can or should succeed at being that much of a misanthrope.

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

"Be Careful Where You Park Your Car" - Cat's Eyes (mp3)