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Alex Carnevale

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Pretty used to being with Gwyneth

Regrets that her mother did not smoke

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 jennifer aniston (5)


In Which We Deal With Chronic Pain On A Regular Basis

Anna Kendrick's Ghost Sucks


dir. Daniel Barnz
102 minutes

There is a scene near the end of Cake where Jennifer Aniston lies down on train tracks. She is sniffling, crying out in pain, hallucinating the ghost of her deceased, annoying friend (Anna Kendrick). The train comes. Before it does she painfully rises to her feet and decides to go on with her life. She then realizes her car has been stolen.

When Lemony Snicket penned A Series of Unfortunate Events in the early 17th century, the title represented a tongue-in-cheek appraisal of how a variety of novels in that period approached the concept of fiction. To take seriously the misfortunates of others requires us to be convinced that they are not so coincidentally arranged by an omnipotent force in order to persuade our sympathies.

The concept of becoming a better, more moral person through some kind of illness happened in more than one Dickens novel, as well as to Magic Johnson IRL.

Aniston's Claire has had a lot of bad things happen to her. First, she graduated from law school. Then, her child died in a car accident, destroying her right leg and back in the process. Her husband (Chris Messina?!?) divorced her because she pushed him away. The difficulties continued from there; indeed, not one positive thing happens to her for most of the first half of Cake.

Even the good things that eventually start to occur are put into question. We never know what exactly is a blessing or a curse for this malingering woman. In the words of the late Mario Cuomo, this is how we were warned it would be. God never comes up in Cake, but He does hover at the periphery. Christophe Beck's worshipful, brilliant score is the only indication that something beyond this woeful version of Southern California reality has ever existed.

Aniston's friend (Anna Kendrick) from her chronic pain support group killed herself by jumping off an L.A. freeway. It seems like a decently reasonable decision considering her ghastly circumstances. She leaves behind a ghost of herself that can't act whatsoever, as well as her son and husband (Sam Worthington).

Aniston finds out where the father lives and befriends the abandoned family, allowing the son to swim in her pool. She puts on makeup when they come over for lunch, the only time she bothers to throw on some foundation during Cake. Given that moviegoers paid upwards of $15 to witness this chronically painful experience, it is the least she could do.

Worthington is very angry in an understated, frothing sort of way about being left behind by his young, annoying wife. He has learned, since making an absolute mess of the title role in Avatar, that as a performer, far less is more. This is especially true as he plays off Aniston, who manages to overact through every single scene she is in. Cake needs her histrionics, because without those pulsating movements, there is not a lot going on.

Worthington makes his entire role happen with his eyes, which is necessary given that he has like six lines of dialogue, most of which are, "I'm angry" and "Hello." The rest of Cake consists of the Driving Ms. Daisy-esque relationship between Aniston and her maid-driver-cook Silvana (Adriana Barraza).

Still, there is something original and unnerving in this depiction of illness that transcends the dour setting. When Aniston is horizontally laid out to support her fragile back as her maid drives her from place to place, she sees the predictable image of the sun coming through the trees. We hope, in a disturbed way, that she may never get up from this situation, that she find some possible solace in who and what she is instead of magically getting better whenever she feels like it. This doesn't happen - Aniston learns how to apply concealer and gets over her son's death - but for a second, the possibility is there.

Alex Carnevale is the editor of This Recording.

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In Which All Your Clothes Smell Like Coffee

How Big is the Big? How Small is the Small?


I’m 23, but at times I feel like I’m 11 and back at sleep-away camp. I wish I could say these times are few and far between (I hated sleep-away camp), but they’re not. On a morning shift, they occur every few minutes: every time a bagel pops out of the toaster.

My urge is of course to say “Not it!” or “Nose goes!” and quickly touch my finger to the tip of my nose. But it’s an unspoken rule that whoever is standing next to the toaster as that fateful noise sounds has to cream cheese that bagel. I put on a disposable glove and pull the bagel halves from the toaster. The bagel is so hot that the gloves melt to my fingers.

But here is the first coffee shop secret I will let you in on. If the bagel pops up and you’re by the toaster, press the button again to toast it twice and then slyly walk away to begin another task. Someone else will have to get it soon. “They wanted it toasted dark,” you could say aloud, or even to yourself if that helps. This is called cheating. It feels good.

My increasingly high tolerance for pain has become a perk of this coffee shop job. I’ll accidentally grab a metal steam wand. I’ll spill a pitcher of boiling water on my leg. Coffee splashes out of the cups and onto my hands as I take them to the customer. We never scream. We grit our teeth and raise our eyebrows. We mouth “Fuck,” but only if we are behind the espresso machine and out of sight. We don’t drop what we are holding, even if it is what’s burning us. What I’m trying to say is, I think this will make childbirth bearable.

A good number of my friends have those “real jobs” everyone refers to with air-quotes. And while I understand that a “real job” means a job in which one can move up, or a job in which one is doing something that he or she has some interest in long-term pursuing, it still seems unfair, as if I wake up in the morning to serve invisible coffee to stuffed animals. Though at times my job seems unreal, or surreal, I’m pretty sure it is taking place in reality.

Most mornings, I’m awake at 4:30. It’s pitch dark outside, and I immediately think of a few excuses I didn’t show up for work for when they inevitably call me in a few hours. Food poisoning, 109 fever, my grandfather died and I just got the phone call this morning (both of my grandfathers are already dead so this is not a jinx), my kitten got eaten by squirrel, I set my hair on fire with the blow-dryer, I just woke up in Central Park with no shoes on and I don’t know how I got here. Then I pull myself out of bed, try to remember to brush my teeth, and walk to the subway.

On the streets, and in the subway station, there are only a few other people around. As I see it, there is an unspoken code. Some kind of mutual 5 a.m. understanding: we are invisible. There is no eye contact, no acknowledgment of one other. Some of the subway riders are still out from the night before, and some are heading off to work (mostly fast food and construction jobs, some nurses). You can tell the difference by their fresh-from-the-shower wet hair versus just-partied sweaty hair, and sad eyes longing to get back into bed versus expectant eyes longing to get into bed.

I open the shop alone with keys I was given after working there two weeks. “Are you sure? Are you sure is this OK? What if I screw up?” I think I asked the manager, fearful of a soon-to-be-discovered latent urge I might have to flee to Atlantic City with all the money in the register.

I put on music I like, because I know no one is there to make fun of the fact that I have the new Taylor Swift single on my iPod. I organize bagel by type and grind coffee by the pound. At 6:30, someone else comes in to work with me. We decide who wants to be on bar, and who wants to be on register.

Days to be on bar: You’re hungover, you’re nauseous, your boyfriend broke up with you via text message and tear remnants are still visible on your face, you haven’t slept in three days, you accidentally slept with one of the customers last night and would prefer to not make eye contact, you’re pretty sure if someone orders a big-sized macchiato (oxymoron!) from you, you’re going to snap.

Days to be on register: You’re feeling social, you want to chat people up, you’re hopeful that a celebrity might come in and you can make a killer joke which would of course lead to a job as their personal assistant, it’s 100 degrees outside and you don’t want to be excessively steaming milk with your hand on the burning metal pitcher, you’ve already had too much coffee and the idea of not talking makes your face feel like it’s melting and your brain feel like it’s going to explode.

I often prefer to be on register, but being on bar can be enjoyable, too. Latte art is a skill I’ve come to take a lot of pride in. It’s kind of like arts and crafts! I can make leaves on top of your lattes, and hearts atop your cappuccinos. But more importantly, I can talk to you about it. People (read: my family) find this endlessly impressive. I have spent many a dinner party waving around my glass of wine saying things like, “For cappuccinos you have to stretch the milk, but for lattes you really want to keep that steam wand in place.” Everyone (read: my grandmother) looks at me like I just told them I can shoot fire from my eyeballs.

For me, being on bar is fairly tedious because of my height, or lack thereof. I’m virtually invisible. And over the loud grinding of espresso beans, I can’t pipe in and make a joke. I can’t even snoop on other peoples’ conversations. So at most 6:30 in the mornings, I request the position on register. I’m just being honest here: it’s because I want to talk to you.

For the most part, you’re a regular. I know your drink by heart depending on the season, and I probably know your first name. I have a vague idea of what you do for a living, or I know exactly what you do for a living and I’ve already Googled you. I know which customer is your husband or your wife even if you’ve never come in together, because you both carry the same baby or you get drinks for one another.

“I’ll have mine, and also a Big With Whole Milk and Nine Sugars,” you might say. Nine sugars? Wait a second, you must be Jim’s wife.

Because you and I only have a few moments with each other every day, our knowledge of each other’s lives grows slowly over the course of time. Today you find out what my parents do for a living, tomorrow I learn that you used to bartend because you teach me to always make sure to hand out one-dollar bills, the next day I find out that you got an advance on your novel, or that when you were in the Korean War you had to pee on your weapons to keep them from freezing. It’s the longest and most mysterious first date. And then one day I learn that it’s your birthday. Coffee’s on me.

You all come in and you take your same seats and your toddlers squeal in delight when they see each other. You order for your spouses and trade crossword puzzles for book reviews. If there’s no line, you stand at the counter and stir your drink for five minutes so that we can chat. Yes, I’m always free Friday nights to watch your really cute kids and your HBO. Sure, I will absolutely take that unwanted stack of books from you, and tonight us baristas will read aloud to each other from The Infidelity Pact.

Of course every job has those days where the rhythm is missing. I’ve been up since 4:30. I haven’t eaten. I’ve taste-tested too much coffee and it’s giving me a weird kind of buzz where my body feels jittery but my brain feels dead. Someone sent back her cappuccino because it wasn’t foamy enough. Someone took the wrong drink, causing everyone behind him to take the wrong drink, causing us to remake every drink. My co-worker broke up with his girlfriend the night before and has to go into the bathroom periodically to collect himself. A woman in a pants suit threw crumpled up money at me while she was on her cell phone.

But I can tolerate those days, because the days with rhythm are like a natural high. I made a great playlist the night before. I’m working on the floor with my best friends. We gossip about customers while we steam milk. (When we don’t know names, customers’ drinks become their names. “Small Skim Latte Extra Shot was on Law & Order last night,” or “Honey Soy Macchiato’s cute boyfriend broke his collarbone scuba diving.”) We scoop ice to the beat of the music. All our favorite customers come in. I have a thirty second exchange with each one because the line is out the door, but each exchange tests my wit and memory. Our boss comes in and pats everyone on the back, yells, “The A-Team!” That 80’s power pop song he loves comes on and he starts singing all the wrong words. Customers look on, pleased, at what probably makes them feel like they’re back in the small town they’re from, or always dreamed of moving to.

In the beginning it was a job, but now it’s a lifestyle. And not one I’m ashamed of just because it’s not “real,” just because I don’t have dreams of cream cheese-ing bagels well into my thirties. When people ask me what I do, I don’t need to say it in that self-deprecating way I used to (though sometimes I mistakenly revert to my old ways). After college, I needed proof that there was comfort somewhere in New York City. Proof that it wasn’t just a place where people walked fast and told each other to fuck off.

We’re putting on a production, a high school play. We are a cast and a crew, isolating ourselves with shoptalk, bonding over complaints. We’ll stay late mopping up and making jokes. Dishing dirt, being irritated and speaking in tongues you can’t understand. Did we get a new portafilter? Is your grind the same as her grind? Well, how hard is your tamp? We roll our eyes at a decaf espresso order. We hate when you ask for your drink “with no sugar,” because we don’t always hear the “no.” We mechanically repeat phrases: Sorry we don’t have one (a bathroom), Sorry we don’t take take them (credit cards), All our shots are pulled double so do you want two double shots? We beg for shift coverage when we’re at the ends of our ropes. And then we come in on our days off because it feels the same as stopping off at home.

The other day, my boss asked me if I could drive around and do some coffee deliveries with him. We were in his Jeep, and I was asking him if he could sing me any of the songs he wrote from when he was 17 and wore a leather vest in a rock band. He was belting out a love ballad when the phone rang, and I caught the tail end of his conversation.

"How’s your wife?...And the kids? Good, good. No, no kids for me. How come? What do you mean how come!? I’ve already got thirty of them to take care of!" He looked at me and winked. I belong to a community now, in a place where I wasn’t sure community existed.

Oh, and thank you for my ever-growing collection of umbrellas. Thanks for never coming back for those.

Also, we all hate Splenda, and you should know it’s bad for you.

Emma Barrie is a contributor to This Recording. She is a writer living in Brooklyn. She tumbls here. Her last entry in these pages was The Keyboard Company.

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"Good Morning, Good Morning" - The Beatles (mp3)

"Rise & Shine" - The Little Ones (mp3)

"Good Morning" - Gene Kelly (mp3)


In Which You Get What You Give In Nicole Holofcener's Please Give

Money Can't Buy You Class


Please Give

dir. Nicole Holofcener

90 minutes

Please Give opens with a startling sequence, a parade of breasts being placed into a mammogram scanner. However this may be the most dignified sequence in the film. Nicole Holofcener’s latest film deals quite a bit with death and dignity in ways that are both subtle and ways that whack you right over the head. While the opening scene is one of those head-whackers, the final one is more of a head scratcher, with far less dignity for those involved. 

It’s a little cliché at this point to compare Nicole Holofcener to Woody Allen, but when she says things to the Village Voice like “death is the new yoga,” it’s unavoidable. Sure her films explore the vapid morality of the Manhattan bourgeoisie, and sure she was raised by Charles Joffe, Allen’s longtime producer, but it's this interest in death and the existential terror of growing old that for me puts her in Woody’s company.  

The characters in Please Give are all surrounded by death. The main protagonists, Alex (Oliver Platt), Kate (Catherine Keener) and their daughter Abby, are waiting for their elderly neighbor Andra (Ann Guilbert) to die so they can expand into her apartment, which they have already purchased. Andra, meanwhile, is cared for by her two daughters, Mary (Amanda Peet) and Rebecca (Rebecca Hall), who she raised after their mother committed suicide a decade before. The two families are surrounded by death in more subtle ways as well. Rebecca administers the aforementioned mammograms for a living while Kate and Alex purchase furniture from the grieving relatives of the recently deceased to sell in their hip overpriced vintage furniture shop.

Kate, the film’s main protagonist, has much in the way of demons to excise. She feels guilt over how much she has, guilt about how she got it, and obsesses over how she can get right with the less fortunate. This obsession often leads her imagination down the darkest of imaginary alleys. When she sees a disheveled black man outside of a restaurant she tries to give him her leftovers, only to find that he is waiting for a table. She imagines the wife of her building’s super to be wheelchair bound for no apparent reason other than it seems to serve her Dickensian image of their poor family. 

Kate’s husband Alex has less of a problem with his own station in life. He chooses to obsess over his own age and virility. He steps out on Kate with a much younger woman for no other reason than to see if he can. Up to the point of the affair we are lead to believe that their relationship and family life seems fine, and it is. While in bed with his mistress she points out that people often say that when someone cheats it is because something is wrong with their relationship. He rejects this and says "some people say that it can help, that it can make it better." With this line he reveals the level to which he has been using this younger woman and just how self-involved the whole affair really was.

Alex had no problems at home, he just needed to feel young. Together with a young man who thinks that administering mammograms must be an awesome job “from a guy’s point of view,” these are the only male characters in the film. But if Holofcener is truly meant to inherit Woody Allen’s mantle, perhaps by making Alex a Howard Stern fan she is righting the wrongs of many of Allen’s portrayals of women.  

The poor child of these two obsessives is Abby. She has serious body-image issues and pretty bad skin. But she is convinced that a pair of $200 jeans can make things better. Kate can’t possibly understand where her daughter learned such superficiality when there are people starving in the streets! Their relationship is strained and volatile. Kate sees in Abby a shallow and entitled child despite her efforts to raise someone less materialistic and needy. When Abby chastises Kate for trying to give $20 to a homeless man and says “you never give me $20! Give him the $5!” Kate hands over the five and says to the man “I’m so ashamed.” Clearly she’s ashamed for all the wrong reasons.  

Throughout Please Give we see Kate use charity to alleviate her class guilt with calamitous results. She can never understand why on one hand her charity doesn’t seem to make her feel any better nor help the people she bestows it on. When she decides to give back a valuable vase to a man whose parents' furniture made Kate a lot of money, he seems untouched by the gesture (as she leaves he accidentally breaks her valuable yet mostly symbolic vase by dropping it on the floor). However since Kate is so overly concerned with her own do-goodery she is unable to see the ways in which her own charity is robbing the recipients of their own dignity.  

My favorite scene in Please Give follows the birthday party scene in which Kate and Alex give their neighbor Andra a box of beauty products as a gift. The party is filled with uncomfortable, awkward, honest moments that come mostly at Andra’s expense. Once the guests all leave we see Andra shuffle out her apartment and down the hall where she tosses the box of creams and conditioners down the rubbish shaft. A dignified moment for one of the film’s most complex comic characters.  

Like Woody Allen’s protagonists, Kate and Alex are not perfect people. They aren’t perfectly awful, either. There is something very human and normal about their shallowness, and there are moments where each of them transcend this trope as well. For Alex, a sweet scene with his daughter where she confronts him about his affair. For Kate it’s a very touching and sincere couple of scenes with Rebecca, the radiologist daughter of their elderly neighbor. Rebecca is the woman Kate wishes to be. She lives as selflessly as one can realistically imagine to. However she, too, is incredibly unhappy. Kate seems to recognize this sadness in Rebecca.  

As the film closes with Alex and Kate buying Abby her jeans (which at first seemed ridiculously expensive until we see what these people pay for used furniture) I’m not sure what thought we are supposed to be left with. On one hand Kate and Alex may be coming to the conclusion that perhaps their daughter’s happiness is not only in the balance, but also a just reward for a different form of charity. On the other hand, the viewer is left with a picture of a girl who, while obviously very happy and confident in her jeans, is doomed to a life of superficiality and narcissism, just like her parents.

For her it's these jeans, for her dad it’s a sexy young dermatologist, for her mom it’s a larger apartment. They are the things we think will make us happier, but just give us more to feel shitty about. And from that there is no escape. Says Holofcener, "It's more of an existential than a circumstantial sadness about our helplessness and the inevitability of death and the pointlessness of everything.” It’s a Sisyphean dilemma. Watching them pass on these problems to their daughter is heart-wrenching.

Woody Allen recently said: "Everybody knows how awful the world is and what a terrible situation it is and each person distorts it in a certain way that enables him to get through. Some people distort it with religious things. Some people distort it with sports, with money, with love, with art, and they all have their own nonsense about what makes it meaningful, and all but nothing makes it meaningful." Please Give is about just such distortions. It isn't a bad movie. Its a good movie about bad people whose distortions make them seem worse than the rest of us. In truth however, todos somos yuppie furniture dealers. Give or take a few manipulations.

David Hill is a writer living in Brooklyn. This is his first appearance in these pages. He twitters here.

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