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Entries in kara vanderbijl (78)

Thursday
Dec112014

In Which This Must Not Be The Place

Panic Room

by KARA VANDERBIJL

The One I Love
director Charlie McDowell

91 minutes

Every relationship has its house rules: put the toilet lid down, don't cheat, listen to what I have to say before telling me what I should do. But Ethan (Mark Duplass) has broken the big one, so he and Sophie (Elisabeth Moss) visit a therapist to see if they can salvage their marriage.

Call me when you get there, don't make fun of me in front of your friends, make yourself more emotionally available.

Ethan and Sophie try so hard it's painful to watch. Attempting to recapture the magic of their early courtship, they break into a stranger's yard in the wee hours and jump into the pool, failing to understand that what thrilled them early on wasn't the act itself but performing it with someone attractive they didn't yet know.

When his initial methods fail, the therapist suggests a new approach: the couple should escape for the weekend to a remote retreat, a huge, beautiful house on lush grounds complete with a guest cottage.

Pick up your socks, pick up some milk, will you, honey can you pick up some beer?

Taking a trip: like telling the truth or trying a new hobby, it's one of the great relationship rejuvenators that can also double as a death knell. At first, Ethan and Sophie bask in the opulence of their getaway: they poke their head in magazine-perfect rooms, begin to laugh, explore the guest house, open a bottle of wine. The film's mood — earlier dominated by discord, deep shadows, and disconnected dialogue — lightens. Ethan fires up a joint and they pass it back and forth. Somebody, we sense, is about to get lucky.

And somebody does. But in the morning, Ethan has no memory of their encounter.

We immediately cry “Drugs!”, of course, but McDowell's film takes a refreshing turn for the weird and ends up revealing more about the rules within a relationship than another rote story about a difficult relationship could.

Slowly, Ethan and Sophie realize that they're not alone at their retreat — in fact, another Ethan and Sophie live in the guest house, which only one of them can enter at a time. Mostly identical, these doppelgangers embody aspects of Ethan and Sophie's personalities that have fallen by the wayside the longer they've been together. Sophie becomes enamored with faux Ethan, while real Ethan's suspicions grow and fake Sophie cooks bacon.

In every relationship, an (unconsciously) agreed-upon dynamic guides the couple's interactions, and the longer the relationship lasts, the more this dynamic cements and resists change. Ethan and Sophie remember the wildness of their early days because these rules didn't yet exist: they “did Ecstasy at Lollapalooza” and jumped into strangers' pools. Ironically, of course, the very freedom to be wild and oneself at the beginning of a relationship is what determines one's role in the relationship later on, a role that's very difficult to break out of — unless, of course, you meet someone new.

Ethan cheated on Sophie — it's the whole reason they're in therapy, after all — and now Sophie cheats on Ethan with his shadow, a foil that apologizes for all the wrong he's ever done and wants to be as close to her as possible. This allows Sophie to see herself as a generous and forgiving spouse, which, ironically, fake Sophie also embodies — the doppelganger is so accommodating and domestic she's basically a transplant from the 1950s.

Moss and Duplass deftly impersonate both the classically boring, married couple that dresses in neutral tones and goes for jogs around the property, as well as the doppelganger duo. It's especially easy to imagine Moss as a blonde and icy cool Hitchcock heroine, which adds even more interest to her character as the film dives deeper into fantasy.

McDowell doesn't draw any conclusions, and by the end it's hard to tell the difference between what's real and what's false. Ultimately, the film's greatest success lies in the subtle suggestion that Ethan and Sophie were in fact in a better place at the beginning of the film than at the end. It's better to build a safe atmosphere in which to be uncomfortable with your partner, than one that is comfortable but unsafe.

Kara VanderBijl is the managing editor of This Recording. She is a writer living in Chicago. She last wrote in these pages about Outlander. She tumbls here and twitters here. You can subscribe to her letters here.

Monday
Sep292014

In Which Her Mistake Was Waiting Six Episodes

Resemblances

by KARA VANDERBIJL

Just like that, it’s time to bid adieu to Outlander -- at least until April, when the Starz adaptation of Diana Gabaldon’s beloved novel will return to screens with its first season’s final eight episodes. Seriously, whoever created mid-season breaks needs to be taken out and flogged. While that’s happening, let’s take a look at a few things we’ve learned from the show over the past eight weeks:

1

Explaining this story to people who haven’t heard of it never gets easier. Eventually the only solution is to dish up a healthy serving of black pudding, sit them in front of the telly, and make them watch it.

2

Or else pass them a copy of Gabaldon’s book and watch them fall into spasms of delight when they realize there are SEVEN MORE IN THE SERIES.

3

Speaking of spasms, if a group of ancient stones starts whispering to you, your vacation is not going well and you need to leave.

4

Should you get sucked into the past via the aforementioned stones, don’t fret: your life is about to get a whole lot more exciting.

5

People pay good money to have experiences like yours, Claire. Haven’t you heard of living museums?

6

Just think: if you travel back to the past, you start a never-ending cycle wherein you never really cease to exist.

7

Don’t trust Redcoats.

8

If the captain of the Redcoats, who looks suspiciously like the husband you left behind in the future, starts confessing his sadism to you, this is not your cue to let your guard down.

9

This isn’t Fifty Shades of Grey.

10

But it is a romance, so look alive, Claire!

11

When you have a completely unexplained but intense attraction to a perfect redhead who calls you by a cute nickname and wears a kilt, you need to do what God intended and jump his bones immediately. Don’t wait six episodes.

12

Then again, seven is the perfect number, isn’t it?

13

The wedding is pivotal, and not just because of its consummation. Every decision thereafter involves another person. Claire cannot escape through the stones anymore without facing the consequences. There are consequences, there is loss, on both sides now.

14

Outlander as a portrait of female desire.

15

Then again…

16

If you are a woman in the 18th century, you will narrowly escape rape in pretty much every episode.

17

By the end I wouldn’t have been surprised if Claire had just rolled her eyes and hiked up her skirts. “Let’s just get this over with.”

18

All in all, it has always been a drag to be a woman.

19

But that’s okay, because Jamie exists.

20

Behind every good woman is a well-written male character.

21

There are few greater male characters than ones who are written into existence by women who are obviously in love with them.

22

If you don’t believe me, read the books.

23

Scars are sexy.

24

Do NOT fuck with anybody whose last name is Randall.

25

If your name is Frank Randall, you’re boring but we still feel sorry for you. We’re sorry you’re boring. Somehow, despite being boring, you manage to be important, which probably wasn’t easy for Diana Gabaldon and certainly isn’t for Tobias Menzies, who plays you. He’s doing a great job, though.

26

Frank, your theme song is Fleetwood Mac’s “Secondhand News.”

27

Obviously casting Menzies as both Frank and his ancestor, Black Jack Randall, was a key move, if only because it gets us thinking about family resemblances, which aren’t just skin deep. Violence, abandonment, detachment, psychopathy… couldn’t they also be inherited?

28

The following things look comfortable: sheepskins, kilts, cloaks, Highland grass, those cozy knit caps all the guys seem to wear, not having to wear any panties under your skirts (!)

29

The following things do not look comfortable: corsets, any of the chairs, that weird roll thing Claire has to strap around her middle to make her ass look bigger underneath her skirts, saddles, putting a knife inside your boot, being flogged, wigs, those strips of cloth men had to tie around their necks for whatever reason, not having to wear any panties under your skirts

30

Everything else aside, ripping open a bodice seems pretty satisfying.

31

There are a lot of ancient euphemisms for sex and all of them are wonderful but they’re used in such distasteful situations that it’s hard to imagine asking anyone to grind your corn and have it sound even remotely inviting.

32

None of the food looks good.

33

Books aren’t just for smarts; they’re also for tickling the deep, abiding parts in all of us that want to fall in love. That want adventure, and risk, and a good, hot, long roll in the hay discarding 18th-century clothes. That want men who wear their kilts and scars with pride.

34

Romance is the only genre.

Kara VanderBijl is the managing editor of This Recording.


Friday
Sep122014

In Which We Take Anyone Who Speaks Our Language

Good Americans

by KARA VANDERBIJL

The Cosmopolitans
creator Whit Stillman

Aubrey (Carrie MacLemore) is having a rough day. Her bedheaded French boyfriend, for whom she recently left Alabama to live in Paris, has banished her to the maid’s quarters. When he tells her that she can’t use the kitchen in his place anymore, either, she straps on a pair of heels and trudges along the Seine.

But that’s not the worst of it, because Aubrey is about to sit down at a sidewalk cafe with the only people in Paris who are more deplorable than her boyfriend: Hal (Jordan Rountree) and Jimmy (Adam Brody), fellow American expats who lounge around, complaining about French women.

And that’s about all there is to say about The Cosmopolitans. Oscar Wilde once said that good Americans go to Paris when they die, but according to Stillman, you’ve just got to be bored. Paris is the bright pair of shoes or the clever joke you bring to a party to differentiate yourself from everybody else, a word that means nothing anymore except for culture, pleasure, and wealth.

Hal, Jimmy and Aubrey have come to Paris in search of friendship and romance, which, even after watching the pilot, is still the only thing we know about any of them. They have no jobs, no roots, no ambitions: they flit from cafe to house party, glass of wine in hand, seemingly directionless.

Watching them is a little bit like trying to find your way around a foreign city at night when you’ve just spent the past twenty hours on an airplane, not sleeping. You want something to fall from the sky into your lap, like a plotline, or perhaps a conflict, or maybe a free pizza. You want somebody to come up to you and speak in English and lead you to your bed, where you will be able to dream of jokes that are actually funny and dialogue that actually sounds like people speaking to one another.

Expatriatism is all about imagination. We wouldn’t travel at all if visiting other lands didn’t mean exploring the alternate facets of our own personalities. Immature travelers spend most of their time differentiating their new experiences from ones they’re familiar with, asking, “Why isn’t this like what I’m used to?” These people are incapable of imagining the world, or themselves, differently. Seasoned expatriates create a third culture in which aspects of both their native surroundings and their new ones are integrated.

Aubrey, the token fish-out-of-water, is meant to lure us into Hal, Jimmy and Sandro’s territory, the third culture that they’ve created. Normally it’d be hard to believe that a woman on her own in a foreign country would comfortably sit with three strange guys at a sidewalk cafe. These things seem to happen naturally when you’re abroad: it’s like your ears have been fine-tuned to hear your language from hundreds of yards away, that you’ve been outfitted with an internal GPS that leads you to others like yourself.

Still, it’s Aubrey’s willingness to hang out with them that propels The Cosmopolitans into the far reaches of fantasy. Within a few minutes, Hal, Jimmy, and Sandro insult her drink order (sangria) and launch a smear campaign against Hal’s ex, Clemence, who, for all intents and purposes, seemed like a pretty decent person, just not into weird entitled creeps like Hal who are only capable of one facial expression.

Aubrey can’t see these red flags because she’s still convinced that her bedhead boyfriend wants to be with her. Perhaps she believes she’s living inside Beauty and the Beast.

It’s a pity because Adam Brody, of The O.C. fame, is genuinely funny, and he brings his open Seth Cohen face to this role. Unfortunately, this only serves to make the other characters, especially Hal, look like stock photography someone from Yale might use in an admissions brochure.

Of course, one might concede that in a foreign country, when you’ve just been dumped by your beast of a boyfriend and you’re all alone, you’ll take anyone who speaks your language or shows a sign of friendliness. In which case I’d like to tell Aubrey and anybody else considering this as a new fall show: stick to singing candlesticks and talking clocks. The Cosmopolitans may look good, but really, it’s positively primeval. Plus, Gilmore Girls just landed on Netflix.

Kara VanderBijl is the managing editor of This Recording.

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