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Entries in mila kunis (3)


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 Only Have Sex In Montage

The Boyfriend Experience


Friends With Benefits
dir. Will Gluck
109 minutes

I used to think men and women could be friends. Growing up, I thought I was a tomboy because I had lots of boy friends. Not boyfriends but friends that were boys. Looking back, I ended up hooking up with half of them and the other half came out gay after we hooked up. This is obviously a pressing issue since two films were released this year on the subject: Ivan Reitman's No Strings Attached and now Friends With Benefits directed by Will Gluck (Easy A).

Jezebel was where I read that Easy A could be the next Mean Girls. I enjoyed the literary allusion to The Scarlet Letter as well as the parallel storyline this film shared with 1987's Can’t Buy Me Love, a movie about a teenage nerd who pays a girl to make him seem cool and they fall in love. Mr. McDreamy, Patrick Dempsey, played the lead.

When I see the charming posters for these films I can’t help to think, "but they get together in the end!" Any pre-adolescent sixth grader can tell you that. At the end of the movie, they are going to fall in love and live happily ever after. That’s not my only beef with these movies. These people are also way too good-looking to need fuck buddies. If you took the female leads from both of these films and put them in an Oscar worthy drama they would still hook up.

This is all actually a sensitive subject for me; I am a recovering fuck buddy. I actually had two friends with benefits scenarios. I am a bit embarrassed to admit all of this. Maybe that one year of Catholic school really did screw me up. Fast-forward 12 years later to the booty call and 4th wave feminism, add a shot of Maker’s Mark and we are up to speed.

So there was…let’s call him Boy A. Not Andrew Garfield, just my good friend from college, Boy A. Boy A and I became single at the same time and found ourselves equally horny. We figured we would do it a few times until we found real people to date/sleep with. In our social circles, we urged to keep this quiet. Especially since, okay not proud of this either, he dated a dear girl friend of mine. I was never this kind of girl. I actually had this happen to me once and I was devastated and here I was, repeating the cliché. It’s physically possible, just generally frowned upon. But we didn’t care; he would compare us to a Dave Eggers short story as if we were a literary novelty.

We got more intense. When we hung out it felt like dates. People started finding out, even his ex-girlfriend and my now ex-friend. He told me he loved me and that he wanted to make me his girlfriend. I just did not feel the same way. Everything went sour from there. We were no longer friends. We tried to make one another jealous and fought all the time. He said I was like Summer, rejecting him, fearful that I would probably fall in love before he was able to move on.

This is coming from the guy who took me to go see Meek’s Cutoff at Film Forum. Not only did he admit that he saw (500) Days of Summer but he equated himself with JGL.

We ultimately decided we would never work and that we actually needed to stop talking to one another. No sex and no friendship. Nothing. We haven't spoke since. I was fine! Thinking, "I don’t need a boyfriend! What for? Dates? Oh so we can hit it off, become sexually compatible, date, meet each other’s parents, make it facebook official, move in together, get married, have kids, grow old, and die.” Yeah not for me. But jeez, Ian Curtis wasn’t messing around when he said, "love will tear us apart again" because low and behold, there came Boy B.

Boy B was a new co-worker. He became the talk around the office cooler. All the girls wanted him and I had no idea why. He was good looking but completely not my type. Maybe my initial disinterest was the appeal to him. He wanted me. Me? The same girl who had braces two years ago.

I was in over my head. Texting, "yeah you can come over but you can’t stay over." At first, it was so carefree. I am pretty much nocturnal and he worked late. I was doing my best to keep up and was enjoying doing so physically. Mentally it was excruciating. It was one late night/early morning drunken mess after another and to top it all off, we were co-workers. He finally laid down the law: "I think of you as a friend, you’re hot and we have amazing sex together. That’s it." And that’s when I said, "I can’t anymore." Which meant ignoring texts, five a.m. phone calls and ultimately leaving my job.

With all this free time not working and not fucking, I was able to do some research. I watched a lot of Sex and the City. In the wee early seasons of the franchise, there was an episode titled "The Fuck Buddy." This was worth the 72-minute wait on megaupload. In the episode, Carrie mentions Edith Wharton and Henry James as she romanticizes New York City. Here’s one of my favorite quotes: "Your tits look really great in that thing." I recognized Carrie’s go-to fuck buddy right away. It was Dennis Duffy from 30 Rock.

My story came full circle when Friends with Benefits came out last weekend. See, I have been completely single for a few months now. With no hook-ups or drunken make-outs. Not even a real date with a guy, like where he pays and I shave my legs. I decided to see the movie all by myself.

I was mildly embarrassed seeing groups of young girls and perky couples walk in. I barely was able to spit out, "One for Friends With Benefits." As I finished a tweet about the uneventful fall line up for movies this year, a young woman sat down right next to me. There were other seats in the theater. Maybe she was embarrassed to be alone. She seemed pretty and normal. I wondered why she didn’t have a group of friends or a significant other. No woman is an island after all!

In Friends With Benefits, Mila Kunis is so New York and Justin Timberlake is so L.A. They are so opposite, how will this ever work! Within the first twenty minutes, Kunis’ character exclaims how she will show her leading man "the real New York," not the tourist stuff. So she shows him the Brooklyn Bridge, a view of the Empire State building, and Times Square. I would have taken him to a rave in Bushwick, spun the cube at Astor Place, and probably split a forty at the closest Papaya King.

Friends With Benefits contains homages to to Nora Ephron, Nicholas Sparks, Pretty Woman and of course Katherine Heigl of The Ugly Truth. I was very impressed with the opening to the film, wherein both Kunis and Timberlake share similar relationship woes as they are dumped by Emma Stone and Andy Samberg. Emma Stone’s caricature breaks up with JT because he was late to a John Mayer concert, thus missing "Your Body Is A Wonderland." But if you are going go to a John Mayer concert in the first place, you go to hear "Your Body Is A Wonderland." It’s like going to the Louvre, you must see the Mona Lisa or in L.A., you must go to an In-N-Out Burger. Is it a reason to break up with someone?

No Strings Attached and Friends With Benefits share identical moments. Alcohol fuels an ill-fated relationship. Rules need to be laid down. Something like: thou shall not cuddle for too long. Thou shall not look each other in the eyes, thou shall not have time when you hang out and not have sex, e.g. meals together, movies, you know normal people stuff.

The film teases the idea of JT as a workaholic and Mila Kunis as the quirky girl that will show him a good time. But a lot of these things get lost in a cute but provocative sex montage. It was very similar to No Strings Attached’s sex montage, in that both lacked a doggy-style position.

Friends With Benefits contains a ridiculous amount of exposition, throwaway characters, and pivotal plot points abruptly dropped. But who cares! Better yet, there is a fake romantic comedy that the couple notes stars Rashida Jones and Jason Segel. They make fun of the production value and the stereotypical dialogue. As cheesy as the faux rom-com seems, it serves as the blueprint for JT to win Kunis’ heart.

A great supporting cast eases the pain. NSA: Mindy Kaling, Kevin Kline, Greta Gerwig, and Ludacris! FWB: Patricia Clarkson, Woody Harrelson, and Bryan Greenberg. However, the film did leave out the whole false pregnancy scene and the adderall inspired threesome but seriously who’s counting? And more importantly, spoiler alert: they all get together in the end and live yet again, happily ever after.

As for me? Two fuck buddies and no, I did not end up with either of them. Through my experience and a few pretty bad romantic comedies, I have realized you do not need sex. I looked into it and lack of sex will not cause cancer. Next time around, I am going to have to do this all from scratch. Let’s say I am on a real first date in the near future.

Guy of my dreams: Oh yeah, I mean, I was on again off again with this one chick but then I met you. What about you? Ex-boyfriends?

Me: Funny you should bring that up because I’ve never had a boyfriend before. I’ve never even liked anyone. I’m a virgin and I’m actually saving myself for marriage.

Think he'll buy it?

Jessica Rionero is a contributor to This Recording. This is her first appearance in these pages. She is a writer and comedian living in New York. You can find her website here. She tumbls here and twitters here.

photo by drew kaufman

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In Which Black Swan Trumpets Disaster

Tortured Dancer


Black Swan

dir. Darren Aronofsky

107 minutes

Darren Aronofsky’s psychological thriller, Black Swan, is a cannonade of ballet’s absolutes turned burlesque. Like a self-doubting teenager who applies too much make-up or wears too much jewelry, the film piles on element after element and never once — despite its patent mirror motif — stops to consider its own reflection. In a world where precision wears the crown, Aronofsky’s cumulative fanaticism feels unwieldy.

Nina Sayers (Natalie Portman) is a tortured young dancer whose reach for perfection as lead in Swan Lake results in her fatal undoing. Delusive eruptions of anger and suspicion, fright and mutilation, pilot her to the end without ever establishing reality or any basis for comparison. The entire film is a cold sweat panic attack that wobbles cartoonishly under a score of clichés — a devoted and despotic former ballerina mother (Barbara Hershey) who paints nightmarish portraits of her daughter, Nina’s infantilized Capezio pink and plush toy bedroom, a doppelganger dancer, Lily (Mila Kunis), whose drugs, tattoos, drinking, and sex life tempt and thieve, and the company director, Thomas Leroy (Vincent Cassel), whose “Attack it! Attack it!” method of teaching is sexed up with adages on “losing yourself” and “letting go” in order to become “transcendent.”

At first Portman’s performance as Nina is fascinating because her initial calm is almost macabre. As tokens of imminent craze begin to surface — jealousy from other dancers, stress rashes, a ripped toenail while practicing her thirty-two fouettés — the prospect of a diametric character becomes exciting. But Portman doesn’t break from the mould. She is the stereotype of a strained dancer, taut to the point of tears or possessed in a spate of delirium. No layer of warm-up shrugs or pastel legwarmers can hide overwrought, flinty intensity.

Like years of corset tightlacing, her entire face recedes into her fixed bun; even her eyebrows appear pinned. Her performance reaches its ceiling and remains there. And like so many thrillers that misfire, the camera ceaselessly orbits and stalks her every move; Portman’s Nina spends the majority of the movie trapped in what might as well be a hermetic maze of eternal mirrors.

While there are moments of stunning beauty, indelible is not a word that comes to mind. Ashen skin set against total darkness is contrast and nothing more. Music that bullies instead of chaperones is not moving, it’s simply too loud. A girl in a delicate white gown can so easily look like a girl in a nightgown. Rare are the moments where Black Swan takes off, and en masse, it’s the props that are deserving of praise. Like the celebratory cake, a gift from mother to daughter. Replete with bright pink edible flowers, lustre dust, and royal icing, it looks sickeningly sweet and under no circumstance would a dancer consider even one slice. The cake — so ridiculous and ornate like a Havisham relic — both mocks and infantilizes Nina. It’s the most heartbreaking and in some ways creepiest cake ever. A perfect prop!

Ballet in film indulges some of our guiltiest pleasures: drama is at its highest concentration, the pursuit of perfection is infinite, rivalry is both tacit and public, company hierarchy breeds paranoia, discipline breeds mania, and the dancer’s lissom body — a complex and almost cruel layering of muscles and bones, a miniature torso, a long neck — is impossible to ignore. With that in mind, some of the worst ballet films are in fact some of the best ballet films. We pander to their production because like CIA thrillers— cover-ups, classified files, lampooned conspiracies — ballet’s backstage can be similarly entertaining. Both genres are met with “It’s what you’d expect” approval and recommendation, and some even garner cult status.

So why isn’t Black Swan one of those terrible but wonderful ballet films? And what does it take to make a great ballet film a great ballet film? A central love story? A repellent but ultimately well-meaning impresario? Real soloists as lead characters? Or perhaps no lead characters at all? Is it a question of proportions? An even ratio of clichés to nuance? For every scene where she can’t eke out a perfect turnout, count one where she can let loose at a downtown walk-in class. For every question, another question?: “Why do you want to dance?” “Why do you want to live?”

That final example references the greatest ballet film: Powell and Pressburger’s 1948 The Red Shoes. In its climactic seventeen minute ballet of the same name, the most hallucinatory fantasia of optics and illusion dissolves the stage’s limitations into a celluloid nightmare. Likewise, the stage’s presence—its design, its costumes, the validity of live audience — imparts a physical power to the camera. Two art forms that are typically at odds converge. The ballet of The Red Shoes within the film displays the most harrowing commitment to art; a plenary account that Black Swan tries too hard to attain and ultimately misses entirely.

Durga Chew-Bose is the senior editor of This Recording. She is a writer living in Brooklyn. She tumbls here and twitters here.

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