The Movie Club

Alienation for Everyone!
Critic vs. critic.
Jan. 9 2009 10:46 AM

The Movie Club

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Thank you, Lisa, for bringing up the curious case of Cadillac Records director Darnell Martin. (Welcome back!) I'm not nearly as bothered by the low proportions of female critics—after all, film criticism isn't exactly a robust career choice at the moment—as I am by the lack of females making movies. (There's only two on my top 10 list.) Catherine Hardwicke, Diane English, the nine-years-absent Kimberly Peirce, and a few others aside, where are they? (Friends With Money director Nicole Holofcener had some nuanced answers to this perplexing question when I interviewed her in 2006.) Our movies would surely have a bolder take on "women's issues" (a phrase I use with minor reluctance, as they're everybody's issues) if more women were inside the machine, directing and writing and green-lighting them. Abortion is only the most obvious example, especially following the year of the shmashmortion shmavoided in 2007. It isn't just that contemporary depictions of legal abortion seem to be taboo, as Lisa points out, but also that the taboo is retroactive and regressive (apologies for repeating myself on this point).

None of these tendencies, of course, can detract from the achievement of the January '08 release 4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days, a grimly thrilling account of friendship pushed to its harrowing extreme and a potent proof that the personal and the political always flow through the same veins. Revolutionary Road is a chamber piece that doesn't carry the same charge, despite its ghastly pre-Roe ending. My reaction to the film falls somewhere between Dana's and Jeannette's: I'm looking at the Wheelers through Plexiglas, but I don't mind, because in some ways they're just as intellectually and emotionally inaccessible to themselves as they are to us. Alienation for everybody! The couple's conflict is in some respects epistemological: They don't necessarily know their own desires and motivations, and they don't know they don't know. (Sorry, I'm starting to sound like Lloyd Dobler …)

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To be more specific: Does April really think she thinks that Frank is a caged genius battering his pretty head against the bars of suburban conformity? Or is her reverence for his unidentified talents a useful fiction, one she can use to prop up her own poor choices and place the responsibility of creating a meaningful existence entirely onto her husband's shoulders? Does Frank really think he craves a braver, more expansive life? Or does he know that he simply longs for a good excuse to hang onto a safe, predictable routine so that he can also maintain a smug, superior (and equally safe) distance from said routine? Even if the movie doesn't rattle your bones, those questions might knock around your head for a long time after the lights go up, because they're so easy to turn upon one's own life and its mysteries. What do we know and when did we know it? Or, scarier: What have we done and why did we do it?

Incidentally, it's a fantastic moment in any devoted moviegoer's life when you realize there's no obligation to decide whether you "like" or "don't like" a movie. That figuring out whether or not you "like" a movie can be happily irrelevant to your experience. That even a mediocre film can—maybe just through chance—set off sparks inside.

One bit of off-topic housekeeping before I pass the baton to Jeannette. A couple of friends have e-mailed to ask about the absence of Silent Light from our lists and discussion. (I'm afraid the vagaries of the micro-release schedule tripped me up—since the movie starts a theatrical engagement in New York this month, I thought it was fodder for 2009.) Set in a Mexican Mennonite community where a devout farmer is torn between his family and his mistress, Carlos Reygadas' strangely hypnotic film lacks the bat-shit audacity of his previous festival-favorite provocations (Japón and Battle in Heaven), but I was enthralled by its almost otherworldly cinematography and its hunger for miracles. Gothamites can catch it right now at Film Forum. As for me, I can't wait to check out the rest of the Club, and I bid you all a fond farewell.

Jessica

Jeannette Catsoulis writes about film for the New York Times, Reverse Shot, and Las Vegas CityLife. Lisa Schwarzbaum is a movie critic at Entertainment Weekly. Dana Stevens is Slate's movie critic. Jessica Winter is the film critic and senior editor at O, the Oprah MagazineStephanie Zacharek is a senior writer and film critic for Salon.