Brow Beat
Slate's Culture Blog

May 20 2016 2:10 PM

Mike Birbiglia’s Charming Don’t Think Twice Trailer Shows the Dark Side of Improv Comedy

Mike Birbiglia exposes the bittersweet side of improv comedy in the excellent new trailer for Don’t Think Twice. The film, which premiered at South by Southwest, stars Keegan-Michael Key, Gillian Jacobs, Chris Gethard, Kate Micucci, Tami Sagher, and Birbiglia himself as an improv troupe called the Commune, who spend their free time dealing with day jobs and getting older. But success might turn out to be even more complicated than obscurity for the comedians when Jack (Key) secures them an audition for a Saturday Night Live–esque late-night sketch show.

Much like Birbiglia’s directorial debut, Sleepwalk With Me, Don’t Think Twice has certain autobiographical elements—in addition to his standup, film, and TV work, Birbiglia is an alum of Georgetown’s Improv Association, the same group that produced Nick Kroll, John Mulaney, and Alison Becker. The trailer, while definitely melancholy, still promises plenty of laughs, and Birbiglia will be promoting the film, fittingly, with a multicity improv tour that will include pop-up screenings of the film before it reaches theaters on July 22.

May 20 2016 11:47 AM

Kristen Stewart Searches for Her Brother’s Ghost in the Creepy Personal Shopper Trailer

International audiences can now experience a little bit of the Kristen Stewart film so polarizing that it was booed at this year’s Cannes Film Festival. Personal Shopper, the thriller that competed for the Palme d’Or, stars Stewart as an American in Paris who is haunted by a mysterious entity after she goes looking for her brother’s ghost. The new international trailer for the film is almost as glamorous as it is eerie—Stewart’s character works as a personal shopper, a profession she claims to hate but which offers a glitzy backdrop as she struggles to let go of her twin.

Personal Shopper finds Stewart reuniting with French director Olivier Assayas, with whom she worked on his 2014 Cannes submission, Clouds of Sils Maria. Their new collaboration has drawn mixed reviews so far: Despite the chilly reception at this year’s festival, it has also received its fair share of praise in the press too. Audiences can decide for themselves once the film makes its way to the U.S., though a date has not yet been set.

May 20 2016 11:37 AM

From Nina to Lemonade, Why We’re Still So Bad at Talking About Colorism

This article originally appeared in Vulture.

“I was never on the cover of Ebony or Jet. They want white-looking women like Diana Ross—light and bright.”—Nina Simone

In 2016, debate over colorism returned with renewed force. If you were looking, it was there on The Bachelor, when two half-black girls and their Haitian-born competitor argued about whether it was harder for a dark-skinned girl on the notoriously white show. It was there when Lil Kim debuted her most Michael Jackson-like transformation yet on Instagram and commenters freaked out about her pale new skin, some theorizing that her insecurities started when the rapper Notorious B.I.G. left her for a lighter woman. Even Beyoncé’s new visual album, Lemonade, widely seen as a celebration of black womanhood, has to reconcile the track “Formation,” whose loaded lyrics—with words such as “yellow-bone” and “Creole”—drew charges of playing into color hierarchies. Most notable is the outrage overNina, the Nina Simone biopic currently in theaters. Simone was very black, a fact that shaped her life and work. But instead of casting a dark-skinned actress, producers insisted on the light-skinned Zoe Saldana. For the film, Saldana’s skin was darkened with makeup, her nose widened, the effect like a mask, or a “block of clay,” as the writer Ta-Nehisi Coates put it to me. Coates was one of many whospoke against the casting of Saldana after a trailer with her odd face blazed through the internet this spring.

Yet even as terms like “yellowface“ and “whitewash“ sink into our cultural vocabulary, there remains confusion on basic matters of colorism. In a 1983 essay, the writer Alice Walker coined the word to explain “prejudicial or preferential treatment of same-race people based solely on their color.” Simply: lighter is better. “Light blacks,” as Walker called them, fare better in white society than “black blacks,” and their skin is prized in black communities. Colorism endures because both black and white people perpetuate it.

May 20 2016 8:31 AM

Zac Efron’s Character In Neighbors 2 Is Our First Post–Frat-Bro Frat Bro

This is a song about the tragedy of Teddy, Zac Efron’s omniendearing post–frat bro in Neighbors 2. He is a post–frat bro in multiple senses: He’s graduated from college. His brothers are getting married (to each other) and regretfully sexiling him from their shared house for the last time. More broadly, he is the god of a vanished or at least vanishing world, in which fraternities weren’t widely despised as bastions of misogyny and anti-intellectualism. In which thousands of campus conversations about rape culture hadn’t yet flowered like nightshade in the collegiate garden of Eden. Teddy’s post–frat bro is sweet and lost, newly woke to the fact that mainstream liberal discourse hates frat bros (even as interest in Greek life has surged over the past 10 years). But the saddest thing about him is that he never even existed in the first place.

Most reviewers agree that Teddy is the best thing about Neighbors 2, a funny and fun movie that finds Mac (Seth Rogen) and Kelly (Rose Byrne) trying to sell their house despite the rowdy, weed-peddling 18-year-olds (led by fresh-faced Chloe Grace Moretz) founding their rebel sorority next door. Teddy, an aimless graduate longing for his glory days in Delta Psi, first gloms onto Kappa Nu as a new source of friendship and partying but gets expelled for being “too old.” The betrayed becomes the betrayer when he offers his Grecian expertise to Mac and Kelly, who are trying to bring the sorority girls down. 

Slick with oily but wholesome charisma, Teddy as post–frat bro is a feminist’s best-case scenario, a well-meaning, superhot dum-dum who immediately realizes the error of his ways when some freshwomen call him out for sexism. He’s abashed when the Kappa Nu girls tell him that his frat parties had misogynist themes; later, he informs Mac and Kelly that it’s “not cool anymore” to call women hoes. Sexism, in Teddy’s world, is incidental, not indispensable. The core of his philosophy involves friendship (both brotherhood and sisterhood), enthusiasm, and Magic Mike–style sexy dancing. He doesn’t bat an eye at his best friend’s gay wedding and he’s flabbergasted that sororities, unlike fraternities, aren’t allowed to throw their own parties. (“There’s no actual right to party,” Mac tries to explain to him at one point, but it’s like telling a dog his water bowl’s not wet.) This is what we want to believe about dudes in fraternities: They are sweet, deluded boys who curl up with stuffed animals to sleep, fundamentally hold that men and women have an equal right (nay, duty) to get lit, and will run barefoot through the night crying when their friends seek alternative housing arrangements. We want to imagine sexist stereotypes falling away at the first exposure to progressive thought.

And maybe they do, for some. But reversing systemic frat misogyny is not as simple as one good-hearted kid’s personal revelation. Teddy is a melancholy figure, a frat bro adrift in a society that's hostile to the very idea of him. But he’s also so clearly a fantasy: If only Greek culture were so easily fixed. One of the Kappa Nu sisters calls Teddy “a beautiful centaur.” He appears like a genius loci to help them raise enough money to buy their sorority house—later, his irresistible magic dancing hypnotizes a group of girls while Mac and Kelly try to steal their drugs.

If the defining quality of the frat bro is un-self-awareness, what does it mean to be a woke frat bro? Can frat bros still bro with the dawning understanding that heaven and earth contain more things than are dreamt of in their bro-osophy? Teddy worries constantly about whether his friends “value” him, which is slightly different from whether they like him. Does he matter? Does he bring anything to the table? In this sense, the best reference point for Efron’s mythical hapless dude is not so much Everybody Wants Some!!, the Linklater orgy that saluted Greek life with rose-tinted nostalgia flags, as Magic Mike, about hunks of meat negotiating an economy that has stopped empowering them the way it used to (in part because society has grown less hetero-patriarchal).

Desperation may not be an obvious frat bro accessory, but it’s a richly poignant one. “There’s no I in sorority,” Teddy insists, despite all evidence to the contrary. The comedy here—a sweetly innocuous human punch line can’t locate his I—has a wistful edge. But as catchphrases go, it’s still better than “no means yes.”

May 20 2016 8:01 AM

The Good Wife Spinoff Should’ve Been a Musical. Seriously.

They may have left Alicia Florrick standing in a hotel corridor, her cheek still stinging from a freshly administered slap, but CBS confirmed at this week’s upfronts presentation that The Good Wife will be getting a spinoff series created by TGW’s Robert and Michelle King, centered around Alicia’s former partner, Diane Lockhart (Christine Baranski) and bestie, Lucca Quinn (Cush Jumbo). Details, including the title and the length of the first season, have yet to be announced, but one thing that’s certain is where the show will fall on CBS’ broadcast schedule: It won’t. Along with a previously announced Star Trek series, the Good Wife spinoff will be a marquee attraction for CBS All Access, the network’s $5.99/month streaming service.

Considering that The Good Wife never posted particularly strong ratings, it might seem a curious candidate for the franchise treatment, but where streaming is concerned, loyalty matters more than raw numbers, and it’s a more inspired choice than another NCIS or Criminal Minds. But even diehard Good Wife fans felt the show’s inspiration slipping in its final seasons, leaving open the question of whether the spinoff is the equivalent of trying to draw more water from a dried-up well.

May 20 2016 7:32 AM

“Everything Is a Remix” Takes on Star Wars: The Force Awakens

New York–based filmmaker Kirby Ferguson’s video series “Everything Is a Remix” explores the extent to which all creations are just remixes of whatever came before. In past installments, Ferguson has explored the original Star Wars as a pastiche of older movies and ideas, and in his newest video, he takes on the notion that Star Wars: The Force Awakens is a remix of the original Star Wars (with a few nods to the Expanded Universe and some of George Lucas’ favorite films). If they’re both remixes, in what ways are their methods of remixing different? And how well do they strike a balance between novelty and familiarity?

May 19 2016 1:41 PM

The ’90s Police Musical Cop Rock, Just Released on DVD, Was a Terrible Show That Could’ve Been Great

In the Museum of Bad Ideas, there’s an entire wing devoted to Cop Rock, the ill-fated musical policier that ran for 11 brief, unloved episodes on ABC in 1990. Now, in an interview on the just-released DVD that collects them all, creator Steven Bochco recalls that both Randy Newman, who wrote the songs for the show’s pilot, and Mike Post, who headed the stable of songwriters for the remaining episodes, told him it was the worst idea they’d ever heard. But Bochco, then riding high on the success of Hill Street Blues and L.A. Law, pressed on and created an abject failure whose legend has outlasted some of its contemporary successes.

May 19 2016 11:29 AM

Kanye Broke All the Rules on Ellen: “I’m Sorry, Daytime Television. I’m Sorry for the Realness.”

Kanye West has long been the most reliable guest on television for one reason: The only thing you can rely on him for is breaking all the rules. Where others stick to pre-approved bits and anecdotes, the only script West sticks to is whatever’s on his mind, and the only thing you can predict is that the results will be captivating.

But there’s something particularly delightful about watching West do his thing on the brightly lit stages of daytime television. West appeared on Ellen yesterday, and he was no less unfiltered, at one point launching into a six-minute stream-of-consciousness speech that included everything from his thoughts on systemic racism to a brief rendition of Erik B. and Rakim’s “I Ain’t No Joke” to calls to “Put your hands in the air right now!” to a reference to the Will Smith movie The Pursuit of Happyness. He didn’t really express any ideas he hasn’t expressed before, but there’s something refreshing and almost surreal about seeing a celebrity talk about, for instance, the way that Michael Jackson’s videos were resisted by MTV for being too “urban” while sitting in front of a fake-sunny backdrop.

May 19 2016 11:18 AM

Colbert Talks to Little Kids About the Election, and They Really Get It. (Also, They’re Cute.)

The 2016 election may have forced the rest of us into awareness of dumb and despicable public figures such as Ted Cruz, Ben Carson, and Marco Rubio, but at least some kids have been lucky enough not to have any clue who most of them are. On The Late Show, Stephen Colbert interviewed a few folks under the age of 7 and tested their knowledge of the presidential race and what the president does. “The president is someone who makes the city a better place,” says one wide-eyed child. “He helps the world,” coos another.

It’s adorable. Despite their youth, they still prove that kids can be incredibly perceptive. When Colbert asks what animal Cruz resembles most, one says a snake. Another kid reveals that Bernie Sanders’ face makes them feel “confused.” And they’re really good at describing Trump’s hair. Through it all, they reveal none of the exasperation, anger, and frustration that you or I would exude when discussing these very same topics. They’re doing just fine.

Ah, to be a small child again, living in blissful ignorance of the political and cultural shit show wrought by childlike adults.

May 19 2016 9:02 AM

Grey’s Anatomy Is a Much Better Show Than It Gets Credit For

This article originally appeared in Vulture.

Perhaps more than any other show on TV today, Grey’s Anatomy is the one that, when you mention it, practically forces conversationalists to reply, “That show is still on?” I’ve seen it happen countless times, to myself and to the dedicated troop of people I know who still watch the show without fail every week. The question is always asked with its condescension not just intact but proudly on display; there is steel in the detractors’ voices, a surety that something so populist, so long-running must have long ago caved to an inevitable decline in quality or relevance.

But nothing could be more wrong. In fact, Grey’s Anatomy’s quality has strengthened and deepened over time—as a result, it has seen a ratings surge in its current season, which ends this Thursday—and its supposed frivolity is one of the great myths of our current viewing era.